International Travel

How to Prepare For Your Trip Abroad

Whether it’s your first time leaving the country, or it has been awhile since you last went abroad, here is what to do before you go!

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  • Passport 

Before booking your trip abroad, make sure your passport is in order. If you never had a passport before, I would recommend getting your passport first. It typically takes 6-8 weeks for your passport to be processed and sent to your door! Better to wait, and have your passport, than have a trip you can’t go on because you are having issues getting your passport. For older passports, check when it expires. If the expiration date is six months out from your departure date, some countries may not let you enter. You will want to renew your passport beforehand. For more passport information check out the U.S. Department of State’s U.S Passports.

Another thing to check out before booking is whether or not the country you are traveling to requires a visa.  Here is a map that breaks down visa requirements for U.S. citizens. For more information on U.S. visas, and how to obtain them check out the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Visas.

 

  • Methods of Payment

When it comes to paying in foreign currency, I would recommend having a credit card and cash. You have the credit card because you don’t want to carry a bunch of cash around in a foreign country, and you have the cash because not all places will accept a card.

Cash

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The easiest way to get cash when traveling to a new country is at any currency exchange booth you find at an international airport. Like anything at an airport, you will be price gauged, and at the end of the day, the exchange rate is not very favorable. Your best bet is to plan ahead, and go to your local bank to request foreign currency. Depending on your bank, this could take at least several business days, so it is not as convenient, but you are not price gauged like you would be at the airport. If you run out of cash in the foreign country, you could always pull money from the ATM, but on top of any ATM fees, you’ll also be charged for foreign transaction fees, which leads me to the next method of payment.

Credit Card

Why do I recommend a credit card over a debit card? There are a lot of great credit card options that do not have any foreign transaction fees, and you can gain points while traveling. These points could help pay for future trips you want to take. As far as picking  which card is right for you, NerdWallet  provides a great breakdown of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, and the rewards they offer. For me, I prefer cards that offered a lot of options for how I can use my points, so I am not boxed in to only using certain airlines or hotels. If you are already loyal to a particular airline or hotel, maximize your loyalty by getting a card where you can use your rewards at those places.

  • Phone

The cheapest option with your cell phone is to put it on airplane mode, and turn on the Wi-Fi. You will have to rely on Wi-Fi when you can find it, but it’s free, and a great way to disconnect a little while you’re away.

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Another option is paying for an international plan. You can pay by the day, or for the whole month. Beware, I have heard it is easy to use up your plan, and once you go over your data the overage charges can be pricey. Reach out to your cellular carrier for rates and services.

Besides not having a phone at all, another option is buying a burner phone. This a a good idea if you are going to be out of the country for an extended period of time, or if you are worried about your phone being hacked when abroad. Check out this Wirecutter article on burner phone options.

  • Luggage

Is your luggage on it’s last leg, or not easy to run through an airport with? If you are gearing up for a big trip abroad, this might be the time to buy some new luggage! If you’re going on a shorter trip (i.e. a week or less) I would recommend purchasing carry-on sized luggage with wheels, Rockland  has some great affordable options available.

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For longer trips, a bag that is small enough to fit as carry-on is not going to cut it. You still may want something that has wheels, but also can be worn as a backpack. The Osprey isn’t cheap but it has a lot of space, and is very durable. If you are not a fan of wheels, the North Face Duffel Bag might be the large luggage alternative for you.

  • Safety

Before you go, be sure to check check the U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisories. What should you do if a country you’re visiting that is on the Travel Advisory list? If it is a Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions, then do just that, be aware of your surroundings, and let people back home know about your itinerary.  Be smart, stay away from any sort of protest, if you do not feel comfortable in a situation, leave. If it is a Level 2, I would recommend the same as Level 1, but to take it a step further, you may want to reach out to the local US Embassy to let them know you will be in the country. Here is the Official list of US Embassies. Anything above a Level 2, it is not advisable to travel to that country, and you may want to cancel your travel plans. All this talk about safety might scare you, but these are merely precautions to make sure you’re prepared. The New York Times has a great article on How to Travel Safely (and Keep Calm) that will surely sooth any travel worries you may have!

Trips abroad may take a little more planning and coordination beforehand, but it’s all worth it once you get there! Once you have prepared for a trip abroad, if you are looking for a great flight deal check out my tips on: How to Successfully Find Cheap Flights Without Really Trying. Is there anything you recommend doing before you travel abroad?

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Holiday Deals, International Travel, Travel Deals, US Travel

Travel Day Tuesday: Another Day of Holidays Bargains?

We have Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and now Travel Deal Tuesday! According to the travel app Hopper, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving is the best day of the year to find travel deals. Being a lover of travel and deals, I of course had to check this out for myself! Image-1

If you Google Travel Deal Tuesday you will find a site created by Hopper saying that on this day there are two times as many deals as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the deals are available on 20% of all domestic and international flights. I regularly check Kayak Explore, so I looked there first today since it would give me an general overview in map form. The flight prices were good: flights from Omaha to Amsterdam, Beijing, London, Paris, and Rome were all under $600 roundtrip. Although these prices were no better than they were the previous few days I checked.

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Kayak Explorer on 11/27/18
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Europe Overview on the Hopper App

Next logical step was to download the Hopper app, and see if there were any better deals on there. I set up my criteria to have the duration be between 5 and 11 days, and the months between February and August, The cheapest flight to Europe was to Reykjavik, at $596, which was no cheaper than what was on Kayak Explorer. Most other flights ended up being more expensive on the Hopper app than what I found on Kayak Explorer.

 

 

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Ireland Deal on Hopper App

For example, on Kayak Explorer, Dublin flights were $616, and on Hopper the cheapest flights were $114 more at $730. Maybe this is just the case with a smaller market like Omaha, and larger markets like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles may have better options.

Does this mean us middle to smaller market folk are out of luck for Travel Deal Tuesday? No not exactly, in fact, I typically book my international flights in December because that is when I have come across the best deals. So make 2019 your travel year, and start checking for flight deals each morning in December on Kayak Explorer and Google Flights, until you find an offer you can’t refuse.

 

Southwest Airlines, Travel Deals, US Travel

New Nonstop Flights from Eppley Airfield

The Omaha World-Herald reported on October 15th that Southwest Airlines is adding two new nonstop destinations from Eppley Airfield next year. The first major nonstop destination is to San Diego, CA, the other is to Nashville, TN that is available seasonally.  How does this benefit my fellow Omahans?

Besides getting to your destination a little quicker, there is another element that is not discussed in the Omaha World-Herald: cheap nonstop flights create more competition between airlines and drives prices down. This happened big time when Air Canada started offering nonstop flights to Toronto from Omaha. Since Toronto Pearson International Airport is a large international hub and was able to offer flight deals to lots of spots in Europe, other competitors like Delta, American, and United dropped their prices too. Thank you Air Canada!

Back to the new nonstop flights via Southwest, basically, if you were already thinking about taking a trip to San Diego or Nashville, now you have even more of a reason to go! These nonstop flights begin June 9th, and are already available for purchase. San Diego’s nonstop flights are daily, and Nashville’s are only available on Sundays. To ensure you’re getting the best deal, I recommend checking out Southwest.com , then comparing those flights and prices to Southwest’s competitors on Google Flights (Google Flights does not show Southwest’s prices on their site).

I’ve already been to Nashville, but I have never been to San Diego, or even seen the Pacific Ocean so it’s at the top of my list of places to go to now! Are you planning to visit Nashville or San Diego now that Southwest is offering nonstop flights?

 

Pet Travel

Tips on Road Tripping with Your Dog

My dog Georgie has traveled to 11 states so far in his young life. Though I haven’t flown with him yet, we have taken many road trips together. Given that the holidays are coming up, and many families opt to bring their fuzzy family members along, here are some quick tips for traveling with your dog in the car.

What to Pack

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Georgie trying to undo my packing efforts!
  • Collapsable bowls. That way you can easily hydrate your dog on the go.
  • Dog food for the whole trip. You do not want to run out, and risk them having to eat a different type of dog food on the road.
  • Calming pills. Even the most well-adjusted dog can get stressed out in new situations and long days on the road. I found some natural calming pills, but if your dog has a lot of anxiety in general, I would recommend consulting your veterinarian for calming pills.
  • Shot Records. If anything were to happen, it’s best to have your dog’s shot records from the veterinarian on hand.
  • Toys! Once you’ve made it to your destination, having some familiar toys will help your dog feel more at home.

On the Road

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Georgie happy to be on a road trip .
  • Crate or Doggy Seat Belt. It’s important to keep you dog safe and contained while driving. If you dog is smaller, or not fully potty trained, I would recommend traveling with them in a crate. If they are larger, and don’t depend on their crate as much, a doggy seatbelt will do the trick.
  • Stop more regularly. Your dog (most likely) has a smaller bladder than you, and will probably need to get a little energy out every couple of hours depending on how long your drive is.
  • Plan out your meals. When you have a dog in the car, you have to be a little more thoughtful when it comes to meals. If you stop to eat, be sure to park the car in a spot where you can keep an eye on the dog, and have someone run out halfway through the meal to walk the dog and check up on him. Leaving your dog in the car is not really an option if it is really hot or really cold, so you may need to pack a meal instead.

Once You’re There

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Georgie Ready for a Walk!
  • Take a Long Walk. Your dog will need to get out some of that energy he has cooped up while being in the car. I believe it also helps them to understand they’re in a new location because they can survey the area, and take in the new smells.
  • Not Settling Down? Pop a Calming Pill. Georgie is typically not bothered or scared by anything. Then I took him on a 13-hour road trip. That night when we tried to go to bed, Georgie would not stop pacing. He ended up pacing the entire night, and I got very little sleep. That pacing was a sign of anxiety from all the new situations. From then on, I always give Georgie a calming pill the first night we are in a new location.
  • Find Dog-Friendly Things to Do. Check out some dog parks, and dog-friendly restaurants. If you’re taking your dog on a road trip, you don’t want them to be stuck wherever your staying, while you’re off doing things the whole time. For example, a few weekends ago, we went to Kansas City. I found out the shopping center Country Club Plaza is very dog friendly, so we brought Georgie along to shop. He was able to go into the shops, and received lots of treats and attention. Georgie loved it, and we enjoyed bringing him along.
  • Find Options For When You Can’t Bring Your Dog. Odds are you won’t be able to bring your dog everywhere. When that happens, if it’s only a couple of hours, and you trust your dog, they will probably be fine alone. If you are going to be gone longer, I would recommend either finding someone to watch your dog, or taking them to a local doggy daycare during that time. When I visit my extended family in Ohio, I’ll have my grandma watch Georgie if we are going to be gone a while. In other locations where I don’t know anyone, I find a well-reviewed doggy daycare to take Georgie to.

When you’re prepared, traveling with your dog is a lot of fun, and can make a place you’ve been to many times before seem new! Georgie’s next road trip is to Ohio for Christmas. Let me know where you plan on traveling with your dogs, and how that goes! Safe doggy travels!

US Travel

I Wore a Bear Costume on a Frontier Flight and Had a Blast

It was a day of firsts: my first time flying on Frontier Airlines, and my first time flying in a costume. When Frontier added direct flights to Austin, TX with roundtrip tickets regularly clocking in under $200 with checked bags it was time to take a trip! I was going to be in town the weekend before Halloween, and my friends were going to not one but two Halloween parties. Halloween is not my favorite holiday, and I did not want to buy a costume just for this trip.  Therefore, I decided on an old bear costume in the back of the closet.

This thing looks like a fur coat, and except it has a huge head, and bear paws. If I tried to pack it in my bag, nothing else would fit. I did not want to pay extra to check the bear costume, so I had no other choice but to wear it on my flight. My face was totally visible, and it practically looked like a coat, I was banking that TSA would not have an issue with it.

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In the bear costume for the Halloween Parties. (Not pictured, me in the bear costume on the plane, sorry!)

When I arrived at the ticket counter at Eppley Airfield to check in my bag, the Frontier ticket agent thought my bear costume was awesome. If he was fine with it, I figured I probably would not have any issues with it on the flight. Next step, I got through TSA no problem.

Never have I ever received so much attention while walking around in an airport. If you wear a bear costume to the airport, people will talk to you. My bear costume brought people together and lifted everyone up. Dare I say it got everyone into the weekend before Halloween spirit?

Once on my flight, I was a little stuffed in my seat, but it was worth it since I didn’t want to spend any extra money, As for flying on Frontier, I highly recommend it if you find a cheap direct flight. Don’t get me wrong, it is no frills. Seats are not spacious or comfy, and everything is extra, but hear me out. My direct flight to Austin, TX from Omaha, NE got in 40 minutes EARLY, and let me remind you my round trip total was less than $200!

On the way home, I opted to just hold my coat, and it still got a lot of attention. Since Frontier’s flight on Monday was way cheaper than Sunday, it seemed like everyone on my flight Friday was heading back the same day. There was almost a sort of camaraderie, some people from my Friday flight even remembered me because of my bear costume.

If you ever happen to by flying with a costume, and don’t want to pack it, take a page out of my book, and just wear it. You’ll save money, and increase the fun factor. It’ll definitely set the right tone for your weekend. When you do wear your costume, please let me know how that goes.

 

US Travel

Enjoy the Windy City Like a Broke College Student

Chicago and I have been in a long-distance relationship for most of my life. Originally, I hail from the area, and then came back to Chicago for college. To me, Chicago is home no matter how long I’ve been away. When I was a college student and barely squeaking by, I always imagined Chicago would be so much more enjoyable if I had a lot more money. Now that I am no longer a broke college student, I realize there really is something beautiful about taking in the city on a dime or less. Check out these ways to experience Chicago on the cheap:

  1. Go for a stroll

On a nice day, when the wind wasn’t trying to knock you down, there was nothing better than taking a long stroll through one of Chicago’s many neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a neighborhood you have yet to check out, or one you know well, there’s always something new to stumble upon. Some neighborhoods I always liked wandering through were: Old Town, Lakeview, Edgewater, Andersonville, Gold Coast, and Wicker Park just to name a few!

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View from a stroll between Hollywood and Foster Beach along Lake Michigan

2. Rent a bike

FullSizeRender-10If walking for hours isn’t your jam, you can always rent a bike one of the the many Divvy Bike or Bike and Roll Chicago locations. Chicago is a great biking city, it’s flat and there are a lot of bike lanes and trails. If you want a view of Lake Michigan, and don’t want to deal with cars check out the Lakefront Trail. It’s 19 miles one way if you’re feeling up for it.  A better way to explore the city is by braving the mean Chicago streets, and riding the bike lanes! If you don’t know you way around Chicago and/or don’t have a lot of experience riding your bike on busy streets, I recommend these low-traffic (aka low-stress) bike routes put together by the Chicago Reader.

 

3. Grab some cheap food

Now that you’ve thoroughly perused Chicago, you’ll be ready to eat! I could live off the Chicago-style hot dogs, gyros, and tacos found at any hole in the wall, but they were also hit-and-miss. By that, I mean every once in a while they would make me sick. So when it came to getting food that was a little nicer, I always went to Groupon. It allowed me to try something new, and stay within my budget. In Chicago they even offer  free Groupons that get you a percentage discount off your meal, along with the Groupons that you buy and to get a larger total off your bill.

4. Catch a show

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There are so many great options when it come to the arts in Chicago. If you plan it right, you can get deep discounts! For plays, I always preferred Steppenwolf Theatre Company because my parents have been going there since I was a baby , and once I grew older, they would bring me along too so I have a lot of great memories there. Steppenwolf has two great ways to get discount tickets: 20 for $20 Tickets and Rush Tickets. The former offers $20 tickets for day of performances, but there are only 20 tickets available, and limit two per person. The latter offers half-price tickets the day of, one-hour prior to the performance. You cannot go wrong with seeing a play at the Steppenwolf.

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Lastly, getting around via the Chicago ‘L’  is the best way to go. It’s inexpensive, and it really gives you a feel for the city. That’s only a small taste of the many things you could do in Chicago on the cheap. Even now that I am no longer broke,  I still try to do at least two of these anytime I visit Chicago. I tried to keep things simple, but are there any free or reasonably priced things to do in Chicago that you like to do?

Travel Deals

How to Successfully Find Cheap Flights Without Really Trying

My hobby/ obsession is sort of like window shopping: I love finding great deals on international flights. On a typical week, I check for flight deals four to five times a week, and that’s just casually looking with no plan to buy. If I find an amazing deal and can’t take the trip myself, I tell anybody who will listen about it, with the hope that they will purchase that flight and I can live vicariously through them. When I am ready for a trip abroad, and want to find the right deal, I check at least once a day.

Living in Omaha, Nebraska, what do I consider to be a “good deal” for an international flight? Under $1,000 is sweet, but under $500 is the danger zone. So how does one go about getting these dangerously good deals? I have a few pointers for those at mid-size and major airports.

Scan Kayak Explore for Deals

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Last year, my birthday present to myself was a flight to somewhere in Europe for less than $500. In order to find a deal, I looked at Kayak Explore every single morning, I set the max dollar amount to $500 and saw if anything popped up that I would be interested in. After searching for a couple months I found a good deal to Amsterdam. It was a month earlier than I wanted to go, and more days than I was willing to take off. What’s a girl to do?

Part Deux of Finding Flight Deals Through Kayak: Go to Google Flights 

So if you know a certain airline is offering cheap flights, odds are they are offering it for more than just one flight. Go on to Google Flights, type in the city you found the good deal, pull up the calendar, go to when you were hoping to visit, and search for the prices in green! Using this trick, I was able to find a roundtrip flight from Omaha to Amsterdam in the month and the duration I wanted for $475 through American Airlines! Once I purchased these tickets, the story of how little I paid for the flight went hand in hand with telling people my travel plans for this trip.

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There Was A Slight Catch…

As I boarded my jet to Amsterdam, I noticed something a little off. There were no screens on the back of the seats for the economy folk!  If in-flight entertainment is as important to you as it is to me, make sure your flight shows the On-Demand Video symbol when booking your flight.

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Just because a flight is cheap doesn’t mean there won’t be any in-flight entertainment, but it’s always good to check! At the end of the day, I got a good deal on the flight, and it was a red-eye so I slept through most of it.

You Want To Find Your Own Deals?

Check out Kayak Explorer at least several times a week, preferably in the morning before tickets are sold out. If the date and length of stay don’t work for you, go to Google Flights to search for a similar deals that work with your timeframe. Lastly, be sure to read the fine print, and look at what all is included with your cheap flight. You don’t want to end up paying extra for amenities you expected the flight would have, or end up extremely bored because you were planning on watching all the movies. Time to start exploring!