Category Archives: travel

Why Study Abroad is More Than a Vacation

Definitely want to make sure my daughter does her study abroad term right so she can reap these career benefits.

By Lauren Davidson, a freelance writer specializing in personal finance

Students are constantly offered chances to sign up for study abroad experiences. In fact, these days many colleges allow students from other schools to sign up for their study abroad trips, with pre-approved credit transfers to their own school. This has increased the availability of locations and programs for students to choose from when deciding on a study abroad trip.

Common concern for students include price, amount of financial aid available, and whether study abroad trips are valuable investments in their futures or just glorified vacation plans. After all, studying abroad is by no means cheap. Most trips range from around $2,000 to $7,000 depending on where you go. This is a sizeable amount of money, requiring you to find additional funding. I recommend trying to find some specific study abroad grants or scholarships before turning to student loans to pay for your trip.

Although it’s true that there are some programs that put more emphasis on the “fun” than on the “fundamentals,” most study abroad programs are serious about putting students to work to earn their credits, all while simultaneously providing them with an enjoyable cross-cultural experience.

From a student’s perspective, it’s important to find the right program which will provide both an enjoyable time and a learning experience. Booking the right types of programs will add luster to your resume in today’s increasingly global economy by adding skills and experiences that employers value.

Use study abroad as a chance to learn or improve upon your second language skills.

England is a popular study abroad destination in part because visiting and studying in a country where the citizens don’t speak English as a first language is daunting to many American students. However, this means a lost chance to learn or improve in a second (or third!) language. The longer your study abroad program runs, the more benefit you will get from immersing yourself into a foreign language.

To get the full immersion experience, request to be placed with a host family instead of a dorm room, if possible. Living alongside natural speakers will aid you in increasing fluency. If you have some sufficiency in a second language, even if you took classes back in high school, this is an excellent opportunity to beef up your conversational skills.

Listing on your resume that you took Mandarin in high school isn’t likely to lift the eyebrows of employers, but if you combine that with a half-summer in China then your claim of fluency just became much more impressive. For students who have not taken classes in a foreign language, it is still very much worth considering a program in a non-English speaking country.

It’s been proven that the fastest way to learn a new language is full immersion. Even slight conversational skills in a foreign language can be a very valuable skill set when job hunting. Employers are much more likely to take into consideration your knowledge of a foreign language if you have actually spent significant time in the country.

Choosing research programs abroad can expose you to new learning methodologies.

No matter the country or program that you choose, taking part in research programs abroad are an excellent chance to learn methods that aren’t being employed in your home university, or even in the United States. There are dozens of study abroad programs that give American students the chance to engage in research alongside students in the program country and this unparalleled chance to engage in cross-cultural research projects is viewed in high esteem by potential employers. These experiences can highlight a student’s ability to work across cultural boundaries, as well, which is another attribute that employers consistently rate highly.

Studying abroad makes students appear well-rounded to employers.

Studying abroad is a chance for students to step outside of their comfort zone, no matter what they choose to study or where they choose to go. Those that travel or live in another country are often viewed as more well-rounded than those that have never left the U.S. because of the diversity of experiences that traveling brings.

While it’s important to remember that study abroad trips are not simply an excuse to go on an extended vacation—most programs represent research opportunities and have significant credit hours included—simply the fact that someone has spent significant time in another country can put their resume to the top of the list.

Of course, this benefit is somewhat dependent upon the type of job. For example, many large U.S. law firms have foreign departments, especially in Asia. For a student hoping to one day live and work in another country after graduation, prior experience abroad can help them to land the job of their dreams.

Top 4 Reasons You May Need a Travel Credit Card

Huh. I didn't know credit cards were so much more secure for travel.

Using a credit card is a convenient and reliable means of payment if you’d like to travel overseas. You can book hotel rooms, buy tickets, rent a car, and pay in restaurants and stores.

In addition, if you take a credit card on your journeys you do not need to worry about:

  • Declaring cash at customs. There is no need to report the line of credit in your pocket when you travel with a credit card.
  • Safer than carrying cash. If your cash is stolen and you don’t have another form of payment on you, you’ll be stuck with no access to money for the rest of your trip. Cash has no protections, while credit cards do provide liability protections.
  • The safety of your funds. If the card is lost or stolen, it will be frozen when you report it. Liability measures provide much stronger protection for credit cards versus debit cards.

You need to pay attention to the best points credit cards for travelers if you want to select the most appropriate one.

Everything you need to know to get the maximum benefit from using a credit card

When traveling, remember that not all cards are accepted everywhere. Note that some European countries accept only “chip” cards, which provide the highest level of payment security. Make sure you know your accompanying PIN. Many American retailers only require a signature, so you might not be familiar. and that within Europe, some brands aren’t accepted at all. Such cards provide the highest level of payment security.

It’s also wise to carry an additional credit card in case you lose your main card, or in case it the issuer freezes it, mistakenly thinking your travels abroad are an indication of fraud. It’s convenient to carry cards of two payment systems (e.g. MasterCard Gold as the main, Visa Classic as additional). Moreover, Gold and Platinum class cards provide medical insurance for traveling abroad. Be sure to check your card’s policy before disembarking.

To avoid additional costs associated with currency conversion, it would be better for you to open an account in euros or US dollars depending on the region you are going to visit.

How to protect yourself from fraudulent transactions

To protect yourself from fraudulent transactions, take advantage of any SMS service your card issuer may provide. It will allow you to get all the information about the transactions associated with your account in real time.

If you become a victim of fraud, and realize it in real time, call your financial institution right away. If you don’t realize it until you read your statement, call them as soon as you are aware. You should follow up by writing a letter to your financial institution. You will be asked to specify the date of the suspicious transaction, the number in the system of payment as well as the code of the terminal. All this data can be found in your SMS or card statement. The financial institution will in turn consider all of this information, investigate, and determine the way of compensation.

There’s much more to learn about protection from credit card fraud. The FTC goes into greater detail here.

Other useful tips

Before going on a trip, find out whether the use of credit cards is widespread in your destination country. Countries like Finland are paradise for tourists in this regard. Even in a small town you can pay for a purchase using a credit card.

However, in some countries it is much more convenient to pay in cash. For example, it will be difficult to impossible to use a credit card in rural Egypt. In the Czech Republic, cards are accepted in large shopping malls and hotels. However, in small cafes and restaurants it would be better to pay in cash.

 

This article is brought to you and contributed by George Wolfson.

Free Entrance to National Parks in 2017

This is incredibly useful and is going to save me some money! It tells you how to get into national parks for free--in the US and Canada.

Over four hundred of America’s national parks are free everyday.  But 118 of them aren’t.  Luckily, the park system does offer free days, so you can go enjoy our beautiful country while remaining completely and totally frugal.

National Park Free Entrance Days for 2017

This weekend is one of those times. On Saturday and Sunday, you can get into any national park for free. Here are the rest of the free days for 2017:

April 22-23, 2017

All of the free days in April are in celebration of National Parks Week.

August 25, 2017

Parks will be open for free in recognition of the National Park Service’s Birthday.

September 30, 2017

Admission will be free in honor of National Public Lands Day.

November 11-12, 2017

Enjoy some of that free fall foliage on Veterans’ Day Weekend.

Which National Parks require an entrance fee?

I’ve been lucky to travel a good bit in my time. National parks always bring such a sense of awe and wonder. It’s one thing to wander around in the wood in your backyard. It’s a completely different thing to spend time in pristine, protected wilderness.

Some of my favorites national parks that will be waiving their fees on free days are:

There’s a ton of others, too. I was surprised to find the ones in my own back yard that I never knew existed. To find some near you, you can check out the National Park Service’s website.

Free National Park Admission in Canada

If you happen to be visiting our neighbors to the north, you should know they have some pretty amazing national parks, too. Canada is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year, and in honor of that fact, they are giving away national park passes for free.

The only catch?

You have to get your pass in advance.

 

We’d love to hear about your national park experiences! Tell us about them in the comments section.

Why Lake Louise Ski Resort is a Great Deal

Wow..these mountains for that much?! Lake Louise Ski Resort really IS a great deal! Can't believe they're open till May 7, too!

Long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of skiing. It’s a sport that makes me feel simultaneously at one with nature and myself. It forces me to push myself and make myself better.

You’ll also remember that I’m all about scoring a great deal when I go skiing, because it can be an expensive hobby.

Last week I had the opportunity to go up to Alberta. As in Alberta home of Banff. Alberta home of the Canadian Rockies. Alberta home of the Big 3.

While I was there, I was fortunate enough to visit one of the Big 3: Lake Louise Ski Resort. While I was super psyched to ski the Rockies, as any Eastern skiier would be, I was even more psyched at how much value the resort offered.

The Lake Louise Lift Ticket is an Amazing Deal

Lake Louise has 145 marked runs plus back bowls that cover three mountain faces. For a comparison, the biggest local ski resort around here has 33 runs. That’s more than 100 less.

Yet if I wanted to go skiing after a week of hard work, an all-day pass at Lake Louise costs $99CAD, and an all-day pass here at home costs $85USD.

You might be thinking that my home resort costs less money when you look at those numbers, but that leaves out a very important part of the equation: the exchange rate. As of this moment, $99CAD is equivalent to $74.14USD, making this an even better deal for American skiiers.

That’s right. On any given weekend, the resort in the Rockies with 145 trails is less expensive to ski than the course in the Appalachians with only 33.

It’s insanity. In such a good way.

PRO TIP: Lake Louise is inside a national park. You will need a national park pass to get in. However, because it’s Canada’s 150 birthday, you can get them for free in 2017. Just make sure you have it before the drive up.

The Instructors at Lake Louise are Patient

Ski lessons Lake Louise

When we went up, my husband took a ski lesson as he had never been before. He struggled, to be sure, as most of us do on our first attempt. But he said the biggest motivator was the fact that he wanted to succeed for his instructor–who just happened to be extremely patient and one heck of a motivator.

Which is pretty much everything you could want in a teacher ever.

I had the same experience with my guide up on the mountain. So much patience. So much kindness. Such great people there to help you as you do such a fun thing.

The Mountain that Defeated Me

Before we left on our journey, I knew there were two major disadvantages I’d have to deal with as I skied the Rockies.

  1. I’m from the East. While I can confidently ski almost all of the slopes and trails at home, they’re inherently easier than what you find out West.
  2. Real talk: I’m not in the best shape of my life. I expected to be incredibly sore when the day was done, but I wasn’t too worried about it as I haven’t ever really considered downhill skiing a cardio strain since the skis do much of the work. (I understand that science may disagree with me.) Besides, I could do those runs back home…

I’m a pretty determined person. When things are hard, it makes me even more motivated to conquer the task. So even though I knew I had some things working against me, I was confident I’d be all right.

I should have thought something was off when I had to get boots two sizes larger than normal. I didn’t, though, and we hopped in the gondola, watching the dramatic wonders of the Northern Rockies out the window.

Lake Louse lift ticket

By the time we got up to the top of the mountain, I was thinking I should have gotten a size bigger. By the time we started our first run (which was freaking gorgeous by the way–both in scenery and in snow quality,) I was in an incredible amount of pain.

It turns out my biggest enemy that day was one I hadn’t accounted for, and one I couldn’t defeat through sheer determination. It was the altitude.

It made my feet swell like crazy. I sat down for a minute, thinking that by taking some pressure off of them the swelling would magically go down. As I was sitting there, I started to get a little bit dizzy.

I wish I were able to insert an, “And yet she persisted,” meme at this point. But I can’t. As much as I wanted to push on, it became clear that it would have been a very bad idea. I reluctantly gave it up.

Apparently I’m not the only person this happens to. When people come in from lower altitudes, many of them will stay in the mountain town of Banff for a couple of days prior to hitting the slopes. It gives your body some time to adjust.

Newbie mistake on my part.

Not all was lost, though. Thankfully, there are tons of entertainment options at Lake Louise.

Tubing at Lake Louise

The resort is incredibly family friendly. They have kids’ skiing lessons, a daycare and a tube park.

The latter is what we tried out with the remaining part of our day. Tubing is a lot like sledding only they have an amazing course built for speed complete with some friction mats at the end to slow you down and keep everyone safe.

So much fun! We went down solo, together, spinning, for speed…

I can just show you, though. This video will be best viewed through VR goggles. If you don’t have them, you can use the mouse on your PC or your finger on your phone to change your POV.

If you are viewing through goggles, look up to see straight in front of you. This is my first action 360 video–promise I’ll get the orientation right for you guys next time.

When you get to the bottom of the course, if you look to the right you’ll be able to see one of the lodges. There are two that host dining options with a total of six restaurants. They have everything from ready-made burgers and fries to a sushi bar so you can eat according to your tastes–or budget.

Lake Louise dining options

More Fun at Lake Louise Ski Resort

There’s so much to do that we couldn’t do it all in one day. On top of skiing and tubing, you can take a snowshoe tour through some pretty remote places to some breath-taking vistas. Interested? Make sure you grab this coupon for 15% off.

On our way in, we also checked out the wooded entrance to the trail leading to Skoki Lodge. It’s a backcountry lodge, which is admittedly something I had never heard of before.

We saw people headed into the wilderness on their cross-country skis to the luxe cabin in the woods. They had a journey of about seven miles to a location picked for it’s idyllic views. In the summer, I learned, you can hike it.

Literally removed from civilization, Skoki Lodge is a hidden B&B that includes three square meals for its up to twenty-two guests. It looks gorgeous and is a priority the next time we go back.

Recommend?

For sure. The sheer value of Lake Louise in and of itself is overwhelming. Add to that the awe-inspiring views and it becomes a must-see for every skiier, snowboarder or person who wants to try snowshoeing. They’re open through May 7 this year, so you still have some time this season.

Like I said, I’m going back. Mainly for the reasons I just stated. On top of that, though, I’m not about to let a mountain defeat me.

Lake Louise Ski Resort*Our tickets and rentals were comped for the purposes of facilitating this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.*

How to Save Money on Vacation Home Rentals

Using these insider tips for saving money on vacation home rentals for our summer trip!

Booking a beach getaway is exciting. But when you start looking at the prices on vacation homes, that excitement may screech to a sudden halt.

If you find yourself stressing over the cost of renting a vacation home for a week, stop and take a deep breath. Our friends at Outer Beaches Realty are sharing some expert, insider tips today on how to bring those rental costs down.

Decide What You Want in a Vacation Home Rental

Do you want to be able to step right out onto the sand? How many bedrooms will you need to house everyone that’s coming with you? Do you need a pet-friendly property? Are the kids going to freak out if there’s not a pool?

Look at these things first; nothing’s worse than getting excited about a property’s price tag only to find out that it doesn’t meet your needs.

This is especially important if you’re traveling with someone with mobility issues. A lot of beach properties are elevated on stilts, so even if they have an elevator it may not go to the ground floor. Be sure to ask extra questions when you book since being labelled “handicap accessible” doesn’t necessarily mean it will suit your exact needs.

Look for Companies with All-Inclusive Rates and Zero Booking Fees

Another way to hedge price disappointment is to make sure the properties you are considering are rented by a company whose rates are all-inclusive and doesn’t charge booking fees.

Advertised rates can be hundreds of dollars less than what you actually end up paying after booking fees. If the extras that drew you to the vacation home are a la carte, you can tack on even more.

If you’re headed to the Outer Banks, like we did last year, be sure to check out this price comparison tool.

Follow Realty Companies on Social Media

Want to find up-to-the-minute deals? One of the best ways to do this is to follow realty companies on social media. For example, right now if you follow Outer Beaches on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll see that they have their Golden Ticket promotion live. All you have to do is request a brochure before January 31 and you’re entered into a drawing for $1,000 off your rental.

Another great way to catch these deals is to sign up to realty companies’ email lists. That way they’re delivered right to your inbox.

This is probably the most effective way to trim your costs once you’ve found a suitable summer property. But tread with caution: if you spend too much time waiting for that “perfect” deal, someone else may just grab up your perfect property before you actually book.

Book Early and Use Payment Plans

If you can’t stand the risk of waiting, you can always book early and use a payment plan to spread your costs over multiple months. Outer Beaches gives a 5% discount on advance year bookings and offers payment plans that span 3-12 months.

Five percent may not seem like a lot, but when you consider how much money you’ll be spending on a vacation home for a week, you start to realize that the savings adds up quickly, even with a seemingly “small” percentage.

With Outer Beaches specifically, five percent could save you up to $725—not exactly chump change!

Book Your Vacation Home During Shoulder Season

Want to save a ton of money? Go on your trip in May before Memorial Day or September after Labor Day. In the Outer Banks and most vacation destinations, all the shops and attractions are already open, but there’s less tourists to compete for so prices are incredibly low.

Not only do you get a discount on everything from a vacation home rental to tchotchke shops, but the weather is also still idyllic if you’re visiting a southern beach. You get the same experience with less crowds and lower costs.

My Favorite Reasons to Book a Vacation Home

There’s a reason we decided to rent a home when we went on our trip last year.

Even though the price tag may look big at first, it’s actually a cost-effective way to stay at the beach. It’s way cheaper than getting everyone individual hotel rooms.

We also didn’t pay a lot for entertainment as we had lots of entertainment on site for the adults and kids that didn’t involve watching TV. We had a pool, a basketball hoop and a billiards table—and never once heard, “I’m bored!”

Then there’s the second biggest expense that comes with vacation: food. Because we had a full kitchen with lots of storage and a full set of pots, pans and plates, we cooked almost all of our meals ourselves. If all we had was a mini-fridge, we would have been dropping copious amounts of cash on eating out.

Have you ever booked a vacation home rental? How did you save money?

 

 

*We received a discount on this Outer Beaches property thanks to a partnership with this blog. Regardless, all content and opinions are 100% honest and my own.*

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