Category Archives: travel

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals for 2017 OBX Vacations

Many of you will remember that our family had a fabulous time in the Outer Banks this year. We got to drive on the beach, discovering miles of isolated shoreline we were able to enjoy without any other tourists.

outer banks beach vacationWe visited Monster Truck attractions, where the little ones giggled with glee.

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Photo by KAZ Vorpal available via CC BY-SA 2.0

We got to experience the great outdoors and bond with our extended family in a way that we don’t always take the time to do when we’re back home.

Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house's mast. #RaiseIt!

Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house’s mast. #RaiseIt!

We also got to stay at a home that literally flew the Jolly Roger, making the yinzer inside each one of us feel appreciated.

You know you're a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.

You know you’re a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.

Save a ton of money on your 2017 OBX Vacation

This year, I learned something in the world of tourism that I wasn’t previously familiar with. I knew that booking summer vacations to popular destinations like the Outer Banks early was a smart idea, but I didn’t know that Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales were so great in the world of tourism.

Because we had such a great experience with the realty company we used, Outer Beaches Realty, I wanted to let you guys know about the sales they have going on this week so you can have the same great experiences we did—for less.

Outer Beaches Realty Black Friday Sale

ocracoke island sunset

Watching the sunset on the free ferry to Ocracoke Island was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

On Friday, November 25th, you’ll be able to score an awesome deal if you book your vacation rental on layaway. Layaway reservations already get 5% off, but the Black Friday sale gives you another 5% off on top of it, for a grand total of 10% off.

Ten percent may sound like a relatively modest discount when you’re talking about Black Friday sales, but you have to remember that this isn’t 10% off a coffee maker or a DVD/Blu-ray set. This is 10% off of a week-long beach house rental.

With 10% off a week-long beach house rental, you could be saving up to $1,450.

That’s HUGE.

Outer Beaches Realty Cyber Monday Sale

outer beaches vacation rental buc n eer

So much fun was had in this pool!

Reading this after Black Friday? Bummer! But don’t stress too much. On Monday, November 28th, Outer Beaches will be running another sale in honor of Cyber Monday.

This time you’ll save an additional 3% off layaway, for a grand total of 8% off. That’s still massive savings, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re booked and don’t have to stress about your week being taken by another beach-going family.

 

 

 

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

Enter the Imaginarium: #Pittsburgh Escape Room

Wow this looks crazy cool! Enter the Imaginarium---an escape room adventure in Pittsburgh, PA

NEW! Enter to win another Bricolage giveaway: four tickets to the family-friendly Midnight Radio Holiday Spectacular!

The other week we had the opportunity to visit the Imaginarium in Harmarville.

Guys, it was the coolest thing I’ve done in a long time.

The Imaginarium Escape Rooms

The Imaginarium is an escape room. For those of you who haven’t visited one before, essentially you have to figure out puzzles with little to no explanation before time runs out. In the case of the Imaginarium, escaping one room leads to another.

If you like murder mystery parties, puzzles or Murder She Wrote, this kind of thing is right up your alley. The tour we took, The Inventor’s Paradox, had nothing to do with murder or anything horror-esque though. While it was creepy and involved enough for me to not take my young children, it wasn’t “scary.”

Note: The Imaginarium is recommended for kids ages 12+. Any younger than that, and you’ll have to buy 10 tickets to buy out the time slot.

The premise was that we entered the Imaginarium creator’s mind. Time plays a huge role in this experience as the creator is stuck in the past. Your goal is to release him.

We hurriedly looked around the rooms for clues, tried to use our wits to solve puzzles and in some cases, used blunt force logic to circumvent having to do mental gymnastics. (Okay, this last one was me. And while it sometimes worked, it was far from the most effective method.)

We were in there for an hour before we got buzzed out. It felt like way longer than an hour, though—in a good way.

Ultimately, we failed, though we did make it almost all the way through the second room.

imaginarium-pittsburgh

Is the Imaginarium worth the spend?

When we sat down for dinner afterwards, we couldn’t stop going on about it. In a world where our entertainment is primarily digital, Bricolage did a great job creating an experience that was purely physical and exercised our brains in a way we don’t typically experience. I mean, most of the time if we have a question we can Google the answer. Every. Time.

The Imaginarium changes that.

The brain exercise wasn’t the only thing they did well, though. The rooms were extensively staged with real props—no small detail was left behind. The people they had manning the experience were so into it the performance that you really felt like you were entering another world.

I don’t normally advocate entertainment that costs $29.99 per ticket, but this one I do. For two reasons.

  1. It was over-the-top fun. Like I said, the coolest thing I’ve done in a very long time.
  2. While tickets might be expensive, it’s not really the kind of thing you can do twice. While they do have another experience, Chamber of Illusions, once you’ve solved the puzzles once the novelty will wear off. So I know you won’t be spending $29.99 per ticket every weekend.

Win Free Tickets

While it’s totally worth the spend, I do have a special treat for all of you today! You can use the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win two (2) free tickets to The Inventor’s Paradox! This giveaway is open until 11:59 PM EST on November 21, 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck! We had a fantastic time, and I know you will, too.

*We received free admission in order to facilitate this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and my own.*

5 Fun Things to See in San Diego

About a month ago, I, along with 1,200 of my closest friends, descended upon San Diego, California. We were there for a conference where we learned a lot and met a lot of good people, but some of us also got our tourism on.

We came in early and left late, because, who are we kidding?

San Diego is an amazing city.

Japanese Friendship Garden at Balboa Park

Balboa Park Fountain Courtesy of SanDiego.org

On Day One, a good friend and I hit up Balboa Park. There are a bunch of international houses that open on the weekend that looked pretty cool, but, alas, it was a Tuesday. We strolled through the sprawling grounds full of massive buildings with ornate architecture, ending up in the Japanese Friendship Gardens.

They also sprawled, and were the perfect setting for catching up on all those IRL things that you sometimes miss out on when you both do the bulk of your work on the internet. There were gorgeous, well-tended plants. There were zen waterfalls. There were shelters we hid under to escape the light rain as we talked.

There was also a lady there giving massages. There were small buildings along the way that seemed to host an array of rotating opportunities for visitors. We got invited to roll our own sushi, but I’m a nonfishetarian (which I know is a waste when you’re visiting a coastal city.) Even within the peaceful gardens, there was no shortage of things to do.

But we were very content to just walk and talk in a beautiful setting.

Hornblower Harbor Cruise

The next day, a few of us headed out on a Harbor Cruise with Hornblower. They usually do whale watching trips, too, but we just so happened to be there during the three-week window when migration patterns take most of the species away.

Not all was lost, though. We took the North Harbor Cruise so we could check out the sea lions.

sea-lions-san-diego

I also found out there is a naval base on Coronado Island, which I didn’t know existed until we got out on the water.

fly-navy

While we were learning more about the city, we got some pretty stellar views of the skyline. I’m glad we did this this when we first got into town; it allowed me to orient myself to the parts of the city that were on the water and gave me great ideas for other stuff I would have gone to see if I hadn’t had business meetings  for the better portion of my stay.

san-diego-skyline

Pro tip: Don’t wear a dress out on the windy harbor.

Old Town Trolley Tours

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If you’re looking for another way to check out the city at the start of your stay, Jana and Athena went on a trolley tour with Old Town Trolleys and loved it. You can get off at any stop and explore and then hop back on when you’re done. It’s like picking up the next bus.

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Jana and I are both East Coasters, and she was telling me that San Diego is laid out so much better—the public transport system there seemed like it was pretty easy and made a whole lot more sense.

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Random Art

One night we went out to dinner at The Fish Market—which was amazing!

When we left we were waiting around for an Uber and discovered some fantastic sculptures we had somehow missed on our way in. Right next to the USS Midway Museum was a gargantuan, 3-D rendition of that famous kiss:

san-diego-kiss

There was also a sculpture garden depicting Bob Hope at a USO event for WWII soldiers.

bob-hope-san-diego

It was incredibly well done. Walking around the sculptures, 360 degrees…

bob-hope-uso

…you could feel the emotion. You could feel the joy he was bringing to these soldiers. It was a moment frozen in time, and I felt like I was there.

bob-hope-uso-sculpture

Coronado Beach

After hanging out with 1,200 people for the better part of the week, I needed some alone time. I still hadn’t seen the Pacific ocean yet, so I took a solo trip to Coronado beach.

It was weird. I’ve been to beaches before, but they’ve always been East Coast, Caribbean or European. Coronado was different. First of all, it’s arid, even when you’re near the surf. Part of that might have been that my visit coincided with the Santa Ana winds.

But even familiar things were a little bit off in terribly interesting and beautiful ways. First, there were the dunes. Where the beach I had visited just a month before had dunes carpeted in tall grasses, this is what they looked like in San Diego:

coronado-dunes

The sands beneath my feet were firmer than what I’m used to and easier to traverse. Yet the grains were finer than any I had ever felt.

sand-spiral

I was warned of things I’ve never worried about at my beach visits before, like tsunamis and sting rays.

in-case-of-tsunami

The waves were faster and longer, and though I barely went in the water I sensed they were more powerful as they curled in on themselves.

coronado-beach

Oh, and the big thing. The sun sets, rather than rises, over the ocean. While I was waiting for my Uber back to the hotel, I got to see it set over Point Loma, the furthest southwesterly point in the continental US.

sunset-coronado-island

My only regret? That I didn’t get to see more. I’ll be back, San Diego.

Until then, stay classy.

 

 

*This post made possible by the SDTA.*

Peripheral Vision at #FinCon16

THIS is why the work of the #FinCon community is important.

On the night after the night I got back from #FinCon16, I’m all but forced to take a look at everything that happened. As last year, it was a whirlwind. I got closer with the good friends and clients (who are really also friends) that I met last year. I met new amazing people that I learned so much from, many of whom I’m hoping to work with in the future. I was forced to evaluate my priorities and overall mission as I sat through sessions.

It’s an amazing place to be, although I will admit there were a couple of times that the environment made me feel uncomfortable. Part of that was due to introversion. The other part—well, we’re starting #FeministFinCon to work on addressing that. Check us on Twitter.

But one of the biggest things I took away from this week surprisingly came not from the conference itself, but from the people on the peripheral.

Talking about Money is Important, Wanted and Needed

I can’t tell you how many times I got asked what the heck we were doing in San Diego by people on the outside. By people who worked at the venues we were paying patronage to. By Uber drivers. By people that were at the same venue as us to hear a French DJ.

These conversations affirmed to me in my moments of questioning that what we’re doing is important. Not only because it feeds our kids, but also because money conversations are needed and affect people’s lives in deep and meaningful ways each and every day.

Moving to Better Your Family

I talked to two people on the peripheral who had moved to San Diego to give their family a better life. One had left the rough streets of Chicago to give his kids a healthy environment. I got to see videos of his teens playing trampoline basketball and doing all kinds of other fun stuff that wouldn’t have been available in his own hometown. Mobility was necessary for their family’s happiness, safety and economic stability.

I talked to another man who also moved to benefit his family. He had grown up in a gang-ridden neighborhood of NYC in the 90s. Gang-ridden neighborhoods in Pittsburgh in the 90s were a rough thing—I can only imagine the reality of an even bigger city.

Moving to San Diego, where people were friendlier and there were less issues, also gave them economic stability and access to opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Being a Qualified Woman

Another conversation revolved around a woman whose best friend was hired by the same employer as she was at the same time. She had qualifications like experience and a much more robust education, but her pretty, white friend got hired on at the same position for a higher salary despite these disparities in qualification.

“Was she paid more because she was pretty and white?” I was asked. I was asked because I told them I run a blog about women’s finances and enjoy exploring social equity.

I don’t know anything about this situation other than what I’ve been told, but unfortunately, my gut feeling is yes. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Black women are among the most highly educated demographic in our nation, yet they are not compensated accordingly.

The Disparaged are Muted

I also had an amazing conversation with a historical writer about how the voices of the dominated are often silenced, even when their ideas are far more valuable than those of the oppressing culture. He saw this in his own locale, where the Santa Ana winds come in and dry everything up, making fire a frequent and destructive occurrence.

He then told me about a famous man, I cannot remember who, who built a home there in the 1940s. He wanted to build it out of adobe, because these structures fare much better in the fires, but had to commission an artisan from out-of-state to build. He couldn’t find anyone locally that remembered the craft well enough to execute his plans, despite the fact that this type of building was originally native to the region.

I didn’t see too many buildings made from adobe during my stay. But after that I started looking for them.

The Under-Served Don’t Trust the Financial Industry

I had another conversation where my motives were questioned because I wrote in the financial space. I must be abusive. I must be taking advantage of people. When I started talking about my own journey and my mission to help others overcome poverty and social inequality, the conversation softened. I was promised an email, because I want to hear the story of this college student really and truly. If you’re reading, I’m truly hoping you’ll keep to that promise.

I don’t blame people for not trusting the financial industry, though. Even though I don’t consider myself a part of it, I do work with it. I’ve seen people shut out of it. I’ve seen people taken advantage of. But there are so many good companies out there, and a lot of great startups acting as alternatives, that I think it’s important we recognize this hurt as we frame our narrative. There are good things going on, but we can’t pretend everything is or has always been hunky-dory for everyone. Otherwise we lose our credibility and alienate people with justified concerns.

What Taking on Peripheral Vision Taught Me at FinCon

Talking to these people and hearing their stories encouraged me. There were times during the conference where my confidence waned. Is money truly the most important message I could be bringing to the masses? But knowing that these conversations are wanted, needed and important to others outside of our community was enough to sustain me.

What we are doing is important, and it’s important that we keep on doing it.

sheraton-marina-san-diego

Stay tuned. I’ll have a whole separate post about the fun we had gallivanting around San Diego tourist-style.

Outer Banks Vacation: Taking Advantage of Today

Saving this for our Outer Banks vacation next summer!

Today is Labor Day, friends, which means one thing: summer is officially over. If not by scientific measurement, at least by our cultural calendars.

I want to bid the beautiful season adieu today by giving you the lowdown on our recent Outer Banks vacation. As we made plans to get away this year, we decided to do a big family trip with my husband’s family—grandparents, “children,” spouses, and grandkids.

Getting away together was of utmost importance. The sands of time can do cruel things. They make us older. They sometimes bring with them disability. As they wear on, fun things like traveling can become more difficult. We wanted to take advantage of today while we could all travel together, because we don’t know what tomorrow will hold.

And we’re so glad we did. Much like we put quarters in our piggy banks, putting shared experiences in our memory banks is an important practice in life.

Where to Stay in the Outer Banks

The drive down wouldn’t normally take us 14 hours, but with so many people caravanning, it did. When we arrived, we were tickled pink about the greeting at our beach house:

You know you're a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.

You know you’re a long-time Pittsburgh Pirates fan when you get the true depth and pain of this humor.

We stayed at BUC-n-EER, a property with Outer Beaches Realty. It was spot-on perfect for us. Everyone had the privacy they needed, and all the adults had their own balconies off their bedrooms. The kids excitedly explored the house as we unpacked, making plans to play basketball, billiards and go swimming.

Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house's mast. #RaiseIt!

Why, yes, that is the Jolly Roger flying from the house’s mast. #RaiseIt!

The first night, my brother-in-law showed us the Milky Way from top deck. That’s how clear the night sky was: you could literally see the Milky Way. The only sky I’ve ever seen that compares was deep in the heart of Yellowstone.

Later that night, my father-in-law called us all back out to the porch to watch a storm roll in from the mainland. Because everything is so flat, we could see the night sky light up 360 degrees with electricity as the dark, then illuminated, then dark again clouds moved in from miles away. About half an hour later it was over us, and then half an hour later we were watching it out at sea.

We were very lucky that was the only bad weather we had all week. The isolated storm was amazing to watch, but the rest of our time there was sunny and perfect for doing things like the beach and the pool, which the kids convinced us to do before breakfast the next morning:

outer beaches vacation rental buc n eer

Favorite Beaches on Our Outer Banks Vacation

Our house was really close to the beach. In fact, I went up there for a mommy-needs-a-breather trip myself, and my niece excitedly came back one night raving about all the crabs she had seen in the moonlight.

We were traveling with some people with mobility issues, though, and to walk to pretty much any beach in the Outer Banks, you have to traverse the sand dunes:

outer banks vacation sand dunes

To the left are the houses over a hill, and over another hill to the right is the seashore.

Beautiful though they may be, their soft sands make them a tricky climb. When I went during the day, the beach was pretty well populated. It wasn’t Myrtle Beach crowded; I still had plenty of room to lay out my towel right near the surf with no one behind or in front of me. But here is the relativity it had to compete with:

outer banks vacation off roading

That little spec far off in the middle of the beach was our closest neighbor when we took advantage of the fact that the Outer Banks is a National Shoreline where you are allowed to take off-road vehicles. For $50/vehicle, you get a week-long pass to drive around on the sand, which I got pretty good at by the end of the week. It’s like driving on ice only you can dig in and get stuck. (Which totally happened to us once!)

This allowed us to have large expanses of beaches to ourselves, helped us feel more comfortable with the kids running around, and made the beach accessible to everyone regardless of mobility. From what I understand, the only other beach that allows you to do this is Daytona. At least on the East Coast.

outer banks beach vacation

Of the three beaches we visited, here are our personal rankings:

  1. Ocracoke Island– You have to take a (free) ferry to get here, but it’s well worth it. If you thought the rest of the Outer Banks were isolated, the effort it takes to get out here makes this island even more so.
    Perhaps because there’s less people, we found an incredible amount of shells while visiting this beach, most of them perfect. One of the kiddos even found a fully-intact conch!
  2. Avon– It could have been the time of day or the position of the moon, but Avon had the gentlest surf of all the beaches we visited. It was also the closest to our house in Salvo.
  3. Hatteras– We stopped here after getting our pass to drive on the beach. It was still a beautiful beach, but it had the harshest surf. Again with the moon thing, though. Our experience may not have been the norm.

Things to Do

As my sister-in-law said, “The Outer Banks is where you go to get away from it all.” It’s not a place laden with attractions. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to do, though. We spent plenty of days in the pool or in the sand, but there were a couple of other things we checked out, too.

Digger’s Dungeon

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Photo by KAZ Vorpal available via CC BY-SA 2.0

Gravedigger is a monster truck, for those of you who don’t know, and Digger’s Dungeon was one of the things on our kids’ must-do list. It’s highly geared towards children, which was great for us. On top of playing and touring, they also got to ride in a monster truck for real. Only one girl from our clan went on the ride; the rest were boys and grown men. She outlasted them all giggling as everyone else turned green!

Wright Brothers Memorial

By RadioFan (talk) - Own work (Original text: I (RadioFan (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35454969

Photo by RadioFan (talk) available via CC BY-SA 3.0,

We wanted to hit this up on our way back from Digger’s Dungeon, but we got there one minute after close.

Super saver tip for those of you who aren’t tardy: If you have a family member with a disability, apply for the National Parks Access Pass. It gets the disabled person and everyone in the same car in to national sites across the country for a severely discounted rate–sometimes even for free.

Ocracoke Island Ferry

As I mentioned before, we loved visiting Ocracoke Island. The last time I had been to OBX, you took a short little ferry ride to get there. Since that time, a sand bar has filled in the short route, so now the free ferry ride is much longer. They make you turn off the car and the AC area of the ferry is not handicap accessible, so going over at 2P under the hot sun was a little bit hell-ish.

But the ride back? One of the best experiences ever. In a lucky accident, we timed our departure right at sunset. For most of the ride back, we were able to see this in half of the 360 degree sky:

ocracoke island sunset

The other half of the sky was pitch-black with those amazing stars again, including the Milky Way. As the night got darker, every time the boat turned it looked like the sky was rotating rather than us. The entire experience was moving, and I’m glad it’s something we got to share as a family.

Best Eats

Birthday dinner at Ketch 55!

Birthday dinner at Ketch 55!

In all honesty, well only ate out three times while in the Outer Banks. Most of the time, we cooked our own food in our spacious kitchen or out on the grill.

While we were waiting for the ferry, though, we did grab some food at a little stand outside the adjacent shopping center. I got a delectable NC-style BBQ pork sandwich, but I think I was the only one that was impressed with my food.

The other two times we ate out we had a great experiences. Once, we stopped at Bros Sandwich Shack. It was so. dang. good. We had a little bit of a wait between ordering our awesome sandwiches and actually getting them, but their friendly staff was cool enough to hook me up with their WiFi password so I could avoid a total meltdown with one of my kids. Even our picky eater chowed down. Highly recommend the chicken philly!

Then, for our one big dinner out, we blindly stopped at Ketch 55. It was a little bit pricey, but had good food and good service. The things that were hits were super quality, like the mushroom risotto and clams. The fried seafood was actually deep fried instead of fried on the stove, which some people liked and others didn’t, and the skin was left on the flounder, but other than that everyone had a great time and was well satisfied. We also had a birthday dinner, so we tried out a couple of their fantastic desserts!

Family vacations are important.

At least they are in our family. This was the first time a big one with everyone there had happened in their family since the year I was born. While we did some things frugally and took certain measures to make the experience affordable for us all, the point of this trip was to build memories together that each of us could carry for a lifetime. Mission completed.

 

 

 

*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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