Category Archives: travel

Virginia Beach on a Dime

Today we hop in the way-back machine to revisit an ultra frugal trip my husband and I took to Virginia Beach six or seven years ago. Time flies!

I can't believe how much money she saved on her Virginia Beach vacation! Pinning for our trip this spring.

Traveling is my favorite thing to do. It can be expensive, though, so today I thought I’d show you how to do a popular East Coast destination on a restricted budget. All the fun for a lot less money.

Let’s go to Virginia Beach.

How to Get There

Virginia Beach is eight hours away from Pittsburgh by car, which was totally manageable for us. For other east coasters it may be a little further or a little closer.

You’d be surprised how quickly those eight hours fly by, and if you do the math, the gas really isn’t all that much versus flying despite the crazy prices at the pump. If you’re having issues getting gas money, save up some fuel rewards points from a grocery store you frequent. I’ve used this trick to get a free tank before!

When to Go to Virginia Beach

Right before Memorial Day or right after Labor Day. This is called the shoulder season, and is the best time to visit almost any vacation destination.

Prices on everything will be seriously slashed, but pretty much everything will be open. If you travel really close to either holiday, you get all the benefits and all the savings.

Where to Stay in Virginia Beach

The view from our insanely clean and affordable Virginia Beach hotel.

View from our room.

Schooner Inn.  Hands down. Our experience was that fantastic.

It’s a smaller hotel, but it’s on the boardwalk. The rooms are pretty economically sized, and the decor is a bit outdated, but they are CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN.

While only some of the rooms have living space, the amenities will not disappoint. Most rooms have a hot tub. All have a mini fridge, microwave, and sink. Some have a dishwasher and range along with a kitchen table.

They have a pool for guests, and every single room faces and has a view of the beach. On top of it all, there’s a water park for kids just outside the hotel on the beach.

While you are on the boardwalk, you’re at the very end of it so you’ll need to be prepared for some walking. We actually enjoyed this aspect of it. There’s tons to see and do along the boardwalk on your way to your destination.

When we stayed here, we got a room for $60/night. I want to reinforce to you that this is not some crappy motel. We got a great price on a perfect room because we went at the right time and were willing to walk.

What to Do at Virginia Beach

What isn’t there to do?

There’s a mini amusement park on the boardwalk.

A couple blocks inland there’s tons of mini golf places.

A bunch of mouth-watering places to eat and drink.

The Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum is also along the boardwalk (nudge, nudge for geocachers!)

Save More with Coupons

The other tip I have is COUPONS.

Whenever I go on vacation, I sign up for the LivingSocial for that area. If anything fantastic comes along that I can use, I’ll purchase.

If group coupon sites aren’t your thing, the Schooner Inn (as most hotels, I’m sure) will have coupons books waiting in your hotel room or at the front desk. USE THEM. They’ll save you tons.

More Vacation Savings Tips

Virginia Beach vacation save money

You can also bring food along to cook a few meals.

Bring your own bottled water for sure. You do not want to pay boardwalk prices for hydration.

Do as much of your frugal planning and preparation as possible before you go. That way when you get there,  you can just relax and enjoy the view from your hot tub.

That’s the whole point of taking a holiday anyways, right?

Free Entrance to National Parks in 2018

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 2018

In 2018, there are a severely stunted number of free days compared to years past. So if you want to get in on one of them, you’re going to have to plan a little more carefully.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Fees will be waived on January 15, 2018 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

First Day of National Park Week

Last year, there were five free days in the month of April recognizing National Park Week. This year, you’ll only get in for free on the first day of the celebration: April 21, 2018.

National Public Lands Day

Admission will be free on September 22, 2018 in honor of National Public Lands Day.

Veterans Day

Last year you got two free days for this holiday, but this year you only get one. You can get into national parks for free in celebration of Veterans Day on November 11, 2018.

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 Entry to National Parks Year Round

If you fall into any of the following demographics, you can get a free national park pass. You only need on per vehicle to get into the park, so if anyone in your family falls into one of these categories, you could theoretically get the entire clan in for free.

  • You are a US citizen with a documented disability.
  • You are a 4th grader. Eligibility starts on your first day of fourth grade and ends on your first day of fifth grade.
  • You are a member of the military or a military dependent.

You can learn more about each of these programs here.

Free National Park Admission in Canada

Last year Canada was giving away free national park passes in honor of their nation’s 150th birthday. That program has ended, but there are still a couple ways to get in for free.

The first is via a Cultural Access Pass. These are reserved for those who have become Canadian citizens in the past year.

A new program that has been rolled out for 2018 allows anyone under 17 years of age into national parks for free. Find out more about the new youth program here.

 

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 Spring 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.

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, so you still have lots of 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.*

Dallas Recap: History, Food and Gratitude

So excited to try out these dining options while we're in Texas! I'm loving the 40% off Dallas attractions savings tip, too.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Dallas for a work conference. I was expecting cowboy hats and country music, to be honest with you.

The city wasn’t at all what I expected, and I mean that in a very positive way as I’m not a fan of country music. What I experienced was history, culture, great food, and a respect for others that was sometimes enshrined in public monuments.

CityPass Attractions in Dallas

The folks at Visit Dallas hooked me up with a free CityPass to explore their beautiful city. Here are the things it potentially allowed me to do:

If you’re headed to Dallas, I highly recommend the CityPass as a way to save a bunch of money on attractions. It’s only $48 for adults and $32 for kids, and gets you into the above places. That saves you 40% compared to the normal cost of admission.

I was initially super ambitious and thought I would hit all four of my potential options, but time constraints kept that number down to two. I was also downtown without a car, so distance was another thing that contributed to my choices with the limited time I had.

I would definitely go back to see what I missed, though, because what I saw was pretty impressive.

Dealy Plaza AKA The Grassy Knoll

The very first day we got into town, some friends and I headed to the Grassy Knoll and Sixth Floor Museum. JFK was a great leader who was taken far too soon, and learning more about the background behind that fateful day was at the top of our to-do list.

I made another 360 video for you guys at the Grassy Knoll so you could see what I did first hand. Before I show you that, I just want to orient you a little bit. Photos from this section are courtesy of Jana Says.

The street you’ll see directly in front of you is Elm Street–the road the motorcade was driving down when it happened. There’s an “X” where the fatal shot hit the president. You’ll be able to see this up close a bit over halfway through the video.

The x on the road where JFK was shot.

The white structure we walk through was there the day of the assassination. The one across the street outside the church was added later. Behind the church is the official JFK memorial. (I think it’s a church. That brown, castle-ish looking building.)

View from the grassy knoll.

At the very beginning of the video (and throughout,) the building behind you is the Book Depository. This is where Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly set up shop. He was an employee there. The story is he was on the sixth floor–hence The Sixth Floor Museum. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.

Here’s the Book Depository:

The Book Depository hosts the Sixth Floor Museum.

And here’s the video. You can click and drag to look around from your PC or phone, but it will be best viewed through a VR headset.

The Sixth Floor Museum

If you’re going to Dallas, I highly recommend checking out the Sixth Floor Museum–and actually doing the audio tour.

The audio tour takes you through the culture and politics–both national and local to Dallas–that surrounded JFK’s presidency. It gives you an appreciation for his policies and helps you understand why some people in Dallas weren’t too keen on them.

It also takes you through the whirlwind investigation into Lee Harvey Oswald, and even explores alternate theories. I was in Dallas when the JFK papers were released, and so far there hasn’t been any new huge revelation, so everything I learned was current even with the release.

jfk assassination museum

I didn’t really have a horse in the game when it came to the assassination before this trip. Maybe the conspiracy theories were right. Maybe they weren’t. I didn’t know enough to make an educated guess.

After visiting the Sixth Floor Museum, I’m convinced Oswald was set up in some way. That the events that happened that day didn’t unfurl the way the official story tells us.

But when you visit, you might walk away with a different conclusion. Definitely a must-see.

Reunion Tower GeO-Deck

Dallas skyline from Reunion Tower GeO-Deck

Our last day in town, we visited the GeO-Deck at Reunion Tower. It’s an observation deck. We expected to go up, look around, be like, “These are some beautiful views!” and then be on our way.

It was so much more. It really blew us away.

First, they take your picture when you arrive and green screen different skyline/tower backgrounds in. You get a free digital copy, which we were surprised by and took advantage of. You could also order upgrades.

The elevator to get to the top has a window, which was breathtaking on the way up, but I did start getting a little motion sickness on the way down.

Up at the top, the views outside are breathtaking. There is a sphere built around the GeO-deck, constructed of a bunch of triangle frames. Aim between those frames and you get some amazing shots. Because Dallas is so flat, you can see for what seems like forever.

When you go inside, there’s a lot more to do, too. There are activity tables for kids. Then there are banks of touch screens along the edges so you can learn more about what you’re seeing.

For example, we had an amazing room the end of the hall at our hotel with sweeping views of the city out of panoramic windows. We did nothing special to get this room. We just lucked out.

Outside, I could see what looked like a Pegasus–a symbol I had grown up associating with Exxon-Mobile–leaping from the top of a building. I saw more of these Pegasuses (Pegasi?) throughout the city during our stay. I wondered if there was a connection.

At the GeO-deck, I learned the back story:

pegasus dallas

There was also a rotating restaurant above the observation deck that we heard rave reviews about, but we had already set up other dining plans.

Good Eats in Dallas

build your own grilled cheese

Custom grilled cheese.

While the rotating restaurant did sound amazingly cool, I’m glad we ended up sticking to our original plan. We went to RJ Mexican Cuisine, and it was so good. It had a higher-end vibe–especially with food presentation, but I went in with jeans and a hoodie at lunch time and felt perfectly comfortable.

I was insanely hungry, so I didn’t obsess over food prices like I usually do, which is really odd behavior on my part. I was kind of dreading the bill. But when it came, it was reasonable: somewhere between $20 and $30 for some of the best food and service ever.

Another not-crazy-expensive restaurant we tried out was Dallas Grilled Cheese Company. It was also great. This place felt like a hipster hangout, and encouraged you to get adventurous with your food. They had a ton of different grilled cheese menu options that essentially had a bunch of add-ons cooked into your sandwich. Crazy delicious!

Halloween Cocktails

Also, they had a Candy Corn Cocktail, which was as unbearably sweet as you’d expect it to be, but also awesome because it exists.

Fancier Restaurants

I got invited to a few dinners while I was at the conference, and they fed us so well!

CFSI took us to the Ritz-Carlton, which had an absolutely stunning private room with gorgeous views of the carefully curated courtyard. The food wasn’t half bad either. Understatement.

chocolate torte

I also got to meet up with my friends at CreditRepair.com at the dinner they hosted at Dallas Chop House. Everything from the bread to the steak to the dessert above was amazing! I definitely did not leave hungry.

Free Stuff to Do in Dallas: Thanks-Giving Square

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

Before I went on this trip, I explored a lot of free things to do while I was there. Dallas has no shortage of them.

My absolute favorite, though, was Thanks-Giving Square. Located in the middle of downtown, it’s a nondenominational oasis where you can reflect and exercise gratitude.

This may sound silly, but the second I walked into the courtyard I felt this rush of peace. After an extremely hectic week, it was a more than welcome feeling.

There were multiple man-made waterfalls spilling over rocks or cement walls. There were gardens under the shade of trees where you could sit for a moment of meditation. There were quotes everywhere quoting various scripture from all kinds of world religions, encouraging visitors to demonstrate gratitude.

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.

There was this feeling that the undercurrent of religion–stripped of dogma and the stories that we choose to believe–was present. That undercurrent that helps us tap into what makes us human, helps us find peace even in moments of great conflict, and helps us figure out what is right and wrong when we’re faced with a difficult decision.

That was the undercurrent that was present. It’s a beautiful thing to experience.

The Chapel

stained glass ceiling thanksgiving square dallas

Perhaps the most impressive part of Thanksgiving Square was the Chapel. It spirals around like a nautilus–upwards towards the sky. Inside, the roof is made of stained glass windows, which are made accessible to the blind with a bold, tactile plaque on the wall.

thanksgiving sqaure ada

In the middle of the room, flanked by a few chairs, is a massive, marble cube that serves as a nondenominational altar of sorts. On the wall is a gratitude wall, where visitors can write something they’re thankful for.

nautilus building dallas texas

A ramp spirals up the inside of the building, but I’m not sure where it leads. It was closed when we visited.

What I’d Do Differently

I really enjoyed this city–even more than I thought I would. If I were to do it again, I’d probably do Reunion Tower the first day instead of the last. It really helped you orient yourself and get an idea of all the different things you could do while you were in town.

I’d also dedicate even more time to adventures around the city. So many interesting things to see, and so little time.

Have you ever been to Dallas? What were your favorite parts? Would love to hear your stories in the comments!

 

How to Have a Budget Vacation in Gokarna

Very cool way to do budget travel while still staying at luxe resorts. Adding Gokarna, India to the achievable part of my bucket list!

Famous for its beach and resorts, Gokarna is a town in Karnataka, India where you can head when you find Goa overcrowded. Offering many tourist activities, beach views, and more, Gokarna has secured its place as a beach holiday destination. It is the perfect place to rejuvenate yourself and escape the monotony of life.

Gokarna is one of those beach destinations where you can take part in all activities and have a comfortable stay even if you have a small budget.

Gokarna Resort Options

Gokarna Resorts are an incredible solution for a budget-friendly vacation. These resorts offer  relaxation, luxury, and a plethora of activities to take part in. So, if you are a budget-minded traveler, go ahead and explore these cheap Gokarna hotels:

Namaste Sanjeevini

Spanning over an area of 4 acres, Namaste Sanjeevini is a resort where you can get a room for INR 2,500 (currently equivalent to $38.57 USD) per night.

Considered as the best resort near the beach, it is quite spacious and has elegantly designed rooms and suites. Here you’ll be able to get a room with a perfect Kudle beach view.

Also, as the name suggests, the resort also houses two Yoga decks. The large deck is under a tree and is extremely peaceful. For a marginal amount of money, you get facilities like a swimming pool, yoga decks, internet access, and more.

Gokarna International Beach Resort

Offering rates as low as INR 2,500 (currently equivalent to $38.57 USD) per night, Gokarna International Beach Resort is situated to the south of Kudle Beach. Due to its location, all its rooms are sea and beach facing.

The resort has so much to offer to its visitors including a bar, international cuisine, a lounge and many fun activities. The activities here provide you optimum comfort and enjoyment, making your vacation more exciting and comfortable.

Om Beach Resort

Om Beach Resort is a great choice for your stay as it offers beautiful views of rustic-style cottages. The resort boasts of its spacious, comfortable rooms.

This resort makes it easy to adhere to your budget. It offers rooms for your stay from INR 2,953 (currently $45.53 USD) and up. With 12 cottages in total, the resort offers an Ayurvedic Spa without burning a hole in your pocket.

Sanskruti Resort

Close to nature, Sanskruti Resort consists of 10 valley view rooms, cottages and top-class amenities. The resort also boasts of two swimming pools, Ayurvedic massage facilities, and other activities.

The level of luxury here doesn’t obfuscate the fact that you are sitting in the lap of Mother Nature. The resort is quite eco-friendly and has a beautiful installation of tropical trees with heavy usage of woodcraft.

Offering all this for just INR 6,000 (currently $92.57 USD) and up, Sanskruti Resort has it going on.

Lotus Beach Resort

Among the best resorts in Gokarna, Lotus Beach Resort has a rugged ambience with okra-hued interior sparkle. The roofs of the cottages here are thatched which beautifully represents the local heritage, but they still have modern furniture.

Though it is located beside the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, it still has rooms from INR 3,000 (currently $42.39 USD) and up. The resort also has a special kids’ area which will keep them occupied, and a bonfire setup for all.

Find Your Resort

All these resorts in Gokarna have their own beauty and individuality. Where you stay will depend on what you want out of the services, location, views, and facilities.These cheap hotels in Gokarna make perfect beach holiday resorts.

There are many other resorts in Gokarna that offer a comfortable stay for a more-than-reasonable amount of money. On top of affordable resorts, the transportation in Gokarna is also not expensive. You can take a rickshaw or an auto, and it will take you to your destination.

 

 

This post is brought to you and contributed by Audrey Hobbs.