Category Archives: travel

Seven Free or Inexpensive Activities in Toronto

I’m happy to introduce you to Lisa Goodmurphy from Gone With the Family. I absolutely love her blog where I learn about great, family-friendly activities in all the amazing places she goes—with the kids! Make sure to check out her full bio below to see all the different places she writes and the best ways to follow her.

Totally taking my kids to the fourth one on this list of free/inexpensive things to do in Toronto!



Toronto is a wonderful, family-friendly city, but like most cities it can also be a very expensive place to visit.  This is especially true for families who have to multiply the costs of admissions, meals etc. by the number of members.  Fortunately, there are a number of things to do in Toronto that are fun for families but won’t break the bank.

1.  Parks/Green Spaces

The municipal government, which would like Toronto to be known as “the City within a Park”, is responsible for nearly 1500 parks within the city.  There’s no charge to take the kids to some of the cities great parks to run around and blow off steam.  One of the best in the city is High Park, a 161 hectare park located in the city’s west end which boasts hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, gardens and a zoo.  The park is easily accessible by transit and is the perfect place to entertain kids for an hour or more with little expense.

2.  Ferry to Centre Island

Just a short ferry ride from downtown, visitors can escape the hustle and bustle of the city on the car-free Centre Island.  The ferry ride isn’t free but it is relatively inexpensive ($4-8) and for many kids the boat ride is an adventure in and of itself.  Parents will also enjoy the fantastic views of Toronto’s skyline on the boat ride to and from the island.  Once on the island, families can enjoy bicycle paths, a petting zoo, wading pools, swimming and other activities which are free or inexpensive.  Parents should be aware though that there is an amusement park on the island as well so they will want to steer clear if they wish to avoid the kids begging for rides.

art gallery of toronto sculpture

3.  The Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario (“the AGO”) is located in downtown Toronto and is one of the largest art museums in North America.  The AGO has a large Canadian collection as well as many masterpieces of European art, contemporary art and photography.  It’s a world-class art museum and it’s one of the most family-friendly galleries we have visited.  Families on a budget will also appreciate that entry to the permanent collections is FREE on Wednesday evenings from 6pm – 8:30pm.

4.  Riverdale Farm

Riverdale Farm is located in a park-like setting in the downtown Toronto neighbourhood of Cabbagetown and represents what a rural Ontario farm would have been like in the late 19th/early 20th century.  Visitors can tour the 7.5 acre farm property, observe the animals and chat with the farmers as they do their daily chores.  Homemade refreshments are also available in the Farm Kitchen.  Admission is always free at Riverdale Farm which is open year round and hosts a number of special seasonal events.

5.  Explore Neighbourhoods

Toronto is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and its neighbourhoods can be a lot of fun to explore with kids.  The best known are probably Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy and Little India and a couple of hours in any of these neighbourhoods can feel like a day trip to another country.  Families can stroll the neighbourhoods and soak up the sights and sounds, browse the shops and sample authentic foods while spending far less than they would in malls or mainstream restaurants.

6.  Harbourfront Centre

Harbourfront Centre is a not-for-profit cultural centre located on Toronto’s waterfront which provides year-round programming as well as outdoor shows and events during the summer season.  Some of the offerings have an associated fee (particularly crafts workshops), however, there are many free events and activities as well.  For example, during the upcoming winter season, the Harbourfront Centre will have free skating all winter, free concerts, free holiday movies, a winter scavenger hunt, and a holiday market with free admission, free storytelling and crafts for kids in Miss Lou’s Room.  There are numerous festivals and events during the course of the year that will appeal to families as well.

St Lawrence Market in Toronto, Canada

7.  St. Lawrence Market

St. Lawrence Market has been thriving in downtown Toronto since 1803 and has recently been recognized by National Geographic as the number one food market in the world.  Anyone who enjoys food markets simply must make it a priority when visiting Toronto.  It’s absolutely free to walk around and enjoy the atmosphere of delicious sights, sounds and smells and it’s an ideal place to purchase an inexpensive lunch.  If you’re lucky then you might even find entertainment there too as it’s a popular place for buskers.

 

 

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer living near Toronto, Canada. She left the corporate world to stay home with her two daughters, Katie and Emma (now aged 16 and 9). Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, Lisa considers herself fortunate that her husband and kids are equally enthusiastic about exploring the world.

As well as writing about her family’s travel adventures on her blog Gone With The Family, Lisa has written for a number of travel websites and is a regular contributor at Travel Mamas as The Spunky Travel Mama. You can also follow her on Facebook, on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily and on Pinterest.

Toronto has amazing things to do for free as Lisa outlines.  If you’re looking to do more of the tourist-y things, CityPass offers a steep discount. Visit Toronto’s CN Tower plus 4 other attractions for up to 45% off with CityPASS!

Free Things to Do in Dallas #FinCon17

Dang, Dallas has some cool stuff to do for free!

As conference season inches closer, I’m realizing that I really need to start planning my travel itinerary now. While I have flights and hotels booked, I haven’t cemented what, exactly, I’ll be doing once I hit the ground at FinCon this year.

So I started planning a couple of lunches. I blocked off time for specific events I know I have to participate in.

I also started planning exploratory trips into the city. Last year I got to see some amazing things in San Diego, and I’m excited to learn more about Dallas.

As I do my research, I thought it would be fun to share some of the free things the city has to offer. Whether you’re headed there for business or pleasure, here are 12 FREE things to do in Dallas:

Historical Dallas

I’m a huge history nerd. I get super psyched when I see that a city offers more than just a glimpse into its past for free. Dallas is one of those cities.

1. Dealey Plaza

This is where JFK was assassinated 54 years ago. There is no admission price to go to Dealey Plaza itself, but if you’d like to go to get a little background at The Sixth Floor Museum, you’ll pay $16 per adult.

You can also score a sweet deal by picking up a CityPass.

2. John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

While you’re at Dealey Plaza, you’ll see the JFK Memorial. It’s simple, but in a move of genius, secluded in a very public place. The structure allows for a moment of silence, contemplation or meditation, and was built in hopes that it would help celebrate JFK’s life rather than serve as a place of mourning for his death.

3. Fair Park

Art deco was huge in the 1930s, and Dallas went big with it. Fair Park is home of the largest collection of art deco buildings in North America. The largest is the Hall of State, which houses some impressive murals and regularly hosts events like weddings. You can tour the building for free.

4. Juanita Craft House

Juanita Craft was an NAACP champion. She joined in her hometown of Dallas, but went on to establish nearly 200 more chapters in rural Texas. She integrated colleges, theaters, restaurants, and even the Texas State Fair. She was such an important player in the Civil Rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lyndon Johnson paid visits to her home in attempts to coordinate their efforts.

That home is now open to the public. If you want to go, just make sure you call ahead to make an appointment.

Arts & Culture in Dallas

Stained glass spiral at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas

Thanks-Giving Square

5. Thanks-Giving Square

Gratitude makes our life better. It helps us feel at peace and gives us some perspective–hopefully inspiring us to do good for other people.

Thanks-Giving Square stands in honor of that sentiment. The art collection and nautilus-shaped roof serve to inspire peace to every human being–regardless of religion or ethnicity. There are also outdoor meditation gardens.

There are a ton of time slots for this one. Check out the hours as you plan your visit.

6. Dallas Arts District

At 68 acres, Dallas boasts the largest urban arts district in the United States. Klyde Warren Park sits at the center, hosting free muscial performances every Thursday and additional family-friendly fun throughout the week.

While in the Dallas Arts District, you’ll also come across the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art–two museums that offer F-R-E-E admission.

7. African-American Museum

Located in Fair Park with the Hall of State, the African-American Museum houses one of the largest collections of art and historical documents in its niche. It also regularly hosts lectures and workshops.

Open from 10a-5p everyday except for Sunday.

8. The Samurai Collection

If you’ve been to Dallas before, but it’s been a while, this will be a new experience for you. The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum opened this exhibit in 2012, making the vast personal collection open to the public.

This is literally the only place outside of Japan where you’ll find a museum dedicated to samurai armor.

Before viewing the museum’s 1,000+ piece collection, you can grab some eats at the Saint Ann Restaurant and Bar downstairs. It gets more than decent reviews, so hop in if you’re there around meal time. You don’t HAVE to eat in order to see samurai armor, though.

Oh, also, this is all in an historic school building. So good food, local history and samurais. Random, but awesome.

9. The Economy in Action

This interactive exhibit brought to you by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is literally all about money. Hopefully, since you’re reading a personal finance blog, that makes you giddy as all get out!

Some super cool things you’ll find here:

  • Historical Currency- As in legitimate paper and coins from the 1700s through the 1900s.
  • Cast Your Vote- Unhappy that the Fed is independent of government? Go back in time and listen to the Founding Father’s arguments for and against. You’ll even get to cast your vote after they make their arguments!
  • What does the Fed do? You may have wondered what the Federal Reserve Bank does aside from raising or lowering interest rates. Well, The Economy in Action will break it down for you with five different exhibits ranging from the founding of the Fed to bank supervision to current monetary policy.

Getting Around Dallas

M-Line Dallas

There are a surprising number of ways to get around Dallas for $0.

10. D-Link

Need to get to all of Dallas’ art and culture between the hours of 11a to 11:30p? There’s a free bus for that. Seriously.

You can check out the D-Link (722) route map here. For those visiting Dallas for FinCon, stop 18 is literally catty-corner to the hotel. Buses run every 15 minutes.

11. E-Frogs

What’s better than free? How about eco-friendly and free?

E-Frogs uses street-legal, modified golf carts to get you around the city without charging fare. Better for the environment than cars, and better for your wallet than ride-sharing services.

You will have to tip, though. Don’t be so cheap that you turn into a total and complete jerk.

To get a ride, text your departure and arrival address along with the time you’ll need the ride to 469-432-4055.

12. McKinney Avenue Trolley

Also known as the M-Line, the McKinney Avenue Trolley runs seven days per week between the Arts District and Uptown. While there is no charge to ride, the trolley does accept donations.

For FinConners, the closest stop is a block and a half away at Federal & Olive. You can check out the schedule here.

 

Know of any other free things to do in Dallas that should be added to the list? Share them in the comments below!

 

How to Save Money at Disney World

So glad I saw this before we leave for Disney World! Going to save me SO much money!

A few months back, we took a road trip down to Florida. We were going to a wedding, and a family member had gifted us a week at their timeshare in Orlando as a Christmas present. We couldn’t have gotten out of going to Disney if we wanted to.

Of course, we wanted to go. It’s just an expensive trip, so it’s not likely one we would have made on our own. We had a bit of a mixed experience once we got down there, to be honest with you, but Disney has worked to make amends for the negative experiences we had.

The positive experiences were great, though. We got to meet a bunch of characters–most of whom were awesome. One of my kiddos ended up being the rebel spy on board our ship on the Star Wars ride. And a live performance of Frozen brought us to tears.

Yeah, that last one really happened.

We did a few things to save before we went. First, the timeshare was free, and we were able to dodge the sales pitch. We also travel hacked our tickets. They weren’t free, but they were insanely cheap.

Once we got there, though, I realized that there was more I could have done to prepare. To save you from making these same follies, I thought I’d share my learned-from-experience Disney savings advice.

Cheapest Ways to Meet Characters at Disney World

Before I had gone to Disney World as an adult, I assumed the best way to ensure the kids met the characters they were in love with was by scheduling a meal with them. So we scheduled a couple of them.

We chose the cheaper buffet option when we dined at Disney restaurants to meet with characters, but it was still pricey–between $30-$60 per person.

Here’s what I wish I would have known before we left.

The Lines to Meet Characters Aren’t that Long

Find out how to meet Minnie Mouse for free at Disney World.

Minnie Mouse at Epcot was so, so great with the kids!

If there’s a designated place to meet your character of choice, you can simply wait in line to meet them and take pictures without paying an extra dime. We met…

  • Olaf
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Minnie Mouse
  • Goofy

…in this way. If I had known there would be so many opportunities to do this, I may have cut one of our character dining experiences, and saved a ton of money in the process.

From what I saw walking around the parks, the lines for these meet’n’greets weren’t that long. And we were there at the end of May, which I understand to be a pretty popular time to visit.

Dig around on the Disney Experience App before you go. You’ll be able to see where the meet’n’greet opportunities are, and a quick google search should be able to tell you if your character of choice has crazy long lines.

Worst case scenario, you can use one of your Fast Passes for extremely popular characters.

Don’t Overlook Character Performance Attractions

Disney’s attractions include a whole lot more than just rides. For example, we got to meet Belle at Enchanted Tales with Belle.

Catch storytime with Belle at Learning Express Bakery Square.

The upside to this was that our kids got an up close and intimate experience, performing a play while interacting directly with Belle.

The downside was that the line was insane. Even with a disability pass, we waited somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half after we got in line. Granted, this is an extremely popular attraction right now as the new Beauty and the Beast movie just came out, but it was still less than fun.

Arguably worth it once we got inside.

For the Frozen performance we attended, there was also a bit of a wait, though nowhere near as bad. Your kids didn’t get to meet and hug the characters for this one, though we didn’t expect that to happen and really loved the over-the-top performance.

Read the attraction description to see just how up close and personal the experience will be, and then weigh if the wait time is worth it, or if you’d rather pay to sit down and eat a meal while the characters make their rounds to your table.

Don’t Wait to Buy Disney Merchandise on Amazon

Ugh. The biggest money mistake of our entire Disney trip was not buying the kids things they wanted while we were in the park. I did want to get them a souvenir or two, but largely I told them to wait until we got home and then Mommy would buy it cheaper online.

I took pictures of UPCs and everything.

Find out how to save money on Disney Parks merchandise.

SURPRISE! Disney has a separate line of products that they sell exclusively at the parks. The internet seems to be aware of this exclusivity. When people resell items from the line, the price is way marked up.

I had promised my kids I’d get them this stuff, though. We have lots of conversations about sacrifices and trade offs when it comes to money, but this was something I had explicitly told them I would buy later in order to stave off tantrums.

Because I’m not a fan of breaking my promises, I’ve been filling in an item or two for birthdays, and Santa will probably help out a bit at Christmas. The number of presents they receive isn’t as large as it would usually be if I weren’t buying already-expensive-and-then-marked-up-even-more Disney products. But they’re happy because it’s something they really wanted, and I’m happy because I’m able to not be an evil liar.

The Things We Did Right

Central Florida is insanely hot in May. Thankfully, this was one area where I did something right.

Buy Your Own Cooling Towels

Cooling towels absolutely saved us on this trip. We got Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads, and I highly recommend them as they worked amazingly well. I would not recommend their other cooling products, though.

You wet them down and lay them around your neck. As the water evaporates, it cools you down. The water takes a long time to evaporate, too, so we weren’t stopping at a water fountain every five seconds.

Once we were inside Disney, we saw Disney-branded cooling towels everywhere–primarily donning the face of Mickey or Minnie mouse. They were $20/piece. If we hadn’t been prepared, I would have broken down and bought them, price tag be darned.

If we were going to be there, we needed them. Otherwise we would have had to cut all of our days short. Buy yours before you get into the park so you don’t get robbed. Kmart has them for half the price.

Bring Your Own Water Bottles

You are allowed to bring coolers into the park as long as it meets size guidelines and doesn’t contain glass or alcohol. We packed ours full of water. Yes, it was heavy. But so worth it.

We usually had to buy more water about half-way through the day at park prices (I’m a weirdo about fountain/tap water,) but if we hadn’t brought our own supply at the beginning of the day, we would have had to pay park prices twice.

We also found that we had enough room on all the rides to put the cooler by our feet. We weren’t riding any insane roller coasters, but even on the Dumbo and Little Mermaid rides, we had no issues.

Can you do Disney World on a budget?

Absolutely. We did it relatively affordably this time, given that it is Disney. We plan on heading back in the next couple of years. This time, we’ll have some pro experience under our belt to safeguard our budget even better.

Should I Buy Auto Insurance on My Rental Car?

Shoot! I didn't realize I was already covered! Will definitely be reconsidering buying extra insurance the next time I rent a car.

Getting ready to purchase auto insurance on that rental?

Hold your horses.

I totally get that you don’t want to be held liable should the worst happen. After all, you’re renting a car for convenience or vacation—the last thing you want to do is worry about the unknown.

But you also don’t want to spend more money than you have to. If you are purchasing an auto rental on a credit card, you may already have coverage. You may also have coverage if you carry a regular auto policy.

Don’t automatically agree to paying yet another premium. First, call up your credit card and insurance companies to see what you already have.

Auto Insurance Offered Through Your Credit Card

If you are paying for your rental with a credit card, you may already have coverage. These policies most often cover damages caused by collision and theft.

Let’s look at PenFed’s Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card. As long as you paid for the rental entirely with this card and only had authorized drivers per your rental agreement operating the vehicle, coverage includes:

  • Physical damage to the vehicle
  • Theft of the vehicle
  • Towing charges as long as they’re reasonable
  • Valid loss-of-use charges imposed and substantiated by the auto rental company

If you’re renting domestically, coverage only applies to vehicles rented 15 days or less. If you’re out of the country, it applies to rentals of 31 days or less.

Not all vehicles are covered. For example, if you wanted to roll around in a Ferrari, you wouldn’t qualify for coverage. The same goes if you sign a rental agreement for any luxe vehicle or a van, motorcycle, moped, open-bed vehicle, or antique auto.

These exceptions are pretty standard across card companies, but it’s always a good idea to give your benefits administrator a quick ring before signing to make sure your specific make and model will be eligible for coverage.

The only thing you have to do to accept coverage is definitively decline the insurance the rental agency is offering you. In writing.

Your Own Auto Insurance

If you have auto insurance, the following areas will generally be covered by your own policy:

  • Liability to others’ property in case of property damage
  • Liability for others’ medical bills in case of a crash
  • Medical expenses for you and others in your vehicle

This is a good time to review your coverage limits. If they’re too low, up them.

If you carry a renter’s or homeowner’s policy, your personal effects will typically be covered in case of theft—even though you’re not at home, and even though you’re in a rental car.

Your auto policy should also cover damages due to collision or theft, but if you have a deductible the policy on your credit card should help make up the difference. You’ll either have no out-of-pocket costs or be reimbursed for expenses in those two areas.

What Insurance Should You Buy from a Rental Agency?

If you do not have your own auto insurance policy, it’s wise to purchase the liability coverage from the rental agency, even if you have collision and theft covered via your credit card.

If you and everyone in your car carry health insurance, you can probably skip the medical coverage—unless someone knows they have an astronomical deductible or low coverage limits.

If you don’t carry homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, get on that. You should have it anyways. But if you don’t currently have a policy and you’re traveling with belongings you’d be remiss without, it’s not a bad idea to sign on for the personal effects coverage, too.

 

 

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.

Using Cashback Rewards for Travel

I can't believe I never thought of this---you don't have to use "travel" rewards to get free travel. You can use cashback rewards instead!

I’ve been doing a good bit of traveling this year. My itinerary includes a litany of states and at least two foreign countries.

But I kind of hate spending money.

That means I’ve been doing a good bit of signing up for credit card bonuses to offset the costs. It’s funny—if you do a lot of this over a one-year period, you start to run out of well-known cards to apply for.

Not too long ago, I had hit up all of the big, flexible bonuses that you can use as a credit statement against travel costs. I may apply for these cards again in the future, but I don’t like to take too much advantage and there wasn’t enough time to “churn,” anyways.

So I started looking at alternatives. I started looking at cards with smaller bonus rewards—but also lower spending limits. That was a total win.

Then I got to thinking that I should probably look at straight cashback cards, too. If all I was getting was a statement credit, the cash rewards would still allow me to pay for travel. In fact, if I wanted it to pay for something else, like a park ticket, that wouldn’t normally be counted as a travel expense, I totally could with a cash rewards card.

So I got to looking.

Thinking about using credit cards for rewards? Stop now and read this first!

Using Cash Rewards Cards for Travel

I liked what I found. There are a lot of options out there with decent rewards and relatively low minimum spends. That’s good for people like me who have started to max out the options with heavy-hitting bonuses due to wanting so much free stuff. By the way, yes, I have a great credit score.

But it’s also good for people who don’t have as much income and therefore can’t afford to take on $3,000 spends over the course of 60 or 90 days.

Let’s look at how this works:

PenFed just came out with the brand spankin’ new Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card. With it, you earn 1.5 cents back for every dollar you spend on purchases—regardless of where you spend it.

That alone is a big deal as a lot of cash back cards offer rotating categories. They often reward you with a high point value within a certain category, but lower points on everything else. The kicker is that those categories tend to change every quarter, and you typically have to manually register or call in if you want the inflated bonus.

A lot to keep on top of. It makes 1.5 cents per dollar back every single time you spend pretty attractive.

On top of that 1.5% back, this card also currently offers a $100 bonus when you spend $1,500 on it within 90 days of opening your account. By the time you’ve spent enough to earn the incentive, you’ll receive $122.50 total. One hundred for the bonus and $22.50 per the 1.5% cash back.

This statement credit can negate any purchase on the card—including park tickets!

Earn More by Becoming a Member

With this particular card, there’s a further incentive if you want to earn even more cash back on every purchase. If you have either a military affiliation or a PenFed Access America Checking Account—which is a fabulous idea anyways and can easily be attained without military service—your cash back rate will jump up to 2%.

That means by the time you reached the minimum spend for the bonus, you’d have $130 total instead of $122.50.

It also means that if you spend an average of $500 per month on your card, your cash back rewards will add up to $120/year rather than the $90/year that you’d receive at the 1.5% rate.

How Cash Back Rewards are Helping Me

I’m pretty sure we’re going to get next-to-free park tickets thanks to using this method. I’m glad I didn’t just throw my hands up in the air and declare there were no other options left.

I also love that while cash back cards can help the travelers out there, they can help add value to people’s lives even if they have financial priorities that don’t include hopping on a plane.

But they only add value if you use them correctly. Please remember to charge responsibly.

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.*