Category Archives: travel

Free Entrance to National Parks in 2019

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 2019

In 2018, the National Park System dramatically cut back on the number of free days. This year things are marginally better, with five free days instead of four–though prior to the 2018 change there were weeks worth of these free admission dates. While things are moving back in the right direction, if you want to visit on a free entrance day, you’re going to have to plan a little more carefully.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Fees will be waived on January 21, 2019 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

First Day of National Park Week

Before 2018, there were five free days in the month of April recognizing National Park Week. Ever since last year, though, you only get in for free on the first day of the celebration. This year, that date is April 20, 2019.

National Park Service Birthday

This is the fifth free day added by NPS this year. To celebrate the National Park Service’s 102nd birthday, you’ll be able to gain free admission to parks on August 25, 2019. There’s even word of some fun activities on this day, so keep your eyes open!

National Public Lands Day

Admission will be free on September 28, 2019 in honor of National Public Lands Day.

Veterans Day

You can get into national parks for free in celebration of Veterans Day on November 11, 2019.

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 woods in your backyard. It’s a completely different thing to spend time in pristine, protected wilderness.

Some of my favorite 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 one 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

In 2017, 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 was rolled out in2018 that allows anyone under 17 years of age into national parks for free. It continues in 2019. Find out more about the youth program here.

 

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

Cheapest Ways to Rent a Car & Get Discounted Accommodations

I had never heard of this trick before! She really did find the cheapest way to rent a car.

Now that it’s almost Christmas, wanna hear what I was up to over Thanksgiving?

The short answer is I was traveling. The long answer is I’m going to tell you all about the fun and the ways I made it more affordable over the next couple of weeks.

Today we’ll cover a basic overview of where I went, how I got there, and how I paid for accommodations.

Thanksgiving at the Beach

This year, Thanksgiving happened at the beach. Fort Meyers Beach, Florida, to be exact. It was absolutely gorgeous. The water was warm. The sand was white. The beaches weren’t crowded, and there wasn’t a hurricane in sight.

On the way home, we made a stop in Orlando to visit Disney World again, but we’ll get to that in another post.

My money lessons from last time we went to Disney can be found here.

Finding the Cheapest Car Rental

As I was trying to decide what the most cost-effective way of traveling would be this time around, I did some math and decided driving would be cheaper than plane tickets. The only problem? We didn’t have a vehicle big enough to get everyone and everything down there. So I started looking for a car rental.

I scoured plenty of sites. Renting a car is an expensive venture, but it was still going to be cheaper than plane tickets. After getting pretty much the same results everywhere, I finally found a booking site that got me in the door for over $100 less: AutoEurope.

The way it worked for our trip was like this:

First, I went to AutoEurope and did a search.

Then, they showed me the best options for my needs and dates of travel, connecting me with a bunch of local rental places. The best option ended up being with Budget. Budget had been listed on the other sites I searched, but at a much higher price.

I looked into my affiliate network, and AutoEurope was on the list. I was fortunate in this way. They ended up giving me a coupon, making the rental even cheaper than it already was.

We ended up getting a Ford Explorer, which had room for all the people and things. It was an easy vehicle to drive and had all the bells and whistles we needed (and some we didn’t!)

Gas

Gas was another added cost of getting down there. Luckily for us, the further down the East Coast you go the cheaper gas gets. You can actually follow along with the lowering of gas prices and then watch them as they rise as we go back by following me on Instagram. In between, I’m featuring photos of the beautiful things we got to experience while it was snowing back home.

Accommodations

Getting to Florida was more than a one-day drive. We needed convenient places to stay overnight. Because I had Airbnb credits, I was able to book two amazing places that were right off the highway in super safe neighborhoods. One was an entire house, and the other was a basement suite inside someone’s house with a backyard fully accessible to us. It was so much better than staying in a hotel, and with the credits, I only spent $30/night total.

If you want to get started on earning Airbnb credits, too, this referral link will get you $40 off your first stay.

Accommodations at Fort Meyers Beach

Because we were visiting during the off-season, accommodations at the beach were crazy cheap. Like 50% off what you would spend at peak season. Plus, I got 10x points through a promotion Hotels.com is running with one of my credit card carriers.

Hotels.com also gives you one free night after ten paid nights. I’ve almost reached that point, so I’ll be getting a free stay sometime soon.

Accommodations in Orlando

I’m super lucky and have a family member who has a time share in Orlando. Like the last time we visited, they were gracious enough to gift us a week stay there. I’m so, so grateful. Because of them, we were able to stay for free.

What did I do in Florida?

So much. I’m excited to tell you about the funnest parts in the coming weeks. Be sure to check back or subscribe to the newsletter to receive notifications!

 

 

How I Scored Two Free Flights to Japan

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. All opinions are 100% honest and my own. PenFed is federally insured by NCUA.

I've looked into traveling to Japan, and these tickets would normally cost me about $2,500. She managed to get them for free. Mad frugal blogger respect.

I’ve been writing a lot about my recent trip to Japan lately. We’ve covered how I got my accommodations for fifteen days for a grand total of $387.50. We’ve talked about all of the breathtaking beauty the country has available for free.

But I don’t think I’ve told you guys yet about how I actually got to Japan. At least not in detail.

I flew myself and my sibling from my home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Tokyo for free. And not free as in, ‘I only paid fees!’ I mean free as in I didn’t have to pay for those, either.

How We Flew to Japan for Free

This was a long process that took place over many years. I was saving up miles for emergency situations, but also I had this trip in the back of my mind. The way I did it was I picked one specific airline, opened up credit cards which awarded me with miles for that airline, and then earned the bonuses. Whenever I travelled for business or took a trip just for fun, I made sure to use that same airline, and doubled my miles by using one of their branded cards to pay.

That resulted in a large stockpile of miles, which I then used to book a flight to Tokyo. I really wanted to fly first or business class because after our initial layover, it was a thirteen-hour flight. But when I went to book, they didn’t have any awards seats available in business class for the dates I wanted to travel.

It turned out okay. Because I was the one “paying,” my sibling took the middle seat on all the flights. I got a neck pillow which was the best $20 investment ever. And even in economy seating, the number of free movies and games to play on the seatback kept me entertained during the periods when I wasn’t trying to awkwardly position my laptop.

Would business class have been better?

Absolutely.

But economy wasn’t as big of a nightmare as I thought it would be, and now I still have a ton of miles leftover for whatever my next sojourn may be.

When I booked my flight, I used my miles, but I used a different credit card to pay the fees. This card allows me to use each point as a penny when I redeem against travel purchases. I earn two points for every dollar spent. I had enough points built up to completely cancel out the $100 in fees for the two tickets.

How You Can Get Started on Your Next Free Flight

When I first started my travel hacking journey, I chose to hone in on one airline. It worked out fine, but I did have a little trouble finding flight availability. I’ve actually thought about taking this trip prior to the cherry blossom season of 2018, but I guess it’s a popular route and my travel dates weren’t flexible enough.

If you want more flexibility with your travel dates and rewards redemption, you’re probably going to want to look at a credit card that accrues points which are redeemable against travel purchases—regardless of the airline. A great one that just recently came out is the PenFed Pathfinder Rewards American Express Card.

A lot of rewards cards will waive the annual fee for the first twelve months, but then you have to pay a fee every year after that just to keep the card open. With the cards I have, that fee has been anywhere between $79-$95, but it can be much higher.

The Pathfinder card doesn’t have an annual fee. At all. Even after the first year.

When you sign up for the card, you have three months to spend $2,500. If you meet this minimum spend, you will be rewarded with 25,000 bonus points.

You earn 1.5 points on every purchase, and 3 points on all travel-related purchases. If you’re a member of the military or have a PenFed Access America Checking Account, you’ll earn 4 points on all travel-related expenses.

Let’s say in those first three months you don’t spend any money on travel, but you do meet that $2,500 minimum spend right on the nose. You’d earn 1.5 points for each dollar spent, giving you 3,750. Add in the 25,000 point signup bonus, and you have 28,750 within three, short months.

You must redeem your points within the PenFed rewards portal. However, within the portal you can book with your choice of eleven different airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Frontier Airlines
  • JetBlue Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Spirit Airlines
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • Allegiant Air
  • Virgin America

The Points Guy estimates that each point earned is worth 0.85 to 0.90 cents when you redeem for airline travel. That means your 28,750 points are potentially worth $258.75 towards your next flight. Not a bad start!

Like I said, this was a trip years in the making, but I’m glad I got started with rewards points and miles when I did. The timing ended up being perfect as we visited Japan at one of the most beautiful times of year during one of the years when I needed to see beauty most.

 

Have you ever used rewards points to book a free flight? Tell us your story in the comments!

Beginners’ Guide: Smart Travel for Backpackers

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

Never would have thought of some of these things---like the life insurance and not relying on your phone too much!

Travelling around the world is an amazing experience that more and more people want to have. It expands your horizons, knowledge all while discovering and developing yourself to a better version of you. Getting in contact with other cultures and religions, meeting different people that can teach you important lessons that might be helpful in the future and seeing amazing new places is something that all of us should strive for. You need to get out of your comfort zone, prepare your backpack and go out there to see the beauty of the diversity of this world for yourself.

Experience the real culture

Wherever you go you have something new to see and learn, whether you are going to the capitals or small villages, you are going to add some knowledge to what you have until now. However, if you are interested in experiencing the real customs of a culture you need to try to stay away from the busy cities with high buildings and noisy cars. Moreover, urban areas are usually filled with foreigners and are already designed for touristic purposes, so, if you want to meet the locals and see the real customs of the country that you are in, choose to go to the countryside around the big cities.

Get a memory

After some time, your trip around the world will end and you are going to be back home, with only memories to help you remember the amazing experiences that you had while traveling. Buy a small souvenir, something specific for the country that you are visiting and make your own collection of memories. Also, do not forget to take your camera with you to immortalize all the best parts of your trip.

Be open-minded and flexible

Traveling means a lot of places, people and things that are new for you, so you need to be an open-minded person in order to cope well with all of them. You need to know how to be tolerant and respectful of differences. Also, unexpected situations might pop up when you are not in your comfort zone, so being flexible is a skill that you definitely need in order to be able to deal with them without getting demotivated.

Take all the precautions

Since you are traveling to places that you do not know, it can sometimes be dangerous and you might have to deal with bad experiences. That is why you need to take all the precautions in case something like that happens. Do your research for either term life or whole life insurance policies. You can find the best whole life insurance companies here. You also need to have a health insurance card with you all the time, and have an accessible bank account in case you are the victim of the pickpockets.

Ask for help

It is true that nowadays you can so much of what you need to know on the internet, but asking the locals is always the best idea. They know all the hidden tips and hacks suitable for their surroundings. So they are the ones that you should trust when it comes to food, hotel or places to visit recommendations.

The Year of Bravery

Loving this Mark Twain quote. And I might have to steal her annual theme--love how much being brave in 2018 has changed her life.

Hey, hey, everyone. It’s been a hot minute.

To be honest, life has been crazy around here. The new school year is starting soon–both for my kids and myself. I’m learning that promoting a book can be just as much work as writing one. Plus some other personal stuff has been going on that has nothing to do with money but has added to the insanity.

I’d say I’m overwhelmed, and that would be partially true. But the circumstances I’ve put myself in are of my own doing.

Despite all the craziness, all the self-imposed stress, I’m in this place right now because of a decision I made at the beginning of the year. Actually, it’s one I made in late 2017. But 2018 has been bearing the fruit of my decisiveness.

The Year of Bravery

I realized about 8-10 months ago that I wasn’t entirely happy with the way I was living my life. Yes, we all have challenges. And, yes, those outside influences can really take over.

But in my specific circumstances, there were things I could have been doing to make things better. Steps I knew I could take, and goals I could pursue.

But I wasn’t. Because of fear.

I don’t like living my life from a place of fear, but I felt I had been cornered. Adulthood and motherhood both come with so many responsibilities that sometimes you feel saddled down by it all, and lose yourself in the process.

I thought back to a quote I saw on my history teacher’s door in high school that really changed the way I have (mostly) handled challenges throughout my life:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

I knew I had to make a shift. I knew it was time to get out of my frozen state and start taking action towards the things I wanted–no matter how scary or unrealistic taking those actions seemed to be.

I dubbed 2018 the Year of Bravery, and have tried to live my life over the past eight months in that mindset. I’m not going to lie. At moments it’s been hard. Really, really hard. But with the pain of change, there comes transformation. I can see my life and attitude morphing before my eyes, and I’m proud of what I’m becoming.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

Late last year, Mango Publishing contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing a book on feminist finances. It wasn’t the first book offer I’ve received, but it was the first one with agreeable terms. Still, writing a book is a lot of work, and it would mean boldly attaching my name to my opinions–and then promoting it.

For most of my blogging life, I was anonymous. I’m not ashamed of my work, but I do prefer the work to stand on its own–its own merit, its own two legs. Fame and recognition is not only something I don’t seek, but is something I actively try to avoid.

I don’t think I’m going to get famous for writing a niche personal finance book. Haha. But I do know I’m going to have to shout my own name from the rooftops, which makes me extremely uncomfortable.

But I decided to do it anyways. This decision was made with encouragement from my friends and peers. It was made because a book like this needs to exist, period. And it was made because 2018 is the Year of Bravery.

This weekend, I got an email from my publisher notifying me that The Feminist Financial Handbook is officially an Amazon #1 New Release:

The Feminist Financial Handbook Amazon Number One New Release

 

It’s super exciting, and I’m humbled by all of you who have expressed interest and preordered. If you want to learn more about what’s inside, you can do so here. Or, if you’re already sold because feminism + money is where it’s at, you can preorder your copy here.

I took a risk by putting myself out there. And although I still feel some trepidation, I’m glad I did. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do, and however this whole thing turns out, I can look back on my life without the, “What if?”

Traveling Across the World

pikachu japan

When I was a child, one of my best friends was Japanese. We only lived close to each other for a couple years, but our bond was deep. We kept touch even after she returned to Osaka and my family moved to Pittsburgh.

Right around the time I started blogging, she came to visit me. It was the first time we had seen each other since our tear-filled goodbyes, and brought me so much joy. I’ve always wanted to visit her in her home country, but it always seemed like an impossible dream.

I was sitting on a bunch of airline miles last year, and was waiting for a time when my whole family could go with me on this adventure. But I had been waiting for a while, and the more time wore on, the more apparent it became that there was going to be no perfect time when we could all go and have a good time. So I asked my sibling if they wanted to come with me.

They jumped at the invitation, and in Spring we finally got to visit our childhood friend and see her wonderful, amazing family for the first time in over twenty years. It was the most amazing trip of my life, but it’s one that almost didn’t happen. Because I took the plunge, despite the fears of regret that I might create by not bringing my children along, I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and saw some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Well, it was also because my friend and her family are amazing, generous people. Actually mostly because of that.

But you get the idea.

Returning to School

National program to get student loans forgiven

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. As the primary breadwinner, though, it seemed irresponsible to threaten my own time with more responsibilities as I’m already pressed for time enough.

But we make room in our lives for the things we value. And education is way up there for me. I’m excited to see the new paths this venture will lead me down, and all the new things I’m going to learn.

I start classes next week. I’m oddly nervous about my age even though I’ve never been a traditional student. I’m also worried about the time aspect.

But the last time I did this school thing, I did it while carrying and then birthing children. If I can handle that, I can definitely make this work.

So while I have some jitters, I’m also incredibly psyched to step back into the halls of scholarship.

If the Year of Bravery has taught me anything, it’s that I won’t regret this decision.