Saving Money

Discovering Norway

These last two months have been full of traveling and seeing the world, but there is nothing like coming home to my Hobbit Hole, my routine, and my blog! Travis and I recently traveled to Oslo, Norway. It is an incredible place to explore and wander, and we had our fair share of learning experiences.

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We flew into Oslo and rented a car for the 45 minute drive to the city. Pro Tip—If you are renting a car, make sure your hotel is car friendly. Life is all about adventures, and there is nothing quite like the adventure of navigating downtown Oslo’s myriad of one way streets, almost running over pedestrians jumping out in the middle of the street, or driving through tram-only stops in efforts to find a parking garage nearby to park your car for 3 days. Train might be the best way to go.

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We got a private tour Oslo Highlight tour from the Oslo Guidebureau. It was incredible to walk around the city with an expert. Our guide was very personable and we were able to ask questions about what we were interested in. June was the perfect time to go because the streets were lined with Lilac trees and so many other types of flowers. It is a very walkable city with so much to see, including the Norwegian Parliament Building, the Royal Palace, and the Grand Hotel, which is the annual venue for the winner of the Nobel Peace prize.

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The highlight of our Oslo walking tour was hopping on a boat and heading across the waters to the Viking Ship Museum. It was the ONE thing Travis wanted to do more than anything else on our whole vacation. It was absolutely fascinating to see these ships and what life was like for the Vikings. These ships were excavated in 1880 and 1903 and were found to be burial ships. The clay soil they were buried in kept them beautifully preserved. Similar to the Egyptian pyramids, respected individuals would be buried with their possessions and anything they would need for the afterlife. There were quite a few artifacts on display, but the majority of them are in storage beneath the museum. It is a smaller museum, so it didn’t take much time to see it in its entirety. They have plans to expand in the near future in order to put more items on display.

fullsizeoutput_478On our third day in the Oslo, we decided to make good use of the car we rented and take a little road trip outside the city. We ventured south of the city to Tønsberg, which is the home to the Saga Oseberg—a successfully replicated, sea-worthy Viking ship. It is also a pleasant scenic walk along the docks and through the town. After a few hours wandering, we hopped in the car again to explore the fjords and Norwegian countryside. It  was gorgeous.

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We only had a few days to explore the beautiful country of Norway, but as always, there is so much left to discover! Here are a few things that are on the bucket list for next time we visit:

Norway in a Nutshell: This tour was highly recommended by quite a few sites I researched. We didn’t have time this trip, but I want to go back JUST to do this! You are able to explore the beautiful fjords of Norway. Like, we are talking Lord-of-the-Rings-epic fjords. You take trains, boats, busses to see some of the the coolest, most picturesque parts of Norway.

The National Gallery: There are so many awesome pieces of art on display. Of the most notable, The Scream is one of the most famous paintings by Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch. There is also an entire (separate) museum dedicated to him and his works. in another part of the city.

The Vigeland Sculpture Park: This park is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland. There are hundreds of sculptures around the park made from so many different mediums: plaster, marble, wrought iron, and several more. I am so bummed we didn’t get a chance to explore it while in Oslo, but it will be one of our first stops when we go back one day.

Happy travels, friends!

Bethany

Your “GoBag” and Other Carry On Ideas

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Growing up as an Air Force brat, I remember my fighter-pilot dad having a big, green bag packed at all times. It sat in the corner of my parents’ room ready at a seconds notice. I remember it being packed after 9-11 should he be called into action in the F-117 Stealth Fighter. This big green was his “Go Bag.” It had everything he needed ready to go at a moment’s notice.

I travel a lot for work and have a little Go Bag of my own going on. And though I am not waiting to fly a jet into enemy territory, I have my carry-on checklist down to a science. And my bag isn’t army green—he’s mostly blue and white.

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In fact, I still remember the day I met my R2D2 suitcase. I first spotted him at Disneyland for $160. I was so tempted to drop the cash right then and there blaming my allotted splurge impulse. Instead, I looked it up on Amazon and found the exact American Tourister suitcase for literally half the price. We have been together ever since. He is often grouped with my hedgehog patterned briefcase carrying all my hand bag essentials that I need to grab on the go.

Carry-On Luggage 101:

—Liquids bag: I travel with a bag designated just for liquids meeting TSA requirements. This is awesome since I don’t want to pack massive bottles of shampoo/conditioner that have been known to explode all over my clothes in my bag, and they leave space in R2D2. I also can pull out one neat little bag when it comes time to security and not worry about what other liquids are floating around in my suitcase.

—Detergent pods: I keep these guys with my liquids. I seriously love that they make individual servings of detergent. I pack a few in a plastic bag just in case I want to wash something in the sink or there happens to be a washer/dryer where I am staying. I have hand washed in the sink certain clothes I need cleaned, or my hotel has a washer dryer that I can use. And I don’t have to pay for their overpriced detergent!

—“Tacos” and “Burritos”: These little handy dandy contraptions help keep your cords in an organized, de-tangled dream. I have all my charging cords and headphones wrapped up and put in one bag. No more searching my hedgehog briefcase when I want to plug in at the gate before my flight—I have my handy dandy go-to cords bag!

—Snack bars: As a Whole30 veteran, I always make sure I pack my own snacks to hold me over when I am stuck on a plane at lunch time. My favorite healthy snacks are Lara Bars and Epic Bars. Whatever suits your fancy, always have a stash in your carry on just in case your tummy is a’rumbling.

When You Have That Annoying Cold:250px-Extra_flotation_devices

I cannot tell you how many times I have had to fly with a head cold. It is not a pleasant feeling for your ears or face. Or your happiness levels. So beyond a stack of tissues and a bottle of water, here are just a few more ideas:

Airborne: Around my busy season of travel, I take an airborne every day. If I am sick or not, I want to avoid it at all costs.

—Benedryl: This awesome antihistamine, allergy relief medicine available at any drug store is awesome not only for those struggling with allergies, but it also helps when you’re stuffed up and are about to fly! I have had serious head colds and take one before I board my flight, and it really helps. Just a suggestion!

Earplanes: I heard about these little guys from a flight attendant on one of my flights.  They are designed to help with cabin pressure pain that comes with the joys of a sinus cold, or if your ears are uncomfortable flying in general.

What are your favorite things to pack in your carry on? Come back next week to read part 2 in our carry-on series—what to pack for an INTERNATIONAL flight.

Until next time jet setters,

Bethany

Subscriptions: Knowing When to Quit

4b6a008e-2a80-4048-9683-70bd5b6422edHere is a quick reminder on the continuing journey of saving money: watch out for those subscriptions! It seems like you can pretty much get anything you could ever possibly want or need through subscriptions these days—music, razors, socks, makeup, snacks, full blown meals, and basically everything else. You guys—monthly memberships can add up FAST. I am constantly evaluating the things I am signed up for and making those calls to customer service to cancel. Let’s take an long hard look at all these subscriptions and evaluate if they are thus deemed worthy to be a part of our budgets, and redirect that money to fun funds like travel. Or retirement.

App Subscriptions: 

IPhones are sneaky. When you sign up for a subscription via the iTunes store (so basically any time you have purchased something through an app), it could renew your subscription without you even knowing it (even if you have canceled that account!). There is a quick way to see if you are being charged for things you don’t want to. Go into the Settings on your phone. Scroll down to the iTunes and & App Store. Click on your Apple ID and press “View Apple ID”. Press manage subscriptions, and toggle on or off the subscriptions you want to keep, or even evaluate the kind of subscription you have. Often, subscriptions are in bundles. If you use that app all the time and you feel it is worth the subscription, consider upgrading to a longer subscription for a better value. However, if you aren’t using it at all, consider unsubscribing or subscribing for a lesser time.

Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Redbox Instant:

There are pros and cons to each of these services. If you pay for some sort of TV streaming service, are these services really necessary? My parents don’t have any sort of TV service, so they find these to be beneficial to keep up with all their favorite shows. My husband and I, on the other hand, chose to have an AT&T bundle that has both TV and Internet, so we don’t pay for any online streaming. If you do decide to go the online streaming route, how many of those do you actually need? Do you really need Amazon Prime AND Hulu AND Netflix AND Feeln AND Vudo AND fill-in-the-blank-whatever-video-streaming-service is out there. You might as well just pay for TV. Take time to add them up and see if you are spending too much.

Music:

Spotify is pretty much my jam. Literally. I listen to it every single day. I totally think it is worth the $10 I pay a month for it. My dad loves his iTunes subscription and uses it all the time. This is the way we get our music. But I only pay for one service at a time. I am not going to pay for Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, etc. all at the same time. Rule of thumb—paying for one is enough. But I should add that I also don’t buy music anymore. Why would I when I can listen to it through my subscription service? I think that is the point. But still, if you can get away with listening to ads, that’s an extra 10 bucks a month.

Box Subscriptions:

I know you have seen them out there—monthly “box” subscriptions. Birtchbox, NatureBox, Ipsy, PopSugar’s Must Have Box—like every kind of box imaginable. There are boxes for your dogs, for you kids, for your socks (yes, really). Sometimes these subscriptions can be lucrative and money-saving, like the Dollar Shave club. Let’s face it, we all pretty much buy razors, so why not have them sent to you for $4 a month? Win. But sometimes, they are not saving you money and they aren’t things you really need. I used to be subscribed to Ipsy, a makeup subscription that came in a cute little makeup bag every month. I eventually stopped it because: 1. That is $120 a year on makeup I ended up throwing away or not using, 2. I had a MILLION Ipsy bags everywhere, and 3. I really didn’t need a service that I didn’t use! Reevaluate those box subscriptions.

Automatic Subscriptions:

When you buy items from online stores like JustFab, Fabletics, JewelMint, you have to pay attention to the policy agreements. Often, you have to manually “skip” buying an item each month, or you will be automatically charged. I didn’t realize one of these sites worked this way when I bought an item. Three months later, I realized they had charged my credit card 3 times! I called customer service and had them remove the charges and then canceled my account. Be smarter than those sites and cancel before they charge you a small fortune.

Watch Out for the “Free” Subscriptions:

Often, sites will allow you to have a free trial of their services. Sometimes I forget I even signed up for this until I am charged. When you notice a charge on your credit card, call their customer service right away. They are often very helpful and are able to reimburse your card. When I was a student, I got a free trial of Amazon Prime. When time came to pay, I couldn’t afford the fee when the time came to pay up. I completely forgot about this until they charged my card a hefty little sum. I called customer service right away and they reimbursed the entire amount since I hadn’t used the service since my card was charged.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind:

What is usually a temptation to buy are email subscriptions. Is your inbox flooded with pesky emails reminding you to spend money? What I have found helpful is to Roll them Up. unroll.me is a great way to clean up your inbox. When you sign up you are able to unsubscribe from emails you end up deleting anyway, or you are able to put all your emails into one email they will send you each day. I put in things that I like to look at every once in a while (DSW, Fabletics, JustFab,TravelZoo, Apple, RetailMeNot). This way, I am not tempted to look at the email and buy something.

BONUS:

Here is another quick tip when it comes to canceling. If you aren’t sure about a service that you may want to cancel, call customer service. Sometimes they will give you incentives to stay with that particular brand. For example, I was thinking of canceling a snack service called NatureBox. When talking to customer service, they offered a free box after pausing my subscription for three months. I ended up taking the free box but still canceling because it was just a stretch too far. This has happened several times in different ways, but it might be a good idea if you are thinking of canceling or not, it could work to your benefit.

Until next time friends, happy savings!

Bethany

Five Strategies to Booking an Inexpensive Flight

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I remember booking my very first flight to England. I had never gone anywhere outside North America, and the feeling was enthralling. Granted, I was also packing up my entire life in Chicago into two 50-pound suitcases and moving my life to another continent—so that might have also added to the slightly euphoric feeling. Nonetheless, I was hooked.

I love that feeling of turning dreams into plans, goals into reality, and starting the countdown to the next adventure. I love saying to a friend, “I am going to visit you on the other side of the world,” and actually DOING it.

Wanderlust is contagious.

Flashback to about 2 years ago when my friend/roommate Kristen and I were sitting on a couch in the loft of our rented house searching for an Adventure. My previous roommate from England was working in New Zealand, and I wanted to see her (and trek to Hobbiton). There was a lot of dreaming, researching, planning, and saving. Using all the strategies I outline below, we found a deal that got us to not only New Zealand, but Fiji and Australia as well. It included airfare AND hotel AND travel insurance for less than $1,900 a person. With these strategies I outline below, I bet you could probably get trips around the globe for even less than that.

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Today, let’s talk about saving money on airfare. There are a few strategies when booking cheap flights. There is a lot of really good “travel-meat” (aka, a ton of apps and websites) in this post, so here we go:

  1. Dream a Little (or a LOT):

    This is a big step in the planning process. Think about where you want to go, what sites you want to see around the world, friends you want to visit in other countries, etc. I have several countries in the back of my mind I want to visit one day, so I keep an eye out for those deals when they come my way. I am subscribed to several different sites/blogs that make me dream about the places I want to go to next. One of my favorites is Conde Nast Traveler. I love pretty much anything they put out travel related. I also follow TravelZoo’s Top 20 to see what is going on around the web.

  2. Fly in the OFF-PEAK or Shoulder Seasons:

    People think traveling is expensive because they look at the most convenient times to travel. The only problem with that is that everyone else is ALSO going to travel at that time–i.e. summer vacation, spring break, etc. These are the peak seasons, and also the most expensive time to fly. When it comes to traveling, there are actually 3 seasons: Peak, Shoulder, and Off-Peak. Your life will change when you discover how reasonable prices are during the Shoulder (times close to but not quite yet Peak) and Off-Peak. Here is another great resource outlining the five tips for off-peak travel.

  3. Be Flexible:

    Let’s face it, if you have to fly at a certain time on a certain date with no wiggle room, you’re gonna pay more. When it comes to travel dates, you will get a better price when you are flexible. One of my favorite apps to find the best dates WHEN to buy and WHEN to fly is Hopper. The thing I love about Hopper is it gives you a color coded calendar of the trip you want indicating which are the best days to fly out, and it gives you an option to watch the trip to alert you of the best ticket prices. A couple quick disclaimers about Hopper: there are certain airlines (like Southwest) that only show up on their own website, so be sure to check there, too. Additionally, there is an option to purchase through Hopper, but I actually only use it to find the best dates to fly. I take all that information and go to step four…

  4. Research:

    Please please PLEASE shop around. I use several sites and apps to compare prices. Once I check Hopper, I look at what their flights are going for, I plug those dates into Skyscanner, Kayak or TravelZoo and see what the best fares actually are. The thing I love about TravelZoo is that there are deals for the whole traveling package airfare, hotel, sometimes a rental car. These are my favorite to book because they are a super great deal and saves me some hassle! When Kristen and I went to Fiji, new Zealand and Australia, TravelZoo was running a sale through TripMasters. They were a great resource and we had a great trip with no hassles!

  5. Be Spontaneous:

    I also like following Secret Flying or All The Flight Deals to look at spontaneous deals from my area. Sites like these catch error fares or just super cheap tickets to places all round the world. The dates are usually specific, so it helps to be spontaneous during these times. I totally get that not everyone can do this (heck, I can’t drop everything and travel world sometimes either), but it is fun to think, “What if…”.

What are some of your favorite sites or strategies when it comes to flying? Let’s hear them!

Until next time Adventurers,

Bethany