Thursday, July 27, 2017

NYC Day Trip: Coney Island!!!

If you find yourself in New York City during summer months, and long for a day at the beach, I highly recommend a day trip to Coney Island.

Take the Subway to Coney Island- Stillwell Avenue to save yourself the cost and hassle of a car.  You can take the B, D, N, or Q trains all the way to the end of the line.  Once you make your way out of the station, you will immediately see Luna Park.  If you have kids that will want to ride all day long, you can purchase an all-day wristband.  Prices vary based on height, and weekday vs. weekend. I went recently on a weekday, and the price for anyone 48 inches or taller was $49.  If you are only really interested in riding the famous Thunderbolt or Cyclone Roller Coasters, you can easily just                                                                   purchase a pass for those rides individually.

If you decide to take a break from the park or a reign check altogether, make your way to the beach. Bring a blanket for lounging in the sand as you take in the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.  Snacks are easily available all up and down the boardwalk.  I highly recommend either an ice cream cone at Coney Cones or a knish at Paul's Daughter, both of which are located right along the board walk.  If you tired of the beach, take a stroll further down the boardwalk to the pier where you are sure to find some local men fishing.

Take a break from the sunshine, and make your way down to Coney Island Brewery.  Once considered the smallest brewery in the United States, Coney Island Brewery which prides itself on specialty brews and limited releases in addition to it's old standby products like the Mermaid Pilsner.  The small but mighty brew pub has an exceptional staff:  Personable, friendly, and super knowledgeable.  We were lucky enough to catch one of the three free daily tours.  The young lady that lead our tour absolutely delivered in terms of both personality and knowledge.  In fact, she shared with us that she is preparing to take her cicerone exam.  Once she passes it she will basically be the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier.  The folks at Coney Island Brewery are no joke!  They take their beer seriously, but no how to have fun.  If you have time after your tour, I recommend that you get a tasting flight so that you have the opportunity to enjoy a few of the specialty brews.

For dinner, make your way back toward the subway entrance for some fabulous New York style pizza at Grimaldi's.  I've become a somewhat particular when it comes to pizza, and Grimaldi's absolutely doesn't disappoint.  Their spacious restaurant has a brick oven  in the center of it, allowing you to see what is being prepared and cooked right in front of you.  The paper-thin crust comes out perfectly crisp.  There's a plethora of topping choices.  I settled on the standard Margarita Pizza, as they folks at Grimaldi's make their mozzarella fresh daily.  Truly, why fool with perfection?

Depending on what day you're there, you might be able to take in a  baseball game.  The Brooklyn Cyclones are a Class A Affilliate of the Mets.  Tickets are very inexpensive, at times even as low as $10 for a game.  It's a relaxing and inexpensive way to spend your evening.

On game nights, you will find a beautiful fireworks display.  The time maybe inconsistent, as it depends on what time the game finishes.  I highly recommend staying to take it in before you head to the subway to make your way back.

Day Trip Savers:

  • Subway transporation(rather than taking a car)
  • Beach (free)
  • Boardwalk (free)
  • Coney Island Brewery Tour (free)
  • Brooklyn Cyclone's baseball game ($10-20 tickets)
  • fireworks display (free)
  • Grimaldi's for Pizza (moderately priced, but gives you a sit-down experience, and proves less expensive for groups that individual slices).


  • Optional: Luna Park
  • Snacks on the boardwalk (moderately priced, but clearly packing your own snacks is cheaper).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hotel Bookings: 5 Ways to Save Money & Add Value

When it comes to booking hotels, what you see isn't always what you get in terms of pricing.  Here are a few quick ways in which I try to save money when booking hotels (contains affiliate/sponsor links).

1.  Take Advantage of Loyalty Programs.

Many sites have programs set up to  allow customers to either collect "nights" or "points," which eventually get cashed in for free or discounted hotel stays.  Our sponsors, runs a program like this.  Search Here for Best Hotel Deals! (Affiliate Link).

2.  Look for Promo Codes

Look to see if there are any promo codes available.  I literally just got a discount because it is National Ice Cream Week (or something like that).  I'm not even kidding.  So, just do a quick  search.  Now, if you are able to use a promo code, check to see whether or not it will still allow you to accumulate under your loyalty program.  You may have to choose one or the other.

3.  "Breakfast Available" vs. "Breakfast Included"

This is easy to over look.  Just because breakfast is available, doesn't mean it's included in your stay.  check the wording.  "Breakfast Included" can help you save a lot of money.  "Breakfast Available" will not.

4.  Free Airport Shuttle

I've noticed that some hotels have an airport shuttle, but they charge you for using it.  Others offer it for free.  If it's free it's clearly going to save you money.  If not, you might need to investigate your options to determine whether or not that's the best value.

5.  Central Location

I constantly look for hotels that are in central locations. While you might spend less per night on hotels a little further away, it's going to cost you in commute time.  Personally, if I am in a city, I avoid car rentals.  I am perfectly happy to either walk or use public transit.  This move saves me money, and gains me both exercise and experience doing what the locals would do.

What other ways have you found to add value or savings to your hotel bookings?

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Hotel Booking in Reykjavik, Iceland

This morning, I decided to book a hotel for our upcoming trip to Reykjavik, Iceland.  Well actually this is a 2-in-1 trip.  We are going to Stockholm, Sweden first for seven days, then following it up with a stopover in Iceland for three days.  I wouldn't suggest that either of these locations is exactly a "cheap" place to visit, but, Reykjavik seems to be more expensive on the hotel front.

So, I haven't dealt with Stockholm hotels yet, I decided to start with Reykjavik since it would cost me more.  That way, I can know where I am sitting in hotel fees after booking the more expensive location; it might influence the way I go when booking my hotel stay at the less expensive location.  You know, I might want to offset some of the expensive of one place, by staying in a lower cost accommodation in the other.

I always choose "city center" under the advanced search option because it usually places me in close proximity public transportation and many local attractions.  It also makes renting a car seem less necessary.  After I did this, I narrowed it down to two Reykjavik hotels in city center.

On the surface, they appeared to be $3 difference (per night).  No big deal right?  Well, upon further investigation, I found that one had "breakfast included," and the other had "breakfast available."  These things are definitely not the all...  Because I am the kind of person that can surround myself with beverages, my partner and I can easily spend $30 just going out to breakfast locally. Scandinavian countries can be a little expensive on the food front, so I am sure it could be more in Reykjavik.  The one with breakfast included was $3 less expensive on the surface, plus I wouldn't have to buy that meal out.  When you multiply that by three days, it becomes easily a $100 difference!  I'd rather spend that $100 on a massage at the Blue Lagoon!

Then, I noticed that the discount code I had seen advertised hadn't actually been applied yet. You certainly want to double check that!  So, I put it in, and received another $100 off!  Essentially, I managed to get about $200 is savings today just by doing a little homework. Not bad for a day's work, right?!

If you are looking for ways to save money on hotels, you might  Search Here for Best Hotel Deals! (Affiliate Link). is one of my sponsors.  This is who I used to research and book this particular trip.  I appreciate that I can either use a discount code to save even more money or collect nights to redeem for a savings later.  Furthermore, I use all of the search features in order to further my savings by making sure I have all of the amenities I need built into my hotel price already.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

London Day 2

London is one of the most phenomenal cities in the world, and one you could spend a great number of days exploring without hardly scratching the surface.  That being said, I like to visit London in 2-3 day spurts.  When I couple a London stopover with another destination, I get a two-in-one trip, and avoid breaking the bank on a seemingly expensive city.

After a good night's rest after my London Day 1 itinerary, I get up in the morning and catch another traditional British breakfast in my hotel (refer to London Day 1 for a detailed description).  This practice saves me money, but I also find it fairly relaxing.  I really do like to see a lot of things on vacation, but I also like to relax a bit as well.  Taking breakfast in my hotel allows me to ease into my day a bit in order to offset the seemingly faster paced afternoon of catching local attractions.

Next, I make my way to London's famous Changing of the Guard ceremony.  This colorful ceremony marks the official handing over or military responsibility for the security of London's palaces.  This ceremony takes place roughly every other day at changing times (usually late morning), so you will need to look up the schedule online because it changes periodically.  This event is free, although you can purchase guides to the event if you'd like. Also, this is one of London's must-see events, so getting there early to get a good spot is ideal.

After witnessing the Changing of the Guard, a trip to the Churchill War Rooms is a must-see for any History buff.  The Churchill War Rooms are more than just rooms filled with exhibits related to Winston Churchill's legacy.  While you will find plenty of that, this museum is literally located inside of the secret bunker inhabited by Churchill and his staff during World War II.  You can see and walk through rooms that where they met, planned, ate, and even slept.  This is one museum that is worth it's price.  Speaking of price, check their website carefully because they do have family rates in addition to single ticket prices.

These two cultural experiences are sure to inspire you (and work up an appetite), and in keeping with this inspiration, I recommend making your way to Gordon's Wine Bar on Villiers Street.  While this is apparently London's Oldest Wine Bar, I must admit that I would never have found it on my own had a local not brought me there.  If it's ambiance you like, this ever-so-slightly off-the-beaten path wine bar is sure to deliver.  As soon as you walk into the bar, you are greeted by a dimly lit interior.  The combination of wood and stone makes you instantly feel like you are in another age. Turning left, you make your way into a tunnel with a low, stone ceiling.  This tunnel is likely to be filled with locals sitting in mismatched wooden chairs and unevenly sized tables.  You will need to go to the bar to order a bottle of wine, and a separate area to order food.  The wine is superb and the food offers tremendous value, as the portion sizes are more than shareable.  During my visit our party of four ordered one wedge of cheese, an order of hummus, and roasted vegetables.  The portions were generous enough to feed us all, and came with fresh baguette.  This is the perfect place to land after a day out touring museums.  This establishment is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours before you either head back to your hotel, or take in a play in London's West End. Look online for discount tickets or go to the Leicester Square ticket booth (aka TKTS) which is located in Leicester Square's Clocktower Building.  Just remember, when it comes to a day-of ticket booth, you need to be flexible about which production you are seeing because availability could vary.

So, here you have it.  Our SPLURGES and SAVERS for London Day 2.


  • Breakfast (Included in your hotel= FREE)
  • Lunch (Grab & Go or pack a granola bar in your bag)
  • Changing of the Guard (FREE, unless y.)ou buy the guide)
  • Gordon's Wine Bar (The generous portions make everything shareable, which makes for a tremendous VALUE).
  • Optional:  Theatre Tickets (TKTS booth earlier in the day, or online discount agency)


  • Churchill War Rooms (This museum isn't free, but well worth the price.)
What are some of your favorite London, high value attractions?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

London: Day 1

I must admit that there is a part of my heart that will always be in London.  Somehow it feels like the European counterpart to my home city of New York.  While culture-filled activities might be one thing these cities have in common, expensiveness is another.  That's why I like to try to plan to take quick side-trips (or stopovers) to London when I am going somewhere else.  I don't try to do everything, I just hit a few of the highlights, and remember:  I can always come back again, and swap out something I've already done for something I have not yet tried.

There are a number of nice hotels in the Hyde Park area, which I particularly like. So, I typically like
Hyde Park 
to stay in that area for a couple of reasons.  There is easy access to the Tube (the local subway system), and I love to take a walk or jog through the park; especially in springtime, it is filled with beautiful greenery, and bustling with people.  If you decide to stay at an Airbnb or a traditional Bed and Breakfast, just be sure to consider location so that you don't spend all of your time on transportation.  Also remember, London hotels are tiny.  Once you've checked in, you could ask if there are any complimentary upgrades available.  Sometimes, you can get a bigger room for no additional cost.  Also, when booking hotels outside of the U.S., make sure you know whether or not the bathroom is private.  While it is standard in the United States to have a private bathroom in your hotel room, this isn't the case everywhere (and again, this is an area where prices may vary).

Once you are up and ready to start your day, take full advantage of the Traditional British Breakfast offered by your hotel.  You are likely to find many items that resemble the Traditional American Breakfast, such as eggs, bacon, sausages,  bread products, porridge, coffee, and juice.  You might also find a few pleasant surprises.  Black pudding is common, as are roasted tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms.  While I occasionally try dishes that contain meat on my travels, I am of the vegetarian persuasion.  I was thrilled about the tomatoes and mushrooms, but I didn't try the black pudding.  Black pudding is not actually a pudding.  Traditionally, it is a sausage made of pigs' blood, onions, herbs, spices, and oatmeal or barley.  It is also something you are likely to encounter at your breakfast buffet. You might also find rice and curry (remember, there is a large Indian population in the U.K., and the culinary influence is very much present), and you will absolutely encounter black tea.  I am a great lover of both coffee and tea, and as such, I can tell you that drinking black tea in the U.K. is more satisfying than what you get in most places in the U.S..  The tea is fuller bodied, and I would recommend that even your average coffee drinker give it a try.

Outside of Victoria and Albert Museum
Once you've finished your breakfast take a stroll through Hyde Park on your way to the V & A (Victoria and Albert) Museum (or take the Tube, depending on where you are staying).  Admission is free, and it is open daily from 10 AM until 5:45 PM.  There is frequently a special exhibit that carries it's own separate admissions fee, but you can simply bypass that part in favor of the remainder of the museum.  Offerings include a plethora of collections that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.  There are displays on everything imaginable ranging from furniture, pottery, and textiles from around the world, to fashion throughout the ages.  For any lover of the history of culture and art, there is sure to be something for everyone.  My personal favorite is the Theater Collection.  There are costumes and other theatrical artifacts that represent London's great legacy of theatrical tradition.  There is a cafe in the museum in case you need to stop for a refreshment (though I personally, prefer to pack a granola bar and keep going). 

Once you are successfully able to peel yourself away from the V & A Museum, take a walk down the street to Harrods.  Harrods is the world's most famous luxury department store.  This department store is a landmark itself.  It was first established in the 1800's  and has alternated between private and public ownership over the years.  In 1985, it was purchased by Mohamad Al-Fayed and his brother Ali, who added some visual interest to the already iconic store.  They added the Egyptian room, which features memorials to both his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales  after their tragic deaths.  The gorgeous Egyptian artistry alone is ample reason to take a ride up the escalators (which also have historic implications, being the one of the world's first set and all).  If the memorials and Egyptian artistry aren't reason enough, the Harrods website is well organized, and contains a section that is specifically geared toward helping you to plan your trip.

Afternoon tea treats
In the late afternoon we recommend you treat yourself to afternoon tea. While this is experience is classy, and delicate in it's own right, you will not leave hungry.  This is why I like to book the absolute latest time available for my afternoon tea, and make tea-time my dinner.  This is one of those experiences that I feel is worth the splurge.  I particularly like the Fortnum and Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.  You will need to make a reservation ahead of time.  Vegetarian and Vegan options are available (you have to make sure to make note of this at the time of your reservation).  Remember, afternoon tea is a time to slow down and enjoy.  It is meant to take time, so take your time, and take in the experience.

Aerial view of Skypod Bar
Once you've finished your tea, make your way to the Skypod Bar.  You will need to make reservations in advance even for the bar (30 days or so), and there is a dress code.  Walk-in guests are accommodated, provided there is space.  While dinner would be a fairly spendy endeavor, the bar is a beautiful space that offers one of the best views in London, all while enjoying a cocktail or a glass of wine.  Just be sure to time this appropriately to catch the Tube back to your hotel if you prefer to avoid cab-fares.

For London, Day 1, here are our SLURGES and SAVERS:

  • Use public transit (prices vary)
  • Hotel Breakfast (included)
  • Lunch (grab 'n go or pack a granola bar)
  • V & A Museum (Free)
  • Harrods (Free, unless you shop or eat there)
  • SkyPod Bar (the drinks aren't cheap, but no cover charge, and it's less expensive than dinner)

  • Afternoon Tea
Special Notes:
  • Make sure you know what time your last train is or you will find yourself taking an extra taxi-cab.
  • Also, make sure your credit card has a chip in it so that it can be read.  Additionally, you need to know the PINN that goes with it; signing isn't generally the manner in which the transaction is completed.
What are some of your favorite London tips for saving or splurging?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

5 Easy Ways to Save Money on Vacation!!

While I am on vacation, I try to find financial balance.  One one hand, this is my vacation, and I want to treat myself to some splurges here and there.  On the other hand, the idea of setting myself back financially, and undoing the progress I've been making in my financial freedom, almost makes me sick.  So, here are some of the things I do in order to save money on my vacation:

1.  Try the 2-in-1 vacation!

I almost always try to see two cities in one big trip.  Depending on how long my trip is I might make it more.  I don't want to sacrifice quantity for quality, but I like to pair a quick 2-day side trip to a more expensive location with a slightly longer stay in a place that I know I can do for a lesser cost.  For example, I recently went to Edinburgh, Scotland.  We were visiting my cousin, who lives there. We spent the majority of our time in Edinburgh, staying with her (which cut some serious costs), and paired it with a train ride into London where we stayed for a couple of nights.  Everything in London costs more anyway, but by pairing it with a city that we knew we could do for less expensive, we kept our budget in line.

2.  "Breakfast Included"

These two little words have a lot of power behind them.  Food is one thing you cannot do without, nor should you.  Food is a part of the local culture you should be most eager to experience.  At the same time, you do not want to break the bank either.  When I am looking for accommodations, I always look for a place with a "breakfast included."  I read carefully to see what that breakfast includes.  I am not the kind of girl that can go all day on a "doughnuts and coffee" kind of breakfast.  Many times a hotel or bed and breakfast will include a breakfast that is considered traditional for the location you are visiting.  This allows you to eat experience some local food culture, and start your day well-fueled.

3.  Skip Lunch

Okay, so I am not being totally literal here.  I always eat something mid-day, but I am the queen of the granola bar in my purse for lunch, or something super quick and cheap that I can eat on the go.   In Edinburgh, I remember that my partner I were both hungry at one point.  Neither of us wanted to spend very much time or money on eating at that point because we had plans for a nicer sit-down meal later.  We spotted a fast-food chain, which ironically, we literally never frequent in the U.S., but we went in anyway.  Much to our surprise, we found veggie burgers on the menu (also not in the U.S. version of this chain). They were inexpensive and staved off the hunger.  We also noticed that they put cucumbers on the burger rather than pickles, which was an unexpected, but enjoyable variation.  Anyhow, my point is that lunch for us is not the indulgence; it is a meal that is all about fueling our bodies.  Besides, there are many things that we want to make sure to take in before they close (museums, etc.) and the mid-day meal isn't something I care to loose time doing.  Furthermore, we prefer to save our splurge for a nice sit-down dinner.

4.  Alternate between FREE activities and ADMISSION-costing ones

A Hike in Holyrood Park Edinburgh Scotland
This isn't necessarily much different from the idea of planning your meals with breakfast being included,  lunch being cheap and on the go, and splurging on a nice sit-down dinner.  If I am planning on going to a museum or play that costs admission, or sporting event, I plan another activity that day that is free: a park, free museum, outdoor market, etc.  Every city has plenty that fall into both categories, you just have to look for them.

5.  Use Public Transportation

This may not always be possible, or you might have situations arise where you want to get somewhere quickly, but I love using public transit.  It gives me a great insight to the culture of the city, and sometimes, I get to see parts of a city that I might not otherwise.  I use bus and train rides as a way to experience local culture, see more of the city, rest my feet, and save some money.