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Cancun, Mexico Travelogue: It all started at 2:43 A.M. (Missing a flight, driving from Jacksonville to Miami & more!)


The flight to Cancun, Mexico was to leave at 11:15 in the morning.  We were going to wake up early, and drive to the airport early, and be at the airport early.  The key word running through here is "early."  That was the plan.  Problem is, we live in Jacksonville, which is in North Florida.  The flight was departing from Miami, which is in South Florida.  300 miles (roughly 5 hours of driving) separates these two cities.

So as you can see, to be there early was a priority, and before we went to sleep the night before, we were determined to not be on time, but early.  We set a departure time of 4 a.m., but then we got bold and said, "Nay, we shall leave even earlier than that.  Set thy departure clock at 3:45 a.m."  We were feeling confident.

We set our wake-up clock at 2:45 a.m.  We actually woke up 2 minutes before that.  We were feeling good.  "See, we don't even need the stupid alarm, we can wake ourselves up whenever we want.  I can smell Cancun already!"  This is where things began to go awry.  We leisurely showered, had breakfast, had some tea, relaxed, and by the time that was over, it was 4:15.  Well...crap.

The driving map from Jax to Miami


We stumbled out of the apartment, set out on the road and the car clock showed 4:25.  We were still confident of getting there early.  "I'll just go a little faster", I said, like I can just shave off an hour as if I was Sebastian Vettel.

The ride was going smoothly, the road was empty, but we needed a bathroom break. 10 minutes.  We resumed the ride.  Another bathroom break.  10 minutes.  We still said we were going to make it in time, but instead of our voices being confident, there was a noticeable anxiety in saying we were going to make it, as if we knew that we were not going to make it, but saying it out loud would just ruin the whole ordeal.

I went a little faster, and was gaining some minutes back when I saw cop lights behind me.  Since I was going 78 in a 70 mph zone, I didn't think much of it and went to the middle lane so the cop could go past me and catch the bad guy somewhere up ahead in traffic.  The cop moved to my lane.  I slowed down.  The cop slowed down.  "What does this lady want?" I asked as I moved over to the right lane so the cop could catch the bad guy up ahead.  I looked into my rearview mirror and saw the cop pointing at me to pull over.  Well...crap.

We finally made it to Cancun

20 minutes later and $140 poorer (I failed to move over for an emergency vehicle, even though I slowed down), we were now in half-panic mode.  We had one more very brief bathroom break and parked the car at a Marriott hotel (we had a deal arranged with them).  Their hotel shuttle took us to the Miami Airport.  It was 10 a.m.  Our boarding was 10:40.  We sprinted to the curbside check-in.  The guy told us we had to go inside.  We dashed inside, all our bags swinging wildly, dodging bewildered travelers left and right.  We went to the check-in kiosk and it told us we had to go see an agent.  We ran to the agent.  The agent gave us a weird look, looked at our tickets and dryly said, "You missed your flight." Well...crap.

We eventually got lucky and rebooked our flight for no charge, but the lesson here is: Never be too confident.  Never take things for granted.  

And next time, drive to Miami the night before and stay at a hotel.  As much fun as it is to blaze across Florida to catch your flight, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Giveaway: Books & Magazines Galore

Hiya!

We have too much stuff accumulated in our apartment so we're going to do a giveaway.


You can win a bunch of US magazine publications - anything from Glamour, Vogue, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast, and even the Economist (will update this for photos)

You can also win books (will list the titles here), and travel books for Corsica and a few others.

The List:
  1. The Four Hour Work Week - Tim Ferriss (first edition, not the expanded one)
  2. Travel & Leisure Magazine November 2014
  3. DK Travel Guides Sydney
  4. DK Travel Guides Corsica
  5. Glamour March 2015 (Cover: the stars of 50 Shades of Gray)
  6. Lonely Planet Pocket Guide: New York
  7. DK Travel Guide Top 10 Rio de Janeiro

There will be multiple winners!

The rules/how to win: 

  • The winner must be able to physically pick up the books/magazines in either Manila (Bonifacio Global City/Alabang/Mall of Asia) from March 19th until March 24th ONLY, Bohol (Alona Beach from March 21-22) or be willing to pay for shipping from Manila to wherever you are in the Philippines. I don't live full time in Manila and only going home for a quick vacation. 
  • Leave a comment and I will randomly pick a few people. For an additional entry, answer this in the comments: "Where are you going to travel next? Or what book are you planning to read next?" 
  • For an additional entry, follow me @theficklefan on Twitter and leave a comment saying you followed my account with your username.
  • For an additional entry, like my facebook page @theficklefan and leave a comment saying you followed my account with your name.
Giveaway ends March 16th, 2015, 8:00PM EST (New York Time)

Thanks!


Cancun: In Photos

Photos from our Cancun trip!

Floating on a cenote

Floating on a cenote part 2 - 40 metres deep!

On the bus, going back to the hotel

Caribbean Sea in front of Westin Lagunamar

Me and the Caribbean Sea

Me, Peter & the Caribbean Sea

Me, Peter & the Caribbean Sea part 2

A $450 Luxury Trip to Cancun, Mexico 2015

Our Oceanfront Room at Westin Lagunamar

We just got back from our Cancun, Mexico trip and it was epic!!! We stayed at the Westin Lagunamar Resort and flew American Airlines from Miami. Our total expenses for this trip rounded up to $450 for 5 days, 4 nights for everything!

Here's a summary of how we did it, additional reviews in separate posts later. And let me just say: Once you do luxury for this cheap, you never go back to your old backpacking ways

Total Expenses & Points/Miles Used:  *all totals are for 1 person, assuming you are sharing with a second person - this will be more expensive if you are traveling alone*

Flights: 
  • Miami-Cancun Roundtrip = 9,000 British Airways Points per person. 
  • $40 taxes and fees per person (managed to reimburse $69 from Arrival+, but not for the other ticket
Flight Total: $40

Accommodation: 
  • $319 for 5 days 4 nights - it was from a timeshare promo and at this price we'd jump to get it, even if it involves a presentation (we got 12,000 SPG points too - loyal points & milers would jump at hoops to get that much seeing as how valuable they are) 
The Westin Lagunamar is a Four Star resort!!! 

Accommodation Total: $160 

A day at Chichen Itza - El Castillo


Excursions: 
  • $51 each for Chichen Itza tour (booked with Entertainment Plus, the parent company of USA Transfers). Tour covers entrance fees to the cenote, Chichen Itza, transporation to and from the resort, and a buffet lunch - currently waiting to reimburse using Arrival+ 
  • $5 each as a tip to our guide & driver 
Excursion Total: $56

Transportation: 
  • $55 for roundtrip airport transfers from USA Transfers (They are very good)
  • $10 tip for both our drivers to the hotel & back 
  • $2 tip for the bellboys who helped us load our bags in 
  • $2 tip to the greeter of USA Transfers
  • $50 for gas from Jacksonville to Miami & vice versa 
Transportation Total: $59.50

Souvenirs: *sue me, I love my souvenirs*
  • $5 - hat from Chichen Itza (did halfsie with Peter)
  • $4.50 - skull with a Mexican hat (did halfsies with Peter for our house) 
  • $6 - fabric/shawl (my own $$$)
  • $7 - 3 magnets from Chichen Itza (souvenir for Peter's mum, my mum, and our house) 
  • $2.50 - Chichen Itza mini statues (souvenirs for my mum & Peter's brother) 
  • $22 - Milka Chocolates (Peter is European and I love the European chocolate. They're yummy and the price in Mexico's Duty Free is much cheaper than in America!)
Souvenir Total: $26.50

Swimming in a cenote

Food: *Since our room in the Lagunamar had a kitchen, we opted to cook most of the time to save money. *
  • $1.50 - sundae from McDonalds
  • $11 - Bottled Water & other drinks
  • $17 - Lunch from Miami Airport (02/21)
  • $8 - Dinner (02/21: Bread & Chorizo) 
  • $30 - Lunch from Viento (02/22)
  • $45 - Dinner from La Madonna (02/22 and 02/23)
  • $3 - Drink from Lunch Buffet (02/23) 
  • $30 - Lunch at Viento (02/24)
  • $12 - Dinner (02/24: pasta with jamon serrano) - cooked at the hotel
  • $15 - Breakfast for the whole stay (02/22-02/25)
  • $23 - Lunch at the airport
Food Total: $97.50

Total Expenses: approximately $440 for 5 days and 4 nights in Mexico, averaging $88 a day

This just proves that anyone can travel on a budget - and the fact that we traveled in style and luxury on this trip has been AMAZING!!!! 





The Goal to Travel for Absolutely Free

Money doesn´t grow on trees


Upon reading Chris Guillebeau's book and reading other blogs, I began to hatch up a big idea, and that is: how to travel for absolutely free.

When I mean travel, it has to be in the context of accommodations and flights... maybe a few attractions here and there. I´m still trying to figure out the workings for free food, but so far, nada on that front (unless I sign up for this credit card but I have yet to work out if they carry foreign transaction fees and such)


Traveling in style in Puerto Rico

Travel doesn´t have to be expensive, I agree, I was a backpacker at one point in time, staying at hostels and eating at the cheapest places that I can find (mostly street food), but now that I have the means to do luxury travel for the cost of backpacking the world, then maybe it´s more worth it to be a luxury traveler!

And when I say luxury, I meant it in a sense of staying in hotels: 3, 4, 5-star would be nice.

At the time I write this, I have already checked out of a 5 day, 4 night stay at the Westin Lagunamar in Cancun, Mexico, and let me tell you, all our plans went out the window as soon as we saw this resort. It is just so fantastically beautiful.

With that, I will launch a couple of segments about where we traveled and how much we spent on everything. For this Cancun, Mexico trip, we only spent around $500 per person (US) for food, accommodations, attractions, tips, and souvenirs. Not too bad eh?

Thanks to travelisfree.com, I have been inspired to travel for free: and why not?



Pardon the dust.....


Excuse us while we  burrow underground and try to finish the blog site. We are currently: 

1) Rebranding -  as you can see, we have renamed it from the fickle fan to "9-5 travel" and with this, a new About Page would be written - as there are two of us here that's controlling the blog and our focus has changed from a personal blog to something that's more dynamic. 

2) New Template - I have recently installed a new template and I haven't finished coding most parts of it. Give us a week to complete everything (as you know, we both have 9-5 jobs so we can only do major coding in the evening) and hopefully it'll be nice and neat in no time. 

3) New Product Offers - We are going to be offering products in this blog, such as coaching or mentoring sessions and some other things in the back burner. 

Thank you for your patience and I hope you stick with us! 

Tag : ,

2014 Brazil World Cup Adventure, Rio de Janeiro - Day 1



Note from Ruby: Finally! I got Peter to post his trip reviews here on the site! :) I normally travel with him so here goes!!

Ruby at the GIG airport - posing with Fuleco the mascot


Day 1: Departure from Orlando, 6 am sharp.  Perfect.  Only problem is, we don’t live in Orlando, we live in Jacksonville, so we had to drive to the Orlando Airport the previous night, sleep on a hard wooden bench and listen to people’s footsteps all night.

The airport does have a hotel on site, a Hyatt, and it is impressive, nestled right in the middle of the airport.  But it’s a bit pricey, so wooden benches it is!

Day 1: Arrival in Santo Domingo, the connecting flight.  They kicked us off the plane, gave us badges to wear, and let us mill around the departure gate for a confusing hour before putting us back on the same plane.  I don’t really know why.   The only thing I remember about that airport besides the bathroom is the outrageous price of McDonald’s (or Burger King, they’re all the same; maybe).  If there’s one thing I will never do in life, it’s overpay for fast food.  And eat blue cheese.  I don’t like blue cheese.
Ruby at the Maracana Stadium during the Belgium-Russia game

Day 1: Arrival in Rio! The sun, the samba, the beach…the half-empty, depressing international airport?  Not the best first impression of Brazil, but it was early in the morning and we were tired, so we were not in the spirits to judge everything kindly.  Thankfully, the domestic airport we transferred to in order to find our World Cup tickets was cleaner and cheerier.

Upon exiting the airport, we did the touristy thing and booked a taxi.  When the driver heard our destination, he grimaced and said, “Santa Teresa?” in a mixture of disgust and more disgust.  We’d very shortly find out why because since Santa Teresa is in the hills, you need to go up and up and up, and the car we were in decided, in the middle of one of the climbs, to just die on us right there in the middle of the street.  The guy uttered some Portuguese curse words and gave us our luggage and there we were, dragging our luggage in the street, trying to find our AirBnb place, without any idea of where we were or how to get there.  Google Maps helped a little bit and so did asking some locals and we eventually found the place.
At the game, with the token "Guy in Giant Hot Dog Costume" right behind us trying to get more beer.

Day 1: Our first World Cup game, Belgium vs. Russia! Beer Drinkers vs. Vodka Drinkers! The EU vs Putin!  Belgian Chocolate vs. Russian…Vodka!  On the way to the game, the subway train was rather crowded.  I probably inadvertently smelled 10 different armpits on that subway ride, and I wish I was kidding.  When we finally got to the stadium, it was packed, but well organized and we found our seats within the hour.
Peter at the Copacabana Fan Zone

The game was decent, with some good chances, and Belgium ended up winning 1-0 on a late goal.  The Vodka Drinkers were silent after the game, probably as a result of drinking too much vodka.

Back to the AirBnb apartment and End of Day 1.

How to Travel for Free - even if you're in the Philippines



In the US, travel hacking is a full blown hobby, in the Philippines, not so much. There are limited ways to do it, but it can be done, with a bit more time. Here are some tips on how you can travel for free (or significantly lower your costs):

Business class to London? Free! 

Flights – First thing I can recommend is to sign up for a good travel credit card and put most of your spending on it: groceries, eating out, shopping, etc. There are three that I can recommend:
  1.     The BPI Delta Skymiles credit card. Delta is a US full service airline, but you can fly their airlines to other areas in Asia. You can even use it from your Manila to US flights. The downside? Delta points have very little value and you would need thousands of points just to earn a roundtrip ticket. Another is that you’ll need to spend thousands and thousands of pesos to earn said points (you earn 1 mile for every P45 spent, which is the PHP equivalent of $1 spent = 1 mile in the US). You also have to take into consideration the annual fee. The good side? Starting 2015, Delta now allows one-way reward redemptions for half the price of the roundtrip ticket, plus Delta is part of the SkyTeam alliance – which means you can fly other airlines within their alliance if Delta shows availability for them. 
  2.   Cebu Pacific Citibank card. Every P1 spent is equal to 1 point. Once you reach a certain minimum, you can redeem those points for e-vouchers, which you can use on your flights.  Same downside: annual fees, can take a while to earn the points, and as Cebu Pacific does not have any partners, you’re stuck with Cebu Pac’s destinations.
  3. Philippine Airlines – some credit cards allow you to transfer the bank points you have earned with them for Philippine airline miles. Thing is, you get terrible value for them (ie you get 1 point for every P40 in HSBC then 30 points = 1 mile for Philippine Airlines). You can also get a co-branded credit card issued by PNB. Downside? Philippine Airlines is not part of any other partners, so you’re stuck with flying PAL routes. There are a few code shares that you can fly in, though. 
Every peso counts and can become a future mile or so for your trips! 

Peter's flight to Washington DC was free because of points!


Hotels/Hostels If you like staying in brand hotels (like the Intercontinental), you can try to earn points for every stay that you do by signing up for their rewards program. The downside: there’s no other way to earn points unless you stay in the hotel or find a credit card that can transfer points to them locally (I’m not that familiar with this in the Philippine market). If you have a successful blog, you can get free accommodation in exchange for a review (which I managed to do successfully in Seoul). I got 5 free nights in a hostel because my blog reached the highest requirement that the hostel was looking for in a blogger at the time. I found that promo on their website, emailed them, they replied & verified my blog details (page rank, number of visitors for the past few months), and they gave me the free nights. Tadah!

Got to stay at the Kimchi Hongdae Hostel for 5 nights, free

Activities – You can check out the deal websites (Groupon, LivingSocial, Metrodeal, Cash Cash Pinoy) for discounted entrance fees. It may not exactly be for free, but you still save significantly. Alternatively, if you are going to a new location, look for free activities: parks, riverfront walks, etc.




Got tickets to the Florida Aquarium for half price on LivingSocial

Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. If you take the time to research and plan accordingly, you can live a life of travel without paying much! 

How to live a life of travel, with a full time job #1 Saving for your trips

If you look at my personal Facebook posts, you’ll see photos or status messages saying I’m going here or there. People think – “does she have that many days off?” “Is she rich?” Not to burst your bubble but no to both. The thing is, I have a 9-5 job like most people out there, and though I do long to live a location independent lifestyle, I choose not to. 

My service apartment when I first moved to the US

Thing is, the job I’m in supported me to become an expat in two different continents: in the UK and now in the US. I’ve worked nearly 8 years in my company, and even though it does have its down sides, I do love working here. I make a decent living, but no, it does not make me rich. I also long to have a place to go home after every trip I make. Thing is, what nobody tells you about location independent individuals is they stop for a few months in a country, set up a home base for that little while, and do what you and I do: work freelance. Their travel blogs? They don't earn much money (mostly ads), but open up to opportunities that allow for free travel.



Why don't I like that? Well, in the US, I can save a LOT of money too. How? Couponing. Only thing I pay full price on is rent, electricity, water, and trash/sewer services. Oh, and fresh food. You can't coupon for fresh food. Anything else, you can wait for sales so you won't have to pay full price for anything. With couponing, you build up stockpiles (buying items that are non perishable and stocking them up when there's a sale, so when you need them, you won't have to do an emergency errand to the store and end up paying full price for it) - stockpiles take up space. Something that won't fit in your backpack when you're traveling. To do this trick, you'll need to have a home base, and the US is amazing when it comes to couponing. You can do this wherever you are too - you can take advantage of sales and stock up on items you need when they are on sale. Once in Manila, I bought 4 pcs of deodorant because they were half off. While I did not get to use them all, I gave some away to my mum, and she got to use it. Savings!

I shared more tips here  if you need more tips on how to save on your travels.

All of this? Free (except for Tony the Tiger toy)

While I tried to fill most of my weekdays up by reading blogs, reading books, investing, and planning trips, the weekends were fair game.  Think of it – two days that you can do whatever you want. I try to make the most of it by going on weekend getaways.

Just this weekend, I went on a getaway to Orlando - got a great deal online on a hotel and Seaworld tickets and off we go. Granted you still have to pay full price by eating out but it doesn't have to break the bank and when you get back from your weekend trip you feel more refreshed than ever! 
I'll write more on the weekend traveler aspect but hopefully this article helped you.

If you have any other Qs, let me know in the comments below! :)

Why timing can be everything



We had an interesting setup these past few days. You see, the boyfriend just got offered a job elsewhere, but there's a catch. These are the terms:
- a huge increase in his salary
- 10 less vacation days from his current job (which eventually got re-negotiated to 15 vacation days)
- most of our vacations planned for 2014 will be cancelled (the other company wanted him to start early)
- Longer hour days, probably

When faced with that situation, what would you choose? 



Most people want to get the additional money, the offer was indeed amazing, I have to say. But my point was:
1) Working in an American company can suck - they don't value as much vacation time as other companies (European companies are good, they offer a lot of time off). 10 working days for vacation every single year? Are you kidding me? My family lives on the other side of the world (the Philippines), and his extended family lives in Europe. 10 days off is not enough to visit both families! Granted, in the end they offered him 15 but see point 2)
2) Cancelling 4 vacations just sucks -- and is very disappointing. One month before the vacation and it's going to be cancelled!

In the end, he chose to stay in his current company. While the pay is lower, the flexibility is good. There is a work life balance, but the loss of the other opportunity looms like a cloud. I wanted to just let him go and do what he wants but he refused. I'm too much of an outlier and a non-conformist, but apparently that's a good thing? For most, what he chose was just unfathomable - WHY? But for me, well, if I were in his shoes, I'd go running for the hills. I would not compromise my travel time for work time. Never. Then again, it is his choice, not mine.

It hit me that the American companies just don't value vacation time. I never thought it would be real but it was.



If this happened at some other time, when the travel wasn't there, then maybe it would have been a different story. But for now, no. The excitement and all the planning has been intangible in value. The cancellation of everything? Sure, that can be offset with the money, but then again we don't really need a lot of money anyway, for me what matters most are experiences. I sure hope there will be other, better opportunities out there. I just don't want him to be disappointed in the long run.

As they say, as one door closes, a window opens. I just hope we see that window soon. 


How Do I Travel for Free?

Travel Hacking - loosely defined within the US as to travel very cheaply through the use of points and miles. So, you may be wondering how I get to travel to these destinations for not a lot of money.

You have to note that:
 1) I have a 9-5 job, just like most people in the world, and I make a substantial living off it. No, I'm not rich, but I try to spend my money wisely and pinch every penny (I am a couponer and a travel hacker)
2) I am currently based in the USA. While some of these tips may not directly affect the countries you live in, you can always try to find variations of it in your country. It may not be as generous as the ones we enjoy in the US, but a little bit goes a long way, nonetheless.
3) And no, this does not include sponsored trips. I did not reach out to any companies, nothing. Everything is mostly organized by me and my boyfriend, using points and miles.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana


And, back to the story:
So, when I went back home to Manila from Jacksonville, FL (I promised my mum I'll go back home at least once a year), one thing that stopped me was the airfare. Living in a not so hub airport in Florida can suck - it can drive airfares up by around $300+ (13,500 Philippine Pesos) just by flying from JAX to another airport hub. So, to make it simple, the retail price of a plane ticket JAX-MNL and vice versa is roughly around $1300-$1400, but I cut down my flight expenses to $56 & 80,000 United points round trip. Here's how:

1) Credit Card signup bonuses -  In the US, before they give you credit cards, you need to have a credit score. My boyfriend had a higher credit score than I did so he signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card (at the time there was a 40,000 bonus for a $3,000 spend in 3 months) and added me as an authorized user. That rocked up my credit score higher and we reached the spending requirement and got the 40,000 points. Yay! For those wondering how we reached the spending requirement, it was easy: rent payments. The apartment we live in accepts credit cards for rent payments and it's an easy $1275 + water & trash every month.

2) Mistake fares - did you know that the fares you see are manually inputted by people? Well, that or some serious IT screw up would happen that would drop a 0 in the original fare or upload a different number altogether in the published rate. Mistake fares are mistakes. Once you see one, book it!! You may earn frequent flyer miles for those trips flown too. While hotel mistake fares also happen, it does not happen as often as airlines. If it does & you also happen to go to that destination at the dates you need, then book it! If these companies cancel your tickets then at least you tried, right? Mostly they do, anyway.

3) Promo fares - offering low deals on flights. Some low cost carriers like Cebu pacific or AirAsia have crazy 0 base fares and you just pay for taxes and fees. Most of my solo trips to Asia 1-2 years ago was only $60 or less roundtrip on budget carriers. You can also

4) Sign up for loyalty programs - Every major hotel chain or airline has points (except for some budget carriers). When you do fly and pay money for it (even mistake fares), you can get miles which you can keep & use for other trips. Every little bit helps, right? Sometimes signing up itself gives you bonus points!

5) Credit card category bonuses - In the US, you can get as many as 5x the points for every $1 spent on certain rotating categories every month, maximum of $1500. This enables us to bulk up our reserve stash of transferable points or cash back (cash back is definitely useful. I use the Discover cash back that we earn for CVS gift cards, a store we go to a lot for deals. It may not be travel related but at least we save on household & grocery expense, and as I said, every little bit counts)


And that, is you I travel for free (well, mostly). If you have any questions, you can email me at the contact form on the side. You can also read more about where we are going this 2015 for cheap in this post.




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