Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Travel for Cheap: The 2015 Edition

So, since I've gotten into the points and miles game recently, I figured I'd also post my plans on how to travel for cheap in 2015.

Why so early? Because to travel for almost free, you need to book secure your award tickets as soon as you can. And it also means jumping on various promos to get as many points as you need.

So, our travel plans for 2015 are as follows and bits and bobs of what we want to do, we don't have specific itineraries yet:

Tampa (January 17-19)

  • Busch Gardens - paid $45 in cash for entrance during the AMEX Daily Getaways (too bad we didn't have an AMEX card when we bought it, would have been much cheaper, nor did we have the Barclaycard Arrival+ at the time)
Cancun, Mexico
  • Hotel: Boyfriend got a targeted offer to stay at the Westin Lagunamar Resort. $319 for 5 days, 4 nights. We paid $200 in cash to secure our place but we have no set dates yet (we don't have enough British Airways miles to cover our flight from Miami)
  • Flight: Miami to Cancun using British Airways Avios (9,000 per person x 2 = 18,000 BA Avios RT) (Transfer from AMEX Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards cards)
  • Car Rental (use Chase Sapphire Preferred for primary collision cover and no annual fees) - will pay out of pocket
  • Sightseeing Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Isla Grande fees - Barclaycard Arrival (if any)
Miami, Florida
  • Hotel: either covered for by Arrival+ or SPG points (probably the Element because we need to stay near the airport. Only need to stay in Miami for 1 or 2 more days to do some visa errands for me as I have a Philippine passport and would need a Schengen visa to get to Europe)

Las Vegas, Nevada (May 20-26, 2015)
  • Flights: US Airways Companion Pass. Paid approx $460 out of pocket for two people roundtrip from JAX to LAS. 
  • Hotels: None yet - but planning to do hotel hopping (staying 2 nights at a time) with the cost being paid for/reimbursed by the Arrival+ card. 
  • Sightseeing: Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Death Valley, a few shows in Las Vegas, and do the theme parks (all covered for/reimbursed by the Arrival+ card)
Atlanta, Georgia

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

  • Flights: 40,000 Mile SAAver Offpeak American Airline Miles. Flight from JAX to somewhere in Europe. (80,000 miles for 2 people)
  • Hotels: to be determined.
  • Sightseeing: to be determined. 

Japan & Manila
  • Flights: 50,000 Mile SAAver Offpeak American Airline Miles from JAX to NRT for 1 person. (100,000 AA miles for 2) OR 80,000 United Airline miles from JAX to MNL with stopover in NRT. 
That's it for now! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

[Travel] Washington DC: The Washington Monument

Look familiar? This is the House of the Temple in DC.
It was popularized because of the Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Washington DC. Ahh, such a wonderful place to be in. It all started one day when I saw that there was a Memorial Day holiday coming up in May. Being one that makes the most of traveling during a holiday, weekend + extra days off, this is the perfect time to fly. 

The Philippine Embassy in DC.
I didn't think I'd be giddy to see this but I was! 
So a few months before May 23-26, 2014, we looked for tickets and chanced upon $200 roundtrip tickets from Jax to Reagan via US Airways. And of course we jumped on it (this was the time when the boyfriend and I were just starting out with the points & miles game so everything was really in cash)

Our hotel was a $100/night deal at a placed called the Normandy Hotel (I'll probably post a trip report about the hotel when I'm not lazy)

Since I am very, very particular about trip planning, one of the things I really wanted to do was go up the Washington Monument. It was closed for a few months because of some damage but luckily, it will be open a few days before we got there. Bingo!

It is highly advisable to reserve tickets to the Washington Monument in advance by going to Recreation.gov - the tickets are free but if you buy them in advance, you will have to pay a service charge. No worries for us - my boyfriend and I are lazy louts and would rather do something else with our time than queue up for two hours hoping to get tickets (but what if we don't?) - the service charge is very minimal - for the two of us we only paid like $5 and that includes shipping to my apartment. Score! (Of course, this only works if you live in the US. But fear not if you live outside the US, you can opt to pick up your tickets at the ticket counter on the day that you're supposed to go up). Booked our tickets for May 24th, 10:30 AM and we're all set!

The ticket is timed, so you'll have to be there at least 15-30 minutes before your timed ticket and sit down at one of the marble benches and wait for your turn to go inside.

Before you go in, the park ranger will group you in batches (me and my bf along with 8 other people) then you'll have to go through an airport style security check (bags will be X-Rayed), and no food  is allowed inside. You'll then wait outside the elevators which will take you up the monument.

Since we were the first two inside, I got a chance to get my photo taken with Mr Washington himself. OK, a statue, but that's close enough.

There are two windows in every side of the monument (8 in all) and overall has breathtaking views of the National Mall & surrounding areas (if you went there on a clear day - when we were there it was very clear and sunny. Perfect weather, really).

Do take the time to take photos and marvel in those windows. I myself am a history buff and do love taking on amazing views, we ended up staying much more in the place than we expected to! Check out our photos in the rest of the post below. Please do not take and use them elsewhere without my permission though. You can grab hold of me on the contact me page on the right side of the page if you would want to use them.

You should notice that there is a red light blinking up on the top of those two windows/viewing areas. Not sure what it's for though! I theorized it could be for airplanes - they do land quite close to the city center (via Reagan airport) but I could also be wrong!

Once you are done with the viewing area, you'll go down one level into a mini museum showcasing how the Monument was built, various trivia, etc - this is where you'll catch the elevator back down from the top.

Watch out while you're elevator though! There are many commemorative stones that were donated by various states, some of them more interesting than the others! I managed to take a photo of some of them but unfortunately I didn't get to upload them! Oh well.

That concludes the Washington Monument trip.
Depending if you're a big history buff or not, it will take around 2-3 hours to do everything (including waiting for your turn to go up the top, waiting for your turn at the windows, taking pictures and then going to the other windows)

Enjoy the photos in the blog - my camera is amazing isn't it?

It was a plus that we were there during Memorial Day weekend cos there was so many events going on!

WWII Memorial, Reflecting Pool & Lincoln Memorial

MLK Memorial
WWII Memorial

The White House

Me at the Monument

Thursday, July 24, 2014

[Travel] Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island, Florida

Fort Clinch is one of those places that are so near to Jacksonville, we just had to get to it. It starts with a quick one hour drive from Jacksonville - to a place called Amelia Island.

My boyfriend actually found this place, being a history geek that he is, with the power of Google. He was actually looking for a place where we can stop by and sight see before the sunset cruise in Fernandina Beach.

There is an entrance fee per cars in the area - but its less than $5. It is a HUGE complex, with hiking trails within the area, and there is a long stretch of beach where you can just walk.

It was almost winter when we were there, so we didn't bother to bring swimsuits. It was a wee bit chilly walking at the beach but the boyfriend and I had it all to ourselves.

After walking for nearly 2 hours, we decided to go back to the Fort and continue on to the pier. The ranger recommended going there (the lovely person who helped us when we were paying the entrance fee for the car) so we hurried to get there and walk to the boardwalk. It was another 5 minute drive from the Fort, and another few minutes walk to reach the end of the boardwalk and back. 

The  boardwalk was nice - there were loads of birds in the pristine beach and there was not much people there. Not sure if it was because people didn't want to go because it was winter or that the park was nearly closing when we were in the boardwalk area.

Realizing that we only had 40 minutes left before our boat tour was scheduled to leave, we had to leave too.

But you do have a chance to look at some photos I took from the trip! Sheldon says hello!

The Sheldon toy was actually given to me by my boyfriend when we were first going out - I saw it in Barnes & Noble, thought it was cute but didn't buy it. Little did I know he'd surprise me with it a few days later!

Friday, May 30, 2014

[Travel] Washington DC Smithsonian National Zoo

Posting so everyone could see photos that I took using my Sony H20 while on vacation in DC.
The Smithsonian National Zoo is free to go to - they have a wide variety of animals there, and they are very, very well cared for. The zoo also acts as a research area as well.

The zoo is on the red line, you can go down at the zoo stop. In our case, the hotel we are staying in was just a mile away from the zoo (around 1.6+ KMs) so we took a leisurely walk through the Adams-Morgan neighborhood. Although we only spent a total of 3 hours at the zoo (spent the time there while waiting for us to be checked in our room at the Normandy), it was definitely not enough. I'll definitely go back here on my next DC trip - whenever that would be. :)

Enjoy the photos, but if you plan to use them commercially, please let me know and don't just steal them!

Mommy Panda munching on some bamboo

Asian Elephant


Look, it's Timon!

Peekaboo I see you!!


Magilla Gorilla - amazing how they're like humans

Galapagos tortoise - can't wait to see you in the wild!

Monday, May 19, 2014

[Book Review] The Art of Non Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

Another one of those bloggers that I've been following for a while. Finishing the Tim Ferris book and moving on to another non fiction, I picked this up from the library on a whim as I was looking for another book to read.

Suprisingly, I was very disappointed as soon as I read the last page of the book. Here, I thought it would be like a very inspiring book about how to not conform but some of the points in his book don't apply to me and my life choices, and most of it just revolves around him.

Sure, there's some points that I like about his book, but in total, 99% of what is in the book was just a repetition of his experiences, and 1% was where you can get to reflect on your own life choices. Hmmm bad ratio, if you ask me.
Like, how many times do you have to say your story about how you went to Africa because you read about this doctor who gave up his practice in California to live on a ship and help those in war torn African countries? He practically related the story like 5 times in the book.

What I also liked was there were loads of feedback from other book authors whose titles I may just check out after my non-fiction pile to read is done.

I won't stop reading Chris Guillebeau's blog - that is still very inspiring, but I would just recommend anyone who would want to pick up this book to just borrow it from your library (which I did, thankfully) and not waste precious $$$ on it. You could get most of the content free on his website anyway - www.chrisguillebeau.com/3x5

Book borrowed from: Jacksonville Public Library
Rating: 1.5/5

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