Re-Post

Friday, September 19, 2014

Traveling on a dime!

“Travel provides us with the distance required to see what it is we are habitually doing and the anonymity to risk new ways of being in the world.” - Robert Fuller


My husband and I travel a great deal for our company and thus I have become quite the self-appointed expert at finding the most incredible deals while planning.  Today, I am sharing with you my favorite top 10 ways to hit the road and save a wallet full of money.  Even if you only learn 1-2 new things it should help you stay somewhere amazing for a steal.


1. Plan ahead and save a ton
This may seem pretty straightforward and logical but if you can play around with your trip and consider ADDING on an extra overnight stay (at the front or back end) you may end up actually saving yourself more in the long run; this is the best time to use that 'flexible dates' option they give you for flight costs too!  Many hotels offer a discounted 3rd night or even buy-two-nights-get-one-free.  You can also save many times by booking 3 weeks or more in advance- just be sure to double check that you are getting a cancellable/ fully refundable reservation.  Almost all hotels now offer cancellation by 4pm the day before or day of arrival option even when booking from kayak or hotels.com.  I was surprised recently to find The Marriott Beachplace in Ft. Lauderdale had a fantastic option of $125 per night with a water view with balcony.  Compared to staying further inland at comparable hotels at upwards of $200 per night - simply because I booked from the Marriott website and chose the Marriott rewards package price instead of AAA or "best price" option. Did you know that you should also separate out your trip when researching and sometimes a weeknight or weekday is less than the other nights - many times I book a couple of weeknights as needed and book a separate reservation for my weekend part of the trip for a lower cose that won't be offered to you if you book it all as one reservation.   This happens particularly with disney hotels and big chains!


2.  Compare, compare, compare......  (ok and location, location, location too)
Before I ever book something using one of the social media or discounted sale sights, I always go to the hotel or airlines direct page and compare.  Recently I saved significantly by doing this in searching for a hotel in south Florida for a business trip.  I was intrigued by an email from the Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fl for deluxe kings starting at $125 plus a $50 food/drink credit and free valet.  Not knowing our meeting dates yet and knowing the deal was only good for 3 days - I booked two separate stays a week apart from each other knowing that I could cancel one of them anytime.  A couple weeks later, I cancelled one of the reservations and we are set now with an upcoming stay ultimately only costing my company $75 per night plus tax to stay at a gorgeous hotel with a ton of amenities very centrally located - for a steal!  It is great to note that for this particular hotel -had I chosen two queens/doubles instead of a king the price would have gone up higher so keep that in mind too when playing around with your selections.


3. Utilize groupon, living social, travel zoo, kayak, etc.
In addition to these popular discounted travel sites, consider that there are even more of these sites that you may not know about, such  as cldeals.com (creative loafing/ new times, those free paper magazines that come out every week in many communities).  Amazon local also has some unique deals not found on the other sites.  Crowd savings and half off depot offer an extensive list of deals that change daily.  I found that jetsetter had some fantastic deals and when I referred a family member (even if booking under my husband) I received $25 off my next booking. 

Vista Verde All Inclusive Ski Resort Colorado Springs, CO

4.  Do yourself an extra favor
On sites like crowdsavings.com or halfoffdepot.com if you sign up for the email list and wait a couple days  look for just the right daily discount code and save another 20%-50% off.  Also if you look at some travel options and then go to close the site you will sometimes get a pop up window or an email shortly thereafter saying "Wait! Don't go - we'll give you another $25 off if you come back and book now!")  Great example:  The Sirata Beach Resort in St. Petersburg, Fl was being offered at a very cheap $66 per night on halfoffdepot.com, a few days into the offer they ran a plus 20% off and with tax we stayed on the ocean, with a cabana and welcome drink for $52.  I was very leery of booking any hotel at this kind of rate so, as always I checked reviews out on tripadvisor.com and yelp, etc to see what we were getting into first.  I was very pleasantly surprised and cannot wait to see if this hotel advertises more deals again - they used a company called aniomod.com for the bookings.  Here are some views of the property and I can tell you that the service there was fantastic!  I went back online while we were there and booked 3 more nights at this steal of a rate (The only caveat here was it had to be used before 12/31/13 and they said mostly weeknight stays were bookable).  I didn't have any issue booking any of the dates we needed and it was an excellent way to not worry about driving an hour home after a Rays baseball game, a day of work meetings in the area, and a place to meetup with family and friends by the beach.

Sirata Beach Resort Clearwater, FL
Sirata Beach Resort Clearwater, Fl
5.  A no-brainer- get AAA.  
Seriously - on top of getting roadside service we easily make up for the low cost membership with hotel discounts.  Whenever I login to Marriott's website I select the AAA rate option and always see a significant savings (although sometimes the marriott rewards or package deals are better at times).  Also you can book and peruse many AAA rated hotels and cruises right on their website when comparison shopping.

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy 
6.  Subscribe to your favorite hotel and airlines rewards clubs and e-newsletters
Trust me, you can always unsubscribe or use unrollme.com to stop being hassled.  They will send out last minute deals to entice you.  One great place we've stayed a few times is the Bayfront Marin House in St. Augustine - and by liking their facebook page and or being on their email list you can get amazing water front rooms (including drinks, appetizers, 3 course breakfast and more) for $159 on a weeknight!
Balcony of our Royal Caribbean Cruise leaving Tampa, FL
7.  Change your groupon home town
When I know ahead of time that I am traveling out of state especially I spend a few minutes on groupon logged into their area and sometimes find a deal for a local attraction that I had wanted to see anyways for half the price.  Just because a restaurant uses these deal sites to market themselves doesn't mean they are low quality -sometimes they are brand new places looking for business and sometimes they want the exposure.

Hell, Cayman Islands
8.  Earn free gift cards and dining checks
Use opentable.com to make reservations even if it is last minute and you can quickly earn a $20 gift card.  They offer 1000 point tables in most cities which means if you reserve a table during certain hours or certain days of the week you are halfway to a $20 dining certificate - book one of these twice and you made $20!   You can also use open table right from the yelp website or app now too which is fantastic!  Whenever I am booking at a bed and breakfast I check www.bedandbreakfast.com for their current gift card or online booking deals.  I almost always book with someone who takes their gift cards, because I save at least $20 for every $100 spent on a b&b gift card.  *Important- you must buy your B&B.com gift cards 8 days before you want to redeem them on a trip so no last minute planning here.
Secrets Maroma Beach Resort, Cancun, Mexico
9.  Call the hotel last minute 
Ask if they can top the lowest rated deal or go to www.lasminutedeals.com.  By the way a package deal may not be the best value so do the math - you don't necessarily need all the frills if you just want to add on a bottle of wine or a spa massage to your trip - but sometimes there is a lot of value in those packages too.  I just booked the Marriott County Hall in London England for a trip for next year and I am keeping my eye on the current exchange rate.  To begin with I can book an upgraded room there on hotels.com for $50 less than on the marriott website (and cancel anytime) but even better I can pre-purchase it at a locked in US Dollar amount whenever the dollar is a little stronger than the pound.  Also they had a package for 40pounds more that included dinner, champagne, chocolates and breakfast...... what a steal!!!!

The Collesium, Rome, Italy
10.  Utilize your connections
Sounds easy enough- but I was surprised to learn during a recent trip to Boca that alumni of my University get a discount by calling and just saying they went to the school.  Imagine if you utilized this tactic every time you had to book a hotel in Gainesville or Tallahassee.... not suggesting that you should be dishonest here, but if you have an alma mater then say so when visiting a college town- it cannot hurt.   Ask the hotel concierge or desk clerk for ideas and always look at the coupon racks in the hotel lobby- if you already know where you want to go for a drink or dinner and if it is nearby I can tell you at least a quarter of the time they have a coupon in one of those magazines for a free glass of wine or dessert, etc.

Vista Verde Resort Colorado Springs, CO
Above all - have fun!  IF you have the time to research you can save a LOT of money.... if you have good credit consider getting a couple of travelers credit cards like American Express Blue Sky (I made a $1200 profit off of them last year).  Delta Amex is sending me to Paris next spring..... 

Sirata Beach Resort, Clearwater, Fl

What are your best travel tips to save money and get to see the world??  

Monday, September 15, 2014

When life gives you lemons... make Limoncello!!!

 

My husband fell in love with Limoncello when we visited Italy a few years ago and I never realized how absolutely simple it is to make - and what a great gift it makes as well!   Limoncello liquor is smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor.  All you need for a really fantastic limoncello are some good lemons (10), a bottle of vodka (the better, the better), some sugar and some patience!!  It turns out smooth and sweet with an intense lemon flavor.  To make it we're simply infusing lemon peels into vodka!  When you begin peeling your lemons (Meyer lemons are preferred but not required) it's important to try not to get any pit on your peels (the pith is the white part and it is quite bitter).  

Reserve the lemons for another recipe.  My preference is to squeeze them and put them juice into small ice cube trays and once hard drop the cubes into a freezer bag.  It keeps extremely well and I drop one cube everyday into my morning smoothie!  Fresh and healthy and fantastic!

Pour the peels into a 2 Qt pitcher.  My preference is to use a beverage dispensing jug which makes it a lot easier to help with the post-infusion straining!  

Pour all of the 750ml bottle of vodka over the peels, close tightly and store while it is infusing and steeping in a room temperature and non-brightly lit room.  Countertop is fine, but the pantry is even better!


And then we wait....... a month!!!!!!!!!  Some people are good to go ahead and make their actual limoncello in just under a week (check out Giada De Laurentis's version on food network's site here).  The longer you let the flavor seep though, the more deep your flavor will be which is preferred by most Limoncello Lovers).  Now onto the fun part!!

Make a simple sugar:  Take 3 and a half cups water and 2 and a half cups sugar and dissolve into a saucepan.  Using medium heat, stir occasionally and after about five minutes everything should be dissolved (don't let it come to a boil).  Let the sugar water come to a complete cool down before doing anything with it -preferable pour it out of the saucepan into another container to help with the cooling.  Note: sugar water is used in many mixed drinks and can be easily stored in a tightly lidded jar in the refrigerator for up to a month).  

While your sugar water is cooling down, strain your vodka and peels.  I used a coffee filter over a small strainer to get the best clearest remaining liquid!  

Take a DEEP breath... because it smells AMAZING!!!!! You can now discard the peels (they will make your disposal smell wonderful).  You are left with a lemony concentration of infused vodka. 

Now, simply add your sugar water to the vodka and carefully pour into pretty bottles to keep in the refrigerator up to a month or even better in the freezer for up to a year -but it won't last that long!

Here are some other great ways to serve your limoncello aside from just being served chilled straight up in a small glass.....  

How about some limoncello ice cream from Trumatter's blog

Or some Limoncello pound cake with marscapone icing from Circle B Kitchen

And the heavenly sounding Limoncello Gin  Cocktail with Grilled Thyme from Fine Cooking


What is your favorite way to deal with life, when it hands you lemons??