As I've been doing the year-end financial stuff, one thing I looked at was how much we ended up spending on travel. It was way too much, definitely something we need to rein in a bit going forward.
We had a great time and had some wonderful trips: a Caribbean cruise, three trips to Disney World, Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, Kentucky, and a few smaller trips.
Part of the problem is that on a couple of those trips, we stayed at much nicer hotels than we usually do when we travel. We have always been the type to stay on the outskirts of our destination where prices are lower and then drive or take public transit into the main part of town. With Phoenix, Grand Canyon, and Kentucky, we stayed right in the heart of everything. While it's great to be able to step out of your hotel and walk to shops and restaurants and attractions, you also pay a big premium for that convenience. Time to go back to the old way of doing things.
I was shocked to add it all up and realize that we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 on travel between December 2016 and January 2018, so a little more than a year. Time to go back to choosing the hotels off the beaten track.
One good thing at least for 2018 is that we have a ton of Marriott Reward points. We easily have enough for 15 free nights. My goal for the year is to focus on using those whenever we can to help keep costs down. We did one free night just last weekend when we were driving home from Florida and stopped for the night so that probably saved us about $110.
Another thing is that my new job gives me a pretty generous continuing education allowance. So we will combine a vacation or two with conference time. That way the hotel and transportation costs will be covered by work. It means I'm tied up in classes for a lot of the time but I'll still have plenty of free time with my wife (and daughter if she is with us) to enjoy the local stuff.
Viewing the 'Travel' Category
As I've been doing the year-end financial stuff, one thing I looked at was how much we ended up spending on travel. It was way too much, definitely something we need to rein in a bit going forward.
We just got back from a week visiting a few colleges for our daughter who is a rising high school senior. Someone asked about it in another post on an unrelated topic but I thought I'd talk about it here in case others are interested.
Our daughter is interested in studying mechanical engineering. Prior to this week, we had attended an engineering open house at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in November and a general open house at Univ. of Virginia in April. She fell in love with RIT and it went right to #1 on her list. She didn't care for U. of VA and that got crossed off. It's just as important to know where you don't want to go so we were good with that.
This past week had us checking out 2 new schools and a return visit to RIT. We started in Troy, NY at Rensselaer Polytech. Great school, nice campus, but we just didn't feel it was a good fit. Kind of stuffy. Next was Univ. of Rochester. I knew nothing about the school and I was really blown away. Beautiful campus, great program, staff and students we interacted with were all very down to earth, friendly, had great senses of humor, and were clearly passionate about the school. DD didn't go into that visit expecting much and came away really liking it so it is staying on the list for sure.
Finally, it was back to RIT. Thursday and Friday was for a Woman in Engineering program and the Friday and Saturday was a College and Careers program (which also included an overnight stay in the dorms). There were parts of the programs that she found somewhat boring but overall, the 3 days there just cemented her love of the school and desire to go there.
There are still other schools on her list: Rutgers, Rowan, Lehigh, and more, but I doubt any will displace RIT from the top spot. Now we just have to hope she gets accepted - and figure out how to pay for it.
Our daughter is a junior in high school and in the process of exploring her college options. She is looking to go for mechanical engineering. Our first college visit was in November at Rochester Institute of Technology. That was and is her first choice. She loved the campus, the people, and the program. That's a good thing but it also makes subsequent visits tough as everything gets compared to RIT.
Anyway, we just got back from a trip to Univ. of Virginia. Nice campus, very impressive engineering program, well-equipped labs doing high end work, but the overall feel and experience just didn't do it for her (or us for that matter). We all agreed that it wouldn't be the right fit. In fact, we didn't even bother staying for a campus tour. Went and hiked a bit on the Appalachian Trail instead while we were in the neighborhood. By no means a wasted trip as she got to see another school, got some great advice on the whole college application process, and it is just as important to learn what you don't want as it is to learn what you do want.
We don't have anything else set up yet but Rensselaer Polytech, Univ. of MD, and Rutgers are among other schools on her list.
My wife and I have always been theater fans. We both did theater work in college and beyond. In fact, it is because of theater that we got back together in 1989 and ultimately got married. I was working as a lighting designer and invited her to come be on my lighting crew.
Despite our love of theater, a love we have also passed on to our daughter, we don't often go to see live shows. The cost is a definite factor.
My daughter recently heard about a new show on Broadway called "Seminar" starring Alan Rickman (Professor Snape from Harry Potter). We decided we'd go up and see it. I ordered tickets today for next Saturday for the low, low price of $404.75 for 3 tickets. Of course, that doesn't include transportation to and from NYC, parking, meals, subway passes, etc. We are also planning to spend the night. Fortunately, we're using Marriott reward points for the hotel so no out of pocket cost but they still have monetary value. So by the time we're done, we'll probably spend at least $800 for an overnight stay and the show.
I'm happy to do it, and my daughter is thrilled, but it is a lot of money. Yes, we could see a touring company production of a show in Philadelphia which wouldn't be quite as pricey and wouldn't have the travel costs, but it isn't the same and if you want to see a new production, like this, NYC is your only choice. My wife and I did see "Rain" 2 weeks ago in Philly and it was great but still wasn't cheap. I think we paid over $90/person for that.
Any other Broadway/theater fans here?
We went to the travel agent this morning and booked a family cruise for July. My mom is turning 80 in August and told us recently that she'd like us all to go on a cruise to celebrate. The date that worked best for all of us was actually early July. It will be DW, DD, me, my mom, my cousin and my MIL. We're doing a 7-night trip from New York to Bermuda. We've cruised 3 times before, most recently in 2005. My cousin is the only one of the 6 of us who has been to Bermuda before but it was about 20 years ago so he is looking forward to going back. I've always heard great things about Bermuda like how clean it is and how friendly everyone is so I'm excited about finally getting there.
My mom actually wants to treat us to the cruise but we're definitely paying part of the cost. Of course, we'll also have plenty of incidentals to pay for, like excursions, tips, souvenirs, meals off the ship, etc. We won't have airfare but we will need a limo service to take us to and from NYC.
Those of us on the east coast have been buried under record snowfall this year. We've officially broken the all-time snow record by over 6 inches as of last night (and it is only early February). This week alone, we've had two major storms totaling over 40 inches which is unheard of in this area (hence the record).
Anyway, while most people have been snowed in, we actually got snowed OUT. Last night while I was washing the dinner dishes, I saw a bright flash out the back window. My wife happened to be looking out the front window at the time and saw the transformer blow on the electric pole and out went the power. Considering it was still snowing heavily and the number of homes without power was in the tens of thousands, we figured it could be quite a while before a crew got out there to fix the problem and restore power. So we decided to escape and spend the night at a hotel.
I called the local Fairfield Inn and booked a room, then went out and cleaned off the car and shoveled enough of the driveway so I'd be able to get out. My wife and daughter packed overnight bags while I was doing that and we hit the road. It was kind of eerie as roads that are usually heavily traveled interstates were deserted. Between home and the hotel, I doubt that we saw more than a dozen cars. We made it there safely and checked into a nicely lit and heated room, two things that were lacking at home.
This morning, I called the house and the answering machine picked up so I knew the power was back on. We had breakfast (included with the room) and packed up and came back to the house. Other than one large tree branch coming down (no damage done), everything was in order. So ended our little snow adventure. And only a tiny ding to the savings for an unplanned hotel stay.
In the past month or so, I've really taken notice of the fact that we do not take advantage of many things that are in our own backyard particularly as far as inexpensive entertainment is concerned.
When I was off from work over winter break, my daughter and I rode the train into the city to do some sightseeing, lunch and shopping. We try to do that every year but for some reason, this year really opened my eyes to what is out there. We walked through the downtown area and passed endless shops and restaurants that would appeal to all of us, even if just for window shopping. Of course, there are also a ton of historic sites, museums and other places of interest within walking distance of the train stations.
Then yesterday, a school friend of my daughter's was performing in a play at a nearby college. This time, we drove into the city (not near a train station). For $10/person, we saw a very good show. We did pay another $13 to park plus the $4 bridge toll, but that's still less money than if we had gone to NYC to see even an off-Broadway show. The colleges in the area offer all kinds of entertainment - concerts, live shows, art exhibits, film festivals, etc. We never go to any of that stuff and we really should. It is usually inexpensive and sometimes even free. It is close to home. And it is not mainstream stuff so there is an educational/cultural/expand your mind aspect to it, too.
I'm going to start looking around online to see where they list upcoming events and make an effort to do stuff like that occasionally throughout the year.
4 days from now, we'll be on the road on our way to Disney World! We'll leave Friday afternoon, hopefully by 3pm. We'll drive until about 10pm or so and stop for the night. We'll get back on the road about 8am Saturday morning and arrive at our rental house in Kissimmee by around 6pm if all goes smoothly.
Then we'll have two whole weeks to enjoy ourselves. We've been to Disney World many, many times but one thing we've never done is gone for 2 weeks. We're looking forward to having time to do some stuff we don't usually do. We have tickets to see Cirque du Soleil. We plan to do an airboat ride in the swamp and lots of other fun stuff besides all the usual Disney stuff.
I'll be online the whole time so I'll post reports.
Today was a spending day, but a fun one.
My daughter has attended theatre camp the past 2 summers and will do so again this summer. This year's show is "Dear Edwina" which none of us was familiar with. I happened to be browsing at Theatermania.com last weekend and discovered that the show is currently playing off-Broadway. We decided to go so I ordered tickets for today.
We just went for the day as we were busy last night and are busy tomorrow. We got to NY about 10am, parked at the Port Authority and set off on foot in the direction of the theater (at 4th and 15th, across from Union Square). I wasn't sure if we'd walk the whole way because my daughter hurt her knee a couple of days ago. I figured if we needed to, we could hop in a cab or on the subway. We took our time as we were in no hurry and had time to kill. At 23rd street, we stopped for lunch in a nice Greek diner. That gave her a chance to rest her leg, too. From there, we continued on our way.
We stopped in a drug store across from Union Square to buy snacks for the theatre and headed over to wait for the show.
The show was cute and well done. The cast was great. If you have middle school or older elementary school kids, it is good for that age group. In fact, there was a middle school group that filled 6 or 8 rows of seats behind us (theater only sat 99 people) and they all sounded like they were enjoying the show.
We did not walk back to the car. We got on the subway right at Union Square and rode it back to 42nd street. Then we headed home. Normally, we'd hang out in the city, but since DD couldn't walk that well and had already trudged from 41st and 8th to 15th and 4th, I thought she had done more than enough for one day.
Money wise, it wasn't the cheapest of days, but we all love the theatre and don't get to shows nearly as often as we'd like. Here's a rough tally of what we spent.
It was well worth it and is sure cheaper than if we had seen a Broadway show. One ticket would have cost more than all 3 tickets to this show.
I realized I haven't posted for a couple of weeks. Nothing particularly exciting has been going on but I figured I'd give some updates.
1. Even though I stopped doing the Exercise Log entries, I have not stopped exercising. I'm still working out with Wii Fit. I think I did 22 minutes tonite.
Now that I've had it for over a month, I would still highly recommend it for anyone looking for a home exercise regimen. Much more convenient than a gym, not dependent on the weather and you can exercise on your own schedule. It is even portable if you go out of town and want to pack it. As long as you have a TV to hook it to, you're all set.
Not only that, but the other night, the TV was in use so I just went upstairs and did several of the exercises I've learned from Wii in our bedroom. You can't do the balance games but can certainly do the yoga, strength training and aerobic ones.
2. My wife and I visited a local casino (Chester, PA) last week. I won $93 and she won about $12. We had a casual dinner at their sports bar and just had a nice evening out. We're planning to go again on Saturday morning while our daughter is at a school program. We'll play a little and maybe do an early lunch or snack.
3. Got the van fixed today. It had failed inspection for an emissions problem. Repairs came to almost $1,500. I know I could have had it done cheaper elsewhere but the dealership is so convenient. They provide excellent service, a free rental and I trust that they know what they're doing. They did recommend some other work be done (like front brakes and tires) but I decided to shop around for those things. Now I just have to get it back to DMV to get re-inspected.
4. We had to scrub our annual Disney World trip. My daughter was hand-picked for a special school program that meets every Saturday for 6 weeks and that conflicts with when we were going to go. We're all bummed since we have been going annually for a long time (my daughter just turned 13 and has been there 14 times). We're talking about going next summer instead. We'd love to go for more than a week so we could do that then. Can't do it during the school year.
5. Since we can't go to Disney, we may just go away for 2 days that week when my daughter has no school. We're deciding where to go. Lancaster, PA is always on our list so that's probably where we'll end up.
6. As I mentioned on the boards, I got 2 books for doing medical surveys. I put them on Half.com and sold one within 24 hours for $7.99. The other one is still listed but hasn't sold yet. Since I got them for nothing, anything I make is okay with me.
7. Watching my portfolio dissolve right along with everyone else but keeping my cool. 18 years until retirement and 6 until college so time for things to turn around. I'm sorry that I already maxed our Roths for the year. I would have liked to have been putting that $10,000 in now instead of earlier in the year like I did. Oh well.
Can't think of anything else to report at the moment.
I think there may be a new financial goal in our future - a vacation home. In the past, we had considered buying a home in Florida to use for our Disney trips and to rent out the rest of the time. After looking into it, speaking with a realtor, a property management company and some other owners in the area, we decided against it.
Now, though, we are thinking about getting a place much closer to home in a location that we actually visit regularly, multiple times per year. It is close enough that we could use the place just for an overnight or weekend stay. We wouldn't be looking to rent it out, though we would consider offering it to a select group of friends and family for a modest charge (well below the going rates in the area) just to help defray our costs a bit.
I've just started to look into it and run numbers to figure out what we can afford, what places are going for in the area, and when we can seriously consider it - we can't at this point in time. Maybe in 5-10 years or so, though, we would be in a position where we could make it a reality. Just something to dream about right now.
Apparently a few of you would like to hear more details about our trip, so here is more info. I'll try to keep it brief, but I'm happy to elaborate on anything if you have questions.
Day 1: Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian. We went there primarily for their Asian collection as my daughter has developed an interest in Japanese culture. Very nice museum right on the Mall.
After lunch, we went to the Museum of Natural History for a while and saw the Hope diamond, the dinosaurs, and a few other things before we ran out of steam and went back to the hotel.
That night, we went to the Arlington Fair that we had seen advertised on TV (and went online to get all the details - how did we live without the internet). That was fun and was a neat way to spend my birthday. We had dinner (carnival food - corn dogs, fries, funnel cake) and went on a bunch of rides.
Day 2: We drove out to Dulles Airport to see the satellite location of the Air and Space Museum. They have a huge building there where they display many aircraft that they simply don't have room for on the Mall. Some highlights are the Enola Gay, a Concorde jet, the space shuttle Enterprise and many others.
We had lunch at the McDonald's there, a place that we are very unaccustomed to eating (I know, it's un-American but we simply don't go there). I have to say we were very pleasantly surprised. I had the Asian salad which was really quite good - fresh veggies, tasty grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, slivered almonds and sesame dressing. I'd definitely recommend it.
That night, we had dinner at the Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant in Falls Church. This was another place that we located on the internet. Very good food and service. After dinner, we stopped at Fashion Centre Mall at Pentagon City. We browsed the shops and we actually got my daughter a nice bracelet at one of the jewelry shops. My mom wanted to give her something for her upcoming Bat Mitzvah but wanted her to pick it out, so that was good.
Day 3: We had 11:00 tickets for the National Holocaust Museum. I knew that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was next door and they give out timed tour tickets each morning. We headed over a little early and I went and got tickets for later in the day so we could see the tour after the museum.
Holocaust Museum is wonderful and does a great job telling the story of what led up to and what occurred during and after the Holocaust. My family and I are very well versed on the topic but still learned some new info while there. I found the early years of Hitler's career very interesting as I really didn't know much about his rise to power.
The one artifact that really got to me was the train car. I think that is because of seeing the movie "Paperclips." If you have any interest in the topic and haven't seen the movie, definitely rent it and watch it with a box of tissues handy.
We had lunch at the museum cafe. Food was fine but overpriced.
Then we got to learn all about printing money. It is always quite a sight to see stacks and stacks of sheets of $100 bills coming off the presses.
That night, we had dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant near the hotel called Cafe Italia. My daughter had homemade gnocchi for the first time and absolutely loved them. I don't think I've ever seen her enjoy a meal quite that much.
Day 4: I had ordered tickets in advance for the International Spy Museum and their Operation: Spy program. Wow! This place is fantastic. I had no idea it was as large or as involved as it is. Operation: Spy is a 1-hour long interactive experience where about 15 people are taken into a totally themed area made to look like a foreign country and embark on a spy mission to retrieve a missing nuclear trigger device. You have to work together to solve puzzles, do surveillance, search an office, crack a safe and more. The theming is excellent and the whole program is well worth every penny.
Then you enter the museum itself (you can buy either admission separately or a combo ticket for both). The museum tells all about history of spying, famous spies over the years, lots of displays of spy equipment and pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about spies. Great place to visit.
We had dinner at a little Greek diner near the hotel. Quick, reasonable and good food cooked to order. I took DD to the pool after dinner for a little swim.
Day 5: Hopped the Metro to Old Town Alexandria, an old favorite of ours. King Street is filled with unique shops, galleries and restaurants. We found a nice Thai place for lunch. Food was excellent. Then we spent time browsing the shops. We visited the Torpedo Factory which is a working art studio for about 80 artists. We stopped for ice cream before heading back, just in time as a thunderstorm started when we were riding the trolley back to the Metro station.
Day 6: Checked out and headed toward home. We stopped at Inner Harbor in Baltimore for lunch and shopping. DW actually found jewelry to go with her dress for the Bat Mitzvah there - a necklace and matching earrings. She's been searching since she bought the dress and hadn't found anything, so now she's set.
And that's about it. Let me know if you have any questions.
We got back from D.C. yesterday. We had a very nice trip and saw lots of interesting stuff. It seems that no matter how many times you go to Washington, there is always something new and different to be seen or done.
Stuff we did that I've never done before:
Air and Space Museum at Dulles airport
Freer Gallery (don't think I've been there)
We also went to some places that have been renovated since our last visit or I hadn't been for many years, like the National Archives, the Museum of Natural History, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Old Town Alexandria.
We found some great places to eat, both cheap casual things like the food court in the Ronald Reagan building just off the mall, and finer dining like a wonderful Italian place in Arlington called Cafe Italia. My daughter had her first taste of fresh homemade gnocchi and was in heaven. We'll see what she says the next time we make the packaged stuff at home.
We walked many, many miles. I'm sorry I didn't think to bring a pedometer. I'm sure we got our 10,000 steps in every day.
It was an all around great trip. Other than a few miscellaneous items (tolls, etc.) I figure the total cost for the trip was about $1,600. That was for 3 of us for 7 days/6 nights including everything. We splurged a little more than usual on food (and prices are on the high side in DC) but overall, I think the trip was very reasonable.
Today was my last day of work until 8/18. We are going to Washington, D.C. tomorrow for a week. We haven't been there for about 6 years. Our daughter doesn't really remember a whole lot about the last trip since she was only 6. We have tickets for the Holocaust Museum (DD and I have never been; DW was there once). We also have tickets for the Spy Museum and the interactive spy experience they have there. Other than that, we will make it up as we go along. We want to go to the Freer Gallery as DD is into both art and Asian culture, particularly Japanese, so we want to visit their collection.
I'll have the laptop so I'll still be checking in and reporting on our visit.
I haven't written an entry for a couple of weeks. Nothing particular to report on until now, so here's an update.
I just transferred another $445 to my wife's Roth. Mine got maxed at $5,000 with the money from the tax stimulus. After today's transfer, I need to send in another $1,085 to max hers. I'll do that in the next couple of weeks.
Our daughter's Bat Mitzvah is 4 months away, September 27th. We are meeting with the caterer on Wednesday to go over the menu, table linens, and other details. We will be making an installment payment to him of $5,300 also. That represents approximately 50% of the total bill. At that meeting, I'll get the suggested bar list so that we can start shopping for the alcohol needed. We will be saving hundreds by providing the alcohol ourselves instead of paying them to provide it.
We spent the day in Atlantic City yesterday. The 3 of us plus my mother went down. We had a nice lunch together and then my wife and I went to Caesar's to play for a couple of hours. Also, I had a $25 cash comp to collect. I ended up losing $50 at blackjack which left me down $25 counting the money they gave me for coming in. My wife lost about $46 and got a $5 comp for parking, so $41 for her.
After lunch, we did some shopping at the outlets. We picked up some nice stuff at the Disney outlet on clearance - a couple of Mickey vases $3.99 (one to keep, one for a pollyanna present for our collector's club), an Eeyore wall-hanging $3.50, and a couple of very nice stained-glass hangings $2.50.
I guess that's all for the moment.
A while back, I got an e-mail from the New Hampshire tourism dept. to do an online survey. We vacationed in NH last summer which is how they got my name. I filled out the survey and thought that was the end of things.
A couple of days ago, I get a letter from them inviting me to join the NH Travel Advisory Panel. I would have to complete a series of 4 online surveys over the next year. For each survey, I'll get a gift card from one of several companies of my choice. Plus I'll get an extra $10 for registering for the panel by 5/23. All together, it will be $65 for the 4 surveys and sign-up bonus.
I just registered, which took about 5 seconds, and I'll get $10 for doing that. The first survey is in June, then September, December and March. Pretty simple way to pick up an extra $65. BTW, I chose Amazon for my gift cards.
I took the day off today and my wife and I went to Atlantic City. We enjoy going and don't get to do it as often as we'd like. Typically, we go on a weekend day when the place is much more crowded so it was very nice to be there on a weekday.
We parked at Caesar's, as usual. I had a coupon to redeem for a free buffet at Bally's so we walked over there to redeem it. Unfortunately, they told me the promotion had ended and they couldn't honor the coupon (I have had it for a while).
My wife signed up for her own Total Rewards card (she's been playing on my account until now). Now when the casinos have special promotions and give-aways, we'll both get them instead of just me. Today, for example, they were giving away a pair of cubic zirconia earrings to card members and randomly placed among the cz earrings were 200 pairs of real diamond earrings. We didn't get the diamonds but the cz ones are nice.
We played for a while - me at blackjack and her at slots. I left the table up $5. We decided to have lunch at Wild West at the buffet. I used $20 of comp credit and paid for the balance. Lunch was very good. They have a nice buffet with plenty of choices and good food.
After lunch, we walked around The Pier shopping mall for a little while, bought some fudge for our daughter and then headed back to the casino. We played for another 45 minutes. I ended up down $4.50 for the day. I'm happy any time I walk out with close to what I came with. I had fun. I got comped for parking ($5.00) and earned credit toward more comps (like the $20 I got today for lunch).
All in all a nice day. Hope everyone has a nice weekend.
Now that I'm back and settled from the weekend, I tallied up what the whole deal cost me.
Thursday, I flew to West Palm Beach, FL to attend my aunt's funeral on Friday. Friday night I flew home and drove to Princeton, NJ to attend our good friends' son's Bar Mitzvah on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, the Bar Mitzvah trip was planned but the funeral trip was not.
Not counting gas for the car or any new clothes, we spent about $1,015 in 4 days. $735 was for the funeral and the rest was for the Bar Mitzvah. And I'm not even counting lost income from taking the day off on Friday. If I add in everything, it would be over $1,500.
I'm not complaining at all as I'm very, very glad I was able to be at the funeral and we've been friends with the Bar Mitzvah family since high school (over 25 years now) and wouldn't have missed that affair for anything. It just illustrates how important savings and emergency funds are.
As per my last post, my wife and I returned to my college this weekend to attend the dedication of the theater lobby in memory of my former theater professor and director.
A large contingent of my college theater friends were able to attend, about 16 of us all together. It was really wonderful to see everyone and spend some time together catching up on each other's lives. It has been way too long since we got together.
After the show last night, one couple set a date for a party at their house on July 5th, so we are all looking forward to that and more time to spend together with old friends. Keep in mind that we graduated college between 1984 and 1987 so we all go back quite a few years at this point.
Financially, the weekend wasn't too bad. The hotel last night was $105 and included breakfast this morning (7 of us met for breakfast since we were all staying in the same hotel). DW and I spent about $15 for lunch yesterday afternoon. We all went out last night after the show. That was another $20. Add in gas and tolls for about another $20. So I guess the whole weekend ran us about $160 and it was worth every penny to see everyone.
We had a very nice weekend, got to relax some, had some good meals, discovered a great hotel (it's not new, but we've never stayed there before) and bought some needed and not-so-needed stuff.
I did get 3 pairs of pants and one dress shirt, which were the main items on my shopping list. DD and DW each got some clothes. At the new Disney outlet, we picked up a few items for our collection and DD got some clothes. We also picked up a nice Royal Doulton Winnie the Pooh piece. They had a lot of their Disney items on sale for 70% off which made normally pricey items much more reasonable.
We used our Isaac's restaurant gift card toward lunch on Saturday. And my mom treated us to a couple of meals and paid for some of our purchases. She's been enjoying her much lower cost of living since selling her house and moving into an apartment. She also has been not feeling well lately and is finally doing better so was really glad to be able to make the trip with us. We all got along very well this weekend with only a couple of minor issues. DD (our almost teenager) behaved herself very well which made the weekend much nicer for everyone.
We decided to do a weekend get-away tomorrow. We're heading to Lancaster, PA for 2 nights. We'll do some outlet shopping, eat at our favorite restaurant (one of my patients gave me a gift certificate for the holidays), go swimming (hotel has an indoor pool) and whatever else crops up. My mom and cousin are joining us, too. We'll leave tomorrow after we're all home from work and come back Sunday night.
Hopefully, I'll come back with a few new pairs of pants. That's the main thing on my shopping list.
The Best Way to Make Your Next Vacation Really Special
If I had to give one single tip for folks to consider when traveling, it would be to think ďoutside the boxĒ and by box, in this case, I mean hotel. To the average traveler, hotels are the only accomodations they consider when planning a trip. Not that there is anything wrong with hotels - I spent at least 17 nights in hotels in 2007 personally - but there is a wide range of non-hotel options out there. You can rent condos, townhouses, single homes, timeshare units, ski chalets, cabins and even tree houses using the internet as your guide.
As many of you know, I go to Walt Disney World in Florida once a year. We havenít stayed in a hotel during those trips for many years. We have stayed in a variety of spacious condos, townhouses, single homes and timeshares often spending a fraction of what a simple hotel room would have cost us and getting far more in the process.
In 2006, we traveled to Stowe, VT and spent a week in a wonderful ski chalet with all the amenities of home and more (we donít have a deck and definitely donít have a large hot tub on it).
So how does one find these non-hotel properties? As usual, the internet serves as the ultimate source of knowledge (thatís what my family calls it). Start your journey at http://www.vrbo.com. VRBO stands for Vacation Rentals By Owner. It is a site where owners list homes for rent all over the world.
Do you want a tree house in New Mexico? Here you go: http://www.vrbo.com/7184
How about a luxury ocean-view condo in Maui?
Perhaps you want to throw another shrimp on the barbie, mate.
And hereís that chalet we rented in Vermont.
You will often find that renting a home is no more expensive than staying in a decent hotel, or even cheaper, plus it gives you a whole different experience of the area. One Holiday Inn looks pretty much like the next, but no two homes are ever quite the same. Rental homes are often located right in the middle of town so you get to live like the locals live, shop in non-tourist locations and dine where the full-time residents dine. That can also help you save money on your travels.
So the next time you are planning a trip to a new locale, or even one you have visited before, check out vrbo.com and choose to stay in a memorable place with some character and history and ambiance rather than some generic hotel where you might need to check the brochure at the front desk to remember what city you are in.
I'm not sure if it will be more trouble than it is worth, but my partner got invited to a medical conference in Chicago and doesn't want to go. We contacted them and I am able to go in his place.
The deal is they pay for airfare, ground transportation, hotel and meals. PLUS, they pay me $1,500 for attending.
So I'll be leaving a week from Monday and coming home on Tuesday. Like I said, it is a bit of a hassle, but for $1,500 I'll suffer.
What I'm really hoping is that this company does programs like this regularly and this will get me on their list for future programs. I wouldn't mind doing that a couple of times each year.
Our daughter went on a rafting trp today from our temple youth group so DW and I took a ride down to Atlantic City.
We went to the Showboat casino. Haven't been there for years. We also wanted to see the new shops/restaurants they opened at Taj Mahal which is next door, and I figured we'd visit my cousin who has a store at Resorts (Caprice).
We got down about 10:45am. We wandered through Showboat, just looking around and checking out the smoking/non-smoking sections (we HATE being anywhere near smoke). Then we walked over to Taj to see the new shops. By then we were getting hungry and headed back to Showboat to decide where to eat.
We decided to do the buffet, but they didn't open until noon, so we hit the casino for a half hour or so. I played blackjack (that's all I play) and won $20. DW played video blackjack and lost some (not sure how much - no a lot).
Lunch was very good. The buffet is $17.99/person and I had a $7 comp coupon, so with tax and tip it came to $34.
After lunch, we walked down to Resorts to visit my cousin. There was a special prize drawing every hour at Showboat. We had been there for 1:00 and 2:00 so we made sure to be back for 3:00 and 4:00 (but we didn't win). We played for another 40 minutes or so, and I won another $80, before we called it a day. We had to pick up DD at 6:00 so we couldn't stay too much later than that (although she ended up not getting home until 7:15 but we didn't know that at the time).
Overall, a very nice day. The weather was beautiful, though a bit humid. I won $100. DW lost some, but not nearly that much - I think about $25. We got a $7 comp for food and enjoyed a great buffet.
We got home Saturday afternoon. We had a really great trip - did lots of fun things in New Hampshire. If anyone is ever thinking of visiting the state, let me know. I'll be happy to share lots of tips we gathered during our 2-week stay.
Went back to work yesterday. Busy, as expected, and lots of messages waiting for my return. I got through some of them, but still had plenty left at the end of the day.
I was actually off again today as my wife was scheduled for surgery on her hand to remove two growths on her fingers. Everything went well and she is feeling fine. Just a bit awkward having her left hand all bandaged up.
Tomorrow, I really need to start attacking the stack of charts, messages and forms at the office. Fun, fun, fun.
I did find time this morning to do one medical survey, so that earned me a $30 Amazon certificate. I tried to do more later in the day but couldn't connect with the call center (the survey is done online while speaking with a rep by phone at the same time).
I haven't totaled up the vacation spending yet. I'm really curious to do that and see how we made out. The first half of the trip was quite cheap as the hotels were free on Marriott Reward points and we hardly spent anything on activities - just on food. The 2nd part of the trip, we did more activities that had fees associated with them, and the last 4 nights, we paid for our hotel. I'm guessing that we spent somewhere in the $2,500 range for the 2-weeks including everything, but that's really just a ballpark estimate. I'll post when I have the final numbers.
Today was our next to last day of our trip and turned out to be the most expensive, but that's fine.
Even though our hotel includes breakfast, we went out to eat, something we almost never do when traveling. We had breakfast at Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, NH, a local landmark ($29.59). It was very tasty, definitely worth a trip if you are ever in the area.
DD and I rode the Alpine Slide at Attitash Mountain ($30). Had lunch at a nice little sandwich shop in N. Conway ($10.85) before riding the Conway Scenic Railway on a 1-3/4 hour roundtrip ride to Bartlett ($66.50). Ended with dinner in a not-so-great little place in Twin Mountain, NH ($29.76).
So $166.70 spent today (not counting gas as we drove about 150 miles).
One more day enjoying New Hampshire before heading back to the real world.
My previous post talked about non-food spending on our trip. Ima asked about food costs. Our hotel includes breakfast so we are only responsible for lunch, dinner and snacks. So far, after 8 days, we've spent $391.38. The first day, we were visiting family. We had lunch at their house and they paid for dinner out, so we spent a total of $4.50 on food that day.
If I figure based on the 7 days we've been paying our way, it is $391.38/7 days=$55.91/day or $18.64/person/day. This includes our meals, beverages and snacks.
Our typical travel average is about $20/person/day, so we're right on track. Monday and Tuesday mornings, we'll be at a hotel that doesn't serve breakfast, so we'll spend more those 2 days. Then, we'll be back to breakfast included the final 4 days.
We are in the midst of a 2-week trip to New Hampshire. My rough budget included up to $100/day for activities - admission fees, boat rentals, tickets, parking, etc. I knew there would be days we spent that much or even more and days we wouldn't. So far, on day 7, we've spent hardly anything in this category. We've spent just a few dollars in parking fees. We haven't visited any museums, have not rented any watercraft and only went to one state park that charged a fee (and that was done on an honor system, but we did pay the suggested amount).
The more expensive part of the trip starts Sunday, though, so we'll make up for it in week 2. My wife already said, at least, that she won't feel so bad spending money on stuff next week since we spent so little this week.
There is a thread asking if people are saving for a reason. I just posted something there that I thought would be a good blog entry.
As I've said, we love to travel. We left home Saturday for a 14-day adventure in New Hampshire. This morning, we headed southwest from Manchester heading toward Keene with no particular itinerary in mind. Partway there, we passed a sign for a state park with an auto road. We pulled in and found there was a road up to the summit at 2,290 feet. We drove up the steep, narrow, hairpin-turn road. At the top, we decided to hike one of the trails that went around the summit. We got some beatiful views, saw some wonderful rock formations, saw a big swarm of dragonflies and DD discovered a snake in the grass.
Being able to get away and have experiences like that together as a family is why we work and why we save.
We're back from our anniversary weekend in NYC. We had a very nice time. We actually started our celebrating early. DD got invited out Friday night for a movie and a sleepover so DW and I went out to dinner at a nice French place nearby.
Saturday morning, we drove up to NYC and got there about 11am. The show was at 2pm so we had some time to wander and have lunch. We ate at Mama Sbarro's, one of our casual favorites. They have a by-the-pound Italian buffet. After lunch, we stopped at a candy store to buy some snacks for the theater as we don't believe in paying $4/box for candy that is under $1 outside.
We saw "Avenue Q" which is a riot. Very, very funny show. If you ever get the chance, it is worth every penny. As long as you are not the type to be easily offended by sex, bad language or politically incorrect humor.
After the show, we talk a walk up to the World of Disney store on 5th Ave. They renovated a year or so ago and we hadn't been there since. From there, we headed back to the car and went to the hotel.
We stayed at the Renaissance Meadowlands which was just a few miles from the LIncoln Tunnel. It is a very nice place and we had a free night certificate from the Marriott credit card. When I checked in, I got an envelope with a card saying I was the Silver Rewards member of the day and got a free breakfast coupon, so that was a nice treat.
After we relaxed a little, we got a restaurant directory from the front desk and decided to eat at P.F. Chang's. DW had been there once but I never had. It was very good and quite reasonably priced. We got back to the room, showered, watched some tv and went to bed (it was after midnight by then).
Today, we had breakfast. I gave the waiter my coupon and he was surprised that I only had one. I explained that was all they gave me. He said he'd take care of it and he somehow came up with a 2nd one, so breakfast was totally free (though I did give him a nice tip).
On the way home, we stopped at the Jackson Premium Outlets to walk around a bit. We didn't really buy much, just a couple of little things and grabbed a bit to eat.
So all in all, a very nice weekend.
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