Saturday, August 29, 2009

Guest Post: How to Save Money While Traveling Abroad

Ireland: CoastImage by gato-gato-gato via Flickr

Traveling’s great, right? Of course. Most of us think so, but the problem with many things that we consider great, like front-row tickets to our favorite band, a Ferrari, or a great meal from a luxury restaurant, tend to be expensive. However, as it is with the last three things I mentioned, there are little ways to cut corners to turn expensive luxuries into affordable options.
I’m no expert on how to do that with a Ferrari, but with years of travel experience and as a travel professional myself, I know a few things about how to shave dollars off a potentially very expensive trip.

For most, buying a cheap ticket is the easy part. Travel consolidators everywhere have made that easy for us. What most of us don’t know, however, is how to save cash once we set two feet into a new country we’re unfamiliar with. Expensive exchange rates and locals ready to take advantage of our touristy ways try to make it as difficult as possible for us to leave without crying at the status of our bank accounts. There are ways, though, to have a great time and still save a few bucks.

  1. First, go in expecting to get taken advantage of. The first time I took a culturally shocking trip into China, I took two steps off the plane and promptly ended up paying five times the normal fare for a cab ride. I didn’t see it as being ripped off since the cost was equivalent or even a little less than a normal U.S. cab ride, but it ended up being a huge rip-off when directly compared to Chinese standards. When you visit underdeveloped countries such as China or India, your biggest cost will be the flight there. However, you will encounter many poor citizens ready to swindle you out of every dollar they can manage. Plan for this, research what typical costs are in different situations, and don’t let the locals swindle you out of five to fifteen bucks. If this occurs over and over again, it will severely up the cost of a trip that would normally be extremely affordable.

  2. Barter with every street vendor. This depends on the country, but where bartering is standard practice it's important not to accept the first price from a street vendor. Low-ball and walk away; you’ll be surprised how cheap you can get a good meal or nice trinket to bring back home.

  3. Travel off the beaten path. The most rewarding travel experiences don’t happen when you visit the normal tourist destinations that are laundered with more foreigners than locals; they come when you visit the real, random cities that are a bit more difficult to access. Prices won’t be inflated to take advantage of tourists, and you’ll be more likely to meet people who are excited and willing to talk to you, share their experiences, and give their own recommendations about the place they call home. Depending on the country, don’t be surprised if a foreigner invites you to stay at their home or come in for a free dinner.

  4. Cut corners. If you’re traveling to England, account for the super-high prices and bad exchange rate. Stay in hostels, use public transportation as much as possible, and avoid eating at nice restaurants whenever you can. Of course, food is often a huge part of the travel experience, so don’t exclude it, but try and avoid eating at a sit-in restaurant three times a day.

  5. Bring home with you. Take few clothes and do your best to bring as much stuff from home that will cut your costs. These include snack foods, first aid, and excess toiletries. If you are planning a “rough” expedition, it’s good to expect something to go wrong. Someone gets hurt, you lose one thing, whatever. Having as much backup as possible, while staying mobile, will keep you safe and make sure you don’t have to purchase “emergency” supplies, which end up being costly and, more importantly, inconvenient.
A lot of great things, like traveling, don’t come cheap. However, planning well does. Put the two together and you’ll do just fine, and so will your pocketbook.

Ross Garnaut is a travel writer for Ross has been to over thirty countries and has over ten years of travel industry experience. More of his writing can be found at Lowfares, where you can find cheap flights and discount airfare.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

T-Shirt Giveaway!

I apologize for not posting for so long. We've been in and out of town and things have been quite hectic. But the garden is still doing well, and I've been keeping track of its produce for the season-end tally. And we're looking forward to a fantastic post by a new secret guest blogger. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we're giving away the first-ever T-shirt. That's right, we've hit the bigtime now.

Who's to say, you wear our shirt, in a few years time, you could be in the hot seat.

To enter to win this superbly awesome, unisex T-shirt (size S, M, or L; colors vary), simply do any of the following AND leave a comment on this post for each entry:
  1. Leave a comment on any post other than this one. (1 entry per comment)
  2. RT this giveaway by copying and pasting this message into Twitter: "RT @TiredoBeingPoor Enter TAiMH's giveaway to win a T-shirt" (2 entries)
  3. Tweet or blog about TAiMH. (3 entries per tweet/post).
  4. Friend/Follow us on MySpace, Facebook, and/or Twitter (see links on the left side of the blog). (1 entry each)
And finally, we'd be tickled pink to post a picture of the winner wearing (or at least making some creative use of) the shirt on the blog along with personal shout-out/link of his or her choosing.

What are you waiting for? Get to enterin'!

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Garden Update and First Two Harvests!

The garden has really taken off in the past few weeks, even though we've been pretty much ignoring it except to water every other evening. We've got tons of tomatoes growing, though they're still small, at least five little watermelons, several bell peppers, some swiss chard, and a ton of cucumbers. We're still waiting on the carrots and the string beans, though we're not expecting many since most of the bean seeds didn't even sprout.

Baby watermelons in the patch on the hill.

Baby cucumber and some marigolds finally coming up (under the cucumber plants...naturally.)

String bean row and fetus.

Carrots, coming along nicely.

On a bike ride with the DBS last week, I found these four seedlings just hanging out in their plastic container in the middle of nowhere, so I stuck them in my basket and planted them the next morning. My dad thinks they're either brussels sprouts or broccoli.

Brussels sprout (maybe.)

Row of bell pepper plants.

Swiss chard. I thought they'd have pink stems, but they don't. Hm.

Tomatoes galore. Still unripe.

Marigolds, pansies, and zinnias we planted (late) around the birch tree in the front yard.

The wild mint that grows along the house foundation. Great for mojitos and mint juleps.

Even the cilantro is doing better. Not great, but better.

We also got the pond filled (finally) and a new pump for the waterfall. I put a couple of water plants in, a water hibiscus, which you can see floating on the left in front of the bench, and some water grasses. Now we just need some fish!

The pond (and strawberry patch, which we neglected to mow and thin this year).

Also, last weekend we got our first harvest from the garden. Four large cucumbers, one medium-small green pepper, and several large leaves of swiss chard, which, sadly, cooked down to roughly a cup. A delicious cup, though. I don't know many recipes involving swiss chard, but I like it sauteed with a bit of olive oil and lemon pepper.

First harvest! With keys for size reference.

This second harvest came a few days ago, and we picked four more cucumbers today! We're going to have to start giving some to the neighbors.

Second harvest!

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Homemade Veggie Burgers

I often feel exasperated that my vegetarian diet can end up being just as expensive if not more expensive than a carnivore's. Veggie burgers at $5.00 a box? While ground beef is $0.56 a pound? Why?

Well, I've had enough. I recently began making my own veggie burgers, and it turns out the preparation is much easier than I thought it would be.

The following recipe is a variation of a great Black Bean and Lentil Burger dish I made awhile back. This time around I had run out of black beans, but I did have a four-pound bag of yellow split-peas (toor daal) on hand, so I subbed out the black beans and traditional Mexican spices for some daal and Indian spices. It turned out really well.

Here's the recipe:

Indian-Style Yellow Split-Pea (Toor Daal) and Brown Lentil Burgers
makes about 16 burgers

6 oz. yellow split-peas (toor daal)
6 oz. brown lentils
½ small onion
3 garlic cloves
1 T. tandoori powder (I like Sun Brand. If you can't handle spicy, use less than 1 T.)
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 beaten eggs
1 cup bread crumbs

1. Prepare beans and lentils.
2. Allow beans and lentils to cool. Mash together.
3. Chop onion, garlic.
4. Mix all ingredients in large bowl.
5. Roll mixture into patties.

Cook on greased skillet 5–8 min at 320 degrees.

Save even more money by buying the split-peas and lentils in bulk. Make a huge batch in a mixing bowl. Press into patties, separate the patties with wax paper, and freeze 'em. Freezing is an especially good idea if you're like us and the nearest retailer of reasonably priced fake meat is in a distant land.

Put 'em on a bun or eat 'em cake-style. I like to add a little mango chutney or yogurt sauce.

Note: When flipping the patties, do so gently--they have a high moisture content and won't hold together as well as most burgers. And if you stack the patties when you freeze them, make sure you double layer the wax paper in between. I made the mistake of stacking them with only one sheet of wax paper between and squishing them a bit to fit in the container. Once they were frozen I ended up having to use a hammer and chisel to pry them apart.

Did you try making this? Will you? Let us know how they turn out. Or if you have an economical veggie burger recipe of your own, share it in a comment below!

This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday at The Nourishing Gourmet and the October Fest Carnival of Super Foods: Beans and Legumes Recipes at Kitchen Stewardship.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Airline Tickets: Do the Extra Research, Save Extra Cash

Boeing 777-223ER landing at London Heathrow Ai...Image via Wikipedia

Wren and I just purchased two international airline tickets for two adults at the absolute cheapest price we could find. About $270 apiece roundtrip. You might already know how to find budget airline tickets online on the cheap, but we thought we did too. Read on.

When shopping online, the overall idea is to REFINE and then REDEFINE your flight search until you find the lowest price. The following are tips on how to refine your online search. And it’s a compilation of things we'd been overlooking until now.

  • Open many browser windows. A simple idea, but this is the easiest way to compare prices. Nearly all airline sites and ticket aggregator sites use the same type of ticket search, so it’s easy to refine your search. If you start to get confused by so many browser tabs, print out each window and compare the hardcopies.

  • Try Vayama, a site that was new to us, and where we found our best price and saved an additional $30 with a coupon. Vayama often offers such coupons for same-day booking. No booking fee.
  • Search airline sites, booking agency sites (like Expedia or Orbitz), AND aggregator sites (like Kayak or Vayama). Many booking agencies charge fees, and most aggregator sites do not. Once you’ve found the lowest fare, go directly to that airline’s site and compare prices. Sometimes booking directly through the airline can save you a few dollars. Hint: if you use Kayak, you can have it search Vayama, Priceline, and a few other aggregators as well.
  • Try making one transaction/purchase per passenger in your group. For example, if two people are traveling together, don’t assume that you have to purchase two tickets with one credit card transaction. Instead, compare that price with the cost of purchasing two tickets separately. We found that, for some reason, booking flights separately saved us $15 each. Note: This might not be worth it if the flight is near full, and if there’s any doubt that all persons in your group can get a seat on the flight!
  • Try departing from a major hub. But take all costs into consideration. We found that we could save quite a lot by departing from O’Hare, instead of from our local hub. The savings—while considering the time and gas spent driving to Chicago, lodging, and even parking—were well worth it. This option is especially applicable to international flights.
  • Is your schedule flexible? Then experiment with departing on different days of the week. It is not always the case, but we found that departing on a Wednesday saved us more than departing on a Friday.
  • Use cheap airlines? Not always. “Discount” airlines like Spirit and JetBlue often post astronomically low fares. But we found that, after taxes and fees, or after the price of membership, the total price of a discount airline flight can actually be more than the price of a similar major airline flight.
  • Keep an eye on flight lengths and layover lengths. We could have saved $50 by choosing another airline, but the overnight layover wasn’t even close to worth it.
  • Check the airline’s baggage policies before purchasing your tickets. Many airlines, such as Continental and U.S. Airways, are now charging for all checked bags, often $15 for the first checked bag, $25 for the second, and $100 for every bag after that. A few airlines, like American, however, still allow one or two free checked bags for some flights (in American’s case, you can check two bags for free on certain international flights). Estimate the number of bags you’ll need to bring, and factor their costs into the flight prices when comparing. The same goes for traveling with pets or other special needs. Find out the airline’s policy before you purchase tickets and factor in any additional costs.
Good luck and happy travels!

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