Category Archives: travel

Top 5 not-so-frugal things to do in Las Vegas

The last two times I went to Vegas (July 2011, July 2010) were for business, so aside from a little bit of shopping, everything else – flight, hotel, food, entertainment, etc. – was expensed to the company. I went in 2009 with an ex-boyfriend, and I believe I spent about $700 total (including flight/hotel, spending money for 3 days/2 nights). And the first time I went to Vegas was in 2008, and spent just around $700 as well (for 3 days/3 nights).

Well, last week was my FIFTH time to Vegas in just 6 years, so I knew this trip was going to be different. First of all, I have a lot more disposable income than I did back in 2008 or 2009, and I was going with someone who had never been before. But most importantly, the things that I really wanted to do in Vegas were going to cost me money. And I had been putting them off for years. But not anymore. Since this was my fifth time going down to the desert, I have a feeling I won’t be going back anytime soon. So it was now or potentially never.

So here I present to you my top 5 (not so frugal) things to do in and around Las Vegas:

6. Have a drink at The Chandelier bar in the Cosmopolitan ($12-16)

I really thought this lounge area was cool. Not only was it three-storeys high, but it had such a different atmosphere from the casino floor that surrounded it. There’s fun live music, and it’s a great place to sit, relax, and people watch. Even if you’re only going to splurge for one drink – because it’s pricey! Oh, and as you can tell from the pictures, it really was like sipping cocktails inside a chandelier. :)

5. Bacchanal Buffet in Caesar’s ($45.99 dinner on weekdays)

We purchased the $50 Buffet of Buffets deal, which gives you 24-hour access to 6 different buffets in Vegas, plus a discount on the Rio Seafood buffet, as well as the Bacchanal in Caesars.

If you time it correctly, you can get 4 buffet meals in 24 hours, so for our last meal, we decided to splurge and pay the $25 extra to get into Bacchanal for dinner, and it was completely worth it. It is by far the best buffet I’ve ever been to. Just look at all the delicious food!

4. New York, New York roller coaster ($14)

Every time I’m in Vegas, it’s a pre-requisite that I have to ride this roller coaster. It’s a splurge, but SO MUCH FUN! And definitely worth the wait to sit in the front row.

Sorry for the crappy photos – these were taken in 2008 on my first trip to Vegas.

3. Shoot a gun at a firing range ($30-50)

I’ve never shot a gun before, but I’ve always wanted to give it a try. And every time I’m in Vegas, I tell myself I’m going to do it. And then I either chicken out or I run out of time. But this trip, we had plenty of time. And when I saw an ad for Battlefield Vegas, I knew I had to go.

When I got there, the guys were pretty friendly. I had no idea what kind of gun I wanted to shoot, but ended up with a Glock – the kind that police officers use. I was tempted to go big and try a machine gun, but decided to play it safe (and cheap) since the small Glock was only $40 for 30 shots. And I found out my aim is pretty good! :)

2. Grand Canyon ($25 fee) & Hoover Dam (car rental + hotel)

This was one of the things I really wanted to see in the USA, and each time I went to Vegas, I thought – this will be the trip! But unfortunately, the south rim of the Grand Canyon is just far away enough that it makes it inconvenient. Plus, if you’re going to go all the way to the Grand Canyon, you have to stop at the Hoover Dam, right? So this trip, we went down for 5 days – which gave us enough time to leave the Strip for a night, and still have time to see everything that we wanted to see in Vegas. Our hotel in Williams, Arizona only cost $50, and made the trip more pleasant than trying to cram in an entire day of driving. We saved money by buying groceries instead of going to a restaurant to eat.

My only regret was not spending MORE time at the Grand Canyon. I would have loved to go on an overnight hike to the Colorado River.

1. Red Rock Canyon National Park ($7 fee + car rental)

Located just half an hour outside of Vegas, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to check out Red Rock Canyon. Especially since I’m a hiker. We chose to go on the Calico Tanks hike, which is only about 2.5 miles long. It was beautiful, and I’m glad that we went… but I wish we had more time to explore the area. Maybe even brought my climbing shoes. :)

 What are your favourite frugal (or non-frugal) things to do in Vegas?

A weekend getaway to the Okanagan

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll probably know that we went to the Okanagan this weekend. I haven’t done a “trip recap” in a while, and since there are some fun pictures from the trip, I’ll do a quick rundown.

First, the expenses. Because this is a personal finance blog, after all.

The total cost was $357.10, and I guess when you consider $105 (nearly 30%) of that was the wine tour at Mission Hill (for 2), it really wasn’t that bad. We definitely saved money by staying in a dorm in a hostel – we were only gone one day, so it’s not a big deal to share accommodation. Anything more than two days, and I would have wanted to at least splurge on a private hostel room.

Gas was also expensive – but considering the drive was about 1000 km, it was to be expected. This category also includes one taxi ride to the winery (took the bus back).

We ate cheap meals because food was one thing we didn’t feel like splurging on. So this included a trip to Subway, Booster Juice, and the grocery store. :)

And finally, I did do some splurging at the Mission Hill store – snagging a bottle of Compendium wine because it’s not available for purchase in stores. I plan on storing it for at least a few years.

 

Okanagan Weekend Pie Chart

Anyway, here are a few pictures of our trip! :)

We were on the road by 7am on Saturday morning, because our tour was scheduled for 11:30am at Mission Hill. Kelowna is just under 4 hours by car, but we wanted to stop for the world’s best pie along the way:

Once we had our fill of pie, we raced to Kelowna, and made it to Mission Hill Winery with 10 minutes to spare. The weather was gorgeous, and there were only 2 other people in our tour group, so it was a pretty good experience.

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The Mission Hill Winery – so beautiful! I’m glad we went early in the season (less tourists).

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This was our first wine tour ever, so being able to walk through the vineyard was really cool.

Then we got taken to the tasting room, where we got to sample a bunch of different wines. I liked our small group because we were able to ask a lot of specific questions about the wine, and the winery itself. I was impressed with how fun the tour was, and I would definitely like to go on more. But it was expensive, and sampling wines at the bar wasn’t as fun as going on the tour.

The next day, we headed south to Osoyoos, where we went on a short hike, stopped at Spotted Lake, and then headed home through the beautiful Similkameen Valley.

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Spotted Lake – we were both disappointed that we had come too early in the year, and the water hadn’t evaporated enough to see the “spots” of the lake.

Well, that was my weekend. :) I hope to come back again, but likely not for a while. It’s a long trip for just a one-night visit. But it was relatively cheap, and since this year I’ll be focusing on more local travel, it was perfect for that. How was your weekend?

You don’t have to travel when you’re young

I’ve always wanted to travel, but obviously since last year (age 29) was my first time overseas, it was never my first priority. I wanted to clear my debt first, build up a savings cushion, learn how to spend responsibly, get comfortable with having a budget, and have some sort of financial stability before I could even begin to think about traveling the world.

When I was younger, many of my friends went traveling. I was extremely jealous of their experiences, but not of the fact that they racked up credit card debt, ignored student loan payments, and came back home to a financial mess. Now that I’m able to afford to travel, almost none of my friends can because they’re too busy paying for the life they led 10 years ago.

venice03And that’s fine by me, because I personally think I’m appreciating travel more now, than I would have when I was younger. For one thing, I can afford it. Sure, I still stay in hostels most of the time and travel on the cheap. But I can afford to do amazing things as well – like hot air ballooning in Cappadocia, hiking in the Arctic Circle, taking a gondola ride in Venice, and eating real, proper meals in restaurants if I want to – without any of it having a major impact on my budget.

The few times I traveled when I was younger? It was rough staying within such a tight budget. Especially since “budgeting” was a foreign concept to me anyway. I still have very vivid memories of taking a $80 Greyhound bus ride to Anaheim when I was 18 years old, and eating cold Chef Boyardee in our motel room because it was all we could afford. Being older and knowing how to manage my money appropriately makes traveling a lot less stressful. And maybe even more enjoyable?

There’s so much emphasis on traveling when you’re young. In fact, just a few days ago, someone pointed me to this article: 3 reasons to travel while you’re young. Basically the idea of the article is not to hold off on traveling. No matter what the circumstances, there will always be something to stop you. Here’s an excerpt:

Never were more fatal words spoken:

  • Yeah, but… what about debt?
  • Yeah, but… what about my job?
  • Yeah, but… what about my boyfriend (or dog or car or whatever)?

Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did. Conversely, plenty of people who waited for grad school or a steady job and traveled still did those things — eventually. Be careful of the yeah-but. The yeah-but will kill your dreams.

The world is a stunning place, full of outstanding works of art. See it. Do this while you’re still young. Do not squander the time. You will never have it again.

I get the message behind what he’s saying: don’t be scared, just go for it. But to put a time limit on travel – to say that you should do it while you’re still young (what’s wrong with doing it when you’re 30, or 40, or 60?) – to contemplate forfeiting all other life goals… well I think that’s a bit foolish. And it’s the reason why I don’t read many travel blogs. It’s like if you don’t travel often (or at all, even though you want to) because you have other priorities in life, all of a sudden you’re uncultured, boring, and basically dismissed. Not saying all travel blogs are like that, but some are. That’s probably why I’m a better fit as a personal finance blogger, than a travel blogger. :)

And it leads to comments and sentiments like this:

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To even suggest that going into debt in order to travel will enrich your life? Or that you should travel instead of taking care of (high interest) debt? Come on. Let’s be real here. Perhaps it’s because I’m a personal finance blogger, but I think that’s the dumbest piece of advice I’ve ever heard. Traveling doesn’t automatically make you better, smarter, or more cultured than anyone else. It also doesn’t make you more interesting either. Life experiences do – and it doesn’t matter if you gain those experiences working a 9-5 job, raising children, getting out of debt, earning an education, or traveling.

421984_10150572636880248_507680247_9549546_1086526455_nI had coffee with a friend a friend last week, and we got to talking about my year in Germany. She said the one thing she really regretted was not spend time living abroad somewhere during her life. I gave her a weird look and said, “your life isn’t over just because you’re 30, you know.” She gave me an equally weird look back and I immediately knew she hadn’t even considered living abroad now that she was “old.” There are plenty of opportunities to travel and live abroad at any age. And of course it’s true you will experience things differently when you’re young. But who’s to say whether that experience will be better or worse than going 10 or 20 years down the road?

I guess my point is that I don’t think anyone should regret not traveling when they’re young. Not everyone can. Or wants to. If you have debt to take care of, a career to think about, family obligations, or any other reason that would prevent you from packing your bags – guess what? The world will still be around to explore after you’re 20′s. :) And maybe, MAYBE it just might be better that way.

So travel when you’re young. Travel when you’re old. It doesn’t matter. Travel if that’s what you want to do in life. Or don’t. Just don’t go into debt to do it, and don’t get pressured into stretching yourself thin just because you feel the need to experience or see something by a certain age.

Do you think it’s essential to travel when you’re young?

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I know I likely won’t live in Vancouver forever. Don’t get me wrong, I really do think Vancouver is one of the best places to live in the world. It has everything I need – beautiful scenery  delicious food, work opportunities, and culture. It’s a paradise for someone like me who loves spending weekends skiing, hiking, or exploring local beaches.

For now, we are content on staying in Vancouver, but who knows where we’ll end up in the future. Maybe (likely) it will always be Vancouver … or at least the west coast – but I know that we both have a desire to live somewhere else (likely abroad) for at least a couple of years. I think the year we spent in Europe makes me want to continue to explore.

So just for fun (it is Friday after all), I’ve compiled a list of 5 cities I would consider living in. I took into consideration everything from job prospects to culture shock to proximity to other countries. :)

5. LONDON

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This seems to be an obvious choice for most English-speakers. :) I’ve always had a fascination with London. And after spending some time in the city last summer, I can honestly say that I would love to live there – despite how expensive it is. There are affordable (cute) suburbs, the transit system is fantastic (except that there doesn’t seem to be air conditioning), there’s lots of culture, and there’s so much to see and do. Plus, they have field hockey teams (which is ideal for me), and it’s easy and cheap to access the rest of Europe from London.

And as much as I think it would be interesting to live in London, if we lived overseas, maybe I’d want to move somewhere more bold – somewhere that would be more of a culture shock. I’d want to take a risk and move somewhere completely different from what I’m used to.

4. BERLIN

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While my favourite city in Germany is Munich, I think Berlin would be a much better place to live and work because of how modern it is. It’s a great city for young professionals, and I liked the urban vibe I got from it. There would be so much to do, and it’s a great central place to be to have access to the rest of Europe. Plus, even though we’ve already lived in Germany for a year, we didn’t get to explore much of the Berlin area, or the northern parts of the country.

That being said, I’m not sure I’d want to move back there again. For a variety of reasons, including what I think of London. Germany like the UK, is a safe choice for us. We are comfortable with Germany. We understand the train system, know a tiny bit of the language, and it wouldn’t be much of a culture shock. Still, the economy is stable, there would be (some) jobs available to English-speakers, and rent is affordable (although from what I hear, it’s getting pretty expensive).

3. NEW YORK CITY

NYC

Okay, I really don’t want to move to the USA – even though there are some amazing cities to choose from. I’m scared of the health care system, gun control, and government. But moving there short-term would be okay with me. And if I had to pick somewhere in America to live for just a few years, it would be NYC. Followed closely by Seattle (except that it’s basically Vancouver), and San Francisco (except I’d like to live somewhere completely different than the west coast).

It’s where we could both find jobs, it’s super fast-paced, and I would never run out of things to do there. Plus, the subway system destroys Vancouver’s SkyTrain. However the downside is that NYC would be pretty expensive to live. Although Vancouver is the priciest city in North America, I live in the suburbs. And if I ever moved for a short stint in NYC, I’d probably want to live in the city.

2. COPENHAGEN

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There’s just something about Copenhagen. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I do. It’s the architecture. The history. The people. Everything. And if I had to choose one city in Europe to actually settle down and live permanently, it would probably be there. If the language wasn’t a barrier to finding a good job, that is.

Being from Vancouver, I have a little eco-friendly hippie in me. So I really, really appreciate the green transition that Copenhagen is going through. The city is undergoing an amazing transformation – making its harbour waters swimable, investing money into wind turbines, and making its goal to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city by 2025. I also love that the city is doing its part to make it so that 50% of  its citizens are commuting by bicycle by 2015. Not only does this cut down on air pollution, but its making everyone healthier as well.

I also adore the quirky buildings, the maze of cobblestone roads, and the fairy tale history. Plus, the city has character and life. That’s what I found was missing when we were in Stockholm – beautiful city, but it was too clean. Too safe in how it looks, and how it presents itself.

1. DUBAI

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Despite all the negatives about living there, Dubai really appeals to both of us in a strange way. I think we would both be able to find jobs, and probably save money more easily than other places, the biggest draw for me is its proximity to all of the countries and areas of the world that I really want to explore. And obviously living there would make it more cost-effective than trying to get there on vacation from Canada.

Dubai is also the only city on my list that we’ve never been to before, but for some reason it’s #1 on both of our lists. We both really like adventure and trying new things, so perhaps this little dream could become a reality in the future. It would be a big culture shock. Who knows. It would be a really interesting experience, although I definitely wouldn’t want to live there for more than a few years.

(image from sxc.hu

If you could live and work anywhere else in the world for a few years, where would you go?

How do travel bloggers support themselves?

Okay, I get how full-time travellers support themselves. They get sponsorships, volunteer in exchange for accommodation, they teach English, work odd jobs, travel slowly, they sell photography and ebooks, make a bit of money freelancing or from their blog… but for those that have been doing it for years – I’m talking about at least 2 or 3 years, I’m wondering… how are they saving for the future?

Clearly this is me being nosy. But don’t you wish they would talk about their finances? In fact, not only do I wish travel bloggers would talk about money, but I wish full-time travel fashion/style bloggers would as well. Seriously. I just love reading budgets and financial reports – which is why I do monthly goals and weekly spending recaps. :)

I’m sure that some travellers out there are making it work because their careers are location independent. But what about the majority of the full-time travellers? The ones who pick up the odd job working on a farm or serving at a bar – saving enough money to get through the next few months of travel, before they have to get a job again.

Most full-time travel bloggers talk about money in the now – how much it cost them to do something, how to find work while travelling, or how much income they need each year to keep on travelling. But very few (I haven’t found any) full-time travel bloggers talks about money in the future. Especially the ones who have plans to travel the world “forever.” I want to know how sustainable full-time travel really is. Because sure, you can likely scrimp and get by for quite a while, but I don’t consider that “sustainable” because you’re essentially living hand to mouth.

Because, eventually most travellers will have to stop moving, settle down, and resume a somewhat normal life at a certain point, right? I mean, they can’t keep moving and backpacking until they’re 90, can they? How will their children go to school? What about an emergency fund in case they injure themselves, or can’t make enough money to support themselves? How will they fund their forever travelling lifestyle when they can no longer work and are essentially “retired” from the workforce?

This is something I’ve been thinking about over the past few months, and I’m genuinely curious. After spending the last year in Europe, I liked having a “home base” to look forward to coming back to after each getaway. I don’t think I could ever be a full-time traveller. While I think I made a decent living, my priorities lean too far in the other direction. I truly admire those that can make a life out of travelling, and I’m intrigued by the financial aspect behind their everyday lives, as well as their plans for the future. But the PF blogger in me wants to see numbers! Is traveling “forever” actually possible, while also saving for retirement?

Do you ever find yourself wishing travel (or fashion) bloggers would post real budgets/numbers/plans? Or am I the only nosy one around here… :)

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