Thursday, December 18, 2014

Looking Forward: 2015

2014 was a great year for us - even beyond the travel. I started a new job that I love, Jason has been involved in some big things at work and we just crushed the BCS Half Marathon!

It was also a transitional year for us. We took a step back and didn't travel as much as we normally do - mainly due to my starting that new job. The result is that we are definitely ready to jump back in!  I've been especially reminded this year how important it is to travel while we're young and able, so we fully intend to do just that.

Our Focus for 2015 is: Relaxation

Non-rev travel is stressful, there's no denying it. So, whether it's using points to get confirmed seats (Toronto), cashing in our gold passes (Puerto Rico), going places without any set plans (Iceland) or sipping Mai-Tais in a tropical paradise (Maui), we intend to use travel to refresh our minds and bodies this year. And while we've been more interested in international travel lately, we also want to throw some domestic travel in the mix as well - we're hoping for Sedona, Sonoma and Chicago!

Life is so good for us - there is not one thing to complain about. All we can hope for in 2015 is more of the same! 

 Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from our family to yours! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Travel Tips: How We Travel For Cheap

"Traveling is the one thing you buy that makes you richer." - Unknown

Let's be honest - travel is expensive! We have been really thankful that Southwest has allowed us to travel as much as we do. We're cheap people by nature, so we still always try to save money where we can. Here are some money-saving tips we've picked up along the way:


1. Work for an airline! Domestically, Southwest is free for us. Internationally, we pay departure taxes. Even fares on other airlines are taxes and small fees. It is standby though!

2. Research ALL the time. I love using If you're not picky about where you're wanting to go, you can use their site to find cheap routes from whatever city you're based out of. It's great for last minute deals.

3. Go off the beaten bath. It seems that flights to Asia are often cheaper than the shorter flights to Europe. If you book early, flights to Bali are $900/person where as flights to London are $1500/person.

4. Bring a box of chocolates for the flight attendants on international flights. This secured us multiple free drinks (for many US-based airlines, these are about $7 each), 1st class goodie bags and economy plus rows for each of us. Even if you don't get anything out of it, we've found them to be very appreciative and we will always do this from now on! At the very least, if you're traveling non-rev, introduce yourself and thank them for allowing you to fly on their airline.


1. Get a rewards credit card. We have a Marriott Visa Signature and love it. We rack up points on our monthly spend and end up getting multiple free nights based on promotions that they run. It also has no foreign transaction fees which is a MUST for us. 

2. Go with the tried and true - (good rewards program), Agoda (for Asia), and Always try to book a hotel that offers free breakfast and wifi.

3. If you are a government employee like me, military, AAA, etc., you can get a deal! Also, see if your company has a partnership with any hotels. For example, Southwest has discounted "crew" hotels that we can use.

4. Ask for an upgrade. Or tell them you're honeymooning...whatever! :)


1. We have to book last minute due to the nature of our travel, but we often find that rental cars are crazy cheap the day of. It's definitely a gamble though.

2. Eat (and drink) cheap when you can. We're not big foodies, so we're totally fine eating street food, going to the local grocery store and stocking up, grabbing some duty-free alcohol at the airport, and bringing granola bars from home. When we do eat out, we eat and drink local - ramen & sake in Japan and bratwurst & beer in Germany!

3. Have a long layover and don't want to pay for a hotel? Buy a lounge pass on eBay for around $20. They often have food, drinks, showers, and even places to sleep.

4.  Because of our credit card, we get club access at certain Marriott hotels. In Mexico City, the club served every meal and offered free beer and wine. We always take advantage.

My favorite tip though: Don't be too cheap. You're spending all of this money to get there -  spend a little extra on something memorable like that pub crawl, private cave tour, or lounge chair at the beach. If it's something you really care about, you won't regret spending that extra cash to do it!

Rick Steves has plenty more great tips here

Do you have any great money-saving tips?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Kyoto, Japan {Part 2}

The one thing Jason really wanted to do in Japan was become a Samurai. Since that's not quite possible, we booked a 3 hour session at Samurai Kembu in Kyoto.  

First, we practiced with our katana sword - learning the basic moves. Next, we put on the costumes and learned a combination that we performed in front of our class. It was fun, but harder than I thought it would be! Then we got to watch the masters give a demonstration of how it's REALLY supposed to be done.

We definitely worked up an appetite, so after the class we went to Ippudo Ramen. I got the Akumaru (garlicky broth) and Jason got the Shiromaru (regular broth). Best. Ramen. Ever. It made a believer out of Jason. This stuff was incredible!

We stopped in at A-Cho, an Arcade in Nishiki Market, for Jason to let out his geek for a while. That night, we strolled in Gion in search of geishas (or geiko, as they are called in Kyoto). No luck. Beyond a few really beautiful streets, this area was actually a disappointment. Overly commercialized and kind of tacky!

Friday morning we purchased an all day bus pass (for 500 yen or a little less than $5) and navigated the bus system.  Kinkaku-ji (or the Golden Pavilion) was our first stop. This place was CRAZY. People were everywhere looking for that perfect shot. The pavilion itself was really beautiful with the sun reflecting off the gold leafing. After walking around for a bit, we grabbed some ice cream (green tea for me and vanilla for Jason) and took in the gardens.

Ryoan-ji was a quick bus ride from Kinkaku-ji. It is known for it's traditional zen garden. We sat here for a while and contemplated life. Or rested our feet. Whatever! :)

On the way out, we met a group of middle school kids who were on a field trip. They wanted to test out their English and we obliged! 

From Ryoan-ji, we took another bus to Arashiyama. There are some really pretty temples here, but we were basically templed out at this point. We made our way straight to the bamboo forest. Once you passed the hoards of people at the entrance, it really was peaceful to hear the bamboo swaying in the wind. We made our way to the top of the hill for some beautiful views. It was like a completely different world just a few minutes outside of downtown Kyoto.

From the temple behind Jason in the photo below, you could hear the most beautiful music. 

We had seen a conveyor belt sushi restaurant during our explorations the day before, so we made our way back there. You could grab things directly off the belt, but we preferred to order what we wanted off a screen and it would be placed on the belt for us to grab. It was super yummy! At the end, they counted up our plates (and priced them based on the color) and we paid our bill up front. Easy! I think we paid about $25 for all of the food below plus a few beers.

The next morning, we had time for one more thing before we had to leave Kyoto. Fushimi Inari was seen as the patron of business, so each of the torri (red gates) is donated by a Japanese business. We got there really early before the crowds got crazy and were able to squeeze in some great shots. You can climb a few miles to the top of the toriis, but we unfortunately just didn't have time.

After this, we caught another Shinkansen back to Narita airport. We easily made it on the flight and each got our own row in economy plus! We were able to fall asleep for most of the way, so that was wonderful.

Final Thoughts on Japan: What an AMAZING trip. It's 2nd for both of us for best place we've ever visited (Jason - Hawaii, me - Italy). The food was the best we've had anywhere and the people were just wonderful. It was such an easy country to navigate and we never really ran into a significant language barrier. Kyoto ended up being one of our favorite places ever and I would love to return.

There were some definite cultural differences, but we enjoyed experiencing them all. We also loved that we felt totally safe the entire time. We also never once felt "ripped off"  by taxi drivers or vendors in the market. Reverence was the main thing we noticed. Reverence of people, food, traditions, etc. We loved it all. What a beautiful place. 

Thanks Southwest Airlines (and United) for making this trip possible. Unless something pops up, we're done for 2014. We can't wait for the awesome things on our agenda for next year though! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Kyoto, Japan {Part 1}

We started this morning off by catching a Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. After a yummy lunch of Tonkatsu (and two bottles of sake) on the famed restaurant floor of Kyoto Station, we took a shuttle to our hotel. 

We booked a traditional Japanese room at the Westin Miyako and LOVED it. We had a balcony in the woods, tatami mats, shoji doors, wooden tub, and they bring you hot tea and pull out a mattress to sleep on at night. So fun!

 Our first afternoon, we took a page out of our Lonely Planet guidebook and took a walking tour of Southern Higashiyama. We started at Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple. There is a theory that if you were to survive the 13m jump from the stage into the river below, one's wish would be granted. We didn't test this out...

It was pretty hot outside, so we had some matcha (green tea) shaved ice to cool off. After, we continued our walk through the area. We saw Chion-in, Shoren-in and a lot of streets filled with so much charm!

The next morning, we woke up and made the quick walk from our hotel to Nanzen-ji. This area was fun to walk around and Jason said it felt like we were transported into an anime movie.

Next, we took the Philosopher's Path on the way to Ginkaku-ji or the Silver Pavilion. This walk was nice and relaxing. You can even see us being very philosophical in a picture below.

Gingkaku-ji ended up being our favorite temple. Even though it was was overcast, the gardens were just beautiful and it wasn't nearly as crowded as the crazy Kinkaku-ji the next day. It was very "zen" I guess!

After this, we caught a cab over to Yoshikawa Inn Tempura for an amazing 12 course meal - 4 fish and 8 veggies. The place was tiny (11 total seats!) and we got to see the master at work. The tempura was so delicious and light. Add in a few Asahi beers and it was perfect.

From there, we made a quick walk over to Nishiki Market to check out the stalls. We picked up some chopsticks, souvenirs and other nick nacks there. One thing I can still vividly remember is the overpowering smell of pickled vegetables and fermented fish flakes. Not the best.

Up Next: There is no way Kyoto can be smushed into one post, so look for the recap of Part 2 soon!