Friday, August 30, 2013

a night of mini golf

we couldn't kiss summer goodbye without a little miniature golf outing..
{or as chase calls it, "putt putt"}
these are our best friends out here in california 
so get used to seeing them if you don't already recognize them. 
they are our family here and we are so lucky we met them 
the day we moved to the bay. see other adventures with them here and here.
sorry for the iphone pictures, but these are times i want to remember!
the losing couple had to buy the winning couple dessert...
let's just say we got free dessert!
only because kendall got trapped on the worst hill.. :)

 and for a glimpse of us 4 together:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

travel tips: on a budget!

probably one of the biggest questions i get asked 
is how we afford to travel at a young age.
if that's your question, this is the post for you! 
i think a lot of people want to travel, but it can be 
expensive!! here are some ways we travel on a budget 
and save money so we can have more adventures.
let me start by saying that the biggest tip i have for affording travel is budgeting in your day-to-day life, and not just on trips. budgeting on trips helps, but my philosophy is to save on some things where you live, so that you can spend more when you travel. so while i have some budget tips for traveling below, you have to know that being smart about money in your regular life is the biggest trick of all-- that's how you have money to travel!! you make travel a priority, and then it's easier to save knowing you get to spend more on a trip! for example: we both work full time, and we used to manage our apartment building which saved a lot on SF rent! i also love to cook, so i plan everything out and spend money wisely on groceries. we still love to eat out and have date nights, but we are constantly finding deals for restaurants, movies, and activities so that we don't overspend the money we'd rather spend on a trip! 
it's the little things that add up.  

with that number one tip in mind, here are my budget tips while traveling:

the well-traveled wife's travel tips: 
$$  travel on a budget  $$
1. use free days: this first one is probably obvious, but it has saved us a lot! most museums and tourist sites have a free or discounted day to visit. for example, the louvre is free the first sunday of every month. museums can get realllllly crowded on the free days, but if you're smart and go early, it can be worth it if it's something you are dying to see. look up free days ahead of time so that you can plan your trip accordingly {and while you're at it, you can also see which days the museums are closed so you don't show up to locked doors!}

2. befriend locals: this is one of my favorite parts of traveling-- getting to know the people of the place we are visiting. this not only gives you more experiences, insights, and new friends, it can also save you money. we love getting insider tips from locals. we have discovered some of the best restaurants and places because of local tips. we've also kept in touch with a lot of locals we've met, and we've learned a lot about places and cultures through striking up a conversation. Also, because they are local and have friends and connections, you can get the insider scoop on good deals or discounts. best case scenario, they invite you over for a free meal! ;) you'll notice that if you ask a concierge or tourist booth, sometimes you get the more expensive, tourist trap places...stick with the locals!

3. google "free things to do in______"  SO obvious, but you'd be surprised by the great lists on the internet of all different free things to do in any given city. I've even googled this for our own city, and we've discovered some great things we had no idea about! Typically tourism places don't advertise their free attractions, so you can find some hidden gems.

4. have flexible flight dates: i know this one is not realistic for a lot of people...we need to travel when we have time off, and it can be hard to change up the flight dates. however, if you are planning a trip ahead of time and can work some flexibility in, you'll be amazed how much prices drop in the middle of the week. we are flying on weekend trips a lot of the time, and the friday-sunday itinerary can be so expensive. tuesday and wednesday are the cheapest days to fly, so if you can figure out a plan where you fly on these different dates, you can see prices cut in half!

5. have flexible flight times: going along with number 4 above, flying at unpopular hours can really discount your flight. super early flights and red eyes are not fun to wake up for, but they can save you money on the flight, as well as a hotel night because you're arriving early in the morning and have an entire day before paying for a place to sleep!

6. use good websites to track prices: there are tools to help you find cheaper flights..some work better than others, but be sure to at least check these out before buying a flight. here are some good ones we've used:
7. be open to different airlines: my own husband is so loyal to delta, so this one has been hard for him...ha but even he has realized that on some trips, a different airline has a bigger hub, more flight options, and potentially a lot less expensive flights. be open to looking at all different options.

8. become a frequent flyer program member: i can't stress this one enough!! we are frequent flyer program members on a few airlines, and we have been able to use miles for some trips-- there is no better feeling than booking a trip with all miles! there are also ways to get more miles like opening a credit card with the airline, using partner companies to rack up bonus miles, etc. take advantage of this!

9. use your age: if you're a student or under 25, there are numerous discounts on flights, museums, and so many other things. check out sites like and STA travel

10. don't overpay for hotels: i will admit that it is hard for me to pay for hotels when traveling. i go to a new place to see it, not to sleep! i don't want to spend a lot of money for the place i will spend the least time in. i want to save that money for experiences. that's why i am a fan of hostels and discounted hotels. use to check out hostels, because some can be sketchy but this site is reviewed by travelers, so you can see which ones are good! as for discounted hotel websites, a few we like are below. your best bet with these hotels is booking closer to your trip, because they lower the price when their rooms don't feel up!
Hotwire // // Stayz (apartments) Priceline // Last Minute

11. stay sunday night: the most crowded and expensive flights and hotels are friday--sunday for weekend trips. if you are somewhere close and you can fly out really early monday morning, it can make a big difference with the cost of the flight and the hotel.

12. sign up for email newsletters: okay i HATE getting random newsletters and junk in my inbox more than anyone..i like to keep it clean in there! but, travel deal emails can be worth it. my husband gets them from travelzoo and dealbase, and they will alert us about killer deals last minute! sometimes these deals aren't advertised, and you wouldn't want to be searching for them every day anyway...this way they are delivered to you. since we don't have kids yet, sometimes we can be spontaneous enough to take off for the weekend. either way, it gives you an idea of prices you can get for certain places, so you'll be a smarter consumer! my tip is to make a separate account to receive these in, so you can check it when you want.. but not get bombarded in your own inbox.

13. follow travel sites on social media: going along with #13, if you follow a travel site on facebook, twitter or instagram, you can be the first to know about deals before they sell out. you can also enter contests for free trips! {who knows!}

14. rent a local apartment: this is one of our favorite ways to stay in a city. this year in rome, we got a darling apartment on a little windy street. it made us feel like locals! there is more space, a kitchen so you can cook, and it's an experience in itself. some good ones:
 AirBnBHomeaway, or VRBO.

15. sign up for travel reward programs: both my dad and chase's dad are big marriott hotel fans. we like traveling with our dads, because they are at such a high level that we get treated like gold! they accumulate points every time they stay in a marriott for travel or on vacation. then, just like frequent flyer points, they can book hotel stays using points! you also get access to free meals and other perks with these programs. it can end up saving money in the long run! the welcome rewards program also gives you one free night for every 10 booked through them.

16. eat street food: as long as you ensure that it's safe, street food can be the least expensive and most authentic! it's fun to watch local people cook your food and have it right on the street.

17. always check for deals: use what you have! check for student deals, family or group rates, upgrades at check in, senior discounts, or anything you have that may save some money. it doesn't hurt to ask!

18. use groupon: after our amazing china trip that we booked through groupon, we became even bigger fans. not only can you find great travel deals through groupon, you can also go to the groupon page for the city your traveling to and find local activities to get discounts on as well!

19: sign up for a credit card rewards program: if you don't have a credit card that gives you a benefit, change this! our american express cards give us 1 mile for every 1 dollar spent on it...that can add up to some nice skymiles! there are also special partners where you can buy something and get triple the rewards-- be smart about this and put big purchases on a card where you'll get the benefit!

20: couch surf! we haven't used this yet...and it could be sketchy, but i've heard so much about the couchsurfing movement and i sort of love the idea. you get to connect with locals, and they give you a free place to sleep! {usually on a couch, haha}. we have explored this a little bit, we'll let you know if we use it anytime soon!

21. do a home exchange: okay i REALLY want to do this...after seeing the holiday, it has been on my bucket list to find someone in another part of the world who wants to trade houses for a week! such a fun idea. here is the site! 

22. camp: camping doesn't always mean you're in the wilderness. you can plan a trip to the woods, or you can camp at the beach...but there are also certain areas close to cities where you can camp if you really want to! it would be roughing it, but if you're willing-- you can research it.

23. sleep and travel at the same time: if you are booking a train, plane, or bus, think about booking overnight so that you're killing 2 birds with 1 stone: getting somewhere new, but not paying for that night's hotel!

24. go to time share presentations: if you don't mind sitting through a presentation for an hour and a half, you can get a free night's stay, a round of golf, massages, or lots of other perks. just go to the presentation, say no at the end, and enjoy the perk you get for listening! tip: just make sure you don't give in! my parents once did this in hawaii for a free round of golf, and ended up buying the time share because the presentation was so convincing! :) it turned out to be a great decision because our family has enjoyed it for years, but just be prepared to say no!

25. walk walk walk: i associate travel with walking. i love to walk around cities..i get to know them better, i feel active, and it's free! wandering around a city, getting lost, talking to locals, and hiking to see amazing views are some of the benefits of walking. you don't have to pay for anything and it leads to great experiences!

26. rent a bike: you can only walk so much, so find a cheap bike rental shop and hop on for a half or full day! much more fun and memorable than a bus or cab, but faster and easier than walking!

27. use public transportation: okay we LOVE using subway and metro systems while traveling. it is such an adventure! you learn about how the locals get around, it is really cheap, and you get to know the place better by navigating all the stops. we used the subway in china last month...even with all the symbols...and loved it!

28. find friends to split transportation costs with: when you do need a cab, try to meet someone on the plane or in the taxi line who is going in the same direction and can split the cab with you. 50% off is worth it, plus you’ll meet someone new! just be careful, don’t do this when you’re alone.

29. go to brunch: brunch probably seems random to say in a travel budget post, but this is our secret to saving on food. we usually wake up, have cheap fruit or a breakfast bar that we keep with us, then go running or do some activity in the morning when we're traveling... then we get a BIG brunch meal around 10:30- 11:00 AM. this lasts us until about 5:00 or 6:00 pm, when we get an early dinner {when it's cheaper and less crowded to eat}..and then we get away with paying for only 2 meals that day!

30. dine away from the touristy streets: if you go one or two streets away from some of the most tourist heavy streets, you'll find cheaper {and better} little local spots tucked away.

31. cook! if you are tired of spending lots of money on every meal, go to the grocery store and get food for a picnic. take it to a park or garden in the city you're visiting, and enjoy a relaxed, less expensive meal. in france i love to grab some cheap baguettes, french cheese, grapes and nutella and have a picnic along the seine or on the champs des mars.

32. bring your own food on the plane: this saves money since airport and airplane food prices are hiked also usually tastes better than airplane food! we love to stop at trader joe's or a grocery store a day before a trip and get lots of snacks and good food to munch on while traveling. this goes for road trips too!

33. breakfast included: if you see a hotel or hostel that includes breakfast, choose that one. it's so nice and convenient to have breakfast part of where you are staying! this is usually the case with most hostels in europe.

34. set ATM limits: if you're in a foreign country where you have to withdraw cash in another currency, plan out an amount you want to use for the week and withdraw it once. then, live off it! don't let yourself go get more cash-- you have to use what you have smartly.

35. bargain: bargaining is normal and expected in lots of countries. be a smart traveler--don't be fooled! sometimes locals give higher prices to tourists if they can see that they are traveling. always try to bargain and ask for the "real price", but also be respectful. 

36. minimize laundry: if you pack smart, you can minimize having to do laundry on most trips. use my packing tips to save space and bring the right amount of clothes so you're not left having to use an expensive laundry service in a hotel. if you're traveling for a longer period of time, wear things a few times and then find a cheap laundromat. 

37. don't pay for your phone: i refuse to pay the sky high bills for using phone/text/data in a foreign country. instead. leave your plane on airplane mode (no cell ability) and find wifi to send emails, use the internet, and use free texting apps. you can also use skype, facetime, and google hangouts just using wifi.

38. don't pay for wifi: seriously. no matter how badly you want it. you can always find it free! try to book hotels/hostels with wifi included, and also look for mcdonald's or starbucks for free wifi! if you are somewhere remote and do have to pay, write out emails and things beforehand so that you don't use as much time paying for internet.

39. be aware of exchange rates: your currency will be stronger and weaker depending on where you travel. when planning a trip, be sure to factor in how much things will be in your currency-- it can be a big difference!

40. save gas: if you are driving your own car or a rental, there are ways to make it more efficient. pack light so the car isn't weighed down and using more gas. make sure your tire pressure is checked. don't drive too fast {for safety and to save gas}. best of all, get a prius hybrid like us! :)

41. travel locally: maybe no matter how much you budget, a big trip isn't affordable right now. don't let that stop you! go explore areas nearby. there is ALWAYS something you haven't done or somewhere you haven't seen! day trips are great too, because you don't need a hotel, but you are able to get away!

42. enjoy the free, simple things: take pleasure in free things like sunsets, beaches, lakes, farmers markets, walks, hikes, etc. not everything has to cost! just see what you can discover.

43. research ahead of time: you really have to put in some time and research inexpensive activities, hotels and flights if you want to save money. it can be a lot of work, but it's worth it. if you go somewhere unprepared, things can be expensive and you'll have no choice but to pay up!

44. enjoy: most of all, don't get too overwhelmed about money while traveling. do everything you can ahead of time and think about these tips, but remember you're traveling. unpredictable things will happen, and that's the beauty of it. have some flexibility in your budget for things that come up, and don't forget to splurge on a few things...that's the reason we work so hard and save up! :)

i hope these answer some questions about money and travel! 
now go book a trip!! 

P.S. last financial traveling tip:
make sure to call your bank and let them know you will be spending money and using cards out of the country. banks track these things, and if you are spending money at the grocery store in california one day and in beijing the next day, it could look suspicious and cause your card to be declined. call ahead and let them know where you'll be and for how long, so that way you don't get stuck with a declined card in a foreign country! {thanks for this tip, dad}.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

chocolate cream pie

the name of this post alone should have you drooling and wanting to make it asap..and you would be right. the other night we were craving a good dessert & i noticed we had some yummy ingredients on hand..i sort of threw them together into a pie full of goodness, and it turned out to be heavenly. we finished it off before we could even share with our friends! {but we did cut the recipe in half} this is easy and so yummy i can't stand it. making it again soon..and you should too!
chocolate cream pie
-32 oreos
-1/4 cup melted butter (or, we used melted coconut oil!)
-2 cups cold skim milk
-2 packages (4 serving size) jell-o chocolate instant pudding & pie filling
-1 (8 ounce) tub cool whip whipped topping   

1. finely crush the oreo cookies; set 1/3 cup aside. pour melted butter over the rest of the crushed oreos. press oreo mixture onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan.
2. pour milk and pudding mixes into a bowl. beat with a wire whisk for 2 minutes until it thickens. let it sit for a minute.
3. spoon pudding over crust evenly. 
4. gently spread whipped topping over the pudding.
{you can combine some of the pudding and whipped cream together for an extra top layer}
5. sprinkle remaining pieces of oreo over the top.
6. refrigerate for one hour or until set.  
 can you tell if we liked it??
 enjoy! xo

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

tuesday ten: costco favorites, part two

happy tuesday, and welcome to another tuesday ten list. we are big fans of costco...i've already done a costco favorites post before hereso here's the second edition. enjoy, and please add your own favorites to it!

1. i love the kirkland natural peanut butter at costco. they have it creamy & chunky, 
and it is my favorite...healthy, tastes good, and a perfect size to last for a while.  
{ it upside down so the natural oils mix through!}
2. veggie burgers! this was a costco sample win, because we tried these as a sample and loved them...
so we bought them on the spot. they are a good, healthy thing to have on hand in the freezer! 
{cute boy not included with purchase}

3. i don't know what these garafalo whole wheat noodles have in them, but i'm addicted. they seriously have the best taste that i end up craving! they are perfect for a healthy whole wheat spaghetti, a chicken and broccoli alfredo dish, a simple butter and parmesan snack, noodle stir fry, and so much more.

4. coconut creme spread. i don't feel like 
this one needs a long explanation, the name
alone made my mouth water when i saw it!
it can go on fruit, desserts, be used as 
a spread, mmm the options are endless. 
we love coconut if you didn't know!
5. i also love the rotisserie chicken- it is SO delicious and tender, 
and you can use it all week in different recipes!
6. this size of vanilla lasts me so much longer than the little mini sizes...
so helpful because i use vanilla a lot! it has a great pure taste.
7.  these multigrain tortilla chips are the best. they are healthier than regular chips, 
and so good plain// with salsa// with guac// with hummus// etc. 
8. this one looks random but it's a lifesaver. i use garlic in so many recipes, and after too many trips to the store just to grab fresh garlic, i just had to buy this. it is so cheap and lasts forever. i was worried i'd notice the difference between fresh garlic, but this honestly adds amazing flavor and makes it SO easy to add a little garlic here and there. just keep it in your fridge and use anytime!
9. i'm pairing these two items into one, because i always get them together. the uncooked tortillas are the bomb. you will never want to buy cooked tortillas again! they come pre-cut into tortilla shapes, but you cook them on the stove and they are hot and freshly cooked! there is a noticeable difference with these. this mexican cheese blend is also perfect for quesadillas, enchiladas, homemade mac & cheese, scrambled eggs, and so many other recipes. it lasts for a long time and is nice to have grated in the fridge to grab when you need it!

10. last but NOT least, these puppies. try one and you'll fall in love. this combines some of our favorite things...dark chocolate? coconut? almonds? too good to be true. just grab a few at a time, and have the best little treat on hand. we LOVE LOVE LOVE these.
 last note:
costco rarely fails me, but it did last week with this:
we are big pad thai fans, but just a tip...don't get it from costco :)

share your favorite costco items if you have any!