10 Things To Do Before Leaving Your Home for Vacation


Photo Credit: Estelle Page on Flickr CC Lic

In the middle of vacation excitement, planning, packing etc….  taking a few minutes to run through a few quick checks can relieve a little of your ‘worry’ about your home in your absence.

1  Tell a TRUSTED Neighbor You’ll Be Out of Town.  Someone in the neighborhood should know that your house is empty should there be any emergency or suspicious activity. Give them a way to contact you in addition to your cell phone (hotel phone number??). Your neighbors are your ‘eyes and ears’ while you’re gone.

2.  Suspend Mail and/or Newspaper Delivery:  The US Postal Service will hold mail for up to a month.  We schedule delivery the day AFTER we return so we’ll BE THERE when it arrives. If you take a newspaper, cancel that as well.  Not only does it eliminate the piles of papers in your yard, but it MAY extend your subscription by the number of cancelled days.

Photo Credit: vijairaj           CC Lic.

3.  Make Arrangements For: 

  • Pets. Reserve time at the kennel or secure a pet-sitter. The best kennels fill up quickly during the Summer so begin researching these early. NOTE:  Drop by for an unannounced VISIT to check them out before reserving.
  • Plants:  For just a few houseplants, it may be easier to transport the plants to the friend rather than ask the friend to come to your house. For plants in your yard, find a neighbor child who is either trustworthy…or whose parents are diligent about teaching/requiring responsibility –as they will be the ones ultimately responsible for follow-through. 🙂  I always liked for my adolescent kids to take on tasks like this…  They made a few dollars and it taught important lessons (Yes, we understood OUR {the parents’}  role in it all.  I was ‘ok’ with that as I thought it was good for my kids.)  Another option would be to get an automatic water-er.

4.  Put Lamps and/or TV on a Timer.  This gives the appearance that the house is occupied. If you have two timers, set them at slightly different schedules.  Set family room lights/sound to be on in the early evening and bedroom lights /sound coming on at bedtime to mimic real life patterns.

5. Check Thermostat Settings.  If you have a programmable thermostat, all the better!  Without one, find the happy medium between conserving energy but not going overboard -. Having it too warm in the house is hard on the refrigerator and electronics. Turning it too low in the winter can lead to burst plumbing pipes.

6.  Check:  

  • Faucets, Toilets:  Make sure they aren’t ‘running’ or dripping
  • Electrical and Electronics:  Unplug electrical items that can be unplugged.  Make sure that all electronics are either on a power surge protector or unplugged.
  • Windows. Re-check all the windows…even if you ‘remember’ locking them last week.

7.  Clean out the Refrigerator.  Our last night before vacation is always “leftover night”. Not only does this help with the ‘clean out the refrigerator’ but it’s an easy meal/prep.  After that meal, anything perishable is thrown away or put in the freezer.

8.  Wash all dishes and put them away….Run the dishwasher and unload it.  Even the smallest crumb or food residue on a plate in the dishwasher can attract bugs or ants when your kitchen is uninhabited for a period of time.

9.  Clean out your purse/wallet. We do not travel with ALL of our credit cards or keys. We only take the ones we will need. Not only do I want to lighten the weight of what I’m carrying, but if a wallet/purse were stolen, I don’t want to have to cancel 15 credit cards or replace a Keychain FULL of keys (Car keys are not only a hassle, but VERY expensive to replace).


Photo Credit:  CC Lic.  [[File:Socialmedia-pm.png|Socialmedia-pm]]

With social media such an important part of our lives, it’s tempting to begin to feel ‘over-confident’… and advertise an empty home without thinking about it.  It’s BEST to NOT post travel plans to those outside your REAL friend circle.  If you DO choose to share these plans on social media/Facebook, check your privacy settings to confirm that information is ONLY going out to TRUE friends…not a wide array of acquaintances or business contacts.   This becomes even ‘trickier’ if you have kids on these sites…..who have a tendency to think the whole world is their BFF.  A ‘conversation’ may be necessary….  I’m not totally convinced the privacy settings on Facebook are as ‘trustworthy’ as they seem and of course, some social media outlets don’t have any privacy guards at all…..


These are all things we know….but I find that when getting ready to leave, things are so busy…hectic…’full’, that it’s easy to forget something.    Having a list to check off takes the pressure off of me to ‘remember’ everything.

Happy Travels!  


Galveston, Texas

We’ve been ‘through’ Galveston several times to embark on cruises, but our stays were only 1 night pre-cruise. Every time, we would say “We need to plan a STAY here….”

Now, South Texas Gulf Coast in the heat of the summer is only enjoyable if you’re in the water, (imho) however, early Fall can be quite pleasant. That’s when we made our visit.  🙂

Accommodations:  Travel in Sept enabled us to avoid the congestion of ‘vacation season’ and find some good rates. A kitchen was a necessity (I need to cook the majority of our meals).  Galveston has a few hotels with kitchenettes but they were pricey.  On my  favorite condo site(s) – VRBO and Home Away I found a HUGE inventory from which to choose.

Our Condo complex – right across the street from the beach

There are no truly ‘beachfront’ condos or hotels in Galveston (the actual town) as Seawall Blvd runs along the beach.  Hotels, et al are across the street from the beach.  That’s really not a problem…just be aware.  Now, there are REAL beachfront homes (no condos/hotels)  further down the island outside of town.  On our trip, we preferred to stay in town.

We ended up in a unit that was ‘self-clean’ (No cleaning fee if WE clean kitchen & bathroom and sweep/mop/vacuum before checking out.  That’s it! )  If our cleaning met with their approval, there were no charges.  If it did not, we would be charged the $75 cleaning fee. I’m pretty picky about cleaning so this was not a problem.  (ok…I’m pretty sure it was cleaner when we left than when we arrived) Because the unit was very small, this took my husband and I about 30 min. Not only did I save about $200 on the rent (Many units in Galveston rent for MUCH MORE) but I saved the $75 cleaning fee.  The way I look at it, we got ‘paid’ $275 for 30 min. of work.  – not bad wages at all!!!


Beaches abound on Galveston Island and I’ll get to those in a minute.    First thing I suggest is a brief stop at the Galveston Visitor Center:  Here you’ll find not only information about what’s in the area, but also coupons for several attractions in town.  (and a few restaurants)

Parking:  Parking is always an issue on ‘islands’……and in Galveston, it’s NOT Cheap!!  The ONLY place you’ll find free parking is at the Visitor Center….and a TWO block section downtown with 2 hr parking. Those spots will be virtually impossible to get….  The remaining parking spots are part of the “Pay by Phone” system via an app  (PayByPhone.com  a secure site so I can’t link to it….)  Create an account, then input location from signs on each block and how much time you wish to ‘purchase’.  The app allows you to add time remotely, get online receipts and sends a text reminder when your time is almost expired.

Cash Parking Locations –  VERY limited

  • Downtown by The Strand, though these are a bit pricey,
  • In front of the Ocean Star Drilling museum – $1/half hour with a maximum of $5.


Bolivar Ferry:  This FREE ferry runs to Port Bolivar from the East end of the island every 20 minutes.  Because it’s an excellent place to see dolphins, many tourists just walk on and take the ferry over and back. We, however, took our car and spent the day in Port Bolivar.  The ferry was a pleasant experience  (air conditioned, restrooms, etc….).  Going in the off-season was great, though some report  wait times of up to 90 min. in the busy summer tourist season. If there in July, I suggest an EARLY start to the day.  🙂 Our wait (Sept) was about 20 min to board at the Galveston terminal…and no wait at all for the return trip.  It seems to be handled very well.

Bolivar Peninsula: Once over to Bolivar, we went to Ft Travis State Historic Park. I found the beach here nicer than what was available in Galveston – Not only was there no ‘fees’….but there are picnic areas with grills. We had just brought sandwiches for lunch, but I could envision a very nice beach day…with grilled hotdogs, sand, ocean….  It was almost deserted in Sept, but probably a pretty busy place in the summer.

While on the island, we found a shaved ice stand that had sugar-free syrups…and not just a limited number of flavors….   This lady offered to mix any flavor on her menu with Splenda.  We had to wait, but it was SO worth it to be able to choose from the FULL menu!!!  That NEVER happens!!!  🙂  She earned a ‘shout out’ from me.  🙂   J-Bird’s Shaved Ice.


Sunset over the SeaWall – Galveston, TX

Now…..to the

Beaches:  Since Galveston Island is an ‘island’, it’s surrounded by beaches…  🙂  (on the Gulf side….inlet side is industry…) Most of the public beaches have a user fee and/or parking charge.  Even at the State Park south of town,  entrance is free….after you pay to park. 🙂  However, driving out of Galveston, you will find signs marking “Beach Access”.  These are roads behind vacation homes where the public can access the beach for free. (yes, it’s public access unless otherwise posted)   Now, there are no facilities, no running water (other than ocean 🙂 ) or restrooms in these areas.  It’s just sand, ocean and flying insects (LOTS of those so bring repellant),  but it IS possible to get to the water without paying. You just ‘lose’ facilities.  Those areas would be crowded during tourist season (inhabitants from beach homes, et al) but in Sept. the homes were mostly empty as were the beaches in front of them…  We had a few hours on a secluded beach…well….except for the insects….  It was a nice afternoon.

OK….I know that most people don’t consider antebellum homes or museums when visiting Galveston Island, but…….  There is some INCREDIBLE history associated with the area.  For instance, did you know that Galveston was the “Wall Street of the U.S.” in the late 1800’s?  Did you know that some of the wealthiest families of that time lived here?  Did you know that after the hurricane of 1900 (which is to this day the deadliest disaster event in US history) they not only rebuilt the city…but RAISED it 17 feet (!!!!) and built the sea wall still there today.  This was an INCREDIBLE engineering feat for the early 1900’s.  Spending at least a portion of your time in the area exploring these homes…this history…is worth consideration.

078.jpgBishop’s Palace:  This is the home of Colonel Walter Gresham and is listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 100 most important buildings in America.  I have to say, I’ve been to a lot of homes – antebellum homes in Virginia and the Carolinas, The Biltmore (NC), Plantations in Mississippi and Alabama, etc…but this may possibly be the most beautiful home I’ve ever toured.  Admission is pricey, but the architecture and woodwork as well as the history made it WORTH the cost to us.   Coupon for $1 pp off admission (from the Visitor Center)  helps a little with the cost.




  • 125.jpgRosenburg Musuem   This is a small and free museum on the 4th floor of the Rosenburg City Library.  It’s size makes it easily visited in 1-2 hrs. and actually  ‘manageable’ for children. It covers the history of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the rebuilding of the city and SeaWall.  The Rosenburg Library is right across the street from the Visitor center so you can park there for free. (if you get there early enough to find a space)  We DID ask permission before leaving our car – just fyi. 


  • Ocean Star:  When oil prices plummeted and off-shore drilling became UNprofitable, Exxon-Mobile brought one of their rigs to shore to turn it into a museum.  This was such a treat as this is something we would NEVER normally be able to see.  We spent 2-3 hrs here and only left because we had tickets at Pier 21 and HAD to leave.


I could have stayed longer.  The website: Ocean Star Off-Shore Drilling Museum has a virtual tour for more information.



  • Pier 21 Films:  This theatre shows 3 different films about the area – It’s located about a block from Ocean Star Museum.  We chose “The Great Storm”  about the 1900 Hurricane – using a $1 coupon we picked up from one of the many brochure racks located around town.   They also validate parking for 2 hrs – allowing for time at the museum if you plan it just right.


There’s so much to do in the Galveston area – in ADDITION to “Fun in the Sun” – not to mention that Houston with all it has to offer (NASA Spaceport is in Webster….Great place!!) is just a little over an hour away…

Enjoy the beach and water in this Gulf Coast area…but don’t think that’s all there is.  🙂


Getting the BEST Deal on Airfare


Here’s a trick question…

In shopping for airfare this week I narrowed down my options to 2 airlines/tickets.  One airline had tickets for $272 ea.  The other airline would get me to my destination for $258 a piece.  So….which ticket is cheaper?

I said this was a trick question, right?

Here’s the details….

Airline “A” sells their seat (We can only  HOPE there’s an actual ‘seat’ and flight involved here and not just a ticket to be drug down the aisle….ugh!)  Anyway…They sell their seat for $272.  They offer a credit card that will give me a $100 statement credit if I purchase my ticket FROM THEM (not from a consolidator) and charge it to that card. (that’s the only reason I would get their credit card…  🙂 )    They will give me 1 free checked bag per person listed on the reservation as a benefit for using their credit card.  There is a $95 credit card fee, but they WAIVE that for the 1st year.  (I’ll cancel the card before they charge that fee next year…I’ll put a reminder on my online calendar)

Airline “B” has the tickets for $258 ea.  They, too, offer a statement credit if I purchase my airfare from them and charge to their card – Their credit is $50.  They, also, will give me 1 free checked bag per person on the reservation when I use their credit card.  HOWEVER, THEIR $95 credit card fee is NOT waived.  That charge will be on my first bill.

Now…who has the better deal?  Whose tickets are cheaper?

Airline “A”

  • 2 tickets:                    $546
  • Statement credit:   – $100
  • Free chk’d bags          -0-   (value of $50 for one way flight)
  • Total Cost                 $446

Airline “B”

  • 2 tickets                     $514
  • C.C. fee                      + $95   = $609
  • Statement credit    –  $50   = $549
  • Free chk’d bags           -0-        (value of $50 for one way flight)
  • Total Cost                 $549

pexels-photo-358319Now with the statement credit and 2 free bags, (As noted above, I’m looking at a one way flight) the $95 fee is cancelled out. If it were round trip with those 2 bags, I could possibly justify that fee. However, there’s still no way around the fact that the total cost for the ticket is $100 more….since BOTH airlines would give me free bags on a round trip ticket.

Yes…they advertise other benefits to their cards that could be advantageous for frequent travelers (bonus ‘miles’) or those who look for OTHER benefits on credit cards (interest rates, transfer rates, etc…). We, however, are not frequent flyers (yes, we travel frequently, but not always on flights)  or people who care about those other ‘benefits’.   I’m ONLY looking at IMMEDIATE benefits – cost of the ticket and free checked bags.

One More Thing That Must be Noted Here:  Evaluate your personal financial situation before applying for any credit card. Credit card applications will ‘ding’ your credit. It’s easy to recover if you are starting from a good place with your credit score, but if your credit score in ‘in trouble’…or you’re looking to apply for a mortgage soon, this may NOT be the thing for you.      

Now….I can’t leave this discussion without addressing the option of just buying the ticket without applying for the credit card.  With that, you lose the statement credit and pay the baggage fees.  Here’s how that plays out with Airline “B” (Airline “A” is obviously not going to be a good deal without the card…):

Airline “B” (without the credit card):

  • 2 tickets                        $514
  • 2 chk’d bags                   $50   (for a one-way flight;  $100 for round trip)
  • Total Cost                    $564


Bottom Line:  ALWAYS do the math…  What ‘appears’ to be cheaper at first look may not always be cheaper. I’ve even found that to be true with the airlines that don’t charge baggage fees. Of course, sometimes they ARE the better deal…but you HAVE to do the math…..

Budget Tips AT the Rental Car Counter

You’re at the rental car counter…reservation in hand. What do you do now to insure you’re not taken advantage of?  Well, I’m assuming you read reviews and chose a company with high marks.  Everything should be fine.  However, it never hurts to be informed to better protect yourself.

What Do You Need To Know?

Insurance: Insurance is a requirement – but your regular auto insurance policy may cover rental cars. Check with them and if so, bring proof (insurance card or letter from company).

Some credit cards will insure the car when the transaction is processed on their card. Call your credit card company to inquire and of course, bring proof of that as well.  There’s no need to buy a policy from the rental car company if you’re already covered elsewhere (savings of $8-$15/day).  The rental company MAY pressure you (high pressure) to buy their policy….it’s a HUGE money maker for them.  But know that you CAN politely refuse with proper proof.

WORD OF CAUTION:  DON’T attempt to drive without insurance coverage…  The price/consequence for that is MUCH higher than just purchasing coverage from the rental company.

Re-Fueling Options:  

  • Return the car without refueling.  They refuel at THEIR price.  This is the worst option as their price is VERY high!!
  • Refuel before returning the car –   You may be required to present a receipt for gas purchase – especially if you drove the car less than 75 miles.  Confirm their policies when you pick up the car.
  • Many companies are now offering a 3rd option:  You PRE-PURCHASE a FULL tank of gas – at a less-than-market price. The catch? You are charged for the full tank regardless of the fuel level upon return. To get the best value, you need to return the car as close to “empty” as possible. That CAN be hard to gauge.  Now, the savings can be as much as .25/gal. On a recent rental we were offered this option….and told that if we didn’t drive the car to “E”, we could just  refuel it ourselves. The deal would then be ‘void’. When they put that in writing, I decided to give it a try.  We ended up refueling as our tank was only down to 1/3 on the last day.  If those policies become the ‘norm’ over time, it MIGHT be something to consider…

KNOW the Total Cost:  Before leaving the lot, make sure you’ve been given the TOTAL charges – upfront..  Some (less than reputable) companies may try to assess extra charges when you return the car. You’ll have no recourse then.

Online Horror Stories:  I’ve read horror stories of people returning a car only to have the employee walk around the vehicle and “find” every scratch, dent, & door ding and access charges for them.  I’ve never experienced that myself, however, when we first get a car, I ask the employee to walk around the car with me THEN  making notes on the form AND TAKING PICTURES of any major dents or scratches/dings.  I don’t get overly “picky” here, but do make note of things that are “moderately significant”. (including wheel rims and the interior.) and make sure the employee knows that I’ve gone over the car carefully MYSELF.


Photo Credit: Tom Magliery on Flickr CC Lic.

Maybe just doing this keeps them from being dishonest with me later… or maybe those horror stories aren’t true…. I do this nonetheless.

Extra Note: I have read quite a few online articles that advise taking pictures of EVERYTHING when renting in Hawaii.  I don’t know why they isolate Hawaii, but I found the sheer number of articles interesting. We rented cars on 3 islands and didn’t have any problems.  Of course, I followed the advice.

Rental Car Rates:  Rates are based on a 24 hour clock (not pro-rated) OR weekly rates. (cheaper than per day)  Returning a car early can cause your rate to go up if it drops you out of the category you’ve been priced with. In an emergency you have no other choice; just don’t be surprised if that happens.

  1. Unlimited mileage on rental cars is pretty standard these days, but confirm this if you plan to drive long distances.
  2. Out of State:  If your travel plans will take you out of the state where you rented the car, make sure this is within their policy.  In Alaska, we rented a car in Skagway to drive the Klondike Highway…Into Canada.  They DO allow renters to take the car ‘into another country’ AS LONG AS YOU TELL THEM.  Had I not read the fine print, then had any kind of problem/car trouble, accident, etc… we could have been in a LOT of hot water.  Again…and I’ve said this many many times  READ THE FINE PRINT!!

May be of interest:  Finding Bargains on Rental Cars

Dollar Store ‘Finds’ Specifically For Cruises



Photo Credit:  Nicholas Eckhart on Flickr  CC Lic.

A trip to the Dollar store is always on our “To Do” list before traveling.  It’s an excellent place to get many items we need  (or want).

The original article  (Dollar Store Finds for the Frugal Traveler) detailed items for travel/vacation in general.  This article is specifically for cruisers.

Though many of these items can be found at Walmart, Target etc…  what I’m referring to here are the stores that sell everything for $1 — Dollar Tree, The Dollar Store, Deals, etc…


Space can be a valuable commodity in a cruise ship cabin. The Dollar Store has a variety or ‘qualities’ for everything from liquids (shampoo, conditioner, lotion/crèmes) to small items like medication, earrings, etc… 🙂

travel size bottles

These TSA approved containers have ‘secure’ lids.

For ‘extra’ security, pack bottles in a Ziploc bag (get these at the Dollar Tree too…) or put a  piece of plastic (grocery bag, etc…) inside the lid before closing it.






Containers with snap on lids (in 6- or 10-pack) would work for small non-liquid items –   earrings, Advil/Tylenol, wax earplugs,  etc…travel size containerstravel size containers







The variance seemed to be in the quality of the container AND lid.  Just cater the ‘quality’ to what you plan to use them for.



travel size medicationsTravel sized medication bottles.  I bought ours years ago….and am still using the same BOTTLES (Obviously, NOT the same meds…..)  I just refill the travel size bottles each year with ‘new’ meds from my Costco size bottle.  (Remember…medication has an expiration date)

…and before anyone thinks these are ‘lesser quality’, if you’re skeptical about generics, Dollar Tree sells name brands too – Advil, Aleve, etc….  🙂



medication containers


Pill organizers are of course for daily meds or vitamins….

BUT…THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.  They can be used for anything small –  pill organizer - 3x/dayjewelry, rings or earrings.  The compartments keep everything separated and organized.







Eye masks are great for that nap – or on an Alaskan cruise when the sun never seems to set.  Do you have a red-eye flight?  – great for that too!







ear plugs



Ear plugs come in handy quite often – for flights or if you happen to have a stateroom in a noisy area.  I liked this set with the small container for storage – I bought 2 of them as I’m always losing earplugs.  🙂


post its and highlighters



Yes…paper is my weak spot.  I LOVE all the options at the Dollar Tree – post it notes of all sizes and colors, pads of paper for note taking in the planning sessions…or for leaving notes for the cabin steward or other family members.

There are also highlighters for marking the cruise schedule each day.  The multi-colored packs are great when traveling with teens or on multi-family/group cruises






Nightlights – especially for interior cabins–though we use them in balcony cabins too


Some like tea lights for this as they don’t require a plug.  Dollar Tree has those too…



3 plug extenders




Plugs that turn 1 outlet into 3 – an absolute necessity with outlets being in such short supply.





zip ties



Zip ties for luggage placed in the hallway the night before disembarkation.  NOTE:  You only want to use these if you’re headed home at the end of your cruise OR if you have means to get them off.  They are quite effective in  ‘securing’ your bag…but MAY keep YOU out if you don’t have scissors or knife.  🙂




It’s a good idea to wipe down surfaces (doorknobs, remote, light switches, etc..) to disinfect (i.e. Norovirus et al.)  These travel sizes are just the right size. Walmart has packs of these…but they’re 9-packs  for .97.  This is a pack of 15….for .03 more.  Better value at Dollar Tree!  🙂


Hand sanitizer or hand sanitizing wipes for whenever you need 20170613_142858them (I bring these for port use as most ships have hand sanitizer dispensers EVERYwhere!!! )





antibacterial wipes - travel size


Two different packs – a pack of 40 for $1….or 3 packs of 10 for $1….I actually liked the 3-pack.  They stay sealed (and ‘wet’) until you open them.  It may be a lesser quantity, but I think overall, it’s a better ‘deal’…..unless you have a big family.  🙂







Clips of all kinds come in handy for hanging swimsuits, securing towels on a windy clothespinsbalcony or keeping curtains closed for privacy or ‘dark’ on Alaskan cruises.  The Dollar Tree has clothespins (lightweight and the best value) big plastic clips (3/$1) or  binder clips in the office supply section (3/$1)  I always throw several different clips (variety) into our suitcase.  🙂







Small clothes hamper – lightweight and  collapsible     –or– mesh laundry bags.  These are a great size for the small cruise cabin.







flavored water packets

These are nice for any vacation – but we particularly like them for cruises. We don’t purchase drinks on a cruise – we drink the tea, lemonade and coffee offered free, then bring these along to flavor the water when we want something different.   Dollar Tree has Snapple and Wylers and sometimes Minute Maid- all very good brands (imho)


WHO takes food on a cruise?  Well…those who may want snacks while in port —  The ONLY food items allowed off the ship in port are items that are pre-packaged (sealed) by the manufacturer.  So yes…I take some snack items on cruises.

packages of peanutshigh protein snacks





Dollar Tree has LOTS of options for this…some regular inventory…some seasonal or ‘changing’ inventory.  I like the high protein snacks when traveling –  There’s cheese and pretzels, snack crackers or peanuts/trail mixes (I personally don’t buy packaged nuts/trail mixes at all as I find them to be rancid – That has NOTHING to do with Dollar Tree…I don’t buy them at Walmart either)  but for those who like them, these are certainly less expensive.

snack-individual sizesvariety of snack crackers from Dollar storeNOTE:  They even have Sugar Free!!!!


SUGAR FREE options!!


 20140718_1911551.jpgThere are many options at the Dollar Tree for organizing your travel paperwork, boarding passes, luggage receipts, tickets, confirmations, etc…  I’ve used both these 5 x 8 accordion files and most recently, PLASTIC pocket folders.  They’re durable and don’t get torn up with all the handling/packing etc….  🙂

IMG_6855 - Copy


On our recent cruise to Alaska, I put our map (and other things) on the wall with magnets, clips and hooks – all purchased at the Dollar Tree.  (There’s several other things along the side of the map – barely visible in this photo….that I catered to what I was bringing for the wall.  I particularly liked a round magnetic box I used for holding extra clips, paper clips, etc…)  I LOVED this display courtesy of Dollar Tree!!



Other items that I didn’t take pics of….I mean there’s just so much!!!

  • Lint rollers for those formal night clothes
  • Dry erase boards for leaving notes for steward or other family members.  These would be GREAT if going on a Group Family cruise… just get the ‘magnetic’ ones and they can be put on the wall outside everyone’s door.  Leave messages for each other et al.   Just realize that messages left OUTside your cabin door should be written with attention to ‘security’.  If cruising during the summer when ships have a higher number of teens on board, messages could be altered  by unruly teens on board (ugh!!!)
  • Shower Caps – great to cover shoes on our Alaskan cruise when we expected rain (and therefore, mud). It can be really difficult to get them clean enough that you feel comfortable packing them…
  • Windex wipes in small packages (15) if going on bus or train tours.  If you have to take photos through windows that don’t ‘open’ it’s nice to clean them beforehand.

On our recent Multi-Family Cruise, I made a small goodie bag with several of these Dollar Tree items in it for everyone. It was so much fun to give!!!  🙂   

Happy Shopping!

How to Survive a Time Share Presentation with Your Wallet Intact


Are Time Share presentations and gifts a scam?

I’ve heard this question from so many people so many times.  I concede that they have all the ‘markings’ of a scam.  They call you and offer deals that seem too good to be true.  They ask for money upfront (a deposit) and that sets off the scam alert for many people.  However, I will tell you,  (as someone who has been to a LOT of these) they are not scams.

Everything they promise to give you, you WILL RECEIVE.  We’ve gone to MANY of these and always received what we were promised.   The only “lie” they tell you is that it will only take 90 min. Count on 2  hours…minimum.     

Why would we go to these?  Well, they CAN help out the travel budget – with offers of free accommodations, tickets, meals, etc…  Sometimes the value of these packages can be as much as $300-400…  but ONLY if you know how to ‘survive’ them.  If you go to a Timeshare presentation to save a few hundred dollars on your vacation…then buy a Timeshare for $15K, you have NOT come out ahead….  hmmm…

Sooo…How do you get the bargain while avoiding the pitfall?

First…Know Who Should…and Who Should NOT… attend a Timeshare Presentation.

Who SHOULDN’T:  Answer: The person who is easily swayed – or has no will-power to say ‘no’.  While I will say over and over that these presentations are not a scam…owning one absolutely is!!  Read more about that in TimeShares – The Good, The Bad and The (REALLY) Ugly

Getting the best deal begins when they FIRST contact you – that FIRST phone call

  • Know that you CAN negotiate with the ‘gifting’.  There have been times when they’ve offered me a hotel room and meal voucher.  I replied with “We’re on restricted diets.  We can only stay in condos with kitchens for meal prep.”  Sometimes I’m told ‘no’, but more often than not, they give me what I asked for.  Now…they take away the free meal voucher, but I’m ‘ok’ with that.  I preferred the condo and kitchen over a pre-determined menu item of ‘so-so’  quality in a mediocre restarant.
  • NEVER pay the first price quoted:  They never intend for you to say ‘yes’ (and possibly laugh at those who do…).  Say ‘no’ to that first offer to get to the ‘real’ price.  Say ‘no’ TWICE and you MIGHT (no guarantee) be offered the ‘basement price’ (one that not everyone gets….)
  • When they offer you that ‘extra free vacation’, ignore them…It’s just a certificate which you then have to jump through 15 hoops to use. (they’re almost unusable)  The value in what they’re offering is not in that extra vacation…it’s in the room/condo, free meals, tickets..whatever they’re offering for THEIR location.  Base your decision on that.  Ignore everything else.

How to Survive the Actual Presentation:

  • Show Up!  You’ve given them a deposit to reserve your place.  If you don’t show up, you’ll lose that money.  If you check in to the hotel, then don’t go to the presentation, they’ll charge your credit card for the full price of your package.  Yes, they’ll keep their end of the bargain but you have to keep your end too….   Furthermore, all the extra gifts (meal vouchers, tickets, etc…) are given to you AFTER that presentation….not at check in.
  • The salesman’s goal in that first 15 min is to figure out who you are, what you do for a living and therefore,  your income (i.e. how much can you pay for the timeshare)  Be vague…  They’re also trying to build a connection with you so you’ll let down your ‘defenses’ and ‘allow’ them to reel you in. There’s no need to be rude (at this stage), but don’t be BFF’s either.
  • Don’t Ask Questions or Show Any Interest!  Any interest at all and they’ll jump on it. They see this as “vulnerability” and they’ll keep you there thinking you’ll cave to their pressure and buy.  Don’t give them any hope!
  • Lastly, my normal mantra about most things is “Be polite”.  However, if there’s ever a time when we’re not polite, it would be when dealing with a particularly pushy Timeshare salesman.  In a few rare cases, we have had to get forceful with our “NO!”   Don’t jump to that extreme the minute you walk in the door, but be prepared to take it to that level if needed.


Bottom Line:  If you are interested in the incentives offered by the Timeshare company, there’s no need to fear it.  Go ahead and give it a try….but ONLY if you have the fortitude to resist the sales presentation.  If you don’t, then you’ll probably want to Stay Away!  🙂




Finding the Best Deal on Airfare – Updated


Several years ago, I wrote  How to Get the Best Deal on Airfare .  While many of the tips there are still good information, time has brought about a few changes.  Thus an updated article.  🙂

What HASN’T changed?  Airfare is still determined by the Law of Supply and Demand.  What has changed is the ‘demand’….and because of that, the ‘supply’.  Interpretation:  As consumer’s have purchased more tickets (demand),  airlines have listened and added planes and flights (supply) to meet the need.   That can mean good bargains for travelers.

  1. Time It Right: The best time to purchase airfare seems to be about 7-8 weeks out (more specifically 49-54 days) up to 3 wks prior to travel.  Booking less than 21 or more than 200 days out brings some of the worst fares.aircraft-holiday-sun-tourism-99567
  2. Don’t Pay Baggage Fees If You Don’t Have To:  At this time, Delta, United and American are offering 1 free checked bag per person to their credit card holders IF the reservation is made on their website and paid for with that card.  You can apply for the credit card right before purchasing the ticket.  After approval, you then use that card number to purchase the ticket. These cards typically have an annual fee associated with them, but most (though not all)  waive it for the 1st year.  After that ‘grace period’ we always cancel the card.  I refuse to pay a fee for ANY credit card…..EVER!!   Now, the last time we called to cancel, they offered us a ‘stay with us’ deal. We met their criteria and they waived the fee a 2nd year.  They did NOT offer that option the following year.
  3. Compare Total Costs: Southwest and Jet Blue do not charge baggage fees.  That doesn’tUS dollar necessarily mean their flights are cheaper though.  Sometimes, a ticket PLUS baggage fee is still less expensive than a ticket on one of these ‘no baggage fee’ airlines…  As you’re price shopping make sure you’re comparing the TOTAL COST (ticket + bags).  Note that these airlines don’t sell reserved seats.  Instead, they sell ‘boarding groups’.  You pay to board earlier and get first choice on seats.  Though we occasionally fly with these airlines, I really prefer to have a reserved seat….just my personal opinion.
  4. More Info About those Baggage Fees:  While we’re on the subject of baggage fees, American waives the baggage fees on a number of flights from the U.S. to Brazil, Europe or Japan. Find out more about this from their website..
  5. ‘WHEN you Buy’ Matters: The best day of the week to purchase airfare used to be Tues.

    Photo Credit: Dafne Cholet CC Lic.

    However, trends are changing.  Weekends have become the ‘new Tuesday’ when buying airfare within the US or to Europe and some great bargains can be snagged on Saturdays.  Worst day to purchase (any) travel?  Fridays!  (That’s when business travelors are booking.)

  6. Fly midweek (Tues-Thurs) rather than weekends (Fri – Mon) if possible to get bargain airfares.  Websites now show fares for  +/- 3 days of your selected date making this much easier to compare.  We’ve moved our vacation dates a couple of days to take advantage of lower fares – especially when buying 4 tickets.
  7. Include a Saturday Night Stay:  You’ll find some of the best bargains on round trip tickets if you include a Saturday night in your stay.
  8. Always check surrounding airports  Sometimes if you’re willing to just drive 20-30 miles, you can save significant money.
  9. Allegiant Air MAY…..I repeat MAY…. be a good deal  Just be aware that they take the whole ‘nickel and dime’ thing to the extreme.  They charge for things the major airlines do NOT charge for – carry ons, blankets, pillows.  Now, because their flights are sooo cheap, this may still be a good deal. You just have to crunch the numbers…and again, look at the ‘total cost’ rather than just the cost of the ticket.  Consolidate your packing (including carry on bags) and bring your own lightweight cover and/or inflatable pillow.  🙂  One More Note:  You have the option to pay baggage fees when you purchase your ticket…for LESS than you will pay AT the airport the day of flight!  Estimate your luggage needs carefully (and accurately) when purchasing your ticket!  🙂

Saving even just $25/ticket -with free bags – for a family of 4 – round trip – amounts to a savings of $300.  Remember when compare shopping to figure in ALL of these (ticket, baggage fees AND any extras) to determine the best deal.

Another article that may be of interest:  Getting the BEST Deal on Airfare



Staying Healthy When Flying

Staying healthy while flying brings a whole different set of challenges.  Because you’re in an enclosed space with only recycled air for extended periods of time, exposure to illnesses, etc…  brought on board by fellow passengers is increased.  There ARE things you can do to protect yourself, but of course, none of them are fail-safe.  Just take the precautions and hope for the best. 

  1. Hand Sanitizer:  Purchase these in small (TSA approved) sizes for your carry on or purse. (We prefer to buy the small bottles ONCE then refill them for subsequent flights)
  2. Restrooms:  There’s no way around the fact that restrooms are just  congregating place for germs.  Touch as little as possible and teach your children to do the same.  Use the paper towel to open the door when you leave.
  3. Photo: Allan;  Flickr CC Lic.

    HYDRATE before, during and after a flight:  The air circulated through the aircraft cabin is dehydrating. A hydrated body flushes out toxins and impurities more effectively than a dehydrated one.  WATER is the best way to hydrate…. Bring an empty bottle through security and fill it with water at the gate.  Sodas, caffeine and alcohol work against you on this as they, too are dehydrating.  Opt for  water-rich foods (fresh fruit or salad) when possible,

  4. Items provided by the airline are cleaned but NOT after every flight.

    Photo Credit: Kent Wien;  FLickr CC Lic.

    • We bring our own pillows – I like the inflatable ones as they can be deflated when not in use.
    • Dress in layers, and bring a jacket.  It can be used as a blanket around your face.  Use the airline provided blanket for covering your lap/legs.
    • EITHER Bring your own headphones….  OR   use hand sanitizer on airline headphones before using them.
  5. To avoid deep-vein thrombosis or swelling in the legs and ankles (VERY important for diabetics or those with circulation issues):
    • Avoid tight socks – unless they’re compression socks on long flights.
    • For long flights, choose a seat at the front or rear of your section for more leg room.  Extending your legs may help with cramps or swelling (if you’re subject to that).
    • Walk around during the flight – to the bathroom or just up and down the aisle.   Coordinate your ‘excursions’ with others in the row to avoid annoying your row-mates too much.  🙂
    • Exercise the calf muscles by tapping your feet periodically during a long flight.

What About Jet Lag   Jet lag doesn’t become a problem unless you’re crossing 5 or 6+ time zones.  If you do, try these ideas to lesson the effects.

  1. Don’t try to completely change your sleep schedule in one day.  Do it gradually over several days –  up to 3-4 days if crossing a LOT of time zones.
  2. If your flight time is during a time you would normally sleep, sleep on the plane.  If it’s during a time you would normally be awake, then try to stay awake…Keep things fairly close to your schedule at home for the first 24 hours.
  3. Alcohol and caffeine affects your ability to adjust to time changes. Limit them.

Here’s wishing you a happy and HEALTHY vacation!!!  🙂


Can You Get Rid of a Timeshare?

We have asked this question more times than I can count.  The answer ALWAYS came back a resounding “No”!

Until this year!  🙂

We bought our timeshare 11 years ago. We knew within 2 yrs that it was NOT a good decision; however, at that point, we owned it.  We were paying the annual maintenance fees.  If we didn’t use it, that money would go to waste. We had to just make the best of it.

Now, before this goes to the depth of negativity, I will say that we DID take some very nice vacations and stayed in luxurious accommodations. However, the planning of those vacations was often quite a challenge.  More times than not, timeshare availability determined our destination rather than our family’s preference. We chose to be excited about any vacation destination, but we rarely chose them ourselves. When we couldn’t use the timeshare, our points expired. Money paid in maintenance fees went to waste.  When we discovered that renting from VRBO, HomeAway or purchasing a Groupon was less than those maintenance fees, we REALLY regretted owning.

Every time we attended an “owner update” (another word for sales presentation) they would try to entice (another word for pressure) us to buy more points. We typically 20150429_150304responded with  “How do we get rid of this?”  (a question they usually didn’t appreciate…haha)  The answer always came as  “That’s not possible.”  Once in Las Vegas (company headquarters) the answer was “There’s NO WAY (expletive expletive) you can relinquish ownership”.

We gave up…we were strapped in this –  as would be our children when we died as it was ‘deeded’ and would be part of their inheritance – a burden!  ugh!!!

THEN….things changed this year.  During our annual call to the company asking about relinquishment… they GAVE US AN OPTION!  I was completely shocked – thrilled…but shocked!!!  Perhaps they just got tired of us asking???  ha!   At any rate, if we met their criteria, we could relinquish..

The Criteria:  (Note:  This may not translate to all companies; this was just our experience)

  • Paperwork (for relinquishment) signed and notarized
  • Payment of the current year’s maintenance fees WITHOUT using any of the point allotment.  UGH!!!
  • Payment of a processing fee equal to 25% of our annual maintenance fees.

It was irritating to pay maintenance fees and not be allowed to use the points…and even more irritating to pay the processing fee for someone to spend 5 min. clicking on a computer.  But it got us what we’d wanted for a LONG time!!  We immediately started jumping through their hoops!!!

After the paperwork was completed and payment submitted per the instructions, it took another 3 months for our online account to be deleted (I checked regularly to see if we were still in their system)   However, almost immediately, they cashed our check – and that qualifies as acceptance of the ‘contract’/paperwork.  Finally, THREE MONTHS after submitting that paperwork/money, we were NO LONGER OWNERS!!!   IT WORKED!!!!


It would be wonderful if all Timeshare companies made this option available to their customers. I do not know if that’s the case.

A Word of Advice to Those Considering Purchasing:

  • Do NOT buy a timeshare on a ‘Let’s try this out” basis. Scammers Beware Timeshare talk is here Yes, we were able to relinquish…but not before paying THOUSANDS of dollars in maintenance fees (and that irritating relinquishment fee). And realize, that just because we were able to relinquish doesn’t mean other companies will allow their owners to.
  • Only purchase if you KNOW you’ll want it forever…and your kids will want it forever…and your grandkids will want…etc…..  If you purchase a ‘deeded’ property, it and it’s (ever-increasing) maintenance fees will be passed down to your heirs and become their financial responsibility…or burden….

How can YOU relinquish?

  • First, Go into this process prepared for an uphill climb. Don’t expect it to be easy.  (We’ve been trying to relinquish for 8-9 years)
  • Read over your original paperwork carefully. That’s where we found the loophole that got us out.  It involved a buy out and the fact that we’d never ‘converted’…
  • Ask about relinquishment over and over and over…..and over and over. Be firm and consistent without being rude or hateful  (Rude or hateful rarely ever works!!!)
  • Send lots of emails asking about relinquishment.  (again, business-like and firm, but not rude)
  • Go to the “Owner Updates” (i.e. sales presentations) every chance you get (our company allowed us to go every 6 mos.)  and within the first 5 min. ask how you can get rid of it.  Drive them crazy with your (polite but persistent) inquiries!!!
  • NEVER under any circumstances sign anything or purchase MORE points or ‘time’.  Never ‘convert’ if there’s a buy out of your company.
  • There are companies that advertise that they will sell your timeshare….if you pay them…sometimes as much as $2000. I’ve always wondered if they were scams –  They MAY be legitimate, but honestly, I can’t imagine that they could sell it.  Think about it….have you ever heard of anyone buying from those places?  If they were selling, someone would need to be buying, right?
  • Some people hire lawyers to try to get out of these. We never did that as we saw that as another way to SPEND money on the timeshare.  I can’t speak to how successful (or unsuccessful) that would be.

Bottom Line:  Try to do this on your own without getting another party involved….certainly a party who will charge you MORE money.  Look for loopholes. Then, just be repetitive.  Drive them crazy with your inquiries.

Will that tactic work?  I don’t know. It did for us. It’s certainly worth a try.

I wish you the best of luck in getting rid of your timeshare if that is your choice.  Hopefully what worked for us will work for you too.

Vacation By Groupon


File:G logo groupon green on white.jpg


I’ve been receiving Groupon travel/get away emails for several years.  Everytime I scroll through them…click on a few things, then exit out.  I’ve just been apprehensive about traveling that way.  This year, though, I decided to try it and we snagged a few really great bargains.  I will search for Groupons on all future trips.:)

Now….I found that the best bargains are for admissions, rather than hotels.  More on that in a bit…First…

Here’s my story:

Our vacation this year was a little closer to home –  Texas – Presidential libraries (there are 3), Johnson Space Center and 5 days in Galveston (a place we’ve cruised out of several times, but never taken the time to stay and explore)

In my vacation planning this time, I began exploring the Groupon website to find out what they had to offer.

  • George H. W. Bush Presidential Library 
Image result for free images presidential library

Photo Credit: Natl Archives & Records Admin. – Public Domain

I was shocked to see this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a discount to a Presidential Library.  They all have ‘free days”…in fact, our visit to the Lyndon Johnson Library in Austin jut happened to be on his birthday Aug 27 and admission was FREE!  However, those free days tend to work better for locals who are there to take advantage of them.  That’s a little harder for tourists to do.  Other than the scheduled free days, discounts are rare.

But there it was…Admission for 2 for $10.  Then…as my luck was going, Groupon was offering 20% off of 3 purchases that day.  I didn’t have anything else more expensive I wanted to use that coupon on so I just used it on this.  I got the 2 tickets for $8.  Regular admission for this library was $9 per person.  Savings of $10

  • NASA/Johnson Space Center  Webster TX

This place is PHENOMENAL!!  I’ve been to the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, FL several times.  Though we certainly enjoyed our visits there (That’s where they build the rockets)  Johnson Space Center (Houston) is Mission Control and it’s MASSIVE!  They have a extensive museum, with films, programs, demonstrations and activities as well as a couple of tram tours of the grounds. We arrived here at opening and stayed until they were about to kick us out.  It was a LONG day…but a really good one!  🙂

I snagged a remarkable bargain on this one.  The regular admission was posted on Groupon as $24.95.  Groupons price of $16 each was a good price.However, when we arrived, the admission was actually $31.00.  I basically got a 2 For 1 deal!!  I was patting myself on the back all day for that one!  haha!!!

  • There was one Groupon that I considered, but decided to wait until we got to Galveston to check out before purchasing. (Remember, Groupons are non-refundable) This was a place that rented bicycles, carts, surf boards, body boards, etc…  The groupon was $50/day for 1 paddleboard.  I wanted to check this business out before making a $50-$100 purchase.  When we got to Galveston, we found this shop and went in.  Well… I just didn’t have a good feeling about it….  We left.  I’m SO glad we checked them out first. I will mention here, if we had decided we wanted it, we could have either purchased the Groupon on our phone app  while standing there or gone back to the condo and Bargainsused the laptop for a little more security. With Groupons addition of the phone  app, you don’t have to print them, however, in cases where you DO need a printout, most hotels, condos, etc… have business centers with printers you can use.

If  you find something interesting, but still have questions/reservations about it, check the Groupon expiration date.  If you can wait on it, that allows you to check things out before making a non-refundable purchase.


I checked out Groupons for restaurants too, but because we rent condos with kitchens and eat out sparingly, we had already used TripAdvisor to select WHERE we wanted to eat. There were no Groupons for those few places.  ha! I should note though, that Groupons DOES offer good bargains on restaurants if you find something you like.  That’s probably another thing I would wait to purchase until we arrived at our destination…just my personal opinion.

Now for hotels:

I really wanted to find a good hotel on Groupon. This was becoming our “Vacation By Groupon” and I kind of wanted to roll with that theme. Our hotel stays were in Austin, Webster, College Station and Dallas. (Our stay in Galveston was a condo through  VRBO  or it’s sister company Home Away  .   If you’re unfamiliar with  these, find out more info at  Finding Frugal Accommodations….) Anyway, in my search for hotels in these other cities, it seemed that Groupon just didn’t have what I was looking for. The hotels were either not in locations we needed or the rates weren’t any better than I could get going to the individual websites and using my AAA discount.

How Does  Groupon Sell Hotel Rooms:

  1. You purchase the certificate then call the hotel to make your reservations. (You’ll be limited to their availability AFTER you’ve purchased a non-refundable certificate)
  2. You purchase the certificate for the exact date you need.  That would typically be my preference, except with it being non-refundable, that doesn’t allow for any change of plans, emergencies, trip cancellation, etc…

When I realized that the Groupon rate advertised is the CHEAPEST they offer at any time…and typically, the night I needed would be significantly higher, I realized Groupon was NOT going to work for us for accommodations.  Oh well.  I learned some important things in all my searches.  It wasn’t wasted time or effort.  I ended up reserving our hotels on their websites using my AAA discount and got really good rates…and they were refundable if I needed to cancel.

Maybe someday I’ll find that perfect Groupon rate for a wonderful hotel stay…but for now, it just didn’t work.

Moving on…..

Cruising with Groupon:

I DID find some short cruises for really good rates on Groupon.  cruise shipsSomeday I think I’ll look into buying one of those.  They advertise the cruise line, ship and port.  (seemed to be a heavy presence of Carnival cruises…) Then you choose your date.  I never went far enough through the process to find out if you can also choose your cabin (which would be a deal-breaker for me…) because I didn’t want to accidentally make a purchase if I clicked one too many times. haha!  I’ll investigate this further someday….

Until then…Happy Grouponing!!  🙂