Category Archives: Airline Travel

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent…

The calendar says it’s Summer but the weather here is San Francisco is a little too brisk to even consider wearing shorts or running through the sprinklers.  I’m pretty used to it after spending four summers shivering through Fourth of July fireworks and craving heart soups instead of light salads while the rest of the country basks in sun.  But having spent my whole childhood sweating through 100 degree temps, hosing myself in the backyard and laying on top of the comforter listening to the hum of the air conditioner at night, I still find myself checking the weather expecting to see the optimistic sun graphic in the ten day forecast.

It’s around the end of June that I start craving real Summer.  I head down to Manteca to get my 15 minutes of relentless heat (all I can really handle before I’m pining for the cool breezes of SF) under the guise of visiting my parents.  I convince Roem to take a Zipcar across the Golden Gate to warmer pastures; intent on getting my monthly dose of Vitamin D.  Sometimes though, it all gets to be too much.  I need some time on a beach without wearing a sweatshirt.  I need the freckles across my nose to return in all their spotted glory from winter hibernation.  I need a good excuse to read trashy books without hiding them behind more studious covers.  I need sun in 12 hour cycles.

So last month, Roem and I discussed some possible summer destinations on our rather meager vacation budget.  I originally had my heart set on a European adventure but quickly decided that spending $1,500 a plane ticket for a 9 day trip just wouldn’t work for us.  Even with visions of freshly baked baguettes, runny stinky cheeses and glorious picnics in Provence, I couldn’t justify it.  We tend to budget our trips based on a daily price tag, so $3,000 in airfare over three months wouldn’t be inconceivable at $33 a day, but $333 a day is way over our daily price point.  Unfortunately, due to increased gas prices, extra flight surcharges and a decrease in capacity from the airlines, flights this Summer are more expensive than ever.

I am not a patient person by nature but I took a deep breath and waited. When you are working with a small budget, it’s never a good idea to have a single destination in mind because in the end your budget will pick the location.  So I compulsively checked airfarewatchdog.com for possible sales and read every blog online looking for deals.  I included previously dismissed locations like Hawaii, the Carribean and even a few locations within the continental US.  And finally a few weeks ago, I came across cheap tickets to Mexico that were $450 inclusive of taxes and fees bringing us to a reasonable $100 per day flight budget.

Street food near the bus station in Playa del Carmen.

You may recall that last year for our honeymoon, we traveled to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.  The only destination we traveled to in Mexico on that trip was Playa del Carmen and, while beautiful, it wasn’t really our style.  It was perfect for our relaxing, luxurious honeymoon but we still yearned for the more authentic side of Mexico we only caught glimpses of during that trip.  For this trip, we consulted the well traveled foodies over at Tacolicious for some advice.  They showered us with recommendations for beautiful guest houses, amazing resturants and great off the beaten track attractions.  It wasn’t long before our flight into Mexico City and out of Puerto Vallarta was booked for the first week of July.

Our itinerary will include a few days in Mexico City, then a bus to San Miguel de Allende, another bus to Guanajuato, and an overnight bus to Puerto Vallarta with our final destination being Sayulita.  It’s a full itinerary but with our main objective being to stuff our faces with as many street tacos, fresh seafood and authentic mole as we can find, I think we will be in good shape (or not, based on aforementioned taco consumption).  So any thoughts/suggestions/admonishments for us?  Have you been to these locations?  And most importantly, where do you recommend we eat?

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Filed under Airline Travel, Lifestyle, Mexico, San Francisco, Travel, Uncategorized

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Finding the Finances

When we first started talking about planning a wedding, we set our budget at a modest $5,000.  I had visions of a self catered, do it yourself affair with plenty of cash left over for a lavish, European honeymoon.  As Roem and I discussed our ideal wedding, I started adding up costs in my head.  Let’s just say that modest budget was doubled once we added in a photographer, my dream dress, and paying people to do a few things that were causing me to dissolve into tears on a regular basis.

Photo by: Karen Ling

I had my heart set on a romantic and extravagant honeymoon, and I was despondent over the fact we might not get to jet off anywhere.  Traveling is so much a part of our lives that I really wanted to take a trip and connect with my new husband.  We talked a bit about a destination wedding but knew it would put a strain on some our loved ones we really wanted to be there.  So we began planning the wedding and I put away whatever extra money I could into a savings account with all the optimism I could muster.

A few months before we were set to tie the knot I revisited the idea of a honeymoon.  Our reserve savings account had grown to about $2,000 after accounting for unforeseen wedding expenses.  I wasn’t tied to any one location and I was determined to plan a kick a$$ trip on a small budget with a few luxurious touches, even if it was in my own backyard.  After scouring the web for good deals, I spotted a 48 hour sale on flights to Mexico with tickets running about $300 each.

I love Mexico, but I hesitated to go there because I really wanted something a little more exotic and adventurous.  On a whim, I check flights into Cancun and out of Guatemala City, a place I had always wanted to visit.  Turns out the open jaw ticket was even a little cheaper than a round trip to Cancun, so I quickly purchased them before putting together a complete itinerary.  I think it’s always a good idea to act a bit impetuously when booking travel.  If you’ve done your research, then you will know a good price range for your ticket. That way you can act quickly when you find a deal, as chances are it will sell out fast.

I knew our meager budget wouldn’t cover our whole trip, especially with Roem requesting more luxurious accommodations than our usual budget hotel or hostel.  I did some research on virtual honeymoon registries  and finally decided to sign up for honeyfund.  I was a little nervous about how our guests would respond to this, but I liked honeyfund because it allowed guests to purchase “experiences” for you instead of just sending a paypal payment.  We set up our website with lots of different price points and added things like romantic dinners, casual meals on the beach, cave tubing and even hotels to our registry.  We personalized the site and wrote about our philosophy on travel and our plans for the trip.  The response from our guests was overwhelming.  Everyone from my Grandma to my Parents, loved the online registry and we had to scramble to add items because of everyone’s generosity.

You can check out our registry for ideas here: http://www.honeyfund.com/wedding/amberandroem

Sneak preview of our blissed out faces on our honeymoon.

We started plotting the route and decided to spend a few days on the beach in Cancun before heading to the border and crossing into Belize and ending up in Guatemala for our flight back home.  I began searching for some budget-friendly stops along the way before I passed off the research to Roem.  It was hard to give up some of the control, but I knew I was overwhelmed and really couldn’t deal with another thing on my plate.  As we approached the one month out mark, I revisited the honeymoon and started booking what would be one of the most amazing trips we would take together.

Next up:

Planning a Budget Honeymoon: Affordable Luxury

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Filed under Adventure, Airline Travel, Belize, Guatemala, Honeymoon, Mexico, Travel

How to Eat Your Way Through Seattle: Part 1

Every time I want to go somewhere I add the destination to my Airfarewatchdog feed and wait until the next deal pops up.  As this past weekend lasted a full three days, I knew I wanted to take a trip somewhere and Portland was near the top of my list, mostly because I spend way too much time on this site.  The sheer number of amazing breweries and other beer related experiences is ridiculously awesome.  The problem was tickets for President’s Day weekend were $300+ and there is no way this bargain traveler could justify that, even for beer.  Instead I noticed a ridiculously amazing deal for tickets to Seattle for $110 round trip and I began dreaming of coffee, rain and flying fish.

Roem’s been busy recording his album which means I see his inert form before I go to work and hear his key in the door at some insane time in the wee hours of the morning.  My dreams of a romantic weekend away were dashed after

The Vintage Park Hotel is a great place to stay despite the fact they stock leopard print robes and name each room after a Washington Vineyard.

looking at his production schedule before SXSW, so I shelved my plans after some minimal pouting.  But I just couldn’t let it go completely and I continued to check the flight schedule, incredulous that the tickets remained insanely cheap.  Finally about two weeks ago, I convinced my sister to join me on a girls’ weekend away after a few homebrews.  We also persuaded BFF Courtney to come along and booked our ticket along with a 4 star hotel on Priceline we scored with an $85 bid.

Friday night we got into Seattle around 11:30 pm and easily made our way to the hotel via the Link which cost us about $2 each.  Seattle has us at hello with its clean, reliable and cheap mass transit.  We ended up taking the bus and monorail all weekend and I have nothing but positive reviews for the system.  Cabs are pretty cheap so if it’s freezing and/or raining it’s definitely a worthwhile splurge but we were able to cover diverse areas of the city on the bus for around $10 for three days.  We were also lucky enough to have beautiful weather and comfortable shoes, so getting around was easy on the budget.

Saturday morning we started our day off with a recommendation from the doormen at the hotel.  I rarely trust concierage advice on the must see destinations in any city because I prefer off the beaten path attractions and they are usually catering to a different clientele.  The guys chatting us up in the lobby were young and opioniated with definite ideas on what we should see our first hours in Seattle.  They shot down our plan to visit a local coffee chain and directed us instead to Stumpstown Coffee in Capitol Hill and advised us to then head over to Cafe Presse next door for breakfast.

As seasoned urban walkers, we took on the challenge of a 30 minute walk with bravado.  By the time we reached Stumpstown we were freezing and in need of major caffeine.  The coffee there is ridiculously good.  April and I opted for the individual, Chemex brewed, single origin coffee, while Courtney ordered an iced latte.   I tried the Burundi brew sourced from West Africa and it was a medium bodied roast with a rich mouthfeel and lots of body.  Courtney claimed her latte was the best she had ever had and as a former barista, the woman knows her coffee.  Stumpstown Coffee also has locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn so those may on my next travel itinerary.

After we were foritfied with caffeine, we headed to Cafe Presse for some much needed sustenance.  Committed to

Eating our meal took precedent over taking pictures, but you get the idea.

sampling as much food as possible during our short trip, we opted to split most meals three ways.  This was logistically challenging at times but guaranteed we were able to try an outrageous variety of food without being completely glutonous.  For breakfast we ordered two eggs broiled with ham and gruyere, a croque monsieur and pain au chocolate.  The broiled eggs were perfectly cooked and delicious in their simplicity.  The croque monsieur had lovely caramelized bits on the broiled, creamy bechamel sauce while still maintaining the  integrity of the bread and was the perfect foil for the salty ham with the sharp, creamy cheese.  The pain au chocolate was high quality, bittersweet chocolate on a crunchy baguette that was pure heaven with the medium bodied drip coffee from Caffe Vita.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with our friend Emily, a recent transplant to Tacoma from the Bay Area.  She took us through the Pike Market and we snapped the obligatory pictures of the sights.  I’m not going to say the market is overrated, but I probably wouldn’t tour it again on a Saturday.  After the market, Courtney used her librarian skills to take us on a tour of the Public Library and it was a perfect diversion from the nonstop eating with an amazing view on the 10th floor.

When Rick (my brother in law) suggested we head to Serious Pie for lunch, we decided to dive right in.  If you go anywhere in Seattle, please make it Serious Pie and order the Yukon Gold Potato, Rosemary and Pecorino pizza.  The crust is perfectly thin with good charring and the toppings were well seasoned and flavorful.  We also tried the pizza with sweet fennel sausage, roasted peppers and provolone and the rich, well devleoped toppings were heaven on that crust.  If you do visit Serious Pie, do me a favor and order the yellowfoot chanterelle and truffle pizza, as it smelled ridiculously good and just sounds like Seattle to me.

April and I had the Schooner Exact King St. Brown Ale while Emily and Courtney went for the Spire Mountain Cider. The Schooner Brown Ale is a medium bodied, brown ale with nice caramel notes and a balanced hop aroma.  The Spire Mountain Cider poured a beautiful liquid gold color, and tasted rendolent of crisp, sweet apples balanced with dry acidity and medium carbonation.  It was so good, I have a cider fermenting in my primary right now trying to reproduce that perfect balance.

Our hotel offered a complimentary wine tasting, so we finished up our day with some wine by the fireplace followed with a rest before dinner.  We decided to again take Rick’s advice and head to Bathtub Gin and Co. in Belltown for an illicit cocktail in a speakeasy behind an unmarked door.  A group of guys graciously offered us the open seats at the bar and we had some of the most delicious, expertly made drinks I have had the pleasure of drinking.  They were every bit as good as Bourbon and Branch but about half the price.  Between the well mannered men, strong cocktails and affordable luxuries, I was swiftly becoming a huge fan of Seattle.

We headed from Bellmont back to Capitol Hill for dinner at a popular gastropub called Quinn’s.  After learning there was an hour wait, we skipped Quinn’s and went a few blocks up to Boom Noodles as we were all starving.  We started with the five spice pork buns and all ordered bowls of steaming noodles.   All the dishes we tried were good but none were outstanding.   I had the pork ramen and it was better than some bowls I’ve tried in San Francisco, but not better than my go to spot, Genki Ramen.  It did fortify us after the strong cocktails and we really didn’t have any complaints.  Full, drowsy and satisfied we headed back to the hotel and introduced Courtney to the TV show/train wreck known as Cheaters.

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Filed under Airline Travel, Beer, Food, Lifestyle, Seattle, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine

Pollo Loco

Sitting in the airport is like waiting to be born.

All this anticipation for your destination, circumvented by the most unnatural travel experience you’ll possibly experience in this life.

Hurdling through the sky, pushing through the clouds, yanking away your Trader Joe’s fair trade coffee and lox bagels, your San Franciscan sustainable sustainessness, and slapping a tray of individually wrapped, hydrated treats and sky-meats.

“Do you want the chicken or the beef?  I’ve only got one chicken left,” asked the hurried stewardess, rolling up, and pressing for a decision, hands at the ready on either side of her waist high flight case kitchen.

Wait.  One chicken?  What does this mean?

Instantly I had so many questions.  My brain went berserk as I had never been given this information about the other passengers orders before.  Who orders the Chicken?  Who doesn’t?  Does White Haired Lady with Glasses reading SkyMall order Chicken?  The good looking Italian couple in front of me?  Chicken?  Business Suit stuck in coach waiting for an upgrade?  No, they definitely ordered the Beef.  I’m almost sure.  Maybe I should ask them?  Holy crap.  I’ve never asked a stranger on a plane before.  So many individual decisions about 2 dishes!  I’m losing my mind.

Red or Blue?

Decaf or Regular?

Up or Down?

CHICKEN OR BEEEEEEEF???!!

WHO DOES THIS TO A PERSON WHO’S BEEN BREATHING RECYCLED FARTS FOR THE LAST HOUR?!

I can’t think.

Here I am, at 500 miles per hour and suddenly at risk of being another statistic, just another Chicken-dish, but I AM NOT.  I’m not saying I’m Beef-dish, I’m not saying I’m either.  I’m an individual.  Just like everyone else, with one exception.  I brought my own earbuds and I know there’s ONLY 1 CHICKEN DISH LEFT.

So I go right to the heart of the issue and ask the one question that I’m sure will out me ask a travel gourmet rookie.  (Note to self: Re-up my subscription to “Bon FlyVant”.)

“Why do you only have one chicken?  Is it better?” I ask.

I think I felt the entire jet sigh.  People began to turn and look at us.  Feeling the eyeballs made the Flight Attendant visibly nervous, as if my question might spark a Chicken-dish mutiny 23,456 feet above Buckeye, Arizona, she took a deep breath, regained her composure in a second, and turned to look at me with deadly calm.

“I have one chicken because the other passengers preferred chicken.” She replied, both a matter-of-factly, and mathematically.

Gripping myself with fear over where I know I needed to now take this, I calmly pressed on.  Into the heart of the Beast, Captain!

“Hmm.  Do you like the beef?” I asked, telling myself I’m not trying to be difficult, but if I’m about to imbibe a meal at 20,000 feet, I should treat it like it may be my last.

She looked at me puzzled.  Could it be no one had ever asked this before?  Then her glaze turned from mine for a second…

“I’ll have the chicken.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, a voice interjects, interrupting my hostile negotiation.  My wife leans over, earbud in hand, across my lap, just arriving at the conversation, either too hungry to care, too impatient, or not realizing the brevity of the 2 choices.

“The Chicken, please.”  And then smiles at me, leans back, puts her Airline branded earbuds back in her ears, her nose in her book and her tray down.

My jaw is on the floor (or the persons fully reclined seat in front of me.)  I’m in a state of shock.

I look back at her as if she just gave away my secret handshake and watch as the “chicken-plate” flies across my face, ever so slowly, the flight attendent taking just a moment to pause under my nose with the scrumptious hot Chicken-dish bubbling under plastic like some gourmet science experiment and smelling ever so… well, like chicken.

There was only one thing to do now.

“I’ll have the beef!” I pronounce, ignoring the painful envy of the last Chicken-dish sitting only 6 inches from me (which is about 3 feet in Coach inches) smiling at the single serving saleswoman, who rolls her eyes and asks…

“To drink? I only have one Ginger Ale.”

Hmmm.

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Filed under Airline Travel, Food, Travel, Uncategorized