Our Favorite Hotel Booking Sites That Have Saved Us Thousands!

Hotels.com This is one of our favorite booking sites. After 10 stays, you get a voucher towards a free stay.

Hotwire Like ‘Priceline’, you can purchase a hotel stay (not knowing the specific hotel) but will spend less than through the individual property.

Booking.com Although this doesn’t have the free 11th night, we have found some good steals here. With multiple bookings, users get a ‘genius discount’ which can be 10% discounts on stays or discounted activities.

Priceline has ‘express deals’ which are discounts at the last minute. If you are not too picky, you can bid on a stay, and get member deals.

Hilton We both have have Hilton branded credit cards and get 12 points per dollar spent. You have to book through their site, but after racking up rewards, splurge and ‘treat yo-self‘.

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Booking Budget Safaris in Africa

I’ve had Africa on the brain lately.

Last month, I finished booking and paying for the first 2 months of our trip in Eastern Europe, so East Africa was next. I wrote earlier how I essentially got a free flight down to Dar Es Salaam and now we are working on logistics around how to spend our time there. Ava wants to see a rhinoceros. Lisa wants to lounge around Zanzibar. I just want to see them happy.

If I could book and pay for the first four months of our trip, sticking to our budget would be infinity easier. However, Africa has its challenges. Overland travel and local transport forces you to mix and mingle with locals and bag snatching and pickpocketing are much more common than the relative safety of East Asia and we had the safety of our nine old to consider. I remember years ago stepping off a small minibus into the shady outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique at night and practically getting mobbed. On our trip, we’d be heading through Nairobi (known as ‘Nairobbery’ by the locals) and were contesting how to weigh long, overland budget friendly bus trips with time saving, more expensive flights.

The great migration

The problem is cost. Africa is expensive. Years ago we did a 3 week safari through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and for 1 booze fueled night, Zambia. At the time, the price tag was one that school teachers could afford. Now, going into the bush costs a kings ransom. Inflation and paying park rangers a wage that is not usurped by kickbacks from poachers has put game parks almost out of reach. Almost.

Our lonely planet had a gamut of tour providers whom I wrote with our rough date in a generic, bcc email. Soon, my inbox was flooded by high end operators offering $6,000-$7,000 one week trips for the family. We wanted to see the Serengeti and Masai Mara and it wasn’t coincidence that our timing in East Africa would be during the great migration of huge herds of game crossing the landscape. However, one site became invaluable in the process: safaribooking.com

The Dashboard

Googling ‘African Safaris’ led me to independent companies, but Safaribooking.com compares hundreds of safaris at once. Typing in your prospective country, dates and people in your party then lists hundreds of safaris and from there, filtering options pop up such as cost per day, private or group tours, customer ratings and most importantly, budget options.

I was glad to find some safaris that were $700 per person per 1 week safari (75% of that amount for the child) which was just short of my squealing point. I really hope Ava sees her rhino.

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How to Travel with Cats on a Long Flight (Avoiding a Cat-tasrophy’)

It’s 12:30 am and I can’t sleep.

The first night of sleep after flying across the ocean is usually a good one, but not tonight. We arrived at LAX at 1:30 yesterday afternoon and after a long wait for luggage, ambled out of the arrivals gate, up the ramp and into the arms of my parents. We left the airport at 3:30 pm and right into choked arteries of LA traffic, slowing us down with its accidents, gawkers, and predicable rush hour hoopla that governs life in La-La land. An otherwise 1 hour trip took us 2 and half hours. Ugh.

Leaving Seoul at 8:40 pm (with no sleep on the flight) meant by the time we were home safe in LA meant we were awake for 20 hours. Add 4 more by the time we went to bed. The first sleep after being so sleep deprived usually feels best with the following nights giving way to waking up early, but gradually later and later: 3 am, 4 am, then 5 am and then you’re on a new time zone. But it’s 12:30 in the morning now, with nothing but late night TV to entertain me in the background while I type. Left wing pundits clucking on Donald Trump’s indiscretions, ‘Superbad’ with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill (which never gets old) and the equally disgusting and fascinating ‘Dr. Pimple Popper’. Ugh.

There is cause for celebration amidst the background talk of impeachment, green beer and lipomas. We successfully brought our cats to LA and to their new home for the next 18 months. We were secretly dreading the trip as we didn’t know how our four legged friends would be on a such a long flight, and thought our surrounding passengers would stage a mutiny if their cat calls proved unbearable, but through a little planning we did it. Here’s how:

  • Buying a soft-sided cat carrier that was airline approved.
  • Booking way in advance to find a carrier that would allow for pets.
  • Taking the cats on longer and longer drives around the neighborhood (and eventually to Costco on a shopping trip) to get them accustomed to their travel carriers.
  • On the morning of travel, giving them a big breakfast and then withdrawing food to minimizing urination and defecation.

Taking them through the airport was a trip. The clerk at the check in desk got it started:

“Are these Korean cats?” He led in with the pleasantries you give passengers in our shoes. It struck me as odd that someone would think that cats as having a nationality. Obviously not a pet owner.

“Yes, we adopted them 3 years ago when they were living on the street.” I smiled back. “We are taking them to their new home.”

“But these are Korean cats?”

“Yes, they meow only in Korean and we worry if they’ll be accepted by American peers.”

When we got to security, we faced our second test, having to take them out of their carriers and carry them through the X-ray machine while sending their carriers through the carry on bag car wash. I thought that the chaos and noise would cause the poor pussies to freak out, bolt, forcing us to chase them through the customs hall with local Koreans taking selfies with us in the background to show their support.

Instead, they were really cool and with the cacophony of over stimulus, were more than eager to retreat back to the relative safety and familiarity of their cubicles and under the seats for a 10 hour flight.

Under seats 46 J and K

My parents were more than kind to welcome them to their new quarters by festooning their new room with a litter box, a food dish and two sleeping beds. For the first evening, we kept them in their rooms, trying to entice them out from under the bed to explore their new home.

Luckily, we have the holidays to spend with them to get them accustomed to their new surroundings before saying a long goodbye. With parents that are vets, I know they’ll be in good hands. I started taking stock of my work tasks over the holiday and thought it might be a good time to develop our youtube page. On a related note, I saw that ‘Dr. Pimple Popper‘ makes 1.4 million dollars a year on her channel. Ugh.

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To My Beautiful Ava on her 9th Birthday

Today I woke up to your sweet kisses and warm hugs. As with most mornings, you came to snuggle me awake before school, shimmying your little body under the heavy covers to warm up next to me. As I blinked awake, your sweet smile filled my sleepy eyed view and you whispered that you wished we could just lie in bed together all day, with breaks for a snack and lunch of course. You exclaimed that we could just pull the covers over our head and we could just chat and laugh and read together all day. I will always cherish this morning ritual and can only hope that it will continue for as long as it can, but your childhood seems to be slipping away so quickly, as with every passing day, little flashes of your pre-teen persona begin to emerge and take the place of my little baby girl.

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Crafting at the International Food Festival in Itaewon

Your 8th journey around the sun started with a trip to Los Angeles for Christmas with the family, which is so important to you. You cherish every moment that you have with your family, knowing that our time together is often short. You also have a true love for all things Christmas and you were ready to start decorating and playing Christmas songs before the Summer was even over.

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Presenting to the Elementary as a Student Counsel Member

Winter found you hitting the slopes and you took part in an International Ski festival, where you were challenged by the giant slalom, but even though you are still a novice skier you stepped up to the challenge and your momma cried as I watched you swoosh down the hill to a 5th place finish, your grit and determination shining through. You also competed in your 3rd triathlon and you even inspired your daddy to join you in training and participating in the event. I love that you take on these little challenges and you are always up for trying something new.

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Getting Ready for a Whale Shark Snorkel, Leyte Island Philippines

This was your first summer in the US (since you were a little tot) and within days of your arrival we packed your bags and sent you off to Catalina Island Camps for a week of Summer camp fun. It is no surprise that you came back back with a bag full of dirty clothes, sun drenched skin and a deep desire for everything camp, you’re certainly our kid! The rest of your summer was spent hanging out with your cousin Aurora, making great big globs of slime, camping, eating popsicles, and going on picnics. Another highlight of your summer was getting up close and personal with the local manta rays and dolphins on the big island of Hawaii. You giggled with delight as the mantas tickle your tummy while they somersaulted before our eyes. I am not sure how many other kids would be brave enough to jump into the deep, dark ocean to swim with such giant creatures, but like I said you really are our kid.

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Marketing her new cereal, “Kitty Crunches”

If this year had a theme, it would be “pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.” You came home from camp singing this song and it really does fit your gregarious personality. Your life continues to be full of song, and you are really finding your voice. You love to be outside and you persist as an advocate for animals and the environment. You are a voracious reader, with books about science, graphic novels and Garfield being some of your favorites. You are a proud member of student council and you are really finding your leadership niche at school.

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Taking a Gondola at the Taipei Zoo

This year more than ever, you have been trying to find a sense of home. On several occasions you have asked “Mommy, where am I from” and we have had many conversations about the variety of possible answers you can give. I know that the answer to this question will be ever evolving as you grow up as a child of the world. During our Fall trip to Mongolia, we had the chance to stay with several Nomadic families that move their home every season and there was a lot to learn from that beautiful experience. So as we stand together on the precipice of your 9th year on this earth, let’s embrace the wise words of our nomadic hosts:

“Home is where the fire is”

“Learn to live as part of the environment and let it be your teacher”

“Learn from living together in small spaces”

“When you first arrive to a new place, be sure to reach down and say hello to the land first.”

May this year be filled with warmth and love, family and friends, laughter and adventure, enlightenment and knowledge. With love baby girl.

                                                                                                      – Your Mommy

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I Booked $2,000 of Flights for $100. Here’s How:

It’s humbling to learn things at middle age that change your life forever.

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Driving Lambos in Rome: Summer 2017

My latest one came two years ago, when an unsuspecting staff member, Nate Samuelson changed my life when he opened my eyes to the world of credit card rewards for hotels and travel. Since then, we’ve enjoyed stays at 5 star resorts for free, snagged free flights, and also taken advantage of unique experiences such as driving a lamborghini around Rome while staying at the Waldorf Astoria. (Both for free)

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The Chase Dashboard. Click ‘Redeem Rewards’ to travel to partners to book free travel.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card

It wouldn’t be possible without the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. When you charge travel related costs to it, you’ll garner 3X points per dollar spent which you can transfer to travel partners or redeem for cash.

Chase Dashboard
Book travel with points and $, or transfer to travel partners.

After the first two months of our trip in Eastern Europe, we’re deciding to head to East Africa to visit friends, do some diving, take a safari, and volunteer at an orphanage. I was pleasantly surprised that I could use points to book at trip from Budapest to Dar Es Salaam for 30,000 points a person. Although we do get frequent flyer miles when we fly, my credit card earns many more points on a monthly basis which can then be transferred to miles which saves us money in the long run.

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Booking reward travel through my United Mileage Plus Account after transferring points. Here, I can snag a $650 flight for 30,000 points and $39.

Using credit cards to earn travel rewards is a game, and like any game, you have to learn how to play it. A couple of points:

  • Pay your credit card off every month and don’t run up debt as it has high interest payments. 
  • For reward travel, you’ll have to book well in advance. Dates for reward travel may start as far out as 6 months from your intended flight time. 
  • There is a $450 annual fee, but after paying this, $300 travel related expenses will be deducted from your charge, so it’s really a $150 annual fee. 
  • This comes with ‘Priority Pass’ membership which gives you access to 1000 airline lounges around the world and with that, free food and drink. 
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The final butcher’s bill: $119 for three one way flights.
CityPASS

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