Visiting Aruba

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Mondays are the bad but Mondays after vacation are even worse. All I want right now is the sun and some sand but I’m stuck here in my office. Ok, enough of the sob story I want to tell you about Aruba! When deciding on which Caribbean Island to choose next we landed on Aruba since we loved Curacao so much and they are neighbors. We were not disappointing. Aruba has amazingly warm water, great snorkeling, and so much more.

We chose to stay at Costa Esmeralda Village in Noord. It turned out to be the perfect home-base. It was new, clean, and very reasonably priced. We split the two bed/two bath apartment with another couple and came in under $100 a night.

While Aruba does have some high rise hotels you could still get away from the hustle and bustle and find beaches where there were only a few families.

The food in Aruba was unsurprisingly expensive but there were so many options to choose from you could find reasonable meals. We especially loved the Dutch Pancake houses which usually only ran us about $12 a meal. Plus our apartment had a kitchen so we could easily make meals there and save a few bucks.

We attended the Bon Bini festival that is held every Tuesday night and had mixed reviews. Overall I’m glad we went but I can’t lie, I was a little bored during some of it. The reason it is still worth it to go is you get to learn a lot about Aruba’s culture and history. They even teach you some of the language so for the rest of our vacation I was able to say thank you, hello, good morning, etc. in Papiamento to the locals.

One of my favorite activities in Aruba was our ATV day. We rented ATV’s for a day from Justin’s Car & ATV Rental. We thought we had seen most the island, but we were way wrong. On the ATV’s we completely circled the island and went places you can’t get to by car. We were able to visit the beautiful Natural Pool and explore some ancient caves.

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A huge highlight to the trip was the diving. Ryan FINALLY got his diver’s license and so we got to go together for the first time in Aruba. We went with Happy Diver’s and glad we did. They were professional, got us to the dive spots before anyone else, and included everything in the price(even photos!). We got to dive along the Arashi reef and see tons of sea turtles and sting rays but the best part was diving to see the Antilles ship that was sunk over 70 years ago.

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The snorkeling in Aruba was great. It took us awhile to figure out which beaches were best and where to go on those beaches but once we did it was great. I will do a more detailed post later on the beaches on Aruba.

Overall it was a great trip. I would definitely recommend Aruba. I wish I was still there sitting on the beach after a long snorkel drinking a pina colada.

 

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Hotel vs. Airbnb

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Shared economy is all the rage lately. With companies like Uber, Airbnb, VRBO, Lyft, Homeaway and so much more the travel industry is really changing. Today I want to share the major differences between using Airbnb(or similar entities) vs. staying at a hotel.

  1. Cultural Immersion – If you are someone who wants to blend in to the destination you are traveling to Airbnb is for you. Most likely you will have a kitchen and will need to go to the local grocery store and stop by the local coffee shop. You really live like a local when staying at an Airbnb. If you are a traveler who is more in need of a front desk person to assist you and answer your questions you may want to go with a hotel.
  2. Flexibility – This can be a case by case basis but for the most part hotels are more flexible. Most hotels have a 24/7 front desk where you can check in any time and get help at any time. When renting from Airbnb, while there are exceptions, you will have to arrange how to get in to your rented home and often times you are at the mercy of your host.
  3. Amenities – If you are looking for an onsite bar, room-service, concierge, continental breakfast, and more a hotel is probably the choice for you. If you are looking for a specific amount of rooms or must have a private hot tub Airbnb might be the way to go. Also, take note that Airbnb does not generally have cleaning services.
  4. Price – While both hotels and Airbnb heavily depend on location and amenities there are some differences. Airbnb will most likely save you money in the food department if you are willing to cook. Most Airbnbs have a kitchen allowing you to make some of your own meals. You do however need to be careful when browsing for a place to stay. Most of the shared homes website show one price and after you click to reserve they add on cleaning fees, taxes, and misc. fees. While hotels do this sometimes as well I’ve found the home shares to be much bigger differences.

Vietnam

It has taken me forever but I have finally put together a video of my trip to Vietnam. I absolutely loved Vietnam from the people to the scenery and especially the food!

 

 

Any Aruba Advice?

11666178_10155685765350447_8623056202698739467_nWe are headed to Aruba in 17 days and I cannot wait. With my home-base being in the Seattle area March is always the hardest month. It’s the last month of the cold and rainy season but it just seems to drag on. I need a little sun and warmth in my life and I think Aruba will do just the trick.

We chose Aruba because we had gone to Curacao last year and were amazed by the clearest blue water we have ever seen. We’ve been itching to go back to this part of the Caribbean ever since. We have booked an apartment to share with two friends who are coming with us and we rented a car for the week.

I’m looking for any must dos/eats from people who have visited Aruba. So please tell me, what should we make sure not to miss?

Eating in Kauai

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Over the holidays I took a trip to Kauai. It was gorgeous, warm, and sunny. One major varying aspect was the food. It seemed every restaurant we went to was either really bad or really good. If you’re headed to Kauai any time soon here is my advice on food.

If you are renting a place with a kitchen make sure to hit up Costco for your groceries. They have some great deals compared to many other stores in the area. Another tip for Costco is their snack bar. Food in Kauai is expensive so paying $2.00 for a slice of pizza and a drink is an amazing deal!

Make sure to “check-in” on yelp.com at any restaurants you eat at. We found at least 5 different coupons and deals if you did this.

For breakfast we often stopped at Safeway and went to their deli counter where they made breakfast sandwiches for only $2.50.

Here were our favorite restaurants on the island:

Street Burger – This was such a welcomed meal after a few days of no luck. They have great burgers(and veggie burgers) with fresh ingredients. They even made their ketchup in house! After a long day of swimming and playing in the sun this was a welcomed treat.

Kauai Beer Company – It’s not just about the beer here. Kauai Beer Company has a decently sized menu for a “beer place”. Their food was really great and the service even better.

Duke’s– Duke’s is definitely a staple in Kauai. It has very mixed reviews but we really enjoyed the experience. The service was top notch and we both really loved the salad bar. Not only the good food and service but it has a fun atmosphere with views of the beach. This is a great last night in paradise meal.

Hula Girl – Perfect place to grab breakfast. Hula girl makes delicious stuffed croissants. I recommend asking her to heat it up for you making them extra tasty.

Did you eat at a restaurant in Kauai that you loved? Please share!

 

Best Chicago Eats

I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. At 18 I went to Idaho for college and ended up moving to the pacific northwest after graduating. There’s a lot I love about Chicago, but food might be my number 1. I’ll admit I love food… some might even say I have an obsession, but the food in Chicago is just amazing. Here are my favorite places to grab a bite in Chicago:

Lou Malnati’s – I’ve done a post all about Chicago pizza here but I still needed to mention it in this post. Pizza is the first thing I think of when I think of Chicago food. The deep dish butter crust garlic and tomato pizza from Lou Malnati’s with a house salad to start and a giant Diet Coke to be exact. Do NOT I repeat do NOT miss out on trying Lou Malnati’s while in Chicago.
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Portillo’s – Portillo’s has start to spread outside of Chicago but is still primarily found there. Portillo’s is a unique restaurant where often there are two counters one for the original Portillo’s where you can order Italian beef, burgers, hot dogs, etc and another counter called Barnelli’s where you can order salads, pasta, etc. Everything here is so good and the amount of people in the restaurant will attest to that. While often very busy they are quick to get your order out and there’s always enough seating. My top recommendations of items to try: Italian beef, chopped salad, chocolate cake shake, burger and fries.
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Julie Ann’s – If you haven’t tried frozen custard yet this is a must. Think of ice cream but extra soft and creamy. Julie Anns knows what they’re doing. They have tons of differnt mix ins and toppings for you to add. You will not be disappointed.
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Garrett’s – Garrett’s is the place to get Chicago Mix popcorn. Chicago mix is cheese popcorn and carmel popcorn mixed. And while that may sound like an odd combination try it and you will love it. It is messy so make sure to grab an extra napkin or two.
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 Flat Top Grill – Flat top is my favorite place to get Mongolian style food. Once you get your table you will be brought a bowl which you take up to the counter and add the ingredients you want, mix the sauce you’d like, and hand it over to the chef. You can then watch as they grill up your food and plate it. This is a great place for people with allergies or food restrictions. They are very conscious of this and give plenty of alternatives.
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How To Get And Use Airline Miles

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You hear about miles all the time. I know before I used them I thought they were a waste. It seemed like it took forever to get enough miles to go anywhere decent and the process was confusing. Well now that I have used miles for a few years I understand a lot more about them and see the value in them.  Here is my guide on how to get and use airline miles.

  1. Research credit cards – Gaining miles is all about the credit card. Research each of the different cards and look for the one giving the best sign-up reward. Usually the best deals are sign up and get 50,000 miles after spending $3,000 in three months. If you don’t see any cards giving away 50,000 miles sit back and wait because they will put that offer out again soon. My personal favorite miles card is the United MileagePlus card. It’s flexible, I haven’t found a place where it won’t get me, free baggage, and I got 50,000 miles when I signed up.
  2.  Use that credit card for everything – Once you have a credit card use it for everything. I use my credit card for every purchase I have. I also PAY IT OFF WEEKLY. Most cards require you to spend for example $3,000 in 3 months in order to receive the sign-up miles. This is easy when you use your credit card to buy everything. Rent or mortgage alone will take care of that. This also helps rack up those miles.
  3. Use all benefits of the credit card – Don’t forget to look in to the other benefits with your miles card. For instance most have a reward where if you book any travel with that card you get to check one bag free. Some cards give you access to their clubs once a year and who knows what else you might find.
  4. Research cost(in miles) of flights – Once you have the card look at how many miles it takes to get somewhere you’d like to go. This way you know how many miles you need to save up.
  5. Purchasing flights using miles – Once you have a place and an idea of where you want to go purchase(in miles) your flights ASAP. The miles rarely if ever drop on flights. Instead they disappear when that plane is full. Be flexible and look at a calendar view. Many times the price(in miles) drops a lot if you leave a day or to earlier or later and same with return.
  6. What to do if you don’t have enough miles for an upcoming trip – If you would like to purchase a trip but don’t have enough miles consider buying more. If you are just under it may be worth it to purchase that last little bit. If you are significantly under then consider using your miles for a one way flight and purchasing(with money) your flight back.

Hope this helps! If I am missing any tips you know of please share.

St. John, USVI

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I came to the realization the other day that I mention St. John often but I haven’t done a full post on the gorgeous island! I have been to 11 islands in the Caribbean and St. John still stands out to me as one of the best. Here are my top reasons as to why St. John rocks:

1. Easy Access – St. John has a feeling of being off the beaten path yet it isn’t too difficult to get there. The easiest way is to fly in to St. Thomas and take a short ferry ride over to St. John.
2. Less Developed – What I mean by this is the beaches aren’t lined with big fancy resorts. There aren’t any McDonalds and you can find beaches with no one else on them. When I go to a beach I don’t want to be elbow to elbow with other visitors I want to have my own beach or only be sharing it with a few other people. Many times on St. John my family was the only one on the beach. It was great!
3. Less Poverty – Many times when you visit a tropical place you run in to poverty. It always makes me feel bad that I am enjoying a vacation on their lovely island while they are working around the clock to survive. I found St. John to be different. The people there seemed to be enjoying their island as much as I was. We never came across the people begging you to buy their trinkets so they could afford food.
4. Great Snorkeling – St. John is full of great snorkeling locations. One of the coolest is Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay will be crowded during busy season but it’s worth it. The sand is soft and white and the water clear blue. The best part is it has a underwater snorkeling trail. We had a blast following the trail and even saw a barracuda!
5. Rugged – St. John is fun because it can feel rugged. This can be a pro and a con. For instance the roads can be steep and a little scary but it just added to the adventure! At times you feel like you are deep in a jungle or on your own private beach.

St. John in my eyes is the perfect island getaway.

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