Monday, September 26, 2011

Day 2- Folly Beach and Charleston




It was another hot, sunny day in Charleston, perfect for beaching.

Temperatures were still in the mid-eighties when we arrived at Folly Beach at 9:30am. The beach was gorgeous and the water warm…bath tub warm. According to the signs it was 83 degrees. At that temperature, even I joined our group for a dip.

Unfortunately, none of us read the pamphlet handed to us when we paid our $7.00 admission. Included in the information were the meanings of the different flag colours displayed at the life guard stations.

As my husband and I floated lazily in the water, he informed me that there had been a shark attack in South Carolina the week before. Scanning the horizon, my mind skittered over all the shark attack shows featured during last week’s shark week on the Discovery Channel.

Suddenly, my spouse yelled out. Without sympathy, I whack him with my water-noodle until I realize he’s not joking. Soon, three others from our party are also yelling and running for shore. They had all been stung by jelly fish.

Sitting on the beach, I read the pamphlet that informed us a purple flag means “unpleasant stinging marine animals present”. Hmmmmm.

Fortunately, the pain from this particular type of jelly fish sting lasts between ten minutes and an hour and is not overly dangerous. Lifeguards keep bottles of vinegar to pour onto the sting.

Deciding to forego the water, we took long walks down the beach. As the tide advanced, hundreds of jelly fish in all sizes were left stranded to die on shore. Rather sad but I wasn’t going to pick them up with my bare hands to throw them back.

As the temperature rose, we returned to Charleston, stopping at Quiznos Subs to use our half price Groupon purchases.

In Charleston, we visited the two historical homes that were included in our Charleston museum pass. Both the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward-Washington House were interesting. The guides were well informed with both the house’s past inhabitants, history, prominent past guests, furniture and architectural features. The gardens, especially the Heyward-Washington gardens were a joy to meander through.

The houses are about a twenty minute walk from each other but because of the heat, we took the cars. Still, on the short walk from the car to the house we enjoyed peeking through intricate ironwork fences at shady private gardens.

Tip: If you can, walk as much as possible because there is so much to please the eye with the hidden gardens and gorgeous architecture in this area.

The kids decided to stay in and have a pizza that evening while us adults went out for seafood. We first decided to try going to an area called Shem Creek which we were told had a lot of seafood restaurants. It certainly did but it didn’t have the atmosphere we were looking for. We wanted to be able to walk around and soak up the Charleston ambiance after supper but Shem Creek was mostly a busy area with nothing but restaurants by the water.

We drove back into old Charleston. Charleston really seems to come alive at night. After a bit of exploring, we finally decided on the Noisy Oyster. This restaurant was just ok. Because it was later in the evening, there were only a few filled tables but still the service was really slow and the food average. We did thoroughly enjoy the collards which had a tantalizing smoky flavour but the huge seafood pot of crab legs, oysters, clams, potatoes, corn and over-done shrimp was disappointing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day One, Charleston: Museum and The Battery





Our first full day in Charleston was sunny and hot, hot, hot (96 degrees). It was Sunday and very quiet in town. I don’t know if it was due to the heat or the day of the week.

Two adult couples and four boys, ages 12, 12, 15 and 16 made up our group.

We introduced ourselves to the city with a visit to the beautifully air-conditioned Visitors Centre where we collected pamphlets and discount coupons then paid a small fee to watch a movie about Charleston. The movie was actually more of a forty minute Charleston advertisement.

After a quick lunch we explored the Charleston Museum which was right across the street from the Visitors Centre. Parking is free at the museum lot if you are a customer.

We pre-purchased a package from Groupon which included admission to the museum, The Joseph Manigault House (located across the street) and the Heyward-Washington House. Normally it’s a deal to buy the package at the museum, but it became a real steal when we found it for less than half the package price on one of the internet group couponing web sites.

The museum, which is America’s oldest museum (founded 1773) was a real treat. It showcased a variety of exhibits of both cultural and natural history including Civil War, Military, Southeastern prehistoric animals and Southern decorative arts. The interactive exhibits were as interesting for adults as they were for kids. My friend and I probably had the most fun trying on the Southern belle hoop skirts.

Over two hours later, we emerged from the Charleston Museum back into the heat. We opted to leave the two historic houses for later in the week since our museum combo tickets offered the flexibility of touring the sites on different days.

It was refreshment time so we pulled out our half price Groupons for ice cold smoothies. Perfect.

Tip: With kids, regular stops for food and refreshments are imperative to a happy touring day.

Normally we would have walked to Battery Park but with the heat we opted for a ten minute drive. All the males in our group decided to sit in the shady park while my girlfriend and I checked out the gorgeous mansions along the water front. Beautiful sculpture, gorgeous architecture, trickling fountains and ornate ironwork were a feast for our eyes.

This first taste of Charleston left me craving more.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Charleston: the Drive, the Accomodations, the Shopping



The Drive
We began our trip to South Carolina at 11:30pm Friday night because we had to check into our Charleston accommodations by Saturday evening.

My husband had napped so he was well rested for the first shift. I had no problem sleeping in the car until he woke me at 3:30am in Pennsylvania to take over the driving.

I found the driving a little stressful because it was so dark but things improved considerably when he pointed out that my headlights weren’t on…Luckily, I hadn’t left the parking lot yet.

There was hardly any traffic but a lot of curves in the road which made it a tad disconcerting in the darkness.

We continued to trade off driving shifts, (ok, he did most of the driving). We travelled through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, only stopping to fill up on gas and go for breakfast at McDonalds. We finally arrived to our accommodations in Mount Pleasant (Charleston) after 18 hours.

TIP: Before leaving, we filled an extra portable gas tank, just in case we ran low in the middle of the night or in an area without gas stations.

The Accomodations

We were delighted with our accommodations. Although this place is in Mount Pleasant, it’s only a 10 minute drive over the bridge into the heart of Charleston.

At $560 a week, Sandpiper Village is a great value. Although it’s a retirement residence, younger people can rent for a week or two. The two bedroom units are clean and spacious consisting of bedrooms with a livingroom and kitchen in between. Each bedroom has its own bathroom and all cottages have WIFI but no telephones. Units are outfitted with a number of small touches (railings, larger doors etc) perfect for seniors. There is also a recreation area with a swimming pool.

The residents are very friendly as is the staff.

We found this place on Homeaway.com but it’s also listed on vrbo.com. We would happily stay here again. The resort contact is Beth Jacobs at (843)884-5735.

The Shopping

Even after checking out Tanger Outlet Mall, I’m not seeing the cross-border deals that I used to see. Prices are pretty well the same as when I shop the outlet malls in Ontario. The main thing that I found a difference in is books. Despite the fact that the Canadian dollar is higher than the US dollar, prices listed on books are still generally more expensive in Canada.

Where shopping gets interesting is at stores not available in Canada. I love Trader Joes. Besides having many of their own healthy food products, they also had a good selection of $2.99 bottles of Charles Shaw wine, (many choices of white and red). I’m not sure if this is fact or urban legend but I heard the story behind the low price is that in the divorce settlement between Trader Joe and his wife, she won the proceeds from his winery so he priced his wine as low as possible. Urban legend or not, the price is right and the wine is actually quite good.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 3- Washington DC



Another great but really hot day. Thank goodness for air conditioning.

After packing our bags and storing them at our BnB, we visited the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was assassinated. This working theatre had a great museum. I wished there was more time to spend in the museum section before we went to the talk in the theatre section. The exact box where Lincoln was assassinated was clearly visible.

Tickets for the talks and museum are timed and free. If you want to skip the line-ups, go on line and purchase your timed ticket in advance. The cost is $3.50 per ticket.

The house where Lincoln was brought and died after the shooting is located across the street from the theatre.

We then walked to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. You know. The one that features prominently in “Night at the Museum”. There were so many great things to see and do there for both adults and kids. I personally enjoyed the gem display with the gorgeous Hope Diamond. The kids were more into the dinosaurs and early man exhibits. Once again, this museum was free.

Outside, the thermometer continued to rise, so on our way to the National Portrait Gallery, we stopped at McDonalds…not my favourite restaurant but it was cool, had free WIFI and cheap ice cream.

I enjoyed the portraits of the Presidents in the gallery. There was also a really touching room dedicated to President Reagan. The portrait of the real (not Disney), Pokahontas got everyone talking. And yes, this museum was also free.

After leaving the museum, we stopped for more feeding, watering, and bathroom breaks.
Drawn by a large number of Canadian flags, we stopped to check out the Canadian Embassy. Because of security measures, we couldn’t go in.

We walked to the Capital Building but couldn’t get in because it was 5pm. We did enjoy looking around the outside and checking out what I believe to be a Civil War Memorial.

Hot, tired but happy we made our way to Union Station for more snacks and returned to our B and B to freshen up and retrieve our luggage.

After a really delicious (and well-priced) meal at Mark’s Kitchen in Takoma, (recommended by our B and B host, Kyle), we returned to Union Station.
It was dark by this time and we were a tad behind schedule. We ended up taking a wrong turn and realized a few blocks down that we were heading in the wrong direction. After looking nervously at our watches, our panicked group broke out in a sprint in the correct direction, suitcases bouncing behind us.

We needn’t have worried. The bus was a few minutes late.

Our return Mega Bus trip was uneventful. My only gripe was that my seat wouldn’t stay reclined.

We had an amazing time and this trip was a real bargoon.

Mega Bus- return transport Toronto-Washington $120.00
2 nights 1850’s Mansion BnB $150.00
Attractions $ 96.00
Food $165.00
Total for three people $531.00

Would I do it again? You betcha!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 2- Washington DC






Rise and Shine! Wanting to get an early start at the zoo, we were on the road by 7:30am this morning.

The National Zoological Park is part of the Smithsonian so it was free.

By 9am it was already close to 100 degrees. Many of the outdoor animals were sleeping it off somewhere in the shade. Not a panda to be found. The grounds were lovely.

The indoor exhibits opened at 10am. There were many lively creatures inside.

This is a pretty large zoo and we all took advantage of the misters located around the park to help alleviate the heat.

After three hours the children were hungry again. The food offerings at the zoo were quite pricy so we made our way back to the street where I asked a local for recommendations. He said that we were just doors away from the best pizza and subs in Washington. Sounded good to us!

We piled into Vace Italian Deli, located on 3315 Conneticut Street, close to Macomb. Wow! The guy didn’t lie. We had the most delicious pizza with a perfectly done crispy crust and paid less than $2.00 per slice. There is no place to eat in the deli so we took our feast to a shady bench on the street, then went back for seconds….yum.

Fed and watered, we took the metro to the Museum of American History. Once again it was free. There were so many interesting things to see including the dresses of the first ladies, the original American flag, the hat Abe Lincoln wore the night he died, Kermit the Frog, Michael Jackson’s hat, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Julia Child’s kitchen and exhibits on the Presidents and American wars. There was definitely something for everyone here…we spent three hours in this delightfully air conditioned museum.

Much to my horror, my eldest son wanted to climb the Washington monument and the other kids seconded the motion. When we got there, there were no more tickets available for the day. If you really want to do this, I recommend ordering tickets ahead of time or show up early in the morning for timed tickets….apparently the line-up is pretty long.

While the males in our party hung out eating and drinking on a shady bench, the females checked out the Smithsonian Castle. You do not need much time for this, but I recommend it. You can see a video orientation and a scale model of the federal city or relax in the café or gift shop.

It was time for McDonalds then we caught our ghost tour at 8pm in front of Dolly Madison’s house on Layfayette Square (which is kind of like the White House’s back yard).
Ghost tours need to be booked and paid for in advance. Our group enjoyed hearing about some of Washington’s really unique, haunted history.

We were back in bed at our bed and breakfast by 11pm.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 1- Washington, DC



The day was already hot, hot, hot. From the Mega Bus lot at K and Capital Street, we rolled our luggage to Union Station.

Washington DC has a great Metro system, it’s just a little complicated at first to figure out the fare structure. Machines where you can buy passes or fare cards are prominently located inside the stations. Fortunately staff are available to give you advice about which type of fare to buy, when and how to punch your fare cards and approximately how much you need to spend. Check out the Washington Metro system site for more details.

From the Takoma Metro stop, we followed the directions given by the owner of the 1850s mansion bed and breakfast that we booked through Airbnb. I guess we looked a little lost at one point because a merchant left his store, crossed the street and asked if he could help us. This wasn’t an isolated incident of kindness and hospitality. We found throughout our trip that people in Washington are extremely friendly and helpful.

The owner of our bed and breakfast was waiting for us when we arrived. He let us leave our luggage early because we didn’t know of any place in the Washington core where we could temporarily store it before check in. Our rooms were clean and cool which was a blessing since it was over 100 degrees outside.

The Takoma neighbourhood feels very safe. Believe it or not, although it’s just a 15minute metro ride from the centre of Washington, Takoma is actually located in the state of Maryland.

After freshening up, we spent four hours at the Holocaust Museum and attended an interview with a Holocaust survivor. We were enthralled. The whole thing was an informative and very moving experience. I believe we all came out more informed about this awful piece of history. The museum is free but if you do not want to wait in line for timed tickets, you can buy them in advance on line for $1.00 each.

After a tantalizing supper at Mcdonalds (kid’s choice), we went to the Spy Museum. Tickets are normally $18.00 per person however we joined Goldstar and paid $9.00 per person plus a $2.50 per ticket handling fee in advance. The kids loved this interactive museum and we could have easily enjoyed more than the 2 ½ hours we spent there. The gift shop had some really unique items.

We then returned to Mcdonalds for ice cream and smoothies. In my experience, keeping kids well fed and watered is imperative to having a happy vacation.

We ended the night by visiting a few of the monuments. The Monuments are magical at night. The lit up Washington monument and the WWII Memorial are spectacular but for me, nothing compares to the Lincoln Memorial at night. Fireflies in the grass between the monuments only added to the magic of the evening.

With tired feet but happy spirits, we called it a night.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mega Bus to Washington...The Reality


A travelling group of my friend, me and five kids, ages 9, 12, 12, 15 and 15 waited in line at the Toronto Coach Terminal for the 9pm Mega Bus to Washington DC. The weather was hot, hot, hot.

When the bus arrived, a few minutes late, we realized it was the single level version which was perfectly fine with me.

We showed our confirmation number to the bus driver, confirmed that we carried passports and settled into our seats.

The two men sitting across the aisle from me said that they purchased their return tickets for $4.00 each. They suggested that I join the Mega Bus electronic mailing list to receive notice of special sales. Despite paying ten times more, ($40.00 return per person), I still considered this an amazing deal.

The bus was very similar to many of the Greyhound buses I’d been on except that there were electrical outlets between every seat and no pockets to place magazines/books etc in front of me. The seats were of average size which worked for us but would be a bit of a challenge for above-average sized people.

Since it was an overnight trip, we didn’t have the option of turning on our reading lights.

Mega Bus advertises (but does not guarantee) WIFI on all their busses. It didn’t work on this one.

People clapped when the air conditioning came on full force. It felt good but was rather chilly for sleeping…but sleep we did. Despite the heat-wave outside, I’m glad we'd brought jackets.

The bus stopped at the Canada/US border. Bleary eyed, we filed out and collected our luggage, which went through the xray machines. We then had a brief questioning with the guard, took back our luggage, placed it in the storage under the bus and reboarded. It took an hour for all the passengers to get through homelands security...the guards were friendly and professional.

I noticed that we had a few stops for breaks and for pick-ups and drop-offs in a few cities along the way, but I always quickly returned to sleep.

About twelve hours later, I woke up as we entered Washington DC. The bus dropped us off in a large parking lot not far from Union Metro Station.

The Mega Bus ride to Washington, DC was not bad as far as over-night bus trips go. Surprisingly, all of us, including the kids, slept well.

I consider Mega Bus excellent value. At prices like this, I plan to make many for trips with this bus line.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Off to Washington

It’s often a challenge keeping the kids busy during summer holidays. You want them to be entertained and hopefully learn something at the same time, but putting them into numerous summer camps can get expensive. (Also, I love spending time with my kids.).

After researching Mega Bus, I’m off to Washington, DC with my boys (ages 12 and 15), a close girlfriend and her kids (girl 15, boys 12 and 9). We leave Toronto at 9:00 pm on a Monday night and get into Washington at 8:00am on Tuesday, morning. We will stay for two nights at an 1850 mansion which we found on Airbnb. After touring Washington all day on the Thursday, we will catch the 10pm bus back to Toronto, arriving home at 9:30am on Friday.

And the price is right. Return bus tickets are $40.00 and the boys and I will pay $150.00 for two night’s accommodations. Most museums in Washington are free! How great is that?

My friend and I have been prepping our kids for the trip. Both adults and kids have gone through the list of attractions, museums and historical sights and have listed their top five. We will make sure that everyone gets to go to their favourites. So far, top on our list are the Monuments, a walk past the White House, The National Museum of American History, The Holocaust Museum, The Spy Museum, FBI Museum, the zoo and a ghost tour. There is so much more to see, that we may have to leave some things for another visit.

When travelling with a group, it’s absolutely ok, (and often recommended), to split up for a while. My family is into ghost tours but my friend’s family aren’t, so that may be the time to do our own things.

We need to be organized with such a large group so we’re working out an itinerary which takes into consideration time to see the sights, line-up time, travel between locations time and rest/refreshment breaks.

If you have any Washington suggestions from using the city transit to tips on beating the line-ups, please let me know.

This trip to Washington promises to be an adventure that will outlast the memories of most summer camps.

Keep posted to this site. I will be blogging from the road to let you know how this trip turns out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Travel Deals with Group Coupons

I’ve just added a new obsession to my repertoire; online group coupons.

I’m sure many of you have heard of Groupon and Living Social, the largest in an ever increasing field of companies offering localized and national coupons for 50-90% off. For those of you who haven’t, check them out. You can either sign up to receive a daily email or go directly to their websites to check for coupon deals in your location of interest. These offers are time limited, usually available only for a few days.

Led by Groupon in 2009, this internet couponing phenomena has grown at an incredible speed. Groupon is a privately owned Chicago company that in late 2010 turned down a six million dollar acquisition offer by Google. Livingsocial is their closest competition.

Most people just check out the deals in the area where they live but I’ve discovered that it’s perfect for saving a bundle on travel. For example, this summer our family is off to Charleston and Hilton Head, SC and Savannah, Georgia as well as Washington, DC. After researching our destinations, I have an idea of what things we want to do. With our family, ghost tours are always a favourite. Through Groupon and Livingsocial, I bought two separate ghost tours, each at more than 50% off. I also bought a 1 ½ hour authentic southern cooking class in historic Savannah for myself, a Savannah architectural tour and a Charleston Museum plus two other historic sights pass for our group. To keep fed and watered while seeing the sights, I purchased restaurant and smoothie coupons for Hilton Head, Charleston and Savannah. Even though I haven’t found anything I would use in Washington, DC, I have saved over $150.00 for our southern States trip.

Livingsocial has a section for accommodation deals and package vacations which is well worth checking out. I didn’t find anything for this trip because most of the resort packages are based on two people.

Groupon covers areas all over the world including Europe and Asia whereas Livingsocial is only in Canada and the USA. If you find any other sites that cover areas outside of North America, I’d love to hear from you.

It’s easy to get carried away when buying these deals, so keep the following points in mind:
1. Buy only what you know you will use.
2. Check expiry dates.
3. Keep track of your purchases. I keep my coupons in a binder that is sectioned by location. I also have a master sheet in the front listing the deal, the location and the expiry date.
4. Deal only with reputable sites with money back guarantees such as Groupon or Livingsocial.

Group couponing is another tool to stretch your travel dollar. You never know, tomorrow’s deal may be the attraction or tour that you were planning to pay full price for. Very satisfying.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canada Celebrates


Friday, July 1, 2011 is Canada’s 144th Birthday.

Our family always spends Canada Day with friends, fireworks and festivities. For us, it’s tradition.

Some of the biggest celebrations will be held in Ottawa. This year, the newly married Prince William and Princess Kate will be joining the celebration.

So whether you celebrate at your home, cottage, community or Ottawa, stand proud Canadians and sing ‘Oh Canada!’.

Happy Canada Day!.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Condo Bargain Club

Recently a deal came up on Dealticker.com where you pay $149 for $500 off the retail price of a condo worldwide vacation from Condo Bargain Club. Condo sizes range from studio to three bedrooms. You can search the Condo Bargain Club web site weekly for available condo weeks at low prices.

This sounded intriguing but I couldn’t find much information on the web except for information given out by Condo Bargain Club. According to their site, they’ve been in business for 16 years and are publicly traded.

If you have had experience with or know anything about this company, please write us a comment.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plantations, Civil War and Mint Juleps



We finally decided on our family’s perfect summer 2011 vacation destination.

The pre-requisites for this trip were as follows:

1. Low Cost
2. Reasonable driving distance
3. Interesting for all family members
4. Two weeks in length (ok, we stretched it to 2 ½ weeks)
5. Did I mention, Low Cost?

Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara gave us the answer; we’re heading south to Charleston and Hilton Head, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, with stops at Richmond, Virginia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This mix keeps everyone happy with loads of beaching/relaxing, a wealth of historical/cultural sites, ghost tours and great food, all at a reasonable price.

Through VRBO and Vacation Rentals, we booked a two bedroom cottage on a resort with pool in Charleston for $500.00 a week and a gorgeous, newly decorated, ocean view condo on a Hilton Head resort for $700.00 weekly. Both properties were booked directly through the owner. If you want tips on how to do this, check out my article, Book Privately and Save a Bundle.

We've also been using group internet coupons to pre-book tours and attractions for less than half price…but I’ll leave that for an upcoming article.

I’d love to hear any suggestions or advice that you may have for our venture to the South. In the meantime, I’ll practice my drawl and perfect my recipe for Mint Juleps.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Parks Canada National Pass: A Real Bargain


I have found a great deal for both residents and visitors to Canada. It’s the Parks Canada National Pass. This pass is good for a year and gets you into any of the National Parks and many national historic sights including Fort Louisbourg in Nova Scotia and Banff National Park, Alberta. Normally it costs $19.60 for a group of up to seven people in one vehicle to enter Banff National Park or $44.10 for a family to visit Fort Louisbourg. For the cost of $136.40 per family, this pass buys you unlimited admittance to not only Banff and Fort Louisbourg, but also a long list of sights across Canada.
When you purchase a pass, you are given one pass to display in your car. It’s not advertised, but if you have two cars and can prove that they are registered to the same family, living at the same address, you can get a second pass to place in your other vehicle.
For this low cost, it is well worth the money, even if you only use it for a few sights. You can purchase the passes on line, by phone at 1-888-773-8888 or at a participating location. There are also passes available for individuals, students and seniors. Check the Parks Canada site.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mega Bus, Here I Come!

With gas prices rising, I saw an announcement on travelzoo.com about return bus fares between Montreal and Toronto for $20.00 on Mega Bus (www.megabus.com) . I found this hard to believe since I pay about $140.00 return between Toronto and Sudbury on Greyhound.

The price was accurate and you can even get WIFI and electrical on this bus!
The double decker Mega Bus offers cheap fares for popular routes in Canada, US and the UK. If you are looking to travel from Toronto to a US city, you need to click into the US section on the Mega Bus website.

I discovered that I could get Mega Bus fares from Toronto to NYC for as little as $12.00 one way. Other examples of well priced fares are $1.00 between Boston and NYC, and $5.00 between Toronto and Washington, DC.

Personal experience has shown me that you should book early to get some of the best deals. I found Toronto to Washington return for $24.00, but when I went to book it a week later, the price had gone up. I ended up paying $40.00 return which is still a really good deal. As of today, the price for the same trip has increased to $48.00.

Do you find that it sounds too good to be true? Well, seeing is believing so I’m Washington bound on the Mega Bus this summer. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. In the meantime, please let me know about your experiences on Mega Bus.

If Mega Bus delivers on everything they promise, I think I’ll be bussing it a whole lot more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Home Exchange: My Experience so Far

It’s time to explore the concept of home exchanges again.

I’d been a member of www.homeexchange.com for two years a few years ago. I put out a number of requests over that time, mostly to places in France and Italy. Unfortunately no one was interested in coming to Toronto, Canada at the same time that we were interested in travelling. I did receive a number of requests from people in Florida wanting to exchange in July or August, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be.

Home Exchange.com is one of the largest sites with over 40,000 listings in 144 countries and costs $119.50 for an annual membership or $47.85 for a three month membership. They guarantee that if you do not get an exchange in the first year, your second year is free. Although I didn’t find anything the first time around, I may try this site again.

Other Home exchange sites include www.homeforexchange.com (annual fee $57.00), www.homeforswap.com (annual fee $75.00), www.homelink.org (annual fee $150, established in 1953), www.ihen.com (annual fee $39.95).

I registered on www.exchangeaway.com . It is free to list your house, however there is a cost of 20.34 GBP to be able to contact other exchangers. I posted my house on this site and received a response from Australia. Unfortunately, I need to pay the fee in order to read the request and reply back.

I also registered on www.exchangezones.com . Registration is free and includes not only home exchanges but also rentals, B&B, Homestays, Hostels and real estate for sale.

Through Exchange Zones, I contacted seven different owners in New York City and three owners around Charleston, South Carolina. Within hours I received two replies from NYC; one friendly refusal and another one saying that the dates didn’t work for his family but to keep in touch because something may work out in the future. No other responses came in from the eight other properties.

I haven’t given up on home exchanges, however for this summer I may need to look at alternative accommodation options.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Exciting Concept for Bed and Breakfast

I’m really excited because I just discovered Airbnb.com. This is a great way to find alternative accommodations for all budgets.

The site allows hosts worldwide to rent out rooms, apartments or whole houses. Travellers can stay anywhere from a night to a month. Sometimes hosts even rent out their places when they go away for a weekend.
I seem to have better luck if I’m looking for accommodations in large cities but I’m sure this will change as the site grows.
I love this site. You can fund your vacation by renting out your space when you are away or find a great place to hang your hat on vacation. The best part, listings are free. Check it out!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Travel Addict on a Really Really Tight Budget


I call myself the travel addict on a budget, but with recent increases in gas, food, and everything else, I now consider myself the travel addict on a really, really tight budget.
Unless I want to do another staycation this summer, (NOT!), my mission is to find exceptional deals and innovative ways to vacation with my family of four. This trip must be flexible since my elderly parents have numerous health challenges and I need the ability to stay in touch with them and return quickly if required.
As with any event involving numerous personalities and restrictions, it helps to make a list of requirement. Here are ours:
1. Low Cost
2. Reasonable driving distance of home
3. Interesting for all family members
4. Two weeks in length
5. Did I mention, Low Cost?
My husband is looking for relaxation and wants either a cottage or a place with a pool. My 15 year old son is interested in history. My 12 year old son wants physical activities and nature. Last but not least, I want to see new sights and cultural activities. In other words, my family is all over the map.
Currently my husband and I have discussed:
1. A local cottage
2. The East Coast (specifically Nova Scotia and PEI),
3. Charleston, South Carolina and Savanna, Georgia (with stops along the way)
4. New York City
In upcoming posts I’ll be looking at home exchanges, hospitality exchanges, budget accommodations and low cost transportation options. Join us in planning our summer vacation. We also welcome any of your suggestions or inside scoops.
Wish us luck!