December 10, 2014

How to Become a House Sitter for Free Travel Stay


Right now, I'm sitting on a white sofa in front of a fireplace in Cape Cod, MA, which is my home for the next three weeks. Not only am I am living here for free with no utility expenses, but I'm also able to spend the holidays with my family who lives locally, without having to rush back to my home in California to avoid hotel expenses.

I am house sitting.

House sitting is, in a word, awesome - simply because it's a win-win for everyone. Home owners can travel without leaving their pets in a kennel, or paying for an animal or house sitter. And house sitters can travel without paying hotel expenses, and gain a chance to truly absorb what it's like to be a native in a foreign location.

There are all types of house sitting jobs - short term, long term, in the US, Europe, Australia, you name it. So if free travel sounds appealing, here's how you can find what works for you.


How to Become a House Sitter

The website I use (and that I've found is most popular) is trustedhousesitters.com. There's an $89 annual fee to sign up, but with the amount I've saved in hotel expenses, it's undeniably worth it.

Once you sign up, you'll need to create a profile that highlights your positive attributes (responsible, reliable, non-smoker, loves animals, etc.) Most home owners have pets, so it you have any photos of you with your favorite family pet, those are great pictures to post! Think of what qualities you would seek in someone you were trusting in your home, and feel free to browse other user's profiles to get ideas. And make sure to highlight any experience you already have!

The most important part of your profile is your references. Luckily, even if you're a new user and don't have any references from site members yet, you can still request external references from friends, family and former co-workers. My friend completed a reference for me because I had watched her home previously when she'd gone away for three weeks. My aunt also completed a reference because I had watched her dog, and my former co-worker completed a reference to reiterate that I was responsible and efficient.

Once I had a few references in place, I began to apply to house sitting jobs I was interested in.


Tips for Applying to House Sitting Jobs

- Highlight your previous experience (if you have any.)

- Make sure you comment on how cute their pet is! (Pet owners love this!)

- If you're familiar with the area, or planning on being in the area, let them know. (This is how I got the Cape Cod job. My family lives in Cape Cod and I was planning on visiting for the holidays. Turns out, my mom lived the next town over, and the home owner picked me!)

- Be enthusiastic. Have you always dreamed about visiting their city? Why? Let them know!

Home owners get inundated with emails, so it's important to make yourself stand out from the others.

After sign-up, you'll begin to receive daily emails with all the new house sitting jobs that have been posted that day. And there are a lot! I receive at least 20 per day.

For any assignments you're interested in, it's best to apply right away. Most home owners find a sitter within 24 hours, so you have to act fast.


Tips on House Sitting

My house sitting jobs thus far have been relatively easy. Most home owners will leave you a list of instructions. Be sure to follow all guidelines - when to feed the pets, water plants, get the mail, etc. I typically email the home owner with any questions I have while I'm there, and I even send pet photos if they ask!

House sitting is an awesome experience, not only from a money saving perspective, but because you can truly just relax, enjoy the city as you would you own, and live like it's your home. Even if it's only temporary.

(And if you want to check out my video with step by step instructions on creating a profile - and a tour of my adorable Cape Cod house - you can watch it HERE.)


November 30, 2014

Phuket Beach and the Phi Phi Islands


Now for the relaxing part of the trip... After a short flight, I arrive in Phuket and get a taxi to Kata Beach. I'd read some reviews stating that Patong Beach is the party spot, but that Kata and Karon Beach are nicer areas. (After driving through Patong and talking to some tourists who stayed there, we all agree.) Warning to Phuket newbies - the drive from the airport to the beach areas is over an hour long! So be sure to hit the restroom first.

After an hour or so, I arrive at the hotel, the Sawasdee Village Resort, which is absolutely gorgeous! The room has a comfortable canopy King bed, and they have a giant pool with waterfalls and a swim up bar. There are two restaurants, one inside the hotel, and one next door (both are beautiful) and the food is incredible, especially the huge breakfast buffet. It's just a short 10 minute walk to the beach (right off Kata Road) and there are plenty of spas, restaurants and shopping along the way.



I spend the day swimming in the ocean at Kata Beach. The water is ridiculously warm and clear. It's truly paradise. The waves are enormous (which makes it a little scary to swim), but I meet two guys at the hotel from the Czech Republic who take my friend and I on their motorcycles down to the end of Kata Beach, which is much less crowded and the waves are smaller, so it's easier to swim. 



Afterward, they take take us to the After Beach reggae bar, which has this incredible view of Kata Beach. Some other favorites spot we discover in the Mueang Phuket District are the Two Chefs Bar (really good cover bands), and Dino's restaurant (Flinstones themed, but very cool! Like being inside a cave.) The best meal we have is at Il Tagliere da Massimo, which is around the corner from the hotel on Kata Road. Killer Italian food. Delish.


For the last day in Phuket, I sign up for a boat tour of the Phi Phi Islands with a company called Phuket Tropical Touch. The shuttle picks everyone up at their hotel between 7:30am-8:00am, and brings us to the marina (another hour long drive.) Then we board the boat and it takes us to the islands and drops us back off at the marina around 4:30pm.

What I didn't realize is that, on these tours, you have very minimal time on each island. We have 30 minutes at Maya Bay (in the photo below, where the movie "The Beach" was filmed), an hour at Phi Phi Don to eat lunch (which is provided for you in a buffet, cafeteria type setting, and the food is no bueno), 45 minutes to snorkel (my favorite part), and then they bring you to Kho Kai, which is a deserted island with nothing but a small bar and little food tent, and give you two hours to spend there. Personally, I would've liked to spend that two hours shopping and sightseeing at Phi Phi Don, so it was a little disappointing.


I've since learned that you can charter a private boat to take you to the Islands for the day. It's a bit pricey (about $500 USD) so it's best to get a few people together and split the cost. But aside from the restricted time, the Islands were beautiful, and I'm glad I got a chance to see them. And I've never snorkeled before, so that was pretty awesome.

If you want to see my entire Vlog of Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands, you can watch it here




November 28, 2014

Thailand Travel Vlog Part 2 - Phuket!



Here's the second Vlog from my trip to Thailand - Phuket!

I included Kata Beach, Ko Phi Phi Islands, Maya Bay, and our gorgeous hotel, the Sawasdee Village Resort.



November 23, 2014

Loy Krathong Festival & Sightseeing in Chiang Mai


Day 1:  After an 18-hour red-eye flight, I arrive in Chiang Mai at about 10am, (on China Southern Airlines, which BTW is a great airline - they even give you a gift bag with a sleep mask, toothbrush, comb and earplugs) and check into the Ban Sabai Village Resort.

Pro's: It costs $70 a night. The grounds are gorgeous. It has a pool. And the rooms look like this:


Cons: The bed is hard as a rock. There are roosters that crow all day and night. And it's about 15 minutes from city center (but you can take a tuk tuk - one of these little scooter thingamagigs - for 200 baht, which is only about $6 USD.)


I have a fresh coconut by the pool after checking in (my new favorite drink), as I look over the hotel restaurant menu. Everything is so cheap! A glass of wine is only $3 USD, meals are around $4, and even a bottle of wine from the mini-bar is only $30. Win.

Then I trek over to Thapae Road, which is the main strip in the city center, and get a 3-hour massage at Serenity Massage, which includes a body scrub, oil massage and facial, all for 1300 baht ($39!) The spas there all have a similar setup, an open room with beds that are separated by curtains. This is the first time a masseuse offers to massage my, um, chest, during a body scrub. (I politely decline.)

I also learn that regular Thai massages are only $6 for an hour ($6!!) so I make the easiest decision of my life: to get a massage every single day that I am in Thailand. 

Thapae has some gorgeous temples, so I photograph a few, then head back to hotel for dinner and am in bed by 8pm. 16-hour time difference = no fun.


Day 2:  Temple sightseeing! The gorgeous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is located at the top of the Doi Suthep mountains. (Note to visitors: you need to have your shoulders and knees covered when visiting the temple and remove your shoes and leave them outside when entering.)

You also may want to bring toilet paper (the bathrooms aren't very well kept) and an umbrella if there's a chance of rain. It's a pretty long drive (about 45 minutes) to the top, so you might want to hit the restroom before you leave.

It takes me a while to find the sacred white elephant (he's to the left of the temple), but I finally find him and made my wish :)



After returning to the hotel to change, it's time for the opening night of the Yi Peng Loy Krathong lantern festival! (For folks unfamiliar with the area, if your cab driver asks where you want to be dropped off, tell him close to the Tha Pae Gate.)

The festival is on Thapae (the same road as Serenity Massage), which is blocked off for the parade. The sidewalks and bars are packed while everyone watches, but night 2 is actually the big night for the festival, so due to the lingering jet lag, it's early to bed once again.


Day 3:  Tigers! I visit the Tiger Kingdom and see awesome big tigers and cute little baby tigers. Super cool! (If you want to see a video of the baby tigers wrestling, you can watch my Vlog HERE.) You can opt for which size tiger you want to see (mine totals 1000 baht, about $30 USD). Just do yourself a favor and bring wipes (and don't wear white) because you get a bit messy in the enclosures.


Then of course, I go and get another massage, and discover my favorite spa in all of Thailand, Amethyst Massage, also on Thapae Road. They charge a little more than the other spas (250 baht for a Thai massage, which is about $7), but let me tell you, that extra dollar is worth every penny.

And you're greeted by this sign when you walk in, which I'm kind of confused about. I mean, are they telling you not to encourage it, or are they saying they don't encourage it? Hmm.



Then, onto night 2 of the lantern festival! This is the big night: the sky is full of lantern awesomeness. I get mine from a street vendor and light it up, with a little help. (I never realized how big they are!) There's also a male beauty contest, as well as more parades and some fireworks.



Day 4:  Khantoke dinner! Super fun. I had met a guy on the flight from L.A. to Chiang Mai and made plans to meet him and some friends at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center for Khum Khantoke, which is a dinner show with music, lanna dancing, and sword and fire dancing. You're seated on cushioned seats on the floor and share a buffet of (very unhealthy but delicious) Thai food - fried pork, chicken wings, curry, fried pumpkin, soup, salad and dessert.



Day 5:  For the last night in Chiang Mai, I check into Liam's Suan Dok Mai Guest House, another kick-ass place.

Pro's: Costs $40 a night. Cute pool and tiki style bar/restaurant. Great food. The owner Daphne is from Belgium, speaks perfect English, is super helpful and and rescues dogs (10 so far!)

Cons: More roosters, same location as Ban Sabai (about 15 minutes from the city center) and the shower only has one temperature: lukewarm.

Regardless, I'd totally recommend this place. They've won a bunch of tripadvisor awards too, so it's got a pretty good reputation. 



I wrap up the trip at the night safari, where a safari car takes you on a cool tour of the animals (hippos, bears, giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, etc.) and some of them come right up to the car and you can feed them. Then they have a lady boy show at the end. Yeah!



Next stop: Phuket!


November 20, 2014

Top 10 Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand


1.    Elephant Nature Park

I was beyond excited to visit the Elephant Nature Park, since it's rumored to be one of the coolest things to see in Chiang Mai. However, this photo was actually taken at the night safari, because YOU HAVE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO GO TO THE ELEPHANT NATURE PARK!  Like, weeks in advance. Which I did not know. We arrived in Thailand on November 4th, and they were booked until the 14th, which was the day we were leaving. So bummed.

I did learn that the park isn't just something you visit and leave. It's an all day event. It costs 2500 Baht ($76 USD), and they pick you up at your hotel at 8am and you don't return until about 5pm. You'll feed the elephants, watch them bathe and have lunch there. You also need to bring sunscreen, bug spray, towels, walking shoes, sandals, and a change of clothing.

(So, if you want to visit the ENP, remember to book it in advance!)



2.    Loy Krathong Lantern Festival 

The Loy Krathong festival of light is a 3-night festival that takes place every year on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. This year, it took place on Nov 5-7, which is a great time to visit Thailand since the rain season ends in October.

The festival takes place on Thapae Road, which is the main strip in the center of Chiang Mai, full of restaurants, shops and spas. You can buy the lanterns from street vendors - most of them are lit in front of the temples on Thapae.

Each night, there are also parades, beauty contests, fireworks and large rafts that float along the Chao Phraya river. It's definitely a once in a lifetime experience you can't find anywhere else.


3.    Khum Khantoke Dinner 

Khum Khantoke takes place at Old Chiang Mai cultural center (185/3 Wualai Road). It costs $500 (appr. $15 USD), which includes a buffet style dinner for each table (served on a wooden tray known as a Khantoke, hence the name) that consists of pork curry, chicken wings, fried pork rinds, fried pumpkin strips, soup and salad, and fruit and rice crispy treats for dessert. They serve alcohol as well.

For the dinner, you're seated on triangular seat cushions on the floor and entertained by a cultural dance show that includes candle dancing, drum dancing, and sword dancing. Another very cool, unique experience.




4.    Doi Suthep Temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a gorgeous temple located at the top of the Doi Suthep mountain. It's a popular destination for tourists because of the beautiful holy shrines and the views of Chiang Mai.

Be warned - the drive to Doi Suthrep is very long (I think it took us about 45 minutes), and the only cabs available at the top are the little red shuttle cabs that seat about 6 people sideways and drop you off in the center of town. So it's good to have your own transportation for the trip.

(Another piece of advice - bring toilet paper. The bathrooms there didn't have any. And don't forget to make a wish at the sacred elephant!)



5.    Night Safari

The night safari was awesome. The safari cars take you through two shows, the first with giraffes, kangaroos, zebras, deer, etc. and the second show is a night predator show with vultures, bears, tigers, etc. Some of the animals come right up to the car and you can feed them (warning: giraffes drool... a lot!)

The cost is $800 baht ($24 USD), and after the safari there's a dance show with lots of lots of lady boys.


6.    Tiger Kingdom

This was probably one of the coolest things I did. It's a bit controversial because some people think the tigers are drugged, but I talked to a lot of other travelers who have been there, and they said they're not, they've just been around people since a young age. They also mentioned that the enclosures are big and clean, and the tigers are all in good health.

To me, they definitely seemed happy, especially the baby tigers, who were running all over the room, growling and wrestling with each other (you can watch in my vlog here.) It was adorable. I also learned that tigers are nocturnal, so they primarily sleep during the day.

You can pay per tiger size (baby, small and large.) I opted for the babies and the large, which totaled about $1000 baht ($30 USD.)

(Piece of advice: don't wear white.  You get pretty dirty.)


7.    Night Bazaar

The Night Bazaar is a shopaholic's dream. Blocks and blocks of shopping tents and stores - clothes, purses, makeup, sunglasses, souvenirs, you name it. All at kick-ass prices.

It's open from dusk until midnight and is located at Thanon Chang Khlan (around the corner from Thapae Road). We stumbled across this completely by accident while we were leaving the lantern festival, since it's only a block over.  I scored a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that I'm certain are not real based on the fact that they only cost 400 Baht, ($12 USD), but regardless, they fit like a dream.

8.    Get a Massage

I got a massage every single day that I was in Thailand. This is because A) I am a massageaholic, and B) massages are only 200 Baht ($6 USD) for an hour. $6 for an hour! If I lived in Thailand, I'd take up permanent residency in a massage parlor.

Let me tell you, a massage in Thailand is nothing like a massage in the US. The Thai masseuses are incredible. They crack you, stretch you, dig their feet into your back, you name it. And they have massages for everything.  I went all out and got a manicure and pedicure (also $6), as well as a body scrub and a facial. They even have an aloe vera massage for sunburns (I partook in that too.)

Thapae Road was full of spas, but my favorite was Amethyst Massage. They charged 250 baht for a Thai massage, which is about $7/hr. We splurged. Totally worth it. I think it might've been the best massage of my life.


9.    Mae Sa Waterfall

Confession, these last 2 items I did not get a chance to do, but they're 2 of most highly recommended events for tourists. I just couldn't fit it all in to 5 small days.This was probably my biggest regret of the trip, as there were so many signs for the Mae Sa waterfall, and the pictures look unreal. And you can swim there! Next time...


(photo creds: sidewalkthailand.com)

10.    Khum Lanna Cooking Retreat

 I didn't find out about this until our last night in Chiang Mai. Our guest house had a whole brochure on it, and it looks incredible. Basically, you stay on a farm anywhere from 1-3 nights, get your own food from the farm and the farmer's market, and they teach you how to cook your own Thai food.

http://www.asian-oasis.com/product/khum-lanna-a-country-retreat-thailand/



Thailand Travel Vlog Part 1 - Chiang Mai!



Hey all - here's a travel vlog I put together of the trip to Chiang Mai Thailand. 

I included the Loy Krathong Lantern Festival, Tiger Kingdom, Night Safari, Khum Khantoke dinner, and our hotels, Ban Sabai Village Resort and Liam's Suan Dok Mai Guest House.


Part 2 - Phuket - Coming soon!


November 2, 2014

How To Travel on a Budget


This is how I travel for free... and how you can too.

1. Subletting on Airbnb  

 This lovely photo is of my apartment in Santa Monica, CA. It's cozy, affordable, and twelve blocks from the beach.

It also allows me the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world and spend practically nothing.

How?

By renting it on the life-saving website, Airbnb.com while I'm away. 

Now before I get into this, I want to warn you that this concept is not for everyone. If you have a roommate, valuables, don't live in a preferred destination for travelers, etc. this may not be for you.

I live alone. I live near the Santa Monica Pier, Venice, Hollywood - all of which are prime travel destinations. I also don't own anything of value, other than my television (I bring my laptop and nice jewelry/clothes with me when I travel.) Thus, I can charge the same amount as most hotels ($100+ a night), which pays for the majority of my travel expenses.

Case in point:
- I paid $1800 for a 2-week trip to Thailand next month.
- I rented my apartment on Airbnb and charged guests $125/night.
- I made $1800 renting my apartment for 2 weeks.
- Thus, my 2-week trip to Thailand was free.

That, my friends, is how you travel for free.

I also want to point out that Airbnb has a five million dollar insurance policy. So if anything was ever stolen from your home, they'd reimburse you immediately. This only happened to me once, when the guest accidentally took my visitor parking pass and spare key. Airbnb reimbursed me for the parking pass via Paypal (the same day I sent them the receipt), and they offered to pay to have my locks changed since the guest had taken my extra key.

In a nutshell, they're pretty awesome.

If you're hesitant (which I most definitely was at first), you can choose to only rent to guests who have reviews from other Airbnb hosts that they've stayed with previously, to verify their credibility. You can have a phone conversation with them, Skype with them, meet them when they get into town, whatever makes you feel most comfortable.

On the flipside of that, you can also rent homes and apartments on Airbnb when you travel, which are usually three times the size of a hotel room and half the cost.

2. House sitting on TrustedHousesitters

The second website that changed my life is Trustedhousesitters.com. It's the most popular house sitting website, and has house and pet sitting jobs all over the world.

To sign up, you pay an $89 annual fee, and then you can build a profile and apply for any house or pet sitting job on the site. You can also have external references contribute to the reference section of your profile (if you've house or pet sat in the past, employer or character references, anything to build your credibility.)

Most of the jobs you don't get paid for, but in exchange, you get to travel anywhere in the world and stay in a home for free, as opposed to paying for a hotel.

Within the first week that I signed up, a local California resident contacted me to sit for her cats for ten days (she wanted someone nearby so she could meet them first.) Even though it was local, I accepted the job for three reasons:

A) Her apartment was twice the size of mine and had a pool, jacuzzi, gym, grill, and bar. Basically a mini-resort.

B) I rented my apartment on Airbnb while I stayed at her apartment and made an extra $1200. Score.

C) The more positive reviews you have, the more jobs you get.

The following week, I applied to a pet sitting job in Cape Cod, where my family lives, because I wanted to visit for Thanksgiving. After receiving a ton of applicants, the home owner picked me!

So now, I have a free home for 3 weeks while I visit my family for the holidays, and I made some extra money renting out my apartment while I'm away.

WIN.

3. Free Airport Parking with Flightcar

Flightcar.com is a website that allows you to park at their airport location for free, provides a car service that drops you off and picks you up at the airport, and rents your car while you're away (which you earn a percentage of.) Unfortunately, this only applies to the Los Angeles LAX airport, Boston Logan BOS airport and San Francisco SFO airport for the time being.

You earn .05 per mile, so it only totals about $3 per day. But they wash, vacuum and detail your car for you. And all you have to do when you land is check in on the app, and the driver is there within 10 minutes to pick you up. In a fancy town car. Ballin'.

They have a 1 million dollar insurance policy to cover you if anything ever happened to your car. So it's kind of like Airbnb, you have to pretty trustworthy to consider it.

I'm trustworthy. And my car isn't anything special. And I like free stuff. So it works for me.


November 1, 2014

Never Fly Spirit Airlines

If I only knew then what I know now...

Several weeks ago, I was searching for a one-way place ticket home from Dallas, TX. The majority of tickets were in the $135 range, but there was one ticket for only $90 through Spirit Airlines.

A $45 difference? Sold!

At least this was what I thought.

I had never flown Spirit Airlines before, but after having the single worst flight experience of my life, I have since found out the following:

- Spirit does not allow a free carry-on bag. If you pay for your carry-on online (prior to 24 hours before your flight), you will be charged $35. If you pay when you arrive at the airport, you will be charged $50. If you try to sneak your bag on and are forced to check it at the gate, you will be charged $100.

- If you do not print your boarding pass at home, you will be charged $10 to print it at the airport.

- If you would like to select your seat, you will also be charged $10.

- In addition, you are not served any complimentary beverages or snacks on the flight, and the seats do not recline.

So, in hindsight, the supposed $45 I saved could've actually cost me an extra $60 and upwards.

I've since done my homework and read all the horrible Spirit reviews. I only wish I had read them before I bought my ticket, but hopefully, I can save one of you from making the same mistake.

Moral of the story: Don't fly Spirit Airlines. Just don't. Whatever money you think you're saving will equal the price of the other airlines. And you'll get a free beverage and a reclining seat.


October 31, 2014

10 Things I Learned in Dallas


I spent my birthday weekend in Dallas, Texas this year. Being my first time to Dallas, here are a few things I learned:

1. The Omni Hotel has a rooftop pool, jacuzzi, and TV's built into the bathroom mirrors.


2. Everyone should stay at the Omni Hotel.

3. The Cedar's Social has a fireplace, a 70's themed book nook, and Sunday brunch bottomless mimosas for $10. (They're supposed to cut you off at 3pm. I'm pretty sure they cut us off at 6pm.)


4. Everyone should go to the Cedar's Social.

5. Katy Trail Ice House has a back patio filled with christmas lights, picnic tables, fire pits, and Rona-Ritas.



6. You see where I'm going with this, right?

7. The Owner's Box gives you a free brownie sundae on your birthday. It quite possibly might have been the best thing I've ever eaten.


8. Just because it's your birthday does not give you the right to get into a hummer with two strange men you just met.


9. An Uber from the airport will cost you $76. A Lyft will cost you $28. Go with Lyft.

10. Cowboy hats do not make you look like a tourist. Everyone really does wear them.

Yee-haw.