October 29, 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.

And to top it off, this is how they sugarcoat it in their emails:

"Congrats on booking the Bare Fare! You've saved a wad of cash, because our fares are unbundled: no "free" bag, no "free" soda or water — just you + a personal item. Other airlines bake those options right into their ticket price, but we let you choose the extras you want. We call it Frill Control! We also fly with more seats & more people. Sure, you'll get a little less legroom, but it takes a nice chunk off the price of your ticket. 

Buy Bags Now: That's right: carry-ons aren't free. Every bag adds weight to the plane, so if you bring bags we'll need gas money."

Real professional, eh?

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 27, 2014

Why Martha's Vineyard is the Best Place on Earth

 1. It's full of gingerbread houses. It's like the land of make believe.


2. Their bike paths are awesome. You can rent bikes and bike the entire island. 


3. Or you can rent mopeds and scooter yourself around the island...


4. You can go shopping at the cute little hippie strip in Oak Bluffs (and get yo'self a Mad Martha's ice cream).

(photo creds: Pinterest)

5. Or creepily take not-so-discreet photos of Meg Ryan at the Edgartown Parade (the hat and glasses aren't fooling anyone Meg)...


6. You can grab a rooftop frozen cocktail at Nancy's in Oak Bluffs (Seafood Shanty in Edgartown is another roof deck fave.)

(photo creds: mvtimes.com)

7. Or ride the flying horses in Oak Bluffs...

(photo creds: seniorcitizen.travel)

8. Or just cruise the quaint little centers of town.

(photo creds: vineyardsquarehotel.com)

It's my favorite place in the world.



October 21, 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.


October 2, 2014

Angel Valley - Sedona, AZ


Okay, I'm about to get reallll hippie dippy on you guys...

Last month, my friends and I took a road trip to Sedona, AZ and stayed at the Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat Center. It's a little center that's set back about two miles down a dirt road in the desert. My friend Kim had just received her yoga instructor certification, so we were going to take some professional photos of her, and this looked like just the place.

The center has nine little wooden cottages all lined next to each other (the only downside is that the bathroom is in a separate cottage next door, so it's kind of like luxury camping.) There are lots of little paths and creeks, and separate buildings where they serve meals, hold classes, and have a little gift shop. It was so damn peaceful and cute.


It's also a short drive to some of the major hiking attractions, like the Cathedral Rock trail.


After the photoshoot, we had dinner at the BEST restaurant, Timo, on Portal Lane: (http://www.timocentral.com/). It has a cozy atmosphere with a fireplace, good wine, and killer food. I got a fruit and cheese plate with brie, fig jam, crackers, walnut bread, grapes and apples. Then I topped it off with some caramel gelato. Do yourself a favor and if you ever end up in the Sedona area, go here. Please.

(photo creds: timocentral.com)

Anyways, back to Angel Valley. They have a labyrinth in the middle of the center (featured in this first photo), which is a trail lined with rocks that has 11 circuits, and the center is the 12th step. Now I don't really understand any of this, but the owners explained that the center of the labyrinth is an energy vortex and when you reach it, you're brought into a higher level of consciousness. So basically, you're supposed to go in with a question, walk the labyrinth, and by the time you reach the center, you have your answer.

They also told us they see UFO's there, so while part of me thought the whole energy thing sounded cool, another part me was a teeeenny bit skeptical.

Alas, we return from dinner, and there is a lightning storm, which was really effing awesome to run around in the desert in a lightning storm. And I'm being completely serious. So we grabbed some wine, headed over to the labyrinth, and I went in with my question, which I had absolutely no answer to and was totally over thinking during the first half of the walk.

And sure as shit, wouldn't you know. When I got to the center, I totally knew the answer.

The way I see it, it's sort of like things that we know deep down, but sometimes don't want to be honest with ourselves about. And to top it off, I felt like a million bucks when I reached the center. Very calm. Very unexpected.

(You can read more about the labyrinth here: http://www.angelvalleysedona.com/pages/aboutus/sacredsites/labyrinths.html)

And here's a cool little yoga video we filmed of Kim in our cottage:


October 1, 2014

L.A.'s Best Kept Secrets


Okay, so I'm biased because I live here.

Having said that, I'm the best effing tour guide you'll ever have in the city of Los Angeles. So much so that I'm going to have to break this one down into categories:

 On the Cheap:

For those of you on a budget, here's a great way to navigate around the wonderful city of lost angels without breaking the bank:

The W Hotel: Every Sunday night, the W hotel in Hollywood hosts jazz night, where there are live music performances (sometimes surprise guests) and burlesque dancers in their lounge area known as The Living Room. There is no cover charge, and it's a great show. www.stationhollywood.com

Twilight Concerts at the Pier: If you happen to be visiting LA during the months of July-September, every Thursday night there is a free concert at the Santa Monica Pier from 7pm-10pm. Bring your booze, snacks and a blanket and catch some tunes on the beach. http://tcs.dola.com/


Malibu Wines: If you like wine-tasting, be sure to check out Malibu Wines on Mulholland. It's a great place to bring your own lunch and spend the day. They have picnic benches, live music, fire pits and a great vibe. You can either buy a bottle of wine from them or buy a 4-wine flight tasting for $16.
http://malibuwines.com/

Cinespia Movies: If you're visiting between May-October, every Saturday the Hollywood Forever Cemetery features a movie night with a photobooth, DJ's and usually surprise special guests from the movie itself. Again, bring blankets, munchies, drinks, chairs, etc. Tickets are about $14, but get them early because they sell out. http://cinespia.org/


BYOB: If you want to bring your own beer/wine without paying a corkage fee, Gaby's Mediterranean on Venice Blvd in West LA is a great spot with an outdoor wooden patio, heat lamps, hookahs, and really good, affordable Mediterranean food. Not to be confused with their takeout locations, this restaurant is located at 10445 Venice Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90034.
http://www.gabysexpress.com/

Pearl's: Pearl's Liquor Bar in Hollywood has free movie night every Sunday night at 8:30pm on the roof deck with champagne, popcorn and candy (Just be sure to make a reservation a few days prior.) They also have live music on Mondays from 8pm-10pm. http://pearlsliquorbar.com/

Cha Cha Chicken: An adorable outdoor BYOB tiki restaurant next to Santa Monica beach with good home style caribbean cooking. http://chachachicken.com/

Hollywood:

If you're out and about in Hollywood, I'd highly recommend:

Davey Wayne's: A 70's themed bar with velvet couches, classic records, old soda cans and cigarette packs hanging on the wall, hammocks, 70's music, roller skating shows, and a bar made out of a trailer that serves alcoholic snow cones! To enter the bar, you go through a secret entrance in their 70's themed garage (a fridge!) Amaze. http://goodtimesatdaveywaynes.com/ 

Red O:  Delicious Mexican tapas restaurant on Melrose with very fancy ambiance. http://www.redorestaurant.com/

Rainbow Bar and Grill: Rock and roll bar/restaurant on Sunset equipped with vast amounts of concert posters and killer pizza. http://www.rainbowbarandgrill.com/

Skybar (at the Mondrian Hotel): Great for poolside lounging/drinks.  https://www.morganshotelgroup.com/mondrian/mondrian-los-angeles/eat-drink/skybar

Santa Monica:

My favorite Santa Monica spots:

Manchego: Great Spanish tapas restaurant and you can bring your own wine Mon-Thurs. http://www.manchegosm.com/ 


Sonoma Wine Garden: Located on the roof of the Santa Monica Mall, right on the ocean. Gorgeous views. http://www.sonomawinegarden.com/

Warszawa: Great spot for happy hour with a really cool back patio with couches, Christmas lights, fire pits and a giant projector screen. http://www.warszawarestaurant.com/ 

The Penthouse (at the Huntley Hotel): Fancy rooftop bar if you're feeling classy.
http://www.thehuntleyhotel.com/penthouse-restaurant.php

Downtown:

Perch: A French restaurant/bar that has live music, art painting and jewelry sales on their roof deck, which overlooks all of downtown Los Angeles. www.perchla.com

(And in the winter, they have ice skating next door at Pershing Square for $8.)


Westwood:

iPic Movies: A few miles east of Santa Monica is Westwood, where the new iPic luxury movie theater just opened. For $25 you get to watch a movie in a suede reclining couch with blankets and your own personal waiter, who serves you anything from their full dinner menu and full bar. And you get free popcorn. I'll never go back to a regular movie theater again.
https://www.ipictheaters.com/showtimes-and-tickets.aspx?cinemaid=0503

Silverlake/Los Feliz:

Desert Rose: My favorite restaurant in the Silverlake/Los Feliz area (and maybe of all time). Red lights, couches, fruit and cheese plates, champagne drinks, you name it. www.desertroserestaurant.com



September 1, 2014

The Best Book Ever: You are a Badass




Or as I like to call it: The Bible.

Have you ever read a book that completely, totally changed your life? Something that inspired you to finally get off your butt and do all the things you always wanted to do?

This was that book for me.

You are a Badass was written by bestselling author and life coach, Jen Sincero. I've been a fan of Sincero's ever since I read her hysterical semi-autobiographical novel "Don't Sleep with Your Drummer" (still my favorite book of all time) about a girl who quits her corporate job to start a rock band. Ever since then, she's been my idol. Any chick who was in a 90's band called "Crotch" is okay in my book.

Sincero has since given up her former rock star status, become a life coach, and set out to tell the world how to kick some serious ass.

Now, if you're one of those people who rolls their eyes at words like "life coach" and "inspirational," don't worry. I'm one of those people too. The phrase "therapy" makes me want to run for the hills, and I wouldn't be caught dead in the self-help aisle. However, Sincero's writing is so hilarious, you'll be too busy dying laughing to realize that she's actually kicking your ass into major motivation gear.

The book touches on major life points that we all know yet often forget to practice in everyday life- concepts like gratitude, overcoming your fears, avoiding procrastination, why mediation is important, accepting yourself for who you are, etc. But she delivers these concepts by leading with chapters like "Your Brain in Your Bitch" and "Fear is for Suckers" so it comes off in way that's completely non-preachy.

Some of my favorite lines:

"Shirley, are you really going to quit your secure, corporate job to open a nail salon when you've got two children, a mortgage, and high blood pressure? So few new businesses succeed, especially in this economy - aren't your worried about what will happen to your family if you fail?

Of course Shirley is worried about what will happen to her family if she fails! She wakes up every night seized by panic about it, but she's moving past her fear to create something she's really psyched about, rather than dying a slow painful death hanging around the watercooler with you, whining about how dry the cake was at the birthday party your boss threw for you in the conference room last week."

"When we're all happy and in love with ourselves, we can't be bothered with the bullshit (our own or other people's)."

"What other people think about you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them."

"Get out of your routine. Talk to strangers, wear something different, go to a new grocery store, make dinner for someone who you want to get to know better, change toothpastes, go to a movie at 2pm on a Wednesday, learn three new jokes, walk taller, notice five awesome things you've never noticed about your home, your beliefs, your mother, your face. Do things that pull you out of your routine and you'll be amazed by the new realities that were there all along that suddenly present themselves."

"Never apologize for who you are. It lets the whole world down."

Confession: When I first read this book, I was in a pretty bad place. I had been single for 5 years, was working a job I hated, and desperately wanted to travel the world and land a publishing deal for my first novel. So I started meditating more, tried to think more positively, and even made a ridiculous vision board of all the things I wanted in my life.

A month after I finished the book, I traveled through all of Italy. Three weeks later, I landed a 3-book publishing deal with HarperCollins. A month later, I met my boyfriend. And two months after that, I quit my painful dying-of-boredom day job and upgraded to a much better (part-time) one.

Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe not. 

Either way, go grab yourself a copy. You'll thank me later.



July 3, 2013

Capri: Italy's Not So Hidden Gem

Ahh, Capri. The perfect place to wind down and relax after spending a week backpacking through the major cities. (Oh, and did I mention that it's just a tiny bit gorgeous?)

We arrived in Capri by ferry from Naples, then hopped in a convertible jeep taxi that took us up the windy roads to our hotel in Anacapri, which is at the top of the island. (Pros: Beautiful views. Cons: Frighteningly scary for someone who's deathly afraid of heights.)

 (I'm not scared. Really. I'm not...)

We stayed at Hotel San Michele, a cute  4-star hotel that AAA recommended. (For those of you with a AAA membership, it's always a good idea to call them before you book a trip because you can sometimes get discounts and good hotel recommendations.) The hotel had a nice pool with a poolside bar (and pink bellinis! YUM.)


The best part of the hotel was the lounge downstairs which had a bar and live entertainment. It looked like an underground cave, and our musical entertainment Bruno even called me up to sing a Stevie Wonder song with him. Aw.


One of the best tourist attractions in Capri is the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azurra), which is a cave that you have to lie on the bottom of a rowing boat to get into. The sunlight shining through the water creates a blue reflection that illuminates the cave.


Our hotel was walking distance to some adorable little shopping areas and restaurants just further up the hill. (Look at this little house. Come on. Stop the cuteness.)



Beware, there aren't sidewalks on the narrow streets, so it can be a bit scary, especially at night. The downside was that there wasn't much nightlife there, so the majority of our nights were spent with Bruno and his keyboard at our hotel lounge. I'd definitely recommend Capri more for travelers looking to relax and take in the beautiful scenery.


July 1, 2013

Sightseeing in Rome

Rome is RAD. Seriously. By far my favorite city in all of Italy.  Not just because of the history (which there is a LOT of, and it's all equally awesome), but because, to me, it had a very New York City type of feel - diverse culture, spread out, lots different areas to explore.

We stayed at Hotel Delle Vittorie, which was a quaint little 3-star hotel that was about a 15 minute walk to the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. The nearby train station was only a few stops away from the Coliseum and Trevi Fountain (which are also great neighborhoods to go shopping, BTW.) I did the usual "throw a coin the Trevi fountain and make a wish" tradition, then went next door and got some gelato. So touristy. So worth it.


Then we cruised over to the Coliseum which was one those a-ha moments, where something clicks and you think, "Rome was not built in a day... ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY. IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW."

Well, that was my experience anyway.


We were told by the locals that Testaccio is the up and coming area for nightlife. I had the best meal of my life the last night in Rome when we went to Testaccio, and I am cursing myself for not remembering the name of the restaurant. It was a pizzeria at the end of the strip with an outside patio and an inside that looks like someone's kitchen (as you can tell by the pans on the walls and the cup shelves.) We had a zucchini and eggplant pizza and a giant bowl of gnocchi pasta with fresh mozzarella and tomato. It was to die for.


(If anyone recognizes the restaurant in this photo, please tell me so I can recommend it to everyone!)

After checking out of our hotel, we headed to the Roma Termini railway station and took the train to Naples to catch the ferry to Capri.

(Side note: Beware of cab drivers at the train station - if the driver doesn't have a running meter, don't ride with him. They'll overcharge you. A lot.

Also - we were warned by the locals to very careful of pickpockets at the train station in Naples.  So be safe!)



June 30, 2013

Friday Fun in Florence


My three favorite things about Florence: shopping, sunsets and significant amounts of nightlife. Granted, my days in Florence happened to fall on a weekend, so I'm sure that was a contributing factor, but regardless, Florence was F-U-N.

We stayed at the Best Western Hotel River, right on the Arno River, which was probably my favorite hotel of the trip because of the rooftop terrace with an incredible view (a-hem, see above), and the location. It's super close to Piazzale Michelangelo, Basilica of Santa Croce, Bargello Museum, and tons of little shopping areas. Florence is the best place for quality souvenirs and purchases at a great price (leather purses, jewelry, etc.).

And the sunsets are incredible. Check out this sky. WUT.


Just across the Arno river is a zoo of nightlife. We crossed the bridge over to the other side, where we found a huge party on the river, and a ton of bars lining the street. We ended up having drinks at Zoe Bar and met some locals who showed us around.


On our last night, we walked over to Kitsch, which I adored. The decor was RAD. Pink walls, purple velvet couches, leopard chairs, Christmas lights, mirrors and quirky lamps everywhere. LOVED it.


Next Stop: Viva La Roma!




June 21, 2013

Viva La Venice


This was my first time visiting Italy (as well as my travel compadre Jen's), and we started the trip in Venice. I'll start off by saying that Venice is very cool, mainly because of the ancient architecture, rock roads, little cutesy shops, and the food is deeelicious. However, I will also say that 2-3 days is really all you need here, as the island itself is pretty small. If you're going to be traveling through Italy, definitely spend more time in the bigger cities like Rome.


We stayed at the Hotel Gorizia A La Valigia, which was right in the heart of San Marco (San Marco is supposed to be the "touristy" area, but realistically, the island is so small you can stay anywhere and still be within a short walking distance to everything.)
 
Being the Italy newbies we were, one of the first cliche tourist acts we embarked on was a gondola ride. They're priced at 80 euros for 40 minutes. Which is $106 in USD. Which is ridiculous. However, you can bargain with the drivers. I talked him down to 70 euros, although I've since been told they'll go lower. But even though it's pricey, I'd definitely recommend it. It's a unique experience, and a great opportunity to take photos of the old buildings and little alleys throughout the entire island.



It's hard to recommend any restaurants in Venice, because to be honest, they were all incredible. For a nice view and killer bellinis, I'd recommend the restaurants along the Rialto bridge. And yes, I may have eaten ice cream for breakfast on more than one occasion and justified it as healthy because it included fruit. Don't judge me.



We stayed in Venice for two nights, then went to the Santa Lucia railway station and took the train to Florence. It's a 2-hour ride that costs about $38 USD, but for roughly $10 more, you can upgrade to first class, which is bit roomier and allows you to keep your luggage with you instead of leaving it in the luggage area in the hallway.