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    Travel Tech: Flying App

    Review of the Flying app, a tool to track your flights and connect with fellow travelers.

  • Santa Barbara

    Santa Barbara → Las Vegas

    En route to Las Vegas from Santa Barbara - planes, buses and automobiles!

  • Santa Barbara

    Instagram Lately: West Coast Adventures

    A quick photo roundup courtesy from our time on the West Coast!

  • Santa Barbara

    Santa Barbara // Quintessential California Living

    What makes SB so great? It embodies the essence of California.

  • Scottsdale

    First Stop: Scottsdale, AZ

    A brief eighteen hours in Arizona marks our first stop en route to California.

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In the sea of travel-focused apps available for your mobile device, which apps do you prioritize? Which are actually useful to you as a traveler? A couple of years back, I created a list of 9 travel apps that I love while traveling; they’re varied and for use in different capacities (e.g. booking, capturing, and sharing). Some are still my go-tos, but with the ever-changing landscape of tech, it’s in need of a facelift. I was recently introduced to the Flying app, and was intrigued enough to download it prior to our West Coast adventure.

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The app serves a few different functions, though it’s primary use is to track your flights, with information being available to you even when you’re offline. I found this particularly useful as we set off in wifi-less zones and while up in the air. When’s our next flight? How long is that flight? When are we due to land? All of that information is stored in the app once you’ve put in a few bits of information about your flight path.

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It provides interesting visualizations of the data to make the tracking component a bit more interactive, and has a social piece that allows you to connect with friends, see their flight paths and total miles flown. They integrate gamification by giving users ‘stamps’ for certain achievements in flying. As we all have learned by now, gamification works in a big way. Remember when FourSquare came out and we were all rushing to be mayor of every establishment that we loved? I’m always a bit wary about connecting with friends on platforms like this (it crosses into the oversharing category for me a little bit), but I can see it being an enticing component. It’s not that we really care where our friends are going for the most part; rather, it’s that the competitor inside of us wants to see that we’ve somehow ‘won’ in travel time, length, most interesting routes, etc.

When my first flight from St. Maarten to Miami landed, I was able to pull up this information while still on the plane waiting to disembark. I could see when my flight was scheduled to take off, the gate from which it would depart (including the updated info), along with the flight number.

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Whether or not you use the social piece of the app, the functionality is certainly still there. Just having a list of flights, flight numbers, times, gates, etc. at my fingertips was incredibly useful. Yes, you do have the take a moment while connected to input the relevant info, but that’s a relatively small task. All in all, I’m a fan, and I appreciate the constantly evolving travel tech industry. Keep it up, techies!

Has anyone else tried this app yet? What’s your go-to travel app? Why are you a fan?

xo from somewhere in the air,

Shannon Kircher

 

Santa Barbara

Our trip from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas was a long one. In hindsight, we could have easily rented a car and made the drive from Southern California to Nevada in less time. We booked a flight out of LAX to Las Vegas for a 2PM departure, perhaps a bit ambitious considering we had to get to Los Angeles in the first place, and our travel day was the day after a wedding (read: a late night). We had initially considered taking a cab since all online estimates led us to believe it would be around $100 for a cab. When we talked with Angelenos that were at the wedding, they confirmed that the drive to the airport from Santa Barbara could be upwards of two hours, and that cabs may not even go that far. If they did, it would be far more than $100.

Time to rethink our plan.

SB Airbus

After a quick search for buses or trains to get us from Point A to Point B, we discovered the Santa Barbara Airbus, a no-brainer for travel to the airport from the Santa Barbara area. For $40 each, we were picked up at a central point in SB (at 8:50AM, ugh) and driven directly to the Los Angeles Airport. The drive was estimated to be roughly two hours, and we arrived far ahead of schedule, leaving us plenty of time to get through security, and have lunch before heading to our gate.

For anyone looking for a way to get from Santa Barbara to LAX, this is the way to go if there are one or two of you. The ride was smooth, the bus was comfortable (reclining seats, a restroom, A/C, friendly driver, plus snacks + beverages for purchase), and the views for part of the journey were quintessential Southern California vistas. We got off the bus at our final destination and were both incredibly impressed with the experience; I would use the service again without a second thought.

Vegas Bound

Vegas

I had never for a second considered that there may be weather considerations when flying into Las Vegas. San Francisco, yes; the East Coast during the winter, yes; but Vegas? Not for a second. Of course our first fateful day in Vegas was met with thunderstorms (apparently not uncommon), creating weather that was unsafe for air travel in the area. We were stuck in LA until further notice. We boarded a plane, were told to deplane, and then waited again until Scott finagled us two seats on another plane bound for our destination. We were delayed before departure for an additional 30 minutes and then when we actually arrived in Vegas (praise the Lord!), we had to wait another 25 or so to find a gate. By the time we made it to our hotel, our 3:30PM arrival was actually 7PM. Still, we were in Vegas, and the excitement of being in the city was enough to make us forget the hours-long wait fueled by Starbucks’ iced coffees and football. Plus, the sunset had the Strip lit up in cotton candy hues through our drive (terrible iPhone photo below).

Vegas Sunset

Birthday Bash Scouting Trip

This trip, beyond being a fun weekday break and an escape from the sky-high prices of hotels in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, was in part a scouting trip. I’ll talk more about this and some of our discoveries in an upcoming post, but we are currently in the process of planning a birthday bash for my grandmother who will be turning 90 in 2015. What better place for family and friends with a varying list of likes and priorities to celebrate than in Vegas? We spent some time each day talking with potential sites and vendors to put together what we think will be the ultimate tribute to my grandmother as she enters her tenth (yes, TENTH) decade of life. I’ll be sharing that info here shortly so stay tuned, especially if you’re in the process of planning a celebration of your own in LV.

Shannon Kircher

Santa Barbara

Snapshots from CA + Las Vegas

I’ve finally carved out a bit of time to sit down and recap some of our adventures on the West Coast. We experienced zesty margs in Scottsdale; the beach, sunshine and quaint vibe in Santa Barbara; a dose of glitz, glam and gluttony in Vegas; and revisited city living in San Francisco. Our experiences were diverse, and each brought us a new set of memories with friends and family. Here are some photos that I shared on Instagram that capture some of our experiences Stateside.

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{Snapshots from the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, AZ}

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{Five days in sunny Santa Barbara with a gorgeous wedding at a blueberry farm in the mix.}

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{Delicious food, Cirque adventures and poolside relaxation in Vegas.}

Presidio, San Francisco, CAGolden Gate Club, San Francisco, ViewGolden Gate Club WeddingBridesmaid - Nana + ShannonFamily Photo - Spoonemore WeddingBalboa Cafe, San Francisco, CA

{Revisiting our former home of SF and enjoying some family time during a wedding & birthday celebration.}

More photos and posts are on their way! If you don’t follow me on Instagram already, pop over and say hello on IG: @lavidashannon. Also be sure to follow my account for snapshots from our upcoming trip to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. I’m excited to be sharing some incredible new memories from an exciting bucket list region!

xo from 35,000 feet in the air,

Shannon Kircher

Santa Barbara

6 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has long been one of my favorite cities in California, and our time spent there over the course of five days reinforced my love for the quaint seaside town. We flew directly into Santa Barbara airport, a tiny little building with classic Santa Barbara architecture (Santa Barbara is heavily dominated by a Spanish/Mission-style architecture) located about 20 minutes from State Street and the harbor.

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So, what is it that makes Santa Barbara extra special? It is California. That is to say, Santa Barbara arguably embodies the essence of California – or at least the way California is perceived by most – more than any other city in the state. Here are six reasons to visit Santa Barbara to get a hearty taste for California livin’.

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The Weather is Perfect.

1When visitors to California dream up what their experience in the state will be, this is likely it. By most standards, the weather is perfect. A steady 65 – 75 most of the year, the mornings bring in cool, fresh air; the days are sunny without being too steamy; and the nights are crisp. It’s weather that makes you want to walk all day and explore on foot.

There’s the Beach + So Much More.

Santa Barbara Beach

2Though California beaches aren’t generally the world’s best, seaside towns remain the hallmark of California. Surrounded by picture-perfect palm trees,  you’re just as likely to see college-aged kids lounging on the beach as you are to see older SB residents taking a nap on a towel. The sand is classically Californian; golden hued with remnants of palms dotting the sand.

Beyond the beach, Santa Barbara also embodies other quintessentially Californian elements: you can wine taste in the region, pick fresh berries at a local ranch, and horseback ride in the hills.

It’s clean with Postcard Perfect Architecture.

3One thing that strikes me about Santa Barbara is how clean it is. No, it’s not the size or type of city that San Francisco or LA are, but many seaside towns do inherently have a bit of a grunge/beach bum factor. Not that you’re not going to find that in Santa Barbara (there’s definitely a bit of that), but it remains strikingly clean and has a palpable dose of luxe infused into the main areas. In terms of similar vibe/cleanliness (on a smaller scale with lower temperatures), Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the California Central Coast has a similar feel.

As I briefly alluded to, while the architecture that you’ll see in Santa Barbara isn’t necessarily representative of California as a whole, it certainly looks like the paragon of Californian perfection. Spanish and Mission-style architecture is everywhere. From homes to shops, you’ll see terracotta roofing and whitewashed facades all around.

Hotels are Quaint.

4We stayed at a little hotel called Brisas del Mar, part of the Santa Barbara Hotel Group. Lavender Inn sat across the street, the Eagle Inn was a couple of blocks away, and Hotel Milo and Harbor View Inn were around the corner. That represents perhaps a quarter of the hotel offerings within a mile of State Street. None of these hotels are big; rather, most of the best located properties have a warm, homey feel and serve as a home base for exploring SB’s biggest draws. Our hotel could use a bit of updating, but the location and service were great, plus they offered complimentary bike rentals, breakfast, wine + cheese in the afternoon, and cookies and milk in the evening. There’s no debate on this front: Santa Barbara is an expensive city. Even a smaller, mid-range hotel will run you $250+ per night, with many going far beyond that.

For larger hotels, check out the Four Seasons, Bacara (located in Goleta) and Belmond El Encanto.

Great Boutique + Department Store Shopping.

5If I have four days in Santa Barbara, I could peruse State Street each and every day and not be tired of doing so. Sure, there’s way more to SB than shopping, but if you like shopping (ladies, are ya with me?), this is heaven. There are the usual suspects (Nordstrom, H&M, Sephora, etc.), but there are also loads of boutiques for clothing, accessories, housewares, jewelry, and more. Last year, I picked up an awesome necklace from Afghanistan in a rather nondescript boutique. As someone who lives outside of the US now, I can appreciate being in a place with solid shopping options to get my fill before heading back home.

It’s Active.

6This is something that I fundamentally associate with California living, and an element that I greatly appreciate: active lifestyles are encouraged. Head into Santa Barbara (or any number of other towns in CA), and you’re likely to see people kayaking, surfing, running, biking, rollerblading or skateboarding. Head down to the beach, and you’ll see people throwing a frisbee or playing volleyball in the sand. Perhaps it’s the weather that begs people to be outdoors, but it’s fabulously wonderful to see people enjoying their environment.

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Have you been to Santa Barbara? Do you love it as much as I do? 

xo from the West Coast,

Shannon Kircher

Scottsdale

Layover in Phoenix

En route to our ultimate destination in California, we had an overnight connection in Phoenix. We toyed with a variety of flight routes, all of which had a number of connections due to the facts that a) we were booking on miles (the routes at the lowest point scale aren’t always the most desirable), and b) we were headed to Santa Barbara, home to an airport about the size of Anguilla’s. In the end, we found an overnight layover in Phoenix the best option. Neither of us had spent any time in the area, and we thought it may be a nice way to break up the flying. After a 9:30PM arrival, lost luggage, and a $50 cab ride, we made it to our final destination: Hyatt Regency Scottsdale.

The property is stunning and the service matches. Our first thought? If only we had more time here… Considering we hadn’t spent any time in Scottsdale before, this would have been the perfect place to call home while exploring had we had the extra time. Plus, after a long day of travel and a minor hiccup with the luggage, this was a very welcome surprise from the team (who had already heard about our luggage issues):

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It’s pretty incredible how those extra touches can completely boost your mood. Being in the hotel industry ourselves, experiences like this are also a great reminder for us about how something like this can have such a great impact on guests. Somehow, the travel, the luggage, and the tiredness dissipated.

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Despite our late arrival (even later for us, considering our bodies were operating on East Coast time), we suited up and headed down to the lobby bar to meet our friend who lives in the area and works at the Hyatt. Armed with prickly pear margaritas, we got a late night tour of the property before heading out into Scottsdale. Also, that cactus (above) is the largest cactus I’ve ever seen; it’s the oldest and biggest cactus on the property. Apparently, each arm on a cactus represents a decade of life. This one’s about as old as my grandmother. Update: Our friends from AZ informed us that each limb represents quite a bit more than a decade; apparently the lifespan on these guys can be hundreds of years and it can take half a century before they even sprout arms. There’s a lot about cacti I clearly don’t know.

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Now, for me to make any real observations about Scottsdale based on our 12 hours in the area would be superficial, at best. Still, a few things that struck us during our night there:

1. I’d never been to Arizona but have heard about the AZ heat like everyone else. We exited the airport at around 10:30PM and the temperature was still hovering close to 100°F. Residents were wearing pants in this weather. Clearly your body adjusts. I’m all for the sun and warmth, but whoa.

2. We didn’t get to spend any real time in Downtown Scottsdale, but we did get a quick driving tour of the area. What I’d envisioned was something entirely different from reality. I had dreamed up a main downtown strip with one or two main streets, dotted with independent restaurants, cool bars, and live music making its way into the streets. What we saw looked more like a strip mall. Next to these go-to local bars, I half expected to see a Target, Michael’s and Jamba Juice. It wasn’t exactly the downtown feel I’d imagined. Perhaps we missed something?

3.  The sensation that we’d landed in a place that embodied Southwest culture was almost immediate after landing. I haven’t been to New Mexico, which I imagine has a somewhat similar feel. While we were exiting the airport there were stores doling out dreamcatchers, Native American-inspired everything, and cookbooks with recipes that could be in a Bobby Flay series.

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All in all, we were happy to have had a night there to briefly experience a sliver of Arizona. Have you been to Scottsdale before? What were your thoughts? Any must-try restaurants or bars?

xo from the West Coast,

Shannon Kircher

St Lucia

During last week’s #CaribChat on Twitter, we continued the focus on specific islands in lieu of a broad Caribbean conversation. This week, the focus was the beautiful island of St. Lucia and the St. Lucia Tourism Board helped in co-hosting, formulating questions and participating in the conversation! Surprisingly, in addition to the slew of St. Lucia lovers who recounting the magic of their stays overlooking the iconic Pitons, we also had newbies who’d never visited the island who wanted to listen in for tips + inspiration. If inspiration was anyone’s goal, we certainly had no shortage. With people sharing pictures like this:

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and this:

St Lucia
Courtesy of @JetSetSarah

… there was no shortage of inspiration. If you aren’t yet convinced that St. Lucia is the spot for you, read on for thoughts on dining, activities and more from St. Lucia lovers. If you’ve been to St. Lucia and have favorites to share or if you have questions of your own, please share them in the comments below!

Discover St Lucia

Activities in St. Lucia

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Romantic St. Lucia

Romantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. LuciaRomantic Getaway in St. Lucia Read More

The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel

Big travels on a little budget

Before I moved to Europe and really began traveling, I had always associated a jet setting lifestyle with the global elite; people who could afford to buy a ticket to a far-flung locale and somehow afford accommodations for days, weeks or even months on end. Following that logic, I reluctantly accepted that ticking off all of the boxes for my bucket list adventures may never happen. Keep in mind, as an American, young adults are not encouraged to go on gap years — the traditional university route is widely accepted to be the more socially appropriate course.

I had been familiar with hosteling, of course, and in college knew people who headed to Europe or Asia for a summer experience, but it wasn’t until I moved and met many European globetrotters that I understood the real depth of budget opportunities. So, if you’re dreaming of setting out on a big travel experience – or a round the world trip! – here are some resources and tips to keep in mind for traveling big on a tiny budget.

Budget Travel Tips

Transportation {Flights}

There’s no doubt about it, flights can be a huge expense when you’re budgeting for travel. Where I find I can often times book hotel rooms the day of and secure a discounted price, flights are not same. A study done by CheapAir.com shows that buying 54 days prior to a flight is optimal, with flights booked further in advance for international flights. I typically book international flights 3 – 6 months in advance to find the best deal.

Fly on Miles // For The Loyal Flyers

1For a long time, I steered clear of being loyal to an airline. I flew whichever airline was cheapest and didn’t think twice about it. Then I got sucked in to American’s program and have since scored free flights using miles. For folks that fly frequently within the US, don’t discount airlines like Southwest who have great ‘Wanna Getaway’ fares that can be secured for minimal miles.

SkyScanner + TravelZoo // For Single Destination Travel

2I’ve written before about how much I love SkyScanner, and my love has yet to dwindle. I scored my parents a roundtrip ticket from California to the Caribbean (St. Maarten) for $505 roundtrip. We’d previously paid in the neighborhood of $750 – $800 or more for that same ticket. This isn’t for those that are tied to an airline but when it comes to scoring a deal, I’ve found some great options. The same can be said for sources like TravelZoo. I subscribe to their Top 20 newsletter and have found some incredible deals on airfare. A great example? When I moved to London, I flew direct from San Francisco for $250. Remember, if you know where you’re looking to fly – a main hub, perhaps – engage an alert so you’re notified when prices drop!

One World Explorer, et al. // For RTW Trips

3Many airlines offer round the world ticket options for those looking for a truly global experience. Star Alliance offers their Round the World Fare and One World Alliance offers their Global Explorer or One World Explorer options (One World Explorer allows you to choose how many continents you’ll be visiting, with up to 16 segments booked). They work in roughly the same fashion: you put in your point of origin and then select ongoing destinations that will be part of your itinerary, with the terminal point being the same as your starting point. Prices will vary, and aren’t cheap, but do provide a bit of incentive for those hitting many locales.

Regional Airlines // For Regional Explorers

4So, you’re not up for a RTW trip but are looking to explore a region. In this case, keep your eyes peeled for regional flight deals. For example, One World offers an Asia pass that allows you to fly around the continent on Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian and others using a simple rate structure. The folks over at Family Travel Forum talk about their $1200 ticket that granted them entry into 8 countries within a 30 day period. Considering what single legs can cost, that’s a steal!

Likewise, Seabourn Airlines is currently offering a Caribbean island hopping pass for $699. Traveling within the islands can be very expensive despite the short distances so package offerings like this can represent a huge savings. There is a time frame within the flights must be used but you can fly to any island serviced by Seabourn.

Other airlines and groups offer Air Passes for different regions so dig a bit deeper and find out what’s available. Some of the promotions aren’t ongoing so keep yourself looped in by following airlines on social channels so you can learn about deals when they arise.

Southwest, AirAsia, EasyJet // For No-Frills Short Flights

5If I learned anything while traveling within Europe, it was how to pack light. I flew EasyJet almost exclusively (unless there was a cheaper, more convenient flight on a line like AerLingus or Alitalia) and quickly learned that their restrictions on weight and dimensions are no joke. The airlines are pretty basic and are strict about the luggage requirements but they’ll get you from Point A to Point B pretty inexpensively.

Know of other great budget airlines to score cheap flights? Share them in the comments below!

Transportation {Ground Transportation}

Peru, IncaRail

Perhaps flying from destination to destination is not your style. Instead, maybe you want to see the landscape while traveling from Point A to Point B (to Point C, to Point D…). There are lots of budget travel options for bus and train travel if you’re looking to go that route. Some are cheaper than others but your choice will depend on how budget you want to be and where you fall on the time vs. money continuum.

Eurail, Amtrak, etc. // Long Distance Travel by Train

  • For US travel, look at Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass options which allow you to choose from 15 days/8 segments, 30 days/12 segments or 45 days/18 segments depending on the trip you have in mind.
  • In Europe, train travel is a common option for budget travelers as it represents one of the better values for longer rail experiences and can allow for more flexibility. A Eurail Pass is a famously good option and allows you to choose from single country passes, two country passes, 4 country passes or a custom itinerary for trips that go beyond that (the Global Pass is good for up to 24 countries). I’ve had a number of experiences with European train travel and have had great experiences each and every time.
  • In South America, train travel options exist in many countries with varying degrees of efficiency and comfort. Check out Seat61′s guide to South American rail options for greater details depending on which countries you’re interested in visiting.
  • In Asia, it will largely depend where you’re going as investment in infrastructure is hugely varied. In China, you can  check out China Highlights for tickets within the country. As an example, you can get a second class ticket from Beijing to Shanghai for $94. For a broader, albeit much more expensive, option, check out the Trans-Siberian Railway which connects China with Mongolia and Russia.
  • From what I’ve seen in Africa, many of the longer distance train opportunities are focused on the luxury experience (Blue Train for example, which is roughly $1300 for a ride from Cape Town to Pretoria).

If you’re familiar with any great train options in South America, Africa and/or Asia, please leave your thoughts and insight in the comments below!

Eurolines, Mekong Travel Pass, etc. // For Travel by Bus

Buses, while not the most glam of options, can certainly be a great route for budget travelers looking to explore many great locales without having to worry about flights or more expensive train travel. Buses can be an extraordinarily good value but do be aware that trips can be very long and roads can be very rough in developing areas. Certain regions with larger backpacking population are a bit more well worn and buses are a bit more versed in getting around. Here are a few options, depending on which region interests you.

  • In Europe, check out the Eurolines pass which gives you access to 41 cities across Europe and total flexibility with travel destinations. You can choose from 15 or 30 day passes and prices are available for youth (under 26). A 30 day youth pass is around $330 in low season and $500 in high season.
  • In the US, Greyhound is your best bet if you’re looking for bus travel across many states. They have Web Only Fares that are significantly less than in-person rates.  You can go from San Francisco to LA for around $15, or SF to Vegas for around $35. As far as I can tell, you have to book each leg independently (there’s not a US pass). Also, check out Megabus which now serves many areas in the United States for shorter legs of travel (it’s less prevalent on the West Coast). For example, you can get from DC to New York for as little as $3 one way (rush hour is typically 5 – 10x as much).
  • For Central America, check out Bamba Experience’s ‘Complete Central America‘ package. The packages are super flexible so you can make changes to your itinerary before or during your trip so it follows the path that’s best for you. This particular option starts in Cancun and ends in Panama City with stops in Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica and more.The recommended time is 23 days and the cost is around $1350.
  • In Southeast Asia, check out Stray’s Mekong Travel Pass which grants you access to what is essentially a hop on – hop off bus in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Entry to a number of sites is included with the $1368 pass. You can start and end anywhere on the route since it’s situated in a loop! Country-specific options are available as well if you want something less broad.
  • In South America, Bamba offers a number of routes depending on which areas pique your interest. You can choose a route that starts in Lima and ends in Santiago with their Pacific Ways South trip, stopping at other coastal cities along the way (it’s $899 and they recommend around 22 days to complete the trip).
  • In New Zealand, Flexitrips offers flexible bus passes for exploring both the North and South Islands. You can choose options that allow between 5 and 30 trips, and an option that includes the interislander ferry.
  • In Southern Africa, check out Intercape, the largest intercity passenger transport operating in South Africa, Namibia, Malawi and other countries. BazBus is a good option for bus travel within South Africa specifically.

Accommodations

Hostel

Couchsurfing // Free Stays in Local Homes

1Couchsurfing (here) has become wildly popular for budget travelers and the community represents 7 million people that are traveling the world and staying with locals. Though I haven’t personally gone this route (and, to be honest, I’d be hesitant as as lone female traveler), I’ve had friends who have done this with wonderful experiences to share. Accommodations often represent a huge expense when traveling; to be able to cut this cost entirely can make traveling more extensively a much more feasible option.

WWOOF // Room & Board for Services

2WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and it’s actually something I looked into when I was coming to the end of my graduate school stint. Knowing I’d be headed back to the US (womp, womp), I wanted to find a way to continue seeing the world without having to spend loads of money. With WWOOF, opportunities are available worldwide in a number of environments (think olive farms in Italy and coffee farms in Peru), and typically require 4 – 6 hours of work in exchange for a place to stay and a full day’s worth of food.

Had experiences with WWOOF? Please feel free to share your thoughts + experience in the comments section below!

Housesitting // Free Stays for Week-plus Stays

3I first was really introduced to the concept of housesitting after communicating with the team at Suitcase Stories, a blog focused on housesitting experiences. The concept had me a bit skeptical, but it’s all totally valid. There are people around the globe seeking out trustworthy sitters for their house and/or pets. With a quick glance, I spotted opportunities from London to Costa Rica, with thousands of listings around the globe.

HomeAway, VRBO, et al. // Inexpensive Group Lodging

4When I began brainstorming ideas for an upcoming milestone birthday, I headed to HomeAway to find a house that could accommodate 8+ people in my desired location. What I quickly discovered was that the results span the gamut. Yes, there are drool-inducing estates but there are also incredibly affordable villas that provide a great deal for groups (or even just a pair traveling together). Look outside of a central city area if you want lower rates (and are okay with having to rent a car or call a cab for transport). You can find deals around the world and rates are often seasonal. If you’re flexible, you can score homes in places like Tuscany for the equivalent of around $25 per person per night. Bonus: remember that staying in a house will help you save on food costs since you’ll have a kitchen at your disposal!

Hosteling, International // For Hosteling Around the World

5Lest I skip the most obvious of choices for budget travelers, I can’t discount the ever-present hostel. Hostels are a famously good option for those traipsing around Europe but they’re found around the globe from Algeria to Vietnam. Often times, hostels are well situated and offer great additions like free wi-fi and inexpensive dining options. Sign up for Hosteling International’s membership to get discounts on hostels and activities while traveling. If you’re not concerned about having your own room, most hostels offer dorm-style setups with bunk beds and rooms for up to 16 people or more. Rooms of 10+ are not uncommon. I once stayed in a place called The Tent in Munich which housed dozens of people under one massive tent.

Obviously price is hugely dependent on where you’re going, but rates are generally very inexpensive in comparison to local competition. For example, a hostel in Bolivia costs $4.50 per night for a shared room with 4 other people. If you want a private space, you’ll fork over $8.90 a night. Not too shabby. By comparison, in a major developed city like Sydney, your entry level rate in a shared room is around $33 per night.

Are there any other accommodation options that I’ve neglected to mention that work for budget travelers? Do you have any experiences with the options I’ve just listed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Activities

Checking out the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Youth works on your side when it comes to scoring deals on must-see sights and popular attractions. As I mentioned above in the hosteling section, showing your Hosteling International card will have benefits when it comes to cultural immersion experiences. Don’t forget to bring your student ID with you, either. Many places around the world offer great discounts or free entry (or designated freebie nights) to individuals bearing a valid student identification. A few examples based on my personal experiences: free entry at the Acropolis in Greece, discounted entry to the Louvre, discounts on European rail tickets, and incredibly inexpensive tickets to musicals across London (I once scored Grade A tickets to a performance of Wicked in London’s West End for £15 instead of the typical £60+).

You can also check out the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) which is internationally recognized and offers global benefits to card carriers.

Dining

Food trucks FTW :)

When it comes to dining, I always found it a plus if my chosen accommodation had breakfast included. What that means will differ based on the accommodation and the destination, but I’d be happy to start my day with a cup of coffee and something light before heading out to explore. Some hotels boast an extra large buffet option (this was the case when we were in Prague) where you can load up in the AM and sometimes not be hungry again until around dinner time.

I have never eaten at an American chain when traveling though I realize some American fast food spots can provide inexpensive options. Instead, I’m a fan of street food where I’m nearly certain that it’s safe (I suppose you can never be 100% certain). In Turkey, that was hummus and pita at a hole-in-the-wall spot; in Paris that was an inexpensive crepe at box-sized kiosk. There are options, and you don’t have to give up local flavor and a cultural experience just because you can’t splurge on a fancy dinner by a famous local chef.


Now it’s your turn to share your experiences and best-kept secrets! Is there anything that I’ve forgotten on this list? How have you managed to experience great travels on a little budget?

West Coast

Interestingly enough, I’ve realized that I sort of skim over my time in California rather than showcase the incredible destination that it is. I was just in Lake Tahoe for a bachelorette party, and spent two and a half weeks in San Francisco, Napa, San Diego + Tahoe last September, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at this blog.

That’s what happens when you’re revisiting a place that you call home; the sights tend to seem less brilliant purely because you’ve seen them before and/or you know you’ll see them again. Despite the iconic elements – the Golden Gate Bridge, the endless vineyards, the quintessentially Californian beachside towns – I rarely take photos unless they’re pictures of friends and family. When I’m in a foreign locale, even something as simple as a street sign or a weathered bench captures my attention. It’s knowing that I may never be in that same place again that makes me pause and take mental snapshots (a good habit, in my opinion), and it’s perhaps that same line of thinking that causes me to take my trips ‘home’ for granted.

But let’s be honest, the place we called home is a pretty great place; something that I’m starting to really understand now that I’m no longer there. That’s how it always happens, doesn’t it? You manage to remember the little details of what makes a destination captivating when you’re not living in it. It takes a seriously conscious effort to take mental snapshots of all the little moments that make up every day life. This go around, I’m vowing to take in our time on the West Coast. We have adventures ahead and I’m going to log each experience as I would any other memorable getaway. On our September agenda:

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California

1Santa Barbara is one of my favorite cities in California, if not the world. It’s the ultimate blend of small town feel, a laid back beach town vibe with a serious splash of luxe. If I could live in any city in California, Santa Barbara would probably be it. It’s essentially all things great packed into one picture-perfect package. We’ll be in Santa Barbara for five days, celebrating a wedding and catching up with friends from the Bay Area.

Las Vegas

S&S-Paris

2Vegas wasn’t supposed to be part of this trip but it snuck its way into the itinerary. We knew that September would take us to California to celebrate not one, but two weddings, during back-to-back weekends. The timing was superb so we booked our tickets for the 12-day stint which allowed us to watch our nearest and dearest friends tie the knot. Then we looked at each other and began brainstorming what we would do with the weekdays separating those two weekends. We could stay in Santa Barbara (expensive) or head up to San Francisco (even more expensive) or we could do neither of those. We could go to Vegas. It sounds extravagant, but here’s the truth: it’s cheaper to stay in Vegas than it is in most cities in California. A lot cheaper. On top of that, we’ve accumulated an endless amount of Southwest miles which allows us to fly to Vegas for virtually nothing (except for a nominal tax). I like to think we’re saving money by going this route. Reasonable justification, right?

Plus, it’s Vegas. 

San Francisco

San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf

3Last, but certainly not least, we’ll be heading to San Francisco, our former home and one of my favorite cities in the world. We’ll be heading to a family wedding in the city, and will have five days in town to relive the magic of San Francisco in September. As a bonus, we get to toast to my grandma on her 89th birthday with a celebratory lunch in the City by the Bay. Location TBD — we’re still in brainstorming mode.

I’ll be recapping my adventures here, but you can also follow me on Instagram to stay up to speed with my upcoming journeys on the West Coast!

We’re still figuring out where to stay in Vegas! We’ve previously booked the Palazzo (great) and the Trump (meh). Any recommendations on new hotels that we should experience? Vegas will be a partial scouting trip – we’re on the hunt for the perfect experiences for my grandma’s 90th birthday bash in LV!

xo from the Caribbean,

Shannon Kircher

Anguilla, BWI

Little Bay, Scilly Cay + Johnno’s

If you can’t tell from my previous Sunday posts from Anguilla, Sunday is the ultimate day for live music and activities on the island. Johnno’s has their afternoon jazz, Scilly Cay is open with live music, Gwen’s has a string band in the afternoons, and Omari Banks serenades the crowd at da ‘Vida during lunchtime. Experiencing all of it in one day is impossible, but we were on a mission to make it a day of memories, including as much as we could without spreading ourselves too thin.Little Bay, Anguilla

This trip marked my in-laws last full day on the island, and also marked my last day with out-of-town houseguests that had been visiting us from DC. We wanted to end the trip with a bang, and bring a memorable conclusion to an already jam-packed trip. First up: Little Bay.

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Lest we float empty-handed, we cracked open a jeroboam of rose that we had gifted to my in-laws for their anniversary. If ever there was a time to drink it, this was it. Drinks in hand, we floated in the calm cove without any other visitors in sight.

Floating in Little Bay

Perfection.

I’ve talked about Little Bay time and time again (here, for example), but it’s a place that’s truly awe-inspiring; dramatic and unique. As I explained to my mother-in-law during our time there, it doesn’t matter how many times we visit, I can’t help but take pictures. While we’re idling there with no one else in sight, it feels wrong to not capture the moment and take in all of the colors and depth. As a result, I have about a thousand of the exact same photo taken on different days, but you know what? I’m okay with that.

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From Little Bay, we made our way to the wondrous Scilly Cay. I just talked about how much I love Scilly Cay a few weeks ago so I won’t go into detail about why it’s amazing. Suffice it to say, it is amazing and in my book it’s a must if you haven’t been. Even if you don’t want to splurge on a crayfish lunch, pop in for a rum punch and take it all in. When you’re planning your itinerary, remember that Scilly Cay is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays with Sundays offering live music.

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Typically a Scilly Cay Sunday is plenty in and of itself, but we had a next step involved. Since it was the final day for a number of passengers, we concluded our boat trip by pulling into Sandy Ground to listen to jazz. Sprocka, a veritable living legend on Anguilla, was serenading the crowd with his covers and upbeat originals. If you remember, Sprocka played the cocktail party for our wedding so we have a particularly soft spot in our heart for him! As usual, he was fabulous.

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It was a bittersweet Sunday with some incredible memories and some sad premature goodbyes. Still, I can’t think of a better sendoff than a mini island tour with friends and family.

For those that have spent time on Anguilla on a Sunday, what are your go-tos? Why?

xo from AXA,

Shannon Kircher

Discover St. Kitts

A few weeks back, I worked with the St. Kitts Tourism Board to host a weekly Twitter chat, #CaribChat, with a focus on St. Kitts. When I first started #CaribChat, we talked a bit more generally about travel in the region, but I thought it may be valuable to host chats that were a little more focused and island-specific. Those that have an interest in potentially visiting can gain insight from travel pros and lovers of an island, while frequenters to a given locale can share their best kept secrets and musts for newbies. By all accounts, it’s a win-win, and our first island-focused chat on St. Kitts was an overwhelming success. Lovers of the island came out en masse to share their thoughts and everyone who hadn’t yet visited the island was thoroughly convinced that St. Kitts is, in fact, a destination worth noting. Check out the recap from our conversation to learn more from others who contributed. We talked about accommodations, dining, beaches, activities and more, and everyone was bursting with ideas and excited to share. A big thank you to the St. Kitts Tourism Board for co-hosting and to all the St. Kitts lovers who participated and shared insight.

Activities in St. Kitts

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