Category Archives: Travel

Disney on a Budget

In January, we took Daughter Person to the most magical place on earth for her 5th birthday – Disney World.  We spent some time in Hollywood Studios, but mostly in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  We also got to spend an extra day because of the snow storm on the East Coast – we figured an extra day at Disney was better than waiting around in the airport with a 5 year old – we made the right call.  On Wednesday, we had our flights re-routed through Chicago (instead of DC) and flying on Sunday vs Saturday – no issues or delays getting home at all!  I used my miles on United to book our flights, so they were $30 in fees (and free checked bags!).

Park Tickets

We spent the most at once on Park tickets. We bought a 5-day pass through Undercover Tourist using two Barclay’s cards, $944 for the tickets, $800 statement credit for us.


We were going to stay in a Hilton via points, but for 2016, the Lake Buena Vista Hilton didn’t have the Disney Perks of an on-site hotel, so we changed tactics and paid for the Caribbean Resort.  The Magical Express was nice, and saved us from renting a car. But, we really wanted the on-site perks because it was Daughter Person’s 5th birthday and we wanted to make sure that we got reservations to Cinderella’s Royal Table on a Friday Night.  We had a better chance of that by staying on-site and being able to make the reservations 186 days in advance rather than 180 days.  We didn’t have a package, and we spent about $900 for 6 nights (vs the originally planned 5 nights).  No points, but used our cash back Fidelity card (2%).  Not having a package ended up being a good thing when we had to extend our stay by a night.

The resort was nice, but it made me think of a cheap motel because all of the room doors open directly to the outside.  It was clean, it had a cool pool, but it was nothing to write home about.  I’m pretty utilitarian in my hotel choices – it’s really just a clean place to sleep.


This is where we spent most of our money.  We didn’t go with a dining plan because we tend to eat very light for breakfast and lunch and then nice dinners.  The dining plan didn’t cover many of the dinners we had reserved and planned, so I Was planning on paying out of pocket for all the food.  We probably spent about $250/day on food and drink: breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional snack.  I did drink my way through the world at Epcot, so that was a good bit of it…  After talking with some folks, the dining plan might have been a good option for us.  I did try to help with getting the occasional kids meal for myself for lunches – no one asked or batted an eye, I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the dining plan.

Other Notes

We did get the Memory Maker photo package, which I thought was worth every penny.  You just find a photographer on property, ask them to take your picture, and scan your magic band, and the picture shows up online and I own limited digital rights to them.  We definitely got our money’s worth with this, and we didn’t have to worry about taking the pictures ourselves or not being in the picture.

Daughter Person had a blast, and already wants to go back.  Mom and Dad were stressed out with the crowds (and it was “low” season!), and aren’t planning on making a return trip until Daughter Person is in middle school or is at least tall enough to go on the rides at MGM and Universal Studios.  Then, we’ll probably stay off property, rent a car and do things on our own.

I was somewhat disappointed in the number of thrill rides available – I prefer my coasters to go faster than 30 mph (so does Daughter Person, she kept asking where the “real” roller coasters were). We didn’t ride that many rides, but instead played the various “games” at the parks.  The Magic Kingdom has the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card game and several adventures in Adventureland related to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Epcot has a Phineas and Ferb game with “Agent P” that takes you through the various countries and trigger neat effects.

The trip was worth Daughter Person’s enjoyment at seeing the “magic” for the first time, and 4-5 was a perfect age for it!


One of those things you never think about enjoying – but we’re “officially” home less. Closing was on the 1st, and I’ve got the final HUD-1, and the confirmation that USAA is mailing us a check (MoversAdvantage), but I don’t have the money in our account, nor is our mortgage showing as zero balance. They said it could take until this morning for that to happen, so I’m not going to start making any phone calls yet.

Last weekend, we finished packing and put all of our furniture, and a good bit of our “stuff” in storage. Anything we didn’t sell, donate, trash, or bring to my mom’s with us is in storage – and it still takes up a lot of space: 12 storage pallets…

On Saturday, we’ll be making our last drive to DC for a while – our flight to Europe leaves from Dulles. We’re doing a park and fly deal with an airport hotel – we’ll leave our car there for two weeks, then stay there the night we get back into the states: all for $99+tax, less than we’d pay for 14 days of parking at Dulles ($140 in the economy lot). Our flight from Europe gets back about 9pm as well, so having the chance to rest the night before driving 4 hours will be much appreciated.

Here’s to enjoying our vacation without a home on the market to worry about!

Last Trip for Work

The rest of this week will be a little bittersweet for me – I’ll be taking my last trip for this job.  I’m going to Peru, so it’s not a “boring” trip by any means – just long flights.  I’ve been traveling for this job since 2005, and as a friend commented to me the other day, I have “more stamps in my passport than a post office has”.  I’ve flown all over the world – literally – over the last 9 years, and I’ve enjoyed it.  I’ve been to 6 continents, about 20 countries (and will be adding two this trip!), and according to TripIt, 288,157 miles since April 2008 when I started using it.

When Daughter Person was born, I started collecting dolls from each of the countries I visit – something preferably in the native dress of that area.  My father had created a similar collection for my aunt when he was in the Navy that ended up being mine, and I passed it on to a cousin – and it was damaged in a flood 🙁  Hopefully, I can take Daughter Person to see the world when she’s old enough to appreciate it and she can pick out her own dolls.

I’m not going to be making airline status in the future – not via actually flying anyway. I should have Silver status at least for next year, but after that, I’ll be on my own.  I’ll have to collect my points the “new” way of churning credit cards – after we’ve gotten our new mortgage!

Federal Security Clearances – No Thanks!

I’ve (luckily) never had one – and after this week, never plan to either.  I was asked to complete the SF86 form to get a secret clearance for a company that liked my resume, but didn’t have any active work – and anything they had would require at least a secret clearance.  So, without being employed by them, they started the process of getting me a clearance.

I have now met the SF86 form, and I will not have a federal clearance for at least 7 years.  Why?  There’s one annoying question on it that makes my life practically impossible: “Have you provided support to a foreign group or organization in the last 7 years that was not listed as a previous employer?” (Or something along those lines).  Of course, I have – I am a consultant.  I have provided a *lot* of support and time to foreign companies – it’s kinda what I do for a living.  But trying to remember each contract and each contact at the company that I helped?  Not so much.

Almost all of our direct clients are US-based companies, but they do business with foreign companies that I’ve assessed, and some of them have offices in other countries (or have acquired a foreign company).  According to the security officer I was working with, I’d have to list all of those – over the last 7 years.  My best guess is that over the last 7 years, I have visited and advised at least 200 foreign contacts at foreign (and US-based) companies.  I could probably name the companies, but not the individuals at each companies.

While it severely limits me in the job search (especially in the DC area), I will not be taking any position that requires a clearance.  There are some things that are just not worth it.

New source for CC rewards – for me.

My “new” company doesn’t have a corporate credit card, but I still have to book flights and hotels, and all that other good stuff while traveling.  The solution?  I put it on my personal card(s) and get reimbursed in my paycheck.  Since I have enough in the savings to cover most of the trips I need to take, I don’t think this is a problem – and I get the credit card rewards for it.

I just booked a $2,000 flight to Peru with my Costco AMEX card – 2% cash back on all travel – that’s an extra $40 in my pocket later in the year (I get business class tickets based on the client’s travel policy).  I’ll also be able to rack up the expenses on my new Hilton Honors Reserve card to meet the minimum spend for the bonus as well (and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees).

The only issue arises when there’s a $8-9k trip that I’ll need to cover.  I’ll have to make sure that the reimbursement falls before I owe the balance on the credit card.  I can supposedly request a check with a week’s notice, so if I have to buy one of the very expensive flights, I can get reimbursed almost immediately if I need to.

Here’s to more rewards!

Busy, Busy, Busy

Work has picked up this month, and I’m traveling during 3 weeks this month – including to Brazil at the end of the month.  The traveling is fun to a certain extent, but in addition to the actual travel to the sites I’m visiting, I have to spend approximately 40 hours writing a report once I’ve finished my site visit.  If you do the math, you’ll notice that there are not more than 40 hours in a work week – leaving me finishing my reports after hours.   I’m particularly keen on finishing the reports before I do the next site visit, just so I don’t get multiple sites mixed up in my head!

The travel normally isn’t too bad, but this past week, I got caught up in the delays caused by a fire at air traffic control in Chicago.  My flight (no where near Chicago) was delayed over 4 hours!  At least we managed to get to our destination, which is more than I can say for some other travelers that day.  I actually was so exhausted when I finally made it to my hotel that I ordered room service.  I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve ordered room service.  I can expense it, but I still have a deep-seated desire to not waste money, even if it’s not mine. (I’ve actually got a bit of a reputation at my client for being the “cheap one”).

I hope to catch up on everyone’s posts as I procrastinate report writing, but I do want to spend some time with my family while I’m not traveling!

World Travel and Another Place off my Bucket List

I have an informal goal to visit every continent on the planet, and near the end of the month, I’ll be able to cross another continent off my list: South America.  I’m going to Brazil for work.  This will be my first time in South America, and that leaves one last continent on my list: Antarctica.  I would also like to spend more time in Africa, because I was only in Mauritius, a small island off the coast of the continent (but technically part of the African continent).  Kinda like Japan is an island off of the Asian continent.

Of course, I’d love to go everywhere in the world (or most places – some of the Sharia law places scare me as a woman), but I know that’s not likely to happen in my lifetime. I’ll settle for the world’s major cities 🙂

Getting to Antarctica will be a lot more interesting – I doubt I’ll ever get to work at McMurdo or travel there for work (although, they do need network administrators!), so it’ll have to be a leisure trip.  And the only way to set foot on the continent is traveling on a boat of less than 100 people – otherwise, you can see Antarctica, but not set foot on it due to environmental concerns.  And almost all of the small boats that go to Antarctica are luxury boats – not my idea of a good time.  I don’t like cruise ships to start with, I’d especially hate one that’s “luxury”.  I’m hoping by the time that I have enough time to enjoy such a trip, there will be other options to visit there.  Seriously, I’m OK with stepping off a boat, wandering around for 10 minutes and getting back on the boat – it’s just the experience of being there!

Dipping my Toes into the Points Game

I don’t make a secret about how much I love to travel, what I have to admit is that I haven’t played the credit card rewards points game yet (at least not to its full advantage).  Today, that has changed.  I applied (and was approved) for a Citi HHonors Reserve card (not an affiliate link).  Why did I choose that card?  I really enjoy Hilton properties (mostly the Hilton Gardon Inn, Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites), and that’s my hotel chain of choice.  The reserve card automatically gives me Gold status (free wifi) as long as I hold the card.  I also get two free weekend night certificates (and one each year after) for Dad and I to enjoy a weekend away – or take Daughter Person – I plan on using these first ones to take her to Hershey Park this summer (free hotel!).

The most important items to me are: the EMV (Chip-and-PIN) and the no foreign transaction fees.  Those alone are worth the $95 annual fee.  EMV/Chip and PIN is a technology that is used all over Europe and protects your credit card from a very common type of fraud: Your card never leaves your sight – waiters cannot take it to the back room and swipe it making a copy of the magnetic strip (the strip is active however, and *can* be used – especially since merchants in the states don’t take EMV).   Many ticket machines and gas stations in Europe also take chip and pin only (usually those that are unattended at night).

I’d been getting by by having a Travelex chip and pin card pre-loaded with Euros, but I have to remember to reload it before a trip, and it’s a $4 fee/yr I keep it active.

We’re also thinking about when we want to take her to Disney World, and the spring she’s 5 is the likely target (18 months away) – so we’re going to follow Brad’s advice at RichmondSavers and get there almost free!

Other statuses I already have:

  • United Gold (from actually flying that much – and likely to hit it again this year. This one I actively try to keep for Star Alliance Gold status)
  • Marriott Gold (status match with United).
  • I randomly get to Hilton Gold some years, but most often Silver – I just don’t stay that many nights when I travel.

If/Then in New York City

I just spent the last few days in New York City for work, and I took advantage of the trip to see a Broadway show. I’m a huge fan of Idina Menzel, and so I looked up tickets for “If/Then”, her new musical. Dad graciously used his fun money to buy my ticket because I wasn’t going to spend “that much” money on one ticket ($101.25). Go see it if you get the chance, but take tissues!

The show is all about the choices we make and what those consequences can be, and the missed opportunities we’d have or not have based on those choices. The show starts with Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) making a choice in a park in New York City. Then the rest of the show follows the two paths that “happened” after that first choice. You follow the two paths “Liz” and “Beth” through the show, including work, love, heartbreak and friendship. I admit I bawled during the 2nd half after intermission. The central theme of the show is all about making our choices and owning them, and not constantly wondering what if.

The central theme applies to our lives as well. We made choices to get to where we are today, whether we’re happy about that or not. And we can’t keep wondering what if we had made a different choice. We have to own our choices, good and bad, and live with them. Once those choices are made, we can’t undo them, and we shouldn’t even try, but instead make our next choice to the best of our ability.

When it comes to our financial lives, most of us probably wish we made different choices in the past – living more within our means, saving more, borrowing less. But we are where we are now, and the best we can do is make the best choices we can from this moment on. So, if you borrowed money in the past – even just moments ago – start making the choices you want to make right now.

No one knows what the future holds (or we’d all be lottery winners!), so you do what you think is best at the time given what you *do* know. Don’t waste time wondering what would have happened if you had made a different choice, you didn’t – so own your choice, and make a better choice next time.

A Day Out With Thomas

This weekend, we took Daughter Person to the Strasburg Railroad for a Day Out With Thomas.  We stayed in Lancaster, PA at a Homewood Suites – which worked out well for us.  We could put Daughter Person to bed in the “bedroom”, yet Dad and I could stay up in the “living room” until we were ready to go to bed.  What didn’t work out so well was her sleeping in her own little cot – she preferred to be in the “big” bed – which was at least a king size bed, so Dad and I had some room to ourselves.

Daughter Person had a blast – and even I thought it was fun seeing all of the old steam trains.  In addition to riding on “Thomas” (yes, the engine in the picture is the actual engine pulling the train), we also rode on the “normal” steam train to Paradise, PA.  It was really interesting to see how slow the train was, it felt about 15-20 mph, and we even saw an Amish buggy going faster than the train at one point.  I don’t know if that’s the top speed of the train, or if they go that slow to make the trip a 45 minute trip.

The tickets themselves weren’t horribly priced (~$92 for the combo ticket), but the “extras” were, lunch was $25 for the three of us – and it was sandwiches and hotdogs and fries.  And we “had” to get the formal picture which turned out a lot better than our cell phone pictures, which was $17 with taxes.  All in all, we spent about $500 for the weekend – tickets, hotel, gas, etc – all budgeted!  I think it was $500 well spent to see Daughter Person’s face as she got to see “Thomas”.

Family Picture at Day Out with Thomas

Family Picture at Day Out with Thomas