How To Help Hurricane Harvey and Irma Survivors

It's so hard to watch the destruction and suffering brought on by the hurricanes in Texas, the Caribbean, and the entire south, but there's a silver lining in how it's brought people together to help one another during a time of such divide.

Looking for a way to help?  For now donating is the best option. As the cities, states, islands, nations start to recover, there will be more opportunities focused on volunteerism and rebuilding.  We'll continue to update you on how you can help.

In the meantime, here are some places you might consider a monetary donation, in addition to the American Red Cross:

What's Up With...The Wild Wild(Fire) West?

While Texas recovers from Hurricane Harvey damage, and Florida and the Caribbean braces for Hurricane Irma, the western states, from Montana to the Pacific, are burning. Raging wildfires are burning throughout Montana, Washington, Oregon, and California.  Smoke is being seen and felt hundreds of miles away (reports in central CA, NV, CO, and even IA and IL).

The wildfires in Los Angeles, CA are the worst in history but now 80% contained.  Wildfires in Oregon are ravaging the Columbia Gorge and threatening Multnomah Falls Lodge.  The Sperry Chalet – a 1914 hotel and dining room in Glacier National Park in Montana only accessible by trail - unfortunately fell victim to the Sprague fire. 2,700 year old sequoias in Sierra National Forest were under threat earlier this week.

80 fires have burned down 1.5 million acres across 9 states since August 28, 2017. Here is a breakdown of total acres burned and locations via National Interagency Fire Center.

Up to date information on Eagle Creek FireColumbia River Gorge, Oregon (into Washington).
 

Up to date information on La Tuna FireLos Angeles, CA.

Colorado is the latest state to suffer from fires – the Deep Creek Fire started Monday, while the Big Red Fire continues to burn just south of the Colorado-Wyoming state line (started earlier this month).

What This Means For Travel: Air quality in Washington State, Western Oregon (including Portland), Northern California, Montana, Nevada, Los Angeles, CA, and parts of the 9 states listed above -- is reportedly very poor.  Many areas have also called for mandatory and voluntary evacuations.  Continue to check reports and practice caution when traveling to a location near an active fire, or reportedly has poor air quality.

What’s Up With…Hurricane Irma?

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As the U.S. is still reeling with the impacts of devastating Hurricane Harvey, and the West suffers from the worst wildfires in history, the Atlantic region is gearing up for Hurricane Irma -- the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic.  The storm made landfall in the Caribbean last night, and is on a path to Southern Florida. We’ll continue to update information as it’s available, but in case you’re wondering how these events might impact your travel, we’ve got you covered.

Updated as of Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - Washington Post is keeping this post up to date.

Status: Yesterday, Irma was upgraded to a Category 5. Winds are reportedly upwards of 185 MPH. The storm made landfall last night in Antigua and Barbuda and is expected to continue a course through Puerto Rico, into Southern Florida by Sunday or Monday morning.  Predictions beyond 5 days are not reliable, so future pathways are largely unknown.

Will I Be Impacted? A state of emergency has been declared for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the entire state of Florida.  Florida Keys are calling for mandatory evacuations effective today, and Miami-Dade County has also begun evacuating individuals with special needs out of caution. The Mayor is urging residents to stock up on essentials.

While Harvey dumped unprecedented amounts of rain, the concern in Florida is storm surge.  So, even if the storm passes quickly, low lying areas and ground floor buildings are still very much at risk of flooding.

Where Will Irma Hit? Landfall in Southern Florida is expected by Saturday morning. From there, Irma’s route is unknown. The storm is currently predicted to veer north up the Atlantic coast, although models show potential up the peninsula, or into the Gulf of Mexico. Impacts are expected to be felt up to 200 miles out.

What About My Travel Plans? Plan to cancel if you’re scheduled to visit the Caribbean, the Keys, or Miami County. Rest of Florida is still up in the air, since Irma’s pathway is still very unclear.  Remain on watch if your plans involve Florida in general, as well as areas along the Gulf coastline or up the Atlantic coast.  Be prepared for flight delays, cancellations, or diversions. If you’re a road warrior, stay out of potentially impacted regions as not to clog up the roads for evacuees and first responders.

Check this list for Airline and Cruiseline cancellations and waived change fees.

As long as you purchased trip insurance, any incurred costs from a change of plans should be covered. Be sure to check your policy.

 

3 Ways To Fit In Travel With a Full-Time Job

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Travel can be daunting for newbies – there seems to be so many barriers to travel, whether due to cost, security concerns, lack of sufficient vacation time – or lack of paid time off (PTO).

The latter reason is one of the biggest issues plaguing US employees. Project: Time Off’s State of American Vacation report shows that more than half of American workers (55%) left a record-setting 658 million unused vacation days in 2015. These habits are leading to higher than ever employee burnout rates, while the US slipped a spot to #14 on this year’s World Happiness Report.

While Americans blame unsupportive bosses, the need to show job dedication, and concern about returning to a mountain of work, 30% of participants claim they can’t financially afford a vacation.

Since I’ve already shared tips on how to travel the world for under $200 to address the financial barrier of expensive plane tickets, I wanted to also share how I manage to travel while holding down a full-time job.

My PTO and Holiday Schedule: I work for a public university, so I am fortunate to get more holidays off than most people -- I get 13 holidays (including 4 days at Christmas and New Year’s) a year. I also work a typical Monday - Friday schedule, so I have weekends off. And, I receive 15 paid vacation days a year. However, our university closes for the week between Christmas and New Year’s so I get a built in 10+ days off in a row, but I have to use about 3-4 vacation days during that time. So, I really get about 11-12 paid vacation days plus the 10 total days off during Christmas week. That translates into up to 3-4 weeks off a year if I maximize right and don’t have obligations in which I’ll need to use my PTO.

Unzip a life of travel while holding down a full time job with these tips!

Unzip a life of travel while holding down a full time job with these tips!

Use 5 Vacation Days Plus Weekends for a 10-Day Trip

As you should know by now, I plan my trips based on the cheapest airfare deals. The cheapest travel days are typically Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturdays. However, I’ve been lucky enough to score some great deals that allow me to travel from a Friday night to the following Sunday night for a full 10 days away. If you can combine this with a built in holiday, you can squeeze one extra day in.

How To Implement: Try to hold out for deals that allow travel on weekends, i.e. Friday night to Sunday night, and try to plan around a 3 day - or 4 day (hello, Thanksgiving) weekend. These deals do exist!

With the husband enjoying Thanksgiving Day 2015 in Prague!

With the husband enjoying Thanksgiving Day 2015 in Prague!

Work With What You’ve Got

I fully recognize some people don’t get more than a week of vacation time, or get weekends off.  But, if you at least get 5 days plus 2 days off a week, you can still manage to go somewhere over the span of 9 days.

If you can’t swing a full 9 days, even just 4-5 days can be enough to take in a city or destination, and it gives you just enough days to unwind from the stress of work. You may not be able to jam a bunch of cities into that timeframe, but it’s the perfect length of time to really get to know one destination.

How To Implement: First, make sure you know how many vacation hours you have. Then look at your work calendar and identify some times you can take anywhere from 2-5 days off surrounding your weekend or typical days off. I then like to wait for a great deal or sale to pop up with reasonable travel time to have the most time available to explore the destination!

Created our own 5-day long weekend and took advantage of $150 RT flights to Chicago for a long weekend getaway to Chicago, Indianapolis, and a destination wedding in Kentucky in November 2016!

Created our own 5-day long weekend and took advantage of $150 RT flights to Chicago for a long weekend getaway to Chicago, Indianapolis, and a destination wedding in Kentucky in November 2016!

Maximize Weekends and Holidays

In a similar vein to above, 48 hours can be plenty of time to visit a new city in your own state, or a nearby state, and if you have a 3 day weekend, then that’s even better. Not all travel has to be international -- there is so much to do and see in your home country.

If I’m taking advantage of a weekend or 3-day holiday weekend for travel, I try to stick to less than 2 hours of flight time or 5 hours of driving, otherwise you’re just spending way too much of your precious time off in transport.

I also love to travel over Thanksgiving.  Maybe you’re the type to prioritize the holiday at home with family and friends, but if you’re willing to forego a year of cranberry sauce, NFL, and turkey, unless you work in the medical field or service industry, you get a built in 4 days off.  That’s enough to travel somewhere quick, or add on just 3-5 vacation days for a full week-week and a half international trip.

And, as I mentioned, I'm lucky enough to get a full week off at Christmas/New Year's. Although it's typically more expensive, this year I was able to book flights from Los Angeles to Barcelona over Christmas and New Year's for less than $500 per person round trip.  

Last year, I used Southwest points to check off a new state capital -- Santa Fe -- and the year before I visited a friend. Both of these trips were over 4 days of my total 10+ days off. It gave me plenty of time to celebrate holidays with family and friends, unwind and catch up at home, and still travel somewhere new.

How To Implement: Pull up google maps and look at destinations within a 2 hour flight or 5 hour drive (about 1,000 miles flying or 300 miles driving, dependent upon traffic of course -- holiday weekends may result in increased travel times) and make a list. I like to choose destinations based on weather, time of year, least amount of crowds (if possible), somewhere new with enough things to see/do, or something that checks off a bucket list for me (i.e. state capitals).

If it’s driveable, I narrow down location or which weekend based on affordable hotel and airbnb accommodations. If it’s by flight, I wait for the next Southwest Airlines sale to pop up and book the cheapest late night Friday to late night Sunday or early Monday morning flights that allows me to get back to work on time.

Taking in the views at Red Rocks in Denver, CO on a quick 48 hour weekend getaway in June 2016

Taking in the views at Red Rocks in Denver, CO on a quick 48 hour weekend getaway in June 2016

BONUS - Maximize Business Trips and/or Take Advantage of Remote Work Opportunities

I’m counting these as bonuses rather than 4th and 5th tips, just because not everyone has the the flexibility to work remote, or travel for work. However, if you do travel for work, it’s a great opportunity to add on a weekend somewhere in or near your business trip destination to explore somewhere new.  I travel several times a year to Washington, D.C. and this year was able to extend my trip by taking the train up to NYC and flying home from there (actually cheaper than a roundtrip ticket to D.C. at the time!).  I’ve also made a stop on the east coast for work on my way back from a Europe trip.

Maybe working remote with these views wouldn't be so bad...

Maybe working remote with these views wouldn't be so bad...

The work remote option isn’t as fun -- I mean, who wants to work while on a trip in some exciting foreign locale -- but it can be a way to negotiate a longer trip out of your boss.  Say, take 5 vacation days, and an extra 3-5 where you’re working remote so you can get away for a full 3 weeks.

BONUS #2: Get Deals From The RoundTrip

If money is still your #1 barrier to travel, don't miss any of the hottest error deals and airline weekly sales. Make sure you're signed up for The RoundTrip -- our weekly 5 min tipsheet on the week's top travel news and deals to get you to book your next flight! #ShamelessPlug :)

How do you manage to travel while holding down a full-time job? I’d love to hear your tips! Comment below with your favorite part-time travel hack.

Pin this to remember these tips!

A Day in Tuscany With Viator...AKA The Day We Drank All The Wine

Ahhh Tuscany. Think rolling green hills, brilliant blue skies and adorable towns standing high on hilltops throughout southern Tuscany. The Val d’Orcia region is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is quintessential Tuscany -- gorgeous landscapes, vibrant hill towns, Renaissance architecture, charming (and steep) streets, and of course, some of the best wine in the world (but we might be biased).

Views from Pienza

Staying in Tuscany is always the best option, but if you’re a part-time traveler with limited time off like we are, day trips are the way the way to experience the best of both worlds. During our whirlwind Italy trip in May, we stayed in Florence 3 nights and booked a day trip to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino through Viator.

Montepulciano and Church of St. Biagio

The more popular day trip from Florence includes stops in Siena, San Gimignano, lunch at a Chianti vineyard, and Pisa, but wine drove our decision to opt for the Val d’Orcia tour.  Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile Montepulciano wines are some of the best reds in the world.  Solid go-to Italian wines if you ever find yourself staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin.

THE TOUR

For our Day in Tuscany trip, our tour had pick-ups in both Florence (train station) and in Siena. While booking, we could select to meet at the train station, or have a free pick up at our Airbnb. We opted for the free pick up, but for drop off it will cost you extra.

You visit a winery for tastings, Montalcino, Pienza, and Montepulciano, where you can tour a wine store and cave and get a second free tasting. Unlike the more popular Tuscan Day Trip from Florence, food is not included on this tour, except some crackers/cheese/meat and assorted appetizers at the two tastings, so beware of wine tasting on an empty stomach (unless you’re into that. You cheap date, you.)

WINE TASTING

The first stop was in Montalcino at the Abbadia Ardenga winery. The property spans over 1600 acres, and has a long history of winemaking. It was previously owned by the family of Pope Pius II, who was also key to the development of the town of Pienza (next stop on the tour). The vineyards on the property are solely dedicated to growing the Sangiovese grape varietal and produces 40,000 bottles of wine annually.

For the tour, we had a brief introduction and history lesson from the owner, an adorable older gentleman (who really has a thing for the ladies - you’ve been warned ;)) named Mario. Mario speaks no English, but was there for our entire tour, from learning about the property and family, to pouring wines during the tasting.

We tried four wines - a Rosso di Montalcino, two Brunello di Montalcinos (a D.O.C and D.O.C.G) and a white wine - Vinsanto.  We also opted to try the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - the best of the best - which Mario will open if you’re interested in purchasing.

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Enjoying Tuscan wine!

Four tastings may not sound like much, but when you skip breakfast, it does the job.  After the tastings, the buying of ALL the wine, and a few pictures with Mario, we were off to the town of Montalcino.

Helloooo Mario
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MONTALCINO

We had about an hour to spend wandering the hill town of Montalcino.  It was super charming with lots of shops and a fortress for a great viewpoint (Fortezza di Montalcino).  Fresh off the wine tasting, we grabbed a group of newfound friends from the tour and stepped into another wine store that offered a tasting. Our motto -- when in Tuscany….drink all the wine. After buying even more wine (we have a problem), we had just enough time to grab a quick cappuccino (what else goes better with copious amounts of wine) and head back to the bus.

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PIENZA

The next stop was Pienza  - the cutest little town and the home of Pecorino cheese. Wine, wine, coffee, more wine..and now cheese.  We. Were. In. Heaven.

It was the smallest town we visited, but had an adorable town square with a flower field and beautiful church. The views were amazing and not to be missed.  After a few photo ops, we once again found our new tour friends and went cheese hunting.  

All throughout town there are little storefronts with cheeses, meats, and more wine.  We hit about 4 different ones that offered cheese plates and all shared.  We also picked up some cheese, salami, and some truffle glaze with balsamic vinegar to go for our trek to Cinque Terre the next day at a storefront called La Taverna del Pecorino. The store employee (shop owner? Not sure) was the BEST. He let us try tons of different meats and cheeses and the various flavors of balsamic glaze, so definitely stop in there if you ever find yourself in Pienza!

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MONTEPULCIANO

Chris here -- This was by far the stop I was looking forward to most of all. For many years, wine from Montepulciano has been my go to when staring at a wine list not knowing where to begin (note -- Vino Nobile is different from Montepulciano d'Abruzzo). Generally affordable, but solid, easy to drink, and goes along with most meals - well, at leasts to my unpolished palate.  I had also heard great things about the town itself, so this tour through Val d'Orcia shot the top of my list.

Unlike many wineries throughout Tuscany that require transportation in between tastings, the town of Montepulciano offers walkable unique cantina tastings among its historic streets. On the tour, you had an option to wander on your own for about an hour and a half, or get a cellar tour in the former dungeons turned wine cellars of Azienda Agricola Ercolani, which ended with some light appetizers and free tasting.  Because, well, dungeons and free wine, we opted for the tour.

They offer the tour and free tasting whether or not you're on a larger tour, so if you find yourself in the area, make sure to stop in. Some other popular spots in town include the caves of Cantina Fattoria della Talosa or Contucci Cellars, or the modern Cantina Salcheto with an incredible view of Tuscany’s rolling hills.

After the tour we had about 45 minutes to wander. We stopped in some shops, then made one last quick stop for more wine and to soak up those Tuscan countryside views at Caffe Poliziano. Do stop in and snag a coveted terrace seat and enjoy some wine - or coffee - and GORGEOUS views!

Enjoying Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and espresso on the terrace at Caffe Poliziano
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VIATOR TOURS TAKEAWAY

We booked a few tours through Viator for this trip and found it to be a pretty easy process.  They contract with smaller tour groups, so you’re still supporting local tour guides, but we found the many tour company options to be somewhat overwhelming.  We had great experiences on all of the Viator-booked tours, with fantastic tour guides. Cin Cin!

Tour information is here, and our cost was about $72 per person.

If you're new to Viator, use this link to get $10 off a tour.

Full Disclosure -- if you book and complete a trip, we'll also get $10 towards a future tour. Also note -- this is not a sponsored post. We paid for this tour and views are completely our own.