Retail Therapy Without the Guilt (or Expense!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we spent a pretty good chunk of change in our recent living room remodel. So, in keeping with our Mustachian ways, that means we’re tightening our wallets a bit over the next month or so, to even out that additional expense.

That being said, you can imagine how pleased I was today when some FREE MONEY just showed up in my inbox, allowing me to do a little shopping without the guilt or cost that normally comes with such activities.

How? Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of airline and hotel loyalty programs. But as it turns out, many retail outlets have their own loyalty programs as well. And West Elm, where we purchased our new couch, is part of a loyalty program called “The Key”.

I took the 30 seconds or so to sign up for this program before I punched in my credit card details for the couch purchase, and poof! Three months later, a credit for $67 showed up in my email. Even better, I could choose from between 7 stores (including Pottery Barn, West, Elm, and William-Sonoma) for where to spend it.

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So, after perusing the many beaded pillows and terrariums and finials and all other matter of stuff that pretty much no one on Earth *actually* needs, we settled on two items from Williams-Sonoma: a wine decanter (to replace an old one that cracked) and a spoon rest for the stove (which I’ve been talking about getting for ages).

The subtotal came out to just under $58. I applied a coupon code I found online for free shipping, and then with tax, my “total” was $62.73. I added the certificate number from my email, and voila — my purchase was free. I didn’t even have to enter a credit card number!

The lesson here is always to take a couple minutes to research your “reward” options, especially on large purchases. Our typical order-of-operation goes something like this:

  1. Check for coupon codes using Honey or RetailMeNot
    • If not, check to see if you can get bonus points for purchasing the item by going through a travel shopping portal (like Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping).
  2. Check to see if there’s a statement credit available through Amex Offers, if you’re an Amex card holder.
  3. Check to see if you can get free shipping by meeting a certain subtotal amount or through a service like ShopRunner, which is a free benefit of many Amex cards.
  4. Check to see if you can sign up for a loyalty rewards program through the merchant, or if they participate in an umbrella program, like Plenti.
  5. If the retailer gives you any sort of discounts to use in the future with your purchase (like with Kohl’s Cash, or Old Navy Super Cash), mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget about them.
  6. If it was a really large purchase (over $300 or so), keep your eye on the price of the item over the next 60 days or so, then avail yourself to your credit card price protection benefits if the item’s price decreases.

So take the extra time, and you might just run into a free shopping opportunity yourself!

Highlights from our “Nevertheless, She Persisted” Postcard Party

This past weekend, we invited several of our more liberal-leaning friends over for a slightly different kind of social event: a postcard party. The purpose of this sort of gathering is to get individuals together to write their elected officials, but in a way that’s fun, social, and builds up our community.

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The planning for the party was fairly straightforward. I scheduled the event for 3pm on a Sunday, so that meant I’d only need to provide light snacks and refreshments. We opted for a mimosa bar (much like our New Years Day brunch) along with iced tea, homemade salsa and guacamole with tortilla chips, chicken salad tea sandwiches, my homemade pepper jelly over cream cheese with crackers, and cookie-brownies. (The cookie brownies came from a box…baking isn’t really my forte.)

Then, there were the logistics of the postcards themselves. Assuming I’d get 10-20 people in attendance, and that the average person could write about 30 coupons in a 2-hour span, I went ahead and ordered 500 postcards from Vistaprint. (Don’r forget to check for coupon codes!) It only cost me about 10 cents per card, and here’s what they looked like:

As for the postcard designs, I found a few that were made available for free, specifically for this cause, by their designers. Others, I ordered digital downloads from Etsy, each for less than $5 a piece. I’d highly recommend this route if you decide to replicate this yourself — don’t forget to pay your artists!

Next came setting my attendees up for success. I gathered addresses for all of my area representatives at both the federal and state level (President, Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, 2 US Senators, US Representatives from our area, Texas governor, Texas Lt. Governor, Texas Senators from our area, Texas Representatives from our area, and our city mayor. I also wrote a list of “conversation starters” — ideas for what folks could write to their reps at each level. (I’ve made both of these documents publicly available on Google, in case anyone would like to use them!)

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Then, I cut down an Amazon box into small pieces so that everyone could have a piece of cardboard to write on, gathered pens, printed out multiple copies of my documents, and we were ready to go!

As everyone arrived, I gave them the rundown of how to proceed: they could write up to 3 postcards to each rep, and I would collect them in three separate batches, for mailing on consecutive weeks. Guests were instructed to bring personal address labels, postcard stamps, and like-minded friends.

Midway through, I gave a quick speech of other upcoming activism opportunities, and overall I’d say the event was a huge success! We’re thinking of hosting another such party next month as well.

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Postcard parties are a fun, easy, and social way to stay politically active. They don’t replace more direct activities like calling and visiting your reps or going to town halls, but if you’re unahppy with the current administration, they can be just one more way to make sure your voice is heard.

 

 

Our Living Room Remodel Revealed: Before & After Pics!

It’s finally done! After my annoying back-and-forth with West Elm, and scouring my garage for interesting mantle items, my new living room is finally finished!

And I’m loving it. Our room before was just a hodgepodge of things that we had both brought into our marriage, but now we have a single defined design for the whole space. Our house feels more airy, open, and full of light.

So what do you think? Check out my before and after photos below, or look at my list of vendors toward the bottom of the post!

Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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Vendors:

  • Couch – West Elm
  • Rugs, Drapery – Wayfair
  • Coffee Table, Chairs, Dog Bed – Overstock
  • Pillows, Wine Rack – Amazon
  • Botanical Prints – Etsy (Artist)
  • Frames – WalMart

And everything else was just “recycled” from stuff we already had. We can’t wait to start entertaining in the new space!

Trip Review: All-Inclusive Resort in Cancun

We’ve just returned from our first “real” vacation of the year, a four-day trip down to Cancun, Mexico. It was a fantastic little getaway, and once again, the out-of-pocket cost of our trip was almost entirely FREE, thanks to our use of points and miles strategies.

We got our free flights, direct on Southwest from Austin to Cancun, as I’ve previously described in this post. Then, using points we earned from the sign-up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, we booked our resort via the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Booking via the portal was a great option for us, as you can can choose from nearly any property you can find on sites like Expedia or Travelocity; this meant we weren’t locked in to a particular hotel brand or chain. And in Mexico, when you look beyond the main American hotel brands, you open up an additional option: all-inclusives!

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The hubby with our beachfront resort’s mascot.

We had just under 60,000 points left in our Ultimate Rewards account, and thanks to the enhanced redemption rate you get as a Sapphire Reserve cardholder (with each point valued at 1.5 cents per point, as opposed the 1.25 cent rate with the Sapphire Preferred or a flat 1 cent with other Chase cards) that was enough to book 3 nights at the GR Caribe All-Inclusive by Solaris in a Deluxe Oceanview room (plus free premium wifi as part of the package).

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We were just about $40 shy of covering the total cost — not bad for a little Caribbean getaway!

And the resort turned out to be a good choice for us. While the GR Caribe itself is fairly small, it’s connected to the much larger sister property, the Royal Solaris Cancun, and guests receive full privileges at each resort. That means we got access to a total of nine restaurants, four bars, multiple pools and hot tubs, a marina full of non-motorized activities, and plenty more that was all included in the price of our stay.

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The courtyard just outside our room was comfortable and airy.
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The light on the adobe walls at night was particularly beautiful.
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Our Deluxe Oceanview Room featured a breakfast nook area and traditional accents.
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A rose and towel animal from the housecleaning staff.

I liked the GR Caribe in particular for its traditional Mexican adobe-style architecture. Our room, a Deluxe beachfront room on the ground floor, was spacious, nicely decorated and clean. Our only complaint is that, despite making our reservation for a King bed, we received two Queens. In the end, this wasn’t a big deal, but sleeping in separate beds did put a bit of a damper on the romance element.

Still, we made the best of it, and there was plenty to do. We visited the ocean, swam in each pool at least once, tried all myriad of frozen alcoholic concoctions, and even took the bus into Downtown Cancun to visit the large traditional Mexican market, Mercado 28, for some sightseeing and souvenir shopping.

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We enjoyed morning walks and afternoon swims on the well-kept beach (despite the red flag warning; we’re both very good swimmers.)
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One of the many pools at night.
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We also took advantage of the on-site mini golf course featuring Mayan-style sculptures.

As with many all-inclusives, however, there are a few a trade offs for not having to open your wallet from the moment you arrive. The restaurants were all pretty sub-standard in our opinion; even the fancy ones that required a reservation were pretty bad. We actually thought the best food came from the pool-side snack bars and the buffet; most days I ended up just loading up on chips, fresh salsas, and guacamole.

Additionally, you have to skillfully avoid the timeshare sellers. We knew to expect the sales pitches, and after a few tries, they recognized we were a lost cause and stopped bothering us. (As it turns out, telling them that the vast majority of your vacations are free because of points and miles is a pretty good deterrent — they had no counter to the fact that their “vacation club membership” wasn’t free.)

But overall, we really enjoyed our trip, and the fact that I resisted my normal urge to schedule every-minute of every-day made sure we had plenty of time to just relax. If you’re thinking about taking a trip to Mexico, now’s definitely a great time; the exchange rate is hugely in favor of Americans at the moment with the US Dollar equaling roughly 20 Mexican pesos. And besides, who wouldn’t want to take a picture like this?

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Those are some relaxed faces right there! That one’ll make the Christmas card for sure.

Styling a Mantle with (Mostly) Found Objects

As part of our ongoing living room redecoration, it became evident that my old mantle styling (which centered around a tile mosaic of one of my favorite vintage Italian alcohol posters) could use an update as well.

I’m a big fan of the “asymmetrical balance” approach to mantle styling, and I also don’t like the idea of spending a fortune to style a mantle; I feel like what you display there should tell a story about the room’s occupants, or highlight some of your favorite things.

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The old mantle styling highlighted a favorite artwork and a small wine rack. 

So, I went on a treasure hunt throughout my house to see what I could come up with that might work within the new mantle decor. First, on the left, I re-discovered a pair of candle stick holders my grandmother had given me well over a decade ago.

Next, I repurposed our large living room wall clock; we like having a clock in the room, but it wasn’t going to work anymore in its old location and would be needing a new home anyways.

On the right hand side, I pulled out a large white ceramic vase that had been hiding in our garage for many years, and to help give it a little height, raided my bookshelf until I found a couple books with pretty, embossed spines that also fit the room’s overall color palette.

At this point, I was just about finished. I headed off to my local crafts store to gather the finishing touches: new candles for atop the candle sticks, a complimentary vase and some flowers to fill them. I discovered the crowning touch, my silver rhino statue, on sale for $12 at At Home. The hubby and I have a running joke about putting a giant rhino statue in our front yard to scare the neighbors; as such the rhino fits here because it’s not just a decorative object, but one that connects to us as the homeowners.

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To me, this all works because of that asymmetrical balance – you have two similar, but slightly differentiated, items (candlesticks) on the left side, you have two similar, but slightly differentiated, items (vases) on the right side. You have a large round object on the left (clock); you have another round item (round vase) on the right. The heights, materials, and colors all vary. It looks composed, without looking cluttered.

And the total cost in new object to bring this together? Only about $30. Win!

Healthy Recipe: Easy Tuna Poke Bowl

I’ve always been a huge fan of sushi, but I’ve never actually tried making it at home. It just seems like a lot of work. Who has time for that on a week day?

But when we did the Meal Kit Review Series a couple months ago, one of the recipes was for a “poke bowl.” *Lightbulb moment*

I love poke. Essentially a rice bowl topped with marinated raw fish, it’s like a deconstructed version of all the best parts of sushi. We’ve made a few different varieties now, and it’s officially been added to my ongoing rotation. And the secret is really just the sauce/marinade. Here’s what goes in ours:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sriracha sauce
  • 2 tbsp black vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil (sesame oil works too, if you have any lying around)
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 a scallion, finely chopped

You can adjust the quantities to your taste, but that works quite well for us. Pour half the mixture over your fresh, sushi-grade fish (tuna or salmon both work well; make sure your fish has been previously frozen so as to avoid any parasites, since you won’t be cooking it) in a Ziploc bag, and let marinate about 20-30 minutes, while you cook your rice.

You can use either traditional white sushi rice for this recipe, or go with a brown rice alternative for a healthier dish. If you go with brown rice, don’t rinse it as much, as the starch will give you that “sticky” texture that you’re looking for. If you want to be truly low-carb, skip the rice altogether and substitute mixed greens.

My favorite toppings are seaweed salad, shredded carrots, avocado, green onions, mango, and sesame seeds. Other ideas include nori pieces, fish roe, cherry tomatoes, red onion, pickled ginger, edamame, cilantro, red cabbage, wonton strips, etc. You can really include anything you like!

Finally, add the remaining sauce to your masterpiece to your own taste, and dig in. You’ll spend 1/3 of the dough you’d shell out at a sushi restaurant, and still get all the satisfaction!

Try This, Not That: An Alternative Travel Guide for Austin, Texas

After publishing my last post, about the steps and sites I frequently use to plan our vacations, a friend was surprised to learn that I don’t often look to travel guides like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet for advice.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just start with one of their frameworks?” they wondered.

Well, yes. It probably would. But in my experience, a lot of things that make it into the guide books are popular only *because* they’re popular. But if you follow their advice, you often will end up solely in the touristy parts of a town, without ever getting much chance to meet actual locals or experience the places they frequent.

My friend wasn’t convinced, though. So I went ahead and pulled up Lonely Planet’s Top Things to Do for Austin and showed them how a lot of the entries were pretty overrated. It’s why I’m much more apt to trust bloggers, vloggers, and ‘grammers who know a destination well.

Which got me thinking — I’ve lived in Austin more than a decade now, and been writing this blog for more than three years — yet I’ve never done a “trip review” of my good ‘ol hometown. So without further ado, here’s my alternative list of places to visit in Austin that you won’t find in a standard issue guide book.

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Round Rock Bat Bridge; Photo by Flickr user Henry Huey under a CC license.

The Round Rock Bat Bridge (instead of the Congress Avenue Bridge, as recommended by Lonely Planet & U.S. News)

Ahhh, the most touristy of all Austin activities, where on spring and summer nights, hundreds of tourists line the sidewalk of the Congress Avenue Bridge in hope of seeing a majestic show of the country’s largest urban bat colony streaming out for their nightly hunt.

But here’s the problem: over half the time, the bats won’t fly until after the sun has set, and standing on top of the bridge, you’ll be looking down at dark water instead of up and the still-light sky. That makes it damn near impossible to see the small dark flecks streaming out from the bridge. Moreover, you’re looking at at least a couple hour wait to get a good spot, standing in zero shade on a narrow sidewalk, as rush hour zooms by you on one of Austin’s busiest streets.

But just up the road 30 minutes in the suburb of Round Rock, there’s a much better option. A slightly smaller bat colony dwells beneath the Highway I-35 overpass at McNeil road, and there’s a nice grassy area where you can settle down on a camping chair or blanket to wait for the bat’s arrival. Few tourists means you won’t have to compete for a good spot. Plus, since you’ll be looking UP at the overpass, the bats will be much easier to see against the backdrop of the sky.

Make a trip of it and grab some happy hour wings and beers at the nearby Pluckers Wing Bar, and you’re guaranteed a better experience than you’ll get over on Congress Avenue.

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LA Barecue; Photo by Flickr use Egoiste under a CC license.

LA Barbecue (instead of Franklin Barbecue, as recommended by pretty much everyone)

Yes, we know you’ve heard about Franklins. You saw the Visa commercial. You read about it in every travel article ever. We know. And if you want to get up and get in line around 8 am, go for it.

But if wasting a whole morning of your vacation in line for barbecue in a town positively swimming in barbecue joints doesn’t sit well with you, there’s another option, but it’ll require understanding a bit of Texas BBQ history. LA Barbecue is owned by LeAnn (hence the LA portion of the name) Mueller, granddaughter of Taylor’s famous Louie Mueller, and sister to John Mueller, Austin’s bad boy of barbecue and former boss/teacher to Aaron Franklin. Moreover, the pitmaster at LA Barbecue is John Lewis, who used to work at…guess where? Franklin Barbecue.

So you can just as easily head to the LA Barbecue trailer, not wait in line for 3 hours, and still get some outstanding Texas-style ‘cue.

Of course, if you really, REALLY want to go to Franklin’s? Pro-tip: you can order a whole brisket (enough to feed 6-10 people) exactly one month in advance of the date you intend to pick it up. If you do that, you’ll get to skip the line.

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East Sixth Mural; photo by Flickr user 4ELEVEN Images under a CC license

East Sixth Street (instead of Dirty Sixth Street, as recommended by U.S. News)

Are you really excited at the prospect of drinking well liquor or mass-market domestic beers? No? You haven’t been since you were about 19? Yeah. Me neither.

“Austin’s Famous Sixth Street” aka Dirty Sixth is geared towards this kind of drinking, though. While there may be a few standouts establishments, most are there to serve a Fireball-swilling crowd while cover songs blast much too loud in the background.

Try East Sixth, the part of Sixth Street east of I-35 if you’ve outgrown the former scene. You can nab good cocktails or craft beer, nice drunk food, and avoid the amateur-hour type crowds.

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Curra’s Exterior; photo by Flickr user by Chris Gallevo under a CC license.

Curra’s Grill (instead of Guero’s Taco Bar, as recommended by Lonely Planet)

In my opinion, Guero’s is the absolute most overrated restaurant in Austin. It’s just entirely average Tex-Mex, that happens to be in a good location. Owing to the good location, tourists have been flocking here for years, when a far tastier (and cheaper!) alternative is only a couple blocks away.

Curra’s Grill, meanwhile, serves all the same dishes, just tastier. And they offer something you can’t get at Guero’s: the avocado margarita. Trust me, if you’re a New Yorker that spent the last year or so freaking out about Avocado Toast, you’re going to pee your pants over avocado margaritas. You’re welcome.

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Comic wall at Cap City; photo courtesy of Cap City Comedy’s Facebook page

Cap City Comedy (instead of Esther’s Follies, as recommend by U.S. News)

Austin has a really great live comedy scene, y’all. There are some damn funny people in this town. But Esther’s Follies is downright cheesy. If you’re 50+, get nervous when people use foul language, and don’t want a show that gets “too political”, head on over to Esther’s Follies and shell out $35 for the privilege.

But if you want to see real stand up, try out Cap City Comedy, especially on a Tuesday night for their Punch showcase (which features local comedians) and you’ll be able to use the $20 you saved on tickets to buy yourself some drinks instead.

What are the tourist “favorites” in your town that you’d actually tell people to steer clear of? Tell us in the comments. 

Header photo by Flickr user Katie Haugland Bowen under a CC license.

How to Maximize Your Vacation With a Well-Planned Itinerary

It’s probably not a secret to any of you who actually know me in real life, but…I’m definitely  a planner. Like, intensely so. If someone tells me their grand vision for anything, I immediately start trying to work out the logistics in my mind.

And the same goes for vacations. I’m not a “hop-a-last-minute-flight-to-wherever-and-then-see-where-fate-takes-me” type of vacationer. When I go somewhere, I will have researched the hell out of it before my feet ever touch the ground in my vacation destination.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be spontaneous. For our upcoming trip to Cancun, for example, I’ve booked our flights, resort, and airport transfer — but that’s all. Because I know that is a trip focused more on relaxing and unwinding instead of sight-seeing, I’m happy to leave our day-to-day plan until we get there. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t extensively researched each and every bar and restaurant on the resort property, explored the tours you can purchase for nearby attractions, and read reviews of pretty much everything I can find on the area.

Because to me, being prepared allows you to be spontaneous without feeling like you might be missing something. 

Generally speaking, though, I do build a more detailed trip itinerary for most trips, regardless of whether they’re 3-day weekends or 14-day international epics. Here’s an example from last year’s Las Vegas trip:

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Some things you may notice here: 1) I build these in Google Drive. That allows me to have access to it from my phone, and I always make sure to make my itineraries available offline, so I can access them even if I don’t have data or wifi. 2) I include confirmation numbers everywhere I can, and reminders for myself on where to find any needed paperwork. A lot of times you’re booking months in advance, you may not remember where things are located.

I also find that putting it on paper lets me see how everything fits together. For example, if I see I have an action-packed, early-rising morning one day, I can make sure to plan a quieter, low-key night the evening before. This helps make it feel like I’ve planned a cohesive trip, instead of just a series of activities that we “have to get to”.

So how do I compile these? Here’s the order I go in:

  1. First, book your flights

As soon as I book my flights for a trip, I create my itinerary document. The flights bookend the travel, so it helps create a frame for everything else that will be added later. I also like to include flight numbers, confirmation numbers, and any loyalty program numbers that I think I might need along the way.

  1. Next, hotels and any ground transportation

Once I know the dates I’ll be arriving and departing, it’s time to figure out where to stay. Generally speaking, I let my points guide where I search: if I have a lot of Hyatt points, I’ll search Hyatt first; if I have a lot of Starwood points, I’ll search Starwood points. Once I find a couple options that look promising, I read through at least the 10 most recent reviews for the property on both the hotel’s website (if offered) and a third-party review site like TripAdvisor or Yelp.

The other big question at this step is any ground transportation. Are you visiting more than one location/hotel during your stay? How will you get between them? How will you get from the airport to your hotel? Do you need to reserve a rental car, or buy any train passes? And of course, how can you maximize these bookings to give you the most points in return?

  1. Book “big activities”

After you’ve nailed down your flights and hotel situation, it’s time to figure out what you want to do. If you’re familiar with your destination, you may have some activities already in mind, otherwise I like to look at TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, Thrillist, and TimeOut for the “can’t miss” items. Once I’ve found the majority of touristy options on those commercial sites, I check out what my favorite vloggers, bloggers, and ‘grammers have highlighted about the destination as well.

Then, once I’ve figured out some of the activities you want to participate in, I lump them into two categories: “big” meaning they either take more than three hours to complete and/or will require considerable physical effort or expense and “little” meaning they’re lower-key activities that I may be able to squeeze in whenever. I book “big” activities now, and save “little” activities for later in the itinerary planning process.

  1. Pick your restaurants

Next on my list is to research restaurants. My go-to sources here include Eater, Time Out (particularly in Europe), and Food & Wine magazine. I like to mix it up with “fancy” restaurants and hole-in-the-wall type places. And if a particular location is really associated with a specific dish (i.e. Nashville with Hot Chicken) I try to make sure we get to try it from at least two different locations.

For fancier places, I go ahead and make a reservation in advance, if they offer one.

  1. Fill in open spaces with “small activities”

By now, your itinerary should be really starting to fill in. I take a look and see where it looks like we still might have room to add in another activity or two, keeping in mind where we’re likely to be tired and just want to relax. When possible, I look for smaller activities that you don’t have to book in advance, so you can blow them off if you feel like it.

It’s also important to keep in mind where activities are located in this step. For smaller activities (for example, a museum that will only take you an hour or so to tour), you want to try to visit it when you’ll already be in that area of the location. Going really far out of your way for smaller activities doesn’t always make sense, especially if you can re-shuffle other activities to keep nearby activities together in the same day.

  1. Add confirmation numbers, addresses, and tips for yourself. 

Finally, once you have a fully-filled out itinerary, it’s time to make it easier for yourself when you’re onsite. I add confirmation numbers for everything that has one. For international destinations where I’m unlikely to have cell signal, I also add addresses for each location. And if I’ve learned anything during my research that may be useful (e.g. this establishment has an upstairs bar that’s often less crowded; the crab cake is legendary; you have a printed voucher for this event you need to take with you, etc.), I make sure to note that on my itinerary document as well.

  1. For longer trips, include some backup options

So now you’re done, right? Well, hold on. One final recommendation is that for longer trips — anything more than 3 days — keep a shortlist of back up options as well, particularly for small indoor activities and casual restaurants. That way, if you just aren’t feeling something you’d planned, and/or something stressful pops up (like a bad storm on the day you planned to visit the Botanical Gardens, or an hour-long wait at the hole-in-the-wall oyster bar you had planned to visit) you can sub in an alternative.

With these tips, I think you’ll find not only do you have a flaw-free vacation, but it also helps you to get more excited about your trip. All the planning and researching makes you anticipate the great time you’ll have on your trip, and further extends the joy you get from going. So enjoy!

15 Things You Can do Post-Inauguration to Keep Resisting a Trump Presidency

January 20, 2017, 12:02pm: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.”

Well, he’s the President now.

But that doesn’t mean our fight is over. It means our fight is only just beginning. What you do EVERY SINGLE DAY of the next four years is important. The next two years, leading up to midterm elections, potentially even more important. So how do you fight back? Here are some suggestions.

  1.  Sign up for the Daily Actions text updates or Facebook page, and look out for the daily recommendation for what to do. The actions are usually things like calling your members of congress on a specific issue, and generally take less than 5 minutes to complete. But multiplied tens of thousands of times across all the members in the group, it makes a difference.
  1. Continue to vote with your wallet. The #GrabYourWallet boycott highlights retailers that still have Trump family products on their shelves. Boycott these stores, share on Twitter when you shop elsewhere, and write to your retailers to tell them how you feel.
  1. Fight fake news on Facebook.  When you see fake news, go to the divot icon in the top right corner of the post, and click “report post” then choose “it’s a fake news story.” Facebook will then review the content.
  1. Fight the profitability of fake news sites like Breitbart, by asking their advertisers to drop the site. Here’s news on this effort, and the primary group behind the effort, plus instructions on how to participate. (Note: their focus is on Breitbart, but you can do this with any hateful fake news site that runs ads, which is most of them.)
  1. adchoicesFight the profitability of fake news sites, by asking Google to drop the site from their ad network. To do this, go to any site, and look for the icons shown here to the left in the upper right corner of the ads. Hover over the triangle icon until the words “adchoices” show up, then click on them. Then scroll to the bottom of the page, click “the issues were with the website” and then choose “The site promotes racial intolerance, or advocacy against an individual, group, or organization.” You can do this daily.
  1. March. Join the Women’s March on Washington, Women’s March on Austin, or any of the hundreds of sister marches taking place across the entire world tomorrow, January 20th, 2017. While you’re there, interact with community groups and give them your contact info so they can alert you to other upcoming events as well. Remember: the March is just the start. You have to keep the momentum going.
  1. If you can’t make it to a march because of your own personal situation or a conflict, consider sponsoring a marcher through NARAL.
  1. If you can’t make it to a march because you (or a loved one who you are the caretaker for) have a disability, join the Online Disability March.
  1. Preserve the ACA. Call your congressional representatives and tell them why the ACA matters to you, and demand no repeal without replacement.  Remember that personal stories matter more than reading a script.
  1. Continue to donate to good organizations that have promised to fight, like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and many others. Bonus points if you set up a recurring donation.
  1. If you haven’t already, consider joining one of the many (often unlisted) local action groups on Facebook that sprung up out of the decline of the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group.  To join, reach out to whomever your most politically active liberal friend is, and see if they’re a member. Chances are they are, and can add you.
  1. Sign up for the email newsletter list  of your representatives at the local, state, and national level. (Yes, even if they’re Republicans. Especially if they’re Republicans.) Keep your eyes out for emails about Town Hall events. Attend, ask them questions, and force them to answer for what they’re doing. You can use this site to find who represents you, then navigate to their website to find the email sign up.
  1. Figure out what non-partisan news sources or websites are reporting on your local politics. These can often be overshadowed by the national news, or sensationalist issues only. In Austin, for example, the Austin Monitor reports on the happenings around City Council, and Community Impact News often does deep dives on things like local bond measures. At the state level, the Texas Tribune reports on what’s happening in the State Leg, and also features frequent events where you can confront your legislators in person as well. Add these local sites to your daily reading list, and support them monetarily if possible.
  1. Try to find balance. It can be overwhelming to feel like you alone are responsible for taking on the establishment. So look for support and action groups that share your views. Take time out to celebrate all the little non-political things: birthdays, promotions, days with nice weather, great meals, firsts, etc. And don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day (or even a few days) of being active. Just recommit yourself to the process of fighting back and start again. The worst thing you can do, as Obama has often reminded us, is to grow cynical and stop trying.
  1. Send a message of thanks to Barack and Michelle Obama for all they did, via their new website. We all know they deserve it.

Want more things you can do? You can re-read my earlier posts on 44 Things You Should Do If You’re Disappointed in the Election and 22 MORE Things You Should Do If You’re Disappointed in the Election.

Warning: Be Careful Before You Buy Furniture From West Elm

Today, I had a really unfortunate interaction with West Elm, and thought my readers should be alerted to some rather dishonest policies they’re hiding from customers.

This story all started a couple weeks ago. We decided that it was finally time to replace our old couch, and after looking at literally hundreds of different L-shaped sectionals, we finally landed on the Paidge 2-Piece Chaise Sectional, pictured above. The pricetag was hefty, but we really liked the look of it, we wanted a quality piece, and we liked that West Elm promised this piece was made & assembled in America.

So we pushed “order,” and looked forward to our couch arriving in a few weeks.

Things started out as expected, then something weird happened. The charge for the couch started out as pending on our credit card, but after a few days, disappeared completely. Going to my order status page just revealed somewhat cryptically this message:

payment-method

So I called customer service. When should I expect the charge to hit my credit card, I asked?

And they couldn’t tell me.

As the reps explained, the problem lies in the fact that my piece was being custom-built by a third party vendor. (Um…what?) This was news to me, but looking into the fine print, there is, in fact, a link to this video, which explains this product is actually made by “Mississippi Made Upholstery” under the West Elm name. Other than this video, this company doesn’t come up on Google at all, and is not referenced on WestElm.com.

And this rando vendor, they told me, will bill me whenever they deliver the product to West Elm’s warehouse. Which could be anywhere between now and April 12th. I don’t even know if the charge will come from West Elm or Mississippi Made Upholstery.

So, to recap, my credit card will suddenly get hit with a $2k+ charge sometime between now and APRIL, and I’ll have no warning or clue when this is likely to happen.

I don’t know about you guys but I find that completely unacceptable. When you click “order” on an e-commerce website, you expect that you’ll be charged immediately, not at some unknown point in time in the next three months. How could anyone plan their budget if they never know when a charge is expected to appear?

Also, as I wrote about recently, I’m currently in the middle of a round of minimum spending to earn the bonuses for my two new Southwest credit cards. We specifically timed the couch purchase to help us earn our Companion Pass status for 2017-2018. Now that the charge is delayed, who knows when we’ll reach our status for this year.

I asked if they could go ahead and charge me immediately, and they refused. I pointed out that this bizarre billing policy is not disclosed ANYWHERE on their website, and they apologized, but nothing more. And of course, since this is considered a “custom order,” there’s no way to cancel and receive a refund.

For me, this is a deal breaker. This will be the first and last order I ever plan to make at West Elm. Just thought you guys might like to know.