Tag Archives: Vacation

MOTIVATION MONDAY: Take time for self

The lagoon at the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park and Reserve was absolutely stunning! Photo Cred: The Financial Hack
Recently, I took a much needed vacation after a grueling semester of what seemed to be endless reading, weekly assignment deadlines, quizzes and exams. One would think returning to school 14 years after receiving an MBA would be a piece of cake but a piece of cake it was not. I was overwhelmed in the beginning but gradually fell into a pattern of keeping my schedule eventually devoting the majority of my weekends to study. Returning to school was a huge sacrifice for me, but one well worth it in the end.

 

I decided months prior, I would travel somewhere, anywhere, because my birthday coincided with the end of the semester and what better way to celebrate Phase 1 of my Accredited Financial Counselor Certification and my birthday than taking a trip. I decided on the Dominican Republic. The history is rich and the beaches are beautiful. What was significant about this trip was I traveled alone, and in doing so, I had time to think, to ponder my life, its direction and my purpose. I can’t do that in the city. Too much “white noise.” The irony of it all was I had to travel out of the country to “find myself.” I know. It sounds cheesy and so cliche’, but it’s the truth.

Look at that smile! Don’t I look happy?
Spending time alone while away allowed me to look deep within. I discovered what I want in life, what truly makes me happy, and the stillness provided much needed direction. Not that I hadn’t pondered these things before, but there’s a certain comfort that comes with walking alone on the beach, the sand between your toes, the crescendo of the breaking waves and the breeze gently caressing your cheek allowing your mind to expand and your thoughts to flow freely. It seemed to be an epiphany, the “Ahh Ha” moment Oprah Winfrey makes mention of. Suddenly everything became clear to me. And then all was calm. I’m confident I returned from my trip not a “different” person, but a “better” person, if that makes any sense.

Obviously, it isn’t necessary to travel out of the country to take time for self, so until you’re in a position to do so, here are a few suggestions that may help:

  1. Consider a “staycay.” Tell your husband/wife (s)he’s on “Mommy/Daddy Duty” for the weekend/day/night or drop the kids off with your mother/mother-in-law and run away from home. Check into a nice local hotel for the weekend in your city or if possible, opt for a change of scenery by driving to a neighboring city. Austin, TX is my “go to” city. No television, no phone. Just you (and room service if possible.)
  2. Create a space in your home free from all distractions. This could be a closet or a small room in your home. Create a tranquil environment with candles and the soothing sounds of soundgarden/spa music. Draw the blinds, close the door, relax, free your mind and find your center.
  3. Meditation/Yoga. I’ve always admired how people are able to close their eyes and block out everything, no matter where they are. It takes serious concentration and mental ability. Yoga is also a great way to a healthy mind, body and spirit.
  4. Appreciate beauty. When was the last time you visited your local arboretum or took a long stroll around the park? Consider a hike at your local reserve. The beauty and appreciation of nature can have extensive healing powers.

Employing some or all of these tips can help you relax, re-center, and recharge. Each requires very little effort or money and is worth your peace of mind. And trust me, when you have peace of mind, you’re free.

~Andrea Coleman (The Financial Hack) ©2016

Follow me on Twitter @IAmCoachAndrea

 

 

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Spirit Airlines: A “Spirit Breaker?”

Let me give you the skinny about Spirit Airlines…. From my perspective.

I recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic via Spirit Airlines. Yep you read correctly, SPIRIT AIRLINES. The words Spirit Airlines is usually followed by groans, grunts and frowns from many, but I must say, my experience wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. Let me give you the Cliff Note version of “Spirit Airlines for Dummies.”

  1. GET AS MUCH FEEDBACK AS POSSIBLE: If someone is interested in trying out a new restaurant or visiting a particular city/country for example, what do most people do? They ask for feedback. They may ask what is the best hotel stay in a particular city or even the best restaurants. If you value their opinion, you’ll take their advice. My point: Ask questions. Before booking my flight I asked Facebook friends and Twitter associates to provide feedback as to their experience. It was overwhelmingly negative in general, many complaining of flight delays and hidden fees, shoddy service and anything else negative they could think of all of which I took into consideration. I also read several internet reviews. Some were good, some were terrible, and some were really terrible. On the other hand, some were indifferent. They didn’t sing the praises of Spirit Airlines, but they didn’t rip them to shreds either. I considered choosing another airline however, after looking at available flights through my http://www.CheapTickets.com package, no other airline got me to Punta Cana before 10:30pm and I couldn’t risk missing check-in to my hotel. Therefore comma, Spirit Airlines to the rescue!!!
  2. PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASSES IN ADVANCE:  Either do it at home, or pay $10 or more to print them at the airport. No thanks. I can find better ways to use that money. Boarding passes can be pre-printed 24-hours PRIOR to your flight’s departure. Do you prefer a window seat? Be prepared to pay for it. Is an aisle seat  more in line with your personality? The same thing applies.
  3. SAVE $$$ BY JOINING THE “BARE FARE” CLUB:    Now this is where things got a little tricky for me. By joining the “Bare Fare” Club, you pay $59.99 per year to get a discount on any checked luggage. You are only able to board the flight with ONE PERSONAL ITEM (diaper bags, oxygen tanks, etc., notwithstanding.) Keep in mind, you pay less if you pre-check your luggage. When I fly American, Delta, Virgin, Joe Blow Airlines, or whoever, I’m allowed the smallest of the smallest carry on suitcase and a personal item that can fit underneath the seat in front of me. Not on Spirit Airlines. In a nutshell the “Bare Fare” club is no “free” bag, no “free” drink. It’s just your ass plus gas and ONE personal item… POINT BLANK PERIOD. Thirsty? Better get something before you board. Oh, you want peanuts to tide you over? Cough up the dough. Weaning yourself from alcoholic beverages? You’d better have a debit/credit card handy. Now that you know the ins and outs, Welcome. You have now officially  been inducted into the “Bare Fare” Club.
  4. PRE CHECKING BAGS ONLINE SAVES YOU NO ADDITIONAL TIME AT THE AIRPORT: You’d better get to the airport at least TWO HOURS prior to departure. Even though I pre printed my boarding passes and pre-checked my itty-bitty teeny-tiny suitcase online, I thought there would be a dedicated line for the “chosen ones.” Fuh-get about it. I got no preferential treatment and had to wait in line as if I hadn’t spent 30 minutes at home deciding whether or not to join the secret society of the Bare Fare Club. The upside; there were plenty of self service terminals where people pre-printed their boarding passes and were standing in line to hand-off their luggage to the Customer Service Agents. Okay Spirit, I’ll give you a pass for execution. The TSA checkpoint moved fairly quickly as well, so it’s off to the gate. Let’s get to the fun part… “The Plane Boss, THE PLANE!”
  5. THE LEGROOM ISN’T AS BAD AS YOU THINK:  I’m about 5’8 1/2-5’9″ and I still had more than enough room to cross my legs. I can’t speak for the guy that sat behind me on the trip back who decided to give me a nice lower back massage with his knees. If you are 6′ or taller, you may harbor some Spirit Airlines flight resentment afterwards. I never used the almost non-existent tray table which appeared to be the size of my iPad 2 and thank God I sprang for the additional $10-$18 (depending on flight capacity) for a window seat. I would have been miserable had I not. I didn’t miss much because I make it a point to pop my Dramamine 30min prior to my flight, Beats headphones in and it’s Good Night Nurse until our flight descent. The flight was on time as scheduled, but hey, when 6am is probably you’re first flight out, how can you not be on time?

My return trip wasn’t so good. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I pre-printed my boarding passes and I discovered there IS an Airport God… at least in Punta Cana. There was a line dedicated for the Bare Fare Club “chosen ones” to check their bags. Here’s where the fun starts. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1:37pm and boarding was to begin at 12:52.The plane came in and sat there looking at me and the rest of the passengers in all of its splendor and glory for another 1 1/2 hours.


At 1:30, Spirit reps allowed us to start lining up to board. Guess who was first in line. I offered to let a lady and her friend get in front of me because they had a young child but I should have rethought that idea once the child awakened and refused to stop screaming. 

Enter foreshadowing. We finally took off at 2:45pm and much to everyone’s dismay that innocent sweet-looking child screamed from Punta Cana all the way to Ft. Lauderdale. Beats headphones really do cancel outside noise.

To make a long story short (too late) the connecting flight to Dallas was delayed 1 1/2 hours. The delay now puts me in Dallas at midnight instead of 10:30pm and for some odd reason I thought it would be a good idea to go to the office the next day. Ten o’clock is nearing as we quickly shuffle on board and upon takeoff right on cue, that cute innocent screaming child commences Act II. Man, I swear those Beats headphones really were worth the money I didn’t spend on them. Good Night Nurse!!! But just like the Ginsu Knife commercial, you get a free set of 20 steak knives just for flying Spirit. We land at 12:15am, deplane and everyone is looking like Charles Manson at the luggage carousel for an additional 30min waiting on our luggage. This cannot possibly be happening. It was. I finally snatch my teeny-tiny itty bitty suitcase from the carousel and my Spirit Airlines Experience was over. It wasn’t sexy or glamorous. Just over.

So after all of that story-telling, the burning question you’re wondering is “Would I fly Spirit Airlines again?” The short answer is “Yes.” I didn’t experience anything I haven’t experienced on any other airline (aside from the bag fees) but I’ve learned to pack light. Spirit Airlines I believe is good for a weekend getaway where everything you need will fit neatly into ONE small carry-on suitcase. I suggest taking early flight to avoid delays, buy snacks at the airport, and if travelling with small children, find a way to tranquilize them before boarding. Oh never mind, Just buy a pair of Beats headphones. They make EVERYTHING better. Oh, And that $50 voucher Spirit Airlines emailed me for my inconvenience the very next day didn’t hurt either. I’m headed to Miami after Labor Day. HAPPY TRAVELS!

Do you have a Spirit Airlines story to tell? Leave your comments below.

~The Financial Hack ©2016

 

REWIND ON PERISCOPE TV: THE SECRET TO A “STRESS FREE” VACATION


CHECK OUT THE REPLAY OF LAST NIGHT’S “SCOPING AFTER DARK”

https://www.periscope.tv/w/aUBDQjFheWpWWUFkcExLcHJ8MWVhSmJNZERRbGFHWEPvoDeCcyeveEDpb6tZkUA1xpJBGfTxoNXpTil4Pn6y

Look for new “Scopes” where I’ll be dropping plenty of “F” bombs… We’re talking FINANCES that is, EVERY MONDAY NIGHT AT 8:30pm CST. Join us.

MINI VACATION HACK- The One Day Get-Away

I hadn’t gotten away from Dallas in a good while and sometimes a “one day getaway” is all I need to recharge. Austin is usually my “go to” city of refuge but this time, I headed east. Hot Springs, Arkansas was the destination and I was determined to go even if for only a day. Road trips are what I use to clear my head. Driving the open road is so therapeutic. It gives me time to think which is sometimes difficult to do in the hustle and bustle of the city. With me being on a strict budget I figured the day AFTER Labor Day would be an ideal time for travel. Schools have reconvened and most people have taken their yearly vacations. This means low hotel occupancies which is always a bonus for the frugal traveler.

Embassy Suites, or any Hilton Affiliate Hotel for that matter, is where I often stay for the simple fact I’m a Hilton Honors Member. One day, these points will add up and eventually I’ll get a free night or two of hotel stay. I can’t wait for that day to come.

Traveling during non-peak times is ideal if you’re able to do so. Fuel prices are low so that means low prices on airline flights, gas, car rentals, hotel rooms, attractions, you name it. For all practical purposes, I’ll focus on hotel stays. What you MUST KNOW is you’ve got to ask for hotel upgrades. Some front desk agents will upgrade you because the’re feeling gracious but mostly do it because they want your continued patronage. For example, knowing local hotels in the city would not be at more than 50% occupancy (remember I’m in a tourist town the day AFTER Labor Day,) we knew we had leverage. Upon check in, my mother, (yes I traveled with Moms this time) was quoted a price of $160. I asked if that was the best rate they could give us. They knocked off $30. She’s a member of AARP which gave us an additional discount so let’s just say we got a double bed suite with a great view on the top floor for dirt cheap. Of course they hit us with the local and tourist tax. If you’ve stayed at an Embassy Suites Hotel (my favorite location is Downtown Chicago,) they have a complimentary happy hour every evening and complimentary breakfast every morning. You can’t beat that with a bat. The bed was so comfortable, I blew my budget of spending zero dollars on this trip, to purchasing two of the hotel’s down feather pillows from the HiltonToHome.com website. Although this purchase was a budget setback, after the good night’s rest I got, blowing the budget for the month will be well worth it.

Ask for upgrades. If a hotel doesn’t have free wifi and it’s off peak season, ask them to include it. Hotels can and will offer all sorts of concessions from upgraded rooms, free wifi, room service vouchers, keys to the mini bar (if that’s your thing) complimentary spa treatments, free conference room use (for business travelers) and the list goes on. As my mother always says, “Don’t tell yourself no. Let THEM tell you no.” 

I could have easily stayed in the room and relaxed with a book, watching television, or enjoying the mountainous view, but my mom and I hit the Hot Springs streets. As we strolled down Central Ave, we visited several quaint shops and boutiques, one in particular was Snazzies Inc (find them on Facebook) where I fell in love with this baseball shirt:

  
Now here’s where the “frugal me” comes in. I just HAD to have this shirt. Non-essential items was NOT  in the budget but I purchased it anyway. It hit me after I got back to the room: I could have designed this same shirt for the same amount of money. Just on general principle, when I got back to town today, I went on a popular “design your own” t-shirt website and came up with this:

  
I like my version better…. It should arrive early next week. 

That goes to show impulse purchases are a “No No” when budgeting. I definitely didn’t think that one through. Oh well. I still LOVE the shirts.

The downside of the trip: The bathhouses were closed. We didn’t want to get in the water, just put our feet in. Also because of the off-peak season, a lot of the tours weren’t available to us. Had it been a weekend, they would have. It didn’t matter. That meant less money to spend and I didn’t care. I was enjoying myself.

The upside of the trip: I had one of the best cupcakes (an Ooey Gooey Buttercream Cupcake) from Fat Bottomed Girls Cupcake Shoppe as featured on the Food Network.

 
  
Sooooo Good.

To work off the cupcake, me and my 69 year old mother hiked some 2mi… Uphill.   

The view was beautiful. And guess what? It didn’t cost us a thing. I’m glad I packed an extra pair of sneakers. She was such a trooper, I rewarded her by dropping her off at the casino and gave her my $10 voucher the hotel gave us. Now she has $20 to play the penny slots. What is it about old ladies and slot machines? Snickering, I’ll never understand. I won’t even begin to try.

After feasting on pancakes, bacon, potatoes, omlettes, various pastries and fresh fruit this morning, it was time to head out. We couldn’t leave without taking with us what Hot Springs is best known for… ITS NATURAL SPRING WATER. We purchased a couple of two gallon jugs and proceeded to the local water dispenser. Poor Moms. Her spout was defective, the splatter leaving her shirt wet. She mumbled under her breath as she moved to the next spout. The water flowed much smoothly. I filled my jug, gave Central Street one last glance and smiled. We did a lot in 24 hours and I wasn’t tired. Window shopping didn’t cost a thing, watching the sun play peek-a-boo with the clouds while we hiked didn’t cost a thing and most importantly, the time I spent with my mom didn’t cost a thing (with the exception of a slight headache or two.) But at that very moment, the feeling of calm and inner peace I had within, my friends, certainly didn’t cost a thing. 

~The Financial Hack ©2015