Traveling On a Budget

HOW TO TRAVEL ON A BUDGET

Last month I jetted off to Amsterdam for a week to visit friends, this week we’re heading to Charleston as a family and early next year we’re traveling to Oahu with Corey’s family. But how are we taking all these trips when we’re on a pretty strict budget? I thought I’d share some of the ways we’re able to make these trips happen while not breaking the bank. Because we could all use a little more vacation in our lives, right?

Use an airline and/or hotel credit card: Some people are really scared of credit cards, but there’s no reason to be. We have two major credit cards we use to make every purchase we possibly can. Then, at the end of every month we pay off the cards. We never pay interest and we reap the benefits — free flights, hotels, etc! Here are the ones we use:

Hyatt Chase Visa: When you sign up for a Hyatt Visa you get 40,000 points to use at any Hyatt worldwide. At the time Corey I opened our cards back in 2013 they were offering two nights at any Hyatt property worldwide when you signed up. That’s how we stayed at the Hyatt in Kauai for four nights (for our babymoon) completely free! Then, each year you have your card you get one free night at a Category 4 hotel or lower. This is how we did our really fun Portland staycation this summer — totally free — and how we will be getting one room for one night in Charleston totally free. Using this card we’ve stayed at the Andaz Maui, Hyatt Carmel Hylands, Andaz Napa, Hyatt Paris Etoille, the Grand Hyatt Kaui and soon the Hyatt House Charleston completely and totally free — and we still have lots of points we can use for future vacations! The yearly fee is $75, so we’ve now gone down from each having one card to sharing one joint card.

Alaska Airlines Visa: We had only our Hyatt Visa up until earlier this year when Alaska Air was running a new promotion for their companion fare. Typically, you get one companion ticket a year for $100 + the cost of taxes and fees. But this year they waived the $100 fee, so if you bought one ticket somewhere you could add another ticket on just for the price of taxes and fees. This is how we are flying all four of us to Oahu next year for under $300 a person (!!!). We used our own companion fare + my mom has an Alaska card and wasn’t going to be using her companion fare this year, so we lucked out! We’re also flying out one way to Charleston on miles, so combining that with the great airfare we found we are flying there for next to nothing!

Find Cheap Airfare:  There are a few sites and apps I use to find cheap airfare and even track prices and get alerts when prices drop:

Hopper App: In this app you can search for flights and the app will tell you if the price for the flight is so good that you should purchase now, or if it will likely go down so it’s best to wait. The vast majority of the time their predictions are spot on. My favorite functionality in this app is that you can “watch” flights — you put in dates and destinations and the Hopper App will send you an alert on your phone when the price is right! This is how I flew to Amsterdam for $500. I actually found even cheaper tickets (around $460), but the timing didn’t work out, but that is an insane deal! For deals that good you literally need to book within an hour or so, otherwise the price disappears.

Kayak.com: I’ve used Kayak for years — this site searches flight prices from many airlines and sites and consolidates all the options into one search query so you can make sure you are buying the cheapest flight possible. But what I really love about Kayak is their newish “Explore” feature. Let’s say you know you want to take a family vacation in the month of February, but you’re not dead set on a certain destination. You put in the airport you want to fly out of, when you’d like to travel (can be “Thanksgiving Weekend” or “February 2018” or “President’s Day Weekend”, etc etc.) and how long you’d like to travel for and then Kayak will show you where you can fly for how much. Such a nifty feature when you’re on a budget — it really helps you maximize where you can go without spending a lot of money.

Skyscanner: This site is nearly identical to Kayak, but for whatever reason I used it a lot more when we lived in Europe. Just another site that is worth checking out when you are booking travel — especially within Europe!

And here’s a tip when booking plane travel — sometimes it is more cost efficient to book two one ways on different airlines. Try to get sneaky with how you book things, you’d be surprised how much money you can save!

Find Cheap Lodging: Travel with a Group / Take advantage of Airbnb/Homeaway/Kid&Coe, etc:

I’ve discovered it’s actually not that hard to find cheap airfare places, but it’s almost always hard to find affordable, but great, lodging. I will admit I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to where we stay. If I feel like a place isn’t clean or in a sketchy part of town it totally kills my vibe. This is another reason I love our Hyatt card, we have been nothing but impressed with all the hotels we’ve stayed at. Another great option (especially with multiple kids) is renting through home rental sites like Airbnb, Homeaway and Kid&Coe (specifically geared toward families). This can make your trip a lot more affordable since  you’ll most likely have a kitchen you can use to cook at least a few meals. Bonus if you can travel with additional people and can split the cost! You can really get affordable housing this way!

Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of renting someone else’s house, but we have done it many times (in Paris, Madrid, Switzerland, Los Angeles and many more) with great success, so we are big fans! We’re using Homeaway to rent an awesome, big home with a pool in Oahu (which I’ll share after we stay, for security reasons). We have yet to book with Kid&Coe, but love that their homes are specifically geared toward families — so many/most come with cribs, toys, etc!

I am sure there are tons of other ways you can travel as a family on a budget, but these are the things that have worked for us! If you have any tried-and-true methods I am all years — comment below!

Day Trip to Cannon Beach

Corey’s taking a little staycation this week so we decided to kick it off with a bang and take a day trip to Cannon Beach (and check one off the Denfeld Summer Bucket List!). Temperatures in Portland were supposed to get near 90, so we thought it would be the perfect day to beat the heat and head to cooler temps along the coast.

I was so impressed with how well the kids did being off their schedules and with the hour and a half car ride. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but our kids seriously hate the car. Any drive lasting longer than 25 minutes and one or both start melting down (mostly James). They each napped a little on the way there and back and the rest of the time Elodie colored and James snacked on Cheerios (haha!).

I reached out for Cannon Beach recommendation on Instagram before we left Portland and I got lots of great ones! We ended up grabbing lunch at Pelican Brew Pub and a quick pint at Public Coast. We started the beach day at Tolovana Park and then stopped off along Hemlock and Center Streets and walked down to Haystack Rock. Of all the (many) times I’ve visited Cannon, this was the closest I’d ever gotten to Haystack Rock! It was such a beautiful day (albeit really windy). The kids were seriously in heaven and all their smiles and delighted squeals made me so glad we decided to make the day trip!

If you find yourself in Cannon Beach, here are a few other spots you should check out: Sea Level Bakery for pastries and good coffee (if you’re a coffee snob like us!), Bill’s Tavern for fish & chips or Pizza a Feta for a delicious slice!

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{Photos © Liz Denfeld Photography}

Napa!

So, after we spent three nights in Carmel/Big Sur, we drove 2.5 hours to Napa. Corey and I had never been, but have dreamed of going for a very long time, so our expectations were prettyyy high. I had reached out for recommendations on Instagram months before we went on our trip and I got so many it took us an entire evening to capture and organize all the information! We ended up with a giant excel spreadsheet of Napa winery and restaurant recommendations. If you’re interested in the spreadsheet you can view it here.

Once we got everything down, we started researching every.single.recommendation. That’s right, I googled every single spot — we looked at menus, photos, reviews, prices, etc. From there, I narrowed down the list to my favorites (it was my birthday trip so Corey let me pick ;), and from there my rockstar husband put them all on a map so we could try to make a plan-of-action.

We only had two days in Napa, so we knew we had to be strategic about where we went and how much time we spent at each winery. Now that we’re back, I know that 1-1.5 hours felt like plenty of time at each spot. We definitely could have packed more wineries into our trip (at least on the first day), but we also didn’t want to feel rushed. We also figured we wouldn’t want to drink that much wine, ’cause let’s be honest, after enough wineries, the wine all starts to just blendddd together!

We stayed at the Andaz Napa using our Hyatt Points. The hotel is gorgeous, the staff was amazing and we got upgraded, so we were happy campers! None of the wineries we visited were more than 25 minutes from our hotel, which was great, and there are plenty of delicious and cute restaurants within walking distance. I will say, downtown Napa leaves a lot to be desired in terms of charm. It’s not like it was dirty or ugly, but it didn’t give me the same feeling I got when we were walking around downtown Yountville… Which was… Oh my gosh I never want to leave 😉

Day One: Sonoma

This was our lightest and most leisure day. We had driven over from Carmel that morning, so we didn’t want the agenda to be too packed. Here’s what we did:

Domaine Carneros: We started at the well-known Domaine Carneros (we made reservations ahead of time). This was by far the largest and most touristy of all the wineries we visited, and I have to say I’m glad we got that out of the way at the very beginning. The villa (is that what it is? haha) is absolutely stunning and it looks like you’re in Italy, but aside from that we weren’t overly impressed with the experience or the wine. You definitely feel like you’re just one in a thousand people who come through there each week. It’s not that I wouldn’t recommend stopping here, but I do think there are a lot more hidden gems, so if your agenda is already packed, don’t be too sad to miss this one.FullSizeRenderIMG_7744IMG_7741

Scribe Winery: This was our only other winery for the day, and I’m sooo glad we didn’t have anywhere to rush off to because this is the kind of place you want to sit and stay a while. They just opened up the “hacienda” portion of the winery in February and it took years to restore, and it is so obvious why. I couldn’t stop walking around each gorgeous room and wishing I could just move in! The tasting here is expensive at $60/person, but it does come with some light snacks that are made in-house with farm-to-table ingredients. Between the beautiful setting and the price of the tasting, we were 100% content to hang around Scribe for a few hours enjoying the sun, the views and their amazing rosé. If I had to pick a favorite winery from our entire trip, this would be it. Reservations are required so book as much in advance as you can!IMG_7816IMG_7772IMG_7761IMG_7758IMG_7780IMG_7788IMG_7792IMG_7793IMG_7800IMG_7802

After the wineries we were ready for something heavier to eat so we ventured a few minutes down the road to downtown Sonoma and had a casual lunch at the Sunflower Caffe. It was super laid back, affordable and the food was fresh and delicious! If you don’t have much time, this is a great option for a quick lunch stop.

We ended our day with dinner in downtown Napa (close to our hotel) at Ca’Momi. Really cool space with a good ambiance and we were really pleased with the food. There was a lot of burrata and truffle on the menu — basically two of my favorites, so I left with a full and happy tummy!IMG_7831.JPG

Day Two: Yountville|Saint Helena|Oakville

Bouchon Bakery: We started our day with breakfast and coffee at Bouchon Bakery in downtown Yountville. You guys, Yountville is the cutest. If I were to do it all over, we would’ve stayed there instead of downtown Napa. There was a short line at Bouchon, which we’ve heard is typical, but the food was super delicious and the coffee was great, too!IMG_7842

Ma(i)sonry: Maisonry is walking distance from Bouchon and had been recommended to us, so that was our next stop, and boy am I glad we went in! To be honest, I didn’t realize Ma(i)sonry was a tasting room and not a winery — I guess I didn’t look close enough in my research, I just saw photos of the outdoor space and decided it was a must. Had I known it was a tasting room I probably would’ve passed it up, but I’m so glad we didn’t. I am so bummed I forgot to take down the name of the sommelier that was helping us because he was AWESOME. You know how a person serving you can either make or break an experience? Well, he definitely made it for us. He was super personable, knowledgable and not pretentious at all. We got to try some incredibly amazing cabernets (our favorite) here and their outdoor space is what dreams are made of! Seriously, can I move in? Awesome spot.IMG_7864IMG_7857

Odette: We had pretty much planned (meticulously) every single stop for this day, but when the amazing sommelier from Ma(i)sonry recommended Odette to us and we had a little time to kill before our next reservation, we jumped at the chance to give it a try. It was actually very close to our next stop, so it worked out great. Once again, this winery had an incredible tasting room, the interior design was so beautiful and I was definitely taking inspiration for our dream home! We didn’t have a reservation and they weren’t able to take us on for a tasting when we walked in (they might be reservation only, actually), but they were super kind and let us purchase a glass of wine and enjoy their outdoor space, which is also lovely. I would definitely recommend going and doing the full tasting here if you can get a reservation!IMG_7867IMG_7868

Cliff Lede: After Odette, we made our way to our reservation at Cliff Lede. It was just down the road, but if we had planned Odette into the itinerary, it would have made more sense to do this spot first then Odette, but it wasn’t too out of the way. When we made our reservation, we paid extra to secure a table outside and I’m so glad we did. The indoor tasting room isn’t overly impressive, but their garden area is peaceful and beautiful and a great place to enjoy a leisurely tasting. We had a really wonderful sommelier/server here and he made our experience great. Before traveling to Napa I had heard that it can be very pretentious. Maybe we just got really lucky, but every single spot we went we were met with warm, knowledgable, endearing people. Nobody was snooty or condescending. A pleasant surprise!IMG_7882IMG_7892IMG_7887

After three wine stops we were definitely ready for some food! We made our way over to Oakville Grocery, which had been recommended to us by countless people. It’s a super cute, casual spot where you’ll find delicious sandwiches and other deli type foods as well as really cute souvenirs (like mugs and cutting boards and the like).IMG_7911

After lunch we ventured just a few minutes down the road to Turnbull Wine Cellars. We didn’t have a reservation here, but they were able to take us as a walk-in. We absolutely loved the grounds of this winery, like a rustic Italian garden. They had a fire pit, which would’ve been awesome to sit around had it not been 90 degrees the day we were there! Definitely a cute spot worth visiting and walking around/enjoying your wine in their back garden area.IMG_7934IMG_7918

We knew we didn’t want to be out too late since we were flying out the following morning, so we opted for an early dinner at Farmstead — less than 10 minutes from Turnbull. This spot was super cool and the food was amazing! The cheddar biscuits and ribs are not to be missed! Too bad my phone died before we got there!! 🙁

Before heading out for the airport on our last morning in Napa we walked from our hotel to breakfast at Grace’s Table and it was so delicious! We are definitely breakfast/brunch snobs thanks to Portland’s amazing breakfast scene and Grace’s Table really impressed us (Corey’s chilaquiles especially stole the show!). Highly recommend this cute little restaurant.

Phew! That was a lot! If you have any questions or if you have more Napa recommendations to add to this list — leave them in the comments! Cheers 🙂

{Our Babymoon}

I know not everyone is into the whole “babymoon” idea, but let’s be honest, Corey and I will take any excuse to go on a vacation! I, being the obsessive travel planner that I am, thought long and hard about what kind of babymoon I wanted to go on….

Due to work obligations, other travels we had planned, and the fact that I was getting more pregnant by the week, we only had a tiny five day window in December for our trip. I knew right away I didn’t want to go somewhere cold and adventurous (read: ski trip or anything like it). I knew I wanted sun, mostly because by that point in Portland you are really ready to escape the dreary rain and cold. I also wanted the vacation to be no-fuss, easy to get to (direct flight), and incredibly relaxing. 

Usually when we go on vacation we are planning out every day, choosing restaurants, hikes, attractions, etc etc. We wanted the opposite for our babymoon. Pure relaxation. No agenda. Just the huz and me and me and the huz. We knew we wouldn’t be taking a vacation like that as often once Elodie arrived, so that was our plan.

We ended up going back to our honeymoon destination because we knew how great the Hyatt was and were dying to stay there. We loved the food on the hotel grounds (which was great since we didn’t plan to leave). It was in hawaii – so hello, sun! And there are direct flights from Portland to Kauai, so boom – Kauai it was!

Minus one day of torrential thunderstorms and lightning, the trip was a dream. It was exactly what we had envisioned – pure relaxation and good quality one on one time. I couldn’t recommend the Hyatt in Poipu enough for any vacation – but especially a babymoon or honeymoon! A few photos from our trip below!
{Photos © Liz Denfeld Photography}

{Kynsa Elephant Park}

Let’s talk about elephants. Prior to our trip to South Africa I really didn’t know much about them, but after a trip to the Knysna Elephant park I learned a lot about these gorgeous creatures. They’re extremely smart and have the self-awareness and cognition similar to what we’ve seen in apes and dolphins. They are quick learners and will glady show off some tricks for a piece of fruit. They love attention and cuddles. Really, they’re friendly giants. Within their packs they truly care for one another, and if something happens to an elephant in the pack, their loss is visibly mourned. I truly fell in love with them the more I learned about them. They are so fascinating and sweet! 

After our stay in Franschhoek we ventured along the Garden Route. One of the cities we stopped in was Knysna. We had read about the Knysna Elephant Park in our guide book and knew we definitely wanted to check it out and get the opportunity to pet and feed the elephants! The Elephant Park is actually an orphanage for elephants in need – who have either been abandoned, fallen ill, etc. My favorite part about the park is that they practice a “free-range controlled system of management” – which basically means the elephants range freely and they only interact with guests on their terms. We definitely saw this as they were not herded over to us by any means. We simple drove up into the park and waited to see what would happen. Luckily, they know we come with food, so they love to come get treats and get attention from the visitors! It was one of my most favorite travel experiences to date to interact so closely with these beautiful animals! I’d highly recommend it if you’re ever in South Africa.

{Photos © Liz Denfeld Photography}

{April in Paris}

Well hello there blog land. Per usual I popped in quickly and then didn’t make a return anytime soon. Oops! I always have the best of intentions to give this space attention, but somehow it always gets pushed to the bottom of the neverending to-do list. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you already know that we bought a house (more on that later)! And that’s what’s been taking up all of our time on evenings and weekends. We’ve also taken a few fun trips to Los Angeles (to meet my adorable new nephew) and to Vancouver, B.C. (you know, because we were really missing using our passports!). I have so many photos from the past months and even year to share and I fully plan on getting them up here!
I’ll start by looking back on an amazing trip I took to Paris back in April. I got a call from one of my best friends at the beginning of the month telling me she will most likely be coming out to Amsterdam and Paris for work (we work at the same company, score!) and would I be interested in joining her in Paris? I mean, you just don’t say no to that! So even though we had just gotten back from South Africa and had many more trips planned that spring, I booked a train ticket to Paris for a weekend away with one of my dearest friends. We had an absolutely incredible time touring the city, eating delicious food and catching up after being oceans apart for far too long. These are memories I will cherish forever and ever.
A few highlights from our trip:
-Hot chocolate at Angelina — how did it take me four visits to Paris before I made it here? You can’t miss it if you’re planning a trip!
-Brunch at Cafe de Flore – a Parisian institution. Amazing people watching!
-Dinner at Le Coupe Chou (not pictured, but trust me it’s incredible!)
-And of course, pink champage and sweet treats at Laduree – as girly as it gets!

{Photos © Liz Denfeld Photography}

{South Africa Day Seven}

Two days in a row! Look at me! hehehe

So, back to the South Africa posts… Our seventh day in South Arica was a fun one! We started our morning with coffee from Deluxe Coffeeworks. If you’re into good coffee (we’re Portlanders, so you know we are…) then you must stop here if you’re ever in Franschhoek. We strolled the adorable downtown (which is basically just one long street) and then headed out for a day of wine tasting. We visited La Motte, Tokara (this one ended up being our favorite), Thelema and La Petite Ferme. There are obviously so many wineries to visit and there were many on our list that we missed, but we loved all the places we went – great wine and amazing views. Couldn’t complain!
 {Photos © Liz Denfeld Photography}