Collect all your toiletries and donate them to a local shelter. It might not mean a lot to you, but a lot of homeless or battered women would love shampoo or soap to use. Some hotels even use luxury brands like MALIN + GOETZ or Le Labo.
Covenant House, YMCA or YWCA shelters are a good place to start or you can try homelesshelterdirectory.org for more shelters near you.
Create a Hotel Bathroom for Your House Guests
Keep the hotel toiletries for the next time you have a house guest. Collect the whole set and put it out on a tray (bonus points for a folded washcloth or towel). Your guests visiting on vacation will love the hotel fee.
Reuse the Bottles
If you must use your own shampoo, why buy your TSA-approved 3 oz. containers from the store when you can just empty out the freebies and refill with your own toiletries. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll be able to use your same products while on vacation.
Throw the lotion in all your bags
I am constantly re-applying lotion and the hotel lotions are the perfect size to throw in every bag I own so no matter where I am, I have lotion with me.
Use Them at the Gym
They’re the perfect size to keep in your gym bag. Some hotels even have individual makeup wipes – another great item to throw in your bag for a post-work workout.
Warning: this post is gonna be real. But I want to share so that others traveling with chronic illness can gain confidence.
There may be only a couple dozen or so people in my life who know my secret. It’s hard for me to talk about because it was one of my darkest points in life and continues to be an all day, every day struggle. I don’t want anyone to ever think I can’t do something because of my illness or worse, that it doesn’t exist. So I keep it at a secret because I know what my body can do and when it’s had enough.
15 years ago I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or to be more specific, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). At 13, I had a horrible week with Bronchitis and never bounced back. After many a doctor visit with a lot of skeptical doctors, I was diagnosed.Read More
I first came across the 21C Museum Hotels in Louisville, KY. I was visiting a friend of mine there who suggested we check out the art gallery in the hotel. An art gallery? In a hotel?!
It. Was. Awesome. The exhibit was modern with a mix of all art mediums including video. My favorite was Peter Sarkisian’s Puddle, which included video and audio.
Since then, I’ve always wanted to stay at a 21C Museum Hotel, located in select cities (Louisville, Cincinnati, Bentonville, Durham, Lexington & Oklahoma City). So when the Durham location was one of my company housing options in Durham, I had to stay there.Read More
A year ago, I traveled to Australia and decided to rely solely on Wifi for phone access. I went crazy! I was always checking for public Wifi and as soon as I got home, I had to check in with the world. Needless to stay, this drove my husband nuts!
So when I went to Canada for work, I had a game plan on how to stay connected. Here are my tips:
Research International Plans
Check out what your phone plan offers first – you might be surprised. I have Verizon and chose the one month Canada & Mexico 100 Talk, Text & Data which gives me exactly that – 100 minutes, 100 texts, 100 MB data for $15.
If I wanted to use my phone like usual in the US, I could pay $2/day. Since I knew I could jump on Wifi at home and at work, I decided the 100 plan could work for me.
If you’re going international, I definitely recommend looking at what your options are. 100 MB isn’t much, but was helpful if I was out and about and really needed data.
If you’re in a public place, check to see if there’s an open Wifi network. If you’re in a restaurant and there’s a password, ask your waiter. Starbucks and McDonald’s always have free Wifi, and any coffee shop can be a good bet.
Some hotel lobbies will have a free Wifi network and seating areas so you can sneak in and use the Wifi for a bit, even if you aren’t a guest.
I’ve heard that checking out the comments on Foursquare often will give you the Wifi password but I don’t use Foursquare and checking in in the first place will require data usage.
Don’t forget that a lot of government or city buildings will have free Wifi, especially the library. Some cities even have city wide internet. In Calgary, I was able to use their ShawOpen network for 30 minute guest sessions.
Download offline maps
Downloading Google Maps so I can access them offline saved my life. Before I went to each city, I downloaded the map. I was amazed that even without data or Wifi, the blue dot knew where I was and I could get navigational directions.
I had a rental car in Edmonton, and the offline maps saved my life. I was able to get directions to wherever I needed to go, search for the nearest Starbucks, and never be lost.
Use Messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger
If you don’t have a lot of text messages in your plan, you can supplement with a messaging app that uses Wifi. I personally used Facebook Messenger, which I already occasionally use in the States. It works very much like text messages without using any of my data/texts.
Skype for phone calls
In additional to video chatting, Skype allows you to call cell phones and land lines as well, even if the recipient doesn’t have Skype. There are multiple plan options and you can call using your own phone or computer.
Over the last 2 years, I have stayed at every major hotel chain and am a member of all rewards programs. I’ve counted my nights and points and have worked my way up to the top tier of a few. Here is my rundown and how to get ahead!
Includes: Waldorf Astoria, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites & Home2 (aside from the obvious Hilton properties)
Where I’m At: Diamond (top level)
Run Down: 4 levels – Blue, Silver, Gold & Diamond
Blue – Automatic when you sign up
Silver – after 4 stays or 10 nights
Gold – after 20 stays, 40 nights or 75k base points
Diamond – after 30 stays, 60 nights or 120k base points.
Since I live in hotels, I reached diamond status by staying 60 nights. If you have a Hilton credit card, you’ll probably gain this status pretty easily too.
The biggest perk to going up tiers is really just the bonus points. For example, at the diamond status you get a 50% bonus on all base points you receive. So for 150% for each stay, you’ll quickly rack up the points for your free nights.
How Do You Get Free Nights? We’re going to stay at the Home2 Suites in Orlando which is just 6 miles from Disney World and includes a free shuttle. It’s only 30,000 points a night, and my points will get me 3 free nights.
The rewards program is so-so. It’s benefits are similar to Hilton but it’s kind of a bummer that the only way to move up is by number of nights. So for example, with Hilton you could stay at a Hilton property for 1 night only 4 different times and get Silver status (so only 4 nights), you HAVE to stay the specific number of nights to move up. So in order to reach platinum, you have to stay at a Marriot property for two and a half months in the whole year to reach Platinum. Unless you live in hotels like me (and I STILL have never reached platinum), this can be pretty tricky.
Will the Marriott Rewards credit card help you? I’m not sure. You get 15 credits towards your Elite membership each year which puts you into the Silver category and then you get 1 credit for every $3000 in purchases. In order to get to Gold, you still need 35 nights so it will still take you some time or a stupid amount of money.
How Do you Get Free Nights? For a stay in New Orleans, one night is also 30,000 points but I only have enough points for one night out of our stay.
Includes: Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, W Hotels, Aloft, Four Points
Where I’m At: Preferred
Run Down: 3 levels – Preferred, Gold, & Platinum
Preferred – when you sign up
Gold – 10 stays or 25 nights
Platinum – 25 stays or 50 nights
Platinum requires less stays or nights than the other brands which makes it much easier to get ahead PLUS with all the Sheraton hotels as well as the other luxury brands in its collection, you should be OK.
How Do You Get Free Nights? With rooms 10,000-20,000 points per night, this program seems to be your best bet.
Please note that in November 2015 Marriott announced that it would buy the Starwood hotel chain so the rewards program is expected to combine – but bonus to you, it will be the largest hotel chain so lots of opportunities to move ahead!
Where to Stay: Mill House Inn – possibly the most expensive B&B I’ve ever stayed at (and that’s in the OFF season) but the rooms (& baths) are oh so relaxing, the cookie & snack bar is amazing and the breakfast is INCREDIBLE. Get the lobster frittata!
What to Do: The Beach, explore East Hampton or neighboring Hampton towns, shopping, relax in the incredible rooms, take a bath in the gigantic bathtubs
Where to Eat: Honestly, one breakfast + the complimentary snacks can last you the whole day (did I mention how amazing the breakfast is?)
Atlantic City, NJ – bear with me, totally trashy but so close
How to Get There: Bus from Penn Station (2.5 hours)
Where to Stay: Since the Revel closed (which housed my favorite spa – still to this day), stay at the Borgata. It’s off the boardwalk and has the Las Vegas feel without having to get on a plane.
What to Do: If all of the amenities of the Borgata aren’t enough, it’s an easy cab ride to the boardwalk for some great people watching or you can head to the outlets
Where to Eat: If you want to venture outside of the resort, check out the Irish Pub (off the Boardwalk) or Scales Grill & Deck Bar for outdoor drinking (bonus points for pet friendly!)
“Where do you live?” is a big question we get and the answer is that Bruno and I live in hotels. We’ve been pretty lucky in finding pet friendly hotels and here’s some of our favorites & tips.Read More
Banff is an easy 90 minute drive from Calgary. So when I had a day off I knew I had to go up to one of the dreamiest places on Earth. It’s the perfect place to spend a day.
Banff National Park
The massive park includes the town of Banff as well as Lake Louise (as well as many other lakes we were unable to see in a day). You have to pay an entry fee to get into the park. It cost us $19.60 for a car of 4 people.
How to spend a perfect day in Banff
The town of Banff is adorable, although a bit touristy now. We had a hard time finding parking, even on a Monday afternoon. We walked around the town then up to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Fairmont’s are very fancy and this was no exception.
After grabbing snacks from the coffee shop off the lobby (iced maple hazelnut latte and soft baked chocolate chip cookie for me) we headed outside to the patio where we had gorgeous views of lakes and mountains.
After the midday snack, we headed back to the car and drove up to Lake Louise, which is an additional ½ hour. There is another Fairmont just off the lake, called the Chateau Lake Louise, which would be an amazing place to stay. The lake is absolutely stunning and the pictures do not do it justice. It is the coolest shade of blue and so peaceful, even with all the tourists.
If you have the time, I would definitely recommend waiting in the long line to rent a bright red canoe. We skipped this but I have seen many amazing pictures with the pop of the red next to the bright turquoise water.
We then headed up to Moraine Lake, which is an additional 20 minutes from Lake Louise. You see the sign to turn off on the way up to Lake Louise so it’s very easy to get to.
We arrived pretty late and were a bit disappointed after seeing Lake Louise but I have seen many gorgeous photos of Moraine Lake and I think the lighting/time of day just wasn’t right for us.
Dinner in Banff
There are so many great dining options in Banff. We opted for the Keg Steakhouse, which is actually a Canadian chain. We ate in the bar area and had all of the food. I got the sirloin with lobster, scallops, shrimp and crab with rice on the side and we shared Brussels sprouts at the table. We drank a delicious red blend wine from BC. We left incredibly stuffed.
It really was the perfect day. It’s an incredible place to visit and I can’t wait to go back and spend more time!
This app is where I store ALL my travel information. On the tour, I travel by plane, bus & sometimes my own rental car and am staying in a different hotel nearly every week. This app allows me to store all that info plus include notes like my nightly rate, the pet fee, etc. It’s all in one place so it makes it very easy.
Until I got to Vancouver, I didn’t realize how much I utilize this app (Vancouver does not have Uber). Since I don’t have a car and am in unfamiliar cities and sometimes the public transit seems too much effort to figure out, I often take Uber. I love that I can use it in nearly every city (and even across the world in Sydney!).
Bonus: the local drivers are always great resources on what to do, eat, and see around town!
I use this app to store all my rewards program information. Because I have accounts at all of them. So this app makes it easy to pull it up when I’m standing at the airport or the hotel check in.
I am personally a Delta girl so I have the Fly Delta app but most airlines have their own. I love the Delta app because it automatically stores all my itineraries but also has a cool feature where you can Track My Bags. It is so neat seeing where my bags are going through in the airport and how much time it estimates it’ll take to get to me.
I use Dropbox for work but I also use it for travel. I’ll save pdfs of itineraries or any other pertinent documents in a file folder that I can access on my phone and on the go.
Their offline feature is amazing. This saved me in Canada when I had a limited data plan and driving a rental car. Search for a city, click the city name at the bottom then Download and follow the prompts. This allows you to search offline and even give you navigational directions without using any of your data. This could also be a great feature if you ride underground subways a lot.
This app is great when traveling with friends or coworkers. Anytime you owe someone money or vice versa, you can easily jump on the app or transfer funds or charge your friend.