Archive for the ‘In My Backpack’ Category

How I Find Cheap Airfare

Posted: December 14, 2014 in In My Backpack, TRAVEL
Tags: , , ,

“Yea, sure, housesitting and working for accommodation is one way of traveling for the cheap, but plane tickets cost a fortune!” -Tracy S.

Sup Tracy, 

You asked- I’m delivering!


When you travel, you have the forever triangle of decisions:

Good, Fast, Cheap… pick 2.


I always go for cheap and cheap… I don’t care about quickness. I don’t care the mode of transportation (hello, chicken-bus!). I just care about cheap. Sometimes this bites me in the ass- but I just write it off as an adventure/future blog.

With that said, the more flexible you are with Airline, Airport, Destination and Time-frame, the cheaper/gooder your tickets will be.


So- let’s get started:

I live in the greatest city in the world, Baltimore- and I don’t care where/when I go… but I have 300$ to spend on tickets. 

Great! I love people like you!

  1. Go to This site gives you a flex period of max a month, and you are able to pick “everywhere” to see where the cheapest places are.
  2. You can also go to This allows you to search your home airport and see where you can go (what month/season) and how much it’ll cost.
  3. Another site that is good for initial (US domestic) searches is Note: I haven’t used it in a while.
  4. You can also check out the “escape” fares on sites like orbitz, expedia, etc… Sometimes they are good, sometimes they aren’t.

I am in country X, want to go someplace else for THIS WEEKEND, but don’t know where. 

This is where skyscanner really comes in handy! Search: FROM “(insert your current country here)” and TO “everywhere”. It’ll give you some great ideas! 🙂

Yea… but now I need to get from Baltimore to Chicago Ohare! WTF, LN?!

Hey hey… chill out. check these out: (or GotoBus, Transit apps on iphone) (or NJTransit when traveling around Philly/NJ/NYC) is also good/decent for domestic flights.

*NOTE: When you’re traveling internationally, these obviously don’t work- but there are buses and trains everywhere. And they are usually cheaper than airfare, but not always. SE. Asia, for example, is cheaper to fly. Africa, if you are braver than me, bus is cheaper. In Nicaragua and Belize, hitch-hiking is the common mode of cheap transportation.

How far in advanced do I need to book my tickets?

My friend, Suz, says “6 weeks is the magic number”. I have booked 2 weeks in advanced (on international tickets) and still got great deals- but the earlier you go for American-domestic, the better.

According to this article- they say “Sunday, 57 days before leaving“.

I typically will do a priceline thing for 3 weeks along with a kayak alert. 3-4 weeks before take off (for international flights only… not during holidays) I will buy a ticket.

What if I’m not picky about my airport but I know I want to fly into SEA-tac. 

  1. Google “Direct flights into SEA”
  2. (or) google flights/kayak can search multiple airports around that area.

Your flights are cheap because you don’t have to pay for parking!

Accurate! I hate paying for parking. You have multiple options!

  1. Uber (like a taxi… but cheaper and more friendly)
  2. Lyft (like Uber)
  3. Park in a grocery parking lot (with cameras) that is also near public transportation to the airport.

When should I use frequent fliers? 

I compare flight prices first and do maths in my head. I’m terrible at math, but, basically, if the ticket is over 500$USD I consider using Frequent Fliers.

This guys explains the maths really well to see if it’s worth it or not.


Do you ever go for those “deals”?

There are some deals that are awesome, and some that just flat-out suck. Again, it depends on what you are looking for/how you travel. I had a friend that bought the Expedia “all inclusive” plans to Ireland. (Flight + castle hotel stays). It was a great deal for her. For me? I just look at flight deals.

Here are some that have recently popped up in my inbox that I’m curious about/would try:

Jet Blue’s GO PACK

Air Asia Unlimited

I also had a friend that bought the “RTW ticket” by virgin/delta/etc. He saved heaps of money. This is great if you have a set itinerary. Sometimes Statravel has some awesome deals- if you’re young enough.


  • Searching for direct flights MAY be cheaper, or more expensive. So search for both. (google “direct flights from IAD” for example)
  • Search smaller airlines. (kenmore, spirit, airtran, Seapoint, etc.) If you are settled, you can find these by doing a google search on your airport. (“CPT airlines”, “IAD airlines”, etc)
  • When looking at airfares, use your normal browser. When BOOKING- do it in incognito mode (so it doesn’t look at your cache/cookies. This tends to jack up the prices slightly. sneaky hobbitses).


Last but not least:

The worst travel experiences I have (in airports/planes) is in America. With that said- don’t be surprised when travel plans change. Expect the worst (especially when flying in America). Planes will be canceled, they will be over-booked, you’ll be screamed at by under-paid/frustrated ticket-counter people and sexually-pent-up TSA agents. You aren’t going to have fun, so make the most of it! Create a drinking game every time you hear someone say “BUT I NEED TO BE ON THAT PLANE!”. Chill out. Just expect that you will be traveling for 48 hours (even if it’s a 2 hour flight). It’s an adventure! Something to tell the grandkids later about how their parents were conceived in a bathroom in LAX because you were stuck there for 4 days. (#truestory)



Here are some other useful websites to check out:

Are there questions I missed?



Posted: November 30, 2014 in ADVENTURE STORIES!, In My Backpack, TRAVEL
Tags: , ,

I booked my holiday flight (London Gatwick-JFK) with Norwegian for 280$usd. A bargain, right? Even though it’s bare minimum service, I’ll take it.

When they wanted to charge extra for checked bags, I clicked on the link of “carry-on rules” and found that my main bag had to be 10kg.

Pfft. No problem!

Except it kinda was.

When I flew from Cape Town to Qatar I weighed in at 13kg.


Since I was visiting my brother, josh, in London, I asked if he had extra space in his “coming over” bag. “Yea- no problem” he said.

So I gave him my beloved bottle cap collection, sea shells, sleeping bag and a few other things I wouldn’t need for the brutal winter that the east coast was going to greet me with back home- but I wasn’t sure if this was enough.

I arrive at Gatwick.
I check in. No bag weigh.
I go through security. No bag weigh.
I go through the gate- and that’s when I see the dreaded scale!

I quickly run out of line, looking like a lunatic, and go to the bathroom.

I put on every single article of clothing I had.

Every. Single. Piece.

As I write this, I’m currently wearing 6 pairs of underware, my bathing suit, 2 sports bras, 1 normal bra, a tank top, 2 sports-tops, dress top, a snap-up shirt, jeans, pjs, cargo pants, wrap-around sweater, hoodie, down jacket, balaclava, scarf, shoes, socks and a bear hat.

(I’ll write a whole blog about this bear hat later)

The girl in front of me wheels her bag up to the counter. The woman asks her to put her bag on the scale and its’s weighed: 10.12.

“Ma’am? You’re going to have to throw things away, or rearrange. Or, (smiles and with a super cheesy voice) you could pay a little extra and we can check that for you!”

The woman, distraught, takes some things out of her bag and throws then away.

“Thanks, ma’am. You’re all checked in….. Can I help you?” She motions to me.

I smile at the woman who’s checking us in and ask how her day is going. She smiles at me and says “fine”- then makes a comment about how #adorbs my hat is.

Yes. It is hashtag adorbs.

She goes back to checking me in. This is the part I’m waiting for. I’m acutely aware of everyone behind me standing in line. This isn’t like Tiger Airlines where I can simply go to the side and discard/rearrange my belongings. I begin to sweat in very uncomfortable places. If my bag is over 10kgs, it’s a 50$ charge to check it. Not a huge deal- but if you’re traveling on budgets- like I am- that’s 2-3 days of living! She purses her lips as she looks at the screen. She looks back at my passport photo and at the screen.

An eternity goes by.

I practice meditation. I keep telling myself to think positive thoughts. I think of my kitten who I will get to see in a few weeks(!!!) I focus all my energy on her saying “alright, you’re all checked in”. I practice Jedi-mind tricks…. And that’s when she says:

“Alright. You’re all checked in! Have a nice flight.”

2 things could have happened:

1) Norwegian airlines weighs bags randomly and I got lucky. Or!
2) I’m a mother-effin’ Jedi!

I’m going with the obvious answer here.

I have posted many blogs about “What to Pack”.

Here was my “I’m leaving the states- here’s what I packed” blog.

Here is a “what i actually found useful vs not” review.


And here is my packing list for Africa:


  • 6 pairs of underware (4 are quick-dry, 2 are “dressy”… ahem.)
  • 2 pairs of quick-dry convertible pants. 
  • 3 quick-dry button-down shirts.
  • 2 quick-dry sleeveless shirts
  • Fisherman pants (for sleeping/comfort)
  • Leggings (grumble…. grumble….muslim countries…..grumble…..)
  • shaw (for head-covering, shoulder covering, mosquito repellant, etc)
  • 2 pairs of socks (quick-dry, bamboo. Thanks Grammy!)
  • Down Jacket -folds into it’s pocket to serve as pillow. (Going to Climb Kilimanjaro)
  • 1 dress (I’m a girl!)
  • Cachos (I’m in love!)
  • Vibrams (they are still the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever owned- and yes, I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro in them.)
  • Chuck Taylors (we’ll see if I actually use them or use them as bartering.)


  • Soap/Roll-on DO.
  • Lush conditioner bar
  • Toothbrush/paste/Floss
  • Contact solution/6-month supply of contacts
  • Baby Oil (to keep sand-flies off you!)
  • Vitamin B (to keep mosquitos from liking you)
  • hair things (clips, bands, etc)
  • Sleeping pills (generic), benedryl, motion-sickness stuff, nyquil, dayquil, Advil and RU21 (for hangover prevention).
  • Tampons (for water cleaning and about 10 other uses!)

First Aid Kit:

(Since taking my first-responder class, I now have a first-aid kit. Glad I do! It has come in handy more times than I’d care to count. I didn’t have one before (save for bandaids and crap…) so now it’s more extensive:

  • Rubber Gloves
  • Maxi Pads (for blood-soakage)
  • Syringe (for water-spray… or heroin. Whatever.)
  • Athletic tape/wrap
  • Mirror
  • Bandaids (all shapes/sizes)
  • Plastic bags (all shapes/sizes)
  • Neosporin (creme), iodine
  • tweezers, sewing kit, old hard-plastic credit-card (for bee-sting removal)
  • 2 cloth handkerchiefs. (surprisingly, I used these ALL THE EFFIN’ TIME!)


  • Macbook Air
  • Kindle
  • External USB battery. (full charge will fully-charge my iphone/kindle 3x).
  • Iphone (Camera… Yep. I know. I travel to all these places without a fancy camera.)
  • External Harddrive (I tried to go with just USBs.. but I can’t anymore. Especially with the freelancing work I’m doing.)
  • Headlamp
  • Steripen (Part 2….. My last one broke… In Peru… If this one breaks, I’m swearing them off for life.)


  • Passport,
  • temp US-ID,
  • Australian Bank Card (came in handy in countries that the US Banks don’t like doing business with…. Like Vietnam and Turkey).
  • AAA travel card (how I get cash from any ATM).
  • Waterbottle
  • Pens/paper journal

I have this problem: I want to stay in touch with my friends when I travel. I get homesick and communicating with random strangers just isn’t enough sometimes.

I remember the days when I had these things called “pen-pals”. It’s a really old-skool thing where you would meet someone (or they would be assigned to you) and you would hand-write a physical letter to them. Then, because this wasn’t laborious enough you had to (also) write the address (perfectly and clearly) on the envelope, and place the letter (with a stamp that you magically found) in something called a “mailbox”.

Now we have email. But this isn’t enough, sometimes. I realize how much of a first-world-problem this sounds like. Stick with me for a minute.

We also have texting- but when you’re traveling internationally, this is also expensive (for me). Also, hearing my friend’s voice made such a difference on my own morale (there’s some sort of science behind this, I’m sure). So I’ve made it a mission to find/try every type of (free) communication device/app out there. Here is what I’ve found:



I’ve been using Skype since 2008 when I moved to Canada and wanted to call my (only) friends. The only thing I remember about Canada was how miserable I was and how I blame the whole entire nation for that (I’m mature!). Since then, I have stuck with Skype for a few friends and international calling.

  • SUPER EASY to figure out and use.
  • If you call skype-to-skype, it’s free.
  • If you call skype-to-phone number, the prices and quality (depending on your internet) is decent.
  • Depending on the hour/internet connection, the video can be really great or really crappy. (Compared against Google Hangout)
  • The “SMS” service (skype messenger) is reliable, fast and decent. It does auto-correct your crap, though.
  • The iphone app keeps getting better all the time.
  • No group calls (that I know of)


Google Hangout:

I started using Google Hangout because Skype was becoming increasingly more difficult and un-reliable. Especially through Central America. Few things to note: I’m not aware of an app-meaning that you have to log in on a tablet/computer to use GH. The learning curve is really steep, but once you have it, you got it. I should note that I’m not really a gmail user by default, so maybe that is the reason why.

  • Only allows GoogleHangout-to-GoogleHangout. (no phone support, that I know of).
  • They have a different video algorithm. Can’t say/decide if it’s better or worse. Sometimes it was great, others it was lousy.
  • The audio quality is ok. (not as good as a good-skype day, though)
  • You can give yourself funny hats/faces.
  • Allows group-chats – up to something redunk like 500 people or something- this makes live-chats/interviews possible.



I jumped on the apple bandwagon as soon as I heard that Siri could tell you where to hide the dead bodies.  Apple keeps improving their communication-devices/capabilities, and I’ll try that stuff, too. I have friends that use facetime all the time and told me to try it, but I just never did- until I was in the Philippines.

  • The facetime Audio is the best quality that I’ve found out of all voip (voice over IP) services.
  • Very easy to figure out. (only if you have an i-device)
  • You forget that someone can see you pick your nose.



When I returned to the states, my friend’s phone kept going off like a walkie-talkie. The old kind from sprint. Remember those? I asked her what was going on and she exclaimed with glee: “Oh-em-gee! It’s this new app called Voxer! It’s great for when you are too drunk and can’t text anymore but you need to whisper-tell your girlfriends about the douche-canoe at the bar!”

I was sold-and downloaded it immediately. Not just for the drunk factor, but also when I’m taking a long-road trip and want to send a message- but it don’t necessarily need to call them, I can Vox them! Here are my favorite features:

  • Slight learning curve (to set up) but really easy after that.
  • a “push to record a message” function. Can’t get much easier than that.
  • You can tag your messages (location)
  • The app tells you when your message has been delivered and listened to.
  • You can “listen in real time” (basically, talking over Wifi)- except it forces you to listen actively because you can’t talk until they are done talking. (Good relationship practice!)
  • Downloading the message/sending/forwarding it onto your email/text is possible. (If I ever make a podcast, it’ll be full of Voxer stories). (Whatsapp doesn’t do this)
  • Ability to text, send pictures, videos, etc as well.
  • Forwarding messages is possible.
  • Group chats is possible.
  • Messages are stored on a cloud (forever….?)
  • It “connects” once and downloads all your messages in 1-go. If someone has sent you multiple messages it plays them right after the other automatically. (Whatsapp doesn’t do this)
  • “Notes to self” is also available- where you can, you guessed it! record notes for yourself! (Whatsapp doesn’t do this).
  • Finding users is dependent on them looking you up by a user name that is given to you. (Whatsapp uses a phone number).

I have to say that I use Voxer as my most preferred device- because of the download feature. I use it for my podcast friend (Misti), my brother- who is now living in London, friends who live in Baltimore, Seattle, and down the street. I also use the “notes to self” religiously whenever I’m out/about and don’t feel like writing something down.


Another “Walkie-talkie Messenger” app service that is the popular-version of Voxer. Here’s my beef with it:

  • Does everything above (unless stated)
  • You need to download each message before it plays (and hit “play” on the message).
  • Pictures that are sent via Whatsapp are saved in your PhotoLibrary. (kinda cool!)
  • Again, you find a friend on Whatsapp via a phone number, not an ID of some sort. (yay!)

Facebook Messenger:

So, I was late to the party, mostly out of annoyance to FB for shoving their app down my throat every 2 seconds, but my friend Craig finally convinced me of downloading FBMessenger. How? Because he sent me a voice-message- not just text. Just like Voxer/Whatsapp- except it goes off your facebook friends.

  • Only goes from Facebook-To-Facebook (that I know of)
  • It really wants you to have notifications!!! (Even though I don’t want to turn it on, the “reminder screen” pops up every time.)
  • Syncs to your contacts in your phone (not sure why).
  • You can’t save/forward messages.
  • Group chats are possible.
  • Tagging chats is possible. (don’t know why you would do this, but whatevs).
  • It’s a separate app from Facebook.


So, if you’re traveling, and you’re homesick, and you want some options on how to stay in contact with people- try some of these out. I’m still a fan of Voxer- but the others are good alternatives. Also- did I mention that they are all FREE? (cause they are!)

Lifehack/Protip time:

I calculated my trip so far: 9897$ for everything. This includes 4500$ for flights/travel expenses. The rest was living/tours/food/etc. Not too Shabby considering everything I did- but I can do better. Like get more free flights!

So I checked out a bunch of books/resources and one I have successfully done that I’m going to share.

Things you need:
-a credit card that gives you points (whatever points you want to accumulate… I use the chase sapphire card, but I also got a united card (gives me 30,000 miles after I spend 1k in the first 90 days….) the united card is what I did this trick with.

-a bluebird account. Go to Walmart or apply online at

-some flex money on your credit card. (1,000$ is good.)

– a cvs pharmacy store.

– about 5-10 minutes.

“OK. I got all those. Now what?”

Step 1) go to cvs and buy vanilla reload cards. (see pic) I got 2 cards and loaded on 500$.
(note: your credit card may email you saying “wtf? How much Viagra are you buying??!?”)


Step 2) Goto and enter in your bluebird account number and the scratch-off pin number from the vanilla card.

Step 3) goto and enter in your bills/credit card payment info. (your account and whatnot.)

Step 4) pay your credit card off.

-It costs 3.95$ to buy/activate the cards… So it’s not a completely perfect system.
-With this system, you can load 4,000$ per month. With your bluebird account you can pay ANY bill. Including your mortgage/car/cell phone/etc.

Step 5) get your 30,000 miles without having to spend any real money. #winning

For reference:
A 1-way ticket from Sydney to Seattle is 40,000 points. I’m pretty sure domestic flights are half that… I could be wrong.

Chase sapphire rewards will give you cash back/hotel points/frequent fliers/all sorts of things. The United card is (obviously) just for united frequent flier points.

Other hacks:
If you have a chase freedom rewards card- make note of the places that you get 5% off. This quarter is Lowes/restaurants/movies. So I went to Lowes and got 150$ in visa gift cards. (If you have the time and the patience, this is great. Otherwise it’s a pain.)

Another amazing surprise was that I could pay my taxes this year with my credit card! (turbo tax let me… So I’m going with it.) Bonus miles!

What is your favorite mileage/point hack?

Useless and Useful things

Posted: January 26, 2013 in In My Backpack, TRAVEL

I was at a hostel-in-progress and met an amazing Norwegian named Sabine who is biking around Central America. She asked me what things I have found most useful and we traded information for a few hours.

Things that I have found useLESS (and have left behind):

  1. Metal Cup
  2. Knitting stuff (This actually came in handy when I made a belt for myself. But then I taught someone else how to knit and left it with them).
  3. Clothes… lots of clothes. (you can pick up and drop off clothes at any point, really.)
  4. Clothes line (is just too long. I ended up cutting it in half and leaving half the rope somewhere).
  5. Wellies (rubber boots). When I needed these, they were useful, but when I’m working on a beach, they couldn’t take up more space. So they were left behind.
  6. Medication. (I thought I would get sick ALL THE TIME, apparently. I haven’t broken into any sinus/cold/immodium/etc meds since I’ve been traveling.)
  7. Bug Spray (I used this in Belize- then I stopped. It doesn’t really do any good, it pollutes the environment and it was liquid that was taking up space/weight in my bag.)
  8. Paper (books, notepads, etc.) All abandoned, save for a few sheets of paper.
  9. Markers (colored!) I left these at a hostel that was just opening up. They could use them for art projects more than me.
  10. Card games (I had Flux). Left at a hostel.
  11. Shoes (that ended up being useless/uncomfortable). abandoned.
  12. Waterbottles that didn’t have a clip holder. abandoned.
  13. My jersey dress that my friend (so lovingly) made for me. 😦

Things that I had my parents bring me from the states:

  1. quick dry pants that zip off into shorts. (hands down the best thing I got for xmas).
  2. Another backpack. (I abandoned my huge-bulky bag after it just got to the ridiculous weight of 75lbs.) I don’t need that much shit. So I downsized and got one of these.
  3. Go Pro camera. (woot! I can take pictures underwater now!)
  4. Batteries (AA) — the reason is that the AA batteries that are typically found in Central America are the expired/rejects from the states. (hence why they are so cheap!) but they don’t last very long. 😦
  5. Headlamp (I didn’t actually have one. Now I do!)
  6. A bathing suit (mine broke. I wanted a TYR/speedo-type.)
  7. Vibrams (they don’t exist down here.)

Things that have been SUPER HANDY:

  1. My steripen (water sanitizer pen)
  2. Battery charger
  3. Ziplock bags (for food)
  4. re-fillable sunscreen tube.
  5. ipod shuffle
  6. my endless supply of microsoft pens.
  7. lighters (just useful in general)
  8. dental floss (one of these days I’ll describe all the various uses of dental floss!)

My parents decided to come to Panama to a) take a Caravan Tour of the Panama Canal and b) See me! I’ve missed them, so I was delighted when they informed me that I’m also going on the tour. (Read: I’ve been sleeping in hotels for a week instead of hostels, which is a great comfort, seeing that the last hostel I stayed at I got stung by a scorpion in a very uncomfortable spot…….)




On the second day we were told that our bags had to be out by 7am to be picked up and put on the bus. For some reason my alarm never went off and I woke up at 7:10. Now would be a great time to mention that I sleep naked when I get to sleep in luxurious hotel rooms with a thread count of anything higher than 6. So- in a panic I packed my shit haphazardly (in my new backpack… I down-graded to a smaller/much easier to manipulate bag), threw on a towel and threw my bag out to be picked up. Right as I turned around– I heard the “click” of the door closing/locking behind me….


Awesome. It’s 7am, I haven’t had coffee and I’m locked out of my room wearing nothing but a towel and maybe some embarrassment  So I run through the halls to my parent’s room. The first person I pass is Brian and Lisa’s stepfather who doesn’t even blink or think anything of this situation. He actually couldn’t have given me a better response. He nods and says “good morning”– looking almost as dead as I felt just 20 minutes earlier. Then I pass Brian and Lisa where they say “WELL GOOD MORNING TO YOU!” and “I think you forgot something.”

I pass some other travelers who are (of course) all UP and TOTALLY READY and PACKED and DRESSED (in clothes) and probably had a cup of coffee or 3 before 6am.

I knock on my parent’s door.

My mom answers…. She’s kinda shocked to see me in the state that I am in. I ease myself into the door and explain the situation. A call to the receptionist is made and a key is being sent up. In the meantime I make myself a cup of

Needless to say that the rest of the trip, I made sure to NOT lock myself out of the room (oh. and to wear AT LEAST put on SOMETHING before even opening the door.


Tonight was the last night of the tour. It was actually a really nice tour. I learned a crap-ton about the Panama Canal:

  • It was started by the French and they failed.
  • The US bailed them out and finished before schedule and (this is the miraculous part) UNDER BUDGET!
  • A crap-ton of people died because of malaria.
  • Panama now doesn’t really have a problem with mosquitos because they spent about 10$ (back in 1903) per mosquito in pesticides and other crap to kill off all the crap that could carry yellow-fever and malaria.
  • They saved over 500K$ just by “shaking the cement bags” towards the end of the project.
  • The only structure that has used MORE cement is Hoover Dam.
  • The Panama Canal uses locks to lift ships up 85 ft to a man-made lake (50miles long) to the other set of locks. The locks use gravity. (the coolest part is that these locks are still functional and still work today. Very little modification has been done).
  • 1998 is when the US finally stopped “owning” the Canal and turned it over to the Panamanian government.
  • The most expensive toll was something like 220K. the cheapest was 36cents- (a man swimming the canal).
  • Nicaragua’s topography would have been a better place/easier to build a canal.
  • The canal makes about 4 billion a year in tolls.

But at dinner tonight the question of “What was your favorite part” was asked. A lot of people said the canal, the beaches (Oh… the glorious beaches…), the monkeys, some said the awesome people that we met…


Russ, this ex-dairy farmer from Minnesota said to another guy “I really liked the first hotel that we stayed at– except their towels were too big.”


I’m going to miss this group.