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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Organizing Our Road Trip Essentials

The first thing I want to do after a long road trip is take the car to get washed and vacuumed.  I actually do love our local car wash, Carolina Shores Car Wash in Leland, NC.  For one price you get the wash and use of the vacuums. They also have solution to wipe away the bugs.  The solution also cleans hubcaps really well.  I like that they have window cleaning solution available also.  I love that they have plenty of clean towels for us to use on site.  After driving through the wash, Soko vacuums the car while I wipe down the inside and outside of the car. We both tackle getting the bugs off the front bumper.  And, before your know it, we have a clean car!

Our car gets very messy on a road trip because we usually eat lunch and do a lot of snacking, because somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that calories don't count when we are in the car. We use lots of napkins and then need garbage bags to throw them in so we always have a supply of both in our glove compartment. They are thrown in there along with maps, spare sunglasses and a few other things that we need when we are traveling.   

On our recent road trip, we decided to take an alternate route home and so I searched for the map that I knew was somewhere in the glove compartment.  By the time I found it, the glove compartment was in complete shambles!  So I spent most of the 5 1/2 hour drive from Maryland trying to find a way to organize the mess.  I looked on Amazon and a few other places for some kind of holder that might work.  I needed something that could contain the items and not take up much room itself.   I didn't see anything.  When that happens, I know it is time to figure out how to make what I want by myself.  I finally came up with this holder that basically is an open envelope.  It is working out exactly how I envisioned.  This is how I created our "storage envelopes".

1.  I measured the napkins, storage bags folded and placed side by side, and maps and added 2" to the length and width.

2.  I took card stock and measured and cut it to the size I needed for each item.  I cut duck tape an inch longer than the width of card stock and taped it onto the card stock leaving 1/2 inch on each side and along the bottom.

3.  I overlapped the strips of duck tape slightly as I continued covering the card stock.  This side is the inside of my envelope.

4.  After I completely covered the card stock with tape, I flipped it over and folded the edges of the tape to the other side of the card stock.

5.  I clipped the bulky edges.

6.  I then proceeded to cover the front of my envelope the same as I did the inside but also used a little decorative duck tape.

7.  I folded the edges over and cut the corners again.

8.  I folded the envelope in half and cut 2 pieces of duck tape to hold the sides together.

9.  I cut the edge of the tape on the open side of the envelope and folded it down into the envelope then just clipped the excess off the bottom side.

10.  Finished product.

I am really happy with how organized my glove compartment is now.  I am not fishing around for things anymore.  It is now very easy to get to whatever I need!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Phone Apps We Can't Leave Home Without

It is amazing to me how much we depend on our phones.   When I got my first cell phone I was so excited that I could make phone calls when I was out without having to hunt down a payphone.  I could also take photos which amazed me beyond belief!  The pictures were approximately 1" x 1" and I needed a magnifying glass to see them but how cool was is to be able to take pictures when my camera was at home in my closet.   Back then it was pretty much a novelty to have a portable phone but now it is essential that I always have my phone with me.  Especially when we are on vacation and definitely on our road trips.

I was fine with my flip phone for a good number of years.  All I needed was to make or receive phone calls when I was away from my landline.   I didn't need to text anyone although I was getting texts from friends who didn't know I didn't have the right plan to open them.  As a matter of fact, I didn't know how to open them or how to write back.  Now I do have the internet and recently had to increase our data plan to 14 GB of data, plus rollover data if any, per month because 6 GB of shared data was not enough for me, Soko and Mike, our youngest.   Soko uses his data on games, Mike uses his for streaming music and I need them for the many apps I've accumulated over time.

The most important app for me to have with us when we leave the house, which is built into our phones already, is the camera.  The camera comes in handy in many different ways other than, most importantly, taking those great shots of vacation sights, food, family and friends.  The older we get the more we need our cameras to help us find our car in a parking lot, remember what hotel room we are in, find our meeting place after we come back from venturing on our own.  It saves me a lot of time and headache when I take a picture of our parking spot, room number and meeting landmark.

We have a GPS that we depend on for getting us from place to place, but I love the Google Maps app for helping us find the closest Walmart, McDonald's etc., for calculating how much time, either by foot or car, it will take to get from one sight to the next and for checking how long we will be stuck in traffic if we continue on the road we are on.

For better monitoring of traffic, we have the Waze app.  With our Google Maps I only know that we are in traffic and that we will be in traffic for awhile.  With Waze I know the cause of the traffic which can be very helpful in determining whether we should get off the road or not.   It's a community-based app which means I get the traffic info from fellow drivers and can also get alternate route advice from them.  I can also share any traffic alerts I might know of.

We drink a lot of coffee always, but especially when we are on the road.  Sometimes I receive coffee gift cards here and there so I love that I can have the Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks apps on my phone.  Now I don't have to remember to take my gift cards with me when I go out.  The apps also makes it so easy to pay for our coffee since all I have to do is scan the bar code that displays on my phone.  I also love the perks I get for using the apps.  We have gotten lots of free coffee since downloading them.  I make sure I replenish the money on my Starbucks card when Starbucks has their buy one $10 gift card get $10 for yourself.  My daughter, Lisa, lets her readers know when Starbuck's sale is occurring by mentioning it on her website, Drugstore Divas, and I take advantage of that sale every time they have it.

I remember occasionally having great difficulty trying to find where I had to go to hail a cab or trying to find the number of a local car service to get a ride when we needed to get somewhere while we were on vacation.   Of course the front desk of our hotel could help us with that if that's where we are when we need a ride, but now we have a ride when we need it right at our fingertips.  Having the Lyft app takes all the guesswork out of where to find a ride.   All we have to do is open the app and request a ride.  Depending on how happy we are with the rating and reviews of the driver, we will either accept or reject him/her.  On the other hand, once we are in the driver's car, we will make sure we are respectful of him/her and their car as they will be rating us!   Paying for our ride is easy as we have our credit card info linked to the app so it gets paid automatically.  There's no more fishing around for exact change or waiting for the credit card transaction to go through when we arrive at our destination.  A quick goodbye and we are out of the car and on our way.  As a thank you for opening the app, Lyft gave me $5.00 off our first few rides so that gave me another reason to be very happy with the app.  Lyft is available in about 300 cities so the chances of being able to find a Lyft on vacation is very likely.  

PayByPhone is a great app that we have that we use to pay for parking at certain meters in some cities.   Not every meter is hooked up to this meter payment company but I have used it in Fort Lauderdale, FL and Wilmington, NC.   After you get the app and put in your payment info, you can use the app to pay for your meter when you don't have any quarters in your possession.  You fill in the meter number and location and pay for the amount of time you think you will need.  A handy feature of this app is that it will alert you when you are running out of meter time.  You then have the option of adding more time right there on your phone so you won't have to run to the meter.

Very often on our road trips, we have to stop for a quick lunch that we will eat in the car because our cat is traveling with us and we don't want to leave her too long by herself.  More times than not, we find ourselves at a McDonald's.  (We love that there is always an extra entrance/exit door right next to the bathrooms to make a quick pit stop if that is all we stopped there for)!  I recently downloaded the McDonald's app and we are thrilled with the money saving deals we get by using it.  We have taken advantage of the BOGO sandwich deal a few times already when it's available.  Another great deal we are loving right now is, buy any drink get a free McFlurry.  Many, or maybe all, McDonald's right now are running a sale on any drink costing only .99 so when Soko gets his large Coke I get a free McFlurry!  (Can't wait for this deal to be over with.  It is costing me way too much in pounds, and unfortunately I'm not talking about the type of money they use in Europe)!

And, last but not least, we are old enough to have an AARP membership.  Instead of having to make sure we always have the membership card on us to take advantage of some AARP discounts, we have our card available at all times on their app.  Another great feature of the app is that we can use it to browse through a list of places, in the area we are vacationing in, where we can get discounts with our card and they also have a list of events in the area you're in if you're looking for something to do.

What are your go to apps when you are away from home?  We'd love for you to share them with us!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Our First 'Airbnb' Experience

We had a fantastic vacation in Charleston, SC recently with our son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Nicole. (You can read about it here).   Part of the fun of our vacation was spending two nights in an Airbnb.    
If you are not familiar with 'Airbnb', it is a booking company for rental properties.  It started in 2008 when two young men, who were struggling to pay their rent, put an air mattress in their living room and turned their apartment into a bed and breakfast.   From there they, along with a friend of theirs, created 'Airbnb'.  Now 'Airbnb' operates in over 65,000 cities and 191 countries.  They have tree houses in the woods, rooms in castles and everything in between.  You can find a bedroom to rent or a whole house full of bedrooms.  You can rent for one night or several nights.  We booked a house that was only a 20 minute walk away from downtown Charleston.

The house had 2 bedrooms and one bath.  It was perfect for the four of us but we could have fit another couple in the living area with no problem.  This particular Airbnb was one of four houses on the property which were all available to rent.  They advertise how their property would work well for a family reunion or bachelor/bachelorette party.

The bath had all the amenities you would expect to find if you stayed at a hotel including a hairdryer and shampoo, soap and lotion.

We enjoyed the living area with the open floor plan.  We could be together without being on top of each other.  And being able to meet up in the living room to make plans for the day was so much more convenient than meeting in a hotel lobby.

We loved having the kitchen especially on the night we ate in.   We warmed up the delicious take-out BBQ chicken and ribs that we brought back from Rodney Scott's BBQ.

The rating system 'Airbnb'  has for hosts and guests is definitely a plus.  Joe has a five out of five rating so a potential host would be happy to rent to him.  When we look for the next Airbnb, we will look for one that is rated a five or very close to five.  We can also read the reviews of the house and host which are available for all the properties.

If you are trying to be frugal with regards to your overnight accommodations, then an Airbnb could be a very good choice.  This 'Airbnb' definitely cost less than any hotel in Charleston would have cost us.  We ended up paying $150.00 per couple per night.  We would have paid almost double that if we would have each booked our own hotel room in that area.  The cost of the stay is broken down and gives you the cost of the rental per night, the occupancy tax and 'Airbnb' service fee.  Then there's a one shot cleaning fee that doesn't change if you decide to add on a couple more days.

Could an 'Airbnb' possibly work for the trip we have planned for Japan in a couple of years?  We will definitely look into it!