Thrifty Nomad: Top 10 San José, Costa Rica

This summer I organized a study abroad program for Benedictine College students in affiliation with Modern Languages Study Abroad that took us all to sunny (and sporadically rainy) San José, Costa Rica. While this was first and foremost a work trip, I also had some time to explore on my own. Here are my top ten sites/activities to check out if you ever find yourself in this beautiful region:

#1. Mercado nacional de artesanías: Located near the the Museo Nacional and Museo de Jade, this market consists of what seems like an endless line of vendors selling beautiful souvenirs from Costa Rican coffee to miniature hand-painted oxcarts.

Thrifty Tip: When in markets like this or the one mentioned below, it never hurts to haggle a little. Vendors will often lower their prices if you buy more than one item and/or pay cash. Even a simple gesture such as being friendly and chatty with vendors will sometimes help drive the price a bit lower. If you still can’t get an item at the price you want, no worries. There are about a dozen other vendors in the same market selling the same items.

#2. Mercado Central: If the above mercado doesn’t overwhelm you with vendors pushing their handicrafts and other beautiful souvenirs, then try Mercado Central. There are plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs, but this is also where you’ll find lots of locals shopping for every day items like groceries. Set some time aside for this one, and don’t worry if when you get lost. Pause at one of the many restaurants and grab a delicious batido de chocolate as you sit and people-watch.

 

#3. Teatro Nacional: Even if you don’t see any performances, it’s worth visiting one of San Jose’s most beautiful historic buildings just for its interior. Admission: At the time of publication, admission is $10 for tourists (includes guided tour in English or Spanish).

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Teatro nacional

 

#4. Irazú Volcano: Even if you’re only planning to visit San José as I did, venturing out of the city a little is an absolute must if you want to experience some of the natural beauty of Costa Rica (and as a bonus, you get a break from the city’s ongoing congestion). This was one of the two active volcanoes I saw near San José (located near the town of Cartago) and seemingly the lesser visited of the two. On the morning of my visit, only the half dozen people from my tour group could be found walking among the ashes and peaking down at the vast crater.

Admission: I myself booked this visit with Gray Line Costa Rica through Expedia and paid $63. This included admission to the volcano, a pit-stop in Cartago to tour a beautiful church, and pick-up/drop-off right in front of my hotel. While the price doesn’t exactly scream “cheap thrills,” a lot is included in the deal, and there is the added comfort of travelling with a group and being led with a knowledgeable tour guide that makes $63 a very good price.

#5. La Paz Waterfall Gardens (includes wildlife refuge): This was hands down my favorite site. Even an animal-phobe like myself mustered up the courage to hold a toucan, and later a butterfly (coming from someone who usually gets jumpy when a butterfly flutters near me). And the multiple waterfalls are absolutely stunning. (see below for admission info).

#6. Poás Volcano: In my opinion, this volcano is more impressive than Irazú, with a much clearer view of the crater; but then it was a bit foggy on the day I went to Irazú. Poás is also a bit further out and more crowded.

Admission: While I was lucky enough to visit La Paz Waterfalls and Poás on MLSA’s invitation, I think these two sites are probably the most worth seeing on my list, even with the cost attached to it. Gray Line Costa Rica (again, can be reserved through Expedia) also has bundle tours for La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poás Volcano and Doka Coffee Plantation for $126. That includes admission into three different sites, guided tours, pick-up, drop-off, breakfast and lunch (and by the way, if lunch is at La Paz, you’re in for a fantastic buffet in a beautiful outdoor restaurant). If you’re interested in only one or two of those sites, you can easily find cheaper deals that do tours at only one or two of the aforementioned sites.

#7. Museo de Oro Precolombino: Located in downtown San José, this museum boasts well over a thousand gold artifacts from the pre-Colombian period. Within the same building is also the National Coin Museum, which includes displays of coins and banknotes. Both are included with admission.

Thrifty Tip: While the rate for foreign tourists is $11 for adults, it is only $8 for students, and free on the evenings of Art City Tour and International Museum Day.

#8. Museo de Jade: My familiarity with this museum is purely accidental – I had gotten lost during a very sudden and very heavy downpour, and when I figured out where I was when I  saw the now familiar Mercado Nacional, I went inside the neighboring Jade museum to pass some time as I dried off. This is a beautiful museum, with five floors and a very extensive collection.

Admission: $15

#9. Chinatown: As the first of its kind in Central America, this area is a mix of Costa Ricans and Asians and is home to numerous supermarkets, restaurants and shops. While Chinatown isn’t exactly a long-standing tourist attraction, it’s a bustling neighborhood that’s enjoyable even for a simple stroll.

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#10. Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo: This is a very small museum of contemporary art, but it’s free, has some very interesting and eclectic pieces, and is in a cute part of town, near Parque Morazán and Parque Nacional, and only a couple of blocks from the Jade Museum.

Honorable Mentions:

Two activities that I never got around to doing while in Costa Rica was rafting and zip-lining. I would have loved to have gone rafting, but I was nervous about going alone, I hadn’t packed adequate gear, and it was raining almost every day that I was there (in May, during the wet season).

Zip-lining in the forests is another popular activity in Costa Rica – and there are a number of places to try it near San José – but with a fear of heights and heavy sensitivities to mosquito bites, this was a no-go for me with no regrets.

Have you ever traveled to Costa Rica? If so, what were some of your favorite (budget-friendly) things to do there? Leave a comment below!

Many thanks to Benedictine College for supporting this study abroad program for both BC students and myself, and to MLSA for being such welcoming hosts! 🙂 

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Thrifty Nomad: Rewards Credit Cards

I love to travel, but my wallet and schedule don’t exactly allow me to accumulate that many miles through frequent flying. I’m often asked: how then, do I manage to travel so often for so little, and my simple answer is this: rewards credit cards.  In this post, I’m going to focus on travel rewards cards, the specific cards with which I’ve had experience, and how to use them efficiently without hurting your finances.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Card

I spent last Thanksgiving in San Juan, Puerto Rico with my sister. I was itching to go on another trip, and I was hoping to get out of the cold. I looked through my reward credit card accounts, did a little research on which airlines could get me where for the least amount of points, and that led me to booking a ticket to San Juan with Southwest using 47,000 miles.

I love Southwest – it’s my favorite airline. And their Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards card is easily my favorite travel rewards card out there. Normally, the Southwest Airlines credit card offers new account holders a 25,000 mile bonus after meeting spending requirements (at the time of my trip and this post: spend $2000 in three months), which is pretty standard across rewards credit cards. However, if you’ve ever flown with Southwest, you’ll know that their miles can go a lot further than other airline miles — one way flights can start at as low as 6,000 miles (compare this to 12,500 with United or American), not to mention free checked bags. 

What you might not know (if you’re not a credit card junkie like myself) is that every now and then – maybe a couple of times a year – Southwest doubles their signup bonus to 50,000 miles for meeting the same spending requirement. (at the time of this post, that promo is going on right now.) In my case, that added up to a free round trip ticket to San Juan, Puerto Rico. To be frank, this trip wasn’t the best use of my miles because I could have gone to any number of the 48 contiguous states for half the amount. I ended up using them anyway because I was on a schedule and really didn’t have any flexibility with my dates, and I really wanted leave the U.S. for my vacation (although in the case of P.R., only kinda sorta leaving the U.S.) and just go somewhere new. Had I more flexibility with dates or even destinations, I could have probably traveled for far fewer miles. So, my advice for stretching your miles as much as possible: the more flexibility you have re: when and where, the the opportunities you’ll probably have at saving some miles.

So, as far as airline-specific rewards credit cards go, Southwest has been my favorite, and I especially recommend it if you can catch their 50,000 miles promotion. It’s also worth adding that there is an annual fee, which varies depending on the card you apply for ($69, $99). You are also entitled to anniversary miles for each year you keep your card (and pay the annual fee) – 3000 and 6000 miles, respectively.

Some other airline credit cards I’ve used in the past include American Airlines and United Airlines, which I’ll summarize below.

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San Juan, PR: Contemplating APR and points to dollars ratios.

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

The United MileagePlus credit card was one of the first that I had opened, and I received 30,000 bonus miles for meeting their spending requirement of $1000 in three months. (Currently they are offering 50,000 bonus miles. Offer ends 6/30). Unlike Southwest, the United MileagePlus credit card waives their annual fee the first year, which was a nice draw for me. The 30,000 bonus miles covered airfare for a flight to San Diego, CA, where I had gone for spring break a couple of years ago. Another nice perk included with this card membership – besides free checked baggage – is the 2 United Club passes provided each year, which give you access to their lounges in select airports. My favorite feature of this credit card, however, was that there were no blackout dates: I could redeem my miles for any flight, and simply pay the difference if I didn’t have enough. 

AAdvantage (Gold and Platinum) Card

American Airlines has a number of credit cards through Citi with signing bonuses ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 miles; however, I had received a targeted offer for 60,000 bonus miles with their Gold card (I believe it was 50,000 bonus miles for spending $2000 in 3 months, and then an added 10,000  miles for spending an additional $5000 in 6 months. Going off my bad memory though!) I was super excited about this offer, especially since I already had a fair amount of miles saved up (U.S. Airways had recently merged with American and so my frequent flyer accounts had merged as well) and I was hoping to use my miles towards an international flight. While I did end up getting use out of my miles (I gave most of them to my sister for her San Juan, PR flight), this ended up being the most disappointing of the three airline credit cards. One reason is that I had my heart set on booking something abroad – either Europe or the Middle East – but found that (A) so many dates for economy fare had been blacked out, and (b) any flight that required traveling with American’s partner, British Airways, ended up racking up taxes/fees so high that it felt a bit pointless to use my miles. In the end, I’d only recommend an AAdvantage card if you already prefer flying through American Airlines and/or their partners, and perhaps more so if you want to use your miles towards domestic flights (or any flights that won’t cross the Atlantic/use British Airways). At the time of this post, American is also offering a limited time promo for 60,000 bonus miles

There are a few other travel rewards credit cards I’ve used that are worth mentioning that aren’t affiliated with any specific airline:

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

A favorite of many credit card and/or travel addicts, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is great for the frequent traveler who wants some flexibility in how they redeem their points. Unlike the aforementioned airline credit cards that only offer 2x points/miles on their own airfare, the Sapphire Preferred card offers 2x points on all travel and dining related purchases. Redemption is also easy – points can be transferred to the frequent flyer program of your choice at a 1:1 ratio, or you can do as I did when I got back from Italy and discovered I had overdone it on the souvenir shopping, and just apply the points as a credit to your balance.

BankAmericard Travel Rewards Card

This card offered by Bank of America is one that I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t want to deal with annual fees (many of which are waived the first year for other credit cards) or high spending minimums. They offer a flat rate of 1.5 points per $1 on all purchases, and a modest signing bonus that varies from  15,000-20,000 points ($150-$200) for spending a minimum of $1000 in 3 months. While the signing bonus isn’t as alluring as other offers, the steady 1.5 points, $0 annual fee and $0 foreign transaction fees is what has kept this card in my wallet for the past few years.

IHG Rewards Club Card

A couple times a year I take inventory of the credit cards I own, and usually end up closing the ones that have annual fees. Not this one. With an annual fee of only $49/year (waived the first year), the IHG Rewards Club Card has one of the lowest annual fees for rewards cards, with perks that more than make up for the fee. Apart from the signing bonus of 70,000 points after spending $2000 in 3 months, the IHG Club card allows you to redeem your points in a number of ways: redeem for nights at any IHG location (such as any Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza), airline miles (10,000 points = 2,000 miles with most airlines) or even gift cards. And they sweeten the deal by offering a 10% rebate with each redemption. They also offer 5x points for every $1 spent at their hotels, 2x points for restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations, and 1x for everything else. Lastly, my favorite perk with this credit card (and the reason I keep it around) is the anniversary free night (at any IHG hotel) that you receive every 12 months. Of all the credit cards I’ve had, I think this one has become my favorite. So far I’ve put my earned points towards topping off my miles with both American and United Airlines, and have earned an anniversary night that I put towards an overnight trip to New York, where I stayed at the Intercontinental in Times Square. And at $400/night, the card has paid for itself.

Starwood Preferred Guest Card

The Starwood Preferred Guest Card is another popular favorite among thrifty nomads. Their signing bonus has always been the same, as far as I’ve seen: 25,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months.  Like the IHG Club card, Starwood offers flexibility with how you redeem your points: flights, hotels, entertainment, among other options. While flights can be booked directly through your Amex account, you also have the option to transfer your points to a frequent flyer program, usually at a 1:1 ratio (but not always), and will even receive a 5,000 point bonus when you redeem 20,000 points at a time. Like many other rewards cards, there is an annual fee that’s waived the first year, which is especially nice if you need time to decide whether or not it’s a card you like. While I ultimately decided to close my account since I thought I’d get better use out of some of my other cards, I do think that for some people this could be a nice card to have if you don’t want to commit to any particular brand of airlines or hotels.

Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite Card

This card is my newest acquisition and so far I’m really liking it. They are currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3000 in 3 months which is equivalent to a $400 travel statement credit. At 2x miles on all purchases, this card allows for the fastest accumulation of miles, which can be used towards a statement credit on travel expenses. What I really like about their system is that since I received statement credits towards previous travel expenses (in my case that was a hotel stay at a Best Western Hotel as well as a one-way domestic flight with American Airlines), I was also able to earn points on my Best Western and AAdvantage accounts. Hooray for double dipping! Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that you can receive 5% back with each redemption, which, like the IHG and Starwood cards that have similar offers, make it tempting to hold on to since the bank keeps replenishing itself.

As a final note, I want to offer some general advice:

Always read the fine print. I’ve only mentioned some of the highlights (which may or may not be current) of the different credit cards I’ve used, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re signing up for. Know what you’re being offered, what you have to spend in order to get it, and whether or not there is an annual fee (and if it’s waived the first year). And note the interest rate, which brings me to the next piece of advice.

Treat your credit card like a debit card. It’s so important to shake off the “buy now, pay later” mentality when using these types of credit cards, because the interest rates will quickly even out any of the rewards you might receive. Only buy what you can afford, and never carry over a balance.

If you’ve ever used any of these credit cards, or have tried others that you’ve preferred, I’d like to know! Leave a comment below!

 

Thrifty Nomad: Omaha

I’ve always wanted to do a spontaneous road trip to a random destination: no planning, no prior knowledge of the city, no research. Everything about the trip would be an adventure. So, last weekend a friend and I did just that. Bearing in mind that Des Moines and Omaha were only a few hours away, we flipped a coin and let probability decide our destination: Omaha!

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Omaha it is!

Now, my previous knowledge of Nebraska has pretty much been limited to references made by Penny from Big Bang Theory and Becky from Full House…so I didn’t have much to go off of. Still, it was all about the journey and the sense of adventure and discovery. So, we hightailed it to Omaha, figuring we’d find plenty of ways to amuse ourselves along the way, because…well, we usually do.

It turns out Omaha has its draw. A zoo, bicycle rides across state lines (Nebraska and Iowa), great restaurants, and probably a bunch of other things that we skipped out on because were only there 24 hours. No regrets though – the fun was more in the journey, not the destination.


While I do think that all trips should be approached with that kind of mindset (journey > destination), I think it’s especially easy when doing a spontaneous road trip. There are no checklists of sites to hit, so every little discovery along the way is an exciting one – whether it’s stopping at a roadside fruit stand, pulling over on the highway to do a photo session in front of state welcome signs, or learning about Omaha’s major dining hubs from a complete stranger.

Another thing I loved about this trip that has turned me into a firm believer in spontaneity is just how cheap it was. Our main expenses were food, gas and lodging, none of which broke the bank (the drive was about 165 miles and we stayed at a Holiday Inn Express). Lodging can obviously be done even cheaper if you don’t mind 1-2 star places like motels — just be wary of location and safety.

A quick road trip to a nearby destination has another advantage: it’s perfect for those who are short on time but still need a little break, as long as your destination isn’t more than a few hours away. Like I already said, the fun is in the journey, not just the destination!

Don’t have a car? There are still ways to do road trips. Most major cities have buses like Boltbus or Megabus available that can take you to other nearby cities, and they’re fairly inexpensive. Sure, their bathrooms get kind of gross and if the people next to/near you are annoying in some way, it can put a damper on the ride. But on the upside, you get to kick back and not worry about driving.

Ultimately, a quick little road trip can be a blast. It’s great for those with perpetual wanderlust because it satisfies that need to explore without putting too much of a dent in your credit card, and making do with whatever happens to be near you can be exciting, since it might take you to a place you’d otherwise never visit. (Not once have I ever thought to myself, “Hmm, I wonder what’s in Omaha. I should check it out!”) And if anything, it makes the surprise all the more pleasant when you’re out there and you realize you’re having fun!

Thrifty Nomad: Italy

When I was in graduate school I spent about a year studying Italian, and ended up falling in love with the language and culture. I consequently put Italy at the top of my Travel Bucket List (and my Before Turning 30 Bucket List!), and about eight months ago I finally got to make it happen. Here, I’m going to run through the logistics of my trip, my efforts to do it on the cheap, and some of my missteps that hopefully you can avoid. Andiamo!

WHEN TO GO: No matter what city you’re in much of your time will be spent outdoors, whether it’s walking from one site to another, exploring the ruins of a civilization past, or admiring the architecture of the country’s many duomos. It only makes sense, then, that the spring and summer months would be the most enjoyable time to go. It’s also the most expensive. Airfare for Italy – along with the rest of Europe – is a lot cheaper in the winter, its offseason. Was it cold? Most of the time. My travel buddy and I planned accordingly though, so we were well-equipped for the weather (except for the random rainstorm we got caught in one night in Florence and neither of us remembered to pack an umbrella!) I’d also add that as you go further south (e.g. Naples) the weather got mild enough that we didn’t need our coats.

AIRFARE: Since we booked for the winter (and for Christmas Day no less), our flights were significantly cheaper than what we might have paid in the spring or summer. The original price of my ticket (roundtrip St. Louis to Milan) was $905 through United Airlines, which is a few hundred less than what I would have paid for a summer ticket. I also happened to be booking with Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card, a no-annual fee credit card with a $100 credit bonus and a decent return of 1.5% cashback. I ended up redeeming my points towards this ticket: $174 worth, to be exact. Adjusted ticket price: $731. Not bad! I also want to note the arrival city. While Milan wasn’t high on my list of cities to visit, it was a significantly cheaper arrival city, compared to some of the other popular destinations like Rome or Florence. (Keep in mind, if flying to an uninteresting city is only going to save you a $100ish, the detour probably isn’t worth it, as you’ll have to pay for transport and/or lodging, which will offset your original savings.)

GETTING AROUND: Italy was at the top of my list; I wanted to see it all, but only if the price was right! Fortunately, Europe is fantastically efficient with getting you from Point A to Point B, whether it’s bus, metro, train or plane. Getting from one city to another, we mostly relied on trains, as Italy is a small country and most train rides would be no more than a couple of hours. We booked most of our tickets online with RailEurope.com, a U.S. company, about a month in advance. They do charge a reservation fee, but I personally think the convenience of booking all of your tickets at once in English and in dollars is worth the small fee. I’ve booked through them on two separate European trips now, and definitely recommend them! Now, we did book one flight in Italy – Naples to Venice – which in retrospect is Regret #1. The idea was to save some time, as Naples is south and Venice is all the way in the north, and a train ride would have been several hours; not to mention the airfare price was comparable to that of the train. BUT, considering all the time it took us to get to the airport, wait around, fly, arrive, get lost trying to figure out how to get off the freaking mainland, finally finding the correct bus that would take us to Venice, the bus ride itself, the walk to our hostel….the long train ride would have taken the same amount of time, and would have taken us directly to Venice (there is a long bridge that connects the mainland to the lagoon).

Within a given city, we didn’t rely on public transport too much. A little in Milan, a lot in Rome, a bit in Naples. Quite a bit in Venice. In Florence, since our hostel was a bit further from the city center and it was cold and rainy for part of our stay, we relied on cabs a few times. If you think you’re going to rely on public transport, and if you’re staying in the city for more than a couple of days, it’s usually the most economically efficient to invest in some kind of pass that’s offered by the city. For example, knowing that we were staying in Venice for three nights and that we needed to use the 7.50 euro single-fare vaporetto (water bus) to get around in Venice, we paid the 50ish euros for the 3 day pass and made plenty of use of the vaporetto system (we may have accidentally hopped on the wrong ones a couple of times. Wasted money if it weren’t for the pass!)

Ultimately, my best recommendation I can give regarding getting around is to walk whenever you can! Most cities in Italy can be easily enjoyed on foot. Just dress for the weather and wear some cobble-friendly flats!

WHERE TO STAY: No matter how old I get, I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow hostels. For those of you who are unfamiliar, hostels are essentially very basic, no-frills dorms, tailored towards young backpackers who are just looking for a place to sleep and shower. Now, before you write off hostels, let me add that there is a huge range in terms of amenities. Hostels offer shared dorms (several beds in one room – you pay maybe $15 a night for your one bed, but you’re sharing a room and bathroom with 5 other strangers); many hostels also offer private rooms with shared bathrooms (one room just for you, and/or your travel companions, but you share a bathroom in the hallway with other travelers), and at the highest end – private room, private bathroom, much like a typical motel/hotel. My suggestion is to do your research in advance: read up on the amenities offered (toiletries/towels provided? Breakfast included? Wi-Fi?), the location with respect to your sites of interest/transportation, and also make note of whether or not they’re cash only. And always look for reviews! You can find tons of info on hostels at hostelworld.com.

WHAT TO EAT: So, the plan was to eat cheap, maybe hit up grocery stores for the occasional meal, and/or split some meals so we could save some money and calories. Truth be told, in never really happened. I think part of it was because we were so freaking cold most of the time and just wanted to sit down in a warm restaurant, and we would walk so much (on average 3+ miles a day) and didn’t snack at all, that we were usually pretty hungry at each meal, so we never really split things either. That said, on past trips I have done the grocery store meals/meal-splitting with my travel buddies, and have also opted out of the higher end sit-down restaurants in favor of stands/smaller vendors, and I can definitely say that my wallet and stomach profited from it! Another way to save on food is to just bring some of your own with you! I’m not much of a breakfast person, and neither have any of my travel buddies, so I always pack some sort of nutrition/cereal/protein bars to cover breakfast. A box of Luna bars (chocolate peppermint stick is my favorite!) has always been my preference!

WHAT TO SEE: Think of the length of your stay, think of your budget, and plan out what to splurge on and what to skip. Planning in advance, I learned that gondola rides in Venice cost around 50 euros, and thusly crossed it off my list of experiences I needed to have! I also learned that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is in fact not that tall, and that the prospect of paying the 20-something euros to climb to the top of it wasn’t all that exciting. Still, I wanted to see the tower and explore the town, so the 6 euro one-way train ride from Florence was worth it. Suggestion: while planning, make a note of rates/hours/etc., as oftentimes there are random closures (“What do you mean everything’s closed for Christmas?! It’s December 26th!!”), or sometimes you’ll find discount/free days at some sites.

WHAT TO BUY: Control, control, control. Coming from the person with 6 drawers bursting with makeup. When it comes to souvenirs and such, believe me when I say you’ll find them everywhere, and if you don’t see an item you like at a price you like, either haggle and ask for a lower price (my travel buddy was SO much better at this than me!) or try again somewhere else. Also, keep in mind that while credit cards are used, Italy is still very much cash-only, or at least cash-preferential (my understanding is that Italian vendors pay a much higher merchant fee when processing credit card transactions compared to American vendors.) But don’t let that cramp your shopping, use it to your advantage: if a vendor makes a face when you brandish that Mastercard, you can usually coax a discount out of them for switching to cash. Shopping tip: If you have specific items in mind, whether for yourself or for others, make a checklist and keep track of what you’re buying/whose gifts you’ve bought. It’ll help you shop more responsibly and keep you from accidentally buying 5 Roman gladiator helmets (yes, travel buddy, I’m looking at you!)

EXCHANGING MONEY: So, here’s what we did: we brought some American cash with us (with the intention of using credit cards when we could), and changed a bit of that cash at the airport in Milan, since we needed some for transit to our hostel and for food. The obnoxious part: the exchange rate/commissions were insane, so we only changed a little and decided to change the rest of our cash elsewhere. Whenever possible, we pretty much used credit cards (we had the same ones too! Chase Sapphire Preferred – awesome 40,000 point bonus, by the way) – ones that had 0% transaction fees and chip technology, but there were plenty of times where we could only use cash. One other time we needed extra cash, we hit an ATM (know you bank’s fees/policies in advance), so that’s how we got by. Regret #2: What I wish we had done was changed some of our dollars to euros in the U.S., as we may have gotten a better exchange at a U.S. bank. I also wish we just relied on ATMs for the rest of our cash needs. Depending on your bank, withdrawing from an ATM gets you a better rate, compared to bureaus. Always exercise caution though, and avoid shady looking ATMs! (liked unlabeled ones in the middle of a street – try sticking to major Italian banks if you can.) I’m glad though about the credit card choice, as it was honestly the most convenient way to spend – if you get pickpocketed, your cash is gone, but you can always freeze a credit card, right?

I think I’ve covered most of the major points of my trip. Hope this helps if you’re planning  a trip to Italy! If you’ve also been there, I’d love to hear about your experiences and any additional travel tips you might have for your fellow nomads! Grazie!

 

Welcome!

Welcome to my blog! I’m a writer, adventurer and fashion aficionada, but a Spanish instructor by profession! I’ve decided to start chronicling my passion for travel – but with one underlying focus: doing it frugally! Throughout this blog you’ll find journal entries from my past trips (Nomad Diaries) as well as posts with practical information on making these adventures happen on the cheap (Thrifty Nomad)! I’ve also just added another section to my blog called Nomad Maps, where I like to document where I’ve been. Another recent addition to my blog is Thrifty Chic DIY, where I share relatively inexpensive DIY projects I’ve done.

I love and welcome feedback! Questions and comments are encouraged, and I’ll always do my best to respond ASAP!

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San Diego, CA 2014

 

Other writing: I enjoy writing fiction in my spare time and (if I’m lucky!) get the occasional story published (listed and linked below).

Fiction:

Trial and Error Sukoon Volume 4, Issue 2. Winter 2017 (short story)

The Colleague One Hundred Voices. Centum Press. September 23, 2016 (short story)

Meditation Cecile’s Writers’ Magazine. March 14, 2016 (short story)

Nora Flash Fiction Magazine. October 14, 2015 (flash fiction)

Coming Back Citron Review. September 15, 2015 (flash fiction)

Poetry:

“The Pages of a Book” and “The Way of la pena” Poesia. Indian Bay Press. Volume VI, No 2. Fall 2008.