New York: Day 2

On our second day in New York, we ventured to the American Museum of Natural History.  I had always wanted to go there, so I was excited!

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Something you may or may not know, you can pay whatever you want to get into the museum. If you pay at a kiosk, you will be charged their normal admission fee of $22 for adults and $17 for students. If you wait in line, you can see an attendant. They will tell you the recommended price, but you can pay them literally whatever you want. I am all for supporting this amazing museum, however; this is definitely something to keep in mind for those traveling on a budget! To give you an idea that this actually works, we saw someone pay $10 total for 4 people. That group may or may not have been us.

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You could spend hours upon hours inside of this museum. We decided to check out the map for the exhibits we most wanted to see in order to be time efficient.

We then saw the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the tree somehow seemed disappointing.

We also saw 30 Rock and the busy ice skating area.

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There were a lot of people gathered around a building taking photos. Turns out it was Saks Fifth Avenue. They had a really awesome Christmas window display. Since it was there, we decided to go inside and see what it was like. It was very well decorated, it was fun just to walk through. I definitely didn’t realize just how big the place was until we started walking around. You could easily spend half a day looking around in there.

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Something we really wanted to do while in NYC was to see some sort of comedy show. We decided to check out UCB to see what they had going on. After checking, we purchased tickets for a show called “We Know How You Die.” It was an absolutely hilarious improv show which included a couple of comedians that I had seen on various shows. You should be sure to check out a show at UCB for a great experience!

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-Haley

New York: Day 1

This previous December, myself, my husband and two of our friends drove from Tennessee to New York.

Since you don’t really need a car in New York, we could have just flown. We like road trips though, and since we had the time, we decided to drive.

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We left that morning and decided that we would stop somewhere in Pennsylvania for the night since our Airbnb was not going to be ready until the next day.

We ended up staying in Allentown, PA which was a nice stop! We definitely noticed a temperature change as we drove north. We actually really enjoyed the cold. It started snowing pretty hard as we drove around. In Tennessee, we don’t always have that great of a winter.

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The next morning, we headed into the city, but first, Tim Hortons since it was there and all.

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Our Airbnb wouldn’t be ready for check in until 2pm, so we went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NY.

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Clothes from Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy movies.

This was a really interesting place. They house the United State’s largest and most comprehensive collection of artifacts relating to the art, history and technology of the moving image.

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After we spent some time there, we headed to the city.

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Traffic was surprisingly not horrible. We easily made our way to the parking garage where we were going to leave our car. It was only around the block from where we were staying, so that was super convenient.

The apartment we rented was just what we needed for 4 people. It was a four story walk up, which wasn’t fun with luggage and narrow stairways. The place was super cute and our host was very nice.

Our Airbnb was very close to the Manhattan Bridge, so we walked to Brooklyn to grab a bite to eat before going to a hockey game there later.

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In total, from our Airbnb to the Barclay’s Center was a 3 mile walk, which wasn’t too bad. Walking over that bridge in December though, that was literally the coldest that I have ever been in my life. Admittedly it was my own fault, I was definitely not dressed for it.

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View of Manhattan from the bridge

 

One of our friends knew someone who worked at a restaurant in Brooklyn, so we decided to check it out.

After we ate, we headed to the game. We walked through an area that looked like the Huxtables should live there. It was the New York Islanders vs. the Chicago Blackhawks that night. Chicago won 5-4. It was really a great time! The seats we had were around $35, so this is definitely something fun to do that isn’t crazy expensive.

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A drunk Australian man took this photo

Some guys from Australia were behind us and had the same idea that we did, to come to a hockey game for something cool to do. They weren’t totally sure how hockey worked, so they talked to us about it.

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We were originally going to walk back, but the temperature had dropped even more and the cold was literally taking our breath away. We hadn’t taken the subway yet so we weren’t sure how that worked. We decided on an Uber ride instead.

He arrived a little while later. I think it was around a $25 ride, but it was most definitely worth it. He was also the nicest Uber driver we had the entire time. He was the only one that actually spoke to us beyond saying “hello.” We joked around and had a pleasant ride back.

When we got back to the apartment, we were starving. It was late and we had no clue what would be open. Literally 400 feet from the door of our Airbnb apartment was a Chinese restaurant that appeared to be open.

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Food King was the perfect way to end our first day in New York.

-Haley

 

My Experiences with Airbnb: Why it’s my Preference

The first time that I stayed in an Airbnb was in Port Dalhousie, Ontario. My husband, my friend and I were visiting one of our friends in Canada.

My first Airbnb – Port Dalhousie, Ontario

The whole process was simple and straightforward. It was in a great location, in a nice neighborhood. We had the amenities of a whole house for less than the price of a hotel.

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The house had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was decorated cutely. Literally, the only negative about the house was the gnats in the backyard. You can’t even imagine. I know that gnats and other various bugs can be expected around water, but this was insane.

 

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Where every gnat in Canada lives

 

Solution: Don’t sit in the back yard. Simple enough. I would definitely stay there again.

My worst Airbnb experience – Tornoto, Ontario

So, we decided to stay in downtown Toronto for a couple of days. We rented an Airbnb in a condo which was centrally located, was nice and had great reviews.

When we first walked in, we heard water running.

Immediately to my right, the kitchen sink was on. The sink was stopped up, and water was everywhere. The kitchen floor was full of water, the trash bin under the sink was full, the hallway and living room also were wet. (This photo does not do it justice.)

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So we waited in the doorway and called our host. Luckily, he lived in the same building, so he was there quickly.

Apparently, the water was off in the building earlier that day, so when the maid had stopped by to clean, she had accidentally pushed the faucet up. When the water came back on, no one was there to stop it!

We helped him clean up the water, he apologized and said that he would give us a night free. Good enough for us! (It did warp his floor, which was unfortunate.)

Later, my husband sat on the bed. He immediately stood up and pulled up the mattress. There was, what I can only describe as a boulder, holding one corner of the bed up. This wasn’t a huge deal since it was near the edge, but it did make it slightly uncomfortable.

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Besides these issues, the place was great. The view was amazing and it was so close to everything!

In the end, the guy didn’t refund our money. So that was annoying.

But honestly, I still preferred even that Airbnb over a hotel. There’s something about having a whole apartment to yourselves that is both convenient and comforting. Not to mention how much cheaper it was compared to a hotel near the same location.

My Favorite Airbnb – Chinatown, NYC

This past December, we stayed in an Airbnb in Chinatown. Like most places, there were a couple of negatives that I will go ahead and get out of the way.

The main thing, since it was winter, was the radiators. I have never in my life experienced a radiator that was this loud.

After the first day, we realized that we could turn it off. So we did and we actually slept during the night for the rest of our stay.

The only other thing that could really be considered a negative was the fact that it was a four or five story walk up. This may not bother some people, but others may not be crazy about it.

The place had two bedrooms, a small kitchen/living room and one bathroom. It was definitely all we needed.

It was a cute place and the location was great. It was directly across from a Chinese restaurant called Food King. I’m not sure if the others agree with me, but I considered them to have the best egg drop soup I had ever had.

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Still Better than a Hotel

Even with all of the negatives of the places that I mentioned, I would still prefer any of them over a hotel. The main reasons I prefer Airbnb are: budget, convenience, location and staying in a house or apartment in a city that you are visiting can help you feel more like a local.

Have you stayed in an Airbnb? Do you prefer them over a hotel? Or are hotels more your style? Let me know!

-Haley

My First Time in Canada

Having never been out the country before, the first time I went to Canada I was very excited!

We had decided on driving so that we could go some other places afterwards.

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As we approached the border, I found that I was getting nervous. I felt like I was going to get in trouble or something. I think the reality of crossing over into another country hit me for the first time.

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So we handed the agent our passports and drivers license. He asked where we were going, how long we were staying and where we were from. Super simple. Nervousness was unnecessary!

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We were then on our way to Toronto!

So we thought.

Around 5 minutes after we crossed the border, our GPS stopped working. This was a few years ago, and our phones didn’t quite have the capabilities that they do now.

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My super old phone to give you an idea of what we were working with.

We found a Starbucks and connected our laptop to the wifi. We wrote down some directions then we were on our way!

We had decided to stay on the outskirts of downtown in order to save a little money. We stayed in a Westin probably 10 minutes from downtown.

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Later, we went exploring into downtown and the other surrounding areas.

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As I mentioned, we didn’t have a GPS. My husband literally saw Toronto in the distance and somehow got us there super quickly. I was impressed.

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Toronto is a really pretty place with a lot to see. The weekend we were there though, there was a festival going on downtown, so parking was pretty much out of the question.

We went on to explore the surrounding areas which included North York.

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We had no clue where to eat, so we saw this place called Fox and Fiddle and went for it.

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It was pretty decent. I’d equate it to the Canadian Applebee’s.

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And of course we had to stop at Tim Hortons. It really is pretty awesome.

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First km/h sign I had ever seen
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Faites la pause .. Kit Kat.

Oh, and something else that really doesn’t matter, but in Canada, Reese’s is just Reese.

Our stay here this time was very short, because we had several other places we were going. Overall though, it was a very pleasurable first stop in Canada! I definitely love the place.

-Haley

 

From Las Vegas to the Border of Mexico

So my husband and I were in Vegas a couple of years back, and we decided to drive to the border of Mexico for no reason other than just to do it.

After looking into it, it seemed that the closest we could really get would be an outlet mall called Las Americas Premium Outlets.

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We headed out of Vegas for the ~6 hour drive at around 9 am.

It didn’t take long until we arrived in the Mojave Desert.

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The Mojave Desert is the home of the infamous Death Valley, which is the hottest place in North America. Especially in late June / early August.

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This heat is nothing to mess around with, especially if you plan on spending any amount of time outdoors there. So be careful!

I think that because we were unfamiliar with the area, the drive seemed to take longer than it actually did. The drive through the desert was enjoyable though.

We arrived at around 3 pm. We really knew we were just about there when we saw the huge Mexican flag.

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Of course, we didn’t have our passports with us, so going over the border was not an option.

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We are the blue dot, the yellow line is the border.

So we opted for walking around the mall for a bit and looking at Mexico from afar.

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The Mexican border looked much simpler than the Canadian one (if that’s actually true or not, I’m not sure), with a lot shorter of a line.

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Since it was getting dark, we decided to head to out and stayed the night in Orange, CA. I really wish we would have been able to explore Mexico! But, there’s always next time.

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-Haley

 

Bringing your Dogs on Vacation

One of the most difficult parts about going on a vacation can be leaving your animals behind. This is why, given the right circumstances, you should definitely bring them along!

Not only can you miss your animals while you are gone, but sometimes it can save you money if you can bring them along!

If you are like us and don’t have any relatives very close by (or who want to watch five dogs while you’re gone, in our case), boarding your animals can be expensive.

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How could I not want to bring her?

In our area, the average appears to be $25 a night per dog.

If we take a week long vacation, and board all five of our dogs, we are talking about $875! That money could go towards other things (such as traveling!)

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We have five Yorkies, so the fact that they are small helps while traveling. If you have several large dogs, I can definitely see how that may be more difficult.

Driving

This may be the easiest way to bring your pets with you. We have a Ford Focus, so we simply lay the back seats down and put a blanket down for our dogs to lay on.

The first time we tried this we made sure to stop every two hours or so to let the dogs out to use the bathroom. More recently, we discovered that as long as the dogs are calm and sleeping, we try not to stop until they wake up. This way, they have more of a chance to relax instead of getting out more frequently.

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On our recent trip to Louisiana

We generally make it a point to either stop with them at rest areas or large truck stops, such as a Pilot or Loves, that have large grassy areas.

Our dogs rarely get car sick, but on the off-chance that they do, we don’t feed them a large meal before leaving. We generally give them a small amount of dry food a few hours before we head out. Obviously, each dog is different, but this has been what works for us so far.

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We have also found that keeping the car cool can help with car sickness.

If these things don’t help, you may want to check with your vet for a prescription for nausea.

Flying

We are planning on doing this one day, but we haven’t had the chance yet.

It looks like we could really only bring two dogs with us this way, by bringing them as carry-ons. There is the option of flying them in the cargo area as well. This isn’t personally the option for me, but this could be a viable option for someone with larger animals. Keep in mind, there have been some sources that say this could be potentially dangerous.

Delta has actually banned pets from traveling in cargo due to 74 pet deaths over a 10 year period.

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From what I have seen, most airlines have a set number of animals that can be on each flight. So, if this is your plan, book early and let them know about your pet in order to reserve your spot!

The fees for bringing your pet as a carry-on seem to range from around $75-150, so this will still cost a little.

If this is a new experience for your pet, you may want to see your vet before hand in order to make sure that your pet is healthy and ready for air travel.

While it isn’t always the best option, I love being able to share my adventures with my dogs whenever possible!

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They definitely don’t usually ride here, but they felt the need to come up front when we stopped to get gas!

Our dogs range from ages 1-8 and have all been riding in cars since they were very young. If you think you would like your pet to be a travel companion, getting them accustomed to riding early can be a great help!

-Haley

The French Quarter: The Not so Wild Side

The French Quater is associated with Bourbon Street a majority of the time, with its many bars, strip clubs, etc. While some of this area can definitely be fun (and sleazy at times), here I am going to talk a little about what the quarter has to offer during the day.

The French Quater in New Orleans, LA is a unique place. You can have a fine art gallery one street over from some pretty unsavory strip clubs (there are nice ones too.)

Weather

First of all, I’d like to talk about the weather in New Orleans for a second. There is basically no predicting it. In May, for example, it is already getting pretty hot. The extreme humidity adds to this and it is no joke. During about three hours in the French Quater, it rained four times for between 2-10 minutes each time.

So basically, bring both an umbrella and sunscreen. If you go in the morning, you can avoid both large crowds and the heat of the day.

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But anyway, Speaking of art, artists set up daily to sell their pieces in Jackson Square. Some even work on new pieces while there.

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The size, cost, and types of art available here vary widely. This is a great place where you can come to support local artists.

We went out into the French Quarter at around 10 am on a Saturday. When we first arrived, it was pretty desolate. That quickly began to change.

Since it was early, we thought that we would stop by the famous (and one of my favorites) Café du Monde for some beignets. If you aren’t familiar, beignets are delicious french doughnuts with tons of powdered sugar.

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Café du Monde

The place was completely packed, with the line stretching a long way down the road. We decided to grab something else for breakfast and try our luck again later.

Directly across from Café du Monde stands a long line of carriage rides. Many people take advantage of these as an opportunity to learn history about the city from the guides driving the carriages. The prices from Royal Carriages range from $40-200, depending on how many are in your party and where you want to go.

If carriage rides are not your thing and you prefer to explore on your own, I feel confident in saying pretty much everywhere in the French Quarter is safe to explore during the day. At night, you may want to avoid less populated streets as a precaution.

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Directly behind the carriages stands St. Louis Cathedral.

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We walked over to the cathedral to go inside (I had been in before but forgot to get any photos). When we arrived, we discovered that they were about to have mass. I will have to go back for more photos another day!

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The church operates and the public is welcome to attend their mass sessions.

French Quarter

While walking around, we found a place to grab a bite. Just so you know, many places in the French Quarter can be overpriced due to the fact that it is a tourist destination. Conveniently, many restaurants post several copies of their menus in their windows so you can decide if the restaurant is in your budget before having to go inside!

We decided on a restaurant called The Corner Oyster House.

 

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The Corner Oyster House
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I started not to post this photo, but the lady in the center tried to duck and turned into a hilarious blur.

The Corner Oyster House has a Facebook review of 4.1/5 and Google review of 2.9/5. I have to decide with Facebook on this one.

My husband (who is from New Orleans by the way) had gumbo (of course). I, on the other hand, being a person who does not like seafood, opted for the french toast.

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So, I was honestly afraid this powdered sugar would be too much. It wasn’t. It was worth every penny of the $9 that we spent on it. It was honestly some of the best french toast I have had.

View the rest of their menu here. 

Deanie’s Seafood

I thought it would be worth the mention that if you are looking for seafood here, my husband really likes Deanie’s Seafood. He says that they have really great oysters. I would not consider this a “cheap” place to eat, but good seafood can be expensive and apparently, this place has some quality seafood. Check out their menu.

French Market

Afterward, we headed to the French Market. The French Market has been in the same place since 1791! Pretty awesome. It is an open air market that spans for 6 blocks and is full of shopping. There are sooo many things you can buy there. Most of the prices (not all) are negotiable with the local dealers. Don’t push your luck though, I’ve seen a couple of merchants become very frustrated when people try to basically steal from them.

 

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The French Market (and some of that rain I mentioned)

 

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There are many places to eat inside of the French Market

If you want any souvenirs to bring home, I would recommend getting them here. They are very reasonably priced and are coming from locals.

Beignets

Before heading back to our room, we had to check out Café du Monde once more to see about getting beignets.

 

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Beignets from Cafe du Monde

I had way too much powdered sugar that day.

 

-Haley