Quick PCH update

Waking up next to a vineyard seems like a good idea to me!

I can hardly believe how fast April is approaching!

Here's what I've been doing for our PCH trip:

Trying Wine.

Frank Family Vineyards ★★★★
Rodney Strong ★★☆☆
Silverado ★★☆☆
Sterling ★★☆☆
Save Me San Francisco ★★★☆

Noble Vines ★★★★
William Hill ★★☆☆

Chandon ★★★☆

We just bought a bottle of Gloria Ferrer sparkling rosé, a bottle of Domaine Carneros brut, a bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine, and a bottle of Federalist red wine. We also found wine from several other wineries on my list, but the $30/bottle cost was a bit prohibitive for buying on this particular trip to the liquor store.

I should mention that we've tried a few other wines, but I haven't liked any of them, so I don't remember their names/vineyards. It's been really hard to find wine from vineyards on my list.

Unfortunately, I don't think we will have time to try all of the wine from the vineyards I'm interested in visiting. In those cases, I will just have to make an educated guess, see if the vineyard looks "pretty" and try my luck with the wine. This is the moment when I really feel like I don't know much about wine or my tastes. If you find yourself in a similar situation, visiting Napa, I recommend reading Robert Holmes' A Traveller's Wine Guide to California and doing like I'm doing … trying wine. How else will you learn?

As for vineyard hopping, I have also heard that it's best to look for coupons, use the app Napa Valley Winery Finder, and sign up to be part of vineyard clubs if you know you like the wine from a particular vineyard to help you save money on tastings. And as for me and my husband, we are looking into having a private driver to help us plan our time in Napa so that we can get the most out of our trip without having to worry.

Exploring YipIt.

I had mentioned scouring Groupon and Living Social for discounts, but did you know that YipIt will check both of those sites and more for discounts? I didn't! So now I'm trying to make sure I search YipIt before completing any payments for activities. It hasn't been incredibly useful so far, but I definitely appreciate having an easier time researching.

Watching Prices and Googling.

All of my refundable hotels are currently pulled up with Tripadvisor and in their own tabs, so that all I have to do every day is press refresh to get an update on the current prices making it easier to confirm and rebook as necessary.

And along with checking YipIt, I've been spending a lot of time googling to discover lower prices for my chosen activities and looking at the Go Card, seeing what does and doesn't work for me given the discounts I'm finding on Google.

All of this planning has me stressed out. 

I sincerely hope my time in California is worth the time I've spent planning it.

Can you believe how fast March is going by? Wasn't it just January a few days ago?

The 8 Trips in 12 Months Plan
PCH Roadtrip: Why I Chose Los Angeles Over Portland
PCH: Planning the Details
PCH: Timing Is Everything


At the beginning of every month, as part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, I take a look at my successes (not just in writing), share the ways I hope to improve in the next month, answer the IWSG question of the month, and provide inspiration (if I have any).

Start preparing for April A-Z.
Report car repairman to BBB. (Googled and couldn't find him.)
• Plan for SIX trips
   – April – California?
   – April – Washington DC
    May – Clearwater Beach, FL
   – June – NYC
   July – ?
   December – ?
Continue cleaning. Ideally, get rid of at least five things. 
   1. (broken) tripod 
   2. (broken) charging cables 
   3. a picture
   4. I posted a few things on Poshmark and Ebay, if that counts. And put a few things in my Goodwill pile.
✓ Try to implement some of my 101 in 1001 goals into my travel plans. (Very minimally but still.)
• Complete my January goals
   Finish 2017 financial review.
   Come up with resolutions.
   Update my laptop IOS. (Tried but failed.)
Make sure the backup drive is backed up.

Other Successes:
✓ Edited/deleted over 2000 images.
✓ Posted 5 items on Poshmark.
✓ Added to the trips we will take and started booking hotels/rental cars/etc for them. (Sep – Jekyll Island and NYC)
✓ Researched possibilities for July.
✓ Prepared enough Wordless Wednesday posts to get me through the end of May!
✓ Tried more than 5 different wine varieties in preparation for our April trip to California.
✓  Got through a book!

March Goals:
• Finish 50% or more of April A-Z. (13 posts, edit or delete 4,000 images)
• Finish planning both April trips: California, Washington D.C.
• Rest.

IWSG Question: How do you celebrate when you achieve a writing goal/ finish a story?

Wine? Sleep?

For the most part, I'm just happy to finally be done. I don't do anything particularly special. When I do something special, it's typically a one-time thing.

How do you celebrate when you achieve a goal? Is there anything you do that helps you maintain your focus until you have reached your goal?

PCH: Timing Is Everything

If you've ever tried to balance ten+ hotels, a rental car, a flight, and so many days worth of vacation planning, you know what I mean.

Within the past week, I have made two timing mistakes.

1. I also have a hotel stay coming up in DC. When re-researching rates, I discovered a lower rate. As I was headed out the door, I clicked on it, booked it, and then noticed it was nonrefundable. Immediately I got on the phone with the hotel, a Hilton chain hotel. Over the next half hour, I was sent from Hilton customer service to the Advanced Purchase desk, to the actual hotel's customer service, and finally told I would need to speak with a manager. Then, when I finally got in touch with the manager I was told I needed to speak with the Advanced Purchase desk again. She gave me her name, said she would cancel the stay but couldn't guarantee a refund unless I spoke with Advanced Purchase again, and put a note on my reservation. When I called Advanced Purchase, they attached a file to my confirmation. *sigh* It was a mess. Just as I was starting to get aggravated, the hotel manager canceled my reservation and told me to let her know if I got charged.

In the end, it wouldn't have been a big deal if we hadn't been able to cancel since we needed a room for this particular night anyway. I was just frustrated that I had booked a nonrefundable room.

2. Then, as if that wasn't enough of a scare, I decided to book a tour of Catalina Island. I believe the tour could be canceled within 48 hours of your trip, but I booked it for the next day. On a weekend. When the company's office was closed. At 9AM, right at the opening time following the weekend. Can you feel my pain? I don't even know how I made that mistake! I immediately called the emergency number (they run a taxi service too), but the dispatcher was unable to help me. I have emailed. I facebook messaged. At the time of the writing of this post, all there is left to do is cry. I now have to wait until lunchtime, my time (9am theirs), to call and, hopefully, change my reservation.*

So, let that be a lesson to you all: check dates. And then re-check them. Confirm and re-confirm times. This stress is NOT worth it.

Other ways timing is everything:

1. I recently found out a museum (The BROAD) I want to see is smack dab next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall where my husband and I will be attending a concert. Went to reserve the free tickets and … they were "sold out". 😞 If I had realized The BROAD was a close as it is to the concert hall before today, maybe it wouldn't have been sold out.

2. Timing has also worked in my favor. Apparently, a food truck park thing called Smorgasbord only happens on Sundays, and I will be in LA on a Sunday! Sooo woot!

In other news, I've been breaking down my schedule, researching sunrise and sunset times, seeing which beaches look worth a visit and which will have to wait until next time, cutting out anything I deem to be "excess". One more mission? Or wait to see another further down PCH when I have more time?

And then there is luggage.

I'm currently in the process of emptying out all of my camera memory cards, and I just ordered a new camera bag yesterday. a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW II. My old Costco camera bag was breaking and hella uncomfortable. Hopefully, the new bag will fit my needs better.

As for other details:

• I've started looking at restaurants and made OpenTable reservations at a few.
• I have not gotten through the last book and two magazines yet that I bought for PCH research purposes.
• My husband has notified his friend we would be in town during this trip.
• All of our hotels have been booked and I have found lower prices since on a few of them! Yay!

Now to get ready for April A-Z.

Oh, and also I'm only on day three of breaking down my trip by cost and time. So I have another seven days of intricate research to do. Anyone want to make a few decisions for me? Five weekends of research and I thought for sure I would be finished by now!

How did you spend your weekend? Is the weather nice where you are? Or are you dealing with the bomb cyclone in the north? (And for those of you that did deal with the bomb cyclone this weekend, I pray that your community did not suffer much if at all. Those storms seem absolutely terrifying.)

The 8 Trips in 12 Months Plan
PCH Roadtrip: Why I Chose Los Angeles Over Portland
PCH: Planning the Details

* About three hours after I put this post together, Journey Catalina called regarding my messed up reservation. Without hesitating, they fixed it for me, sent me the correct receipt (with the correct date), and reassured me that a simple mistake like that was nothing to get upset over. I was so entirely grateful that they were able to fix my issue over the weekend when their office is closed! It means that I have one less thing to worry about when I close my eyes tonight. 🙂

PCH: Planning the Details

Over this past week, there were two events that put money into the forefront of my mind: both myself and my husband and I got paid AND I booked flights to California. So now this trip is definitely happening. I don't have status with Delta (or any airline, really) so it's not like I can cancel or change my flights. What I have is what I have. And the cost of the flight? Well, that's the cost.

Which brings me to my first point:

Anytime you book a hotel, book using the refundable rate!

Even if it is more expensive at the initial time of booking, it can often end up saving you money in the long run. I have seen this time and time again as hotel prices fluctuate over time. Nothing makes you more upset than seeing the price for your hotel room drop the day after you book. Or, alternatively, finding a cheaper price on another website. If you have booked a refundable room, you can cancel your initial booking and rebook at the cheaper rate!

So, that's what I was doing this week. I was going through all of my chosen hotels and looking at their prices on TripAdvisor, Groupon, TravelZoo, and Club1Hotels. While TripAdvisor gave me a great beginning price point with which to work from, Groupon and TravelZoo, in some cases offered better deals for the hotels I was looking at – one of which included a free bottle of wine and room upgrade along with a cheaper price! Woot!

It's also a good idea to sign up for the hotel's rewards program to earn points, status match if you can with your status from another hotel, and use the google hotel search to find other hotels in the area that may better meet your needs or have a lower price. Of course, these are just things I do.

If you have a credit card that offers Visa Signature/Visa Infinite, Amex Fine Hotels, or Chase Ultimate Rewards, be sure to check those offers before booking as well. Sometimes they may cost a little bit more but offer you a free breakfast, food or beverage credit, or something else that will make it worth checking into.

Finally, click through cashbackaholic to get extra rewards for shopping. Just yesterday I discovered I could get an additional 4% back for a Hilton stay if I clicked through LeMoney before booking my room. While 4% isn't much, every little bit helps! And if you use a cashback credit card, you can get even more money back!

While I haven't finished booking all of my hotel stays for our California trip, I have moved on to begin work on our itinerary.

I began with research. What did we want to do during this trip? What could we reasonably accomplish within our time in California? I can't say I've gotten it down quite yet. There are certainly different variables that need to be considered that I have no way of knowing prior to the trip (traffic, road closures, etc…) but I can definitely do as much research as possible to determine what is open/closed and get a good idea of how many miles I can drive in one day. Visit A City has helped me with figuring out how long it will take to get from point A to point B, while bloggers and TripAdvisor have helped me narrow down what I want to do and get an idea for how long those activities will take. I shared many of the things we are considering doing in last week's post.

Knowing how expenses add up, I've spent a good bit of time googling "activity + discounts" or + coupon, + promo code, etc… In some cases, I've discovered cheaper prices on Groupon and Living Social. In other cases, people have recommended stopping by the local Costco (in southern California to be more specific) and picking up gift cards before purchasing the activity since the club store offers a discount through the purchase of the gift card (in this case, purchasing a $100 gift card for the Catalina Express ferry for $80 saving a total of $20). I also found discounts for activities through Club1Hotels, if you have a membership.

Beyond using the internet, with California I have had a unique planning experience wine tasting. It's hard to know what wineries you are interested in visiting if you haven't tasted the wine, right? So, that's what we've been doing. So far we have tasted approximately five different wines from the Napa, Sonoma, and Russian River regions of California. Not only am I getting a better idea of what wine I like, but it will save us money on wine tastings because I will avoid going to the wineries that I disliked during my at-home tastings. We even bought a book A Traveller's Wine Guide to California to help me learn more about California wine, what to look for with wine produced in specific regions, and what those numbers on the wine shelf below the wine mean (more alcohol, more of a fruity taste for higher numbers).

Next, car rental…

I'm actually still working on this bit as well. One of the sites I love to use to compare rental prices is AutoSlash. You put in your information and then they email you with the best price they can find. Or, if you already have a car rental booked, you can insert your car rental information for them to price watch for you. You then get emailed if they find a lower price that they think fits your itinerary.

For argument's sake, you can also check warehouse stores (Costco, BJ's, Sam's Club), company discounts through your work, Club1Hotels (yes! They do that too!) and forum searches (like Flyertalk, Slickdeals). One example where checking sites other than AutoSlash benefitted me was when I discovered Enterprise offers a $12.99-weekend special. If that works for you, you can save a lot of money on a car rental!

Finally, books.

A debatable topic, but I have found that travel books often help me plan trip more thoroughly than I might otherwise. Sometimes blogs and travel forums don't list activity options or places worthy of a visit. Other times blogs and travel forums offer even more information than a book does! It all depends! In my experience though, I don't feel like my travel planning is complete without a book. I prefer books with lots of pictures and detailed information regarding what there is to do in a place and why a particular hotel and restaurant is worthy of my time. Is there a historic reason I should visit? I find that books listing a higher proportion of restaurants and hotels to activities often go out of date more quickly than books that focus on tourist options.

For our trip to California, I spent an hour at Barnes and Noble looking through and picking out four books, two of which I purchased on Amazon for a cheaper price (used) and two of which I purchased at the store. My preferences trend toward the Eyewitness Travel Guides and the National Geographic Travel Guides.

In this instance, I got:
A Traveller's Wine Guide to California by Robert Holmes
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: San Francisco & Northern California by DK Publishing
• DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: California by DK Publishing

and a book about Portland which won't be of much use to me on this trip.

So, how you plan travel and research for trips? Do you already use any of these methods to save money? Is there another website you find help that I didn't mention in this post?