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?

PCH Roadtrip: Why I Chose Los Angeles Over Portland

Last year I spent a bit of time daydreaming about how someday I would explore the Pacific Coast Highway. I spent some time researching and ultimately decided that April would be the time of year to do it: who doesn't want to see spring wildflowers snuggled up next to a gorgeous beach? Plus, I was kind of having Hawai'i withdrawals when I started planning to take this trip. The east coast beaches look less appealing after you've seen the crystal clear turqoise waters of the Pacific. Are west coast beaches more like Hawai'ian beaches? Or are they similar to those on the east coast?

When I got a new job in August with what I thought would be limited vacation time, I threw my dreams of visiting the PCH into the future. Going anywhere in the spring of 2018 and using up all of my time off seemed like a bad idea. And you can't do PCH in less than a week, or so I've found.

But then, a miracle, of sorts, occured.

My employer contacted me about wanting me to use my time off in April. I mean –hell no. But an extra week of vacation? It kind of seemed perfect. I'd have time off for when I needed it most, for traveling on the PCH. Yes, this could work. Of course, I didn't find out until mid January, but I got started planning right away.

Now, here's where you'll want to pay attention if you have any intention of drivving the PCH. I have spent countless weekends researching and I am only halfway (being generous) through the planning process. I consulted numerous blogs as well as two books: National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways and Moon's Roadtrip USA.* I jumped back and forth researching various travel destinations on the PCH. Literally, my planning was all over the coast. Until I ultimately decided.

* Pro tip: Both books were extraordinarly helpful, but if you are going to purchase one, I'd recommend Moon's book over National Geographic's.

Here's what I found in my research:

The northern Pacific coast between Portland and San Francisco looks incredible. It's ruggedly beautiful. But cold. And the possibility for fog is high if you go any time but late summer. However, those spring wild flowers? There's a chance you might see them! I fell in love with Portland, the city. A Japanese garden, Chinatown, an awesome looking art museum, waterfalls and gorgeous state parks… But ultimately, I knew that I had to see Big Sur and the Hearst Castle. Could all of that be accomplished within my limit of nine days? In short, no. And to be fair, I'm not even sure my current plan works with my nine day limit. *shrugs*

So, we opted instead to drive up from LA to SF. But then, in my research I discovered La Jolla. So, now I'm looking at flights to San Diego wherein we drive up through LA to ultimately reach SF.* Are you tired yet?

* There's a pit stop on Catalina Island thanks to my friend, Liz.

So, current schedule up for discussion from anyone in the bloggerverse that knows CA better than me:

Thursday night –
We begin our journey by flying in that night (no flight booked yet) to San Diego. It will be late, but we will muster up whatever energy we have left to make the drive to La Jolla and spend the night La Valencia. I chose the hotel because it is right on the coast. So, one less stop between San Diego and Los Angeles to make the next morning, because we will be waking up there! Also, La Valencia has a Spanish design that I find really appealing. And supposedly, it's within walking distance of shops and restaurants. That checks everything in my book: coastal views, bed, breakfast.

• Anyone have any suggestions for places to eat when we wake up?
• Or where to get groceries for a road picnic later in the day?

Friday –
As I said, we start our day in La Jolla. We will be able to sleep in a little bit, but because we are on east coast time, we will probably opt to get up early and see the sunrise. I realize the west coast is not optimal for seeing the sunrise, but we will make do. And if we can't get up (as is more typical for us), we will sleep in. There is no reason to start our journey off stressed out. Whatever we see on day one will be enough even though I have the full day planned.

Other items on our list:
Mission San Juan Capistrano
• Treasure Island Beach
• Heisler Park
• Crescent Bay Point Park

And, ending the day on the Catalina Express where we will spend the night at the Portofino Hotel. Hopefully, I will be able to catch both sunset and sunrise on the island and get a decent idea of what to expect from Catalina. (This is helpful if I ever want to return.)

Saturday –
We will begin our day, hopefully, with another sunrise and a bit of time exploring Catalina.

Then, this is where my plans get a little fuzzy:
• When do we head back to LA? Mid-afternoon or evening?
• If we go back mid-afternoon, will we have time to see a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall? What about going on a Warner Brother's Studio tour?

I have not yet picked a hotel for our time (two nights) in LA.

Sunday – 
Ideally we will get a bit of extra sleep this morning since what I am planning, a tour, won't start until later in the day.

Question for LA peeps:
• Is it possible to tour LA yourself? How bad is traffic, really? If you were to tour LA and see the tourist sights, what would you do? (I'm thinking some of the theatres, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Bowl, and a view of the Hollywood sign to name a few. Is it worth exploring Laguna Beach, Beverly Hills, or Venice Beach?)

If we can tour LA ourselves, we might have time to go on a studio tour in the afternoon. (I'm thinking Warner Brothers if we don't get a chance to do it on Saturday. I'm open to hearing about other studios, though, if any LA people/tourists think others are better?)

We will end the evening at OUE Skyspace, time-dependent, for a gorgeous view of the sunset over LA.

Monday –
We head out of LA and move on to Santa Barbara if we can get to it. If we can't, we will bypass it to Solvang. No matter where we go, though, we have to end up the White Water Inn, where we are spending night five.

Additional stops may include:
Old Mission Santa Barbara
Old Mission Santa Ines
• Moonstone Beach Park

A light day? Certainly. I just don't know what to expect out of Highway 1 with all of the mudslides that have occurred in the past few years. And we won't even talk about traffic getting out of LA!

Tuesday –
Obviously, waking up on the ocean will definitely be a highlight of the day. We may go for a walk… Or maybe not. It's hard to say. Either way, my plan is to fit both Hearst Castle and the Big Sur into day five. I have scheduled out a good three hours to spend at Hearst Castle and another three for Point Sur State Park. Will I need all of that time? Possibly not, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. I don't have it booked yet, but I intend on making reservations at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands for the night using Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Other stops we may make:
Mission San Antonio de Padua
• Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
• Point Sur State Historic Park

Wednesday –
Waking up with another gorgeous view of the ocean sounds like just the ticket for a bit of relaxation during what is otherwise a hectic vacation. Today, we will have a busy day working our way through Monterey and heading all the way up to Napa, completely bypassing San Francisco. This is what you call goals, my friends. There is wine that needs to be tasted.

Current plans include:
• Bixby Creek Bridge
• Rocky Creek Bridge
• Garrapata State Park
Carmel Mission Basilica 
• the Tor House
• the "Lone Cypress"
Monterey Bay Aquarium (for 3+ hours)

ending at Senza Hotel.

Thursday –
The entire reason I booked the Senza Hotel is so that we could wake up to the view of a beautiful Vineyard. It's not like you get that kind of view every day.  After that, things get a bit fuzzy. This time, not just for the rest of the day but for the rest of the trip! Not having flights booked certainly has something to do with it, but also not knowing what wine I like has made it difficult to determine which wineries to taste test at!

So far, the list (that continues to grow):
Sbragia Family Vineyards
Cast Wines
Chateau Montelena Winery
Castello di Amorosa
Frank Family Vineyards (I know I like their wine!)
Schramsberg Vineyards
Matanzas Creek Winery
Kuleto Estate Winery
Silverado Vineyards
Domaine Chandon (They have good sparkling wine!)
Domaine Carneros
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard

Right now, the plan is to end the day in San Francisco, but we are still working out the kinks. For one, I want to visit the prettiest wineries with the best-tasting wine, preferably wine you can't buy just anywhere. Secondly, we need to think about transportation and how not to get drunk. I also need to research a good restaurant to end the day at, because I've heard the food is amazing in Napa Valley and that at least one meal should be eaten there. Ideally, we will watch the sunset over a vineyard before heading to our hotel in San Francisco, wherever that may be.

Friday –
I've left Friday pretty open. I absolutely want to visit The Walt Disney Family Museum, Alcatraz Island, the Land's End Labyrinth, and Lombard Street which I think will fill the day. I don't know what we will do afterward and I'm trying to keep it pretty open. For one day, I feel my schedule is pretty hectic, but, besides that, we have a friend we are trying to meet up with while we are in San Francisco. Ideally, keeping a flexible schedule will help make that meet-up happen.

I'm currently looking at these hotels in the San Francisco area:
• the Scarlet Huntington, which has a bit of a high price tag but is, supposedly, located in a decent area
the Alise, a hotel in a not so great area of town with a price tag only slightly less than The Scarlet Huntington but a gorgeous/fun pineapple theme to keep our stay exciting. (Because who doesn't like pineapples?)
Kimpton Sir Francis Drake, also not in a good area of town, but I could pay for it with IHG points.

Saturday –
I'm still working out flight plans. Right now I'm watching flights home for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Prices are high and getting higher and I'm being my usual indecisive self.

Anyway, having read through my itinerary, what do you all think? Is there anything you would do differently? Does my planning overwhelm and stress you out? Have you ever planned a trip so thoroughly? If so, how did it turn out?*

* I'd like to give a shout out to Visit A City for helping me work out timing details! The website is free to sign up and use, and no there are not paying me or giving me anything special for doing this shout out. I used them when I planned my trip to Hawai'i and everything worked out almost exactly according to the plan I set up using their website. If you need help with planning timing issues for your travel, they offer a great website for planning a trip up to ten days long!

Next week I'll explain more of my process for finding hotel deals and steals as well as cheaper prices for activities and how we are tasting wine at home to decide on wineries. (Or at least that's my current plan.) Stay tuned as I work my way through planning eight trips in twelve months!*

* See last week's post here.

The 8 Trips in 12 Months Plan

If you followed along in 2017, you saw me plan four trips in five months. It was intense, overwhelming, and took a lot of time. I was concerned that I would have fewer vacation days (than I'm used to) in 2018, so I felt the need to get all of my wanderlust out of me – the idea was to travel until I exploded with happiness and confetti, neither of which happened. (Probably to my benefit, to be fair.) But then 2018 came and I received my new calendar along with a request from my employer: she wanted to give me an extra week of vacation. So, now, instead of having three weeks total for vacation (which is nothing to sneeze at), I now have four. Plus a few extra random days.

Here's why the extra vacation days keep me from blogging:

In 2017 and before, my work days were typically 2-6pm with an hour commute each way. An easy day, really. I loved the area I worked in, the families I worked for, and the hours made it super easy to blog. But this year, my work days consist of waking up at 4:30AM, driving my husband 45 minutes to the metro system, returning home, sleeping a bit extra, then driving an hour to work two hours before my scheduled work time of noon (so I leave home at 10am) to work until 5:30pm. Then, an hour and a half drive home in traffic putting my arrival time at 7pm, dinner at 8pm, and in bed by 10pm.

In the past six months, I've learned how to make my schedule work, but that doesn't prevent it from being a tad bit overwhelming and exhausting at times. As of recently, I've been taking my laptop to work and using it when the kids I watch have screen time. It gives me a few minutes to catch up on comments, emails, and life. (Or work on travel planning, picture editing, and blogging.)

Given that weekends are my main source of free time and that both a vacation and April A-Z are coming up, I've been participating in blog challenges less, joining twitter parties less, scaling back on … well, everything I can scale back on.

But, here's what I've been doing more of:

I've been cleaning my home more. Last week, we threw away cell phone charging cables (among other things) that weren't working, donated books and CDs to Goodwill, and I posted a few clothing items for sale on Poshmark. We need a new mop and vacuum, so we are in the process of getting those things. We also sprayed for bugs. (We've been having a ladybug problem.)

I've made a point of spending more time with friends. We welcomed the year with friends in DC for New Year's Eve, traveled to Boston to see family, had dinner with family 4 out of 5 weekends in January, went to dinner with friends one time, and planned for a "friend trip" to DC (that will take place in April).

And when I haven't been cleaning, organizing, and family-ing, I've been editing Hawai'i images in preparation of April A-Z. I haven't gotten any writing done and I probably need to figure out a schedule so that I can complete it on time, but … I'll get to that. Maybe. Or maybe you'll just have Hawai'i images for April. 🙂

I downloaded the Photoshop Nik collection software which I've been using to edit my HDR images. In some cases, it has taken upwards of an hour to edit one image, but I've been mostly happy with the results. I've got some issues with noise and ghosting (and sharpening, maybe?), but overall I would say the addition of the Nik software to my workflow has been an improvement. I hope you all agree when you see the images.

Now, for the travel bit:

As I mentioned above, I have four weeks vacation in 2018. Two weeks are at my employer's discretion (she's already given me those dates), one week is at mine, and one week is between Christmas and New Year's. Only, I'm not getting paid for three out of my four vacation weeks, so money is definitely a factor. But I have more time to plan (in advance, as opposed to being notified the day before that I would have time off), so I am trying to use it to my advantage, booking as far in advance as possible.

In January, I honed in on the "easy" vacation planning. I researched and booked for my 3-day long holidays, Memorial Day and Labor Day including cars and hotels, planning well in advance where it is we would be going. And, in the next few months, I will be keeping an eye on those hotels and watching to see if the prices go up or down, price adjusting as necessary.

The thing I put off in January? the vacation I have coming up the soonest – the one in April. 😧 We are considering a trip to California, but the more I put off the planning, the higher plane tickets get and then I question my choices. But I have limits on when I can take my vacation time so… complications.

Anyway, I'll go into the planning a bit more next week. If I have my way, we will be gone for 9 days driving up the Pacific Coast Highway with stops all over California along the way. It's really an intense trip that I'm planning so I will need to save that for its own post.

So, recap. The plan for this year is:

April – California & the Pacific Coast Highway. We're driving from San Diego to San Francisco. (Unless I change my mind again.)
April Pt. 2 – Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival with friends (a weekend trip)
May – Clearwater Beach, FL
June – NYC, NY (to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Gardens maybe?, a weekend trip)
July – ? (I have a week off.)
August – Jekyll Island and Savannah, GA
September/October/November – ? (I have another week off.)
December – ? (Christmas break)

I'll go into greater detail about what I've already booked next week, but in the meantime, you can follow along with my Travel Planning here.

What's going on with you?

Do you enjoy when I live-blog my planning? Does it help in any way?

And if you aren't into travel (or even if you are), are you a planner by nature? Do you prefer to have all of your "ducks" in a row? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person? Do you have any suggestions or advice for better planning? Or life strategies for getting more done when you feel like you are short on time?


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).

Finish 2017 review: specifically financial.
Come up with resolutions or ideas on how to achieve my 2018 goals.
Try, try again to figure out how to update my laptop to the newest operating system.
Contact Mazda about car part recall.
Submit my hotel reimbursement claim to Chase.

Other Successes:
Got caught up responding to comments!!
Blogged ahead!
Submitted information to Earny to get cashback for a purchase made in October.
Bought Data Rescue 5 to save my Hawai'i images!
Participated in a twitter chat (or 3!).
Spent time with family and friends.
Watched hotel and car rental prices to get the best possible deals for our trip to Boston.
Recall and car damage fixed.
Figured out when Washington DC cherry blossom plans with friends will happen.
✓ Contacted Chase about hotel reimbursement claim.

February Goals:
• Start preparing for April A-Z.
• Report car repairman to BBB. (Googled and couldn't find him.)
• Plan for SIX trips (March – Washington DC; April – California?; May – Clearwater Beach, FL?; June – NYC; July – ?; December – ?)
• Continue cleaning. Ideally, get rid of at least five things.
• Try to implement some of my 101 in 1001 things into my travel plans.
• Do the goals I didn't complete in January. (Finish 2017 financial review. Come up with resolutions. Update my laptop.)
• Make sure the backup drive is backed up.

IWSG Question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

My writing mostly consists of blogging … which, in essence, is a genre.

What do I love most about it? I love the immediate gratification. Well – sometimes immediate. I love that people can respond to what I write and I can read about their response. You don't get that, or at least not as immediately, with other types of writing.

I also love that it incorporates so many other aspects of my life. When I take a picture, I will edit it up and share it with my writing. In essence, a complete story, accompanied by pictures.

And all of this has me aiming to do my best work, to be as creative as I can be both in my photography, in my blog design, and in my writing. It all meshes together to create my genre.

Even though the last few months of 2017 were difficult for me, I feel like I'm really on top of things this January. Will I stay caught up? Who knows? How did things go for you during this first month of 2018? Are you starting the year off strong?

Also, since I will be prepping for April A-Z, my blog posts may be few and far between (every Wednesday at least!) until that point. Maybe not. We will see. I will do my best to stay caught up, though. Just realize that that is where my time is going, and I will get to your comments as soon as possible. :)