Travel: A Weekend in Telluride, CO

A weekend in Telluride, Colorado was the right prescription to combat my fast-paced California life. Nestled in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains (in June!), this secluded town is almost two hours away from the nearest Southwest-serving airport (Mike and I are companion pass holders and we use our Southwest card to travel around the United States for FREE!) and is a stand-alone vacation spot so that, once there, you can nix the rental car along with all other obligations and just settle into the present tense. In fact, since there is no need to leave this town (like ever!), I would actually recommend taking the shuttle (at $75 per person) from the airport to Telluride. It’s less stress, less hassle, and if you’re staying a while, less dollars.

Telluride is the perfect place if you like slow-living. There is fantastic food and coffee to be had, as well as a number of shops downtown. I would recommend swinging by the book store and purchasing a paperback to read on the patio of Ghost Town or Coffee Cowboy. If you prefer to write, my friend and I bought paperback journals and spent an afternoon writing whilst sipping smoothies. Natural juices translated into creative ones in real time. There are also many local events, such as live music on the green or a Farmer’s Market that takes place for a majority of their Fridays. On the weekend, you can join the community clean-up crew to keep the area looking pristine – and to pay back Mother Nature for all the good she provides.

The vibe of Telluride is adventure-laden. The streets are teeming with dogs and active pet-owners who have most likely checked off a 3-mile hike by the time you wake at 9am. Patagonia gear, trail runners, and Prana shorts abound in this outdoor-loving getaway of a town. Most trailheads begin in town, and the trails are well-kept and demarcated clearly, as well as avidly used by the locals. Many waterfalls can be seen due to the melting snow caps, and some you can walk right up to them and revel in their misty glory. Shall you choose, rivers for crossing are also present – so feel free to slip off those Tevas and ground yourself in ice-cold goodness. Telluride also has the only free gondola in North America, which will take you to trailheads at the top of the mountain, without the need to slave away to the halfway point. For those with kids, why not take the Gondola up and hike with them down towards town? You’ll still get the view, without the tantrum.

Here are a few highlights from our recent Telluride trip.

Ghost Town Coffee

A great spot to have breakfast or refresh in the afternoon. We went back for smoothies twice (may I recommend the coconut milk in the Purple Smoothie or the house-made cashew milk in their green smoothie?). They also make great coffee, and have an intimate gathering area outdoors for your friends and family.

Cowboy Coffee

The pitstop we made three out of three days. It’s a tiny trailer stationed next to a Greek restaurant serving great coffee and breakfast burritos. Pro tip: The day-old burritos are half-price, so take them to go and reheat in your AirBNB for an easy time. Also, they’ve got a stash of spices sitting on the counter, and my tumeric-infused coffee really got me through those rainy Telluride afternoons. The clouds roll in around 2pm from the surrounding mountain giving the town a daily shower. No wonder it’s so green!

The Butcher and the Baker

Apparently this is the busiest breakfast situation on weekends. The line went around the corner, and there are no reservations. I would recommend swinging by during the weekday if you want to avoid waiting a while. I got the cheddar croissant and coffee. An honest baker’s opinion? I would go with an actual breakfast meal rather than a pastry and bring coffee from the other two places mentioned above. What I ordered was okay, but what the waiters were bringing to other tables looked way better!!

Brown Dog Pizza

My number one recommendation when staying at Telluride. This place gets busy between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and there is limited seating outside so either plan to come early or take it to go. They have multiple Award winning pizzas and they did not disappoint. You could even request to top the two halves differently. We were able to try two of their Award winners, and it was DELICIOUS!

New Sheridan Hotel

A historical hotel remodeled into what currently stands, with a great patio area and restaurant for lunch and dinner. Eating here is a bit on the pricier side, but they serve good American fare for those who like lighter and well-prepared meals. The key lime pie is to DIE FOR. I’m biased, of course.

Bear Trail Hike

This trail is a great beginner 5-mile out-and-back hike (2.5 miles each way). The trail is well demarcated and you’ll encounter fields of wildflowers, fallen trees, a few waterfalls in the distance, and a waterfall that you can walk right up to. Trees line the way on either side as the snowy mountains guide you straight ahead. We saw many families and dogs on this hike. It’s very doable, but make sure to embark early and return to town around lunch time to avoid the afternoon rain.

Gondola to Mountain Village

You can take the Gondola to the Mountain Village which is the ski resort at the top of the mountain. The gondola is the only free one of its kind in all of North America. We took it all the way up and then hiked back down into town.

Telluride Trail

You can go up and down this intermediate ski run but we used the Gondola to go up and hiked it back down. As you get closer to town, you see a bird’s eye view of Telluride as well as hear the live music playing on the green. The hill is steep and rocky, so you definitely want to wear footwear with traction – unless you’re okay with slipping and sliding occasionally. The trail is straight-forward and bare since it is a ski run, but the view is hard to beat. Please note in the photo the afternoon clouds rolling in, right on schedule.

Telluride is a well-kept secret, but the travelers we met pay recurring visits. I plan to return, as well. This tiny pocket of slow is really what many of us need right now.

How to Travel the World For FREE

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

I am all about optimizing life through “life hacks”, and one of my favorite ways to do that is by traveling the world for free by travel hacking. When Mike and I first got married, our financial planner asked us to prioritize our goals in life and traveling the world made the top of the list. But how were we to do that when I was sinking in my student debt of $575k after going to dental school? Determined to live out our dream while tackling my debt, I fell upon the topic of travel hacking. Since our marriage, we have been to Alaska, Canada, Mexico (4 times!), Oregon (twice!), Washington (twice!), Colorado, Arizona, Germany, Australia, New Zealand (twice!), as well as the Bay Area (5+ times). Out of all of those flights, we only paid for the Germany one due to a sweet deal that landed us in their country for under $500 each (roundtrip), which ended up being cheaper than if we bought the flights in points. In total, we have taken more than a dozen roundtrip national flights and 8 roundtrip international flights since tying the knot. Just this month, we booked a two-week trip to Iceland for Mike’s birthday and paid for the roundtrip United Airlines flights fully in rewards points through Chase Ultimate Rewards. The savings from travel hacking are huge and before we get into why this is crucial to our financial independence plan, let me first give a brief overview on what travel hacking is.

What is travel hacking?

Travel hacking is a way of taking advantage of credit card sign up bonuses and earning tens of thousands of rewards which can then be traded in for flights, hotels, and car rentals. In order to hit reward bonuses, we open one credit card at a time and use it for all of our daily spending, which will always cause us to hit the minimum required spending in order to redeem the bonus. Once we hit the sign-up bonus, we move on to our next credit card.

The key to success lies in opening multiple credit cards and receiving large sign up bonuses. Once you receive the sign up bonus, continuing to use the credit card will earn you very little in rewards points – an inefficient way to earn a free flight. To optimize the strategy, you must move on to the next card.

It takes a lot of organization to keep track of credit cards opened, as well as discipline to not spend haphazardly with your newfound line of credit, but it is very much worth it. I would say that travel hacking is one of the core fundamental principles of the F.I.R.E. community and it has been absolutely instrumental in both fulfilling our dream to travel the world and getting us closer to being debt free.

Why Travel Hacking Brings You Closer to Financial Independence.

Travel hacking is essentially using your every day spending such as grocery buying, paying bills, and other living expenses (that you would end up doing anyway with or without a credit card) to earn you reward points in an efficient manner. It is a great method because it does not require you to spend more money than you normally would.

At the same time, it removes the need for you to budget as much money as a regular person would for travel. For us, personally, travel hacking has saved us over $10,000 in flight tickets. That’s $10,000 that I was able to redirect towards paying down my student debt. It’s $10,000 I didn’t have to earn to maintain my lifestyle, which gave me more freedom to eventually quit the job that didn’t suit me. Imagine what would happen if you placed an extra $10,000 into your Marcus Savings Account. How much closer would that bring you to other goals, such as buying a home?

However, the real kicker in all this is that travel rewards are PRE-TAX dollars. You are never taxed on the travel rewards that you earn, or the flights that you redeem. If you do not travel hack, you are using POST-TAX dollars to pay for your travel adventures. Do you realize how much money you are actually losing? Take my flight example. Let’s say we saved $10,000 even on flights. Let’s assume for simplicity sake that we are in the 25% tax bracket. We would need to earn $13,333 first, then get taxed 25% of that, in order to buy $10,000 worth in flights. Meaning, travel hacking has actually saved us an additional $3k on top of the $10k that technically we never had to earn through our jobs anyway. This is why I really recommend travel hacking to everyone. Even if you don’t have a dream of trotting the globe, you will eventually need to take a flight either for a honeymoon, someone else’s wedding, or taking your kids to visit their dream college across the country. So why not start earning free money today?

How to travel hack?

Travel hacking is simple, easy, and for me, very fun! I first heard about travel hacking on Choose FI even before I became a guest speaker on their podcast. They now have a free course which you can sign up for here. They taught me everything I know and I would recommend reading the course fully before starting your travel hacking journey.

Personally, my top 3 favorite travel rewards cards are:

These are my referral links and I posted them here to try to connect as many people as possible to the best credit cards for travel hacking. If you know someone who loves to travel, especially young college students and new grads who may feel (like we did) that it would be impossible to travel, do share this post with them. You could change their life!

Here are a few posts on where we’ve been thus far:

Here are related posts on how we travel:

Travel: Day Hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach

The first weekend of March, we did the 10-mile hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. It was a Friday and the woods was absolutely empty. You have to reserve a parking spot ahead of time and pay for two entrance fees into Muir Woods. The entrance fees were $15 per person and the parking lot fee was another $8.50. You can absolutely do 90% of this hike if you start at Stinson Beach, but just know that you cannot enter Muir Woods without a pass (or well, you risk being stopped and checked for a ticket). To be honest, no one stopped us on the day that we went, but then again, no one was there. It was magical. If you ask me if the fee was worth it, I would give a resounding 100% YES, but only because we literally had the park to ourselves. We arrived at the parking lot and stopped by the restrooms before heading into the woods. The first part of the hike is easy. I recommend taking a left turn at the first bridge and hiking above the woods to begin. You can hike the bottom half of the woods when you return.

If you take my suggestion to start hiking up after the first bridge, you would be up in the treetops walking above the quiet trails below. You’ll reach a dead end eventually, at which point you make a left to continue onto the trail. If you chose to stick to the forest floor, make a left at the fourth bridge and you will end up on the same spot.

The first half of the hike takes you steadily along a wide dirt path underneath the shade of magnificent Redwood trees. The trail is well-maintained and well demarcated. There are some steps, but nothing stressful on the way to Stinson. I must warn you that the way back is much more difficult, as you’d have to climb many consecutive steps returning from the beach. If you aren’t an avid hiker, perhaps doing a one-way trip and catching a lift back to the parking lot is best. We were just fine, but my thighs were a bit sore the next day. Then again, they weren’t sore enough to stop us from going on a 7-mile hike. Enjoy the shade of the trees, the silence underneath the canopies, the soft Earth underneath your boots, the smell of sap and the occasional breeze. Eventually, you will pop up on the hillside and if you’re lucky, it’ll be a charmingly sunny afternoon with blades of green grass lining the hills.

The views from the top of the mountainside are beautiful on a clear day. You can see the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, as well as Marin County. You’ll see mountaintops peeking over the ocean. I saw a couple, far out in the distance, hand-in-hand frolicking quite literally down the hillside. I must say, I felt the same way.

Eventually, you will re-enter the trees again, but the second half is different. Less moist, less coverage, more sunlight. Plus, this portion is all down-hill. Don’t let that deceive you though, as the rough part lies in the return journey. But for now, enjoy the branches and tree trunks. They’re kind of fun to look at whether they be stick straight or wavy.

Eventually, you’ll come to a clearing which is the first time you’ll see Stinson Beach. You are almost there! Perhaps another mile to go at this point.

You can hear the cars on a nearby road passing by. It made us turn around and Mike spotted two deer. The next series of photographs shows the two deer looking at us as we were looking at them. They ambled over for a second, until the sounds of other walkers shooed them away. See if you can spot their curious selves trying to discreetly peer at us from the bushes.

Of course, the deer wasn’t the only cool wildlife present. We saw hawks circling above us in search of bunny rabbits, or so I gander. A banana slug or two made me jump in surprise. A few colorful mushrooms popped out of the forest floor, and even a beautiful lone flower said hello on our walk home.

Once in a while, do look back. This is a photograph I snatched after realizing that behind me lay a bundle of rocks hidden in the hills. We finally arrived at Stinson Beach after 2.5 hours of walking. To be frank, we were going at a relaxed pace, stopping every so often to snap photographs and observe the wildlife. At Stinson, we ate at Parkside Cafe, which I would highly recommend. We walked to the beach and stepped into a few tiny shops before heading back.

On the way back, I would cross the 4th bridge back into Muir Woods and walk the wooden boardwalks within the park. If your legs have it in them, I would recommend some of the side paths to the east of the park. Please do take note, if you are trying to catch the gift shop, they close earlier than the park does and I would recommend getting back by 3pm to check out the souvenirs by the entrance. We were hoping to snag one for Mike’s mom’s birthday but we returned to the entrance a little after 4pm, which is right when the gift shop closed. You can always return to the eastern trails (which are fairly short) until the park closes (around 5pm).

Overall, this was one of our top five day hikes that we have ever done. There’s a lot to see and experience, and the terrain had a good mixture of everything. Now that we’ve walked Muir Woods though, I would skip the entrance fees and the parking fees next time and start on the trails elsewhere. I feel like everything in the park can be seen in one day. There are many other trailheads that have free parking and that land you in similar areas. Just make sure to arrive early enough to snag a parking spot along scenic highway!

If you liked this post, you may like the other hikes I’ve written about.

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A Review of GetAway House: The Disconnect City Dwellers Need

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

For the average city dweller, daily living can feel a bit too connected at times, even after months of isolation and quarantine. I would know. Inhabiting a live-work loft in the middle of a busy downtown street has its quirks. Our lives are interwoven with the thrumming of daily activity; Cars honking at the corner stop sign, music blaring at the neighboring bar, sirens wailing in the distance, and ding-dongs hanging in the air after ditchers have made a run for it. Couple that with the demands of what I now call a modern life – work tasks available 24/7 thanks to our WFH lifestyle – and you’ve got yourself an existence wherein even our cellphones and inboxes are buzzing. So what can urban dwellers do to escape the city’s incessant rhythm?

Book GetAway! GetAway House provides tiny “cabins” for those in search of rest and recreation, or those simply wishing to disconnect in order to reconnect. You may have seen these golden-yellow, wood-paneled container homes plastered all over Instagram.

We quickly traded in our fast-paced city flow for a chance to hover and float above the mountains and amongst the stars in the night sky. In this post, I share all that you need to know about these magical city-escape pods. Spoiler Alert: They are awesome! And just as an aside, this is not a sponsored post. We paid full price in order to try GetAway, and we have already made plans to do it again in a heartbeat.

What is GetAway House?

GetAway cabins are essentially shipping containers that embody tiny home dreams come true. Well, mine anyway. The company’s focus is to provide repose to those living amidst the hustle and bustle of America’s largest cities. That’s why most GetAway cabins offer escape from locations such as Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C., to name a few.

Popularized on Instagram by their iconic bedside windows overlooking tree-lined cliffs and blankets of snow, it’s no wonder these “cabins” are coveted by many. GetAway beckons even the non-recluse to immerse themselves fully in nature, without the need to separate oneself from city comforts.

What To Expect In Each Cabin

Each cabin is furnished with a comfortable mattress, plenty of pillows and white fluffy sheets. For those who have little ones or prefer to travel in groups, bunk bed options are available. However, I really enjoyed having a single bed unit, since the bunk beds could impede the large window’s views.

The kitchenette is equipped with a small fridge, a functioning sink which provides drinkable water, an electric stove, and all the utensils and appliances needed for the most essential cooking.

There are also provisions for purchase, such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and a sustenance box that includes pasta, soup, oatmeal, cookies, and beef jerky. The sustenance box costs $30 and is useful for those who wish to bring only themselves and the most minimalist of essentials. For the more frugal, I would recommend swinging by a grocery store prior to your arrival to pick up your favorite food items.

Each GetAway House has a full bathroom. The camping averse will be excited to learn that there is a flushable toilet and a stand-in shower that spits out hot water, with good pressure to boot! They provide all the necessary textiles as well as biodegradable body wash, shampoo and conditioner. In order to protect the environment, they request using only biodegradable products during your stay.

Lastly, the cabins have a bench, small desk, and chair – enough space to perform all sorts of activities. Having thought of it all, GetAway provides plenty of reading material, a lamp, outlets with USB charging stations, a deck of cards, and a pamphlet full of activity ideas.

We were able to lay out a 500-piece puzzle, as well as eat our meals comfortably on the table. Those hoping to get away and write have an inspiring view of the outdoors while sitting on a writer’s desk. There is even a cellphone lockbox, to help keep phone addicts disconnected thus allowing for more introspection and rejuvenation.

Other Things To Look Forward To

Outside each cabin is a picnic table and two deck chairs looking out over the mountainside. There is a fire pit, however, California had a state-wide fire ban in effect during our stay so we were not able to roast marshmallows over an open fire. When the fire ban is not in place, Los Angelenos can grill veggies and meat and gather with loved ones outdoors. We tried our best to sit on the deck chairs in the middle of winter with mugs of tea in hand, but the air was still cold. One tip I would tell guests is to bring a warm blanket, for star gazing and lounging around in the late evenings.

As much as we avoided the outdoors after sun down, we were frolicking in the wild during the day time. GetAway Los Angeles provided a list of nearby hikes to try, and we were very pleased with their suggestions. We took an especially long, 5-mile trek in Lake Arrowhead called Pinnacles Trail which took us through desert lands and had us clambering up boulders to its peak. We balanced it out the next day by meandering along the Heaps Peaks Arboretum’s 0.8-mile loop in search of bobcats. On the campground itself, there was a beautiful 2-mile nature walk for the taking. Since it was winter time, we had the pleasure of traipsing through snow on a bright, crisp March morning. Canine companions are allowed in the GetAway cabins for a small additional fee, and we saw many dogs walking excitedly in the area. Unfortunately, we could not bring Theo along since feline friends are currently not allowed, but I was okay with it since it allowed us the freedom to do more activities.

For those who are worried about the weather, there is an AC unit and a heater in each GetAway home. We stared at the snow outside cuddling in the warmth of our space. As much as I loved the sunshine, my favorite times were those evenings. Watching stars move across the night sky whilst wedged against the glass window pane underneath warm sheets was seriously otherworldly. I woke up several times at night just to stare at the sky and spot movements in this vast universe I call home. Our little hide-away boxcar was so comfortable and relaxing, I truly did not want to leave.

Is GetAway Worth It?

Nothing compares to my experience at GetAway in terms of unplugging from daily activity and finding true isolation – the kind that doesn’t leave you feeling lonely. It was worth every daily struggle, every waking moment, every penny spent – and I don’t say that often.

It’s ironic, really, that every time I disconnect from daily life, the more grounded I become. I think more people need to incorporate some sort of unplugging habit into their life – whether that’s dedicating one day a week free from screen time or creating limits on social media apps. It really does affect my overall happiness. Creating boundaries for myself is now more crucial than ever. I love that GetAway provides that physical boundary that is so essential to disconnecting.

Making Getting Away a Habit

If you want to make getting away a habit, you most certainly can. GetAway House has a Getaway Often Club, and I definitely aim to be a part of it. After booking seven nights, you receive credit for one free night. Make your first booking with my referral link and receive $25 OFF your first stay (minimum two nights required, but you’ll thank your lucky stars for it!). Every friend who has experienced GetAway has told me they can’t wait to do it again. What can I say? The mountains, they are calling.

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Travel: Montana De Oro State Park and Baywood-Los Osos, California

In December, we took a mini vacation up the California coast and discovered the little town of Los Osos slightly north of SLO. Our main reason for staying here was to explore Montana De Oro State Park and Morro Bay. To my surprise, it offered so much more than I was expecting, but isn’t that always the case with surprises? I had a rejuvenating few days in the area and my only regret was leaving so soon. This is hardly a travel guide, but rather, a reminiscence of the quiet neighborhood in which I felt I belonged.

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We stayed at an AirBNB, which is our preferred way of traveling. If you’ve never tried it before, I invite you to try it and if you use this referral link, you can get up to $65 off your first booking. The place was at the end of a dirt road in the middle of farm land. As we drove up to it, a giant black dog slowly lumbered towards our car to greet us welcome. The room was above a garage and had a tiny electric fireplace which kept us warm during the cold nights. In the morning, we could see the sun rise over the hills on their deck, and made our coffee in the mini kitchen while watching condors land on the poles of electric lines. If I had to get away from city life, this would be where you would find me.

The pace of the tiny town is slow and kind. Restaurants opened late, and shops closed early. People liked to sit and talk and the most poppin’ place was a humble diner with plastic tables and chairs serving large biscuits with gravy and greasy eggs. Meanwhile, the best croissants we have ever had (and that’s saying a lot) came from Pagnol Bakery who doesn’t even have a website and is located on a residential street, wherein a home owner turned the downstairs floor into a bakery storefront. There was also a Japanese ramen place called Kuma situated in the middle of an overgrown courtyard, extremely empty which would signal to me of their quality but the ramen was delicious and you can get sake for $1.

Not far from the town is Montana de Oro State Park. We traversed both Valencia Peak and walked along the Bluff Trail. We collected rocks on Spooner’s Cove when the sun was setting, and walked the harbor near Morro Bay. A twenty minute drive away is a breeding ground for elephant seals and if you’ve never seen them before they are a site to behold. And just to the south east lies SLO, where you can hike multiple morros to view the central coastline from above. I’ve been wanting, for a very long time, to find a place like this. It reminded me of New Zealand and even though we can’t travel around the world during this time, I would gladly drive up the coast to revisit this place over and over again.



Travel Packing Tips from a Minimalist

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Minimalism is the practice of surrounding oneself with less stuff in order to decrease what otherwise would be distractions from a life well-lived. I have found this lifestyle especially useful when traveling.

When I travel, I want to be focused on learning about different cultures, immersing myself in history or nature, connecting myself to others, or simply collecting experiences and memories. I don’t want to be physically burdened by the weight of the things I carry. I wish not to be mentally exhausted from keeping track of my belongings when I move from place to place, which when traveling, I frequently do. Lastly, I don’t like the emotional toll of losing checked-in luggage, forgetting belongings at a hotel room, or ruining a sweater during one of my wild adventures. In order to make sure I soak in the joys my travels have to offer, I practice minimalism exuberantly while jet-setting around the globe.

Intentionality is key when packing one’s belongings for an upcoming trip. As long as both the purpose and the value of each item are well considered, one can not go wrong. However, while there are no rules to minimal packing, I do have a few guidelines that I personally follow, which might prove useful for those just starting to give this a try.

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10 Packing Tips from a Minimalist

1. Find the perfect suitcase. When it comes to suitcases, I have a few requirements. First, I prefer small suitcases. I travel with only a carry-on and personal item, no matter how far the destination or long the vacation. Not only do I like to keep my belongings with me at all times, avoiding baggage claim hassles and potential loss, I also like to bring only the few things I need. Second, I look for light luggage. I am petite and 5’1″ tall. Being able to easily lift my case into the overhead bin is important to me. Third, I look for suitcases with ease of use. I want the ability to roll in different directions and I prefer a handle that extends to multiple different heights. I used to struggle with my previous suitcase, which only had two wheels and a finicky handle. After I finally said goodbye to it, I whole-heartedly decided that ease of use was going to be one of my must-have requirements. Lastly, I like the suitcase to be durable, favoring hard-shell exterior over a soft exterior. I want something that protects my tech, such as laptops and cameras, which I usually bring along on my trips for my blog work.

My case is from InCase. I wrote about it here, once.

2. Practice capsule ward-robing. A capsule wardrobe is a collection of versatile clothing from which one can create many different outfits. Ideally, you want your capsule wardrobe to contain only your most beloved things, so that on any given day, you would be willing to wear anything. I think that travel time is the best time to practice capsule ward-robing. It is a stage in your life where you will be in a particular place for a certain time period, which makes it very easy to hone down your wardrobe. And hey, perhaps after all your adventures, you decide to keep your capsule wardrobe for your daily living.

3. Pick neutral colors. Hand-in-hand with selecting versatile pieces is purposefully choosing neutral colors to mix-and-match with. That doesn’t mean bring only black, white and tan clothes. Some of my favorite “color neutrals” are Terra Cotta, Olive Green, Navy Blue, and Beige. Together, these colors create a palette that looks as good together as they do apart.

4. Compartmentalize the suitcase. I am an organized minimalist. Meaning, I have no qualms about adding extra stuff for the sake of organization. As they say, minimalism isn’t about having the least amount of things possible. It’s about having the perfect amount. And these compressible packing cubes are perfect additions for neatniks such as myself.

5. Wear the bulkiest items on the plane. This is a trick that I constantly use. In order to make my suitcase as light as possible, I layer on my bulkiest items when I travel. I usually wear a sweater and a jacket on the plane, paired with my hiking boots and favorite leggings. It works out really well for me since I am always cold on the flight and I try not to use the provided blankets due to an aversion to the plastic packaging. My husband also does the same, since his hiking boots take up half of a carry-on and his clothing takes up twice as much space as mine. For outerwear that I choose to carry in a suitcase, I store them in a separate compartment, providing plenty of breathing room for my coats and jackets. The last thing I want is to have wrinkly outerwear, since that is the most presentable thing in my arsenal. I would rather sacrifice bringing a few items if it meant I didn’t have to stuff my bag to the brim.

Outerwear goes in a separate compartment.

6. Bring only two pairs of shoes. I will have one pair in my luggage and another on my feet. Usually, one shoe option will require socks and other does not. Since we are avid hikers, I usually pack a pair of hiking boots and a pair of slip-ons. Having both options allow me to travel comfortably no matter the weather. And the slip-ons double as slippers at the hotel.

7. Pack zero-waste, if possible. Traveling zero-waste can seem difficult, until you realize that you don’t need those disposable travel bottles. I bring a bar of soap, a shampoo bar, a bamboo toothbrush, Bite toothpaste, Cocofloss, and amber bottles galore. I try to avoid all sorts of disposable things, and it actually reduces the amount of things I take along.

8. Bring only one jewelry set which you wear onto the plane. I tend to choose simple jewelry that go with all my outfits. I go through seasons, but for the past year and a half, my go-to has been a pair of Gorjana mini studs and gemstone bracelet (both gifts from my sister-in-law), two Mejuri cuffs, and my wedding band. Since I am wearing all of my jewelry the entire trip, I don’t have to worry about packing it, ever. This gets rid of an additional jewelry case in my bag, as well as the hassle of keeping track of tiny belongings.

9. Take only a handful of underwear and socks. As rule of thumb, I never take more than a week’s worth. Even if I am traveling for three weeks! I simply hand-wash and hang-dry to cycle through them. Some AirBNBs even come equipped with washer and dryer, these days.

10. Make your personal item a backpack. Mine is this sturdy, leather pack from Nisolo, which holds my water bottle, a book, a notebook, an extra sweater, my Nutrient Mist, any important documents that I need to travel, as well as a pouch (yet another compartment!) that keeps my lip balm, hand-lotion, pens, and wallet together. There are many reasons why I like having a backpack. It can hold many things, is equally useful for sight-seeing as well as grocery shopping, is usable by both my husband and I, and is an ergonomic method of toting things around.

Of course, the best piece of advice when traveling is to enjoy the journey, searching for memories, not the destination. As long as you do that, I have no doubts you’re already on your minimalist way.

This post is sponsored by Monos Travel. I am absolutely in love with this company. They recently released compressible packing cubes for easier organizing when traveling. The cubes come in three colors (tan, black, or grey) and in two different pack sizes (one with four cubes for a carry-on luggage and another with six cubes for a check-in luggage). They sent me the six pack in Tan and the compression allows me to use all six to organize my carry-on. If these cubes aren’t your jive, Monos Travel is currently hosting a sale and TheDebtist readers can get 30% off all luggage with the code SUMMER30. This promotion ends on the 30th of September, 2020. Of course, my go-to Monos luggage choice is the carry-on in either Desert Taupe, Terrazzo, Terra Cotta, and Olive Green. I would also like to draw attention to their CleanPod UVC Wand Sterilizer, a worthy addition for all travelers, especially post-COVID-19 era.

If you really got value from this post, don’t forget to pin it on Pinterest for easy referencing in the future! Happy Travels!

Travel: A Weekend in Boulder, Colorado

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Colorado never crossed my mind as a place to visit until my brother and roomie brought it up. Mike and I ended up going by ourselves due to a change in plans and instead of staying in Denver, we thought that being in Boulder was more in line with what we wanted to do – which was to be outdoors in nature and hike. Little did I know that Boulder was actually a hipster town with a hippie history that is very much in line with the values of a ChooseFIer. We were surprised to see everyone donning hiking boots, active shorts and sports bras. Most cars that drove past either had a dog sitting in the rear seat or a bike on the rooftop. Every hiking trail had kids, families, young folk, old folk, rock climbers, trail runners, and more. It was like outdoors was what people lived for, and I loved it. In California, I see most people dressed up as if they were going to the movie set every day. In Boulder, there was an understated style, one that said, “I just spent all morning rock-climbing and here I am in my gear picking up organic yogurt and fruit at Whole Foods.” Of course, within minutes, I was making plans to move here, in true style. We only had a weekend to spend in Boulder but I fell in love with this city, and am seriously good with upping life and living here for a while. Of course, I have yet to experience living in snow….

In the meantime, here’s a quick city travel guide.

PS: We spent $0 in flights and hotels for this trip. We travel hack our way around the world, and for this trip we spent Southwest points which we earned by opening Southwest credit cards and Marriott points which we earned via the Marriott Bonvoy card. Sign up to start traveling the world for free, or check out my post on how to budget for travel.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Stowaway Kitchen

♦♦♦♦
2528 Walnut St #104,
Denver, CO 80205
$$

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This place used an amazing ciabatta for their BLT sandwich. If that is my opening sentence, then I hope you know just how good it was. Mike also said that the Chicken Sando was much better than our local favorite in SoCal – which is saying something since we ordered from our local fried chicken joint every week during the start of COVID! The vibe was very hipster-modern, with large ferns and lively tendrils hanging past white-painted ledges, wooden tables spaced six feet apart on cement floors. It had both outdoor and indoor seating, and the service was fantastic! I do recommend.

Woods Quarry Loop

♦♦♦♦
LEVEL: EASY

This hike is a great introduction to Boulder. It starts off from a parking lot that meanders through a quick loop trail with signage introducing visitors to a few facts on the terrain found in this area. The path continues into a meadow clearing, with the rocky mountain-side as the backdrop. Butterflies flew around us as we hiked past flowers and green grass.

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Eventually, you will be led to the trailhead for Woods Quarry, which begins with a short incline that I would rate as “easy”. The top of the hike has a great view, but the best part is the collection of stone-stacked “chairs” that locals have created. Flat rocks warmed up by the summer sun serve as great rest points, wherein one can eat a sandwich while taking in the views.

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Stacking mini flat rocks.

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Stone “sofa”.

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The sky that day was very clear, although I must warn you to take note of any clouds rolling in. Lightning and thunder are common visitors in the afternoon, and many unsuspecting people get caught on top of a mountain exposed to storms.

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The Oak at Fourteenth

♦♦
1400 Pearl St.
Boulder, CO 80302
$$$

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The thing I want to say is that this is really pricey fare for (if I’m being honest?) mediocre food. Maybe it’s because we are Californians surrounded by a plethora of great food options. We ordered five items, and three were really good, but two of them I disliked. The three pictured here are our top choices. Unfortunately, the drink, was not as great to me. A little heavy on the alcohol, and they brought it over as a make-your-own-drink with the sparkling water on the side so that we could “dilute the alcohol to our liking”. Despite all this, they do have interesting menu items and when I looked across the table behind Mike’s head, I was very, VERY interested in the desert cake that our neighbors ordered – so much so that I actually regretted ordering fries! I was way too full to order dessert.

First and Second Flat Iron

♦♦♦
LEVEL: DIFFICULT

This hike was rated moderate, but I would actually classify parts of it as difficult. First, it starts at the Chataqua trailhead which has a steep incline. The road itself is paved but there is no relief from the sparkling sun. It beats down on you like a hammer, which makes the climb rough. We set out before 8am but still had to stop for water breaks multiple times. I would highly recommend starting out early.

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Once you switch from the Chataqua Trailhead to the First and Second Flat Irons Trail (an out-and-back trail, not to be confused with the loop), the ascent becomes rockier and rockier. You may not see it here, but this is actually the “path” to the top. Somewhere in that stone pile is a trail of flatter stones on which to step.

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This is the view from above. But if you think the scrambling is over, you would be wrong. I was not prepared to scramble up a rock face but that I did. In retrospect it wasn’t that bad, what with footholds in the giant boulders. I looked over my shoulder to watch other, more experienced climbers ascend via the flat faces of exposed rocks – definitely not something I would dare try. This photo shows the spot after the “bouldering” that we did.

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After this, there’s a series of switchbacks like a stairway to heaven leading you up to the very top part of the second flat iron. The lime stone around the rock is gorgeous. We leaned against them as we ate our snacks, with squirrels running around us trying to catch stray crumbs. By then, it was around 10am, and the sun was unbearably hot. We decided to head back after reaching the top, a one hour descent ahead of us. I do have to say that the return journey down Chataqua was very pleasant. Gorgeous views of the valleys below the entire trip down.

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Avery Brewing Co.

♦♦♦
4910 Nautilus Ct N.
Boulder, CO 80301
$$

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When you go to a brewery, you kind of know what to expect. Avery Brewing Co. did not disappoint. From their barbacoa nachos to their beer, I thoroughly enjoyed what they had to offer, especially after hiking up the flat irons. I must also say that their upside-down pineapple cake was the best thing I ate on this trip. The caramel-like sauce was made with their Quinntiki beer, which was fermented in rum barrels with pineapple, coconut, orange, and nutmeg. The waitress brought over the beer to sample, but the dessert was much better. The two beers that I ordered were the White Rascal and the Paws & Claws. The first was very refreshing and the second was the perfect hazy pale ale. Yum!

Sforno

♦♦♦♦
1308 Pearl St
Boulder, CO 80302
$$

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We were actually supposed to dine in at a hard-to-reserve farm-to-table restaurant the evening we went to Sforno, but our decision to cancel and get pasta at this little Italian spot was one that led to zero regrets. I recommend sitting inside the restaurant, which was renovated to look like a tiny nook in a tiny alley transported straight from Italy. I don’t know what was more endearing – the fake planters, the cobbled walls, or the string lights. The food was very good – pasta that you would imagine an Italian grandma would make, paired with a nice glass of wine. For dessert, we ordered the Creme Brulee. All that was missing was a violinist serenading our table. (Do they do that?)

West Mesa Loop Trail

♦♦♦♦
LEVEL: EASY

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This trail was perfect for a leisurely morning stroll! If I were to walk it again, I would recommend taking the path to the left to start. That way when you return downhill, you have wide-open views of the green grasses below. It begins with a mini bridge that crosses a babbling brook. If you took the path to the left, you will ascend in shade. On the return hike, the hill is exposed to the sun but that isn’t such a bad thing when you are traversing down-hill. I try not to let the rattlesnake that almost attacked me cloud my judgement. Just keep an eye out because it is the season, and I guess rattlesnakes are not very happy to see visitors tramping their terrain.

Dushanbe Teahouse

♦♦♦
1770 13th St
Boulder, CO 80302
$$

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They say that you must check out the Dushanbe Teahouse for it’s interesting interior but also, for it’s wide selection of teas. We don’t know much about tea but the waitress recommended we try one that smelled like butter popcorn – a white tea without any additions to it other than the tea leaves themselves. It was the most interesting drink I have ever had – a must! We also ordered food, and the pan-fried noodles with tofu was so good, but the samosas and the xiao buns were mediocre, which explains the triple-diamond rating. We ended with a gluten-free almond cake with figs and apricots, thereby a high note. I suddenly thought of moving to Britain to see what tea time was all about.

Basta

♦♦♦♦
3601 Arapahoe Ave
Boulder, CO 80303
$$

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Can I give this place five diamonds?! I mean, freshly milled dough is my jam. But this pizza was more than that. Perfectly thin but gummy, thick crust but soft. Charred in a brick fire oven (which they also had at Sforno by the way!), and topped with the most simplest basil, tomato sauce and mozzarella. It was heaven.

Boxcar Coffee Roasters

♦♦♦♦
1825 Pearl St B,
Boulder, CO 80302
$

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If I am being honest, the lack of coffee roaster options in Boulder would be the number one deterrent for moving there. I am so spoiled with California’s long line of roasteries competing to make the best pour-over. As a coffee fanatic (my husband has diagnosed me with a coffee addiction, which I think is extreme since I only drink one cup a day), I really value innovative third-wave roasters. It was something that I sorely missed in Boulder. The town’s only saving grace was Boxcar Coffee Roasters. We ordered two filter coffees to go and I must say, I was very pleased with their batch coffee! I think they would be the place to hit up if you are a fan of a good cup of Joe. We sipped on it on our car ride to Louisville heading towards Moxie…

Moxie

♦♦♦♦
641 Main St
Louisville, CO 80027
$$

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Of course, before we left, we had to search for a good bakery. We traveled to a little town in Louisville outside of Boulder just to pick up pastries on our last morning there. If you are a bread/dough/flour/grain lover, you may want to check them out. Great croissant, great vibe, great service. If we were staying longer, you know I would’ve ordered all the bread loaves.

 

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I wrote previously about how to travel for free using Southwest. I also alluded to the Companion Pass, which allows you to take someone with you at NO COST, neither in points nor dollars! The Companion Pass is by far our favorite perk for travel hacking. We essentially purchase flights using points for one person and the second person gets to tag along for zilch. When done right, it can last TWO YEARS! You can change your chosen companion thrice a year, like a piece of luggage or carry-on, but with significantly more endearment. How amazing is that?!

How to Get Companion Pass

Getting an elite status of having a Companion Pass requires the accumulation of 110,000 points in one calendar year. The Pass lasts for the rest of the year through the following year after. It is more beneficial to achieve Companion Pass status towards the beginning of the year than in the later part of the year. For example,  if you get the Companion Pass in February, you will have 10 months for that year plus an additional 12 months for the following year, summing up to a total of 22 months of privilege! Compare that to getting the Companion Pass in October, which would result in only 14 months of privilege.

The 110,000 points that you’ve accumulated in order to get Companion Pass status goes towards purchasing your future tickets from Southwest Airlines. Even though 110k points sounds like a lot to accrue, it is easily achievable using the credit card sign-up bonuses. It has never been more achievable than now, because for a limited time (until October 16, 2019), the new Southwest Business Performance card comes with an $80,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $5,000 in the first three months! This is the largest sign-up bonus that I have ever seen with Southwest.

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

Because of this new deal, you can easily reach the 110k points needed by pairing the SW Business Performance card with a SW personal credit card of your choosing. The personal card will give you 40k points in sign-up bonus after you’ve spent $1k in the first 3 months. Together, both credit cards will get you 120k in points, thus reaching the minimum 110k threshold for Companion Pass. It is important to get both sign-up bonuses in the same year, preferably towards the earlier months. The Companion Pass considers when you get the bonus points only, not when you opened the credit card. So if you want to get companion pass for 2020, you can open both credit cards 2 months prior to January and hit the minimum spends IN JANUARY.

Here is a how-to guide for getting Companion Pass

  • Sign up for the SW Business Premiere CC sometime between now and when the deal ends (October 16, 2019). You want to make use of the 80k sign-up bonus deal. If you miss this time frame, you will only get the standard 60k sign- up, which will not meet the minimum 110k even if you pair it with a personal card.
  • Plan ahead on how you will spend the 5k minimum spend within the first three months.
  • Do not spent all 5k in 2019. You want to make sure that you get the sign-up bonus in 2020. For us, we plan to use the credit card for everyday spending, the holiday season, and booking AirBNBs and transportation for our Japan trip in March. We will spend only 4.5k on the credit card, which will give us a healthy buffer that ensures we do not accidentally overspend. In January, we will be spending the first few days of the year on a short trip to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, where we will likely hit the minimum spend.
  • Sign up for the SW Rapid Reward Plus personal credit card in November or December. I like this one because it has the lowest annual fee ($69) with $900 worth in bonus points, which makes it very worth it! If you would like more perks, applying for another personal credit card at a slightly higher annual fee may be for you. The Points Guy details them well in this chart.
  • Spend only $500 on this credit card in 2019. The minimum spend is very low ($1000) and you do not want to go over this amount! If you do, you cannot count these points towards 2020. In the first few weeks of January, you can easily spend the $500 on utilities, internet, groceries, and other everyday spending.

Tips on How to Meet Minimum Spends

If you are having trouble reaching minimum spends, here are some ideas:

  • Pay bills ahead, whether it be utility bills, insurances,.
  • Buy non-perishables that you will definitely use for the home.
  • Buy non-perishable staple food from the grocery store.
  • Purchase big ticket items during this time period.
  • Book future travel plans.
  • Offer to buy gifts for friends/family ahead of time.
  • Offer to pick up the tab for all your friends when you dine out, and then just have them Venmo you their fair share.
  • Ask friends and family if you could use your credit card to make big ticket purchases for them and have them e-wire you the cost. (Of course, choose your friends and family wisely).

Roadblocks You May Encounter

  • Being Denied a Business Credit Card: Gone were the days when you could apply for two Southwest personal credit cards. This method was how we got Companion Pass two years ago but alas, it is no longer an available one. They now allow only one personal and one business card. Thankfully, there is still a way! However, qualifying for a business card may be difficult if you do not have a business. Previously, I’ve written about the cons of depending on a single income stream, and credit-card-hacking-made-difficult is one of them. Off course, your life’s work shouldn’t depending on card hackability, although it’s yet another example why multiple modes of earning money could be beneficial. Often times, as reliable as they are, single income streams may lead one down the path of working for another rather than working for the self. Side hustles, however, open way for your own business. Take myself for example. I opened an S-corp for my dental practice which makes ME and MY SKILLS “the business”. My dental office pays Samantha De Leon Tillapaugh DDS, Inc. via a 1099 who then pays myself via a W-2. But even without that, I could also demonstrate my income and spending reports for Aero Bakery. I could demonstrate the dog-sitting business that I’ve grown via Rover, with letters of reference from dog owners. I can demonstrate this blog as a business, listing the affiliate marketing that I’ve entailed as well as the upkeep spending reports. Those are four “businesses” that I could use to justify the loose qualifying terms for a business credit card. Note how none of those have LLCs. I had a friend who got a business credit card from Chase when he detailed a business he wanted to start, indicating why he needed a business credit card to get the business off the ground. There are many creative ways to do this, and side hustles definitely help. If you babysit children, or tutor teens, you can rationalize why you need a business credit card. If you hold creative workshops or cook for others, you can again rationalize a reason. If you do photoshoots for special events or play music as a DJ …. well, you get my drift. Having hobbies turned side hustle can help avoid this pitfall.
  • Hitting the minimum spend in 2019 – This is definitely not a problem you want to have. Because you apply for the credit card earlier than 2020, you run the risk of hitting the minimum spend the year prior. You definitely do not want to split the sign-up bonuses between two years, because then you will have a very tough time reaching the 110k points. My advice keep track of all spending on the credit card and stop short a few hundred dollars. You can then resume spending on the credit card in January to make sure that both reach the minimum spend in 2020.
  • Not hitting the minimum spend in 3 months – If you fail to hit the minimum spend in three months, then the benefits of the card that would have outweighed the annual fee would be gone. It would defeat the purpose of travel hacking altogether. Since hitting $5k in 3 months may be difficult for frugalists, check the list above to see how you can actually use that $5k to plan ahead and relieve some of your future spending! However, beware of falling into the habit of spending just to spend. The purpose of the credit cards is not to allow you to buy more than you need. Rather, it is a tool to get you what you want without having to spend money for it (travel!). As always, spend wisely and well below your means.