Well, there we’ve done it. Our one month old has his first road trip under his belt. This past weekend, we trekked to Phoenix, Arizona to meet Casey’s uncle for the first time. It was also his uncle’s graduation from dental school. We used the occasion to test our tolerance for traveling with infants. Total trip time was 8 hours each way, including 2 hours of charging time for our Rivian EV. The charging time was divvied into two breaks, allowing us to feed, change and play with Casey. The verdict: Much easier with family around, adequate planning is a must, and staying minimalist helps reduce stress. I curated a road trip packing list for a one-month old infant, in case you don’t have the time to make one yourself.
Please note: This list is curated to our particular needs. For example, our hotel room provided a crib, which means we didn’t need to pack anything for our sleeping situation.( In case you are curious, we stayed with IHG this time around using points we earned from opening the IHG Premiere Rewards Credit Card a few months earlier. That’s the first step in planning ahead!) If your housing option did not provide a sleeping spot for your infant, a portable bassinet for a one month old will suffice. My favorite travel bassinet is Dock-A-Tot’s Kind Bassinet. It weights 5 pounds, folds flat into a box, and has a firm, quality mattress for your baby. I wrote my thoughts on it here. A pack-and-play works just as well but is much bulkier and heavier to carry. We own the Chico Alfa Lift Travel Playyard.
Product of the North Elkin Diaper Bag perfect for lugging essentials during site seeing. It comes with a changing pad which us all we needed to change diapers both in public restrooms and on the hotel bed
Crane Top Fill Humidifier – I did not pack a humidifier and instantly regretted it. Due to Arizona’s hot, dry weather, my infant’s skin shriveled up on the car ride there. I luckily was able to borrow a humidifier from my brother’s apartment, but I will bring ours the next time I visit!
Baby Clothes (2 outfits a day, plus pajamas at night). When packing, I like to bring layers so the outfits are customizable to the weather. I definitely brought a sun hat for the bright Arizona sun. I also prefer onesies as pajamas.
Diapers. We have Esembly diapers at home, but I recommend going with disposable diapers while traveling. There may not be frequent enough stops to address changing cloth diapers, and the laundry situation may be non-existent depending on where you stay.
Plenty of baby bottles and formula. If you breastfeed, consider a hand pump for the long car ride. Unless you want to stop for thirty minutes every two hours on your road trip, a hand-pump is a must! A hand pump is more portable and versatile than an electric one. You can discreetly pump in the back seat and then feed baby the breastmilk without taking him out of his car seat. Anything to shorten the trip is key! I brought the Medela hand pump and it was a life saver. I am excited to use this on the 12 hour plane ride to Japan in October. Leave the bulky electric pump at home.
If you don’t breastfeed: formula, bottles, and a bottle brush. Sterilizing musts: Dr. Brown’s sterilizer bags work well! Just pop them in a microwave at your hotel room and sterilize parts in less than two minutes! Bring paper towels to dry them. We also brought our Munchkin Pacifier Sterilizer. On-the-go sterilization for when we drop the paci.
Infants don’t require daily bathing at this age. We gave Casey a bath the night before we left, and just wiped him down with a washcloth dipped in water. However, we were only gone three days. For a longer trip, I recommend the Frida Soft Sink Baby Bath. We love ours! It fits in most sinks, dries quickly, and folds neatly into a small suitcase.
Toiletries. Diaper rash cream and moisturizing lotion is great. We didn’t bring ours but I wish I had because Arizona is just way too dry for his delicate newborn skin.
While this list seems long, this is all we needed.
Well, we’ve gone and booked our delayed trip to Japan! When Japan reopened Fall of 2022, we were already expecting our first baby and felt we hadn’t planned enough to travel-hack our way there before the stork arrived. For those who don’t know, we have travel-hacked our way to almost ten countries and all around the USA. We open credit cards in a strategic manner in order to earn points that give us free flights and hotel stays. In this blog post, I share how we are travel-hacking our way to Japan this year, with a 6-month old baby in tow.
The Biggest Regret Was Not Getting On That Plane
We were set to leave for Japan with a group of friends in March 2020. Due to pandemic precautions, we never got on the plane, not realizing how long the shut-down would stay in effect. Two days after our departure flight, the world shut-down. Not getting on that plane was probably one of the biggest regrets we had for years, as we had acquaintances who took the trip anyway and had no problems returning a few weeks later.
Japan was Mike’s dream destination and we felt like we missed out on a huge opportunity. We had made a goal of seeing the world before starting family growth and we felt the pandemic definitely changed all of that. Now that we’ve entered the family growth stage of our lives, we don’t want travel to be affected. So we decided to travel-hack our way to Japan and jet-set right when baby would be approved for travel. We’re set to take off in October 2023! We couldn’t be happier for Japan to be open again.
Travel Hacking the Flights: Total Cost $250 per person
Since the reopening of the countries borders, the cost of flights to Japan are at an all-time high. I have seen so many friends take their delayed dream Japan trips in the last few months. I have also seen some of them shell out over $1000 per person to get there. Mike and I are pretty frugal about flights, having used credit card points for almost all of them since our marriage. So we wanted a way to get to Japan, but lessen the cost. Unfortunately, even if you paid with points, getting to Japan is impossibly expensive and opening credit cards will not cover the full cost for two people. Thankfully, our 6-month-old infant will get to fly for free.
So we chose to open an American Express Gold card to book our flights to Japan. The flights themselves helped us to hit the minimum spend. The total cost of the flights were about $1,400 for both of us plus our free infant bassinet. With American Express Gold, once you hit the bonus rewards points, you can opt to get $900 back in cash refund which we used to offset the flight costs. This means that it cost us $250 per person to fly to Japan. Considering it would cost us the same amount of money to fly from the West Coast to the East Coast on the same exact dates, I would consider this an absolute win! If you wish to open an American Express Gold card, you can use Mike’s referral link here.
I opened one of my favorite cards ever, IHG Rewards Premier (this is my referral code). People don’t typically look at IHG, but we have been loyal to the brand since Mike’s dad worked for Crowne Plaza for over 20 years until 2020. This was the credit card we used to travel-hack part of our honeymoon to New Zealand in 2017!
The IHG Rewards Premier earned me 140k bonus points after hitting the minimum spend of $3,000 in 3 mos. I used these points to book 4 nights at InterContinental Hotel in Tokyo Bay. I love IHG because the 4th night is always FREE. Meaning, I only spent 3 nights worth of points in order to book a 4 night stay.
Mike then opened the IHG Rewards Premier card after me, and received his bonus points. We used his points to book 4 nights at the Crowne Plaza in Kyoto. Together, we had enough left-over points to cover the rest of the single-night stays during our trip. Essentially, opening the IHG Rewards Premier allowed us to stay in Japan for ten days for FREE.If you find value in this, please use my referral link to sign up for an IHG Rewards Premier card. They are currently giving away the most points I have ever seen. By using our referrals, you are also helping this space and us spread the word about travel-hacking. Thank you.
Things to Know About Booking with Infants
Wow. I can’t believe I am now writing about this. But I think it is worth mentioning that there were a few considerations this time around, as we are taking a 6-month old with us. The best advice we ever got from fellow travelers was that the easiest time to travel with a wee one is between 6 months old and 1 years old. Especially on long flights! At this time in their life, they are still mostly sleeping. They haven’t learned how to walk (or run) away from you, or babble all day. They may cry occasionally, but nothing a bit of milk and swaying can’t solve.
When it comes to flights, you should inquire about bassinets. Our flight to Japan is quite long, so we wanted to book a seat with a bassinet in front. There are only two sections of the plane that has this. However, in order to book it, they asked for our newborn’s passport information. But he is yet to be born. So we called the flight company and talked to an attendant who helped us book the seats with a placeholder name for our child. Since we didn’t know his name at the time, we arbitrarily picked one.
There is no charge for his bassinet. It is completely free. But we will apply for his passport once he is born. We can them call the flight company and update his information.
As for hotels, typically when booking with IHG, no rooms are bookable via the website with points if it exceeds 2 people. But if you call in to the hotel, they will typically make an exception for an infant. Many hotels do not count the infant as a third person and will thereby allow you to book the room on their end using points. Especially if you are a card-holder or loyal rewards member! Hotels are great because unlike AirBNBs, they typically have bassinets available for their guests.
As a caveat, this is by no means the only way to travel-hack to Japan. This is simply the way we ended up doing it. A lot of factors go into it, including where we are at with the frequency of opening certain cards, as well as what airlines we want to use. Going to Japan means limited flight options, so definitely consider that first. Public transportation in Japan is great, especially if you are going to the touristy areas, so there is no need to worry about booking cars. Just make sure you order your Japan Rail Passes at least a month before departure. You activate the pass once you are in the country.
A great alternative to hotels in Japan would be Marriot, which Mike’s dad currently works for. Our friends are going to be in Japan the same week we are, and as Marriot members, they decided to book their hotel rooms with Marriot. I am also a Marriot fan since family works for them, but we benefit more from friends and family perks rather than rewards points. Either way, I am a proud holder of their Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card (this is my referral link) which I would highly recommend signing up for in order to book a few nights for FREE!
Ojai is a beautiful, quaint town tucked away in a valley between mountain and sea. We first discovered it a year ago and it has since become one of our favorite local get-away destinations. Only a three hour drive up the coast of California, this hidden gem is accessible and holds all that we love to do. Good food, beautiful shops, and plenty of hiking trails and outdoor activities. Boutique hotels hold the charm of a pioneer-town, with garden patios and ranch-vibe inns. Our favorite times to visit are sunny California winters or in the Spring. I would recommend avoiding the Summer months when bugs like to come and visit the valley floor and snakes litter the hiking trails. That’s just my personal preference! Regardless, Ojai deserves a travel guide. Here are some of our favorite eats and shops in downtown!
♦◊◊◊ Not worth the time.
♦♦◊◊ Good, but ordinary.
♦♦♦◊ Great. Worth a visit.
♦♦♦♦ Exceptional. A must-do experience.
$ Frugal friendly
♦♦♦♦ 423 E Ojai Ave Ste 101,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$
Pinyon is a great spot to grab sandwiches and pizza! Even though it’s on the main street of downtown, it’s an easy spot to miss. I am here to tell you to make sure you don’t just drive by. They serve pastries and coffee for breakfast. For lunch they serve amazing hoagies. Mike and I split a lamb hoagie with confit for dipping.
The server behind the register was so excited to talk about how they sourced the meet. Pinyon partners with local farmers who raise sheep. The sheep help to keep grass levels down which reduces fires on the mountains of Ojai, which used to be way more frequent. We couldn’t help but feel like purchasing our sandwich helped protect the land! Pinyon also makes pizzas in a wood-fire oven. All their dough is made in-house and I just have to say the seeded hoagie bun was out of this world. We also got a pretzel on the side, which we used to lap up the left-over confit.
♦♦♦♦ 457 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$
First and foremost, the first time we went to Ojai, we missed going to The Dutchess. But on our most recent trip, we found ourselves at their door all three days of our vacation. Our wedding party had a welcome ceremony there, and the bartenders were allegedly serving some of the best cocktails that night. Being pregnant, all I can attest to as far as drinks go was the merry composition of the guests. They also had the rehearsal dinner there and Mike’s grandmother could not stop talking about the chicken.
A Burmese-French inspired spot, delicious desserts such as passionfruit chiffon cakes, rye chocolate sables, and shortbread linzer cookies were served. Every morning thereafter, I begged to go back for breakfast. We wolfed down ham croissants, samosas, berry danishes, bagel sandwiches, cheese croissant twists, and scones. It’s good I don’t live there because my wallet would not be able to take it. As an avid baker, I would highly recommend this place! Next time, we will stop by for dinner.
Farmer and the Cook
♦♦♦♦ 339 W El Roblar Dr,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$
Farmer and the Cook is further away from the main downtown road. It is, however, worth the drive. The farmer owns 12 acres of CCOF certified land producing organic foods. It’s part Mexican-cafe, part grocery store, and part pizza shop. They serve delicious smoothies and granola bowls. We also tried their vegetarian tacos and classic burrito. The day we went, we were with eight other friends who all enjoyed their food. It’s a great option for vegetarians! You can really tell the ingredients were fresh and in season.
Topa Topa Brewery
♦♦♦♦ 345 E Ojai Ave A,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
We love Topa Topa Brewery. There’s a Santa Barbara location as well, one I am sure gaucho grads are familiar with. The Ojai location is in the heart of downtown. With an outdoor patio, it is perfect for sunny afternoons. A group of gals went with me and we spent a few hours away from the boys drinking good beer and chit-chatting away. Within the establishment is Little Sama, a delicious asian-inspired restaurant that serves food to-go from a tiny window. See my review on Little Sama below.
♦♦♦♦ 307 E Matilija St c,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
If beer isn’t your thing, then you may want to swing by Revel for some on-tap kombucha that’s sure to raise your spirits. They also serve fully organic acai bowls for the entire family. The colorful decor and foods really set the vibe here. A teenager’s dream hang-out spot, there are a few patio chairs outside however I recommend bringing your bowls to eat at the central garden not to far from the shop!
♦♦♦♦ 345 E Ojai Ave A,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
This small establishment lies within the Topa Topa Brewery. We ordered our food to-go and ate at home, although you can also eat at the brewery itself. Southeast-asian fair pairs really well with Topa Topa’s extensive beer menu. All the dishes were tasty! Favorites included the signature chicken wings, lemongrass beef donburi bowls and seared tofu. We also enjoyed the Vietnamese noodle salad and Okonomiyaki tots. Perfect for a lazy night in after a full day of hiking!
♦♦♦◊ 469 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
Delicious Lebanese-French rotisserie chicken is being served in this outdoor patio area under twinkling lights. Picnic style is the vibe, with the wooden picnic tables and family style packages. A picnic for four is purchasable, with options to get chicken in half or full sizes. Accompaniments include sides such as potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and slaw. Sprinkled in the menu are dishes such as kafta, lebne, hummus and freshly grilled manouch. Plus, freshly baked sourdough line their shelves every day!
♦♦◊◊ 515 W El Roblar Dr,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
We got take-out on a busy Friday night booked with wedding preparation and celebration. It was a local recommendation to try Papa Lennon’s pizza. They say it’s one of the best, but to be frank, it was mediocre. I’m alright with being called a pizza snob, but the take-out fell short of my expectations. The toppings were sparse and the dough was tough to chew. It did, however, save us on an extremely busy night. It’s just, for what you pay for, I think we could have gotten something better.
♦♦♦♦ 401 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$
Delicious pub-fare, with an outdoor patio and late-night hours. We headed over here with a group of ten friends as they were closing. Their food was super tasty and so were the drinks. I tried the chicken wings and the vegetarian tacos. Our friends gorged on sandwiches and burgers. Everyone was happy with their orders. The Nest also has a small shop where they sell kitchen products, pet accessories, and fun trinkets. I love swinging by to peruse the shelves and have walked away on multiple occasions with a trinket or other. Definitely would return here!
Osteria Monte Grappa
♦♦♦◊ 401 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$$
We had a reservation for 12 at this Italian restaurant in the center of downtown. You can’t miss it as it’s a beautiful establishment facing the main street. The food was delicious! Pasta was amazing, as well as all appetizers and dessert. Organic and farm-based, this restaurant makes their doughs from scratch as well. The restaurant itself has a cozy interior, perfect for a cold winter soiree. What could be cozier than carbs and homemade pasta sauce?
Sanders and Sons
♦♦♦◊ 334 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
Sanders and Sons feature a rotating array of gelato flavors, which change seasonally based on Mr. Sanders’ whim and fancy. You’ll never know what you’ll find on the menu. We tried a delicious mimosa flavor before landing on the Guava Bella and the Chocolate Covered Strawberries. Pair with a number of cone options, including Blue Corn Tortilla, Orange Creamsicle, Birthday Cake or Matcha. It’s the perfect treat on a warm, sunny California day.
Ojai Ice Cream Company
♦♦♦◊ 210 E Ojai Ave,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
Ojai Ice Cream Company is at the end of the downtown area cross from the park and post. They serve both traditional ice cream flavors as well as wilder scoops. Whereas Sanders & Sons house the hip teens and twenty-year olds, young kids and senior couples can be found at Ojai Ice Cream Company. Look, good old-fashioned ice cream may not be trendy, but it is classic. And honestly, there are enough unique flavors here to make it Instagrammable. If you’re debating between Sanders and this place, I say try this spot first. Walk across the street to the park, sit on a bench, and divulge before the ice cream melts.
♦♦◊◊ 302 W Matilija St,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
A bookworm’s dream, and a minimalist’s nightmare. I had mixed feelings about this spot. It was endearing, walking amongst endless shelves lined with all sorts of books and novels. The sun lit up beautiful corners, though there weren’t any reading nooks to speak of. However, from an organizational standpoint, it was quite over-whelming. Sections were broadly categorized based on topics, but the range they offered was so wide and the books sometimes out of alphabetical order. It was nice to peruse, but not for long. There were dusty corners to avoid, and I much prefer perusing a small, independently-owned book shop with personal anecdotes written on index cards on a limited number of books.
♦♦♦♦ 423 E Ojai Ave #102,
Ojai, CA 93023 $
A paper aficionado’s dream store. Noted has everything from yearly planners to task pads. Little notebooks for travel and Japanese stickers line the tables. Coloring books for children and cookbooks or adults line the walls. In the back of the store lies a wall full of greeting cards, which my sister-in-law had a blast perusing. There were even desk brushes and fancy pencils and pens. It’s hard not to find something that speaks to you.
♦♦♦♦ 105 S Montgomery St,
Ojai, CA 93023 $$$
I always stop in this store, despite the high price point. Quality home goods can be found here. Elite fragrances, body oils, and beauty products abound. I personally love buying the body oils and fragrances from Rowsie Vain. There are coffee table books and jewelry, as long as locally made mugs and linens. It isn’t for shallow pockets, though!
This travel guide to Ojai only skims the surface. Definitely there are other things to love, like the Biking Trail, the kid park in the middle of downtown, the weekly Farmer’s Market, and the summer concerts in their auditorium. Places to stay include Emerald Iguana Inn, Ojai Rancho Inn, or the Capri Hotel. You can also book the super glam Ojai Valley Inn, a must-stop for all golfers. If you want to glam, check out the Caravan Outpost too! Or do what we did with our group of 12 friends and rent an AirBNB. You can’t really go wrong.
Staying at the Banning House Lodge in Catalina Island, California is a mystery, as far as internet research goes. An archaic website was all I had as reference prior to our stay. Even the booking site reminded me of the 1990’s. It is such a shame. The Banning House has now become one of my favorite getaway spots. It is appropriately isolated. The beautiful home has a great view perched atop a hill. The vibe is truly relaxing and the history of the house really transported me to a place back in time – one without the rush of technology and progress. I thought I’d share everything one needs to know about staying at the Banning House. Just so the interwebs can have a taste of this great vacay spot.
History on the Banning House Lodge
The craftsman-style house was built by the Banning brothers in 1910, who owned Catalina Island since 1892. It was their summer home and they hosted soirees, dinner parties, and celebrations on their large property. It took two days to get to their summer home from Avalon. The Santa Catalina Island Company was created to attract visitors to their summer house.
In the early 1919 they sold the Island (and eventually the Santa Catalina Island Company) to William Wrigley Jr, known for Wrigley gum. Over the years, the Lodge served as the U.S. Coast Guard officer’s quarters during WWII, as a private girls camp in the late 1950’s, a hunting lodge, and as employee housing. Today, the Banning House is a twelve room bed and breakfast with a historic and warm feel and beautiful panoramic views of Two Harbors.
Getting to Banning House
The Banning House lies on the Northern end of Catalina Island. It is the only bookable stay, aside from campgrounds. To get to Banning House, one must take a boat ride to Two Harbors. The only straight shot from the coast of California is from the San Pedro Harbor. Other harbors go to Avalon on the south side of the island first, before landing on the north end. A direct boat ride takes a little over hours, while pitstops in Avalon turns it into two.
About Two Harbors
The northern part of the island is quite deserted. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with a third of the Trans-Catalina Trail starting and ending at Two Harbors in a loop. The coastline is dotted with isolated beaches, summer camps for kids, and a Boy Scouts campground. In the ‘town’ of Two Harbors, there is only one restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner. A gift shop, however, had all the foods one would need, including ice cream. There is also a rental company from which to rent kayaks, SUPs, and bikes. Summer weekends typically have live weekends and the boats from Avalon arrive at Two Harbors around 11am. My recommendation is to get your rentals as early as 9am when they open, to avoid the crowds. Then again, lunch time at the restaurant is quite fun as people dance to the live music.
What to Expect at the Stay
The Banning house sits atop a hill. A shuttle will be there to welcome you as you disembark from the boat. They will offer you and your bags a ride to the top. However, the walk isn’t far. Ten minutes is all it takes to get to the check-in door. Check-in is at 4pm and check-out is at 12 noon.
The kind staff will give you a tour of the house’s amenities upon arrival. A wrap-around porch gives scenic views of both harbors. Rickety rattan porch furniture immediately imbue the right mood. This is a place for relaxation. When we landed, current guests were just sitting on the porch looking at the view. There were no laptops or cell phones to be found. Limbs were strewn over the arms of rocking chairs, feet were propped up on glass tables. Most had coffee in hand, a father and son were playing a game of chess, and others were reading books.
There is a common indoor space which also has sweeping views of the two harbors on either side. Walking into it smells like walking into grandma’s house. Actually, it felt like stepping back in time. Bison and deer heads lined the walls, firewood sat next to the fireplace and an old cob-webbed piano sits in a corner. There is a sun-room, and shelves lined with puzzles and traditional boardgames. A few soft cover books with bent spines and yellowing pages can also be found. This isn’t a fancy place, but it’s nothing short of romantic.
The rooms are also of a similar tune. The beds are a bit on the lumpy side, the wardrobe doors creak as you open them, and the curtains remind me of lace doilies. There are two chairs by the window sill with a small foot stool. A mini fridge is found in the room, along with a full bathroom. The shower spews hot water with decent pressure. The simple appointments are really humbling. It reminds me of my youth, when times were simpler and a vacation really meant idleness.
Perhaps one of our favorite parts about the stay are the complimentary meals. Every morning the Banning House hosts breakfast. Unlimited cereal, fruit, toast, muffins, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and ham make up the full line-up. Three juices, coffee and tea are also served. I loved waking up whenever my body told me to and slowly making my way to the breakfast bar. We literally sat on the porch looking out onto the water eating our breakfast for an hour. Then we would bring a book to our table and spend another two hours reading, looking out, and occasionally talking about whatever entered our minds.
Every afternoon, there would be wine hour from 5-6pm. Each person got two (very full) glasses of wine. You could choose from two Reds or a White. There would also be crackers, cheese, cured meats and honey. After a long day of hiking, we really looked forward to these wine hours. Exhausted from being in the sun all afternoon, we would unwind during this hour, before walking into the town restaurant for dinner.
Why I like staying at the Banning House
The Banning House is a surreal place. I love it for it’s ability to isolate. I mean, it IS on a deserted piece of island! Sitting atop the hill, it gives a bird’s-eye view of the world below. I have a different perspective when I am in a higher up location, which may be why I love hiking mountain-scapes. Things just make more sense at high altitudes. I can see, think, and feel more clearly. Plus the sound of ocean waves, sea birds, and breezy winds can’t be beat.
I also love it for its historic charm. Nothing about the home is modern, which means nothing about it makes me yearn for progress. It really gets me to slow down – quite a difficult feat. Usually, our vacations are laden with places to see, things to do, and foods to eat. This was different. Since the island had very few facts online about what the stay was going to be like, I made zero plans. I thought perhaps we could hike every day, but after tiring ourselves out with a 14-mile trek on day one, we pivoted and lounged all of day two.
Unlike other vacations which are strewn with schedules and timelines, there was no stress associated with this vacation. We just did whatever we felt like at that moment. I felt like a different person altogether. It reminded me of when my parents used to vacation in the Philippines. They laid about on the beach, went nowhere, ate snacks and drank beer. Their idea of a vacation was to eat dried mangoes and to sleep. That same simplicity is associated with this place. Perhaps that’s why it’s so special to me.
Who would like this stay
I definitely recommend this stay for young busybodies needing a break from incessant demands of modern life. The elderly will appreciate this quiet space. Parents looking for respite will find it here. Even families would love this place. During our stay, there was a multi-generational family staying with two grandparents, two parents and two kids younger than 8 years old. They went on hikes and had mealtimes together. I saw another family with two kids younger than five. They loved to throw rocks at the beach and swim in the ocean. And I saw a family with two teens. The son played chess with his dad at breakfast, the daughter told her mom about what she read in her book. It truly is a special place.
Summer season is just around the bend (can you believe it’s May?!?) and people are starting to pack their travel bags. After two years of disruption and uncertainty, we are slowly easing into travel again. Confining travel to the summer months could become the new norm, since winter is tainted with the edict of flu season. We, ourselves, did all of our international travels in the summer of last year, having met up with my sister in Iceland and Spain. Then we holed up during the winter months, exploring only our home state, California. In light of upcoming travels, I thought I would dedicate this month’s play pretend post to everything one needs for easy packing and stressfree travel.
Despite simplicity, there is an argument for adding items to your journey that make it better. The trick, in my opinion, is counting tidbits for self-care essential. Self-care can instill a sense of peace in the same way simplicity can. And peace is joyful. Joy is the natural antidote to stress and is a famous tranquilizer of the nervous system. Keep it simple, yes, but take aboard the micro-comforts. Here are my current favorites.
Seeing puffins in Iceland is a must-do! When we went on our 14-day trip to Iceland, my sister insisted that join her at the Western-most coast for a puffin viewing. Even though it was a bit out of our way, it was well worth it! Seeing puffins in person was the coolest thing we did in Iceland. Once you lay eyes on these cute, tiny birds with their bright, orange-red round beaks and darling eyes you will be thankful you made time for this awesome experience. But finding out how to see them was a bit tough. Which is why I thought I would share where, when, and how to see puffins in Iceland.
There are many places to see puffins. Even from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, there are two small islands only a half-mile’s boat ride away, and ferry tours leave from the city. In the Southern region are the Westman Islands which house one-fifth of all the world’s puffins. This location houses most of the puffins in Iceland, but it is 6 miles out from the southern tip of Iceland. It requires either a ferry ride from Landejahofn or Seljalansfoss. Alternatively, you can take a domestic flight to Westman Islands from Reykjavik. Out east, they say the un-inhabitated Papey Island also houses puffins, but as our journey did not take us east, that was unfortunately out of the question for us.
The last location, Latrabarg cliffs, was the one we ended up going to. It was my sister who planned the entire thing, but I think she made a great call. We wanted to see puffins in their natural habitats on our own time. We wanted to see them up close, not on a boat but on the ground, like explorers looking into their world from ours. The experience was more ideal as very few tourists venture out to Latrabarg cliffs. We even had the cliffs to ourselves higher up the hike, where we spent a few hours hiking and searching for diving birds.
The Latrabarg cliffs provide a peaceful way to see puffins in Iceland. These dramatic drops stretch for 8-miles and fall steeply into the water 1,447 feet below. No wonder the birds like these cliffs, as they dive in and out of their little burrows. There is a mild rope that spans the cliffs, but it is at ankle length and will not stop anyone from falling to their doom. It was a subtle reminder of safety, but I appreciated that it still allowed us to get up close and personal to the puffins sitting on the cliff’s edge.
Be forewarned that the cliff’s edges are not always made of dense earth. Birds like to make burrows there which mean that the grass you’re about to step on may be hollowed out and could fall under your weight. It is best to get on your stomach, hands and knees and crawl to the cliff’s edge if you want to really take that up-close photograph or look. Better yet to have someone on solid ground holding on to your feet, or avoid the risk altogether. Plus, you wouldn’t want to crush these bird’s homes!
This is definitely not the safest place for young children who like to run wild. But it IS an intimate place for adults to view puffins, so long as you don’t get too close to the edge. I highly recommend making the trek, as this was the coolest experience we did while in Iceland!
How to Get to Latrabarg Cliffs
There are two ways to get to Latrabarg Cliffs from Reykjavik. The first is to make the drive from Reykjavik. You can start westward on Ring Road and turn on the 60, heading towards the Westfjords. The entire drive takes 6 hours one-way. Hardly anyone makes the trip west of Ring Road, which is a shame as I found it to be a gorgeous place. It is especially great for introverts because it feels like having the country all to yourself.
On the west you’ll find Snaefellsnes National Park, voted the most romantic winter get-away spot in Europe. We spent a few days there, hiking Anastarpi to Hellnar, another cliff teeming with birds. But in order to see puffins, you need to go further North. You can take the HWY 54 to get to Snaefellsnes. Go to the small fishing village called Stykkisholmur, and there are ferries that take visitors across the Westfjords. This will cut your time to Latrabarg as you don’t have to drive around the fjord.
For those already staying at Snaefellsnes, Latrabarg can be considered a doable day trip to and from the national park. The ferries land somewhere around HWY 62, and it is another forty minute drive before reaching the destination. There is no cell service in the area, so definitely have a map with you, or at least the GPS saved on your phone.
Do note that getting there takes time, so reserving ample time for Latrabarg in your schedule is a MUST. It is not a simple day trip from Reykjavik and I would not recommend going all the way to Latrabarg to see puffins if that is all you wish to do. We were able to do it because we were already spending a few days in Snaefellsnes and planning to head north to see Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. A trip to Latrabarg definitely requires a day, even if you are already in the West fjords. If you need to, you can always stay at the Latrabarg Hotel.
When to See Puffins in Iceland
I loved watching these tiny birds jump off of the cliffs. And when they came back, their orange feet stick the landing in the cutest ways. They like to fly a circle around the cliffs edge, and you can usually trace the same puffin from them leaving the cliff to their return. Pretty cool!
The best time to see puffins are in the summer. They arrive in May and leave late August. We were there in the first two weeks of July. The puffins are most active in the evenings. Thanks to Iceland’s almost 24-hour sunlight, you can definitely plan to see them around midnight if you want to. Since we drove from Snaefellsnes National Park, we arrived closer to 10am. My sister was there a few hours before us. Thankfully, there were still plenty of puffins to see!
Fun Facts About Puffins
Now that you know exactly how to see puffins in Iceland, let’s get you excited about it!
There are four puffin species which are the Atlantic Puffin, the Tufted Puffin, the Horned Puffin and the Rhinoceros Auklet. Of all the species, the Atlantic Puffin is by far the cutest and the one that you will see in Iceland! Iceland hosts 60% of all Atlantic puffins, giving you plenty of opportunity to lay eyes on them (and maybe even take a selfie!).
Puffins spend most of their life at sea, but will make burrows and nest in the Spring and Summer seasons. They are excellent sea birds and use their wings to stroke water and catch fish. On top of that, they are also great flyers and can flap their wings up to 400 times in a minute. They fly as fast at 80 kilometers per hour.
Their beaks are actually grey in the winter, but blossom into a bright-orange color in the warmer months. Most likely, this is to attract a mate. They have cute orange feet that they stretch out in front of them while landing. And the pattern around their eyes really make them look sad and smiling at the same time. It’s quite adorable!
They are not intimidated by humans, but that does not mean they want contact. In fact, you should never try to touch a puffin. Doing so might transfer grease from your hands onto their feathers, which will greatly impede their flying and swimming abilities. Furthermore, it will alter their feather’s ability to deflect water while swimming. For these reasons, please be respectful of the birds and never touch or feed puffins.
If Iceland is not on your travel list, add it today. It is a gorgeous country, especially if you love the outdoors, nature, and good views. I would recommend visiting in the summer, although I heard that it holds a different kind of beauty in the winter months as well. We will certainly be back!
As you already may know, I am a firm believer in using credit cards to catapult you towards financial freedom. That sentence may seem counter-intuitive at first, but credit cards give you a massive money advantage. Trust me when I say the rich know all about it! This does not promote using credit cards haphazardly, but rather, strategically. There is a technique, and it involves using the benefits, perks, and rewards earned from credit card usage. We use credit cards to increase our credit scores, build our wealth on borrowed money with higher returns, and travel for free. Since I don’t want you to fall into the trap of spending more by opening credit cards, I created a post about ways to meet credit card minimum spend to earn sign up bonus points without spending MORE MONEY.
If you want to save this post for later, go ahead and pin the image to your Pinterest so you can refer back to this time and time again!
I recently promoted a Southwest credit card on Instagram because they were awarding a companion pass for a year just by signing up. Southwest is our favorite airline, simply because SW guarantees us free flights through Companion Pass. One of us always has the credit card, and we alternate turns in order to maximize the benefits. We only need one card holder at a time, and since the card requires a 2 year break before receiving the bonus again, this allows us to replenish our award eligibility.
On the topic of using credit cards to travel for free, the best way to utilize them is by hitting the sign-up bonus. Sign-up bonuses for credit cards are usually a big chunk of points that you can earn, simply by spending a certain amount within the first few months of opening the card. However, as a frugal, minimalist blogger, I think it quite important to stress the following message:
New credit cards should not be used as an excuse to consume unnecessary goods. This is not how the rich get rich. You must use credit cards to grow wealth, not diminish it. Once again, let me reiterate: this is a post about how to meet your credit card’s minimum spend in order to earn the sign up bonus faster WITHOUT SPENDING MORE MONEY.
Without further ado…
Pay Your Rent or Mortgage
On the rare occasion that you can use a credit card to pay your rent or mortgage, I would highly recommend doing so. This recurring monthly fee is typically the biggest spending in all budgets and if you live in California like we do, your payment could catapult you towards the minimum spend. If you have a landlord that you’ve been renting from for a long time, perhaps call them and request that you pay with a credit card. They may be willing to work with you. You will never know unless you ASK. Unfortunately, mortgage companies are a bit tougher. It’s either they accept it or they don’t, in my experience. No worries, as there are plenty of other ways to meet minimum spend.
Pay Student Loans
Student loans are EXPENSIVE. Trust me, I would know. I graduated with $575,000 of student debt at age 26. My student loan repayment journey is what started this blog! Typically, student loan payments occur once a month. Some private lenders may allow you to pay off your debt with a credit card. If you want to get rid of your debt as fast as possible, you can also make additional payments to your loans in order to hit your minimum spend. This tactic works for those who wish to pay off their debt aggressively. I do not recommend paying extra if you are on one of the repayment plans.
Prepay Utilities & Phone Bills
Bills for utilities or your phone, are normally billed monthly. You should pay these bills with your new credit card! However, there is an added secret to getting more from these bills. You can technically overpay these companies when you make a payment online. If you know you are staying with the same cell-phone carrier for another six months, why not pay off the full six months? You’re future self will thank you, and you’ll hit your sign-up bonus faster.
Caveat:Only pay what you are sure you will use. If you pay the entire minimum spend to your utilities company and you move, then that’s no good. Some people will argue they will just get a refund of their overpayment, but the refund could mess with your sign-up bonus reward. Figuring all that out can be a massive headache, so I would rather hit the minimum spend with something else to avoid it if you aren’t sure about the long-term plan for your utilities or phone bill.
Insurance is another great example! It is a recurring monthly fee, but you can pay it off early. More easy to predict than your utilities, you know when the start and end date of a calendar year is for insurance. What you can do is just pay off the rest of the calendar year and then you won’t have to worry about it. This is a big category as you have many pre-pay opportunities.
For our particular situation, we have:
home mortgage insurance.
On top of this, some people have pet insurance, or even travel insurance. Prepay a few of them to hit your minimum spend. Alternatively, follow my next advice.
Entertainment and Streaming Services
If you are signing up for a membership or a subscription that gives an option for monthly billing versus yearly billing, why not opt for yearly billing?
While Netflix and Spotify don’t allow for this option, streaming services such as Disney Plus and Hulu allows their subscribers to pay for the annual fee in one go!
In the blogging world, a lot of my platforms, social media apps and website costs have the option of being paid monthly or yearly. I choose yearly since we are always travel hacking. It helps us go through minimum spend requirements, quicker.
In the cases of Netflix and Spotify, you can still use your credit card to pay for these on a monthly basis until you hit that minimum spend. Definitely do!
In line with the previous section, perhaps you can prepay your gym membership? Maybe you can ask your gym if they have a yearly fee, which might even give you a discount. Smaller gyms have more flexibility too, and they may prefer that you pay upfront since it secures your loyalty to them. Some people buy class passes. Why not buy a bundle of 5 classes instead of paying as you go? The good news is that yearly subscriptions and memberships can sometimes be cheaper, in the long run.
Pay Ahead for Future Travel Expenses
When we get a new credit card, we look ahead and plan for future travel. Usually, we use our credit card rewards to buy flights. Only once have we opened a hotel card and found it worth it. Marriott was the only hotel that awarded decent points to its card holders. I have this Marriott Bonvoy BOLD and Mikey has this Marriot Bonvoy BOUNDLESS Card. It also helps that we have relatives who work for the chain and can get us a family discount.
That being said, unless we have Marriott points, we opt for AirBNB which historically has been cheaper than booking with hotels, although it is becoming less so. We pre-pay in full any AirBNBs we need for future trips. We also pay in full any excursions or bookings we may have. By planning ahead, we get these payments out of the way and we can budget in real-time for our upcoming trip.
Side note: You should always use your credit cards for travel. Most of them award significantly higher returns for travel expenses – sometimes up to 3X the points per $1 spent.
Reimbursable Business Travel Expenses
My dad travels a lot for business. Many years ago, he started asking his company if he could pay for his travel expenses and if they can reimburse him, instead of him using the company card. For the most part, they said yes! This means he could accrue points on his credit card without spending more money. This works especially well if you work for a smaller company or hold a higher up position.
These are the things you can get reimbused for:
Transportation and Gas
A small warning: Sometimes, reimbursements from your company may take a while. Make sure you can shoulder the spending and pay off your credit card in full at the end of the month to make this tactic worth it. Also, make sure your company will pay you back! Keep a log of all company spending, as well as receipts for proof.
Pay for a Wedding
Do you have a wedding coming up? It doesn’t matter if it’s your own wedding or someone else’s wedding that you are a part of. Credit cards are great for paying for weddings. I actually wish we knew about travel hacking before we got married. Alas, I did not learn about it until 6 months into our marriage, so we payed for flights to New Zealand and hotels with our hard-earned post-tax dollars. Womp womp.
But by sharing it would our friends, we have helped them honeymoon in Japan FOR FREE (flights and hotels covered) by using credit cards to pay for their wedding! And the wedding payments gave them that boost for hitting minimum spends on multiple credit cards. Because there were two of them, they were able to skirt around Chase’s 5/24 rule by divvying up the credit cards they applied for.
If you are simply attending a wedding, you can still get a lot out of it! I wish I didn’t have to say this, but the truth is, weddings are costly! And when you are part of the party or even a guest to a wedding, you don’t really have much say (unless you opt out of it entirely, which I have done).
Things you can pay for in an upcoming wedding include:
For the guest
Bachelor/Bachelorette Party and Trip Expenses
Bridal Shower Party or Trip Expenses
Engagement Party Expenses
Gifts for any of the three previously mentioned events, or the wedding itself
Bridesmaid Dresses or Groomsman Tux
Any accessories you need for wedding day
Hairstylist, Manicurist or Cosmetologist Fees
Limos or Transportation Expenses
For the couple
Bartenders and Alcohol
Pay for the holidays
Every year, we apply for credit cards at the end of October so that we receive them in the mail mid-November. We do this because we know the holidays are coming up. We easily hit minimum spends in this way because I am always the one hosting Friendsgiving. Occasionally, I pitch it for my mom’s Thanksgiving dinner, too. I am also the one in charge of buying gifts for everyone in December. And there are plenty of opportunities to contribute a dessert plate, or gift in kindness during the holidays. If you know you spend a lot during the holidays, then definitely time your minimum spends accordingly.
If you wish to spend less on holidays, here are a few blog posts I’ve published around that.
In line with the previous section, use your new credit card to pay for gifts. While I am not an advocate for big and extravagant gifts, the truth of the matter is that gift giving is my love language. And for the most part, I choose gift ideas for someone’s next birthday ahead of time. I’ll hear them casually mention something they wish they had or want to buy, and I’ll jot it down in my Apple Notes for safe-keeping.
If you already know what you want to buy a friend for their next birthday, why not buy it early? I mean, with the current rate of inflation, your dollar will buy more today than it will tomorrow anyway! And while minimalists will gape at me for wanting to stash thingsand take up space for an extra few months, it does make your life simpler since it prevents scrambling and last-minute shopping closer to that birthdate. Alternatively, for the anti-consumerist in you, these consumable gift ideas still require a bit of spending anyway.
This probably should have been higher up on the list because of the frequency of this spending, but I decided to put it a bit lower since the previous examples involved higher numbers. But now that we’re here…
Everyone spends money on groceries. In fact, most families don’t spend enough money on groceries! They dine out way too often!! But that’s neither here nor there. Regardless of your preferred habits, groceries are a great way to hit minimum spend. I like to go up and down the grocery aisle and stock up on non-perishable items that happen to be on sale. I also like to plan ahead and buy house cleaning items that I know we will run out of eventually. Even bathroom necessities like soap, shampoo, and conditioner are great options.
Once again, for the minimalists gawking at me – when I say buy in multiples, I mean not one. I also mean, not a hundred. Great arguments for buying a little extra include:
Less stress when your current one runs out, leading to a simpler life.
Less money in general, as buying in bulk usually means a discounted price (please check to make sure it IS cheaper. Some stores charge more for bulk, which makes no sense).
Buying extra means less trips to the grocery store, which means less gas, if you have a gas vehicle. Considering gas prices, you should really buy for a few weeks at a time.
If you need ideas on what to buy, here are my favorite items to buy in order to hit minimum spend:
Baking Powder and Baking Soda
Oil and Vinegar
Spices and Herbs
Bouillon cubes in place of refridgerated broths
Canned fish – I love sardines and tuna
Canned vegetables (or my preferred option: pickled vegetables)
Nuts and Seeds
Shelf-stable milks (Non-dairy options can last for months in a pantry, such as oatmilk)
Okay, so if you dine out a lot, then this is an opportunity for you to put a dent in that minimum spend. But that does not mean spending more than what is customary! It does not give you a reason to add a glass of wine or a decadent dessert to the tab. But I do have some tricks up my sleeve.
I try to keep in touch with friends and family and one of the ways we do that is by grabbing a meal. While I prefer to cook for them and to hang out at home, dining out once in a while lowers the barrier to staying connected. Meaning, it eliminates the added stress that cooking and cleaning can create, which allows for more spontaneous get-togethers.
It would be odd to say that I have a rotation of friends and family with a semi-scheduled frequency of hanging out, but I sort of do. In order to meet that frequency, I invite my friends and family to dinner around times when we have minimum spends. I ask them if I could pay for the bill (even explaining that we do this travel hacking thing in life), and request that they pay for their portion via Venmo. I have never had anyone deny us. Actually, what it did was inspire our friends to start asking of us the same thing, and we were then happy to help them hit their minimum spends!
Nowadays, our friends and family rotate around who pays for the bill, depending on who has a minimum spend requirement to meet. You can definitely do this with a group of people in an organized way, allowing for your credit score to go back up while someone else benefits from travel hacking. Better yet, you can use the points accrued in your group to take a trip TOGETHER, allowing for more bonding time!
By the way, dining out includes everything from a 4-course meal for two, to that daily coffee you order at your local shop. No purchase is too small when it comes to hitting these minimum spends!
Here’s another one and it’s something many of us still use! Charge it, it you will reach your minimum spend faster … especially during this hike in prices (yikes!). At the gas station, we also fill up propane tanks for our Ooni Pizza Oven. Maybe fill up multiple propane tanks while you’re there, to save you the trip.
Store Gift Cards
This is probably a good time to insert gift cards. Gift cards are a super powerful tactic, and one of my travel-hacking best-kept secrets. Gift cards are an extra fast way to easily meet your minimum spend. Here is why.
There are certain stores that I am sure your household continually returns to. For us, our favorite grocery stores are Whole Foods and Sprouts. Occasionally, the Stater Bros in the same plaza as my work office offers convenience. We have certain gas stations that we go too, primarily, the ones closest to our homes. And we will frequently swing by Walmart or Target.
Likewise, there are certain restaurants that you visit more frequently than others. In the case of Mike’s family, they have ten favorite restaurants that they pretty much alternate through. They don’t stray much from HopDoddy, Marie Calendar’s, Chilli’s, The Habit, In’N’Out, and PF Chang’s. So I know that gift cards to these places will eventually be used!
Therein lies the ultimate hack. Buying gift cards to these stores means you can reach your minimum spend, without buying the actual STUFF right now. Gift cards usually don’t have expiration dates, which means you can stash them for later. Plus, big monetary amounts can be placed on gift cards, sometimes in the hundreds! They are also, well, giftable.
Here are a list of gift card options that you are sure to use everyday:
A word on inflation. Currently, the inflation rate is up the wazoo at a whopping 7.9% in February 2022, and I believe it’s here to stay (at least for a while). This means that a dollar today may be worth more than a dollar a week from now. That being said, there is an argument during times of inflation to buy things in bulk/ahead of time. For example, compare the cost of a box of cereal today to what it was just a few months ago. If you didn’t notice, our California price for a box of wheat went up by $2 in the last 6 months.It isn’t just gas prices that has sky-rocketed. Groceries, fast food, car prices, and personal care services have increased. Food for thought, I suppose…
House Maintenance and Repairs
If you’re a home-owner, then you know all about this section. You can choose to wait until something breaks down to repair it, or you can be pro-active with house maintenance. If you know the roof needs replacement but it still hasn’t caused issues, maybe now is the time to address it? Or you have a leaky sink that you don’t have the time to tinker with. Go ahead and call the plumber. A majority of us like to ignore these repairs until we absolutely have to address them, but having a credit card that needs spending is a great time to be pro-active, especially when being pro-active can avoid more expensive costs in the future.
Home Renovations or Upgrades
If you were planning to renovate your home, I would highly recommend opening a credit card right before you do so. Same goes for if you are planning to move, or to upgrade anything in your house. Furniture, as well as everyday house items, can speed up hitting your minimum spend requirement. Contractors will typically accept credit cards, and you can use your credit card at home decor stores and department stores. Of course, new credit cards should not be used as an excuse to elevate your home.
Car Maintenance and Repairs
I take my car in regularly for its check-ups. But there are also maintenance things that I can pay for early. For example, if I notice my tires are getting thin, I replace them before they pop. I check for tire pressure and tread depth. If I notice a light on my dash, I bring it in for evaluation and address the issue. And I change my windshield wipers once a year. Since I have an older car, I also have to keep up with the brake lights, the coolant, and the battery. I actually keep a spare brake light in my trunk, after learning how to change it myself.
If you have kids, it is possible that they are signed up for sports and activities. You can always pay for these programs ahead of time. For example, if you want to sign up your child for a sport next season, why not sign-up early? You can also buy necessary activity items early too. This includes sports gear, sports goods, musical instruments, art supplies and more. Lastly, if you have a Team Mom, ask to pay ahead for your portion of the participation trophies and the end-of-the-year party. Or better yet, volunteer to be the Team Mom and pay for all of these things and get reimbursed by the other parents later on.
Your Resell Business
If you have read my post about Ways to Earn Extra Income Through Side-Hustles, then you already know that Poshmark or other reselling platforms have been proven to be viable businesses for some people. I, myself, have a friend who buys things and resells them on Poshmark. She goes to thrift stores and searches for things that she knows she can flip. It’s a hobby for her, but also, one that makes her money. If you are thinking of adding reselling to your side-hustle resume, then you can use your finds to hit the minimum spend. Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew – advice for anyone looking to get into the reselling business.
Downpayment on a New Car
If you’ve been looking to buy a new car, make sure to open your credit card right before. You may be able to make a down-payment (as much as $5,000) with your credit card. But please call the car company first and make sure that they accept credit as a form of down-payment. Of course, only do this if you were already planning to buy a car…
Purchasing New Tech
I was 31 years old when I decided to buy tech for the first time. Until then, I was using hand-me-down work laptops from my dad or unwanted cell phones from Mike or my parents. They were always so slow, sometimes shut-down randomly, and for two years I built a blog on a permanently flickering screen. I am pretty much my eyes received permanent damage.
But when I decided to upgrade both my laptop and my cell phone, I planned ahead and opened a credit card. I decided to do both at the same time, which is what’s so great about optional spending. I waited until my credit card arrived in the mail, timed with Cyber Monday deals, and met my minimum spend in one day.
Some of you may make yearly charitable donations. There is certainly a tax benefit for doing so, plus you can contribute to a worthy cause. Feel free to charge it whenever possible! Make all your charitable donations early when you need to hit a minimum spend.
Ask for Help from Friends and Family
There was one instance wherein Mike and I bit off more than we can chew. It was 2018 and we had just discovered the concept of travel hacking. In true fashion, I signed us up for multiple credit cards. After a month or so, I realized that simultaneously opening multiple cards made it a bit difficult to hit the minimum spend. So I reached out to my parents and asked if there was anything I could prepay for them so that I could meet our minimum spending. All they had to do was Venmo me back.
It was actually quite easy and by opening up that avenue to friends and family, I have found that more of them ask the same of me. I am more than happy to help them out in return. As I mentioned in the dining out section, we kind of have a roulette going as to who would pay for what. By doing so, we are helping each other optimize our paths to financial independence. That’s friend goals right there!
Hopefully you enjoyed my tips and tricks on hitting credit card minimum spends. Please share any tips you have with the community in the comments below!
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We had the pleasure of having my brother and his girlfriend as city guides on our recent travel to Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend. They live in Glendale, which is just a stone’s throw away. Our lovely weekend was spent visiting a mixture of their favorite spots and a few new ones, too. We were not disappointed with what the area had to offer. While it is fresh in my mind, here is a travel guide for a weekend getaway in Phoenix, Arizona.
♦◊◊◊ Not worth the time.
♦♦◊◊ Good, but ordinary.
♦♦♦◊ Great. Worth a visit.
♦♦♦♦ Exceptional. A must-do experience.
$ Frugal friendly
♦♦ 7105 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 $
Fourtillfour Coffee is a car-themed coffee shop housed in a garage space in Scottsdale, Arizona. An industrial roll-up door welcomes guests into a tiny shop housing merchandise and toy cars. Meanwhile, the coffee beans are packaged in containers that mimic vintage gas tanks, and the merchandise also imbibes a retro Grease-like vibe. Every Saturday, they host car meet-ups with different themes, which I think is pretty cool. People were gathering under the trees on tables and benches in the front lawn. I love that dogs were welcome, and there was a homey feel to the space.
Unfortunately, the coffee itself was more traditional in taste. I believe the beans were blends and not single-origin, so the drip isn’t exactly something out of this world. However, I think the traditionality of the coffee matches the vintage vibe of the shop, and I don’t necessarily consider the coffee bad. So I rate it good, but ordinary in terms of coffee. Regardless, it is still a really cool meet-up and hang-out spot, and you’re sure to see a few awesome cars parked on the street!
The Herb Box
♦♦♦ 7051 E 5th Ave J, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 $$
We had brunch at The Herb Box in Scottsdale, Arizona. The expansive patio has plenty of shaded seating. The indoor space is quite large as well. Good quality ingredients make up a wide array of brunch fare. They allowed us to bring our outside coffee in, which was pretty nice. And the service was excellent. Other than that, it was just a regular brunch on a regular Saturday.
Snakes and Lattes
♦♦♦♦ 20 W 6th St, Tempe, AZ 85281 $$
We love board-games! So it may be biased to say that we loved this space. That being said, any game nerd who is going to travel to Phoenix, Arizona needs to stop at this place. Snakes and Lattes offers a great selection of food, alcohol, coffee, and coffee-alcohol (another plus). Their selection of games is incredible as well! And they have a board-game guru standing by the games, walking around, and teaching people how to play. He was great! Not all board-game cafes have a guru but now I am thinking they should.
The service was amazing and the play time is unlimited. It only costs $6 per person to play. The indoor space is large and there’s also an outdoor patio if you want to get some sun. We stayed a total of 4 hours and my brother has been there multiple times with groups as small as four people and as big as fourteen. We ordered beers and cocktails. Pro-tip:Happy Hour is from 2-4pm!
♦♦♦♦ 5640 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014 $
In order to kill time between board-games and dinner, we swung by The Yard to grab a few beers and play ping-pong and cornhole. It has been a while since I had that much fun! The Yard is a great place to watch sports games on their many TV screens while eating eclectic bar bites and drinking cocktails or beer. It is situated in a college town, and a majority of the patrons there were in their 20’s and 30’s. There is an open space where one can play shuffleboard, ping-pong, and cornhole. It just takes an ID to rent the supplies. But don’t forget to get a stamp on your wrist if you give up your ID, so that you can still order drinks as you play. We surely worked up an appetite before going to dinner.
♦♦♦ Suite #107, 3415 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85282 $
‘Welcome to Ramen Dozo, where the ramen is good, the broth is traditional, and the service isn’t so great.’ That was the introduction our server gave, which wasn’t completely far from the truth. The Ramen was good, but the space wasn’t ambient and the service was a bit off-kilter. Still, I really liked our waiter. Not because we got into a long conversation about our new Bitcoin card, but because he was honest, had a sarcastic humor, and was really trying his best to serve us as quickly as possible. The poor guy looked like he was waiting all the tables in the restaurant!
However, the ramen was really good. I ordered my typical tonkotsu ramen and it came with decent pork portions. I also ordered a side of extra noodles but I think the serving was big enough that I didn’t really need to. In fact, I didn’t finish them which NEVER happens. Mike got the spicy miso ramen and really liked his ramen as well! The price was awesome, coming in at around $10 a bowl. We are used to California $15-$20 ramens, so I was super happy with this one. I gave it a frugal rating! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. They do close early, though, so plan to eat by 7pm.
♦♦♦♦ 4501 N 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85018 $$
Great space to match great 3rd wave coffee! This spot is actually serving coffee by day and cocktails and beer by night! They have two bars – one lined with espresso machines and the other lined with draft beer handles. They serve bread and pastry with your coffee, as well as house a number of great coffee merch items! In the evenings, they have a pizza menu to go with your beer. I really liked this coffee spot, and my brother already has plans to return for weekend study sessions! There is ample room in the air-conditioned indoors, as well as a patio with a number of tables and benches. And it seems the dogs love it, too! PS: If you live in OC, California like I do, Bad Coffee sells Provision coffee beans. So there isn’t necessarily a need to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to try them out.
♦♦♦♦ 501 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85004 $
If anyone ever tells you there are no good taco places in Arizona, they’d be lying. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, coming from Southern California. But the tacos at Taco Chelo really blew me away. It was after hiking Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop Trail, a 4.5 mile endeavor in Arizona sun that had me questioning our visit. The peak portion of the trail was amazing, but by the time we started the loop, I was very tired and exhausted. Nothing that tacos can’t fix! I would highly recommend going here. The serving is decent, as I got full after two tacos and splitting an order of chips. The others ate 3-4 tacos, which was quite impressive. The green salsa that came with the chips was so delicious, I added it to everything. And the service was fast! Exactly what we needed as we were starving post-hike.
♦♦♦♦ 603 N 5th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003 $$
They really did save the best for last, as this was my favorite spot for the entire weekend. The restaurant is actually a home with a large front yard lined by a white picket fence and covered by mature trees. String lights create the perfect ambience as we dined al fresco. A few musicians were stationed in the corner of the lawn singing and playing string instruments. The vibe was laid-back, family style, but also, romantic enough for young couples on their first date.
The wine selection was decent but the pizza was amazing! I finished an entire pizza by myself, which is a great sign. Sourdough bakers always say that a dough is made right when you can eat an entire loaf by yourself in one sitting. Same goes for pizza! I ordered the Diavola (Tomato sauce – mozzarella and spicy salame) and Mikey ordered the Dolce Vita (Burrata – spek – arugula and balsamic glaze). Don’t let the simple ingredients fool you. This is just how pizzas were meant to be. Next time we travel to Phoenix, Arizona, we will be back at this joint!