Finance: How to Budget for Travel

It’s no secret that the number one priority in our lives from a financial standpoint are my student loans. Off course, more important matters such as health, relationships, and happiness trumps that, but really not much else is prioritized before the loans. However, even before paying down the student debt entered the picture, Mike and I had decided early on in our relationship, before we even got married, that a top priority of ours would be travel. That hasn’t exactly changed, as you can probably tell from all the travel posts on this blog. Today, I wanted to go through how it is that we have the means to travel on a very tight budget.

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Set your priorities

Our ability to travel the world is built on a clear understanding that travel will remain a top priority for both of us. By defining this activity as extremely important, it makes it easy for us to give up less important things if it means that we will be able to travel. From the very beginning, even before we started paying down student debt, this is something both Mike and I felt strongly about. In fact, it was at the very forefront of our conversation when we started to check the feasibility of paying down over $550k in ten years. The first question to answer was, “Will we have enough money to still travel?”

Since this is such a high priority for us, we would give up almost everything in order to make it happen. The only exception, off course, is being free from my student debt. We were willing to give up buying a house, buying things in general, dining out (if it means dining out when we travel), the newest tech gadgets, and so much more. We were already frugalists before, but having travel as a motivating factor makes us even more successful at being frugal weirdos. When your priorities are clearly defined, the budgeting part becomes easy.

Set a budget

It is very important, especially in our particular situation, to plan for travel. I think that budgeting is useful for every category of spending, but it becomes imperative for those categories that will make your life happier. We don’t want to leave the decision of whether or not we can go somewhere to the whims of everyday life. In other words, we want to avoid the excuse “Life happens”, and we actually want our lives to happen.

Our budget for travel changes according to where we want to go. Typically, we decide on an amount to set aside every month using our favorite budgeting tool, YNAB! We will probably continue that trajectory for a couple of months. We treat it like money stashed away in an envelope. We use the “cash” in this envelope to pay for anything that involves travel expenses. If we ever go over, we would have to borrow from another envelope that month. As an example, overspending $50 in travel would require us to pull $50 from our allocated grocery money. In the past six months, we have not over-drafted from our travel envelope. When calculated, 2.6% of our income each month went towards travel.

Keep in mind that this is our top priority! Yet only 2.6% of our income went towards travel. That’ll give you an idea of how frugal we’ve been and how focused we are on paying down my student debt. 100% of my post-tax income in our first year of student loan repayment went towards the loans, plus help from Mike too!

To be fair, the budget is changing every once in a while. For example, since we have a huge three-week trip planned for the beginning of next year (where we will be visiting ten cities and two countries halfway across the globe!), we will be increasing our travel budget to 3.5% of our income for the last 6 months of this year. Nothing wild and crazy, but it is fluctuating as needed.

Have a plan

Call me Type A (and you would be right in doing so), but I don’t like to travel without a plan. Mostly because I find that travelling without a plan can sometimes be very costly. Choices will need to be made in the spur of the moment, and while that is fun at times, it also means limited research can go into choosing the best financial option. Plus, not having a plan makes the previous goal of setting a budget very, very difficult. It is hard to guess just how much money you need to allocate if you have no idea what you are allocating your money to. That being said, this isn’t to say our plans are entirely rigid. We have flexibility and I am the first to admit that our recent trip to Banff did involve cancelling an entire day of hikes in exchange for napping on a hammock lakeside and resting sore legs. And if we come across an ice cream shop that we want to grab ice cream at, we aren’t going to say to ourselves, “Oops, not in the budget. Can’t.” But typically, these changes aren’t so drastic that it throws our financial game plan out the window entirely. Within the budgeting, we have already budgeted for the possibility of a change of plans.

Save for the big stuff.

Usually, when we go someplace, there is one activity that we are uncompromising on. We don’t just visit a place to randomly visit. We went to Germany for Oktoberfest. We visited Mexico City because we wanted to eat at Pujol. I wanted to go to Banff to see what was left of the glaciers while I can. We went to Oregon after hearing about how a devastating fire last year wiped out all of its beauty. And we are going to Australia to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. These are the big things. If you have a particular reason to go someplace, then go ahead and go for that reason! But go knowing that it requires you to save for the big stuff. We scrounge up the savings by giving up some of the everyday spending that a normal couple would make. I always say how easy it is for me to give up dining out regularly, if it means I can dine out when I am traveling elsewhere, and eat local food in a different country. We had no problem celebrating our first year wedding anniversary eating pizza, if it means that on our second year, we will be watching fireworks over the Habor Bridge in Sydney. Interestingly, even THAT is a free event! But you see what I mean. Don’t skimp on the big stuff, especially if there is a specific reason for your travels. Skimp on the little stuff that you could do without. I promise, it’ll make the big stuff that much more valuable.

Be frugal, still.

There is no need to skimp on every adventure. What’s the point of seeing a country when you don’t want to spend to see a country? Off course, there’s transportation that we need to pay for to get around, and food to be eaten. But, where you can, be frugal still. Our budget would not be the small sliver of a fraction of our income that it is without us being frugal, still. Here are the ways in which we save quite a bit on travel money.

  • We travel hack in order to buy our flights. I have written about the pros of travel hacking and what that has afforded us in this year alone. Long story short, we have used only points to book all our flights for this year! Our favorite travel hacking credit cards are Southwest Rapid Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Ink Business Preferred.
  • We opt for AirBNB whenever we can. Typically, we find that those rates are cheaper than most hotels.
  • We book with Turo to save money on car rentals. Turo is the car version of AirBNB and we have had a great experience thus far with this company.
  • We reach out to friends and family in the locations we travel to. Some of our favorite trips are made more special by the company we keep. A plus side would be a place to stay, or a way to split the costs. I stayed at an old college roommate’s apartment when I visited Salt Lake City, UT. We stayed in my high school best friend’s extra bedroom when we visited New Orleans. Both of these friends drove us around everywhere we went! My sister provided an air mattress and shared her bed when we went to visit San Francisco. She also lent us her car for the weekend. Our Munich trip meant a free ride to the Castle Neuschwanstein when we hit up a friend’s cousin’s family. Also, we were invited to their house and got served the most amazing dinner, which to this day, remains one of my favorite memories while traveling. We reached out to my family to see if they wanted to go to Oregon with us, thus splitting the car rental fee and the AirBNB costs among seven people. All of this to show, not only is group travel more fun and entertaining, it saves you money as well!
  • We skip the touristy stuff. As I become better versed in traveling, I have found that less and less attraction lies in the touristy stuff. We would rather fill our days with free tramps through nature, exploring the city by foot, people watching as we eat at a café, and so on. We have found ways to see cities without having to spend much. I used to book excursions on every trip, until I realized that some of the best excursions are free. Our most recent Banff trip was focused around hiking all day. Trips to Calgary and Munich involved mostly walking around the city. Oregon was a mix of both. Skipping the touristy stuff also means that you can explore your way, without having to adhere to someone else’s timeline.
  • We don’t buy souvenirs to take home. Most of the stuff they sell in souvenir stores are absolutely useless and unnecessary. Unless we come across something that we think someone back home would really like, we do not shop for souvenirs for the sake of bringing something back. What we bring back to our friends and family are photographs and stories, mostly.
  • We borrow “just-this-once” items. When we go on camping trips, we borrow sleeping bags. I borrow my dad’s camera lenses when I go on big trips. I borrow clothing from my mom if I don’t have it in my minimalist wardrobe. Borrowing is such an important life hack, because it prevents us from purchasing things that we will only use once for travel.
  • We choose to disconnect. Going to a different country may require signing up for an additional payment plan in order to use your cell phone and other techy gadgets. Whenever possible, we simply go without. A trick would be to just opt for signing into the WiFi in cafes or our AirBNBs. Since a majority of our days are spent soaking in every last little detail of our current surroundings, we don’t really have a need for our cell phones. Planning the night before by looking up directions or the next day’s itinerary makes it a lot simpler too. Choosing to disconnect saves us not only money, but also, time since it keeps us from wasting time being “plugged in”.

These are just some of the ways in which we remain frugal while we travel. But like I said before, none of this equates to deprivation. It simply requires you to analyze what parts of travel you actually value, and what parts are simply excessive consumption. Once you’ve identified those priorities, it is very easy to cut down the spending in some areas in order to have enough in your budget to be able to see that one item on your bucket list. And if you need to, you can always borrow from other “envelopes” throughout the months leading up to your trip!

What about you? What are some ways to squeeze in a little extra money towards travel on a tight budget?

Travel: Hiking through Banff National Park

Crystal blue lakes, sheer glacial faces, lush evergreen valley floors, and powerful roaring waterfalls. Falling into a glacial lake, swinging on a hammock, canoeing towards glaciers, a million mosquito bites. These are only some of the memories from our trip to Banff National Park. Most of all, I will never forget the thunderclap sound a glacier makes, as avalanches of snow tumble off the cliffs. The main reason I wanted to go to Banff was because I wanted to see what was left of the glaciers before our deleterious effects on the environment and contributions to global warming result in nothing left to be seen. What we found was way more than could be seen in the meager few days that we were there. Obsessed with seeing the most beautiful parts of the world since trekking through the Routeburn Track in our New Zealand honeymoon, Banff did not disappoint! This was probably the most exhausting three days that we have ever done, but the views were so worth it. My photos cannot do this place justice, and I definitely wish I had more time to go on even more hikes. At least that’s incentive to come back!

For the curious:

Hikes that we did included:

  • Johnston Canyon
  • Plain of 6 Glaciers
  • Lake Agnes Trail
  • Johnson Lake
  • Fenland Trail
  • Ink Pots

How we did the hikes:

Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls and on to the Ink Pots – This is a very easy hike leading up to the lower and then upper falls. There is a designated path that is well-traversed, so be ready for crowds especially in the summer time. Viewing the falls did result in a few lines, but to be fair, we started the hikes mid-afternoon, which is pretty late in the summer-time. After the Upper Falls, there is a 0.6km trail that leads to the beginning of the Ink Pots, which is a moderate trek. I would really recommend for people to continue on, because the Ink Pots are a sight to see. Plus, it ends in a beautiful valley that is right next to the river, surrounded by looming mountains. The entire trip is approximately 6km one way.

Lake Moraine – We did no hikes in Lake Moraine. We headed here before 7:30am and barely made the cut off before they closed the road down. I would suggest getting there even earlier, maybe by 6am in the summer time, in order to get a spot in the parking lot. We had to park 2 miles away from the lake and walk to the car and back, which was fine. Once the road is closed, it will remain closed for the rest of the day. We bee-lined straight for the canoes and got one of the last canoes in the first batch going out to the lake. It was a hefty fee (about USD $90) but it was so worth it to glide on the glacial waters and eat croissants on the boat. After the canoeing, we attempted to climb the boulders to get a view of the lake but didn’t get far before once of us fell into the freezing glacial waters! After that, we decided hiking was not in the cards for the day, especially after a grueling 10 miles yesterday. We hung a hammock up lakeside in a secluded area, took off wet boots and socks and laid them out to dry on the sun, and took naps and a two hour break at the hammock. Socks and shoes still wet, and a couple mosquito bites later, we called it a day and hiked back up to the car.

Lake Louise – We did a loop, starting with the Plain of 6 Glaciers and returning via Lake Agnes. I would recommend doing it this way, since the Lake Agnes trail has a very steep climb for the majority of the trail. The Plain of 6 Glaciers is a very mellow flat walk for the first 2 km along the lake, beautiful for the morning. We started at 7am, which was great because by the time we got to the Plain of 6 Glaciers tea house, it was not yet crowded and we easily got a seat. Breakfast entailed tea and chocolate cake and biscuits (yes it was amazing!) before we continued on to the glaciers. Afterwards, it was downhill until we took the connecting trail to Lake Agnes. A slight uphill climb that afforded amazing views of Lake Louise and the hotel was worth it. You will also have the option of going to the Lake Agnes teahouse on the way down, but we just continued to journey on, eating peanut butter sandwiches as we took the steep descent to the lake.  

Hikes on my bucket list, for next time:

  • Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass
  • O’Hara Circuit Trail
  • Healy Pass
  • Bourgeu Lake/Harvey Pass
  • Parker Ridge Trail

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Travel: How Turo Saved Us More Money Than A Standard Rental Car + $25 OFF on Your First Booking

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

When we traveled to Portland, Oregon, we knew we wanted to discover some of the hikes that were outside of the city center. While many of the trails on the Portland side were closed due to the recent fires, the trails on the Washington side across the Columbia River Gorge are for the taking. This required approximately an hour drive from Portland, so we knew we wanted a car. Turo is a car rental company that saved us $$ on our trip!

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Typically, we would go to a car rental website to book a car for our trip. Mike gets a 25% discount from work but even with the discount, the car that we would have booked for our four day trip in Oregon was estimated to cost about $200. If we used credit card rewards points to book a car, it would have cost us a little over 6,000 points per day, adding up to a total of over 24,000 points, a value that is WAY too high. So Mike mentioned the alternative of using Turo.

Prior to this trip, I have never heard of Turo. It is similar to AirBNB, wherein car owners opt to rent out their cars. Together, a pick-up location is decided upon, and you pay a price per day. Our car was $15 per day, which is super cheap! Basic protection (which is an insurance protection through Turo) cost us $9, a delivery fee cost $15, and a trip fee which is retained by Turo cost $8.15. The trip fee goes to Turo for maintaining the site, for their 24/7 customer service, etc. Also, the owner may charge a clean-up fee, just like with AirBNB. For our particular car, if we had returned the car dirty, we would have been charged a $50 fee. Since we returned it in decent shape with the gas tank full, we were not charged any additional fees. For all four days, the car cost us $92.15. That is more than a 50% savings rate than if we had gone with a car rental company that already had a 25% discount!  The money we saved was re-allocated to eating at Pokpok, Salt & Straw, LucLac, and Bollywood Theatre. I’d consider that a score!

Our first experience with Turo was quite pleasant. The owner of the vehicle was very responsive and easy to reach. He had the car waiting at the airport parking lot, ready for us to go. We never met him in person, but that was totally fine with us. He had the keys hidden somewhere near the vehicle and he simply gave us the location. The car was very clean and functioned well. You can choose any car you want on Turo, but it will affect the price. Ours was a Toyota Corolla 2014. It was everything we needed in order to get around the city and to the hike trailheads. When we had picked up the car, the owner had uploaded photos of the car to show what condition it was when we got it. Likewise, when we dropped off the car at the airport on our last day, we were also able to upload pictures of the car the way we left it. We left the keys where we were instructed, parked the car in an agreed upon spot, and boarded our flight! There were no hitches in our trip plans.

I would highly recommend people to try Turo. I cannot believe that I have never heard of it before, but as an AirBNB fan, it is obvious that I would also be a fan of this as well. I mean, $15 a day is a hard price to beat! Check out Turo today using Mike’s referral code and get $25 off on your first trip to see how you like it!

 

Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon

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

I would say with confidence that I would gladly move to Portland, Oregon. Between the great food, eco-friendly habits, nature hikes, and overall vibe of the people living there, I felt very much at home and relaxed. (But seriously, great food!) And our AirBNB location could not have been better! We were located on 28th St. and Division St., a five minute walk from some of the great restaurants we visited, including Pokpok, Ava Genes, Bollywood Theater, Salt & Straw, and Eb and Bean! It was lovely to step outside and walk to and from these eateries. Here is a guide to our most recent trip. I hope you enjoy!


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Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

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Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Lardo

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1212 SE HAWTHORNE BLVD
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We arrived at Portland very late and had originally planned to pick up Lardo sandwiches for our hikes the next day. However, we were so tired and hungry that we decided to make Lardo the only stop for the night and to just eat dinner there instead. It was a wonderful introduction to the food scene in Portland. We had ordered the Pulled Pork Vindaloo (Cabbage Porial Slaw, Assamese Pineapple Chutney, and Mint mayo), the Korean Pork Shoulder (house kimchi, chili mayo, cilantro, lime), and Salt and Vinegar Chicharrones. Everything was delicious! Mike and I split everything, and he favored the vindaloo while I favored the korean pork shoulder. Mostly because the bread of the korean pork shoulder was absolutely amazing. Which may or may not be fair to the vindaloo… The sandwiches are very heavy, so we did not even get to finish the chicharrones, which was fine since we brought the left-overs along on our hike as a snack. Definitely a must stop if you like meaty sandwiches, but I would not recommend taking the sandwiches on any hikes. It just wouldn’t have been as good.

Milk Glass Mrkt

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2150 NORTH KILLINGWORTH ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

We went here for breakfast on day 2 prior to leaving Portland for a day of nature walks. They source their ingredients seasonally from local farms, including Gathering Together Farm, Wobbly Cart Farm, August Farms, Viridian Farms & Groundwork Organics. Everything is made from scratch, in house, everyday. They are dedicated to paying their employees a living wage and to support to local community. The store also sells some local goods. The space is bright, and is an ideal place to catch up with a friend over breakfast on a weekend. I ordered a Quinoa Bowl (quinoa, asparagus, farm greens, charred spring onion, manchego, crispy prosciutto, topped with a six minute egg), and Mike ordered the Cheddar Biscuit (with egg, cheddar cheese, bacon, and greens).  The quinoa bowl that I had was extremely fresh, bright, and had just the right acidity in the vinagrette to balance the ingredients. It was also exactly what I needed after our heavy dinner at Lardo the night before.

Brass Tacks Sandwiches

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3535 N VANCOUVER AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We swung by Brass Tacks Sandwiches after breakfast to grab a few sandwiches that will keep well on our day of hiking. Firstly, I would just like to say how eco-friendly Portland is. I had absolutely no problems at all with plastic there. Everything, even to-go  items, were wrapped in paper. No straws were ever provided. I did not see people carrying around plastic bags or water bottles, but rather, re-usable bottles, linen bags, or paper carryout bags. The sandwiches we got here were wrapped in paper, as were the home-made kettle chips, and he did not even provide us with a bag. PERFECT! I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now that I am done geeking out about their eco-conscious habits, I am going to say that the sandwiches were bomb, although standard. Nothing that you can’t get in California, but really well made. You can order one of their specials or make your own. They are also one of the many places to eat that are mindful of vegan diets and vegetarian diets. In fact, Mike ordered the vegan Frank Sinatmeat (with agave smoked “ham”, roasted red pepper “salami” on a french roll with garlic aioli, pickled jalapeno, red onion, lettuce, oil/vinegar/oregano, and cashew cheese) while I ordered Turkey It To The Limit (oven-roasted turkey on ciabatta with mayo, tomato jam, avocado, lettuce, and provolone, panini-grilled). Brownie points for the clever names.

Jory Coffee Co.

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♦♦♦♦
3845 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

I am only going to write about Jory once, when the truth of the matter is, we went there twice of the two days, because it was just that great. They serve only pour over coffees, so don’t expect to order a latte or any other type of espresso based drink here. If you would like, you can opt for a splash of milk or Oatly in your cup, but that’s it. It’s a minimalist’s dream and they have made it so that it allows you to drink good coffee and appreciate it the way it’s meant to be appreciated. There are a selection of six local coffee roaster’s beans, all of which can also be purchased for those who want to make coffee at home. The offerings they had was a well-curated selection that really makes distinct and unique coffees. There is standing room only in the narrow shop, which is reminiscent of many Australian coffee shops. People are meant to buy their coffees and then go about their day. There is outdoor seating right outside the shop, enough chairs for three couples, which Mike and I took advantage of the second time we went. We spent an hour idling by ourselves outside on our last day in Portland, because we just loved it so much. The machine they have for making the coffee was great and the coffee was served efficiently, and the folk were extremely friendly. We even met the owner Jorian! If you are a real third-wave generation coffee fan who drinks it black, this is the place to go. The first time we went, I ordered Heart – DECAF (cherry, apple, milk chocolate) and Mike ordered Extracto (blueberry, cinnamon, and dark chocolate). The second time around, we took both of Jorian’s recommendations, which were Barista (peach, caramel, golden raisin) and Case Study (blackberry, citrus, deep and sweet).

Latourell Falls

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♦♦♦♦
$

Latourell Falls was the first hike we did. It is a very easy loop trail. From the parking lot, it is a few steps until you get to the lookout point to the waterfall. We hiked up to the very top of the falls, which did not take us more than ten to fifteen minutes. We got pretty close to the very edge of the waterfall, but to look over would have been very ballsy. I loved hearing the rush of the water as it fell over the cliff, and got a kick out of waving to the citizens below, who gladly waved back. The trail continues on and is a fairly easy hike, ideal for young children or older adults. There were no steep inclines past the waterfall. Continuing on reveals other smaller waterfalls. We walked up to one in particular that I would actually categorize as still being very large and it was amazing to feel the spray of the water and the whirling wind as you got closer. Along the way, we saw all sorts of beautiful plant life, as well as a cool little millipede. We must have spent two hours idling along that trail, stopping every few feet to gaze at large clovers, purple flowers, and blue-veined leaves. Worth every minute of it, and it was free!

Dog Mountain Trail

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♦♦♦♦
$

I was sitting next to this lady on the airplane ride to Portland when the topic of hiking came up. She had recommended Dog Mountain Trail in Washington as a wonderful hike that led to the top of a large mountain with amazing views. Since it’s spring time, the flowers were very much in bloom at the top and the overlook provided wonderful views of the Columbia River Gorge as it snaked around bends. Since a majority of the hikes on the Oregon side were closed due to the major fire last September, this was one of the only alternatives we knew of. It is a very steep 3.8 miles to the top with a 2,800 feet elevation gain, resulting in 7.5ish miles round trip. Mike and I had a dinner reservation, so we knew we had to truck it if we were going to get to the very top! We started the hike at 3 pm and finished in 3.5 hours! I almost had a mental breakdown when the steepness got to be too much, but Mike cheered me on (and sometimes pushed me up the mountain) and we ended up making it! I recommend this to other hikers, but I would definitely rate this is a difficult hike.

Ava Genes

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♦♦♦♦
3377 SE DIVISION STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$$

“Our story can be told through our pasta: it’s milled, extruded, rolled, cut, cooked, sauced, and eaten in house.”

Off course, dough lovers unite. Their ingredients are locally sourced and support a local community of small farmers and artisans. There are things other than pasta on their menu, but we just knew we had to stick with pasta. The quality of the pasta is great! Plus, we needed some carbs to replenish our energy stores after our long hikes. This restaurant is just what the doctor ordered! I had the Tagliatelli (with cauliflower ragu, rosemary and garlic) and Mike had the Sunday special which was the Campanelle (with sausage sugo and ricotta). So simple, but so elegant.

Salt & Straw

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♦♦♦
3345 SE DIVISION ST.
PORLTAND OREGON
$

I love ice cream, and Salt & Straw receives much of the hype. We decided to do a late night ice cream pit stop on our walk back to our AirBNB from Ava Genes. By late night, I do mean that we were one of the last few to make it through the door before they closed up shop at 11 pm. There were many amazing offerings in terms of flavors. I was specifically drawn to their monthly menu, which was centered around florals. I ordered Rhubarb Crumble with Toasted Anise and Mike ordered Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache. The flavors were unique and great, but we have had better ice cream before, which is why I did not give this place 3 stars. While it was good, it did not live up to the hype.

Heart Coffee

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♦♦♦
2211 E BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

Day 3 started off very slowly for us, after a late night dinner and a day full of hikes. We made our way to Heart coffee, since trying their decaf at Jory was such a good experience. It was a good coffee shop, however, they offered mostly espresso based drinks, landing Mike and I with standard cappuccinos. I still think their worth the visit, although next time, I may have opted for a drip coffee. They have three locations, but we went to the one on Burnside St. It is a perfect study space, but do note the noise level is moderate to loud. Luckily, we were just slowly still coming out of our dreamlike reveries.

Pokpok

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♦♦♦♦
3226 SE DIVISION ST
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

If I could give something five out of four stars, I definitely would. But that wouldn’t be fair to the other reviews, would it? Needless to say, this lives up to the hype. Mike and I both agreed that while the experience of eating outdoors in a shack on a plastic table and chairs is not exactly worldly, the food compares to Pujol, not in quality, but in flavor, and for the fraction of the price. People visiting Portland should definitely eat here at least once! We were the first people there (we showed up thirty minutes early from opening) so we got seated immediately. But by the time the restaurant opened, the line was around the corner of the street and not everyone was seated. By the time we finished our meal at 12:30, the wait times for 2 people was an hour. If you are staying close by like we were, it wouldn’t hurt to come by and put your name down, then return to your AirBNB and relax while waiting for their call. Or you can walk up and down the shops on Division Street. We ordered Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (Spicy) (Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Vietnamese fish sauce and garlic and served with Cu Cai (pickled vegetables)), Yam Kai Dao (Crispy fried farm egg salad with lettuce, Chinese celery, carrots, onions, garlic, Thai chiles and cilantro, with a lime, fish sauce, palm sugar dressing), Muu Sateh (Carlton Farms pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce, cucumber relish and grilled bread), and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich (Coconut-jackfruit ice cream served on a sweet bun with peanuts, sweet sticky rice, condensed milk and chocolate syrup.  Found on any Thai street, especially in the markets) for dessert. Surprisingly, the dessert was the least cool thing about the meal, although I hear if we would have opted for the affogato instead, it would have been a different story.

Citizen Ruth

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♦♦♦♦
3070 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

I absolutely loved this extremely progressive, feminist store. I was having a blast perusing the shop. What stuck out most to me was a collection of children’s books lining a wall with a revolution sign over it. Each children’s book taught a lesson about being different, unique, and absolutely okay with that. The rest of the store contained different crafts from local artists and quirky knick knacks that had faces such as Frida Kahla screaming their message.

Powell’s Books

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♦♦♦♦
1005 W BURNSIDE ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

Powell’s Books is a bookworm’s fantasy land. I was absolutely blown away by the selection of books, both new and used. Mike and I separated our ways and we were there for an hour and a half before we found each other again. I posted up and grabbed a book from the shelves and read it in it’s entirety front cover to back cover. I then moved on to another until Mike found me. How do we get one of these in Orange County?!

Multnomah Whiskey Library

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♦♦♦♦
1124 SW ALDER ST.
PORTLAND OREGON
$$$

I gave up drinking alcohol for two reasons. At some point, I realized how much money goes towards being a social drinker. I was never one to guzzle the stuff on the daily (or the weekly, even), but buying alcohol in public or even from a grocery store can add up. So one day, I quit cold turkey. The other reason was that I just wanted to be a healthy individual and be without the tiredness the day after a good night. The exception to the rule is when we travel. In Germany, I allowed myself a beer at Oktoberfest and in Mexico City, I allowed myself one cocktail when we were dining at Pujol. In Oregon, we swung by Multnomah Whiskey Library per my sister’s recommendation and I decided to break the fast once for one day. We ordered three cocktails, all of which were superb. Their collection of alcohol was very impressive. The knowledge of our bartender Jackson was great. Per his recommendation Mike had an Improved Old Fashion, and I ordered a Huckleberry Revival. We ended our drinking session with a drink that had tumeric in it.

LucLac

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♦♦
835 SW 2ND ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We went to LucLac after Multnomah Whiskey Library because it was walk-able and we wanted time before we drove again, so dinner served as a good occupation for our time. We were lucky enough to get the last available seat before those in line had to wait for tables. To be completely honest, I thought the food was very mediocre. I gave it two stars because I didn’t think it was a waste of time, but since there were so many other great eats in Portland, I’d say it was just hyped and not a “MUST-SEE”. I thought the taste of the food was pretty bland. We both ordered vermicelli plates (Mike got the combo and I got the pork), but there wasn’t much flavor to them. I have eaten better vermicelli plates elsewhere, I guess. Mike liked this restaurant enough though to rate it as top four on the list of all the places we ate at, so that’s something worth considering.

Multnomah Falls

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$

Unfortunately, due to the recent fires last September 2017, the Multonomah Falls is closed. We did not know that when we went there. We were pretty happy to still get to see it (Mike has hiked up to the top on a previous trip). The great thing was that we learned it was closed so that we could tell our friend who is going up there this weekend that it may not be worth the $60/person bus ride he purchased for him and his S/O to simply step out of the bus to look at the falls from below. I can’t imagine what we would have felt like if we paid to see the falls, only to learn that we literally step off the bus to see the falls. So it gets a rating of one diamond, only because for now, it is not worth the time.

Broder Cafe

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♦♦♦♦
2508 SE CLINTON ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This brunch place is fantastic! Broder has two other Portland locations, but this just happened to be walking distance to us (yet again, another five minute walk!). The morning was moody, perfect for a warm Nordic breakfast. Mike and I split the Aebleskivers (danish pancakes that are more like soft doughnuts served with lemon-tart custard and lingonberry jam) and the Pytt I Panna (with charred onions, asparagus, and roast mushroom). Our biggest regret? Getting the 4 count of the pancakes and not the 6 count!

Pistils Nursery

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♦♦♦♦
3811 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OREGON
$$

This nursery was right next door to Jory, so on our second visit to the coffee shop, we decided to swing by. It had a great collection of both indoor and outdoor plants with beautiful vases and coffee table books, all about green living things. As you can probably tell from the photos, I was very excited to be there. I also debated whether it would be wise to carry a cactus back home with me to California on a plane ride.

Bollywood Theater

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♦♦♦
3010 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

We hardly get Indian food, mostly because there is no good Indian food where we live. Most of the time, it is a hit or miss for me. We decided that prior boarding the plane, we want food in our bellies that will get us through the rest of the day. We each ordered a small plate of Indian curry and my mouth is salivating just thinking of it. Or maybe I’ve been writing about food for way too long. I ordered the Goan Style Shrimp (shrimp with curry leaves, chile, coconut milk and lime. Served with saffron rice), and Chicken Curry (Bone-in thigh and leg with an aromatic and creamy curry. Served with saffron rice). 

Eb & Bean

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♦♦
3040 SE DIVISION ST.
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

This colorful store was right next door to Bollywood Theater and also houses a collection of chocolate from The Little Nib! We had planned to grab ourselves a sweet little something before we headed off to our flight. I had a Brown Sugar Strawberry Ricotta frozen yogurt on a vegan waffle cone and Mike got the Salty Pistachio (with Almond Milk) on a vegan waffle cone as well. It was very good, and I am sure it would have been better if we had added toppings to it. However, I am just not as big a lover of frozen yogurt as I am of ice cream, hence the lower rating.

Travel: Where To Eat in Mexico City

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

With our quickly looming trip to Portland, Oregon this coming weekend, I figure it was about time that I post some of the delicious food we ate on our previous trip to Mexico City. I had separated the topic of where to eat in Mexico City from the Coffee Shops in Mexico City just because there were way too many pictures to bombard you guys with. Going forward, I think the city travel posts will be more similar to our tour guide made for A Day in San Francisco. With that, enjoy the following photos, and possible give them a visit if you’re ever en la Ciudad de Mexico!

Related Posts:


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

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

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Pehua

♦♦♦◊

$$

Pehua was the first restaurant we ate at once we landed in CDMX. We barely had time to Uber our way to our AirBNB, before we had to make our way to Pehua, located in Condesa, CDMX, for our reservation. I remember it well. The city had beautiful skies, we had hungry stomachs, and a thirst to get out there and start exploring. Sometime between when we were seated and after we had devoured all the food that you see below, it started to rain. We didn’t even realize that it was pouring outside until our waitress kindly asked us if we wanted them to call a cab for us. The cozy couch seating and delicious food had distracted us from the world outside, and gave us a wonderful introduction of the food yet to come. I would say definitely visit this place if you have extra time. Off course, the city is teeming with top restaurants in the world, which take their place in line somewhere ahead of this one. But still, you won’t be disappointed eating here.

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Floral and Fruit Appetizer
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House Bread
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Esquites de criollo Corn, Chili Mayonnaise, Watercress, Cotija Cheese, Chile Atole
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Tamal with Chicken, Mole, Cheese, and Cream
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Pork Cheek, Pineapple, Habanero Pepper, Red Onion, Cilantro

Maximo Bistrot

♦♦♦♦

$$$

Maximo Bistrot ranks #39 in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurants and is located in Roma, CDMX. Chef Eduardo García and his wife Gabriela set up Maximo Bistrot to showcase fresh produce from in and around Mexico City. Up to two thirds of the ingredients come from local farms, including the famed floating gardens of Xochimilco in the city. Such is their commitment to local production that everything from the furniture to the serviettes is also fair trade, sustainable and local. Aside from all these admirable qualities, the food is excellent, and was second only to Pujol (see below). We decided to go with the Degustacion menu (tasting menu), wherein the chef decides what to bring out for you on that day. I loved leaving the decisions entirely to the chef, since choosing what to eat is always such a struggle for me. Plus, I continually had a surprise to look forward to! Because everything was determined by the chef, I cannot tell you what is in the food, nor can  I promise that you will be able to try it when you visit yourself. Just know that everything is AMAZING here and you cannot go wrong with the tasting menu.

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Sustainable and Local Goods
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My date
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House Bread
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This was the most amazing ceviche I have ever had.
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A simple fish served with jalapenos and cauliflower. I was scraping the mustardy emulsion to the right with my fork.
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Delicious pork, but interestingly enough, even more delicious are the caramelized carrots!
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Mango Sorbet for a palate cleanser.
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If I can guarantee that I will get this same dessert, I would go back every day. This is the best dessert I have ever had. It’s a chocolate cake with scoops of different types of ice cream and with berries and edible flowers. Delectable, melt-in-your-mouth goodness that I can’t describe.

Los Danzantes

♦♦◊◊

$$

The neighborhood of Coyoacan surprised it. It was by far my most favorite neighborhood to visit. If I had a do-over, I would opt to stay at an AirBNB in this area, despite how distant it is from the City Centre. Walking around the streets of Coyoacan was so relaxing, and there were tons of beautiful things to see! When noon hit, we were ready for some food. Los Danzantes had good yelp reviews and was recommended by our host, so we decided to eat there. The food was fairly priced and they had a huge selection of things to eat. The ambiance was great; outdoor seating on a patio in the middle of a beautiful park as musicians stroll by and stop in front of the restaurant to play for the diners. When the sun got too hot, a shade was rolled out over the patio, hence the dark photos provided here. I only gave it this rating because, while the food selection was great, it was pretty ordinary. Plus, the food was quite heavy, which I have tried to avoid in most recent years. That doesn’t take away from the taste, and I still think people should try this if they are in the area!

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Bread, Chips, and Salsa
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Ceviche! My favorite part of the meal.
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Pork tacos. Sooo heavy! It doesn’t look like a lot, but it was difficult to finish.
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This restaurant is known for their mole! They have many types of moles originating from different parts of Mexico. These are enchiladas that Mike ordered that was bathed in two types of mole.

Pujol

♦♦♦♦

$$$

Pujol by Enrique Olvera is listed as the world top 20 restaurant in the world. The truth is that after we saw Pujol on Chef’s Table, we just knew we had to go to Mexico City. With the help of the Drift magazine that was released earlier this year highlighting the coffee scene in CDMX, the decision was pretty much a done deal. Pujol remains our top dining experience thus far. I placed three dollar signs because it is pricey, but for U.S. standards, it is not impossible to save money to eat here. The price per person sits below $100, and is very affordable for a top 50 restaurant. The food and the experience is worth every penny.

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The tasting menu
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There are six courses, with four options for most courses. Since there were two of us, we got to try an array of amazing food!
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I broke my alcohol purge (temporarily) in order to drink mezcal with Mike. When in Mexico City…
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Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting: This dish was featured on Chef’s Table. In the episode, Enrique Olvera describes how he defines rare ingredients. The sauce on this corn was made with chicatana ants, a species that flies after the first rain of every year in Oaxaca. The fact that it is time-specific, location-specific, and is only present 1-2 days a year makes this a true delicacy. It was served as part of the street snacks.
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Paired with the baby corn was this playful bite of a gordita topped with a tomato based meat and vegetable pancake.
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Baby Corn with Chicatana Ant Dusting. The Chicatana Ants taste ridiculously delicious. I would be willing to dust everything I eat from now on with the stuff.
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Octopus, Habanero Ink, Ayocote, Veracruzana Sauce: First time trying octopus! Was not disappointed.
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Chayote Squash Slices, Pico de Gallo, Edible Flowers: This was extremely amazing and between this and the octopus, this beats the competition by a mile!
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Charred Eggplant Tamale, Chard. There is an unabashedly smokey flavor with this one!
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Cauliflower, Almond Salsa Macha, Chile de Arbol: I almost want to say that this was the best part of the meal (or at least, it ties with the mole). I think Mikey would agree with me on this one. To be honest, I think he regrets getting the chard tamale 😉
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Grilled Fish, Pine Nuts, Fennel: Extremely filling. I actually did not finish the entire thing in anticipation of the mole.
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Lamb, Mint Mole, Lime, Baby Potato: This was Mike’s main dish, which I did not try but I remember him eating the entire thing pretty quickly.
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Mole Madre: 1536 days old, Mole Nuevo
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Tortillas with an hoja santa leaf.
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I was scraping the mole clean off the plate. This was as good as the hype!
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A really awful shot of Cafe de Olla and a palate cleanser that tasted like bell peppers! We knew we had to try Cafe de Olla after reading about this common cinnamon coffee in the Drift magazine.
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A better shot of the pepper-y sorbet.
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12 hour Roasted Pineapple, Molasses, Cilantro ice cream
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Anise Inflatida, Chocolate, Praline. Mike claims this was better than the dessert at Maximo Bistrot. Since I did not get to try, Maximo’s cake was still the best I ever had!
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Candy, to go.

Sadly, I did not get to photograph the perfectly coiled churro that they served after our dessert, because Mike gobbled it up while I was busy chatting away with a solo traveler I met at the garden and before I knew it, it was gone!

I kind of wish we had made a second reservation to try the rest of the menu, but I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t order the chicharron cauliflower a second time and that Mike could resist ordering the same exact dessert. Maybe this requires eating there three times…

Undoubtedly, our top 3 eats ever are as follows.

  1. Pujol (CDMX, MX)
  2. Maximo Bistrot (CDMX, MX)
  3. La Tierra (Valle de Guadalupe, MX)

Mexico is looking pretty good!

On this trip, we also grabbed churros at El Moro THREE TIMES! That’s right, three separate days, eating churros and ice cream and shake. We also ate at Restaurante Nico, which is ranked #37 on Latin America’s top 50 restaurants, for which I do not have photos.

 

How I Flew to Mexico City for FREE with Southwest Airlines + 40K Bonus Points

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

When our financial planner first sat down with Mike and I to discuss our long-term goals, travelling the world was up there on our list. It was the one common ground we had. A future home? Maybe. Kids? Not sure. Interests? Cars. Art. Travel? YES! ABSOLUTELY!

All of this was learned before we decided to change gears and pay back the student debt, full-force. Unfortunately, a $6,500 monthly student payment for ten years does put quite a damper on the travel. So, we found another way.

It’s no secret that we travel the world by travel hacking. Using credit card sign-up bonuses to rack up free flights was something we started doing last November. It has been a little over six months, and we have been able to buy the following flights for 2018:

Mexico City, San Francisco, Portland, Calgary, Sydney, and Christchurch. Also on the list, Costa Rica, for which we have the points, but are waiting for a few of our travel hacking friends to catch up so that we can all travel together!

Now I know that with travel hacking, one may not need to pay money for these flights, but they do still pay for them in points. What if I told you that I was able to fly to Mexico (and San Francisco, and Portland, and Costa Rica) for COMPLETELY FREE? As in, I did not spend any points at all to fly there, nor did I spend money. How, you ask? Southwest Airlines!

Southwest Airlines has an awesome program that grants a person a Companion Pass. The Companion Pass allows you to take someone with you on any flight, for free. Since Mikey has the Companion Pass, I (his companion) can fly with him wherever he goes for zilch. For those of you without a permanent significant other, no worries! You can change your companion up to three times in one calendar year. So take multiple friends on multiple vacations and voila! Problem solved!

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How to get Companion Pass:

There are multiple ways to get Companion Pass. Mike and I were lucky enough to strike a deal in November of last year, which we shared with all our friends, who also got in on it. The deal was an automatic Companion Pass until the end of December the FOLLOWING year (2018) as long as you open a Southwest Airlines card. This is the one we opened in particular, although there are other options to choose from. Additionally, you receive $40k bonus points if you hit a minimum spending of $1,000 in the first 3 months. This was very easy to do since Christmas time was around the corner from when we signed up. So we used our new Southwest Credit card to pay for upcoming gifts and events that came hand in hand with the holidays, and planned to hit the minimum spend by January of 2018! Free 40,000 points, to spend however we want!

If you missed the deal, there IS another way. Reach 110k points in their rewards program in one calendar and receive the Companion Pass until the end of December the following year from when the points were unlocked. It is crucial to note that all 110k points must be reached in the same calendar year. You may be saying, “This seems like a lot! How am I ever going to reach 110k?” The answer lies in opening multiple Southwest cards. Opening one personal SW card and one Business SW card will give you 40K bonus points and 60K bonus points respectively! Additionally, everytime you refer one friend to their credit card, you will receive 10k bonus points. So referring one friend on top of opening two cards will lead you to the grand total of 110k points in one calendar year!

Since the Companion Pass lasts until December of the FOLLOWING year, you can see how the best tactic would be to hit the 110K points in the beginning months, such as January and February. If you do this, then you can get close to 2 years of Companion Pass privileges. In order to do this, you may want to consider opening the credit cards before the holidays and spending as you regular would on the cards WITHOUT hitting the bonus in those last few months. Once January hits, spend the little additional amount necessary to hit the target minimum spending in order to get your two bonuses, and refer a friend. Simple! It is very important you DO NOT hit your bonus before January, otherwise it counts for the previous year. All the points for the 110k needs to be in the same year. It is crucial. The worst that can happen is you divide the bonus points between two years (December and January), thus disqualifying them from counting towards the same Companion Pass.

Why Choose Southwest? 

Undoubtedly, there are a lot of credit cards out there that one can choose to start with, but we decided to make Southwest one of our first ones because Companion Pass is just too good to pass up. We do not know of other cards that will give you a free flight for every flight you take. With the Chase 5/24 rule, we knew that 2 Southwest cards have to make up 2/5 of those 5 cards. (The Chase 5/24 rule states that you will only be approved for a Chase credit card if you have opened less than 5 credit cards in the last 24 months. Which means that if your tactic is to open two Southwest credit cards in order to get Companion Pass, the sooner you open them, the less likely that you would accidentally violate the 5/24 rule prior to achieving Companion Pass.)

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Another great perk is that Southwest flies all over the United States, as well as  to international destinations such as Bahamas, Mexico, and Costa Rica, to name a few. Love Hawaii? Rumor has it that Southwest will be opening up flights to Hawaii sometime this year too!

Any hidden costs?

It is important to note that while there are two Southwest personal credit card options, Southwest has recently disallowed the application to both personal credit cards for one person. You must apply to a personal card and a business card in order to gain points that can combine. Also, it is important to note that there are annual fees associated with some of the credit cards that we use. These fees could be considered as a “cost” toward the flights. However, the bonus points rewarded to you after hitting the minimum spending offsets these fees, since they can be used to redeem flights that add up to much more than the single annual fee. Because annual fees are charged at every anniversary, it is important to remember to close the credit card prior to the anniversary date, to prevent being charged a renewal fee for another year.

Lastly, if you purchase flights with points, there may be taxes associated with the purchases. For example, Mike used points to buy flights to CDMX, San Francisco, and Portland, but he was taxed with roughly $11 for SF and Portland and roughly $25 for CDMX. These prices are minimal compared to the price of the flight, but they do still exist, and as a firm believer in full disclosures, I think it is imperative that this is stated in this post.

If travel hacking is something you are new to and would like to try, I really recommend starting with the Southwest Airlines credit card. Especially if you have a travel partner with you at all times! If you feel like you need to learn more about travel hacking first before committing, I suggest starting here.

Happy travels!

 

Travel: A Day in San Francisco

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

Hi guys! Last week, we were able to sneak in a day and a half in the Bay Area. Eight hours of that was spent in the beautiful San Francisco. The weather happened to be just lovely, which was perfect for walking around the beautiful Mission District area. Here are some of the places we saw.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

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

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Craftsman and Wolves

 

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 ♦♦♦◊
Mission District
$$
I already wrote an extensive review about this one (here), but I figure I’d add it to the list for accessibility. This is a bakery that not everyone talks about, but all the locals know. The pastries are delicious and the ambience is great. The guys behind the counter were helpful and jovial. They did not look at me begrudgingly when I asked them how Japanese milk bread is made, to that was pretty awesome. I am surprised that they aren’t raved about more. I know that Tartine is just down the street, but honestly, I liked my experience here much more. I’d recommend for people who happen to find themselves on Valencia street to have a stop, and taste what they have to offer. We were glad we did.

Ritual Coffee Roasters

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♦♦♦◊
Mission District
$$

Wherever we go, we are always pulled towards coffee. Usually, I have Mike make the pick, mostly because he is more of a coffee guru than I. We usually go for a coffee roaster, rather than a coffee shop that uses other people’s roasted beans. There were a few to choose from, but since we were on Valencia, we figured we could walk to Ritual, which Mike has heard good things about. As is typical, I chose a decaf version of a latte, and Mike chose a pour over. You can never fully determine whether the coffee is good when in a latte, so I will also usually nab a sip from Mike’s cup. He chose a bean that delivers kumquat and oolong tea notes, which to me was a bit too light to even taste. I blame that partially on the coffee choice, though. Mike says he could taste the kumquat, but I tried a couple times and all I could taste was tea. The descriptors of the other coffees were very interesting, and I would actually love to go back and try more in the future. It’s hard to tell from one bean, but since it’s a place that I would recommend people check out, three diamonds it is.

Tartine Bakery

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♦♦◊◊
Mission District
$$$

I SO wanted to write an amazing review for Tartine, but I left the place so underwhelmed that I just cannot. I don’t get the hype. At all. There was a line when we got there and so I thought it would be amazing, because who would consider it worth the line if it wasn’t, right? But as we inched our way closer to the counter over the course of an excitable twenty minutes, I become more and more disheartened. The interior was very old looking, not well kept, and way too crowded to have a comfortable lunch experience, so luckily, we were just there to pick up bread. You place your order at the counter after passing very unclean displays of desserts. Mind you, we never got to trying those desserts, so maybe I just have to get my butt back there to try one and totally turn this experience around. But we were there for the bread. I started my bread baking journey with the Tartine book, and I wanted to see what I should be working towards. So we ordered a ridiculously priced country loaf for $9.50 from a lady who was part of an assembly line service, or so it seemed. The type where they ask in a bored tone, “What can I get for you?”, followed by, “Is that all?” and a quick walking away and no further hellos. We walk up to the cashier who glanced up to ask, “Just the loaf?” Overall, the bakery had lackluster customer service, which made my image of Tartine Bakery go poof! But it shouldn’t be about the customer service and the ambiance. It should be about the bread! So to my dismay, here is what I think of the bread. The crust was too overdone. It was hard as a rock, way too burned, way too black, and I thought our serrated knife was going to snap in half. When we sliced into it, we realized that the loaves looked EXACTLY like the first 40 “mess ups” that we had created in our kitchen, until we switched to a different starter strategy and started making bread we actually liked. The loaf was bit flat, a bit gummy, and honestly, very dense, which is not what you want bread to be. A slice of the bread in a grilled cheese sandwich made my tummy hurt. Mike admitted to feeling queesy as well. So I am not sure what happened on this day. The bread was all wrong, and I just did not understand the hype. I actually would prefer to stick with our bread, any day. I might go back again one day to try the desserts and see if those are any good. Maybe.

Marufuku Ramen

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♦♦♦◊
Japantown
$$

My friends love ramen. It’s one of the cornerstones that hold us together as friends. Half of the time I eat out with those guys, we go to ramen, and I have absolutely no complaints. So when our SF friends told us that there is only one ramen place in SF that makes good ramen, I just knew we were going to go. The thing was, this place opens at 5pm and there is always a line. We had to line up at 4:30pm in order to get a seat. In fact, we arrived at 4:30pm and barely made it into the door upon opening. We were the last group to be seated for dinner. The rest of the people in line would have to wait until the someone from the first group leaves. The restaurant was packed. Apparently, it is like this every day. I think it was made worse because that particular weekend happened to be the cherry blossom festival. Japantown was packed. It’s funny, because I always think, well ramen is ramen. But Mike and I sure have our favorites, so I know that isn’t true. There are places where you ingest a bowl and realize that the soup is mostly water and the chashu is of low quality, or badly prepared. Others have interesting topping choices, or my least favorite, thick noodles only. This place certainly earned a spot in my list of top Ramen places. The water had flowers, the broth was well seasoned, the toppings were fresh, and the service was fast and attentive. I know that waiting in line for thirty minutes before a restaurant opens when there is much more of SF to see may seem like a high price to pay, but I would do it all over again if I was asked. Unfortunately, ramen is still ramen, and this is not a must do.

Travel: Craftsman and Wolves

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It was only a week ago that we were able to get away for a quick visit to Northern California. We were recommended Craftsman and Wolves on Valencia Street by a fellow baker (actually, a more OFFICIAL baker who actually knows the stuff of yeast and flour), rather last minute, but with extremely high remarks. The weekend was meant to be spent with a group of undergraduate friends that we rarely get to see anymore, for as life would have it, we have all grown into adults with jobs that took us to far and farther off places. However, Mike and I squeezed in a morning to our own perusing, and I convinced him to seek out delicious bread loaves, since you know, I have been obsessed with the stuff. So upon our friend’s suggestion, we decided to swing by Craftsman and Wolves, and it turns out, I liked the place way more than the Tartine down the street. Which says a lot, since I am using Tartine’s book to learn how to bake my own delicious loaves. Call me an inexperienced, unknowledgable, unclassy homebaker, but honestly, you like what you like. And this stuff was pretty freaking good.

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I know I have my biases towards environments, with the decor of a place usually selling me as soon as I’ve stepped my foot in the door. It just can’t be helped. Obviously, there’s so much to love about this place. From the blue teacups laying strewn across recently deserted counters, to the light fixtures, the gray walls, the white brick, and most importantly, the display of delectable sweets.

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However, don’t let that bias fool you into thinking that this is just another instragrammable cafe. Rather, it holds a collection of delicious pastries that would be enough to make me forgive the cafe if it were located in the back alleyway of a city street in some alternate universe.

We perused the pastries, and as we pointed to a delicious-looking muffin, one of the staff came over to load a box full of them! “Better nab one before they’re gone,” he said with a mischievous grin. I kept looking at the display as we waited our turn in line, fearing that we were not going to get a taste of whatever it was that everyone seemed to want. The name of the muffin was The Rebel Within, and little did I know that it was the main attraction of the place, and typically sells out every weekend. Upon ordering, we thought we were getting what looked like a muffin, with green onions and sausage, but slicing into the little devil taught us what it meant to be a rebel. Inside was a perfectly soft-boiled egg, that oozed its yolky center out onto the white plate. I was surprised that the muffin was able to cage something that seemingly has been waiting to burst open for it’s moment to shine. To be honest, the muffin didn’t seem at all dry like other muffins, so maybe the rebel was the muffin itself rather than the egg after all. Instead, it was more like a savory slice of cake, without the dose of sugar that would typically end in a headache. It was glorious.

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We also ordered a smoked ham croissant, with swiss and whole grain mustard. I am going to wholeheartedly admit that the edible flowers sprinkled on top is what initially attracted me to this thing. Full disclosure, the edible flowers did not taste that much, but the croissant was delicious. Flaky and crispy croissants are what I love best! This one had a light filling that did not leave you feeling completely heavy, nor with full-on mustard breath. Which was perfect, because we were about to head over to Ritual Coffee down the street to get our coffee breath on!

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But before we left, I felt a tug in my stomach(?) that told me to get back to that counter and order one more thing. I saw when we had ordered a loaf of Japanese milk bread, with bunches of them wrapped in tissue paper, as if saying, “Please, take us back on the plane with you!” With my recent bread baking craze, I figured, we were already there, so “Why not?” I snagged a loaf for myself, to see what exactly Japanese milk bread tasted like, and if it was something I would be interested in learning. When we got back to my sister’s apartment that night, she informed me that Japanese milk bread was everywhere in Japan and she loved eating it there. In other words, she approved of my purchase.

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Verdict? The minute we landed that Monday morning, we took time to eat a slice of the Craftsman and Wolves milk bread. It looks and feels like a typical loaf you would find wrapped in plastic in the bread aisle but tastes like a brioche, without too much dryness. Granted, my bread-tasting experience is completely limited, but all I know is that it tasted great toaster with a slab of Peanut Butter melting on top.

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Overall, I would highly recommend experiencing CAW for anyone visiting San Francisco. I know it’s very tempting to get only the mind-blowing Rebel Within (for the gram), but it wouldn’t hurt to order some of the other pastries as well, because I am sure that they are all very, very good!