Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Napa Camping

Napa Camping

Let’s face it. With the economy how it is and the work load ever-increasing, it’s difficult to get away. We’ve all heard about the increase in day-cations, but can they really ever be as fun as a full vacation – of course!

Recently, James and I went to Napa. We organized it to correspond with a gig that was happening up there, but why just go for that? Instead, we arranged to stay the whole weekend. Now, it’s true, Napa can be pricey, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend the big bucks to have fun there. Instead of arranging to stay in a hotel (even the most run-down one would have cost us around $100 a night), we decided to go camping on a lake. You are not going to get the same view and fresh air in a hotel! The lake was beautiful, and we had a big area to call our home away from home. We were a bit of a drive away from town, but considering we had saved close to $60 a night already, we didn’t mind. Plus, we wanted to explore the lake.

When we had the time, we even rented a canoe in order to explore the lake. You can definitely spend the day hiking and hanging out at camp, but to me, it’s torturous to see the other shore and not be able to go over there. A canoe was the best option for us. It allowed us to explore a bit of the lake without having the constrictions of being with a group. We packed a picnic lunch and stayed out all day. We even found a gorgeous ismiss on which to eat our lunch. Sure, it wasn’t a gourmet meal, of course, but simple sandwiches taste so amazingly good when you’ve been hiking and canoeing all day.

Now, maybe you’re not the type who “roughs it.” Well, neither do we really. We’ve just learned how to adapt and be just as comfortable (if not more so) than if we were at home. And we did not spend an arm and a leg on our gear either. Our tent, for example, was bought at a garage sale for only $10. Our camping stove, which we used for the first time on this trip, was another garage sale find for $8. even has a section for free stuff, and sometimes you can find camping finds. I prefer egg foam for a mattress instead of an air mattress. Air mattresses always seem to deflate a bit every night causing you to feel every turn of you or your partner, not to mention that harsh fall when someone else gets up. Actually, the only camping sleeping equipment that I have that was brand new when I got it is my sleeping bag which was a gift. As for a pillow, I use a normal one with a pillowcase that was handmade and has Velcro along the opening so it’ll stay sealed. This way, no bugs can get inside of the pillow, and we can use it as a laundry bag if needed.

Camping is so relaxing. Give it a shot!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Quicksilver Ghost Town

After a busy and often monotonous work week, it’s good to get out on the weekends themselves. A joy of mine is visiting old ghost towns. It’s so eerie to see places where hundreds, even thousands, of people once lived that is now only some piles of wood and a collapsing structure or two. Nature so quickly reclaims these areas once humans have left. That makes me wonder what happened to these people. What were their stories? Why did they leave? The history of these places is just fascinating to me.

This weekend, James and I traveled to the Quicksilver Mines in New Almaden, CA. This is the site of mines built back in the late 1800s, early 1900s. There are the remains of camps and even school houses. It was quite a hike though. The site is up the mountain, and the only way to get there is by hiking, cycling, or horseback riding. As I’m not a fan of the latter two, I laced up the hiking boots.

I may have hiked 120 miles in Ireland (followed closely by a 6 mile canoe trip and 3 days running around Disneyland), but I most definitely am out of shape as the Quicksilver hike quickly showed me. Hiking in 85˚F weather is not recommended. Checking the weather report before starting the hike is. I should have taken my own advice!

Once to the top, we explored around English Camp. There is not much there, but it’s enough to be intriguing. Just the fact that 1,000 people once lived there is mind-boggling. I saw a bunch of old nails and broken glass around. It’s amazing to try to fathom what those nails and glass once belonged to.

As it was already 4pm and very hot, we turned around a bit after that site. Today, however, I saw a fascinating structure on the actual site of the mine, just a little ways from where we had been. Looks like I have another weekend adventure ahead of me!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to save money in another country

Every once in awhile, we get the opportunity to do something awesome. Now, not all of those opportunities are already paid for, but giving ourselves the little extra push (and cash) to go ahead and accept that opportunity can really be a great thing. This was the case when James and I decided to go to Ireland for 19 days. My friend was studying in Dublin and wished for us and a few other friends from high school to go on an adventure around the country. Now, I definitely wanted to go to Ireland, but (like many others) the price was a bit daunting. The rest of the group bought their tickets early - generally a good idea, but James and I delayed. Now,  I wasn't delaying to find a better deal (they had found a flight for around $850 which is good), but I couldn't quite let go of the credit card. The total trip when all was said and done would end up costing more money than I had ever spent on one thing in my life. It was the first time I was paying for a trip (any trip, not to mention one across the pond) by myself. James and I both knew that it'd be an amazing experience. We would get to see areas we'd never seen, and I'd get to see ruins and explore ruins like I'd always wanted to. We knew we had to do it.

We started watching the prices. Now, instead of going straight to the airline websites, we went to,,, etc... They really do have better prices. Now, in my experience, it looks like Tuesday is the best deal day. The deals can and do change day to day. Most people look for prices on the weekend when they aren't as tired as they are during the weekdays. Alternatively, Monday tends to be the "get everything done" day, but Tuesday is the day we really don't care to do any work - thus, best prices. We ended up getting our tickets four months ahead of time for $720 - more than a hundred dollars less than the others.

Flash forward four months, we're having a blast, but we're also learning firsthand how bad the exchange rate is - and how pricey everything is there. Still, the best places didn't cost anything.  That's not to say we didn't go places that cost money - we did. However, we had decided at our first stop to buy a heritage card or something similar. It's a one-time fee which is a bit high, but the allows you to get into all the sponsored sites for free. Generally, you can get a booklet of all the sites that would be sponsored by such a card. You can arrange your trip around those sites and try to squeeze in as many as possible. The more places you go, the better the deal!

Food can definitely be pricey, so to save money, you need to be creative. Grocery shopping will generally give you more for your buck, so try buying sandwich makings and fruits to provide lunch for a lot cheaper than you'll find in the touristy pubs/restaurants. We also tried to find hotels that served breakfast. It's always nice to have that included in the cost of the hotel. We had a great book that had summaries of all the bed and breakfasts in the country including price, amenities, and location. Having this book alone saved us money, so try to find one before the trip or in a tourist shop once in-country. As for pubs, you definitely want to experience the food scene even if you don't drink (like me!), but don't spend an arm and a leg to do so! Any area that tourists are known to go to is going to be more pricey because they can be. People want to go home and say, "I ate at ___." You may be able to say it, but you'll pay more for it. Try to stay away from the touristy areas if possible. It'll save you money. Admittedly, sometimes you're just too hungry to eat anywhere other than where you already are. That's fine. If you can wait, however, shop around before choosing a pub. Also, drinks are a bit pricey, so try not having a drink every night if you can help it.

Now, get out there!