Our Most Oft Asked Question: Travel – on the Cheap!

One of the questions that we get most often is, “How can you afford to travel? You must be rich / rolling in the dough / get money from your parents.” While all of these things would make traveling long-term much easier…it just isn’t the case for Melody and I.

Knowing that we would need to find a way to do it a little cheaper, and also knowing the type of trip that we both mutually enjoy, we set out to discover some cheaper ways to travel.

In general, the two largest cost items while traveling will be lodging and food – these are inescapable truths. While it is certainly possible to eat ramen noodles and camp in a tent, sometimes the weather and local culture may just not let that be a possibility (not to mention that would likely become old, very quickly). Striking a little bit of the middle ground, the following are a couple of other options:

  1. House-sit!We would first like to say a big thank you to Hecktic Travels for their amazing blogs and advice, as well as informing us and many others about house sitting as a travel option. Cheers, guys!Anyone with pets that loves to travel knows that bringing their animals along can make for…less than ideal trips. Traveling with a pet is expensive, and depending on your breed of dog / cat / bird / other exotic animal, may not be possible at all. For the longer trips, it is also not possible to leave your animals unattended (you wouldn’t do that, right?).

    Boarding your animals is another option – but again expensive.

    Some are lucky that they have close family or friends to watch after their furry / feathered babies – but again, not always possible for longer stays.

    For people who fall outside of these lovely conveniences, consider having someone come sit your house!

    In exchange for lodging, you can have a trusted and verified traveler stay at your house and care for your animals / property. The requirements for the stays are clearly stated (expectations and duration), and there are even some that are paid – though not very many – your mileage may vary.

    For our uses, we used Mind My House and Trusted House Sitters, but there are many others out there. Not only will you get to visit some unique and interesting destinations, but in most cases your only costs will be transit expense, food and some time commitment. A secondary bonus for people like us who live in a place that having animals is forbidden – you even get to enjoy the company of the resident animals.

  2. Help ExchangeMelody and I both enjoy staying active. We also love to meet new people and immerse ourselves in new cultures – out of the city and away from the tourist areas. Don’t get me wrong, we love to see the sights too, but there is something powerful about the countryside and the people that live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city.Keeping these things in mind, we set out to find a way to immerse ourselves into the everyday life of a local – and save some money doing it along the route. When we came across Help Exchanges, we knew we had found a winner.

    For our uses, we use HelpX – although there are many more sites out there that do the same thing.

    Simplified, a help exchange is an exchange of your time and labor for lodging and food.

    This exchange comes in many shapes and sizes, but the postings usually detail exactly what the expectations are in advance. The number of hours you are expected to work will vary, but most that we have seen are between 20-25 hours per week.

    Some examples of what you might expect to find:

    Hostel Operator looking for help in maintaining hostel. 20 hours per week to include: Admitting guests, making beds, dusting lobby, preparing food, general cleaning. In exchange you will receive private lodging with bathroom. Minimum 30 day stay.

    or

    Looking for helpers to work in the garden with some experience of gardening and growing vegetables to get the spring work done. Four hours work per each nights stay in return for 3 meals per day and accommodation. Double en-suite bedroom and single bed. Fresh food from the garden where possible and all home cooked meals prepared for you.

  3. AirBNBIf neither of the above sound overly interesting, or you are not really interested in working for your lodging / food, fear not! There are other options for you.AirBNB is, in effect, a house / room / couch sharing site designed to allow homeowners the opportunity to earn a little extra income on empty or unoccupied rooms within their home. These rooms are usually priced substantially below what you might find at a hotel in the same area.

    For smaller groups 2-3, this might actually be cheaper than if you were to individually stay at a hostel.

    The site itself is very simple to navigate, and rooms are available in 190+ countries.Capture

    With an available mobile application, the ability to instantly book rooms, and read reviews from others who have stayed, Airbnb is a viable option for those planning far in advance, or on the fly.

For our purposes, we will be using a combination of the three, in addition to some other creative maneuvering to create the most memorable and dynamic trip that we can.

We have almost finalized our rough travel itinerary, so keep an eye out for that soon. In the meantime, keep thinking about that trip you would like to take, and… don’t be afraid to let the travel bug bite.

Cheers!

Mark & Melody

3/161: Lover’s Key State Park

I’m pretty sure we’re list freaks.. We find a list of places  and decide to do it. (48 contiguous states? Check. Every country in the world? Wellll, that will take a little longer, but we’ll get there eventually…)  Thinking a little bit closer to home, we decided to go visit every state park in Florida. Good news! There’s 161 of them. 

Living in Miami wed never known there’s that much land to make state parks OUT of. Here we are, though, at #3: Lover’s Key State Park. It’s about two hours to drive across the state to Ft. Myers, and it’s well worth a visit. A $2 donation will get you in (honor’s system!). Park your car, no fees, no frills, just a really good beach.

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Let’s describe the sand. Oh, the sand is like baby powder. So gentle and fine and so beautiful you don’t mind it creeping in your shoes or between your toes. Even when it’s hot the sand remains cool. (This is not so on the East Coast, where the sand from the Atlantic Ocean will burn your toes right off!). OK. Enough about the sand. The water. Crystal clear. Even after a storm it’s clear. It’s got this turquoise almost island tint to it. It’s beautiful. Refreshing and clear. You can see every speck of baby powder sand.

Then there’s the things to look at. Seashells. Sand dollars. Sponges. Real live sponges. Coral. Crabs (not the bad kind, the scurrying across the sand kind). Most importantly, the beautiful lack of people. Though the parking is right off the main road, it really  feels like you have the place to yourself.

Close up of a sponge
Close up of a sponge
Sponges vary from a beige to orange to a bright red
Sponges vary from a beige to orange to a bright red
We wandered to the back of the park to have the sun right in front of us. No matter where you are on the Gulf Coast of Florida, you can’t go wrong with the sunset. This is a great place if you are the kind of person that likes long walks on the beach. Here’s our favorite sunset shots: Let us know which view you like more! 
 
To the west, a big orange ball sinks quickly into the Gulf.
To the west, a big orange ball sinks quickly into the Gulf.
To the east, cotton candy clouds  of pink, blue and purple cover the sky.
To the east, cotton candy clouds of pink, blue and purple cover the sky.

A Floridian Discovers the U.S.

I’m a native Floridian. Never lived anywhere else. This may be fueling my need to trade the beach for the mountains. I live a mile away from the beach and haven’t been there to go get a tan or swim in over two years. This probably sounds pretentious.

The Mr. and I have driven through the 48 contiguous states here in America, which has forced me to come to grips with the fact that I live in a sunny, winter-free bubble devoid of the work and pleasantries that come from living somewhere with actual life to it. The following is a series of moments from the road trips where I felt my true Floridian showed its bright, naive colors:

1) Driving through Wyoming in the middle of the night. A road construction sign blinked “Caution: Elk ahead.” I wondered to myself, What does an elk look like? This highway had a speed limit of 70, but I slowed to a crawl of 25. Just as I go to pass the sign, multiple giant deer-looking animals with huge antlers start traipsing across this lonely (read: pitch black) road. I pull over the side and give Mark a sideways glance that means, You’re driving.

2) Driving through South Dakota on another night mission and I see this sign:

deer

I spend the next two hours convinced that reflectors on the side of the road are beady little eyes belonging to an animal just waiting to jump out in front of the car. (Squirrels do this all the time in Florida; why would deer be any different?)

3) Losing my mind because there was snow in Georgia in February. February is basically summer, no? It was also hot in Georgia. Hotter than Jacksonville. Why in the world was there snow still on the ground?

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4) Traveling to Connecticut in April, excited to see the fresh green of spring and instead seeing dull, brown trees everywhere. Isn’t April spring? Where is all the foliage?

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5) Taking a picture of cracked dirt. A novelty. There is no dirt in Florida. It’s limestone. And coral. And some ground up seashells. Also, it rains almost every day in South Florida so why would there be any cracks like this? True Texas style.

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Bonus: In true Florida fashion, apparently my entire body is cold except for my toes. Because wearing close toed shoes isn’t a thing.

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State Signs Tour: Part III – The West in a Weekend

The west has some undeniably beautiful landscape – from Colorado to California to Yellowstone National Park. As a duo coming from Florida we witness no seasons (unless you count VERY rainy and LESS rainy seasons) and no real topographic change. This is the foundation for the dash to drive the entire west in a weekend.

Remember that we are your corporate employed 9-5 day jobbers. We gave ourselves three days to drive through America’s largest states. We dropped ourselves into Denver at 11pm straight from Miami. Landing at a new airport always gives me such a rush (see blog post: #5: Depart, Land or Connect at 10 International Airports) and Denver was new to me. We walked straight to the rental car kiosk, picked up the car and drove straight through the night from Denver to the Four Corners Monument.

The timing couldn’t have been better. We pulled up the Four Corners Monument right as the sun was coming up. It’s a beautiful, humbling sight to see this giant orb of light awaken a desert where no concrete jungle resides for hundreds of miles.

FRIDAY:

Good Morning Colorado!
Good Morning Colorado!

At this point we had been up for more than 24 hours. After visiting the monument, we head to each of the states that make up the four corners and collect those signs like Mario collected gold coins on Super Nintendo.

The sign says it all

Apparently someone was not fond of the slogan, "Land of Enchantment."
Apparently someone was not fond of the slogan, “Land of Enchantment.”

BONUS: Navajo Nation!

A land of artists, it seems. We stopped in a grocery store in New Mexico and found that most other shoppers were speaking Navajo or other dialect.
A land of artists, it seems. We stopped in a grocery store in New Mexico and found that most other shoppers were speaking Navajo or other dialect.
Arizona's humble greeting, considering it houses one of the most iconic destinations in the US.
Arizona’s humble greeting, considering it houses one of the most iconic destinations in the US.

And last but not least, Utah!

Nearly a mile up, we made sure to drive across the state border so we can honestly say we drove in Utah.
Nearly a mile up, we made sure to drive across the state border so we can honestly say we drove in Utah.

We had a limited amount of daylight hours, so we wanted to be sure to get to the Grand Canyon before the sun set. It was an afternoon well spent, and Mark spent a considerable amount of time off the park trails.

Hint: You're not supposed to be over there! But we've never been the type to stick only to the trail.
Hint: You’re not supposed to be over there! But we’ve never been the type to stick only to the trail.

The sun began sinking into the horizon shortly after we left the Grand Canyon, bound for Nevada. It’s now Saturday evening, and we’ve been up for nearly 36 hours without shut eye. I’m starting to get tired – seems reasonable, right?
We make Nevada, and every time we cross a state line I get another surge of energy.

Arriving in Nevada atop the Hoover Dam
Arriving in Nevada atop the Hoover Dam

We decide to stop in Vegas.

Incredible sunset as we make our way to Nevada.
Captivating sunset greets us in Vegas

We grab In-n-Out (a must do, right?) and set up camp at Bellagio (more on that experience later). We decide to lay on the bed and give our bodies a well deserved stretch and…
That’s all I remember of Vegas.

SATURDAY:

We woke up and left Vegas at 11am. A quick 45 minute loop west welcomed us to San Bernandino, CA.

Good Morning California! Wish we could have stayed longer.
Good Morning California! Wish we could have stayed longer.

At this point we plugged in the GPS our destination for the night: Walla Walla, WA. What did the GPS say? Continue straight for 500 miles. US-93 is dubbed the Great Basin Highway and is the lonely two-lane road that gets people from Vegas to Idaho.

Cutting straight into the Rocky Mountains, the drive from California/ Nevada border to Idaho took about 10 hours to complete.
Cutting straight into the Rocky Mountains, the drive from California/ Nevada border to Idaho took about 10 hours to complete.

By the time we reach Idaho, it’s just about midnight. Mind you, we did this drive in September, when it’s still blistering hot in Miami, so I did not pack jackets or close-toed shoes or really anything to keep warm. But when I stepped out of the car to get a snapshot of Idaho at midnight, I surely wish I had packed differently.

Sometime around midnight, we reach the beautiful Glacier country of Idaho.
Sometime around midnight, we reach the beautiful Glacier country of Idaho.

We cut over to Oregon because there was no stopping now. We were armed with energy drinks and super unhealthy snacks. I lamented driving through Oregon at night ( and I’m sure most Oregonians would agree with this sentiment) as the countryside in the Pacific Northwest is some of the most beautiful (in my completely biased opinion). However, the goal was to collect state signs like gold coins in Super Mario, so that we did do:

We will return, I promise!
We will return, I promise!

Our intended destination was Walla Walla, but we’re overachievers and we drove the extra couple of hours to Spokane. This is where my energy exploded everywhere because I absolutely love Washington. It’s probably my favorite state. I’ll probably write an entire piece decided to Melody’s love of Washington state. For right now though, we’ll stick to just the state welcome sign.

SUNDAY:

OK, so maybe there's two things I love about this picture. Washington and that handsome man. OK, maybe three, because I do love sunrises too...
OK, so maybe there’s two things I love about this picture. Washington and that handsome man. OK, maybe three, because I do love sunrises too…

Mark also decided that a night picture of the Idaho wasn’t good enough, so he took a beautiful capture of the sun peeking through the Idaho sign at the Washington border.

This sign began a chapter of unbelievable glacier crafted scenery.
This sign began a chapter of unbelievable glacier crafted scenery.
Good Morning Idaho! Lovely mountain range you have here.
Good Morning Idaho! Lovely mountain range you have here.

Not an hour later do we cross into Montana. At this point we begin wondering how far it is to Glacier National Park.
… It was too far. We wanted to do Yellowstone slightly more.

Such a tiny little sign for such a large state!
Such a tiny little sign for such a large state! =)
Beautiful glacier cut mountains, beautiful water.
Beautiful glacier cut mountains, beautiful water.

When we arrived to Yellowstone, we had just a few hours to explore the park. This is easily a place to spend a week but we managed to see Old Faithful, which is incredibly timely, several mineral springs, bacteria pools, and a buffalo.

BONUS: Yellowstone National Park sign.
BONUS: Yellowstone National Park sign.

We did find a little gem of a waterfall, Lewis Falls, upon exiting the park (headed south toward Colorado).

Tucked away as you leave Yellowstone with paved trails that allow for a much closer viewing.
Tucked away as you leave Yellowstone with paved trails that allow for a much closer viewing.

It’s about 8 hours from Yellowstone National Park to Denver, CO where our flight was scheduled to depart the following night.

MONDAY:

We departed Yellowstone just as the sun was going down and drove through Wyoming. We collected our last sign, our last gold coin, at the Wyoming/ Colorado border.

Our final state, our final sign! Our state sign collection is complete!
Our final state, our final sign! Our state sign collection is complete!

MONDAY NIGHT: We took the redeye from Denver to Miami, arrived in Miami at 5am and were back to work by 8.

Our whirlwind trip can be summed up like this:

West Map

State Signs Tour: Part I

In a year and a half, we’ve logged over 12,000 miles traveling by car.

…WOW. That’s about the distance from Anchorage, Alaska to the Panama Canal and back. To answer the question that’s bugging you, yes we’ve talked about it and yes: driving the entirety of the PanAm is on the agenda.

Here’s PART I of our tour of the 48 contiguous United States via the state welcome signs. This was a personal goal of Mark’s we completed in just over six months. Most of our drives we spent the first day and night (upon landing at an airport) driving. About half of the pictures are in the daytime; the other half are at night. Without further adieu, our tour!

Snow in February - I didn't expect it.
Snow in February – I didn’t expect it.
Because you're the only ten, I see!
Because you’re the only ten I see!
Not a state sign - I get that. But A) Mark looks SO handsome and B) Look at the size of those icicles!
Not a state sign – I get that. But A) Mark looks SO handsome and B) Look at the size of those icicles!
I am going to Hulk Smash this sign, after you take the picture of course! Welcome to South Carolina!
I am going to Hulk Smash this sign, after you take the picture of course! Welcome to South Carolina!
It was near midnight, bone chilling cold. Little did we know what the night would hold.
It was near midnight, bone chilling cold. Little did we know what the night would hold.

Southeast Trip – February 2013.

Next up! The Northeast! We flew in to Baltimore (BWI) and after getting stuck in DC for about 2 (Mark will probably say 5) hours, we finally made it out and got on our way.

Virginia is for lovers, and I felt a lot of love here!
Virginia is for lovers, and I felt a lot of love here!
Scenic, yes. Pizza capital? No.
Scenic, yes. Pizza capital? No.
Zig zagging across borders and killing time.
Zig zagging across borders and killing time.
This is about where it starts to pour on us. Hard to see it, but it says "Delaware."
This is about where it starts to pour on us. Hard to see it, but it says “Delaware.”
Hi, my name is Melody. It's really cold out here AND it's raining. Also, seriously Pennsylvania? This is the best you can do?
Hi, my name is Melody. It’s really cold out here AND it’s raining. Also, seriously Pennsylvania? This is the best you can do?
Near accosted by a gentleman at the gas station when we went to pump our own gas. That's not allowed here. Also this is taken about 1am.
Near accosted by a gentleman at the gas station when we went to pump our own gas. That’s not allowed here. Also this is taken about 1am.
Anyone who has visited New York knows that this is New York. Where else could it be? Also, unfortunately, this is one sign that we missed. (Story coming soon)
Anyone who has visited New York knows that this is New York. Where else could it be? Also, unfortunately, this is one sign that we missed. (Story coming soon)
It's about 3am when we got here? I don't recall. I know I wasn't driving though.
It’s about 3am when we got here? I don’t recall. I know I wasn’t driving though.
Sun finally came up over Connecticut. All together now! "Awww"
Sun finally came up over Connecticut. All together now! “Awww”
Way to do it up, Rhode Island!
Way to do it up, Rhode Island!
We also missed Massachusetts despite driving through the state like four times. Check out this frozen waterfall!
We also missed Massachusetts despite driving through the state like four times, but check out this frozen waterfall!
Pleased to meet you, New Hampshire!
Pleased to meet you, New Hampshire! Wait, what? This is all I get?
Ah, that's better. Good on you New Hampshire.
Ah, that’s better. Good on you New Hampshire.
Brattleboro is such a quaint, adorable little town. Probably a good place to go see the leaves change come fall.
Brattleboro is such a quaint, adorable little town. Probably a good place to go see the leaves change come fall.

Sun setting over Maine. To head back toward Baltimore or stay in Portland and feast on lobster? Silly question. We feasted.
Last but not least, the sun setting over Maine. To head back toward Baltimore or stay in Portland and feast on lobster? Silly question. We feasted.

Northeast Trip, April 2013.

Stay tuned! The Central Trip will be coming up momentarily.

#MarkandMelody

#65: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami Florida

Miami is a relatively young city, and I am an architecture and history buff. The older a building is, the more interesting it is to me. I’m pretty sure I would lose my mind in Rome, Istanbul or the countryside of England as all of those places have architecture dating back millenia.

I digress. We do the best we can where we are. Vizcaya Museum was built by Chicago magnate James Deering from 1914 to 1926. This was his “summer home.” Standards have certainly changed. Here are pictures of the grounds of his vacation house.

View from the Gardens facing the house. In the back wing was the informal dining room, multiple bedrooms with international motifs and decor, and an entertaining space.
View from the Gardens facing the house. In the back wing was the informal dining room, multiple bedrooms with international motifs and decor, and an entertaining space.

Fountain overlooking the gardens

Fountain over Vizcaya Gardens

The gardens are an intricate, geometric maze of foliage and flowers. Pools of water and fountains create an ambiance that is pleasing to all of the senses.
The gardens are an intricate, geometric maze of foliage and flowers. Pools of water and fountains create an ambiance that is pleasing to all of the senses.

This place is massive. It’s gorgeous (and sweltering – we are in subtropical climate). Thousands of weddings and quinceaneras take place here. It’s not uncommon to stumble onto an event photo shoot.

We just indulged on a Nikon D5200 as we will be going to Costa Rica in two weeks (stay tuned for those!) and found Vizcaya a perfect place to get familiar with the camera. Mark got his photography prowess on and managed to catch me in a few very scenic, romantic spots around the gardens.

Archways covered in vines are everywhere on the grounds, creating the romantic, vintage feel of a classic love story.
Archways covered in vines are everywhere on the grounds, creating the romantic, vintage feel of a classic love story.

James Deering was a refined man and wanted to make sure his guests were well aware. Letters to visitors managed to be preserved and are on display. Mr. Deering was indeed a refined man with exceptionally high expectations. His letter about the scotch is hilarious if you’ve a dry sense of humor.

Spanish and Italian influences from Renaissance era to the early 1800s are present, including some seemingly unrelated relics like a massive 14th century rug decorated with Muslim and Christian icons. The ceilings are intricately carved on nearly every ceiling and feature seahorses, boats, and other icons.

The back of the house presents an unobstructed view of Biscayne Bay.

Built completely out of stone overlooking Biscayne Bay, this Italian barge was an icon to Mr. Deering's guests.
Built completely out of stone overlooking Biscayne Bay, this Italian barge was an icon to Mr. Deering’s guests.

Statues are all over the place. I may have a bit of insensitivity regarding this. There are only so many statues I can admire before I start to well…you see.

Statues cover the gardens, walkways and the Vizcaya estate. After being deliciously inspired, I decided to give stone modeling a go. "A good ol American try" as Mark likes to say.
Statues cover the gardens, walkways and the Vizcaya estate. After being deliciously inspired, I decided to give stone modeling a go. 

The gardens are amazing. Very beautiful. Would be less so if it decided to rain, or actually get above 100 degrees. (Hint: August and September are not good times to visit South Florida; it is darn HOT).

I enjoyed being Mark’s photo subject. He enjoyed the new camera. All in all, a raving success.

Clamshell

Pretty sure that was made for me to sit in.

Thank you for stopping by! See you soon!

XO
XO

#MarkandMelody