Tag Archives: travel

Camping is Cool

Camping seems to be the cool way to have fun this year.  It’s an outdoor activity.  It’s by nature socially distant.  It’s a way to travel without being in contact with people or eating in restaurants.  And there are options for every budget.

You may think of camping as a tent in the woods and cooking over a fire.  You may think of camping as a giant motorhome in an RV resort bordering on Disneyworld.  And there are a million variations in between.

When my husband and I decided to go to a pair of drive-in concerts this weekend, I didn’t think twice about where to stay.  More than one night at a place more than an hour and a half from home in the summertime automatically made me think of camping.  I booked a site at a State Park near the concert.  For $60 I got a place to stay for those two nights.  If I hadn’t wanted to pay a little extra for convenience (electricity and showers), I could have chosen a site in a State Forest for free.  I packed and cooked my own food.  And I slept in my camper bed, which is actually more comfortable than the bed in the last hotel I visited.

Camping is often thought of as an activity unto itself.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a low-cost travel lodging option.  For many (hopefully including myself after I retire) it’s a full-time living choice.

Break out the hot-dogs and marshmallows.  Camping is cool!


Wrap It Up for the Future

The last few weeks my husband and I have been dabbling in make-ahead wrapped foods.  I bought a pack of burrito tortillas at the local warehouse club and threw caution to the wind.  I got out my Instant Pot and cooked up some chicken breasts in barbecue sauce.  I shredded the chicken then wrapped it up in the tortillas with some cheese.  It made 9 wraps that I wrapped individually in aluminum foil and put in the freezer.  A week later I took four of them on a camping trip, heated them up on our grill (still wrapped in the foil) and had a really easy (delicious) meal!

My husband decided to tackle the rest of the tortillas last Friday and make some burritos.  He’s a better cook than I am so he made his own refried beans, rice, and seasoned ground chicken to stuff them with (along with cheese, of course!).  Amazingly, what he prepared used exactly the remaining 7 tortillas from the jumbo pack I bought.  And then we had even more already prepared food that just needed to be heated up.

Now here is where my ultimate frugal side comes into play.  This weekend we went to a pair of drive-in concerts and stayed in a hotel (because I had enough hotel reward points for a free room).  And we didn’t want to eat in restaurants because of the pandemic.  But we had burritos and chicken wraps ready to go.  So one of the things I packed for the weekend was my slow cooker.  I know…who takes their slow cooker on a hotel vacation?!?!  I do.  It’s perfect for heating up those foil wrapped burritos and chicken wraps and toasting up the tortilla a little bit in the process.  We saved the cost of eating out.  We ate food that wasn’t fried.  We didn’t have to risk Covid to eat in a restaurant.  It was the perfect choice for us at this particular time in life.

Sometimes you stumble into a good idea that’s worth keeping around.  I’ve never taken my slow cooker on a hotel outing before.  But I probably will again someday.  And I’ve never made wraps or burritos just to put in the freezer for the future.  But I likely will again…very soon!  It’s terribly convenient on those days when you don’t want to cook to just reach into the freezer and have something home cooked that just needs to be heated.  Times are weird right now…but weird times can teach us things that are useful going forward!

Food on the Road

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel holiday of the year in the United States.  Whether by car, train, bus, or airplane, there are steps you can take to save a significant amount of money on food while you are traveling.

If you’re heading out on the ground (car, train, or bus) it’s easy to pack a lunch, including drinks, to eat along the road.  A sandwich and soda or water that you bring from home are a lot less expensive than those you buy along the way.   Throw it all in a bag and you are set for hundreds of miles!

Things get a little trickier when you are traveling by airplane.  The TSA has restrictions on what you can bring through security.  Luckily, the restrictions only apply to liquids.  So your sandwich (and apple, and chips, and crackers) is fine to go through security.  The beverage is the tricky part.  When I fly I always carry on an empty refillable water bottle.  Most airports have bottle filling stations, so once you get through security you can fill your bottle and be set for the day (also an effective strategy for staying hydrated at the law school!).

Traveling is expensive enough on its own.  There’s no need to compound that with the cost of road food!


Sometimes in life you just need to pivot.  You are headed on a certain path and it becomes clear that it is not possible to continue on that path.  You have to pivot…you make a sharp left turn, quickly adjust the plan, and continue on in your new direction.

The whole “pivot” idea hit me full-force when I was traveling this past week.  I was in Arizona for a conference the early part of last week. (I promise—I learned a lot of great things that I’ll be utilizing with you!)  The conference ended Wednesday afternoon, and I was on a red-eye flight home at midnight Wednesday night.  (The red-eye—a great way to get an extra day at your location without paying for an extra night in a hotel!)  That first flight was not a problem.  I got some sleep, watched some Netflix (previously downloaded to my Kindle), and arrived in Detroit shortly before 6 AM.  On Thursday.  The day of the big storm.  The big storm that shut down Penn State for the better part of two days.

I had been watching the weather forecast.  I knew there was a decent chance I wouldn’t make it home on Thursday as planned.  Before I left Arizona I cozied up in the hotel lobby (because I had been checked out of my room for several hours by then) and did some unpacking and repacking.  I needed to make sure that everything I needed for an extra night in who-knows-where was in my carry-on bags.  I was anticipating the need to pivot.

As I sat through my breakfast layover in Detroit, I watched in anticipation as the flight cancellations started coming in.  Much to my surprise, my flight boarded pretty close to on-time.  And then the real adventure began.  As the snow was flying in Detroit, my plane waited in line for de-icing.  Then we waited for a runway to become available, as we were running behind.  All the while I was thinking about the snow that was about to pummel Pennsylvania.  But we got into the air about 45 minutes after scheduled.  Not bad considering the weather.  The flight to State College was a bit turbulent, but I breathed a sigh of relief as we descended and I saw Happy Valley below us.  And then we started climbing again.  Visibility was too poor to land.  So we started circling above State College, hoping for conditions to improve.  After twenty minutes or so, we descended again.  The visibility was better.  But the runway was too snowed in to land.  Back to circling.  The pilot announced that we had enough fuel for one more landing attempt, and if that failed we would have to divert to a different airport.  We continued to circle the skies as the crews attempted to plow the runway.  After about a half-hour we came in for landing attempt number three.  And we were able to reach the ground.  The passengers immediately broke into applause for the pilot and crew.

But the adventure didn’t stop there.  There is nothing quite like an airport in bad weather to bring out either the very best or the very worst in people.  The roads in State College were a mess and getting worse quickly.  The University had already dismissed for the day.  The taxis had stopped operating.  And the airport was full of people who were trying to get to anywhere other than the airport.  Some of us were my flight that miraculously arrived from Detroit.  But most of the folks in the airport were people whose outgoing flights had been canceled and they were trying to get back to wherever they came from.  The only real options to escape the airport (for those who hadn’t left a car there) were Uber, Lyft, and friends and family.  And, of course, there was an accident blocking the major path to and from the airport.  But that’s when the magic started happening.  People pivoted.  Cars arrived and picked up not just their stranded friends, but other stranded travelers heading similar directions.  Strangers were sharing Uber rides.  People in the parking lots were sharing snow brushes.  One of my fellow Detroit travelers and I taught a man how to use the Uber app.  That same fellow traveler caught a ride with me when my husband (after a long detour due to the accident) showed up with our Subaru.  Kindness was everywhere that snowy afternoon.

When faced with a situation that steers you in a different direction than you expected, you don’t really have much choice other than to go in that new direction.  This could something small, like a used textbook you planned to buy wasn’t available so you had to buy new.  Maybe you have to drink Pepsi products instead of Coke (or change your plan to something different).  Or it could be something bigger, like a major car repair, or an unexpected vacation in Detroit (which in retrospect I wish I’d had).  The important thing is that you pivot.  Pivot with grace, and keep moving on.

Tales from the Bus

This weekend was my first Blue and White outing.  After working for Penn State for 15 years, I finally ventured to campus on game day.  One of the reasons I’ve never done it before was because I didn’t want to deal with the issue of how to get to campus.  I could drive and park in the East Deck, but then I would have to deal with the frustration of traffic and I would have to avoid adult beverages.  I could take a cab or Uber, but that gets expensive when you are dealing with big campus events when rides are in high demand.  So I returned to a blast from my past from the days when I lived and worked in Chicago.  I decided to take the bus.

We are fortunate that we have pretty good public transit available in State College.  My husband and I will from time to time take the bus to concerts at the State Theatre and then Uber home afterward, to allow for safe consumption of adult beverages without breaking the bank on transportation costs.  But traveling solo on Blue & White weekend, I decided that the bus both directions was the way to go.  So I put a couple of tokens in my pocket and my Kindle in my backpack and off I went.

There is a bus stop a block or so from my house in Park Forest.  And the W bus has always been pretty darned empty when I’ve ridden it.  When I got on the bus, this was true.  But as soon as the bus arrived at The Heights, we were suddenly jam-packed with undergrads headed to campus for tailgating and the game.  With each stop the bus became more and more like a sardine can as students continued to pile on and no one got off.  I never did pull out my Kindle.  The people on the bus where quite enough entertainment for my 30 minute ride.  When we finally arrived at my stop near the Creamery, I was relieved to get out into the fresh air and walk over to the law school.

After a fun afternoon of blowing off steam with the law students (thanks for making me feel so welcome at the tailgate!) I knew it was time to find my way back to the bus.  I briefly considered summoning an Uber, but decided to stick to my guns on not spending extra money.  I returned to the same bus stop where I got off….and discovered that I had just missed the W.  This meant either a very long wait, or a re-route.  I saw a V bus heading around the corner, took a quick look at the CATA app on my phone, and knew that this bus was my answer.  I became one of the sardines boarding at a very popular stop.  Standing room only.  I asked a young man to give up his seat for a pregnant woman, but I don’t think he was thinking clearly at the time.  The pregnant woman decided it was easier to stand.  The entertainment value of the clientele was multiplied on the way home, as many had been indulging in more than just football. The bus continued to fill up as we wound through campus, but started to empty as soon as we hit College Avenue.  But things were pretty crowded from the start, so I didn’t find myself in a seat until well into my journey.  But finally we stopped at Wegmans, where I got out to grab some things for dinner.  I got my food and walked the half of a mile home, pleased with how the day had gone.

Is the bus the most comfortable way to travel?  Probably not.  Is it the quickest?  Definitely not.  But will it get you where you are going in an efficient way for just a little bit of money?  Absolutely.  And if you are looking for an entertaining study in human behavior, the bus on game day can DEFINITELY provide that!



A Trio of Thanksgiving Tips

The week of Thanksgiving is an abundance of riches when it comes to topics for financial bloggers.  Travel…food…shopping.  These three things are all at the front of my mind and I’m having a hard time deciding.  So this week, you get a three-for-one.

Holiday travel is the worst…especially if you are flying.  Every time I fly, it seems like it’s less fun than the time before (and I assure you—it hasn’t actually been fun in many, many years).  But one thing remains constant when I travel.  I always throw an empty water bottle and travel coffee mug into my carry-on bag.  Most airports (including the tiny University Park airport) have bottle filling stations by the water fountains, so I can fill my water bottle once I’m through security and be set for the trip without buying expensive throwaway bottles.  And most places (including airport Starbucks stores) offer reduced pricing on coffee if you bring your own travel mug.  Carrying my own drinking vessels saves me a bundle when I fly!

Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around the family table.  But when the meal is complete and the dishes are done, my favorite part of the holiday is still to come:  the leftovers.  It’s so rare in today’s busy world that we prepare a large meal with lots of sides and a huge entrée.  But Thanksgiving usually means a full turkey.  Which almost always means leftovers.  So now is the time to make those turkey salad sandwiches and Google recipes for casseroles made with leftover turkey.  Freeze some for later.  And enjoy the fruits of the Thanksgiving meal for weeks to come.

And if you’ve been anywhere near a TV in recent days, you are more than aware that the busiest shopping day of the year is coming up on Friday.  I’m a sucker for a good sale and love early morning shopping on Black Friday.  But I never go at it blind.  I like to make a plan.  There are certain items I’m looking for as Christmas gifts, and there are some things I want for my home that I’ve been waiting for sale pricing on.  I’ll sit down Thursday night with the sale flyers from the newspaper and plan my attack.  Once I know what I’m buying where, I’ll compare store opening times and locations and make my list.  Usually I’m done shopping and back home by 8 am (and I usually don’t start until at least 6 am).  Shopping with a list is pretty efficient.  The key to not spending too much is to not stray from the list.  No impulse shopping means no overspending.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


Thanksgiving: The intersection of travel, food, and shopping

The week of Thanksgiving always make me think of three specific things:  travel, food, and shopping.  Since I already waxed poetic over leftovers last week, I’ll take the spotlight off the turkey feast, and instead focus in on the intersections of food and travel as well as food and shopping.

When you are getting ready to drive or fly or bus or train to wherever it is you may be going, start by eating a good meal and then packing some food for the road.  Travel food, whether it be airport chow, a roadside restaurant, or a Sheetz stop along the highway, is always going to be more expensive than food you prepare yourself.  So make a sandwich.  Fill a baggie with chips or  veggies.  Grab an apple.  Fill a travel mug with coffee or a plastic bottle with water.  And save yourself a fortune in travel food!

The same rules apply if you are braving the crowds at the stores on Friday morning.  Don’t leave home with an empty stomach that will lead you to a mall food court.  Make a plan.  Pack a snack or even a whole meal.  I’m a big fan of Black Friday shopping.  I sit down with the sales flyers from the newspaper Thursday night and plan my attack based on the items I am pursuing and what time the stores they are in open.  Last year I remember specifically having about 20 minutes in between when I was done getting a great deal on a frying pan at Macy’s and when Bed, Bath & Beyond opened.  This was my breakfast window.  I sat in my car in the parking lot enjoying the coffee I had brought from home and the granola bars I had in my purse for exactly this situation.  It would have been really easy to run to McDonalds or Sheetz for a breakfast sandwich.  But I didn’t need to spend that extra money (or consume the extra fat).

When you’re thinking about your Thanksgiving week adventures, plan ahead.  Take some food with you.  You’ll save a bunch of money.  And while you’re at it….don’t forget to think about all the many things you are thankful for.



Lessons from My Travels

I’ve been a little crazy with work travel lately, and a few small (but valuable) lessons came out of my journeys.  Here are a few things I learned this week:

If you sign up for something far in advance, it could save you money, but at what cost?  Months ago I signed up for a 5K race in Harrisburg sponsored by a Craft Brewery.  It seemed like it would be super fun, and the swag for the racers sounded really cool, so I didn’t mind the higher than typical race fee.  But in between then and race day life happened.  I was traveling a lot for work.  I got sick.  And on race day almost the last thing I wanted to do was drive to Harrisburg and run a 5K.  But the absolute last thing I wanted to do was to lose the money I had paid.  So I drove.  And I ran.  And I had fun.  And I was exhausted.  Waiting until closer to the race to sign up would have cost me more money, but had I waited I would have known that my life wasn’t going to be conducive to participating in this event at that time, so I wouldn’t have signed up at all.  Lesson learned.

When traveling very early in the morning, be sure to split your breakfast/lunch budget into three separate meals.  I had very early flights on Wednesday and Thursday mornings this week.  And both days I found myself starving at about 10 am and purchasing a second breakfast.  More hours awake means more food intake required, so you need to be financially prepared for that.  Lesson learned.

Second Breakfast

Saving money by buying a less expensive pair of shoes will quite possibly cost you more money in the long run when you end up having to buy a more expensive pair of shoes because the cheaper ones make  your feet hurt.  When you have to stand a lot, there is no substitute for really good, comfortable shoes.  While my less expensive shoes are fine for sitting at my desk in my office, they are not suitable for trekking through airports and standing for a few hours at a time.  Lesson learned…and more expensive shoes purchased (at a significant discount on eBay).

Life does tend to throw lessons at you all the time.  What did you learn this week?


Traveling with Water

Fall is travel season when you work in the law school admissions world.  And as I prepared for my first air travel of the year, I packed my empty reusable water bottle.

water bottle

I usually carry this bottle full of water with me wherever I go, so I always have a drink handy without having to buy anything.  But for air travel it needs to be empty to go through the security protocol.

Thankfully, airports have started to recognize that more and more people are doing this when they travel, and at many airports (including the tiny University Park Airport), you will find these handy bottle filling stations:


It’s fantastic.  You go through security with an empty bottle.  On the other side you fill it at the water station.  Then you are set with water for your flight, without having to drop a few bucks for a bottle of spring water.

When at the hotel at the other end of my flight, I have also found a favorite place to fill my water bottle.  I do prefer filtered or spring water to straight tap water, so at the hotel, I always find my way to the fitness center.  Regardless of whether I’m planning to work out, the fitness center always has a nice water cooler where I can fill up my bottle.

Traveling doesn’t have to mean spending money on disposable water bottles!  Good for the wallet AND good for the environment!

Discover the Joy of Limited Service

Less is more.  At least that’s my opinion when it comes to hotels.

When you think of hotels, it’s easy to see visions of room service and fluffy robes and valet parking and bell hops and expensive mini bars.  But when I travel I prefer something known as a limited service hotel.

With a full service hotel you get all the bells and whistles.  Valet parking.  Bell staff to take your luggage to your room.  Room service. A couple of restaurants/bars in the hotel.  And all of these things cost more.  Not just a higher cost for the room, but additional fees and tips.


The limited service hotel is a growing trend in this country, and it’s my favorite way to go.  When I travel, the amenities I seek are free wi-fi, free parking, free breakfast, and a small fitness center.  I don’t really need more than that and a clean place to lay my head.  And these things are exactly what I get in a limited service hotel.  And I get everything I need for about half the cost of a full-service hotel.  Yes….I park my own car.  I carry my own luggage to my room.  Breakfast is serve-yourself.  The fitness center is usually only two treadmills and an elliptical machine (which is not a problem when you like to run at 5:45 am like I do).  There is no in-hotel restaurant, but there’s usually one only a short walk away.  There’s no mini-bar in the room, but there’s usually a mini-fridge (for storing your leftovers from the restaurant a short walk away, or the soda you picked up at the nearby grocery).  But what you do find is a comfortable bed and a clean bathroom.  And this is really what staying in a hotel is all about.

Do you need luxury when you travel?  Probably not.  Less is more.  Consider a limited service hotel next time you travel.