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Birthday, Beaches, and Baseball in Chicago

October 25, 2017

Wow, we have been MIA for a while now, but I promise it’s for a good reason…or rather, reasons. August and September were the busiest-read expensive-months of our lives. For real. In August we bought a house (eek!), Mat turned a year older and I got a tattoo. September we had Mat’s birthday trip, Mat’s new tattoo and then my birthday trip. Phew. Lots of exciting stuff! October has been spent just trying to catch up.

Mat’s absolute favorite city is Chicago, and it doesn’t hurt that the Cubs have been his team since he was a little boy watching them on TV. It only made sense that we would spend Labor Day weekend celebrating his birthday in Chicago and attend a game at Wrigley Field. We chose to go over Labor Day so we wouldn’t really have to take any time off work, since we were lucky enough to get a three-day weekend. With as often as we like to leave town, we have to be picky with when and how we use our time off.

We took a direct flight to O’Hare later on Friday and were in town early enough to have a delicious burger at Rock Bottom Brewery. Saturday we spent leisurely walking around the city and ended up down at Oak Street Beach. We accidentally stumbled upon a professional beach volleyball tournament, which I of course loved. The weather the entire weekend was gorgeous- a nice change from the smoke-filled air that Idaho was unfortunately experiencing at the time. Mat and I were pleasantly surprised by the lake; it was huge and a gorgeous blue color. I don’t know why, but I was expecting it to be brownish, you know, like most bodies of water in big cities (looking at you Houston). The lake also had waves reminiscent of an ocean; crazy!

The tournament had brought a few other attractions to the beach, including a huge air-filled-jump-thing. I’m not really sure what to call it. In any case, Mat got a wild hair and decided to jump off the top! He said it was basically a straight shot of adrenaline to the heart. That had worked up an appetite, so then we made our way to our favorite Chicago-style pizza joint, Gino’s East. We also wrote about Gino’s East here. This time, our waitress actually brought us a marker so we could mark our spot for a future trip to the famous restaurant. There is hardly an inch left open anywhere, so finding a spot to write was difficult. I already can’t wait to go back and find what we wrote!

We had tickets to the day game on Sunday, and Mat wanted to spend as much time possible at Wrigley Field, so we got there a little before the gates opened. Wrigley Field is one of the oldest (if not, the oldest) original fields in baseball, and it is gorgeous. I loved all of the ivy growing along the walls. Their layout for concessions left much to be desired, however, as it took about 40 minutes to get my beloved soft serve ice cream in a baseball hat. Still worth it. 🙂

Our last night in town, Mat took me to his favorite part of the city for dinner. We aren’t sure which neighborhood it is technically considered, but it’s between Wrigleyville/Lakeview and DePaul University. It is the most adorable area with my favorite shops, restaurants and cute walk-up, brick town homes! The cherry on top is that we found a place that makes and serves my latest addiction, Chicago-style popcorn. He sold me, I’m ready to move!

We are looking forward to a time when we can spend more than a weekend in this pretty city!

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Travel

Our Weekend in Chicago

July 14, 2016

Chicago is quickly climbing up the ranks on our most favorite cities in the world list. The last 2 times we have visited, it seemed like the city, people, and weather have been teaming up to sweep us off our feet. Our most recent visit was no different. Again, with beautiful weather and friendly people, here’s how Lacey and I spent an early summer weekend in Chicago.

First off, I’m a big believer in managing expectations. If you’re expecting too much out of city, event, vacation, or anything else, odds are you’ll end up disappointed if it doesn’t live up to the hype. On the flip side, if you go into something with an open mind you have a greater chance of being pleasantly surprised. This was exactly the case with us and Chicago.  We had no expectations.  We just wanted to hang out and eat some pizza.

We stopped in Chicago this May on our way home from our 15 day Euro-Trip. The weather was absolutely beautiful at 65 degrees and sunny. We visited a few touristy locations such as the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) as well as “The Bean” (Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park. Once again, we felt safe on public transportation and found everyone we were surrounded by on the streets and in restaurants to be welcoming and friendly.

We were lucky enough to stay at the historic Palmer House hotel during our weekend in Chicago. We had some Hilton Honors rewards to burn so we decided to use them in style. A funny thing I’ve noticed when we stay at fancy hotels for free is that the employees of the hotel react to us being there the same way Clark Griswold reacts when Cousin Eddy shows up for Christmas. All that aside, we enjoyed our stay and got back at the hotel a bit by “accidentally” sneaking into an executive lounge continental breakfast. Thanks for the free waffles Palmer House!

After breakfast, we walked over to Millennium Park to check out “the Bean“. While this has become a must see for travelers and instagrammers, we had actually never been there before. As with most pieces of art we’ve been lucky enough to visit recently, Cloud Gate (the bean) was much cooler in person than we expected it to be. We ended up hanging around it for about an hour. I snapped some funny pics of Lace rockin’ cheerleader moves in front of it that you can see below.

We left Millennium Park and hopped on a metro over to the Willis Tower where we had pre-purchased “Fast Pass” tickets to go up to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor. While pre-purchasing these tickets cost us about $20 more, it saved us at least 2 hrs of standing in lines. Totally worth it. The views of Chicago and Lake Michigan from the SkyDeck Lounge are crazy beautiful. While up there, we stepped out onto the “Skydeck Ledge” which is basically a glass cube that extends out from the building and over the city. It’s a pretty overwhelming experience.  As an added bonus, the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is this year, so there is a roped off area where you can stand next to Sloane Peterson and Cameron Frye mannequins and put your head on the glass in the exact spot Matthew Broderick (Ferris) did.  Getting to do this was super cool for me as I grew up with that movie.

After our nervous stomachs calmed down from being in the Skydeck, we decided it was pizza time. Eating at Gino’s East has become a “must-do” each time we visit this city. Their super deep dish, sauce on top of the cheese, traditional Chicago style pizza is amazing. Gino’s has been around for 50 years and has multiple locations but we always go back to the original restaurant on Superior Ave. This graffiti tagged, celebrity memorabilia filled pizza joint makes for a fun and authentic experience while waiting the standard 1 hour of required baking time for the deep dish crust. If you haven’t been, you need to stop by on your next visit to Chicago. If you’re with a group of 2-3 people, believe us, a medium pizza will be plenty.

Our weekend in Chicago was once again awesome. The only thing missing was a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Unfortunately they were out of town 🙁 Next time Cubbies!

We’re becoming so fond of this city that we’ve already booked our next trip!

See you in January Chicago!

 

Let us know if you have any questions!

Click here to see our video edit from this trip.

Click here to see how we used rewards points to book this trip for free!

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend In Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

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Reviews Travel

3 Things to do in Chicago, IL

August 16, 2015

Chicago, IL

Skyline View of Chicago, IL

View from the top of the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, IL.

While Lacey was busy in Wisconsin performing matron-of-honor- duties last week, I decided to check out Chicago, IL for a day.  Being that I only had 1 day to burn, I needed to come up with a plan to make sure I experienced as much as I could.  If Chicago were water, I was going to drink it through a fire hose.  If Chicago were a beer, I was about to shotgun it.

Step 1: See the entire city

I only had an hour or 2 to complete this step, so I went to the tallest building in the city for help. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).

view from the Skydeck Ledge in the Willis Tower, Chicago.

The Skydeck “Ledge” was an experience I’ll never forget. 103 stories down.

 

Step 2: Eat Chicago Style Pizza – Gino’s East

Being from Idaho, I’ve only had rip-off versions of Chicago Style pizza.  It was time to experience the real thing.  I left the Willis Tower and hopped a bus to the legendary Gino’s East pizza joint.  Not only was it the best pizza I’ve had in my life, it was one of the cooler restaurant atmospheres I’ve ever seen.  You didn’t need to hear any of the stories to know that there was a ton of history behind this place.  My only regret is that I didn’t take a white-out pen to write my name on the wall.  …you’ll see what I mean in the images below.  Side note, did anyone else know Chicago Style pizza puts the sauce on top of the cheese? How’s your mind? Blown? Mine too.

Gino's East, Chicago

Line outside of Gino’s East in Chicago.

Gino's East deep dish pizza

I would have written “Mat 8-7-15, Lacey M.I.A.”

Gino's East Chicago Style Pizza

I can usually finish half a pizza by myself. At Gino’s East, I was done after 2 slices.

Gino's East Celebrity Wall

Row of celebrity pictures/autographs upstairs near the bathrooms.

 

Step 3: Experience Wrigley Field

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, go see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field.  This is one of the most beautiful and historic parks left standing.  Take someone you care about, because you’re going to want to reminisce about this day with them down the road.  Eat a hot dog, grab a beer, interact with some inspired locals.  Once you see the Cubs play (and hopefully win) at Wrigley Field, you can head home from your vacation with a strong understanding of what this city and its people are all about.  The 7th inning stretch “take me out to the ballgame” performance from the 35k+ fans on hand was one of the coolest things I think I’ll ever witness.

Wrigley Field, Chicago

I felt proud of my ex-teammate Jon Lester as I saw his image covering the stadium

Wrigley Field Scoreboard

6 rows behind the Cubs dugout.

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson

Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson shagging batting practice.

Wrigley Field Night Game

A guy in front of me got DRILLED by a foul ball.

 

Conclusion:

Chicago is a beautiful city.  Public transportation is easy to use (even for me).  The next time I go, I want to hit up the Field Museum to see the T-Rex fossil.  I also hear there is a world famous cup-cake joint somewhere in the city.  The only thing I wish were different about the above mentioned trip was that I didn’t have my partner in crime with me.  Lacey would love this city.

L Train in Chicago

One of my final views of the city as I waited for my train to Milwaukee.

 

 
Rewards Points Travel

Nearly $22k of Free Travel in 12 months

February 11, 2017

Lacey and I just did the math and realized that we redeemed nearly $22k of free travel in 12 months.  To be exact, it was $21,833.42 from February ’16 – January ’17.  Holy shit!  We traveled to some amazing places (20 different cities) and stayed in some incredible hotels along the way.  The majority of our travel expenses were either highly discounted or completely free thanks to credit card rewards points.  I can’t stress enough how easily all of you can do the same thing!

Our 12 month travel recap includes the destinations listed below.  Click the links to get more details on what we experienced in the past 12 months and how we did it for next to nothing!

While there were a number of rewards programs we used to get all of this awesome stuff, there are a few programs that gave us the most in return.  Keep in mind that we don’t get paid to promote any of these programs.  These are our genuine opinions based strictly on our personal experiences.

  1. Southwest Airlines Companion Pass –  Lacey and I have redeemed over $5,000 worth of free flights from this reward so far. This reward lets you AND your companion fly for free for up to 2 years.  Lacey and I still have all of 2017 left to use this perk and we’re going to do our best to make sure we continue earning this reward for as long as possible.  Check out how to earn the SW Companion Pass here.
  2. The Hyatt “2 Free Nights” card – link here.  After meeting the spending requirements, you’ll earn 2 free nights at ANY Hyatt property.  Lacey and I both earned this reward and used our 4 free nights at the Grand Hyatt in Aruba for an $800 per night ocean view suite.  This card also gives you 1 anniversary night per year.  Lacey and I just used our anniversary nights to book a stay on Manhattan Beach – Los Angeles.
  3. The Wyndham card – What a nice surprise this card has been!  You don’t hear much about this card on the mainstream travel blogs.  You’ll earn 45k points after hitting the spending requirement.  You can book ANY of their hotels for a flat rate of 15k points.  So out of the gate, you get 3 free nights anywhere.  We used this to book an ocean front suite on South Beach in Miami.  It was one of the best hotel experiences we’ve had so far.  More details in this post.
  4. The Hilton Honors program.  I love Hilton! They have multiple cards you can sign up for making it easy to stack points quickly.  Their customer service reps treat you like royalty when you call to book your room(s).  I’ll never forget how cool it felt to have someone say “Alright Mr. Thompson, let’s see if I can get you into our most luxurious property during your stay.”  There aren’t many occasions in life when I feel like a big shot, but the Hilton reps make me feel like that every time I talk to them.

We are so lucky to have experienced everything we did during the last 12 months.  We are very grateful that there are ways for people on a budget to get to see the world.  When there’s a will, there’s a way!  We hope to continue this pace throughout 2017 as well.  So far we’re booked through June 2017 with vacations to Los Angeles (Manhattan Beach), Maui, New York City, and Sayulita Mexico.

Let us know if you have any questions once you start planning your next vacay!

Edits and pics from our travels last year:

San Diego:

Lahaina Beach House

Gas Lamp San Diego

Giant Margarita San Diego

Houston (Final Four):

Final Four 2016 NRG Stadium Houston, TX

Final Four Custom Lanyard

This pic was on our custom lanyards that we wore around our necks.

Lacey at Final Four 2016 Fan Fest

NRG Stadium Final Four 2016

New York City:

Brooklyn Bridge New York

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Freedom Tower New York City

Weekend in New York Yankee Redsox Game

Manhattan Skyline

Florence, Italy:

piazzale michelangelo florence

Scooter Tour 3 Days in Florence, Italy

Scooter Tour Florence, Italy

Tuscany Florence Italy

Bicycles Florence, Italy

Florence Italy downtown

Rome, Italy:

st. peter's basilica Rome, Italy

roman colosseum Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain Rome, Italy

Italian Open Rome 2016

st. peter's basilica Rome, Italy

Rome, Italy

Malta:

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Free Summer Vacation

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

Chicago:

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend In Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Huntington Beach, CA:

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach Pier

Huntington Beach Vans U.S. Open

Huntington Beach Vans U.S. Open

Huntington Beach Sunset

Denver, CO:

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

Aruba:

I heart Aruba Sign

Baby Bridge Aruba

“Baby Bridge”

Flamingo Island Aruba

Rainbow Aruba

first view upon opening our window shades at the Hyatt in Aruba. Not a bad start

Curacao:

Curacao Sign

Hilton Curacao

view from our Hilton Suite in Curacao

Curacao Hilton

Willemstad Curacao

Willemstad Curacao

South Beach – Miami, FL:

South Beach Miami

South Beach, Miami

South Beach Miami

South Beach Miami

view from our upgrade at the Shelborne in South Beach

South Beach Miami Henna Tattoo

 

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Travel

A Day in Denver

August 24, 2016

Lacey and I had never been to Denver before.  Being that Southwest has nonstop flights from Boise, we decided to give it a look.  If nothing else, we could put a new pin on our travel map.  With the help of some beautiful weather, public bicycles, nachos, and 21oz. margaritas, we enjoyed our day in Denver.

Thanks to the Southwest Companion Pass, Lacey and I hopped on a free flight to Denver last Saturday morning.  We landed, caught the hotel shuttle, dropped off our bags, and took a $5 Uber to downtown Denver.  We were enjoying brunch and mimosas at the Viewhouse on Market St. by 11:30am.  The Viewhouse is one of the coolest sports bars I’ve ever been to.  It’s like Disneyland for drunken sports fans.  They have a huge outdoor area on the 1st level that is full of backyard games like corn hole.  The top floor patio, where Lacey and I hung out, has amazing views of downtown Denver and of Coors Field.  Their brunch is delicious and is accompanied by solid happy hour specials that include bottomless mimosas and a build your own Bloody Mary bar.  Our day in Denver was off to a strong start!

After brunch, we walked across the street and found a public bicycle station where we rented 2 bikes.  We couldn’t think of a better way to quickly find out what all was going on in the downtown area.  While cruisin’ around, we ran into a Farmers Market right outside Union Train Station and then discovered the 16th St. Mall.  Lacey had heard good things about the 16th St. Mall from a friend, so we hopped off our bikes and decided to check it out a bit more.  Full of shops, restaurants, and people, this 1+ mile strip of outdoor mall was something I had never seen before in any other city.

As on most of our trips, I was on the prowl for a delicious margarita.  I wish I could remember the name of the place we found on 16th St, but I definitely found a winner.  The menu offered a 21 ounce, margarita.  Yikes!  It took quite a while to finish that bad boy off, but we enjoyed some great people watching from the patio of the restaurant while I worked on it.

Still on 16th St., we visited a cool little sports apparel shop. I’ve been wanting a new Chicago Cubs hat for a while now.  I don’t know if it was the margarita or just the excitement of visiting a new city, but I figured this would be a good day to make that purchase.  Surprisingly enough, I found the exact Cubs hat I had been looking at online the day before in Boise.  An all black fitted New Era hat with a white “C” on the front…likely the best Chicago Cubs hat ever.

Still riding the high from my purchase (and margarita) we headed back toward Coors Field to grab a bite at Lodos Bar and Grill.  This rooftop patio restaurant looked out to 2 other rooftop bars as well as Coors Field.  The surroundings reminded me of a beer commercial or something.  I always figured they staged those commercials to make ’em look like that, but as it turns out, that’s real life in downtown Denver.  Well done Denver, well done.

Following Lodos we headed over to Coors Field as we had tickets to the Cubs/Rockies game.  Right around that time, Lacey started feeling ill and we decided to call it a day rather then head into the game.  I think the altitude played a role in her illness as I wasn’t feeling so hot either.  Make sure to drink tons of water when you visit Denver!  You need to keep as much oxygen in your blood as possible being that you’re not going to get as much from the air as you normally would.

Aside from getting sick, we still had a good experience in Denver.  We got to see this beautiful city via bicylces and rooftop patios, we had some delicious food and drinks, and I scored a new hat! We will surely visit the mile high city again someday.

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

One Day in Denver

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Reviews Venture Meridian

Best Pizza in Idaho is the best in the World?

August 14, 2016

During our trip through New York, Italy, Malta and Chicago we were in some of the best locations in the world for pizza. Being pizza lovers, we decided to do some research and sample pizza from highly rated restaurants at each of these stops. A “world pizza tour” if you will. We were definitely not disappointed, but quite surprised at the results.

The first stop was the best rated pizza joint in New York, Juliana’s, which was located just across the bridge from Manhattan in Brooklyn. This pizza set the bar high for the rest of the trip. We ordered a traditional margarita pizza and paired it with a glass of wine (Lacey) and a local beer (Mat). The crust was thin, so of course we folded it, New York style. The basil on the pizza was extremely fresh and flavorful, with just the right amount of sauce and cheese. We easily ate the entire pie.  Juliana’s blend of Italian style with New York style is delicious while the authentic feel of their restaurant beneath the Brooklyn Bridge completes the experience.

The next stop on our pizza tour was Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy. Gusta Pizza is famous for making pizzas in the shape of a heart. These pizzas were just as delicious as they were adorable. This Italian pizza had amazing fresh mozzarella piled on and thin, flaky crust. The basil didn’t taste as fresh or flavorful as Juliana’s, but something about drinking wine out of a paper cup made the entire experience feel authentic.  We were both pleasantly surprised with the quality ingredients and flavor of Gusta’s pizza and charmed by the adolescent “date night” feel of the restaurant.  Who wouldn’t want to share a heart shaped pizza with a love interest? #adorbs

The third stop on our world pizza tour was at Ir-Rokna’s Restaurant on the Mediterranean island of Malta.  Ir-Rokna’s was established in 1975 and is officially the oldest pizza joint on the island.  Trip Advisor awarded this place with a certificate of excellence so our expectations were set pretty high even before walking in.  Their wood burned pizza did not disappoint.  Similarly to Juliana’s in Brooklyn, Ir-Rokna’s pizza is a blend of NY style with Italian style.  The fresh ingredients, most noticeably being the basil, accompanied with the family recipe sauce make each bite more flavorful than the one before.  The owners and staff were fantastic to us the entire night, especially being that we arrived late and were the last patrons in the restaurant by the end of the night.  We never felt pressured to leave or do anything other than enjoy their delicious food and local wines.

Our final stop was one that we were both looking forward to the most; Gino’s East in Chicago, IL.  For 50 years, Gino’s has been serving up their legendary, deep dish, Chicago style pizza from their Superior Avenue location in the windy city.  This old school, graffiti filled, restaurant was where we visited the last day of our trip.  Being veterans of Gino’s (been there once before), we knew that two people have absolutely no chance of finishing a large pizza.  Gino’s pizza is the definition of “deep dish”.  It is about 3 inches thick and has a very dense crust that is unlike any pizza we’ve ever had.  That being said, we ordered a medium this time and still didn’t finish it.  If you’re unfamiliar with authentic Chicago style pizza, the cheese makes up the first layer above the crust and the sauce is on top of the cheese.  It looks kind of funky if you’re used to seeing a regular American style pizza.  Gino’s pizzas require over an hour to bake due to the thickness.  Their sauce is amazing and there is a lot of it on each slice.  It perfectly balances the thickness of the crust and layer of cheese to make sure each bite is juicy and full of flavor.  The original Gino’s East location is full of memorabilia from all of the celebrities that have visited this location over the years.  It makes the experience even cooler knowing that past presidents, hall of fame athletes, and world renown musicians have dined in the very spot you may be sitting in.  We love Gino’s!

After our “World Pizza Tour” wrapped up and we were back home in Idaho, we started reminiscing about all of the wonderful pizza experiences we had during the previous 15 days.  The basil of Juliana’s in Brooklyn, the heart shaped and heart warming Gusta Pizza in Florence, the family recipe pizza in Malta, and the legendary thick crust of Gino’s in Chicago.  It’s hard not to get hungry just typing that sentence.  Anyways, which one did we like best? After a lengthy discussion, we agreed that Julianna’s was our favorite.  Surprising right? Didn’t you think we would pick Gino’s East? So did I.  What was even more surprising to us after our choice was our answer to the following question; “Would you rather have Juliana’s pizza or Idaho’s own, Chicago Connection pizza?”  Without hesitating, we both answered “Chicago Connection”.  Does this mean the best pizza in Idaho (our opinion) is also the best pizza in the world?  You be the judge.

As always, please check out Venture Meridian Magazine and show them some love for supporting us by letting us have our monthly column!

Best Pizza in Idaho

Chicago Connection Pizza in Downtown Boise, ID

Best Pizza in Idaho

Best Pizza in Idaho

Gino's East, Chicago | DitchingNormal

The original Gino’s East in Chicago.

Gino's East Celebrity Wall | DitchingNormal

Gino's East Chicago Style Pizza | DitchingNormal

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Weekend in Chicago

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Juliana’s in Brooklyn, NY

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Juliana's Pizza Brooklyn New York

Gusta Pizza Florence, Italy

Gusta Pizza in Florence, Italy

Gusta Pizza Florence, Italy

Gusta Pizza Florence, Italy

Ir Rokna Pizza Malta

Ir-Rokna Pizza in Malta

Ir-Rokna Pizza Malta

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Venture Meridian

Time for a Free Summer Vacation

July 6, 2016

Summer is definitely a time for exploration-whether trying out a new hobby, sampling a new cuisine, or checking out a new part of town, the long days allow for more time to dedicate to exploring.

This summer, we were fortunate enough to experience several new cities, attend multiple sporting events and enjoy cuisine from other countries, all while saving several thousand dollars! Thanks to credit card points, we took a 15 day time-out from our regular day to day and visited New York, Florence, Rome, Malta, Comino, Gozo and Chicago.

Our trip started with two days in New York staying at the Waldorf Astoria (for free, but more on that later) on Park Avenue. We spent our weekend eating delicious pizza in Brooklyn, attending a Yankees vs Red Sox game, visiting Wall Street and staring in awe and remembrance at the Freedom Tower. (full NY post)

From New York we flew into Florence, Italy and enjoyed riding bikes and scooters with friends, eating delicious heart-shaped pizza (you will see there is a pizza theme coming), visiting mind-blowing museums, gazing at the city from the Plaza de Michelangelo and walking up to the top of the Duomo. (full Florence post)

We took the train from Florence to Rome where we – surprise! – ate more pizza and explored museums and churches. The main reason for visiting Rome was to attend our first ever international sporting event-the Italian Open! This was such an amazing experience-from the lucky blue skies after a day of pouring rain, to nail biting tie breaker to complete the semi-finals match between Djokovic and Nishikori. (full Rome post)

From Rome we hopped a quick flight to the islands of Malta to meet up with friends and explore what this small country south of Sicily had to offer. Malta was quite possibly the most naturally beautiful place we have seen in person. One of the islands that make up Malta, named Comino, was surrounded by water so blue and so clear that it didn’t look real; it appeared man-made, as if someone had placed a teal colored dye in the water. Unbelievable. In Malta we visited the capital city of Valletta, the Blue Lagoon on Comino, the Azure Window on Gozo, cliff jumped at the local watering hole just outside of Marsaxlokk, saw the oldest known megalithic temples in the world, and tried octopus in the silent city of Mdina. Oh yeah, we also ate delicious pizza. (full Malta post)

To break up the trip home, we stopped for two days in Chicago and were lucky enough to have gorgeous weather! In our short time in Chicago we were able to squeeze in Millennium Park and take photos by Cloud Gate, aka the “bean”, go to the top of Willis Tower and eat traditional Chicago style pizza at Gino’s East. (complete details coming soon!)

This trip would not have been possible for us if we had to pay full price for it out of pocket. In total, by using credit card rewards points, we saved over $10,000 on this trip. We booked our flights to and from Europe for free. We stayed at luxurious properties like the Waldorf Astoria, Palmer House, and Hilton Malta for free. By utilizing credit card reward offers from American Airlines and Hilton, we were fortunate enough to have the 15 day (international) experience of a lifetime. Most anyone can do exactly what we do to earn free travel and everyone should at least take a look at how it all works.

As always, please check out Venture Meridian Magazine and show them some love for supporting us by letting us have our monthly column!

Venture Meridian Magazine April 2016

Brooklyn Sign

piazzale michelangelo florence

roman colosseum Rome, Italy

Malta Valletta Goza Comino Blue Lagoon M'dina

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Travel

Off on our Big Trip!

May 18, 2016

Lacey and I are currently off on our biggest vacation adventure of 2016!  So far we’ve made stops in New York, Florence, and Rome.  We are currently on the beautiful island of Malta.  Tomorrow we head back to Rome for a full day before jumping on a flight headed for Chicago where we’ll spend the weekend.  While we’d love to give you all the details of our trip right now, we’re either out having too much fun or we’re too tired from having too much fun.  Believe us, we’ll give you more than enough of the details when we return next week. This may be forever known as our For now, you can keep up with what we’re getting mixed up in by checking in on our social media profiles. Links to our profiles are at the top of this page.

For those that don’t know, this is the biggest trip Lacey and I have ever booked with credit card rewards points.  We saved over $10,000 on this trip!  It’s super easy for anyone to do the same.  To see the full story on how we made this trip happen (for free-ish) check the link here.

We can’t wait to tell you about what we’ve experienced!

Azure Window Our Big Trip

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Lifestyle

Checking in on our 2016 Game Plan

April 13, 2016

We figured since it’s over a quarter of the way through the year, now would be a good time to check in on the 2016 game plan we set at the beginning of the year. How obvious is it that I’m left brained? I blame work for making me think of the year in terms of Q1 , Q2, Q3 and Q4. Anyway, since Q1 is now complete, we are practicing what we preach by holding ourselves accountable and evaluating where we are on our goals. This is good because it gives cause to celebrate and pat yourself on the back, as well as realign the next section of the year to focus more on the goals that haven’t gotten a lot of attention yet.

As a recap, our goals are listed below:

  1. Visit 10 different cities
  2. Continue downsizing
  3. Continue paying more on our mortgage
  4. Spend more time with family and friends
  5. Improve photography skills
  6. Bedroom remodel
  7. More collaborations
  8. Save $15,000 by using rewards points
  9. Learn a second language
  10. Add yoga to the workout routine

To be honest, I’m fairly shocked that we have even started this list. To say I’m proud of our progress is putting it lightly. I’m ready to celebrate how far we are on our game plan! Let’s see how we are doing:

  1. So far we have been to two cities (San Diego and Houston) this year, and in another month we will add five more to total seven. We have more destinations on our list for the remainder of the year, but nothing is officially booked yet. I have been to San Francisco, but since Mat wasn’t with me, I figured it wasn’t fair to count that.

    Gas Lamp San Diego

    San Diego was a blast.

  2. Well, we did it. We sold Mat’s car and are now down to one! Oh my gosh are we crazy or what?! Our plan with this goal was to find out the Kelly Blue Book value of his car and put it up for sale at that price; no budging at all. We planned to leave it up for a couple of weeks and then if nothing had happened we would re-evaluate. The car sold in less than three days! I wasn’t entirely sure I was even on board with the whole one car thing, so I panicked a little. I will admit it does take a little more pre-planning, but so far, totally worth it!
  3. We were paying double on our mortgage, but since we sold Mat’s car, we put that extra money toward our condo each month. We are trying to have a free place to live as soon as possible! Seeing the principle balance on our mortgage go down each month is motivating and slightly addicting. We understand that we might not always be at a place in our lives where we are able to pay extra, which is why we are trying to take advantage now!
  4. We are known to be homebodies, especially in the winter, so we have been making a conscious effort to spend more time with people we love. We have been meeting up with other couples for dinner, drinks, brunch, etc. We spent the last three weekends in a row with family. We also plan on meeting up with five friends on our next big trip! Anybody else want to join in on the fun?
  5. We just purchased a camera and plan on meeting up with a friend (who just so happens to have been our wedding photographer) to learn more about it this weekend! As I type this, Mat is messing around with the different settings. I may or may not have just made him do some karate/ninja moves to test out the action setting. We definitely have a ways to go on this goal, but at least we have started!
  6. We also have a ways to go on our bedroom remodel, but we have completed the most important task-getting a king sized bed! Oh it’s so wonderful. I always feel like I get in it too late and have to leave it too early in the morning. I want to lounge in it all day because it’s so big and inviting. New West Elm bedding doesn’t hurt either. 😉
  7. We sort of fell into a collaboration of sorts with Venture Magazine and are stoked about it! The individuals we have met through this magazine are amazing and we can’t wait to get even more involved in this community! We also did a rad photo shoot collaboration with the ever entertaining Damon of Dynamic Shutter Photography. I also was a part of a photo shoot/event for an amazing cause, Speak Your Silence. More on that when I can give some sneak peeks. I also have another collab coming up next week that I am SO excited about! All I can say at this moment is that it involves some insanely talented individuals, including personal stylist (and my friend!) Laura Tully, amazing photography duo Ben and Joella, and Will from Flowers at Will.

    Couples Workout

    Some fun collabs with Venture Meridian Magazine so far!

  8. So far (thanks my brilliant husband) we have saved roughly $10,000 in travel costs. This includes flights to San Diego, our hotel in Houston, as well as flights and hotels for our big trip coming up to New York, Italy, Malta and Chicago. We have a few more tricks up our sleeves, but will wait until things are finalized before sharing.
  9. To be honest, we have done nothing to further our learning of a second language. Now that we carpool to work, I talk the whole drive (not surprising, I know) so Mat isn’t able to listen to his Rosetta Stone. We need to carve out some time on the weekends for this, as it helps immensely when traveling. Mat picks languages up MUCH faster than I do. I actually think it’s not possible for me to learn another language. This is me. For real.
  10. Guess how many times we have been to a yoga class this year? The answer is zero. We need to work on that. Any suggestions on where to go? Please let us know, we need help in this area!

Now is a great time to check in on the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Remember, don’t focus on the negatives, but celebrate the positives! That will give you more energy and encouragement to get back on track with your goals. I’m always down to celebrate any accomplishment, no matter how small it might be. Speaking of that, I think it’s time to open some wine to celebrate our progress.

2016 Game Plan

photograph by Ali Smith Photography

2016 Game Plan

photograph by Ali Smith Photography

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Tips Travel

Travel Prep Part 1 – Public Transportation

February 6, 2016

Anytime someone tells me they have a vacation coming up and I ask “got everything dialed in for your trip?” and they answer “meh, we’ll figure it out when we get there”, I wanna blow my brains out.  Not because they don’t have a bunch of events/excursions/tours booked, but because they haven’t put thought about ANY of the details that could literally make or break their trip.  Packing, food, transportation, hotels, dining, site seeing, etc. are all things you can have figured out before you head to your destination.

Being that Lacey and I are super OCD when it comes to this topic, we’re going to share our thoughts in a multi-post, Travel Prep, series.

First up – Public Transportation

Alright, so let’s say you’ve just arrived at your destination (by using our best practices for booking a free flight of course 😉 ).  When you walk off the plane and out those airport doors to a city you’ve never been to, do you have a plan? If not, you’re already wasting precious vacation time and you’re likely feeling super awkward and uncomfortable…not to mention standing out like a sore thumb as being a dumb shit tourist.  Not only does it totally suck to be in this position, it also lets any scam artist know that you’re a easy target.

We’ve all been there, I know I have.  It is an overwhelming and embarrassing feeling.  Well here’s the good news, you never have to go through this again if you spend a little time before-hand doing some public transportation Travel Prep.

Start by doing a Google search on your destination city.  Get an idea of all forms of public transportation available.  Do they have a metro? Do they only have buses? Do they have both? I know most cities have taxi/uber services, but why spend $50 getting to your hotel when the metro costs $2?  Spend that extra cash on a celebratory “we’re here!” bottle of booze at dinner that night.

Louvre Paris Bus Stops Travel Prep

Buses in Paris will drop you off right outside the Louvre.

Did you pick your preferred form of public transportation? Now find out if you can pre purchase a travel pass online and have it mailed to you.  Overkill? Maybe, but this will help you avoid a confused walk around the metro or bus station looking for a way to purchase your ticket.  You’ll already have your pass in-hand, ready to use, like the rest of the locals.  Even though it’s pretty easy to find a ticket machine at a metro or bus station, I’ve run into many cases where the ticket machines are out of order OR for some reason they only accept certain types of payment.  Just a couple of the reasons to buy your pass before your trip if it’s an option.

Taking this a step further, most transportation services now have YouTube vids on how to use/swipe their cards at the station.  Watch these vids a few times to get super comfortable with the process so by the time you get to the station you’re a pro.  No more holding up lines while you get stuck at the subway turn style.

Below is an example vid for Chicago’s Ventra Card.  Kind of a silly video, but at least you’ll feel dumb in the comfort of your own home instead of in a crowded train station.

Ok, great, so you made it to the train station and through the turn style gates.  Now what?  None of the giant signs have the name of your exact stop on ’em…shit!  Are you in the right place? Where do you go? What train are you supposed to get on? Again, the feeling of being an awkward dumb ass rushes over you.  But wait, you can avoid this hiccup too!

Here’s where the internet comes in handy again.  Once you’ve decided which form of public transportation you want to use (before your trip), look up their daily routes and departure/arrival times.  You’re looking for a map similar to the one I found below for our upcoming trip to Rome.  I know that we’ll be starting at the TERMINI station and that we’ll need to get to the S. Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) stop.  The Ottoviano/S.Pietro stop will NOT be on the main signs in the TERMINI station.  Instead the signs will have the final destination of that route on the sign.  So for the example below, I will be looking for the red line to Battistini.  I know that our Ottoviano/S.Pietro stop will be the 6th stop along the way.

Roma Termani Routes Travel Prep

Making this even easier, nowadays there are TONS of public transportation apps you can download that will help with your trip.  These apps will give you all of the routes and arrival times.  Here is a really cool public transit app that we’ve been using lately.  You can also do a simple AppStore/Google Play search for “Your City + Public Transportation”.

Simple enough right? For a lot of you, this might be common sense.  For the rest of us that drive cars everyday instead of using public transportation, this can be intimidating.  It definitely was for me.  By spending just a few minutes researching this stuff before your trip, you can take the stress off of a big portion of your trip.  Being in a new city is overwhelming enough with all of the new sites and sounds, the last thing you want to worry about is getting lost.  Spend less time being lost and confused and spend more time enjoying your trip!

Rio Maggiore Train Station

Train Station in Riomaggiore, Italy the day after getting engaged!

 

I hope this helps! Let us know if you have any questions.

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