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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.

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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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Rewards Points Travel

San Diego for Rihanna. Rewards Flight in 12 Days

January 31, 2016

A few weeks ago, Lacey told me that she really wanted to go to San Diego to see an upcoming Rihanna concert.  Being that we just used all of our flight and hotel rewards points to book our Final Four and Malta trips, I didn’t think this would be possible on such short notice.  My initial response to Lacey was “I’m sorry, we just can’t afford it right now.”  A day or two later I realized what an asshole response that was since I hadn’t even investigated our potential rewards options yet.

Rather than spending time on my acceptance speech for the shittiest husband of the year award, I decided to hop on the computer and see if there was any way to make this trip happen.  After all, Lacey was amazing enough to let us use some of our rewards points and cash on our upcoming trip to Houston for the Final Four, so I needed to do my absolute best to return the favor.  I began searching for any rewards programs that might help us get to San Diego for free or at a discount.  Not kidding, it took me less than 10 minutes to find an option that would get us round trip flights from Boise to San Diego for $87 ($75 sign up fee and $12 taxes and fees while booking the flights).  More importantly, this option was doable on short notice.

Below is the process I used to help us save over $400 on flights which ultimately made this trip possible for us…

…oh and spoiler alert, at the end of this post is a video of Lacey dancing to Rihanna on Halloween last year.

As usual, I started with Google.  I typed in “Boise to San Diego Flights”.  The returning results let me know which airlines we could use (Alaska, American Airlines, United, and Delta).  I noticed that Alaska Airlines offers a non-stop flight, so I immediately Googled “Alaska Airlines Rewards Program”.  I was looking for the current Alaska Airlines credit card offer and for the booking section on Alaska’s site that would show me if there were available flights on the dates we needed, and if so, how many rewards miles we’d need to book ’em.

I found that the current rewards offer for this card is 25k miles “upon approval”.  That’s amazing! More often than not, rewards cards like this have spending requirements that can takes 2-3 months to achieve.  This card gives you the points “in 2-3 weeks” following your application approval.  Perfect for a short notice trip!

Alaska Airlines Rewards Card

While snooping in the booking section on Alaska’s site, I found that there were round trip flights Boise-San Diego on the dates we needed that cost exactly 25k bonus miles.  Heyo!  I immediately submitted our applications for this rewards card.

Alaska Airlines Boise to San Diego Rewards Options

We received the bonus points in 12 days and were able to book our highly discounted flights for $12.  Again, the sign up fee for this card is $75, so our total cost is $87 for these flights.  Still a lot better than the $500-ish we would have paid for full price tickets.  We used the extra money saved on these flights to get some pretty decent seats for the Rihanna concert.

To keep the rest of the trip budget friendly, we’ll be staying at the Hampton Inn near the Gaslamp district.  Why this hotel? I know it doesn’t sound super luxurious, but it has an airport shuttle, free hot breakfast, and is super close to the public transport station that we’ll be taking to the concert.  This hotel is also within walking distance of all the restaurants and bars we’re hoping to check out. All of these perks combined will likely save us another $200-$300 on our trip.

So it looks like we’ll “shine bright like a diamond” with Rihanna in a few weeks down in San Diego.  Hopefully the weather is beautiful and we won’t need to take an umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay.  …I’m such a dork sometimes I make myself want to hide under a table.

Hopefully you found this useful and can use the process outlined above to book your own vacay on short notice.  For more tips and options, check our previous post relating to this subject here.

We’ll see you soon San Diego!

As promised, an awesome video of Lacey Killing it to Rihanna on Halloween last year.  …dressed as a Day of the Dead.

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Combat the Winter Blues

January 27, 2016

Combat the WInter Blues

January is by far my least favorite month of the year. This year has been especially rough with doctors appointments, yearly reviews, stitches, a (ridiculous) cancer scare and a very stressful few days being on call for work. Combine all of that nonsense with cold, gray weather and it’s hard for this hot-weather-loving girl to even make it to Valentine’s Day without running away to Florida. I thought now would be a good time to list out ways to combat the winter blues, mostly to remind myself that winter isn’t all bad.

1.Get outside anytime it’s sunny

This means pulling yourself away from your work station for a quick walk outside, or bundling up on the weekends for a stroll to a nearby coffee shop. It will be good for your muscles and brain! Get that blood pumping and soak up some natural Vitamin D. If it’s way too cold (for me that’s single digits), at least get to a window and let it shine on you through the glass!

2.Participate in winter activities (snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledding, tubing, ice skating, etc.)

Now is the time to take full advantage of doing things that are typically only available a few months of the year. Don’t have any equipment for the above winter activities? Then rent! Or let you inner eight-year old out and build a snowman. 🙂

Mat next to the Snowman he built


What better time to start a new workout plan than the beginning of a new year? After all of the holiday indulging it shouldn’t be too hard to find the motivation.  Produce those endorphins to fight off the winter blues!

4.Travel, even if it’s somewhere close by

A change of scenery is always a good thing, especially because winter can oftentimes seem so repetitive. Take a weekend trip to a nearby city. Explore a new part of town. I have never actually done it, but I have always wanted to try a “staycation”-rent a hotel in your town just to make it seem like you are on a real vacation and not distracted by the mundane tasks/chores at your house.Lacey strolling in Tamarack

5.Better yet, travel somewhere warm!

This is obviously my favorite one, and I wish I could do this for the entire of months of January and February. I guess this year I will just have to settle for a quick weekend trip to sunny San Diego. 😉

6.Spend time with family and friends (have a party!)

Spending time with family and friends is my cure for everything. I love attending parties and although I’m a terrible host, I love having people over too! In fact, I think it’s about time for another game night…..

New Year's Eve with Friends

7.Laugh! (watch your favorite funny movies/shows)

This is the easiest and cheapest way to kick winter’s ass. Invite that hilarious friend over, watch your favorite comedy, watch YouTube…there’s always hilarious animal videos on there. Fortunately for me, this is easy to come by because I happen to be married to the funniest man on the planet.

8.Take Vitamin D supplement

They even make Vitamin D in gummies for adults. Seriously, the taste like gummy bears. I pretty much overdose on these November-April.


The best way to fight any sad feelings-get out and volunteer! Volunteering is a great reminder to appreciate what you have. Plus, helping others just feels good!


If you have any additional tips that will help make the cold winter months a little more fun, PLEASE let us know!

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Game Plan for 2016

January 16, 2016

Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, we decided to make an entire game plan for 2016.  A lot of our goals will require weeks or months to plan so we’re starting now to make sure we get as much of this stuff done as possible.  From travel, to home remodeling, to learning new languages…our list is kinda all over the place.  Check out our process and decide if making your own list might help you achieve more this year.

Right away we noticed some immediate benefits from making this list.  First of all, making our list forced us to think about and talk about 1. WHY it was a goal? and 2. HOW could/would we be able to accomplish it? Adding notes to our goals helped us get an idea of how much time and planning each goal will require.  Sharing our list with you guys is already resulting in us feeling a greater level of accountability for achieving these goals.  We realized that now that we have this list, we can check back in on it every month to track our progress.

We set our sites on a few lofty goals because we want to do our best to keep up with the eventful pace we set for ourselves in 2015.  You can read more about that here.  I don’t think we’ll ever be able to top last year (cuz we got married!), but below is how we’re going to try…

Visit at least 10 different cities

  • With 7 cities already being booked (with rewards points), we should be able to hit this mark.  So far, we’ll be visiting San Diego (for Rihanna), Houston (for the Final Four), New York City, Florence, Rome, Malta, and Chicago.  If all goes well in the coming months, we should be adding Maui to this list
  • To make sure we get to the last few cities to complete our goal of 10, we’re going to keep learning about the points planning/travel hacking process through our friends at
Florence-Duomo | DitchingNormal

very excited for Florence in May

Continue Downsizing junk and bills

  • Right now, we have 2 cars.  While it’s pretty awesome to have 2 cars, we don’t need both and could eliminate about $4,000 in bills by getting rid of one of ’em. That being said, anyone wanna buy a suburu outback sport?
  • We’re about to do some major spring cleaning and plan on getting rid of any unnecessary items we find.
Donation Bags | Ditching Normal

Haven’t worn it in a few months? Take it to GoodWill!!!

Continue Paying off Mortgage ASAP

  • We’ve been able to keep up with paying double on our mortgage for the past 6 months or so, but we’re hoping to paying a bit more once we ditch a car.
  • How are we going to do this? By utilizing credit cards rewards points to discount our travel costs.  You can read more about this process here.
Downtown Boise Condo | Ditching Normal

Hopefully we can pay off this little guy soon!

Spend More Time with Family and Friends

  • Travel, live events, and life in general is more fun when you’re spending it with loved ones.  Get ready to spend more time with the Thompsons this year!
  • We’re going to reach out to friends and family to travel with us more along with other things.
excited to meet this crew in Malta this summer

excited to meet back up with this crew in Malta this summer

Improve our non-existent Photography Skills

  • This includes getting a decent camera and finally learning how to use one.
  • We’ll be bugging our friend Vlad from Radion Photography a whole lot for help!
Muir National Park | DitchingNormal

A favorite pic from 2015

Bedroom Remodel

  • Our downtown condo was pretty beat up when we purchased it as a short-sale a few years ago.  We’ve successfully remodeled every room except for the bedroom so far.  A bedroom remodel, including some new carpet/flooring, larger bed, and a better closet space, are LONG overdue.
  • How are we going to do it? Well, with some help from YouTube DIY videos, we’re hoping to cut costs by doing the work ourselves.  We’ll likely use the money from (hopefully) selling a car, to help us get a king sized bed.

More Collaborations

  • We’re looking forward to working with as many creative minds as possible this year.  Photogs, bloggers, travel addicts, and anyone else that has a passion for making life exciting.  If you fall in this category…hit us up!!!
  • How are we going to do this? By stepping out of our comfort zones and initiating communication with the talented folks we’ve grown to admire.  Emails and social media messages will likely lead the way!
Vintage Style Bride

recent collaboration with Radion Photography, Ira and Lucy, and Next Adventure Studio

Save $15,000 or more by Traveling with Rewards Points

  • Wouldn’t that be awesome to say at the end of the year?  We’re over half way there so far.  It’s going to take some serious planning to finish out this goal though.  We’re all ears to any tips you may have.
  • How are we going to do this? By continuing to plan a head with reward points traveling.  The planning we did last year has resulted in us saving nearly $9k already this year.
Our recent trip we booked on points was featured on

Our recent trip we booked on points was featured on

Continue Gradually Learning a 2nd Language

  • Lacey’s going to be working on Spanish while Mat keeps puttering through Italian.  The plan is to try and make traveling a bit more comfortable while visiting these countries.  Comprende?
  • How are we going to do this?  We have the Rosetta Stones for these languages and are going to start scheduling at least 2 days a week to sit down for an hour or two of studying.  Once we get the basics, we’ll look for some in-person classes we can sign up for.

Start Mixing in Some Yoga

  • We’ve had a few more aches and pains over the past year that are likely due to our lack of flexibility.  While lifting weights is fun, we need to start taking care of our joints as well.  We’re thinking of trying out Sage Yoga in Boise.
  • How are we going to do this? This ones fairly straight forward.  We’ll get signed up for classes at Sage! Stay tuned for possible review of Sage Yoga.

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Lifestyle Travel

Adios Thanksgiving!

December 9, 2015

This year, Lacey and I decided to go a different route for Thanksgiving.  Instead of sticking around our home town of Boise, and freezing our asses off, we decided to leave the country and hit the beach for some R & R.  Being that we’re always ballin’ on a budget, we decided to go the very affordable, all-inclusive, Solmar Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  This place is insanely cheap.  From Boise (and I imagine most other cities) you can book a full week of all you can eat and drink (including booze) for about $1100 per person.  That price includes flight. Yeah…insane.  Anyhow, Lacey did a full review on the resort here if anyone is thinking about checking it out.

So this trip couldn’t have come at a better time for Lacey and I.  The weather had been getting colder in Boise, work had been going through a stressful patch, and we hadn’t been on a “do nothing” vacation in a LONG time.  We very much needed it.

My goals for this vacation were as such:

  1. Sleep 8-10hrs a night
  2. CRUSH food throughout the day
  3. Drink 6-8 Pina Coladas per day (sometimes substituted with a different fruity beach drink)
  4. Nap by the pool for 1-2 hrs a day
  5. Take a lazy 15 min. stroll on the beach at some point in the day (you know…gotta stay in shape and all)
  6. Hammer an enormous dinner and a variety of desserts
  7. Watch the sunset
  8. Repeat steps 1-7

We absolutely nailed these goals each and every day we were in Cabo.  Not gonna lie, it actually got pretty hard to keep up with this pace by the time we got to day 6.  I was feeling like an about to explode balloon.  ….but yet, I still powered through the last couple of meals even though I was nowhere near hungry.

Throughout the week, we saw some amazing sunrises and sunsets.  We caught a private boat to the famous Lover’s Arch.  We ate some amazing food…and some that wasn’t so amazing.  We set and broke our own records for blended drink consumption on a daily basis.  The main highlight, however, might have been the super awkward Thanksgiving buffet hosted by the Solmar Resort.

I still want to say thank you to the Solmar for going out of their way to cater towards us chubby Americans on our (eat-your-face-off) holiday.  They put together a solid spread of typical Thanksgiving foods.  There were performers playing what was seemingly a selection of Selena’s greatest hits throughout the evening…which Lacey loved.  I think the main thing that made this dinner awkward was the fact that there were only about 6 people there to enjoy it.  The restaurant is giant, so it seemed even emptier than it probably was.  When the performers finished a song, there was definitely a shortage of claps trying to fill the silence between songs.  Lacey and I were actually kind of dressed up, while the other 6 people in the restaurant were dressed as if headed to a Cousin Eddy look-a-like contest.  There was one 85ish year old lady rockin’ a Tony Romo Dallas Cowboys jersey, so I’ll give her some credit for at least wearing sleeves to the restaurant.  If you watch the vid at the bottom of the post, you’ll get the overall vibe.   AWK-WARD

Lacey and I had fun in Cabo, no surprise there, but would likely subtract a day or 2 from the trip next time.

We left Cabo on a Saturday afternoon and headed for Phoenix to catch a Collie Buddz (reggae) concert.  I’m guessing most of you aren’t familiar with him, but he’s really special to Lacey and I.  We first discovered him years ago on our very first vacation together in Hawaii.  Fast forward to last spring when we used one of his songs as our first dance song at our wedding.  All that being said, we were both really excited to see him in concert.  …we ended up being in the very front row.  It was awesome!  Check the vid on our instagram if you wanna see me killin’ it.

All and all…this was the best Thanksgiving of my life thus far.  I couldn’t be more thankful that I have a smokin’ hot and hilarious wife to spend it with.  We hope you all had a great holiday week as well!

…I’m not sure how X-mas is going to compete with this. Ha.

Additional good news, we put this entire vacation on our Citi ThankYou card and reached the 50k bonus point offer with these expenses.  These 50k points are going to transfer to the Hilton rewards program at a 1:2 ratio.  So thanks to Cabo…we’re getting 100k more points to use for some free nights at a Hilton during our next vacation!

Lacey Airport Cabo

Cabo Airport

Lacey Grand Solmar Cabo

Lacey Cabo Beach

Mat Beach Cabo


Land's End Cabo

Land's End Cabo

Land's End Cabo

Lover's Arch Cabo

Lover's Arch Cabo


Waves Cabo



Mat Beach Cabo



Lacey Cabo Beach

Lacey Sunset Cabo

Buffet-Thanksgiving Cabo

Lacey Thanksgiving Cabo Solmar Resort



Land's End Cabo

Land's End Cabo

Stormy-Sky Cabo




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