Category Archives: travel

Off to see the Wizard!

Well, the time is nigh. I’m off to San Francisco on Sunday to begin a week of training for my new job with Airbnb. I’m quite excited!

They’ve got us staying in some Airbnb listings (of course!) and mine looks pretty darn nice: click. Three of us are staying there together, but I think there will be 10-12 of us in training this week. I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone!

I only wish that I had more time to explore San Fran. They told us that we had to fly in on Sunday and out on Saturday so I will only have a little bit of time in the evenings to go out and explore.

Krystal has already suggested a burrito place to check out, but what else could I do in an evening? I’m staying in the Mission area of town.

Suggestions?

Review: AirBnB.com – Travel Like A Human

Wow, it’s not often I will find a service or product that is so cool it will kick me out of a writing slump! I am so stoked to share this article with you guys and I’m not even getting compensated for it or anything!


As a blogger with a strong bent towards personal finance I am always looking for ways to either save money or make more of it! Luckily my roomie is on the same page. One day she told me about her friend who was renting out her apartment for a month through an interesting online service and she suggested we check it out and see if it was something we could use for our extra room. So I did.

AirBnB – Air Bed & Breakfast… Get it?

So what is AirBnB?

From their site:

Called the “Ebay for space” by Time Magazine, Airbnb is an online marketplace allowing anyone from private residents to commercial properties to rent out their extra space. The reputation-based site allows for user reviews, verification, and secure online transactions. Listings include vacation rentals, private rooms, entire apartments, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels, castles, treehouses, and many other traditional and non-traditional accommodations.

In short, it’s a great way to rent out an extra room or space of yours in the short-term and make some cash!

So, how does it work?

If you’re a host like me, you take some nice photos of your place and write up a listing. It doesn’t cost anything to create a listing for yourself, though for each booking AirBnB takes a 3% service fee.

When someone wants to book with you they complete the booking process and you’re emailed and asked whether you would like to accept or not. If you accept, your contact details and exact location of your space are released to your guest, and you also receive their contact info. At that point you start talking to them about check-in times and whatever else you like.

If you are a guest, you do a search in the area you want and see the listings. You can send a quick email inquiry if you have a question, or you can book right away. You pay upfront to AirBnB who holds onto your payment. The money is sent to the host after the first day of your stay. This is in case you cancel or something happens. This is a great way to travel– you save a lot of money and learn about the local culture much more. Or you could, you know, rent a castle or something.

Ginger, what was your experience like?

Well, so far it’s been great! We are lucky that our apartment is in a desirable location, close to public transit, a clean & safe neighbourhood, etc. so we’ve had more booking requests than we can actually handle. I had to turn two people away last night, actually!

Since I’m an advertising person *wink wink* I wrote a really stellar ad. I think that that is one of the main reasons we’re getting so much interest. I included a lot of details and listed exactly what was included. I also posted nice, but realistic photos not only of the room, but the common spaces as well so that guests could get a feel for the apartment and us as hosts before they booked.

I know that this helped because I asked some of our guests this weekend why they chose our place over all the others out there. One reason was we have a slightly lower price, but the other was because we looked “friendly”, “normal” and “welcoming”. All good things to hear!

Good customer service is also important. We responded quickly and politely to all inquires and did a great hosting job when they got to the apartment as well.

My roommate and I compiled a list of local activities and sights for our first guests from Spain this weekend. They wanted to know more about the Toronto culture and do less of the touristy stuff. They were real travellers and wanted to go where the locals went!

This was very well-received so we’re actually going to step things up a notch and do up a beautiful digital booklet to send to our guests. It will include photos our friends have taken, the traditional tourist listings (CN Tower, ROM, etc.) as well as our “local” suggestions such as our favourite bars, restos and concert venues. My roommate is also very into the local hipster art scene so she can provide all kinds of party and gallery recos.

As we get more accustomed to being hosts, we have plans to kick things up a notch as well by offering breakfast, doing tours, etc. We really want to make a cool experience for our guests. Not only will this be kinda fun for peeps like us, but it will allow us to charge more per night and increase our profits!

A key point of the AirBnB system is the recommendations and reviews. After every booking both the host and guests review the stay. The more positive reviews you have, the better (and the more money you can charge!). You can also get friends to write recommendations about you personally; this also helps guests learn more about you and helps them make their decisions.

We are still waiting for our reviews from our 3 guests this weekend but I expect that they will be quite positive. I have also left them positive reviews. Our Spanish guests were even so sweet as to bring us a bottle of local Spanish wine to thank us! Awwww!

Additional Thoughts

I obviously think this is a really cool concept for both hosts and travellers. I like that I can make money off of my extra room and I will use this service the next time I travel.

It can be a little bit weird though. While my roommate and I enjoyed having our guests, it can be stressful having strangers in your home. We had to be there at specific times and it was mentally tiring; even with good guests.

You will always want to use your best judgment and be cautious when doing something like this. We locked away our expensive items and tried to find the balance between being at home enough, but also giving the guests their space and privacy. It is important to really think things through, establish rules and communicate those to your guests to avoid any problems.

Overall I would say that my first 2 bookings were a good experience. We will definitely be continuing as hosts and also refining our listing as well as house rules so that we’re not so frazzled the next time. I really think it is a learning experience!

If you have an adventurous personality and an extra room, I would recommend trying out AirBnB!

Have you ever traveled or hosted via a service such as AirBnB? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments!

Helping out in Haiti

I am SO PROUD of my family!

I just found out that my uncle who is a captain for Air Canada volunteered his time off the clock to fly a relief jet down to Port-au-Prince filled with supplies and support workers. On the way back they brought home sick and injured Canadians. His flight was the first non-military aircraft allowed to land.

Here is the email I received from my aunt:

Hey guys Uncle was on the CTV news last night!  Uncle took a volunteer group for Disaster relief to Haiti yesterday.  He flew the Air Canada plane out of Montreal at 6:00 am yesterday with armed police guards, nurses, doctors, medical supplies and a bag of $90,000 in his hand just in case they got into trouble and he needed to buy something.

There was no control tower so I am not sure how he landed but he said he was almost hit by a plane while they were sitting on the ramp.  He was way past the legal time to fly but he waited at the airport until they collected as many sick and injured people as possible to take back with them to Canada.

He arrived in Montreal last night close to midnight, absolutely exhausted!  Before he left (we got the call just the night before) so in the morning we contacted various people in our town who needed to get medical supplies to their contacts in Haiti.  He met a lady who ran to the drug store in town and cleaned them out, wrapped up the supplies and gave him this huge box to take with him on the plane.  When he went through security they didn’t want to let him go so he demanded to see the manager and the manager just waved him through without even looking at the box.  No rules apply when you are in the middle of a disaster!

He had to have armed guards to protect him and the plane because of the unrest and violence in the country.  Air Canada wanted that plane back!!

He told me he saw things he couldn’t even put into words.  He should be arriving home any time now and I can’t wait to hear his stories.

It was so cool seeing him interviewed on the CTV news though!  He looked so professional…not the funny Uncle that we know.  But most importantly he made it home safely!!  I just got a call from Air Canada and they want to debrief with him re: the flight.  They are planning another one and they want him to do it again…you know once is enough.  He’s home safe now and it was exciting and everything but I don’t really want him going back again…

We are glad to have him back. I had no idea that he would be doing this! I scooped some photos that he took while there (below). I don’t think they let him leave the airport (or possibly even the plane) for safety reasons. I never realized how valuable and at risk my uncle could be!

I’m going to email him and see if he has any stories to tell.

If you would like to help the Haitians, these are the two major organizations you can donate to:

DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS / MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES (MSF) – CANADA

Canadian Red Cross

No Spend Days!

There is a PF blogger that I really admire, Canadian Saver over at Saving4Later. She’s really good at keeping track of her daily expenses, budgeting and instituting No Spend and No Driving days.

I’ve been trying to incorporate a few of her methods into my own life recently, especially as I try to frantically save up for my trip to Las Vegas in April (Short timing, I know!).

I can’t be as vigilant as she is, but I’ve given it a shot and have been able to track most of my expenditures over the past couple of weeks and have even succeeded at having a few No Spend days!

I’m a spender, plain and simple. Yes I save and have no debt, but I still am surprised to see all my extra money slowly bleed away every month, and I wondered where it was all going. Turns out I’ve been spending over $100 per week on food. That is a simply ridiculous number for a single girl!

But I did the math and the tracking… I had been spending around $10 every weekday for lunch, and sometimes more if I bought dinner or went out with people as well. With occasional grocery shops (my mis-guided attempts to “save money” by “cooking my own food”) that were $30+ I can see now how the number got so high.

Some weeks were even higher when I included the recent clothing purchases I had made (like a super-cute custom-made cherry sundress). I can’t return the dress but I might return some other tops I just bought to free up some more cash for my trip. I can’t touch the money in my EF or my Wedding Fund because that would just be weak of me.

Anyway, long story short: By doing this tracking I was able to see where my money was going, and then start to see where and if I could cut back. My lifestyle is just not conducive to having many No Spend days every week, so I am focusing instead on simply trying to reduce spending through packing occasional lunches, forcing myself to eat dinner at home, and trying not to buy frivolous things in the meantime. It helps to have the Vegas goal in mind.

I am happy to report that for the past two weeks I have been able to do a total of 3 No Spend days! It doesn’t seem like much but for me it’s great!

I think I may try and buckle down a little more in the coming weeks and see how many No Spend days I can accumulate because frankly, I just can’t afford not to at this point. I want to make sure all my credit cards are at a $0 balance before I leave on my trip but it’s going to be tough to clear my PC card of $400 in the time left to me. I’ve got rent and my TTC pass coming out of my account with this next paycheque and that leaves me with very little left over for the credit card, and general living expenses.

I do get paid once more before I leave on my trip, but it is literally the day before I leave. Hmm, I guess I’ll just have to see how this all plays out. I really just want to travel the right way with nothing on my credit cards and a generous mad money cushion so I can have a good time in Vegas.

Woo! Las Vegas!

I know I’ve been complaining about the money situation lately and this seems a little counterintuitive, but

I’m going to Las Vegas!!! 😀

My friend C and I had originally planned to travel somewhere warm together in February, but our schedules and budgets and stuff never really synched up so we didn’t go at that time.

We still wanted to travel together though (she lives in Ottawa and we don’t see each other much), and now that the economy in the States is so poor, we thought we’d check out the deals for Las Vegas. Everyone should go to Vegas when they’re young, right?

So last night we took the plunge and booked our trip!

We spent all day yesterday online scouring the online deals and found lots of good hotel ones, but the flights were insanely expensive! Originally we were going to go at the end of April, but it would just cost too much, so we opted for the week following Easter to head over. We saved a bundle and found a bunch of great deals.

Our budget was $1000 CAD and had to cover flight, hotel and two major activities. We decided we wanted to take a daytrip to the Grand Canyon and also take in the Cirque du Soleil show O. My entertainment fund plus my tax return and any additional savings I can keep will fund this trip for me.

So how did we net out?

Thanks to Expedia.ca, we found a great deal that included all of the above! We’ll be staying at Treasure Island (OMG pirate love!) for 5 nights and scooped airfare, shuttle from the airport, the Grand Canyon trip and the best seats in the house for O for $955.55 each after taxes!!!

I think that’s a pretty great deal, all things considered! (btw, don’t tell me if it’s not! I don’t wanna hear it!)

Of course there will still be other expenses involved in this trip, mainly food, transportation and incidentals, but they’re a little easier to scale back on versus the hotel costs, etc. We will just have to moderate ourselves while we’re there. I think food will be easy– the American portions are huge so we’ve decided to share entrees if possible.

I’m good at the food budgeting while travelling; when I was in Europe it could get really expensive eating out so I learned the best ways to do it, including picking things up at a grocery store and eating lots of samples!

So I’m pretty excited about this trip, can you tell??? I’ve travelled all over Europe and parts of Canada, but haven’t done much travelling in the US on my own, so this should be fun and easy! I love that I will speak the language, understand the money and fit in by all appearances 😀

So, let me ask anyone who has been to Las Vegas to share any fun and cheap activities that they enjoyed! Since we’re on a budget we can’t afford to do much of the fancy schmancy stuff, but I’m sure there’s lots of other things we can do…right?

Christmas in Cuba

This year, instead of gifts for each other, my parents decided that we’d all go to Cuba as a family, on their tab!

Cool!

We went for a week, arriving back in Toronto on the 25th of December, effectively missing all the great Canadian Christmas spirit. I was a little sad about that. The Cubans hardly celebrate at all.

The trip was fine I guess, the weather in Cuba is beautiful and the beach and pool and resort was very nice. But I just don’t think I’m much of a beach-resort type of traveller. I found it difficult to relax at times and I was bored for most of the trip even with my books and music I brought along.

Being with my family is also pretty difficult. I don’t live with my family anymore, but my parents don’t seem to realize that. They treat me the same as always which is pretty infuriating and quite embarrassing at times. I don’t think I’ll take them up on a free trip offer ever again :S My mom’s so hard to get along with, we’re constantly butting heads and it sort of ruined the vacation a bit.

But there were some good things, too. I got a great tan, did some swimming and kayaking, and we did a daytrip into Havana which was fairly nice. I would have preferred to wander around a little more by myself (or at least be allowed to stop and look at the things I wanted to see) and do my usual type of adventure travelling, but we were with a group so it kind of sucked. The poverty of some of the people was a little shocking though. I know that Cuba is almost a 3rd world country, but it doesn’t really hit you until you’re there among the people. There are so many beggars, and some of them are very insistent, it made my visit to the market quite unpleasent, but very real at the same time.

This poverty was even present at our resort–the food selection and quality was terrible. We knew ahead of time that Cuba is known for its bad food… but still! Haha I found it a little funny that no matter what you ate (be it meat, pastries, fresh fruit or cooked dishes) nothing they served had any flavour whatsoever. My dad and I have a theory that the earth is so overworked in the country that the lack of minerals, etc. in the soil are why even their in-season fruits and eggs even have no flavour.

We also did a jeep safari tour which I thought was pretty cool. We got into a caravan of jeeps and did some offroading for a couple of hours, stopping at a papaya field to pee (there’s no bathrooms around!) and then stopping at a cool cave to go swimming. That was my favourite part–it was an incredible cave complete with stalactites that had filled with freshwater. You could go swimming and it was the perfect temperature and just felt so GOOD! to be in the water… I really loved it! After that we tried to go snorkling but the waves were too rough, so we were sent into a town for some Cuban coffee and cigars. Not too bad. I prefer having things to do rather than sitting around on my duff all day.

Bottom line, the trip was ok but I think it would have been better if it had just been me and a boyfriend (*sigh* IF I ever get one…) and if I had brought more money. Cuba is much more expensive than you think due to the 2 types of currency. The tourist peso is worth about 1.35 CAD!

I don’t think I’m really into these vacations anyway… I came away with a great tan, but also with a few extra pounds since all you are encouraged to do is sit around, gorge yourself at the buffet and drink cheap and poorly made cheap drinks all day. If you like those types of vacations then all the power to you! I just prefer to travel somewhere and immerse myself in the culture and do activities and excursions instead.

I think my next trip will be a little more adventurous, or at least a little more exciting and educational. It’ll be an experience!

Oh, before I forget, yes, I DID buy the cheap rum, as well as a bottle of native creme de cacao and a bunch of pottery-type things and jewelery that I bartered for at the market. Who knew toothpaste could get you a shotglass?

Our flight was also delayed which was fantastic (can you hear my voice dripping with sarcasm?) so we didn’t get home until 4am Christmas morning.

Tis the Season

Well, it’s been a while since I updated, so I suppose I owe all of you some posts!

I’m hoping that by starting to write this I’ll be inspired to continue writing, and give you a review of the Lancome Oscillation mascara I’ve been trying out, as well as the Ketel One vodka tasting event I went to.

Things have been simultaneously busy and blah lately. I’ve entered the winter doldrums and it sucks. I’m trying to stay happy about my upcoming holiday party next weekend, as well as my trip to Cuba over xmas.

I really should start packing for that trip. We leave in just over 2 weeks and there’s a bunch of little stuff I need to track down, it’s been almost 2 years since I last travelled so all my bits n bites of travel paraphenalia have spread themselves out.

Man, 2 years. That is far too long! But the way money is for me these days, I guess it’s a decent amount of time. I can’t really afford to travel every year since saving money goes at a snail’s pace.

But first things first, and that would be my holiday party. I really hope it goes over well, but I’m trying not to set my hopes or expectations too high, since they have a habit of being crushed by uncouth humanity. It was like pulling teeth to even get people to RSVP. Now my challenge is getting them to dress appropriately and bring a potluck dish *sigh*

I feel a rant coming on, but I’m going to try and avoid it. I get frustrated with people who are just SO casual. They might show up, they might not. They can’t be bothered to RSVP or even take a special event seriously. If you’re invited to someone’s home to celebrate the season with them, you should feel honoured to do so!

Especially after I’ve done all this work. I’m trying not to spend too much money though. The worst is when in the past, I have gone out and bought a ton of stuff (food, plastic cups, decorations, etc.) and then everyone decides they can’t make it to my party. Even though I scheduled it far enough in advance. I hate people sometimes, and I can’t figure out why I am so driven to host parties and get-togethers. I love doing all the planning and even some of the work, but I always end up disappointed because most people are douche bags that don’t understand etiquette or decorum.

I just really hope that this party is a nice one. I finally have a few friends that I can rely on, and I suppose that as long as they show up then I don’t care who else comes. I really just want to celebrate with people who care about me, anyway. Screw the other fairweather friends.

Ok, now I’m going to try and switch to some positive thinking. I got some really cool lights for outside on our balcony. My landlady doesn’t do any kind of decorating ever–so our place (giant Victorian house split into apartments) always looks gloomy, dark and foreboding. Since the house is so old, there is neither a porch light nor an electrical outlet on my balcony, so I can’t plug anything in.

Thank goodness for Noma and Canadian Tire! I bought the new solar-powered LED lights and they’re so cool! The lights are hooked up to a little solar panel that you leave outside, and when night falls, they automatically turn on. No electricity required! I think it is such a nifty product. Now I not only have a little bit of light on the porch, but also Christmas lights! *squee!*

Oh. I just totally read all the negative reviews on these. They are a little dull, but they’re better than nothing. I’ll have to see how long they last tonight…