Dear Denver, You’re Supposed To Be IN The Mountains?!

I’m dreaming of Denver.  Ritz-Carlton owed me two free nights.  I Scan the Ritz website and Denver has one!  Awesome, I’ve never been to Denver, Colorado and I find myself humming Rocky Mountain High by, wait for it…John Denver.  I have this mental picture of tall mountain peaks, ski lodges, pine trees and cool mountain air….Ahhh, this will be great!  I should probably rent a four-wheel drive, It could snow early this year in the city and with all those hills…

I used American Express MR points to book two round trip tickets (they are still giving me 1/2 the points back) and National Car Rental, where we have Executive status that will allow us to choose any vehicle from the lot (which will be handy as I’m feeling like a Jeep or a Land Rover).

Now, I’ve been all over the World and have somehow avoided Denver and for that matter, most of Colorado.  I’m certain that my ignorance is based on the idea that I am a KC Chief’s fan and the Denver Bronco’s are our sworn enemy.  It must have been a loyalty thing or something.

After a rough mile high landing, we navigate our way outside as it’s time for a looksy.  Ok, there are no mountains, none.  It’s relatively flat and “prairie” like, I mean, I can count the number of trees with one hand and it’s 88 degrees… I looked way WAY off to the west and I see mountains, but not near Denver.  I’m stunned! Denver is IN the mountains, right?.  That damn plane screwed up and landed us in Kansas!  Nope, sign says Denver.

At National, we choose a Dodge Charger.  I don’t see the need for a 4×4 now.  We then drive south, flat flat flatter…it’s a large metropolitan City with traffic issues and one way streets.  It’s clean and the residents seem nice but it’s absolutely nothing like I imagined.

I know this article may seem strange.  I am absolutely amazed at how ignorant I was regarding the City of Denver.  All my life, I had this picture.  Never bothered with research or even to look at a brochure.  Just assumed…

We ultimately drove an hour and a half to the Rocky Mountains and did the pine tree, tall mountain peaks and cool mountain-air thing.  It was beautiful.  I was only off by about 60 miles.

And that was that, so back to Denver we went and did the “Big City” thing.  So much for my silly dream.

 

 

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Travel Safety and the 1st Rule of Bears

Lately I’ve seen a rash of travel blogs talking about Travel and Safety.  I suggest that those two words should never be used in the same sentence.  Saying “have a safe trip” is reminding us to not walk in front of buses and don’t try and pet a mountain lion.  The no-brainer things (common sense).  It should be “have a great time and don’t forget your Plan”.  “Safety” is what we do every day, it’s the basics.

A “plan” is: I want to travel to so and so and what do I do if… This is where you do your homework.  Your travel options can be unlimited if you have a good solid plan.  “Safety” gets you to the airport, a plan is what brings you home.

Making a plan is about managing risk.  This is how we can go anywhere, have a great experience and not be consumed by worry.  You could go to Darfur, Sudan and get out alive if your plan is solid.  Though It might need to include the 101st Airborne and a military tank.  The plan should be equal to the risks of the desired destination.

FunFact:  The “safest place” for most people is their home.  Not!  They hide there and tell ME to be safe.  Yet, more people die each year in their home than do people who travel.  Why? Accidents.  People get careless at home.  So much for safety and common sense.

A Traveler travels with a heightened sense of awareness, a level much higher than just safety.  They’re prepared for problems, the unexpected.  They have a plan.

I always have a plan.  Today we are going to hike in the Rocky Mountains near Denver.   My plan includes the what if’s and means bringing a map, water, sunscreen and a plan in case Mother Nature decides to get ugly.  I later found that I did forgot one thing though…

We’re on the shuttle heading to the trailhead.  I notice a couple who have large cans of bear repellent attached to their packs.  Crap, I forgot about the bears!

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What should we do?  Cancel our hike?  Running into a Bear can be a big problem, right?.  No Way!  We’re staying flexible.

I scan the shuttle and notice it’s a large group.  There is an obnoxious boy who is pitching a fit and talking back to his parents, a few seasoned hikers and large group of senior citizens, all wearing sensible shoes, who really should re-think this expedition.  I then remembered the 1st Rule of Bears and I like my odds.  After some thought, I adjusted the plan and we’re off to the wilderness with no worries.

The First Rule of Bears:

  1.  If pursued by a bear you need only remember to run faster than the slowest member of the group.
  2.  If you are alone, haul-ass towards the group and see #1.

So remember, any destination is possible with a good solid plan… and a sense of humor.  My luck, I’ll probably get plowed over by a bus, while lost in thought, planning the details of our next trip.

Happy Travels

 

At Least Buy me Dinner First…

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, Really!? I’m amazed that you 1. Get away with charging drivers while having terrible roads, 2. Get away with your ridiculous toll system and 3. Screw so many drivers and they keep coming back for more.

My gripe: Missouri border to Yukon, Oklahoma;~200 miles.  Three Turnpikes and four Tollbooths.  $4.50, $4.50, $1.30 and $1.90 and we still have a lot of Oklahoma to go.

Seriously?… Ironically, the turnpikes are probably the worst roads you’ll experience from Missouri to the California coast.

By the way, the last two tolls were within about 15 miles of east other, on the same turnpike and both were supposed to be $1.30 each.  Why $1.90?

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Here’s how it works; exact change only, toss coins in basket, an evil gremlin inside decides if you are worthy and if so, a green light signals that you may pass.  It took $1.90 to get a green light (the four axel price).  We are in a small car and I now hate gremlins even more.

If you’re driving through Oklahoma, make sure you bring a bucket of money, cause you will definitely need it.  Also, most booths are unstaffed and require “exact change only”.

Happy Travels

 

That Points WOW Moment! And it’s a Big WOW!

It’s Wednesday and we’re siting on the couch.  Bored.  Lilly says “the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Indian Market is this weekend”.  Now, this is our only open weekend for the next month and maybe we should stay home and do housy stuff, right?…No way! Roadtrip!

The issues: 1.  The Santa Fe Indian Market is a big deal and getting a Hotel room two days before it starts could be an expensive problem.  2.  Santa Fe is a 12 hour drive.  3.  We need a Hotel on the way there, one when we actually get there and one on the way back, (my ass isn’t driving 12 hours in a row if I don’t have too).  I know, a three night trip like this is a bit impulsive but it’s SANTA FE!  Live a little…

The Solution:  The first place to reserve a Hotel is Santa Fe.  I mean, this is all just academic if we can’t find a room there.  I check the usual suspects and Hilton is the only one and they want $783.00 for the night.  Yeah, No, not paying that; let’s check points, 50,000, sounds like a lot right, not really.  Hilton points are worth the least (.006) of any Hotel chain that I watch.   In addition, they are easy to get.  The American Express Hilton Surpass card usually comes with around 80,000 points if you sign up and follow the rules.  50,000 points is worth around $300.00 (50,000 x .006).  I like this, but what about taxes?  Look below, I printed it as if I was going to pay for the room with cash. $901.96 or 50,000 points ($~300 in value and taxes are included).  I used points (Duh) and booked the room.  Also, because I keep an eye out for Hilton promo’s etc, there is no way that I spent $300.00 to acquire those points, most likely a third of that.

For one of the other nights, Marriott was the clear choice.  Marriott points are worth ~ .009 each, making 10,000 Marriott points worth about $90.00.  So, I booked the room using points instead of paying the $149.15.  Again, watch for Marriott Promo’s.  The Chase Marriott credit card also is usually available with 80,000 points if you follow their terms.  I don’t have $90.00 invested in that 10,000, most likely about $25-30.

The third night, I’m paying for the room ($130.00) to complete an IHG (Holiday Inn) promo.

This will be a 1700 mile, 4 day roadtrip.  How about a rental car?  Silvercar isn’t available (ugh) so I’m forced to wade into rental car hell.  After the usual headaches, Hertz emerged from the abyss with a full-size vehicle at $69.00 for 4 days.  I had some old Hertz points lying around and got the price down to $36.00.  Booked with Chase Sapphire Reserve for the Primary Collision Insurance.  So that’s that and we’re on the road again!

Happy Travels

 

Mattress Run? Um. Ok…

Are you serious?  It’s like a 5k run thing, right?  That is the usual response I get when I’m planning a Mattress Run.

So what is it?  I’ll dumb it down from the beginning.  This is partial example of the current IHG Acceleration Promotion:

I’m interested in the 5,600, the 20,400 and the 1,500 Stay once in August.  By staying at 2 Holiday Inn Hotels in the month of August, I should be eligible to earn 27,500 points + the normal points you earn for a paid room stay+the points you earn for using your IHG credit card.  Total possible; around 32,000 points.  (I had an earlier stay to help complete the “fill 3 out 4 categories, earn 20,400 points” which gave me even more points).

Next look around for inexpensive Holiday Inn Hotels. I found two nearby and booked the cheapest nights at each (different nights).  Total out of pocket $190.00.  Check in, go to the room, stay or don’t stay.  Earn 32,000 ish points.  A “Mattress Run” usually does not involve staying.  Anyways…

IHG points have a value ~.007 cents each.  31,000 x .007=$217.00.  You paid $190.00 (.00612 each).  Not bad…

Now what…let’s put that 32,000 points to work.  Let’s say the Napa Valley, California area in October.  You’re feeling like wine and Fall colors.  How about this:

King Deluxe room, 2 nights (15,000 points per night) or you can pay cash at $384.56. Remember you paid $190.00 with the Mattress Run, that’s half price.

There are excellent Hotel Promotions offered frequently.   This is one way of maximizing value and making friends and family feel like you’ve lost your mind.

It’s Time To Go! Like, Right !$&#% Now!

On 7/31/17, I detailed in an article, our year to date Travels (Going from A to B, the 1st half of 2017) and was looking forward to a much needed month long break.  Two weeks in, I’m losing my mind and ready to get back out there!  NOW! Traveling is clearly my passion and I’m suffering from a desperate condition called Travelus Interruptus Passportus Neglectus.  I only hope it’s not fatal as we still have two more long weeks to go.  (I suddenly have this overwhelming urge to hug an airplane…)

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How To Get Off The Fence…

Most everyone wants to take the “big” trip someday.  They have the money and windows of time to travel but somewhere between desire and execution, the dream slowly dies and excuses fill the empty space.

Why?  Because its hard to plan the flights, hotels, shuttles etc…it’s just hard.  It’s during the part when you are writing it down, you see all the steps, costs, currency exchanges, details, details, details.  The note pad then gets set aside for “further review”, maybe tomorrow and so it goes.

Why do we go to the doctor?  Have you ever bought a house or a car?  None are easy, but we all make it happen by doing what?  You make an appointment, put money down or make an offer…we commit to something.

You want to take that “big” trip?  Don’t worry about the hotels, shuttles or currency.  The secret is this…BUY THE PLANE TICKET FIRST!

Once that’s done, put the notepad down, smile and breathe.  Now it’s no longer academic, YOU’RE GOING ON A TRIP!   You’ve committed, now relax and work backward.  You now have time, the pressure is off.  Everything else is easy to plan, change or cancel if necessary.  It’s almost fun!

So there it is!  Now you know the secret.  Most people get stalled at the plane ticket.  Don’t worry about the big picture, just decide where and when and buy the ticket.  Use google.com/flights and it gets even easier.

Happy Travels

Ready To Try Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway? Cognita Anti Salis…

Fortes fortuna iuvat may be also just as appropriate.  These latin quotes; Look before you leap and fortune favors the brave, respectively, both accurately describe our recent foray into the “renting someone else’s home” business.  In all fairness, people are quirky and what appeals to me in home décor may not appeal to you.  Hotels strive for the middle ground, for balance, home rentals, well, it’s someone’s little corner of the world.

For me there are three reasons to rent a home: 1. We need space for a larger group, 2. The destination would be best experienced from the location of the home and 3. The overall cost is cheaper than a hotel.  Personally, #1 is usually the biggest factor.

Latest example:  We needed space for 16 people in Miami, Florida for a long weekend.  This is a perfect example of the niche market that Airbnb.com, VRBO.com and Homeaway.com fill.  Now stop for a minute and ask yourself “would I rent MY house to a stranger who was bringing 15 other strangers with them?”.  Not a chance, yet the above listed sights are full of brave souls who do.

After scowering the three websites,  Airbnb had the perfect place so we booked it and all was well and right in the world.  Then a bobble-headed Non-Airbnb property manager informed us that our reservation was “lost” and that he had rented the place to a popular company that was having a convention in town.  A call to Airbnb found that he had been less than truthful and they provided a prompt refund and an apology.  After searching again, Homeaway.com had one that would work.  It looks nice and the rates are reasonable.  Sounds perfect, I mean what could possibly go wrong? (Insert here a latin phrase for “famous last words”).

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Everything looks good and we book it.  Roughly $1700.00 and a $1000.00 deposit.  Lilly’s crunching numbers and the bottom line, about $100 a person each for a 3 night stay in Miami.  That’s a bargain.

Now wait a minute, I have questions.  5 bedrooms, two per room=10, perhaps a hide-a-bed couch or two, that takes us to 14, what about the last two?  Let’s call the owner, No, it’s a type of Property Management company. Hmmm, you’ve actually seen the place, right?  Yeah, there is a really big u-shaped couch in one of the living rooms.  This just got interesting…Also one of the three bathrooms is in the hallway, the other two are off bedrooms.  Bottom line:  We’re about to get close with our housemates.

Fly into Miami, get a rental car, run a few errands and off to the Casa de Travelinggump we go.  Oh, Crap,  no street parking, it’s got a two car (small) driveway…and that’s it, wait, another driveway on the other side of the front yard is found, yaay!, No, completely blocked by a vehicle sized pile of lawn debris and trash.  16 people all arriving and we have a two car driveway with no street parking.  A few phone calls are made, we need parking for 5 vehicles.  I’m out knocking on neighbor’s doors and find parking for three.

The house is advertised to sleep 16.  Everyone arrives and sleeping arrangements are made, 5 rooms at two per room, one hide-a-bed, thats two more, lets see that’s 12, 3 single guys on the u-shaped couch (that was interesting) and we have two left…10 in the bedrooms, 2 on hide-a-bed, 3 on couch…that’s 15…2 left?, what the #@!%, we have an extra guest!  “I guess we draw straws boys, cause someone gonna be spoonin!”  Miraculously, two flat, full length pads are found and the last two are relegated to the floor.  This was a great group of people and everyone laughed it off.  And that was that.

We were fortunate to have a bedroom with a bathroom…so we thought.  Imagine lying in bed with a parade of people passing by, to do God knows what, in our bathroom.  It’s hard to be polite at 4am.

Our shower refused to stay hot and we had an angry raccoon who kept loudly digging through the trashcan on the side of the house.  We had a severe sheet shortage, ants ate the donuts on the kitchen counter and the water/icemaker dispenser on the refrigerator didn’t work.  In addition, the guys staying on the u-shaped couch discovered a roach that was at least 2- 1/2 inches long crawling out from within the couch.  Apparently it had been living in the cushion and was promptly squashed upon sight.

This was our second stay at a “house rental” and in all fairness, they refunded our deposit promptly.  Our first stay was an Airbnb and the only problem we had was that the hot tub didn’t work.  Our third, also an Airbnb, is scheduled for September and i’ll admit i’m a bit nervous.

It can be a real mixed bag of fun when you stay in someone else’s house.  Make sure you check and then re-check with the agency you chosen making sure they’ve received your deposit and that all is in order.  I think i’ll just stick with Hotels and leave the communal living to other more adventurous souls.