Tuesday, January 29, 2013

looking for a good deal on a car rental?

In all of my travel planning I have stumbled upon a few unique tricks of the trade.  One of which is getting the best possible deal on rental cars.  This is very easy to do, but does take quite a bit of time.  If you are like me than you'd rather put some time into it than spend too much $$$ on rental cars, so here it goes:

The beauty of car rentals is that you do not have to pay in advance.  This means that you can reserve cars and reserve more cars until you find the best deal possible!  It's so easy but the key to finding the best deal is searching often and early. There is no real secret on getting the cheapest rates, or I just haven't figured it out yet, but this is what I do: 
  • Step 1:  Start early. I usually start searching for our rental car 8-10 months in advance of a trip.  Some people think I'm crazy for planning our trips a year in advance but there is a valid reason for it, it really does save you money.  I hate spending money that doesn't need to be spent or paying full price when you don't have to, and theoretically that just gives you more vacation spending money to enjoy!
  • Step 2:  Make reservations often.  There is no limit to number of car rental reservation you can have so I usually make a few. You can cancel reservations easily online and with no fees, so there is no reason not to.  When I start my search I make a reservation, if I find a better deal I reserve it and then cancel the original reservation I had.  I sometimes even will hold reservations for several different car types for the same trip.  I usually do this and wait until a few weeks before the trip to decide which type of car I want.  For Hawaii, specifically, I am looking for great deals on SUV's or Jeep Wranglers (specialty cars).  Sometimes you really need a specific vehicle for the locations you want to visit and, especially on the Big Island, often it requires 4WD.  (Tip:  in Hawaii the only rental cars that guarantee you 4WD are Jeep Wranglers, either the 2-door or 4-door versions.  If you rent an "SUV" it is likely a model with only 2WD.)  Although, to get the best deal you cannot be too picky on the type of car you rent, but sometimes you get lucky and get exactly what you are looking for.
  • Step 3:  Keep Searching.   Yes, you already have a car or two reserved but how do you know that you have the best deal?  Start over and search again.  If you find a better deal, reserve it!  I generally start searching weekly, then increase to daily (or, at least, every other day) searches about 8 weeks prior to the trip. Once you have it down like I do, it will only take you a minute or two to complete a search.  Once your trip is within a week or two you will notice that prices have shot up and your search is over. 
  • Step 4:  Make your Final Selection.  Now that you have all of these reservations piled up, select the price and the vehicle that is best for your trip and budget.  I keep a paper copy of all of my reservations in a file, compare them, choose the best one, and then cancel the rest.  Viola!
Once you've gone through this process once or twice you will really start to recognize the good deals and figure out which car rental company's usually have the best rates.  However, this varies depending on the city you are travelling to.  There is not one company that is always cheaper than the other, you really have to search and every-once-in-a-while you will spot an amazing deal and snatch it up.

Where to search?
  • The first place I always search is Priceline.  It gives you an idea of car rental prices for several rental companies in once place.  Once I find the best deal from the Priceline site I go directly to that car rental company's website and repeat the search.  Often times I find that the rates directly through the car rental companies are even better than through Priceline. 
  • Another good place to check for deals is Hotwire.  Hotwire has "hot rates" that hide the name of the car rental company but give you the type of car and cost.  I always compare these rates to Priceline to see if they really are a good deal.  Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't.  However if you book a "hot rate" through Hotwire you are required to pay for it in advance, so I wouldn't even consider this until a few weeks before the trip and you find a way better deal than your current reservation.  This generally doesn't work for me, but once or twice I've been lucky and found a great "hot rate". 
  • The pick-up and drop-off times you enter into your car rental search will affect the price.  Once you go over 24 hours there are additional charges per hour.  So keep this in mind when completing your search and try to keep your pick-up time as close to your drop-off time as possible and it will give you the best rate.
  • Pay attention to the fees and taxes.  Many websites will show you these amazing too good to be true prices, they just don't tell you that it doesn't include all of the taxes and fees until you start making the reservation.  Car rentals tend to have many fees so when you are comparing rates be sure to check if you are comparing apples to apples.
Do you have any "secret" ways to find the best deals?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

swamp gas? ...not exactly appetizing

Ok, so I would like to go into a little more about the foul smell we experience in Playa del Carmen this Christmas.  Smell has a powerful effect on peoples impression of places.  From "new car smell" to the food you eat to the house you buy.  Foul smells are powerful deterrents and I can't help but think that my foul impression of vacationing in Mexico has a lot to do with this smell.  It's kind of sad, but when something smells rotten it's extremely hard to enjoy yourself.  The same goes for my impressions of Hawaii.  One of my very favorite things about Hawaii is it's smell.  Especially the fragrant scent of plumeria trees blooming all around me.  It's deliciously intoxicating and whenever I even get a hint of a similar smell I'm transported in my mind to the tropical grounds of my favorite resort.  It's one of the many reasons I feel that Hawaii is magical.  It's hard to explain to people that don't have the Hawaii bug, but I usually just give up and say "Hawaii is Magical!".

So I've given Mexico a bit of a bad rap.  I've even wrote about this smell in my review of the resort we stayed at.  This smell is powerful!  There are many great things about Mexico, but I can't shake the rotten smell.  First of all, the smell is very strong and it is definitely a sulfur "rotten egg" smell, just about the worst smell that you can imagine.  I found that it was the strongest at or near the beach, which is probably the worst possible location for vacationing tourists like me.  I wanted to just sit back, relax, have a few beers and enjoy watching the waves crash on the shore.  It was near impossible to do this with your mind wandering about what in God's name could be creating such a foul smell?!  It's especially unnerving when you are trying so hard to pretend it doesn't exist (mind over matter mind over matter...) and you are swimming in the ocean watching trash float along beside you.  Second to getting sick, it was the main aspect of our trip that put a foul taste in my mouth. 

In my brief research (with little to no factual evidence) I've come across 2 possible sources of the smell.  Various internet sources attribute this smell to the mangrove forests or swamps.  Rotting vegetation in these situations mixed with high temperatures and moisture develop these gases aka "swamp gas".  Awesome!  The other scenario is that it's the overloaded sewer system in these overly developed resort areas that have grown too fast for the infrastructure that is supporting them.  Oh no!  I seriously hope it's not the latter. I even dabbled in researching this sewer system in this area and found very little information.  There are many travel forums regarding this topic and it's a bit of a sensitive issue.  Whatever it is, it's awful.  I would absolutely stay away from this area of Mexico for no other reason than the smell, I found it impossible to enjoy myself under those conditions.  There are several people who live in this area or travel there often who say that it doesn't bother them or they don't notice it.  So make your own opinion on this.  Disclaimer:  I am a bit of a delicate flower.  However, my husband agreed with me on this one.   

Have you ever experienced a foul smell like this when you've been vacationing?  If so, how did it affect your opinion of the place?

Side note:  there was one area we visited on this trip and it did not smell foul, and I subsequently enjoyed myself greatly.  Cozumel is beautiful!  If I do ever go back to Mexico, I'd go to Cozumel and never leave.  The water was crystal clear and with no foul smell and it WAS paradise.  If you are planning a trip to Cozumel visit Paradise Beach, we loved it there.  It was my second time to this beach and it's even better than it was the first time with the addition of a beautiful new swimming pool.  My Grandma even enjoyed drinking an adult beverage out of a coconut and it was gooood.

Paradise Beach, Cozumel <3

Monday, January 21, 2013

to Mexico or not to Mexico?

Over Christmas 2012 my husband and I met up with my sister and Grandmother to spend a week in Mexico for the holiday.  Honestly we were not excited about this trip, all of our travels to Hawaii have seriously spoiled us, rotten.  We travel to Hawaii often and one of the questions I always get is "Why don't you go anywhere else?".  Well, occasionally we do even if it is against our will.  This location was my Grandma's idea and who is going to argue with their Grandma?  So many people that I know that also have a vacation bug, love Mexico.  In the Pacific Northwest I feel like you are either a Mexico person or a Hawaii person, or both?  Hmm.  I understand the draw of Mexico, I've been there about as much as I've been to Hawaii in life.  However, I have no interest in going back, EVER.  Well, unless it is at least half the price of going to Hawaii, then maybe.

Here are my drawbacks to vacationing in Mexico:
  • It's a foreign country, so there will always be a language barrier
  • The money is different.  Feels like you are spending Monopoly money and then you are always having to complete conversions in your head. That is very hard to do after a few cervezas.
  • People are trying to rip you off because you are a tourist.
  • You have to go through customs, which means standing in lines and I hate standing in lines.
  • You will probably get sick. ugh.  Nothing worse than being sick on vacation.
  • It smells bad, seriously.
  • It's dirty.
  • Don't drink the water.  Also worry about the ice in your beverage and what your food is washed with, what did they use to make the coffee?, should you brush your teeth with that?  uh oh, what if I swallowed some water in the shower?, Ever wonder how their sewer system works, as you are swimming in the ocean? .... this could go on and on.
  • It's not as cheap as it used to be.
  • It's not Hawaii.
These drawbacks really do apply to everywhere in Mexico that I have been.  I have not been everywhere nor would I want to, so yes, there are probably places in Mexico where some of these drawbacks don't exist.  Phew.  I have been to Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarata and some other places in the middle of the Sierra Madre mountains (another Geology field trip).  I have been to what some people refer to as "real Mexico" and I have been to "tourist Mexico".  It's not my thing and that is ok. Why do I even feel the need to validate that? 

Well, it safe to say that my Husband and I are NOT Mexico people.  We got back from this trip, still recovering from a travelling illness, more excited than ever for our upcoming trip to Hawaiiiiiiiiiiiii, only 7 weeks away.  Yes!

It is pretty in pictures:

What are your thoughts on travelling to Mexico?

catch up

All of the trips that I have missed blogging about in the past few years:

March 2009, Wedding/Honeymoon trip to the Big Island, Hawaii

October 2009, 30th Birthday Girls trip to Playa del Carmen and Cancun, Mexico

March 2010, 1st Anniversary trip to Maui, Hawaii

October 2010, 1st trip with only my husband and I, Big Island, Hawaii

March 2011, 2nd Anniversary trip to Kauai and Oahu, Hawaii - survived a tsunami!
December 2011, Christmas and New Years in Arizona and Grand Canyon

March 2012, 3rd Anniversary trip to Kona, Big Island, Hawaii - oh... ask me about pineapple flu sometime

July 2012, 2nd trip with only my husband and I, Maui, Hawaii
this photo is taken in nearly all of our trips....

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Welcome to my travel blog!  Woo Hoo!  This is a place where I will share my travels with anyone who cares.  If you know me then you know that Hawaii is my happy place.  Travelling to Hawaii is the thing I look the most forward to in my life each year.  I'd say I travel to Hawaii more than the average bear and I probably enjoy more too!  When did this obsession start?  Who knows, I feel like I've been connected to the islands my entire life.  Before I was even born, I was swimming around in my Mother's belly in Hawaii so I'd like to think it began there.  My parents took my sister and I to Maui a few times when we were little, so it just continued to grow for the rest of my life.  I studied Geology in college and even managed a trip to the Big Island as a class in school, awesome!  Seriously, when I found out about that class I decided my major.  So, now I will have to warn you of a few things:  1.  I am not a particularly good writer, please forgive me.  2.  I am not particually witty or funny, so sorry. and 3. I do not own a fancy professional camera and have models as family members.  Whew, so glad to get that off my chest.  Writing is scary, but at least I know that through this blog I can document my travels (spelling, grammar and puncuations errors included) and THAT will be better than just posting a million photos on facebook.