Travel Planning – Nervous First-Timers Checklist for Europe…What did I forget?

First Timers Checklist for Traveling to Europe {Saving up for Disney}

Up until last year, I was a Southern California native who had been as far north as Nevada, as far east as Utah and as far south as Acapulco, Mexico. My longest plane flight had been 45 minutes to Las Vegas. I’d been on one cruise. I loved the idea of traveling and I desperately wanted to travel, but for the most part, time and money have eluded me. I’ve stayed put, happy enough to drive the 90 minutes north to Disneyland for a mini-vacay once in a while.

Then last year for my birthday we went to New York city (on a trip that I won through Pinterest from Armitron Watches). It was a whirlwind weekend and the travel bug bit me, I wanted more!

Shortly after I won the NY trip, I was awarded the grand prize in another Pinterest contest, this one from Skype for $5000 in travel vouchers from Intrepid Travel.

After much discussion, my husband and I decided to visit Europe.  I knew exactly what city I wanted to visit and we chose our tour based on that. When I was a teenager, I’d seen a photo of Vienna, Austria lit up at night with a huge full moon hanging over the city and from that point on, I knew that if I went to Europe, that was where I wanted to go!

So…that’s where we’re going! We’ve been planning for over a year and now the time has finally come. Our tour will include Munich, Prague, Cesky Krumlov, Vienna and Budapest…4 countries in 9 days!

I’m a teensy-bit obsessed with planning *ahem* I have been scouring the internet for traveling tips. My Pinterest board is loaded with images of places we are going, hotels we are staying in, maps, restaurants we want to eat in and general tips for international travels. Given that neither of us have been to Europe and neither of us speak a foreign language, we are equal parts atwitter with excitement and nerves.

Because we are total newbies to international travel, we are soaking in all the help we can and grilling those we know who have traveled to Europe. Once we return I’ll have a better feel for what was good and helpful advice… and what exactly didn’t work for us. I can’t wait to tell you all about it but in the meantime, here is where we stand.


What I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Pack light. We are going to aim to keep our luggage around 25 lbs each (we have matching rolling suitcases) and expect that we’ll have some souvenirs to bring back.
  • Learn the language basics. At least enough so I can ask where the bathroom is! Languages are not my thing so this should be comical…I sense some major charades coming on this trip.
  • Do as the locals do. Drink what they drink, eat what they eat, wear what they wear and try not to whine when it’s “different” than what we’re used to. Of course it will be different, it’s a whole ‘nother country…that’s the adventure!
  • Avoid looking like a tourist (though I’ve heard they will probably still see you coming a mile away). I just read that most women in Europe don’t wear shorts. Guess I need to start rethinking the travel wardrobe.
  • Pack a money purse to wear under clothes. We’ve heard not-so-good stories about safe travel and keeping valuables away from pickpockets.

What we are doing for sure:

  • Instead of using our cell phones overseas, we’ll be purchasing international phone cards to keep in touch with family back home. Because we’ll be traveling to 4 countries, we’ll have to be careful not to purchase too much upfront because most cards are only valid in the country they were purchased in.
  • We’ll be keeping a watch set at US Pacific time. Don’t want to accidentally call my mom and kids at 2 am!
  • Avoid long lines at popular attractions by getting there early and buying tickets in advance. A few of the activities that we are doing are included with our tour but there is one attraction in Vienna I’d like to visit and I’ve heard that the line can take hours just to get tickets! Since we are going during peak season, we’ll get there early and I’m going to purchase the tickets before we leave home.
  • We’ll be carrying cash as well as debit/credit cards. I will be contacting my bank and credit card companies a week ahead to let them know we are traveling internationally. It was recommended to have cash in each location for restaurants and shops that don’t take cards. However, this will be tricky as we are traveling to 4 countries and 3 of them have different currencies so we don’t want to have excess before we take off for the next place.
  • Journalling as we travel. A friend recommended getting a small journal that my husband and I can take turns with, jotting down memorable things and drawing little pictures. She said that her husband and she did this on a trip to Italy and it’s one of their favorite souvenirs.
  • Taking some snacks from home. Not only for the long plane travel but also if the food isn’t appetizing, at least I’ll have a granola bar to eat. I am just not the most adventurous eater…but I will try! I’m comforted in the fact that I can always eat pastries.
  • We’re definitely not afraid of wandering, though I am a planner so I already have walking maps planned out based on our hotels.

What I’d LIKE to accomplish on this trip:

  • Starting in Munich, I want to eat in an authentic German restaurant, clink a beer stein and listen to oompha music. My grandma would be so proud! I also want to visit the English Garden and the Glockenspiel.
  • In Prague, I’d like to cross the Charles Bridge and visit Prague Castle. Taking a cruise on the Vltava River might be an option but I’ve heard that some river tours are not as good as others so we may consult our guide on this first.
  • Moving to Cesky Krumlov, which is also in the Czech Republic, our group is slated for a bicycle tour in the country side. We’re staying in a very old and rustic place, so I can’t wait to wander the streets and explore this beautiful city.
  • In Vienna, Schonbrunn Gardens is at the top of my list. And eating schnitzel. And listening to Mozart.
  • In Budapest, I’m not sure how much time we’ll have there to do much (we are only there overnight and leave early the next morning) but I’d love to visit the Fisherman’s Bastion and maybe relax in one of the thermal spas.

I’m reading every article on Rick Steves’ Europe website. What a wealth of information. I hope someday to be as carefree about traveling to other countries as he is. Right now, I’m a bit of a nervous wreck! There is just so much to remember and take care of before we leave. I know as soon as the plane takes off and we’re finally on our way, all that nervousness will dissipate into excitement of the days ahead. And I have a feeling, the travel bug is going to be really biting after this adventure!


Other Helpful Links:

Travel Zoo – 20 tips before traveling internationally

Independent Traveler – Travel Tips

U.S. Passports & International Travel – Traveler’s Checklist

Trip Resource – Travel Checklist

Disneyland Restaurant Review – Wine Country Trattoria

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Wine Country Trattoria is an elegant but still relaxed and rustic restaurant. located in the middle of Disney California Adventure park. We took a mid-day break here for lunch recently.

We’ve eaten at Wine Country Trattoria several times in the past and this is what brings us back:

  • Wine and beer. No doubt, this is a highlight. Though I was 35 weeks pregnant on this last visit and was not imbibing, I usually do indulge in a glass of white wine when we dine here. My husband appreciates the fresh beer on tap and it’s a great break in our day to sit here and relax with a drink.
  • The atmosphere and design. With both indoor and outdoor seating, I like that the restaurant is raised up a bit on a slope so it doesn’t pick up a lot of noise from the walkway below. If you can get a patio seat during the Pixar-Play Parade, you’ll have a nice view!
  • We had eaten here once before, when we ordered the World of Color prix fixe meal dining package for this restaurant. This was quite a while ago, when it was more of a light “grab and go” meal. Now it’s a full three-course meal and guests are given a voucher for admission to that evening’s World of Color show.
  • The flavorful Italian dishes that are not typically served at an amusement park, so it’s a nice break from burgers, nuggets and fries.
Wine Country Trattoria -Disney's California Adventure {Saving up for Disney}

World of Color lunch with my two silly kids!

In the late summer of 2012 my family and I ate at Wine Country Trattoria inside Disney’s California Adventure. The restaurant has a beautiful Mediterranean setting and we were seated outside on the patio for lunch. My husband ordered the “sustainable fish of the day”, which happened to be sea bass served with fingerling potatoes and tomatoes. He was in heaven and said it was wonderful. And this is from someone who A.) Doesn’t like to eat in restaurants, B.) Doesn’t like to spend money on food and C.) Is a fisherman who knows fish and is picky about quality.

Wine Country - California Adventure {Saving up for Disney}

Sea Bass with fngerling potatoes

I ordered the lasagna on that trip which was also very tasty. The kids ordered off their menu (spaghetti & meatballs for my son, grilled chicken and broccolini for my daughter). At that time we were served beautiful rosemary rolls with olive oil and cracked black pepper on the table. I could eat those rosemary rolls all day and those were so fresh and warm with a nice crust.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

On our recent visit (March 2016), I was disappointed to see that the rosemary rolls have been replaced by focaccia bread. Unfortunately the bread was cold and I didn’t care for the texture, which was more spongy. A drizzle with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar helped a bit, but I was still disappointed that the rosemary rolls we’d enjoyed previous were no longer.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Focaccia bread basket

My husband wasn’t interested in the fish offering that day (salmon) because he’d just eaten salmon the day before but he enjoyed a beer while we ate. My older son ordered the soup of the day, Italian wedding soup. He loves soup and seemed to enjoy this one, though at $7, it was a smaller than expected portion.

We ordered 2 kids meals and the two younger kids shared. They dined on an “Antipasti” of celery, carrots and grapes then their main course of pepperoni pizza and grilled chicken breast. The chicken plate was served with pasta primavera and broccolini (that was slightly overcooked, so the kids didn’t finish it).

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich. The herbed chicken breast was nicely sized and served with provolone, arugula, roma tomatoes, and pesto aïoli. The green salad was a little heavy on the Caesar dressing but had a great flavor.

Disneyland Restaurant Review - Wine Country Trattoria

Though there were a few changes on our latest visit I still highly recommend this restaurant, especially if you need a peaceful respite (and perhaps a glass of wine?) in the midday.

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Contest Alert – Set Sail to a Simplified Life Disney Cruise Sweepstakes

 

contest

Everyone in the boat! Set Sail to a Simplified Life has a giveaway that lasts through until August 22nd, 2014.

  • Round-trip coach air transportation for four (4)
  • Round trip ground transportation from airport to cruise dock
  • Seven (7) Night cruise aboard the Disney Magic for Four (4) guests
  • All onboard meals included (except fine dining at Palo)

The Disney Cruise line looks so incredibly magical! Here are the quick entry details:

  • Enter once a day for the best odds
  • Entries must be received by August 22nd, 2014.
  • Read the Official Rules for all the details

Good luck!

 

Budgeting Tips – 9 Easy Swaps…I Promise They Don’t Hurt!

Budgeting and saving doesn’t have to mean sacrificing. It might just mean making small changes or tweaks in what you’ve been accustomed to. Swapping should be easy and painless, it just takes creativity and preparation!

Budget Swaps that are easy and painless! {Saving up for Disney}


Secondhand Charm

Secondhand books and clothing are honestly just as good as new most of the time. Buy new only for gifts and buy used the rest of the time and you’ll save a ton, especially when it comes to kid’s clothes. My tip is always to buy the best that you can afford, so I’d much rather have a nicely made but gently used item than something new but cheap and poorly made.

I have sung the praises of ThredUp previously for their great variety and high quality of gently worn (or new!) clothing, handbags and shoes. When my kids ask, “Is this new?”, I tell them, “Yes, it’s new to you!”.

Consider pulling together a few girlfriends and host a swap. Bring jewelry that doesn’t get worn, shampoo or lotions that was only used once, or best-selling books that you’ve read and shelved. Trade or borrow and make those thing “new to you, too!”.


Know Where to Shop & What to Buy

Know your stores and where you get the best deals. Pay attention to prices and specifically your cost per ounce. Take notes if that helps you with your budgeting and shopping list.

I’m a Target lover but I know that if I buy my office and craft supplies or fresh fruit and dairy there, the price will be at a premium. However for some grocery items like canned soup or shampoo, it’s often cheaper for me to purchase at Target than at the grocery. And of course Costco is king for bulk so we only buy our peanut butter, bread, dairy and meats there. I know that Costco isn’t the best place for me to buy cereal though, because I can usually score a better deal at the grocery store with a coupon. And of course, there is always the dollar stores to consider especially for party and craft supplies.

Talking about bulk, consider items you purchase now in single uses that you could be purchasing in bulk and dividing up. Yogurt is number one for us. Instead of the 75 cents or more for one tiny yogurt, we buy a huge tub at Costco for around $5 and serve a scoop of it into a reusable container to take with us for breakfast on the go. Same with snacks for my kid’s lunches. The single serving chips and cookies are very pricey and often more than I want to give my child as “one serving” anyway, so I buy bulk and divide items up into individual baggies in advance.


Drink water

I love a nice glass of orange juice as much as the next gal, but juice is expensive and frankly, sugar-laden and unnecessary. At the very least, juice should be watered down 50/50. If you need flavor (and believe me, I am not much of a water drinker), squeeze in fresh lemon to make it more palatable. My favorite is to drop a few frozen raspberries into the glass and it will flavor your water tremendously, without the cost or calories.


Work in Leftovers

Eat your leftovers…or don’t prepare as much in the first place. If you always have leftovers and they sit in the fridge untouched until they spoil, you have several options.

  • When preparing something, plan what the following day’s meal will be so you can work any leftovers in.
  • Freeze leftovers for future use. I doctored up a jar of spaghetti sauce the other day with sauteed green pepper, onion and ground beef. I immediately divided up half into a freezer bag to save for another meal.
  • Don’t make so much! Make only enough for each person to have one dish to eliminate leftovers.
  • Have a leftover night (I call it “potpourri night”) where everyone has their choice of leftovers from dinners during the week and we round it out with a green salad and call it good!

Many foods are marked with a “sell-by” date that is mistaken for an expiration date. Read here to see lists of foods that are still good to eat after their “best by” date so you aren’t mistakenly tossing food that is still good.


Shop less often

If you are used to running to the store every day to “just pick up a few things” you are probably spending more than you need to. You should be doing the bulk of your buying only once a week (or every two weeks if possible) with perhaps just one side trip for fresh fruits and veggies.

In that vein, try planning meals one week out to make sure that you already will have all necessary ingredients on hand and eliminate those last moment trips to the store.


Eliminate Trash

Don’t throw it away if you can wash and reuse. This goes for paper products including plates, towels and napkins. I only use that stuff if I’m having a party and need mass quantities. For everyday use we use our dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner, melamine plates if we are eating outside, dish towels instead of paper towels and cloth napkins instead of paper. Very easy to toss the place mats, towels and napkins into the hamper after dinner for washing and reusing and nothing has to be thrown in the trash.

If your kids are good about remembering to bring home their lunch bags, then of course a bag that can be washed frequently and used everyday is going to be more economical than paper bags. Same goes for reusable containers and sandwich bags rather than foil or plastic zip-top bags. Unfortunately I have one child who lost three lunch bags and the reusable containers inside last school year and at some point I had to cut my losses and start sending her with a paper sack and plastic bags. With the cost of the lunch bags down the drain, it was going to be more economical for me to use paper bags instead. Consider what is best for you and your family in cases like this.


Turn it Off

If you aren’t using it unplug it or turn it off…I’m looking at you blender, toaster, ceiling fan and nightlight! Get in the habit of turning off electronic devices when not in use to save batteries (I only buy rechargeable). This goes for water too…turn it off when you’re washing pots and pans. We even turn off the shower water when we’re scrubbing clean and then turn back on to rinse. Saves us from wasting gallons, which is very important in our drought area.


The DIY Alternative

Why buy if you can make at home? A quick search of Pinterest and you can find the DIY alternate for everything from bleach to Bisquick. The DIY alternate is almost always going to be cheaper, just as effective and infinitely more satisfying to use when you see the dollars you save!


And yes, finally..Make Your Coffee at Home!

This also goes for making your breakfast at home instead of driving through fast food for something expensive and unhealthy. A smoothie at home is going to be better for you and help you pocket the $3.50 or more you’d spend buying it out. Packing a salad-to-go instead of buying a premade one at the deli could save you $6.00. It’s all in just being prepared for the days ahead by making sure you have it already on hand so you aren’t scrambling out the door without a plan.


Helpful links:

Ready for Zero – Budgeting tips

Holy Craft – Things to Buy in the Dollar Store

Pinterest – DIY Alternatives

 

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Christmas at Disneyland – Meeting Santa

We’ve had the pleasure of meeting the man in the red suit three different times at Disneyland over the course of the years. Each location was different and each time Santa looked representative of that area.

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

First was in 2007, at Disney’s California Adventure. Santa was in a laid-back, California vibe… check out that shirt and those cool sunglasses! There was a fun surf set-up in Sunshine Plaza (now gone).

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

We met up with Santa in 2008 over in Frontierland at Disneyland and he was sporting a nifty curled mustache. They had Santa inside a rustic cabin for his meet and greet.

Meeting Santa at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

And my favorite in 2012, Santa was inside Elias & Co. in California Adventure, with a very 1930s retro feel. It was Baby Dillon’s first Santa meeting and he loved the fluff on Santa’s sleeve. Alonna didn’t want to have anything to do with Santa and refused to turn around! Oh well, we look back at this photo and laugh now.

Meeting Santa is one of the highlights of Christmas time at Disneyland! Have you ever met a Santa at a Disney park and was he dressed differently depending upon his placement in the park?

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Christmas at Disneyland – Winter Decor and Extra Sparkle!

From the resort hotels, to Downtown Disney and in both California Adventure and Disneyland Park, Christmas decor abounds!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disney Resort Hotels

On the left, the Disneyland Hotel Fantasy Tower Christmas tree was silver with bright purple, pink and turquoise balls. The tree on the right, in the Frontier Tower, was more rustic and covered with nature-inspired ornaments.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Downtown Disney

Passing through Downtown Disney we loved the snowy trees and giant packages scattered throughout.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disney’s California Adventure

The decorations in California Adventure’s entry way were simple and sweet and appropriate for the time they represent.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Carsland 

The Carsland decor is absolutely inspired! Auto filter garlands, white-wall tire wreaths and a Christmas tree decked out in shiny hubcaps! And this cutie…a “snowcar” complete with top hat and pylon nose!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Disneyland Main Street 

Over at Disneyland, there was a huge tree in the Main Street square dressed up with enormous ornaments, perfect for posing by.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

New Orlean’s Square

New Orleans Square was decked out top to bottom with amazing Christmas decorations. Garlands and ornaments were literally dripping from every corner!

Of course, the Haunted Mansion got in the spirit with its Haunted Mansion Holiday, inspired by the Nightmare Before Christmas.

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Toontown

Toontown is naturally bright and festive, with lots of large ornaments and oversized bows!

Beautiful Christmas decor at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

It’s a Small World

Finally, my favorite It’s a Small World Holiday, when the facade is bejeweled with tiny colorful lights and our favorite clock dons a Santa hat!

Disneyland is magical every day, but there is something about going during the holidays that make the season even more special!

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Christmas at Disneyland – Characters in Winter Wear

Donald Duck decked out in snowflakes for winter {Saving up for Disney}

One of the charming things about Disneyland during Christmas time is that the characters often have sprinkles of winter decorating their costumes! Isn’t Donald adorable with the dazzling snowflakes designs on his hat and shirt? Goofy has donned a bright red sweater for the season, also covered in snowflakes!

Winter wear on the characters at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

Pluto has had several winter-wear looks, including these holly covered antlers and a snowflake studded cap.

Plutu has several winter wear outfits at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

My favorite look is Minnie’s! She is seasonal from the top of her beret to her red and green skating skirt! My little one especially loved the pom-poms that hung from her sweater. I love the seasonal looks and special winter-wear that the characters have during Christmas!

Minnie is decked out in her winter wear at Disneyland {Saving Up for Disney}

 

MB-Junior-Pilot-Button

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Disneyland Magical Moments – A Mickey Breakfast

Mickey Pancakes at Disneyland {Saving up for Disney}

Now you see the cherry…

On most Disneyland trips we hit the ground running but this particular day we were taking it easy and decided to start off with a hearty breakfast at the River Belle Terrace.

We got the Mickey pancakes and a fruit platter to share. See how my little one is eyeballing that cherry nose. I snapped this shot, put my camera down and well…Mickey’s nose was already in his mouth!

I think I may have to make Mickey pancakes for breakfast this weekend!

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Eat at Home and Save – DIY “Bisquick”

I grew up on a regular diet of Bisquick pancakes, pizza, waffles, biscuits, coffee cake and shortcake. It’s so versatile and handy but I never gave much thought to what was in the yellow box until I started to notice the DIY recipes on Pinterest. It’s incredibly easy to make up your own type of Bisquick mix at home for pennies. It can be stored for several months in an air-tight container. Since you won’t have the yellow box to refer to for the recipes, just look for them on the Betty Crocker website.


DIY “Bisquick”

  • 6 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
  • 3 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Salt
  • 1 cup Vegetable Shortening

Use a fork or the whisk attachment on your mixer to cut in the shortening until the mixture is a fine crumb. Use in place of Bisquick in your recipes!


DIY Bisquick to make pizzas! So cheap and quick {Saving up for Disney}

I used it right away to make this pizza, perfectly nostalgic of my childhood with broiled mozzarella on top and everything! I just pressed the dough into a greased cookie sheet, coated with pizza sauce and sprinkled on the cheese before baking. The kids gobbled it up!

DIY Bisquick to make pizzas! So cheap and quick {Saving up for Disney}


Next day, Bisquick banana walnut pancakes for breakfast. Sorry, no pictures, the kids got to the pancakes before I did! But they were delicious and just like mom used to make.

Now I have a hankering for coffee cake…

Bisquick Coffee Cake {Photo from Betty Crocker}

Bisquick Coffee Cake {Photo from Betty Crocker}


Useful Recipe Links:

Coffee Cake

Biscuits

Melt-in-your-mouth Pancakes

Shortcake

Waffles

Pizza

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