Wednesday, May 29, 2019

7 Tips for Summer Travel on a Budget

Winter is over (although, I know for some, it feels like it's still here).  We are now approaching summer.  We're on the "downward slide" for kids to finish school for the year, and for people to prepare for summer vacations from work.

Planning a vacation is sometimes a dreaded task for some, but if you are a bargain hunter, like me, vacation planning can be fun. Seriously.  If you have some flexibility in terms of where you are going, and when, the planning can be even more fun!  It's like starting with a blank canvas, waiting for the first swipe of a paintbrush.  

These are a few basic tips to keep in mind to help find some deals for your upcoming summer travel:

1 - Be as Flexible as Possible - the more leeway you have in terms of your travel destination and/or dates, the more you can potentially take advantage of last minute promotions.  In terms of a hotel, some hotels may offer last minute discounts to fill their hotels.

2 - Monitor Prices - This is a suggestion you will hear me make over and over and over again.  Keeping an eye on average prices for accommodations and/or flights/transportation for the destinations you are considering helps you be able to identify whether a deal is TRULY a deal.   Some websites can "inflate" what the regular price of a hotel room may be, for example.  I have seen websites claim they are offering 50% off a hotel room rate, and that the sale price is $100, but if you are monitoring prices you may notice that it is rare that those hotel rooms are RARELY offered at a price higher than $100.  The non-sale price they quote may be a price that was charged at one time, perhaps at a time of high demand.

3 - Consider all Booking Sources - I often use discount travel websites like, Expedia, Priceline and others to identify cheap rates, but after I find a price I'm interested in at a hotel I am interested in, I always check the hotel's website directly to see if they are offering similar prices or even further discounts.  Booking through a discount travel website can sometimes mean you are waiving the opportunity to earn travel or other loyalty points by booking through that site.  Be sure you read the rate conditions  to know if you can earn points on your stay.  The other consideration is if you belong to the hotel's loyalty program, they can sometimes offer discounted rates only available to members.  And if you have an "enhanced" membership (perhaps a higher level because of the frequency of staying with their chain) there may be even further discount.  Some hotel loyalty programs offer you "added benefits" to your rate, which may include things like free parking, free breakfast, free access to a VIP lounge, etc.  These are all things that should be considered.

4 - Consider "out-of-the-box" accommodations - Perhaps you always stay in hotels when you travel, or maybe you only stay in rental properties, considering other options may save you some money in the long run.  Some examples:
-  Rental properties sometimes offer additional space and amenities (like a private pool) that you wouldn't get in a hotel.  Rental properties may also offer last minute discounts to fill their rental.
- Hotels, similar to Rental properties, may offer amenities not available in other accommodations, such as Concierge service, airport shuttles, shuttles to theme parks, and discounts to on-site restaurants. 
- Glamping - This is a balance between "camping" and hotel accommodations.  These are often tents or other similar accommodations with real beds, and other enhanced features over a simple tent.  They are often cheaper than hotel rooms (there are some exceptions) and offer a really unique experience.  This is a good option if you are interested in camping, with out all of the labour.
- Camping - This option is obvious. If you like tenting or maybe you have a trailer, campsite rates are frequently significantly cheaper than the other accommodation options. 

Our "Glamping" accommodations in Alma, NB, in 2018.

5 - If you are interested in specific accommodations, follow their social media accounts, where possible.  This is particularly relevant if you are planning to stay at a privately owned property.  They have more control over the promotions they offer.  Sometimes these facilities will post last minute specials on their websites.  As an example, there is a very unique tree house accommodation site in New Brunswick who, regularly, last summer would post discounts on stays in their tree houses the week a week prior to dates that still remained available in those accommodations.  Sometimes the discounts were up to 45% off!  I've also seen some campgrounds offer bonuses like free firewood, or complimentary smores supplies with last minute bookings.

6 - Where possible - prepare your own food - Eating at restaurants can add up to a significant amount of your travel budget.  While sometimes it's unavoidable, if you can avoid it, it can greatly affect your budget.  If you are staying in a place that doesn't include breakfast, just bringing cereal with you can really affect your budget.

Those are a few tips to help you control your budget for summer travel.  If you are planning to travel by air, check out my tips on saving money on airfare here:

Do you have your own tips?  Have you used any of these tips?  
Let me know in the comments, or connect with me on social media:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Travel Destination: Ottawa - Part 2

Welcome back!

In my previous Ottawa Post I discussed air travel and accommodations.  Did you miss part 1?  Check it out here (link also available at the bottom of the post).  In this post, I will discuss a little about what you can see and do in Ottawa.

The activities I experienced were during two separate trips, one in Winter and one in Spring.  Keep in mind that Ottawa has a number of festivals that happen during different times of year, and surrounding communities have a lot going as well, so searching what may be going on before you go is a good idea!

I will start with one of the winter activities I experienced, hockey!  From September to approximately March/April (depending on the playoff situation) you can attend Ottawa Senators hockey games.  The September games would be "pre-season" games, which are often offered at reduced prices.  As for regular season, the tickets are pretty reasonably priced - for the game I went to, the prices ranged from $25 to $200.  I sat in the highest section of the Canadian Tire Centre and I still had a great view.  As for transportation to and from the rink, the rink is actually in Kanata, so a distance out of the downtown core.  I priced up an Uber, and it would have been about $50 one way (not accounting for potential "demand pricing" after the game.  There is plenty of parking, but also a lot of cars trying to leave at the same time, so that's something to consider if you are driving.  I chose to take public transit.  The transit authority offers buses from downtown right to the rink (check the OTC website for times and routes).  Regular fares apply.  This was a perfect option for me because the bus practically takes you to the front door and picks you up as well to take you back to where you got on.  Each trip was $3.50 (price in March 2019).  Great deal!

Is hockey not your thing?  There are lots of other things to do in the Ottawa area.

Like food?  Lots of restaurants for many different tastes.  If you are staying in, or get dropped off in the Byward Market area, there are restaurants for many tastes: Pubs, All Day Breakfast, gourmet, Italian, Chinese and Thai foods.... to name a few.  Check out this adorable little restaurant:

If you are looking for a unique dining experience, the Byward Market has some good food options: from coffee shops, to gelato, to bakeries, there are some delicious options awaiting you at the Market.  And don't forget - Beaver Tails!  If you haven't tried a Beaver Tail before, this is a "must-have".  Think fried dough (like a donut), but so many options for toppings! My personal favourite is the Avalanche (Skor bar, caramel, and cheesecake spread.  YUM!).  If you are in Ottawa during the winter, they actually also have a Beaver Tails stand on the Rideau Canal where you can go skating.  Fun!

Byward Market

When in Ottawa, you can't miss exploring Parliament Hill.  No matter the time of year it's a beautiful place to discover.  The architecture is gorgeous, and there is lots of open space on the grounds.  In summer it's pretty typical to see lots of people sunbathing, reading, having a picnic and more.  Check out these views:

If you are there at the right time of day, you can hear the bell toll to signal the hour.  Very cool.

So I mentioned the Rideau Canal above.  This Canal was used historically to get boats up and down the water way.  The canal is still very lovely to see, and there is an interpretation centre near the mouth of the canal if you want to learn more about it.  As mentioned previously, in winter, you can skate on the canal, it makes for a very long skating rink.  If you are there in summer, there are lots of walk ways along the canal, so you can walk along to take in the sights.

Another very cool place to visit is the Canadian Museum of History.  If you are at the Parliament Buildings, there's actually a bridge not too far away that will take you across the water to Gatineau, Quebec.  There you will find the Museum of History.  This Museum has some very cool exhibits including some permanent fixtures and exhibits that are there for a limited time.  You can learn about Aboriginal history, stamps or different eras of Canadian History.  In addition to those exhibits, there is an IMAX theatre that shows a few films a day in French and English.  And finally, they also have a Children's museum.  My daughter loved the Children's museum.  Lots of interactive stations that taught children about different areas in the world.

There are so many neat things to see in the area that I can't possibly name all of them, but here are a few that are worth researching if you are heading to the area:  The Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian Mint Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Calypso Water Park (actually located in Limoges, but close to the highway in to Ottawa so not too challenging to get to), and so much more!  The Ottawa Tourism website is a great resource to research what is in the area:

Both of my trips were quick, so this is just the tip of the iceburg.  I hope to get back again soon so I can write a "Part 3" on Ottawa.

Have you been to Ottawa?  What are your favourite activities in the area?  Share in the comments below.

Did you miss part 1 of this series?  Check it out here:

Want to connect with me on Social Media?  Please do!

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Maximize Your Travel with Travel Points Programs

I love earning rewards.  In fact, my husband may even say that I'm obsessed with it.  I wouldn't go that far, but I do love to be rewarded for purchases I already make.

Rewards programs are not all created equal, so it's a good idea to do a scan of what is available to you and what is worth your time.

Let me start by saying - I'm not hear to sway your opinion towards one program over another.  I will speak to the programs I'm most familiar with, but my information is not all encompassing, so be sure you have a good understanding of what's out there and what works best for you.

I belong to a lot of loyalty programs - Marriott, Best Western, IHG, Hilton Rewards, Expedia, and the list goes on.  And that's just travel related rewards programs. Don't even get me started on coffee loyalty programs.  But I digress.

For hotel rewards programs, I do belong to multiple loyalty programs.  This may seem counter-intuitive, because if you aren't staying at the same brand hotel all the time, you don't accumulate rewards as quickly.  This is true, however, depending on where you travel, certain hotel chains may not have any hotels in the area, or if they do, they may not be conveniently located.  Finally, if you're like me and sometimes need to book travel at last minute, your favourite chain may be sold out.  All of these are good reasons to belong to more than one hotel rewards program.   Sometimes I have people ask me about the amount of email you get from these loyalty programs.  I have found the emails to be pretty minimal, but I do have a "trick" for loyalty programs - I have a "special" email account I set up just for promotional emails.  For example, when a company offers a discount if you sign up for their email list, or if I want to sign up for a newsletter, but don't want the emails clogging up my daily emails, I use this particular account.  Then, when I'm planning a trip, I log in to see if any promotions have been sent to me lately.

Now, for travel points programs specifically - the programs I am most familiar with are Aeroplan and Air Miles.  I use both, but I admit that I use Air Miles far more frequently than Aeroplan.  Here's what I like about both programs: You can earn points on purchases you already make, like for groceries and gas, and if you are someone that likes using credit cards, both offer opportunities to sign up for credit cards that earn you big bonus miles, and the opportunity to earn extra miles at businesses/stores that are considered "partners".  I will caution - be careful if you are going the credit card way - you want to be sure you're regularly paying off your balance, so as not to pay extra on interest.  Also, some of the yearly fees can be high, depending on the card you are looking for.
If you do decide to pursue the credit card option, there are many different options for the types of benefits, aside from points.  And again, the yearly fees vary, so evaluate what works best for you.  Many cards will offer sign up bonuses equivalent to one flight.  In addition, some cards will offer one companion flight per year, airport lounge passes, travel insurance, etc.  The most expensive card I've seen is one put out by American Express called their "Reserve" credit card - it has some great benefits, but the yearly fee is $299.  One of the bonuses with this card is that you can use Air Miles to cover taxes and fees.  There are also some great insurance options, lounge passes, a companion flight, and more.  If you travel a lot, this may be a great option, but given the high yearly fee, it likely isn't worth it if you don't travel very often.  A nice alternative is the Bank of Montreal World Elite Mastercard.  The yearly fee is less than the Amex option at $120, and as a bonus they will waive the first year fee.  It has similar benefits to the Amex option, however, the option to pay taxes and fees with Air Miles is a bonus only offered through Amex.  But given that the savings on the yearly fee are so significant, it's likely worth it to just pay the taxes and fees, unless you are a frequent traveler and can make that bonus worth it.

Aeroplan cards are available through Toronto Dominion Bank, CIBC and Amex.   The TD Aeroplan Visa offers one of the best options (at the time of publication) with an annual of $120 that is waived for the first year and up to 35,000 Aeroplan bonus miles.  In addition, you get great benefits like a complimentary checked bag on Air Canada and priority check in with Air Canada.  You can also get access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.  Similar to the Air Miles cards, there are some good insurance options included with the card.

When earning miles through credit cards, the more you spend, the more miles you get.  So if you pay for as many things as possible with it, that's how you maximize the miles.  Just be careful with bill payments.  Some utilities charge additional fees to be able to pay by credit card.  Also, this is only worth it if you pay off the balance, otherwise you pay more in interest than the miles are worth.
Air Miles and Aeroplan offer periodic promotions that provide collectors with an opportunity to earn extra miles.  I will share an example from each program.  Aeroplan recently (note - this article was written in April 2019) had a promotion where you could earn 35% more miles if you converted your hotel rewards points to Aeroplan miles, it's a good way to get miles if you don't use your hotel rewards points very often.  Air Miles, on the other hand, had a promotion, at the time this article was written, where you could earn 1000 extra miles if you shopped at 5 different partner stores within a 4 week time span.  Luckily, Air Miles has lots of partners, both online and in the community, that it wasn't too difficult for me to reach that threshold.

Earning the most miles possible happens when you use combinations of coupons, Air Miles/Aeroplan credit card, and, one other bonus that I haven't yet mentioned.  Both Air Miles and Aeroplan have options to become part of a survey panel.  You fill out surveys at your convenience and earn miles based on how many surveys you do and how long it takes to complete them.

Do you have additional tips to earn more Air Miles/Aeroplan Miles?  Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on social media.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Travel Destination: Ottawa - Part 1

While I typically post general tips and tricks on saving money on holiday travel, occasionally, I like to shine the spotlight on different travel destinations.

Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Ottawa.  My trip was brief, but what I experienced in my short time there made me want to head back.  Here are some of the highlights from my travels.

As many of you know, I'm from Saint John, New Brunswick.  When I'm researching travel options, I'm fortunate that I have many airports to choose from within a reasonable drive.  To my (pleasant) surprise, on this occasion, my cheapest flight options to Ottawa were actually from my home airport.  Bonus!  I had options with Air Canada and Porter.  Porter offers one direct flight from Saint John a day, and Air Canada offers a couple of options to Ottawa, all Air Canada flights do have you transferring at another airport (usually Toronto or Montreal).  I opted to go with Porter, as I had never flown with them before.

I am going to go off the Ottawa topic for a moment to say, I love our Saint John Airport.  It only has a couple of gates, but offers great service.  The security area was fast and efficient, and every staff person I encountered was friendly and professional.  The waiting area by the gate has a spot you can purchase souvenirs, snacks, drinks and duty free items.   There are also some small work areas if you need to get some things done before your flight. Not to mention, free WiFi!  Have loved ones that are sad to see you go?  The waiting area by the gates is a glassed in area that borders the main hallway in the airport, so you can wave to your loved ones and do awkward charades while you wait for your flight.  So, shout out to the Saint John Airport!

Back to the trip.  My experience with Porter was outstanding.  The seats were comfortable, the staff was friendly and attentive, and you even get served a snack and a drink during your flight!  It's rare you see much of that!  And for your drink, you have a choice of water, juices, pops, beer and wine, all served in a real glass.  Fun!  The flight to Ottawa often has people on it that are heading on to Toronto, and the flight picks up people in Ottawa, so you could end up like I did, with an empty seat next to you - even more room!

Once I arrived in Ottawa, it was easy to find the exit, and I headed to pillar 11/12 (they are numbered clearly, don't worry) to pick up my Uber.  If you haven't used Uber before, I have to tell you, I'm a big fan.  The app tells you how much your trip will cost, who your driver will be, the type of car you will ride in, and the license plate, so there's no fighting with someone else about who called the car.  Note that the app also allows you to tip the driver after your ride, so you don't need to worry about having cash on you if you forgot to get some before your trip.  (Never used Uber before but are interested?  Check out the link at the bottom for the post to have a look at where you can use Uber, and get a special discount offer from me!)

If you've read my blog before, you know that I'm big on reading reviews before I book a hotel.  As I browsed what was available in Ottawa, I noted that most hotels in the area of Parliament Hill were hovering around the $200 a night range (there were some lower, some higher... $200 was the average).  So when I found the Byward Blue Inn, I read with interest the reviews.  The price was $120 a night for my dates, while everything in the area was significantly higher, so I was nervous.  The reviews on both Expedia and TripAdvisor were excellent with very few complaints.  I felt confident booking, and I was not disappointed.  

View from my room at Byward Blue Inn

Byward Blue Inn is located in the Byward Market district.  At the end of the street is the US Embassy, and you are literally surrounded by shopping and restaurants.    Canadian Parliament is only about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  The hotel itself is located in a bit of a residential area, surrounded by apartments, but most (possibly all, I'm not sure) rooms offer balconies with various views.  This was my nighttime view:

Nighttime view from my room at the Byward Blue Inn.

The lobby area was small, but there aren't many guest rooms, so it was never crowded.  The staff at the front desk were polite, fast and efficient.  They explained the amenities of the hotel and were willing to answer any questions I had about the area.

The hotel is secure and the front door is locked at 9 PM each night.  Guests are provided with an access code to enter the hotel if you are out past 9 PM, but staff are always at the front desk should you forget the code.

The breakfast area is just off the lobby and there is a complimentary breakfast offered each morning (more on that later) and "afternoon tea" each afternoon.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to participate in afternoon tea, so I can't share much about that.

The hotel also offers a sauna, for those who may enjoy that.

Now, for the rooms.  The rooms are spacious with some great amenities.  These are some pictures from my suite:

Queen size bed with duvet - night stands with lamps on either side.

At the foot of the bed: A work area, air conditioner, tv, and a small table.

Small sink, coffee maker, fridge, microwave, and cupboard full of dishes.

There is a large complimentary bottle of water in your fridge when you arrive.

Spacious bathroom with plenty of towels, hair dryer, makeup mirror, shower and tub.

 And just check out this view from the bed!  As mentioned, the room offered a balcony, large enough for a small table (there was an umbrella to help shield the hot summer rays as well if you are there on a hot day).

 View from my bed.
The complimentary breakfast was a great feature of this hotel.  It was more than just a continental breakfast.  There was coffee, tea, juice, milk and water to drink.  The food offering was varied so there was something for everyone.  The food ranged from cereal, toast, fruit, yogurt, quiche, breakfast sandwiches,  eggs, and more.  You won't go hungry here.

My breakfast.

The breakfast room.  Also used for afternoon tea.

A look at some of the breakfast food.

A fun feature in this hotel is the art work throughout the hotel.  It's like staying in a little art gallery.  These are just some of the pieces I came across in my room, in the hallway, and staircase.

Just outside the doors of the hotel are so many restaurants, shops and activities.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Ottawa series for more information on the food, shopping and activities to be found in Ottawa.

Do you have any favourite restaurants, shops or activities in Ottawa?  Please share in the comments below or connect with me on social media.

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my blog!  Perhaps you have been here before, in which case, welcome back!
My name is Katie, aka the Overtired Mama.  I started this blog many years ago, when my little girl was a baby.  When I started this blog, I didn't know exactly what it was going to be, so it's had a lot of transitions.  My posts ranged from ramblings about parenthood, recipes, product review, crafts, entertainment, and more!  But over the years, the topic that always seemed to make its way in to my cycle was travel.

I did some family travel as a child with my family, and traveled with friends as a teen, and I made some amazing memories over the years.  Now, as an adult, I love those moments of making memories while on holiday with loved ones.  Vacation offers the opportunity to connect with friends and family, away from your usual every day stressors and distractions.  That is why I love travel.

As my desire to travel has grown, so has my need to budget.  My personal discovery was that the more budget conscious I am when I travel, the more money I have left over to save towards future trips!  My interest in budget conscious travel has grown in to a passion.  Now, I don't just love saving money myself, I love helping others snag a good travel deal.

I often get asked: "Why are you doing this?  Isn't it torture to research vacations you can't go on?", or "Are you a travel agent? Are you trying to get me to sign up for a time share?"  The answers to these questions are simple - I do this because I LOVE travel.  Even if I can't go on a vacation, just the simple act of researching vacations gives me some good daydream material.  I also think of it as bargain shopping.  I love to find a good deal!  While my target is not clothing or furniture, it's vacations!  And I love the share the deals I find in the event that someone can take advantage of it! I seriously love it when people tell me they booked something because of a tip I shared!

I am not a travel agent, I don't work for a loyalty points/rewards program, I don't sell time shares, and I'm not sharing reviews of places because someone paid me to say something good about it.  All of my content is just from my genuine interest/passion for travel.

You may find that I share a lot of information about the Air Miles program, but that's because I use it.  I don't work for them.  I just love the program!

All of my tips and tricks may not work for everyone.  People may think that some of the tips I offer are not really earth shattering.  In the end, I'm just trying to share my experiences to help people achieve their travel goals, make their travel bucket lists, and have fun!

With all of that said, this passion has allowed me to re-focus this blog back to what I love to talk about most - travel.  So welcome to my new and improved blog.  I hope you find the information useful, and I hope you find some great deals along the way.  If something I have shared has helped you, please share your experience with me, and your friends.  I love to hear those stories!

Here's how you can connect with me:

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Video: Saving Money on Flights

Periodically I do live videos on my Facebook page to talk about travel.  The latest video got some great feedback so I thought I would post here.

Do you follow my Facebook page? Be sure to check it out, as well as my other social media! I often share some great travel tips and deals!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Budget Travel Doesn't Have to Mean Sub-Par Travel

After sharing a link to a link to one of my "Budget Travel" posts on social media, I had someone send me a message asking me why I would ever want to give up "quality travel" for the sake of price.  This message prompted me to clarify something - when I say "Budget Travel", I am not suggesting that you book accommodations or travel arrangements that risk your health or safety.

Tonight I likened my "travel bargain hunting" to hunting for deals at a secondhand clothing store.  Have you ever had that feeling - at a secondhand clothing store, and you find a brand name outfit, and it costs you less than $20?  It feels great, right?  You can still snag a great brand name dress or shirt, while paying only a fraction of the price. That is the same feeling I get when I search and find a great deal on travel!  And that is the feeling I am trying to share with all of you.

With the tips I share in my posts, my hope is that the tips can help people research and find great travel arrangements at the fraction of the price!

Stay tuned for new tips coming on my page!  Have questions about travel?  Post them in the comments section, or connect with me on social media and I will try to help!

7 Tips for Summer Travel on a Budget

Winter is over (although, I know for some, it feels like it's still here).  We are now approaching summer.  We're on the "downw...