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Category: International

How to Stay in Marriott Hotels for Free

The view from the balcony at Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection in San Diego, California.

On our most recent trip to Europe, we only paid for about 4 of 11 nights. Our secret? The Marriott Rewards credit card.

Credit cards with awesome bonuses can cut the cost on any trip! When you sign up for the card, you will need to spend $3,000 in the first three months in order to get the bonus points, but I promise it’s worth it. The bonus right now is 80,000 points, and if you play your cards right, that could get you up to 8 free nights at Marriott Hotels!

We used several of our free nights in Europe. There’s nothing better than not having to pay a dime to stay in a nice hotel while traveling.

Other perks of the Marriott card include Silver Elite status and a free night stay every year on your card anniversary!

If you’d like to apply for a Marriott Rewards card, apply here.

Suite at the Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection in San Diego, California.

Hey Mate, Let’s Go To Australia!

Lindsey here! Today I wanted to write and convince you ALL that you need to visit Australia. Get ready for word vomit and a million pictures from my phone and my camera! Recently my brother took a job there and selfishly (ok, maybe not THAT selfishly) took my sister-in-law and my 3 cute nephews with him. So OBVIOUSLY I needed to plan a visit. I don’t know if you’ve looked recently but tickets to Australia are typically super pricey, so I started watching flights like a hawk just hoping and praying I would find a good deal. Our friend Jordan, a fellow travel enthusiast, happened to come across a cheap flight option for me that flew out of L.A., so I called my mom, told her she was coming with me, and booked it right away! (Actually.. keep your eye’s peeled for a guest post from Jordan, when it comes to travel, there isn’t anyone I know that’s as educated as him!)

There are so many great resources these days to finding inexpensive flights! We will make sure to give you all the info we have on the blog soon!

Our flight left at the very end of November, which in Australia is the very beginning of summer. It was perfect! My brother lives in Sydney, but because of the flight deal we found, we ended up have a 20 layover on the way there in Brisbane! We were pretty tired from travel, but we got there at 8am so we decided to make the most of our time there and go out and explore! Because we were only there for a day, we didn’t get a rental car, so we decided to take a walk (my mom wouldn’t use that term) through the city. I think we ended up walking around 6.5 miles that day, which for jet-lagged travelers, wasn’t the easiest thing we’ve ever done! 

We ended up walking along the river and walking through the cities Botanical gardens which were beautiful! The riverside City Botanic Gardens are Brisbane’s original botanic gardens. We saw so many beautiful trees and birds and came across some of the grossest spiders I’ve every seen!

Our main destination on our walk was visiting the Brisbane LDS temple. It was so beautiful. Right after that we shared a burger on Kangaroo Point (plot twist, there are no kangaroos here) at The Cliff’s Cafe. Let’s just say an Australian hamburger is NOT the same as an American burger. I think we will stick with In and Out!

On our walk home we attempted to get some ice cream, but it was so hot outside that we ended up drinking it and getting it all over ourselves. It was hilarious. We had a really early flight the next morning so we decided to eat an early dinner of room service, which after the burger, was phenomenal, and turn in early. We were exhausted.

Also, in all of my years of travel I had never gotten on a plane outside, and I was way too excited about it. I couldn’t wait to see Sydney as we were flying in that morning!

When we got to Sydney, we went straight to exploring. My brother had so much to show us and was an excellent tour guide. I was so excited.We started off by going to Bronte Beach and we walked to Tamarama Beach on our way to Bondi Beach. The famous Bronte to Bondi walk. We saw the the lap pools that were on the ocean and I had never seen anything like that! They were incredible. The towns around the beaches reminded me of San Francisco.

For lunch we went to the cutest lunch place ever. If you end up in Sydney, you have to stop here! The place was called The Grounds of Alexandria. My brother said that everything in Australia is over the top. They love to make everything extra fancy, this place was beautiful.

I kept taking photos of signs that I thought were funny. I love how they spell curb there!

The next morning we woke up early and got going! We had a lot planned but started at the Featherdale Wildlife Park. At Featherdale Wildlife Park we saw kangaroos, wombats, Blake breasted buzzards, storks, echidnas, dingos, and over 1,700 mammals, birds and reptiles, just like our own comprehensive collection of Australian species. My favorite was the Koala we got to hold! Turns out zoos in Australia are a lot more interactive!

After the zoo we headed to the Blue Mountains, Australia’s own Grand Canyon. While we were there we hiked the Honeymoon Bridge. It was gorgeous and my nephews loved exploring there! I had no idea parts of Australia looked like this! Also, we pretty much lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on this trip because of our adventuring. My 12 year old dreams came true. 

The next day we headed to Morisset Mental Hospital on the way to the beach. Sounds odd, I know, but they have a field of Wild Kangaroos right next to the hospital. It was Incredible. They will walk right up to you and eat out of your hands! I only screamed a couple of times, which is surprising, one of the times was getting bit by a giant fire ant. Not the most comfortable thing, but 100% worth it! 

After our kangaroo adventure we headed to the beach to spend some time there! I was so excited to spend some time on the white Australian sand. I thought it was beautiful, but my brother said there are even more beautiful beaches if we had more time to travel through Australia. Although, I can’t imagine it being more beautiful!

Then we went to North Head Lighthouse where we explored and saw the most beautiful views and even found some Jelly Fish!

Then we finished off our day at Terrigal Beach, the tide was low and we walked out on the rocks and found hundreds of star fish and an octopus! My little nephews had such a good time here.

That night we went and visited the Sydney LDS temple. It was all decorated for Christmas and I loved being able to see it in person. 

The next day was our final day in Australia and we had a lot planned. We took a double decker bus into the city to see downtown and all it has to offer! My favorite building to see was the Queen Victoria Building! The architecture was fantastic downtown and they have the most incredible malls! 

After our walk downtown we took a ferry from Circular Quay to Manly Beach. You have to go to Manly beach if you’re in Australia, it has such a fun atmosphere, so many restaurants, and it’s beautiful! On the ferry we really got to be up close and personal with the Sydney Opera House on the water. It was so surreal. I never thought I would be able to see it in person. We were able to walk around the gardens by the Sydney Opera House as well! 

Manly Beach was SO crowded. Probably because a lot of kids were out of school for Christmas break.

There is so much to see and do around the Sydney Opera House and it’s so fun to see from all different angles. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend going to Australia. They have so much to offer and I feel like I just skimmed the surface. If I were to go back, I would love to drive up to the Gold Coast, fly to see the Great Barrier Reef, and then make a trip to New Zealand! For now those will stay nice and cozy on my bucket list!

Have you been to Australia? What was your favorite part? Share your recommendations in the comments below!

How We Scored Round Trip Tickets to Europe for Less Than $400

You read that right. Less than $400! Miracles do exist, people.

Lindsey and I had decided several months prior to the purchase that we wanted to go to Europe sometime this year; we just needed to find the right deal. At one point we had found some flights out of LAX for $500 and below, but be waited too long to decide and deals like that do not last long. We were kicking ourselves for missing out on such a good deal. So, when we saw that flights from our hometown airport of Salt Lake City were going for $350+, we did not hesitate.

The key to scoring a deal like this is being in the know. It’s important to follow any and all of the travel blogs and sites that release cheap flight information and error fares. There is an Instagram account we found that features cheap flights out of the SLC airport. If you live in the Salt Lake City area and aren’t following, it’s a great resource. That is where we found out about this deal. [Update: She also has instagram accounts for deals out of Las Vegas, Denver, San Fran and Portland.] Other great accounts to follow include The Points Guy, Secrets of Flying, and Airfare Watchdog. Sometimes I scroll through twitter and see a deal, and by the time I click the link, the deal is already gone. One of my favorite resources is Google Flights. They have done a ton in recent years to increase their search capabilities, and it is pretty awesome. You can track prices and emails will come to you as soon as prices to your dream destination drop.

Another key element in scoring this type of deal is simply being willing to pull the trigger. Lindsey and I had been thinking about Europe for a while, so we did not hesitate a ton. Our only hesitation was deciding where to fly in and out of. Mind you that we made this purchase at about 1am, after we spent a good hour playing around with dates and airports, but we are pretty happy with our decision to fly in to Lugano, Switzerland and out of Amsterdam. Lindsey invited a few other friends the next morning and by the time they checked prices, our same flight was already up to $1600. They were able to find a flight to Amsterdam for about $500 RT, BUT the downfall is that they have to fly out of Denver.

Another side note to keep in mind: don’t limit yourself to just your home airport. We live in a great spot where we can often get pretty cheap tickets to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix or Denver. If you want to go on a trip with a typically expensive ticket, check out surrounding airports in order to find a cheaper deal for the longer legs, then buy a cheap ticket to get you to your starting point. For example, Frontier often offers flights for $38 RT to Denver. Just be aware of extra fees for baggage and seating on budget airlines.

Moral of the story: subscribe to various flight deals or travel search engines, be ready to book, and keep your options open to find the best deals.

What travel blogs/flight deals do you subscribe to? What are the best deals that you have found? Share any other travel hacks you have in the comments below!

A Week in Punta Mita with Yolanda

Hey! It’s Kelsey! I took a once in a lifetime trip to Mexico in October of 2015. When I say this was a once in a lifetime trip, I mean it. There’s no way I’d ever be able to afford go back to a place like this, but please let me tell you about the magic that is Penthouse 3-1 in Punta Mita, Mexico. 

A friend of ours had a hookup on a luxury condo in Punta Mita. I was invited at the last minute, and had been on several other trips recently, but decided that it sounded like an opportunity that was too good to pass up. Boy am I glad I didn’t miss this! So, with the help of a friend, I booked a ticket to Mexico a couple weeks before arriving. (I used mostly points for the way there and went straight to a business trip, so I ended up with a $150 RT flight!)

I had never been to Mexico before this trip, so it was pretty exciting for me. I love visiting Spanish speaking countries because it is so fun for me to be able to use my Spanish. (I lived in Chile for 18 months serving an LDS Mission, and that’s where I learned). And when I say that I love visiting Spanish speaking countries, I mean Mexico. (I haven’t been anywhere else, I’m an idiot).

Let me give you a brief rundown of this property: Luxury condo in Punta Mita, had a pool, situated right next to the ocean, oh, and a maid/chef. Yes. The condo came with a private chef!!! Her name was Yolanda and she was amazing. I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and bring her back with me.

We walked into the condo our first night and were absolutely blown away. After getting through security and being escorted into the property, we walked in to find fresh guacamole and fajitas left out for us to eat for dinner. We were like kids in a candy store walking around the 4 bedroom condo, calling dibs on what rooms would be ours for the next 5 days. Everything was in pristine condition, complete with outdoor balcony and lounge area. Since we arrived at night, we couldn’t fully appreciate the view that would await us the next morning. Let me tell you, it was absolutely unreal.

The view from our dining room.

Everything was about this trip was amazing. Our days consisted of going for a nice run in the mornings, lounging at the pool, driving around the property in a golf cart, laying out, getting back in the pool, eating homemade Mexican food, and laying around some more. It really was the most relaxing vacation I’ve ever had. Each building of condos had their own pool that overlooked the ocean. I want to say that we were one of the few people actually there, because we only saw a handful of other people the entire time we were there.

We did a few fun excursions, like going snorkeling near Las Islas Marietas. It was amazing. Our boat guides took us to a small blowhole and we got drenched! My favorite part, was going to this one area that I had only seen in pictures on Pinterest before this trip. The only way to get there was to swim through a small opening. The guide that was with us held us all back, then told us to swim as hard as we could so the current would help us in. So adventurous.

This is the hole we swam through. So fun!

The next day we went zip lining through the jungle. Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence of this, but it was my first time zip lining and it was awesome! On the really long lines, we were upside down, arms flailing, the whole nine yards. Absolutely beautiful sites.

I might have made Jordan recreate a Taylor Swift pose with me. 🙂 Mr. Swan provided us with some great entertainment in the pool.

We also took a day trip to Sayulita one day. Here we did some bargaining with the locals, ate delicious street tacos, drank Coke in it’s purest form, swam in the ocean and laid on the beach. I’m all about adventures, but sometimes relaxing vacations can be the best. This was most definitely one of those.

One night we went to a restaurant near our house called Rosa Mexicano. We found the recommendation in the guestbook, where others had left notes. The restaurant looked out over the ocean. Is there anything better than hearing the sound of waves crashing while eating delicious Mexican food? They came to your table to make the guacamole right there in front of you. Talk about delicious! If you can’t tell.. I’m a huge fan of guac! 😉

The most memorable part of this trip for me was the amazing crib. Staying at a place like this was truly amazing. The food was unreal–talk about best Mexican food ever! We picked the menu for Yolanda before we got there and she made everything we requested! Huevos rancheros, taquitos, fish tacos, everything you can think of…even waffles! 

Fish Tacos and Huevos Rancheros made by Yolanda.

Vacations like this need to happen in your lifetime. I’m not saying you need to go broke on a fancy vacation, but if the opportunity arises, seize the day!

Where is your favorite Mexico getaway? Have you ever been on a really nice vacation? Tell us about the nicest place you’ve ever stayed!