Journey with Jo

Follow me as I blog about my various journeys across the globe, making budget travel look luxurious!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Yes, you read the headline correctly. So how, you may ask, was I able to pull this off. The answer is quite simple, and I'll do it with one word: REWARDS.
Feeling luxurious in my complimentary robe during my stay
at the Kimpton Grey Hotel in Chicago.
That's right, rewards. And as the name insinuates, it's something you get for your service or effort. Through Hotels.com I was able to snag this steal of a deal.

The thing that I love about Hotels.com Rewards loyalty program is that it is absolutely f-r-e-e, and who doesn't love those four letters? So how does this work? It's super simple.

Just book and stay 10 nights at eligible hotels via Hotels.com, you'll get 1 night free to redeem at another. 


Hotels
.com works out the average value of all the 10 nights you've collected and gives it back to you as a free night. So if the average price of the last 10 stays was $85, you'll get $85 to use for a future stay. If your hotel is $85 or less per night, you wouldn't have to come out of pocket. And if it's more than $85, rest assured that price would be subtracted from what the cost per night is at that hotel.
My stay at the Kimpton was originally $118.44. 
The average of my 10 ten previous stays was $72.94, 
so that was subtracted, leaving me with a small tab to pay.
Another reason why I frequent the site is because being a member of their loyalty program makes it super easy to shop around for the best places to stay and the best prices. Unlike other loyalty programs, in which you must stay at the company's property (or an affiliate), Hotels.com gives you the option to stay at any hotel that has availability. This includes places ranging from Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn Express to the Marriott and Hilton.

When looking for a place to stay just look for the purple and white moon symbol that says "Collect nights" and you'll be on your way to obtaining a free night stay for the future. Almost every hotel on the website has this symbol, although you may see a few that don't have the sign, meaning if you stay there it wouldn't count towards your free nights stay.

The moon symbol, which indicates you can earn a free night.
To the right in green, shows the cancellation policy/pay now or later option.
Many of the hotels listed also give you the option of paying for your stay immediately or at the hotel. So if you really want to lock in a place, but don't have the immediate funds to do so, you can still lock it down. To be totally transparent, I use this option about 70% of the time I use Hotels.com. I love it, because it gives me time to get my coins in order, so that when the time comes to check in, I can easily pay then.


Pay now or at the hotel
I also use this option when booking a hotel that I'm staying in with friends/family and we're splitting the costs. By paying later that also gives others the time to get their money right, and then you can just take your funds from (via cash or a money app) them when you all get together. 

I've been using Hotels.com since 2011 and it has never failed me yet. They frequent my inbox (a setting you can alter) with deals of the day and secret prices that aren't available to non-members. There is also an option to save certain places, so you can go back and follow up. 


Additionally, if through your searches, a cheaper rate for the same dates/types of rooms after you've already booked, you can submit their online Best Rate Guarantee form, and the difference will be refunded to you. And finally, when the unexpectedness of life happens and plans have to change you can cancel without penalty, so long as it's within the free cancellation period. Some of these are usually by the night or full day before checkout.


So what are you waiting for? Head on over to Hotels.com and sign up for a free member account. I promise, it will be beneficial!! Once you've signed up, drop a comment below. Any questions? Leave them below as well. Looking forward to hearing from you all!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Saving money isn't easy, but it's imperative, because you never know what life may throw at you where you need cash in a quick hurry. In my case, I have a savings for regular life things and one solely dedicated for my travels.


One way I save money is by using the Digit app. It's an amazing app that saves money for you without even thinking about it.

So, you may be asking, "How does this thing work?" Super easy!

Image result for digit appOnce you download the app, you connect it with your checking account. Doing this, allows Digit to track your income and spending habits. From this, the app is able to calculate a certain amount of money it can withdraw from your account without you "feeling it. And by "feeling it", I mean money you're not going to notice is gone/can do without it being there. And the great thing about it is that they will never take out money if it will cause you to overdraft. 

I've been using this service since March of this year and can attest that even when my account was relatively low, they didn't do me dirty. Digit also doesn't take out money everyday. Although I haven't withdrawn any of the money it has saved for me, you have the option to do so at anytime. You aren't obligated to have a certain amount or pay a penalty.

The only caveat, is that the first 100 days are free. After that it charges $2.99 per month. At first I wasn't thrilled about this idea, but when I think about other ways I spend 3 bucks in a month, this was a drop in the bucket.

I am proud to say that since March, I have saved almost $1600 from doing NOTHING. Everyday they shoot me a quick text to let me know what my checking account balance is and my Digit balance is, so I'm aware of what's going on. Scrolling through the deposits it makes me really happy to see how effortless it was to save like this from a simple app.

A snapshot of what Digit saved for me of the course of some days.
So, if you want another way to save without having to think about it, I HIGHLY encourage you to sign up for Digit here! Now I don't recommend this as an option to replace your normal savings account, or other methods, but if you currently don't save at all or want another way to save for things like upcoming trips, a downpayment on something, or rainy day money, this is your app!


Questions about Digit? Ask me below!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mexico City has been on my radar since I visited the costal city of Cancun back in 2013. I remember looking up day trips, and seeing a visit to a pre-Aztec community being one of the options. Now, I'm definitely am not a big history buff, but I thought it would be nice to visit a place that had such a rich past.



So when I started to prep my itinerary for this trip, a visit to the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacán was most definitely in the plans. 

This ancient land houses the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.

Pyramid of the Sun

  • 248 steps
  • Third largest pyramid in the world (216 feet high)
  • Top of pyramid used as an alter to exhale the Sun god
  • Built in the 2nd century AD
  • At its peaked housed over 100,000 people

Pyramid of the Sun

The steepest of stairs

View from up top
Pyramid of the Moon to the far right

Pyramid of the Moon
  • 141 feet high
  •  Second largest pyramid in modern day Teotihucán
  • Constructed between 200 and 250 AD
  • Platform at the top of the pyramid was used to honor the Great Goddess of Teotihucán in ceremonies
  • Human and animal sacrifices have been discovered inside of the pyramid
Pyramid of the Moon


Feet dangling from up high

Me, on top of the "Moon" with the "Sun" in the background
There were other smaller pyramids scattered about the area, but one thing I learned about this area is that the pyramids weren't just used for ceremonies. Teotichucán was built in 100 BC and was a thriving city for a thousand years until 500 AD. At its peak, the city reached an astounding 200,000 people. No one really knows what caused the city's downfall but it is said to be either famine or invasion.






The Aztecs arrived many years later and gave the city it's name, Teotihuacán, which means the "birthplace of the gods".  They gave this region that name due there already being temples and pyramids upon their arrival.

Although my trip was through a planned excursion, you can go to the Teotihuacán on your own via public transportation for about 6 USD. The reason I  picked this planned tour, is because we got access to the sites before it was open to the public. So while we have an early 6:30 am wakeup call (and a $40 price tag), it was more that worth it, because around noon when we were wrapping up our visit, many others where just starting to come in by the droves. 

We also made a pit stop on the way back to Mexico City to an obsidian workshop, where we learned about the black volcanic rock native to the area. The cool part about this was that they gave out 4 samples of different alcohol during the tour before we headed steps away to a delicious buffet lunch. 
Different goods made from the black volcanic rock
The before

The after



Again, another great day trip that I recommend if you want to explore Teotihiacán with an experience guide and if you want to beat the crowds.

It is also worth mentioning that I met another solo traveler who was a sista and fellow educator from Florida. We got acquainted during the tour and after we got back to Mexico City, did some walking around before we went our separate ways. 
My new buddy Farrah, giving the cactus a gentle touch
Inside the Iglesia de La Profesa
Government building

Ice cream stand on street

Saturday, November 25, 2017

For my first official day in Mexico City I decided, in advance to book an excursion in which I was able to see a lot in one shot. 

I found this excursion on Viator.com for $40. In my opinion the price was a steal because we got to see so much, and it also included round trip transportation in a climate-controlled coach bus. 
Palace of Fine Arts

I met the bus at the Palace of Fine Arts Building, and from there we were transported to our first stop, the town of Coyoacán. 

Coyoacán 
Our visit to this town first included a walk to the Fuente de los Coyotes. It is a fountain located in the middle of a small park with two coyote statues in the middle of it. 
Fuente de los Coyotes

Coyoacán was named by the Aztecs and means “place of the coyotes”, hence the statues being in the middle of the town. 

As we walked around the area close to the fountain, we stopped inside a massive church (Parroquia San Juan Bautista) and an adjacent garden that I thought we be a perfect place to sit and reflect before/after a church service.

Inside Parroquia San Juan Bautista 

The garden outside the church


From there we took a leisurely stroll over to Mercado de Coyoacán, where we given free time to browse the market and make any purchases we desired. At the market I was able to get a smoothie with 4 different fruits for 15 Mexican Pesos, which is the equivalent of $.80 USD. Yes, EIGHTY CENTS!!!


My steal of a smoothie
Not too far from the market, was La Casa Azul (The Blue House). This was the home of famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, which has been turned into a museum after her untimely death in 1954. Read all about my experience at the museum here.

National Autonomous University of Mexico
We took a quick 20 minute stop to visit the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Founded in 1910, UNAM (as it's called) is a public research university and is ranked as one of the top universities in the world.


Felt awesome being back on a college campus
As we entered the main lawn of the campus, we were immediately taken aback by the beautiful mural painted on the outside of the building that houses the library. Created by Mexican artist Juan O'Gorman, the mural entitled Historical Representation of Culture is one of the most iconic buildings in the entire country.
Outside of the library
Xochimilco
Our last stop of the day was a visit to the borough of Xochimilco, which is known for the canals that flow through the area. 

Our guide told us this borough is affectionately known as the City of Flowers, because of the floating garden of flowers that surround the waterways. 
Each of us got a flower as a souvenir before boarding the trajinera
Xochimilco also served as the site for our lunch. We boarded gondola-like boats called trajineras. The trajineras were extravagantly decorated with bright colors and a name painted at the front of it. Kind of like the same way you see boats and yachts   named.
The trajineras


While on the trajineras, smaller boats came up alongside us to sell various crafts. There was also a even more special boat that came pulled up next to us...our chef! 
The lovely woman who cooked our food

All fresh ingredients
After all of our orders were taken, yet another boat pulled up with a mariachi band for our entertainment. They boarded the two trajineras our group inhabited. They started off playing a couple of songs and then took some requests. 
Boarding our boat




Dressed to impress!
It was nice to have live music as we ate and drifted down the canals. We also bypassed others on their trajineras having their own fun. 

We were told that many people boarded these boats to celebrate special occasions or as a way to switch up a regular evening with the family.

Once our food and entertainment commenced, we got off and were given some free time to check out the market. I knew that I didn't want to spend any coins, so I walked around the area, browsed the goods, and took some nice photos.



One of our two tour guides, Alejandro

***
Unfortunately the latter part of my free time was marred by one of the Mexican vendors. I saw him towards the beginning of my walking around, where he tried to beckon me to check out his items for sale. I politely declined and kept it moving. On my way back around the loop of vendors he spotted me and came back over to where I was standing. He claimed he had something special to show me and pointed to some nicely made throws with pretty pattens.

I told him in my best Spanish that I would just look, but won't buy. He grabbed my hand and proceeded to bring me to a secluded area of the stand that was surrounded by the throws in all four corners. Basically to any person that was standing on the outside, you couldn't see/would know that people could be inside of there. 

The little man, and I'm calling him that because I stood a bit taller than him in the heels I was wearing, grabbed both of my hands and started to compliment me on my looks. I thanked him, and tried to walk away, but he grabbed my hands tighter and embraced me in a very sudden and way too friendly hug. You know that kind of hug where hands start moving a little too low...

He started to say all these other things (that had nothing to do with him selling his merchandise) but by that point I was too taken aback and wanted to get away from him fast. It clicked to me that this little private area he dragged me to wasn't an area for which he wanted to sell me his products. I knew from the way he was looking at me that he had other intentions in mind, so I pushed him away and made a super quick beeline back to the main aisle of the market and back to the bus. 
***

Besides this little situation, my day was a super pleasant one. My $40 went very far and I got to see/experience a lot in one day, which was my original intention. If you want to get some bang for your buck and learn a lot of Mexican history, I highly suggest this activity.