How to cheapen up your resort vacation

Gran Melia Puerto RicoSprawling resorts like the Gran Melia Puerto Rico (pictured) are certainly elegant destinations — every convenience is right there and available for twice as much as it would cost anywhere else.

If you perchance find yourself at a luxury resort wishing the sunblock didn’t cost $18 per tube (actual price), or that you had a snack option that cost less than $9, this is the article for you. As the daughter of a frugal banker, I have a lifelong education in how to keep your daily spending low while on a luxury vacation.

The Gran Melia has a situation of pure profit brilliance: It’s located in Rio Grande at the end of a golf course with a driveway several miles long. So, what can you walk to? Nothing. Everything’s there; several restaurants, a casino, and even a swim up pool bar (God I love the swim up pool bar), but it’s a little bit “Hotel California.” Transportation to the airport is around $70 roundtrip per person … but guess what? Renting a car is around $65 per day.
This is typical in many resort destinations; it’s just plain cheaper to have a car, at least for a day. I recommend renting a car the day you arrive; you can subtract your airport transportation from the cost and feel very smart. Make sure you Google the car rental services available for online coupons to get the lowest possible price.

Here are other things you need to do that day you have a car:

  • Drugstore: You need a corkscrew or wine key, sunblock (because you need more than you’ll have been able to carry on, and I’m guessing you’re not the type who wanted to pay to check a bag), and bug spray. Did you remember toothpaste and all your bathroom stuff? Get it now if not.
  • Supermarket: You need room snacks. Make sure you get snacks you can close completely or tupperware containers to hold them; you don’t want bugs in your room. Also, as in the case of the Gran Melia, many resorts don’t allow outside food — and a bug onslaught would totally get you busted. Keep in mind that minibar space is purposefully tight at most resorts, and you might get charged just for moving stuff to fit food in it — don’t do that. Thin packages of cold cuts slide in easily over the bottles in most minibars. You should also pick up wine and beer. We’ll get to how to keep it cold.
  • Gas Station: Don’t forget to fill that tank back up or you’ll be charged. And if you’re really brilliant, you’ll go with a company who will give you a gas credit for staying under a certain number of miles (Avis does this), and you’ll stay under it. Even cheaper.

Another important tip for the rental car? Put it on a credit card that has auto rental insurance. That way, you don’t have to pay the extra fee for insurance to the rental company. You should also put your whole trip on a card that offers travel insurance; there’s just no reason not to. Citicards and many others offer both.

Okay, onto how to keep your wine and beer cold. Two words: Ice bucket. If you’re super ghetto, you can pick up a cooler at the drugstore and use your ice bucket to fill it, then hide it in your closet, but that’s a lot of work for vacation. I recommend just throwing a bottle of white wine, champage, or a couple beers in the ice bucket in the morning when you leave for the beach. It’ll be nice and cool when you get back. Also, note that if your resort is anti-outside food and drink, you’re gonna have to smuggle in the snacks and beverages. Make sure you take your suitcase with you in the car.

Next tip: Don’t be afraid of the free stuff! Take advantage of any amenities your hotel offers that are free. I’m talking about the pool, the gym, the beach, the breakfast, any special tours, whatever they have. Come clean to the concierge and ask them what you can do for cheap or free. It’s their job to help you! If there’s nothing at or near your resort worth doing that’s free, then what the heck are you doing there? Sometimes, the free stuff (for example: are there free drinks in the casino when you’re playing the nickel slots?) isn’t obvious — you have to ask to know.

Lastly, do as the locals do. I’m assuming you have no fear of the local drugstore and supermarket, but it might not be a bad idea to investigate the bus situation, cheap local restaurants, and what people who live there do for entertainment. Where do they shop? Is there a free festival going on while you’re there? The internet is your friend.

So, that should help you keep your daily expenses down. If you’ve got money to burn, burn it on nice dinners and special excursions — not on the minutiae for which a resort will want to nickel-and-dime ya.

Is Duty Free still a deal?

Duty FreeDuty Free shopping used to be an amazing way to get all your luxury items for cheap — from electronics to booze — but with the internet, the relaxing of import duties, and the weakening of the dollar, is it really a deal anymore?

Yesterday, the Sydney Morning Herald published some pointers for savvy Duty Free shopping. We condensed them for you:

1. Don’t even bother unless you’re somewhere where the exchange rate is favorable.

2. If you’re looking for a bargain on something specific or will be hitting several airports, you can compare Duty Free prices in different countries online at

3. If you’re getting something electronic, “try before you buy” at another retailer, because Duty Free goods from other countries are pretty tricky to return.

4. Don’t buy liquids unless you’re on the way out of the airport — they may be confiscated when you board even thought you bought them at the airport!

So, don’t be lured into thinking you’re getting the best deal just because you’re in a random country and there’s no tax. Do your research!

Oberto Beef Jerky – Mmm, premium beef snacks

Oh Boy! Oberto Beef JerkyAfter my recent posts on the various jerky from, I was contacted by the nice people at Oh Boy! Oberto to try their jerky — which claims to be America’s #1 Favorite. In an effort to make sure you are getting the best jerky available for your travels (and for eating on your couch), I was happy to indulge in more compare and contrast.

The Oberto website, opens with “Don’t be a sidekick. Eat like an alpha,” and makes it easy to jump right to their products on You can get a 6 pack of 3.5 oz bags of Original flavor for $25 right now (on sale), and because it qualifies for Amazon Super Saver Shipping? It will ship for free. That’s kind of an amazing deal. Click here.

I want to mention right away the #1 thing that Oh Boy! Oberto holds over Their packages are resealable. That is a pretty darn big advantage.

The #1 thing that holds over Oh Boy! Oberto? Their exoticism. has varieties of meats (venison, ostrich, etc.) that you’re not gonna find from Oberto.

Now, once again rating on chewiness, meatiness, and nutrition, I have tried the Original, Peppered, Hickory, and Teriyaki Beef Jerky, as well as their Limited Edition Southern Style BBQ Pork Jerky!

1. The Southern Style BBQ Pork Jerky. Let me begin by saying this tastes exactly like you might hope it might: like a cross between beef jerky and bacon. It’s very chewy (for a jerky), I gave it an 7 on a scale of “rock hard” (1) to “deli meat” (10). It’s definitely not beef — “the other white meat” gets a 5 on the meatiness scale. Nutritionally, it’s great, coming in at 80 calories per ounce, 1.5 grams of fat, and 10 grams of protein. Ideally, it wouldn’t also have 8 grams of carbs, but overall? This is a darn good jerky.

2. Original Flavored Beef Jerky:

This is the winner. I’m serious. Chewiness – 8, meatiness – 9, and just 70 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 7 carbs per ounce. 11 grams of protein. And is it delicious? It is so delicious. The chewiness of it really enhances my enjoyment. If you like your jerky to be somewhat impenetrable, don’t look here. If you want 6% of your daily recommended Iron intake per serving? Look here.

3. Teriyaki Flavored Beef Jerky: Chewiness – 5, meatiness – 7 (the sweetness of the teriyaki sort of interferes with the meatiness), 80 calories per ounce, and other than that, pretty much the same nutritional values as the Original Flavor, just a little less Sodium and a little more Iron. So that’s good. I’m not really into teriyaki, but I do like this flavor more than’s; it’s less sweet and a little more spicy.

4. Hickory Flavored Beef Jerky: Chewiness – 4, meatiness – 7 (again, a little sweetness undercuts the meatiness), and the lowest calories (70) and carbs (6 grams) combination we’ve seen! The hickory flavor, as you might guess, is woody and sweet — the second ingredient on the list is brown sugar. It’s not my favorite jerky, but I could see how someone might get really into this.

5. Peppered Beef Jerky: Delicious. Chewiness – 5, meatiness – 8, 70 calories, 7 carbs, and 11 grams of protein per ounce. This jerky has the lowest Sodium levels we’ve seen (430 mg), and matches the Teriyaki Flavor for Iron (8%). Though the second ingredient on this jerky’s list is brown sugar as well, you won’t taste the sweetness over the bright and spicy pepper! I really like this jerky a lot, almost as much as the original flavor.
Mmm, premium beef snacks. Jerky is good for the car, the plane, the hike, and the couch. Give Oh Boy! Oberto a try — they’ve been makin’ the stuff since 1918!

Travel beauty – A refreshing facial spray by Evian

Evian Brumisateur facial mistNot all travel beauty accessories are lame. Case in point: Evian Brumisateur facial spray.

Yes, we know Evian spells “naïve” backwards, but Brumisateur only spells “ruetasimurb,” and that doesn’t mean anything.

What does it do? Well, the mist is very refreshing, for starters, but it actually tones and moisturizes the skin — reportedly increasing skin hydration by 16%. Not only that, it doesn’t mess with your makeup, if you’re into that kind of thing.

This is perfect for jet-setting, train-riding, or just plain old hot weather. Celebrity fans of Evian Brumisateur include Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Jude Law, Eva Longoria, Will Smith, and Uma Therman.

You can purchase Evian Brumisateur in three sizes for $5.50 to $26.50 here on Amazon before your next trip — but frankly, I’m quite pleased with what it does for me right here at my desk.

Budget Travel: Liverpool, UK

Beautiful shot of Albert Dock by Pete Carr
: Liverpool. It’s not London, and that’s why it’s not nearly as expensive. But with the old-timey glamor of Albert Dock, a history rich with music, maritime lore, and football (soccer) glory, and a proximity to Chester and Port Sunlight Village, Liverpool is no second rate vacation destination. It’s a first rate European city and an exciting place to visit!

Getting in: The John Lennon International Airport is where it’s at. If you can’t get straight there from where you live, find a trip to Amsterdam, then EasyJet it over to Liverpool. It may take you out of your way, but the savings will likely be worth it, and taking a train from London with all your luggage is a major pain after a long flight. Plus, a layover in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport can be a pretty good time! Check out the facilities/amenities here.

Where to stay
: Gadling recommends that you stay at the Britannia Adelphi Hotel. This places you just uphill from all the best shopping and dining, near the train station (which you’ll need if you want to take day trips), and walkable to Albert Dock and the city’s cathedrals. The prices are reasonable and the rooms are lovely. There’s also a Marriott nearby if you are looking to cash in points.

What to see: Liverpool’s blue collar roots are well disguised in the trendy City Centre area. We recommend a walk down Bold Street to get you started with shopping, especially the trendy Karen Millen shop. While you’re there, you can eat a very cheap, delicious, healthy vegetarian meal at the exquisitely painted Egg Cafe (and gallery).

The Philharmonic Pub on Hope StreetReady for a pint? Head up to the Philharmonic Pub for a classy, relaxed atmosphere, and, if you can, catch whatever’s playing that night at The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall across the street! Note: The locals don’t say the “H” in Phil*H*armonic, and they will make fun of you if you do — that, or have no idea what you are talking about.

Now you’re on Hope Street. You might notice that at either end of the street, there is a giant cathedral. Visit both! The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King (Roman Catholic) looks a bit like a spaceship, or like it might impale any falling angels, but is quite lovely inside. The Liverpool Cathedral (Anglican) is even grander, and definitely worth a tour (you can see all of Liverpool from the top), or at least a stroll through the lovely, probably-haunted graveyard. Hope Street also runs into Mount Street at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts where you can catch — or pick up fliers for — all kinds of local music, theater, dance, and more. LIPA was started in 1996 by Sir Paul McCartney and has been spitting out West End stars and more ever since!

If you’re a soccer fan, don’t miss a tour of the Liverpool Football Club museum and stadium. Ask at your hotel for transportation arrangements.

And naturally, if you’re a Beatles fan, don’t miss the Magical Mystery Tour! The tour is run by primary school classmates of The Beatles, and is funny, informative, and a great way to see a lot of Liverpool. It ends at the infamous Cavern Club, which is still alive and well.

Another great way to see Liverpool is the Yellow Duck Marine Tour. The guides on the duck boats are hysterical, and they take you around Albert Dock, where you can also visit a lot of Liverpool’s chicest clubs, the Tate Liverpool, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, or just get your caricature drawn for a couple of pounds.

Lastly, if you want to get that posh British feeling, take a day trip to Chester. You can get there by train in about 45 minutes and spend the whole day eating crumpets, perusing parfumeries, and walking the wall that covers the entire perimeter of the city. Better still, stop in Port Sunlight Village on your way down. The village itself looks like something you might see in miniature form in a store-front display around Christmas, and it is home to The Lady Lever Art Gallery — a gallery you can totally do in a couple of hours which happens to be my personal favorite throughout the entire world. Don’t miss the basement full of Masonic artifacts.

A trip to Liverpool is worth your time, and, especially in comparison to London, really easy on your wallet!