Sunday, September 15, 2013

How To: Take a 12 Day Alaskan Adventure for Two for Under $5,000

Alternate title: Cheapskates can have fun too!

We just got back from our incredible delayed honeymoon to Alaska!! We planned to spend 12 days exploring four different areas - Homer, Seward, Denali National Park, and Anchorage, and we managed to do it all without completely breaking the bank and coming home with vacation regret. It takes some planning, but it really wasn't that hard to do!


1 - Purchase your airline tickets and car rental together. I watched airline trends for a few weeks before purchasing our package to Anchorage from Washington, DC through Orbitz for $1,535.

This is probably Canada. I'm not sure because I wasn't going to pay United $8 just so I could look at the flight map.
2 - Ditch the hotels and hit the hostels. We probably saved around $100/night or more by booking our lodging at hostels instead of hotels - only spending around $80/night for 9 nights of our vacation. And we even "splurged" on private cabins at each one!

Cabin #1: Our cabin in Homer overlooking a horse pasture and a view of Kachemak Bay
Cabin #1: The view from the front porch
Cabin #2: Our cute Sourdough Cabin in Seward - it had cable TV and wireless internet!
Cabin #3: Just outside of Denali National Park
Cabin #3: The view from Highwater Cabin
Downsides: no private bathrooms. But we did have a private outhouse with the first cabin... it's all about being flexible, folks. And there were flushing toilets and showers at each hostel - they were just shared with other hostel-users.

3 - Go grocery shopping! I don't know about you - but I don't actually like eating out for every meal because at the end of the day I end up feeling gross. Our solution to avoiding that and saving tons of money was to go grocery shopping. After we got off the plane in Anchorage and picked up our rental car, our first stop was at Carr's (same as Safeway). We had planned out meals ahead of time - making sure to use as much non-perishable food as possible. At the grocery store we picked up a small styrofoam cooler for the perishables (milk, cheese, lunch meat, etc) along with a lot of canned and dry goods to get us through our 3 days in Homer and 3 days in Seward - and then we stopped for groceries again before heading for Denali. In our carry-on bag we packed a saucepan and pot, two plates, two bowls, two pairs of silverware, etc as well as a one-burner Coleman stove that just needed a small propane tank that we picked up at REI in Anchorage for $5. With all of that we were pretty food self-sufficient. Turns out that each hostel actually had kitchens that we could use (that wasn't always clear on the websites), so if I had to do it again I would probably leave the stove and pots and pans behind. The bowls and plates and silverware still came in handy though for when we were having lunch in a parking lot!

4 - Take the shuttles, not the tour buses in Denali. 

Now we didn't take the tour buses, so I can't actually directly compare the two - but price-wise there literally was no comparison! We bought two tickets for two days - both to the furthest point on the road, and still paid one-third less than the cost of two, one-day tour bus tickets. We really didn't feel like we missed out on anything because the shuttle bus drivers narrated the whole time and provided us with a lot of information. And we did stop every time there was a wildlife sighting and spent time watching and taking pictures - which was something I had been worried about missing out on.

We had an amazing wildlife viewing opportunities from the shuttle!
The best part about the shuttle buses is that you can get off and on wherever and whenever you want. We rode the shuttle bus all the way to the end of the road the first day, and then on the second day we got off and hiked all by ourselves through the Denali wilderness for a few hours. And when we got tired, we just flagged down a passing shuttle and hopped aboard!

Get out and hike - you don't shots like these views from the bus!

5 - Go hiking! 
This was a bit much for the deathly-afraid-of-heights, I-may-get-vertigo girl
following him up the side of this cliff.
This doesn't apply just to Denali. Hiking is free! And you get to see amazing views like this one from the top of Mt. Marathon in Seward:

Worth the view!
It doesn't have to be a strenuous hike - Alaska is a stunning place with plenty of very easy hikes. Get out there and see it, just make sure you take your bear bells!

6 - Make your own souvenirs. We bought plenty of trinkets - quite a few books plus a mug here and some jerky there, but for the most part we planned to make our own souvenirs from our photos. I've already created and ordered a photo book from Shutterfly, and I'm planning on creating other photo gifts for us and family - like mugs, magnets, blankets, etc! Sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish have really great options for creating your own, unique souvenirs.

7 - With all the money you've saved - splurge a few times! We definitely didn't feel like we were skimping on this trip. We ate out a few times for dinner, splurged on an incredible wildlife and glacier viewing tour with a prime rib and salmon dinner out of Seward, and stayed in a nice hotel (which I found a 20% off coupon for online) our last few nights in Anchorage!
Ailiak Glacier
A Sea Otter just chilling... get it? Chilling?
Humpback whale waving hello

Budget Breakdown

Airfare and Car Rental$1,537.00Booked the package through Orbitz
$255.00Homer Hostel - 3 nights
$247.20Seward Hostel - 3 nights
$253.59Denali Hostel - 3 nights
$331.52Hotel in Anchorage - 2 nights
$185.25Eating out (it adds up FAST!)
Gas$203.464 fill-ups and one top-off
$381.50Wildlife and Glacier viewing tour, Seward, AK
$240.00Shuttle buses to Kantishna in Denali
$14.00Carl Wynn Nature Center, Homer, AK
$14.00Pratt Museum, Homer, AK
$42.00Alaska Sealife Center, Seward, AK
Gifts/Souvenirs$164.30Books, mugs, jerky, and a few gifts for family
Miscellaneous$395.43Dogsitter, checked bag (1 each way), other misc

You can see we were actually under $4,500 - that's because at the last minute the airline changed our tickets and we had to leave a day earlier than we had initially planned. Had we stayed another night in Anchorage and probably ate out one more meal, we would have still been under $5,000.

I hope that helps you get over the fear of an Alaska vacation being too expensive! We're excited to save up and go back in a few years!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How To: Redo Your Dining Room 2 years After You Completely Re-did It...


1 - Approximately 1.5 years after completely renovating your dining room and painting it with Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Butter, one hormonal afternoon decide that you hate it. Because it's orange. And orange is limiting when picking out other colors in the house. And it blends in with your floors. And your dog (who also blends in with your floors).

OMG you guys. I legit just realized our living and dining room color scheme was completely based off our dog. Wow. 
You thought I was joking.

2 - Over the course of the next 2 months, slowly increase the number of times you criticize the color of your dining room to your husband. Examples may include:
"This room makes me want to eat pumpkin pie."
"Does the dining room look a little poopy in this light?"
"OMG - WHERE IS STELLA?! Oh here she is. She's camouflaged in pumpkin butter."

I couldn't find a actual picture this phenomena - probably because she in blends so well that
I couldn't find her in photos. This is just a gratuitous "isn't my dog adorbz?!" photo.
3 - If your complaining fails to convince your husband to let you start another project, try whining a little.
"But I don't liiiiikkkkkke it."
NOTE: Failing that, just start the project on a Saturday when he's in the lab. So far this method works well for relatively new newlyweds. I'll be sure to report back how this method stands the test of marriage being married to me.

4 - Decide that this project should incorporate the present your dad got you for Christmas - an air compressor. (People who know me and my dad aren't even blinking an eye at this.)
NOTE: Air compressors smoke a lot when you start them for the first time. Something about oil. Always start your new air compressor for the first time outdoors where it can burn off in your kitchen.

5 - Since board and batten requires a lot of nails and patience (one of which you don't have, the other which you can buy) - go with that. Draw a picture to help you figure out how much lumber you need. Make sure that you won't be able to decipher what the hell you were doing when you look at it again 2 months later.
Note me calling our dog walker by the wrong name in the corner. Fail.
6 - Because of a super duper long line at the paint counter at HD and your impressive lack amount of patience, paint the bottom third of your dining room Behr white. Not the fancy white you had picked out - just plain ol' off-the-shelf white.
Oooo look at that nice view of that wood paneling and green laminate. 
7 - While attaching the horizontal boards, if you happen to find yourself with an incredibly curvaceous wall, throw all of your weight into the board to try to get it to bend to the shape of the wall. Heck - hit it with a hammer a few times to see if you can persuade it. When you start to feel the drywall give way, hit it one more time before giving up. Then go back to HD and pick up a fake board made out of PVC that is bendy. Attach it and hope no one notices your outrageously curvy wall.

8 - Place and attach vertical slats. Then stop for a week to annoy your husband pick the perfect paint color.
As with whites, who knew there were so many... gray shades? Notice how I avoided that so smoothly? 
9 - After deliberating for a week over different grays, choose the same gray as you already have in your hallway. Because you're exciting and risky like that. 

10 - (Optional step) Hang up white curtains. Tape a blue paint chip on one because you envision painting stripes on them. Leave it there for 3 months and then start a new project (i.e. a full kitchen remodel).

Just for fun here's a real "before" picture!

Feel free to OOO and AHH with me.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kitchen Renovation, Step #2

Step 2: Begin Demolition

Miss Step 1?


Note: This step is best done 36 hours after you've returned from vacation via a red-eye flight and are suffering from severe jet lag and lack of sleep.

a) Around 10 am on a holiday, while still wearing your pjs, loudly declare that it's too hot to work outside and that you're too tired to do any "real work" on the kitchen.

b) At 11:30 am ask your husband how destructive you're allowed to be that day. When he replies that he doesn't care "as long as he can start cooking dinner at 5:30 pm" run upstairs and change into your work clothes. Shoes optional.

c) Use a small crowbar, hammer, screwdriver, needle-nose pliers, and basically any other random tools you can find in the basement (remember - you're avoiding going outside) to begin pulling paneling and trim off the walls. Be sure to de-nail the paneling so you don't stab yourself while carrying pieces. When nails and splinters starts to accumulate on the floor, decide that shoes are actually not optional.
NOTE: If you happen to find a large hole with exposed electrical wires poking out of it when you remove the paneling, break off a smaller piece of paneling and nail it back over the hole for your dad to deal with later.
NOTE x2: When you find yourself stuck behind a giant piece of paneling that has sandwiched you between it and the sink, DO NOT ASK FOR HELP. I repeat - DO NOT ASK FOR HELP. Instead, swear, grunt, and shove at it until it moves and consider your teapot, trashcans, and tools that end up on the floor as you scrape the paneling over the countertops collateral damage for your victory.

d) Remove as much paneling as you can reasonably reach without tearing out cabinets. Tear out cabinets if necessary. In order to make sure your husband feels like he's part of the project, ask him nicely to carry discarded cabinets to the curb for you.

e) At 5:25 pm start sweeping up debris and throwing your tools back in the basement.

f) At 5:40 turn the kitchen back over to your husband looking like this:

Please note the smokey outline of what was likely decorative plates near the ceiling. Yummy.

g) Optional step: Fall asleep on the living room floor while your husband makes dinner.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kitchen Renovation, Step #1

Step 1: Purchase Cabinets


1a) While touring your favorite used home improvement store with your parents decide that a used set of kitchen cabinets for sale might work in your kitchen and would save you at least $4,000 over new Ikea cabinets.
1b) Take a ton of pictures and measurements of said cabinets to take back and convince your hubby to allow you to spend your tax return on them.

1c) Back at your house, while your parents measure out your kitchen, try to convince your husband to let you go back and buy the cabinets today because your parents and their minivan are leaving in a few hours. NOTE: If your husband makes you promise that the cabinets won't take up the whole garage, smile sweetly and promise that they absolutely will not take up the entire garage.

1d) Return to your favorite used home improvement store to purchase cabinets approximately 25 min before they close and about 3 hours before your parents are scheduled to leave. With the cabinets in the back of the store, this leaves you with enough time to make approximately 2.5 trips to the minivan before the store starts turning off the lights on you. At this point, play up the sympathy vote. If you're lucky, an employee at the store who happens to own a truck may offer to haul the rest of the cabinets home for you for $10. Agree before he can finish offering and then give him $20. NOTE: Try not to cry tears of relief. That will only make things awkward.

1e) Once all of the cabinets are unloaded on your front lawn, carry them back into the garage - filling it entirely. 

1f) Hug parents goodbye, apologize to husband, then quietly do victory dance in your now very-limited garage space.