Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to Plan a Trip

 One of the overwhelming questions I receive on a weekly basis is, "how do you plan your trips?" It's a great question! Before I race off towards the finish line on this one, I want to say this... There is no one "right" way to plan the trip of a lifetime…you have to do what works best for YOU! Today, you'll get to see a bit of an inside peek to how Kev and I plan our trips...

First of all, you are in luck, because we are actually planning our trip to Turkey right now, so all this information is fresh on our minds! Kevin and I get so excited to plan trips {it literally gets my adrenaline running!} that we always make a date about it. We'll pick a fun coffee shop or restaurant, bring all of our travel books and computers, and make a day of it. To plan our trip to Turkey, Kev and I drove down to Crystal Cove by Newport Coast, went on a hike over the beach, then came back and started planning at the Starbucks across the street!

Here's a bit of a step by step planning guide we use:

1) Figure out where you want to go: This in and of itself can be HARD, as our globe has no shortage of breathtaking places to explore! However, most of you probably have a bucket lists of a few countries you've always wanted to visit. Narrow it down to a few, and then start researching what might be the most economical option for you. This coming summer, Kevin and I knew we either wanted to go to Turkey or to Eastern Europe. We started doing our homework, and realized that the flights {with our credit card miles} were WAY cheaper to fly into Istanbul, Turkey than they were to Prague, Czech Republic {in fact the flight to Prague was twice as expensive as to Istanbul}. This made our initial decision a no-brainer!

Other issues you may want to take into consideration include:
- weather {the weather in Turkey will be warmer this May than in Eastern Europe, so the sunshine weighed in our decision)
- cost of living {by and large, our US dollar will stretch a bit further in Turkey than in Eastern Europe…it's still Europe after all!}

2) Country Overview: Once you've picked the lucky country {insert conffetti and happy dancing!}it's time to get an initial feel for the country at hand! The details for the trip can wait, because right now it's time to figure out generally what cities and areas you want to visit in the country. The best way to do this in my opinion is to consult travel books, get your google search on, and interrogate your friends!

Travel Books: You may think spending $30 on a travel book is overrated, but it's not my friend, it will actually give you magic powers {and not all books are created equal…Rick Steve's is my favorite, then Lonely Planet is usually a solid choice). Good travel books usually give suggestions of where to go if you are in country for "one week" "two weeks" or even sometimes "three weeks". Kevin and I are going to be in Turkey for 2 weeks exactly, so we consulted our Lonely Planet Turkey Guidebook, and checked out what they recommended for a 2 week trip. This was the first time we started hearing about the towns of interest that we needed to keep on our radar, like Ephesus or Cappadocia. This will really help you narrow down the important places you will want to go.

Google: You can also consult Dr. Google himself. Type in something like "two week itinerary in ____". I typed "two week itinerary in Turkey" or even "best places to see in Turkey", and again, it helped give me an overview of some of the best places to see.

Friends:  The best advice often comes from people have already "been there, done that!". We just had friends that went to Turkey last year, and so we made a point to get together with them. Over lunch at their house {of Turkish food nonetheless!} we asked them tons of questions on where to go, what to see, and what their favorite activity was! The information they gave was invaluable! We are even staying at some of the hotels they mentioned as being memorable:)

3) Map your Route: Once we figured out the best places to travel to, we stated to map out our route in the calendar. We knew we would start in Istanbul, so we blocked out 3 days on our google calendar in Istanbul. Then we put 2 days in Cappadocia, 1 in Pamukkale, 2 in Ephesus, and 4 on the beach. Even though at this point we didn't have any details, getting it mapped out by the days helped us to visualize where we were going and the nature of our 12 days in the country.

4) Details Details Details! Once we had our route mapped out in our calendar, we started diving deeper into the planning process. We divided and conquered. I was nominated to look for lodging in each city, and Kevin  was nominated to figure out our transportation from city to city. Here is how we worked on our respective jobs:

- Lodging: 2 things are key when it comes to booking lodging…1) Know where in the city you want to stay {so you don't end up in the ghetto or the boondocks} and 2) get an idea for the average price of lodging in that specific area, so that you don't get ripped off. To figure out what part of the city to stay in, google it! I figured out very quickly the good neighborhoods in Istanbul to stay in. To get a good feel for pricing in the city, I started on  In my case, hotels in Istanbul are CRAZY expensive {even though everything else in the country isn't costly}. So, I decided that I would check out AirBnB as an alternative. What I found was awesome! There were great rooms for rent in stunning parts of town that saved us a lot of money! In the end, we rented a room from AirBnB that only cost us $33 a night {as opposed to $75 in a janky hotel!} I used to book the rest of our accommodations in the other cities we are staying in! The great thing about Agoda is that you can accrue points the more you purchase through them, and very soon we will have a free night of lodging somewhere!! {for more tips on booking lodging, click here}

- Transportation: Kevin was a boss at booking transportation in country. He googled everything {including reviews for each company we ended up purchasing tickets with, to make sure it was credible!}. He first googled "domestic airline flights from Istanbul to Cappadocia". This took us to Turkish Airlines, and we purchased flights very easily! {do your research on what airports are best to fly out of, etc.}. He then googled "buses from Cappadocia to Pammukale" and boom, it took us to a website of a bus company and we were able to snag tickets. Google makes things so accessible…use it…love it…become friends with it! :) {For more tips on booking transportation, click here.}

- Activities: I must say, Trip Advisor is bar none in this area. We LOVE Trip Advisor for figuring out all the local treasures and activities that are worth doing. For instance, in Dublin two years ago, Trip Advisor told us to book a dinner called "Food, Folklore, and Fairies" at an old pub, and it ended up being my favorite thing in Dublin! For our Turkey trip, we are using Trip Advisor to figure out what tours we should take, if the hot air balloon ride is really worth it, and what we should do along the coast! Your guide book can also help you with this!! And remember when I said the guide books are magic? One of their greatest strengths (in my humble opinion) is that most guidebooks have walking tours in them. This gives you the opportunity to give yourself a tour that is free and at your own pace, and is still jammed packed full with wonderful information!

Here are a few more tips on making your trip as smooth as possible: 

1) Calendar your trip: One our computers, we calendar our trip onto google calendars. We put our flight information, bus information, pick up times, etc. into the days where we are utilizing transportation. We put all our hotel confirmation numbers and addresses into the calendar as well. Having ALL the information in one place is super helpful in case you need to pull it up at a moments notice!

2) Manilla Folder the Important Information: To make our trip as smooth as possible, Kevin and I utilize what we fondly refer to as the "manilla folder". We put any important documents into this manilla folder, and carry it with us in our backpack or suitcase. In this folder we usually put:
- Copies of Passports and drivers licenses {just in case}
- A print out of ALL our hotel confirmation and plane/bus/rental car tickets and info
- Driving directions from google maps if we are renting a car and need to get from here to there
- Contact List of phone numbers and addresses of friends we may be visiting in the country

3) Pack for the weather: I'll be sharing more on packing soon, but make sure you do some research on what the weather will be like when you are there.

4) Read up: This should go without saying, but the more homework you do before you leave, the better you'll understand the country! Sometimes I'll read books {both fiction and non fiction} or watch movies to learn more about the country. Kevin and I are total travel nerds and will often watch "Rick Steves" videos on the destination we are going {you can find them on youtube}. The more you know about a place, the more you will appreciate the people, the architecture, and it's unique place in history.

I hope this was somewhat helpful for you guys! If you have any specific questions, don't hesitate to ask!! And if you think of something I missed, I would LOVE to hear it. How do YOU plan your trips?

Happy Thursday friends:)
love Katie

Ps- It's Kevin's 30th birthday today. I love this man more every day, and could not ask for a better husband. I told him my epic gift to him was a trip to Turkey…hahah!! {don't you love those "gifts" that you get to benefit from too? haha!}

If you are interested in any of my other travel tips, check these out:
How to Pay for Travel:
Part 1- Prioritize your spending
Part 2- Travel Credit Cards
Part 3- Food
Part 4- Teach Abroad
Part 5- Accommodations
Part 6- Transportation 
Part 7- Sample Itinerary using all my travel tips

How to Travel While working a 9-5 Job
My favorite "Small"Cities in the World
My favorite "Big" Cities in the World

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Credit Card Miles for Travel: A word of caution

You all know I sing the praises of using credit cards to explore the world {see here for living proof!}. However, the other day, a reader sent me a message asking me if Kevin and I just rack up credit card debt in order to get miles. The alarm bells started tolling, and I knew I needed to address this issue.

Our stance on credit card debt is a NO TOLERANCE rule! We never ever spend what we don't have in the bank. Debt is one of the worst things you could possibly get yourself into {for many reasons!}, and we have been lucky enough to avoid debt at all costs!

Kevin and I have 3 different miles credit cards. However, we have paid off every single credit card statement we've ever received. This is key. If you are in debt now and are tempted to get another credit card, don't. Pay off the debt you have, and then think about ways you can keep yourself from falling into debt in the future. Our policy is "if we don't have it, we can't spend it". Kevin keeps a tight watch on our bank accounts so that at all times, we know what our capabilities are.

Traveling is wonderful, but not at the expense of debt.

If you are interested in what credit cards we have,
how we pay for each credit card,
and where we've flown using each credit card,
see my post here!

Happy Wednesday friends:)
love Katie

ps- a month till we fly to Turkey {using our Chase Sapphire Preferred Card!} 

Monday, April 21, 2014

love wins

I love Easter, and this year was so special spending it with my family. In our house, there are traditions galore; we dyed easter eggs and had a lovely breakfast before Church. Even though all 4 of us kids are grown and out of the house, my dad still writes a scavenger hunt for us all to find out easter baskets. My mom suggested that once we hit 30 maybe we don't get an easter basket {ie: me!}, and I was quite horrified! haha! I love traditions, and i'll never be "too old" to outgrow them. My dad was so cute hiding all the clues, and then all of us "kids" in our twenties and thirties darted around the house looking for the next clue. Good times:)

That morning at church there was a song called "love wins". And as I reflected that day, I thought about how Easter is the pinnacle of love winning. Love that conquered death and sin, and covered a blanket of grace over our hearts. A love of Jesus that is so personal, so tender, so kind and warm, that stands in our place, takes away death, so that we can have life.

I owe him my all. I'm thankful that darkness doesn't win in the end, love does.

Here's to living like Love has won, because is has:) He has won.

Happy Monday friends,
love Katie
 {Kevin was over the moon about his See's egg!}

 {my sisters Easter masterpiece…a fruit salad bunny!} 

 {my sweet mom and her hilarious sisters…they have far too much fun together} 

Friday, April 18, 2014

some spring bling

If you knew me in person, you'd know i'm pretty simple when it comes to make-up. Honestly, I wish I was better and knew all the tricks. But I guess i've just never taken the time to learn! haha However, i'm still a woman, and I love a little shimmer and shine, especially when spring turns the corner into summer and I crave a fresh and beachy look!

Sweet Fannie contacted me about some of her products at Mary Kay. Of course we've all heard of Mary Kay, but I immediately had this misconceived notion that they were super pricey. But when I started looking over their website, I noticed how truly affordable their quality products are!

I had so much fun trying out these new products, and i'm over the moon about how it gave me a little extra glow and pop!

I ordered:
Mineral Eye Color in Sweet Plum {$7} which I used to line my eyes. The purple color gave my green eyes an extra pop!

Creme Eye Color in Beach Blonde {$10) I'm obsessed with this smooth and shimmery cream. I loved how it wasn't too glittery ala 7th grade, but gave me a real glow.

Brunette Definer Pencil  {$10}

 I honestly loved all these products, and plan to restock when I run out. I think the eye cream was my favorite, and am looking at adding the apricot color to my collection!!

As a special gift for you readers, Fannie is offering a 25% off coupon if you order your products through her Mary Kay website.

Here is what you need to do:
1. Go to the site {here}
2. Register and shop
3. Send Fannie an email with your order, and my blog name, Hope Engaged.

an easy peasy way to add some fun glow to your spring and summer look:)

Happy weekend friends,
I hope your Easter is filled with love, laughter, and a beautiful awe of our Savior's resurrection.
He has risen! He has risen Indeed!

love Katie 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Seattle, a birthday trip

When Kevin and I were first married, we decided that for each other's birthdays, we would plan and surprise each other with a weekend trip (instead of a tangible gift). So far, our plan has worked brilliantly!

This year for my birthday, Kevin surprised me with tickets to Seattle. We were in a waffle restaurant, when Kevin handed me the tickets. I was so speechless I clapped my hands around my face and started to cry happy tears. Kev knew I had been wanting to go to Seattle for a while to visit some good friends of ours (josh and mica!). 

Well, in true fashion to the way we travel, Kev had snagged free flights using our Southwest credit cards, and we stayed with our friends, so as a huge blessing, the trip was rather economical for us! 

And what  a delight this city is! We of course started our first day in downtown Seattle at Pike Place Market. We visited the first Starbucks ever made, and shopped along the old market row full of fresh flowers and all sorts of foods! I loved it! We even saw the famous fish market! Fish were flying everywhere, it was great! 

My favorite part of the trip was discovering the different neighborhoods in Seattle! Our friends lived in lovely Green Lake, and we walked around the beautiful lake as the trees bloomed blossoms down upon us! We visited the Ballard Locks, Freemont, U-District, and had a lovely walk through Queen Anne's (where the spectacular view of the city from Kerry Park is!). 

We ate our way through the entire city, and i'm still drooling over Molly Moon's, the famous home made ice cream shop that offers vegan ice cream! BEST EVER! 

The last day we played tourists again, and went up into the Space Needle (which was AWESOME!) and rode the Ducks (which was hilarious!!). We saw the floating house from Sleepless in Seattle, gasworks park, and the bridge! So fun! 

All in all it was a great trip, and we are so blessed for the friendship of Josh and Mica who hosted us in the most generous and welcome way!!

Lastly, I hope you noted that I was literally dressed like I was going to the snow! HA! I'm pretty sure my snow jacket and hat were a dead give away to the locals that I was a complete tourist and a complete wimp when it came to "cold weather"! haha! 

Happy Monday Friends,
Love Katie