Spring Break – To Be Avoided?

Caribbean, Florida, Travel, United States

Spring break is coming up for most Americans this month or next. Sometimes known as Easter Break, this annual tradition gives students and their overworked teachers a break from each other.

For the rest of us, we scramble to find care for our children and stumble into our jobs. And others of us are lucky enough to escape with our kids to tropical locations.

My advice, stay home.

Why?

Well unless you have a really good incentive for a break, it’s such a busy time of year that running away may not actually be enjoyable.

The Caribbean and Florida are the top locations for Spring Breakers, and if that awful movie sharing the same name is an indication, there is mayhem in them parts. Not that hotels and resorts don’t avoid spring break vacationers, but it’s hard to inhibit.

No doubt, at about every resort, will be those having too much fun and puking in the pool. No doubt. And on top of that rates are insane at most places in March and April, at times they can be almost double due to popularity.

At some point the vomit inhibits the fun. And let’s face it, do most college and high school aged people REALLY know how to hold their liquor?

If you do have a longer break, or decide to make it longer, there is a chance to hit the road to Europe or further afield. My only suggestion is to remember the travel time to get to and from, and how that can eat into time on the ground. A “week away” quickly can turn into only five says doing anything. And for around $1,000 a round trip plane ticket, you want to make sure it’s worthwhile.

This isn’t to say that fun can’t be had. For instance, many other locations are divine in spring, such as the Carolinas or the Bay Area. These places may not offer the surf and sand, but they can offer an enjoyable escape.

While I know all of you are itching for warmer weather, remember that sometimes good things come to those who wait.

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Travel Gear on a Budget

europe, France, italy, Travel, United Kingdom

Many people say that a good suitcase can change your life. This is undoubtably true. The appendix to that statement is that it doesn’t have to break the bank.

As someone that yearns to be in the road I travel several times a year and spend many weekend away. I need a suitcase that can hold up to planes, trains, and automobiles.

My main suitcases were a gift for graduating from my undergraduate degree. It’s a classic set from Samsonite, and it serves me well. This set details for around $200, but the quality makes it worth every penny.

I have gone through a lot of suitcases over the years. Sometimes bought, sometimes borrowed. Many times they come home from a month abroad with broken sides and ruined wheels. Yet with my adventures with my Samsonites I have found it still comes home as sturdy as when I left. It’s soft sided so I worry less on the smacks of careless baggage handlers and every scuff doesn’t show. It’s one of the best gifts I have ever received!

Yet for small trips I always go for my thrift store found leather duffel which is the perfect size and looks refined compared to most duffels. While it’s not high end, it’s effective and it looks nice for business or professional settings.

Nest in my list are leather bags bought on trips or collected over the years. All of them cost $130 or less and they have all been lifesavers. My laptop bag was an Italian market find that I bargained from $250 to $130 for, and I plan on it lasting me another 30 years. My purses are blends from The Sam, Italian Leather finds and clearance section bargains. All have over the shoulder straps and look nice for many settings. The best part is everything fits in them with room for a book and/or my DSLR. This makes them perfect for a plane or train… or automobile (ok I’ll stop).

For footwear, more times than not I pick my Toms or something equivalent. They’re lightweight and easy to wear for many an occasion. If it’s summer/tropical I throw in the Birkenstock’s or Chacos. If I have a dressy event I bring one pair of heels that match everything (always go black). I love blending lightweight with practical to reduce luggage but also look smart.

Men have it easy with the clothing game, but women need not kill themselves with unrealistic outfits. I always suggest making sure everything matches everything else in your suitcase. Pack less than you originally wanted to, and bring more underwear than you think you’ll need. When buying new items look for cloth that doesn’t wrinkle, and things that fold up small. Layers will be your best friend.

Most importantly, leave room in your budget to pick up stuff along the way that you see as practical for you. This will most likely be a neck pillow or blanket, that can then make the rounds for the next 20 trips!

Happy Travels!

Do a Lot With a Little

Allergen-free eating on the road, europe, family, food, France, geek, Ireland, italy, Travel, United Kingdom

I have never had what I would consider a lot of money or resources. I grew up in my grandparent’s house. My family lived below the poverty line. Since moving out of my childhood home I have been in school and/or working in jobs that don’t pay more than $34,000 a year. I sometimes do some work as a photographer or web designer to make ends meet. It has never been a lot. I have never had excessive means.

However, even with a little, I make it stretch. I take the advantages that have been given to me and make it work. This is, of course, been an immense lot of luck, and stubbornness, and sacrifice. However, it has meant that I have been able to do more than many at 27.

For my first trip to Europe, I lived at home and worked almost seven days a week for $8 an hour, at a crappy little fossil shop with sketchy owners. I did that for eight months, and then cheaply wandered around Europe crashing with friends, old and new, and hosteling when I needed to. I ate apples for lunch, and cooked in dingy kitchens to save cash. I walked instead of taking taxis and buses. I made it work. I took the advantages of free places to sleep and turned it into a longer trip, another museum, a nice meal.

In 2013 on my study abroad I headed to Italy on the most economical program I could find. I ate at the apartment for the most part, picking up in season produce at the markets. Savoring every sweet little strawberry and succulent squash. I bought $2 gelato on my way to classes for my “lunch” and euro store (same as a dollar store) nuts for a snack. I would scour the city for food deals on dinners. €15 three-course meals meant I could eat and drink on the cheap, street vendors served €2 polenta for a real treat. I bartered to cut down on souvenir costs. I stubbornly walked away to save another €5. I took advantage of every meal and treat that the study abroad program offered, knowing it would save me money.

2015 was the start of my M.A. and I hosteled, while others stayed in hotels. I packed lunch or ate cheap soup in the cantina at the college instead of eating a sandwich nearby. I traded books at the hostel and did my laundry in the basement. In an extra three weeks of travel I only stayed three nights in a real hotel, a 3-star Ibis. I was gifted gluten free bread from a fabulous bakery in Dublin. I bought few souvenirs and savored toast and tea and packets of oatmeal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love food. I LOVE food. However, I love seeing the world more. I love diving into museums and cathedrals and tours. I love eating cheap food that locals love, from chippies and markets, and food stalls. I like finding fresh veggies and fruits to suck down locally. I like fancy things, and fine meals, but if it means I can try three restaurants for the price of one, I’ll take more over the one.

I find this philosophy trickles into everything I do. I shop second hand clothing stores so I can afford a better quality item for much less. I shop grocery store sales, and closeout items for a better deal. I coupon and wait for deals to get the items I need. I scour for off-season travel deals and seasonal items to hit the clearance sections. Some find this cheap. I find it a means to live a fuller life.

I don’t hoard this bounty either, I gift to others, and donate like crazy. Monthly I probably get rid of at least one if not more trash bags of stuff. It consists of clothes my stepdaughter has outgrown, shoes we are bored of, and books we have read. I recycle and reuse, I pass it on and upcycle. I take a little and make a lot.

End note: I have been extremely lucky and I am fully aware not everyone can do this.

Spring Wanderlust

Travel

It is usually around the first of March that I begin getting antsy to get away again. I have usually been stuck at home for a few months; there are events with my stepdaughter and family, girl scouts and other obligations that have us running around Fort Collins like we’re in a marathon.

By March I am ready to get moving, to see new things, to get away from the monotony of life. It is this time of year that I plan out my adventures for the following 10 months of the year. As two months have already left us, I want to make sure the rest of the year is full of the best fun possible.

For those wanting to also plan out their best year, here are my tips for maximizing your time and money.

  1. Know how many vacation days you can afford
    • This may be paid time off or non-paid time off, whatever it looks like be realistic on what you have and don’t have.
  2. Choose one place for a week
    • Hopping around from place to place makes it hard to get the most from a vacation, instead narrow down on one spot you really want to go and then expand from there.
  3. Set a realistic budget
    • Go through your bills for the year and see what you have left to work with. If you don’t have much, see what you can cut back on. Even if you limit your coffee habit, or trips out to eat, you can save a lot of cash.
  4. Stay close
    • If you are short on time or money, choose somewhere nearby or cheap to get to. Flights to Las Vegas are usually cheap, or visit a National Park in your state. Find an AirBnB close by and bum out for a long weekend. Escaping doesn’t need to be hard.
  5. Plan ahead to maximize your time and money
    • Planning ahead means you often get batter airline, hotel, and even activity rates. It can also mean you get to see things that booking last minute won’t allow. Research thoroughly, ask questions, and seek out alternatives to bigger budget activities.
  6. Visit family
    • One way I have saved thousands is by taking time to visit family all over the world. Sometimes I stay with them, sometimes I stay nearby, but the best part is getting a local’s point of view.
  7. Make sure it’s fun
    • Sometimes traveling is not for everyone, so make sure you are actually selecting things everyone wants to do. There is no reason to pay for everyone to go to DisneyWorld all day when only one kid wants to. Instead, take everyone to a cheaper activity everyone will enjoy.

Happy Travels!

When You Can’t Find It…Make It

geek, History, wedding

I am strictly budgeting my wedding, as a sort of boycott to the extravagance of American weddings.

I am having a hell of a time finding a wedding dress that’s under $700 and that is ACTUALLY a style I want. At this point I am just being picky.

However, I had found “the one” that was about $500 and gorgeous. It was going to be perfect. The company in Ukraine even made it custom to my measurements!

THEN…the dressmaker over DOUBLED the price of the dress

😦

to $1200

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SOOO I will not be ordering that dress

I have also been searching other places for “the dress” but I can’t stand the overpriced and gross polyester nightmares that David’s Bridal sells.

I have looked all over etsy and nothing compares….or I don’t like the neckline

I haven’t seen anything on other websites that blows me away and I want something made from a fabric I can STAND to wear for 9 hours and not sweat all over and feel gross on my wedding day.

Short and curvy I look terrible in strapless

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I want something romantic without being terrible and poofy

I don’t look good in anything without upper support for my large twins….

at this point maybe it would be easier to just make something…..

oh yeah, I do that….

I can sew. I sew pretty well.

I also have been dreaming of making a Chemise A La Reine (18th century style gown)

so….that’s what I’ll be doing.

I just ordered my fabric for $32

Meaning I may make my wedding dress for less than $50….I call it a win

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Gentrification in Fort Collins

musings

If you talk to long-time residents or past residents of the bay area in San Francisco you hear a lot of the same stories. Those that stayed and were able to support their families had to acclimate or start something with the big players of the area. Or to put is simply, they got high paying jobs, we’re able to afford the expensive housing, and are likely thriving in the culture there because they can afford it.Those that couldn’t afford the changes in rent are now being pushed to the burbs, if not the street and it’s creating a lot of friction.

The thing is that Homelessness, and those experiencing it, is not higher in places like San Francisco, but reflective of other communities and areas in the United States. Including my city, Fort Collins.

The difference may be largely in tourism and visibility. In San Francisco affluence and poverty sit next to each other, and it’s very visible to visitors to the city. For those in Fort Collins experiencing homelessness, they are often hidden. They stay with family, sleep in cars, or find places in wooded areas to camp, rest, or simply sit. Fort Collins, significantly smaller in size, has the ability to also discourage camping, while a city of San Francisco’s size would lack some of those same resources and also hidden locations.

Regardless of visibility, the problem is similar. As tech companies move in, and rent increases, it becomes increasingly harder for people to make it. Fort Collins, and Colorado, has had a boom in the number of people moving to the state, along with an increase in the cost of living. Due to the legalization of marijuana and the business that has developed from it, the popularity of Colorado has also increased. Then compound it with its natural beauty, progressive views, and friendly people….you see the appeal of moving here.

It’s also much cheaper here than in many parts of California, and  other coastal areas such as New York so it’s appealing as a relocation option.

Except many of those that have lived in Colorado for their whole lives or have been here for more than a decade are feeling the crunch of trying to survive.

I’m not excluded from this.

When I started college in 2011 I could easily find places to rent in Denver for $400 or less. I actually had the ability to choose an apartment, near downtown and close to my school for $600/month and it was luxurious for my needs. Today, 2016, similar apartments in that area rent for upwards of $1200 a month. Meaning the cost has doubled, but income hasn’t.

Fort Collins isn’t looking much different, when I moved here in 2012 we could easily find 2-bedroom condos and homes for rent for well under $1000/month. Today we would be lucky to find anything for less than $1200/month and most likely would pay $1500 or more. We’re not even near major metro lines, businesses, or airports. Instead we’re an odd suburb-like city that mostly functions on its own and for a select clientele.

To break down the issue, it’s that there is no minimum wage specific for Fort Collins or Denver, but rather a state-version that is a whole $8.31, if you aren’t a tipped worker. Federal minimum wage is $7.24, so we’re a little better, but not much.

According to Huff Post in a May 2016 article ( a year earlier it was $19.89), one would need to make $21.21/hour just to make rent. At the moment I make about half that.

To be self-sufficient in Larimer County Colorado, meaning to earn enough to live comfortably, not rely on income-based housing etc. A family of four would need to make over $72,000 annually and this is BEFORE DEBT, so if you have student loans, increase by your monthly payment.

This breaks down to $17.01/hour for 40 hours a week for EACH adult, if you have a 2-parent household. As a single parent you need to make about $30.68/hour or over $64,000 annually.

This also reflects on the cost of homes and who can afford them. My fiance and I earn too little to qualify for a loan big enough to actually purchase anything in Fort Collins that is worth living in. Anything “cheap” enough is a mobile home, a condo with limits on the loans it qualifies for, and maybe a plot of land. It’s a dream I have always had, and one that is probably less and less of a reality.

The extra fun part is when you don’t earn enough to afford everything, but you earn too much to continue qualifying for things like medicaid, food stamps, and income-based housing. Which ultimately means your extra dollars are then used to help you barely get by.

And it’s not just the public feeling fenced in, but small businesses struggle as rent prices rise and wealthy startups are able to move in. Including my favorite asian imports store that is now a tattoo parlour. BECAUSE in Fort Collins, a tattoo business has become more profitable than groceries, clothing and knick-knacks. It’s more popular among the affluent college students as well.

That is when you wish and pray and meditate and apply and get extra credits etc. etc. for that better job that is not guaranteed and not available and you slowly the the existential dread…

Anyway, this is a blog, and somewhat opinion, but the reality is that Colorado is in a position that something has to change or we will be reaching crisis levels in need, and ability to get by. Maybe rent-caps are the answer, and cities investing in more affordable housing and maybe increasing the minimum wage, along with single-payer healthcare.

Which would mean that we could afford to live in a location that we want to live. It would also mean that our taxes guaranteed a health safety net, for everyone, no excuses.

If we paid for university people like me wouldn’t have a request of $700/month debt payment I can’t pay. Maybe we could also make sure our universities were teaching the best level of education to make sure they were educating for real jobs and opportunities.

Perfection is impossible, but we’re so far behind the rest of the developed world as a nation, that we need to figure out some priorities and act on them or we will lack the ability to ever catch up.

END

 

Land of Enchantment Part II

Allergen-free eating on the road, new mexico, Travel, United States

The second day was an early start to the day and driving to downtown before the tourists invaded. I also wanted to talk to the Native American artists that sat outside by the Palace to sell their goods to locals and tourists alike. This was a great opportunity to learn how the system worked and how it provided artists the chance to make money directly and control their art.

I ended up buying a small pottery egg from a woman that had a turtle and fish on it, representing life and sustainability. The price was great and it felt awesome to support local and small artists. As an artist and from a family of artists, this direct connection meant a lot.

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I talked to others about their goods and how they made things. There were silver workers, pottery masters, jewelry makers, weavers and everything in between. If you want to REALLY shop native goods, then this is the place and the best way to do it.

I then hit a few more shops looking for a thank you to the neighbors for loving on our cat while we were gone and I found a small place that sold local arts such as tin work and jewelry made from dried corn. All of these made great little souvenirs and it was enjoyable to be shopping so early and away from the crowds and chaos.

Before it was too hot I also walked the few blocks around the center of town, photographing and enjoying the soul of the city. One that dripped with art and culture and history. The entirety of it brought me a sense of peace and joy that I miss living in a newer city. The sensation reminded me of the same sensation I receive when I’m in Europe. Traversing ancient pathways and soaking up centuries of movement.

Late that morning some other relatives arrived for the celebrations, so the afternoon was spent eating, talking and doing some more sightseeing.

We spent a significant part of the afternoon looking at the old and famous churches of Santa Fe, including the Loretto Chapel, known for its staircase. Gothic in style the church has a classic charm to it.

Then we visited the OLDEST church in the United States, San Miguel Chapel. Which not only has the claim to being the oldest, but also is home to a 14th century bell from Spain, and some beautiful old art from the colonial time period.

We finished the day at the OLDEST home in Santa Fe, which was perfectly sized for someone short like myself and was a darling walk in the lifestyle of early Europeans that settled in the area.

Finally, we returned my aunt to the hotel and Ryan and I were able to have a date in Santa Fe. Which, naturally,deserved being full of tacos (American-Mexican) and margaritas. We ate the most amazing fish tacos I have ever had at Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill (that also had an awesome Gluten-Free menu. Then we finished with a quick visit the art museum and a walk around the old part of town.

Part I, Part III

Top 10-Denver

colorado, Colorado Events, musings, Travel

I love the “big city” of Colorado. AKA Denver, which serves as the capital but also as a massive metropolis of something like 30 suburbs and small towns all connected and smooshed together. Denver proper is rather small, but is packed full of exciting and enjoyable activities for any visitor.

10. The Molly Brown House. 

Molly Brown, also known as the unsinkable Molly Brown. Also actually known in her lifetime as Margaret Brown…anyway, lived in Denver and was an activist and feminist in the early part of the 20th century. All around she was pretty badass and did a lot for not only Colorado but also the United States in her lifetime. The house has been restored to reflect her lifestyle and that of the Denver elite in the 1910s and 20s. It’s quite a look at the wealth of the time, and also her life and what she stood for and cared about.

Learn more from a project I did, Acta Historia

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9. City Park

If you want to enjoy some of the 300 days of sunshine Colorado boasts about, there is not a more wonderful location in the city than at City Park, which is very close to my number 8 and 7 choices! It’s full of not only some great statues of Martin Luther King and Robert Burns, but also in the summer you can rent boats, there are fountains to play in to beat the summer heat. And always a few dogs to say hello to.

City Park - Heath Alseike-Creative Commons

8. Denver Zoo

Yes a zoo is a zoo, but the Denver zoo boasts an impressive collection of creatures for a mid-sized city, and is home to some amazing habitats! Their recently renovated elephant enclosure is like walking into another country! They offer lots of goodies for kids to interact with, and for adults, it’s just a fun time to get face to face with otters and primates!

zoo-map

7. Denver Museum of Nature and Science

I have been going to this museum at least once a year for as long as I can remember. I even worked here for a while in college, and it was a dream come true! I love this place, and with revolving and evolving exhibits there is always something new to see! It’s always a lot of fun!

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6. Civic Center Park

This heart to Downtown is an exciting and beautiful layout full of rich classic architecture and the place for downtown happenings and festivals!

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with my friend Fallon in 2011

5. 16th Street Mall/Downtown

This 1.25 mile long shopping mall offers a lot of fun shopping for the visitor, but it also offers a link to other sights in the downtown area. a FREE shuttle connects one end to the other where you can access Lo-Do and then Capital hill on the other end. The strip offer eclectic dining options and ease of access to other city transportation such as the tram-system. My favorite place is The Tattered Cover Bookstore!

4. Denver Art Museum

This MASSIVE museum literally has something for everyone, and is full of relics from all over the world. Enjoy renaissance and medieval, or Asia and the Middle East, South America has rooms and rooms! They also have wonderful modern art, and rotating exhibitions so check it out. Plan a day if you have it, or a few hours to hit the main interests. Kid’s can also intimately interact with the exhibits by checking out an explorer pack!

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3. LoDo

This may be the most Colorado thing about Denver. Not only do you get to enjoy a huge collection of antique buildings but there are a ton of mom and pop restaurants serving up local fare. Then there is the iconic REI flagship store for those outdoorsy types. There is the iconic Union Station that lights up at night for a marvelous view, and Coors field if you want to catch a Rockies game. FINALLY you can Kayak in the middle of downtown Denver! REALLY and it’s FREE, of course you need a kayak…

Denver_Confluence_1

2. Clubbing and music

The clubbing district of Denver stretches along Sherman street, south of downtown. This is great place to grab a few drinks, dance, meet people and check out the local DJ scene. If this is less of your style, stick to Colfax and the music venues! The Fillmore, Ogden (personal favorite) and Bluebird have concerts almost nightly from local bands to grammy winners, there is always something to check out!

1. RED ROCKS- not Denver Proper

Okay if you are going to take a trip to Denver, or are a local looking for stuff to do, then you HAVE to take in a show at Red Rocks. It’s one of those holy experiences that only can happen with music and nature and fandoms come together. My first show there was The Cure and since then I have seen Flogging Molly, Devotchka, and  The Fray and I’m always planning on going back. Not only do the concerts make you swoon, but the park itself is a really cool place to hike around in and take in the Colorado sights and sounds. It’s only about an hour from downtown (give or take due to traffic) and well worth the jaunt. The best part is sharing it with friends, I got to share it with a family friend’s 13-year-old last summer, and not only was it her first concert, but her first big event like that without her parents. Meaning I got to share in her right of concert-going at 13 with Devotchka, at the best venue in the world!

2015-07-23 20.08.26

24 Hours in Casper.

Photography, Travel, United States, wyoming

Being in Colorado we have tons to do in the state, but some of us have family elsewhere, or friends we want to visit. I don’t get why they don’t move to Colorado, but I do need to reciprocate in visits. So I packed up my bags and borrowed my boyfriend’s daughter and a friend and we headed North.

My parent’s, my Great Aunt and my cousin and his family all live in Casper, Wyoming. Only abut 3.5 hours from Fort Collins, it’s not an unbearable drive, and if the weather is decent with minimal wind, it’s not frightening. Which driving through Wyoming can be.

So if you want a quick getaway, ours was just about 30 hours, then Casper is a great idea! We got up at 4:30, were on the road in an hour and there before 9am in order to get the most of our time. We stayed the night, and headed south again the next day at 9am to return home about 12:30pm. With minimal traffic (this you can almost always count on) it was a quick and comfortable drive.

Check out the WYOCITY campaign for Casper, which tells you about the whole big load of things you can do!

For entertainment we went to the college and the free Geological/Paleontology museum called the Tate. Where you can admire a massive Mammoth at the entrance, touch real fossils and rocks, talk to experts and brush up on your natural history for the price of FREE!

This statue was also pretty bad ass!

For food Casper has a lot of options for visitors, we tried a thai food place for lunch. With their large lunch sizes the kid and I shared a Pad Thai and enjoyed the beautiful and fancy atmosphere for a pretty good mid-range price. This would make a nice date place.

Then we spent the afternoon with family. I got to snuggle the baby cousin Ivy. Who wanted to play with my phone more than take a picture.

Finally we ended the day at a historic restaurant and bar called the Wonder Bar, where they have a small brewery and 1/2 priced burgers in the middle of the week. I got the salad bar for a cheap $6, all I could eat, full of fresh options. And everyone else enjoyed their massive variety of burgers for about $5 a pop. No wonder the place was packed, and with locals. A great deal and end to celebrating my Great Aunt’s birthday!

The next morning we went to Sherrie’s Place for a light breakfast before leaving town. Another place that was packed with locals, and full of great deals. My friend and I split a $6 breakfast and were totally full, along with drinking endless coffee! The kid’s pancake was also huge and came with milk and bacon, making the munchkin happy. A good, greasy little gathering place with friendly staff and good food. Well worth a visit.

If you are looking for more to do in Casper have no fear. There is plenty of outdoors sports and museums that discuss the wild west and early settlers. Such as the Historic Trails Museum and Fort Caspar. Check out more that Casper College offers and more!

Happy Trails!

Best,

Rebecca Lee Robinson

How to Travel Without a Fortune, Resources

Travel, United Kingdom, United States

Parts I, II, III

Based on my travels to Europe, and planning other trips these are my favorite websites/organizations. Many of these are good to look at to help decide on budget and time you are wanting to spend places.

General: Orbitz, Expedia, Kayak

Airfare: Kayak, Cheap Flights, Frontier, Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Easy Jet

Sleeping: Air BNB, Booking.com, Kayak, Hostel Bookers

City Passes: London, Paris, Berlin

Regional Passes: Historic Scotland, English Heritage

Train: Eurail, Britrail

Happy Travels!