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Guest Post : Seven Things to Look For When Choosing an All-Inclusive Resort | By Katie Church

All-Inclusive Resorts: They Are Not All Created Equally


When most people decide that they want to take a Caribbean Trip, many people immediately think about an all-inclusive resort – with good reason. All-inclusive Resorts are definitely the best way to experience the Caribbean – unless you’re filthy rich, then you do you. However, not all all-inclusive resorts are created equally.

Why should you take my opinion? Forgive me, let me introduce myself! My name is Katie Church! You can view some of my latest trips on my personal travel blog: Wine and Weekends. I have been to all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas, Grenada, Antigua, and St. Lucia. I will be going to Jamaica and Barbados this summer – and hopefully the Dominican Republic!

Some all-inclusive resorts are extremely cheap – and that is shown in their food, drinks, and amenities or completely filled with wild college students who just don’t care. While others have created quite a luxurious atmosphere at what is still an affordable rate. Of course, there is usually going to be a price difference – just make sure that you don’t somehow pay five-star prices for a two-star resort. I usually choose Sandals Resorts,  which are hands-down phenomenal! However, there are tons of all-inclusive resorts out there – you just have to know what you are looking for!

What you need to look for when choosing an All-Inclusive Resort:

  1. Unlimited Drinks – Need I say more? But really, getting top shelf liquor, great wine, and beer with no limit is exactly what everyone wants on a hot Caribbean day! But make sure that the resorts that you are looking into offer the good stuff, and not just cheap vodka or beer – unless that’s what you are into.
  2. Delicious Food – One of my favorite things about my all-inclusive trips is the food. I recommend making sure that your all-inclusive resort has multiple restaurants, with at most one of them being a buffet. Plus, with it being all-inclusive, I am more likely to try new things… cause if I don’t like it – then I can just order something else!
  3. How old does the building look? Now, I’m not saying that if the building looks old then it is automatically a bad resort. However, if the building does look old – that is going to make me inspect their reviews a lot closer!
  4. Speaking of Reviews – READ THEM – always check Trip Advisor before traveling anywhere, but especially out of the country. However, you have to read about ten of them to get an honest feel. Often, people that are way too picky leave crazy reviews that most likely aren’t going to matter to your stay… but it is still a good idea to read them!
  5. Extra Attractions – Of course, if you’re like me, then you don’t need to be entertained during the day. Give me a drink and a chair on the Caribbean Sea – and I’m set. However, many all-inclusive resorts offer free water sports, such as: kayaking, wind surfing, snorkeling, etc. So if that is something that you are really interested in – don’t settle for a resort that doesn’t offer them.
  6. Live Nightly Entertainment – when the sun goes you are probably going to want a little more liveliness and entertainment. Read the amenities list on the resort website – live, nightly entertainment is a huge plus!
  7. Weigh what is included with the price in your comparison – I know price is going to be one of the most major things to consider on any vacation. Just make sure that you think about what is included with that price when you are comparing. If one resort offers way more and is only few hundred dollars more, truly think about what you are going to enjoy the most for the money.


Thank you so much for reading my Guest Post for The Planking Traveler! I hope I helped you in some way! Please check out my personal travel blog: Wine and Weekends and follow my adventures on Instagram. If you have any questions – please reach out! I’d love to talk with you!

XOXO

Katie Church

Budgeting

Never Going Back

I love to travel, but the one place I won’t go back to:

Walmart.

OK, OK, I’ll go back, but just not inside the store.   I love their prices but the chaos inside is so draining and inefficient.  The good news is, thanks to their FREE grocery pickup service, I’ll never have to enter the store again (hooray!)  This service can be used for non-grocery items too, which is a nice bonus.

I do almost all of my other shopping online, so adding groceries to that list wasn’t a stretch.  It was so much more relaxing.   Here’s the process:

  • Start at Swagbucks to get 3% cash back at Walmart (or Ebates for 1% cash back if you prefer)
  • Select the store closest to you (not all Walmart stores offer this service)
  • Reserve a pick up time – sometimes same day pickup is not available, but I was able to order at 9:00 am and pick up at 2:00 pm.
  • Add all your desired items to your cart and check out, then make your payment ($30 minimum).  If you forget something, you have 30 minutes to edit your order.
  • They will text or email you when your order is ready, depending on your preference.
  • Check in on the Walmart grocery app and let them know your car color (or call them) when you’re on the way.  I opted to check in.

 

  •  Head on over to the store, and follow the “pickup” arrow.  Park in any of the marked “reserved for pickup” spots
  • I only waited about 2-3 minutes before the associate brought my groceries out – they even brought a big umbrella so I wouldn’t get wet when I opened the trunk.  They explained that a few items were out of stock – I had ordered Walmart brand cheese, but they substituted Sargento brand instead for no extra charge, and the same with eggs (12 count was out of stock, so I got 18 count for the price of 12 – woot!)
  • I signed on the electronic gadget they had to confirm I received everything and they also gave me two gift bags for being a 1st time customer, which was a nice surprise!
Want to give it a try?  Use my code to get $10 off $50 on your first grocery pickup order.  Here’s to saving time and frustration.  Let me know what you think!

 

Travel

Cruising 101 – 10 Tips to Sail Happily

 

  1. Don’t be a rebel and schedule your cruise during hurricane season like we did.  We had to port back in Miami early because a hurricane was chasing us.  Winter and Spring are the best times to book for peace of mind!
  2. Start with booking at Ebates, click on Expedia, and you will earn 10% cash back on cruises through that site.  We saved a good chunk of change booking that way.
  3. Book the newest ship on the fleet if you can.  It makes a huge difference in amenities and activities that are available.   The Breeze was far superior to the Sensation.  Don’t get me wrong, all ships WILL be fun, but it’s worth it to pay a little more for the newer ship.
  4. If you anticipate the rocking of the ship bothering you, be sure to book a room on the lowest floor and middle of the ship.  This helps tremendously.  You’d be surprised how much even a gigantic boat rocks you as you sleep!
  5. Eat in the formal dining room for at least one breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sitting with other guests makes for interesting friendships.  Also note you can typically order more than 1 entree, dessert, appetizer, etc free of charge in the formal dining rooms.   The buffets are also great, as is the unlimited late night pizza bar! (Yes, I gained 10 pounds after both cruises) To me, the additional charge restaurants are NOT worth it.
  6. Check out the ship’s daily calendar – we did activities like scavenger hunts, karaoke, art auctions, gameshows and comedy shows.   There is something for everyone.  The dance parties at night were my favorite!  Rooms are small because they don’t expect you to stay in them much 🙂
  7. Meet your Captain and Cruise Director if you can.  They’re in high demand but it’s neat to be able to talk to them during the designated time (first or second night, typically)
  8. Alcohol on board will make you poor quickly.  Bring your own champagne/wine to help offset spending on this, if you’d like to drink.
  9. If you have the option, bring your own luggage on board instead of having it loaded on by staff.  This way you won’t have to wait several hours for your belongings and can change into your swimsuit, other clothes, etc at your leisure.
  10. Useful items to pack:
    • SUNSCREEN – seems obvious, but you’ll need a lot the first few days as the sun is much stronger!
    • POWER STRIP – outlets in the room are limited.
    • LANYARD – buy your own online (instead of paying big bucks onboard) before cruising as it will come in handy for your Sail and Sign card which serves as your room key, payment card, ID to get back on the ship, etc.
    • COOZY – If you’re going to drink a lot at the pool or in the sun, it’s helpful to have one to keep your drinks cold.

I’d love to hear your tips and cruise stories!  I’m already dreaming about going on another one.

Pictures below from my Southern Caribbean cruise in July 2014 (Carnival Breeze) as well as our most recent cruise from September 2017 (Carnival Sensation) to the Bahamas, Half Moon Cay and Grand Turk.  Hope you enjoy!  

Arrive early in your port to do some exploring.  Banyan trees need lots of hugs!
Miami Hurricanes!
Pose for the ship photos.  They might be cheesy, but they’re fun and a nice keepsake if they turn out well.
Be adventurous on excursions.  This ATV tour on Turks and Caicos was wonderful!

 

Curacao was my favorite port of all on our Southern Caribbean cruise.  Beautiful Dutch influence.
Elegant night is a lot of fun.  It’s not required to attend, but we enjoyed getting fancy.
Check out all the activities on your days at sea – we enjoyed volleyball, dodgeball, the ropes course and mini golf
Make sure to try a coconut!

 

Make some new friends – sitting with others when you’re offered that option at dinner is a great way to do this!
Don’t be afraid to get dirty.  We had a blast on our mini jeeps excursion in Aruba!
Bring lots of water and sunscreen.  Don’t get burned on day 1 like I did.  The sun is MUCH stronger down there.

 

Loved the natural pool in Aruba.  Never once got in the pool on the ship, though.  Too crowded!

 

Bat cave adventure was a little creepy – I was trying not to squirm here

 

 

Pose with the driftwood, obviously!

 

Don’t jump overboard – that will really ruin a nice cruise for everyone.

 

Meet your Cruise Director.  Highly recommend booking the ship Matt Mitcham will be on.  He was truly excellent.
Take a surprise selfie with your Cruise Director.  Kabir was a fun one!
Try the local food.  These poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) were the highlight of our Curacao meal.

 

Have fun with the touristy props 😉 but don’t stay too long in the touristy areas.

 

Exploring all the different restaurants and bars on the ship is a must!

 

Don’t curb your enthusiasm – you’re on a BOAT!

 

Swim with Dolphins if you get the chance.  Punta Cana, DR was a fantastic place to do this.

 

Be sure to wear a tight bathing suit or yours will come off like mine did.  Those dolphins are strong!!
Budgeting

Help for Tight Budgets!

I know a lot of us want to make some extra cash to supplement our household income.  Reasons vary from just needing to make ends meet, trying to eliminate debt, wanting to be able to give more to others, afford more healthy food, travel more, or just buy some “me” items that aren’t in the budget.

If you’re in this boat with me, read on to see if any of these suggestions might help you!

My current winners:

  1. Swagbucks – This is my favorite cash back earning site.  You can earn by taking surveys,  eating at local restaurants with a linked credit card, watching videos, free trials of things like meal delivery services, Hulu, and personal care products.  The easiest of all their ways to earn (in my opinion): online shopping.  You just start the shopping from their site to credit you the cash back from your order (anywhere from 3-10% cash back on each purchase). I earn about $10 a week with light use and probably could be about $5 a day if I interacted with it more.  It’s set up with many of the same websites as Ebates and MyPoints.
    1. Ebates – I like it, but don’t like that they only send you cash back checks once a quarter.  If I’ve earned it, I want to redeem it on my timetable, not theirs.
    2. MyPoints is also useful and they give you points just for clicking on their daily emails.  It’s very similar to Swagbucks, but doesn’t hurt to do both.
  2. Quickthoughts – I haven’t been using this app too long, but I can usually earn a $10 Amazon gift card per week if I remember to take the surveys.  They’re between 5-20 minute surveys on a variety of topics.   I’m not aware of rewards other than Amazon, but it’s been quite handy for some extra money to spend online.
  3. Walgreens Balance Rewards – This is one of my favorite “set it and forget it” type rewards programs.  If you have a fitness tracker or fitness app, you can link to this program and it will automatically credit you $$ to spend at Walgreens.  The redemption limit used to be $5 or 5000 points, but they recently lowered to being able to redeem at 2000 points ($2) which is cool.  I don’t shop at Walgreens all that often, but you can bet when I do, I use my points to get free things!  It motivates me to exercise more, and also gives me points for each time I weigh in and meet my health goals.  Really hope this one stays around for a long time.
  4. Achievemint – This is another fitness based app that has been good to me.  It rewards you for sleeping (if you use a fitness tracker), checking in to healthy locations, walking/running, reading articles about health (that’s pretty neat!), logging your food (MyFitnessPal lovers), and tracking heart rate, among other things.  It takes a while to earn your 10,000 points ($10 gift card), but since it’s another “set it and forget it” that auto credits with linked trackers/apps, I’m all for it!
  5. Grocery Store Apps – The 3 I use most are Checkpoints (scanning bar codes while you shop – max 5-10 per trip), Ibotta (scanning receipts to get cash back) and Makeena (same as Ibotta, but for organic food!).
    1. The downside of Ibotta/Makeena – you have to earn $20 cash back to cash out your reward and Ibotta seems to steer you toward more expensive products, but if you’re going to buy it anyway, might as well get cash back.
    2. I love that Makeena is NOT brand dependent – you can get cash back for ANY brand of organic fruit/vegetable that is on their list that week, so I plan to use that one a lot in the future.
    3. Checkpoints is just fun for me – my husband  knows I’ll always run around Walmart to do my “scans” before we leave, and I usually can earn about $1 Amazon credit per week or you can save up for their bigger rewards like airline miles.  Pretty cool stuff!
  6. Google Opinion Rewards – if you don’t mind Google tracking your location (let’s be real, they already do anyway unless you’re savvy enough to block that feature).   This sends you VERY short surveys (1-2 questions) on places you’ve visited recently.   Usually things like, “did you make a purchase in this store?”   It’s quick and easy – if you don’t mind the lack of privacy.  I’ve been using since 2015 and have earned $122.  Won’t make you rich, but it will let you have enough Google Play credit that you shouldn’t ever have to pay to stream any movies (you can get free books and games too) 🙂

These have potential, but like this cow, I’m on the fence:

 

  • Slidejoy – This is one where you earn rewards for sliding the lock screen on your phone – you either swipe right or left depending on if you’re interested in the ad, but earn either way.  I’m not sold on it because they hold your credits that you’ve earned until the next month and you have to earn quite a few “carats” to get any legitimate rewards.   It’s a little annoying to swipe a lock screen if your phone has a 2nd lock screen behind it. We’ll see how this one pans out.
  • Sweatcoin – In theory I like this idea – digital currency rewards for working out.  The downside for me: it only rewards you for steps taken OUTSIDE.  No credit for the gym or anywhere inside, which makes winter earning a little hard.  I think runners or any outdoor athletes could seriously make bank with this.  Most of their rewards right now seem to be $5 off or a percentage off of particular services.  They do have some gift card rewards – for example, a $50 Paypal gift card for 3650 Sweatcoins, but I feel like it will take forever for me to earn that, since I typically earn about 2-3 Sweatcoins per day.  If you’re into delayed gratification, this could be right for you.
  • Job Spotter – I have this installed but haven’t used it quite yet.  They pay you in Amazon credit for submitting pictures of Help Wanted signs along with a picture of the business storefront.  I’ll keep you posted on if this one is worthwhile.  Seems easy enough.

What programs and apps have you used to make extra income (Direct Sales not included, please!!)  Would love to hear your experiences and recommendations!

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TCK

Sometimes I feel like there should be a TCKA group.   “Hi, I’m Emily and I’m a Third Culture Kid.”  All: “Hi Emily”.   Then, there would be a discourse on how you feel like you don’t quite “fit in” amongst most Americans.  I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but sometimes I find myself longing for the simpler, safer, more loving culture that I grew up in.  I love America and am abundantly thankful for my freedom, just to be clear, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing certain aspects of life here could be more like that of other cultures.  I do identify with some of the below struggles and find myself instantly forming a special bond with those from other cultures or those who have spent time living or traveling in other countries.  They “get me” and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted in relationships.



Despite some of the interpersonal difficulties, being a TCK is something I’ve become increasingly grateful for over the years.  While living in China as a kid, I was not always thankful or happy about being there, that’s for sure.  I missed the familiarity of the USA along with my grandparents and friends back home.  Being less than 10 years old, it was hard to always understand why I had to live a different life in a foreign country.  I’m thankful my parents made the decision to take our family overseas when I was only 1.  I can’t imagine that kind of move with such a young child, plus 2 other mischievous boys in tow 😉 but glad they were brave!   Because of their desire to share the Gospel in Asia, I was able to see firsthand the lives they impacted for eternity and will treasure those memories forever.    


Thinking about how I often feel “different” culturally and working to be able to embrace that also led me to listen more carefully to a song I probably sang along with on the radio many times without ever paying attention to the words.  The below lyrics especially stuck out to me:


And I don’t wanna trade Your plan, for something familiar
I can’t waste a day, I can’t stay the same
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

WOW!  So for all my rambling here, my realization was: This is the kind of “different” I want to be my focus, the only one that matters.


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Seeds of Change – Mushroomed!

Thanks to a promotion from Influenster, I was able to get a free package of the new Mushroom Simmer sauce from Seeds of Change for testing purposes.  (I love being a guinea pig for new food products!!)  I’m not a fantastic chef, so anything that makes meal prep easier is a boon.  I used this sauce with some grass-fed beef and served over rice.  The whole meal took less than 20 minutes to prepare.  As you can see below, it looks like beef stroganoff, minus the noodles.  It had a rich, creamy flavor but was not overpowering like some sauces can be.  I’d definitely recommend it, and next time I plan to add my own fresh mushrooms to kick it up a notch.   It enabled me to re-purpose ingredients I already had on hand and enjoy them in a new way, so I’m definitely a fan.  It’s amazing what a sauce like this can do for a meal that would otherwise be blasé.

 If mushrooms aren’t your thing, Seeds of Change also has several other flavors of sauces and ready to eat rice blends that are tasty and USDA organic.  Target is running a 20% off promotion on them this week as well, so why not?  You can also print a coupon on the Seeds of Change website to double up on savings.    I love their mission:  To make organically grown seeds available to gardeners and farmers, while preserving countless heirloom seed varieties.  Exciting that they’re expanding into food and not just seeds now!

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My Top 5 Travel Hacks

Me in a nutshell

    • Started traveling at age 1 (Thanks Mom and Dad)
    • Insatiable wanderlust
    • Still freak out every time I fly 
    • Love trains and boats (wish I could travel everywhere this way)
    • Happiest when planning new adventures and may have excessive trip alerts on my phone for price drops
Without further ado, here are my top 5 tips.  I hope they’re helpful!

  • AirBnb – I’d highly recommend giving it a shot if you’re looking to save money but need something a step above a hostel (have had only good experiences in the US and Asia/Europe).  Most of the places were hotel quality, if not better.  Plus, you have the host who typically shows you around, gives you tips on what to see, and sometimes even cooks for you!  Would recommend printing out your directions – learned this the hard way in areas with no Wi-fi to pull up the app.  Also, only pick a host with a decent amount of reviews – I’m not trusting enough to stay with someone who has no reviews – just can’t be too careful these days!
  • Airline MilesTake advantage of airline promotions – a lot offer you enough miles for a free flight after spending $1000 in your first 3 months after getting their co-branded credit card and most of the cards let you earn 1-2 miles per $1 spent.  You can typically earn even more at specific restaurants on their list.  If you’re serious about earning free travel, you need to be using one of these cards.  I’ve earned probably 10 free flights this way.  Other avenues I use to earn miles : E-Miles and E-rewards.
  • Car Rentals – Not sure how they do it, but Auto Slash definitely provides the lowest rental prices I’ve seen.  You request a quote on their site and they’ll email you within 30 minutes with a variety of quotes to choose from.  Alternatively, you can also use E-Rewards to earn points toward free rentals.  I’ve earned a few free rental days this way 🙂
  • Kayak ExploreIf you have flexibility with travel dates, this option is fantastic.  You can put in your starting city and see the lowest prices all over the world.  We found $200 one way tickets to Europe with this tool!  

  • Flights
    • Early Morning departures are the least likely to get delayed in my experience, and Tuesdays are typically the cheapest days to fly (at least if you’re booking with miles).  Definitely book with early departure times and longer layovers if you have flexibility. That way if (when) the airline overbooks, you can easily volunteer to get bumped to a later flight and earn free miles or money, while still getting to your destination the same day.
    • Seats – I think we all try to avoid the middle seat, but I found out the hard way that Turbulence is WAY worse in the back of the plane than in the front.  Try to book the middle row of seats on the big 777’s so you won’t have people constantly asking to get out to use the bathroom since you’ll have a row on either side of you.  Emergency exit seats are definitely worth the extra cost on 8+ hour flights.

    • Meals – If you order gluten free, kosher or other special meals in advance (they are free of charge), you’ll get your meal before everyone else, which is nice (except that your husband will give you envious looks when you get a steak and he gets pasta that tastes like cardboard) 👼  Also, house wine is free on overseas flights.  After about 2 glasses I was finally able to fall asleep for a few hours.  No other natural or OTC sleep aids worked for me at all!