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Friday, October 15, 2010

Are we having fun yet?

Happy Friday! Today’s post is going to be a little different because it’s a follow-up to a guest post I wrote for my friend Lauren over at Faith & Deployments. Lauren is a doll and her husband just barely returned from a months-long deployment, so I was happy to fill in the gap for her while she celebrates his homecoming! Meanwhile, I’m actually on vacation today with Matt and my family down in San Diego. Wish you could also enjoy more mini-vacations and fun little activities? You totally can! That’s what today’s posts are all about. So hop on over to Lauren’s blog for Part 1, and then come back here for some good old fashioned party tips.

Back? Okay, good. I’m actually going to split my tips and tricks into two separate posts: one today on finding super fun things to do, and then another one in a couple weeks about finding awesome deals on said activities. Because friends, fun can be had on any budget. I’m sure people must think we spend crazy amounts of money on our activities but we actually do them all for dirt cheap and our biggest expense is just gas. But that’s the next post, isn’t it? Let’s start at the beginning.

You’re going to want to make a few lists. Or idea scrapbooks. Or special folders in your browser’s favorites link. Or just notes in your brain. Or however you roll. The important point is that lists will help you not only keep track of ideas but will also help you find good deals for those activities later. A little planning can save a lot of money! I talked about this in my guest blog, but I’ll offer a little summary here. You wouldn’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, would you? Don’t live wherever you are without doing the coolest things it has to offer. Be a tourist in your own city and hit up all the main attractions while you actually live there, and also take advantage of the more underground activities that being a local affords. For military families, this is all the more important since we only have a limited amount of time in every location before the next PCS. Make lists of must-do major attractions, cool activities, fun day trips, free things to do and see, great places to eat, convenient places to travel, etc. Here’s how:

*Make Google your friend. Don’t know the area well? Type it into Google along with the words “Top 10 things to do in…” or “What to do in…” or “Free things to do in…” you get the idea. If you type this in for Los Angeles, you get things like Disneyland, Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, and Sunset Boulevard. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Those initial Google searches will typically give you a great starting point for your must-do list.

Disneyland is definitely a must-do!

*Double-check the Googled items on TripAdvisor or other travel review sites. If I’m visiting an area I don’t know much about, I’ll Google for ideas, and then check the ones that sounded most interesting on TripAdvisor. Sometimes things that I thought sounded awesome were reportedly lame, and vice versa. If I really wanted to do it and reviews weren’t great, I’ll probably do it anyway, but it’s nice to have some background knowledge before penciling the item onto a list. This only takes a couple minutes and is a good idea for places you visit along with the place where you live.

TripAdvisor was spot-on for all of our Chicago activities.

*Ask around. When we first moved here, we were told that the Antelope Valley Fair rocks, the musical road provides an excellent minute of entertainment, and that the poppy reserve really is the best place to see California’s famous orange poppies. So far, the rumors have all proved true and we’ve been glad we took their advice! I think that local’s advice is especially helpful when it comes to restaurants and the like. I never would have tried that Podunk-looking pizza place in Bakersfield, but oh my, it was incredible! And despite all of my trips to Michael’s, I never noticed Nadia Cakes in the same parking lot--the same little Nadia Cakes featured on TLC with the most creative and mouthwatering cupcakes I’ve ever had. We have our friends to thank for the extra five pounds of deliciousness that we’ve gained thanks to their recommendations.

Good night, poppies.

*Keep your eyes peeled. Pay attention to the newspaper, magazines, city calendars, billboards, local entertainment blogs, and the like. We saw a billboard for How the Grinch Stole Christmas and made a mental note to go home and look up tickets. That cool outdoor film festival we went to? Saw it in the newspaper. Live studio audience tickets and The Grove were both suggested by an LA entertainment blog. We also have some pretty awesome things coming up in the next few months that I found in local magazines and on an airline magazine. Oh, and I found out about land sailing on the dry lakebeds out here by simply paying attention to the outdoor recreation flyer I saw at the gym. Now that’s an activity I’m excited to blog about!

Many thanks to blogs for this recommendation.

*Think outside your box. Yeah, there are a lot of fun things to do around here—especially once you throw LA into the mix!—but there are also a lot of fun things to do a bit further away from here. Take advantage of wherever you live (or wherever the military might send you) by not only exploring your town, but getting outside of it as well. Make a list of weekend trips that can originate from your home. If you need help, pull out a map! Pick places within a 5-ish hour drive for weekend or long-weekend getaways. From here, we were able to put San Diego, Las Vegas, Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Francisco, and Lake Tahoe on our list. We made similar lists even for just the short amount of time we spent in Alabama and Ohio for Matt’s training last Fall. From Alabama, we road tripped to New Orleans, Atlanta, and Pensacola, Florida. From Cincinnati, we made it up to Kirtland and over to Chicago.

Our weekend in SF beat a weekend at home, hands down.

*Think really outside of your box. Is your location a major gateway for any big travel plans? LAX is a prime place to take off to Hawaii, Asia, Australia, and all of the exotic islands in the South Pacific. We definitely plan on taking advantage of as many of those opportunities as possible! Meanwhile, Miami is an excellent hub for trips to the Bahamas, Caribbean, and South America. You’d better believe I’d be jumping on those bandwagons if I were there. And you East Coasters? Why, you’re the lucky ones with the great fares to Europe. Of course, big trips can be pricey, but they are so much more affordable if your trip originates in the right place. Choose at least one big “dream” trip you’d like to take from where you are now and try to make it happen!

Surfing together in Kauai was a dream for sure!

*One last idea before I sign off for now--sign up for local entertainment and travel deal e-mails. A deal might just come through for something awesome that you didn’t even know existed.

And with that mention of deals, I’ll pick up where I left off in a future post centered around finding great prices for travel and entertainment. Hooray!


  1. you have so many awesome pictures! I loved all of the tips...this was a great post!!

  2. Great tips! I'm going to link this in my blog, if that's ok.

    We'll be moving to Ohio in a few months, and being someplace new is what you make it. : )

  3. Love your blog! So insightful and I love all the pictures :)

  4. Ok, you are seriously my mentor! I am paying close attention! I have never been good at how to do trips (to think of them....the plan them...to find deals for them). TEACH me Ashley! Right now, I'm gonna stick to the free stuff and really cheap stuff as close to home as possible.... but,Jay and I do have dreams and I do want to start planning for the future....even if it is a bit down the "road"! I am your #1 student! Can't wait for the next lesson...I mean "post"! THANKS!

  5. One of my favorite posts by far! You've encouraged me to get out and do more in Utah County!

  6. LOVE the poppies picture! I'm a CA native too! :)

  7. I liked your guest blog Sis. Love you!

  8. LOVED the pic of you guys sitting in poppies. So neat. One of my fave flowers. I found here in Mesa, an "I Heart Mesa" blog which lists some pretty cool things to do! Hopefully I can find something similar to it when I move to Utah next year. No luck yet. Its so fun to explore the state you live in and find new and fun things to do that aren't super far away. Great tips!

  9. Stace- I know that yourheartout.com used to have a few good tips about fun things to do and great places to eat in Utah, but they stopped blogging back in January. I bet you could find a few good things in their archives though!

  10. I know this post is a few years old, but did you ever do a follow-up on finding great travel deals? I would love to read your tips! (Also, I pinned this to my Travel board on Pinterest. I hope that's okay with you!)


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