If you’re anything like me when I travel, both convenience and cost is really important to you. As a full-time blogger and creative entrepreneur, I have to go the extra mile when it comes to deciding on where I stay when I’m away. There are some key elements that make life easier and more cost-effective for me when I’m booking accommodations. I try to make sure I have great amenities but that I’m not breaking the bank, especially if it’s a business trip where expenses can add up quickly. Here are three tips for booking accommodations on a budget:
1. Book With Free WiFi
If you’re a creative like myself, or you simply have to be connected at all times, you want to opt for properties that provide you with complimentary WiFi service. You may think that small $9.99/night fee isn’t a big deal, but if you’re staying anywhere upwards of 3 days, those costs add up. One of the first things I look for when booking accommodations on a budget, is a property that will offer internet service for free. I like to update you guys every step of my trip, so being connected is a must-have for me. Pictured above I stayed at the Hyatt Place on a recent trip to Austin. Every Hyatt Place property offers free WiFi service for guests. Look for properties who offer this as a convenience with no hassle or crazy loopholes.
2. Ask About Complimentary Breakfast
When you’re traveling, food can truly factor in as a hefty daily expense. Depending on the city you’re traveling to or what it’s known for, you may opt to eat out for most of your meals. I’m the type to look for local popular eateries for lunch and dinner but skimp on my breakfast. Every penny counts! When you’re searching for the best options on a budget, factor in properties that offer complimentary breakfast to start your day. Many properties provide free continental breakfast (like pastries, coffee, juice).
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a property that offers free HOT breakfast which is rare but offered. I was provided with a full hot breakfast bar (I’m talking French Toast, eggs, sausage, the whole nine) at the Hyatt Place when I traveled to Austin. Not only did it help me start my day off with energy, but that was one less expense I had to factor in every day.
3. Sign Up For Loyalty Programs
People underestimate how powerful loyalty and rewards programs can be when you opt into them. These can extend MAJOR discounts and sometimes free accommodations if you stay at some of the same properties often enough. Most loyalty programs are completely free to opt into, and many of them START you off with % discounts and perks. Do yourself a favor and sign up for loyalty programs for any of the properties you’re booking with. If you love one particular chain, stay with them for an entire year straight. Those savings will eventually rack up.
I hope this was helpful for you guys as spring travel season has officially begun! Any tips you can offer as a seasoned traveler? Leave a comment below!
Pictures were captured at the Hyatt Place property in Austin North Central. Special thanks to Hyatt for covering my travel and accommodations for this trip as part of their #WhySettle campaign. All opinions expressed above are my own and not those of the company.
We’re back with another Mompreneur Diaries (Working Mom Edition) series sponsored by Capital One. Today’s working mom is Yvette Butler, the President of Capital One Investing. Before joining Capital One, Yvette served in leadership positions at Wells Fargo Advisors, E*TRADE and Merrill Lynch to name a few. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Finance & Management Information Systems from the University of Virginia and her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Among her many accolades, she’s a proud wife and mother who talked with us to shed light on how she navigates her life as a career woman and how she brings those learnings home to her own family and community.
Cuba is such a beautiful country. I celebrated my #Start30WithLove 30th Birthday trip there, but prior to traveling, it was a complete mystery to me. How does one get there from the US? What do I need to bring? What should I know before I go? There is so much information out there but I didn’t know who or what to trust on the world wide web. Luckily my friend Jessica Berry, who is a seasoned traveler and had flown to Cuba for a trip just a few weeks prior, gave me a lengthy but necessary list of things to sort out before leaving. Combined with her list and my own, here’s our top 5 list.
What To Get Before You Jet to Cuba:
1. Get Your Visa
This is the question of the century. Do you need a travel visa for visiting Cuba? The answer is YES. You can get one for $50 during check-in with airlines like JetBlue, ($80 for Delta) and the process is fairly quick and easy.
Pay attention to your emails after you book your trip, because your airline may send you a questionnaire with questions about your trip ahead of your departure to choose the one of 12 allowed reasons for travel to Cuba. Jessica chose “family visit” because she visited a friend’s family during her stay. My group and I chose “educational activities” as we spent most of our time getting educated on Cuban culture. But seriously, no one checks once you reach Cuba. You may also get your visa ahead of time from your embassy, but most people I’ve known have gotten theirs at the airport on the day of travel.
You’ll get your boarding pass, Visa and health insurance simultaneously from your airline (this was the case with JetBlue, at least). Keep both on you at all times, just in case. Your boarding pass doubles as health insurance!
Cuba is primarily a cash economy. For Americans, US dollars are not used there. Your best course of action is to order Euros ahead of time from your bank in the US and exchange them for CUC (local Cuban currency) at the airport in Havana once you get there, for the best exchange rate. We arrived at Terminal 3, and the exchange counter is outside. If the line is long (which it typically is), you can take a cab to Terminal 2 where there’s less of a wait. You’ll need your passport to enter that Terminal. EUROS are preferred because Cubans get charged a surcharge for changing US dollars and they past that penalty onto you. So bring euros if you can for a 1:1 exchange.
How much you spend will depend on your tastes but beware YOU CANNOT WITHDRAW MONEY while in Cuba. ATMs there do not accept American debit/credit cards, so you’ll need to have all cash.
3. Get A Good Carryon
Word to the wise – don’t check your bag. Your wait time to leave will depend on a few things. I’ve heard people spend up to two hours at the airport waiting for checked luggage. Ours only took about 30min, BUT the money exchange
line took at least an additional hour. Leaving Cuba took even longer because they’re not yet equipped to handle the influx of new tourism. Do yourself a favor and pack light so you don’t have to worry about checked luggage delaying your travel plans.
Recommendation: Away Travel has super cute and affordable carry-ons. They also have no-brainer accessories like chargers.
4. Get A Tour Guide
There are so many amazing things to see in Cuba and it’s sometimes easier to see alot of things in a short amount of time if you book a Tour Guide to take you around. Popular areas you’ll want to explore include Old Havana – mainstays like the Plaza de la Revolucion, Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana and La Bodeguita del Medio.
The Viñales Tour (can be booked at Hotel El Presidente in Vedado) includes a tobacco farm, lunch, a boat ride at the India caves and visiting the Mural de la Prehistoria. At the Mural de la Prehistoria, they have horse and bull rides, great piña coladas (pour your own UNLIMITED rum), and a restaurant. If you’re into lazy beach days, book a day tour in the beach town of Varadero (about 2 hours driving from Havana) where they have catamaran rides for large groups and more.
Recommendation: Havana Journeys has a great list of day tours. They took great care of us in Havana.
5. Get Used To Being Offline
You will be unplugged in Cuba! Savor it! It is so relaxing, and you won’t miss it after a while. If you really
need to scratch that itch, you have to buy WiFi cards to get on the networks there. They cost 2CUC/card and last up to 80min (depending on the card and where you’re using it). Some hotels run out and/or reserve some for their actual guests, so buy a few at a time. Wifi is not usually strong, so use your time wisely. The popular Wifi hotspots are hotels and “Wifi parks” (just look for the crowds of people on their phones).
There is SO much more to chat about here but this is a quick list of What To Get Before You Jet To Cuba. Have you been to Cuba? Thinking of going? Leave us a comment below.
So I’ll admit it. I used to be somewhat of a bar snob. There are certain areas of my beauty regimen where I just refuse to settle for less than the best. When it comes to what goes on my face – it has to be good. Period. My skincare regimen has always been fairly simple (cleanser, toner, moisturizer) but since launching LoveBrownSugar.com I’ve started to add other elements like primers, serums, eye creams, and more. I’ll even get fancy and do a mask every now and again.
As a skincare aficionado, I juggle between using cream cleansers, gels and cleansing bars for my face, depending on the season and depending on the condition my skin is currently in. Though I have always been a Dove user, my Dove Beauty Bar was primarily used as a cleanser for my body and not my face. My assumption has always been that my higher priced premium bars were better for face cleansing. I mean, it has to be the best if it’s expensive, right?
Fast forward to the taping of the Dove commercial that you all have likely seen by now. Here I was stacking my favorite (expensive!) bar up against the Dove Beauty Bar and like magic my beliefs about quality compared to price were dwindling faster than the yellow test paper. I was BLOWN.
Shortly after the commercial, the Dove team invited me to embark on a 7 day beauty bar challenge. They asked me to test the Dove Beauty Bar for just 7 days and see for myself just how it would stack up against my other more expensive bar cleansers. So I took them up on their offer. Now listen, when it comes to my face, I do NOT play around. I was reluctant but I knew I had to try it so that I could honestly give you guys a recommendation. Plus I had to know for myself if what I saw on set was really true. So I went to work replacing my normal cleansing bars with the Dove Bar for 7 days.
It was a normal week for me. Crazy, per usual. I went from photoshoots to business travel to chasing Cady around the house, to braving the cold winter of Detroit for a last minute trip. From the first morning wash, I noticed that the Dove Beauty Bar didn’t leave any weird residue, and my skin didn’t feel stripped. That’s always a good sign. There’s nothing worse than washing your face with a bar then feeling that irritating tightness afterwards like someone has pulled your skin without your permission. It didn’t do that. Checkmark for Dove.
I did A LOT in that week, and I watched my skin for any signs of change. Going from one climate to another, traveling by air, working up a sweat chasing the little one, those are all scenarios that can typically create trouble for the skin. But throughout the week, my skin maintained its natural glow and moisture levels.
After using it for those 7 days, I can say with confidence that I didn’t notice any negative changes in my skin. It performed just as well as my premium bar and it’s way more affordable. On top of the 7 day beauty challenge, I’m incredibly proud to be affiliated with a brand like Dove for all of their self-esteem initiatives, for breaking the mold and using real women like me in their ads, and for being a champion of inclusion for all women of all ages, shapes, sizes and colors.
This post is sponsored by Dove. All opinions expressed above are my own and not those of the company.
The BrownGirlsLove Power 25 is a list of young women to watch. They inspire us daily to dream big, move with confidence and pursue passionately. Each of these beauties are powerhouses and we’re honored to acknowledge their accomplishments during Women’s History Month.
Name: Yara Shahidi
Her Power Moves: Being a champion for diversity in Hollywood, and being a bold political voice for her generation.
Photo Credit: Adrienne Raquel
As one of Young Hollywood’s finest, we’re incredibly proud of Yara Shahidi for being determined and unapologetic about her political views. There’s a certain special dynamic among young women who are powerful forces like Yara. They command attention, they have undeniable beauty, and they use their platforms to empower and inspire with words and deeds.
As an Iranian-American actress, Yara’s mixed heritage plays a significant role in her views and her will to champion diversity in Hollywood. She’s a mentor, an activist, and all-around badass all before turning 18. She also has a fierce, envy-worthy head of kinky curls that we can’t get enough of.
Watch Black-Ish. It’s hilarious and she’s amazing. (Wednesdays on ABC: 9:30/8:30c – check local listings. There’s a spinoff show with just Yara’s character, on the horizon as well!) We can’t wait to see Yara continue to shine.
Keep up with the BrownGirlsLove Power 25 using the hashtag #BrownGirlsLovePOWER
How does that title make you feel? I Cry Myself To Sleep Sometimes. Does it make you uncomfortable? Are you shocked or surprised? Does it make you feel sorry? Or sad? However it makes you feel, hold onto that. Welcome to a day in my life.
6:00am I open my eyes and say a brief prayer, thanking God for waking me up but simultaneously asking Him why I’m here. “What do I have left to accomplish on this earth? What do You have for me to do?” I take a mental inventory of my day. Get up, pray, set out Cadence’s clothes, pack Cady’s bag for her weekend at Daddy’s, make sure her homework is in her backpack, make sure her toothbrush is in a Ziploc, and don’t forget her leave-in conditioner and hair butter because God forbid Daddy has to brush those curls tomorrow morning without it.
6:30am I’m in the bathroom, staring in the mirror. My eyes are huge and one looks slightly bigger than the other. I squint to exaggerate the difference. I have dark circles. I need to lose 20 more pounds, maybe 25. I want my teeth whitened. I like my boobs but I wish I could wear strapless tops. I walk over to the closet. A sweatshirt and leggings will do today. And a red lip so people take me seriously. It’s a travel day. Again.
6:45am Time to get Cady up for school. I run my finger down the side of her chubby cheek. She still has a little baby fat, even though she’s growing like a weed. I feel mommy guilt creeping in. Today, I’ll be gone for an entire 4 days on a work trip. I can’t cancel the trip. It’s being sponsored. It’s work. I need all these coins to pay for this expensive private pre-K she’s in. I am a bad mother for going. But I am an even worse mother if I don’t go. Cady has to go to school. I have to go on work trips. Still, I wish I could lay here with her a little longer.
7:30am We’re off to school. Cady wanted pancakes but we don’t have time for Aunt Jemima. So yogurt, fruit and a cereal bar on the way to the car, it is. Mommy guilt is hovering again. Brush it off, girl. You have 20 minutes to spread 4 days worth of love, kisses and hugs on baby girl before you drop her off at school. Pull yourself together. Be stronger.
8:00am Back at our apartment and feeling overwhelmed. I have 3.5 hours to catch a flight. I have 2 projects overdue with a client. I have nothing to wear on this business trip. My curls are dry and badly in need of a deep condition. The dishes are piled up like Mount Everest.
Suddenly, I get a text from an old friend. It’s a screenshot accompanied by “I saw your commercial on Bravo last night during Housewives! Way to go!!”
For 5 seconds I’m excited. Maybe I’m not a failure. Then, my eyes fixate on the dirty dishes. I sure wish that friend was here to help me clean and pack. I wish for her help more than I wish for her “congratulations” text right now. I’m being ungrateful. I muster up a “Thank you SO much!!” I’m sure she’ll tell her coworkers we were once good friends. I’m happier for her than I am for myself.
9:30am One project down and one load of laundry left. I pause to clear my inbox. Mom texts me “Safe travels!” and I realize I haven’t called her all week. I’m a bad daughter, too. She’s probably packing Dad’s lunch and waiting for him to come home from dialysis. What a failure I was for being too fat and unhealthy to give my Dad a kidney last year. I hope he gets one. I pray everyday that he gets one and he can get off dialysis. I shed a tear, thinking about it, and then I realize I have 2 hours until my car arrives to bring me to the airport. I don’t have time to be emotional. I text mom back “Thanks! Love you.” and I go on clearing my inbox. If I can just get to a clear inbox, life will be a little better. I’ll be less of a mess, if I don’t owe anyone an email response.
11:30am I’m on board my flight. I text Cadence’s Dad to remind him where her leotard and tap shoes are for dance class this weekend. I dread this 3 hour flight and at the same time I feel guilty for resenting an opportunity to fly. “You and your first world problems,” I say to myself. “Some people don’t even have clean water.” I close my eyes and whisper a prayer to God. “God, please don’t let me die on this flight,” I say to Him. Most of me means it, some of me doesn’t. And then I ask Him for peace. I ask Him to cover my family while I’m gone. I ask Him to remember that I’m now 30 years old and by this time I really wanted to own a home with a white picket fence, I really wanted to be married, I really wanted TWO kids and I really wanted to be 30 pounds lighter. I also really wanted to be best friends with Oprah, sipping tequila in her backyard in my spare time. I hope He still hears me. “But thanks also, God, that to the outside world I’m a success. Please help me to be better at this gratitude thing. I love you. Amen.”
3:00pm My phone is ringing off the hook. I’m getting a flood of texts. A huge celebrity told all of her cult followers to follow me and now I have another reason to be super excited for these blessings on blessings, but I’m also overwhelmed by the pressure. Should I repost it? I’m really not that interesting. Why are people following me again? They shouldn’t.
My horrible memory can’t currently recall what hotel I’m staying at tonight, so I look at my driver in bewilderment when he asks me where we’re going. “It should be in the app,” I respond, annoyed. I mean what’s the point of entering the address into the app, if the driver actually expects you to know where you’re going? I’ll repost it. I mean, I can’t NOT say anything. Right? But now all these new people are watching me. I’m really not that cool. Am I? “God, this is not what I asked for,” said in my most ungrateful voice. “Ok, sorry God I take it back.” I post. I get likes. I apologize to the driver for being absent-minded. It’s a great day.
4:30pm My assistant managed to find a photographer to capture my first day in this city. Back at the hotel, I change up my makeup and put on a new outfit. I meet the photographer outside my hotel to catch the last few hours of sunlight. These will help me “do it for the ‘gram”. I can’t go somewhere and not document it. That’s unheard of. It’s like a betrayal, to go somewhere beautiful and not share it with social media. So I pose and smile and act like there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be but here. Even though I’d much rather be on a beach somewhere with no internet, Cady sleeping in my arms and not a care in the world.
The lighting is perfect. I post the best pic. I get likes. It’s still a good day.
7:00pm The last email is answered. I’m rummaging the mini bar, hoping there’s a bottle of Pinot in the back to go with my room service. Need wine. Must have wine.
Jackpot! I spot the Pinot. I pour a glass. I close my laptop and I hear that familiar tune on my phone. Cady is Facetiming me from her grandma’s phone. I hide the wine. “Hi mommy!” I see those adorable chubby cheeks and I wave. She tells me about her day. That her classmate Emily at school played blocks with her. That she learned about the letter “S” today. And that she misses me. “I miss you too baby! I love you so much.” I wish I could be there with her. *Sips more wine*
9:30pm Here I am again – incredibly aware of my loneliness. In a hotel room, on a business trip on the verge of “taking over the world”, so everyone thinks. But why, then, do I constantly feel like I’m not enough? I’ve finished off the mini bottle of Pinot and now I’m contemplating the Cabernet, too. I check Instagram. The likes and follows are still stacking up. A few tears start to fall. I’ll just cry and close my eyes and when I wake up in the morning this will all be over. Maybe I’m putting too much pressure on myself. “God will you help me? I need your help.” My last plea before I call it a night. I look at an old photo of me and Cadence. For her, I just can’t give up.
11:00pm I can’t sleep. I open my laptop back up. I start to write. I write about myself. I write stories about others who inspire me. I start to plan out an event series that I can produce that shows other people that they don’t have to be perfect to be successful. I respond to that email from that girl in Missouri who told me she was starting a new business and needed a little advice and encouragement. I write my hopes and dreams down on a small hotel pad of paper. Suddenly I feel hopeful, instead of hopeless. If I just keep empowering others, I’ll figure this thing out. I’ll continue to be blessed. I say a brief “Thank you” to God for giving me an outlet for my frustration and pain tonight. One that will hopefully inspire others and give them hope. I close my eyes and brace for another day.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I wanted to give you all a peek into my life, as a woman, as a mom, as a human just trying to make it day to day. A transparent look at my thoughts, my actions and why it’s so important for us women to admit that we’re not perfect so we can get over the stigma of “perfection is necessary” and step into our power as flawed, but beautiful beings.
Here are 4 ways you can make a shift and embrace your power:
1. You’re a super woman, but you are not Superwoman. Be honest with yourself and with others when you need HELP. Don’t think you have to do everything yourself.
2. Do not feel bad about crying yourself to sleep. We all do it, sometimes. Including me. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. The key is to go to sleep happy more times than not. If it’s the other way around, seek counsel and don’t feel bad about it.
3. Get up each day and use your talents and gifts to pour into others – that alone is a sign of your super power and strength. Your unique gifts are to be shared with the world. Don’t hide or hoard them because you don’t think you’re good enough. You are enough.
4. Find your purpose and cling to The Source. My source is God. He gives me strength, peace, joy and everything I need to make it through the day. Whatever your source is, hold onto it firmly and understand that you’re here on Earth to serve a purpose.
I really hope this helps someone. Even just one person. Feel free to leave a comment if this helped you, and please share words of encouragement with another woman today. We need it.