Scones with Coconut Oil

Make the Most Delicious Scones Ever with Coconut Oil

In a little garden cafe near Bradford-on-Avon in the UK, we had the most amazing scones I had ever tasted. They were tender and fluffy, served warm with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and pretty much carb perfection. Since then I’ve tried and adapted many recipes to try and match those UK scones. Today I substituted coconut oil for the butter in my favorite recipe, and the resulting scones are possibly the best I’ve baked so far. They have a nice aroma of coconut, and the coconut oil seems to make them lighter than the butter did. Makes about 12 scones.

Ingredients

2 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup coconut oil (chilled for a few minutes for extra firmness)

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream (or can substitute milk)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.  In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the coconut oil, cutting it in with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles a coarse meal with pea-sized bits of the coconut oil.
  3. Lightly beat the egg, and add the milk and cream. Reserve 1 Tablespoon of mixture for brushing top of scones if desired. Stir milk mixture into flour with a fork just until combined. It should still be crumbly.
  4. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly about four times. Roll or pat out to about 1/2 inch thickness. Cut as desired into wedges or circles. Brush with reserved cream if using. Be careful not to brush on sides as this could limit rising.
  5. Bake until lightly browned, about 16-18 minutes.

Best served the day they are made, warm or at room temperature. Fantastic with devonshire or mascarpone cream and jam.

Meteora Monastery

Meteora’s Monasteries in the Sky

About four hours northwest of Athens is Meteora, where unique geological peaks form a dramatic and beautiful natural landscape.  Upon these seemingly inaccessible peaks, monks in the 11th century began building monasteries. Eventually twenty-four of these monasteries were built, and it’s no surprise that Meteora’s Monasteries in the sky are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. We were so glad we had the opportunity to visit this magical and off-the-beaten-track part of Greece.

Varlaam Monastery

The name “Meteora” means “suspended in mid-air”

Monastery of the Holy Trinity

After the monasteries were completed, visitors arrived by extremely long rope ladders or were hoisted up in baskets. Once these devices were pulled up, though, the summits became inaccessible. In the early 20th century they were made more accessible as bridges were built between the pillars, and steps were carved into the rocks.

A small sample of the frescoes found in the Great Meteoron monastery.

The area has a special peacefulness, and the residents and visitors value it as a spiritual place. It’s no wonder the early monks settled here to feel closer to God. Today it’s possible to visit six of these monasteries, with amazing frescoes, and also get a glimpse of how the monks lived in isolation hundreds of years ago.

The monasteries topping Meteora’s peaks seem to spring so naturally from the unique geological formations.

The same other-worldly landscape that attracted the ancient monks attracts both hikers and spiritual pilgrims today.

The mystical landscape of Meteora

Hiking with our local guide was great as we heard stories of the area and saw hidden gems we wouldn’t have seen on our own.

A visit to Meteora without hiking is like visiting Athens without the Acropolis

Hiking is rewarding and a must in Meteora

The Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary

This 11th-century church is also a must-see while you are in the area. No photos are allowed, but the church is filled with amazing byzantine frescoes, and more are being discovered.  Surprisingly, the church was constructed with relics of an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Apollo embedded in its stone walls.

Byzantine Church of Virgin Mary

Fast Facts

  • Meteora or the town of Kalambaka is a great place to get off the beaten track, and see a unique and special part of Greece.
  • It could also be a good base to see Delphi and Mount Olympus, as they are within 2-3 hours drive.
  • Besides hiking and visiting the monasteries, there are also other outdoor activities in the area such as world-class climbing, river rafting and horseback riding.
  • The food in the area, with excellent fresh local meats and produce, was fantastic – especially after an active day outdoors.
  • To experience Meteora as we did, I would recommend contacting the Visit Meteora office in Kalampaka. The trails are generally not sign-posted, so only experienced hikers should venture out on their own. Visit Meteora offers guided tours and hikes, but will also assist you with maps and information if you wish to hike on your own.

Our excellent adventure in Meteora was facilitated by Visit Meteora and TBEX. All opinions are our own.

A Taste of Delicious Athens Home Cooking

When you visit a new country, have you ever wished you could glimpse inside a real home, maybe even be invited to dinner? That’s just what we were able to do in Athens, Greece with the Alternative Athens Home Cooked Meals tour.

We were taken to a typical Athenian residential neighbourhood where our gracious host, Eleni, along with her husband, welcomed our group into their home. They gave us a tour of their balcony, which has fantastic views over the city and the Acropolis.

Athenian neighbourhood with large balconies to enjoy the sunny climate.

Athenians love their large balconies so they can enjoy the warm Greek climate. We would be dining al fresco as they often do, and the tables were set with pretty table cloths and china.

The table set for dinner on Eleni’s balcony

Soon we sat down to enjoy Eleni’s delicious home cooking. She first brought out brought out bread and Melitzanosalata, a delicious eggplant dip, while her husband served us each ouzo, the Greek anise-flavoured liqueur.

Next we had Giaprakia, vine leaves stuffed with rice, and a lettuce salad lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Delicious roast lamb with potatoes

After this came the main course, which was delicious leg of lamb that had roasted slowly in the oven with lemon, garlic and potatoes. Eleni is a great cook and she didn’t mind sharing advice how to make the dishes she was serving.

Eleni (left) with her friend and husband.

Greek ice cream with cherries

The meal was accompanied by a refreshing Greek white wine called Savatiano.

For dessert was a fruit platter and Greek ice cream topped with cherry syrup. Over the meal, Eleni told us about her life in Athens, and we had a chance to talk with the other guests as well.

When it was time to leave, it was like we were saying goodbye to good friends. It was wonderful to have this authentic experience in today’s Athens.

Fast facts

If you would like to experience authentic Greek hospitality as we did, I would highly recommend this Alternative Athens Home Cooked Meal tour.

www.alternativeathens.com
price: 32 to 35 € per person

 

Thanks to Alternative Athens for facilitating this experience. As always, opinions are my own.

Hagia Sophia – Byzantine Architectural Wonder

If you love architecture, then you probably love visiting cathedrals as much as I do. Besides their historical and religious significance, they represent the best engineering and architectural achievements of their day. So I was really looking forward to our visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and for nearly a thousand years it was the world’s largest cathedral.

The vast, central basilica has a central large dome supported by two half domes on the eastern and western sides.

 

 Historical context of Hagia Sophia

  • 532 AD Emperor Justinian I orders the Hagia Sophia church built.
  • 537 Hagia Sophia is completed.
  • 1296 Il Duomo in Florence, Italy—construction begins and is completed in 1436 with the dome engineered by Brunelleschi.
  • 1453 Hagia Sophia is converted to a mosque. Repairs are made and minarets are added.
  • 1506 Construction begins on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.
  • 1609 Construction begins on Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), and is completed in 1616.
  • 1626 St. Peter’s Basilica is completed.
  • 1935 The Turkish government secularizes the Hagia Sophia, and it opens as a museum.

The Church

The first two churches on this site were destroyed by riots and fire. Emperor Justinian I orders a new church that will be the largest building in the world. This new building, designed by Greek architects Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletos, was completed in 537, incredibly in less than six years.

The structure features a central dome with a diameter of over 101 feet (31 meters) and a height of 160 feet (48.5 meters).

Byzantine mosaic detail

Mosaic detail of Jesus Christ.

Materials for construction were brought from all over the empire, including columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

The Mosque

After Mehmed II’s conquest of the city in 1453, Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque until the early twentieth century. During this period, minarets were added, Christian symbols and mosaics were covered or removed, and exterior buttresses were added for structural support.

Portion of cross removed.

A few Christian symbols survived, and others are being restored as the Hagia Sophia is now a museum.

Islamic tile detail.

In the 15th century, during the Ottoman period, many structural repairs and improvements were made. In the 16th century the minarets were added.

The Museum

In 1934, the Turkish government secularized the building, converting it into a museum. Today repairs are being made and the original mosaics are being restored. The Hagia Sophia has fewer treasures than Saint Peter’s in the Vatican, for example. But perhaps because of this we could really focus on and appreciate the structure itself, and the treasures that have been revealed through restoration.

Detail of a restored angel.

With the Ottoman additions, you can see the influence of the Hagia Sophia on future mosques such as the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia by night

Manila, Philippines — a Tale of Two Cities

On our recent trip to Asia we had the opportunity to visit our good friends Ralph and Aida in Manila, Philippines. Our trip was too short, but thanks to our excellent hosts we were able to get a good introduction to this fascinating and complex city.

Metro Manila has a population of around 12 million — mostly poor, a few rich, and not many in between. There are very friendly people, colorful jeepneys, beautiful parks and opulent shopping malls. There are also vast, densely-populated slums bordering the upscale, gated communities.

A view of Makati, the financial center of the Philippines, and one of the cities that makes up Metro Manila.

Home of the Jeepney!

Jeepneys are the Philippines most popular form of transportation. They were originally made from leftover U.S. military jeeps after the Second World War. Unique and decorated with lots of color and chrome, they often include Christian words and images, reflecting the interests and beliefs of the owner. The Jeepney runs a set route which is written on the side.

The colorful Jeepney is Manila’s most iconic form of mass transit.

While the Jeepney runs a set route like a bus, a motorized “Tricycle” transports individual passengers (or sometimes two or three or four).

A City of Contrast

This was my first visit to a city with such overwhelming areas of poverty, and even though we knew this beforehand, it was still shocking and very sad.

People living and children playing in homes dangerously close to a major road.

Sifting through piles of garbage for items to recycle is a way many people in the slums make money.

The contrast was even more striking when we stopped by the nearby historic, five-star Manila Hotel.

The Manila Hotel Lobby

Intramuros

A must see  historical sight is Intramuros or the walled city, which is the oldest district in Manila. Part of the walled structure is Fort Santiago, a citadel first built by the Spanish. Here we learned about Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. He was a Filipino nationalist who supported peaceful reform. His martyred execution in 1896 helped end Spanish rule in the Philippines.

Men are born equal, naked and without chains. They were not created by God to be enslaved, neither were they endowed with intelligence in order to be misled, nor adorned with reason to be fooled by others.

– Rizal to the women of Malolos, Philippines, 1889

Entrance to Fort Santiago

Park next to Fort Santiago

Students learning about Jose Rizal

The Manila Cathedral at Intramuros

Malls and More

The Greenbelt shopping mall in Makati features high-end brands such as Gucci and Jimmy Choo

The Glorietta Shopping Mall

The Greenbelt shopping mall in Makati has hundreds of shops and restaurants in an indoor/outdoor environment. The mall was bustling with mostly Filipino business people and shoppers. But a couple of young girls begging for money reminded us of the poverty a few blocks away.

A block away from the Greenbelt is the Glorietta Shopping Mall.

Ayala Museum

The Greenbelt mall is also home to the Ayala Museum, an excellent small museum of Filipino history, art and archaeology. Through dioramas, the history exhibit tells the story of the Philippines from prehistoric times to the recent restoration of democracy. It was a really interesting way to learn more about Jose Rizal and the Philippines struggle for independence. Did you know the United States occupied the Philippines after the Spanish-American War?

Thanks to our terrific hosts!

In the short time we were in Manila we could only scratch the surface, but we learned enough to know we would be happy to return.

Packing List

General Packing Tips

  • Rolling items helps you fit more in and they wrinkle less.
  • Packing cubes are great to keep things neat and organized.
  • Adjust packing list as needed, according to the destination, weather, and your taste. If you like skirts, you may not need as many pants, etc.
  • Pack wrinkle-free items as much as possible.
  • Dark items don’t stain as easily.
  • Pack items that are colour-coordinated to make more outfits.

Clothing

  • 5 pairs of lightweight socks, less for warm weather if you will be wearing sandals
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras
  • pyjamas (T-shirt and shorts or yoga pants)
  • 3-4 short sleeve tops or t-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeve T-shirt
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 dressy shirt
  • 1 or 2 sweaters (for cooler climate)
  • 1 light cardigan sweater
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 other pair pants
  • 1 or 2 pairs shorts or capris
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • skirt or wrinkle-free dress that go casual or dressed up
  • lightweight jacket (even in cool weather, you can bring a light jacket and add layers as needed)
  • rain/wind resistant jacket (or just use your umbrella in summer)
  • collapsible umbrella
  • scarves/pashmina (great as an accessory and to keep you warm on the plane, or on cool evenings)
  • swimsuit & sarong
  • hats for sun or cold
  • gloves for cool weather
  • inexpensive jewelry

Shoes

(multi-purpose when possible)

  • walking shoes or runners
  • sandals (a nice pair of sandals with thicker soles are more comfortable on cobblestones, and are versatile)
  • flip-flops

Medical

  • prescription drugs
  • Band-Aids
  • Tylenol
  • consider antibiotics prescription depending on destination
  • hand sanitizer

Toiletries

(put all liquids in zip-lock bags to prevent leakage)

  • toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss
  • small bottles of shampoo/conditioner/shower gel
  • make-up (try to bring only what you really want)
  • razor
  • quick drying towel
  • comb/hairbrush
  • hair elastics/bobby pins
  • deodorant
  • feminine hygiene products
  • small mirror
  • moisturizer
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellant (if you are going somewhere you will need it)
  • lip balm
  • nail clippers
  • makeup-remover wipes
  • Small packet of tissues, which can be handy when there’s no toilet paper.

Miscellaneous

  • prescription glasses/contacts & solution
  • sunglasses
  • eye mask and ear plugs
  • a zip-lock bag for liquids and extras come in handy to keep to keep camera dry, store food, etc. plus couple large plastic bags for dirty laundry/shoes
  • notepad and pen
  • a good book (it’s not always easy to find English language books or magazines)
  • business cards
  • apps for travel
  • daypack to fit your camera, snacks
  • water bottle

Tech

(in carry-on/backpack)

  • Laptop (and mouse for me) or eReader
  • Digital Camera and extra memory cards
  • Phone
  • GPS – If you need it more than a couple days, it’s often cheaper to buy one than rent
  • Chargers
  • electrical adaptor/converter
  • earphones
  • tripod
  • portable hard drive for backup
  • Swiss army knife
  • mini flashlight

Documents

  • passport and visas
  • travel documents printouts (flights, accommodation, tickets) I use the travel TripIt for this, but keep a printout in my suitcase as a backup
  • travel insurance information
  • international travel vaccinations
  • driver’s licence and International driver’s licence
  • credit cards, debit cards
  • small amount of local currency
  • student ID/senior citizen ID
  • email itinerary to yourself and family member/friend along with a scan of your passport
  • list of usernames and passwords (I keep mine on a password-protected spreadsheet, or there are apps for that)
  • money belt or travel pouch

The Liebster Award

LiebsterAward2

A big thank you to Drea from Travels With Drea for nominating me for a Liebster Award!  You can explore her fantastic blog right here. It is both an honor to be recognized and great chance to promote some fellow bloggers.

What is a Liebster Award?

The Liebster is an award given to bloggers by bloggers. It’s an opportunity for new bloggers to introduce themselves and highlight their work by answering a few questions. They pay it forward by recognizing 10 others, and creating 10 questions for them to answer.

My answers to Drea’s questions:

1. Why did you start your travel blog?
I had to start this blog, as I have been a travel addict for some time now and needed an outlet! I hope sharing our experiences will be inspirational and provide useful tips to our readers.

2. If you could go to any place in the world, where would that be and why?
Besides everywhere, the first place that comes to mind is Africa, to go on a safari. Other than a short trip to Morocco, we haven’t been to Africa, and photos and stories of other travelers experiences there are so amazing.

3. What are your top 3 must have items when traveling?
iPhone, my Macbook Air, and lip balm.

4. What was your favourite place that you have visited?
Monterchi, a beautiful little hill town on the Tuscany/Umbria border. It was our first time in the region, and we were there with my parents and my brother and his wife. We rented a villa at the top of the hill which was built from the ruins of a former castle. At the end of each warm, busy day of exploring, we returned to the villa and cooled off in our fantastic pool with a stunning view of the countryside.

5. If money was not a factor, what would be your dream job?
Probably what I’m doing now, working as a graphic designer and travel blogger, except I would be delighted that money was not a factor!  We enjoy what we do and much of the year we are able to work remotely. Have laptop, will travel!

6. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
I would like to “test drive” living in a variety of places. In Canada, if our home base wasn’t Calgary then I would like to try Victoria, British Columbia. Southern Spain I love for the weather and Spanish culture, and New York City or Paris for big city life.

7. Who is your favourite travel blogger?
The first travel blogger I came across and who has inspired me is Chris Guillebeau. Even though we have been traveling for years, travel bloggers weren’t really on my radar until I came across his website. His stories of his RTW travels and travel-hacking strategies really opened my eyes to the possibilities. Now there are many I enjoy, including The Planet D who are fellow Canadians, The Gypsynesters because I can relate closely to their stage of life and I love their sense of humor, and many other fellow Boomer Bloggers.

8. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who has never traveled before?
Stop dreaming and do it! If you really want to travel, it’s within reach of most people if you make a plan and prioritize. Life is short and the world is such an awesome place.

9. What do you do to overcome writer’s block?
I work better under pressure, so a deadline helps. Writers block isn’t so much a problem for me, as is getting easily distracted by other things, such as social media or reading other peoples blogs. I’m a list-maker, so when I have a post idea I add it to a list, and I have lots of options if I’m ever stuck.

10. Who inspires you?
534199_10153066696855573_1761883803_nOur amazing daughters who have also inherited our curiosity about the world. I just dropped off one daughter at the airport this morning to visit the other daughter in Seoul, Korea. When we tell them our dreams they usually advise us to stop talking about it and do it. Also my wonderful husband Darrell, who is my willing travel accomplice, photographer, and supporter of whatever I’m doing. When I tell him about my latest plan to for us to go here or there, he usually answers “book it!” (sometimes followed by “I don’t know where the money is coming from…” but still)

The following bloggers are my Liebster Award nominees:

  1. Susan from Solo Trips And Tips
  2. Emily from Lets Roam Wild
  3. Kay from Blonde Brunette Travel
  4. Natalie and Robson from Love and Road
  5. AnnMarie from Fate with Fernweh
  6. Megan from Wanderlust Megan
  7. Jay and Gretta from Traveling Islanders
  8. Will from I Will Travel
  9. Karyn from Not Done Travelling
  10. Jenny from A Thing for Wor(l)ds

And here are your 10 questions:

  1. Tell us something surprising about yourself.
  2. What’s your favorite travel tip?
  3. What’s the most memorable food you’ve tried on your travels?
  4. What’s your favorite quote?
  5. Why did you start your blog?
  6. Where is your favorite off-the-beaten path location?
  7. Has a movie or book ever inspired you to travel?
  8. Have your travels taken you outside your comfort zone?
  9. Is your travel style luxury or budget?
  10. If you weren’t blogging about travel, what would you blog about?

When you have answered the questions, please share the link from your blog in the comment section below. Thanks for participating and share the love!

Happy travels!

Shelley

 

The Vibrant Street Art of Valencia, Spain

Valencia was the first stop of our Spanish road trip, and we didn’t really have any preconceived ideas about the city beyond oranges and paella. What we found was a very unique medieval and modern city, with an abundance of street art that gives a fresh twist to exploring its old town.

Overshadowed by Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is the third largest city in Spain with a population of about 800,000. It has a fascinating historical center with a labyrinthe of cobbled streets that is very walkable or great to tour by bike. You will notice  that Valencia was hit hard by war, and next to intact or restored buildings are ruins and vacant spots often walled off for future development or restoration. These blank walls have become a canvas for a variety of street artists, and the combination of their art with historical architecture leads to a surprise around every corner.

A Sample of the Street Art of Valencia

Valencia is a city of contrast.

I think he looks like Picasso surveying the scene.

Picasso keeping watch.

Winston’s favorite.

Poor kitty!

Street art – love it or hate it? Which is your favorite?

Amazing Japan: Five Insider Survival Tips

Japan has one of the world’s most fascinating cultures to explore. Our daughter Carlee has spent the last few years living in Asia, much of that time in Japan. We were able to visit her there recently, and her experience made our trip so much easier. Here are some of her insider survival tips to make your visit to amazing Japan even better.

1. Follow Japanese etiquette.

This isn’t really survival but just to avoid annoyed glances, as foreigners may not be aware of many Japanese customs.

  • Stand on the left when riding the escalator so people can pass.
  • Don’t eat while walking on the street and certainly not on the train.
  • It is considered very rude to talk on the phone on the train and there are signs everywhere saying not to do it.
  • Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking upright in your rice, and never pass food directly from chopstick to chopstick.

2. Ask the police…for anything. Seriously.

I wanted to get my hair cut in Shinjuku so my Japanese friend and I walked around for a while but couldn’t find anything affordable. I thought he was joking when he said “let’s ask the police!” I thought they would be offended that I am wasting their time with my hair dilemma. But he ran up to ask and right away the police officer led us down a street to a quaint little hair shop. Perfect price and they did a great job on my hair. There are little police boxes all over the city and if you are ever lost or need to find anything, they are, in my experience, super friendly and helpful.

3. “Service” food.

While there is no need to tip at restaurants and pubs in Japan, you might notice an extra charge added to your bill.  Usually a server brings you a small side dish and may say it is a ‘service’, but you will be charged for it. This is called a “tsukidashi (つきだし)”. This is very common when going out to a restaurant or izakaya so just expect to pay a little extra on top of your order.

4. Express vs. Super Express trains.

Download a map. Especially coming from the airport or other longer routes, there are some trains that stop at every single stop while others skip most stops and just stop at the main hubs. It’s a brilliant idea for those who are commuting to work but can be confusing for a tourist. As someone who is directionally challenged already, I took the wrong train three times last time I was in Tokyo. Basically, the super express shows up in red on the overhead board and express is in orange or yellow. Make sure the super express will stop at your destination before boarding that train. If you aren’t sure, ask the train attendant to double check.

5. Learn Katakana

I know a lot of Japan-bound travelers have studied Japanese or at least watched their share of anime, so getting around in Japan won’t be a problem. However, if you can’t read any Japanese it can be quite difficult to navigate your way in Tokyo independently, and even more so the smaller towns. Even many train station signs do not have an English translation.

The best way I can suggest to help you find your way around is to learn Katakana. Katakana is the phonetic writing system that is used for English words. Yes, even English words are written in Japanese. Many signs around Japan are in fact English words, written with Japanese characters. For example, gelato is ジェラート (je raa to), pizza is ピザ (pi za), spaghetti is スパゲティ (su pa ge tei) etc. (apparently I’m craving Italian). There are only 48 characters and it can be learned in an afternoon or two. If you learn Katakana a whole world of opportunities opens up and you will be much more independent and aware in Japan.

Monterchi

Top 3 Secrets for Saving Money on Flights

Sometimes people raise their eyebrows when they hear we’re going on another trip, or wonder how we can afford to travel often. I’m a travel bargain hunter, and while we want to splurge now and then we are always looking for ways to cut our travel expenses. Saving on airfare is the first thing we look at, so here are our top 3 secrets for saving money on flights.

Tuscany, Italy – One of our favorite places in the world.

Flexibility, Research and Points

1. Flexibility

The way I’ve saved the most money on flights is simply by being flexible:

  • Flexible travel dates I know that’s not always possible, but flying outside of peak periods can save you 50% or more. That could be June instead of July for Europe, and January instead of Christmas week for a beach getaway.
  • Flexible location If your vacation dates are fixed but you can be flexible with your destination you have a better shot at finding a deal. Maybe your beach vacation could be in Hawaii or the Caribbean or Mexico?
  • Acting fast When you hear about extreme deals (like those we hear about through sites like Ydeals.com below) making a quick decision is vital as these are snapped up quickly or only offered for a short time.

The Summer Palace, Beijing

2. Research

Beyond the big websites such as Expedia and Travelocity, there are more tools than ever to research flights. Whatever site you use, check at least one other to compare and make sure you are paying a fair price. if you have narrowed it down to a specific flight, check it on the airline’s own website as well.

  • Google Flights and the OnTheFly app (owned by Google) are meta-search tools that help you find the cheapest flights with exact dates, flexible dates, or with a calendar option. You can see a graph of the cheapest dates to fly within a given period, and once you select your flight, use the booking info provided to contact the airline direct, or travel agent, or another booking service to purchase tickets. I use these when first starting to plan a vacation just to see what options are out there.
  • Follow someone who monitors flight deals from your area – Ydeals.com If you find someone that is monitoring flights deals from your location, you can really find some amazing deals. For me in Canada that’s Chris Myden at Ydeals.com. You just go to ‘Y’ deals for your city, and signup to be notified by email whenever there’s a really hot deal. For these type of deals you need to act fast or they will be gone. We got flights Calgary to Hong Kong return for $770 return including taxes and fees. I don’t have info on sites like this outside of Canada but they’re probably out there for you too.
  • Kayak Kayak is a great tool well known for comparing multiple sites. Your can search +-3 days for the best flight deals, which can save a lot if you are flexible. I like its price trend feature, with a recommendation to BUY or WAIT for a better price. There is also has a fun explore feature, where you enter your origin and month, and it shows you a map with the price of airfares to get you to destinations all over the world. Warning: exploring this feature could lead to a spontanious vacation when you see that flight to Hawaii is only $479!
  • Hopper The new Hopper Flight Explorer  lets you discover flight deals with flexible dates and destinations. For example, try New York City to Europe or San Francisco to Anywhere. You can also set up deal notifications to be alerted to great deals as they happen. Hopper also creates reports that shows you when the best prices are available, recommends the best day of the week to purchase your ticket and the best day to fly. Hopper also has the Flight Tonight app for spontaneous travelers, that helps impulse travelers find last minute deals from their city.
  • Follow you favorites If you frequently travel on a specific airline, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to be the first to hear about deals.
  • Check the discount airlines Sometimes we take a long haul flight on a major airline to a hub like London or Paris, then use a discount regional airline to get to our final destination. They can also be good for short hops within a region. You can get great deals on these airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe, but be sure to compare both flight costs and added fees. These fees can be significant or even ridiculous. Check their carry-on baggage dimensions to be sure yours qualifies. Also note that these airlines often fly to smaller airports that are some distance from the major city you may be trying to reach. Great deals are possible, but do your research.

Tangier, Morocco

3. Reward Points

There are websites that specialize on this topic and it can get pretty complicated. But basically, the fastest way to earn reward flights is through credit card bonuses. By getting several cards with high signup bonuses, you can earn enough points to be on your first reward flight in a few months. To do this you need an excellent credit rating, and you need to be diligent about tracking your cards and paying them in full each month. Obviously if you are carrying a balance, the interest will defeat the purpose of saving money on flights. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. You can build up your points further by putting all your expenses on your cards as well as earning points by actually flying. By remembering to show your member card and taking advantage of bonus offers with purchase you can multiply your points. For example, Safeway (in the airmiles program) regularly gives large bonuses for both dollars spent and specific purchases. When it comes to using your points it helps to research how to get the most bang for your points. Here are a some resources I’ve used for more info on travel hacking and using points for travel:

I’m always looking for more tips like these. How do you save money on airfare?