Austin Graffiti Park

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It’s been a crazy few days in Austin, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed it. One the highlights of the trip was the graffiti park. It’s free (which is great!) but you can also see some really great street art…

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Seriously, where else would you see a giant snail-snake-deer Valentines day painting.

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…and some really nice inspirational messages…

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Love.

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There was even some Doctor Who!!

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It’s within walking distance of the downtown area, on Baylor Street near Lamar and 10th St. W. It’s definitely worth the visit.

2013 International Coastal Cleanup Day (sort of)

Apparently, September 21th was 2013’s International Coastal Cleanup Day. I missed that memo, so I say International Coastal Cleanup Day is whatever day you want it to be. Be a rebel, do what you want.

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There are several benefits to volunteering, like awesome free t-shirts or catching a glorious sunrise.

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Apart from the gorgeous scenery, I got exercise that didn’t make me feel like I was exercising. Isn’t that the best kind?

I also recommend keeping a list of what you find. We kept a sheet that totaled all of our haul and seeing everything we picked up was really satisfying.

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If you don’t have an official sheet, just make your own! Instagram, Facebook or Tweet a picture of it and maybe it’ll give others the motivation to get out and do some cleanup too. Anyone done any volunteering lately? I’d love to hear about it!

Top 5 Things to do in Key West

There is so much to do and see in Key West, and often with very little time, you don’t want to waste time and money while you’re there. Here are my top five touristy things that everyone who visits Key West should do…

1. Take a snorkel tour on the reef.

You can snorkel anywhere in the Keys, but you won’t beat the scenery on the reef. You’ll see so many types of plant and aquatic life. I have been a few times, but this last time was the best. I saw a nurse shark (not as scary as you’d think!), Barracuda (much scarier than the shark), Yellow Fin Tuna, Tarpon, Yellow Tail Snapper, Grouper, Blue Parrot Fish, Sheep’s head and so many more…

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It’s harder to find water that is more beautiful than what’s in the Key’s. When you’re passing along the south side of Key West, there’s a really well defined line dividing the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. It’s pretty cool to see…

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Even cooler through one of the deck-hands expensive Costa sunglasses.. The tour costs around $45 per person, plus a tip for the staff. It’s the only thing on the list that is slightly costly, but it’s well worth the money.

2. Mallory Square

From costly to free! Mallory Square has a sunset celebration that happens every evening. The Square is right at the end of Duval Street and very easy to find. Just look for the crowd of people with random jugglers, tightrope walkers and acrobats popping up throughout them…

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“Look, Mom, I’m a lamppost.”

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The cat show is great, but also bizarre. You should also see Dr. Juice’s tumbling show. He’s been performing on Mallory since I’ve been going, which is well over a decade now. The tightrope walker is also a permanent fixture on Mallory. The rest of the performers rotate pretty regularly but they are all very good. It’s also a good place to buy souvenirs, with several artists selling locally made goods. The best conch fritters in Key West are sold there too, so order half a dozen and don’t forget a side of spicy mustard!

3. Paddle Boarding

Despite being an island, Key West only has one tiny beach. The beach itself isn’t particularly exciting, but Sunset Water Sports has a booth where you can rent all kinds of things like paddle boards, kayaks, mini sailboat things and beach chairs. The paddle boards are only $22 an hour and they’re so much fun! It’s hard at first, but once you get the hang out it, it’s pretty easy.

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Until your mother “accidentally” pushes you off…

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3. The Cuban Chugs Exhibit

I already wrote a post about it, but I think it’s worth mentioning twice. It’s really eye-opening to the hardships that other people are dealt and made me really thankful to live in the country that I do.

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5. Get some good Cuban food!

There are so many delicious places to eat in the Keys, especially Cuban places! Being only 90 miles from Cuban, I’d say it’s pretty close to the real thing. Sandy’s Cafe is one of my favorite places, but there are plenty of options and trying them all out is the best part…

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So there you have it. Those are my top five! Beyond that, the jet ski tours are a lot of fun and the ghost walks have a lot of interesting history. Really, you can do anything while you’re there and it will be great. You’re in Key West which is better than where you’d be if you weren’t on vacation!

“Cuban Chugs”

In the Key West Botanical Gardens, there’s an “exhibit” with a bunch of “Cuban Chugs.” I say “exhibit” because it doesn’t really look like an actually display of anything, more like a bunch of old boat parts sitting in a yard. It turned out to be one of the most interesting things that I’ve seen in Key West. A “Chug” is a term for the vessels used by refugees leaving Cuba.

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It’s hard to believe that some people are so desperate to leave their country that they’d risk their lives crossing 90 miles of open water in one of these things, just to get to America.

The motor below is actually¬† built from regular boat motor parts and the engine from a lawnmower, cleverly welded together…

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Many of the boats were just tarps and wood scraps that had been filled with some type of foam insulation…

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This boat actually used a tree branch as support for one of the seats. Not lumber, but a tree branch…

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Imagine sitting on this thing for an extended period of time…

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You don’t even have to pay the entrance fee for the gardens to see this exhibit (although I do recommend going into the gardens themselves), so there’s no reason you should miss out on this fascinating display…

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‘Merica’s Birthday Celebrations

The U.S. of A. is about to have another birthday which means family time, fireworks and BBQ. Here are a few events happening in the Bradenton/Sarasota/Beaches area that look like they would be pretty fun.

First there’s the Independence Day Celebration at McKechnie Field. Take in a baseball game complete with fan giveaways, fireworks and a post game concert by David Nail.

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If baseball isn’t your thing, there are extravagant (and FREE) fireworks shows at Sarasota Bay, Siesta Key, Bradenton and Palmetto. There is plenty of seating in the nearby parks, but get there early because spaces fill up fast! Unless of course you want to take your boat, or a friend’s, and have a little viewing party from the water!

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Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key really know how to throw a birthday party. First the city comes together to celebrate with a fantastic parade, followed by music, food and fireworks!

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Take your pick and enjoy the holiday! Happy birthday ‘Merica!

Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance

I got a text message at 7AM yesterday asking if I wanted to go see some performance at the Asolo Theatre called “Pulse: The Beat of Song and Dance.” I had definitely never heard of it before, but I thought, “Sure! Why not?!” I’m so glad that I chose to go! First, the tickets were free. Second, they ended up being box seats with a great view. Thirdly, it was opening night and the world premier!

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Beyond that though, the performances were some of the best I had ever seen! The whole show was packed with talent, humor and energy from start to finish. Here are a few of the number that I was able to record…

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The show will be at the Asolo until June 16 and I HIGHLY recommend that you go see it! I have never seen another show like it, and my video samples do not do it justice!

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Keeping Discount Airlines Discounted

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The cost of flying, along with everything else, is so much more expensive than it used to be! This has created a new breed of airline, the “Discount Airline.” Overall, it’s a great concept, but you have to be careful of hidden fees and surcharges. When little things add up, your “discount ticket” can end up costing more than a regular airline. Here are some tips that I’ve learned:

Seat Selection Fee:

This was the first and the sneakiest fee that I came across on my most recent ticket purchase. The transition was so smooth between the ticket date and time selection to the seat selection that it was easy to miss a few things. Those few things would be the $18 per seat the airline wanted to charge as well as the fine print at the bottom stating that I could skip this step if I chose. Once I decided to skip, an annoying little pop-up basically said, “Are you sure you want to skip this step? If you do, we will place you between a large smelly fellow and a screaming baby.” Maybe I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. Plenty of seats were still open, so as long as you get to the airport in plenty of time, you should still be able to sit with your traveling companion. Worst case scenario, you’re stuck between a smelly fellow and a screaming baby… you can ask someone to switch with you after boarding….

Cancellation Insurance:

Maybe it’s just me, but paying $30 in cancellation insurance for a $42 flight seems a little excessive. Not only did rejecting this fee come with another threatening pop-up, but it also came with a long waiver that forces you to lie and say that you have “read and understand” their unreasonably long disclosure. There are some cases where insurance is fantastic, like auto or health insurance, but cancellation insurance just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I also figure that if I were to add up all the money I have saved by not buying insurance, it would more than cover any money that I might lose if I had to cancel a flight sometime in the future.

Baggage Fee:

This is the one instance where I would recommend accepting the charge. The fee is pretty much unavoidable, unless you are vacationing to a nudist colony (to each their own), and it is much cheaper to pay the baggage fee in advance rather than at the airport. For all the nudist out there, they do allow you to have one small carry-on that can fit under your seat which can perfectly carry the few things that you’ll be needing, like lots sunscreen and a pair of flip-flops. For the rest of us though, we need at least one carry-on bag. Normally I travel with one rolling carry-on and a laptop bag. There’s a small fee for the rolling carry-on or a larger fee if you need to check a bigger suitcase. Another trick I have learned, for non-discount airlines like Delta, is to always pack my rolling carry-on bag like a checked bag. In other words, nothing in it that’s valuable and could get broken or stolen. 99% of the time, the carry-on space will get too full in the cabin and the flight staff will offer to check your carry-on for free! This is especially handy if you have a quick transfer at an airport. You won’t be stuck sprinting through crowded airports rolling your suitcase over everyone’s toes. People don’t generally like that for whatever reason…

Don’t come hungry!

They may offer you water, but don’t get crazy and ask for some juice because you’ll definitely pay for it. Normally there will be snacks for sale too, but who wants to pay $5 for off-brand, stale peanuts? I prefer to bring my own pack of stale peanuts that I accidentally left in my suitcase from the last time I flew and decide again not to eat them.. Really though, bring a snack. Unfortunately, you should probably buy one of those bottles of water in the terminal that seems like it would be filled with gold flakes for the price that you’ll have to pay. It will be worth it though, because the only thing worse than sitting in dry airplane air is being thirsty while sitting in dry airplane air.

Bonus Perk:

One thing that is really great about discount airlines is that they often fly from smaller airports. For instance Allegiant doesn’t fly from the main Tampa airport, but from the St. Pete/Tampa airport. These airports are much less busy, so no long lines and a lot less “hurry up and wait.”

These are just a few things that have worked for me, but let me know if you have any other tips or travel stories!