How to Plan a Cheaper Trip to Hawaii

_6ranchviewGetting the best traveling deals is like trying to bust a cheating partner, it’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night – research.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard people say time and time again that it’s expensive to travel to and enjoy Hawaii. Well, I’m here to say, yes, it can be expensive but only if you don’t take the necessary steps to avoid the extra costs.

To get the most out of your money and trip, I suggest you do the following:

Avoid holiday rates. 

My family’s trip to Oahu, Hawaii took place in the beginning of December. To avoid holiday rates, I aimed to vacation during the first half of December.  According to Perfect – Hawaiian – Vacation, “High” season (mid-December to mid-April) tends to be the most expensive part of the travel year in Hawaii.

Stalk airlines for a few weeks to get the best airline tickets possible.


If I know a trip is coming up, I generally start searching for travel deals 2-3 months before the vacation. Since I was aiming to vacation in early December, I started searching for deals in September and purchased my airline tickets in October.

I recommend visiting GoogleFlights because the site allows users to compare ticket prices in a calendar view.  I like to search for tickets to buy on a Tuesday or Wednesday before 9 AM and after 9 PM because I’ve found this is when tickets are cheaper.

I was able to purchase 4 round-trip tickets with United Airlines from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Honoulou, HI (with an hour layout each way) for less than $500 each! The next day, I checked ticket prices again and they were at least $200 more than what I got them for. Score!

Avoid staying in hotels and touristy areas.

Unless you’ve got the cash to burn for a pricey hotel suite you’re hardly going to be in, aim for place that will leave you with enough money to buy nice souvenirs.

My vacation party consisted of 6 people (1 couple, 1 grandmother, 2 grandchildren, and an uncle). My goal was to spend $200 – $250 a day on a rental home near the northeastern coast (about a 25 minute drive from the airport).

After searching and for available rentals, we picked a 3 bedroom home in a quiet neighborhood with 1 bathroom, 2 – 1/2 bathrooms, a splendid mountain view in the back yard, and an ocean view in the front on for about $210 a night. The location of the home was near a lot of the attractions we wanted to visit and had a gated/locked fence so we could park our rental car on the rental property with a bit more peace of mind.

Need cheap souvenirs?
If your’re planning on buying souvenirs for family, friends, and co-workers, I’d recommend stopping by the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet & Marketplace – which is located not too far from Pearl Harbor. The swap meet is located outside the stadium in one of the parking lots and is open Sundays from 6:30 AM – 3 PM and Wednesdays/Saturdays from 8 AM – 3 PM.

Shoppers can buy lots of traditional souvenirs for a fraction of the price they would typically costs at another tourist gift shop. I got Hawaiian shirts for the men in my family for $10 each and pretty sarongs for about $5 each.

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My Digital Perm: 9 Months Later

Well, for those of you who are wondering, my hair is still curly. Yep, still curly. The only difference between the first day of my perm and today’s perm is that my hair is 6 inches longer. So for future reference, if your perm stylist tells you that a perm is going to last a year, believe them.

Now down to what you really want to know …

Is my hair still frizzy?

Yes, absolutely.

Have I given up on the hair products I’ve been using?

Yes, I’ve had to stop using Bumble and Bumble Curl Conscious Calming Crème but only because the product was weighing down my hair. I’ve replaced the calming creme with Dove hair conditioner, a product I used in the shower when my hair was straight.

Why do I use hair conditioner to style my hair?

Truth? I like to run my fingers through my hair and Dove hair conditioner allows me to do this without creating a ton of frizz. I’ve discovered in the last month or so here that hair conditioner works just as well as styling creme … and I’m disappointed in myself for not figuring that out in the early stages of my perm. (See, this is why you have to do proper research before you do something.)

I normally have my hair styled by 8 AM and it stays pretty tame until well after 6 PM.

How do I style my curly hair now?

The only thing that hasn’t stayed consistent with this digital perm of mine is the way I style my hair. Last you read, I was styling my hair when it was still wet and letting it just air dry. I don’t do that anymore because I’ve discovered that if I let my hair just air-dry, it’s pretty soft without any products in it.

So for the last couple of weeks I’ve been following this hair routine:


1. Wash my hair in the evenings. Gently squeeze extra water out of hair and wrap hair in a towel for a bit. Don’t rub your hair dry with your towel.

2. Let my wet hair dry and sleep with my hair loose.


3. Coat my dry (and sometimes tangled) curls with a bit of water using a bottle that sprays a light mist.

4. Scrunch my misted hair to liven up my curls.

5. Clip the front side of my hair behind my head and do my make-up for the day while my hair drys (about 15 minutes).

7. Remove hair clips and apply 4-5 squirts of Dove conditioner to my hair, squirt by squirt, scrunching my curls as I go.

Before & Afters 

7 Months - Wet Digitally Permed Hair

Wet hair

7 Months - Dry Digitally Permed Hair with NO Hair Products

Air-dried hair with NO products

Air-dried Digitally Permed Hair with Product

Air-dried hair with Dove product




7 Months - Digitally Permed Wet Hair

Wet Hair

7 Months - Dry - No Product

Air-dried hair with NO products

7 Months - Dry - With Product

Air-dried hair with Dove product


10 Things You Need to Know Before You Visit Washington D.C.

Back in October of 2014, my younger sisters and our uncle took a week long trip to Washington D.C. to visit all the war memorials. Since my uncle has a heart condition, we decided to rent an SUV and drive to Washington D.C. from Madison, Wisconsin instead of flying. Even though I did a lot of research beforehand and planned out as much as I could, there were a few hiccups during our trip that could have been avoided if I knew a few extra things.

As such, I’m here today on my WordPress blog to share with you the top 10 things you need to know before you visit Washington D.C. so that you can avoid unnecessary headaches during your trip.

Washington D.C. Traffic

Photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed

 1. Washington D.C. residents are rude.

At first, I really thought that I had a negative attitude towards D.C. but after discovering that Travel + Leisure rated Washington D.C. as the third rudest city in America, I know it isn’t just me. Washington D.C. drivers drive like there are no pedestrians and pedestrians walk around like there are no such things as moving vehicles. Make sure you’ve got enough car rental insurance and that you’ve paid last month’s medical insurance bill because residents of Washington D.C. could give two licks if you’re trying to walk across the street (even when you’ve got the walk signal) or attempting to merge into a lane (with your signal on) because D.C. residents need to get where they’re going NOW.

2. Your cell phone carrier will make or break your trip.

If you’re with a cell phone company that has slow 4G LTE coverage (Sprint, I’m looking at you), you’re going to find your Google Maps losing signal on one of the busiest highways … in the middle of rush hour. Also, you’re not going to be able to pull up TripAdvisor as quickly or as often you would like because the slow cellular data you’re using is also draining your battery (which is going to limit how many photos or videos you can take). Word to the wise, figure out what your data coverage is going to be like while you’re in D.C. so you can route your trips or plan attraction visits ahead of time because of your craptacular data coverage.

3. Stay outside of Washington D.C.

Hotels in Washington D.C. are ridiculously expensive for the average tourist. Who wants to spend upwards of $150 a night on a room that you’re barely going to be in? To avoid paying for parking and other amenities you might otherwise expect to be free, stay in a hotel outside of Washington D.C. Many hotels in surrounding cities offer shuttles to Washington D.C. and are even located near public transportation that can take you to Washington D.C. quickly.

We stayed in a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia for a 4 days and spent less than $800 on a 2 bed suite (with free breakfast and parking). We decided to stay in Arlington because it’s only a 15 minute car ride from the hotel to the heart of most of the tourist attractions. Also, I liked the fact that we could escape the chaos that is D.C. at the end of the day. Trust me, after a day of shuffling around other tourist and traffic, you’re going to want to get away from it all.

Lincoln Memorial

Taken on a Monday afternoon. I couldn’t get a clean shot of President Lincoln.

4. Most tourist attractions are cluttered together

I found TripAdvisor to be especially helpful because the site/app offered real time member reviews. I was able to narrow down attractions we wanted to visit and plan our days around those sites. If you’ve got a few days, devote one day to the White House, war memorials, Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln Memorial Pool and Washington Monument because they’re all within a five minute walk of each other. Then spend the day at the Arlington Cemetery and visit the Marine Corps War Memorial at the end of the day. Plan on devoting another day to the Smithsonian Museums because they’re amazing (and free to visit). If you can, avoid major tourist attractions during peak hours.

ChinaTown - TripAdvisor

Photo by TripAdvisor member, Tommeegun

5. Avoid Chinatown like a plaque

Avoid Chinatown because it’s nothing more than a arch way and a block or so of mediocre Chinese restaurants mixed with western stores like Walgreen’s.  Trust me, it’s not worth the effort it takes to get there.

Thinking maybe the Chinese restaurants were hidden gems, my family and I took a chance and dined at New Big Wong Chinese Restaurant. Big mistake, we couldn’t finish our meal because the dishes were saturated in heavy, bland sauces. My garlic eggplant dish had more sauce than it did eggplant.

On our way out, a group of Asian business professionals stopped us and asked us how the food was. I did the so-so gesture and that was apparently enough for them to turn around and leave. I heard one of the women in the group saying something along the lines of “so-so is not good enough.”

6. Be prepared to spend top dollar on parking if you don’t want to take public transit.

If you’re like me and decided to rent a vehicle to get you to Washington D.C., be prepared to pay top dollar for parking on the streets and in parking ramps. If you want to avoid paying these fees, read up on Washington D.C.’s public transportation. According to many other travel blogs and friends who live in D.C., public transportation is the way to go.

If you have to drive, there is free parking on streets by the war memorials but you’re only allowed to park for 3 hours at a time and have to remove your vehicle by 4 PM to make room for rush hour.

I paid:

  • $23 for 2 hours of parking in a parking ramp near  Chinatown.
  • $25 for an afternoon’s worth of parking in a parking ramp near the Smithsonian Museums.
  • $5.25 for an afternoon’s worth of parking at Arlington Cemetery.
  • $2.50 for 2 hours worth of parking in a parking ramp in Arlington, VA.
  • $7 for a mile and a half ride taxi ride.

7. If you don’t have time to see all the major tourist sites in D.C., buy a ticket up to the top of the Washington Monument.

For $1.50, you can easily view all the major tourist attractions in the heart of D.C. from the top of the Washington Monument in minutes instead of hours. The National Park Service offers daily tours, from 9 AM to 5 PM. If you know you’re going to be in D.C. for sure on a certain day and time, you can buy your tickets way in advance.

8. Don’t waste your time and money on bus tours.

One thing I observed while walking around Washington D.C. is that buses get stuck in traffic just like everyone else. There is no special lane for tour buses. Now, if you’re really lazy and want someone to plan your day for you, go ahead and sign up for bus tours but if you’re like me and want more control of where you go and when you go, save yourself some money and just go on self-guided tours.

Pedicab driver in Washington D.C.

Pedicab driver waiting for President Obama to pass through.

9. Traffic stops when President Obama leaves the White House.

Yep, it’s true. When President Obama leaves the White House, traffic is stopped and blocked until President Obama (and his motorcade of secret service) pass by. Did you know President Obama has his own ambulance follow him around?!?

President Obama leaving the White House!

President Obama leaving the White House!

On our second day in the city, just as we were walking away from our  visit to the White House and towards Constitutional Avenue, we noticed that traffic had been cleared and there was security everywhere. Curious (and because security wouldn’t allow anyone to even cross the street), we watched a limousine with the Presidential Seal on it depart from the White House security gate. Of course we just stood there in awe and snapped pictures along with every other tourist.

 10. Last minute souvenir gifts of t-shirts are easy and cheap to come by.

If you’re like my younger sister who waited until the last day to get souvenir gifts for people, you’ll be incredibly grateful for the street vendors parked along and near Constitutional Boulevard who sell t-shirts for dirt cheap up until 6 PM or so. The street vendor we stopped at (right by the White House) sold his t-shirts for $5-$10 each.

If you’re looking for more personal and elegant gifts, I suggest you visit the Smithsonian Museum gift shops. If you’re looking for a gift for a war veteran, I highly recommend the small gift and coffee shop located along Constitutional Blvd, near the Vietnam War Memorial.


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My Digital Perm: 4 Months Later

Digitally Permed Hair - 3 Months LaterMy stylist Brandi recently revealed to me that she now uses me as a cautionary tale for her clients when they ask for a perm. Brandi tells her clients about how she refused to perm my hair, how I spent a lovely afternoon being adventurous at an Asian salon and finally why I showed up at her salon a few days afterwards begging her to fix my broken hair. Oh, the shame … the shame. Thankfully, Brandi was nice enough not to sneak a picture or say “I told you so” that day.

Well, four months after getting my digital perm, I’m here to update you on how my hair has been treating me or rather, how I’ve been treating my hair. For those of you who haven’t read my initial blog post 7 Things You Need to Know before You Get a Digital Perm, I suggest you read that post first before you read this entry.

Digitally Permed Hair Results

Overall, I want you to know that I have made peace with my permed hair and that I do genuinely like my hair curly. Would I ever perm my hair again, you ask? Um … I would perm my hair again but I’d make sure
that the salon only used big rollers in my hair and hot permed my hair for 30 minutes so that the curls wouldn’t be so tight. I would also have make sure Brandi is available a few days later to give me a keratin treatment (if she hasn’t disowned me yet for perming my hair again).

Anyway, there are 3 things that I’ve given up on since I’ve had my hair digitally permed and let me just tell you, I’ve never been happier.

1. My blow-dryer

Well, I have to be honest with you guys … I’ve given up on blow-drying my hair out of sheer laziness and because GENTLY blowing my hair every morning takes too long. I now just scrunch some Bumble Bumble product in my semi-wet hair and let it air dry. Of course my hair takes about an hour or two to actually dry but the end result is surprising better than when I blow-dry my hair. I’ve discovered that if I leave my hair to dry naturally, my curls come out more defined and stay intact longer (which means less frizz).

Twirling my hair

2. My twirling habit

I’ve cut my twirling habit down because I started losing too much hair. No more explanation needed.

3. My seemingly endless need for miracle hair products

As some of you may know, I’ve searched high and low for curly hair products that would give me back the luscious locks I had before my digital perm. I’m not even going to begin to tell you how much money I’ve wasted on products (it was probably enough to buy me a really nice pair of leather fall boots) but I eventually smelled the coconut oil and realized that I need to stick with what I know. And what I know is that Dove conditioner works well in my hair. Also, I gave up on most of the recommended cleansing products for curly hair (Yeah, I’m looking at you cleansing conditioners!) and now just buy Shea Moisture, a gentle shampoo with all natural ingredients at Target for about $10.

On a higher note, since I’ve been conditioning my hair non-stop since I got my perm, my hair is coming back around to the condition it used to be in. It’s not completely there yet but I no longer have to go running for cover when it starts to rain. Yay!

7 Things You Need to Know Before You Get a Digital Perm

Perm Picture

My digital perm results!

Earlier this summer, I came upon a short article about Kat Denning’s latest hair makeover and found myself drawn to her curls. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted curly hair and Kat’s new do only renewed my search for the perfect perm. It wasn’t long after that that I discovered the digital perm!

According to an article by Sali Hughes of the Guardian, digital perms originated from Japan and unlike the traditional cold perm that gives curls to wet hair, digital perms curl hair when it’s dry … in any size you want!

Thanks to a blog post (and referral) by Elizabeth Dehn, I was able to locate the ONE salon in the Twin Cities that offers digital perms – Shin Hair Salon in Minneapolis.

Now that I’ve gotten a digital perm, there is some important  information I wish I had known before I permed my hair.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my new perm but managing it is a lot more work that I ever expected. So if you’re thinking about getting a digital perm, here are 7 things you need to know before you call to schedule your appointment.

1. Digital perms are timely and expensive

The length and fullness of your hair will determine how long it will take to digitally perm your hair and how much it’s going to costs you to get one. In a nutshell, the longer and fuller your hair, the more time and money you’ll need to set aside for a digital perm.

Once you’re ready to schedule an appointment, know that you’ll need to set 2-4 hours aside to get your hair digitally permed. If you’re considering Shin Hair Salon for your digital perm, I advise that you schedule your appointment for 11 AM or noon. I scheduled my appointment for noon and didn’t finish until a little after 3 PM.

The starting price of a digital perm at Shin Hair Salon is $150. My hair at the time of my perm was medium length (a bit below my back) and considered thin by the stylist. Even so, my digital perm costs $200.

2. Make sure you’re ready to commit

Digital perms can last anywhere from a few months to a year and can’t be reversed without taking some major risks.

I was told that my digital perm would last about a year.

UPDATE: As you can see from the photos below, my hair was STILL curly a year after I permed my hair, even after I had 6 inches of it cut off earlier in the spring. About a month after the middle picture was taken, I had my stylist cut all the curls off.

Taken after my digital perm appointment on July 17, 2014

First day of digital perm. Taken June 17, 2014.

1 year after my perm, June 20, 2015.

1 year after my digital perm. Taken June 20, 2015


1 yr. and 1 mo. after the perm. Taken July 12, 2015.







3. There will be frizz 

Digital perms were originally designed for Asian hair (probably because most of us have super straight hair) and the curls are only activated when heat is applied to the rollers. As healthy and shiny as your hair may be right now, I want you to know that if you’re considering a digital perm, you will have to deal with frizz. Once your hair is soaked in perm solution, rolled into curlers and plugged in, the heat will fry your hair.

Since my hair was thin and medium length, the stylist at Shin’s Hair Salon only allowed my hair to be “hot” for about an hour. Even though she constantly checked the level of heat of the rollers and took precautions to make sure my scalp didn’t get burned, the damage to my hair was done. The first week after my perm, no matter how much I conditioned my hair, my head was a ball of frizz.

4. Pinning pictures of digital perms on Pinterest isn’t real research

Before you get a digital perm, do the right kind of research because if you don’t, you’re going to end up investing a lot more than you planned on your new do. While blogs and online articles about digital perms will give you basic knowledge, I recommend that you spend some time researching how to care for curly hair too.

It wasn’t until after my perm, after the frizz started, that I realized that I had to be careful about what shampoo, conditioner and styling products I used.  I can’t tell you how many hours I spent online researching products for curly hair after I got my perm and how much money I wasted on products that made my hair crunchy before I finally figured out how to manage my curly hair.

5. Be prepared to invest in hair care

Whether it’s a keratin treatment at the salon or a basket full of hair clips, be prepared to spend. While I initially purchased a few $5 products from Target to try on my new do, it was determined after the first use that these products weren’t for my curly hair. If I had done the proper research, I would have known this.

It’s been about a month since I got my perm and so far, I’ve gotten a haircut (to re-layer my hair to lessen the frizz), a keratin hair conditioning treatment (to soften my hair) and visited Sephora  a handful of times to purchase expensive (but much needed!) hair products.

To help control frizz, I recommend Bumble and Bumble Curl Conscious Calming Crème. This stuff won’t make your hair feel crunchy.

To review which ingredients in hair products are bad for curly hair, click here.

6. Getting ready in the morning will take just as long, if not longer than when you had straight hair

So I thought that getting a digital perm would make it possible for me to not only have curly hair every day but in less than the 15 minutes it normally took me to blow and style my straight hair. Well ladies, I am here to say that I was wrong! My curly hair now takes me twice as long to get ready for the day.

Once you get accustomed to the curly hair, you’ll need to give yourself extra time to gently blow dry and style … which brings me to the last thing you need to know about digital perms.

7. There will be lots of twirling

If you’re like me, you like to run your fingers through your hair or never really owned a hair brush. However, when your hair is curly, you’re going to need to refrain from running your fingers through your hair because that will cause frizz! Instead, you’re going to need to learn how to just twirl your hair. Yes, I said twirl.

To get the most curl for your buck, you’re going to need to twirl your hair in sections as you’re drying your curls with a diffuser blow dryer. Then, I recommend splitting your hair into two sections after blow drying and twirling them into Princess Leia like buns. Hit the buns with a little heat from the blow dryer and leave the buns in for a few minutes to get the most curl possible. Also,  twirling your hair throughout the day will help sustain curls.

Update: December 2016

I made my peace with curly hair and am just happy that my hair has returned to its soft and silky self. My stylist still reminds me when I go in for a haircut that I promised her I wouldn’t perm my hair ever again.

Is there a digital perm alternative?

If you want wavy curls but don’t want to risk damaging your hair, I’d suggest learning how to curl your hair with a straight iron. It took me a couple of attempts before I got the wave curls down but I’m happy with the results – even if they’re just temporary.

I have hair slightly below my shoulders and use a 1 3/4 flat iron (If I use a 1″ flat iron, my curls end up too tight) to create my waves. To add some texture, I spray my wet hair with Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray  (super cheap at Target). To add some body, I use Living Proof Flex Shaping Hairspray (love, love, love this hairspray). I spray both in my wet hair before I blow and curl my hair.

Flat Iron Curls 1

To Cozumel and Back!

Cozumel Travel Guide Booklet

Photo on cover of booklet provided by

Earlier this month, I traveled outside the States for the first time to visit Cozumel, Mexico. While the weeklong trip proved to be a memorable experience, I have to say that there was no way that I would have gotten through my vacation without the help from my handy-dandy mini travel booklet.  I say this largely because I can barely speak Spanish (even though I took beginner’s Spanish  twice in high school and once in college).

Unfortunately, this design project didn’t come to me on it’s own. I give most of the credit to my document design professor, Fred Carpenter. Back in February, Professor Carpenter challenged students to design a document that presented “ information in an efficient and effective way.” The only stipulation for the design project was that the document could only be the size of a standard business card or at the most, an index card.

Since I was already spending what free time I had researching my trip to Cozumel, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone and concentrate my information design project around a customized travel book. My decision to create a travel booklet was solidified when numerous travel review sites recommended that tourist carry crossbody bags.  I figured out that the travel booklet would fit neatly into my crossbody purse and be accessible easily through an interior pocket.

My mini travel guide to Cozumel included the following sections:

  • Trip checklist
  • Travel itinerary
  • Hotel information
  • Converting USD to MEX
  • Who to tip
  • Telephoning internationally
  • Car rental tips
  • Greetings – English to Spanish
  • Communication – English to Spanish
  • Vocabulary – English to Spanish
  • Signs – English to Spanish
  • Medical – English to Spanish
  • Notes

For reconstruction purposes, my travel booklet was created in Publisher using standard business card page size (3 1/2 x 2″) with .25″ margins. Instead of relying on a paper cutter to cut all the pages neatly, I printed the booklet pages on Avery business card sheets with clean edges. Afterwards, I used a single hole puncher to punch holes in the upper left hand corner of each card and secured the booklet with an 1″ individual metal ring binder.