Choosing a Reward Credit Card for Long Haul Travel

Traveler’s with the goal of long distance travel, lets say… from the U.S. to Australia, typically plan well in advance for this type of travel to ensure getting the best deal. These long-haul flights come with a pretty high-price tag.

Others have been successful in navigating travel from the U.S. to Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji et al.) for the low-low and even done so in premium class air cabins. So what is the best way to embark on such an expensive journey without breaking the bank?

A great way to maximize your dollars and decrease the amount of actual cash you’ll have to front for your adventure to Australia, is by capitalizing on credit card incentive and traveler loyalty programs. There are numerous credit cards offering mileage and point redemption for airfare and lodging, but not all cards are created equal.  Credit card rewards can come in the form of airline miles, cash back, or general points, or perhaps a combination of all three.
…Not all cards are created equal

I’ve compiled a few links (see below) to help you make the right decision for your lifestyle and pockets/pocketbooks.

Airline, hotel, and credit card loyalty programs can be used to save you money and they often can be used in conjunction with each other to get the most bang for your buck. On average, a roundtrip flight from the U.S. to Australia will cost about 100,000 points/miles and it varies depending on cabin class.  Although obtaining that many points can seem intimidating, it is possible with diligence and discipline.
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Let’s break it down.

First and foremost, establish an end goal. For this to be a realistic goal, you need to start this plan in motion as soon as possible, and also give yourself enough time to build and earn enough in loyalty points and rewards to capitalize upon fully funding at least the travel portion of your trip.
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You will want to do some research and determine which credit card is best for you.  Be sure to consider your home airport and the airlines that fly from there as well as the airlines that offer flights to your destination. Also consider how much you currently travel and your every day spending habits.  Taking these decisions into account will help you choose the right card for you. Here are just a few popular reward cards you can choose from.
*According to the website, you’ll earn 5x the points on airfare travel (purchases).

You can find a more comprehensive list of reward/loyalty cards here or do more research for the right card for you here, here, and here.

Once you have chosen the right card for you, start using it! And I mean for any and everything.  I wouldn’t recommend purchasing items you don’t actually need or hadn’t planned to purchase initially, because this can start an unhealthy habit. Credit cards make their money on the annual fee as well as the interest when you don’t pay your bill in full monthly.  So you will need to be able to pay the balance each month, not just the minimum amount due, the entire balance. But if you need a new set of tires, put them on the card as well as every day purchases like coffee, groceries, gas, etc.  The end goal here is to use the cash you would normally use for these everyday purchases to pay your credit card bill and use the credit card to make these purchases directly. You can build up your available mileage/points balance much faster by being consistent in using it.

Personally I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) credit card. So my experience with that card will be highlighted here. The sign up bonus of 40,000 -50,000 points is great to jumpstart your points balance and will get you on your way to your destination. But keep in mind that putting $4000, which is required in the first three months, on the card can be dangerous if you are not careful and prepared to pay that balance.

For the CSP I earn one point on each purchase and one additional point for travel which includes flight and hotels.  Dining purchases also earn 1 additional point.  Just note that if you drive a lot or have a gas guzzling SUV, you won’t get any extra points for fill-ups, as gas is not considered travel and you won’t earn any extra points.  Also beware of the $95 annual fee which is typically waived during the first year, but can be viewed as a small price to pay when you consider the price of your free flight.

Getting the most bang for your buck

Start by using the card for all purchases you would typically either use cash or debit for. Then at the end of the week use the money either cash or your checking account to pay directly to the credit card. This way you avoid overspending as well as having any purchases accumulate interest.

Another way to build your points balance is by shopping online through your credit card shopping portal. The Chase Ultimate Rewards portal offers a wild array of shopping options.  You can continue shopping your favorite brands and stores through the portal.  Not only will you earn additional points by shopping through the portal, but sometimes you’ll get discount just by purchasing through the portal.  Lowes, Amazon, Groupon, J. Crew are just a few of the online retailers that can be found on the portal.

Some Perks

Additional perks to this card include, no foreign transaction fees, and Chase offers 1:1 ratio transfers to several other airlines and companies.  Part of the reason I was able to travel to Puerto Rico and stay in one of their top 5-star hotels without paying a dime is because I was able to transfer some of my Chase Reward points to my United airlines Mileage Plus loyalty program to cover the flight/ hotel/ ground transportation. And there was no additional charge for doing this since Chase and United have a partnership.  This may also come in handy for any subsequent flights on partner airlines.

You will have to do a little bit of research to determine which reward card is best for you and your lifestyle. So before you buy your next set of tires or large purchase consider getting your rewards credit card first, so those large purchases can count towards your next big trip and towards the minimum required purchase amount to receive the sign-up bonus.
Additional links:
  • http://airlines.wanderbat.com/
  • https://www.jetsetter.com/magazine/528/idiots-guide-to-frequent-flier-miles
  • http://maphappy.org/2015/05/how-to-earn-miles-without-flying/
  • http://lifehacker.com/a-beginners-guide-to-airline-miles-1592887319
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3 Basic Travel Must Haves for Any Trip

Preparing for any trip can be stressful enough, but here are my basic must-haves for any flight or travel.

Quality Luggage is a must! There is no greater annoyance than having luggage that does not travel well.  I mean-really! it has one job…  I’ve gone through my fair share of luggage but I’m most happy with my Delsey Helium Aero pieces in 25 and 29 inch sizes. In 2016, no person should have to travel with 2-wheeled luggage.  Delsey.jpg

But I do have other options when traveling for much longer periods of time (4 or more weeks), or if I’ll be in one location for the duration of my trip and not transiting several locales.  It is important to be mindful of the weight of your luggage in itself, since overweight luggage can put a damper on your trip before it has even begun, and the Delsey pieces I have are lightweight enough to help prevent this.

Packing Cubes I’ve only been using them for about a year but I find that they are a great way to keep things organized and keep you packed a bit more efficiently.  Somehow it seems I actually pack less items by using these cubes.  My first set was purchased for $29.99 from eBags and was the rectangular 4 piece set but after they arrived but before leaving for my trip I discovered that TJ Maxx also had an almost identical sent by Sharper Image for half the price at $14.99, so i got a second set of travel cubes.

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A few of my friends have purchased these travel cubes that are more square from Amazon and love them as well. Many companies are now marketing travel/packing cubes, but ideally you’ll want to ensure you purchase a set that has a see-through mesh or compartment, otherwise you’ll end up having to open each cube in order to identify its contents.

A Travel Pillow Because being responsible for yet one more thing while traveling doesn’t seem worth it on short flights to me. So I typically only carry my travel pillow with me on flights over 4-5 hours.  Flights longer than 5 hours for me, will most likely be international where frequently pillows and blankets are already supplied. Even when this is the case I make the most out of using both my personal travel pillow and the airline supplied pillow. Using one for my head and the other as a pesty armrest cushion.

There are very creative travel pillows on the market now that highlight and offer extras, so at this time I don’t have a particular recommendation. But I will say that for the typical horseshoe-shaped travel pillow you’ll see in any airport, be sure to purchase one that has a closure, fastener, snap, tie or some way to attach it to a bag, in order to make keeping up with it a no-brainer.  Otherwise you’ll be buying travel pillows more often than neccessary.

Hopefully these three items will help make your next trip more enjoyable.

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Ibiza Part II (End of the EuroTour)

While getting our tan on, we ran into Ed, a representative from Cirque de la Nuit, who explained the party packages they were offering.  After what seemed like forever we decided on a package that included the following tickets:

  • Thursday: Sankeys Club and another club I can’t quite remember the name of.
  • Friday: Ibiza Rocks
  • Saturday: 12:30 Boat Party with all you can drink followed by a pool party from 4-12

11855784_10153585527239190_7694926899291509965_n (1)One spot we went to played mostly techno and EDM, we did NOT have a great time there.

 

 

 

 

Another club we went to had the movie Alien vs. Predator showing in what can only be described as a movie theater room.

I think we spent the majority of the night watching that movie, or in my case, watching the insides of my eyelids, as I had absolutely no interest in the movie and was exhausted anyway.  They woke me when it was over and we went home.

Friday night was when we agreed to do our “white night” dinner.  We had walked by Le Bar one night on our way home from the club and thought it’d be a great spot for dinner. Unfortunately we hadn’t made reservations in advance but when we arrived looking as amazing as we did, they couldn’t turn us down and found us a nice table.



The service and our server was amazing and so was the food.  It was a great evening.

The boat party was the best! We all had a great time (well minus my one friend who refused to take her motion sickness pills knowing we’d be on a boat). But one monkey didn’t stop our show.  The drinks on board were made in batches and they had about 4 or 5 varieties in addition to beer.  The drinks were all really good and I lost count early on of how many I had consumed. 11889448_10153585527029190_3067368239767974309_n 11026321_10153585526779190_6324890737352355901_n (1)

The DJ was awesome he played a mixture of hip hop and dance and enough to satisfy the music taste of all onboard. and so were the other partiers on the boat.  The only downside was that we were under the impression that the boat would dock at a small nearby island and not just in the middle of the sea.  Many of the folks on the boat jumped off the boat into the sea for about 30 minutes or so before it was time to head back. I very slowly took the ladder down and mostly held onto the side of the boat.  Because the way my swimming skills are set up…

After the boat party we went back to our AirBnB to shower and get dressed. We went to Swag (the only club on the island that plays Hip-Hop every night).  We were originally told that Swag tickets were included in the package but apparently they weren’t.  Luckily Greta from Cirque de La Nuit got us free tickets. And we had the BEST time at Swag. I really wished we had gone before our last night since they played the music we liked best.

Swag was awesome, the DJ was from NY and he played a great set and mix of hits (he played a lot of Philly artists which was even more amazing since we’re all from Philly) that made us not want to leave (Sat Aug 15). But we had to be at the airport by 6:30 the next morning and the combination of drinking all day and partying all night was a bit much for me at 30.

Packing to leave for the airport took me forever. I was tired, still intoxicated, sleepy and by the time we got home from Swag there wasn’t much time to do anything but pack. The flight back was a bit rough for me. And it never fails, I always have the most fun on the last night of all my trips. Lesson learned: pre-pack as much as possible if planning to go out the night before you leave. I was sad to leave Ibiza but all things come to an end.

My TripAdvisor Reviews for this trip:

Cirque De La Nuit

Le BAR

Sante Carne

Revolution Bar

Worlington Hall

 

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Hello Ibiza, Goodbye Amsterdam (EuroTour 2015)

The last leg of our EuroTrip ended in Ibiza, a small island off the coast of Spain. I was looking forward to this beach getaway the most. I love the beach, the lazy time just enjoying the sun, the breeze, and the water.

We took a local train from Amsterdam to the airport. Since I hadn’t gotten a chance to take a photo at the Amsterdam sign at the main train station, after we checked in and went thru airport security I left my carry-on bag with my friends and went outside the airport to capture a few flicks with the Amsterdam sign at the airport.

Of course our flight was delayed, but once we landed in Ibiza we took a cab to our AirBnb, grabbed food nearby, and walked around along the beach. We met a woman, Alesandra, who was about our age dancing in the street to a live band, her mother and grandmother sitting nearby encouraged me to dance with her, so I did. Afterwards she offered us free tickets to the club she worked at and told us to text her beforehand to confirm if she was working.

We woke up the next morning and walked a bit to find tickets to do excursions etc. we got the information we needed but didn’t book anything. We found a place nearby to get breakfast right on the beach complete with delicious mimosas. Let the fun begin!

After breakfast was the designated time for sun & sand. But before we could get our relaxation on we were intrigued by a speed boat pulling a group in a what can only really be described as a huge inflatable circular water raft.  Instant fun and we signed up immediately!

The four of us dropped our belongings, grabbed the life vests and hopped into the raft holding on to ropes on either side of us.  The ride was quite bumpy and a few of us fell off the inflatable benches onto the raft floor with the velocity of the boat making it pretty difficult to gain composure.  I’m pretty sure a few of us sustained a bruise or two, but it was so worth it.  It was unexpected fun, especially since the boat driver was deliberately maneuvering the raft to keep us from gaining composure and getting drenched in the process. 11907760_10153585525919190_1803335373055328077_n I don’t remember the cost and unfortunately (or fortunately) it wasn’t captured on any camera. But here’s a shot of the boat and raft in the water.

 

We made it back to the beach where we rented an umbrella and chairs.  A few of us went to a nearby shop to purchase some libations.

Luckily we happened to find a store with an ice bucket special that included a bottle of alcohol, ice, water, cups and juice.  I did a bit of negotiating for the price since we wanted to swap out the type and brand of alcohol pre-designated for the deal but the liquor bucket ultimately made for a great beach trip.

After a quick photo shoot we went back to relaxing on the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amsterdam (EuroTour Leg 3)

Once we arrived at our AirBnB in Amsterdam we dropped off our bags and darted out to get food nearby.

We noticed a bar near the Chinese restaurant where we got dinner, and stopped at the bar afterwards. They didn’t have much of anything that I prefer to drink and it was super crowded so we didn’t stay long and called it a night.

The following day we booked activities. Several of us picked different activities but we all agreed to do the Ice Bar, a guided tour on the canal, and the sex museum in the red light district.


I had a little time before activities so I got a manicure and pedicure. Although my friends wanted to see the Anne Frank house the line was way too long and would have cut into the other activities we had planned during our short stay.

One other friend and myself had purchased tickets for Body Worlds. I hadn’t gotten a chance to catch the exhibition several years ago when it was in both Philadelphia and the Washington DC area, so I was excited to catch it now.

 The Body Worlds exhibition takes an interesting look into the magic of the human body. One of the exhibits compared an average weeks spread of food for countries/cultures around the world and there was no surprise that the American family was among the top calorie consumers and had the unhealthiest food choices.
There were also several sex exhibits that were interesting and a display of a child fetus through each month of gestation. I really enjoyed Body Worlds.

 

I wanted to rent a bike and do some low key exploring but nobody else was interested and there wasn’t much time to fit it in.

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The canal tour was fun as well, our boat captain was funny and very attractive. And seeing the city from the canals was definite interesting, specifically learning about the architecture and design of most homes. Which explained why the steps in our AirBnB were so narrow and winding, which can be really dangerous. I will say it was a real team effort hauling our luggage up two levels of narrow and winding staircases.

The Ice Bar was an experience. It was fun and the drinks they have at their regular bar were really good.


   
After leaving the Ice Bar we headed to a nearby club, where we stayed and danced for almost an hour until I realized that I had left the hat (as seen in the photos above) I borrowed from my friend that day at the Ice Bar. As we were leaving to back to get the hat the bouncer tried to convince us to stay. We explained what happened and he offered us a bottle of champagne (well Prosecco) if we returned after retrieving the hat.

Unfortunately, the hat was nowhere to be found so we returned empty handed. But luckily the bouncer kept his word and the champagne was an added bonus to the night.


On our last night, we went to the sex museum and visited to the red light district. The museum was fun and enlightening. Learning about the sex industry in Amsterdam gave me a much different perspective on this business. I don’t plan to run out and join the industry but it is interesting to see how these “mostly women” are viewed by society and how the government has regulated or at least involved itself in this industry.

  From what we were told, a good majority of the women who put themselves on display in the windows and elsewhere to advertise themselves for sex, are in long term committed relationships or married. And their careers are not hidden or shamed by their family or friends. They all look at it as just another job.

I think most people will agree that Americans are quite prudish and overly judgmental when it comes to sex and ones sexuality. So I’m sure many of us a bit surprised when we are taken out of our element to a freer more open culture. Europe in general is a very sexually open continent, with nude beaches and nude bath houses etc.

It’s reasons like this that make me appreciate the traveling that I get to experience.

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Last Train From Paris

Next stop on the tour was Amsterdam!  But not after yet a little more travel drama…but this time we arrived at the train station in Paris to depart for Amsterdam. We probably got there way too early.


Unfortunately, we had to walk down to the second to the last Thalys train car (#18) for our seats only to learn that there was no more room for any of our luggage on our car. After being directed to the previous car (#17) to check for availability and being told the same.

We broke up our group of 4 into 2.  Two of us ran all the way to the 5th train car, where we finally found availability for our massive luggage.  We were not pleased with leaving out luggage so far out of sight and reach from the reserved seating we had in car #18, but what are you gonna do?

Returning to our seats was not a simple task as a train employee was refereeing an argument between a nice lady with kids who purchased a reserved seat and the arrogant man who was sitting in her seat and was determined not to move.

The train was full so finding an empty seat for him would probably not be easy. Getting past that drama took a few minutes. Finally we arrived at our reserved seating of 4 only to find a group of young guys playing cards and occupying them.

After making it clear that we had reserved those seats we were on our way to Amsterdam. I believe it was about a 3 hour ride.


Ironically, this happened to be the same train that 3 Americans would stop a gunman a mere 2 weeks later; only that train was going to Paris from Amsterdam. #Godisgood

 

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Paris 2015 (EuroTour Leg 2)

We took a taxi from Charles de Gaulle airport to our AirBnB.  Which was nice and in a great location. Check in went very smoothly and after changing clothes we were out the door to site see the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower etc.11807733_10153563176729190_4788113633193727604_o 11807321_10153563169679190_2758840853483044888_o

 

We grabbed lunch and tried to get tickets for a dinner show, but the two shows we had interest in seeing were sold out for that night.

Although it was something we discussed doing weeks in advance we hadn’t actually purchased the tickets. (Lesson Learned: Book ahead, next time).

11822392_10153563167269190_3817035091518645833_nAfter site seeing, we returned to the apartment to figure out our next move.  This took awhile but eventually found a place to have a really nice dinner.  Santa Carne, an Argentinean steakhouse.

Our party of four had an amazing time at Santa Carne. 3 of us ordered the L’assiette du chef (Chef’s choice) which is essentially 3 different types of steak with potatoes and salad. The couple at the table next to us had gotten the same dish and it looked amazing. He also said he had ordered it medium well which is normally how I take my steak, but it was a bit too red for me so when I ordered mine I got it well done and was more than satisfied.

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The fourth person in our party ordered the La Brochette (steak skewer) and she also was happy but for only 10 Euro more why not get the Chef’s choice? We also ordered a rose wine which was okay.

The service was amazing! Our Argentinean server, Ariel was a bit shy about speaking English to us and communication was a small challenge but he gladly grabbed a chef from the kitchen, Lara/Laura to interpret for us all and she was awesome as well. It was a great time and made my second time in Paris a thousand times better than my first trip to Paris.11813429_10153563168969190_6516908020220582999_n

We had a mini photo shoot while waiting outside to be seated for dinner…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was wearing a silver and custom made center pearl ring on my left ring finger.  A 28-year old Ariel grabbed my left hand and noted the ring. I quickly switched the ring to my middle finger to indicate that I was not indeed engaged or married, as he continued to flirt.  We all had a laugh about that.



After dinner we stopped for me to get my favorite European treat, a crepe!  It was a delicious Nutella and banana crepe.
Magic in the making
Magic in the making
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Someone wanted to be in the photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear Hotels,

Dear Hotels,

Black people want wash cloths for their hotel rooms. No not a hand towel… no…not a body towel.  A WASH CLOTH!

washclothsWashcloths are little square sized cloths about 5 inches by 5 inches.  We typically like two per person. One for our face and one for the rest of our body.

We use them in conjunction with the soap or body wash. We don’t apply the soap directly on the skin, because someone else may be sharing that same bar of soap. (And that is nasty!)  So we suds the cloth with soap and water and use the cloth to wash.

Also, the cloth acts as a light exfoliant, which is probably why you always compliment us on the smoothness of our skin.  Now you’ve been informed why #blackdontcrack.

I’ve never been to another black persons home where they did not offer me a wash cloth and a full body towel. It is just how we roll. So please do not come back with every kind of towel BUT a wash cloth the next time we ask. I know you have them in your inventory. Because Susan gave me one two days ago.  Now why the housekeeper took it and didn’t replace it with another washcloth, is a whole other post.

-Sincerely annoyed hotel guest

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Our Disastrous Flight to Paris (EuroTour 2015)

Getting to Paris was a huge ordeal. Flying on EasyJet meant leaving out of Gatwick. Which was estimated to take roughly an hour from our London hotel.

We had an early morning flight so we reserved an Uber, but apparently the Uber arrived and couldn’t find our hotel so he canceled the ride. The hotel front desk clerk tried to help us find a taxi that could fit all four of us and our luggage at 6 AM which was not an easy task. After working out the logistics for our huge bags and ourselves in the taxi, we were on our way.

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Eventually we had success but along the way I had to stop at the ATM to get enough pounds to pay the cab driver which also cut into our time. We finally arrived at Gatwick to the longest line I’ve ever seen.  We broke our group of four into two in order to speed up the check in process.

I had tried several times several days before our flight to check in online and pay for our checked bags to no avail. The baggage option was not available to pay in advance, perhaps after completing the online check-in.  Once we finally arrived at the counter we had to pay a lot more. This slowed down the process, but eventually myself and my one friend finished checking in and she and I proceeded to go through security.

Of course this is the one time I get stopped and have to empty out my bag and combine/condense all my liquids into 1 quart size bag. I had to throw out my hand sanitizer, shaving cream and a few other things that I only didn’t check to ensure my bag wasn’t overweight.  Each airport and each airline’s security terminals abide by different rules…sometimes they’re really strict & sometimes they’re really lenient, so you just never know what you’re going to get.

My friend also had security go through her belongings. By the time we finished and looked up at the board our flight’s gate was listed as CLOSED. We decided to check at the gate to see if they would let us on.  We ran for dear life it must’ve been 2 miles from the security checkpoint to our gate.

We went up and down escalators and long hallways…I had shin splints, and I was out of breath by the time we made it to the gate which seem like it took at least 20 minutes. And we were nervous because we did not see either of our other two friends pass through the security line.

Once we arrived at the gate, the lady asked my name and told me that we were the only two people left.  Reluctantly they opened the gate and let us board the plane.

Still worried because the two friends had not made it through security by the time that we had. But to our surprise they were in their seats on the plane when we boarded. #wonthedoit

Apparently they had gone through another security gate and also had to run for the plane. I said a long prayer of gratitude that we all made the plane in one piece because it was one heck of a trip just getting there.

Lesson Learned:  If you are flying out of Gatwick get there really early, it is almost as bad as Heathrow.

Read about the awesome time we had once we arrived in Paris next.

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England 2015 (EuroTour Leg 1)

The three of us arrived in London, Heathrow on a Wednesday morning and awaited our fourth party’s arrival flight.  Luckily after an hour we realized her flight was delayed several hours.  We went to our day room not too far from the airport and waited for her to arrive.

My Godbrother picked us up from the hotel and we went back to his house about 2-hours away not too far from Cambridge, UK.  Although the original plan was for us to stay with him, we ultimately got two rooms at nearby hotel (Worlington Hall Country House Hotel).

 
The room I stayed in was a suite, a 2-level apartment almost, looked as though it hadn’t been rented out in months, had a slight smell of mildew/mold and it was outside of the rest of the hotel.  It was sooo cold we slept in our clothes but because we were unsure of the cleanliness we slept on top of the sheets.  Man I almost froze that night. I woke up congested and irritated.

He came to get us after we ate the traditional English Breakfast at the hotel and we went back to his house to shower and get dressed. There was no way I could shower in a room that cold.


After 4 women got dressed we were off to Cambridge to sight see. We visited a museum had lunch at Revolution Bar and took a ton of selfies and usies. Here are some pictures of our afternoon.

The next day my bro grilled the best chicken wings and later we roasted marshmallows and s’mores on the fire pit at his house. We booked a different hotel for that night.  After chatting with the manager we thought that it was 2 double beds and because the price was so high we agreed to make it work (2 in each bed). But when we later got to the room, we realized it was actually two twin beds pushed together.  They had given us the keys earlier in the day but told us the room would not be ready until much later.   Four women in what is essentially a queen size bed was NOT fun!  I didn’t sleep much at all.On the third day we went to London and got another hotel.  We dropped off our bags at the hotel before heading out to sight see.  We saw Big Ben, London Bridge, and Buckingham Palace.  We followed that with dinner at an Irish Pub where most of us got the Fish and Chips, which was much better than the first time I had tried it years ago in another England Pub.


  

We had planned to go out to the club scene that night but were pretty tired by the end of the day so we just headed back to our hotel for the evening.

The next day we would be leaving for Paris but that didn’t go quite as planned…

 

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