Boise: Week One

 It has been a long, fun, and productive week and the calendar just keeps filling up. With just three weeks left here, I hope we can fit everything in.

One day I am sitting on the beach, the next I am freezing my butt off in Boise, Idaho.

Josh and I are both from Idaho, so although we have not been enjoying the cold, we have been enjoying the idea of coming home. It hasn’t been our home for nearly 15 years, but that doesn’t change the fact that our hearts will always be in our Idahome.

We are staying with Josh’s mom, Tammy who is a busy business woman and socialite. Her social schedule along with all of the family and old friends we have in town has made for a busy calendar.

Friday, 12/1 – We flew in to Boise, Idaho at 10:30PM.

Saturday 12/2 – Boise has a surprisingly awesome night life and lively downtown. So, when I heard about The 12 Bars of Christmas Pub Crawl, I couldn’t resist. There had to be over 100 people dressed in costume wandering the downtown area and filling every bar with holiday cheer.

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Immediately following our last drink of the crawl, we were ushered to Tammy’s company party. I’m not sure I have ever been to a company Christmas party before, so I guess it would be safe to say that this one was the best one I’ve ever been to! It was casino themed with an open bar, ongoing game show, and plenty of food. I didn’t win any prizes, but I pretty much ran the Texas Hold’em table and earned back my money ten fold… unfortunately, the chips didn’t actually pay out.

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Sunday 12/3 – My dad lives only 20 minutes away from Tammy. We joined him, my step-mom, step-sister, and nieces for their regular Sunday dinner. It was delicious, as always: chicken cutlets with mushroom sauce. The kids are learning how to play card games, so we had a fun time kicking their little butts in Speed.

Monday 12/4 – After a busy weekend, it was nice to take a day to just focus on our various projects. We also took some time to thank our host by building her table and cooking dinner.

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Tuesday 12/5 – After a productive day at home on Monday, we were looking forward to a little adventure. I spent the morning surfing the Boise travel guides. The research led us to the Boise Fry Company for lunch. We had fries and a burger. It wasn’t the best food we’ve ever eaten and the atmosphere wasn’t the best ever, but the concept was really cute.

The majority of the menu was customizable. We selected from six different types of potatoes for our fries (yams), then the cut of the fries (thick), the seasoning (garlic and rosemary salt), and the sauce (we got a flight of several). Then we selected our burger from several protein options (just beef). It was a lot of fun and I was pretty happy with the food. While there, we noticed they have happy hour from 4pm-6pm each day where there is BOGO on fries and beer. I’m looking forward to trying a few other fry combinations.

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For the evening, Tammy took us to a free line dancing lesson at The Buffalo Club (free every Tuesday). We learned two new dances and had some good drinks. I don’t want to brag, but Josh and I did pretty great.

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Wednesday 12/6 – Josh had to do some work, so I spent the day setting up the Christmas decorations.

Thursday 12/7 – We went to Dad’s house to help set up some of their Christmas decorations and for dinner. We had fried clams and baked potatoes.

Friday 12/8 – I unpacked and organized Tammy’s pantry in preparation to help her host Josh’s cousin for dinner. We had tacos and cobbler, then sat and talked late into the evening.

It has been a long, fun, and productive week and the calendar just keeps filling up. With just three weeks left here, I hope we can fit everything in.

Thanksgiving Weekend 2017

We heard some great stories, improved our chess game, ate delicious food, made connections, and bonded with friends and family. 

Oh my. Where do I even begin?

The day before Thanksgiving, we made the “quick” drive down to Miami, Florida. After being told not to use our GPS, we were treated to the longest 1.5 hour drive of my life (the GPS later confirmed my suspicions that it was, in fact, a four hour drive). We did eventually make it and spent the next two nights with friends of the family and 19 other dinner guests.

I had the pleasure of witnessing all of the pre-dinner fun. I ate my first Cuban meal, watched my first turkey deep-fry, played with the cutest puppies in Miami, and helped Josh to invent a new cocktail (Crystal Light, pineapple juice, coconut rum, and spiced rum).

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Dinner was amazing with all the traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including two deep-fried turkeys, home-made cranberry sauce, and whole artichokes. I particularly enjoyed my host’s rendition of stuffing which included mushrooms and nuts.

After a few days in Miami, we traveled back up north to Boynton Beach, Florida to stay with another family friend. She has a beautiful home on the river, a slew of delightful friends, charming birds, and dogs I fell deeply in love with.

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I was particularly fond of her large, secret garden-like back yard, which had a quiet dock on a slow-moving river. It was the perfect place to spend each morning drinking coffee and watching the wildlife. I spotted two new ducks, a bald eagle, and several large iguanas.

Although the town offers plenty of entertainment, Josh and I opted for quieter mini-adventures, like a short hike through what I can only assume was a spider sanctuary, and a 2-stop pub crawl. Back at the house, we were provided with delicious meals, great conversation, and games of chess filled with advice for both the game and for life.

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We met so many interesting new people over the holiday weekend. Being introverts, this was a little stressful for us, but it was a nice reminder of why we are out here. We heard some great stories, improved our chess game, ate delicious food, made connections, and bonded with friends and family.

Choosing the Right Vacation Rental

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider…

As a mid-30’s traveler, I’ve come to love vacation rentals. I’ve done enough traveling to know what I want out of my accommodations, and in my experience, vacation rentals offer the best bang for your buck. For example, I like having my own space that is quiet and clean. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and not amenities (because I probably won’t use them anyway). I want to eat at home at least once per day so that I can save cash for an amazing brunch or highly-rated dinner. This is why I love vacation rentals, because they offer all of these experiences at a price that is comparable, or often better, than staying at a hotel.

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider:

Step 1: Is a vacation rental right for this trip?

While I’m a big fan of vacation rentals, they’re not always the most appropriate choice. I like to consider rentals, hotels, and hostels; there is definitely a right time and place for each. When planning my accommodations, I first take a moment to consider my priorities:

Hotels

  • Duration – less than five days
  • Occupancy – four people or less
  • Location – pretty important
  • Price – highest price

Hostels

  • Duration – less than three days
  • Occupancy – less than two or more than two non-couples
  • Location – very important
  • Price – cheapest price
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Be careful not to immediately disregard hostels. This adorable cottage was our hostel in Doolin, Ireland near the Cliffs of Mohr.

Vacation Rentals

  • Duration – five days or more
  • Occupancy – two or more
  • Location – less important
  • Price – mid range price

Step 2: Where should I start my search?

There are many ways to find vacation rentals online. My favorite is Airbnb. HomeAway/VRBO are similar and just as good (we used HomeAway for our Rome trip), but Airbnb is usually my go-to simply because it is the one I am most familiar with.

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#shamelessadvertising #justdoit

Step 3: What should I search for?

Josh is particularly picky about where he likes to stay, so I take great care in picking out the perfect vacation rental. There are several search options available on Airbnb. Here are the ones I use every time:

  1. Location – I narrow the map radius so that I am within ten minutes (walk or transit) of the major sights, but not actually in the thick of things where I am going to get charged extra for being in the “prime location.”
  2. Room Type – I have gotten better, but I do have a bit of a distrust for germs. I need my own space that I can clean to my liking, and that no one is going to touch except for me until I leave. This is why I select my Room Type as Entire Home. Don’t get spooked! Entire Home also includes studio and basement apartments. Mostly this is just my way to make sure that I have a private bathroom.
  3. Amenities – This piece can really limit my options, so I try to only select amenities I can’t live without (first world style) like high-speed WiFi, washing machine, dish washer, and a television with HD input.
  4. Price – Hotels are convenient and reliable, so if I can stay in a nice hotel for the same price, I may chose to do that over staying in a rental. The price is the make-or-break and must be at least the same price as my desired hotel or less (I rarely stay in rentals for more than $120 per night including cleaning).

Step 4: How should I request a booking?

People of the internet, please correct me if I am wrong, but from what I can tell, the hosts don’t seem to care what I write in my request letter. I started by writing beautiful, heartfelt requests, but quickly realized (based on the questions my hosts asked me later) that they never even read my request. Now I either use the Book Instantly option or I write a generic request email:

Hello,

My husband, Josh, and I are visiting location on holiday. We are clean and respectful renters who enjoy experiencing local neighborhoods. We would love to stay in your beautiful apartment if it is available for the selected dates.

Thanks,

Jen

I suggest booking as soon as possible and sending requests to your top two choices. Keep an eye out for hosts that are quick to respond with a friendly note. If the host takes more than two days, they may be considered unreliable (imagine if it took them two days to respond to my “I lost my key and am now locked out” email).


Step 5: How do I make the most of my rental?

I’ve landed and it’s time to head to my vacation rental! Woot! Now what?

By now, the host and I have emailed back and forth and made arrangements for meeting up at the apartment. Some rentals have options to pick up the keys without ever having to see anyone, but I like to take the time to meet with the host and ask them questions.

  • “What should I do if I lose my key or I have issues with the apartment?”
    • The host usually gives me their local phone number, or even better, they introduce me to the complex’s super.
  • How do I use the appliances?
    • This may sound silly, but foreign machines can be a little different.
    • Don’t forget to ask about the shower. We once had a rental with five knobs. It was a chilling experience trying to figure them all out… haha. See what I did there… chilling…
  • Where is the nearest grocery store frequented by the neighbors?
    • I don’t want to shop at the over-priced petrol station across the street. I want to shop at the everyday grocery store where I will find everything I need at normal prices.
    • This question often inspires my host to tell me about some of the other fun neighborhood quirks.
  • What is your favorite place for a cheap lunch?
    • This was our million dollar question in Barcelona. The host sent us to a restaurant that was off-the-beaten path, was filled with locals, no one spoke English, the food was 100% authentic, and the prices were set for the working class.
  • What is your favorite special occasion restaurant?
    • I can read reviews online all day about the hottest restaurant in town. I’ll usually pick my top five restaurants for my one fancy dinner before I leave home. If my host answers with one of the five on my list, that one turns into THE one.

Once we’ve said good-bye to our host, the place is ours and I like to try and think of it as our home. Our first stop is the grocery store to pick up cereal and milk for breakfast along with some fresh-baked bread and sliced meat for a cheap snack, and a bottle of wine… because we are on vacation and we deserve it. This $20 trip to the store usually saves us a ton of money throughout the week by allowing us to skip unnecessary restaurant stops.

Last, but not least, I like to do my laundry on the last full day. I start it when I wake up, hang it after breakfast, then fold and pack it before going to bed. Now I’m packed AND I have one less thing to do when I get home. That’s a nice feeling.


Step 6: When do I get to go again?!

When I have a home away from home, my vacation gains a new layer of relaxation. The places travelers call home during their travels are so underrated. There are so many stories to be told and experiences to be had right in the hotel, vacation rental, hostel, or host family’s home. I can not wait to share the places we live with you!

Happy Thanksmas Holiday

In my family, holidays are celebrated when it is convenient, not when the calendar says it’s time. Mom continued that tradition this week by announcing yesterday as Thanksmas (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Happy Thanksmas!!!

In my family, holidays are celebrated when it is convenient, not when the calendar says it’s time. Mom continued that tradition this week by announcing yesterday as Thanksmas (Thanksgiving and Christmas). So Happy Thanksmas!!!

On Monday, we put up the tree. The tree was decorated in a cartoon theme to match Mom’s ‘toon-style decor. We turned on the Christmas music and went all out. Later that night, we left the house and felt instant embarrassment at the sight of our beautiful tree through the window… in early November… in 80 degree weather.

Tuesday was spent wrapping up work projects so that we could take the next couple days off to celebrate. Wednesday was meal planning and grocery shopping. Then Thursday was the big day.

We woke up early, wished each other a Merry Thanksmas, put on our holiday best, and celebrated the day. We played games, watched a movie, did some yoga, took a walk, and really just took the day to relax.

Attendance: Mom, Roommate S, Grandma B and Woodstock (the elderly neighbor and her dog who kept randomly barging in), Josh, and myself.

Menu: Cornish game hens, cornbread stuffing (my fav!), candied yams, cranberry jelly, mashed potatoes, corn, olives, deviled eggs, dinner rolls, mud pie, and pumpkin pie.

All in all it was a great holiday celebration! We had fun making the house look great, eating delicious Thanksgiving favorites, and passing out in front of the TV.