All posts by Kate

Cash Back on VRBO and

You know that feeling when you discover something that you wish you had known a long time ago?  That’s exactly how I felt when I discovered that I could get cash back on my VRBO and just by making my bookings through Ebates.

I’ve been using Ebates for years, and have earned hundreds of dollars in rebates for things I was already going to purchase online.  Somehow, I failed to notice that there were lots of travel options available.  Duh!

While there are over 115 listings in the travel section, the ones that jumped out at me are:  2% rebates

Home Away   up to $6.00 rebates

VRBO  up to $6.00 rebates

I have used these websites many times, and I can’t believe that I have missed out on all those rebates.

Ebates rocks for all your online shopping, even travel.  If you haven’t joined, you can earn a $10 gift certificate to Target or Kohls when you make your first purchase.

I hope this trick helps you stretch your travel dollars just a little further.

Before You Go, Read: Naples, Italy

Travelling is always a great experience.  It is even more great if you know some of the area’s history, and can see things in context.  That’s why we’re bringing you this randomly occuring series, Before You Go, Read.

Naples, Italy is an amazing and awful and fascinating and frustrating city.  During a day in Naples, it is not uncommon to feel all these things on the same day.  Two books can help to unlock the mystery of Naples.

The first book is historical fiction with a strong romantic theme.  The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella is the story of a young Italian woman who is a fabulous cook, and follows her life as it is impacted by World War II.  It is also the story of a young English officer sent to Naples to prevent marriages between local women and English soldiers.  While the outcome seems obvious, the story is truly amazing.   The book cover and the Amazon listing both focus on the romantic story, but I was significantly more fascinated by the evocative descriptions of war-time life in Naples.  Prior to reading this book, I could not imagine the ways in which the war destroyed the city.  It gave me a new perspective on both the city itself, and an amazing appreciation for its older residents.

Understanding the physical and social destruction of the region helped me to better understand the things I read in the second recommended book. Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System is non-fiction, and sometimes a little hard to read. It also sets the scene for why Naples is the way it is, why things don’t get done (or why they do), and why the residents tolerate certain things that would make most other big-city dwellers crazy.

There is no way to adequately express how much my perspective on Naples was altered by these two books.  I give them my highest recommendation for deepening my appreciation for the region and its people.

On Airlines: Virgin Atlantic

The following is a guest post from Mr. Kate:

A recent quick trip to the States led to a new experience: flying Virgin Atlantic. 20 days ahead of travel, the price was hard to beat. For this short trip, the chance to minimize jet lag with the  non-stop flight from Gatwick to Orlando sealed the deal.  The airline cultivates an image of a maverick challenger, with affordable swankiness. You’ll find mixed online reviews, but my unscientific sense is that most of the negatives use the word “disappointed,” so the marketing is at least working to set up expectations.

Continue reading On Airlines: Virgin Atlantic

Introducing: Before You Go, Read…

Knowing an area’s history can add exponentially to a trip, which is why Fresno makes her kids read the Horrible History books.  Almost every location is the subject some fabulous historical fiction and non-fiction.  Since we’re avid readers, Fresno and I decided that we would do a series where we review the books that have helped make our travels even more interesting.

I know y’all are big readers, too, and you’ve travelled places we’ve not yet gone.  We’d love to hear your suggestions for books that are good pre-trip reading for specific locations.  You can comment here, or shoot us an email at kate at fromfresnototimbuktu dot com.

First up:  Naples, Italy  Check back this weekend for my book suggestions to set the scene for your time in this beautiful, ugly, wonderful, frustrating city.

fabulous photo by:  Santi B

Using The Cloud To Improve Your Travels

There are 100 bajillion and one ways to use the internet to make travelling easier, more enjoyable, and less expensive.  What I’m going to tell you today has not one thing to do with any of those things.  Instead, I’m going to tell you how cloud-based storage can help you fix things when they go wrong.

This whole thing started because of my children and their super-power of losing or breaking glasses when we are travelling.  It is truly awesome:  we’ve dropped glasses into an orchard in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, spent an entire weekend in Venice where one child had forgotten to bring her essential glasses, lost an arm screw in Paris, and someone’s glasses broke during an unplanned overnight in Norfolk, Virginia (broken plane.)

As a form of self-defense, I started uploading everyone’s eyeglass and contact lens prescription onto my web-based email.  And it works!  First, there is the Murphy factor*:  if you are prepared, bad stuff doesn’t happen.  Second, the time that we did have glasses broken, I was able to grab a cab to a local shop, use their computer to print out the prescription, and we had new glasses in less than an hour.  (The shop was super-helpful because of our situation.)

This has worked so well that we’ve added additional documents to our online information storage:  medication prescriptions, passport main pages, visas, etc.  Next on my list is contact information on the backs of our credit cards.

There are, potentially, some security risks with keeping important information in the cloud.   However, there are tons of ways to mitigate those risks and tons of benefits to keeping useful information at your fingertips, especially when you’re going to be away from your primary sources.

The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll never need the information, which is a pretty good worst-case scenario.

*the Murphy factor:  from Murphy’s law, anything that can go wrong probably will.  The Murphy factor refers to the fact that Murphy’s law is a real thing .

photo by:  Shane Adams

Travel, Kids and Financial Education

I’m a financial educator in my real life, so my interest was peaked by the the link to How Vacations Can Make Your Kids Financially Savvy.  There isn’t any rocket science in the article, but it does point out ways that you can use vacations as opportunities to teach lessons about budgeting, spending, and saving.

There are a few more things that I would have included.  These aren’t really lessons but rather things that have happened naturally.

exchange rates

First, international travel has taught my children about exchange rates, both the math and the theory.  Figuring how much that trinket will cost “in dollars” reinforces basic math skills and forces the kids to consider the relative value of things.  The theory has been much more interesting – I’ve learned a lot during our conversations.

Road Signs at Vimy RidgeThey’ve also had first-hand experience with the metric system.  Figuring out how much longer we had to drive becomes a whole different problem when the road signs are in kilometers.  (Even more so if your speedometer is in miles).   Hearing that the weather will be 40 degrees means something completely different when the announcer is talking about degrees Celsius.  And how much lunch meat do you need to order in kilograms?

Australian Dollar Bills

Other, random financial topics that have come up include why other countries make their money out of different materials, daily schedules in equatorial countries, and why the cars are so small outside of the US.  (Hint:  they’re mostly financial reasons.)

I’m sure that you have some additional experiences.  Please share in the comments.  We’re all in this parenting and travelling thing together.

photos by:


London To Heathrow: How To Get There

If you’re travelling into England from any distance, there is a reasonably good chance that your flight will be coming into Heathrow Airport.  I’m not a big fan of Heathrow because it is huge.  Really, really huge.  As in, I think the different terminals are in different counties.  And the driving is horrifying.  As is the parking.

London Underground SignMy solution:  take the train.  There are two options for taking a train to Heathrow.  You can either take the Underground (the Tube), or you can take the Heathrow Express.  If you ask the Transport for London people, they’ll recommend the Heathrow Express.  I recommend the Picadilly line of the Tube, and I’ll tell you why.

When considering taking the train to the airport, most people are balancing three factors:  price, time, and convenience.  The Heathrow Express loses the contest in at least two categories, and it is a tight argument for the third.


The Heathrow Express costs £21 one way, or £34 for a return ticket.  There is also a business class ticket, but I can not, in any way, shape, or form, imagine needing to buy an upgraded ticket for a 15 minute journey on an already nice train.  If your travels require you to go somewhere other than Paddington Station, you’ll also need to buy the appropriate Tube ticket for that part of your trip.

The tube from Zone 1 (central London) to Zone 6 (Heathrow) costs £5.50 for a single ticket.  If you are an Oyster card holder, or you plan to buy an Oyster card for your visit, the fare is £5.00 during peak times, and £3.00 during non-peak hours.  ( For this trip, peak is considered 6:30 am to 9:30 am and 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm.)  If you anticipate other Tube travel that day, a Zones 1-6 Day Travel Card is £16.40 if travel begins before 9:30 am Monday through Friday, or £8.90 for any travel after 9:30 am Monday through Friday, or on Saturday, Sundays, or public holidays.

Winner Tube


The big selling point for the Heathrow Express is that it is fast.  A journey on the Heathrow Express takes about 15 minutes from Paddington Station to the airport.  However, the Heathrow Express platform is very inconveniently located.  If you are taking the Tube to Paddington, you need to leave at least twenty minutes for getting between the Heathrow Express platform and the Picadilly line platform.  Trains leave every 15 minutes for most of the schedule, but as long as every 30 minutes late some evenings and early on Sundays, which can also add to your journey time.

By comparison, the Tube voyage from Paddington Station to Heathrow airport takes approximately one hour as scheduled.  Keep in mind that rail works can add to the scheduled time.  Trains run at least every 10 minutes, and often more frequently.

While the Heathrow Express is certainly faster when considering the time spent actually travelling on the train, the time savings is much smaller when you consider the transit time at Paddington Station and the less frequent trains.  If you are really crunched for every last minute, and you think you can get across Paddington Station quickly even with your luggage, you might choose the Heathrow Express.  Otherwise, you’re not gaining much time for the aggrevation we’ll discuss later.

Winner Tie

Another time consideration is the hours that the trains run.  Neither the Tube or the Heathrow Express run 24 hours per day, so they will not work for very early or very late flights.

The first Underground train from Heathrow to London does not leave the airport until shortly after 5 am, with the exact time depending on your terminal.  The last Underground train from Heathrow to London leaves just after midnight, except for Terminal 4 from which the last Tube just after 11 pm.  All these times are different on Sunday, too.  Be sure to check out the Transport for London website to verify the times for your travel day, and to check for any disruptions to service.

The Heathrow Express service runs (roughly) from 5 am to midnight, depending on your terminal.  Check the Heathrow Express website to verify the times for your travel day.


As I’ve said, moving across Paddington Station isn’t easy or fast.  This is especially true as they continue to do work on the station.  Transferring between the Heathrow Express and the Tube requires either several sets of steep stairs  or a long walk and the use of escalators or the lift.  I’ve done both, and I’ve enjoyed neither.  I’m sure it is fine for those who don’t have luggage, children, or anyone less-abled travelling.  But honestly, how many people are going to the airport without any luggage, kids or other encumbrances?

Flight Of Stairs At Paddington Station

If you are continuing on to other trains, using the Tube can often eliminate a train change because the Picadilly line runs directly to Kings Cross and St. Pancras International train stations.  These two stations service many of the major train routes throughout the UK and also across the Chunnel into Europe.

Winner Tube

Other Options

If neither the Tube or the Heathrow Express are working for you, you may want to consider taking a taxi, pre-booking a private car or taking the T9 bus.  Both a taxi and a private hire car have the added benefit of picking you up and delivering you to exactly the places you need.  Travel times will depend on your destination but will be comparable to the Tube.  A taxi to central London will cost between £45 and £70, and a private hire car will cost somewhat less with the bonus of having a fixed price versus the taxi meter.

Prebooked hire car from Green Tomato
Prebooked hire car from Green Tomato

The bus is cheap, but I can’t recommend it as a good way to start or end a voyage.

Not everyone will agree, and your exact choice will depend on the time of your flights, the members of your party, the amount of your luggage, and your ultimate destation or voyage starting point.   There are many options, and one is right for your group.  Be sure to consider the Tube if you hear recommendations for the Heathrow Express.  And happy travelling!

Paddington Station stairs photo by the_whiteness

Green Tomato car photo by Toyota UK


SkyScanner Makes It Easy to Find Cheap Tickets to Random Destinations

Most of us have probably had the thought:  “I don’t care where we go, I’ll just see where I can get great prices.”  That sounds great, until you’ve spent six hours on the Ryan Air website and you still don’t have a plan.

Enter SkyScanner.  While it is like most other travel search sites, it has some features that make it especially appealing to me.  First, you can enter your destination as “Everywhere.”  Second, you can search for fares over a month, which is awesome if your plans are flexible or even semi-flexible. Continue reading SkyScanner Makes It Easy to Find Cheap Tickets to Random Destinations