How we went to Switzerland with almost Net Zero cost

When we picked Switzerland, we know going in that it wouldn't be a cheap trip. This wouldn't be a trip where we could scrape pesos together for food and lodging (my favorite kind of trip, not Porter's). Switzerland is listed in just about every travel guide as one of the most expensive places in the world. On the first leg of our flight, the German guy sitting across from us (yes, across. We had weird backward train seats from Seattle to Vancouver) spent 20 minutes telling us how expensive coffee is. A guy from Germany. That's like when Thai people tell you something it's spicy. They're at an elevated level of normal. So when they say high, it must really be bad.

Expensive is a bad word for for a cheapskate like me, but Swiss hiking was reportedly the best in the world, so we started strategizing started early. Here's how:

1. United Miles for the plane ticket
We earn a lot of United miles. We're both authorized users on Porter's account, though Porter does most of the spending on his day-to-day and for work- buying medals and tech shirts and thousands of mustache-shaped shirts. I'm not necessarily partial to United, but it's the airline we started with and the way I see it, you've got to have a card with at least one of the legacy airlines. They go everywhere and where they don't, their alliances do. It takes about 30,000 miles each way to Europe (coach- I prefer more flights over fewer fancier flights) plus tax in cash. We also paid a change fee once when a better flight opened up. 

2. Barclay Card Arrival Credit Card for travel expenses
There are a handful of credit cards out there that operated on the 'Pay Now, Redeem Later' system. The Barclay Card Arrival Plus, in addition to having no foreign transaction fees, is one where you can redeem your points for any travel expense. In short, pay for your travel on the card (and pay it off right away like normal), accrue points as you spend, then get reimbursed for anything counted as travel. For us that meant mostly trains (which cost a BAZILLION dollars) and a few hotels. With the sign up bonus and regular accrual, we covered about 75% of what we paid for hotels and trains.

Now that we're home, I'm working on Barclay's other way to accrue points: writing travel stories on their travel advice site. It adds up some 500 points at a time, which is pretty much $5 at a time, so I don't know how long I'll last. You have 90 days to redeem your travel expenses, so I'm hoping I'll get in a mood one night and write up a couple hundred bits of travel stories to cover the last 25% of our hotel and train travel.

3. AirBnB for everything else
I've got a whole post coming up or the thrills of AirBnB. For the sake of this post we'll just say this: we rented out our apartment for the entire time we were gone, effectively covering the cost of most of the food (read: cheese, sausage, and overpriced but totally delicious and worth it meals that Porter had to keep talking me into eating without guilt or dollar signs in my eyes) and fun (site-seeing, souvenirs, crap we didn't ever think we'd have to buy but did) leftover. 

I haven't finished totally everything up yet, but by my calculations, a 10 day trip to Switzerland, with mixed budget accommodations and reasonable spending on site-seeing and food cost about $500. 

Now we have to start strategizing for New England this fall!


3 Reactions to REI's Response to My Complain Tweet

The weirdest thing happened the other day. First of all I complained to REI on Twitter- which is weird in and of itself because I've posted to Twitter all of 15 times and the only followers I have are my brother and those random companies that follow people in hopes of getting followed. 

But I was shopping for something at REI, a backpack I think. It doesn't matter so much what because every time I shop for outdoor gear at REI or elsewhere I have the same frustration: I hate colors from the 80's.

I hate teal and fuchsia, and cyan, and all the colors that almost all women's clothing and supplies come in. Shop in Men's, you'll find RED, BLUE, GREEN, sometimes yellow, and the old standard black. In Women's it's all these awful colors I hate, and black, which I already have to much in anyway. 

So this last time I was really frustrated because I found a PERFECT Men's backpack in a great shade of really normal orange and it didn't fit because it was made for a long torsoed man and long-torsoed I am NOT. And the same brand of backpack in women's was AQUAMARINE.

Nothing against those who love aquamarine, but I hate it. I want my supplies in colors I could find in a standard Crayola box. Is that so much to ask? 

SO I tweeted at REI and said so. 

And two hours later, THEY TWEETED BACK.

"@kambrat Thanks for the feedback. We will pass it along."

Weird, right? Is this normal now? I didn't know what to do with myself. In fact, I had three reactions:

1. Shame/Embarrassment

Like when you complain about something loudly and then someone calls you on it. Really you were just complaining to complain. It's really not THAT bad. I realize REI mostly sells product that other companies make. And that all companies are doing market research of SOME kind. I'm not trying to say people are doing their jobs poorly. No one should get fired over this or anything...

2. Satisfaction/Loyalty
Maybe my voice will be heard. Even if it's not, the fact that REI has someone staged to respond is pretty amazing. They are listening. TO ME! Now that's the future of customer service right there. And real time market research. I'm not the only one wishing for more primary colors and I'll stick with REI until they learn that from me and all the others like me...

3. Unsettled/Creeped Out
What is it that's weird about it? It's like I'm breaking the Fourth Wall of Big Business. Small businesses hear customer complaints. Large businesses are an endless hole of bureaucracy and grey flannel suits (or in the case of REI, neon breathable spandex puffy coats). That's just how it works. Here I feel as if I've entered in a false reality where my complaints are heard... but surely not by people who can affect change... or maybe next season bags will be red and puffy coats bold blue. All because my tweet went around the world.

I don't know. I still feel mixed


Three Best Things about Baseball Games (spoiler: none of them are baseball)

Went to the Mariner's game on Friday night. I always say that I love going to baseball games because you don't actually have to watch baseball to know what is going on or to have a good time. Because baseball games are full of excitement and camaraderie entirely separate from the slow pace hits and really quite depressingly high rate of strike outs.

I like the game, don't get me wrong, but I'd never watch it on TV. That would be like watching golf. Only exciting if it's high stakes. What I like best about baseball games, aside from good company of course (a must for a game with an average of a run just every 22 minutes), is the bits at the stadium. There's a sense of collective entertainment when you're waiting for one out of three attempted swings to be successful.

My favorites are:

1. The Wave.

I get excited watching The Wave circle the ballpark. I get disappointed when the lowlifes before my section give it up. I wonder what the record is for most laps around a stadium (It's 31! And might have hit it big in Seattle!). Regardless, it fills me with glee.

2. Singing Take Me Out To the Ballgame

It's the closest thing I have to Old Irish Drinking Songs (capitalized, because it's a Thing, you know). I don't go out drinking in modern times in America, where I'm sure they don't still sing OIDS. I can only picture the experience from movies (apparently only Disney movies at that). And from ball games. Where hours (literally hours) of passive game-watching is punctuated by a burst of collective participation. Doesn't it just make you want to link arms with your neighbor and smash peanut shells in with your toes as you sway from side to side? It does me, and I appreciate when others get into it even more than I do.

3. Special displays of orchestration

Friday night we saw a fireworks show set to Taylor Swift and Ellie Goulding (really well-timed, better than I've ever seen before). It was an abnormal night where the majority of attendees actually stayed past the 7th inning stretch (a rarity for me, I'll admit) and it was so great.

But even without special occasions, I love the little dance the sand sweepers do; and when groups of 50 all wear the same thing and cheer; and costumes. I've never joined the dress up crowd (I have a blue and green plaid shirt I wear to all professional sporting events in Seattle [Sounders, Seahawks, and Mariners colors all look pretty similar]), but I love to see it on the jumbo-tron, especially when accompanied by dancing

Three more things I like:
Good company

A cute baby

Knit beard on a handsome man