Nesting and Bucket List Experiences

What does a crafter do in advance of a bucket list experience? Create something!

Nesting & Bucket List ExperiencesI realized that this has been happening a bunch in my life lately, so I thought I’d share a little about it with the thought that it might inspire you. When you’re preparing for a bigger event in life, like a long-awaited trip, a move, or a graduation, there’s often this nesting impulse that takes hold. I would say it’s true for moms, but since I’ve seen my husband go there more than once (I can almost guarantee that a part of our house will be gutted and revamped in one way or another just a few days before we expect a bunch of guests), I’m thinking it’s an even broader phenomenon than that. In anticipation of seeming disorder or the unfamiliar, we crave control. Indeed, a study of nesting in pregnant women found a desire for control to be at work. We arrange, rearrange, organize and create to satisfy our need to have control.

For me, that means jumping into a new crafting project. Only five days before we left for Italy I found myself dashing out to the fabric store to buy some UltraIMG_2281 Fluffy fabric to make a neck pillow. I had come across more than one recommendation for taking one to make the long flight more bearable, while compiling my packing list. Which reminded me of a tutorial I’d recently seen for making one. And the urge struck.

I have to say that I was pretty relaxed about getting ready for our trip once I had the pillow stitched up. It did allow me to sleep better on the plane – well worth the mad scramble. Plus I can send it along with Katherine, my fifteen-year-old, when she heads out on her bucket list trip later this summer.

Now I’m in the midst preparing for another momentous occasion: sending our eldest daughter Bethany off to work as a lifeguard at camp for the. entire. summer. (Eek!) We’ve been shopping for a list of necessities – sport sandals, polarized sunglasses, sunscreen… And in the midst of the shopping and preparing, I found myself digging out scraps of fabric for another project. This time, I dove into making reusable snack bags for her to take to camp to carry munchies (when you’re buying Costco-sized boxes of Goldfish crackers, you start to wondSnackBagser about this kind of thing. I’m sure a whole bag will end up in the guard house at some point, but it’s nice to know she can take just handfuls of them along now and then too). I’d been inspired by another tutorial I’d seen and thought they’d be a fun gift to send her off with. Never mind that I gave them to her as they came off the sewing machine instead of wrapping them up with a bow.

Who knows what crafting urge will strike when it’s time to get Katherine ready. Maybe the already-made pillow will suffice. But I’m not counting on it. That nesting instinct can be pretty fierce. The psychology behind nesting before a big event explains why I do this. Understanding this urge allows me to give myself space to be that way. It allows me to be kind to myself and see the good that comes from something that otherwise looks like “distraction.”

How about you? Do you find yourself launching into projects – cleaning, organizing, cooking, crafting –  before a big event? Does it help knowing why you get this way?


Deciding When to Splurge on a Bucket List Experience

Deciding When to SplurgeThe nine days my husband and I recently spent in Italy were filled with dream-come-true events. Just being in that country and seeing the sights I’d heard so much about would have been enough. But the extra tours (and a class) that I booked, along with some first-class travel and hotels brought the trip up to the level of truly memorable.

In previous posts, I talked about how I saved money on airfare and lodging using points and miles. I’ve always been thrifty, so I knew any bucket list trip I took would be done on limited funds (we are saving to put three girls through college, after all). As I showed in those posts, bucket list travels don’t have to be overly expensive. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally splurge when it comes to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It may be that those splurges end up being (to borrow from the well-known MasterCard commercial) priceless.

Don’t know when to splurge and when to save your pennies for another bucket list experience? Here are some criteria that worked for me:

  • Does this option represent the quintessence of my bucket list experience? One of the tours I booked for us involved having lunch and wine on the terrace of a vineyard in Chianti overlooking the Tuscan hills. You can’t get much better than that for experiencChianti Vineyarding the essence of Tuscany. Both the food & scenery were amazing.
  • Does it afford me an inside or behind-the-scenes look at something I have admired from afar for a long time? We happened into the chance to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which gave us a perspective many don’t often gain and definitely became a memorable part of our trip (confession: we actually didn’t have to pay to climb, thanks to some generous fellow travelers, but having the opportunity made me realize why it might be worth shelling out money for options like that in the future).
  • Will I continue benefitting from it afterwards? We took a cooking class in Florence, which gave us know-how and recipes we’ll use for making meals at home. Also, I booked this because my husband loves to cook and learning to cook Italian dishes in Italy –  what’s not to love about that?In Tavolo Cooking Class
  • Is the incremental cost minimal compared to the benefit? We were able to book a first class train compartment on one leg of our trip at the same price as second class, thanks to an available discount. It was so worth it for the privacy and comfort, even for a three-hour trip. Again, having experienced it, I’m going to keep my eye out even more for upgrade options like that, if they come at little to no extra cost.
  • How does it fit the rest of my adventure? Will this particular splurge improve the rest? I booked two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan (can you say “Five-Star Luxury”?) for the end of our trip. And while I used a credit card benefit to get them, I might consider splurging on better accommodations similar to that in the future. The rest, relaxation, comfort and pampering we experienced there allowed us to return home more refreshed.IMG_2584
  • Is my bucket list experience itself a splurge? Maybe you’ve always wanted to fly first class or stay in a penthouse suite. Then saving up to make those happen, even if you have to pay full price (although on the first class flight I would argue that there are plenty of ways around it), would make your decision for you.
  • Do I have exclusive access through connections, or just being at the right place at the right time? This reason alone may not be worth the splurge, but combined with the above factors, could sway your decision.

Some splurges are obvious – ones that match a favorite hobby or interest or are somehow otherwise so perfectly suited to you or your family members. Others, aren’t so clear – but don’t blow them off. Give it some thought using the considerations I’ve listed above.

I spent years saving my pennies and skipping add-ons when it comes to our family’s experiences. Only recently did I discover how the occasional splurges can elevate an experience and add value well beyond the monetary cost. Hopefully the tips I’ve shared here will help you not miss out on special opportunities in your bucket list adventures when it comes to considering pricier options.


A Bucket List Trip in Pictures

Two weeks ago we left for our bucket list anniversary trip to Italy. It was amazing! The weather cooperated, we reached all of our destinations without incident, and we had a great time experiencing a variety of settings. There isn’t anything I would change about our trip. I plan to share some tips about things I did that contributed to making it truly the trip of a lifetime in a future post. For today, I thought I’d just give you a some visual highlights of our journey (note: these were all taken with my iPhone. The scenery was that gorgeous!).

Rome Colosseum

Seeing the Colosseum up close was a once-in-a-lifetime experience (although I’d do it again!). Actually, being in a city with so many ancient structures was awe inspiring, itself. I had to laugh when a tour guide called a 17th century building “modern.”

In Tavolo Cooking Class


I booked a cooking class for us in Tuscany, because my husband loves to cook and where better to get the inside scoop on Italian food than from an Italian chef! Making homemade pasta for the first time, in Florence, was more than bucket list worthy.


Speaking of Tuscany, views like the one below were my main motivation for planning this trip in the first place. The hill towns and surrounding area were everything I imagined. Even a drizzly day couldn’t dampen our experience.

Tuscan hills

La Spezia


I booked an Air BnB apartment up in the hills of La Spezia as a launching off point for reaching the Cinque Terre. I am so glad I did because we got to see this view of the Gulf of Poets from the garden each night. No wonder Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley retreated here!


The Cinque Terre itself didn’t disappoint either. About 8 or 9 months ago, I came across a photo like the one below (that I took). Immediately I was intrigued and when I learned this was the Italian fishing village of Manarola, I added the Cinque Terre to our bucket list trip itinerary. We hiked a lot of miles up and down rocky seaside paths flanked by olive groves and lemon trees between the five towns. No wonder limoncello is popular here!

Cinque Terre

Duomo Milano

Finally, we finished up in Milan, city of fashion and finance. Staying in a five-star hotel has long been on my bucket list. Enter the Park Hyatt Milan, only a three-minute walk from the Duomo (if you cut through the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele). Our room was spacious and the manager event sent up champagne and dessert in honor of our anniversary.

I checked so many things off of my bucket list in those 10 days! I count that trip a privilege and the perfect way to celebrate twenty years of marriage to my wonderful husband!

In my next post I’ll tell you what I did for this trip that I haven’t done much previously, but made a big difference in making it memorable. In the meantime, where have you been (or where do you want to go) that is bucket list worthy?

Bucket List Lodging: Dream Accommodations For Less

I am so excited to be taking my husband on my ultimate dream trip this year for our 20th anniversary. In a previous post I talked about how I am using airline miles to get us to Italy and back for under $150. But airfare is only a part (albeit usually a large one) of the cost of a bucket list trip. And today I thought I’d share about how I’ve been able to arrange for our bucket list lodging for nine nights for less than $500, including four nights at five-star hotels.

Bucket List LodgingHere is how lodging for our trip breaks down:

Two nights in Rome at the Hotel Indigo – $80 (plus 90,000 IHG points)

Two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan – $0

Three nights in a one-bedroom apartment in Florence – $237

Two nights in a studio apartment in La Spezia – $169

To accomplish these savings I did three things:

First, I applied for the Chase IHG co-branded Visa card. After spending $1,000 within the first 3 months of having the card, I received 60,000 IHG points. In the world of hotel bookings, you can either get a free room using points, or if you want to stretch your points further, you can book with “cash & points,” essentially “buying” the difference in points for much less than buying points directly (approx. $.007 per point). In my case, I booked with cash and points, paying $40/night and covering the rest with points (versus paying $375 per night). The cash and points option is often less expensive (including the calculated value of the points) than the best public rates available. However, this is not always the case, so it’s always good to compare what the cost is by converting points used to their cash value, unless you have points to burn.

Next, I had my husband apply for the Chase Hyatt Visa card. This card comes with an amazing bonus after spending $1,000 in 3 months: two free nights at any Hyatt property in the world. Since the Park Hyatt Milan’s rates start at $678 per night, we’re getting a great value for this card bonus. As I discussed in my post about airline credit cards, it’s always important to understand your own ability to handle credit before opening new cards. And it definitely helps to have a good credit score.

Finally, for our stays in Florence, and La Spezia (our entry for exploring the Cinque Terre), I opted to try airbnb’s services. I like that the site has plenty of reviews and the hosts include photos and important details about their properties. The costs compared to hotels in the same places were very reasonable. And I like the option of buying our own food from the local market, instead of always having to eat restaurant meals. Plus, having a bit of space to stretch out at the end of the day will be nice. Unfortunately I hemmed and hawed too long before booking a Florence apartment and the one I’d hoped for was gone. But we still did claim a cute spot that sounds like it is situated well enough for us to get around the city easily.

In La Spezia I booked us a charming studio apartment that is part of an early eighteenth-century mansion overlooking the Gulf of Poets and Apuan Alps. It exudes charm! And the owners of both properties sound quite friendly and accommodating. It will be interesting to see how using this modern method of booking lodging works for us.

As I stated in my previous bucket list travel post, what I have described here is the most stripped-down version of saving on bucket list lodging (meaning being able to stay at your bucket list destination or in dreamy/bucket list-type places on a budget). To delve deeper into the world of travel rewards and points, check out sites like The Points Guy and Noob Traveler, or even sign up for Chris Guillebeau & Stephanie Zito’s Creative Live class, Make Your Dream Trip a Reality.

How about you? What do you do when looking for accommodations for your trips? Do you use hotel points? Look for discounts? Have you stayed in any aspirational digs like the Park Hyatt Milan?

Bucket List Travel Using Airline Miles & Reward Points

Where do you want to travel in your lifetime?

Bucket List TravelYou would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have travel destinations on their bucket list. More often than not when I ask people about their bucket lists, the first item they mention is a place they’d like to travel to. However, travel is expensive, especially international travel. That’s a big part of why so many destinations end up on a bucket list – we’re waiting for the day we can afford to go.

Which is too bad. Because bucket list travel doesn’t have to be expensive or inaccessible – if you know where to look and how to plan. In fact, I’m taking my husband to my number one bucket list destination this year: Italy. We’ll be spending two nights at a 5-star hotel near the Vatican in Rome. Then we’ll head to Florence and spend several days there, exploring the city and touring Tuscany (I’m booking us a tour that includes lunch at a winery). After that, we’re staying at a cute apartment in the oldest mansion in La Spezia on the side of Mount Santa Croce overlooking the Gulf of the Poets, the Apuan Alps, and the Versilia. We’ll spend two days there hiking between the five towns of the Cinque Terre and enjoying the views and the food. Actually, I imagine we’ll be enjoying the views and the food throughout our trip! And we’ll cap off our visit to Italy with two nights at the Park Hyatt Milan. I’m hoping to find Mike a chic hat (he often wears hats) in Milan’s fashion district.

Now, putting together a bucket list itinerary like this one could run you easily three to four thousand dollars. Or more. But I have worked it out for a fraction of that price and I want to share with you how I made this dream trip come true, and where you can find the resources I used to do it to put your own bucket list trip into action.

For now we’ll focus on the one key tool that launched our bucket list trip: airline miles (I’ll talk about the accommodations side of things in a future post). I was able to book our flights (Chicago to Rome and Milan to Chicago) on American Airlines for 80,000 miles and $121 in taxes and fees. Oh, and did I mention that Mike and I rarely fly anywhere? He happened to travel for work several times in the past two years to Finland, which accounts for a number of those miles. But even without that, we could have gotten the tickets with airline miles earned through reward credit cards.

Here’s how it works on the most basic level (below I provide links to three of my favorite travel blogs, where you can learn the ins and outs of using miles and points): applying for one or two rewards credit cards can earn you 40,000 or more miles in three months or less. Plus you can receive card-member benefits such as one free checked bag, priority check-in and Group 1 boarding.

Two cautions: you need to have a good FICO credit score to qualify for these types of cards. Applying for the cards won’t ruin your score (contrary to popular myth), although applying for too many at once can be detrimental. You also need to be a responsible credit card user – in addition to paying off your balance each month, you should know the amount you need to spend on the card in order to earn the miles, and how long you have to reach that “minimum spend.” Don’t apply for cards with requirements you can’t meet.

That said, here are the two mileage cards I started with, that earned us more than enough for this trip (these are not affiliate links):

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Currently 50,000 mile bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

Currently 50,000 American Airlines Aadvantage bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Annual fee of $95 is waived the first year.

To learn everything you would need to know for planning your bucket list trip, check out the online video course that I learned it from: Make Your Dream Trip a Reality with Chris Guilleabeau and Stephanie Zito on Creative Live.

My Favorite Miles & Points Blogs:

What destination is on your bucket list? Have you ever used airline miles earned through a credit card to purchase airfare?


Photo by Matt John on Unsplash via CC License