Got $500? You can go here, hotel and air included

With airfares continuing to rise, you may think it’s too expensive to take a vacation right now. But if you look at the right destinations and do a little advanced planning, you can find some great deals. Here are three trips I put together that you can take for under $500, including hotel and airfare. Prices are subject to change, of course, but if you do a little digging, you’ll certainly be able to find something similar.

SKI ESCAPE IN COLORADO

By making Denver your home base for a ski escape, you’re setting yourself up for a fun, and affordable, getaway. I put together this package for a  three-day, two-night trip to Colorado that includes airfare, hotel, lift tickets – even equipment and ski clothes.
Sample dates: March 25-27
Round trip ticket from Austin-Bergstrom on Frontier Airlines = $154, including taxes
Hotel: Two nights at the Hyatt Place Denver Airport (I love this brand because it includes WiFi, free parking and daily breakfast) at $80 per night plus taxes = $180.02
One-day ski package: One full day on the slopes at Loveland Ski Area, just 53 miles west of Denver. Total for the Daytripper Package, which includes one full-day lift ticket, ski or snowboard rental and all of your clothing (jacket, pants, gloves and goggles) = $109

101183_Loveland-Lift-Tickets[1]
The Daytripper Package at Loveland Ski Area includes equipment and ski clothes.(Contributed)

Ticket to a Colorado Rockies game: $11
Mile High Culture pass, which includes a visit to three of the following: Denver Art Museum, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Zoo, Clyfford Still Museum, History Colorado Center, Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art = $25
TOTAL: $479.02
Want more free fun in Denver? Consider these locations: Tattered Cover Bookstore, Colorado State Capitol Tour, Denver U.S. Mint, Red Rocks Park, Great Divide Brewing Co.

 

NEW YORK IN MARCH

When you hear “New York,” affordable isn’t always the first thing you think of. But you can easily do a three-day, two-night trip there for under $500.
Sample dates: March 5-7
Round trip ticket from Austin-Bergstrom to Newark using Priceline Express = $254.14, including taxes
Hotel: Two nights at Hotel Boutique at Grand Central, located steps from Grand Central Terminal, at $99 per night plus taxes = $234.62 (must book through Travelzoo.com)
TOTAL: $488.76
Got $25 more dollars? Here’s my favorite New York tip: You can get a ticket to Broadway show for $25. (Yes, $25 for a Broadway show!!!!) Sign up for free for HipTix (hiptix.com) and you’ll be able to buy $25 tickets for select Broadway and off-Broadway shows. You can buy up to two tickets; one person must be between 18-35; other person can be any age. Current offerings include Broadway hit “She Loves Me,” “Noises Off” and “The Robber Bridegroom.” Try to book in advance, because they can sell out.
Want more free fun in New York? Consider these locations: Central Park Guided Walking Tours, late-night talk show tickets, Staten Island Ferry, Governors Island

 

BEACH GETAWAY IN CANCUN

The Riviera Maya is always a popular destination for Texans, and right now, thanks to numerous new flights into Cancun, it’s easy, and cheap, to get there.

Sample dates: March 5-7

Round trip ticket from Houston IAH to Cancun on Spirit Airlines: $163.67, including taxes. (Note: This only includes a small carry-on, like a backpack. If you need more space, you will have to buy baggage. If you don’t want to fly out of Houston, you can also fly nonstop from Austin-Bergstrom on United for $343.)

Hotel: Two nights at Hacienda Xcaret 14, a one-bedroom holiday home with access to community pool and gardens located next to Xplor Adventure Park and Xcaret Eco Theme Park (booked on Priceline.com) = $273.70

Mexico Espectacular eight-course dinner and show at Xcaret Park: $47.04

TOTAL: $484.41

Want more free and cheap fun in Cancun? Consider these locations: El Rey Ruins ($4), Playa Tortugas (free), Museo Maya de Cancun ($5), Parque de las Palapas

 

Not sure where you want to go? Try airfarewatchdog.com. Just type in Austin as your originating city and it will show you the best fares right now to destinations around the world.

5 ways seeing Peppa Pig Live! is just like seeing your favorite band

Note: This isn’t exactly a travel-related post, but my 4-year-old daughter did initially fall in love with Peppa Pig last year during a trip to London, where the Bridget Jones-voiced porker was as ubiquitous as double-decker buses and Beatles memorabilia. For me, whenever I think of Peppa, I also think of London. 

From this spot, in front of this stage, I have watched my favorite band play music that inspired me to the point that it brought me to tears. I have sung along with my eyes closed to lyrics that have touched me at my core. I have discovered new artists that instantly made me optimistic about the future of Austin’s live music scene.

Now, I’m standing in the same spot, waiting on a giant cartoon pig to take the stage. Because kids.

I am here with my 4-year-old daughter, Mirielle, who is dressed proudly in her favorite Peppa Pig T-shirt, clutching her just-purchased $20(!) Peppa Pig light stick and eagerly scanning the stage for Peppa.

For the uninitiated, Peppa Pig is a British cartoon that features the daily life of the main character, Peppa, her family (Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and little brother George) and various friends who come in a multitude of species. When I heard that Peppa Pig Live! was coming, I knew what to expect: annoying catchy songs, creepy giant puppets and an insane enthusiastic preschool audience eager to see the cartoon play out on a live stage.

peppa
Peppa Pig now has a live-action show, Peppa Pig Live! credit: Cartoon Network

 

On Wednesday night, when the tour visited ACL Live for one night only, we, along with much of Austin’s 2- to 4-year-old set, were excited. As I stood watching a gyrating carrot in a grass skirt sing about the health benefits of smoothies (“Smoothies, smoothies, soft and fruiiiiittty”), I realized it wasn’t that different from an adults-only concert (particularly if you’re a KISS fan). Here are five ways seeing Peppa Pig Live! is just like seeing your favorite band.

1. Lines. Lines. Lines. There are always lines. In most cases, the lines are for alcohol. At Peppa Pig, the lines are for mac and cheese and hot dogs. (The lines for alcohol at Peppa were blessedly short.)

2. There’s always a point where things get weird. Remember when your favorite singer turned his latest hit into a meandering 23-minute mash-up of “Free Bird,” “Uptown Girl” and spoken-word poetry? Parts of Peppa Pig Live! felt weird and meandering as well, from the black-clad puppeteers who couldn’t decide if they were supposed to be invisible or obvious to the crowd to set changes that instantly swept the audience from the schoolhouse to the fair with little explanation.

3. Someone’s going to spill a drink and lose a shoe. Usually it’s your tipsy friend with rum and Cokes and high heels. At Peppa, it’s your kid with orange juice and flip-flops.

4. The night will end with fast food and a random bathroom stop. Remember those lines? No one wants to stand in them, which means there will most certainly be a stop at Whataburger on the way home. Oh, and thanks to the lines for the bathroom, there will likely be an emergency bathroom stop as well. (Side note: Huge thanks to Alex at LACQUER nail salon for the emergency bathroom assist. We couldn’t have done Peppa Pig Live! without you.)

5. You’ll never forget it. Even if the guy standing in front of you partially obstructs your view, even if they don’t play your favorite song, even if it seems like there’s some lip syncing going on (Mirielle’s complaint about Mr. Potato), you’ll always remember that time you saw your very favorite act in the flesh (or felt).

 

5 things Austinites should know about passport renewal

Going international soon? Better act now.

Last week, the State Department warned travelers to renew their passports as soon as possible because nearly 49 million will expire in the next three years, causing a major logjam of renewal requests that could take six weeks or more to fulfill.

Why is this happening? In part, it’s because nine years ago a law began requiring U.S. citizens to have passports when traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Passports are only good for 10 years (five years for kids), so everyone who got a passport when the law went into effect is coming up on expiration. That, coupled with regular renewals, could cause significant delays, the State Department said.

In Austin and need to renew your passport? Here are five things you need to know.

The front of a U.S. passport, in New York.
Officials are expecting a flood of renewals of 10-year passports issued in 2006 and 2007, when they were for the first time required for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Photo by James Nieves / The New York Times
  • You can renew by mail if your passport: is undamaged and can be submitted with your application; was issued when you were 16 or older; was issued within the last 15 years; and was issued in your current name (or you can legally document your name change). A passport does not have to have expired to be renewed.
  • Anyone 15 or under must apply in person using form DS-11.
  • If you need to appear in person, go to the Travis County District Clerk’s Passport Acceptance Facility (5501 Airport Blvd., north entrance, Room 220, Austin, 78751). It’s open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily but wait times can be significant. If you arrive late in the afternoon, you may not be seen. Once your application is processed, your new passport will be mailed to you within about six weeks. (You will also receive your old passport separately in the mail.) Some post offices and other locations in Austin also accept in-person passport applications. Call ahead, though, as some only process passports on certain days and during certain hours.
  • To renew your passport you will need to pay a $25 passport processing fee and a $110 passport renewal (for applicants 16 and older — applicants under 16 are $80). If you need your passport back within three weeks, you can pay an additional $60 expedited service fee (see website for updated processing times).
  • Need it even faster? Go to Houston or Dallas. Houston and Dallas each have a U.S. Department of State Passport Agency. If you go, you’ll need to make an appointment ahead of time and have proof of immediate (within two weeks) international travel or a life or death emergency. You will be required to pay the additional $60 expedited service fee on top of your renewal and processing fees for appearing in person at the agency. If you arrive in the morning with all of the correct documentation, the agency will process everything and leave your new passport for you at will call, frequently on the same day.