On the road again: my 2017 travels {thus far}, and some travel tips

I was fortunate enough to travel quite a bit this year, between personal trips and my day job (editor at a B2B magazine about snack foods). I don't have any more trips planned between now and December 31, 2017, but it's possible that more could arise, especially trips to the west side of Michigan.

Here's a look at each of the trips I took this year:

Downtown Market, Grand Rapids

1. "Beercation" in Kalamazoo: February 3-5.
 One of my good friends from college lives in the Kalamazoo/Portage area, and my boyfriend and I took a trip to see her and her husband. There are a lot of really good beer places in the area, and we hit up Bell's, Founders, and Vander Mill (a hard cider place that I like). We also checked out the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids. Very tasty trip.

2. Pizza Expo, Las Vegas: March 27-29. Work trip in which I attended Pizza Expo—and yes, literally 5+ people asked if they could come with in my suitcase for this one, ha. I was definitely pizza'd out by the end of it, but I learned some interesting things and also ate a lot of pizza. I stayed at Paris Las Vegas this time which was nice, too.

3. Yelp Spring Break, San Antonio: May 4-8. This was my 4th consecutive year attending Yelp Spring Break, and it's always a lot of fun. I had been to San Antonio before, but a long time ago, in 2011, so it was interesting to see (and taste) new things there.

4. Almond Board Trip, Denver: May 10-12. Literally two days after I came back from San Antonio, I headed out again, for a work trip involving almonds and their usages. I had never been to Denver or Colorado before, too, and it's very beautiful there.

5. BlogHer '17, Orlando: June 21-25. This was my 5th year attending the BlogHer conference, and my first as a volunteer. I also got a media pass for Disney World for a day, and I hadn't been there since 2006 so that was a treat ... though I would have liked more time there!

6. IFT conference, Las Vegas: June 26-28. This was a rough turnaround for me ... I came back from Orlando (tooooo hot) only to leave the next day for a work trip to Vegas—which was also hot (104 degree temps) but at least it was a dry heat. We stayed at the Westin and I wasn't a fan of it—it's off-Strip, so it was about a 10 minute walk everywhere (normally not a big deal, but in the heat, it was tiring).

7. National Processed Raspberry Council trip, Bellingham, WA, July 10-13. This area was GORGEOUS and now I need to visit Seattle. I had a 5-hour layover at the Seattle airport, so I was able to take the lightrail into the city and catch-up with a college friend over lunch, which was nice. Bellingham and its surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful, and eating raspberries directly from the source was great too.

8. Girls' weekend, Grand Haven, MI, July 28-30. This is my 4th year attending a girls' weekend in the area—Grand Haven is one of my favorite cities, and this was my first time actually staying in the town, which was great, as we had rented a house through VRBO. We explored Grand Haven, Holland, and Saugatuck, and I got to eat at some of my favorite GH restaurants too.

9. National Sunflower Association trip, Bismarck, ND, August 8-9. This was a very short trip—less than 24 hours—in which I learned how sunflower oil can figure in to snacks. The sunflowers were beautiful and seeing Bismarck was interesting too, as I had never been to ND before.

The James Hotel suite, Saskatoon

10. Ardent Mills trip, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, August 21-23. On this work trip, we learned about quinoa, and how it can be factored into snacks, bakery items, and other things. I stayed at a suite in The James Hotel (Saskatoon) which was a gorgeous hotel, and I enjoyed walking around the city, too.

South Haven, MI beach

11. Kalamazoo and Portage, September 22-24.
 We visited the same friends from trip #1, but now they live in Portage (they just bought a house), and this time, we mostly stayed in the Kzoo area. The weather was unseasonably warm for September, so we also traveled to the South Haven beach. I had the Highlander Hybrid with me too which was also nice.

Mount Vernon: George Washington's home

12. DC & Arlington, VA, October 6-9. Back in June, Southwest was running an insane sale, so I asked my college roommate if she would like some visitors ... I think I paid $129 roundtrip from DTW to BWI (the only issue then was finding the cheapest way to get from BWI to Arlington!). I'll admit we didn't do a ton of touristy stuff, because it was so hot out (85 degrees - crazy!) but it was still a fun trip.

Not included in this list: two overnights in Ann Arbor (one with hotel points, and one for a sponsored stay recently).

Top 10 travel tips:
  1. You know that thing you HAVE to pack? Yeah, put that back. You don't need it. 
  2. While it's good to always pack a complete outfit in your carry-on, in case your bag gets lost, don't overpack either, especially if you will have access to laundry facilities wherever you are going. 
  3. If you're booking airfare, check the direct sites (Delta, Southwest, etc.) before Orbitz and Expedia. And check them often—I like to joke that I "stalk" the travel sites, but it's true. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually best for booking, and if you can actually travel on a Tues. or Wed. too, you can usually find cheaper prices. 
  4. For places like Las Vegas, enroll in every hotel's "rewards" club. You can get cheaper prices this way. For my work trip for Pizza Expo, I was allowed to stay at any hotel I wanted—within reason—and I was able to book Paris Las Vegas for $100/n using my rewards card. (most LV resorts then tack on $30+ per night, for a resort fee, but that's to be expected, unfortunately)
  5. If you know you're going to be on-the-go or using public transportation, pack light. For DC, I took the MARC train and then the metro to Arlington, and then had a 15-minute walk to my friend's apartment, so I packed a large backpack. For work trips, unless they're longer than 3 nights (which is rare), I usually just pack my purse and a small rolly bag (bag with wheels) that I have, as sometimes I am going straight from the plane to the conference itself. 
  6. If you're on a budget, check out Groupon or other deal sites before you go. If there are certain restaurants or types of cuisine you're looking for, you can buy Groupons for restaurants, and then either print them before you leave, or bring them up on the app while you're traveling.
  7. TSA pre-check is totally worth it. I was going to wait until next year to "invest" in pre-check, but because my work schedule had a lot of summer traveling, in June or July I bit the bullet. It's $85 for 5 years (which is only $17 a year, if you think about it) and I love not having to remove my shoes or take off my coat while going through security.
  8. If you have a long layover at an airport, and want to explore the city, there is usually a place to check your bag. For my Bellingham trip, I had a 5-hour layover in Seattle (which is ridiculous, because you can drive to Bellingham in 2 hours from Seattle, ha ...). I wanted to go downtown to meet a friend but didn't want to take my rolly bag with me, and for $8, I was able to check it at a small place at the airport and then retrieve it a few hours later.
  9. Make sure you have packed your travel "necessities." I realized when I was about to board my 4+ hour long SEA to DTW flight that I had lost my earbuds ... yikes. Luckily, Delta sells (admittedly, crappy) earbuds on-board for $2. For me, my "necessities," other than things like toiletries, are an iPad stocked with Kindle books and a few Netflix downloads, and some snacks. 
  10. If possible, try to travel at least once a year. I know for some people this isn't possible (budgets, kids, etc.) but it really does broaden your world, like people say. I usually take about 2-3 small personal trips a year, but I was fortunate to do so much work traveling this year (and to random places like Bismarck and Saskatoon, too), and I really enjoyed all of the people I met and the new places I encountered.

What are some of your essential travel tips, and/or some of your favorite places to travel?

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