Visit Paradise on a Budget

by Jackie

Treat yourself without cheating your budget. (Photo: Negril Treehouse Resort, by Almenia J. Photography.)

Treat yourself without cheating your budget. (Photo: Negril Treehouse Resort, by Almenia J. Photography.)

Vacations should relieve stress, not add to it, but paying for pricey flights and expensive hotels can seem more burdensome than the rat race that you’re trying to escape. Don’t let costs dissuade you from taking a much-needed break and going on an adventure.  By taking a few easy steps, you can have a sunny getaway without burning through your bank account.

1. Stalk deals.

The same strategy that you use to hunt down a pair of new pumps applies to vacation shopping — relentlessly pursue sales.  I have a bevy of travel apps downloaded to my phone that alert me to deals. Travelzoo, Airfarewatchdog, and Kayak are some of my faves. I also check Living Social Escapes and Groupon Getaways often. In addition to deep discounts, apps and sites like these can give you ideas for travel destinations that you may not have thought of otherwise.

2. Plan early.

While there a plenty of last-minute deals on hotels and even some on airfare, I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to leave my accommodations to chance. I may have an adventurous spirit, but I can’t take the anxiety of last-minute travel. I look for deals with long lead times to minimize blackout dates. Planning early also means that I have time to open and contribute to a dedicated vacation bank account to stash spending money for the trip. Months ahead of boarding my flight, I create a budget and start cutting down on superfluous spending. Skipping happy hours, packing brown bag lunches, and turning my bathroom into a salon means extra cash for fun in the sun.

3. Be flexible.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. I got the idea to visit Negril, Jamaica on a random winter day scrolling through vacation deals. I was determined to find something, anything. I found an unbelievable deal at the Negril Treehouse Resort that I could not pass up. I did not set out to go to Jamaica. I set out to go to a beach — any beach — and it just so happens that the beach in Negril stretches across seven glorious miles. Don’t be discouraged if your trip dream trip to Saint-Tropez seems out of reach, check out Toronto in the meantime. Having an open mind gives you more options when it comes to traveling on a budget.

4. Give yourself an allowance.

I didn’t get an allowance as a child, I washed the dishes for free and cleaned my room because I was supposed to. As an adult,  I now see the value in setting aside small amounts of  money. Before you go on vacation, do some research and find out what you’ll need to spend daily. My latest vacation package included breakfast. I only needed to allot money for frozen cocktails and dinner each day (I usually don’t have time for lunch with all the napping I do on the sand). Because I planned early, I was able to research tours and activities and plan accordingly. Sticking to my daily budget  was actually a liberating experience because I did not have to worry about running out of money or using my credit card. Give yourself some emergency money, though. You never know what may happen.

5. Just Say ‘No’ to souvenirs.

You don’t need any souvenirs, nor do your family members, coworkers, or friends. Take pictures and savor the moment. Screen-print tees, shot glasses, and Wish-You-Were-Here picture frames usually end up as White Elephant gifts during the holidays (sorry, but it’s true). The best gift you can give anyone, including yourself, after a getaway is your vibrant, relaxed energy — it’s the gift that keeps on giving.


Out of the Office: My first solo vacation

by Jackie

Photo I snapped while in the Bahamas... by myself.

Work/Life [Im]balance

I was starting to hate the sound of my own name. Everyone wanted a piece of me, and what little was left of my sanity began to wear away more and more with every phone ring and incoming email.

“I need a vacation.” I had been telling myself that I needed a break, but I decided to stop complaining and to do something about it. Giving myself an hour to book a reasonably priced vacation, I ended up booking a two-night, three-day flight and hotel package in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. I did not have the patience to coordinate vacation schedules with anyone and was in desperate need of quiet, so I decided to make this trip for myself, by myself.

Refreshed. Renewed. Recharged.

Though I consider myself to be pretty independent, I have never vacationed by myself. I was excited and a little nervous about the trip, but once the warm Florida sun hit me, I felt at ease. I left my Type A personality in DC, and took each day as an adventure with no itinerary. I even took a one-day cruise to the Bahamas and saw sting rays [EEK!] in the crystal-clear water. The smallest things – a gorgeous sunset, a good meal, a walk on the beach – seemed to take on a bigger meaning because I took the time to enjoy each experience without conversation or any other distractions. Though I was only away for three days, it felt much longer because I did not wear a watch and hardly used my phone. I did not rush to or from anywhere.

I came back with a new attitude, resolving to to bring the energy I found on vacation to my day-to-day. Whether it’s going for a short walk, taking time to read, taking myself out to lunch every now and then, I make it a point to spend some time not only by myself, but with myself. Being my own company, even if it’s just for ten minutes, gives me the opportunity to enjoy me.

This getaway was more than just an excuse to sip piña coladas and dig my toes in the sand (though, I did do that), it was an intervention. No matter how demanding my schedule gets, I will remember that it’s not about living to work, but working to live.

If I was a Rich Girl | Mega Millions Wish List

by Jackie

The Mega Millions jackpot just went up from $640 million! I gave into the frenzy and bought one lonely ticket. Although I tried not get wrapped up into the craziness, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander off into a daydream. What would I do if I won? After I set my parents up with a luxury retirement package, paid off my student loans and my sister’s tuition, and start a charity, I’d treat myself to a few luxury purchases.

New York City Condo

I would love to go back to the city that raised me, but the cost of living makes even the smallest rentals seem out of reach. A slick condo in the middle of the city would be perfect for all of the interior design story boards that I’ve filed away in the recesses of my mind.

Personal Trainer

Fitness Guru, Shaun TI am a firm believer in eating well. I can only imagine the trouble I could get into with millions at my disposal to indulge in the best treats of the world. I would contract Shaun T to counteract my greediness.

Regular Vacations

Knowing me, I’d probably still work. (I know, I know). I wouldn’t want anyone to know that I won the lotto, so I’d have to keep up appearances. But, I would take time off and travel a lot more with the people I love.

Michael Kors

I would hire Michael Kors to design one-of-a-kind pieces for me. Yes. Yes, I would.


A private concert from my beloved. Why not?!

An A*cute Boutique

Sherria and I are always talking about opening up a boutique of our own, so that we could share A*cute with the masses.

[insert sigh here] One day.

What would you do with $640 Million?!

Two-hour Vacation

by Jackie

The harsh winter weather and a hectic professional life has me longing for an island vacation.  Unfortunately, I’m not hopping on a cruise ship anytime soon, but I have found a way to relax and take a breather.  A few months ago, one of my girlfriends introduced me to my mini-getaway location five minutes away from my house — Sassy Nail Salon & Spa in the Takoma section of DC.  Twice a month, we get together and let the stress melt away while getting a gel manicure and/or pedicure.  For a couple of blissful hours, I forget about the 9-to-5 and hang out with my friend.


I became instantly obsessed with CND Shellac in "Rosebud." The subtle color is professional and pretty. Gel manicures typically last me a little more than two weeks with little to no chipping!

Anwhere but here.

by Jackie

Beaches and barbecues are all that’s on my mind as Fourth of July weekend rolls around. Work has been incredibly stressful with two upcoming conferences and a heavy news cycle.  What’s keeping me from going crazy is occasionally daydreaming about my upcoming vacation in August with my friends. It’ll be six days of sun, fun, and laying around in the Florida Keys (BP will not stop us!).  Though I’ve been looking forward to this trip for MONTHS, I neglected to buy a bathing suit. So now, I’ve got a few weeks to order one in enough time. I’ve got a couple of old reliables that I’ll be bringing along, but I want to add something new to my tiny collection.  I’m asking you, yes YOU, to help me choose.

Vote below!

I adore the 50’s pin-up style of this suit from Mod Cloth.  It’s fun, flirty, and different. The only drawback is the price.  It’s a whopping $90, which is may more than I’d ever want to pay for such little fabric.  But, it may just be cute enough to be worth it.

This sassy little number from Victoria’s Secret is right up my alley.  I love halter tops on swimsuits and the pink/brown/white color combination would look nice against my complexion. With a total price of $20, there’s not much of a drawback here.

It may sound weird, but my favorite part of my body is my shoulders. Call me old-fashioned, but I think baring shoulders is a demure way to be sexy. This tankini swim set from Target is priced at $30.

Relax, relate, release

by Jackie

On vacation in the Bahamas

The phone won’t stop ringing. Your Blackberry won’t stop buzzing with e-mails. Your planner looks like it’s been tagged by graffiti artists. It’s time for a break.

Late hours and 12-hour workdays on an 8-hour-a-day salary rate have become the norm in the workplace. It’s easy to become bogged down in the everyday routine. Though you may think stress is only accompanied by the occasional headache, it can lead to some serious health issues if not confronted.


Here are some steps I’ve taken to manage stress. I hope that all you overachievers and Type A personalities take note.

  1. Plan a vacation. Every year, I try to take at least three days away from work, turn off my Blackberry, and totally disconnect from the office. Hard economic times may prevent you from taking the trip of your dreams, but there’s nothing stopping you from taking an amazing staycation — complete with museum visits, at-home Margarita nights, and tons of sleep.  I visited the U.S. Botanic Garden with a friend during my last staycation.  It’s so quiet in there and the bonus is that it’s climate-controlled, so for just a little while, you can feel like you’re in tropics.

    DC Staycation: U.S. Botanic Gardens. Take the Metro to the tropics.

  2. Take a trip to the spa. If you absolutely don’t have time to go on a vacation, a massage is a quick way to get rejuvenated. For a spa splurge, take a full day to yourself. For a quick fix, take your hour-lunch break and get a relaxing back rub.  Tip: Book an appointment for Spring Spa Week (April 12-18) ASAP for discounted rates.
  3. Go to the gym. Working out lets you take your aggression out while improving your health and wellness. About three times a week, my girlfriends and I take jazzercise.  I know what you’re thinking.  But, there’s no Jane Fonda-like moves or pink spandex leotards involved. It’s really an aerobic dance class that involves pilates and weight training. Right now, my favorite routines are Beyonce’s Sweet Dreams, Mary J. Blige’s Stronger, and Britney’s Womanizer.