“Travel leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

My wife and I have amazing friends.

Smart friends.

Caring friends.

The one downside to that is that whenever we get together in a group – I’m often forced to be a fly on a wall as they have these in-depth talks about anything from faith & religion, to economics, to sports (I’m a fair-weather sports fan at best.)

But last weekend, we had a gathering with 4 other couples and as the girls were socially distanced in the back yard, the guys were gathered around the kitchen.

I was the normal bystander, listening passively to as my super-smart friends talked about the Broncos. Suddenly, a commercial about travel brought up our last trip to Asia.

For about a half-hour I was the center of attention among a group of guys who are infinitely smarter than little-ol-me. All because they wanted to know all about our first-class flights, our visit to the Great Wall, how the “reflection pool” in Bali isn’t actually a pool at all, glamping in the jungle (oh… my… GOSH!!!), how you get your choice of Dom Perignon or Tattinger in first-class, and of course – how we were able to take the whole trip for under $3000.

Want to travel more without spending more?

Want to create stories you can tell your future grandkids about?

Stop looking for deals two or three times a year when you get a hankering to go somewhere.  Flights at 50% to 90% below normal market rates are out there every day, but those prices will not wait around for the two or three times a year when you decide you need to plan a trip.

Search every day for bargain flights – whether you’re planning a trip or not.  There are plenty of sites you can search for free. When you see a deal that intrigues you – book it, plan your calendar around that trip – and you’ll stretch your travel budget two to five times farther.

But you can’t tell yourself you’ll start looking tomorrow. You’re on your computer reading this now, so…

  • Go visit Google Flights right now.
  • Pick a date that works for you, leave the destination blank, and see if any trips inspire you.
  • If you don’t see anything today – look again tomorrow (because most of today’s good deals will be gone tomorrow, but rest-assured – more amazing deals will replace them.)

It really is that simple.

Don’t have the time to search for trips every day?

Click here. For about a quarter a day, you can start your search for your next story now.


An epic Vegas bachelor party… On a budget.

Years ago, my brother-in-law was getting married. (We’ll call him Kenny, and we’ll call his fiancé Kelly.) I was his best man and he wanted to have his bachelor party in Vegas.

When he gave me the list of friends he wanted to invite he said “These guys are all in grad school and most of them are on REALLY tight budgets.”


How are we supposed to have a bachelor party in Vegas on a tight budget? Cover charges for one night of club-hopping alone was going to break the bank for most of these guys.

OK… Challenge accepted. Let’s roll our sleeves up & get this figured out.

Two of us had a ton of points, so a couple free flights and a couple free rooms added money to the dance club-hopping budget.  But still, $20 to $25 cover charges and $10 to $15 drinks can add up fast when you’re on a tight budget.

A few guys were within driving distance so they said they’d bring a couple cases of beer. Pre-drinks for 10 guys will save another few hundred bucks. Not exactly living the dream, but hey – you gotta do what you gotta do when many in the group are on a beer budget but have champagne taste.

Then, during the planning stages, LIGHTNING STRUCK!

We realized we were going to be there during Mardi Gras. Granted, we weren’t going to New Orleans, but what the hell – we could have a little fun with some mardi gras beads. We hopped on ebay and found about 500 sets of beads from China for under fifty bucks.

Knowing people in Vegas would get arrested for public displays of boobs, we came up with a different plan.  We had Kenny wear a t-shirt that had had a bunch of checklist items custom printed on it with a list of things people could do to “earn” a set of beads.

Things people could do to earn beads included:

  • Yelling “I love Kenny!” (at which time he was obligated to yell “I love Kelly!”)
  • Buying drinks.
  • Asking Kenny to dance (and he HAD to say yes.)
  • etc.

About 400 of the beads were regular beads that cost less than a nickel a piece.  100 of them were “special” beads. They were extra large, and were things like beer extra-large hearts, dice, a pair of aces, etc. They cost 5 to 10 times times as much as the normal beads at a whopping $.25 to $.50 each.

Little did we know how much those beads would change the course of our night.

People. Ate. It. Up.

Saturday morning, we realized the beads were so cheap they stained our shirts, but we didn’t care. We wore them out Saturday night too.

By the second night, people were greeting us as we walked into clubs yelling “I love Kenny!” People were buying drinks, they were making Kenny feel like a king, we were ALL dancing non-stop.  Not just the girls either. Big, buff dudes were greeting us with “I love Kenny!!” in the middle of a crowded dance club!

THEN there were the “special” beads…

We made sure Kenny was the only one of us who had the special beads. He only had a couple at a time, and people almost always asked “What do I have to do to get a set of THOSE beads?” Kenny named the terms at first and it was initially stuff like dancing with him.

BUT we quickly realized that people REALLY wanted those beads and were offering to do things we wouldn’t have even imagined.  I think our record was someone offering to buy us a round of drinks.  The guy easily dropped $100 buying us all drinks so he could get his girlfriend a set of coveted heart beads…

Fifty-Freakin-Cent-Heart Beads.  (Out of respect for them, we waited until we left that club before pulling another set of heart beads out. 😉

It was better than we ever imagined, and we felt like celebrities all weekend. Not bad for a bunch of grad-school dorks (and an even dorkier over-the-hill brother in law walking around with a backpack full of beads.)

The moral of the story?

Travel memories hold a special place in your heart, and stick with you forever.  That trip was one of the most tight-budgeted trips I’ve ever been on, and it was over a decade ago. But those memories still seem like yesterday, and will forever bring a smile to my face.

An unexpected ending:

Bleary-eyed and hung over Sunday afternoon, we said our goodbyes at the airport before heading to our respective terminals. As Kenny and I got on the tram to head to our terminal two girls came running up beating on the window yelling:


If you’d like help creating more surprisingly affordable travel memories of your own, become a JGOOT premium subscriber.
(*Beads not included) 


My visit to Puerto Vallarta, MX

Although Puerto Vallarta wasn’t high on our list, when you can get $86 flights and a nearly free place to stay, why not?

We’re glad we went. Collectively, we’ve been to Mexico 12 to 15 times, and Puerto Vallarta is officially each our favorite Mexico destination so far. (Videos of our cooking class, tequila tours, pictures and more later.)

One of our favorite activities was when we rented a car for the day and went to San Francisco (Nayarit), and Sayulita. Both are REALLY cute surf towns about an hour North of Puerto Vallarta (only 20 minutes North of Nuevo Vallarta) and are well worth the visit.

On our way back, we dropped in at Mayan Palace by Vidanta resorts because I occasionally have the opportunity to get vouchers for 5 or 6 complimentary nights. If I’m going to give them away to my subscribers, I may as well know the resort. (I have a voucher myself and definitely intend on redeeming on our next Mexico visit, but we had already booked our flight and room by the time I learned about free stays at the Vidanta.)

I must admit, home-made video testimonials from other recipients of these vouchers don’t do the resort justice so I wasn’t expecting much. And my wife (who goes on an annual trip with girlfriends where they stay at pretty posh places) was expecting even less.



Upon visiting, we were both pleasantly surprised. It’s the nicest place I’ve been to (as far as big resorts go – which we prefer when traveling with the kids. Since it was just us on this trip, we liked the intimacy of the smaller boutique resort we were staying at.) Michelle said of all the places she and her friends had been on girls’ trips – this was tied for 2nd with only the Grand Hyatt in Cancun being #1. The place it tied with was another Mayan Palace in Riviera Maya.

Observations about the Mayan Palace in Puerto Nuevo:

  • Plenty of restaurant options without leaving the resort (Which is good, because it’s massive (think Disneyland), and it’s at least a 10 minute cab ride just to get off the resort grounds, and another 20 minutes from town.
  • Never a problem at all finding a chair at the pool or the beach (at least not when we were there.)
  • Very well maintained grounds
  • And unlike almost every resort I’ve been to in Mexico – the majority of employees spoke excellent English. (Although it’s nice to practice our high-school Spanish, it’s better to know that when you don’t know how to order fresh towels, that they’ll know what you’re talking about and you’ll actually get fresh towels without having to call 3 times. Mexico travelers – can I get an “Amen?”)

I interviewed several people in management about why they give away such valuable rooms, and there were two main reasons.

  1. They have employees and other fixed costs to pay, so any time they are not completely sold out, they’ll gladly let visitors stay for free knowing they’ll eat & drink [their expensive resort priced food/drink], buy their souvenirs, pay for additional activities, visit their spa, and give tips their staff wouldn’t otherwise be getting.  It’s a win-win for everyone.
  2. Although no timeshare presentations are required at all, they know that some people will be interested in coming back. (I don’t endorse timeshare ownership in any way shape or form, but I certainly plan on checking availability of Vidanta properties any time I travel in Mexico, so their free lodging vouchers paid off on me.)

*Please note that I am not a travel agent, I have not been compensated in any way for this post, nor am I compensated if you ever stay at a Vidanta resort.


My $480 chicken bus tour through Belize

A few years ago, my wife, kids and I went on a cruise, and after hours of debate and discussion, we all agreed on doing the “Jungle river tour along with a 90 minute guided tour of the countryside” when we dropped anchor in Belize.  It was pricey at $120 each, but it had something for both adults and kids – so we bit the bullet.

In a nutshell, the cruise line bought a couple dozen “tour company” t-shirts, gave them to a bunch of villagers who had never been out of their tiny town of 100 people, and bought a couple chicken busses. They then instructed the villagers to “Make some crap up to tell the tourists we’re going to send your way to pass the time on the 90 minute ride on the chicken bus we’re going to cram them into.
Seriously – I think the tour guides had bets on how much crap they could get away with making up.  Although I’d have been fascinated to hear about life in the village they lived in, they felt the need to embellish the most mundane, worthless information possible – just to fill the time on the 90 minute squeaky-as-hell bus ride.
  • And this is the gas station used not only by people who live in the community, but ALSO by people traveling through the town.” 
  • And do you see those tall trees with big green balls on them? Those are our country’s national tree – the coconut tree!” (Umm… No. Their national tree is the Mahogany (which is also one of the country’s main exports.)
  • “Our national language is Creole. So for example – instead of saying “Yes”, we say “Ya’mon”. Dude… That’s just wrong and I’m pretty sure you’re insulting the heritage of people from at least 4 different countries.
  • It reminded me of my first speech class when I had to speak for exactly five minutes and I ran out of material after one and a half.
  • Most painful “guided tour” ever.
Anticipation was building as we got close to the “Jungle river”, and as we pulled up – we saw a big stack of inner-tubes. Not even real inner-tubes. I’m talking about flimsy wal-mart inner tubes that could only be stable to float in by tying at least 8 together. Seriously? The “River” was a nasty-ass muddy creek about 4 feet deep, my kids are strapped between us and zinc-nosed tourists who insisted on telling bad jokes the whole time, and the guide we were required to be tied to managed to find every sharp eye-endangering branch possible for us to float through.  On top of that, the cruise line’s insurance required that they have employees along side the river every couple hundred yards. But they ran out of company shirts, and they refused to talk or smile. So instead of feeling safe and protected, it was just creepy. It felt more like the grubby t-shirt, cheap sunglass wearing thugs were there just to make sure we floated into the trap they had set for us around the bend – where we would be kidnapped and held for ransom.
Well, at least we had the “authentic Belizean lunch” to look forward to.  At the end of the ride, we were given juice boxes, and bean & cheese burritos in saran wrap. “Umm. My wife is gluten-free. Have you got anything she can eat without permanently damaging her intestines?” They gave us an extra bag of Cheetos, and shuffled us back onto the chicken bus for our ride home.
The best part of the day was when we discovered there would be no stories on the 90 minute ride back and we got to take a nap. (That, and finding out that what they were being paid was triple what most of them were earning before they started working as contractors for the cruise line. But COME-ON [cruise-line-omitted-to-keep-from-getting-sued]… Spend a few hundred bucks on a copywriter to give them SOMETHING to talk about!)
The moral of the story – Excursions can be fun, but whenever possible – do your homework in advance and talk to people who have actually been there.  If taking a cruise, make sure they’ve been docking at that port for quite a while, so you know they’ve had a chance to work out all of the kinks and adequately train the people running the excursions.
In a nutshell, although we’ve technically been to Belize – we’re not really counting it, and look forward to going back with a better planned-out itinerary.
Got any funny travel stories? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments below.

Swimming with Sharks in Turks & Caicos

Before we get into the diving, let me say that if you’re just looking for a white-sand beach, there are plenty of places you can go for 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of going to Turks and Caicos. However, if you’re big on SCUBA diving, snorkeling, or deep sea fishing, Turks is an amazing location, and well worth the extra expense.

My family and I have been to a lot of exotic places, but I’ve got to say that Turks and Caicos was the best diving so far.

We were walking distance from Provo Turtle Divers, (who had several excellent reviews on several different independent sites) and they ran a very safe operation.

The Pros

    • Best pre-dive orientation I’ve been on.
    • Deepest dives we’ve gone on
    • Biggest (and most) lobster sightings ever
    • Biggest (and most) eagle ray and stingray sightings ever (even when snorkeling)
    • Most turtle sightings (even when snorkeling)
    • Some of the clearest water I’ve been diving in. (Visibility: 80 to 100 feet)
    • and we dove with gray sharks & reef sharks!!!  


The Cons

  • I’ve seen coral reefs in better condition. (Roatan & Cozumel were both amazing compared to the reefs in Turks)
  • I’ve seen more exotic fish in other destinations.
  • Dive trips are about 50% more expensive than most other places I’ve been.  (But that’s to be expected. Virtually everything on the island is 50% to 300% more expensive in Turks than in the 48 states.)

Back to swimming with the sharks… Contrary to what you might think, it was unbelievably serene, and none of us were nervous or panicked as several large sharks swam all around us during both of our dives.  At the end of our 2nd dive, my daughter and I hung out for 5 or 10 minutes at the safety stop watching a gray shark, a huge stingray, several barracuda bigger than the size of my thigh, and hundreds of schooling fish, calmly swimming around below us.

Coolest. Thing. Ever. We didn’t want it to end.

If diving or snorkeling is high on your list of things you like to do, I highly recommend Turks and Caicos.  Video below was put together by the dive company we booked our trip with.