Camping at Westmoreland State Park

I’m happy to report that my first camping trip was a success!  Despite a dead car battery, a 4AM raccoon incident, and 90 degree heat on an early October day, I’m ready to plan another trip!

Ken and I both worked from home on a Friday, with the intention of leaving around 4:00PM to make the 90 minute drive and arrive at the park before dark so that we could set everything up more easily.  Well, 4:00PM became 5:00PM and thanks to some rush hour traffic, we arrived at the park just as the sky went completely dark.

driving across potomac

Still bright and sunny as we crossed the Potomac River from Maryland to Virginia across the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge

 

We drove around Campground C  first to look for a spot, and it was REALLY crowded.  Then we drove to Campground B which was still crowded, but it seemed less so than Campground C.  We set up the tent, ate some lunchmeat sandwiches (I pre made a version of this sandwich for myself.  Ken said he wouldn’t like all the toppings, so he just made a plain one for himself.)    My sandwich was good, but I don’t think I had scooped out enough of the bread, so it was a bit bread-y.  Also, I didn’t pre-cut the sandwich at home, so I ended up basically just scooping out the meat, toppings, and bread to eat it, instead of eating it like a normal sandwich.  So definitely take the advice in that post and pre-cut the sandwiches with an electric knife!

Westmoreland State Park Campground B

Campground B entrance, as seen in bright daylight the morning after our arrival

After setting everything up and eating, we walked around, found the restrooms, and then drove our car to the entrance of Campground B to pick up some firewood.  Firewood is for sale at 50 cents a piece, using the honor system.  There are envelopes to deposit payment, and we decided we would make one bulk payment when we left.

2013_10_05 10_42_20 Westmoreland State Park Camping (Ken)

Firewood pickup location

We managed to build a very successful campfire.  Although we were a little disappointed because our site didn’t have a metal fire “ring” like other sites at the campground. Instead, it just had a grill grate, making it harder to safely build a larger fire.  But, no biggie.  We’ll just keep an eye out for that on future camping trips.

We built the fire so well in fact, that we realized we had no idea how to safely extinguish a fire when we were ready to go to bed.  We poured some water on it, and it seemed to extinguish but once we were laying in the tent ready for sleep, the fire had a resurgence.  We figured that since the entire area was gravel, and that we would be nearby all night, there was no harm in letting it burn all night.  It continued to burn well throughout the night.

I actually slept much more soundly than I anticipated.  I was afraid that every little cracking twig was going to startle me awake.  But, it was really quite peaceful listening to the sounds of nature as we drifted off to sleep.  My biggest issue was the heat. We had been anticipating crisp autumn weather for our October camping trip.  But by night, it was still in the upper 70s, and it was way too warm to sleep in my sleeping bag.  As the hours progressed overnight, it got considerably cooler and I covered up a bit.  The air mattress certainly wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it was certainly better than sleeping directly on the ground.

The next morning, we built another fire and cooked some foil packet breakfasts over the campfire.

2013_10_05 08_48_02 Westmoreland State Park Camping

 

This time though, we googled how to safely extinguish a fire, since we planned on going on some hikes soon thereafter.  You can read the full guidance here, but basically we learned that you must continue to pour water on the wood and fire until you no longer hear any sizzling noises.  We filled up some large bowls with water, and slowly poured water on the fire until it no longer sizzled.

We both showered, and the showers at the park were perfectly fine.  There were only two, but by the time I showered around 10:00, I didn’t have to wait for one.  I even liked that the women’s showers had a private changing stall right outside of the shower.  Ken said the men’s bathroom did not have the changing stall.  The fire was still nice and extinguished, so we got our hiking boots on, gathered our camera gear,  and headed out for some trails.

We started on the Beach Trail, which involves some easy trail, and then many many steps.

beach trail westmoreland state park virginia camping

 

The Beach Trail leads you down to Colonial Beach on the Potomac River.

colonial beach potomac river westmoreland state park

 

On the way back up, we took the Laurel Point Trail, which involved more steps.
2013_10_05 12_10_10 Westmoreland State Park Camping

2013_10_05 11_50_38 Westmoreland State Park Camping

Here, Ken is making sure I’m still alive on the hike back up.

We stopped at Rock Spring Pond on our hike.

2013_10_05 12_11_05 Westmoreland State Park Camping (Ken)

2013_10_05 12_12_10 Westmoreland State Park Camping (Ken)

We thought that Rock Spring Pond was going to be a minor detour, but we discovered the nicely paved Rock Spring Pond Trail, which took us right back near the entrance to our Campground.

By the time we got back to our site, we were really hungry.  We took off our hiking boots and put our flip flops back on, and then heated up some hot dogs on a tabletop gas grill.  It was our first time using the grill, a Char Broil, which I had purchased from Target on clearance.  I didn’t realize there would be some assembly required, and unfortunately we had not packed a screwdriver.  But, we made do using a pocket knife.

After the hot dogs, we just hung around the campsite, recovering from our long morning hikes (what can I say, we’re out of shape), and just read our Kindles and hung out.

2013_10_05 08_58_13 Westmoreland State Park Camping

We decided to head into town for a bit, which turned into a double adventure!  I’ll talk about that in the next post.

 Part 2

Sochi Olympics Accommodations Update

We have finally secured accommodations in Sochi for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Since about July, folks on this TripAdvisor forum had been discussing several cruise ship accommodations available for booking in the Sochi and Adler ports.  These cruise ships would be docked throughout the Olympic games, serving as hotels (or “floatels” as someone cleverly named them) for travelers.

I really didn’t want to book cruise ship accommodations for a number of reasons:

  • I preferred to stay at a chain hotel in hopes of being able to redeem travel points for free (or at least mostly free) accommodations during our stay in Sochi, much like our subsequent accommodations in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

  • Although chain hotels were either not available for booking due to the IOC’s hold or because they were still under construction, I was confident that hotels would become available by late summer or early fall.  This obviously has not come to fruition.

  • I am an avid cruiser.  I went on my first cruise with my family when I was just 14, and have been on about a dozen cruises since then.  I know that older ships, like the ones that will be docked in Sochi and Adler, are not always the most, ummm, comfortable accommodations in the world.  Tiny (and I mean tiny!) cabins with barely any room to move around, and showers so small that the curtain is constantly clinging to your arm.  Uh, no thanks.  I prefer newer ships with their (slightly) larger rooms.  I didn’t want to stay for four nights in claustrophobic settings while I could stay at a lovely hotel like the Hyatt Regency or Radisson Blu.

  • The cruise ship accommodations are non-refundable and require the entire payment up front.  So even if chain hotels did open up that were cheaper or free options using hotel points, I would be out of luck.  Plus, the thought of spending that kind of money (around $1500) on accommodations and not earning any value through earned points really kind of bummed me out!

Last week, after lengthy discussions with my husband as well as my sister (who will be going to Sochi with her family too), we decided to book the cruise option.  There were a few key points that made the final decision an easy one:

  • Although we’ll be paying around $1500 for two people for four nights accommodations, that includes all meals!  That will be a huge cost savings during our stay, as I imagine food prices will be inflated everywhere around the Olympic venues.  We can indulge in more traditional Russian cuisine when we go to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

  • The location of the ship in Adler port really cannot be beat.  We’ll be within walking distance of the “Coastal Cluster,” where most of the non-mountain events will take place.  I don’t think that any hotel opening up would have a location that good.

  • I wanted to be able to get our Russian tourist visas as far in advance as possible.  Generally speaking, you need confirmed hotel reservations as support for getting a visa.  Current rules stipulate that you cannot apply for a Russian Visa more than 90 days prior to your intended arrival date.  Therefore, I want to apply for our visas in November as soon as we reach that 90 day mark.  I was afraid if we continued to wait and wait for hotels through December or January, we could potentially run the risk of experiencing visa delays.

  • Frankly, I was just so tired of constantly checking for hotel availability.  I had been doing that AT LEAST twice a day for more than six months.  It was growing old, and there was never any progress.  I’m all done checking for hotel availability now!  But I still check the Sochi TripAdvisor forums.

Has anyone else finally decided to book the cruise ships?  Or are you waiting it out for hotels?

Results of Recent Credit Card App-o-Ramas

I shared with you the other week that I have gotten quite addicted to the miles and travel points-earning world.  In the past 12 months alone, I’ve applied for 13 credit cards and have been approved for 11 of them.

To further maximize the points earning potential for our family, I recently involved Ken in these credit card application sprees!  Back in September, I wanted to take advantage of the temporarily increased sign-up bonus for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card.  On our upcoming trip to Russia, I want to stay at a Starwood property in St. Petersburg, so this sign up bonus will allow us to stay there for three nights completely free of charge.  Whoop!

Generally speaking, when you are doing an app-o-rama (AOR), or credit card application spree as it is also called, you want to apply for several cards all on the same day.  Therefore, he applied for three cards on the same day, just a few days before the SPG increased offer expired:

  • SPG Amex Personal Card (30,000 SPG Points after spending $5000 in the first six months)

  • US Airways Premier World Mastercard (35,000 Dividend Miles after first purchase)

  • Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card (50,000 HHonors Points after spending $1000 in the first four months)

Each card was instantly approved and we received them over the next two weeks or so.  I had also completed an application spree in late July, so it was going to be a push to meet minimum spending requirements.  I still hadn’t completed the minimum spending from my July AOR, so ideally we would’ve waited to do Ken’s AOR, but I definitely wanted to take advantage of the increased SPG Amex that was expiring on September 3.

My July AOR consisted of the following applications:

  • Chase AirTran Personal Card (32 A+ Rewards good for two roundtrip flights after spending $2000 in the first three months)

  • Chase AirTran Business Card (I was ultimately declined for this despite some friendly calls to the reconsideration line.  Apparently five open cards with Chase was enough to get this one declined, even after offering to move around or close some of the unused cards)

  • US Airways Premier World Mastercard from Barclays (35,000 Dividend Miles after first purchase.  This was my second card of this type and I thought I might be declined since my first one is still open.  But it was approved with no issues!)

  • Citi AA Personal Platinum Visa (50,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $3000 in the first three months)

Eight days later I applied for the following card using the now defunct trick described in this Flyertalk thread.

  • Citi Platinum Select Mastercard (35,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $1500 in the first three months)

So, there you have it.  We were really swimming in some points for a while, but we’ve been redeeming them a lot for our February trip to Russia and an upcoming trip to New York City.

What are Ken’s thoughts on his new involvement in my obsession?  He thinks it’s complicated, but since it also nets him free travel, he gives me free reign to do what I think is best.

Have any of you involved you spouses in the miles and points earning world?  How have they adapted?

Figuring out what to Pack for a Camping Trip

We’re in the final planning stages for our upcoming camping trip.  As I mentioned in my previous post, while my husband went tent camping a lot as a child, this would be my first time camping and I was a bit overwhelmed by all very long checklists and lists of supplies and for camping trips I was finding online.

So, what I did was I created a nice, clean empty spreadsheet that had two columns headings:

  • Column One: Supply Name
  • Column Two: Own, Make, or Buy

I went through two super detailed checklists that I found online, including http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/family-camping-checklist.html and http://www.lovetheoutdoors.com/camping/checklists.htm

When I saw something on the existing checklists that I thought would be applicable to our camping trip, I added the supply name to my spreadsheet list.  For instance, we’re only going camping for two nights, so I ignored supplies like a clothes line and clothes pins.  Also, since a 7-11 will probably be nearby, and we don’t do any backwoods camping, things like water purification tablets are unnecessary.  And since we don’t have children, we could certainly ignore things like “Ergo child carrier.”  And so on …

After I added an item to the spreadsheet list, I specified whether it was something we needed to buy for the trip, something we already owned, or something that I needed to make for the trip.  Most of the things that were designated as “make” were food-type staples.  Like filling a small jar with ketchup instead of taking a huge bottle.  And putting some dish soap in a trial size bottle instead of lugging a big bottle with us.  And also putting some spices, including salt and pepper, in very small containers to take with us.

What-to-pack-for-your-camping-trip---Supernovawife

Once I finished our list, everything was not nearly as overwhelming.  There were just 13 items to purchase, and four food staples to “make.”

Here’s what made it to our “buy” list:

  1. Sleeping Bag (just for me, since Ken owns one already)
  2. LED Lanterns
  3. Air mattresses and pump
  4. Headlamp
  5. Stadium Chairs / Folding chairs
  6. Ponchos
  7. Bear Mace
  8. Dutch Oven (although based on the meals I planned, we wouldn’t need one of these for our upcoming camping trip.  But I’m leaving it on the list in anticipation of wanting to buy one for a future camping trip.
  9. Heavy duty foil
  10. Pot and Pan set
  11. Pot scrubber
  12. Camping stove
  13. Pie Iron

Most of the other items on the camping checklists that were applicable to us we either A) Already owned, or B) Decided we could do without.  Like I mentioned in my previous post about camping, I know that many seasoned campers advocate having dedicated camping supply bins so that it’s easier to pack.  So, sure, it’ll be more annoying to pack for this first trip since I’ll be grabbing things like wooden spoons and pillows and lighters from all over the place, but I’m not ready to make dedicated camping supply bins just yet!

After our camping trip, I’ll post more on what exactly we packed and how, and how it all ended up working out for us!

Compulsive Vacation Planning

I mentioned the other day that many portions of our upcoming trip to Russia will be free.  This is all thanks to what I call “compulsive vacation planning” and “extreme credit carding.”

United Airlines Thank You for Choosing United Airlines

You see, I grew up flying for free. My dad worked for US Airways for nearly 40 years and, because of that, I had free flying privileges until I turned 23. In most cases, this privilege was awesome and allowed me to visit places I would not have been able to see otherwise. In other cases, because employees fly at the bottom of the bottom of the standby list, I would be stuck at an airport for days on end trying to figure out the best route that would get me home.

So, when I started having to pay for airfare and started a full time job that required occasional travel, I knew that things like signing up for frequent flyer miles and hotel reward programs were important. So I did that. And I collected some miles. I fly Southwest and US Airways most frequently, so I signed up for both their credit cards sometime around 2007. The Southwest credit card had been exceptionally kind. I’ve managed to redeem miles to Las Vegas in 2008, San Diego in 2009, two tickets to Orlando in 2010, two tickets to Las Vegas (again) for our honeymoon in 2011, and two tickets last year to Albuquerque for our two week-long southwest USA road trip. So I definitely earned miles and cashed them in, but I never gave it much additional thought.

But within the last 18 months or so, I’ve literally become obsessed with learning about the points world and all its intricacies. Two years ago, when we were spending lots of money on wedding-related expenses, I decided to sign up for a new credit card that offered 100,000 British Airways miles after just $3000 in purchases in the first three months. That kind of minimum spending limit is easy peasy to achieve when planning a wedding!

But then, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I had 100,000 British Airways miles to spend, which is about enough for two round trip coach class tickets to Europe. But I couldn’t figure out how to redeem my miles without paying exorbitant fees! Taxes and fees alone from, say, Washington Dulles to any city in Europe would cost like $500. I see deals on Travelzoo all the time for that amount of money and I wouldn’t have to fork over all those points!

So I started researching. Reading blogs like the Points Guy, Boarding Area, and also stalking the FlyerTalk forums. I started to learn all sorts of fun and useful tips for the best ways to redeem those miles without the high fees. I learned about another great credit card deal and applied for an AAdvantage Citi Card that netted me 75,000 bonus points (enough for a round trip first class ticket to Hawaii!). Then I applied for a Chase Ultimate Rewards card and I earned 50,000 bonus points that I can redeem on different airline and hotel partners.

And now, my friends, I am OBSESSED. Calculating CPM (cents per mile) and determining EQM (elite qualifying miles). I’m strategizing credit card app-o-ramas and am going to involve my husband in all of this so that we can space out our individual applications to make sure we can meet the minimum spending requirements. I’m learning about what hotel points transfer to airline miles and at what rates. I’ve become a snob when comparing different airlines’ first class service and seating arrangements.  While I’ve almost always used shopping portals to earn points, I’m now encouraging my husband to do the same.  I’ve learned about which airlines allow stopovers and which ones don’t so that you can really maximize the number of destinations you visit on the same amount of miles!

But the best part is seeing what we can experience for not that much time and money!You get the idea. The possibilities are really endless!