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Las Vegas Part 3: Beatles Love

The Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage is the reason I went on this most recent Las Vegas trip. When I heard my parents had tickets to this show, two weeks before they were going to be there, my reaction was something along the lines of “Oh. My. GOD. I’m soooooo jealous, I want to see that SO BAD!” My parents agreed to letting me meet them out there and crash in their hotel room. We figured I’ve been saving money to travel. I might as well do some traveling now!

First of all, when we went to get our pre-purchased tickets at will call the day before, I was entranced by the glorious hallway in the photo featured above Walking down it was like being transported to Beatles dreamland. I also felt very lucky that there was practically nobody there and I was able to get this great pic! (Thanks dad for putting up with me wanting to take multiple shots!).

 

The show itself was so incredibly cool. The costumes, the talent, and of course, the music, were all over-the-top amazing. The stage was in the center of all-around seating, and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

I realize this is a professional Vegas stage show that has been on for over five years, but as each song was performed, I grew more and more impressed with the costuming and the talent of the artists. Some songs’ costumes were 60s-era mod clothing, others were very avant-garde creature-like creations. I imagine watching these crazy looking characters jump, flip, and dance on and above the stage is comparable to tripping acid, but I really wouldn’t know.

There were stilts, roller skaters, umbrellas that shot confetti, and real full-size Volkswagen Beetles. Of course, there were also aerial artists wowing the crowd during just about every piece. They would fly across the space above the stage, passing each other as they twirled in the air, making it look effortless.

The stage would move so that it was in the shape of an X, a square, a diamond, and other wonky shapes. The characters would be running and dancing around the stage, then suddenly dive into one of the open spots. Large props would also come up from these open areas.

There are so many details I could share with you, but you really just have to see it for yourself. I would 100% recommend that you see this show the next time you are in Las Vegas. In fact, I insist that you see it. I am a penny pincher, and I would pay the$120 I spent to see it again, no doubt.

Have you ever seen Beatles Love or any other Cirque du Soleil shows? Tell me about it in the comments!

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out parts 1-2 of this post series!:
Las Vegas Part 1: The Basics
Las Vegas Part 2: Street Art Tour

Top Ten Restaurants in Lawrence, KS

One of the things I love most about Lawrence is its support of small local businesses. High quality local restaurants thrive here. There are plenty that I still need to try – there are many qualified restaurants not included here for that reason – but for now I will share with you a list of my personal tried & true Lawrence local favorites. You will notice similarities throughout – great service, atmosphere, and food – but take note also in the fact that this list has a wide variety of cuisine types, which I believe represents the diversity Lawrence has to offer. 

 

1. Free State Brewing Company

Free State is my personal favorite, and I’m not alone; it repeatedly wins multiple categories on Best of Lawrence. It was founded in 1989 as the state’s first legal brewery in over 100 years! Literally everything on the menu is good…no, outstanding. The locally brewed craft beer is top notch and never disappoints. I especially love trying their seasonal brews. With daily food specials and $1.75 select pints every Monday, Free State is always a great choice.

My Top Picks: Fish & Chips, Mushroom Gorgonzola Gnocchi, Stormchaser IPA
Pro Tips: If you take advantage of the great Monday beer special be aware it will be crowded. Go at least once during March for March Mustard Madness.

2. The Burger Stand

The Burger Stand is a Lawrence original and a local favorite, known for its gourmet burgers and fries. Whenever old college friends are back in town they almost always want to hit up Burger Stand.

Burger toppings include habanero-cactus jam, chipotle-cocoa ketchup, truffle butter, and more. There are several gourmet fries to choose from as well – truffle, duck fat, and Cajun to name a few. The restaurant also boasts a large selection of French fry dipping sauces to choose from. If you’re not feeling adventurous but still want to taste the excellence of Burger Stand, fear not – they also offer a classic burger and regular fries. 

To maintain honesty and transparency, I will tell you there have been a few times when my burger has been under cooked. It does not always happen, but to be on the safe side I recommend ordering it slightly more well done than you actually want.

My Top Picks: Black & Blue Burger with blue cheese, granny smith apple chutney, and assorted greens; Truffle Fries with guajillo-chili dip
Pro Tip: Get all of the dipping sauces, and get two of the garlic aioli and guajillo-chili dip

3. Johnny’s Tavern West

Johnny’s is a local chain with two locations in Lawrence (north and west) and eight more around the Kansas City area. Even though I happen to live the closest to the west location, it is my top pick regardless; I have just had really excellent service here.

With great service, food, and beer selections, and TVs galore, it’s a great place to watch a game. It gets crowded during sporting events and is a fun place to watch – I have given hugs and high fives to plenty of strangers during March Madness – but is still family-friendly and never out of control. The menu has something for everyone: nachos, burgers, pizza, salads, sandwiches, and more. 

My Top Picks: Espi-Nacos with beef, Simmons Wings
Pro Tip: When going to watch a game arrive about one hour early to get a good seat.

4. El Potro Mexican Cafe

Three words: Free. Cheese. Dip. Yes, you read that right. Along with the classic complimentary chips and salsa, El Potro also gives each table a glorious little bowl of cheese dip. This place is always busy, but it is huge and can accommodate lots of people. I order something different every time and have never been disappointed. 

My Top Picks: Queso Potro Especial (aka free cheese dip), Steak Fajita Quesadilla
Pro TipServing sizes are huge. If you’re a cheese dip freak like me, order from the Ala Carte and Sides menu – you’ll have plenty.

5. Mad Greek

The Mad Greek is a family-owned-and-operated local restaurant bringing old family recipes from Greece and Italy to Lawrence. Every time my family visited me when I was in college they would request that we go to “that Greek place” to eat. My favorite time to go is for the Sunday lunch buffet, which includes the most popular Greek and Italian menu items. You can also enjoy drinks and appetizers at a discount during happy hour every Monday-Thursday 4-6pm.

My Top Picks: Roasted Feta Cheese, Gyros Dinner, Falafel Dinner
Pro Tip: Take advantage of the 11am-2pm Sunday lunch buffet for $11.99 to sample and enjoy the restaurant’s best dishes.

6. Yokohama

Being the first place I ever dared to try sushi, when my best friend made me go there because it was his birthday, Yokohma holds a special place in my heart. I don’t come from a family of very adventurous eaters (no offense mom, I love your cooking!) so I didn’t experience Japanese cuisine until college. Once I tried it, Yokohama quickly became one of my top choices for places to eat out. The decor of the main dining area is very modern, but the restaurant also has a room with a low table and cushions where diners can get a more authentic experience.

My Top Picks: Jayhawk Roll and Hungry Roll
Pro Tip: 
Rumor has it the location on 23rd Street is never crowded and they sometimes give customers free appetizers. Disclaimer: I have never tried this myself…but should! 

7. Aimee’s Cafe and Coffeehouse

Aimee’s is a wonderful little cafe on Mass Street. It’s primarily a coffee shop, but I like to go there for the food. The coffee is good, but doesn’t stand out from the crowd. The food, however, is outstanding. The people who work there are also extremely friendly and customers are treated like family. Local artists’ work is displayed on the walls and changed out regularly, so there’s always something new to see. The atmosphere is cozy and relaxing with  comfy couches and chairs mixed with the regular cafe tables.

My Top Picks: Biscuits & Gravy with Hash Browns, Club Sandwich
Pro TipEverything is made from scratch so you may wait 15-20 minutes for your food. If you don’t want to sit and wait call for carryout about 20 minutes before you want to pick it up and eat at the nearby park if it’s a nice day. (This was my go-to hangover cure when I lived within walking distance in college).

8. Terrebonne

Terrebonne is a tiny hole-in-the-wall Cajun & Creole restaurant in downtown, Lawrence. A counter splits the restaurant in two sections: a small dining area with four tables, and the kitchen. From the deviled eggs and hush puppies, to the jambalaya and po’ boys, you can’t go wrong with this menu. They also make shakes with home made ice cream! Everything is cheap, but the quality of the food is far from it. Don’t be fooled by the fact that I only have one “top pick,” I am really stuck on this one. Everything here is amazing – I can narrow down the main dish easily enough, but as far as sides go you just have to go multiple times and try them all!

My Top Pick: Shrimp Po’ Boy
Pro Tip: 
Get a main dish, a side, and a dessert. Take advantage of the small patio seating area during nice weather.

9. Biemer’s BBQ

Biemer’s is the kind of place you go on a Saturday afternoon when you can go home immediately afterwards and take a long nap. The food is out of this world and comes in huge portions, of course, and the beer is cheap. It’s perfect if you’re hungry and on a budget. I love that you can get a single rib  – I like ribs but I’m not one to eat a slab, so having one or two to munch on the side is awesome.

My Top Picks: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Ribs, Cole Slaw
Pro Tip
Biemer’s is closed on Sundays

10. Limestone Pizza

Although Limestone has been open since April 2014, it is the newest restaurant on this list. The Owner and Executive Chef was previously the Executive Chef at Free State (#1 on the list) so you know the food is good. Limestone supports local farmers and does everything it can to be green and protect the environment.

The restaurant has a fun yet laid back atmosphere, which includes a wood-fired oven that can be seen from the dining area. Even though it seems to have a minimalist menu the choices are all unique and sure to please. I try to order something new each time I go, once you find your favorite that can be a challenge. They also have a spicy-sweet red sauce on each table that is to die for. I highly recommend slathering it on your pie, or at least using it as a dipping sauce for the crust.

My Top Picks: Mushroom Pizza, Farmer Pizza
Pro Tip: 
Order something different every time. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Have you been to any of my top ten Lawrence restaurants? Do you have any faves not listed here? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

 

How I Plan To Save $15,000 In 7 Months

Saving up a large sum of money in a short period of time may seem impossible. I haven’t proven that it’s doable yet, but many others before me have. I have student loan debt and, although my salary is decent for non-profit, I don’t make a ton of money. However, I still plan on saving aggressively over the next several months to make my dream of living a nomadic lifestyle a reality. In this post I will explain how I plan – and hope – to achieve this goal.

My goal is to have at least $20,000 in savings by the end of September. I started saving mid-November 2015 and have just over $5,200 in my Adventure Fund. (And that’s not counting the $1,000 I have in a separate account in case of emergencies at home before I go).

Selling Stuff

One of the biggest thing I’m doing is selling all of my belongings. Of course I’ll have a few sentimental items that I’ll leave at my parents’ house, but otherwise everything goes! Read more about that process here.

I have also decided to sell my car sooner rather than later and buy a cheap junk car to get my by until I go. I love my car and giving it up will not be easy. But I can potentially save upwards of $1,500 on monthly payments, depending on when I sell, and hopefully put a couple thousand more in the bank after selling it paying off the loan.

Cutting Costs

I am drastically cutting down on everyday expenses. My biggest weakness before this all started was eating out for lunch during the week; I have a busy job and it is much more convenient than going home or making something ahead.

I also never buy coffee out anymore. This wasn’t a daily expense for me, but I would buy an overpriced latte at Starbucks a couple times a week, and that can burn a hole in your wallet in a quick hurry.

Just like any other 20-something I enjoy happy hour and hitting the bars on weekends I rarely go out to eat or go out drinking with friends anymore. Instead I invite friends over to make dinner, watch Netflix, and drink boxed wine.

Switching Phone Carriers

By switching from AT&T to T-Mobile I will be saving about $30 per month on my cell phone bill, totalling approximately $210. This plan also has unlimited talk, which I didn’t have before, and unlimited data. I get 2GB hi-speed data, which is what I had before. If I go over 2GB I don’t get slapped with an extra fee like I did with AT&T, and I still get data, just at a slower speed.

Mobile Apps & Websites That Make Me Money

I use a variety of mobile apps, and one website, to make extra cash. My top picks are listed first.

InboxDollars: This is the only money-making website I use. It also has a free app on the App Store & Google Play. I’ve checked out a few others but to me this one is the easiest and most efficient. I have been a member since the end of November 2015 and have earned about $60 so far. There are a variety of ways to earn with IBD – learn more about it here.

Field Agent App (App Store & Google Play): Field Agent is a secret shopper’s app. I have earned $35 in about two months. There is no fee for cashing out and it sends it straight to your PayPal account, which you can then transfer to your bank.

SlideJoy App (available on Google Play only): SlideJoy pays you to run ads on your phone’s lock screen. I wish this app was available on the Apple App Store, because after I turn in my Droid work phone I won’t be able to take advantage of this app. I’ve had it for about six weeks and I have earned 451 carats, or $4.51. You have to keep the app open, but it doesn’t seem to drain my battery or use up lots data. Cash out options are available through PayPal, various gift cards, or donate your earnings to charity.

 

Taking On More Responsibility at Work

I have to be vague here, to maintain anonymity, since my employer is unaware of my plans. I am taking on some more responsibility at work, possibly in a couple of ways.

One will allow me to earn up to an additional $300 per month after I complete the training process, for which I will earn a $250 bonus. So I am looking at approximately $1500-$1700 in extra income before taxes.

There are some additional job duties that may be changing, for which I could earn a $3000 annual salary increase. I’ll be in my job for another seven months, so if this change does occur I will earn about $1500 extra.

Second Job & Odd Jobs

I now have a second job some evenings and weekends. I make $9.25/hr and work about 10 hours per week, give or take, so I could earn approximately $2,500 in additional income over the next seven months.

I am considering driving for Uber. I signed up but I haven’t actually done it yet. I have no idea how much money I can make with this.

I made $400 house and pet sitting for the week after Thanksgiving. If those friends need a house or pet sitter again in the next seven months I’ll be the first to sign up.

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The above tips may not be for everyone, but this is what I hope works for me. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Have you saved up a large sum of money in a short time frame, for travel or other reasons? If so tell me about it in the comments!

Travel Prep: The Beginning Stages

Originally written 1/22/16

Yesterday I drafted my letter of resignation for work, six months in advance. I realize it may seem like I’m getting ahead of myself, but I like to stay on top of things. The end date listed, which is subject to change of course, is September 9th (update: my last day will be September 7th). By doing this I feel like I’ve given myself even more of a “real” deadline to save money, sell my belongings, make arrangements, etc. Speaking of which, let me explain some of what I’ve been doing so far to prepare.

Savings

The first week of December 2015 I opened a separate savings account for this endeavor and named it “Adventure Fund.” Within one month I had a little over $2,000 saved up, and today I have exactly $2,500. Keep in mind, I opened the account with about $500 I had already saved up from a house sitting gig (thanks Jannah!), starting to sell miscellaneous items, and rolling coins I got from my mom for helping her with stuff around my parents’ house (thanks, mom!). But still, that’s approximately $2,000 saved in just over one month. So how have I done it?

Cutting Costs

My biggest money sucker was food & alcohol (but mostly food). I don’t even want to begin to think about how much money I was wasting before on eating out, convenient pre-packaged food, going out to bars, buying craft beer and bottles of wine just because I liked the label (and I would find some crafty thing to do with that wine bottle later!…newsflash, I never did).

I have DRASTICALLY cut down on these expenditures. Yes of course I still grab lunch to go and go out every once in awhile, but I am much more conscientious of these decisions now. When I’m thinking about spending money on these things, instead of just focusing on the convenience, I try to think about how I could put that money to use while traveling. I remind myself: that $10 could buy me a night in a hotel in Southeast Asia, tapas in Barcelona, or a visit to the Parthenon in Athens. Those “little” expenses add up  to more days that I could spend exploring the world.

Selling STUFF

Yes, I am selling ALL of my stuff, except what I’m bringing with me and a few sentimental items and family heirlooms. Yes, that includes all of the truly wonderful gifts some of you have given me throughout the years. Please don’t feel bad about this – it’s going to help me achieve my goal of traveling all over the world and having some truly awesome experiences.

As much as I love all the baking books & supplies, jewelry, knick knacks, etc .that I’ve been gifted over the years, when it comes down to true enrichment most of that stuff isn’t doing it for me. Most of it won’t be any good to me while traveling, and it definitely won’t be any good sitting in storage. I have some great stuff, all of which is replaceable (and mostly unnecessary, really), that should be used and enjoyed, not collecting dust while I’m off gallivanting around the world. More on selling off (almost) all of my worldly possessions later.

Research

Travel blogs, travel books, and Pinterest, oh my! There is a TON of information out there about backpacking & long-term travel. It’s amazing how many people there are who have done exactly what I’m trying to do. I’ve learned a lot and have been inspired from reading several travel blogs. It’s a daily reminder that people just like me have sold all their belongings and quit their jobs to travel the world, and that I can do it too. These are my favorites so far:

I have also taken advantage of the travel book section at my local library. The best book for budget travel is How To Travel The World on $50 A Day by Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt.

And of course there’s Pinterest. I found all of the blogs I read on Pinterest, except Thrifty Nomads. I found that one when I did a Google search for “sell all possessions & travel.”  I like using Pinterest to organize resources; lots of things on Pinterest have a picture and a description of what’s on the site, which is helpful to look back and re-read stuff.

I often find myself going down a rabbit hole; I see a few things that look interesting so I open those, then each of those sites usually have a few more interesting things, and so on. But I’m perfectly content deep in my Pinterest rabbit hole reading about wonderful adventures travelers before me have had, and that I hopefully will have someday too.

My travel preparations are just beginning. Stay tuned for more on this subject later!