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Recently, I ran into a problem with my passport. It doesn’t expire until 2022, but I was running out of space — and fast. I realized before I left for Turks and Caicos in May that I only had two pages left — and that one of those pages was one of the final “endorsement” pages, which aren’t for visas anyway.

Fortunately, I knew to check on passport requirements for my next trip to Norway in June. According to the U.S. Department of State, Norway requires two empty pages in your passport to enter the country!

Believe it or not, Norway is not the only country that has this requirement. Several others require either one or two blank pages for entry, including Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Sweden and Iceland.

If you show up at the airport without the empty pages you need to enter countries with this requirement, you can literally be turned away. If you manage to board your plane and land in your destination, you can be sent back.

How to Check Passport Requirements

If you’re unsure whether a country you’re visiting has any specific passport or visa requirements, you can check the U.S. Department of State website. They have a dedicated page for each country outside the U.S., and you can find information such as passport requirements, any security alerts, and how many pages should be blank on your passport for entry into each country.

You can also use the U.S. Department of State to find out about entry requirements, such as if you need a travel visa to enter a specific country.

How I Am Getting My Passport

One problem with traveling so much is that I never, ever have the standard 6-8 weeks in between trips to order a passport the old-fashioned way. I can’t think of any time this year when I didn’t travel internationally within any four-week period.

I wound up paying a company called Travel Visa Pro to expedite my passport for me within 7-11 business days. This set me back almost $400, which is outrageous. Unfortunately, because I live in Central Indiana, I’m not close to any passport offices that let you do it any cheaper.

I’m pretty bummed about the added expense, but I’m sure my Norway trip will be well worth it.

Have you ever traveled to a country that required empty pages in your passport? Where?

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In less than a week, I’ll take off on my 6th cruise with MSC Cruises and my first cruise on the MSC Meraviglia. This cruise will depart out of Copenhagen, Denmark and take us through many of the most beautiful areas within the Norwegian Fjords. We’ll also make a stop in Kiel, Germany for a day, and have two at sea days to enjoy the ship itself.

I’m very excited about this cruise for a few reasons. Not only is it our first time to Norway, but the ship is supposed to be amazing. I also desperately need a change of scenery and a break from work.

Essential Items You Need to Bring

But as I began packing all our bags, I realized there are quite a few items I now think of as cruise essentials. Keep in mind that this is my cruise “extras” packing list — made up of items I’ve bought specifically for cruises.

If you’re gearing up for your next cruise and trying to think of items that would make the process easier, here are some of my personal suggestions:

  • Lush shampoo and conditioner bars: I love these Lush bars because you can pack them in a carry-on suitcase and they don’t create any plastic waste. I keep mine in a tin container, which you can also buy from Lush.
  • Beach blanket from Mer-Sea: I pack this beach blanket for Caribbean cruises because it comes with a matching tote and it offers pockets you can use to weigh down the corners with sand. With our own beach blanket, we can enjoy some beach time without having to lay on our cruise towels.
  • Waterproof pouch: We always bring waterproof pouches on beach vacations so that my husband can put our room key and his credit card in his pocket while we’re in the water. We’ve had several sets, but this is the one we’re using right now.
  • Cruise lanyards: We’ve gone through several cruise lanyards since our first cruise, mostly because we can’t seem to find them in between trips. I do like to have them ahead of time, however, instead of buying them on the ship. I just ordered this set the other night.
  • Magnetic hooks: Having magnetic hooks makes it easy to hang items on the back of your door. I frequently use them to hang wet bathing suits and lanyards so they don’t get lost in our room.
  • International plug adapter: We have an older version of this international plug adapter, and we always bring it on our trips — even if we’re not traveling overseas. Since cruise cabins have so few plug-ins, this adapter gives us room to charge all our devices and laptops at the same time.
  • Portable power bank: I love Goal Zero’s Sherpa100AC because it lets you recharge tablets, phones, cameras and laptops on the go. This is great for cruise stops since I can charge my smartphone wherever I am.

What are some of your favorite cruise essentials? Why?

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My husband and I have had a ton of credit cards over the years, mostly due to the fact we have pursued a lot of signup bonuses. We’ve also canceled many of our cards over the years, although there are ones we keep for the long haul. By and large, however, the bulk of our credit cards are travel credit cards and not basic rewards cards.

For the most part, I prefer to earn travel rewards over cash-back. Not only do I tend to get more value out of rewards specific to travel, but I know for a fact I get more bang for my buck when I’m able to transfer points to airline partners.

Still, some of the credit cards I’ve had the longest aren’t travel credit cards at all. Here are my favorite non-travel credit cards:

Chase Freedom

The Chase Freedom card is one of the first rewards credit cards I applied for, and I’ve kept it due to its lucrative rewards categories and the fact there’s no annual fee. Not only do you get a $150 cash bonus when you sign up for this card and spend $500 within three months of account opening, but you earn 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that rotate each quarter and 1% back on all other purchases.

While the Chase Freedom is okay as a standalone card, I love using it in conjunction with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. That’s because Chase lets you combine all your points in one account for optimal travel redemptions. In my case, I move all our family points from our Chase personal and business credit cards into my Chase Sapphire Reserve account so I can get 50% more travel for free when I book through the portal. This also gives me the option to make 1:1 transfers to airlines and hotels.

Blue Cash Preferred From American Express

I’ve also had the Blue Cash Preferred from American Express for a quite a while, which is easy to justify despite its $95 annual fee. This card gives you 6% back on up to $6,000 in grocery spending each year along with all purchases made with U.S. streaming services. You also get 3% back at gas stations and on transit, including Uber and Lyft rides, and 1% back on all other purchases.

I like this card because it offers lucrative cash back anyone can benefit from. After all, maxing out the 6% grocery spending category gives you $360 in cash back every year, which is considerably more than the annual fee.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a new credit card, don’t forget to consider credit cards that aren’t necessarily travel cards. Some might let you pool points with other cards you have for better redemptions. Others might only let you redeem for cash back, but it’s easy to use cash-back for travel since you can use it to cover incidentals, meals, excursions, and more.

Which are your favorite credit cards outside the travel niche? Why?

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A few years ago, I applied for seven different Spark Cash Back Rewards cards from Capital One. A few of them were under my husband’s name and the rest were under mine, but I set them up under our blogging business and the business we have for our rental properties. I earned seven different signup bonuses through these cards alone, which is probably why Capital One will no longer approve me for any of their credit cards — even when I receive a targeted offer!

This makes me sad because I would love to keep taking advantage of their bonuses in perpetuity. I guess I understand though because I am a terrible credit card customer. I always pay my balance in full and never pay interest, so I mostly just take the rewards and run.

My Favorite Capital One Credit Cards

If you haven’t burned your bridges with Capital One yet, I do suggest signing up for a few of their credit cards. Here are the favorites I would apply for (if I could):

Capital One Spark Cash for Business

Even though the Capital One Spark Cash is the card that ruined Capital One for me, I still suggest it to small business owners. This card gives you 50,000 points worth $500 after you spend $4,500 within three months. You also earn 2x points for each dollar you spend, which makes it easy to rack up rewards fast.

When it comes to redeeming rewards, you can cash them in for statement credits to cover any purchase at a rate of one cent per point. There’s a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.

Capital One Venture Rewards

The Venture from Capital One is another card that gives you 2x points for each dollar you spend, although it’s a personal credit card and not a business card. You also earn 50,000 points worth $500 after you spend $3,000 within three months of account opening. On the redemption side, you can cash in your points to cover travel purchases at a rate of one cent per point, but you can also transfer them to several different airline partners. There’s a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.

Savor Rewards from Capital One

If I could get one card from Capital One right now, it would be the Capital One Savor Card. This cash-back credit card gives you 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back on all other purchases. You also get 30,000 points worth $300 after you spend $3,000 on your card within three months of account opening. There’s a $95 annual fee, but it’s waived the first year.

The Bottom Line

If you’re still able to get credit cards from Capital One, these are the three I suggest above all others. While I don’t like Capital One cards nearly as much as Chase or Citi credit cards, there’s value to be had in their flexible rewards program. And since they each offer a big signup bonus the first year, why not sign up?

What is your favorite Capital One credit card? Why?

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Recently, I received a targeted “Just for You” offer for the Chase Ink Business Unlimited Card. I applied right away and received instant approval, which I am immensely grateful for. The reality is, I never thought I’d be able to get another Chase credit card again since I am way, way over the 5/24 threshold.

Since I am a huge fan of the Ink Business Preferred and use it for all my spending, you may be wondering why I would also want the Chase Ink Business Unlimited. While having one business credit card is technically “enough” and I certainly love the 3x categories the Ink Business Preferred offers, there are several reasons I decided to add another business credit card into the mix:

  • Earn a big signup bonus: The obvious reason to sign up for this card is the fact you get 50,000 points worth $500 in cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Obviously, I will be transferring these points to my Chase Sapphire Reserve account for 1:1 transfers to airlines and optimal redemptions through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal.
  • Earn 1.5 points for each dollar we spend: While we use our Ink Business Preferred for most of our business expenses to earn 3x points in popular business categories, I plan to transition some of our non-bonus spendings to the Ink Business Unlimited card. Since this new card gives us 1.5 points for each dollar we spend, doing so is a no-brainer.
  • There’s no annual fee. Finally, the Ink Business Unlimited doesn’t even charge an annual fee. This makes it a keeper card for the long haul, which is important to me. I prefer to minimize annual fees or avoid them altogether when I can.
The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a business credit card and considering an option from Chase, it’s important for you to take a close look at how each of their cards doles out points. Where the Ink Business Preferred gives out 3 points per $1 on up to $150,000 spent per year in popular bonus categories, you only get 1 point per $1 spent on everything else.

The Ink Business Unlimited, on the other hand, skips over bonus categories altogether in favor of offering 1.5 points for each dollar you spend. Then there’s the Ink Business Cash, of course, which gives you 5% back on up to $25,000 spent each year at office supply stores and on internet, cable, and phone purchases, 2% back on up to $25,000 spent at gas stations and restaurants each year, and 1% back on everything else — and all with no annual fee.

The right card for you depends on where your business spends the most, but you can also pair a few cards together to maximize rewards on every dollar you spend.

Do you have the Ink Business Unlimited? What is your favorite business credit card, and why?

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If you’ve been earning points and miles for a while, you already know that most of the top travel rewards credit cards charge an annual fee. While these fees are never welcome, they’re also a necessary evil. After all, some of the best travel credit cards off perks that can be worth thousands of dollars per year.

On a personal level, I don’t mind paying annual fees provided I get plenty of value in return. And since I travel around four months of the year, it’s not that difficult for me to get a lot of bang for my buck with a handful of travel credit cards.

While not all fees are worth it, some absolutely are. Here are the credit cards I don’t mind paying for.

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve

I love my Chase Sapphire Reserve card because it lets me earn 3 points per $1 spent on travel and dining and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. I also get a $300 annual travel credit, a Priority Pass Select membership, a Global Entry or TSA Precheck credit, and plenty of other perks.

There’s a $450 annual fee, but it’s well worth it considering the benefits I get — and since I can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points so many different ways.

2. Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard has been a real winner for me over the years. Since this card gives you 2x miles for each dollar you spend, it’s a solid option to use for all your regular purchases. I personally used this credit card to pay off my house (by funneling my payments through Plastiq.com) to earn $2,000 in travel rewards a few years ago.

I love this card because it lets you redeem your miles for any travel purchase of $100 (10,000 points) or more. There’s a $89 annual fee after the first year, but I gladly pay it.

3. Hilton Aspire from American Express

I love my Hilton Aspire credit card because it comes with a $250 annual resort credit, a $250 annual airline credit, a free weekend night, Priority Pass Select membership, automatic Hilton Diamond status, and a handful of other perks. New cardholders also get a huge signup bonus for meeting a minimum spending requirement.

There’s a $450 annual fee, but it’s well worth it if you use all the benefits. After all, the resort credit and airline credit add up to $500 alone!

The Bottom Line

While some credit cards charge annual fees that aren’t warranted at all, others offer a ton of value that make paying the fee well worth it. Before you shy away from a rewards card that charges an annual fee, it helps to make a list of the perks and how much they’re worth in your eyes. If you travel often and know you can make use of all your card’s benefits, you may find that paying an annual fee can even help you save money in the end.

Which credit cards do you pay the annual fee for each year? Why?

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Recently, Doctor of Credit posted an update that suggested everyone should check their Chase accounts for targeted business credit card offers. Although I have checked many times in the past with no dice, I checked again and noticed that I had a “just for you” offer for the Chase Ink Business Unlimited — a card I desperately wanted in my rotation.

Getting Approved

Since I’m well over 5/24, I was surprised to see this offer. But since it appeared to be targeted to me (even with a fixed interest rate in the terms and conditions), I went ahead and applied. Lo and behold, I was instantly approved for a $32,000 limit.

I was super pumped about my instant approval since my husband and I only use one main business credit card right now — our Ink Business Preferred. While the Ink Business Preferred card gives you 3x points in popular business categories, you only earn 1 point per $1 on regular purchases.

The Ink Business Unlimited, on the other hand, gives you 1.5 points per $1 spent on everything. You also get 50,000 points after you sign up and spend $3,000 on your card within three months. Plus, there’s no annual fee.

Since I can use this card for our business expenses, meeting the minimum spending requirement within three months will be a breeze. And since there are so many ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I know I’ll be able to use them for an awesome travel redemption in no time.

Check Your Chase Account

Since Chase has tightened up requirements for new cards and signup bonuses over the last few years, I was surprised to see they would pre-approve me for another one of their credit cards. But I was even more surprised when I saw I had a “just for you” offer for a card I actually wanted anyway.

If you’re way over 5/24, you may not have to give up hope just yet. Keep an eye on your Chase account for “just for you offers” that might work for your needs. If you find you’ve been targeted, go ahead and apply before Chase changes their mind.

Have you been targeted for credit card offers? Which one?

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My husband and I are taking our two children to the U.K. for two weeks in July. We’ll spend the first half of our trip in London, York, and the English Lake District before heading to Loch Lomond, Inverness, and Edinburgh in Scotland for the second half of our trip. We haven’t been anywhere with just for the four of us for quite a while, so I’m looking forward to it. I want to emphasize that we didn’t pay for our entire trip with rewards — and not even close. We just paid for part of it with points and miles, and we covered the rest in cash.

Breaking Down the Trip With Points and Miles

The main reason we chose to go back to the U.K. is that we found really good pricing on flights through Finnair.com. While our actual flights are on British Airways, the total cost for our four flights worked out to $1,870.90. That’s a little over $450 per person, which is a spectacular deal for round-trip flights into London and home from Edinburgh — even though it’s in economy.

We plan to spend the first three nights of our trip in London at the Georgian House Hotel in one of its “Wizard Rooms.” We’re paying cash for this part because we had trouble finding award availability and a room that sleeps four during the chosen dates. While in London, we plan to see the Phantom of the Opera and do some basic sightseeing. I also cashed in some Citi ThankYou points for entry into the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey for the four of us. For one of our full days in the city, I booked a day trip of Leed’s Castle, Canterbury, Dover, and Greenwich through Chase Ultimate Rewards for approximately 32,000 points for the four.

Once we leave London, we plan to pick up our rental car and head to Hever Castle (the childhood home of Anne Boleyn) before spending the night in York. I cashed in a free Hilton weekend night from my Hilton Aspire card for one night at the Hilton York.

The morning after our stay in York, we plan to head to the Lake District in our rental car. I have an Airbnb booked for three nights, and we have no plans during that time. I paid for our Airbnb mostly in cash, although I did use around $400 in travel credit I’ve accrued over the last six months with my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.

Once we leave the English Lake District, we are heading to Loch Lomond for two more nights, then on to Inverness for three nights. We plan to do our own sightseeing during this time with stops in Glencoe, Inveraray, Stirling Castle, and more. We don’t have any concrete plans during this time — more of a list of things we want to see in the area with our rental car.

Finally, we plan to spend our final two nights in Edinburgh at the Kimpton Charlotte Square. This hotel costs 55,000 IHG Rewards points per night, and it is expertly located right next to Old Town.

The Bottom Line

I’m very excited for this trip since my kids haven’t been to England yet. Scotland has also been on our list for a while now, so it’s nice to wrap it all into one itinerary we can enjoy toward the end of my children’s summer break. I may not have paid for everything with rewards, but I certainly saved some money with points and miles. And that is usually my goal anyway — using rewards to stretch my travel budget as far as it can go.

Do you have any big summer travel plans? Which part of your itinerary did you cover with rewards?

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Since I frequently travel with my kids and prefer to keep things easy, I really love cruising and all-inclusive resorts. Both options make it easy to budget and pay for your trip without a ton of surprises, and both can be booked in one of my favorite regions of the world — the Caribbean.

But which is more frugal: All-inclusive resorts or cruising? Since you can book some pricey all-inclusive resorts and luxury cruises, it’s safe to say that both options can really be as expensive as you want them to be.

Pros and Cons: All-Inclusive Resorts

There are a few reasons I love all-inclusive resorts as a frugal vacation option for families. For starters, there are many ways you can book all-inclusive resorts with points, whether that means cashing in hotel loyalty points, redeeming flexible travel credit, or booking an all-inclusive property through a portal. With enough rewards racked up, you could even book an all-inclusive resort for free.

Other advantages of all-inclusive resorts include the fact that all your drinks — including alcohol — are accounted for in your nightly rate. Plus, you don’t generally need to figure out day trips or excursions if you’re happy with the resort beach and entertainment.

On the downside, however, most all-inclusive resorts are outside the U.S., meaning you’ll have to pay for international airfare with cash or miles. All-inclusive resorts are also notorious for offering bland buffet food, although you generally get better food options when you stay away from the cheapest AI options.

Pros and Cons: Cruising

Cruising is another frugal family option, although how much you’ll save depends on the cruise you book and whether you have any rewards to redeem. Like all-inclusive resorts, there are a ton of ways to cover all or part of your cruise with rewards, including flexible travel credit from a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.

Some cruise lines like MSC Cruises also let kids ages 11 and under cruise free on select itineraries, which can lead to huge savings for families. I know that, last spring break, my family booked a balcony cabin during peak time for $2,500 for the week — partly because we only had to pay taxes and fees for our two children.

Another benefit of cruising is that, if you live near a cruise port, you can usually skip the cost of airfare and drive.

On the flip side, cruises can come with a lot of hidden expenses. For example, you may wind up shelling out big bucks for cruise excursions if you like to have planned activities at each port. Cruises also tend to exclude alcohol from your package, which can mean you’ll wind up with a huge cruise bill if you drink a lot.

The Bottom Line

Both cruises and all-inclusive resorts can be a frugal option if you choose wisely and use rewards to stretch your travel budget as far as you can go. Make sure to consider all your options before you book your next family trip, including which type of vacation suits your family’s travel style the best.

Personally, I book cruises and all-inclusive resorts regularly, so I don’t feel the need to choose.

Which do you think is more frugal? Why?

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Over spring break, my husband and I took our kids and my parents for a cruise on the MSC Seaside out of Miami. We booked a balcony cabin on the 15th floor, and we had an awesome time! Our cruise set us back almost $2,500, and we got a free “Drinks On Us” package to boot. I would absolutely cruise the MSC Seaside again. Here are four reasons why:

1. Kids ages 11 and under cruise free on some MSC itineraries.

Part of the reason we were able to get a balcony cabin over spring break for $2,500 total is the fact that kids under the age of 11 cruise free on the itinerary I chose. Due to this perk, we only had to pay government taxes and fees for our kids to cruise. That made a huge difference in the price we paid, and ultimately, that was why we opted for a balcony cabins instead of an inside room.

2. The waterpark was amazing.

The MSC Seaside has an enormous waterpark that sits right next to the indoor “jungle pool.” And this isn’t just a dinky waterpark with a few slides! The MSC park has several huge waterslides that are big enough for even adults to enjoy, and they even have slides with floats that hold two people. You’ll also find a splash park for kids with a small children’s pool. My kids are 8 and 10 and they absolutely loved the pool on the MSC Seaside!

3. The MSC Seaside has great dining options.

While the buffet food on the MSC Seaside was just “good” as normal, I think the ship has really stepped up its options in its specialty dining rooms. Specifically, we thought the food at the Asian Market by Roy Yamaguchi was spectacular. We also ate dinner at the Butcher’s Cut restaurant with my parents, and it was good. The best part about dining on the ship is the fact that you could find food almost 24 hours a day. Even during weird hours like 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. or late night, you could always get basics like pizza in the main buffet.

4. Our balcony cabin had a couch that turned into bunk beds.

Finally, we loved our balcony cabin on the MSC Seaside. Not only was it spacious, but we loved the way it was set up for families. Instead of a fold-out couch that inevitably takes up floor space, our balcony cabin had a couch that turned into bunk beds. We loved this feature because it made our room seem much bigger. The bunk beds also didn’t need to be “put away” every day, so there was less hassle involved overall.

The Bottom Line

If you’re considering a cruise on the MSC Seaside, make sure to sign up for their newsletter so you get access to the best deals. Also consider their status match program, which will match you to a similar hotel or cruise line status you already have. As an example, I was able to match to MSC Black status with my Hilton Diamond status.

Also, make sure you pick up a credit card that lets you redeem points for cruises. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard is a smart option since you earn 70,000 miles after you spend $5,000 within 90 days. This card lets you redeem miles for any travel expense over $100 (10,000 points), so it’s perfect for helping families save money on their cruise fare.

Have you ever cruised with MSC Cruises? Why or why not?

[Featured Image: MSC Cruises]

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