Budget Travel

June 2, 2009

5 Great Summer Cocktails

By Meg Hoppe

The summer is a great time to just kick back with some good friends and good drinks for a night. So many of my best memories from years past revolve around lawn chair conversation with a pitcher of my favorite margarita being passed from friend to friend. This summer, I’ve picked some of my favorite cocktails to accompany any summer night party.

Habanero Margarita

Mango Habanero Margarita

Mango Habanero Margarita

  • 2 parts tequila
  • 2 parts mango puree
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 2 dashes habanero sauce

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain into a chilled glass then enjoy.

This recipe is my new summer favorite. I had a great variation of this for the first time at a FlatTop restaurant near my house. When I got home I scoured the Internet for recipes to this great drink and they had ones that seemed close but never necessarily hit the mark for me. I almost gave up when I stumbled across this one that I found on NibbleDish.com. I experimented some with the fruit puree and found that it’s a great drink to mix and match with. So if you’re looking for something a little different with a kick, give this amazing drink a try!


  • 1 ounce Midori
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • Lemonade
  • Club soda
  • Sprite

Pour Midori and vodka into a highball glass. Fill with lemonade and float a splash of club soda and a splash of Sprite on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I first discovered this recipe a few summers ago during a July 4th party with friends. The sweet Midori mixes so well with vodka and some lemonade. In fact, it was such a hit at the party that it’s become a staple at any Hoppe party. The mixture is easy enough to make for a large group or small one.


  • 1/2 ounce peach liqueur
  • 1 ounce peach juice or nectar
  • Chilled champagne or sparkling wine

Pour liqueur and juice into a chilled champagne flute. Slowly top up with champagne or sparkling wine.

I have always been a huge fan of the Bellini. The peach mixed with champagne or sparkling wine is a great way to top off a warm evening with a few close friends. The recipe is simple enough to replicate and alter [if you so wish] easily enough.


Mint Mojito

Mint Mojito

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 8 mint leaves
  • Half a lime, chopped
  • 1/2 ounce sugar syrup; club soda
  • Ice cubes

Mash up mint, lime, and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a scoop of ice, then the rum. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled tumbler 1 inch from the rim; top up with club soda.

I remember trying a Mojito at the behest of one of my close friends. While I wasn’t automatically sold on the combination of rum and mint, the drink quickly grew on me. What’s so great about the Mojito is that it’s such a universal drink that can take so many forms. You can easily add a great ingredient like pineapple or pomegranate to make your own twist on a Cuban classic.


  • 5 small chunks watermelon
  • 1 lime, chopped
  • 1/2 ounce sugar syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces gold tequila
  • Apple juice
  • Ice cubes

Mash up watermelon, lime, and sugar syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add a scoop of ice, then the tequila. Shake vigorously and strain into a tall, chilled glass 1 inch from the rim; top with apple juice.

This recipe is an old favorite of mine because it is a great summer party drink. I made Chapala for the first time for a large group at a BBQ and it went over brilliantly. I love experimenting with this drink keeping the fruit in for a very Sangria feel while introducing other flavors to the mix.

The best thing about these recipes is the versatility in their enjoyment. It is easy to translate these drinks to “mocktail” status for friends who prefer non-alcoholic nights and add different flavors and feelings with the addition of fruit. Enjoy the recipes and never be scared to experiment every now and then with your cocktails!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.


Summer Fun on a Budget

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 7:55 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Meg Hoppe

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

Photographed by: D Sharon Pruitt

From vacations to concerts and festivals, summer is the time to travel.  Kids are off of school and meandering around and the weather is perfect for weekend trips downtown or out of town.  If you’re at all like me, you find that come Labor Day, you bank account has gone through the ringer. A few days at the Taste of Chicago, some baseball games or concerts, and a summer vacation with the girls can put a dent in my credit card bill that even I have trouble looking at. So, this year as my social calendar fills up I’ve decided to try something a little different.

Being a rather young writer, my bank account doesn’t have the bang for its buck that I would like.  Knowing that most of my friends have the same problem, I have resided myself to the notion of stretching what I can for as long as I can without compromising. You might find yourself wondering how I plan on stretching a rather slim regular income while not compromising my plans for the summer. To be honest, I found myself wondering the same thing when I made the suggestion. The answer to that lies in the little nuances of event planning.

Living in Chicago affords me the luxury of having a decent amount of free events to attend all year long. Aside from hitting up local museums on their free days, which they all have, I can check out the Botanic Gardens any time I want, picnic in the parks, check out local festivals and neighborhood parties.

For those of you who love sports and concerts, but don’t really want to dish out $40.00-$100.00 for tickets; utilize your local Craigslist. I have found that for most events just looking a few days prior, even the day of given enough time, can prove to be both frugal and fruitful. The closer you get to the actual event, the more willing people are to bend a little on the ticket price. I’ve paid next to nothing for sold out shows and games because people just needed to get rid of their tickets. Just note that if you’re going to use Craigslist, you need to have a back-up plan in place in case you can’t score great tickets.

Now we come to the vacationing section of the cheap summer fun plan. I have found that vacationing can be a pleasure for your bank account when done correctly. First off, think about where you want to stay. Do you really need to book a room at the Four Seasons in New York when you have those second cousins who have a pretty decent size brownstone? Bring home some wine and flowers during your stay, offer to help clean, do some chores, and you have free digs to call your own while on vacation.

When it comes to travel to and from, choose the cheapest route available. If you have a group of friends, do your research on car rentals, vans, cheap airlines, etc. When my friends and I travel, we do lots of research. We buy any plane tickets well ahead of time and plan our trips on non-peak days to avoid higher costs. When we are on vacation, we have a researched cheap mid sized vehicle that when split between us is reasonably priced. If you’re in a big city, utilize public transportation. City transit normally offers weekend passes that are a bargain if you do the math and see you’re using it enough.

Vacations can sometimes seem like the check-out aisle in a grocery store. They’re littered with “impulse buys” or “impulse trips.” In order to avoid spending more money than you had originally set out to I’ve found that it is important to have a plan laid out before you go. If you make a note of the main attractions or events you want to attend, you are eliminating lots of “impulse trips.” Now, that’s not to say that every moment of every day has to be planned. Remember those cousins you’re staying with? They live there and have a wealth of information for things to see and do. Ask them for ideas on cheap things to do and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised. Offer to take them out with you and you can end up having the best vacation of the summer.

In the end, summer vacations and trips are all about the people you’re with. So don’t forget to just spend some nights at home. Break out some citronella candles, margaritas, and call your best friends for a night of good food, good drinks, and good company. Good friends are the best and cheapest summer event you could possibly plan.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

April 22, 2009

Camping: Mother Nature’s Way of Giving Back

By: Meg Hoppe

Getting wrapped up in the fast paced lifestyles that we’ve become so accustomed to we forget that we don’t need a five star hotel to have a perfect vacation. Sometimes all we need is a tent, a backpack, and a sleeping bag. As a whole, our planet provides us with thousands of natural travel locations. State parks, wildlife preserves, sanctuaries, and forest preserves are among some of the most beautiful and oldest monuments to Mother Earth. Personally, I am of the opinion that camping gets a bad rap in this day in age.

Badlands National ParkPeople have this stigma that camping is a cold, hard torture that only the thrill fanatics seek out. When in reality, camping is the perfect way to get out and see some of the most beautiful places on the planet while doing it in a way that is healthy for the environment. As a subway patron, I have no fear of germs and grime. However, I know that some people do. When it comes to camping there are so many alternatives to the primal and dirty vision that people commonly get.

I can hear it now, the complaints of bears, mosquitoes, sleeping on the ground, going to the bathroom outside, etc. There are solutions to all of those problems that are easily found in books and online. If you pack correctly and plan for the weather and natural terrain you will be pleasantly surprised. A positive camping outcome is almost always in the tent, clothing, and sleeping bags that are packed. I know that there has been a few times where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night to find myself in the middle of a small lake from rain water.

If you research before you go, especially as a first time camper, you can come across great resources like Love the Outdoors and How to Camp. Both websites have information for the campers from beginner level to exCongaree National Parkpert.

Don’t be afraid to trek out into the expansive wilderness. Often times as city people, we forget that there are more stars in the sky than the one we can see on a monthly basis. So when you get the chance, pack for a weekend and pack friends into a small car and make your way to a campground.

In the end, you need to realize that for every drawback, there is a positive. Just imagine sitting around a fire with family or friends looking up at the sky and seeing what it’s meant to be; an endless expanse of stars and planets. When you listen, you can hear the soft calls of animals that you didn’t realize shared the ground around you. And as you share a vacation with people you care about, you’re able to really take in all that this planet has to offer. Living in silent solidarity with nature is an experience that no one ever forgets.

Here are 10 national parks that every traveler should visit sometime:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

The Luxury Hostel: Budget Travel’s Newest Trend

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 1:56 am
Tags: , , ,

By: Megan Hoppe

Forget everything you thought that you knew about hostels. The long blank corridors smelling very reminiscent of a gym locker room with rows of dreary bunk beds mark the hostels of years past. Newer, trendier hostels are popping up all over Europe making budget travel once again a pleasurable experience.

If you have ever traveled on a shoestring budget, you have probably experienced a night in a hostel. While the average hostel has a reputation for being less than habitable, the truth is, for $10.00 a night you get what you pay for. Much like cafeteria meatloaf, hostels have been the mystery meat of vacation lodging. However, with the emergence of younger and architecturally stunning hostels, we see a change in the way you can travel both on a budget and in style.

So, grab your map, a cup of coffee, and add these 15 great boutique hostels to your list.

Lisbon’s LoungeLisbon Lounge
97% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934


If you want gorgeous, artistic, chic, and service oriented while staying within a budget that wouldn’t force you to sell a kidney, then Lisbon Lounge is the hostel for you. Owned and designed by four Portuguese artists, you know walking into Lisbon Lounge that there is something beautifully elegant about this hostel. The Living Lounge features bedrooms that have been individually designed to reflect different aspects of Lisbon’s culture.

Don’t let the design alone speak for the hostel. With a 97% rating based on hotelbookers.com rating system, Lisbon Lounge is a chic and quality choice for any traveler. Supplying backpackers with complimentary breakfast, a bar, WiFi, a DVD room and of course public telephones, it will be hard to leave this resort hostel.

Check out other hostels on Lisbon’s website. Lisbon has some really fantastic options for chic, budget accommodations.

Greg & Tom 3Greg & Tom
96% Rating

Pawia 12
31-154 Krakόw, Poland
+48 602 378 180

Greg & Tom 1: $16.00-$77.00
Greg & Tom 2: $40.00-$77.00
św. Jana lux Apartments: $62.00-$100.00

Winner of the Most Secure & Best Small Hostel in 2007 and Best Hostel in Poland 2008, Greg & Tom hostels give backpackers options in budget accommodations with high tech features. If you’re traveling in a small group Greg & Tom 1 gives you a more communal space that is decorated with a contemporary sense. However, if you’re a couple looking for a more intimate setting, Tom & Greg 2 along with the św Jana lux Apartments offer just that at affordable prices and comfortable residences.

Greg & Tom provides breakfast and dinner complimentary to their guests, with hot Polish meals on Tuesdays and Saturdays along with renovated bathrooms, WiFi, and large cable television with a DVD collection that makes your Netflix queue look like a weekend grocery list.

Mandragora HostelMandragora
92% Rating

Budapest H-1088
VIII District
Krúdy utca 12
+36 1 7899515


You won’t find dorm style bunk beds in this Budapest hostel; instead you can find Zen lofts, double, and single lofts. From the outside, Mandragora Hostel looks more like a school, or an apartment complex, drapes and laundry included. However, when you walk in you find that Mandragora is a hipster traveler’s dream.

The MUSH-room proudly says it offers no bunk beds, instead it has lofts for ample privacy. While the Zen room asks that you not eat or wear your shoes in the tranquil environment that calls for peace and harmony. If you’re there as a couple, check out the gorgeous double rooms and call it a night. Whatever you’re looking for, don’t overlook this diamond in the rough. Located right behind the National Museum, make sure you find Mandragora for a beautiful and affordable place to stay.

Hostel Celica

Hostel Celica
91% Rating

8 Metelkova Ulica
Ljubjana, 1000, Solvenia
+386 1 230 97 00


Hostel Celica, literally meaning Hostel Cell, is a rehabbed prison turned hostel. The 20 different cells have maintained the original bars on the windows and doors, but that is about all that will remind you of what they used to be. Each prison cell has been designed by an individual artist or group of artists to reflect a personal style that is classic and classy. While it might make you nervous to check into an old prison, Celica offers the utmost luxury for being an institution of reform in earlier years. If you’re in the mood for a different type of stay, you can find your favorite cell here!

If you’re interested in seeing all of the individual cells and choosing what room you would like, go to the website and if you have Java installed you will be able to see a panoramic 360° view of each room.

St. Christopher’s InnSt. Christopher's Inn
91% Rating

Rosa-Luxemburg-Str. 39-41
10178 Berlin, Germany
030 81453960


St. Christopher’s has hostels in various locations around Europe, and quite frankly, they are all worth a look if you’re in the area. The Berlin location is an exceptionally hip and versatile one. The clean, urban chic décor in the hostel is welcoming and youthful. While you’re there St. Christopher’s urges you to check out Belushi’s, the bar that is located in the lower level of the building, as it often has food and drink specials.

You can find Belushi’s restaurants scattered throughout Europe. The name is Queen’s English for “great times” according to their website. I however, immediately thought of the Blues Brothers and home, sweet home, Chicago. There is something about those black Ray Bans and cheap suits that just conjure up great memories

Red Nest HostelRed Nest Hostel
91% Rating

C/Paz 36
46003, Valencia, Spain
+34 963 427 168


There are a few Nest Hostels in Valencia to choose from, but I’ve noticed that Red Nest seems to be the best. Vivaciously colored rooms have pop art spanning the walls in this elegant 19th-century building. Since Valencia is a phenomenal city to visit when traveling, Red Nest gives you the benefit of being in the thick of it.

Red Nest Hostel boasts a large kitchen and dining room ready for 40 people, a terrace bar, and a game room fully loaded with pool tables and TV/DVD areas.

La Controra Flashpackers HostelLa Controra Flashpacker's Hostel
90% Rating

Piazzetta Trinita alla Cesaera, 231
80136 Napoli, Italy
+39 0815494014


La Controra is the only flashpackers hostel in Italy. Located in Naples, this revitalized monastery was originally built as a part of a convent early in the 18th century. Today, you’re able to see the history throughout the hostel with complementing chic and contemporary elements. The rooms are decorated with art sculptures, the floor tiles feature images of shells, Neapolitan coffee pots, garlic, chili peppers, “ex-voto” and red coral horns. The bar inside of the hostel is often used for contemporary art exhibits and multimedia events on top of being a casual lounge for travelers.

Plus FlorencePlus Florence
89% Rating

Via Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, 15
50219 Florence, Italy
+39 055 462 8934


Plus Florence is a wonderful hostel located in the heart of Florence, Italy. True to Italian architecture and style, Plus Florence combines comfort and fashion in its accommodations. When you walk into the hostel, it is bound to remind you more of an upscale hotel rather than a budget hostel. With chic and vibrant colors on the walls and a clean modern look, Plus Florence makes you feel like you’re heading into a spa weekend with the girls. To continue this feeling, Plus offers female only dormitories so women can kick off their shoes and spend some time together.

The location offers a swimming pool, a terrace bar, large contemporary styled café, WiFi, air conditioning, laundry facilities, storage space, and key card security access.

YHA London CentralYHA London Central
88% Rating

104 Bolsover Street
London, UK
+44 20 7580 1173

Adults: $36.04
Under 18: $27.23

The Youth Hostel Association or YHA, has re-vamped its image with a new $2.2 million hostel located in London. The hostel, aptly named London Central, boasts seven contemporary styled floors of budget accommodation within five minutes of Oxford Street.
The 24-hour café/bar is decorated with boldly colored furniture, large plasma screens playing music videos, and smatterings of pop art. It is loaded with free WiFi, organic cider, and Nintendo Wii.

YHA hasn’t abandoned all of its principles however. They still offer contemporary bedrooms that are en-suite, a communal dining area, and a free travel desk with destination suggestions along with free daily walking tours.

Miss Sophie'sMiss Sophie’s Hostel
88% Rating

Melounová 3
120 00 Praha 2, Czech Republic
+420 296 303 530

*Note Miss Sophie’s only accepts Czech Crowns CZK or Euros EUR. If you pay by credit there is a 4% charge.

If you’re in Prague, then you should be staying in Miss Sophie’s Hostel. Located in the heart of the city, Miss Sophie’s is a great place to lay your head. With a wide array of accommodation choices, a larger group can pay more for the luxury of an apartment or simply opt for the dorm style rooms. Styled more like a New York SoHo apartment or nightclub, Miss Sophie’s offers travelers a posh and affordable place to stay.

Being centrally located, Miss Sophie’s also offers the best sights and nightlife in the city within walking distance. Exposed brick in the cellar lounge sets the mood, while the terrace allows for parties with friends and fellow travelers. With hostels like Miss Sophie’s it is a wonder why people pay thousands for a hotel.

Rooms Deluxe HostelRooms Deluxe
87% Rating

Av. Instiuto Obrero n° 20
46013 Valencia, Spain
+34 963 356 793


Rooms Deluxe Hostel offers travelers a buffet of room choices. With 28 rooms decorated by 28 artists you won’t be let down. Each room is hand crafted to perfection. Some of the rooms remind me of bedrooms that you could see on Extreme Home Makeover. The rooms are intense and a work of art just as much as they are functional. Instead of counting sheep, feel free to find the lemurs in the 100 Lemur room, or spend the night in Morocco in Le Riad.

The website offers virtual tours of each room so take a look around and make your choice!

Centric PointCentric Point
87% Rating

c/ Passeig de Garcia 33
08007 Barcelona, Spain
+34 93 215 65 38


While Barcelona isn’t on most backpacker’s routes, it’s worth a detour to make a stop at this great hostel. Centric Point looks like the new kid on the block with a very gothic exterior among extremely modern buildings. The inside of Centric Point is just as modern as the rest of Barcelona with art scrawled on the walls, bright colors, and comfortable rooms for travelers.

Equity PointEquity Point
86% Rating

80, Derb el Hammam
Mouassine Marrakech Medina
(00212) 524440793


Equity Point offers various hostels throughout Spain; however, I have found the Marrakech location to be my favorite. The hostel, which was once a luxury riad, Moroccan palace, is located in the heart of Marrakech and is ornately decorated in an exquisitely elegant and traditional fashion. The hostel provides a Moroccan breakfast and offers locations for lunch and dinner.

If you’re ever in the Spain, make a stop in Marrakech and spend some time at Equity Point. You don’t be disappointed.

Mleczarnia HostelMleczarnia Hostel
85% Rating

Włodkowica Street 5
50-072 Wrocław
+48 71 787 75 70


The Mleczarnia Hostel is very reminiscent of a dollhouse that a girl would have had while growing up. With the meticulous antique details in every piece of furniture and vase placement, it’s hard not to gape in awe. This Polish hostel is a beautiful addition to the list, and boasts ornate and historical decorations. It offers dorm style rooms to apartments for couples or small groups looking for some privacy.

Långholmen HostelLångholmen Hostel
84% Rating

Alstaviksv. 15
10272 Stockholm, Sweden
+46 8 720 85 00


Hostelling International (HI) member, Långholmen Hostel, is a great place to stay if you’re heading to Stockholm. Sitting on a green island close to public transportation, the building is a perfect place for a get away. Built in the 1840’s the hostel and hotel served as the Crown Prison until 1975 when the last convict left. Guests are given accommodation in the rehabbed prison rooms, and are able to tour the rest of the historic location.

Långholmen offers free bikes, WiFi, laundry, restaurant, and a bar on site. Note that since Långholmen is a HI location, if you are not a card-carrying member of HI, you will be charged an extra $7.00 for check in.

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

April 21, 2009

House Swap: Not an ABC Special

Filed under: Budget Travel — twdhf @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

By: Meg Hoppe

A few years ago I watched the movie, The Holiday with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. In the movie, Diaz and Winslet “swap” houses for a holiday. I watched this phenomenon with a strange allure. Did people really do that? After watching the movie, loving it, and returning it to Blockbuster, house swapping fell off of my radar. Now, with the recession and my desire to travel once again, I’ve re-kindled my fascination of this budget travel tactic that so many people overlook.Colorful House Swap

House swapping, or home exchanges as people call it, is precisely what you think it might be. You place an ad telling people where you are and where you would like to go. In most instances that I’ve noted, residents will place photos of their homes or apartments up with their ad and the time in which they would like to travel. Once someone responds to your ad, you build up a rapport with that person and inevitably decide whether or not to ship your keys out for a little R&R.

While perusing the Internet for house swapping ads, I was drawn in by the photographs of foreign apartments. I can easily be taken in by a great photo of a magnificently decorated apartment. However, I also started to imagine my apartment with someone else in it. I pictured someone sleeping in my bed, re-programming my TV, and drying off with my towels after a shower in my bathroom. How could I entrust my personal space to someone I had never met?

Upon looking into reviews for this new technique I stumbled upon this question and so many others that I had. Security of my items, how could I be assured that things wouldn’t be missing or broken upon my return? Will my decorating tendencies and yellow Ikea chairs with my dark wood dining table become an international butt of ridicule? It’s hard to say really.

The best advice that I have to counter house swapping fears is this; really look into who you are swapping homes with. Most people realize that you are in their home as well and have these same questions and fears. Create an open dialogue and get to know your homeowner well enough to feel comfortable picturing them as a friend who is staying in your apartment while you’re away.
In the end, house swapping is a great way to see the world on a budget. Not only are you able to travel, but you’re able to fully immerse yourself in a culture and way of life. Keep your eyes open and look at Craigslist for house swaps in your area and report back with your stories and photos!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blog here.

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