Tonya Topel, Travel

Part 2: Traveling Planning Tips

As a travel agent, I have learned the ins and outs of planning a fun and fantastic trip. In this series of blogs, I will walk you through my helpful tips on travel planning. In part one of my travel planning tips, I discuss the steps of choosing where to book your vacation. Now let’s dive into what to do while you’re there!

Getting Around

Another question that is important to consider is transportation options once you’re in your travel destination. Depending on where you are going, you may only need a ride to and from the airport. However, other destinations may require more transportation. Somethings to consider are if you need to book a rental car, if you can take a taxi or Uber, and whether there are online transportation passes. Researching your transport options before you travel will save time and stress once you get there.

Things to Do

Popular tourist attractions may be the reason why you selected the destination you did. When you plan a trip, consider what must-see attractions you want to visit. Some popular attractions are booked in advance, so be sure to research the attractions you want to see. As much as we would like to just show up to a popular spot, researching and organizing your tickets beforehand are a good idea. Many towns have cities passes that offer a bundle of tourist attraction tickets at a discounted price. Don’t forget to look into free events!

Places to Dine

For some, eating and dining are the best part of traveling. When I take a vacation, I like to discover new restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafes. There are a bunch of excellent smartphone apps to use, and my personal favorite is Urbanspoon. Regardless of your budget or taste, you’ll find a bunch of local restaurants that offer delicious foods! If you are traveling with children, this app will also help you find family-friendly dining options.

Don’t Over Plan

While it’s important to plan some travel activities in advance, don’t over plan your vacation. Be sure to leave some time to relax, walk around, and explore. Sometimes the best memories are made off of a whim! Plus — you’ll never know what you’ll find to do when you just leave some time to explore the city!

We’re not done with my planning tips yet! Be sure to check back soon for Part 3: Traveling Planning Tips. My third blog will focus on helpful tips on preparing for your travel and making sure you have a safe, and enjoyable trip!
Tonya Topel is an avid traveler and licensed travel agent located in Kansas City, MO. Check more of her travel tips or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at on April 3, 2018.

Tonya Topel, Travel

Best Family Vacation Destinations

As most parts of the Northeast are emerging from winter and into spring, families have shifted into planning for summer vacations. To help ease the dilemma of spending hours of planning and researching the top spots for taking the family, the top five U.S. vacations spots have been compiled below.

Sedona, Arizona

For the active family looking to enjoy amazing scenery: Sedona, Arizona ranks high for outdoor enthusiasts, while also providing fun activities for children. Families with younger children can explore the junior ranger programs to help educate children on nature. When you’re ready to take a break from long days out on the hiking trails, experience nature by participating in a guided Jeep tour.

TIP: Make the trip interactive and have your older children participate in the Sedona photo challenge!

New York City

For the exciting, big-city buzz, check out New York City. New York City offers a little bit of everything for everyone in your family. Even if you have been before, your biggest challenge will be trying to fit everything you want to do in during your stay. From museums, to the World Trade Center Memorial, NYC provides an endless amount of things to do and every possible food option. If you are on a budget, you can’t go wrong with dollar-slice pizza!

TIP: Plan your “must dos” before arriving and factor in transportation.

Winona Lake, Indiana

If a relaxing lakefront getaway is what you’re looking for, spend a weekend in Winona Lake, Indiana. A picturesque area that is great for a family on a budget, Winona Lake offers a quiet, small town feel, while providing families with shopping, great restaurants, biking trails, and family fun on the dozens of lakes.

You can take advantage of bike rentals, stand-up-paddle boards, and even wakeboarding if you’re feeling adventurous. In the evening, you can unwind at Cerulean Restaurant, a top-rated dining experience and beer garden.

TIP: To get the full lakefront experience, check out AirBnb for great rental options.

San Diego, California

If the West Coast is more your style, your family is bound to have a great time in San Diego, California. With nearly perfect weather, amazing views, and great hiking options, San Diego provides families with variety and fun. Families can easily spend a full day at the San Diego Zoo, and after you have spent the day walking around checking out the animals, you can relax in Balboa Park by taking in the scenery and beautiful architecture.

TIP: Make sure to try a mission style burrito.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

If the ocean and seashell hunting is calling your name, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is hard to pass up. The Outer Banks ranks #6 on the U.S. News list of best affordable vacations. If you go the beach house rental option, you can enjoy amazing views and save money by cooking meals at home. Due to the popularity in the summer, traffic can get pretty backed up on Saturdays, so if you’re schedule is flexible, try to plan your trip around coming in and leaving during mid-week.

TIP: Don’t let a bad sunscreen early in your trip ruin a great vacation!

Tonya Topel is an avid traveler and licensed travel agent located in Kansas City, MO. Check more of her travel tips or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at on March 30, 2018.

Solar Energy, Tonya Topel, Zero Energy Homes

Millennial Flocking Towards Zero Energy Homes

As the millennial generation continues on the path of impacting many industries, new trends in homeownership are emerging and positively impacting developers and existing homeowners. Because the millennial generation is quickly approaching the home ownership milestone, it’s an important time for older generations to take note.

So, what is it that this new generation is looking for in their home?

Solar Energy & Net Zero

Growing up and seeing the negative effects of climate change and nonrenewable energy sources, millennials are interested in homes that provide solar energy and provide net-zero living. Purchasing a net zero home means the home is providing enough energy (through solar, wind, etc.) for the homeowner to live off. This provides a decreased cost of living and is better for the environment.

“Our research showed that millennials are interested in sustainability and green features, but that they have to be practical,” Klif Andrews, Las Vegas division President of Pardee Homesto said. This shift in homeowner purchasing decisions has promoted people such as Andrews to take notice.

As solar energy continues on the rise as the nation’s fastest growing energy source, you can expect to see the millennial generation leading the charge. This provides an opportunity for developers to create new homes with solar energy installed, as well as a benefit for the baby boomer generation to make the solar investment that will pay off when they go to sell their house.


In addition to seeking a renewable energy based home, this next generation is gravitating towards “smart homes”. Growing up in the smartphone generation, millennials see the benefit in having heating and air conditioning adjustable from their phone and doorbells with built in camera and phone notifications. New-build homes are incorporating many of these smart features. From sprinkler systems that turn on based on rain sensors in the gutters, to refrigerators that reorder items when they are running low.

Interested in learning more about the net zero home movement? Checkout how a couple living in Seattle, WA build a net zero energy home at just $125 a square foot.

Tonya Topel is passionate about protecting the environment and works for an environmentally friendly construction company. Read more of her blogs on zero energy housing or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at

Solar Energy, Tonya Topel

Solar Energy FAQs Answered

With solar energy emerging and becoming the fastest-growing source of power, the consumer market still has questions around this new option for homeowners. To help provide clarity around the topic of solar energy, the five most frequently asked questions have been answered below.

How Do I Know If I’m An Ideal Candidate For Solar Panels?

The majority of people interested in converting to solar energy have incorrect assumptions about their house not being ideal, not having the financial means, or they simply are unaware of the the rebates and incentives offered around solar energy.

The simple answer is: you don’t know until you ask! Solar companies like Sunsource Homes provide free estimates and take in considerations around home square footage, current monthly electric bills, and other factors to provide you with a cost savings estimate.

It Seems Like Solar Energy Is Just A Fad. How Do I Know It’s A Reliable Source Of Energy?

Solar energy is here to stay and is only getting started. As solar storage technology has caught up, the length of time in seeing a return on the investment has been reduced. Throughout the world, businesses are understanding the issues and limitations with our current energy sources and large companies are making substantial investments in solar energy research and development. With billion-dollar companies like Amazon leading the charge in solar investments, consumers can be comforted others make significant risks and seeing the returns. Consumers can feel comforted in seeing large companies making significant investments and providing further validation.

Can I Really Operate My Home On Only Solar Energy?

Yes! This is typically referred to as “Net Zero”, meaning the total amount of energy created through solar panels is equal to the amount used by the homeowner. Net zero allows homeowners to experience large energy savings, while also providing benefits to the environment. In recent national news, a group of cross-party mayors across the US has made a declaration to see their cities adopt more solar energy options.

Can I Afford Solar Energy?

Solar energy is unique in the levels of adoption available. Depending on your budget, you can start mall and gradually invest in additional panel over time. The other added benefit are the current incentives and rebates offered by the government.

It’s an exciting time to make the switch to solar energy and the cost-savings benefits, combined with the environmental impact makes it a smart choice.

Tonya Topel is passionate about protecting the environment and works for an environmentally friendly construction company. Read more of her blogs on zero energy housing or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at on April 2, 2018.

Tonya Topel, Zero Energy Homes

What are Zero Energy Homes

Zero energy homes are just like any other home — except better because they are environmentally friendly. Climate change is a serious concern, and zero energy homes are specially built to combat climate change while providing a beautiful and functional home!

A zero energy home is like all other homes — but is powered entirely by renewable energy! This includes much more than just being a “green home” or having solar panels because a zero energy house combines advanced design and superior building systems with energy efficiency to produce a better net-zero home.

Renewable Energy

A net-zero home ensures that a house will produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis meaning you will have a net-zero energy bill. The foundation of your home, including your structure, roofing, and siding are all high quality to ensure your home is net-zero. Zero energy homes are also surprising cleaner and fresher than standard homes because they have airtight walls which stay free of pollutants and allergens.

Another fact that many do not recognize is that zero energy homes are available in practically every size and style. Building a house should be about your wants and needs, and a net zero home has the capability to do so all while saving you money! You can also enjoy a net zero home anywhere. From hot temperatures to extreme cold, zero energy homes are found all across the country. Individuals and families of all ages and incomes live in zero energy homes.


Over time a net-zero home will produce hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. Living in a zero energy home has lower costs than a comparable standard home, and also protects you from rapidly changing energy prices. According to the Zero Energy Project, zero energy homeowners will save over $2,000 on average within the first year. While in most cases, zero energy homes do require a small monthly hook-up fee, there is no monthly energy bill. This allows you to pocket additional money each month instead of paying a utility company.

“Here’s a real example of a 3,00 square-foot home with $300 month average utility bill,” T.W. Bailey Sr., a Texas homebuilder and President of Bailey Family Builders, said. “If you spend $10,000 additional on the green aspects of the home, you can reduce that energy cost to $150 per month. At today’s mortgage rates, the $10,000 you spend costs you about $30 per month. You’ve saved $150 in utility costs and you’ve spent $30 to do it. Your positive cash flow that first month is $120, and it will be at least $120 a month after that.”

Zero energy homes allow you to build a beautiful, functional, energy-efficient homes. A home is possibly the biggest purchase of your life so make it a smart investment by building a zero energy home!

Tonya Topel is passionate about protecting the environment and works for an environmentally friendly construction company. Read more of her blogs on zero energy housing or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at

Tonya Topel, Travel

Boston Bucket List

Whether it’s your first visiting or if you are a native of the city, Boston is a beautiful place to explore. Boston is the capital of Massachusetts and is home to 4.7 million, making it one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The city of Boston is full of fun and exciting historical and modern attractions to see! If you are traveling to the city, be sure to visit these Boston Bucket List destinations!

Fenway Park

Even if you are not a Red Sox fan, Fenway Park is still a must-see. The ballpark opened in 1912 and is the oldest major league park still in use. Fenway Park has historic character and raving fans. Catching a game or taking a ballpark tour are experiences you will never forget.

Boston Common

The Boston Common is a beautiful downtown central park. Established in 1634, the Boston Common is the oldest city park in the country. Curved with walking paths, beautiful ponds, plenty of park benches, and luscious trees, the park is must-see.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is a must-see because it is one of the newest attractions that explores the historical event that led to the American Revolution. The attraction offers a close look into history through a fully immersive tour and informative museum. On the tour, you can be a part of dumping the famous tea that changed American history.

Museum of Fine Arts

The fifth largest museum in the country is the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The museum is home to over 450,000 works of art and welcomes more than one million visitors each year. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most comprehensive art displays in the world making it a Boston must-see.

Quincy Market

The historic Quincy Market is a local and national favorite because it is home to hundreds of restaurants and shops. Quincy Market was built in 1826 because mayor Josiah Quincy did not like the view of the former central market (Faneuil Hall). Today the market consists of four historic buildings full of local shops, food stalls, top restaurants, international brands and street performers.

Ye Olde Tavern Tour

If you want a fun way to explore the city, I recommend taking the Ye Olde Tavern Tour. The tour takes you through historic Boston, visiting 10 historic sites all while drinking local craft beer. During the tour, you’ll stop at three different taverns where you can select a craft beer of your choice! This is hands-down my favorite way to explore the city and I recommend taking the tour if you love history and beer!

While there is plenty of things to see and do in Boston, these are my Boston Bucket List recommendations. These attractions will allow you to explore Boston to its fullest while creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Tonya Topel is an experience world traveler and licensed travel agent. Check out her other travel blogs or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at on March 9, 2018.

Tonya Topel, Travel

Part 1: Traveling Planning Tips

Travel planning can be challenging and overwhelming — especially if you are planning a trip overseas. If you are planning a trip and don’t know where to get started or just want tips on how to plan a better vacation, this guide is for you!

When I first began planning trips, I had no idea what I was doing. Now I’m a travel agent, and I get help others plan their dream vacations. Over the course of my travel career, I have learned the ins and outs of planning a great trip and here are my tips!

Make a Budget

While it is hard to make a budget before you start planning, you should have an idea of how much money you can and want to spend on your travel plans. It’s important to consider your budget before planning because this helps you determine how much money you can spend on accommodations. I recommend running a brief search on a few different destinations to look at airline prices and hotel fares to gain a general understanding how much a trip will cost you and what you can afford.

Choose Your Destination

The first step in travel planning is deciding where you want to go. Important questions to consider are how much time do you have, who are you traveling with, what is your budget, when do you want to go, and what kind of experiences do you like? If you only have a short amount of time for a trip, don’t waste too much time traveling to your destination. Likewise, if you are traveling with kids and want kid-friendly activities, your destination choice should be family friendly. Budget and timeframe are also important factors when planning a trip because it is often cheaper to travel out of season, but some would rather spend more and travel during prime time.

Booking Flights

After choosing your destination, the next step is booking a flight. I recommend booking your airline tickets and other travel accommodations prior to booking a hotel because airline prices can dramatically change depending on what days you select to travel. When searching for flights, be sure to check airline carriers’ direct websites because they often have lower fares. Additionally, I recommend only paying for a direct flight if you are traveling with kids or have limited travel time. (Check back soon for another blog on tips for finding cheap flights)

Booking Other Accommodations

After you know what days you’ll be traveling, planning your hotel accommodations is another major travel expense. When searching for a hotel, consider hotels or apartments that offer full kitchen space. While the price may be higher, it will actually save you money because then you do not have to eat out for every meal. If you are traveling with kids, I recommend staying in a hotel or apartment that has separate bedrooms from the living space. If you are traveling solo or in a small group, consider staying in an AirBnB because they offer low-cost accommodations.

Planning a trip takes much more than these four steps — so check back soon for Part 2: Traveling Planning Tips!

Tonya Topel is an avid traveler and licensed travel agent located in Kansas City, MO. Check more of her travel tips or follow her on Twitter!

Originally published at on March 12, 2018.