Saturday, November 17, 2012

We have a winner!!

Congratulations to Jessica H. - you won the Mall of America Shopping Experience from Operation Relax!! :) Thank you to all of my wonderful followers who entered. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 12, 2012

Small Business Saturday 2012!

Support your favorite small businesses and skip the big box stores!

This November 24th is Small Business Saturday®, a day to celebrate and support the local small businesses that boost the economy and invigorate neighborhoods across the country. In the United States, small businesses provide over half of the nation's employment - and that's no small feat!

Operation Relax is proud to take part in Small Business Saturday, and we’re encouraging everyone to Shop Small® here on November 24th. Plus, we’re having a special Small Business Saturday offer! Come meet owner Jess at local family-owned restaurant Crystal Jade for a Sandal's Resort seminar, where you can learn about how Sandals and Beaches resorts make the best vacations, sip $1 Mai Thai Martinis courtesy of Crystal Jade, and enter to win a beach prize pack. Gift certificates will also be available for purchase to help keep Operation Relax and Crystal Jade up and running throughout the holiday season. If you have a Facebook account, please also support our businesses by "liking" our Facebook pages and RSVP-ing to our event:
Operation Relax Facebook Page
Crystal Jade Facebook Page
Small Business Saturday Event RSVP

Even if you can't make it to our event, get out there, Shop Small, and let’s make this November 24th the biggest day of the year for small business.

To learn more, visit

Friday, November 2, 2012

Just in time for the Holidays - Mall of America Shopping Experience!!

It's hard to believe it's already November - which means in two weeks, I'll be graduating with my Master's of Science in Management from Bellevue University! Sorry about neglecting my blog lately but life has been a bit hectic to say the least. ;)

So let me kick off my return to the blog with a HUGE GIVEAWAY! How does a shopping experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN sound? Get your shopping done before the holidays and avoid the lines with this great prize pack!

One winner will receive : a $50 gift card toward a hotel stay in Bloomington when booked through Operation Relax; a 20 Years of Fun 2012 Mall of America Coupon book with hundreds of dollars worth of coupons and freebies; a 2012 Mall of America Map and Directory booklet; a coupon sheet and Mystery Ticket (good for one ride, a day's worth of rides, or a year's worth of rides - scanned at the counter to determine what you've won) for Nickelodeon Universe; a Minneapolis-St Paul Official Visitor's Guide; a Minneapolis Visitor Map; a Metro Transit Hiawatha Line rail schedule; and a Minneapolis luggage tag!!

What it does not include: transportation to/from Bloomington; transportation while in Bloomington; or the full hotel reservation, which you will still have to make depending on your preferences.

But it's still a huge gift! I'm only going to run this contest until my graduation on November 17th - then draw the winner as my graduation gift! So spread the word and let everyone know that this is a limited time offer.

Good luck and happy holidays!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Business Goods Giveaway!

I figured it's about time for another great giveaway - and boy do I have a doozy for you all! :) I was recently approached by a wonderful guy named Nathan that noticed I like to purchase business promotional products, and he asked if I would give his companies a try. Since I'm always on the lookout for a good deal, I didn't hesitate to say yes! His companies include Magnets on the Cheap, Signs on the Cheap, and Easy Canvas Prints. I ordered two car magnets, two yard signs, and a canvas from him, and here's what I thought of the products:
Magnets on the Cheap Car Magnets
I loved how the site was easy to use, though I felt a bit limited by their templates. I didn't have time to play around with the features much, but I think that if you are a creative type you could probably just create your own design and it would be great. The prices seemed very reasonable and comparable to who I usually purchase through. When they arrived, I was impressed by how sturdy they were - usually the magnets I order tend to be a bit on the flimsy side.
Signs on the Cheap Cheap Signs
Once again, the site was straightforward and easy to use. I had a little more time when I ordered these, so I played around and actually used their clipart and some designing to create my own sign templates that were fun and colorful. The pricing once again seemed to be at the industry average - but when I received them, I realized one important thing: through this site, you have to order the sign stands separately! I had assumed the signs would just automatically come with stands (as they do with my current sign supplier) so now I have two gorgeous signs and no way to display them until I get in there to order the stands for them. :( You live, you learn! So if you want to order signs, make sure to order the stands as well.
Easy Canvas Prints Photos On Canvas
I loved the various options and sizes to choose from - even within sizes there are options for wrapping the image on the sides of the canvas or having it painted or blank... just lots of options! The site was easy to use, and it was hard to narrow it down to just one picture. That being said, I had a whole TON of problems finding an image that worked for them! I put my order in, and got a message letting me know the image wasn't the right quality. So I sent another; that also got rejected. This happened two more times - even with pictures that were the best quality I had available! I'm someone who mostly uses the camera on my phone (which, by the way, is better quality than the older digital camera we own) so I ran into a lot of problems. I finally just ended up going to Flickr and finding an incredible image by a great artist and using it (and yes, it's legal because I'm not selling it and I'm giving the artist full credit for it). So I will say that it's a little bit of a pain if you don't own what they would consider to be "high quality" images! However, the site was the best out of the three - it was even integrated with Facebook and Twitter, and had options for winning a giveaway with them. I plan on doing a giveaway in the future to allow one of my lucky readers the chance to win this fun canvas print!

Now that you've read about my experiences, it's time for YOU to get the chance to try out these great businesses! :) There will be a whopping FOUR winners for this giveaway: one will win a $50 gift card to Magnets on the Cheap; one will win a $30 gift card to Signs on the Cheap; one will win a FREE 8x10 Canvas with an image of their choice on it; and one will win a $40 gift card to Banners on the Cheap (who I didn't review, but I'm sure they have great items!) Banners.

Enter away! You have until August 31 to enter, and several of these entries can be done daily. Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's a Christmas in July Sale!!

That's right - you no longer have to wait until the last minute to get the perfect gift for a loved one in your life - send them on vacation! :) Book travel anytime between now and midnight on August 1st, 2012 and receive the following gifts:

- Book and fully pay for any type of travel for 2012 or 2013, receive a free mystery gift!
- Book and make the first deposit for any type of travel in 2013, receive a free mystery gift!
- Book and deposit any Celebrity Cruise sailing in 2012, receive a free mystery gift PLUS an onboard savings coupon book worth over $200!
- Book and put down a deposit of at least $100 for the Bookish Babes in the Bahamas cruise in May of 2013 to receive one eBook or hard copy book from each of the following authors: Coral Russell, Teri Guiliano Long, Heather Huffman, and Monica Leonelle - great for reading before you go on the cruise to meet the authors themselves! Plus you will receive a FREE listing at if you are the owner of a book review blog or author blog, AND you will get a free eBook copy of Jessica Buike's short story Twin Rivers AND you will receive a free mystery gift!

Plus, EVERY BOOKING ENTERS YOU TO WIN A $50 GAS GIFT CARD!! No limitations - each individual booking will enter your name into a random drawing to win a $50 gas gift card. There will be ONE winner for this special gift.

Hurry and get in on this great offer while you can - visit to get started building your dream vacation today!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Travel Laws That May Surprise You

Today, I stumbled upon a really interesting article that I thought was worth sharing. While most of us who travel frequently are aware that there are different customs in different places, I doubt many of us would realize that there are some hefty fines out there related to strangely particular laws!

The article (which you can read by clicking here) shares laws related to swearing ($250 fine), using Silly String ($1,000 fine) and even hunting Bigfoot ($1,000 fine or five years in prison!).

If you'd like to see more strange laws, check out the Dumb Laws website.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Group Opportunity - Bookish Babes in the Bahamas 2013

I'm very proud and excited to officially announce a unique and amazing vacation opportunity to all book lovers - BOOKISH BABES IN THE BAHAMAS 2013!!

That's right - a cruise by book lovers, for book lovers. :) It's a 5 day cruise to the Bahamas aboard the Carnaval Ecstasy leaving Port Canaveral, FL on May 11th, 2013!!

Not only that, but the cruise will have some very special guests: Coral Russell, Terri Guiliano Long, Monica Leonelle, and Heather Huffman - four amazing female authors! There will also be a variety of great book bloggers present.

To find out more, just head on over to:

I can't wait to see you all in the Bahamas next year!! And don't forget about my Shades of Summer Giveaway - you'd look amazing sporting those Ed Hardy frames on the cruise ship! ;)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Win a Trip to Disney for Four!!!!

Obviously, I'm a bit of a travel nut, so I'm always on the lookout for a good deal or giveaway. Today while catching up on reading some blogs that I follow, I found a link to this great contest where you could win a trip to Disney for 4!

It might seem counter-intuitive to share this with you, since obviously I work off of commissions by selling travel. But I firmly believe that everyone deserves a fantastic vacation - and that if you go somewhere and love it, you will do everything you can to try and find a way to do it again! :)

Anyway, so Mr. Food (who is a hilarious guy to watch, if you aren't familiar with him) is doing a contest where he's giving away a trip to Disney for 4, including airfare and hotel and park tickets. To enter, just click here!!

Good luck - and if you don't win, you can still get to Disney by booking through me. :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Shades of Summer Giveaway!

It's officially summer - at least here in the US - so my giveaway this month will help you celebrate in style! The winner will receive an authentic pair of Ed Hardy frames with it's matching sunglasses case - a value of over $150!! The frames are classic black, with black lenses, and have bulldogs on the sides. There is a tiny imperfection at the top of the right lens frame where the black has rubbed off, but otherwise these are in pristine condition and never worn! The case is handstiched leather with roses on the top and right, and a skull on the left. There is also an Ed Hardy cleaning cloth and small Ed Hardy booklet. How do you win these sweet frames? Just enter below - the contest runs from June 3rd to June 30th! If you'll notice, anything related to my travel agency Operation Relax is worth more entries... just sayin'... ;) Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vacation Photos - Being Legal While Having Fun!

It may not surprise you that in this age of chronic suing, you need to be more careful than ever while snapping photos on vacation. We all want lasting memories from our time away from home, but it would be preferable if they were of the fun on vacation, NOT being sued because we took a picture with a famous cartoon character!

When it comes to taking photos on vacations, there are a few basic guidelines that you should consider following:

1) If you are in a private place, or a place that has explicit signs indicating that photos are not allowed, DON'T DO IT!
2) If you are in a public place and there are no signs that say otherwise, DO IT!
3) Be careful where you post and share - some sites have specific rules about copyrighted images (such as that popular cartoon character at your favorite theme park) while other sites might get you fired (like this case of a teacher who posted to her private Facebook page).

To read more about this topic, I suggest the following articles: Know Your Rights, Legal Limbo, and Photo Law.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Favorite Female Authors?

For those of you who also follow my book blog, you know that I have a deep obsession with books. When I'm not busy working, or traveling, or doing the menial everyday things that we all have to do (such as pay bills and cook dinner), I'm often reading a book!

I have nothing in stone yet, but I am working on putting together a group travel opportunity next year that will involve current female authors! Anyway, so that got me thinking about my favorite female authors that are still alive today. I couldn't possibly list them all here (and it'd be pretty boring for you travel types that aren't bookish), but there is definitely a sizeable list of fantastic female authors out there.

What are YOUR favorite current female writers? Anyone you would love to meet in person? What location would be ideal to meet these authors?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Travel News - Celebrity Cruises Updates Ships in MAJOR Way

Celebrity Cruises recently underwent a big makeover - actually, a HUGE $140 million makeover! Their ships are being enhanced to include great new features, including luxury bedding, a new luxury cabin class, an ice-topped martini bar, and the industry's first Apple Reseller store right on ship!

Yep, that means you can bring your iPod and it will be able to be hooked up in your room, or you can buy a new iPod right there onboard!

The extensive makeovers have been completed over the course of just two years, and the last makeover just got completed on Saturday, May 12th.

You can check out a great video of one of the makeovers below:

Want to check out one of their amazing ships? There are cruises starting at $499 for Alaska, $899 for the Mediterranean, $799 for Bermuda, and many more all still available in June!! :)

As an added bonus, if you decide to book through me any time for the rest of 2012, I will give you an onboard coupon booklet with discounts and free items valued at over $100!! Check out the great options with Celebrity Cruises today!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Adventures of the West by Disney Adventures

I saw this video today and just had to pass it along! You can discover the untamed spirit of North America by participating in either the "Southwest Splendors" or "Quest for the West" adventures, and visit everything from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone National Park. This video says more than I could - watch and learn more:

The Value of Continuing Education

This last week I had the amazing opportunity to get together with a bunch of other travel agents and attend various seminars put on by fantastic vendors. I learned so much - and really overwhelmed myself at points! I attended sessions with such great vendors as Royal Caribbean, Funjet, Karisma Properties, Apple Vacations, and more.

That kind of experience is what makes me a better travel agent. I may not know everything about everything, but I am always willing to put in the time and money to learn more. It's also another reason why you should always consider booking through a travel agent, even if you choose to go with a competitor rather than me - we are here to help YOU. Your basic discount websites aren't here to help you, they are here to help themselves. There aren't any personal touches, and if something goes wrong you will be lucky to speak to a live person.

Travel agents, on the other hand, spend their time learning and working for YOU. We can recommend trips that will suit YOU personally, and are always willing to go the extra mile. Actually I take that back - 99% of us are like this. You may occasionally run into the 1% who aren't excited about what they do. But for the most part, we are all here to make your experience the best.

I know that most of you are probably not travel agents, but no matter what your job, you should always be willing to continue to learn and grow. It makes you better at what you do, and benefits your clients as well.

You may have noticed in my last post that I mentioned a contest through my Facebook page. It's just one more way I want to benefit YOU - rather than spending my advertising on some typical banner ads, I'd rather interact with you one on one in my Facebook page, so I'm spending those dollars to directly benefit YOU! One of you will win a $10 gift card just by "liking" my page. No gimmicks, no "click here and then be redirected through a bunch of advertisements," no popup ads. Just a simple, straightforward way to get to know you and to allow you a chance to win. If you'd like to learn more, click here to go to my last post.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Want a $10 gift card?

I love Facebook, and I especially love sharing travel related information on my Facebook page. Thus, I'm doing a giveaway for "Likers" of my Facebook page!

For this entire month, everyone who "Likes" my Facebook page ( gets entered to win a FREE $10 gift card! Plus, for each "Liker" you refer, just post a message with their name in it and I will enter your name an additional time!

To paraphrase a current credit card commercial, who wouldn't want free money? :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Avid Travelers Should Join Luxevo!

As a newly minted travel agent, I wanted to take a few minutes to sing the praises of an incredible program called Luxevo. Luxevo is a rewards program with a one-time membership fee and a small monthly fee, and in exchange the member gets amazing vacation deals (an example would be a trip to Las Vegas for three nights in a 4 star hotel with roundtrip airport transfers for only $282) along with a personal 24/7 concierge service, exclusive coupon deals (similar to BigCrumbs or CouponBug), daily hot deals (similar to Groupon or LivingSocial), and they earn LuxPoints which can go toward their next vacation! PLUS, every member that refers someone else who joins gets a $100 referral bonus, so just referring one friend who signs up covers the membership fee for the Club membership! Your cash rewards are unlimited, so there's never a cap as to how many referrals you earn!

If you are someone who vacations regularly, or who wants to travel more, this is definitely the program for you. You are going to find deals that are unbeatable in value and find dream vacations for far less than what you would normally pay (and a whole lot less hassle, too!). There are two levels of membership: Club and Elite. Club memberships include: LuxCursion vacation packages; flexible vacation LuxScapes; your own Certified Luxevo Travel Agent (that's me!); 24/7 access to your personal concierge; LuxPoints reward program where you earn 1 LuxPoint for every $10-20 spent on trips which you can redeem for future travel; Last minute deals (similar to Groupon or LivingSocial Deals); Advantage Rewards program discounts; refer a friend reward program; a 30 day money back guarantee; and no contracts or commitments. The Elite package offers everything that the Club does along with: exclusive elite-only LuxCursions; access to hotel elite resorts and spas; access to culinary collection sailings; and access to vacation vignettes.

Pricing is very simple: Club memberships are a one-time enrollment fee of $99 plus a low monthly membership fee of $19.95; Elite memberships are a one-time enrollment fee of $149 and a low monthly fee of $29.95.

To learn more, or to join, just go to and use the agent referral number 20028220 (aka member referral number).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Car vs. Plane Travel for Long Trips

For the last week, I spent a considerable amount of time on a road trip with my husband's family - his parents and his brother's wife and three children. His grandfather had passed away, and we all wanted to attend the funeral to mourn and to show our support for his grandmother as she transitions to widowhood.

We had two options - we could fly down to Florida from Nebraska, which would have taken about half a day but cost twice as much upfront, or we could drive down there which would take 24 hours (two 12-hour days of driving plus food/fuel breaks) but would cost half as much upfront.

Since we hadn't planned on a trip any time soon and thus didn't have any extra money saved up, and since his parents really wanted everyone to carpool to save costs, we went with driving.

Now that I am back home, I have a recommendation - fly, especially if you have small children traveling with you!! Flying, while more expensive in the short term, would have saved us a lot of other costs (fuel, food, hotels) and a whole pile of stress in the long term. The children had a terrible time being cooped up in the car, despite our filling their time with various games and distractions. There were plenty of short fuses and arguments, and the hotels had to be cheap to avoid racking up costs so they weren't great (in fact, the one we had to spend the most time in was another point of argument and hassle). Additionally, the youngest child wasn't feeling very well, and had we been able to only spend half a day traveling, he would have had some time to get to feeling better in the hotel room rather than spending two days cooped up in a car only to have to turn around two days later and spend another two days in the car. So we had to deal with a very cranky child, who then caused most of the rest of us to feel sick as well.

Plus, my husband and I ended up having to get a rental car just to make sure we had something reliable in which half of us fit, and that cost us just as much as it would have cost us just to pick up a couple of plane tickets and staying in a hotel for an extra night! That caused further arguments due to the fact that it wasn't our car so we had to be extra careful about allowing the children to do anything messy in the car.

You always want to look at every angle when you travel - it may be that the option you think would be more costly will save you more money (and sanity) later on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why use a travel agent? Let me tell you!

In this age of digitized everything, you might find yourself wondering why you should even bother going through a travel agency like mine. That's a totally valid question!!

Let's get one thing straight- we aren't out to steal your money. In fact, most times using a travel agent doesn't end up costing you anything extra! My job is to find you the best bang for your buck, and that's what I'm dedicated to do.

I can also give you expert guidance and advice, helping you to find the best places to visit. You don't have to spend hours researching and wading through a million ad-strewn sites to figure out your vacation itinerary. You can sit back and let me do the work! This will save you time, which these days can be a much-valued commodity.

Your trip will be personalized. You don't need to wonder about if your reservation is just floating out there in the web-o-sphere or if it actually went through. You'll get your reservation details and regular communication so you stay in the loop, and you get to know you are dealing with a real person, not a bot.

It's not all about booking, it's also about the things that can happen while on vacation. Though it doesn't happen often, occasionally you may find yourself in a situation where you want someone to be your advocate. At that time, you'll be happy you have a travel agent like me in your corner! Before I was an agent, I actually ran into a circumstance where an online booking that I made through a jumbo discount site was misrepresented, and I showed up to a smoking room on the top floor despite my booking of a non-smoking, main floor room. I fought for hours, and finally was able to get to a resolution, but it really disrupted the whole beginning of our vacation (and led to a situation where my Border collie ripped apart my sister's guest room, but that's a story for another time!).

Our loyalties lie with YOU, not the suppliers. If you're looking for a Holiday Inn, I'm not going to sell you a Hilton. You want Italy, I'm going to get you there, not France.

Finally, I offer something that most agents don't - a social focus. Every time you book through me, you are allowing me to put money aside to help send low income families and couples on vacations and honeymoons! Everyone deserves a dream vacation, and your travel can help make that a possibility for someone else. :)

Don't forget - you don't even have to talk to me if you don't want to! You can always book travel through my site if you prefer online booking. Just head to .

If you'd like more tips on why you should use a travel agent, you should check out this amazing list on Tripology. To show I'm not biased, I'd also recommend this article on the four times when you shouldn't use a travel agent.

Happy travels!

Monday, April 9, 2012


I personally just love to dive right in when it comes to work - and I couldn't think of a better way to dive right in than to host a giveaway right away!

This giveaway ties in to my other blog, where I am currently nominated for an Independent Book Blogger Award. In order to complete the first entry for the giveaway you must vote for me (Author Jess) on Goodreads. After that, it's "smooth sailing" and you can pick and choose what you would like to do!

The prize? A travel prize pack that includes a $50 gas gift card!!

The giveaway runs April 10-23, and is for U.S. residents only. Good luck!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Welcome to Operation Relax!

It's been a whirlwind of activity since I finally took the leap and moved forward with my travel agent training and opened my own agency, Operation Relax!!

I've always wanted to do something that mattered, and after much soul-searching (and web-searching), inspiration hit while on vacation - I knew how much a vacation benefited my life, and I wanted to make sure that everyone had the opportunity for a similar chance to relax! So I did my homework, and decided to open a travel agency dedicated to just that. :)

Operation Relax is a small travel agency with a dedication to donating 10% of our earnings directly into a fund that will be used to send low income families and couples on vacations and honeymoons. It's as simple as that!

I launched the website yesterday - - and today worked on some more certifications and paperwork, including ordering some business cards!

What will you find here on the blog? Details on everything travel related, from what to pack to where to go! I will also share deals that I am running, and personal stories from my travels and experiences.

If you want to know more about me outside of my job as a travel agent, feel free to check out my other blog - AuthorJess - where I share book reviews, book previews, Booksy, and other things related to my extreme obsession with reading and writing books!

Thank you for taking the time to check me out!