Wednesday, December 29, 2010

try something new

In the spirit of the approaching new year, I'm trying to do a lot of posts on trying new things and exploring places outside of my comfort zone. (Hence, my previous post with an entire list of sites devoted to travel that I can use to pinpoint an exotic location as the focus of my next trip).

Here's another one to try out: www.wanderfly.com

You put in specific criteria like budget and timeline, then you can choose a specific location, or allow other filters to help narrow down your destination (like casino, eco, beach, and romance to name a few).

The site itself looks cute and well-made (not dorky or like a horribly cliche, ugly website - comic sans font anyone?) and there's even a blog if you want to learn more about the site (and travelling).

If only I had the riches to support my dream of a nomadic existence.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

50 travel sites you've never heard of

(... I've heard of a few of these - Kayak and TripAdvisor are two that I've spoken highly of)

www.luggageonline.com/50-travel-sites.cfm

Anyway, take a look. You might find something that perfectly suits your personal travel needs!

Cheers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

holiday travelling

Happy Christmas! (to the Santa lovers) and Happy Holidays! to the rest of you.

I personally avoid travelling during the holidays. I assume that traffic en route to the airport will be a huge hassle, airfares will be sky high, and there's always the risk of being grounded due to snow.

If you have to travel during this hectic season to go home, then your options will most definitely be limited and you may be forced to pay an arm and a leg to book flights. However, if you're just trying to book some sort of tropical getaway or ski bunny trip or if you're just trying to get your family out of the house, then here's something you can try.

I found a site that's similar to kayak called Sherman's Travel. It's basically a travel search engine but it gets a little more personal. There are a bunch of linked blogs with things like "Daily Deals" and "The Savvy Flyer" that help you find discounts. There are also travel guides and hotel reviews and trip ideas which can come in handy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Step #1

If you want to travel abroad, you will need a valid passport! So before you get your hopes up about going to the Congo or Thailand, make sure you are prepared. If you want to plan a trip immediately, there are rush options but that can get really expensive.

Passports typically expire 10 years after the date of issue. However, if your current passport is from when you were age 15 (or younger), realize that it expires 5 years from the date of issue.

Remember to check the passport rules for your destination. Some governments will not allow you to travel to their country unless your passport will be valid not only for the duration of your stay in foreign land, but a certain time period after date of entry or date of departure (typical is 3 months or 6 months).

Also keep in mind, some countries are "sensitive" about where you've traveled previously. For example, some African and Middle Eastern countries will deny you entry if you have been stamped in Israel, in which case, you would have to apply for a new passport (since you can't cover up the stamps or rip out pages from your passport).

If you are a frequent traveler and have filled up all of your passport pages, you can add extra passport pages. In South Africa, they require at least two blank stamping pages so you may need to order the extra pages.

Happy traveling!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

new destinations: Turkey

If you haven't tried stumbling yet, get to it! I stumbled across this lovely post this morning, featuring a cave hotel, the Yunak Evleri in Turkey. Gorgeous, isn't it?


View Larger Map

It's always fun to browse exotic places. I'm trying to make an effort to step outside of my "obsession zone." I don't really have a comfort zone when it comes to travelling (as I love it too much so I am more than comfortable with the idea of travelling in general) but I do tend to fall in love with particular destinations and get fixated on the idea of visiting those places over and over again. So cheers to my first post on an atypical (for me) location.

Friday, December 10, 2010

london

A cute site that helps you figure out what you should do in London depending on your mood.

http://ifeellondon.com/

hostels

During my month-long trip to Europe, my friend and I booked hostels to stay in (never hotels because we were too poor - so poor that we resorted to sleeping in the airport a bunch of times). We booked our hostels through Hostel World, a popular website with lots of reviews and cheap lodging. Of course, we also double-checked our choices on Trip Advisor, just in case.

Staying in hostels might seem creepy or scary (thanks to this little gem) but it's a great way to save money. Let's face it, when you're travelling (for leisure), you're not spending the bulk of your time in your hotel room! You're out and about, seeing the sights, taking photos, embracing new cultures; it makes perfect sense to settle for the minimal - all you really need is somewhere to sleep and somewhere to shower. So if you're young and flexible and are willing to step outside of your comfort zone a little, I recommend going through the hostel experience. I mean, hostels are great for a young crowd. Most only allow travelers from age 18 to 30 so you won't have any old people complaining to you to quiet down and you won't have babies crying at night to wake you up. Many also offer free breakfast (score!) and internet (yay!).

If you are a girl travelling alone and you are worried, keep in mind that many hostels offer female only accommodations (though they might be more expensive). My friend and I eased ourselves into the hostel experience by booking a girls only rooms (the Astor Museum Inn in London, Camden Place Hostel in Dublin, and St. Christopher's Inn in Paris). When we returned back to the UK the second time around, we booked a co-ed room (built for 10 people) and though we were prepared to be a little uncomfortable, we found that it was perfectly fine. None of our fellow travelling boys were creepy at all and everyone had a healthy attitude about sharing a space. In fact, we met a few Brazilian boys, one of whom was a photographer or director or did something with cameras. They were also on holiday, so we bonded over what our favorite sights were so far and the like.
One thing to note is that most hostels offer a locker system. The bulk of the places we stayed at had two wire basket drawers under each of the bunk beds (obviously one for each person occupying a bed, see photo). The drawers slid out from under the bed, and when you slid them back in, there was a convenient space for a lock. So bring a lock with you! I've read a few blogs recommending that you bring a few different-sized locks when staying in hostels, but I brought my regular gym lock and it worked fine everywhere we stayed.

If you want to read a few funny (and semi-horrifying) hostel experiences, check out the rest of the post after the jump!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

yotel

In the summer of 2009, I planned a mini break to Europe with my sister. On one of the nights of the trip, we were to arrive at London Gatwick Airport in the evening after midnight. We didn't want to be travelling around the (could be dangerous) streets of London with all of our luggage, as we were two tiny defenseless girls, so we looked at what options we had at the airport.

Enter the Yotel. It's basically a hotel but all of the rooms are v. compact and provide the bare essentials. We chose the standard size room (which can fit up to two people). One-third of the room was occupied by a bed that was slightly wider than a normal twin, which was built into the wall and lofted (with a TV also built into the wall at the foot of the bed). Another third of the room was the bathroom area, which was just glass partitioning, shower, toilet, and drain (so be aware that whoever you are sharing the room with can see you naked in the shower or using the toilet!). The third separating the bed and the shower was just a "hallway" if you want to call it that, or better yet, just a strip of floorspace where you could toss your luggage.

The benefit of staying at a Yotel is that you can pay by the hour. We booked our room from 2:30 (yes, in the morning) until 7:30 since we wanted to spend a full day out and about doing fun touristy things. The cost for 5 hours stay was £44.50, which is much cheaper than it would be to pay for a hotel room. And had we booked a hotel room, we wouldn't have gotten our money's worth since check-in is usually at 14:00 and checkout is usually at 11:00. It was a pretty perfect deal. It's also a good place to take a nap in between layovers, if you need it (though keep in mind, they only have three locations: London Gatwick, London Heathrow, and Amsterdam Schiphol).

The only horrible thing about our Yotel experience was that there was no hot water the night we stayed! We had to take cold showers (which were bearable only because it was summer time so the water wasn't freezing). Their customer service is superb though, because even though we didn't complain (we were too excited to be in Europe to whine about it) I received an email the following day that my credit card would be refunded 50% of what I'd already paid. Brilliant!

Monday, December 06, 2010

spring break: planning

To start the planning process, I used Google Map's 'My Maps' feature in order to mark popular tourist attractions, the location of our hotel, beaches, bars, nightlife, food, shopping and anything else of interest.

Here is a link to the map. I think this will come in really handy. Initially, we can mark anything and everything and then we can figure out what we definitely want to visit and what we can throw out. With bars and restaurants, we can check reviews to make sure we only go to the most fun, wallet-friendly places.
screenshot of our tropical vacation map

Friday, December 03, 2010

spring break: booked!

YES. So about an hour ago, my friend and I confirmed both our hotel reservation (on hotels.com) and our flights (on Priceline).

Our flights came out to $314.20 round trip, per person. We're flying from JFK to SJU (San Juan Airport) for 4 nights (5 days-ish) at the end of March. We will be staying at the Doubletree by Hilton San Juan for $588.08; it got awesome reviews on Trip Advisor (it's #1 out of 44 hotels in San Juan!).

The hotel is located about a mile from the beach, which isn't bad, and has a supermarket right across the street. That's perfect because the rooms have both a mini-fridge and microwave so we can save a lot of money by skipping restaurant food and just eating snacks in the hotel. There is free wifi, which is great, and they have the normal amenities like television, basic cable stations, and hair dryer. There's also a gym (which is reviewed as awesome) and a pool. It's going to be a relaxing and perfect vacation.

We don't plan on doing too much tourist-y stuff, but I'm sure that we'll see lots of fun shops and boutiques and attractions on our mile-long walk to the beach.

spring break

A friend and I are trying to plan a trip for "spring break." After a bit of research, we decided on Puerto Rico for the following reasons:
  1. The weather there is pretty mild all year long (warmth and sunshine!) and March falls out of their typical hurricane season (though many sources claim that tropical storms usually skirt the island and hit the U.S. instead so they don't really have a hurricane season at all).
  2. We don't have to convert any money. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. Territory, we can just bring our U.S. dollars and not have to worry about exchange rates and all that jazz.
  3. We don't need plug converters! The voltage and outlet shapes are the same as that of the U.S.
  4. Our cell phones will be usable!! We're definitely going to rely a lot on our hotel wifi, but it's comforting to know that we'll have cell phone service (without extra charges).
  5. The prices are right! We're struggling a bit right now because prices have gone up since our initial search, but they are still mighty low.
  6. It's tropical! AHHH! That's basically all we're looking for out of this trip. We want to be lazy and get skin cancer on a beach, while drinking cocktails out of hollowed out fruits and Puerto Rico fits that description.
Some tips on how we conducted our research. We did a bit of initial research on some destinations using Kayak (to see what areas seemed cheapest for this time period) and then did some package searches on Priceline to see what hotel + flight combinations seemed best. We then used Trip Advisor to get additional ratings and reviews on the hotels. Once we settled on a hotel and flight time, we then turned to other booking sites like Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, and Hotels.com to see how we could make the trip even cheaper. It turns out that hotels.com offers the hotel we chose at SUCH a low price that when combined with a normal flight booking on any of the other sites, it was still cheaper than the hotel + flight package deal (which is usually supposed to be the cheapest way to book a vacation).

I'll do a financial summary and posts on other research (like ground transportation and how to save money) once we have everything booked.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

it's electric!

When you travel abroad, chances are you'll encounter electrical outlets that are unsuitable for your electronics. Enter the plug converter thingy! These are awesome, cheap, and so useful. This particular one has pretty much every set up for every country you'll ever visit.

The only thing to note is that it doesn't convert voltage so if your equipment is sensitive to that, you'll need one of these, (or similar depending on what country you are visiting and the voltage in that country).
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