Travelling on a Budget

It is a beautiful day in Vancouver today – Sunny and warm in March. It makes me think about travelling and planning the next trip. When I backpacked in southeastern Europe a few summers ago, I was on a tight budget. I averaged spending $30 per day, which included accommodation, food, admission tickets, transportation, and anything else. Here are some tips if you are also a budget traveller.

Accommodation

Check out couchsurfing you haven’t heard about it yet. Simply put, it is a platform where you can find hosts in your destination cities to provide you a couch (or sometimes a bed) to crash for a few days. It is meant for culture exchange and meeting new friends from around the world. A word of caution that you need to be well planned. Some hosts requires you to give them at least a week’s notice. Last minute couch requests can be hard to find. If there comes a situation that you are looking for urgent couch requests, I recommend checking when was the last time they were online, which will indicate how fast they can get back to you.

On nights that I cannot couch surf or that I couldn’t plan so far ahead, I book hostels. From my personal experience, HostelBookers seems to give me the best rates. I look for a few things when I’m looking at hostels: 1) Price 2)  Free wifi and how reliable? 3) Reviews: what others say, ex: is there bedbugs? 4) Location: how convenient it is to city centre/touristic destinations/public transportation

When those requirements are somewhat met, I also look for 5) Is there free breakfast? 6) how many beds in the room and is there locker for your valuables? 7) helpfulness of staff

AirBnB is a great option if you are travelling with a group of friends, since you can rent an apartment/house together instead of living in a hotel.

Tip: try to set a “base” city that you will be staying for the next few days and going to the surround areas via public transportation or travel buses. It saves you the hassle of taking all your luggage with you all the time. Also, bigger cities = more accommodations = cheaper prices.

Food

I don’t advocate starving myself to save money. My rule of thumb is to have (at least) one good meal per day that I look forward to. I’d splurge once in a while and as a way of trying local food (unless they are cheap to start with).

On the meals that I’m taking care of my hunger, supermarkets are my best friends.  Some of them have ready-made food at affordable prices if you don’t cook.

Free Walking Tours

Many cities (especially in Europe) have free walking tours. You can find information online or they may have flyers at hostels. You will not go inside any buildings during the tour. I find them really helpful because it gives me a general idea of what’s to see in the city. Additionally, the tour guides (typically passionate volunteers) can give you advice on where to go base on your interest at the end of the tour.

I have never been a fan of travelling with a tour group. I’ve had bad experience with them even on the one day tours because they are always trying to make more money in one way or another. However, I had nothing but good experiences with these free walking tours. In Sofia, Bulgaria, I went on a free hiking tour to Mount Vitosha that was operated by an NGO that focus on promoting the “green-ness” of Sofia.

Transportation

I almost never took the taxi. Although I am horrible with directions, I walk when I can. Getting lost is part of the experience in knowing the place better. For longer distances, I opt for public transportation when available.

Numerous travellers had told me that they hitchhiked. It is a cheap alternative. Personally I have never tried this due to safety concerns.

If you are like me and you can sleep anywhere, take long distance travel buses at night for domestic travelling. It is not only less hassle than going to the airport and security etc, but it also saves you from booking accommodation for that night.

Tip: When I was going to Uzice, Serbia, the only hostel I can find (instead of a hotel that will cost me $100 per night) was 5km before entering into the city. I asked the bus driver to drop me off so I don’t have to get into the city and take a taxi back.

Cash is king

Check your financial institution for your debit and credit card fees abroad. Some banks charges more fees when you withdraw cash from ATMs abroad. In Australia, I opened an account with Citibank AU, which has no transaction fees when withdrawing money from any ATMs (unless the ATM charges extra fee)

Those are what I did to cut my cost down. What are your budget travelling tips?

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Travelling Solo: The Idea That Was Planted in Me Long before I Knew + Tips

In my younger years, my family always go on road trips at least once per year. I always looked forward to them and did plenty of research, despite the internet search wasn’t as good as 2014. The hours sitting in the car were never boring because of the nature outside the window. I really enjoyed the freedom to be able to stop anywhere we feel worth a second look.

In contrast, I never had a good experience in a group tour due to the enormous shopping stops in the itinerary and the illogical itinerary itself. They are so restricting in terms of where you can stay and for how long.

When I set out to travel on my own last year, many were surprised. I’d love to have a companion too, but there is no one free the same time as I did.  Since I’m determined to travel and against tourist agencies, I went on my own. It is inevitable.

Travelling solo means I have to go out there and meet people. After all, nobody can stand not talking to anyone for so long. Every traveller has a story worth sharing. It is such a great way to learn about the world.

I have met other solo travellers along the way and we all can agree that it was very gratifying to have the freedom of a loose itinernary. Let’s be honest, no matter how much research you do, you never know if you will like the place until you are there. I end up enjoying the old city of Ohrid (Macedonia) way more than I expected. So guess what? I stayed longer than I planned.

Some tips about travelling solo

Continue reading “Travelling Solo: The Idea That Was Planted in Me Long before I Knew + Tips”

Living in the Middle East as A Single Woman

Being a woman in an Arab country is not easy. Ask anyone (woman) who has been to the Middle East.

Before departing for Egypt, I did my fair share of research about being a solo female in the country. I can’t say it was presented in a positive way. I remember reading an article about a Canadian woman who met and married an Egyptian man. A few years after they were married, he left her because he got his Canadian citizenship. There were many comments for this article. Some commenters had similar experiences. (I’d provide a link to this article, but I can no longer find it)

 Siwa Oasis

Apart from such articles, we cannot ignore the fact that muslims can have 4 wives (more about this on another post soon). It didn’t take a lot of digging to find out that Egypt is a conservative country and men are sexually repressed because many couldn’t afford to marry until their late 30s.

Oh this was going so well. It seemed I was going to have a “lovely” time in Egypt, probably faint in between the hot weather and the need to wear long sleeves and jackets. Upon arrival, it is what I expected. Men would stare at me while I walked on the street, or waiting for the bus, despite the fact I was dressing conservatively. Cars passing by would honk at me. To this day, I still don’t know if they just want to catch my attention, or is this another type of flirting?

Egyptians are very curious people. They would stare at me just for being a foreigner. Not just any foreigner — an asian, they don’t see my kind very often. I was very envy of those foreigners from certain European countries, if they put on a headscarf, they can pass as Egyptians, and hence, less unwanted attention.

I have heard stories of unwanted touch in taxis or in the mall. Personally it did not happen to me, but I cannot speak for everyone. If I ignore the staring, the amount of verbal harassment is less than what I received back home in Canada (Save those stories for another time).

 Siwa

Fun fact: Walking down a street solo in downtown San Francisco recently, the homeless guys on the street said to me “Hey, thank you for being so beautiful. We appreciate it.” as I passed by. It reminds me of the days in Egypt. Harassment? It is not just a problem in the East.

Safety Tips:
  • Dress conservatively: wear something with short sleeves at least and something to cover up to your knees
  • Don’t smile at strangers: having a mean look on your face does help keeping them away
  • Avoid crowded places when possible (ex: take the next elevator up)
  • When taking taxi by yourself or walking in the dark, talk to a friend on the phone (if something happens to you, your friend can call for help)
  • Have male friends accompany you when possible

How to Make the Best Out of Your Snorkelling Experience

My relationship with swimming is complicated. I used to love it when I was a kid. Then one day in my early teenage years, I signed up for swimming lessons. Thanks to the instructor who made me swim 40 minutes non stop every lesson, I started to hate it from then on.

Photo credit: Richard Ling

Fast forward many years later, I started to go to the beach, snorkelling etc. After spent my early years in the pool, I was not used to swimming in salt water. It gave my eyes and nose this nasty feeling that’s hard to describe. Here are some tips I had collected over time.

1. Take motion sickness pills

I had to learn this the hard way. When I signed up for a snorkelling/scuba diving cruise at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, I didn’t think much about getting seasick. The important thing is that you must take motion sickness pills before you become seasick. By the time I feel dizzy on the cruise. It was too late to do any damage control.

2. Rent an undersea camera

Love taking photos and don’t wanna miss out underwater? Rent an undersea camera before you depart. Or buy a waterproof case for your camera.

3. Swim in salt water prior to your trip

It may seem redundant. If you are like me and not used to swimming in the ocean, a few seconds with your head in the salt water can be really discomforting. The trick is to get your feet wet beforehand! (Literally). Swim and let your head and body get used to it. After snorkelling every single day for a week, I found out I became more used to the water and can snorkel for a longer time.

Photo credit: Galen Piehl

4. Goggles

Pick goggles that’s not gonna leak. Before going down water, put the googles over your eyes and nose. When you inhale with your nose, you can check if there’s any air leaking out. Bonus tip: To prevent the goggles from “fogging up”, spit on your goggles before you put it on. (trust me, saliva works)

5. Fins vs. Shoes

Think about where your snorkelling is gonna be. If you are on a cruise, having fins will help you swim faster and see more of the underwater world. If you are going down the coral sea from the beach, the initial walk into the water will be cumbersome in fins. On the other hand, shoes will not only make it easier for you to go into water from shallow to deep, but they also help protect your feet from harsh surfaces like rocks, and species such as sea urchins that stings.

6. Read about what’s under the sea and what you might encounter

I once saw a lionfish while snorkelling. While I didn’t know what it was at the time, I swam away as fast as I could because it looked dangerous. Later on, I found out they are poisonous and I definitely did the right thing by “running” away.