June 22, 2015

How to Travel When You're Cheap and Not Rich

Istanbul 2013

If I had a dirham for every time someone tells me they wish they could travel the way I do, I'd be a rich girl.
To many folks out there, traveling seems way too expensive to be possible. I won't lie, I used to think the same way. What I've learned in the short time I've been traveling is that it can be a lot cheaper than you actually think. With the right planning and lots of patience, you can afford to embark on your own adventures.

I'm no a travel expert but I'm well cheap and not rich so when I travel I have to find deals. Admittedly, I'm no where close to perfect at finding trips for next to nothing, I've managed to do some traveling without having to resort to selling my blood or other valuables.
To my credit, I spend a lot of time cross checking and calculating and converting in order to find travel opportunities within my budget.

While I do travel more than the average person, I don't think I travel that much. I'm fortunate enough that my company provides a flight allowance at the end of the school year. The amount varies by return city. Sadly New York is often a cheap destination so my allowance isn't grand. Therefore, I have to start my ticket search early in order to get a good deal and be able to keep a little of that allowance in my pocket. I'm not always successful but believe me I try.

This summer I'll be stopping in Amsterdam on the way home to NY. Purchasing a multi-city ticket has been a great way for me to be able to visit a new country without breaking the bank. The four day stopover in Amsterdam compared to the ticket to NY which included a layover anyway, only increased my ticket price by a couple hundred dollars. That's definitely worth it because an independent trip to Amsterdam would be well over that.
In the past I was able to visit Paris by adding it as a stopover on the way home.
There are tons of airlines which now offer extended layovers to passengers so that they can explore new cities.
Check out this post over on Hopper to find out how to take advantage of a free stopover.

I also try to take advantage of travel opportunities I have during December and Spring Break. Unfortunately, my company does not give a flight allowance so I'm on my own. Womp womp

These are the times I really have to put some work in. Here are just a few tips to making travel a reality for you.

  1. plan early. I'm already thinking about where I want to go in December. The earlier I can book, the cheaper the tickets usually are. Last year I bought my ticket for summer in February. When I checked later, ticket prices went up by 300 dollars. Dodged that bullet.
  2. consider Asia. For the past two Christmases I chose Asia as my travel destination. It's so cheap and you can live like a royal if you so choose. Plus, you can easily country/city hop 'cause tickets are so cheap. 
  3. book multi-city. I know I mentioned it before but I'll say it again because it really does help to maximize your travel opportunities.
  4. use your miles. I have a credit card that gives me miles. My ticket to Vietnam only cost me a one hundred and eight dollars and my miles covered the rest. I just received an email saying that I have a free trip to several destinations because of my miles. Take advantage of cards that offers travel points or can convert to travel miles. Seriously, get them miles y'll. 
  5.  airbnb. is. awesome. You can save so much money by staying in someone's home and get to meet some really great people at the same time. I used airbnb to rent a whole apartment in Paris for a week in a fantastic location for a fraction of a hotel stay. 
  6. eat on the streets. I had most of my meals on the streets in Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. I found it to be much better and cheaper than paying too much for generic western food.
  7. drink local beer. sometimes you just need a beer. In some countries like Nepal and Vietnam, the local beer is dirt cheap and just as good if not better than the imported stuff. Freshly made beer at 16 cents a mug? Yes please and thank you. It's called Bia Hoi and you can find it Vietnam particularly in Hanoi.  

Those are just the things that have helped me. For more tips check out this awesome post from The Pin the Map Project. If you are interested in traveling, this is a great place to look for inspiration.


June 20, 2015

I Kissed a Sphinx and I Liked It

the sphinx and I

I've always wanted to see the pyramids. It's one of those things I dreamt about but never imagined could ever happen.
Moving half way across the world and being only a 4 hour flight from Egypt, the dream became more of a possibility.

My friend Rich and I had been toying with the idea of going to Egypt for a very long time but the chance never seemed to present itself. The timing and the money situation were never just right.
One lazy Saturday morning as we were sitting around his apartment, he said " let's go to Egypt next weekend". Naturally, I said yes. I mean what other choice did I have?

Flying over Egypt

It wasn't that things had magically fallen into place and presented us with copious amounts of money or time. It was rather, a decision to make some sacrifices in order to do something we'd both dreamed of. It meant no eating out for a while, no unnecessary shopping and spending a few hours on the internet searching for a good deal that wouldn't leave us completely destitute.

We booked a package on Expedia.com which included our flight and hotel for a little over 600 bucks a piece. We stayed at the Novotel El Borg which is across from the Nile river and a few minutes walk from the city center. There are definitely cheaper options but we chose a mid-scale hotel because we were familiar with the brand and the quality of service. We were not disappointed in the least. The room was clean and comfortable, the service was great and the breakfast buffet was really good. We made sure to take full advantage and it saved us a few bucks on meals.

A friend recommended a company that provided us with transportation and tour guide for a very reasonable price. It was less than 200 dollars for a personal driver for the three days we were there as well as our own tour guide.
I suppose it was a splurge to get a driver and guide but I highly recommend doing so. It helped eliminate a lot of the negatives of traveling in Egypt and made our trip very pleasant. We didn't have to deal with taxi drivers hassling us to ride with them or brave the public transportation system, which did not look fun at all.

Since we had such a short trip, we wanted to make sure that we did as much as we could. Our time was divided into a day touring Cairo and a day in Alexandria, the second largest city in Egypt.

In Cairo we went to see the pyramids which was one of the most surreal experiences I've had whilst traveling. I'm still processing and trying to find the words to articulate how cool it was to have this opportunity, so pardon me if my description is less than impressive. It's one of those experiences you must have personally to fully grasp the effect.
I never imagined that I would ever see or touch the great pyramids. Talk about a dream come true. Go early before it gets crowded with hikers and tour buses. We got there around 9:30 and it was practically empty. It felt like we were the only ones there which was so nice.

A quick stop in Coptic Cairo gave us a chance to see the hanging church and the Church of St. George. It was really interesting to learn about the religious history of Egypt.

Later on we stopped by Egyptian Museum. Our guide was definitely helpful in making the experience meaningful. A lot of the things we saw was put into context for us which enhanced our visit.

If you go to Cairo there is one place that you have to  must visit. It's a restaurant named Abo Tarik and it is said to have the best Koshary in Cairo. Koshary is a carbivore's dream. It's a dish made with rice, spaghetti, macaroni, lentils and chick peas. It is then topped with a tomato sauce and a fried onion and garlic mix. That is your meal right there. It's cheap, filling and yummy. The place gets so packed because everybody and their spirit animal goes there.


With our tour guide Chico

Attempting to do a yoga move on the side of the pyramid, while Rich cheers me on.

at the hanging church in coptic cairo
Alexandria was our stop on day two. It took us about 2.5 hours to get there. In Alexandria we visited the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa where we saw how bodies were buried hundreds of years ago. You will need a guide or the you'll miss the relevance and interesting details of this site.
A visit to the corniche is a must; it's a beautiful stretch of road with the Mediterranean Sea as its backdrop. This was the highlight of our visit to this historic city. It gets super crowded because this is where the locals hang out. It's a good place to sit and observe life unfolding.

To be honest, there isn't that much to see in Alexandria but if you want to get a break from the hustle and bustle of Cairo and you have the time, I think it's worth visiting. It's good to see another side of the country.

Outside the catacombs

The Mediterranean Sea behind me
he wanted to take a picture with me

I hope that I've inspired you to make your travel dreams a reality.
May your next destination be your best one.


June 18, 2015

A Lil' Update

Hello lovelies,
How's it hanging? I know I've been gone a long time but life has been a roller coaster ride for the past three months. The universe has righted itself and things are much better albeit not the way I thought they would be. My consolation is that I know God has a plan for my life and I have to just trust and wait on him to work it all out.

On to the good stuff...
I'm getting excited because summer break is right around the corner. This is the time of year every teacher anxiously awaits. I'm practically bursting out of my skin. Just a few more weeks left before I am officially on vacation for the next seven weeks.

I am especially excited because I plan on visiting a couple new places this summer.
On the way home to NY, I'll be stopping over in the Netherlands for a few days. The plan is to see Amsterdam, Harlaam and Zaanse Schanse. I really wanted to see Anne Frank's home as well but tickets are already sold out. They go so quickly!

At the beginning of August my mom and I are going to Mexico, wohoo. We'll be staying in the beautiful Playa Del Carmen for five days of relaxation. I can't wait for this trip. I plan to lay about by the pool, reading and being as lazy as I can manage to be.
I'm also uber excited becasue I will finally get to visit Tulum. I came across a pictures of the Mayan ruins years ago and I've been obsessed with going there ever since. It's on my bucket list of places to see and I'm so happy to be able to cross it off.

Cannot wait to share my experiences with you guys. Things should be less quiet around these parts. Time to get my blogging butt back in gear.
Smooches dahlings!