This is my checklist on how to ensure that I'm prepared to have the best flight possible.
Huge disclaimer: This is most likely... scratch that... THIS IS more than you need to pack. I am an over-packer. It's my sin to bear.
Mama recently gave me a suggestion that I've been meaning to try that I'm sure I won't regret: pack a face mask and wear it halfway into your flight. It will hydrate and moisturise your skin, and make you feel more relaxed and cool during your flight. Can't wait to try it out!
To be completely candid, I've never stayed at a hostel. Call me high maintenance; call me whatever the heck you want but I couldn't get myself to stay at a hostel without paranoia creeping into my head about getting taken, getting mugged, or getting some STD. I'd rather have paid an extra $15 a night to stay in a private room at an AirBnB with a good local who just needed extra cash and doesn't speak any English.
Although I've actually never stayed at a hostel, I've heard both good and bad stories. Some of the better ones about people who've made friends such instant connections that they ended up traveling elsewhere together and continue to stay in touch to this day... and some of the worse ones being that the quality of the hostels were so bad that they came back with endless bed bugs and having to cancel certain plans on their trip to deal with it.
I think hostels are a decent option for people who are young, love backpacking, on a budget, and love meeting new people while traveling.
My biggest tip when it comes to hostels, is read through reviews to get a gist of the hostel's policy, vibes, and experiences. You can read through reviews on TripAdvisor or HostelWorld.
There are such things as a 5-star Hostel- they do exist! And based on the city or country, the standards of a given hostel can vary tremendously, as can the price of an AirBnB or hotel there, so I recommend looking at all of your options for that city before going straight to book a hostel.
Beware of bed bugs at hostels
Couchsurfing is a social networking website that connects travelers with local residents. Local residents can put up their couch, space, or room up for travelers to rest their head at night. It's always free, although it's etiquette for you to get your host a little something to say thank you.
Both guests and hosts verify their identity through personal information and Facebook, and reviewed as layers of safety. You create a profile for your trip (dates, what you'll be doing, etc.) for the host to read and know more about you. You can also see host's profiles and filter them (gender, languages spoken, pets, etc.) so both parties can be selective and even communicate with one another to see if the match would be a good fit.
the bottom line
You're choosing a budget option for travel so you can't be picky. Don't expect much privacy, space, or luxury when it comes to these options.
Better alternative option is finding to stay with, even if it's like a friend of a friend, at least you have that mutual connection, and free housing.
if you have the money, just stay at an airbnb or hotel. Find my comparison post here.
Disagree with me? Add comments below. :)
Taking a red eye or international flight is always really difficult on the body, especially if you're flying on that poor man's budget on basic economy. You want to make sure your body is well rested during the flight so you're not paying for it when you're traveling. I've heard of too many horror stories of my friends not having good flights and jet lag ruining their trips, or other friends who didn't take care of themselves on a 11 hour flight that got them sick for days.
Here are my tricks when it comes to mastering these flights:
Do what makes sense for you! Maybe you're not so sensitive to your surroundings and just need a good pair of headphones and good music. Whatever those things are, figure out what makes you comfortable to that your body is well-rested, and ultimately that you make the most out of your travels!
Brunch @ St. Ali Roasters. First time having coffee in Australia and probably in a good six months! Coffee was splendid. For food, I ordered buttermilk pancake. Two pancakes with fudge, berries compote, and hardened brown sugar. Super good but super filling.
Spent the rest of the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. Kind of like a farmers market, tons of craft and good stands, sectioned off by category. I was also treated with a cool performance from a band called Amistat, made up of two talented twin brothers. Find them on Spotify and give them a listen!
I lunched alone at Wonderbao where I ordered the pork belly + fried chicken. The pork belly was really underwhelming but the fried chicken was good.
Then took the tram to the Royal Botanical Gardens to visit the Shrine of Remembrance, which was stunning. Beautiful architecture and beautiful view. It reminded me of the memorials in DC (and I mean that in the best way possible). If I had more time, I would have loved to walk through more of the botanical gardens.
I headed back north into the main city centre to meet friends at Rooftop Cinema. No movie the night I went so there was no cover charge, which was nice. It's a super hip rooftop bar with seating, and bleachers covered in turf, with the type of music kids in their early 20s would listen to. I should've hated it, but I loved it. Tough luck that it rained about 5 minutes after I got my drink so I had to down it and run over to dinner in the rain. It's definitely on my places to go for next time though. Unfortunately I don't have any good photos to share, but take a look at their Yelp page. Highly recommended!
Dinner was at Burma Lane, obviously Burmese food. I saw good reviews online but there weren't that many people in the restaurant so it got me nervous. We ordered the tea salad, which was probably the best dish (but not the best tea salad I've had); the cheeseburger dumplings, were basically dumplings filled with beef and cheese, but really did taste like a cheeseburger haha; the noir noodles which were solid; and the beef brisket bao, which was salty and probably too much for us. It was okay, not the best meal in Melbourne but I suppose it was worth a try and my friends enjoyed it enough.
We started our day early with a breakfast stop at Baker D.Chirico. Every pastry and bread on the menu was phenomenal. My friends claimed it was the best bakery. It indeed was one of the best. It's a hidden gem of Melbourne that not too many people know about, thank goodness. I ordered a chocolate croissant and bombolini. You wouldn't think there isn't much of a quality different in chocolate croissants, but there is. It was perfection. The bombolini is basically like a filled donut, but fancy. It was filled with lemon zest and vanilla and the flavors were perfect, too. I probably enjoyed the bombolini much more just because of the flavors.
Then spent some time walking around the South Melbourne Market, where I walked around the stalls and stores, and ate yummy oysters.
We made our way towards the Great Ocean Road, which is basically like the PCH with the ocean on one side and a great forest on the other. It's an absolutely beautiful drive! I got to see the 12 Apostles, Loch and George, and the London Arch. We reserved an AirBnB in Torquay. On the road, I got to see a wild pademelon(I think) crossing the street, and signs for kangaroos (like the ones we have for deer). You'd have to get a hire car, unless you go with a tour company, but it's so worth the drive and seeing the more nature-y, beautiful side of Australia!
Melbourne Transportation Card: myki. My most common method of transportation using this card was tram. Be careful when getting off! Some of the trams let you off in the middle of the street near lanes cars can come in. By law, they need to yield to you but it's also good to look both ways. PS Australia drive on the other side of the street, like the UK.
Weather was HOT! I definitely wore my most summery items in my suitcase. Like Sydney, it wasn't humid which was nice. I feel like it was dry, if anything.
Find my Map here!
My wonderful hosts, Grace and Martin, used to host guests at their place via AirBnB + they're designers so it looks super hip.
I spent my first morning at a juicery called Urban Projuice and ordered an acai bowl. Met a lovely lady, a new mother, who gave some additional recommendations and shared some insight on motherhood.
Since I was in South Melbourne, I took the tram into the city centre and started my tour at Federation Square. Went through St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Treasury Gardens, the Old Treasury Building, and through some of the larger streets of Melbourne. I found a cute shop called Melbournalia that was full of local crafts and goodies! I bought these hilarious greeting cards that featured puns made from the various Melbourne train stops.
Lunch was at Chin Chin, probably the most anticipated restaurant on my trip. It's mostly Thai fusion, although I did see more Asian influences. I had seen it featured on tons of websites, and was recommended by multiple friends. Confirmed by three people that "everyone on their menu is good." I can honestly say: confirmed. We ordered the pat see ew, the crab fried rice, and barramundi salad. To my surprise, the barramundi salad was my fav. It was incredibly flavorful and delicious and I'm craving it now that I'm thinking about it.
I continued my self guided walking tour through Swanson St, Bourke St, Block Arcade, Royal Arcade, Walk Arcade... basically just a bunch of "arcades" AKA shopping centres haha.
One thing I love doing before I travel is looking for local events to the place I'll be visiting. To my luck, there was a night noodle market happening (free admission, woot woot). I've realised early on in my travels is that traveling alone doesn't give you the benefit of ordering multiple things on a menu and sharing it. Thus, I was limited to ordering just one item at the market. There were three different sections of the market, and I probably walked through each section at least twice to make sure my decision was the right one. I ended up getting the Oz Special Yakisoba(which means it had egg on it) from a Teppanyaki place. The portions were so big I ended up refrying it the next morning for brunch.
I spent half the day wandering around Fitzroy, which was supposed to be the hip, grungy neighbourhood of Melbourne. I visited a great deal of stores, but to be honest, I didn't find Fitzroy to be as amazing as people made it sound. Some of my friends went back because they didn't get to see everything, but I ended up finishing earlier than expected, which was kind of a bummer.
I did get to eat at a restaurant in Fitzroy called Alimentari. We ordered a small salad (which is basically a sampler because you're able to choose 3 salads from the menu) to share. The veal and pork meatballs over polenta seems to be the most popular dish on the menu, so we ordered that, of course. I also ordered the meatball wrap(panini pressed), which was freaking bomb. It was actually my favourite from everything. For dessert, we ordered a few items off the bakery menu and they were delicious! I highly recommend this restaurant, particularly the meatball wrap!
Since I finished Fitzroy early, I decided to go back to the city centre. I got to visit the State Library of Victoria, which was gorgeous. There were plenty of tourists and as well as people actually trying to read and study. The state library had plenty of beautiful reading rooms, a museum, air conditioning, and free wifi.
Next was exploring the shopping malls of Melbourne: Emporium + Melbourne Central. One of the items on my bucket list for Australia was to buy myself some jewelry. To my luck, I found a shop with jewelry that I might like. Looked around and fell in love with their items. I ended up buying myself a ring and gifted a dainty necklace for a friend. By the way, the store's name is Francesca if anyone is looking for some new nice jewelry!
I made a pitstop at Shortshop Donuts and got their Australian honey and Sea Salt. It was good, but too soft for my liking. It looked like a churro so I thought it’d be crunchy but it wasn’t... I would, however, go back to try another donut next time.
Later that night, I walked along the boardwalk of St. Kilda and made my way to il Casio ii for dinner, a very authentically Italian restaurant. We ordered the quattro formaggi pizza, and the mushroom pizza, a salad, and their house wine. I'm the type of person that will happily eat mushroom pizza but never really order it on my own will so I was worried about what the mushroom pizza would taste like. But to my surprise, it was spectacular. Easily the best mushroom pizza I've ever tasted.
We made it back to St. Kilda Pier in time for penguin watching. I've seen penguins at the zoo, but never in the wild so I was curious to see what this experience would be like. The penguins go out during the day to feed and come back around sunset. I saw a few of them coming in but they were pretty hard to spot at first. Once the sun went down, a bunch came riding in to the sand and would hid in the rocks. Some of the more confused ones would actually end up on the pier where people were so we got to see them upclose. There were some volunteers there with red flashlights to spotlight penguins, as well as sharing useful important regarding the penguins. I thought it a miracle that Melbourne even lets us see them so close, without putting up stricter borders, though I'm sure that would change if someone were to do something very foolish... My opinion is that it was mating season because I heard a lot of... noises from the penguins, and would see the male penguins running up against the back of a female penguin and then running away. It was quite entertaining. My friends said they've been a few times but never saw this many penguins so I count myself lucky. It was definitely a memorable experience and so happy to see this live for free!
Sydney transportation card: Opal card, prepaid loading card. Top up at any station, most convenient stores, or even online!
Sydney has lots of buses but a train system that has no name.
The weather was hot, but at least not humid. The sun really was scorching- I could feel my shoulders burn. It would randomly sprinkle from time to time, just enough to make you feel uncomfortable but not enough to put in effort to prep yourself for both weathers.
Random tidbit: Lots of places seemed to be closed on Mondays, and close early in general, so do check hours before making a trek someplace.
Find my Map here!
Arrived @ SYD in the early morning. Shout out to Nancy who woke up super early to meet me at the airport. We took the train with a car full of students on their way to school in all of their cute uniforms.
For brekkie, Nancy made me toast with Vegemite. It was not what I imagined. Going in, I knew people usually love it or hate it. Nancy describes it as burnt soy sauce. She is accurate. Needless to say, I wasn't a huge fan and I didn't take any home with me.
We went about our day to explore the grand city of Sydney. Stopped by The Australian Heritage Hotel for some Australian pizza. We ordered half kangaroo meat and half emu meat. I've had a Kangaroo burger in the past (in London) and remember it being quite juicy and delicious, but the kangaroo on the pizza was unexpectedly gamy, although the emu did taste flavorful and well.
We continued our tour through CBD, ate some dessert at Gelato Messina. I always do the same thing at any gelateria: sample like 4 flavors and end up getting nocciola (hazelnut). Gelato Messina is a popular (well-deservingly so) chain, with plenty in Sydney and Melbourne, both.
Inside QVB, a sign caught my attention: 40% off. I walked into the store, and just about everything inside was cute. I took a few more steps in and a wall of beautiful colours and patterns caught my attention; signature duffels with the store's logo on both sides, and perfectly sized to fit in an oversized bin. Of course I bought it, and I'm so happy I did. Apparently, the Country Road logo tote is a staple for Australian women. I ended up seeing a handful more at the airport, just like the retail associate said. Here's a link to the bag! I was able to find one photo I took of my bag for y'all to see. (:
Next we walked through the most popular sites, like the rocks, Circular Quay, Opera House, Botanical Gardens, etc. Of course I brought Hugo along with me!
Dinner was at a restaurant called Mappen (ramen/udon bar). You can choose your noodles, type of soup (they have both hot and cold), meat, and toppings. It was great for the price too. I got plain udon while Nancy got a fancy udon and hers was much better than mine haha.
Most of our day was spent at the Featherdale Wilderness Park. A wonderful place about 40 minutes northwest of central Sydney. Check my separate post on it here! Sneak peek: KOALAS AND KANGAROOS.
For dinner we went to this random pho place in Cabramatta. Some people told me Sydney was the place to eat Vietnamese food, but to be honest, it was just as good as the Bay. I didn't think it was phenomenally better, but again, I'm not a foodie so what do I know. The night ended with boba from Gong Cha because, it was right there in front of us so why not? :)
Brunch @ Three Williams in a lovely hipster neighbourhood. The wait was about 10-15 minutes for 2 as the place was awfully crowded. We ordered the Joe and the Spanish Omelette, photographed below. Both were really good. I probably preferred the omelette over the Joe from my recollection. However, I do regret not getting the Prawn Toast. It seems like their most famous dish on the menu and I failed to order it.
After brunch, we good Christian girls made our way to Hillsong (Waterloo campus). [If you want to know how it was, ask me in person.]
Post service became one of my favourite parts of my time in Australia: BONDI BEACH. Mind that I'm not much of a beach person, but Bondi was gorgeous and well worth the trip. The weather was expected to be cold and gloomy but for the 3 hours we were there: sun, wind, and perfection. And then as soon as we left the beach, rain. HAHA.
There were plenty of people on the sand sunbathing, playing volleyball, playing in the water, listening to music. It seemed like such a chill weekend activity! There's also a pool nearby called the Iceberg Pool that makes for a great photo juxtaposed to the beach, which I do not have. I compensate by showing you two photos I've taken and are quite proud to share. Ask me for more and you may regret the flood of photos I share (or not because this place is so freaking beautiful).
My flight was for the evening so I had a free morning of wandering alone. I dropped my bags off at the baggage storage inside Central station. It was about $15 for 2-3 hours?
Once that was all sorted, I brunched alone at Bills, a modern Australian restaurant. I ordered the Prawn Burger but immediately regretted it as soon as I got it. It was messy, not as good as I thought, and just not really my appetite. Those much wiser than me, ordered the ricotta pancakes. My reasoning for not ordering them was I ate brunch past noon, which is more like a lunch for me, plus the order looked huge and I wanted something smaller.
After brunch, I walked around Surrey Hills for about an hour. It would've been more but most of the stores were closed as I went on a Monday. I did get a chance to stop by and grab some goodies from Bourke Street Bakery. I got myself a pain au chocolat and a ginger brulee tart. The tart, pictured below, was freaking exquisite.
I wish my time in Surrey Hills was longer and that stores were opened. Lots of blogs and friends hyped it up saying it was the coolest hipster neighbourhood of Sydney, but I'll be sure to visit back!
the bottom line
All in all, my first trip to Sydney was a success and absolutely lovely all thanks to Nancy, who housed me, fed me, drove me, and entertained me. Also a huge shout out to her roommate Jess who was such a treat and who thoughtfully bought me Australian chocolate biscuits that I got to share with friends back home.
Thank you friends, and Sydney, for your hospitality, and I will be back!
Traveling internationally is such a privilege that we take for granted in this day and age. We have the technology and means to get there quickly and to travel alone with all the apps on our phones. Yes, it's a great opportunity to see and experience all that the world has for us, but it's important to understand that we Americans don't really have the best rep when it comes to respecting other people and their cultures.
Wherever you are, know how to say a couple of lines in their language. The last thing you want to do on your travels is to be lost + piss off the locals because you don't know how to speak their language. Speaking in a broken accent is better than not trying at all. Usually folks will appreciate that you're even trying to communicate in their language.
Read up on their history and culture if you have time. I know this is a lot to ask but it does bridge the gap between cultural barriers and understanding why things are the way they are. What is the cultural etiquette? For example, in Italy, everyone is expected to cover their legs at the churches; in France, people greet one another with kisses on the cheek; in Korea, there is a specific etiquette in drinking settings. Learn some of the more essential cultural differences so you don't look ignorant. ;)
things to consider...
What am I missing? Comment below and let me know!
Choosing A Device AND plan
If you haven't read my general post about wifi eggs, click here. We say 'hotspot' here in the States, but a lot of people use 'wifi egg' outside so I'll be interchanging the two, but they mean the same thing.
I did some research on which company I should use to rent a wifi egg in Europe. After reading reviews and comparing prices, I decided on Hippocket. To be honest, the prices didn't differ as wide a I thought, but some of these companies operate in various countries so the pick up locations were in their home country, or else you had to pay a hefty shipping fee (and return fee).
Since I was in France and the UK, I'd obviously want to be able to pick up in the first country I'll be in, return in my last country, and be able to use the device in every city I'll be in.
HIPPOCKET seemed to have great reviews and decent prices, I could pick it up from the airport I arrive in, it worked in all of the countries I was in, comes with charger, we can connect multiple devices at a time, and a return label for me to easily drop it off at any post office when I'm done.
Their Europe plan is now unlimited, meaning, it doesn't cost extra for extra data- the data comes unlimited so you never have to worry about usage.
During The trip
Using the wifi egg in France was a piece of cake. Never had any issues with it except it running out of batteries and us being on top of charging it. Probably lasts a good half day if everyone is connecting and using data frequently.
When we crossed into the UK, we noticed the device wasn't working at all. We had to email support about it and they sent us a PDF on how to make it work (something to do with international roaming), but because our plan was unlimited, whatever that roaming cost was on them; not us. Not something you really have to worry about since they're responsible for covering it all. The only hassle was finding free WiFi to email support, waiting a full day for them to reply and figuring out what to do about wifi in the meantime.
This actually happened twice in the UK so it was a bit inconvenient but it still worked out.
Our flight back to the States was out of Paris, which is where we landed, which is also where HIPPOCKET is based out of. Since they included a return envelope + return postage, returning the device was super easy. I put the device in the bag they gave me, put the bag in the return envelope, and dropped it off at a post mailbox at the airport. Easy peasy!
The Bottom line
Choosing which company to go with really depends on which countries you'll be visiting and which ends up being most cost efficient for you. In my case, definitely worth since it was the best option. Hiccups here and there but not anything you can't work with.
If you do end up going with this company, comment below or let me know and I can send you the PDF they sent me regarding roaming so you don't have to wait for them to reply with the same file.
It's a week before your trip and you don't know how to plan for spending money there... What are your options?!
You should have both cash and card options with you during your trip as a precaution (but not too much cash cus you'll get mugged).
I highly recommend carrying some local currency with you since depending on the country, you'll need to pay restaurants, taxis, tips, etc. in cash. However, make sure you have two separate stashes: 1 for day to day spending, meaning you should only keep maybe $20-50 worth of USD in youor visible wallet so people think that's the only cash you're carrying. The other stash should be a secret stash of the rest of your cash. It's more of a safety tip than anything else.
When I went to Paris, I needed to buy train tickets for my family but the machine kept declining my card. All the other places I used my card was totally fine but for some reason it wasn't working, so I ended up using my card at a service booth where a real person helped me buy my tickets. Had they not had a booth, I would have needed to withdraw some cash and pay for the tickets via cash.
I'm finding that it's getting harder and harder to exchange cash beforehand at bank. My dad went into his local bank and asked to exchange USD for Yen and they said it'd take up to 6 weeks... HA! Ain't nobody got time for that. Your other option is the post office, which can sometimes be cheaper than market rate.
Your worst (but sometimes only) option is exchanging at the airport. They always have high market rates, and sometimes a service fee depending on where you go. Nevertheless, you'll always get the short end of the stick there so avoid it if you can.
Of course you can be super prepared and exchange currency beforehand, but what if you need more cash in that country? My advice is to check which international banks your home bank is affiliated with. More often than not, your banks will have a partnership set up so that you're not charged an extra fee if you withdraw from those affiliate ATM.
I have Bank of America, so my international affiliate banks are:
Please note that they call 'ATM' something else in every city. So typing ATM in Google Maps in England probably won't work... You'd have to search for 'cashpoint.' I'd also recommend looking into maximum amounts, and any other fees that you may incur on your bank's websites.
Withdrawing cash from an affiliate ATM will not charge an extra withdrawal or foreign fee, but the cash will be exchanged at the rate that the bank charges, which in my opinion, is still worth it. For me, this has turned out to be the most convenient option when traveling.
SUPER IMPORTANT: You should ALWAYS notify your bank(s) when you're traveling so they don't mark it as fraud!!!
If you don't have an option to go to an affiliate bank, then be warned that you will incur a fee every time you withdraw. Depending on your bank and account, that amount will differ. I believe the standard is something like $5 per transaction.
For ATMs that try to get you with the 'FREE WITHDRAWAL' sign on the machine, be warned that though they may no charge you for using their machine, your bank might.
And of course, if this wasn't obvious, use your debit card when withdrawing cash. ;)
Paying With card
If you travel enough, I HIGHLY recommend getting a credit card that benefits international travel. The one benefit you probably want to look for is that they don't charge for foreign transaction fees. I don't know too much about credit cards and it's a game I'm learning myself still so I can't recommend any specific cards, so... go to CreditKarma & the Points Guy and do your own research :P
I can only speak to the one card I have, which is the Chase Sapphire Reserve and it's pretty freaking bomb.
ANYWAYS get a card that will benefit YOU, meaning, you can hear what your friends and experts say, but ultimately the decision is yours and you need to find a card that will benefit you in the ways you need your card to come through.
Some of the benefits might be: no foreign transaction fees, points towards travel, some kind of travel insurance domestic and international, an international concierge number, roadside assistance, lounge membership, or reimbursement for Global Entry.
It will make your life easier knowing they have your back (like I do, heh).
You get to your destination and you arrive at the baggage carousel but you can't find your bags. After some time waiting after you've convinced yourself it's probably at the bottom of the pile, you see a rep from that airline slowly approach you with news you can read on her face: your bags didn't make it.
What now? They probably gave you a website with a case number and a number you can call which is basically a support number where you're put on hold for ten minutes before talking with an actual person. So now you wait. You wait for your bags to be delivered, or an update on your case.
The exact thing happened to my family and me on our way to Paris. Our first flight was from LAX to JFK where we were supposed to have a layover a little over two hours. That flight was delayed (that's another story for next time), so by the time we made it to JFK, we had fifteen minutes to get off the plane, take the shuttle to another terminal, go through TSA check and run to our gate. Fortunately, my family made it to the gate, but as you can probably guess, our bags did not.
An Air France rep met us at baggage to us know that our bags didn't make the connection, but that it was already on its way to Paris to the other main airport, where they'd deliver our bags to the doorsteps of our Airbnb. We were disappointed but not too upset because they offered to deliver it to us. They gave us an ETA, a case number along with a link, and a phone number.
We went to our Airbnb and waited all day for our bags. We originally had plans to tour the city since our time in Paris was already limited, but ended up scrapping it to make sure we were home when the delivery guys came. We expected them to come around 2PM, 3 at the latest. Fun fact: They never came. I bought international credit on Skype to give the airline a call. Every time we called , they gave us the same answer: keep checking the website for updates. I did, and found nothing.
The next day, we headed over to Versailles Palace since we bought tickets beforehand. We at least got to enjoy the Palace for a few hours, and headed back to the city where we visited the Arc di Triomphe. We enjoyed the sights for a minute, and then spent over 3 hours shopping on Champs Elysees because we still haven't gotten an update on our bags and were starting to assume the worst. The next morning we were headed to London so if we didn't get our bags by that day, we weren't sure when we'd ever get them. Post-shopping, my brother and I took turns getting our calls dropped by Air France. They're really really terrible at answering their phones... When we finally got a hold of someone, they admitted they weren't sure where our bags even were, which was reassuring. We had to prepare for the worst and bought clothes to get us by through the trip, and a new suitcase for all this new luggage we just bought.
Towards the end of the night, my mom looked at us and said in Korean something along the lines of "it's time to take matters into our own hands." She sent my dad and brother to CDG airport where they claimed our bags would be. My dad and brother were rerouted to several people until reaching the correct person where they had been denied access because that department was about to close and asked that they return the next morning. Obviously, I can only share what my brother shared with me since I wasn't there myself, but this guy was had absolutely no sympathy and was rude AF. After some time of arguing with this man, his supervisor finally came and spoke with them. After some more time of arguing and trying to convince them, she gave my dad access to the Air France luggage storage room, where all unclaimed bags go with a very limited amount of time to find all of our bags. Since everyone had packed their own bags, my dad wasn't sure which bags belonged to us... But, my dad being my dad, was finally able to find every one of them. They took an Uber back to our Airbnb with 4 suitcases in hand.
My dad described the luggage storage room being this crazy huge room filled with bags, and I thought of all other people who had their luggage delayed and never got a chance to actually go inside that room to find it. Due to airplane policy, I'm sure a lot of these people's bags were just marked as "lost" after 21 days when they could have gone and found it themselves. The system they use to track baggage is tragically faulted and hugely lacking. The people working with this system appear incompetent because of the lack of information they're even given. There is too much room for error and miscommunication that nothing gets done. I think often of what would have happened if my dad and brother never went to the airport themselves. Air France would still claim they don't know where our bags are, and probably wait to mark it as "lost" and just pay us the minimal fee to compensate for it, while we would have to compensate in other ways.
Since, we've filed a claim to Air France asking them to reimburse us for all of the clothes and toiletries costs, which we're still waiting on. Lucky for us, we bought our plane tickets and the new clothes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which I'll be filing a claim for if Air France does not reimburse everything, so I'm confident that everything will be covered. However, no money could cove the cost of our time in Paris. We didn't get to sightsee because we were busy waiting for the delivery guys, or out shopping for new clothes; and we were stressed for those two days wondering if we'd ever see our bags again. They won't be able to reimburse us for that time. It's a crappy situation and not exactly how you want to spend your trip.
If there's anything I would have done differently: It would have been to subscribe to an international France number from Skype so I could have given it to Air France to call me when they arrived. Sure, they would never have called, but at least I could have spent the day touring the city until they called, and for me to call them periodically so I could at least enjoy some time there rather than worrying theh entire time.
Once I got back from Europe and told this story to my friends and colleagues, I heard too many stories of how the airline lost their bags or didn't track it correctly, leading to a ton of problems. Again, I was lucky enough to have my Chase credit card willing to cover whatever the airline didn't. But I would HATE for this to happen to any of you! Do yourself a favor and make sure you take protective precautions in case something like this happens to you!
For some, AirBnBs have become the default option of housing when traveling. I wanted to add some considerations since I see certain trips where hotels might be a more convenient and desirable option. This post is only to help you decide if you should book a hotel or AirBnB when you travel. I'll also be doing a future post on Couchsurfing vs. Hostels, as well as things to consider when you're looking to book a Hotel or AirBnB.
When traveling internationally, you might want to consider renting a wifi egg aka mobile hotspot device, especially if you don't know the language, aren't familiar with the area, are addicted to social media, or traveling alone.
Of course you can find wifi pretty easily these days at establishments like cafes, stores/malls, and museums, but it's more of a convenient factor to have wifi on hand should you need it. I wouldn't consider it something essential to your trip, especially if you'll be visiting areas that are quite technologically developed.
When I went to Korea last year, I used Pocket Wifi Korea. It was convenient, decently cheap (especially if you're sharing with a friend), and I'd for sure rent one again the next I go. I'm actually renting one when I go to Europe next month so I'll probably update this post once I come back with my thoughts on how it worked in Europe vs Asia.
In Korea specifically, I noticed a lot of AirBnBs let you rent one for free, which is a crazy great perk, but obviously only for the duration of your stay. So if you're staying at multiple AirBnBs/hotels, you'll only be able to use it during your reservation.
uses for wifi egg
Most devices should...
The only CON I can think of is that it heats up easily!
How to choose
Companies vary in product and plan. To find the right one for you, consider these questions:
wifi egg vs. sim card
I used a SIM card during my trip in Australia for the first time. I used my friend's old Australian phone, went to a local grocery store to buy a reloadable card, activated it online, and then started using it. I bought 10 GB worth of data for $30 (it was either that or $10 for 2 GB or something similar). 2 GB still would've been enough for me since I was there for only 4 days, but the offer enticed me.
I also had my phone and didn't want to use her phone to log into all of my stuff so I used her phone mainly as a hotspot to have data on my phone.
The phone I used was an iPhone 4 so the battery died quickly, and it got so so hot. Even after I connected hotspot to my phone, if it was idle for like 15 minutes, I'd have to reconnect it again if I wanted to use it.
Now that I think about it, I think the policy nowadays is that your network provider will unlock your phone for you but it's something you'd have to go into to do, and not sure if there's an additional service charge for that.
My advice: if your phone is compatible with international SIM cards and you don't mind the trouble of going into your provider's store, and buying a SIM card when you get there, then by all means, go for it. It ended up being about the same price in my experience. I think after experiencing both, I prefer renting a wifi egg at the airport, making it simple and easy!
Below is a post that might be helpful if you're considering which to get.
I went to Italy back in 2014 for about a full week, exploring Rome, Florence, Venice, and Cinque Terre. Below is a rough guide I put together for some friends who went the following year. It's a bit outdated and may have some grammatical errors but the general information should still stand.
Also super important to note: I didn't have a ton of time to see everything so my mentions are actually pretty limited. Please do check other people's suggestions and itineraries to get better insight. :)
NOT IN THE DOC
The Italian government has launched a free wifi app called Wifi Italia. I don't expect it to be great Internet, but it's free + I'm sure the government will work on making it better and faster in years to come.
Comments are open for suggestions and discussion.
Some flights may make you take a layover in another city before you get to your destination. Direct flights are probably ideal but I know they can also be more expensive. On the bright side, it can be nice to have a meal and stretch break in the middle of a long flight, and gives you an opportunity to explore the airport or city (if you have more time).
General rule of thumb: anything under 6 hours, you want to fly direct.
If you do have to take a layover, consider the transfer time. I say give yourself at least one hour of wait time in case your first flight is delayed, you need to get something figured out, you need to buy some water and food, etc. Things come up and because boarding happens generally thirty minutes prior to takeoff, better safe than sorry. I would actually go and say an hour and a half is good. I try to find layovers around 2 hours which gives me plenty of time to use the restroom, grab a quick bite, freshen up, walk around the airport, and find my transfer gate if it's at a different gate, which brings me to my next point.
If your layover is longer than 3.5 hours, consider going outside and exploring if the city centre isn't too far from the airport, especially if your luggage will meet you at the final destination! Do consider the time it'll take you to come back and get back in the security line though.
Depending on the flight, your transfer flight might be on the same plane and same gate, or different plane in a different gate. Be attentive to what your flight details read, and what your flight attendants say during landing. If it's a huge airport, it might even be in another terminal so always allow yourself extra time should things come up and you're not scrambling last minute to find your next flight.
If you can help it, avoid flights with more than 1 layover. You're going to be exhausted and that may cost you some of your trip. Remember: we want to maximise your time and enjoyment on your travels!
My piece of advice: DON'T DO IT.
Call me high maintenance, but I can't sleep comfortably at all on overnight layovers. It's cold, the chairs are stiff, you're constantly worried if someone might steal your stuff, some airports don't allow you to sleep so you have security waking you up every couple of hours, and people coming in and out of the gates. You barely get enough sleep by the time you need to line up for your flight and if you're anything like me, you end up grouchy and groggy, and you only see the negative in things until you recoup some of that sleep. It's just an overall highly undesired experience, which will likely affect your first day traveling.
If you have an overnight layover, this site will give you the 411 on WiFi, where you can sleep, and other good tips on specific airports..
If you MUST do an overnight layover, I really recommend reserving a room at a hotel with free shuttles that will take you to the hotel in case taxi service is out (if you arrive really late). At least you'll get some sleep in a private, semi-comfortable bed. If not, this page has good tips on sleeping at the airport overnight.
My logic: Most likely, the cost of a hotel will be around the much you'd be saving if you don't take the overnight layover, so just get tickets with a short transfer and be happy. (:
Thanks to many friends who have gone before me and discovered great places and passed those suggestions onto me, here is my map of Seoul. I absolutely recommend you make a copy of the map so you can add what you need, delete what you don't want, etc. For example, probably good for you to pin your hotel or AirBnB. Another reason I tell people to make their own copy is so you can access it straight on your phone or tablet via Google Maps by going to the Settings icon --> Your places --> Maps, et viola!
PLEASE don't not live off of this map. There is crazy good food in Korea ALL around you.
Support mom&pop shops & small businesses!!
Some recommended musts in Korea:
Let's collaborate! I've enabled comments on this post so you can suggest more places people would like. (: