- 30 Countries and Counting — So many left to go!
Flights – Compare prices and make sure you are covering all your airlines! American Airlines and tiny regional airlines don’t necessarily get aggregated into Kayak. Look at edreams against individual airline websites and book whatever is the lowest price after fees (edreams is sneaky!). If you are a heavy packer, you may want to add the additional bags when you first buy your tickets with budget airlines like Ryanair or Easyjet because if you buy the bag in person it’ll often cost you triple what it would have cost if you pre-purchased.
Hotels – Unless you are a seasoned traveller, know someone on the other side, or are referred by a trusted advisor to an apartment, do NOT use airbnb! Stick to major hotel chains or hotels with good reviews if you don’t want to be surprised and to (mostly) guarantee you’ll have a good English-speaking resource. If you are price-sensitive and don’t have special affinity towards a specific hotel chain, I use hotels.com (which charges extra fees) for the stay 10 nights, get 1 free.
Credit and ATM Cards - call your card providers in advance to figure out what the international fees are and to let them know you are traveling! If you have no-fee cards, you don’t have to fuss with taking large cash withdrawals! You may have heard something about needing a chip in your credit card to work in Europe–that’s mostly false. The only place I’ve had trouble without a chip is in Turkey, but if you ask them to use a Garanti scan machine instead of a Denizbank you shouldn’t have trouble.
Here are my personal favs:
- ATM: Charles Schwab’s High Yield Checking Account which offers ATM rebates (free but annoyingly takes some time to open the account and deposit checks, which I found out the hard way before my Germany trip last year!)
- Credit Card: Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card for no international fees ($95 annual fee), and of course if you already have the American Express Platinum though it isn’t as widely accepted.
Cell Phones - If you don’t travel often and you aren’t going for more than two weeks, it’s probably not worth it to figure out how to get a local cell or SIM card. However, you should definitely turn on an international data plan even if it’s just contingency for that one time you accidentally turn on your phone and you get blasted with iMessages. Verizon is $25/100MB and AT&T is similar. As for text messages and voice, for Verizon (and probably AT&T), the monthly $5 plan is prorated, so you can always turn it on/off for your two week vacation.
Safety and Emergencies
- Buy a cheap bag that seals really well, or only put your wallet into tight pockets where you’d feel hands.
- Leave your passport in the hotel safe and carry a copy unless you are in a place that requires a passport for international travelers for age verification (like in Hong Kong, though I’ve personally never been carded).
- Try not to carry a lot of cash, but make sure you have some for emergencies! I also like to leave some money in the hotel safe just in case.
- If you lose your credit cards, call right away (of course), but if it is a Visa, you can demand the Visa Emergency Card be overnighted to your hotel.
- It may be best to leave your family heirlooms home
Whenever Budapest comes up in conversation it seems the only thing people talk about is how beautiful it is. SURPRISE! Yes, the city has incredible architecture, but there are incredible buildings all over Europe that are so much closer.
1. It is REALLY expensive to fly there. A one-way to Budapest can be an off-peak round trip to Paris.
2. For those who’ve barely made it to France or England, why would you go to Budapest first (and all those countries in between!)?
3. If you are a bottle service hunting young’n, you won’t really find that here–nouveau riche doesn’t exist in Budapest the way it does in New York. You’ll mostly find “eurotrash” sorts of clubs or ruin pubs (which are so cool)
1. Just about all major hotel chains are well represented for those of you who only use points to travel. <<unlike Bucharest!>>
2. The food is dirt cheap!! …even to eat really well – try Bock Biztro (received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin).
3. You can rent a really comfortable apartment cheaply (I stayed in the centrally located Senator Apartments)
4. Drinking is pretty cheap and bizarrely fun in ruin pubs
5. Okay, yes, the city is beautiful. If you want a highlight tour, take the hop on hop off bus/boat tour!
6. It is full of geo-thermal springs and really great and affordable spas (try Magnolia Day Spa)
7. If you’ve exhausted all of Western Europe, this is a natural next stop that is different enough to still feel like an adventure.
Some photos from my trip!
Some more Alffie photos– playing with my Sony NEX 5R.
Whenever I don’t know something about Asian culture, I always get a “you didn’t know that?” Hey now, I’m actually an ABC (American Born Chinese) and you can’t possibly expect me to know everything.
My latest discovery are the different (weird) stuffings for mooncakes. A group of Chinese Americans brought me to Kwong Wah Cake Co.; to their surprise I bought one of every flavor with full shock-and-awe exclamations and they had each only bought a snack for the day. Whoops!
Kwong Wah Cake Co. is a petite bakery on Grand St and Mott, just a stone’s throw away from Di Palo’s, my favorite deli.
They have a few flavors (which all also come in a salted yolk option–it looks like a hardboiled egg yolk in your mooncake):
- Black bean – a sweetened black/red bean, not those funky fermented ones that come with your Chinese takeout black bean sauces
- Coconut – a shredded coconut with nuts that is only barely sweet by comparison to your typical American coconut dessert.
- Mixed nuts – a semi chewy composite of coarsely ground nuts (though my Grandmother remarks that they should have been whole nuts, that probably would have broken her teeth!!)
- Mixed nuts with ham (photo above) – the same mixed nut moon cake with some additional pork
- Lotus seed/White Lotus seed – I’ve been told this is the most authentic and luxurious. The funny thing about demand is that now this filling is also mass produced and is easily found in Chinese supermarket boxes.
Kwong Wah Cake Co.
210 Grand St # A
New York, NY 10013
If you are interested in more mooncake information this site proved pretty comprehensive: http://www.chinatownconnection.com/chinese-mooncake.htm