Monthly Archives: August 2015

Currency

How to Keep Costs Down and Not Throw in the Kitchen Sink!

This is one of the most asked questions about travel.  How can I afford it?

Currency

Money

I say, travel doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does depend on how you define travel and where.

4 different ideas are outlined below:

Home Holiday

This is the cheapest and least expensive form of travel, so I wonder why more people don’t take advantage of this!  Yes, people take time off to stay at home, but quite often, this is due to illness or doing some: much-needed, DIY.  These are not holidays!

I have found that when I put strict boundaries around this ‘home holiday’ idea I’ve had some of my most relaxed and least stressful trips.  For example: no DIY or fix anything in the house, but do go out and see things in your local area you’ve never seen before or haven’t seen in a long time.  Also, just sit and read – preferably in the garden.

One of my secret tips is – don’t tell anyone you are staying at home, just say you are going on holiday, then no one will bother you.

Just Down the Road Holiday

This one is often done where people go camping or somewhere that is not far away and still in their home county, state, province, whatever.  This can be more stressful and expensive, but if you look at places like Air BnB or house swapping or camping, you can find a much cheaper way to do it and still get a great place to enjoy.  The added bonus with this one is there are no borders to cross and it’s only a few hours away, but you feel you’ve ‘gone away.’

Home Country Holiday

Bath

View from Hotel Room from hotel just outside Bath

This is where you go out of county, state, province, etc., but be careful, this can be more expensive, than going overseas, especially if you are Europe based!  I have found this to be the case in the UK, that going to Spain or Greece or, even, France, can end up being cheaper than staying within the UK.

Things to look out for are things like groupon deals or bus trips in your local newspaper.  While these maybe less glamorous, they don’t have to be.  I had a 4 star weekend away in Bath, England and it was half the price because of a coupon which my Mom in Canada bought for us for Christmas – we lived in the UK at the time of writing this!  So deals can be found, just have to do a bit more digging.  This is especially true for out of season.  Snoop around on your favourite local hotel sites, they are likely to have deals at some point in the year, so snap them up!

Just Over the Border

As mentioned above, going over the border into a close neighbouring country can be cheaper than staying in your own country, so check around, especially, out of season, you can get some good packages to go elsewhere when it’s their off-season period.  So all the ideas above can apply for ‘Over the Border’ travel.

What have you done to save on your travel?  Have you been successful at a ‘home holiday’?  What did that look like?

We love to hear from you, so please share comments below:

A Cushy Cruise – how to save money on your next cruise

Norwegen Sun

Norwegian sun

Why do Americans and Canadians get cheaper cruises?  The simple answer is, we don’t know and we don’t like it, but here is one way we got around it….

I managed to find a way around the dual pricing by booking on an American website and then contacting the company explaining I had done this. They eventually allowed the booking to stand in the US dollars.

If you can find a way to book a cruise through Canada or the US, then you can save yourself up to a third or more on the actual cruise cost.

Recently, I did a search and looked at the same cruise through a UK and US website then priced them just to make sure that all this is still the case.

At random: (Holland America) on January 2 2016 for seven nights, East Caribbean cruise
Cost £548.28 – US Cost $699 or £446 = £102.28 potential savings. This isn’t just in the UK, it is pretty much anywhere outside North America that there is a huge price difference, so check it out from your own country, if not based in North America.

This was done with an Orbitz search. Orbitz, also, included a special US$500 onboard credit, unlike the UK. If you take in the on-board credit, then your cruise could cost you £128.

That’s a huge potential savings!

What are your experiences of costing cruises from where you are?  Share below:

Lanterns

Vietnam – A Land of Many Faces (Top Tips)

Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam – pineapple seller

Vietnam is a land of many faces and places.  I say this because it was a huge surprise to me how big it was and how much it changed over our month of travel there.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Hanoi – Halong Bay – Hanoi – Hue – Da Nang – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Now you can do this route, like us, from North to South or from South to North.

The first thing that hit me in Hanoi was the incredible movement of this city – we stayed in the old quarter and just dealing with the ‘how to cross the street’ was a steep learning curve. The traffic and, especially, all the scooters is a bit daunting at first, but there is a method to the madness. I liked to time my crossing of the road with another Vietnamese pedestrian and follow their lead or to just go boldly forward albeit slowly and not stopping.

Currency

You pay everything in Vietnamese Dong, but, often, you will find things priced in US dollars and they will take them as well.  I suggest you use the local currency when you can and for those Aussies and Kiwi with ANZ bank accounts, there are lots of bank machines in Hanoi and Saigon where you can withdraw money out with no ATM fees except of course the bank haircut with the  exchange rate!  (warning: check this before you go, as things can change with banks at any time!)

Safety

I never felt unsafe in Vietnam during our trip and, of course, you take the usual precautions: do not leave phones anywhere or bags unattended. Keep your bag close to your body when walking around or strapped in front as I did, as it was a small back pack style bag.

Back Pack purse

How I carried my small back pack purse.

Transport

In Saigon, we found that Vinasun taxis were the best to use. Never had a problem with meters being turned on at a higher rate than was legal or being taken to any back streets or shady destinations and the drivers were all polite. Between Hue and Hoi An, I hired a private car and Cong, our driver was terrific and he charged US$69 for a leisurely drive to Hoi An. We stopped at several sites along the way, which included the new Dragon Bridge in Da Nang which breathes real fire and water.

Dragon Bridge

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang – it breathes fire and water

Relaxing on the train to Hoi An

We used trains for our journey between Hanoi and Saigon. I booked all of them via the hotels we stayed. You pay a small commission but, we got a soft sleeper, air-conditioned and bottom bunk in a four bunk cabin. Some people book the entire cabin. We did not and ended up meeting some lovely Vietnamese people including two guides on their way to Hue.

You can take some snacks and water with you on the train or there are food trolleys.  I ate the food and didn’t get ill.  My husband had a coffee and he liked it.

There are Western and Asian toilets as well as a wash up area in each carriage with running water. All of the trains are slowly being refurbished. We got old ones but they were perfectly fine. To give you an idea of cost our two tickets for a night train from Hanoi to Hue was US$90. We did get one upper bunk for the train from Nha Trang to Saigon during the day which was comfortable and near the air-conditioning. Our entire train costs to Saigon were less than US$200 for both of us including two overnight trains.

Be polite

We hardly got troubled by pushy sellers or beggars at all. When people did approach us, a polite no thank you, keep walking on and a smile always worked. We, also, learned a few Vietnamese phrases such as ‘Hello’ and ‘thank you’ which, always, went over well even with our terrible pronunciation.  This is a general rule of thumb throughout all of South East Asia, being loud and having arguments in public is not the done thing and considered very rude.  Please do not confuse South East Asia with mannerisms that maybe more typical of other parts of Asia.

King and Queen Banquet

King and Queen Banquet meal

Food and drink

The food is wonderful and we ate at street stalls through to restaurants. In the restaurants, they always put ice in your water and we never got ill once. Sometimes we would ask where the water came from and the answer was filtered. We, also, carried a small disinfectant bottle for our hands when there was nowhere to wash our hands.

Beer is cheap in Vietnam and they have excellent fruit juices. Also, a tip, drink fresh coconut water from the coconuts themselves – this is the best way to rehydrate and replenish lots of fluids, even better than drinking water.   Motto: a coconut a day will help keep the dehydration away!

Depending on where we ate, the meals can range from a few US dollars up to $30. We ate at several restaurants recommended on trip advisor and it was a good way to find a place to eat if you did not want to get food from a stall off the street.

Below are links to some of my favourite restaurants on our journey beginning in Hanoi and ending in Saigon. My favourite was Noir, in Saigon, where you eat in complete darkness and the waiters are blind or visually disabled. The food was great and the cause brilliant.

Cau go Vietnamese Restaurant – Hanoi restaurant we loved
Cherish Hotel Hue restaurant where we got to dress up as King and Queen
Samari Kitchen Hoi An restaurant
Coffee CongVien Hon Chong Nha Trang cafe – we liked to sit and watch the beach
Saigon restaurant where the waiters are blind

Tours we loved doing.

There were three tours that stood out during our trip to Vietnam. Halong Bay, Hanoi Kids and the XO Scooter tour through the streets of Saigon.  In the height of the travel season book all these tours in advance, otherwise you may miss out!

  • Halong Bay Cruise

    There are a multitude of companies selling cruises to Halong Bay. We went up market and did the 2 night and 3 day cruise with Viola Cruises booked through our hotel.  I would recommend to do the 3 day trip and not the one night trip as it gives you more time to enjoy the scenery, swim and kayak.  Plus, it makes the four-hour drive each way to Halong Bay and back worth the narrow seats and rather uncomfortable ride.

Hanoi kids is a charity where young university students who are learning or improving their English take you on a guided tour around Hanoi. They tailor the day to what you want to do and see. It is great to have a resident guide, as they take you to some of their favourite places which may not be on any tourist tour and it is free, yes free!  At the end of the day you can make a donation to the charity which we did and you pay for taxis, lunch and entrances for your guide. We really enjoyed our tour and would recommend it to first time visitors to Hanoi.

My husband was a bit wary of this tour which I had booked, he quickly changed his mind. It was a great morning, whizzing around Saigon, seeing the sights and I never felt unsafe.  It cost us each US$40 for over three hours and included a few snacks and drinks along the way.

Good luck on your trip to Vietnam!
Any questions, please submit through the comment form below and I will do my best to get back to you within 72 hours of posting!

Murder, Mayhem & Mrs Christie on the English Riviera – Torquay, England, U.K.

Bust of Agatha Christie

Bust of Agatha Christie

Not many of you may know, but I am a huge fan of Agatha Christie.  She got me hooked on the genre and a few years back, I went to a festival which is devoted to her, her writing and her home in Torquay.  Just pulling into the station feels like you are in another world.

Torquay

Our train driver to Torquay

Now, I said that things are changing on the blog and this is the start to part of that change.  I thought I would share more of my travel stories and this is one that came up recently, when I was having one of my ever endearing teas

Agatha Christie

My Christie themed tea with a friend – John loves Poirot – wants to get a cane like his!

with a friend who had just been there, so we got to talking… and, to be honest, I just love Agatha – she’s great.  I’ve read her autobiography and the book ‘Secret Notebooks’ by John Curran – this book is about trying to translate her notes on what she was writing or planning to write.  We, even got to meet the author of this momentous task and he signed our book.  She wrote her ideas in her own shorthand which only she could read, not even her family was able to read these famous notebooks.  Plus, I’ve now go a big photo of her on my wall to inspire me – you see, Agatha was not properly schooled like we are today, so her achievements as a writer are even more remarkable to me!

Agatha Christie

list of some of the Agatha Christie books

Back to Torquay and the English Riviera.  This is a beautiful seaside English Town and I can really see why it’s called the English Riviera because when the weather is nice, it’s truly the English seaside at its best.  Even in dull and rain, it’s still beautiful, but it really shines when the sun comes out.  As I said we went for the festival, but that doesn’t mean there is not lots to do without it, it was just our main push.  The highlight for me was going on a special, behind the scenes tour of her house – Greenway.

Greenway

Greenway coaster

When we went, the National Trust (the National Trust is a protection society for old properties of significant British heritage) had just finished getting the house ready for the public, as it’s not been accessible for long – she has a grandson who owns the inheritance on her estate.  So he finally has set the house up as a museum and what a museum, it’s like you are going to see her come around a corner at any moment.  It feels so lived in and alive.  They even have all her cloths that she wore on display – what a magical tour.  It is said that when she was a young girl growing up in Torquay, she went by this house, on the waterway in front of the house, and had said how much she had always wanted to live there, but she never knew much about the house.  Then she left Torquay as an adult with no intentions to return, but when she started making money with her writing, she found out the house was for sale and bought it and it’s estate.  One of my secret desires in to play Miss Marple when I get older – just putting it out there!  Ya never know!  At least for now, I’ve done a few murder mystery gigs, which I just love.

Museum

Torquay Museum

We went to various events at the local museum, all with the Agatha Christie themes running through them.

Greenway

Green Bus Tour to Greenway

A highlight was going on a tour on an old green bus with a tour guide that had never read her books, but seemed to know a lot about her life and times in the area – very odd combination, but still very informative – he said he loved history, not murder mysteries!

Torquay

Walk in Torquay

There was a gorgeous walk along the coast, past a very famous hotel – The Imperial Hotel – we had some tea here overlooking the water – beautiful – where we got sun and soaked in the same 10 minutes – ah, the English weather – a favourite topic here.  It’s all about layers!  Still, this was a great way to see parts of the town and see how much there is to see and do.

There’s some great shopping at the local market, we got our lovely bed spread at the market. It’s a great place to go, if you get one of those crazy English rainy days.  Also in the area are some great artisan shops where we found all sorts of lovely little items and beautiful gold rings – wear them everyday!

Torquay

Artisan shops in old stables – get all sorts from goldsmiths, metal work, clothing to hand-made chocolates.

Michelin Star

The Elephant Restaurant – Michelin Star

Food is stellar, there was a Michelin star restaurant – The Elephant which we had a fabulous lunch.

We loved Torquay and I would definitely go again, even if the festival isn’t on – I, sooooo want to go back and get to the famous hotel – Burgh Island, where some of her books have been set….but for this one, you must have it set up well in advance and have your pennies in a row – it’s quite expensive, but so want to give myself that treat or, they, can always have me stay and I’ll write-up a blog on my experience of this incredible island hotel with a murdering past!  Anyone got any contacts for me?!  Do they need a singer to perform – I’m available!

Just to note, we stayed at the Elmdene BnB – apparently, it’s won awards since we’ve stayed!

Do you have a favourite place in England you’ve been to?  Love to hear about it!  Any ideas for future topics you’d like to hear about, let me know and I’ll see if I can do a future blog on it, just comment below!

Debx

Heading Home

Last Month Videoblog – July 2015 – India and Dubai

Below is my video blog on our travels round the world on you tube from July 2015 – this is the last in this series, but there will be more, so do stay tuned….