I’m on a money diet

I hate worrying. Worrying is not productive. Worrying is probably the least productive thing you could do.

While working out my budget for this year, I realized that I can’t be too ‘laxed’ with my spending.

Yes, so the story is, after I came back to the new job with the plan to fuel up the bank account then get out, again. That plan hasn’t changed. What had changed however, was the frequency in which I find myself doing so – this is for personal reasons, as well as professional reasons.

So trip(s) plural planned. I need to watch my spending.

I’m a fan of minimalism.

Case and point, I haven’t shopped for anything other than food (since I came back), which is already a good start. However, I do see myself splurging on nonessentials – i.e: going out for lunch, drinks, and so on and so forth. And not so surprisingly those things add up. While I’m up to date with everything as far as my finances are concerned, I do like to stay out of the red and in the green. So. That said. I’m imposing a money challenge for myself.

Not spending a penny for the next two weeks.

We’ll see how that goes.

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Happiness is when I’m under my travel budget!

Last night I did some number crunching and I’m happy to report that I’m below budget, even though I have not been too ‘restricting’ with my travel plans, in fact, this year I thought I’d go try out first class seats on trains – since I’m going to be on them a lot – hence, I splurged on those train rides, some which also include meals, thank you Swedish rails and DB Bahn! Oh and train vs. plane? It all depends on how much luggage you have and whether you’d like to sit down and enjoy the view, or get somewhere really fast. I’m hoping that I’d get some work done while on the train – which are promised to have WiFi connection.

That aside, I’ve been somewhat frugal with my stays again – the rooms I’ve booked on average are all below 100 Euros (though I know for some this number might seem a little high – but I’m a firm believer in mix and matching where it counts) and all of the places I’ve booked comes with breakfast included – which means, stuffing my face during the AM really and going out exploring for the rest of the day (to which I can already imagine how sore my legs will be) but then there will also be a lot of street food, and oh god, BEERS, yes more beer, bier, biertje, öl, øl consumed…haha, now how many languages is that?

Also another tip is prepay everything. I don’t mean pre-pay in a huge lump sum before your trip – no. I mean, incorporate your travels into your monthly bill – like for the plane tickets I’ve booked are already paid off months ahead of time. And that’s a very freeing feeling because now I only have to take care of the other 2/3 portion before my trip which gives me wiggle room for…

You guessed it.

More beers with friends!!!!

(And if I’m really adventurous, an extra city during my visit this time! Stay tuned!)

AirBnB’s major flaw. Why in the end, hotels win.

I had sent no less than 24 messages to different AirBnB hosts in different cities since last Monday – and the result.

I booked with zero.

0.

Nada.

Zilch.

Okay, you get the idea.

In theory, AirBnB is more beneficial, offers amenities regular hotel stays wouldn’t offer – such as living like a local – there are many flaws I’ve found with the system by just ‘trying to book’. I’ve found the booking to be a little stressful to say the least. First of all, as a AirBnB n00b, you need to differentiate Enquiry and Request – an Enquiry is where a potential guest messages the potential host about a potential booking – and if the host agrees, then the guest is pre-approved to book. An Request is something more direct – a guest shoots a host a booking request without jumping through the loop of the Enquiry and the hosts can either accept or reject.

AirBnB operates on the principle that hosts wants to offer their ‘places’ up to make money, and you’d want a decent priced room that feels like a home away from home.

Pretty straight forward, right?

Yes, in theory. In practice however, hosts are not obligated to rent out to every person who asks. In other words, for most it’s more of a side income, than a main income – hence the process can be snail-paced and I found more often than not, you’d find yourself waiting for hours, or days – then your phone goes off with a text message whenever someone replies, with more rejections than approvals – or maybe that’s just my bad timing, trying to book New Years Eve and New Years, where everyone’s either leaving town, or not leaving their bed after too much fun.

Either way, after going through the loop of not finding anything on AirBnB, I went back to Booking.com where I found myself a place in under ten minutes. Oh well. Maybe in the future I will give AirBnB another try. But until then, I’m sticking to more traditional traveling techniques.

And for those experienced with AirBnB out there. What are some of your thoughts and overall experiences? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Why is rent in Amsterdam so high?

“Amsterdam is a victim of its own popularity.”

Or so I remember reading sometimes way back, then thinking to myself – it’s alright. That was probably in 2013. Now fast forward almost 3 years – “Woah, why is rent in Amsterdam so high?!” I say to myself as I scroll through AirBnB, various hotel booking sites, and as last resort – hostels.

I told myself I’ll never stay at the same hostel again – you just gotta try something new – so I thought, why not AirBnB, after all, AirBnB is the place where I found cheap rentals for Oslo, Norway (one of the most expensive places on earth, where a grande Starbucks latte cost $10, yup.) So imagine my surprise when I checkout dates on AirBnB for Amsterdam around the New Years…

And I realized.

Shit.

I’m going to have to shell out $1,000+ for a week worth of rent aren’t I?

Yes…that’s like a month of normal rent crammed into a month. Ha ha ha, Amsterdam, you’re funny. Not.

I guess that’s the price you pay for wanting to be smack center in the middle of the action, as price often correlates positively with desirability. Still, I haven’t made a decision yet on which adorable yet expensive canal house I’m going to rent. But a part of my brain is already nagging – you deserve this for working so hard all year and forgoing all the fun – you should do it already – but the more frugal part is already fuming at me for even considering such a thing – I could do a lot with $1,000+ even book another trip – see more things.

How much will my 2015 Winter Trip Cost?

One of the biggest reasons people don’t travel is that they think it’ll cost them an enormous amount financially. Now the act of ‘going somewhere’, I have categorized as two types, you’re either going on a ‘vacation’ or you’re ‘traveling’. The former term connotes it’s a time of indulging and pampering (spendthrift vacations) while the latter term suggests a more frugal approach to exploring a destination (of course, this is just my personal observations).

One of the first thing I did this year was finding myself an extremely cheap return flight to Oslo and that in itself is already paid off. What’s left is the 21 Days I get to stay in Europe, namely the 20 Nights I’d have to find somewhere to sleep. And the cost of hotel/hostel is going to be a big portion of cost (sometimes even more than the plane ticket itself). To lower that cost, I highly suggest looking into hostels, AirBnb, friends’ couch, or couchsurf.

How to balance the cost? As Northern Europe is notorious for being pricey? Here are some of my travel tips:

1) Estimate budget say you’re willing to spend $100 / day, for 20 days, then put aside $2000 and work from there. The $100 should include, food, transport, and housing. Of course, I do realize that this might be hard to come by in pricy places such as Scandinavia. Which brings us to: 2) Research ahead of time, or better yet don’t make the same mistake you did last time or last year. (Like last year, I didn’t even need the Welcome Copenhagen Card as all museums were closed around Christmas time so I did free tours outside. It was cozy and fun but a waste of $60 bucks on the card right there.) 3) Look out for deals or see if you could decrease your expenditure and save yourself some money. This is something I highly recommend for winter in Northern Europe, as most people are looking for some sun and fun. In fact when I told most my friends I’m heading to Norway in the middle of Winter, “Are you crazy???” yeah, but hey I see it as perfect museum going time. Plus I’m betting on a snowy (or perhaps rainy) winter wonderland. 4) make sure you have a balance of budget places and more pricy places, because at the end of the day, you still want to enjoy yourself thus don’t penny pinch too much, so one or two night of splurging somewhere nice (because why not) should definitely be a part of the plan. 5) Add it all up then book, make sure you’re happy with the budget and book away. The strategy here is to pay everything off so you don’t have to worry about it at a later date so you can enjoy yourself.

WOW Air, $99+ CAD fares to Europe from Toronto and Montreal, why I’m not entirely sold.

United, WestJet, Alaska, Virgin, Sprint…there are tons of airlines out there, however this morning, I woke up to an email that said $99 one way fares to Europe. Admittedly, it woke me up enough to fetch my laptop and google Wow Air.

Wow Air, an Icelandic discount airline, founded in the 2011 are offering deeply discounted fare to Europe for next summer. Imagine my excitement! However, seeing that I’m on the West Coast and not the East Coast, I did a little number crunching in my head (all before I’ve had coffee mind you) which amounted to the deal not being worth it for me. However, if you are from the East Coast, you might want to consider a few things as well, while fares starts at $99, that is the base cost of flying to Iceland only on the first leg out – however if you were to book return journey, the return journey often cost more than the $99, or $149. As sampled below with dummy dates from Berlin to Toronto back. Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 8.14.50 AMAlso, deeply ‘discounted’ airlines often charge extra for luggage and meals (that’s why they’re deeply discounted) as is with the case for example with Norwegian Airlines, their most basic fare does not include checked baggages or meals, whereas other commercial Airlines offer upfront, like KLM or AirFrance. I’ve wrote about why it’s better to fly direct and now I’m inclined to investigate how much you’d save if you actually flew with a ‘discount’ airline vs. regular airline. In the meantime, if you’re on the East Coast and want to see Iceland or continental Europe for a steal, do check this deal out and if you end up traveling with WOW Air, or have traveled with them before, please leave a comment 🙂

Traveling inspires more wanderlust

Five days is not enough, but then again, I always feel that way about Europe. There’s always more things to be done, more things to be seen, more things to be inspired by, oh if only I had more time. But then I realize, why is it that I always want to do more, see more when traveling, rather than staying put at home? Could the answer be more obvious?

What I realized is that, it all started with me.

If only I had wanted to stay put, enough the life I have back home, then perhaps I’d be a lot happier – but at the same time, traveling frequently has also taught me that, I cannot simply be content with what I have back home, since there’s so much more out there than my little piece of the world. Again, so much wonder to be experienced and memories to be made.

why you’re better off spending more flying direct

While I’m an advocate for budget traveling and shaving off costs whenever and wherever you can, recently I ran into this rather practical traveling problem. Say, I saved $200 dollars by not flying direct, but then multiple layovers and hours at the airport tend to turn even the most frugal of us into bleeding wallets. So did I really save that $200 like I thought I did?

There are a few things to consider when you’re traveling.

  1. Safety
  2. Comfort
  3. Hassle

1. If you can, shorten the trip for the purposes of saving on travel insurance: in this case, time = money, the more time you spend outside of your home country the higher the cost of insurance, so factor that in when you’re doing long layover, multiple connection flights.

2. food, pack your own non-perishable food: This is so important! I had somehow forgotten that security checks do not like you when you bring ‘perishable’ food into after security and I was very recently reacquainted just how expensive things could be inside the airport… 10 dollars for a pre-packed sandwich at LAX, which contains two pieces of white bread and mystery meat drenched in sodium? Like, why are we getting prison food at airports? And then you also realize, to get out of the airport is too much of a hassle – so think ahead of time.

Solution: Try to eat before you go through security, or pack really bland non-perishables that don’t trigger and set off alarms at security, like granola or oatmeal. PS: you shouldn’t bring jam or gel type items…as I learned first hand at LAX, Nutella is not flight friendly.

2. EMPTY WATER BOTTLE: not full because you’d have to chuck them out at security and everything behind security cost an arm and a leg.

Solution: bring your own water bottle and make sure it’s empty. Airports usually have water fountains post-security checks. You can fill them up and bring it onto the plane and make sure you do, because planes are very very dry, people often start coughing at the end of a long-haul flight.

3. SIT TIGHT: say what? More sitting in the waiting area, wouldn’t it be great to stretch your legs before a flight? Yes and no. Yes you should move around and stretch before you’re crammed into a plane, but try to steer clear of anything that calls out to your wallet – the duty free might be ‘tax free’ but always ask yourself, do you really need it?

Solution: load your e-reader up with 100+ books, and have fun.

4. Comfort: if you’re skimping out on hotels to sleep in the airport to save $$$, of course, but be prepared for achy and possibly grumpy mood and a feeling that the time to board is never going to come.

Solution: bite the bullet and repeat, ‘this too shall pass’ while reading books on your e-reader. Because, it most likely will.

All in all, saving money requires tenacity and organization. If you don’t get it quite right the first times, take it as lesson well learned.

overnight airport stay: productivity tips

Who knew that nights at the airport is quieter than a library?

I sure didn’t until last night. I’d thought the experience would be highly uncomfortable, since I’m no stranger of news clips showing people stranded and camped out at airports during snowstorms. However, my experience, on a normal night for Seattle Tacoma Airport – the place is absolutely serene, to the point, hiding in the workstation helped me to focus on things that needed to be done, and I got lots done in the 12 hours I was there – even with distractions from my social media accounts. Yes.

So what are the keys to productivity in an airport?

  1. Decide that you’re here to work: you might as well, you’re staying at an airport, do you really dare to sleep?
  2. Find the secluded workstations if you can: they’re usually the surface with chargers and bar stools. Depending on the airport you might also find some working cubicles which sort of look like some business class seat – it’s shielded from three sides with only one side open, helping you to ignore the outside world.
  3. Get yourself two drinks, not one: you want to stay well hydrated, so if you get a coffee to pull the all nighter, or something stronger like an energy drink, and you want to minimize the times you have to get up to grab something to drink. And when you have two drinks and not one, when you leave to get up to use the washroom, you’ll leave one drink at the table, giving people the idea that you’re coming back (without actually leaving anything valuable behind), saving yourself a seat.
  4. Make sure you get up and stretch regularly: the seats are only comfy for so long, and according to research, sitting is the new smoking, so make sure you get up to stretch, move, yoga!
  5. Respect other people’s space: there might be other travellers staying at the airport at night. Don’t blast loud music, or talk loudly on the phone – respect each other’s space and focus on what you’re working on.