Tag Archives: travel

travel blog part 4: a home away from home

20 Jan

This travel blog series is written by friend and I as a means of sharing our advice and experience from our trip to Europe this summer. Blogs discussing research and planning, travelling with friends, and booking flights have been posted already and future blogs will discuss packing lists, what to do before you leave, daypacks, London, Paris, Nice (and surrounding area), and more! We hope you find this series interesting and useful. Comments are welcome and appreciated!

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In this blog, we’ll be discussing the hotels and the one hostel we stayed in during our trip and how we booked everything. All links in the blog go to either Booking.com or Hostel Bookers (except the Apex Hotel which goes to its actual site).
To start with, we planned on staying in hostels for most of our trip but we ended up staying in hotels mostly for two reasons:
  • Cost – in Paris and Nice especially, it was almost the same price or a little bit more to stay in an average hotel than share a hostel.
  • Safety and privacy – We like having our own bathrooms, ok?
London
In London, we stayed at two places. One near Kensington Gardens and the other nearby the Tower of London. I’m glad we switched places because we were able to experience different neighbourhoods in London and planned our trip to minimize travel time by visiting sights closest to wherever we were staying as each place was on different sides of London.
To find our one hostel, we considered its location, safety and cleanliness as our top priorities. Our hostel was Meininger Hostel and we could never remember how to properly pronounce it (my-nin-gr? main-inger?).
Our messy (but shared) hostel room. The feature photo at the beginning of this blog was taken from the balcony. Pretty sure we weren’t supposed to go out there cause the door wouldn’t open any more than the amount shown in this pic but we did it.
  • For 4 nights from August 3 -7, our total was $225 CDN for two people in a 4 person hostel room. For the price, we were pleased with it. It was clean and we had a great room with a balcony.
  • They had a buffet breakfast for 5 pounds (if I recall correctly) and it was OK. Ate a lot of beans on toast ( so British. I would say it with a British accent too…) and nutella there.
  • Would stay there again and booking on HostelBookers can be found here.
We decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel in London upon seeing it featured in a friend’s Facebook photos, hehe. We stayed at the Apex City of London Hotel for 2 nights for a total of $343 CDN for two people. This was one was pricier but so nice. We found a deal on the Apex website for a king size room that included a nice buffet breakfast. The deal page of the Apex website can be found here. Additionally, you could check booking.com and see how the prices compare.
Ah, so nice…@ Apex
Luxe (by our standards) bathroom @ Apex. Oh hey, you can see my bag. I still can’t believe I brought everything I needed with me in that bag + purse. Packing blog to come!
NiceIn Nice, we stayed at the Campanile Hotel Nice Centre Acropolis which was located a bit of a walk from the beach but not too far from Old Nice. It was a decent hotel and reminiscent of a Best Western or Holiday Inn here in Canada. For 3 nights, it cost $368 CDN for two people. Booked through Booking.com. No pics.We also stayed at the Kyriad Hotel Nice Gare for 2 nights because it was close to a train station and for a change of scenery for a total of $354 CDN for two people. This one was nicer than the Campanile hotel. Booked through Booking.com.

Room @ Kyriad. That was Ada’s big bag. Twin beds! Yay. They were comfy. One time, Ada took a nap for 1.5 hours while I watched an Asian movie with French dubbing. I think I understood 1/4 of it.
We also stayed at the Campanile Aeroport Hotelin Nice because it was close to the airport for our early departure. For 1 night, it cost $112 for two people. Booked through Booking.com.Nice was expensive…
Paris
In Paris, it was almost the same price to stay in a hotel instead of a hostel so we originally booked 5 nights at the Port-Royal hotel. It was decent for the price of $326CDN  for two people for 3 nights. We originally booked for all 5 nights but decided to switch hotels for a number of reasons:
  • A lot of shops near the area (Les Gobelins metro stop) were closed because of the August holidays so food choices were limited
  • Somewhat far from central Paris
  • No internet in the room (we had to go to McDonalds across the street for internet)
  • McDonalds (pretty sure we ate there several times…)

I would stay there again if they offered internet and during a different time of the year when shops and restaurants nearby were actually open. Forgot to take pics.

Our second hotel in Paris was the Libertel Montmartre Duperré near the Red Light District (Moulin Rouge) in Paris. It was a nice hotel and the area wasn’t that bad because there were a lot of tourists around all of the time. It was well priced because we got it last-minute. Again, no pics. I wasn’t planning this blog at the time.

Summary of Hotels and Hostels

  • Good prices and free cancellation can be found on Booking.com. It was easy to use and we really liked the free hotel cancellation in case we found a different hotel at a better price. Also didn’t have to deal with a language barrier when booking because it was all in English. A lot of the hotels on Booking.com are free cancellation and some aren’t so make sure you know which one you are getting! There were lots of reviews on the site and we didn’t even have to check with Tripadvisor.
  • Hostelbookers.com was good for hostels. There were lots of reviews and it was easy to book.
  • If you want to take a risk, you can leave hotels to the last-minute to book. I think we got a really good price on the Libertel hotel because we booked it the day before arriving. On the other hand, there is a good possibility that a lot of hotels are booked already so there are pros and cons.
  • Places that offer breakfast are handy – it was nice to not have to find somewhere to eat in the morning that wasn’t McDonalds.
  • Ideally, have an idea of where you want to go before you book hotels/hostels, or once you book your accommodations plan your days around where you are staying for convenience.
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travel blog part 3: come fly with me

18 Jan
This travel blog series is written by friend and I as a means of sharing our advice and experience from our trip to Europe this summer. Blogs discussing research and planning and travelling with friends have been posted already and future blogs will discuss packing lists, what to do before you leave, daypacks, London, Paris, Nice (and surrounding area), and more! We hope you find these series interesting and useful. Comments are welcome and appreciated!
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We booked our flight and most of our hotels one month before our ideal departure date. We thought about booking our flights online but for some reason we didn’t. Good deals can be found online with a travel agent but we didn’t want to mess anything up. I think another reason we went to Flight Centre is because our credit cards didn’t have a high enough limit to purchase two tickets at the same time, haha. Also, we thought it might be good to talk to someone in person to make sure we didn’t mess things up.After we bought our tickets at Flight Centre (Vancouver to Calgary and then London and coming back from Paris to Montreal to Vancouver), our friend told us that Travel Cuts is cheaper (might only apply for students though). So check out different travel agents before purchasing and getting the best deal. As a side note, I am currently planning a trip to Disneyworld and compared prices at Travel Cuts and Expedia. For the dates I requested the difference was like $6 between the two so not that big but hey, $6 is $6.
Another site that a British friend told me about is www.CanadianAffair.ca He’s booked flights several times through the site because they are really cheap for a transatlantic non-stop flight. We thought about it but didn’t want to take the risk. We read reviews about the planes being cramped and unreliable (often delayed). We didn’t want to take the risk even though the economic benefits were large. I wanted to be comfy and have a private TV to myself on Air Canada! But if you don’t mind going with a smaller carrier and don’t need bells and whistles, consider Canadian Affair.Trying out dates on Canadian Affair, if I were to leave for London Gatwick on Jan 24 from Vancouver and come back on Feb 9, my roundtrip non-stop flight would be $600 including taxes. Sounds decent to me. For our summer trip (obviously going to be more expensive than the winter), our roundtrip flight cost $1,463. Holy crap, that was expensive…Travelling between England and France…

During our trip, we went from London to Nice then to Paris and we flew each time. We considered taking the train because it seemed like a very “Europe” thing to do but the cost of taking a train was more than flying during the time we wanted to go so we opted for flying.

We flew with EasyJet and booked our flights on their website. We also booked the EasyBus shuttle to take us from a train station in London to Stansted airport. This cost $24 CAD for the two of us so quite reasonable. I wish I had stayed awake for the bus ride but I slept ¾ of the ride. Ada slept for the whole bus ride, hehe.

I’ll be posting more information about specific transportation information for each city later on.

Summary

  • Check out prices online and through travel agents and compare. We probably could have gotten a cheaper ticket by doing more research and checking out other places but didn’t.
  • If you want to fly cheap but willing to sacrifice comfort and inflight entertainment, consider Canadian Affairs. My friend who flew it said it was fine and didn’t have any issues but every experience is different so you never know…

travel blog part 2: travelling with friends (or a friend)

13 Jan
I can’t imagine going to Europe all by myself for my first time. I don’t like being alone and prefer to have people around me even if I’m not interacting with them.  I think it’s more of a safety thing cause I’m a bit paranoid about everything.

Anyways… I am really glad I was able to go with a friend who I’ve known for a long time and have travelled and lived with before. We were friends in high school and shared a room together in first year residence and lived next door in second year.

That being said, before you travel with someone for a fairly lengthy period of time, I highly recommend you ask someone who you’ve travelled and/or lived with before. You know what they’re like and how they like to travel and plan. If you happen to be going with someone that you’ve never travelled with before, I suggest getting together and discussing the trip in detail and discuss the little things (and big things like when you both want to leave for the trip). Sleeping-in ok? Waking up at extremely early to start with the day? Going out at night 3 times a week or staying in? Whirlwind tour or length stays in places? Hostels or hotels? Budgets? And so on.

When you’re travelling with someone else, your trip will be cheaper. You can share bottles of water at restaurants. Get different things at lunch so you can try each other’s without having to buy your own. The greatest savings are to be found in accommodations. If you’re planning on getting hotels, you can split the cost of one room if you don’t mind sharing a bed. It might be a double so prepare to be nice and cozy, haha.  For the price of a hostel in Paris per person, we could get a room in a decent hotel with private bathroom (yesssss) for the same price.

Planning and research can be easier as well. We split up the cities and did research on our assigned cities. This reduced the amount of books and articles each of us had to read. It also allowed for each person to be (or pretend to be) the travel expert for a different city or region. It’s nice to not have to think where to go sometimes.

To facilitate our planning and cost sharing, we created a Google Doc and Google Spreadsheet shared between the two of us. The doc contained itineraries, hotel information and packing lists while the spreadsheet contained anything that had to do with money whether it was booking shuttles, hotels, or flights. This is very useful to keep track of who is paying for what and equalizing it all at the end.

Oh yeah. If you got with a friend, you’ll always have someone to take a photo of you and you will be comfortable asking them to take it again or perhaps put your face in focus next time.
Summary
  • Travelling with a friend is great when you’re on the same page with similar interests and budgets. Try to go with someone who you’ve been on small trips or lived with before. They won’t judge you in case you need to go to the bathroom frequently thanks to French tap water…
  • Split up planning for cities so each has an opportunity to be the designated travel guide for different cities.
  • Consider hotels if hostels seem pricey per person (~$40 CDN per person). You might be able to find a hotel room for the same price if you don’t mind sharing a bed!
  • Create Google Docs and Spreadsheets to manage information and expenses efficiently.
  • Photo taker available at all times.

In case you missed it, visit this post for the introduction to this series and this post for information to get you started on your planning.

travel blog part one: where to begin? research and planning

11 Jan
For our trip, we went to Europe where we spent about 6 days in London, 6 days in the Cote d’azur, and 6 days in Paris.Why did we choose these places? Mostly for personal reasons as we both wanted to go to London and Paris because of its sights and because they’re one of the more popular European destinations. Since it was our first time in Europe, we also wanted to go somewhere…”tourist friendly” to help ease us into international travel.

We chose only 3 destinations because we wanted to spend quality time in each city. We didn’t want to feel rushed and feel like we missed out on sights. I’m really glad we didn’t rush everything and see 5 cities and only see a little of each.

To help with planning, I took out several books from the local library to provide general information about Europe and things to consider before going away. One book I found particularly useful was the Rough Guide First Time Europe. There was a lot of really useful information that I never would have thought of doing if I hadn’t read the book.

Ada bought a book by Lonely Planet on “Provence & the Cote d’azur”, with the hopes of finding places to visit while on the trip. However, it wasn’t as useful as we’d hoped because we stayed in the Cote d’azur for only 6 days and without a car. There’s so many free resources online and books at the library, that we feel that it’s not necessary to buy travel books.

Once we had decided on our destinations, I took out the most recent books I could find on each of the specific cities. We would read them in our spare time or on the bus. We bookmarked interesting sights and copied down some of the city itineraries in the books. There was one that offered a detailed itinerary and although it seemed manageable, in real life, we didn’t follow it as closely as we had imagined.

I actually didn’t do a lot of Internet research – mostly just travel books found at the library. I did, however, read some travel blogs to get an idea of what to pack and how to plan our trip. A number of online resources we found helpful in planning:

We also tried some unconventional research methods thanks to social media. I bet everyone has at last one friend on Facebook whose been to Europe and posted their pictures online. Creep them! Seriously! If you’re my Facebook friend….creep my pictures. It was useful to look at other people’s pictures and captions to gauge what they thought was interesting or some of the random things they found in their travels. We even stayed at the same hotel that two of my friends stayed at because the hotel looked nice in their pictures.Ask your friends for their tips. Everybody has advice for others after they’ve been to Europe. My friend told us about some hotels he stayed at and websites he used to book them. My co-worker told me about some of her fondest memories in Paris and how I could recreate them by sitting on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower and drinking wine. Most of the time, you will forget some of the things your friends suggest so write it down.

Also, another idea I thought of today because I was with a friend who is planning a trip to Asia, we picked up some travel brochures from Travel Cuts. It was good to flip through the pages to get an idea of what tour groups focus on and budgets if you want to plan the trip on your own (do it for less than the tour group)!In summary…

  • Take out library books, talk to your friends, creep Facebook photos and do some internet research to determine your destinations.
  • Think about how much time you have to spend and if you’d like to see a lot of places and see the key and most important sights or see fewer places to really see those places.
  • Even if you plan out every single day with itineraries like I did, you will probably abandon those plans halfway during the day. I definitely think having an idea of which sights you’d like to see is very beneficial but don’t spend too much time determining the exact sights you will see on a specific day.
  • Pick up free travel brochures to see what there is to see!

Coming up…booking flights! Also, check out the introduction to this series if you missed it.

introducing…a travel blog series!

6 Jan
So you’re planning your Eurotrip and don’t know where to begin. Sounds familiar. This past summer, my friend, Ada, and I went to Europe (well, just England and France) for our first time for 3 weeks. It was a really fun trip and we look back on it with fond memories.We did quite a bit of planning beforehand as neither of us are really the spontaneous type and I imagine those reading this blog to learn more about our travel experience and advice aren’t the spontaneous type either.We’re both in our early twenties and I’m glad we went now instead of going right after high school. I would have been too naive and inexperienced to navigate around foreign country. I wouldn’t have even been old enough to have a credit card which I can’t imagine travelling without.We both like to write and since coming back from our trip, we’ve thought of many things we wish we had done or (hadn’t done) while we were in Europe. We’ve had a couple of friends ask us for advice for their own Europe trips and since I’ve started this blog, we’ve wanted to write some posts on our travel experiences and suggestions so the posts in this series are a collaborative effort. It’s a lot of information for a single blog post so I’ve split everything up into different ones concerning researching, things to do before you go, booking flights and hotels, city guides, travelling with friends, packing lists, and more!Admittedly,  we aren’t travel experts and have only been to Europe once (specifically France and England) so these blogs won’t be as informative and exhaustive as you might find in a travel book or travel focussed blog. Some of the blogs will be more informative than others and some might be written more like a journal especially the city ones to give you an idea of what we did and what we saw. We’ll also be sharing some of our experience-based suggestions and advice that you might not find in books like how to use the transit system in Paris like a local or a restaurant you should visit if you want to feel like everyone that works there is part of an underground Mafia (or so we imagined!).

Keep posted (or subscribe on the right hand side) for articles in this travel series. I will be posting new blogs every Wednesday and Friday for the next few weeks!

Updates:

Part 2: Planning and Research

Part 3: Travelling with a Friend

Part 4: Come Fly with Me