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Posts tagged ‘Travel’

My Flight to France Cost $5

At the request of close friends and fellow bloggers, I’m posting my advice and experience with frequent flyer programs thus far. I am certainly new to this game, but I think that I’m a quick learner.

To begin, I flew from Florida to France this past August– and I did so while enjoying a first class seat. And to brag a little bit more, I spent only $5 on my flight.

As of right now, I only have a frequent flyer account with Delta– which leads to my first piece of advice:

1. Start small.

Frequent flyer programs usually don’t cost a dime to join! So why not just sign up for every single program you can find? Despite what I’ve read about joining more than one program, I think it’s better to get your feet wet first. If you have itchy feet and your travel destination can simply be listed as “everywhere,” then you should still probably pull in on the reigns a little bit. If you try to open several flyer program accounts at once, then you’ll be paralyzed by the options when it comes to choosing flights. In addition, they are called frequent flyer programs for a reason. You’ll only be able to enjoy the rewards from frequent loyalty.

I’m sure some may argue against this, but I still think I have a solid argument. The best analogy for this is to recall that time in college when you tried to juggle more than one significant other etc. What happened? You spread yourself too thin (pun intended). You forgot about dinner with one or accidentally texted an inside joke to the wrong person or simply didn’t have enough stamina to offer your sloppy seconds. In result, they lost interest in you and left, or your relations and ambitions fizzled out due to over-exhausted efforts. What seemed like an awesome idea at first did not offer the benefits you expected. Instead, you’ve spent all this money going out on the town and you still don’t have someone to bring you soup when you’re sick (-slash- sleep with you).

If you try to juggle more than one airline program, you’ll take much longer to see any benefit from your loyalty. You need to learn how to play the game first. How can you quickly rack up the miles to fly free if your miles are spread through 5 or 15 different programs?

2. Earn Miles Without Flying

emiles

This is often very possible. You can earn miles in several ways, such as credit cards (more on that in a bit), surveys, product promotions, etc. The key to this is thorough study whatever frequent flyer program you’ve joined or are thinking of joining.

One program to check out is e-miles.com. It’s a free program where you register and respond to different marketing surveys and campaign. I’ve managed to rack up about a 1,000 miles from participating.

3. Find a Credit Card to Earn Miles

imgres

Frankly, if a credit card isn’t offering some kind of reward, then you shouldn’t have it. Credit cards often offer flyer’s miles, or points to redeem to flights, merchandise etc. Do some thorough research for choosing one to apply for– and if there’s a credit associated with an airline that you frequently fly with, then consider that card if it’s a good offer.

I have the American Express Delta Skymiles credit card, and it is awesome. I chose Delta because so far I’ve had only positive experiences with them and their Sky Team includes a lot of international airlines, so I can usually earn at least 25% of my miles from co-partner lines. This card earns at least 1 mile per dollar spent and there is usually a bonus offer of a few thousand miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.

Keep in mind that this advice is only solid if you’re responsible with credit cards. My habit includes putting all of my expenses on my card and paying off the balance every month. However, most people don’t have the training or discipline to not spend more money than they have. I’ve personally had my own dark battles, and during the holidays, and arriving spells of boredom etc. I often lock my credit cards in a safe. I have a friend who even cut his credit card in half.

If that’s an issue, then put all of your monthly  bills that debit automatically from your bank account: cable, internet, Netflix, cellphone bill, etc. These usually have a fixed amount that is charged each month. You can set up an auto-pay for that predetermined balance and lock the card away so you’re not tempted to buy anything outside of your budget– which is an essential practice if you’re trying to save up for a trip.

If you do this, then you could be magically earning miles without having to do anything!

4. Study Your Program Thoroughly

This is how I managed to acquire 120,000 miles in approximately 7 months. The great thing about Delta is that I can earn miles without spending a dime. There are often promotions outside of the American Express card.

For example, I can spend anywhere from 2-30 minutes filling out surveys earn money through e-Rewards. Once I reach a set amount, I can use this monopoly money to buy miles. I’ve been able to scrape at lease 1,000 miles from these surveys, which I often do while sitting on a train or when I was bored and had nothing to do at work.

Another opportunity they offer is Delta’s Skymiles Shopping. At my job in the United States, we would order our office supplies online. The store was affiliated with the Delta Skymiles Shopping program, so instead of typing the web address for Office Depot, I would log into my Delta Skymiles Shopping account and click on the Office Depot link from there. This would tag the purchase through the Delta promotion, and in result, every time we ordered office supplies, I would earn $2 per mile (I asked permission from my boss first).

Delta has many other ways to earn miles, which is why they’re my main program that I stick to.

I would have never found out about these offers if I hadn’t read through all of the promotions and offers listed on Delta’s website. If you’re avid about acquiring miles, then you must do homework.

In the meantime, I am chilling here in Paris thanks to a free flight– and I already have about 50,000 miles again– so perhaps I’ll fly home for $5 too!

Are any of you part of a frequent flyer program or credit card? If so, which one and how is it treating you? Have you learned any tricks or can you offer any of your own personal tips? I’d love to hear about it and maybe we can continue to provide each other some insight!

Roam the World. Not the Internet.

The only thing I dread about planning any trip is figuring the best way to travel there. Although I appreciate the overwhelming selection on how to get anywhere, it’s often very tedious to figure the most efficient way.

It’s a juggling act between the time and money spent in order to find the best route. A bus may be cheapest, but maybe it triples the travel time. Flying is awesome, but often expensive, and if a train’s available that may be better and even faster since it cuts down on check-in time, etc.

But since I am not familiar with the destinations I travel to, I often have to spend hours trying to figure out how long it would take to get there by train versus bus versus plane, etc.

But then I found this awesome site that calculates all of that for me. So now, my hours spent researching that question only takes a couple minutes.

Rome2Rio.com has been a god-send so far.It helped me plan how to get from Paris to a tiny city in Sweden for Christmas. It’s kind of like Google Maps, but specifically created for those trying create a travel itinerary and find out how to get from each destination to the next. It’s multi-modal, multi-destination travel search engine.

If you choose a route, it often provides the websites needed in order to book tickets, reservations, etc. It’s basically a travel agent without having to actually pay for one. Do all of your transportation research and leg work on one website instead of having to shuffle through several.

So please check it out! Read their about section and get to know what they offer, because I’ve already used it quite a bit.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Yesterday it was Thanksgiving in the United States, and the few days preceding the holiday were perhaps the first times that I truly felt subtle twinges of nostalgia. Perhaps it was the Facebook posts from friends excited to visit home, or perhaps it’s because the Starbucks in Opéra where I study French began to incessantly play American Christmas music weeeeeeeeks ago.

In the months prior to leaving the US, my occasioned thoughts about spending the holidays alone  and abroad often caused my imagination to picture myself with my laptop playing illegally downloaded holiday films while eating whatever form of “pumpkin spice” anything I could forage in Paris.

But on the actual day of Thanksgiving, I did not have time to even acknowledge those feelings of homesickness, let alone stew in them. Instead, I spent much too long trying to hunt down cranberry sauce.

First I tried Le Bon Marché, where I found a foreign food aisle labeled “USA”

This was a fantastic experience, because I was able to able theorize on the following questions:

  1. What do the French or Parisians think of as what Americans buy in the market and consume at home?
  2. What can Americans buy in Paris from Le Bon Marché when they miss home?
  3. What does Le Bon Marché think of as cuisine that is indicative and representative of the American diet and culture?

And from this aisle the answers include the following:

  • Ranch dressing
  • Beef jerky
  • Salsa and guacamole
  • Chili-flavored potato chips
  • BBQ sauce, yellow mustard, and relish
  • EasyMac
  • Cheese Whiz
  • LOTS of Planter’s peanuts
  • Popcorn but it was some French brand called “American Classic Foods.” This shouldn’t count. They need to sell Pop Secret, Butter Lover’s edition in order to place it in the USA aisle. Come on, France; I know ya’ll can do better.

Please note that cranberry sauce is not on the list. I was told I could find some there, so I felt dejected and slightly panicked because I needed to be home in an hour.

At one point, I  suffered from severe emotional whiplash: in about 1 second, I suddenly felt exalted and victorious, to absolutely crestfallen because I had (wrongly) thought that I had found cornbread. Turns out it was just  more of those damned Madeleines.

Eventually, I stopped following advice and typed “Thanksgiving in Paris” into Google…maps. Google Maps. Yes.

There is a rather famous stored located in the Le Marais area of Paris called Thanksgiving in Paris. You can take the metro to St. Paul  and walked to Rue St. Paul to get there. I found plenty of cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, stuffing, gravy, and you can even order turkeys. And yes, there was also Pop Secret popcorn.

Of course, the moral of this fable blogpost is that Thanksgiving isn’t really about cranberry sauce, despite my over-investment into locating a can of that crap. The actual point of this blogpost is to recount the particular memory that kept running through my head while I was thinking about Thanksgivings back home these past few days.

Thanksgiving and the winter holidays back home is a time to be with family– however, my family back home doesn’t consist of much than my mother and my sister. In result, you can imagine that cooking a turkey for three doesn’t leave you all that motivated… our participation in these winters holidays began to diminish when I was about 15 years old. We don’t even buy a Christmas tree anymore. So back home, my holidays are a bit lackluster.

I remember a few years ago when my mom and I were discussing what to do for Thanksgiving that year because all we would have was each other: why cook for three? What should we do instead? Go to the movies? A theme park? Vacation of some sort? No matter what alternative was conjured, nothing seemed to suffice.

To be honest, I can’t really recall how we came to our solution for our Thanksgiving crisis because it was so long ago. I don’t recall any “aha moment” or any flashes from lightbulbs that were hovering above our heads… it sort of just happened.

For however many years now, we’ve had what I’ve always called an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.” We invite over whomever we can think  of that we know is alone for Thanksgiving. During our first Orphan’s Thanksgiving, within a matter of a couple of days, our empty holiday turned into a small-scale logistical mess of trying to plan and cook for 12 or so people. Our guests consisted of our friends who were most often foreign and living on their own in the United States. They often left family to either find work in the U.S. and/or go to school. Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday that does not exist in those other countries, its presence remains overwhelming. You can’t work and you don’t have school, and all of your American friends and co-workers have left to be with family. Even if you’ve never even heard of Thanksgiving, if you’re in the United States during that time, you can feel a bit left out.

Every year in college I’d invite any friend I had made who was studying abroad while my mom, sister, and I continued to have our regular guests attend. Our Thanksgiving family includes loved ones from Myanmar, Croatia, Puerto Rico, Nepal, Argentina, and so on. And despite spending the holidays with people that perhaps I’ve barely met or don’t know that well, it is those memories that I cherish most. Those Thanksgivings has been the most fun and it’s been great to meet so many people from everywhere without having to leave home.

This is the memory that kept replaying in my head these past few days; it’s my first Thanksgiving spent away from family, no matter how small or big my family is. What should I do? Cooking a turkey for for 1 is even sillier– and let’s be honest: it has nothing to do with finding a turkey. It’s spending hours cooking with my mother and being annoyed by her simultaneously; that’s the fun. So I’m applying the same solution here in Paris.

 

 

If you’re abroad or have been abroad for the holidays, I’d love to hear about that! If you’re interested in hearing more about Expats celebrating Thanksgiving check out NPR’s Project Expat

Serendipity While Sitting at the Train Station

Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects about traveling or living in a new place is how– no matter what obstacles or mishaps occur– things always seem to turn out alright.

In the 2nd week of arriving in Paris, (and I mentioned this in a previous post) I managed to take 2 hours to get home. Why? Because my last train home that I had originally planned on taking was cancelled due to a strike.

For a local (and now, even me), this is not a big deal. There are plenty of other ways to get home. You can take a taxi, walk, ride a bike, or take a bus. But when you’re a 23 year old American girl who just arrived in a brand new country with no money, friends, or french vocabulary in order to get home, you start to get a little anxious.

Fast-forwarding through the stumbled, mucked-up Franglish conversation that I had at 1am with the info kiosk, I found the night bus that I needed to take home. However, now I am standing alone at a bus stop at 1:30 in the morning, surrounding by a bunch of people that I don’t know and I cannot strike up conversation with because I can’t say anything beyond “Hello” and “how are you,” let alone, “is this right bus? Would you happen to know which stop I need to get off at to get home?”

And of course, this is the part of story where I manage to meet a very nice stranger named Peterson who speaks English. He asks me, “you’re not from here?” Nope. I’m not. Apparently, it’s that obvious. I probably looked stressed out.

Peterson helps me get on the right bus, and he lets the driver know that I’m foreign and new, and that I’ll need him to tell me which stop to get off from. Meanwhile while at the bus stop, we have good conversation– and he even teaches me some French. Unfortunately, I don’t have a phone, but I figured “Hey! Potential new friend! Can I have your e-mail address? We can strike up a deal for some language exchange.” That night, I am not more indebted to anyone than Peterson, who went out of his way to help me get home .

But sadly, I lost his e-mail address.

 

Let’s cut to about 7 weeks later. I’m a pro at taking the train, bus, AND metro home. Lost? Psh. Please. I finally know what I’m doing. One night, I am boarding the train home at platform 13 to catch the 22:35 ride back. I sit and sit and sit on this train and it doesn’t move. Also, no one else is sitting on this train. It’s now 22:35– what’s going on?

I look to my left and this is what I see: my actual train leaving from platform 13. I accidentally boarded the train on platform 14 and somehow didn’t notice. C’est la vie. So now it’s time to get off of the train I’m sitting on, and walk back down to the lobby area to wait for the next train home.

How on earth did I manage to miss my train when I arrive 15 minutes before its departure? How did I manage to not deduce from the empty car that perhaps I am NOT on the right train? And how on earth did I manage to read “Voie 14” and I think, “yep, platform 13. That’s my train, right there.”

I will probably never know.

At this point, I am slightly irritated. I am tired and I just want to go home. I sit down on my bench and start at the list of departures waiting for my 23:05 train to announce it’s platform. I have stuffed my headphones into my ears and am listening to some kind of music so that I don’t have to talk to strangers because tonight, I’m not just in the mood.

Apparently the person sitting on the bench to right of me begs to differ.

I can barely make him sight of him, but my peripheries do catch sight of someone waving at me to try and catch my attention. I ignore it.Sorry pal, but tonight is not your night. I’m tired and exhausted from being sick, and I want to go home. Nope, wave all you want; I’m going to continue to ignore you.

Ugh, okay fine. I’ll look and see what the hell you want from me.

It’s Peterson! Nothing could have perked up my night more. 7 weeks later, a lost e-mail, and an absent-minded, unintentionally made choice to sit on the wrong train allowed me to run into Peterson again. What are the odds of that?

Probably higher than I think– but for that moment, the serendipity was too sweet to spoil with statistics.

Friday Flashback: China

Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

Last February I visited China, and Shanghai was one of three cities during my trip. I was feeling a bit nostalgic today, I thought I’d pay homage.

Photogenics: Père des pigeons

“Only the tourists feed the pigeons.”

That’s what I’ve been told– and yes, it seems to be true– and I’m sure it’s true for other places besides Paris. If I remember correctly, a friend of mine from New York City said they call them rats with wings.

Parisians love to picnic when the weather permits so– or rather, it begs so. So far, Paris in the summer and early autumn is absolutely divine… but pigeons pecking at your baguette or cooing nearby for crumbs can be quite irksome.

However, when I first arrived, I was walking alone the Seine near île de la Cité when I noticed this man feeding pigeons from his balcony. Unfortunately, I did not manage to snag a shot of a pigeon perched on his hand, but I swear this happened. He caught my eye with a pigeon perched on his thumb. To me, I thought he must be  a local living in the high balcony; I presume that there must be some kind of routine involved in being able to entice a bird onto his arm.

Pére des pigeons

I found the moment to be quaint, and it added to the picturesque setting that I was already saturated in, so I had to pull out my camera and try to snap the moment– and furthermore, it’s my proof that not only tourists feed the pigeons.

Photogenics: Sunset View from Pont des Arts

This is form Pont des Arts, which Pont Neuf behind me.

Fun fact: Every time I read and heard “Pont Neuf” I presumed it meant “bridge nine.” But nope, “neuf” can also mean “new.” It’s “new bridge.”

I took this photo in the evening; the sky was beautiful and I had to try to snag a shot. So far, I enjoy the sky here. For some reason, it always looks as though it can change colors form one end of my view to the other. For example, from outside my bedroom window once sunset starts, even at its earliest, the left side of my view will look like a light teal, but then it will morph into a dark shade of blue or pink. It’s as though two completely different skies are sharing the same space. I hope that makes sense.

To see it in its original size, which is slightly larger, just click on the picture.

Enjoy!

View from Pont Neuf

xx -J

Photogenics: Graffiti at Sunset

Graffiti on Pont Neuf

Pont Neuf in the evening overlooking the Seine with fresh graffiti along the locks of love.

How to Pack for a Move Abroad: Final post (for now).

Sometimes, I think that the deepest circle of hell would simply be a room where you are stuck having to pack your suitcase over and over again. Re-thinking what to bring and what to leave behind, and then realizing you forgot one thing or another, or not having it all fit, etc. I know that in my previous introduction I admitted that I love packing– but that doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to admit that in lieu of that fact, I must also have some masochistic tendencies.

So here it is! HOW TO PACK. Yes, the actual execution of the deed.

How to Pack:

This is section deserves an entire extended post for itself, so I’ll try to be as brief and concise as possible. I’m sure that I’ll continue to expand on this topic as the need arises, but here are the bullet points:

1. Pack larger and bulkier items first.

This includes things that cannot be folded, rolled, or molded in any way to jam into a crevice or lay flat. Anything that is in a box, case, etc. should be added first in order to pack other items that are either smaller or more malleable around it.

Examples are bottles, shoes, boxes, etc. It’s easy to jam in a jacket or extra pair of socks at the end of your packing marathon, but good luck trying to slip in that clunky hair dryer.*

*Side note: ask me about hair dryers sometime… I have my share of personal horror stories from toting them abroad that I assure would provide some insight if you’re considering it.

2. Space Bags. Look them up.

 

When you need to pack the puffy jacket, raincoat, 6 sweaters—and don’t forget your scarves— for the potentially eminent cold weather that may you encounter at your location, Space Bags are your best friend. They’ve allowed me to pack almost as twice as much clothing for the same space in a suitcase. They also protect clothing from any liquid you may have packed and could potentially spill during your journey.

On a related note, Ziploc bags are also awesome. If you’re packing any liquid, powder, etc. in your check-in luggage, put them it in  plastic Ziploc bags. If anything spills or explodes, it won’t ruin the other contents in your luggage.

3. Learn to fold and roll.

A 10-day trip to the Bahamas may allow you the freedom to toss your clothes into a carry-on, but packing to move abroad for a year or more doesn’t grant you that luxury. Folding and rolling will not only save space in your suitcase, but also the headache of a messy unpacking adventure when you finally arrive to your destination. I’ve tried to organize a closet jetlagged; it’s not fun. That would definitely be the sequel to that hell-circle of perpetual packing.

4. Save smaller items to stuff in last.

Things such as socks, underwear, tights, and tanktops, etc. can be stuck into the tiny crevices that exist in the edges of your suitcase and spaces between any clothing that you’ve zipped up in a space bag. I know that isn’t necessarily to most organized way to pack them, but in the end, when I re-packed my suitcase for the seventh time, saving the tights and socks to stuff into little pockets of emptiness was better for trying to fit everything inside.

As promised, here are some resources I found helpful:

How to Pack for a Move Abroad: Plan and Prepare

This is a continuation of the previous post re: How to Pack for a Move Abroad

I think the mere act packing for a trip can provide great life lessons and insight to one’s self. It forces you to think: what can I live without and what can’t I live without? Ultimately, that’s the question you’re answering whenever you’re packing for a trip, no matter how long or short of a trip that it is.

1. Research your country.

You should learn some essentials about your new home as soon as possible. In the near future, I’ll write about different way you can research your new home and add a link here, but for now, I’ll briefly advise some essentials to look up and learn:

• The weather.

Is it cold or is it how? How cold or hot? Does it rain a lot? How on earth will you know which clothes to pack if you don’t know what kind of weather to expect? This should outline your intentions about what clothes to pack (and possibly purchase before your departure).

In Paris, I know that their summers are brief and their winters are often rainy—and last much longer than any “winter” I’ve experienced in sunny Florida. However, being here these past few days, I wish I had packed a pair of shorts against the advisement of my friends.

• Their culture and economy—as well as yours.

Are certain items cheap or expensive? Do you plan on having an expendable budget for buying items such as clothes, toiletries, etc.? Do you want to blend in or stand out in regards to your attire?

When I visited China, I could buy many things cheap, but in France everything is more expensive—especially since I’m mentally converted all the euro prices into dollars. I actually just returned from the Monoprix store and found my favorite nail polish for sale for 11.90 € (euros)… that’s almost SIXTEEN dollars for an ounce of polish! Essie nail polish back home is at most $8.00:

So think thoroughly about what your budget will be and what you can and cannot live without, and figure out whether purchasing items in that country will be cheap or too expensive. I need to have contact solution and my fancy shampoo, but I’m not paying $16-20 a bottle when I could’ve stock up and brought it with me for less than half that price.

2. Write down what you need (and want) to pack.

What things MUST you take with you? And what things can you live without or wait to buy there?

Plan ahead and write it down—especially if you’re planning to purchase and pack a supply of something that you don’t want to buy over at your destination.

As a mentioned before, I stocked up on toiletries for the year (contact solution, tampons, shampoo, etc.) I had a friend who lived and worked in Switzerland for a year, and she hated having to spend what little extra income she had on essentials rather than being able to save it for something like going to dinner with friends. I actually just looked up how much it cost for me to purchase my shampoo here in France. The cheapest price was on Amazon.fr it’s cost was 60% of my weekly income. Granted, I’m not making a lot of money at the moment, but regardless I can’t spend 60% of my week’s income on shampoo alone, even if I do insist on that particular kind. So for now, I’m glad that I already brought some here.

Writing it down will also make the actual act of packing much less overwhelming. Opening an empty suitcase and thinking “now what?” always leave my mind blank. If that’s something you suffer from as well, then you’ll be glad to have that list.

Packing can be something done in an hour or two– or in my case a week or two. It depends on your personality, but regardless, it’s an essential step in traveling, but it’s significance is heightened when you’re moving to a place rather than just visiting.

Every step taken to a big move abroad is overwhelming. During my final hours back at home before my flight, I had to deal with many errands to complete and qualms to relieve; the last thing I wanted to do was pack, let alone figure out what to pack. So if you’re prepping for move abroad, whether it’s to study, work, etc. the advice from many that I’ve received is to take some time to plan what you can regulate and control– because plenty will be happening that you can’t!

Remember that the space in your suitcase is precious, and shipping things from back home or back to home is expensive. So unless you plan to have many friends and family members visiting regularly to some space to spare in their luggage, you’ve only got one shot at packing right.

Happy Travels,

xx – J