I’m making a comeback to blogging (my last blog post was in December 2015), and here you go! All the answers to the burning questions you have about my travel life. These are the questions I get asked most often. If you have another question related to my travel life, drop it below in the comments.
Where’s the best place you’ve visited so far?
You might be surprised by my answer – Mexico City. I’ve visited the usual touristy cities that people seem to love to flock to – London, New York City, Los Angeles, Rome, Beijing, Bangkok, Paris, etc. – but Mexico City remains my favorite. I was struck by how the people there always had such wide smiles. I loved how it only took random music for them to start dancing. And don’t even get me started on the amazing, delicious, cheap food. I found a hole-in-the-wall place for breakfasts. None of the staff spoke English, and my Spanish is mediocre, but I had the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten in my travels.
Which is your favorite place to live?
I’ve lived in 6 countries (by ‘live,’ I mean stay for at least a month), and Milan, Italy is my absolute favorite city to live in. It’s urban, metropolitan, and buzzing with activity, but it’s not as crowded as a city like Beijing or New York City. On one hand, there’s enough to keep me entertained, and on the other hand, it’s still quiet enough for chilling and relaxing. The public transportation is great and a major plus point. I especially like taking the old trams; they’re so quaint and almost-antique.
How can you afford to travel? Are you rich?
No, I’m not rich, but I’m a good researcher. Through experience, I’ve learned how to find the best prices for flights and accommodation. I also work a lot. I work every weekend that I’m not traveling. I avoid eating out or buying new clothes/shoes, and I’m careful with my spending.
What are your secrets for finding these good prices?
Number 1, patience. And lots of it. I’ve sometimes spent hours finding the best possible flights for a trip. Number 2, be flexible. It helps if you’re flexible about destinations and dates. For me, it’s usually a little harder to be flexible about dates because I have specific off days, but I do my best to be flexible about destinations. I wanted to go to Budapest, Hungary, but the price wasn’t right, so I changed my plans. Budapest will always be there for a visit at another time!
use incognito/private mode when browsing for flights,
search on SkyScanner for good dates,
remember to check budget airlines,
look at nearby airports (for example, it was cheaper to fly out of Vienna, Austria so I took a bus from Bratislava, Slovakia to Vienna for that flight),
always do free walking tours the first day to get an introduction to the city’s history and a rough idea of what you might want to sight-see later,
use Hotwire and HotelTonight to find premium hotels at half-price or less,
don’t be afraid to stay in hostels (between AirBnb and hostels, I prefer the latter because they usually offer free breakfasts and are located centrally), and
before going to a restaurant, Google their menu to get an idea of their prices.
How do you find good-priced accommodation?
Like I mentioned above, Hotwire and HotelTonight are good for finding premium hotels at lower prices. Booking.com is actually my go-to app for booking accommodation in general. I also use HostelWorld. For both Booking.com and HostelWorld, I always set the minimum average review score at 8/10 and read a few pages of the reviews. If a reviewer wrote about a bed bug incident, I will never book that place, no matter how long ago the incident was.
Do you get scared? Aren’t you afraid of traveling alone?
Yes, countless times. But you have to be the right amounts of scared, cautious, bold, and reckless. If I wait to find a travel partner, I would never be able to travel. Life’s too short to wait around for someone, and there’s so much of the world to see. Unfortunately, the world is also often not a safe place for a solo female traveler, but I have Malaysia-cultivated street smarts and the best resting B face.
What tips do you have about how to travel alone as a female and stay safe?
Remember the ‘don’t talk to strangers?’ rule your parents gave you when you were young? It’s still applicable. I never respond or talk to any man on the street who tries to talk to me. I cannot emphasize this enough. I actually inwardly cringe whenever I see my female friends responding to questions from male strangers. I don’t care if I come across as unfriendly because my safety always comes first.
Maintain a healthy level of skepticism. I’m probably the most skeptical person you’ll ever meet, especially when it comes to strangers or men (I’m trying to not be gender bias here, but I cannot recall a single instance of a woman approaching me and trying to sell stuff or talk to me). I’m also usually good at detecting BS, even over the phone screen. I guess it’s something that time and experience teaches, but if you struggle with that, don’t worry. The bottom line is: don’t trust strangers, they’re not your friends.
Wear a cross-body bag and keep your hand on your bag in crowded areas. This is one of the common sense safety rules.
Don’t look lost. Easier said than done, but it always helps to have done a little research beforehand. I usually have some kind of idea of what public transportation I will be using, a screenshot of the metro map in my phone, the applicable taxi apps ready in my phone, and access to Google Maps. I don’t actually walk while holding Google Maps because I don’t want people to see I’m looking at a map and I don’t want to hold my cellphone in my hand for long periods of time, but I check the app regularly to make sure I’m on the right path.
Don’t you ever feel lonely since you travel by yourself?
When I was first asked this question, I was a little taken aback, but my answer was and has always been ‘yes!’ However, I’m always so busy seeing new places, learning incredible history, and eating amazing food that I don’t have the time to ‘feel lonely.’ In some ways, I do prefer traveling by myself because I can do whatever I want at my own pace. With that said, I also do like traveling with a partner, something I’ve done a few times, because it is nice to not have to plan everything by myself. I’ve noticed that when I travel with a partner, I get a little lazy and usually let my partner make most of the decisions about where to visit or eat at.
How do you get around when you’re at a foreign place?
I’m never afraid to use public transportation. It’s all part of the adventure. Here in Europe, I like using trains and buses when traveling from one city to the next, if they’re near enough to not require a flight. It’s always fun navigating the transportation system when you don’t know the main language used. Also, my general rule is that if it’s not raining and safe, I will always walk to any destination that’s less than 50 mins away. With all the good food I’m eating, I have to find a way to work it out!
What’s the best way to obtain foreign currency?
ATMs. Always. This is something I wish I knew when I first started traveling. I have a debit Mastercard with zero foreign transaction fees, and the ATM fees are always lower than the fees at the currency exchange store or bank. When withdrawing from the foreign ATM or using your card to pay in a foreign country, always select the country’s currency as the payment currency. For example, here in Italy, I always select Euro instead of USD. I don’t select USD because it’s the marked-up ‘guaranteed’ rate from the bank and not the current mid-market rate.