Category Archives: Travel

How to Buy Flights on Skyscanner

skyscanner italy home page

Finding a good (read, cheap) flight takes hours. I’m no stranger to combing through dozens of possible flight combinations and dates for one trip, and trawling through different language websites in a bid to find THE elusive cost-effective and comfortable flight.

I always begin my search on Skyscanner. I use other flight search engines as well, but I’ve found that Skyscanner is usually the most reliable, especially when searching for long-haul flights.

Here are 5 tips to help you maximize your Skyscanner experience and find the cheapest flight:

Search multiple Skyscanner sites

example of google chrome transation from korean to english

Use Google Chrome to translate 3rd-party booking websites that are not in English

When possible, use the Skyscanner international site of your intended country of departure and arrival. For example, when I was searching for a flight from Italy to Thailand, I had 2 incognito/private browser tabs open: one for skyscanner.it and the other for skyscanner.co.th.

On the top right corner of the Skyscanner main page, change the language settings to English and the currency to whatever currency you wish to search in.

Skyscanner searches 3rd-party websites to bring you the best fares. So, Skyscanner Italy will search English and Italian 3rd-party booking agencies, and Skyscanner Thailand will search English and Thai 3rd-party booking agencies.

These local travel agencies sometimes give lower fares compared to non-local sites, which means that you might be able to find a cheaper fare through searching on one of the international Skyscanner sites, instead of the default skyscanner.net.

What if the local travel agency website is in a foreign language, with no English version available? Do not fear! Download the Google Chrome browser, if you don’t already have it. It has an awesome feature that’ll help you translate the foreign language to your language of choice.

Search the Skyscanner site of your airline’s headquarters location

I also take my search a step further by opening a 3rd browser tab and searching on the international Skyscanner site of the country where the airline is based.

For example, I found that AirAsia offers the cheapest flights from Korea to Thailand. AirAsia is headquartered in Malaysia. On the off-chance that I might be able to find an even cheaper flight, I searched Skyscanner Malaysia after searching Skyscanner Korea and Skyscanner Thailand.

Since AirAsia is a Malaysian company, Malaysian travel agencies might be able to offer more competitive prices than their counterparts.

Pay attention to ratings

skyscanner 3rd party website ratings

3rd-party website ratings

Skyscanner is a search engine. Every time someone selects a 3rd-party website that Skyscanner shows in its search results, they are given the option to rate their booking experience with that 3rd-party website.

I know I’ll probably have a seamless booking experience if I choose a website that 1) has a substantial number of ratings and 2) has at least a 4-star cumulative rating. Trip.com is one such example. It usually has thousands of ratings and a 4 or 4.5-star cumulative rating.

Only buy flight extras on the airline website

After you’ve booked your flight, you will receive a flight confirmation email. I get my confirmation emails about 1 hour after booking the flight. It could be sooner or up to 24 hours later, so don’t start panicking if you don’t see the email immediately after paying for the flight!

In the confirmation email, look for the airline reference number or airline booking number. That is the code you should use to search for your flight on the airline website’s Manage My Booking page .

When I need to purchase add-ons like extra luggage or when I want to select my seat, I do it on the airline’s website. Skyscanner and other 3rd-party websites often charge exorbitant amounts for those extras.

For example, I wanted to purchase an add-on of 15kg checked luggage for my flight from Japan to Korea. The 3rd-party website that I used to buy my flight ticket from was asking $125 to do that. Since that’s a ridiculous charge for only 15 kg of checked luggage, I used the airline’s website and only paid $30. That’s an almost $100 difference!

Check, double-check, triple-check

It goes without saying that you should always be careful when filling out your information on a flight booking page. Be extra careful when you are not buying from the airline website.

Airline websites can occasionally be a little more forgiving. If you mistype one of your names or forget a name, you might be able to change it for free within a 24-hour window or pay a small fee for a change.

When you book through Skyscanner or another 3rd-party website, they might either make it really difficult for you to make a change or they might charge a crazily-high fee for it.

Again, this might seem like common sense, but the top complaints I’ve seen people make about using 3rd-party websites are the lack of customer service or the rip-off fees. Using Skyscanner and a 3rd-party website can be a really great and cost-effective experience as long as you don’t make a mistake when filling out your personal information!

So here you go: 5 tried-and-true tips to help you Skyscanner your way to your next vacation!

Buon viaggio

The San Marino Travel Guide I Wished I Had

san marino fortress

On a fortress tower in San Marino. On a clear day, you should be able to see the Adriatic Sea.

Last year, I took a short trip to San Marino. This was the first country I’ve visited where I had so many questions, but alas, Google wasn’t helping. Even Booking.com and Airbnb showed me homes for San Marino, CA or San Marino, Rome! After I returned from my trip, I wrote this list for fellow travelers in the Girls Love Travel Facebook group.

1. San Marino is only accessible by road. The easiest way to get there is to take a train to Rimini, Italy, and then hop-on the Rimini-San Marino bus that runs about every hour. A ticket costs €5 one way, and it’s about 40 mins from the pick-up point outside Rimini train station to the last drop-off stop in San Marino. You can buy the bus ticket from the tabacchi (tobacco shop) across Rimini train station. There’s NO train/railway into San Marino and no airport in San Marino. If you’re renting a car, even better! The roads are winding and the historic center isn’t accessible by car, but I saw many parking spaces available.

2. Wear walking shoes or hiking sandals! The roads in the historic downtown center are hilly and cobblestone. If you’re visiting the fortress towers (only 2 are open for visitors; the 3rd, reportedly, doesn’t have an entrance), you WILL be walking uphill quite a bit to get to the towers.

3. In the historic downtown, there’s a shit ton of shopping (a nice FYI: San Marino is duty-free), a handful of museums, a hiking trail, and the fortress towers. It takes less than an hour to visit both fortress tours. You can buy a ticket that will give you access to both towers. The second tower has a weaponry museum inside. It’s 4.50€ for one tower and 6.50€ for 2 towers. Other museums in the historical area include a vampire museum, a museum of curiosities, and a torture museum. It was rainy and foggy when I visited, so I didn’t have a great view from the towers. But on a good day, you’re supposedly able to see the Adriatic Sea.

4. Accommodation in downtown historic San Marino is very limited and more costly. If you’re planning to spend more than one day in San Marino, it’s better to book a hotel in the more urban areas. BUT, be aware that you’ll either need a rental car or a taxi to get around. If you want to stay in the downtown historic center, book far in advance.

5. The food to try when you’re in San Marino is piadina! It’s a flatbread folded in a crepe-shape with fillings – usually prosciutto, melted cheese, and arugula. I loved the bread!

6. I didn’t do this, but you can buy a passport stamp for 5€, and it’s completely legit because San Marino is a country and can issue passport stamps – getting a passport stamp from them will not invalidate your passport.

7. What I did do – bought a postcard and a global postal service stamp from one of the many shops selling them, and mailed the postcard in one of the white mailboxes that can be found everywhere.

I wish there are more articles out there about visiting San Marino and what to expect. San Marino is the world’s oldest independent republic, has more cars than people, is surrounded by Italy, and has one of the best economies in the world with its lowest unemployment rate and a national budget surplus. If you are in the northeast of Italy, do pay this small country a visit.

5 Days Amalfi Coast and Naples Itinerary

sentiero degli dei

View from the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods) hike

Due to the nature of my work, I’m not usually able to take long-ish vacations. Last week was an exception. I had an almost 5-day vacation, and I decided to visit the south of Italy. I usually fly to another country for my vacations, but I figured it was time to explore southern Italy, which is very, very different from northern Italy. Scroll down for an itinerary of my trip, as well as transportation, accommodation, and budget information.

positano

Marina Grande Beach in Positano

I visited the Amalfi Coast and Naples. The Amalfi Coast is, without a doubt, the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in Italy. I visited Venice last year, and I would actually rank the Amalfi Coast higher than Venice. I did a couple hikes, and around every corner on the hikes, there’s a different breathtaking view to be seen.

The Sentiero Degli Dei (English: Path of the Gods) hike is the number one reason why I decided to visit the Amalfi Coast. The hike was stunning (tip if you decide to do this hike: Coming from Bomerano, always keep the ocean on your left and you won’t get lost. I went down the wrong way for 30 minutes when I didn’t follow this rule, and had to make the arduous, nearly vertical climb back up), the towns I saw were gorgeous, and the beach time was sorely-needed and a welcome relief.

agerola to amalfi

Hike from Agerola to Amalfi

I spent a couple nights in Agerola and a couple nights in Naples, and I truly regret not spending all four nights in Agerola (I stayed at a castle stable-turned-ostello) which was so quiet and peaceful. I’d heard all kinds of things about Naples before I visited; it’s no secret that northern Italians dislike southern Italians and vice versa. However, I didn’t take what I heard seriously, until I stepped foot in Naples, heard the incessant honking, saw street after street terribly littered with trash, saw people selling passport covers and pills in the “flea markets,” and felt the constant, nagging need to hold on tightly to my belongings. Out of all the Asian, America, and European cities I’ve visited, Naples wins the ‘dirtiest city’ award by far. I read that it’s a city that you either love or hate, and unfortunately, I fell into the latter camp.

But, I live and I learn! Back to the Costiera Amalfitana. One day, after I’ve learned how to use a motorbike, I will return to the Amalfi Coast and Vespa my way through it. Hiking was so lovely and fun, but the speeding bus rides up and down the very narrow, winding mountain roads had me searching for my motion sickness chewing gum. One last parting thought before I info-dump my trip: people say the Amalfi Coast is a romantic destination, one that’s especially for honeymooning couples. That might be true, but as a solo traveler, I had an absolute blast. It was the most peaceful, calming, and quiet couple days I’ve had in awhile.

Itinerary

Day 1

agerola to amalfi

Hike from Agerola to Amalfi

Arrived in Napoli at 8.25 from Milano.
Took an ALI bus (5.00) from Napoli Airport to Napoli Stazione Centrale. Journey time was about 30 minutes, with quite a bit of rush hour traffic and a weird moment when a police bus, escorted by police riders, forced its way through the traffic.
Took a direct SITA bus (3.90) from near Centrale/Piazza Garibaldi to Agerola on the Amalfi Coast. Journey time was about 1.5 hours.
Hiked 2.5 hours from Agerola to Amalfi. The hike wasn’t supposed to be that long, but I got lost down some endless, narrow stairs and had a small adventure with a black garden snake. Took the SITA bus (2.00) up from Amalfi to Agerola.

Day 2

sentiero degli dei 1

View of Positano from the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods) hike

Took a morning bus (1.30) from Agerola to Bomerano.
Hiked 3.5 hours from Bomerano to Nocelle on the Sentiero Degli Dei (Path of the Gods). Distance was 7km. The hike usually takes 3 hours, but I went the wrong way for 30 minutes, and that’s like 30 hours on a hike.
Walked down 1800 steps from Nocelle and then a short walk from the last stair-step to Positano.
Amazing, relaxing beach and tanning time in Positano.
Took a SITA bus (2.00) from Positano to Amalfi, then another SITA bus (2.00) from Amalfi to Agerola.

Day 3

Took a noon direct SITA bus (3.90) from Agerola to Napoli.

naples

Spaccanapoli, a straight and narrow street that, when seen aerially, appears to divide the historic center of Napoli

Day 4

Visited the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Naples National Archaeological Museum) for free since May 19th is one of the museum’s free entrance day.
Wandered around Via Tribunali and Via Toledo.

Day 5

Took a very early morning ALI bus (5) to the Napoli Airport from outside Napoli Stazione Centrale.
Left Napoli at 8.50.

Accommodation

Agerola – Ostello Beata Solitudo
Napoli – Couchsurfing

Budget

Transportation – 38.10 (including r/t bus 13 from Milano Stazione Centrale to Milano Bergamo Airport)
Food – 36
Accommodation – 41.64

 

Travels FAQ

Mexico City

When in Mexico City… (2017)

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!

Also, …

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.