After spending 6 days in Bali, I learned that the island is deceivingly larger than you might think. I stayed in Seminyak which is very central, but it is still about two hours away from many excursions. Bali has over 4 million people (that's 3x the amount of Hawaii's entire population) on an island half the size of Hawaii's Big Island. Translation - there is a lot of traffic. But don't let that stop you.
Here is how to make the most of your trip:
For reference, here is a map of Bali. You will land in Denpasar (in red below), and the closest places to stay near the airport are Kuta and Seminyak (in blue below).
Stay a few days in each of these spots:
1. Seminyak - Central, quieter than Kuta, nice blend of relaxation and activity.
2. Uluwatu - Beaches, spas, temples with beach views. As mentioned in my previous post, Seminyak and Kuta beaches have high surf and the beaches are gritty (stray dogs, litter, glass, etc). If you want a beautiful relaxing/swimming beach, check these out:
3. Ubud - Famous for Balinese cultural sights, rice terraces, relaxation, and yoga.
Where are your favorite places to stay in Bali? Comment Below!
People ask me all this question all the time: How do you do it? How do you travel? Isn't it expensive? For many years, I thought the same thing. Then I learned how to hack the travel system. The truth is, with careful planning and the following hacks, travel is possible no matter what your budget. You must know how and when to buy for the best deals. So without further ado, here are my favorite hacks:
1. Take Advantage of Flash Sales
Usually around January, airlines start promoting travel flash sales. I sign up with Travelzoo, Airfarewatchdog, and individual airline carrier promotional emails so I can stay alert on upcoming deals. I'm talking emails that say "This is not a misprint- $300 to Tokyo". Airlines need to fill their aircraft, so these kind of deals can happen. In fact, I found my Iceland deal this way, and the fare was cheaper than a LAX>SFO trip. Flash sales don't last long, so act on them soon or they are gone. Also, make sure to read any fine print. Double check your dates, additional costs like taxes, and departing airports to make sure it all jives. So yes, you can really travel to interesting cities for less than a week's worth of lattes.
Example of a real email:
Sign up for credit cards and loyalty cards that give you perks with hotels and airlines. The Hyatt card grants you 2 free nights at a Hyatt when you meet their requirements. The Southwest card allows you to turn your spending into free travel. Check The Points Guy for more examples.
Aside from credit cards, use your Student ID, AARP card, Military card, AAA card, etc. These can give you significant savings at museums and stores while abroad.
3. Use Alternatives For Hotels
The biggest expense outside of airfare is lodging, but it doesn't have to be. If you stay at a hotel, book early. As an alternative, try budget hotels, hostels, couchsurfing, and AirBnB which can be cheaper. As you travel, make friends so you can possibly stay with them and visa-versa. Weigh the distance of your accommodation to the city with the price. If it's too far from the city, you may spend more on transit and be better off staying in the city center.
4. Travel Off Season
You don't need to take "summer" vacation in summer. You will get the cheapest airfare when you go to a place during its off season. I'm talking Bali during rainy season, Hawaii in winter, Italy in December. Guess when everyone is not in Hawaii? January! Hence cheap hotels and airfare. It's half the cost for the same beautiful place, only with less people and a chance of showers.
5. Use Alternatives to Taxis
Taxis will be your next biggest expense. So don't take them! Take public transit, walk, or use car sharing services. Uberpool is a great option because you split the fare with other riders. Weigh how much you will need transit and see if renting a car is cheaper.
6. Accumulate Airline/Hotel Points
I have one particular airline that I travel with all the time. I make a lot of sacrifices to travel this carrier, but it's worth it because I get points and am able to use the lounge (ahem, free food/beverages). Those points translate to free airplane rides and upgrades. If you stick with one hotel/airline you will get more perks. When it comes to hotels, make sure you book one with free breakfast and wifi.
7. Cut food expenses
First off, don't eat at tourist restaurants. Ask locals (not the concierge) for restaurant recommendations. Check out TripAdvisor which is always a great resource. Also, instead of dining out, check out the local supermarkets. Some countries have convenient stores with yummy take-away food.
Another great way to save on food is by enjoying the "free" food at the airport lounge (another reason to gather points), or at your hotel membership lounge. I stay at one particular hotel, which has a lounge stocked with "free" food and beverages which I take advantage of throughout my trip.
8. Enjoy "free" things.
Free walking tours (like the one I took in Munich - shown above), free museum days, free hikes, parks, observation decks can be found in almost every city. See if the city has free events or parades while you are in town. Sometimes you might be in luck. In Oaxaca and Cuzco, I stumbled upon a wedding parade and soccer festival. These events are a great way to experience the culture.
9. Consider Alternatives to Tours
English speaking tours can run you a bill in some countries. One way to get around that is by taking tours in the most common language. For example, I took the Spanish speaking tour in Mexico which was about 1/10 the price of the English speaking tour. The price for the English speaking tour was expensive because demand was very low (we were some of the only English speakers there). The Spanish speaking tour gave me a chance to practice my Spanish and also learn from the domestic traveler's point of view. Plus, I used the tour as my transportation.
Another alternative is to do DIY tours. Try downloading a city guide from GPSmyCity and do your own walking tour, like this one in Havana. Since it's downloaded to your phone, it works without a data plan. Chances are, people have been to the city before there are great guides already out there!
10. Don't go to extremely expensive places
There are those places that are notorious for being expensive. Some examples: SF, NYC, Norway, Switzerland. The prices will make you scream (see above). For example, average AirBnB's in San Francisco will run you over $250 per night. If you go to these places, know that your budget will be destroyed. Try commuting into these places from nearby towns, do a day trip, go off season, or stay with friends instead.
11. Take red eye flights
You might not like this one, but it will save you money. Save yourself one hotel night and sleep on the plane. Late night flights are often cheaper. Of course, bring these essentials to make the trip more comfortable. Then wake up in a new city and hit ground running. Make sure the accommodation and public transit is available when you get there because otherwise you could negate your savings.
12. Use Air Travel Aggregators
Sites like Skyscanner help you see which days, times, airports, and destinations are cheapest. The key is to be flexible and sign up for email alerts. For example, if you want to go to LAX>CDG, it may be cheaper to book one way flights, or to take connecting flights, or perhaps fly into another airport entirely. See if other lesser known airports can get you there cheaper. Look at the monthly schedule for the airline and see which day/time is cheapest. If you are flexible on destinations, search by destination on Google Flights to see which location is cheapest.
13. Use budget airlines (with caution)
Norwegian got me to Europe for about $400. That's less than most domestic flights. Other carriers with cheap fares include WOW airlines, Air Asia, Southwest, Volaris etc. Make sure you follow their baggage restrictions because they will charge you (as spoken from experience). Also, know that they probably won't give you a meal, so bring food. With these airlines, you get what you pay for. I have had a mixed bag of experiences with budget airlines. One particular budget airline hit me up with so many baggage costs that it negated my savings. My conclusion is to proceed with caution - you may be better off with your usual carrier and generating rewards points.
14. Do Day Trips
How can you cut out one of the biggest expenses of travel (ahem, hotels)? Do a day trip! For example, if you live within a one hour flight from a place, consider flying in for the day and returning that evening rather than staying for the entire weekend. This can pay off for those expensive cities I mentioned above, like SF and NYC.
15. Use layovers to your advantage
You won't believe this, but many airlines have free (yes, really free) layover city tours for airport travelers. This can enable you to see a new country or city without spending a dime. Check Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Eva Air for more info! Tourism boards also sometimes have tour programs to showcase their city (like Taiwan for example). Before visiting a city, google search to see if there are any of these programs in the place you are visiting.
I hope these hacks helped show you that travel is possible. There are so many more ways to save, hack and budget. Comment below on your favorite travel saving hacks.
December...it's always a time for reflection. Here's a travel retrospective...a look behind each travel trip, how we got there, and what we learned along the way.
This year we went to:
I started 2016 with a long list of travel goals. We are privileged to have you along on our adventures. To me, travel is the best teacher. But learning is not enough - you have to pass it on. So here are some of the things I learned through travel that I might not have learned had I not ventured out.
January - Arizona Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley
Over the New Year's holiday, I wanted to go somewhere with a unique culture. With the time constraint of 3 days, I decided to stay in the US, but go somewhere very different. I went to Navajo Nation! It is like a country within a country - they have their own language, food, traditions, and beautiful nature. This trip taught us that you can see diverse cultures and surreal landscapes without leaving the USA.
2016 presented a new country that was previously off limits to us Americans...Cuba. In my 9 day trip, I got a mini-PhD in foreign policy, economics, and political science, as well as an expert lesson in dancing and learning to enjoy life in the face of adversity. The Cuban people are extremely hard working and never let their circumstances get them down. The trip taught me to be appreciative of many things - from having ATMs, to variety in supermarkets, to one thing many people take for granted - the ability to travel. The Cuban people are restricted from traveling and seeing those freedoms taken away taught me how special it is to live in a country where your passport enables you to go almost anywhere. It also taught me that one voice can make a difference. Each of us has a little bit of power, and we can use it to be a voice for others. Don't just travel here to go to the beach, do a people-to-people excursion or a volunteer trip. Cheers to a new beginning with this amazing country.
March - Iceland
Iceland had always been my ultimate goal for landscape photography travel. Being from California, I must admit that the harsh winter weather was daunting. I never thought I would make it up a volcano, let alone trek across the icy glacier. Aside from that, we packed in so much within 4 days. The biggest highlight was mother nature. From the geysers, to the waterfalls, to the northern lights, Iceland has it all. The trip taught me that you can accomplish anything if you push yourself. I documented my trip in a video that reached over 32K views on YouTube.
May - Sweden, Norway, Denmark
From the time I first saw pictures of the fjords, I knew I had to see them in person. They were epic. But what I liked most about this trip is the unexpected. I took a side trip to a small fjord town called Alesund that ended up being one of my highlights. Sometimes venturing off the beaten tourist path can be the most memorable part of the trip.
This year, I had the opportunity to revisit a city where I grew up - Boston. I left Boston at age 5 and am sorry to say that I had not visited since then. From the time I was little, I mostly remembered being snowed in so never thought about revisiting. A work trip brought me there, and was surprised at how my perception was instantly changed. I found the city enchanting and its history was inspiring. The trip made me realize that you should give cities a second chance. If you haven't been somewhere in a while, revisit.
June - Mexico City
As a huge foodie and fan or archeology, Mexico City was a perfect destination. The goal was to fit it in a weekend. I left SD airport on a red-eye on Friday night and came back Sunday evening. It opened my eyes to how much we Americans don't know about one of our closest neighbors, Mexico. The regional cultures, traditions, and foods are exquisite. I did not see many Americans during my trip and I learned that it's important to help change the travel perceptions of this great city. I documented my trip and the video ended up getting over 14K views.
July - Montana/ Calgary
Glacier National Park was a huge goal for me from the time I first learned about it. Getting there was another story. It is relatively isolated from any major airport, so we trekked in through Calgary. The scenery was unmatched, wild, and pure. We passed through Waterton-Glacier National Park on the Alberta side, which was less touristy and offered similarly beautiful sights. Sometimes, getting to the destination can be one of the highlights of the trip.
August - Oaxaca
Oaxaca is one of the foodie capitals of Mexico. I learned about how diverse Mexico is with many different indigenous cultures and language. In fact, our tour guide's native language was not Spanish, it was Zapotec. The food in this region is as complex as it is delicious. Somehow the travel gods smiled on us during this trip because I not only packed in the Herve de Agua trip that I wanted to see, but I also saw managed to see Monte Alban, and even stumbled upon a wedding festivity. It is amazing what you can see when you are in the right place at the right time.
September- Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech, Austria
I revisited Germany, Austria, and Hungary, but went to new parts. In Germany, I visited the castles, Austria- I went to Mozart's birthplace and the Alps regions, and Hungary- I saw the city from the Danube. I liked seeing the contrast of cultures from the West to the Eastern European side. Slovakia for example, was laid back and inexpensive, whereas Vienna is highbrow and elegant. The cities have a different language, currency, and for many years - political structure, and they are only an hour drive away. Go to cities that are lesser known and less touristy - they may be the best surprise.
October - Israel, Palestine, Turkey
Israel and Palestine were two of the more eye-opening and enlightening travel experiences thus far. This region is the source/epicenter of 3 major religions, and it was amazing to see where they got their start and visit the locations from the Bible. This trip challenged my beliefs in many things, including faith, culture, and history. Above all, we have more in common than we think. Had I listened to the news stories on this region, I would have never made it here. Go to places where you have the most to learn and seek to understand.
November - Peru
Peru and South America were two of my biggest travel goals. I was able to accomplish this over the Thanksgiving break. The Peruvian people are warm and genuinely care about the travelers who visit their country. Before embarking on this trip, I was a bit intimidated by the altitude of this region. Cusco is 10K feet high, and going from Lima which is sea level with no time to acclimate is very challenging. I drank a ton of coca tea to help alleviate altitude sickness. I must say I truly challenged myself, not only in cramming this trip into a 4 day weekend, but trekking, climbing, and beating the altitude. But the most surprising thing was seeing Machu Picchu - it truly is one of the wonders of the world. Challenge yourself, it will pay off.
So there you have it! If you learn anything from me and reading these posts, know that travel is possible - whatever your constraints of time, fear, money, etc. If you have the opportunity to travel, go! You can do it. Book those flights. Put a flag in that country. Make it happen.
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We are two adventurous young professionals who turned our passion for travel into a blog to help others travel more.