My 2016 Highs and Lows

Posted by Krista on January 9, 2017

Happy 2017! How is this possible already? I have no idea. Time flies when you are having fun or, uh, working all the time. Why do we work so hard? Something to ponder in 2017, for sure.

Although I did work more than I expected to this past year, I managed to squeeze in some fun too. Here are my highs from 2016 — note that this is not really food-related — I might do a restaurant post when I’m caught up…

10. Getting upgraded to business class on my London to Austin flight on my birthday!

9. Visiting Venice for the first since since I was 19!

8. Taking a street art tour of Camden with monprixx. I haven’t spent as much time in Camden as I used to in the old days. This tour with monoprixx was awesome and I highly recommend it.

7. Lunch at The Sportsman. Because lunch at The Sportsman.

6. Visiting Sofia Bulgaria (Country #50!) and taking a wine tour of the countryside with Via Vino.

5. Finally making good on my promise (threat?) to visit my friends in Biarritz over the summer. It was such a lovely visit. This needs to be an annual occurrence.

4. Spending two blissful weeks at Kamalaya Koh Samui, reading and spa-ing.

3. Touring Naples with the amazing Daniel Young and eating ALL the pizza. (I’ll write this all up soon.)

2. My first visit to Hong Kong in 18 years: I ate all the dim sum and rode that Star Ferry back and forth across the bay all day long.

1. My all too few days in Chiang Mai. I fell in love with this northern Thai city and all its temples and expat-friendly culture — plus all the delicious food. Future early retirement destination? Possibly!

Lows (In no particular order…)

Working a lot

Having to fly to the US for work on my birthday (but see high re: business class upgrade)

Brexit

Donald Trump

Experiencing colon hydrotherapy (don’t ask)

Getting my UK taxes done (kinda similar to colon hydrotherapy)

The American I met in Bulgaria who told me that I won’t be able to learn anything after 50

The gal who I really think was just trying to be nasty when she said “You don’t look a day over 37.” (Thankfully, I was carded at Waitrose not long after that.)

Spilling a glass of water on my laptop. RIP Lenovo. Then, buying a new HP laptop too quickly without doing enough research. I liked my old Lenovo better. It was light! And it had a touch screen! And it was quiet. Now I have a honker of a laptop. Do you know they’re not making solid state hard drives in large sizes? So if you want 1 TB like I need, you’re screwed. Honker it is. 15.6 inches too! Ack. Also, the world wants you to move everything to The Cloud. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Onwards…

What will 2017 bring? I’m trying to eat less, exercise more, see more of the world, and make more money off the internet. Also, romance. Let’s hope that all happens! Wish me luck and all the best for 2017!

 

Posted in Blogging, Travel | 2 Comments

Planning My 15 Nights in Asia in January, All on Points

Posted by Krista on October 4, 2015

Guys, I booked a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand in the new year!  I haven’t been back to Hong Kong since 2000, during my two week bike tour of the south east corner of China with Backroads, the cycling vacation specialists. Prior to that, I spent a few days in HK and Bangkok with my parents in 1998, at the height of the currency crisis where we ate all the dim sum…for cheap!

Asia isn’t as cheap as it was in 1998, so I’ve had to be pretty cash-flow conscious about my 15 night visit. I am really trying not to pay for any hotel rooms at all, and instead I’m relying on hotel points and airline miles. I’m not as sophisticated as people like The Points Guy, so I’m sure I’m not always making the best decisions with my points and getting the most bang for my buck out of them, but really, I’m making these decisions primarily based on cash flow. I just can’t afford $100 to $200 USD per night for this trip, and nor am I a backpacker willing to share a dorm room with 3 to 5 other travelers. Decent business-class hotels are what I am looking for. To facilitate this trip, I signed up for a new credit card, the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card, and earned 80,000 points, which will facilitate two nights in Hong Kong. (More if I am open to a Holiday Inn.) I’m still fiddling around with exactly which points to use where, but here’s my current plan, points spend, and estimated dollar savings…an estimated $2000 USD in savings using points.

NightsLocationHotelPoints/MilesProgram
USD
2Hong KongHyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui
30,000
Hyatt Gold Passport
$555
1Hong KongHotel Indigo
26,500
United Mileage Plus
$180
2Hong KongHotel Indigo
90,000
IHG Rewards
$360
3BangkokAETAS
32,000
British Airways
$261
4Chiang MaiU Chiang Mai
62,800
British Airways
$521
3PhuketGrand Mercure
33,000
United Mileage Plus
$227
Total
$2104

A couple of thoughts:

  • Expiration dates: I actually have to use a lot of my points in 2016 because they will expire! Pay close attention to the expiration dates on your points. I use TripIt Pro to keep track of everything. My Hyatt points expire in May and without the 80,000 IHG Rewards Credit Card bonus, my IHG points would have also expired in May.
  • Working from the road: I mentioned I need business class hotels. It’s very possible that I may need to work from the road, so it’s important to me that I have easy access to the internet and hotel business centers. So while some people might say “I can’t believe you are blowing all your points on the Hyatt Regency,” the fact that I HAVE TO use my points by May AND that I need a good business center leads me to spend all my points on two nights.
  • Location, location, location: In choosing hotels, I could have course stayed in places for fewer points, but I prioritized central locations over everything else. For example, I could get 3 nights at a different Hyatt instead of 2 nights at the Hyatt in TTS, but I want to be in TTS.
  • Safety and traveling alone: Although I plan to meet up with friends throughout my trip, I’ll be traveling solo. So staying in better quality places is important to me.
  • Spending money on other things: Besides for general cash-flow concerns, another reason I am doing all this on points is so I have the extra cash to spend on restaurants!!

I am super-excited about this trip. Really, words cannot describe. If yo have any tips or suggestions, I am all ears!!

Posted in Travel | 2 Comments

{Sponsored Post}: A Great Getaway Begins With An Excellent Destination

Posted by Krista on August 19, 2015

Beach area

Whether you’re the adventurous type when you decide to get away, or you simply enjoy relaxing with a favorite book while soaking up sunshine, your perfect getaway begins with finding the right destination. The best way to approach looking for a getaway destination is with flexibility. Be sure to look at several options and make an informed choice by comparing the destination’s quality ratings, making cost comparisons and looking at the benefits of several different places.

The best way to start is to make a wish list. Decide what activities you’d like to do on your getaway and choose things that will be of interest to each person going along on your trip. It’s smart to plan both indoor and outdoor activities in case weather is a factor. It’s always good to have options!

Outdoor Activities Can Be Found To Thrill Everyone
There are so many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed once you’ve found a great destination. It’s a matter of choosing which activities mean the most to you and are most important for you to do while you’re on your trip. Some activities can be done anywhere; others need a specific location to do them.

Choose from great outdoor, land-based options like:
– Cycling
– Walking and hiking
– Running
– Horseback riding
– Camping
– Attending festivals and special events

Activities to choose from at a water-based destination include:
– Kayaking
– Canoeing
– Snorkeling
– Scuba Diving
– Fishing (fly fishing, or deep-sea fishing, depending on the destination)
– Whitewater rafting
– Tubing
– Crabbing
– Swimming
– Surfing

Types Of Travel To Consider
Some of the types of adventures to consider for your perfect getaway can include visiting beaches, coasts and islands. You can search for luxury travel or budget travel, depending on your budget for the trip. You can also look into family travel if the entire family is going along, and consider wildlife, nature and adventure travel to please the more adventurous ones in your group.

If seeing famous sights is on your horizon, by all means plan for days to spend sightseeing. If seeing animals is a part of your plan, try to find the places that will offer you the best chances of seeing what you want to see. Ocean destinations will offer the best chances for whale and seal watching, for example.

Crucial Tips To Remember When Planning Your Trip
One of the most important things to remember is not to schedule every moment of your trip. You don’t want your dream getaway to be compartmentalized, with you trying to stick to a strict schedule. Doing this can turn the trip into a frustrating endeavor. Be sure to schedule some down time for everyone to rest and recuperate from adventures. Relaxation should always be in the schedule!

You can find many great ideas, tips and suggestions by searching in helpful places like the Outdoor-Traveler FB page. Taking the advice of expert travelers and travel agencies experienced in creating exciting and memorable vacations can save you frustration and the extra work you would put into doing all the research and planning on your own. Helpful hints and suggestions for great travel destinations are readily available when you know where to look for them.

This is a sponsored post, which I occasionally accept to cover my hosting, backup and domain costs.

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#firstworldproblems: 14 Things I Don’t Like about Hotels

Posted by Krista on May 3, 2015

hotels

A recent spate of hotel stays has me thinking about the little things that bother me in hotels these days. When I’m in a hotel, I want an escape! I don’t want to be annoyed. Here’s what’s been bothering me lately. What bothers you?

No clocks: Where are they in hotels? Are we that reliant on our iPhones that hotels don’t need clocks anymore? I find this particularly annoying when I am getting ready before a big day of meetings. I want to keep one eye on the clock as I am ironing, blow-drying, etc. Impossible in a lot of hotel rooms today. Why?

Safes that are small and poorly positioned: If a safe doesn’t fit a laptop these days, what’s the point? I’ve seen some safes that can only fit a wallet and a cell phone. Safes should also be installed at eye level. During my recent hotel stay in Manchester, England the other weekend, the safe was maybe 18 inches off the ground. A pain in the ass. I learned the downsides of low safes the hard way back in Singapore last year; I left one of my camera lenses in the safe and the cost to FedEx it back to me in the US was more than the value of the lens. (So I let the hotel keep it.)

Expensive hotel wine: Hey, sometimes I just want a glass of wine at the end of a long day. If you’re going to charge me $18 USD for a glass of wine, I’m going elsewhere.

Internet I have to pay for: In this day and age, you shouldn’t have to pay for Internet. Okay okay…if you want to do that thing where the 2.5 mbps connection is free and the 25 mbps connection requires payment, I’m okay with that. But don’t make me pay for slow.

No outlets by the bed: When I travel, I’ve got my iPhone, my iPad and multiple cameras that all have batteries that need to be charged. I like to keep everything I’m charging all together so I don’t lose anything. Give me ONE SOCKET by the bed that’s not under a damn nighstand, please!

No bottled water: I just need one bottle. Just one. Generally, I’m okay with drinking tap. But in some countries, I’d prefer not to. I’d really like to have at least one bottle available for free.

Beds that dip: I carted a mattress around the world for nearly 20 years. It was still a perfectly fine mattress when I got rid of it before I moved back to the UK. No dips. Why do hotel beds dip so much? Do elephants stay in hotels and have a lot of sex?

No slippers: I do not like hotel carpet. How frequently do you think they deep-clean hotel carpets? Not often enough, in my opinion. I bring my own flip-flops generally but I appreciate hotel slippers.

No hooks in the bathroom: Sometimes I wonder how other people live. Do you just throw all your sh*t on the floor when you take a shower? I like to hang things up. I need at least one hook. Preferably two.

Shower curtains: I hate shower curtains, particularly in hotels. They always manage to smell like mildew.

No conditioner: I guess hotels cater more to the male business traveler who apparently doesn’t need conditioner. I need conditioner, or otherwise, my hair looks like a rat’s nest. I’ve taken to bringing my own small bottle, but really, I would prefer not to.

Chintzy towels: Hotel towels should be nicer than my towels at home. I must have really good towels because even though I use them daily and wash them twice a week, they are still in excellent shape. What happens to hotel towels that makes them so chintzy??

Unpredictable maid service: Sometimes, you knock on my door at 8 am and want to clean my room. Sometimes, you don’t show up until 4 pm. I would ideally like to live in a world where I know approximately what time maid service will arrive. Is there an app for that?

Pricey hotel laundry: Washing my drawers should not cost me $6. Even $3 is a bit pricey. Hotels should have a washer and dryer available for guest use!

I plan on updating this list frequently. I might even add your contributions! Talk to me people…what bothers you about hotels these days?

Posted in Hotels, Travel | No Comments

Lost in Translation: The Midnight Train to Poland #TravelLinkUp

Posted by Krista on March 4, 2015

Midnight Train to Poland

When I was 19 years old, my friends and I took a night train from Innsbruck, Austria to Krakow, Poland. This was a long time ago, before mobile phones and before the EasyJets and RyanAirs of the world. Train travel was the only option for starving students like us and we would say things like “Meet us in front of the Hauptbahnhof at midnight on Thursday,” and if you weren’t there, we waited ten minutes and left for Poland without you because we didn’t want to miss our train and we had no way of knowing you had overslept your alarm. And hey, maybe we’d get to Poland and you’d be there already and there’d be Australians involved. Or something.

We had booked ourselves a compartment on the night train to Krakow…the kind with the six worn red leather seats that fold out to become one large bed-like-thing. Luckily, we were all good friends. I remember tall men in gloves knocking on the cabin door throughout the night and asking for our passports. Blindly, we unlocked our compartment door and handed them over. Even though we had heard all about the gypsies who would gas train cars and take everything while their victims lay unconscious, we still handed our passports over.  There is only one country between Austria and Poland, but there were many tall men in that night.

There was a porter on our train car who controlled the samovar. If you wanted hot water for anything, you went to him, an unwashed man. We must have made a few trips to the samovar through the course of the train journey: us in our unnecessary hiking boots, J. Crew corduroys and matching roll-neck sweaters concealing our not-very-concealed neck wallets of passports, Sprint PCS calling cards and dollar bills and Austrian schillings. He was a bit prickly, our porter, but he provided the hot water when we asked for it.

As dawn broke, we left our cabin and stood in the hallway of our train carriage, hot coffee and tea in hand, watching Poland go by. It was springtime in Poland and all was green and lush and beautiful. Later, we would see the hundreds of brides of Christ (the grooms too) in their best of white garments, weaving their way through the green lanes of Oswiecim. It was Holy Communion time, wasn’t it?

Our porter, who had spoken no English (or German) with us the night before, approached the six of us in the hallway as we watched Poland go by. He was visibly aggrieved, with us in particular. “I am not an Indian!” he shouted. And then he disappeared back to his samovar and we got off the train in Krakow and never saw him again.

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam. Head on over to any of these blogs to read about their lost in translation moments. I used to have another blog where I wrote narrative like this, but I closed it down last year for reasons I happy to explain over cocktails. 

Posted in Travel | 3 Comments

Tours in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 21, 2014

Somewhere in my late 30s, I became a fan of city tours. In the old days, I would just hang out with a guide book. But now, everywhere I go now, I look up all the city tours available and sign myself up for anything that sounds remotely interesting. BUT…the tour must be less than four hours long. I really lose interest at that point. Actually, I think that 2 hours and 30 minutes is my max…unless there is food and drink involved. LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE STUCK ON A TOUR BUS FOR FOUR TO EIGHT HOURS. Here’s who I toured with while I was in New Orleans.

Ghost & Vampire Combo, French Quarter Phantoms. NOT RECOMMENDED. First, you have to go to a totally sleazy pub to meet the tour group. Not my kind of place. I mean, I like a dirty bar, but this was just awful and unsafe feeling. Then, our tour guide, Tess, was the most boring tour guide ever. She seemed annoyed to be taking us around and was just reciting things. A good tour guide makes all the difference. Tess was not it. This group is a machine…there were three or four tours that went out at the same time, given the number of tourists. I wish I had one of the other tour guides and desperately wanted my time back at the end of the evening. I remember nothing. $20.

St. Louis Cemetery #1, Free Tours by Foot: Recommended. Great tour guide (Elizabeth B) who was passionate about New Orleans and knew all the stories. And it’s a free tour, so there’s that. (I gave her $35 at the end because she was really good and knowledgeable and passionate and interesting.) You get a little New Orleans history, a little Katrina, a little voodoo, a little religion, a little Nicolas Cage. The one thing for me is that after 90 minutes in the cemetery, I was ready for a chance in scenery. This is a HIGHLY focused tour. But still short in comparison to what else is out there. And still good and interesting.

Drink & Learn New Orleans: HIGHLY Recommended. I really loved this tour. Our tour guide was funny and informative. She had all sorts of great stories about New Orleans and its cocktails. PLUS…you get a saddle bag of cocktails at the beginning of the tour. That’s the schtick…drink your cocktail while Elizabeth tells you the history of New Orleans as you wander through the French Quarter. In contrast to French Quarter Phantoms, the bar you start and end at during this tour is quite pleasant. At $50, this tour was worth every penny.

So…those are my tours…I’ve neglected food and drink though and hope to get to it in a later post!

Posted in New Orleans, Travel, United States | No Comments

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