Budget Travelling 101

Here are a few tips to consider when booking your next holiday that will save you tons of money.

1. Stay away from Expedia: Although not a bad reference tool for prices, the “sales” they tend to have are still overpriced! The website has to make money somehow and what your price includes is a fee for the “booking agent” (Expedia).

2. Check out Skyscanner and look at flight comparison websites: I love Skyscanner because it allows you to choose a destination country and see what places are the cheapest to fly to! Also, the choose a date option comes in chart form (to show you the different prices for a month) or a monthly calendar format.

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Chart view screencap on skyscanner.ca

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Select your destination country on skyscanner.ca

3. Alternative Airlines: Check out LOTairlinesEasyjet and Ryanair if you’re in Europe. The europeans frequently use Easyjet and Ryanair for cheap airfares around Europe, and now you can too. LOT airlines is a Polish airline based in Poland and flies all the way to Asia. You can sometimes get cheap tickets and the flight, food and experience is incredible (we had our own TV remotes in economy!).

Also check out Cheapoair for great deals!

4. Be open to other modes of travel: A lot of people underestimate the importance of buses/taxis/cars/bikes/trains. These alternative modes of transportation not only allow you to travel cheaply especially in Europe, but also experience your surroundings at a more personal level than a flight!

[Image courtesy of yabbedoo.wordpress.com]

5. Change your departure location: There are weird connecting flights from Toronto-Montreal-London-Paris that are cheaper than going directly from Toronto-Paris. Consider these strange routes and see if you can do stopovers in some of these places for a small fee. Or bus to Montreal and fly to Paris to save a few hundred dollars.

*Cons: This will take longer to get to your destination, but perhaps fly into London and bus using Megabus to Paris for only $8.00 CAD(sale price)!!

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A photo from my trip to Paris in November!

6. Be Flexible: The more flexible you are with dates, the cheaper things will be. Off season, particularly for Europe, tends to be from September->May so try to book your vacation during these periods to avoid the crowds and get better deals.

7. Check out of those Hotels….: And into a hostel, shared room, rented apartment, Airbnb room or Wimdu location. These places can be a quarter of the price of a hotel, and most even offer entire apartments/houses if you’re lucky!
Hostel sites: Hostelbookers and Hostelworld 

Most importantly…. 

It’s okay to do it yourself and it will take time to work your way through a very big trip.
But it is possible and it is definitely worth planning your own vacation for a price that meets your budget and gets you more of a bargain!

My travel binder for our world trip includes tabs, sticky notes, numbered tabs, folders and dividers

My travel binder for our world trip includes tabs, sticky notes, numbered tabs, folders and dividers

Good luck! 

Dreaming of the Beach

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Stuck inside due to injuring my foot, I’ve been coming up with concepts for my next big world trip. A quick glance on google of southeast Asia fills your mind with beaches, hot weather, interesting cultures and amazing architecture. I admit it has only been two months since I arrived back in Canada, but I’m already missing travelling, hence this rather adventurous travel plan.

Considering all costs including my flights to and from these places, I have found a way to plan this entire trip, starting in CANADA, departing in FRANCE and arriving back in Canada for a 6 month period on $3000(max $5,000) dollars. 

I love having risky tight budgets, and one thing I learned from travelling last time and meeting seasoned veterans was to not plan too much. However, I do think it’s really easy to end up overspending a bit of cash, so me dividing up our budget (yes the $3000 dollar budget includes my partner!!!) seemed like a good idea!

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Beaches in Thailand
                            [Image courtesy of theguardian.com]

The trip has a few routes to far:

Paris -> India -> Sri Lanka -> Maldives??? -> Malaysia -> Indonesia -> Papua New Guinea -> Philippines -> Singapore -> Malaysia -> Thailand -> Cambodia -> Vietnam -> Laos ??? -> Burma -> Nepal -> India -> HOME.

I haven’t decided on Sri Lanka, Maldives, Laos or the actual direction of the route yet, but I just thought I should let everyone know that it IS possible to travel this route under $5,000 dollars including hostels + food + spending money for 6 months.

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Angkor in Cambodia
                             [Image courtesy of Wikipedia.com]

Sidenote: Did you know that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands(near Indonesia) have one of the last remaining swimming elephants? Here’s a beautiful video of the 63 year old elephant swimming in the ocean while divers take photos of her. Such a beautiful site!

[Start video at 1:55 for elephants!!] 

Part One of Five: Beyond the Red Lights

This is a bit of a sensitive post, but I hope that this interview can bring attention to what is going on in Amsterdam, both for the women who choose to be prostitutes and those who unfortunately don’t.

All parts of this interview did happen and I have tried my best to remember exactly what was asked during the interview.

A special thanks to the woman who gave Zach and I a wonderful set of responses, and to the people who we met in Amsterdam that helped shape my ideas about the sex industry in Holland.

Red-Light-District-Amsterdam-SFB Amsterdam

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      My memory flashes back to June of last year when I spent an entire month living in an apartment in Westlandgracht, an area outside the city of Amsterdam. The weather in June was extremely hot those days, and at night the lights of the Red Light District rained down across the narrow cobble stone streets.

Our first visit to the sex district introduced us fairly well. Sex shops advertising bondage gear, dildos and whips lined the small passageways.  During the day the lights and curtains of the street windows were mostly shut, and girls worked during the evening due to heavier demand. Lights were coloured either blue or red; blue indicated transgendered occupant while red showed non-transgendered individuals.

My immediate instinct upon first seeing the lights and the girls, some in bikinis and some in lingerie sets and costumes, was to feel pity towards them. I had heard that all of the women here were victims of sex trafficking. The smiling faces were just an act of obedience put on by an evil pimp.

We pass a brunette in a black thong with two tiny suspender straps barely managing to cover her nipples, hair tied into a ponytail and a pair of fake glasses resting on her nose. She is tall, tan and wearing clear platform shoes. An audience of men gather in front of her door and she waves to them cooly, a smile plastered on her face.

“She looks friendly!” I say to Zach, warding off his look of laughter.

I head towards her door, which she opens for me as soon as I approach, flashing me a warm smile. She is super friendly and her name at this point in time unfortunately escapes me. She asks if it’s for the both of us and if my “boyfriend likes to watch”.

“Hah, hah, no. We just want an interview.” I state sincerely. I pick up on a slight accent and a tongue ring when she talks.

“Yes yes yes okay come in.” She ushers us in, shutting the red curtains in front of the window behind her. She starts asking if this is our first time while pulling off her suspenders and underwear, towering above Zach and I in her platforms, now completely naked.

“Is this your first time? What would you like me to do to you?”

“Just an interview!” I plea, handing over 100 euros to her [a normal rate] as she pulls me over to the bed and insists that Zach takes a seat on the edge of the bed.

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A pretty identical looking room, minus the mannequin
[Image courtesy of travelblog.org]

I get a good glimpse of the room despite my nerves. It was bigger than it had appeared on the outside, but still very narrow. There is a small twin bed in the corner of the room and a fluorescent red light snakes itself along the mirrored wall beside the bed. A garbage can and a small sink with soap and paper towels sit near the door, the light bounces off the rest of the tiled room. She sits beside me and grabs my hands.

“And have you and your boyfriend had sex often since you first met?” She starts asking me personal questions immediately, all with a flirtatious smile I assumed came with the job.

I answer honestly, figuring our time together was going to be about trust building, although her very open personality made me believe she already trusted me, “And so young too! Wow I have not talked to many young like you”

I smile nervously, she is a very gorgeous women by any means and the fact she was so comfortable with herself, sitting in a room with two strangers fully naked on a bed across from me all the while holding my hand made me have so much respect for her.

I finally ask about where she is from

“Brazil!” she exclaims with excitement, her eyes flicker as she mentions the name,”And where are you from beautiful?”

She was very touchy at this point, making it clear that she was an extremely sexual person-that or she felt bad for making me pay so much for a talk!

“Toronto!” I said, “Pretty far away really”

“Oh I got my second boob job in Toronto, the surgeon messed it up though. I must get fixed. But you travel here all alone? How come?”

“Well we met online… so… I flew to England to meet him and then we decided we wanted to go on vacation so we came here!” I reply modestly.

“You met online? Whatttt? And it worked? How did this?” Zach and I laugh, finding it funny how a prostitute in Amsterdam seemed so strangely fascinated by our unorthodox meeting given our current situation.

“Yes! We just talked and it happened….”

The small talk continued, including a good 5 minute discussion on breast implants, mostly fuelled by my own curiosity. She started asking more about my sexual lifestyle, seemingly fascinated about what others did during sex. She gave off a naturally sexual vibe-not because she was naked-but because her loud, energetic attitude transformed her into quite a dynamic character. She never faltered when it came to topics, discussing her enjoyment of Amsterdam and frequently laughing at Zach sitting with his hands in his lap unsure of what to do.

Finally I took the opportunity to ask her questions about “how this whole thing worked”

To Be Continued…..


Note: Top two images courtesy of Bethany Salvon and www.notforsalecampaign.org  

Paris in Pictures

Edit: Posted edited with photos on Mar. 27*
A beautiful city filled with romance, fantastic food and copious amounts of tourists, Paris is probably on all of our to see lists. Although exquisite, Paris is considerably expensive, keeping in mind the 27 million visitors (data from Wiki) from around the world who visit the travel destination.

You’ll find absurdly overpriced food closer to the Eiffel Tower, as well as an array of men selling cheap eiffel tower trinkets apparently made out of brass. It appears that the city understands it is renowned for it’s romance, so many are keen to profit off of it (at least for 5-10 euros for a bronze statue!).

The museums in Paris are also not cheap, although there are day passes available for those brave enough to face the long tourist lines even in “off peak” season (September-April). As a person who went in November, I found it striking how SO many people were waiting in line at the Louvre, which apparently gets over 8.5-8.10 MILLION people a YEAR (thanks wiki)! That’s a lot of people waiting in line and a lot of people paying 20+ euros to get a peak at some of the most fantastic art in the world.

So… is Paris worth it due to its hefty price tag?

Well yes… I mean it’s beautiful, the people were actually friendly (although most don’t tolerate you hacking french in front of them) and the food is actually pretty good. Living there is probably another thing though….but a little trip to the city of love is definitely a recommended journey.

Here’s a few photos from my last trip….. I spent less than 24 hours in Paris walking from Notre Dame to Moulin Rouge and everything in between!

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Valentine’s Day

Sorry for the lack of updates! On top of a busy week of stressful midterms and essay papers, I also had a three part job interview for a marketing firm!

Given that this month is Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d make a fun post about some non-traditional Valentine’s day traditions going on around the world! What better fun than to know what France and Italy are doing?

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Beautiful roses from the babe ❤

France: Typically in line with the traditions of North AMerica, the French seem to enjoy taking their significant others out for dinner, making it one of the most popular eating out nights of the entire year! The french aren’t that into material buys however for the special day, choosing to rather celebrate through cuisine and supposedly engagement rings!

Italy: Bigger is better! In terms of chocolate that is…. the Italians do participate in chocolate gift giving, often giving one another elaborate chocolate spreads and of course, the bigger and more elaborate, the more love you have for the other person! Guess it’s time to open those wallets boys!

Estonia: Valentine’s Day is now called Friend’s Day, a day shared by all Estonians to appreciate the people in their lives they feel special. Considering how a lot of people are single on Valentine’s Day and often find it fun to knock couples going out on the day, it is cool to see a country embracing the idea of simple appreciation! On the bright side, everyone must also just get tons of sweets!

India: Although having introduced Valentine’s Day formally into India in 1992, the country still struggles with it’s own post-colonial issue of identity. Through Western TV and influences, the idea has managed to penetrate society, filtering through in the form of TV programs and Valentine’s cards!

Israel: Although on the 15th of February, and celebrated as Tu B’Av, the holiday is historically there as a self expression of love towards friends in family, including gift giving of flowers and sweets.

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Typical chocolate gift given here in NA. I made these last year for my mom!

Japan: This one is a little bit weird… Japan originally got wind of Valentine’s Day through media and foreign influence in the 50’s, introducing it to the population through similar media means. The day originally had women giving heart shaped chocolates to their male colleagues, often times giving out chocolates to EVERY male they knew (I wonder how this worked at work !) but later on becoming a gift giving tradition between individuals in a relationship (Phew!). The tradition also changed to include a White Day in which males, on March 14, would have to get their significant other a more expensive gift than one they had received…. talk about confusing gift standards!

Saudi Arabia: Considered to be a “Christian holiday”, the police regularly enforce bans on the sale of any gift items on this day, which has interestingly enough led to a lot of people being arrested trying to buy gifts off of the roses and chocolates black market (seriously it does exist!)

As for me in Canada?

I just spent the night chatting with my partner over Skype 🙂

Hopefully you all had a lovely evening/day and made sure to appreciate not only your significant others, but also your family and friends!

Note: Top two images courtesy of get-covers.com and theupcoming.co.uk. Article information provided by http://www.wikipedia.com, www.euronews.com, http://www.usatoday.com, www.todayifoundout.com, and www.smh.com.au

Aztecs in North America?

Well not exactly… but these earthwork mounds sure seem to be some sort of natural homage to the Aztecs. As inspiring as it is reading my Anthro textbook for a midterm this week, and trust me I have read it about 8 times, I’m ready to share my newly discovered knowledge of the mound builders.

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Cahokia mound site today
(Image courtesy of platesofgold.blogspot.com)

The mound builders are a civilization of people said to have made these large earth work mounds all over Canada and the United States, separate from the Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations found further south. The mounds appear to be related to burial practices and are actually pretty darn detailed in terms of their layout. They don’t look like much to us now, and perhaps some can even deduce them to mere hills, but in their prime (1020 AD) they appear to have had a great significance to those who lived in these bustling Native cities.

What do the myths say?

The mound builders myth had a variety of different explanations for who these people were. Some assumptions were due to a romanticism of the ancient civilization, while other claims were sadly based off of racism towards Natives:

  1. They were European/African/Jewish/Egyptian peoples who had migrated years before Columbus and somehow constructed these mounds
  2. They were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel
  3. Aliens!
  4. They were some sort of “undiscovered” race not known to historians

So who were they actually?

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Snake shaped mound
(Image courtesy of worldhistory1500.blogspot.com)

Native people! Scholars now agree, after detailed examination of the over 200 mounds found throughout America and Canada, that these mounds were actual Native cities with a network of trade between other regions and a strong labour force ruled under a strict political and social system (I mean how else did they manage to build them?).

Cahokia, listed as the oldest mound, seems to have had a population of up to 16,000 people! I don’t remember learning about these incredibly advanced cities in my past history textbooks, and considering the racism that Natives have faced in the past, I think it’s nice to share their ancestors incredibly advanced cities with the world.

The people of the mounds were said to have important political and religious figures that directed the construction of the mounds. Religious ceremonies in relation to the layout of the mounds seem to suggest a class system composed of chiefs and religious leaders. Rituals seem to also be a common practice, and in some cases, passages connecting mounds hint at a religious pilgrimage!

Elaborate artifacts (shown at the bottom of this blog) have also been found including elaborate hunting gear like specialty spear tips and stone tools for tearing meat from the bone. Beautiful hand carved shells have also been found along with beads and agricultural tools.

Where did all the people go?

A lot of the Native people, once coming into contact with Europeans, died of smallpox, eventually abandoning these bustling cities to retreat back into nomadic lifestyles and smaller settlements. About 90% of the Native population was killed from foreign diseases, so wiping out an entire city that did not have immunity seems to be the most logical explanation.

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A bustling city: Cahokia mound city layout
(Image courtesy of legendsofamerica.com)

Some cool facts….

  • When a significant individual died, he/she was buried in an important mound
  • These people conducted sacrifices to ensure their leaders were buried with guards and devout worshippers
  • Mounds can come in the shape of animals like snakes, bears and birds!
  • The mounds were built in a certain position according to how the sun set, which way was North etc etc.
  • Various metals can be found from around the United States at Cahokia, suggesting a trade network
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Hand crafted shells found at the mound builder sites
(Image courtesy of faculty.humanities.uci.edu)