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Travel Tips

I think it’s handy to share with fellow avid travellers what Y and I go through every time we plan for a trip. I go through a thorough planning process prior to each trip to ensure we are well prepared – it’s like a “travel research”. I have also listed below some of my favourite resource guides when I plan a trip each time..

Enjoying the bed in Nomad Hotel of New York in Nov 2012.

Once we decide on our dates to travel, the following process starts to roll in motion.

1. AIR TICKETS

  • We travel usually through Star Alliance affiliated airlines as that’s where Y accumulates her miles. Rule of thumb is if you want to sit business class especially for long haul flights, book at least 6 months ahead so that you can either upgrade yourselves from economy class or fully redeem business class. This is especially the case with Singapore Airlines.
  • Plan B is always be creative when it comes to your route.
  • When I flew with Y in June 2012 to London on a super last minute trip with YW and AL, we did: Singapore – Milan for a day (Saver was available for Business), flew back from London via Manchester – Munich-Singapore (on Saver, as flights from London were all full).
  • Remember: make sure you transfer all the credit card points to your choice of frequent flyer. It really comes in handy.

MY GOOD FRIEND IS GOOGLE WHEN IT COMES TO THE REST OF THE PLANNING. YOU CAN SEARCH FOR ANYTHING FROM HOTELS, RENTAL OF CARS, SIGHTS TO SEE, BEST RESTAURANTS ALL THROUGH GOOGLE.. plus GOOGLE MAPS – AN ESSENTIAL!

2. HOTELS
Corporate rates : We have good friends that gladly book for us the rates their companies have with hotels.
Online booking sites: Our favourite is www.booking.com. It’s convenient in terms of its navigation and viewing locations of hotels on a country’s map. Usually we found if we book 3 months or more ahead of time, there can be pretty good savings.

A typical day at the computer – googling, blogging.

3. TRAVEL GUIDE
Am quite obsessed with travel guides, god knows how many travel guides make up my library. I love collecting interesting insider’s guides, specific guides on desserts in Paris, flea markets in Europe and more.

Rule of thumb is if it’s a new country you’ve never been to, it’s good to invest in a travel guide. But advice is if you are planning to take it with you on the trip, don’t buy too thick a guide, buy one that you can imagine carrying all the time. Our favourites from my “travel guide library” are:

  • SuperFuture: I love love love this online guide which now sells country guides for places like Japan, London, Hong Kong, Bangkok, New York. For only US$20, this is great value for money, that notes down all the cool, must go places in a crazy mish mash of maps.
  • Luxe Guide: it’s small and compact for the bag
  • Time Out: generally for any country, the contents are very relevant and covers a wide range of interests
  • Louis Vuitton City Guides – you can purchase this easily from the Louis Vuitton boutiques. They are great for their Europe city guides.
  • Goddess Guide: This is a real interesting read by Giselle Scanlon. It’s chock full of interesting shops that’s bit out of the norm from the usual Time Out etc.
  • The New York Times 36 Hours: This is not for taking with you, but it’s an interesting read and good for Europe and USA, where they have done a dedicated book for each of this region. Best to bookmark and type down in a document the places you wanna check out.
  • For Japan local guides: Kinokuniya Singapore has local Japanese only guides, featuring many pictures with telephone no which is compatible with their GPRS in cars. It’s very handy to buy for any area in Japan you are visiting, if you are planning to drive especially.
  • Google: You can go online and research. There’s tons of blogs and reference sites you can refer to.
  • Lovey’s Tip: For sights that are popular and require an entry ticket, I always buy the tickets online so that I don’t have to wait. This is especially the case with museums.

Me researching on my upcoming trip to Izu with Y and her friend LY in October. So happy they have a Teddy Bear Museum there!

A typical local Japan guide in a magazine format – this one is Izu. How did I know this is Izu in the Japanese character – just need to use Google Translate, search for “Izu in Japanese characters”.

4. FAVOURITE TRAVEL BLOGS, SITES

Updating my blog posts on a typical beary day.

Conde Nast Traveller: One of my favourite, respected travel guides. Their online guide is also great for referencing hot tables, hot places to visit.
Guardian: This is a great read, Guardian posts frequently different locations guides, and you be sure when you google any country, guardian is likely to have something on it.
Time Out: This is the online version which is great for references for almost any country in the world. It’s good for reading up also on sights, any interesting things to do in that country.
New York Times: I love reading their restaurant reviews here, the critics here are critical, so you can ensure whatever is listed here is usually pretty spot on. They always have summation of the top restaurants of the year and so on, such as this one for 2012.
Eater: This is a great site for referencing any US eateries you want to go to, I love especially their “Eater Map” which can be specific to Brunches, Bars, etc
NY Mag: Fantastic guide – it’s my go-to guide when I plan a trip to New York. All the current and latest hot tables are all listed here, including food trends, what’s worth checking out.
Grub Street: Another food news site from NY Mag, this also features a lot of casual eats, love their listings on “CHEAP EATS”!
David Lebovitz: Chef and author of several yummy dessert books, I check out his blog everytime I plan a trip to Paris.
Paris By Mouth: This is a fantastic online resource for all sorts of restaurants in Paris.

5. EATS
With restaurants, I find searching via Google is still the most effective but I usually look for key words. There’s no need to buy a Michelin Guide nowadays, as all the restaurants are listed online.
In addition, depending on each country, I will also look for specific blogs or sites that are good references for ‘hot new tables’ in that country (see above section on favourite blogs/sites).
Lovey’s Tip 1: Don’t just rely on one guide in deciding on a restaurant, especially if you want to ensure you don’t waste your time or “calories” having something you don’t enjoy. I always shortlist a few restaurants, ask friends that might have been to that country as well as google search that restaurant for blogs, or general reviews to see what do the average man to the journalist rate the food, I feel that’s more accurate testimony of the quality of the food. If it hits the checklist across many reviews, then I think it’s a noteworthy restaurant enough for me to try on my trip.

Lovey’s Tip 2: Once I decide on the restaurants, I send the list to the hotel I have booked, and get their concierge to help me book. That’s the reason it’s important to book a hotel first.

5. SIM CARD
As I have 2 phones now, I find it useful to buy sim cards when I travel now as I need it for data roaming such as checking mail, blogging, checking travel sites. Of course the other option is to opt in for Sing Tel dataroam plan, but I realised that this option is better and cheaper, especially for a travelling bear like me. Some useful sites you can refer to are:

Japan: www.econnectjapan.com (You can buy in advance and have them ship to your hotel in Japan, so it’s all there when you reach)
Japan: www.softbank-rental.jp/e/ (Softbank is a reliable one to book if want to rent a local phone from the airport.)
USA: www.mrsimcard.com (I tried this in 2012 when I went to New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and their service was great. The sim card can be sent to the hotel.)
France: www.lefrenchmobile.com (I discovered this earlier this year while researching for Paris. Paid 20 Euros for a weekend of dataroaming, pretty affordable.)
Other parts of Europe: In Milan, I went to Vodafone to buy a sim card, at less than 20Euros for a full week there. It was very worth it. This is probably the cheapest option. Other online options are not so affordable.

LOVEY’S FINAL CHECKLIST
I always take with me a file with tabs for different sections, which includes:

  1. Excel sheet of my itinerary (sights, restaurants, location of hotel etc)
  2. Airline e-ticket, online tickets I have purchased
  3.  Any pocket guide I may need for that country
  4. Google Maps print out

Most importantly: If you are in countries where taxi drivers don’t speak English, such as Japan, South Korea, it’s always good to have additional maps of where you want to go printed in their local language. It saves a lot of headache in explaining since they can’t read addresses in English. We always do that for our hotels and restaurants, but Japanese hotel concierges usually can help with printing the restaurant maps in their local language.

Print screen of my recent Paris-Milan-Lake Como itinerary in April 2013

Google Maps of Izu area where I am heading with Y and LY for ryokan and onsen in Oct 2013

Me with my trusted folder of itinerary, maps and more.

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