Travel hacks for a Luxurious Break

To begin with, the word luxury can have different meanings for different people. For some it could be dining in a Michelin Star restaurant; for others it could be staying in the most popular and top luxury hotel without having an iota of worry about the expenses. One thing is quite clear in any luxury experience; it equates to shelling a lot of money. In fact, luxury and budget are oxymoron and it can be quite challenging to enjoy the best of both the worlds.

Lonely girl with suitcase at country road dreaming about travel.

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With a hectic routine round the year, you surely deserve a luxury break. Your heart wants it but your brain won’t allow you since it might mean breaking your bank to afford the hefty price for the trip. Even while planning a romantic honeymoon, a celebratory vacation or a trip to propose, you wouldn’t want to settle for something ordinary; rather you will want to go for something which is a cut above the standard. This doesn’t mean that you have to win a lottery to get such a lifetime experience but you can certainly get luxury vacation on a budget. Here are a few tips which can help you transform your budget trip to a luxury trip:

  • Be flexible with the dates: This is a no-brainer. If you don’t have any constraints, then it is best to go for end of the season breaks. You can easily get cheaper flights at that time of the year which can be channelized towards the rest of the trip.
  • Choosing the place of stay: Often your accommodation costs sizable chunk of the trip and this is where you would want to save a few bucks. One way is to pick the smallest room in the best hotel rather than opting for a bigger room in a budget hotel. As we mentioned above that for some people a luxury vacation might mean staying in the best hotel during the vacation. You won’t regret spending the amount at your place of stay as the quality service and facilities will leave you delighted during the trip. You can also check for coupons and promo codes which are generally available on certain booking websites.

If you are still not convinced to stay at a luxury hotel, then luxury B&Bs are a great option that you may consider. Beautiful and chic bed and breakfasts are coming up and have impressive facilities to offer in addition to the great surroundings they offer you. Since the concept is gaining popularity, you can rest assured that your stay will be a comfortable one since the staff offers you a more personal and attentive experience. With the only exceptions of being homes and available at cheaper prices, B&Bs are similar to hotels and resorts and apparently much better.

  • Quality over quantity: Go for a shorter stay since it is better to compromise the time as compared to the quality of the stay. In the end, you want to keep your trip memorable; so staying at an uncomfortable place just to stay for a bit longer will not make you happy. After all, luxury is all about the experience you get at a place.
  • Purchase lounge passes: There is often a misconception that you need to travel first class to avail the lounge facilities. Availing lounge facilities is a good idea to get a hassle free experience; after all who wants to miss free wi-fi, delicious snacks or drinks! But you can avail these facilities even without a first class pass. You simply have to purchase lounge passes which are way much cheaper than going for a first class ticket. Even better if you are travelling long haul; you can even enjoy a warm shower in the lounge.

There are certain websites which will make your task much simpler while you are researching for all the information. The Luxury for Less product by Travelex is one such platform where you can get details such as flight cost, hotel expenditure and other suggestions about travelling smart and the recommended dates. The results are customized based on your inputs such as the budget and other travelling details. This travel inspiration engine is something you should surely try if you want to plan a luxury travel in the near future.

Hikers with backpack

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Besides, the platform which promotes Luxury for Less i.e. Travelex solves all your travel related problems whether its currency exchange or money transfer. It doesn’t cost you a bomb as there are numerous deals and vouchers which can be availed for the Travelex services. So before you plan your travel, make sure that you have researched long before so that you get incredibly low prices on a range of services.

Planning a luxury holiday is possible at a low budget. All you need to do is smart planning and smart travel.

Staying Safe On The Road

There’s nothing more important than your own safety. When you’re at home, you always make sure that you lock all your doors and windows, that you get taxis home from parties, and that you don’t make too much small talk with strangers. But for some reason, the second we start travelling, all that caution often tends to fly out of the window. Here are some tips on how to stay safe when you’re travelling…

Budget Carefully

It’s important to make sure that you don’t blow all of your money too quickly. It can be tempting to buy tons of souvenirs and to splash out on exciting new food, but the fact is that you need to make a daily budget and stick to it. The best thing about money isn’t what you can buy with it – it’s the freedom that it gives you. If you have spare money then you can leave that bed bug infested hostel with the scary hulking guy in the corner of the shared room, and stay in a nicer hotel for the night while you regroup. Money means that you can get a taxi home instead of waiting on a street corner for a night bus for an hour. Make sure that you budget for things like that as well as fun treats.

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Know The Area

Obviously it’s impossible to know absolutely everything about a city that you’re travelling to, but you should get to know the local public transport system to some extent so that you know how you’re going to get home whenever you go out, and you should also make sure that you have a local taxi company number in your phone in case you want to get home quickly. Google around on sites like www.travelsphere.co.uk to find out where you should go in the local area, and make sure that you talk to fellow travellers to figure out where you shouldn’t go by yourself, particularly at night.

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Don’t Carry Too Much

You should make sure that you’re as mobile as possible at all times – wear comfortable shoes and make sure that you haven’t over packed. Not being able to carry your backpack and move properly really isn’t a particularly safe way to be. When you go out in the evenings, make sure that your passport is in the money belt around your waist instead of in your bag, and that you aren’t carrying too much money. You should also ensure that all your expensive things are locked away at your hostel in a safe.

 

Trust Your Instincts

Your instincts are the most important things that you’ll travel with. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, don’t feel any shame or embarrassment about getting out of there immediately. Your own safety should be your priority at all times, and your instincts might have picked up on something that the rest of your brain hasn’t quite caught up with, like someone sitting too close to you or looking at you in a threatening way. Make sure you use the cab number in your phone or hail a licensed taxi to get back to wherever you’re staying.

 

4 Reasons Why You Should Take A Sabbatical From Work!

Sometimes life can get on top of us and we think about having a break. Work can become mundane and boring, and we long for the open road. And people are following their dreams by having a sabbatical from work. It is where they are allowed to take anything from a couple of days to a year off work. It’s typically recognized if you have been there for a long period of time. Here are four reasons why you should take a sabbatical from your job role.

Travel

If you went straight to work after university or school, you likely didn’t get a chance to go travelling. And as much as we enjoy going on vacation every year, you don’t ever get to spend a lot of time exploring. A week or two is not long enough to see everything in the country. If you are yearning for longer than a two-week break, you could take a sabbatical to go travelling around the world. You will need to save money before you go so that you have enough to last you the whole trip. Search online for countries you wouldn’t mind visiting, and what you need to see while you are there.  There are often tours you can go on while you are travelling which will mean you get to see more of the highlights. Research companies to find trips such as a tour of the great ocean road which you will love.

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Rethink career

We often start to feel like we are not enjoying the role we are currently in. Especially if you have been there a while. It’s okay to have the odd day here and there not loving your job. But if it starts to become every day, you should consider whether or not it’s right for you. An excellent way to decide if the job is right for you is to take a break from work. A sabbatical will give you a chance to decide whether or not to change your career. As this article says, an employer often agrees to it as it can be in their favour if you return happy.

Spend more time with kids

If you have had a child, everyone knows how hard it can be to have to work around their life. You feel guilty about leaving them. It’s especially difficult if you barely get a chance to see them. If you want more time to spend with your kids, you could consider taking a sabbatical from work. You can then look after your children more, especially if they are going through a hard time at school.

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Study

You may want to have a break from work if you want to learn some new skills. You may not have had the chance to go to college or university when you were younger. Or you may feel going back to college or University will help you with your current job path. Employers tend to like it, as you will come back with new skills you can use at work. It can be daunting going back to college, but can be a pleasant experience.

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It’s worth checking your contract, or speak to your boss, to see if you are allowed to take time off.

5 Things I am missing about Belgium and Europe

So, it’s been about three weeks since we’ve moved back to our hometown Portland, OR in the USA and…about little more than a month since we’ve left Belgium. Yep, we are done with the Belgium chapter and traveling thru Europe for now. My apology for not writing anything for the last 3 weeks. We are slowly settling in our new home in Portland and loving every moment of being close to my family, relatives, and friends. Also not to mention, I am enjoying the fact that I can communicate with people more effectively (I didn’t speak neither French nor Dutch in Belgium, a bit hard living like that for months after months) and that I can actually read the labels in grocery stores and not buying the wrong things. Another thing I am enjoying is the fresh fruits, like Asian pears, blueberries, from my backyard…which we missed in our home in Belgium. And finally I got to eat at Taco Bell after three years…very satisfying.

But saying all those, I do miss Belgium from the core of my heart. I miss living an European laid-back worry-free life. I miss our small village, Tervuren and my kids’ school and its great community. I do want to secretly confess that if I had an option I would live in Belgium (or any part of Europe) forever. Here are 5 things I really miss about Belgium (or Europe) and I wish we had those here too:

1) I think one of the most missed things about Europe for me is the food. Fresh good quality Dutch or Italian cheese, Magnum Ice-cream bars (especially the mini ones and after-dinner bite sizes), Belgian/Swiss/German chocolates (I can’t imagine putting a Hershey in my mouth now…yuck), Belgian waffles, French crepes, and other tasteful and flavorful local produces and specialties. I am not a big eater but I do enjoy new and different kind of dishes all around the world.

2) As I mentioned above and many people who have been to Europe will also agree that life in Europe is much more relaxed and enjoyable than USA. You see people drinking beer or coffee and chatting loudly in cafes well after mid-night on weekdays as if there is no tomorrow (don’t they have to wake up early the next day?). Living in Europe for 3 years spoiled me by giving my family countless tension-free weekends and holidays where we didn’t have to think about anything but fun.

3) Shopping is another thing I miss about Europe. Yes, things are more expensive there, especially when you convert everything to Euro. But European street-fashion looks so much better than USA, no offense…just my opinion. I could find my types of clothes easily and they would actually fit me (petite size in Europe is actually smaller than petite in USA). And talking about size, another thing that is better in Europe is when restaurants say “small size”…they are actually small. Europe’s biggest size of drink is like the smallest size in USA in some cases. When I went to grocery with my dad in Baltimore couple weeks ago, the size of eggplants, onions, potatoes, breads, and all the other things surprised me. We used to get small natural looking veges in Belgium and I almost forgot how USA makes everything so big artificially.

4) History being one of my passions, I enjoyed every bit of Europe. If I could go back to college again I would have taken  European history as my 2nd major. To add to that Europe also gave me a new passion – photography. Thanks to all the finest destinations and beautiful photogenic places that inspired me to take some good shots and increased my interest in photography. My camera is sitting in its bag for the past one month…I miss working with it.

5) Finally, what I miss mostly about living in Europe is the traveling. Living in Belgium was like living in the center of Europe (almost). Paris was little more than 3 hours drive, Amsterdam was 2 1/2 hours, Cologne only a hour half drive, Luxembourg about 2 hours and etc. If we were willing to drive 5/6 hours then more options opened up, like visiting Switzerland, Bavarian Alps, and London. Plan ahead and we could get good deals on air-tickets for couple hours of journey to Rome, Venice, Eastern European cities, Scandinavian countries, and Great Britain. When we were craving for a different culture or language or food, all we had to do was start driving to any direction and in a while we would be in a totally different country.

I still have many posts to write on all the places we’ve covered in Europe…couldn’t catch up with all my posts while traveling at the same time. So stay with me for more exciting places around that continent…I promise I won’t let you down. Til next time happy traveling and stay safe.

Visiting Amsterdam for the last time

For those of you who have been reading my blog for sometime, you may already know that I am an ex-pat living in Belgium for the past three years with my family. Unfortunately or fortunately we are leaving Europe and going back to our home in the USA in less than a month. It’s a mixed feeling for all of us…we kind of got used to this relaxed life in Belgium, at the same time we missed our friends, families, and familiar things of what we left behind in Oregon. I do want to thank you all my readers and followers for supporting me with your “Likes” and your nice comments. After moving back to the USA, our goal is to start exploring South America, Australia, and some parts of Asia.

Only 4 weeks left before we say good-bye to this beautiful land of Belgium and all Europe. We may come here in the future again to visit but won’t be for this long. After we came back from Belgrade, Serbia we are utilizing every weekend to go everywhere for one last time. We visited Germany 2 weeks ago and were in Amsterdam for the last time this past weekend. We will probably make one last trip to Paris and some other old/new places, and the last weekend we kept it to visit Mont Blanc … the French Alps that we have been longing to go for a long time.

So saying it all, here are some of the stuff we did during our last visit to Amsterdam.

Endless canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Endless canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

First time we came to Amsterdam was when we were flying from Portland, Oregon, USA to Stuttgart, Germany. We had a stop over in Amsterdam Airport Schipol for few hours. We had only 5 hours to explore the city before our next flight to Germany. It was 1st week of April and the weather was simply marvelous. Second time we went there was in 1st week of September, 2011, on a Saturday. The weather was awesome, not too hot and luckily no rain. Another time we were in Amsterdam was when we took our Baltic Sea Cruise by Carnival Legend in August of 2013. We only visited Van Gogh Museum the day we docked in this city. Last time we went to Amsterdam was before we left Europe for good, in June of 2014. My husband’s aunt was here from Virginia and we spent a weekend there to enjoy all the Dutch environment we could for one last time. Weather was nice, around mid 60s during day and a bit on the cold side after evening.

EATING and SHOPPING: Few times we were in Amsterdam, we had mostly fast food or street food, like hotdogs, Subway, and Burger King. We were told by few people that Amsterdam is well-known for Indonesian restaurants. So when we visited Amsterdam for the last time before leaving Europe, we had to try some Indonesian food. There are plenty of them in the center, and all around. We sat down in “Srikandi” near Rijksmuseum. This is a small but very homely restaurant. They have a wide range of  options but no pork or ham. It’s a bit pricey, dishes start from 20 euros, but very tasty food with rich flavors. We had fried rice, yellow rice, spicy beef, whole fish, and a mix meat platter…every single dish was unbelievably good. For dessert, we had Javanese cinnamon cake, coconut slices in syrup, and some exotic fruits with ice-cream.

Our Indonesian food at "Srikandi" in Amsterdam

Our Indonesian food at “Srikandi” in Amsterdam

For shopping, Damrak or the small streets near Dam Square and in city center are very good. When you are in The Netherlands, you gotta buy wooden shoes, ceramic windmills, or wooden tulips. You can also find blue and white Delft potteries in most of the stores along with generic t-shirts, mugs, magnets, post-cards, key-rings, and etc.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED:We were lucky enough to get many chances of visiting Amsterdam from time to time. Different times we visited different sections of this town. Most of the attractions are in or around Dam Square. Museumplein is the best place to hangout for all the museum-lovers. Walking in Amsterdam can be a bit hard because of overly crowded tourists, locals, and bi-cycles, but this the best way to enjoy its true beauty. For me, canals of Amsterdam are the most unique and I prefer walking over anything to get the most of it. There are trams, rickshaws, and other public transportation available if it’s too much for you. This time we visited Rijksmuseum, took a canal cruise, saw the beautiful building of Central Station and walked along Damrak.

Bikers in Amsterdam

Bikers in Amsterdam

 

DAMRAK and CENTRAL STATION: Damrak is main street that connects Dam Square and Amsterdam Central Station.  Damrak is the place to for souvenirs hunters, but shops are a bit pricey on this street. You can find plenty of cafes, snack-bars, restaurants here as well. Sex Museum, Medieval Torture Museum are also located on this crowded street. The walk between Dam Square and Central station is less than 10 minutes. Central Station is where we came to first time we reached Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. This is an imposing building inside and out. Trains for all the big cities, like Paris, Brussels come here everyday.

Amsterdam Central Station in The Netherlands

Amsterdam Central Station in The Netherlands

 

RIJKSMUSEUM: On our last visit to Amsterdam, we had only two agendas – one was to visit Rijksmuseum and another was to take a boat ride in the canals. Rijksmuseum is considered as one of the top ten museums in the world. The building itself of this museum is very artistic from outside. There are total four immensely big floors to explore in Rijksmuseum and each floor has two wings to cover.

A medieval sculpture in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A medieval sculpture in Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The museum has unique collections of some of the extraordinary masterpieces of famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and many other medieval and contemporary artists. Arts and artifacts here are from 1100s up to 2000s. Delft collections and other ceramics/potteries left me in awe for more. There is also a small portion of Waterloo, ship models, dolls’ houses, art nouveau, arms, jewelries are just some of the sections you have to visit in Rijksmuseum.

Dutch painter Rembrandt's masterpiece "Night Watch" inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Dutch painter Rembrandt’s masterpiece “Night Watch” inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Rijksmuseum is located near Museumplein and the “Amsterdam” sign. Ticket is 15 euros per adult and free for anyone below 19 years of age. Guided tour is available for 5 euros only which takes about an hour. We toured the museum by ourselves and it took about three hours…may take more for others if you take time to go thru everything. There are some cafes/restaurants inside the museums as well as a big gift shop. Despite having hundreds and thousands of visitors each day, the staffs of Rijksmuseum is extremely helpful and friendly.

A royal pottery collection inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A royal pottery collection inside Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

AMSTERDAM by BOAT: I couldn’t leave Europe without taking a boat ride in the canals of Amsterdam at least once. Opposite of Rijksmuseum, there were few boat companies who offer different options for canal tours. The one we took was “Lovers”. It was a 45-minutes ride which starts in front of the museum and took us to the big canal near Central Station. We were dropped off very close to the main train station. The boat runs thru historic buildings and landmarks like Anne Frank’s House and famous churches and cathedrals. You also have the option of getting off at any particular spot and get on the boat again when you are done.

Boat tour in the canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Boat tour in the canals of Amsterdam in The Netherlands

Our one-way ticket was 10 euros per person. Round trips are also available for 14 euros which is for 1 1/2 hours ride.

Thanks for being with me in all my journeys. I still have many places left that I need to post about…keep in touch.

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