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Change of Plans: Hello again, Taipei!

As mentioned, the Hubs and I were supposed to go to Osaka for February — but after assessing his chances of getting a visa (Hubs work freelance), I decided that a better option is for him to get some stamps of his new passport first before trying out his luck in getting a Japanese visa. Since his old passport and his old travel stamps are not attached to the new one, I find it more strategic if he can show his frequency of travel as support to the Osaka trip.

Unlike me who can’t stay still in a year without going somewhere, the Hubs is contented staying in our room playing his RPG games and tabletop gaming pieces. So, when I suggested Taipei — I easily got his approval due to “one thing”

Confirmed!

Confirmed!

gw-rules-banner

…apparently, the Warhammer fandom is alive and well in the city of Taipei. In fact, the moment I confirmed our flight booking, he has already managed to find and communicate with one of the gaming stores selling Warhammer merchandise.

You see, there is a way to getting my significant other to travel with me — and that is (bless him) through his hardcore nerd heart 🙂

I have been to Taipei once in 2013 and is still raring to go back. Read some of my posts about Taipei here. There are still a lot of places that I have yet to see. Here’s my must-visit/must do places for November 2015.

Go on a morning hike at Elephant Mountain and see Taipei in all of its glory.

The view atop Elephant Mountain (photo not my property)

The view atop Elephant Mountain (photo not my property)

This view is really breath-taking. I am just looking at a photo but the vantage point is just so beautiful. Though the Hubs does not like hiking, he is always up to new adventures. Anyway, I still have three months to convince him to don his hiking shoes and go up the mountains with me. It’ll be worth it.

Beitou (photo credit to owner)

Beitou (photo credit to owner)

Enjoy Beitou. I managed to squeeze in some time to go to Beitou the first time I was in Taiwan — however, my sister and I arrived too late and the paths leading to the hot springs were already closed. In my mind, I am already convinced to do this first thing in the morning and reserve the afternoon to another destination that I also have yet to see. The Hubs said that he doesn’t like to spend the time but is more than game to going around the sights with me.

The Tamsui Lovers Bridge (photo credit to owner)

The Tamsui Lovers Bridge (photo credit to owner)

Here’s another place that I didn’t get to enjoy since we were like contestants with the amazing race and just kept on running from once place to another during our 2013 visit. Good thing the Hubs a more leisurely pace traveling and is all about chilling and enjoying the moment.

The trip will also serve as an early wedding anniversary celebration for the Hubs and myself. The trip is my way of giving back to him for all the times he has been a good sport and tolerated having a wife who can’t keep still. It’s also my way of making amends for the times I always left him whenever I leave to go somewhere.

One of the things we promised to each other this year is that we will work on experiencing new things together. The trip to Taipei is exactly just like that.

As always, mad researching commences again — from visa applications to new sights to see. Watch this space for new developments!

PS: Beautiful Taipei! I can’t wait to see you again!

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Travel Diaries

How do you know when it’s time for you to travel?

How do you know when it’s time for you to start booking flights and finding new destinations? Do you feel a particular itch, a particular sense of longing — of wanderlust, and that sense of getting lost?

the de facto battle cry for all wanderers (image credit to owner)

the de facto battle cry for all wanderers
(image credit to owner)

Does the time come when you see a seat sale and you start having panic attacks, uncertain if the credit card has been paid and thus, eligible for online purchase. Do you save all year, bits and pieces…bits and pieces…until you go away and spend everything in one glorious blaze of travel lust?

I wonder what makes people like us itch for the next adventure. New places yet unseen? Longing for a place you once been?

In my case, it’s the familiar strain of feeling like I was stranded on dry land. Nothing seemed to catch my fancy and I’d rather keep my money in a travel fund jar than spend on much-needed new shoes for the office. It’s when Sky Scanner is front and center on my iPhone app — as I furtively take a peek if there’s something worth going crazy for via Manila to Osaka.

And because we are on the subject: Return plane fares from Osaka to Manila is currently at PHP11,617 per person via JetStar (Direct flights); it’s PHP19K via Cathay Pacific (with a quick stop via HK) and PHP20K via ANA with a quick stop at Haneda. Just saying.

It’s when I started staying away from Facebook because all my friends are going somewhere and I am stuck on my desk; furtively playing for a lotto windfall so that I can travel everyday of my life and not regret anything. It’s when I start driving myself mad from working long hours just to save enough to fund another travel. It’s when I start visiting travel sites and threads repeatedly–reading tips, taking notes and being mad envious at the same time.

Someone once told me how I manage to always go somewhere — when traveling can be so expensive. I tell them that the secret really for my budget travels is research. Tons and tons of research — the kind of thing that rivals thesis dissertations due to the amount of time I spend online. It’s time to travel when you feel the need to refresh, to pause — to momentarily get off life’s mad roller coaster.

Matador Network has a more fun list to know just when it’s time for you to travel:

19 Signs it’s been WAY too long since your Last Vacation
By HAL AMEN

1. You view it as a badge of honor.
“I haven’t taken a day off from work in five years.” There are correct and incorrect inflections for this sentence. If you’re using the same tone of voice you would bragging to your friends about how much you lifted at the gym yesterday, your priorities may need readjusting.

2. Your sunscreen has actually expired.
Does sunscreen even go bad? You aren’t sure, but you’re definitely not going to trust whatever squeezes out of those gnarly-looking bottles at the back of your medicine cabinet. Thanks to a series of bitter-cold winters, paired with summers when you were “just too busy” to emerge from the cocoons of home and office, your skin these days is several shades lighter than it was when you were a kid.

3. You’ve come to think of squirrels, raccoons, and pigeons as “wildlife.”
There’s more to fauna than trash scavengers and mangy birds. You can interact with Earth’s creatures in ways other than desperately trying to trap that squirrel in your attic. Think swinging through the rainforest canopy with howler monkeys, diving with dolphins…

Read more at the Matador Network. Click here.

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Travel Tips

What’s on your suitcase?

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What’s on your suitcase?

Are you the type of traveler who crams every imaginable dress in sight, tucking about ten shirts, five pants and three shoes for a 5 day, 4 night trip? Or are you someone who can fit an entire wardrobe choices in a small, carry on backpack.

For this trip: I am carrying:

  • A pair of jeans
  • 1 NorthFace winter jacket
  • 2 black skirts
  • 3 shirts
  • 3 leggings
  • 2 pairs of gloves
  • 2 beanies/hat
  • 1 wrinkle-free dress (to be paired with black tights and worn during the trip to the DMZ)
  • 2 long-sleeves sweaters
  • 2 scarves
  • my pink winter boots
  • appropriate number of underwear/socks

Plus: my “blankie” — the old bear stuff toy I always carry with me wherever I go

When I first started traveling, I didn’t know any better. I will cram every imaginable dress in sight, the same as my accessories and shoes (like three types of shoes for a 4D, 3N trip!) — I was that clueless. Thus, I was always the one waiting on the baggage carousel, lugging heavy bags and basically looking like a complete klutz every time I emerge out of the airport and/or airport train.

My grand aspirations to look like this, has remained nothing but an aspiration:

jet-setter

It was until a particularly inconvenient and annoying dragging of the luggage in Busan and Seoul in 2012 that I finally said to myself that I had to stop carrying my whole house, save for the cat, each time I travel. I ditched the last-minute packing, stopped myself from carrying my shoe collection and instead learned to identify key pieces in choice colors in my wardrobe. Hence, I limit my colors to two or three colors then pick a shoe that would work best with the clothes I have at hand. I also got myself a 10-kilo luggage with expandable zippers so that I no longer have to check my luggage at the plane.

In the end, I learned to edit, edit and have one final edit of my clothes the night before the trip. This way, I save luggage space which I can then use for my souvenirs (which are also not that many, considering I am not a big fan of omiyage shopping).

I also referred to the internet for good tips coming from well-known and experienced travel writers on how to pack smartly and efficiently. Here’s a really good one from Rick Steves.

Little by little, I have learned to pack smartly until I have learned to plan ahead the clothes I will wear — often times, I will bring clothes that I can wear more than once, like good sturdy jeans and sweater (if its cold). I also opt for soft, wrinkle-free items.  I also managed to limit my toiletries to small items, usually in small carry-on, clear bottles and packaging. In packing and sealing liquids and gels, know that bringing zip-lock is your best friend.

When I went to Tokyo, I updated my luggage to 20 kilos but still made sure to pack smartly. While I will need to check-in my luggage for the Seoul trip next week, I have already managed to whittle down the things I will bring, taking into consideration that I will need to also bring thick jackets, scarves and warmers since it’s already winter there according to Accuweather.

I will still do a final edit of the items above the night before my trip. I am sure that I will still manage to limit the things I will bring, making way for the early Christmas shopping I can do in Seoul.

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Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Challenge: Singapore on a shoe-string budget

credit belongs to owner

credit belongs to owner

I know – Singapore and shoe-string budget are two words that doesn’t usually appear next to each other.

But what can I do? I was given marching orders by the family to prepare a family trip to Singapore with just a budget of PHP10,000 per person, exclusive of plane tickets and lodging.

The plane tickets and lodging — my sister and I paid for. We were able to get round trip tickets to Singapore via JetStar for PHP5,000 per pax all inclusive (minus the usual airport fees 😦 ) For lodging, we were able to book a family room on a guesthouse located in Perak Road at the boundary of Little India and Bugis. The guesthouse, Footprints Hostel enjoys nice reviews at Trip Advisor and we were able to score a family room for SGD120 per night (PHP4,200 on a SGD1=PHP35 exchange rate) or roughly PHP700 per person per night. Our four day night stay came to less than PHP18,000 — a feat, considering that hotels in Singapore are not exactly known for low fees.

So, the PHP10,000 or roughly SGD285 roughly accounts for the per person budget, I have to make sure that my mom and dad’s first trip to the beautiful Red Dot will be worth it. Mum is celebrating her 59th birthday while we are in Singapore so I am already looking for simple yet enjoyable activities that will make my beloved Senior Citizens happy. Non-negotiables of course is the trip to Universal Studios and Sentosa, along with a visit to the Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion at Marina Bay. Other than that, I do not exactly plan on spending on attractions that my parents will not fully appreciate.

Let me share something with you, my parents are simple people. The mere fact that they were able to go to a foreign country (something they didn’t even thought to be wildly possible) is enough cause of happiness for them. This early, they already requested to see the Merlion, Sentosa and Universal Studios — those were the non-negotiables. My mum and dad are both kids at heart and would revel on seeings sights they used to see on TV will be conversation-fodder that would last weeks.

The first time we told them that we bought tickets for the whole family going to Singapore, they–especially my mum–were ecstatic. I don’t know if it’s right to share this with you, but the week after – they started saving money for it. My dad already has 80% of his personal budget in my safekeeping and my mum already filled two piggy banks with her savings. Last I heard, she even managed to top the personal budget and she kept on saving because she wanted to buy souvenirs for her friends.

Unlike our Hong Kong Family Trip last year where I was confident that we will be able to survive HK with a measly budget of about PHP8,000 per person, I am more wary with the Singapore trip. In order to limit the expenses to SGD 285 or SGD300 at most, I have already came up with the following ground rules:

1. We are not paying premium Singapore dollars for attractions that will easily bore the men in the family who all had short attention spans (i.e. dad, the hubby and the baby brother) – i.e. entrance to the Gardens by the Bay Conservation areas. We’d rather take pictures outside with the gigantic Supertrees in the background.

2. We will spend our budget on attractions that everyone will enjoy – For example, everyone will have fun swimming and trying out the water attractions of the Water Adventure Park but not everyone will enjoy Night Safari. This is actually a dilemma — between Night Safari and gallivanting around Sentosa, which is more enjoyable?

3. Spend money discovering the food. Let the parents discover hawker center and ice cream sandwiches!

4. Enjoy public transpo especially Singapore’s efficient MRT system.

5. Don’t be afraid to look for attractions or activities that are fun but cost less or are even FREE.

I will definitely let you know if I will be successful with this new challenge. But you know me, I thrive on making trips happen in spite impossibly restricting budgets. Wish me luck though, and feel free to drop me a note if you have suggestions!

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Japan, Traveling on a Budget

Prelude to a Dream

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After my last post, I have become more determined than ever to finally push for that long-awaited Japan trip, something I cheekily dubbed as “JAPAN DREAM 2014.” Yes, I am hopelessly corny that way.

As soon as I have finished posting, I immediately went into action. I checked flights and happily found out return flights going for USD325 (about PHP12,000) at Cathay Pacific (if booked within this period, slightly higher should I opt for a late November booking). I could have easily chose JetStar Asia but I wanted plane tickets that are refundable. I wanted the safety of getting my hard-earned money back should visa problems arise. Yes, I don’t want to entertain any bad juju, but my OC-nature is calling for refundable tickets. Cebu Pacific is out of the question this time. I wanted to be in Tokyo and they only have flights for Osaka. Maybe some other time.

The trip is intended to be my 35th birthday gift for myself. But after working in two different kaishas, I suddenly remembered that my birthday week (and the intended date of travel) falls on Golden Week. So, I checked the Golden Week 2014 schedule online, and sure enough — my birthday week is right at the middle of the celebration. So, it’s either I go ahead and book flights during the Golden Week or move it to a later date. Japan-based friends, what do you think? Is it a good idea to be in Tokyo during the Golden Week?

I already narrowed down my options when it comes to accommodations, as well. There are a number of great guesthouses and hostels in Asakusa but I am partial to KABUKI Khao San Tokyo Guesthouse (currently #1 in its category in Trip Advisor) or any of its other sister establishments, also located in the Asakusa area. This early, I decided that I would rather be based in Asakusa — I wanted to be near the Sumida River and be surrounded by temples and snippets of traditional Tokyo. Other options include Super Hotel, which I discovered through the site, TokyoCheapo, or Toyoko Inn in Asakusa.

After I have posted my plans for my birthday, I have become more determined to make sure it will come true. I already estimated that I needed to raise PHP50,000 to PHP60,000 (Y100,000 to Y120,000) to cover all expenses. I already enlisted the participation of my sister and my husband and they are both stoked looking forward to this trip.

Planning for this trip has made me more grateful that I have a good job and an equally good company. Yes, it’s not perfect but that company has understood me and my need to travel. My only wish is that I’ll get more freelancing opportunities since it will help me build my Japan Fund faster.

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Inspirations, Japan

夢 (Yume)

Lying in bed and trying to ride out the tropical storm currently threatening to put Manila underwater, I suddenly realized that I need to finally throw caution to the wind and book that long-awaited (and long-prayed for) tickets to Japan.

I’ve been in love with this country for as long as I can remember — yet I kept putting off seriously considering or planning a trip because I was afraid of getting a Japanese tourist visa and being rejected. I was afraid that I will never have enough money to fund my travel. I harbored too many “but’s” and “if’s” stricken by the fear of not getting a visa, first and foremost. The sad thing is — I never, even tried.

I was too scared of facing my fear of the Japanese visa, but I have managed to get a visa to South Korea and Taipei, a month or two before the Taiwan-Philippines row exploded. I kept saying I didn’t have the money but I kept on going back to Hong Kong and Singapore, even co-shouldering my parent’s first overseas trip.

I realized that the reason I am still dreaming about seeing my dream country is because I am just too scared by things I can’t predict.

Today, I realized that I just have to throw all preconceived notions, all premature fears and just eff it and go. To be blunt about it, I stand in the way of fulfilling my own dream.

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So next year — on my 35th birthday — I vow to spend it underneath the trees of Kitanomaru Park. With His blessing, with the blessing of the universe and buoyed by your kind prayers and wishes, my fellow travelers — I am claiming it.

I have to do it next year because after that comes motherhood and plans for the future, like leaving the country for good to pursue a better life. So unless I am heavily-pregnant and about to pop, nothing will stop me from stepping on a Tokyo-bound plane by next year.

To do this will never be easy or cheap. But I spend too much money on comics and clothes anyway, I’d rather divert the fund to something important (understatement of the year, my friends). As someone who have an obsession with research, surely I can do the same thing for this trip.

I made a quick check: booking a return flight bound for Tokyo via JetStar Asia is around PHP16,000.00 — this is within a four-month booking schedule, while tickets via PAL costs roughly PHP30,000.00 (same schedule). Tokyo backpackers hostels meanwhile go for as low as Y3,000 or Y8,000 for a nice double room in another 3-star hotel. A budget of Y100,000 is I think, more than enough.

It will not be easy–after all, this trip will be solely funded by what I earn from my work. But whoever said the journey towards your dreams is ever easy?

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