Sunday, April 15, 2018

Budgeting The UK - 15D/14N

How much does it cost to visit the UK? Coming from a 'poorer' nation, I've tried to make this trip as affordable as possible--taking into account the currency exchange and how I can be as budget-friendly without completely sacrificing comfort and convenience. What you'll find below is my best attempt at doing so.


*Ringgit is estimated based on currency exchange. Refer to £ for budgeting accuracy.
**Also, cost has been divided by 4 pax.

Transportation: RM 3806.45

KL to Heathrow (return) via British Airways: RM 2577.40
12 Days Car Rental: £527.22 (pay @ rental location - RM 726* per person)
Train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh: £18.5 (RM 103.05)  
Misc transport, parking, and petrol: RM 400

Entry Fees/ Activities: RM 540 
Edinburgh Castle: £17 (RM 95*)
Highland Wildlife Park: £15.90 (RM 87*)
Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio: £41 (RM 229.41)
Tower of London: £22.70 (RM 127.50)

Accommodation: RM 2065.33
Edinburgh: RM 428.98 (3 nights)
Aviemore: RM 370.20 (3 nights)
Glasgow: RM 95 (1 night)
Coniston: RM 475.18 (3 nights)
London: RM 695.97 (4 nights)

Food: RM 2000
(Daily budget of £24)

*At time of cash conversion, currency rate fluctuates around RM 5.50 = £1

Estimated Total Per Person: RM 8412

To view in-hand cash breakdown, scroll to the end of the itinerary in the itinerary post. What you see above is the breakdown of the complete budget, without going into the minute details. Also, as a group, we rounded off our in-hand cash conversion--the number you see above excludes that.

Personally, I've converted some cash for my own expenditure--I intend to buy all the Harry Potter things I can find. I might just dedicate a post to all-things Harry Potter. But of course, I'll be sure to address the more important question once I return--whether this budget worked--in the trip summary.

Check out my other posts on the UK:

Post-trip posts:
UK Trip Summary

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Airbnb Scotland & England

"Will you be staying in hotels?" you ask.

"What is a hotel?"

When there are Airbnbs, why bother with hotels? Airbnbs are homes away from home. And though some of them suck--based on past experiences--most of them are decent, with some being the best places I've stayed in. So, no surprise here--all my lodging in the UK are Airbnbs. And if you're looking for places to stay during your upcoming trip to the UK, here are my picks that may be favourable to you too.

(Want to give Airbnb a try? Click HERE to sign up and get 20$ off your first Airbnb stay!)

Note: As I'll be driving to Aviemore, I've filtered my search to include free parking on site, and a washer/washing machine from Aviemore onward.

Edinburgh: I chose this place because it was close to Edinburgh Waverley Station. My initial plan was to rent a car from Europcar, located in the train station itself. But after a change of plans--car rental company--it is no longer as ideal as before. The location also makes this Airbnb one of the priciest in Edinburgh. With a strict cancellation policy, I can only hope it's worth the cost.

Aviemore, Cairngorms: Definitely looking forward to this little getaway from the city. Cosy, homey, and cheap, what more can I ask for?

Glasgow: Talk about a fancy bathroom! As an overnight stay, I chose the most affordable and clean-looking space I could find.

Coniston, Lake District: I stumbled upon this place while hunting for a convenient Airbnb in Lake District. It's a little out of the way, but with a car, the location isn't really a problem. Also, I kind of like the seclusion.

London: You probably already know--London is an expensive place to stay in. Being able to find a cheap and well-located Airbnb is a challenge, and I'm glad I managed to find this one. It's right outside the congestion zone, and the host is communicative even before my arrival.   

So, how much do these picks cost? The group total for lodging is RM8261, making it RM2065 per person for 14 nights. This averages to RM148 a night per person. Do note that I had some Airbnb credits that gave each person a RM150 off the entire lodging cost.

The nightly average in the UK is definitely higher than my previous trips. But, I still managed to keep the lodging cost to around 2K. When I get back, I'll be sure to review each of the Airbnb. Hopefully, they are worth the amount I paid.

Check out my other posts on the UK:
Unexpectedly UK - Itinerary
Post-trip posts:
UK Trip Summary

Monday, February 19, 2018

Unexpectedly UK - To Scotland & England I Go!

I know I've mentioned of my plans to visit New Zealand, but somehow--when it was time to decide--another country diverted my attention. But... that isn't such a bad thing--the UK is awesome too. After all, it's where all the Harry Potter-y is! And to be honest, I never thought I'd ever get a chance to visit the UK--this trip is almost a dream come true.

In comparison with my previous trips, this will be my longest one yet--15 days and 14 nights. The first half of my trip will be in Scotland, while the second half will be in England. So feel free to scroll through the entire itinerary. Upon my return, I'll write a summary addressing the feasibility of my hard work below. 

*All dates, maps, and accommodations have been removed. I'll list the Airbnbs of my choice in a separate post.

Check out my other posts on the UK:
Airbnb Scotland & England

Post-trip posts:
UK Trip Summary

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I Travel But I'm Not Rich

Just because I travel, it doesn't mean I earn a hefty paycheck. It doesn't mean I come from a wealthy family. And just because I travel, it doesn't mean I'm secretly a rich and famous author.

I feel like I have to say this - to clear this up - because often times, people assume my bank account is overflowing with ka-ching. Friends imagine I'm paid highly at my day job, strangers are quick to conclude that my parents are sponsoring my trips, and extended family assume I'm earning thousands in book royalties. But here's the truth: I'm not earning a lot from my 9-6 job, I pay for my own escapades (and then some), and the last time I cashed in a royalty cheque - of a few US dollars - was over two years ago. I'm not wealthy. I simply choose to invest in experiences rather than possessions. #TypicalMillennialRight?

To some, this might sound silly. Wouldn't I need a house one day? Shouldn't I be saving for my future children? Why am I investing in a holiday, instead of a retirement plan? Very legitimate questions. And yes, I do have a retirement plan and a savings account. But... I don't have the money to buy a house, nor do I have any cash prepared for my future children. Why? Because if I die tomorrow, I can't take my deeds or bank savings to the grave. But if I die tomorrow, I can take my memories. I can take the experience of sinking knee-deep into snow, the sight of a glorious mountain range, and the understanding of another culture, beyond my death. In my final moments, I wouldn't be thinking of a life I could've lived, but I would've actually lived it.

Of course, I know that growing up means more responsibilities. I'm aware, that if and when I settle down to start a family, I may not be able to travel as frequently as I do now. I'll experience another facet of life, with a change of priorities. And I'm fine with that. But for now, in this season of my life where I have the freedom to explore, learn, and encounter, I'm going to invest in experiences... and do so wisely (always on a budget). After all, I didn't inherit a million dollars from a long lost relative. I have to make the most of what I have for a world beyond my own. And until the road ahead requires me to turn, I'll be charging forward.

(P.S I'll be heading to UK next! So stay tuned for the details in the coming months.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Hokkaido Trip Summary

I'm back! And oh, how I wish I wasn't. Now cue the long wall of text!

How was the trip?

Firstly, my trip was a day short - thanks to AirAsia moving my flight a day later, and giving me seats I didn't book. Yay for AirAsia and their low budget service. Indeed, everyone can fly! Yes, I'm still sour about what they did. But alas, that's the AirAsia we know and love. With that said, the summary below will be a little different from the initial itinerary. Though, I must say, that despite spending one day less, I enjoyed my getaway in the cold of Hokkaido. Was it better than Tasmania, though? Hmm...

Day 1: Touched down in New Chitose Airport earlier than expected. After picking up the car, rented from World Net Car Rental through Tocoo, we headed to Noboribetsu. Chitose itself was colder than I've ever experienced, but Noboribetsu outdid it. It had a wind chill of 3 degrees celsius! We didn't spend much time there, as it was too cold to bear. But, we did have ice-cream at Milky House before heading straight for Hakodate. After checking-in, we went to Daimon Yokocho for dinner. It was too cold to ponder over what to eat, so we settled for the ramen shop by the entrance.

Day 2: We woke early for our drive to Matsumae. The sky overhead Matsumae was unlike the gloom in Hakodate and Chitose. Matsumae basked in heaven's spotlight, mimicking the first light after a storm. A place known for their variety of Sakuras, it's no surprise the weather was in its favour. As for the rest of the day, the itinerary was tinkered - we visited Goryokaku Park for tea time at Rokkatei, followed by Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse for shopping, and then Lucky Pierriot for dinner. Oh, fun fact: Sakura ice-cream tastes a lot like cough medicine... which I like. But unfortunately, the soft serve version was only available in Matsumae.

Day 3: Because of the change of travel dates, we had to check-in to another accommodation in Onuma Quasi National Park (more on this lodging below). But before doing so, we visited the morning market for squid-fishing and kaisendon. And since the weather was chilly, we decided to ascend Mount Hakodate under the morning sun. After which, we spent the rest of the day in the national park area - far from fun in the rain.

Day 4: Traveling day; we headed to Lake Toya for the trails, then Lake Hill Farm for ice-cream. The farm is worth the visit, as it not only offered decently priced gelato but mirrored the opening scene from The Sound of Music. Since we were pressed for time, we headed for Otaru right after (a place we can all agree wasn't worth the drive). Then in Sapporo, we strolled to Sapporo Factory Mall for a filling and cheap buffet dinner (of 1500 yen per person).

View from Lake Hill Farm - about 20 feet from a goat acting as the farm's
friendly pet dog (it had a dog house and was on a leash - no kidding).

Day 5: The day went pretty much as planned, except we omitted Ramen Alley. The Mount Moiwa hike took exactly an hour to the peak, and was a good mid-trip workout. We got to practice our 'konichiwas' while burning calories. Since we were staying in the city centre, we had time to return to our accommodation for a quick shower before exploring Sapporo city.

Dinner at Jingisukan Daikokuya.
They suggested 2 servings per person - a
serving costs about 700 yen. So, we had 10! 
Do also try their radish and almond salad.
It's really refreshing after a long day.

Day 6: Checked-out and headed for the Historical Village of Hokkaido. The village itself is pretty large, so we spent about an hour before leaving. It's a cool place for pictures, with history surrounding structures. As for Asahikawa's Ramen Village, it's smaller than it looks - don't expect much. However, I personally enjoyed Asahiyama Zoo. Aside from the glass panel, nothing is between you and the animals. In fact, some areas don't even have glass separations! It definitely beats Taipei Zoo.

Day 7: There's actually much less to do in Biei than expected. Most of our time were spent at Tokachidake Observatory, where we played with snow. It might've seemed strange to the other visitors, but coming from Malaysia, we couldn't resist making snow angels and having snowball fights. We also opted out of sushi dinner and went for Genghis Khan (Jingisukan Daikokuya) instead. Do note that if you don't reserve a table at Genghis Khan, you'll have to arrive early to get a number. I was there at 4:25pm and there were two other groups arriving at the same time - trust me, you want to be early. The restaurant is also quite difficult to pinpoint, so if you don't have an image, look out for a fat man on the restaurant header.

Day 8: The day we were looking forward to! But, we went during the wrong season... for hiking - my fault, mostly. I thought we could hike to the summit of Mount Asahi in trainers. But when we arrived, it was white. We couldn't even do the Sugatami Pond Circuit, because the ponds and circuit track were topped with snow! The most we could do was explore the vast whiteness, before our toes numbed - forcing us to retreat. And with ample of time on our hands, we dropped by a few of the 'flowering' spots in the vicinity (it wasn't flower season yet), before calling it a day.

It's still winter on the mount. The experience of sinking thigh-deep into snow is something 
we would remember for a lifetime. Or, until we see snow again.

Day 9: We departed early for Furano, making Campana Rokkatei our first stop for dessert/breakfast. Then, we headed to Furano Marche - to be honest, it didn't live up to its name. After which, we drove to Ningle Terrace. Ningle Terrace is beautiful in the day, and I can only imagine how amazing it would be at night. Once done with the sightseeing, we headed for Aeon Chitose to shop for meat for our barbecue dinner - our accommodation in Eniwa was the best (more on it below).

Sweet treats from Rokkatei - a fraction of what
Hokkaido has to offer.
Day 10: Booked a ride (from Chitose to Lake Shikotsu) and buffet lunch with Mizu No Uta. Frankly, Lake Shikotsu doesn't have much to offer. So after lunch, we rented bicycles for a one-way return trip to Chitose Station. It took almost 2 hours. If not for the need of some physical activity, I would advice against doing so. Also, since my last bicycle fall in my childhood years, I brought home a decent graze.

Day 11: Our Eniwa host kindly offered to drive us to the train station at 7am. The vacation ended shortly after some duty-free shopping, when we left Hokkaido soil for Malaysia.

Did the budget work?

We had an access of approximately 7000 yen per person, totaling around 28k as a group. This excess was after spending 15k (collectively) on unplanned, last minute shopping. 

Most of the excess came from the transportation budget, while some came from the food budget. With cheap meals from Seico Mart, and reasonable offers from Aeon, we could splurge in Genghis Khan, go on two buffets, snack on Hokkaido treats, and fill a basket with meat. So yes, RM5,500 is more than enough for 11 full days in Japan. 

*The budget summary is based on the initial 12 days 11 nights plan, despite only spending 10 full days in Japan as mentioned above. If you're curious about our 10-day budget surplus, it was around 38k.

How was the lodging?

(Click HERE for $25 off your first Airbnb stay!)

Hakodate: Spacious but with a bathroom on the ground floor. Also, narrow and steep stairs. Its location is pretty close to popular attractions. And the host made up for the lack of coffee and tea with free drinks.

Paarde Musee: I had to book this place after the flight change, and it didn't disappoint. It was more expensive than the other accommodations (about RM200 a night, per person), and the container home is rather small. But the surrounding farm, with horses ten feet from the doorstep, is a fun escape for a city dweller - a good stop for an overnighter.

The farm surrounding our container home.

Sapporo: It's a small living space on the third floor, with a challenge to find on a GPS. But the host is helpful, and it's only a 5-minute walk from Sapporo Factory. It's also very cheap for its central location.

Alas, our final stay.
Asahikawa: Unresponsive host, and useless wifi - it had reached its quota upon my check-in. So, don't bother with this place. The reviews on the Airbnb page is dated. I'm guessing the host gave up being a host, seeing as she didn't leave any reviews to allow newer reviews (possibly bad ones) to appear on her page. So, really, don't bother - stay as a last resort.

Eniwa: Yes, it is indeed, out of the way (placing between Sapporo and Chitose). But this home is worth the distance. For the price you pay, you get a fully equipped home with four bedrooms, and a kind, helpful host who lives right behind. Also, the host has the equipment you need to have your own barbecue! So consider this home if you're visiting Sapporo and Lake Shikotsu.

Did I do any shopping?

A minimum of 15k, yes. It's hard to resist the variety of Kit Kats and popular Hokkaido treats. And when you see people bagging boxes of the same stuff in the duty-free shops, one cannot help but do the same.

The new Kit Kat flavours I managed to get my hands on were Raspberry, Premium Mint, Hokkaido Melon, Sakura & Roasted Soy Bean, Sakura Matcha, Sakura Nihonshu, Wa-Ichigo, and that-dried-cherry-tomato-with-dark-chocolate-flavour-I've-no-idea-what-it's-called.

To sum the summary...

It was a fun escape from reality. I definitely love the self-less and laid-back culture of Hokkaido. And I plan to return in the future - to the places I've not been. Japan is a wonderful country with lots to see. I'm so glad I'm not done with it yet.

Where to next? Most probably - definitely aiming for - New Zealand.

(For more pictures of my trip, head over to Instagram! I'll be posting a whole lot of #throwbacks.)