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Traveling

The Family Travels Through Thailand

In our last article, we left off right after our month-stay in Chaing Mai. Since then, we have spent a month in the south of Thailand, stopping in Koh Lanta, Ao Nang, Krabi, and Phuket before flying back to Bangkok to catch our flight to Japan.

 

Traveling to Koh Lanta

Our first stop in southern Thailand was Koh Lanta, a family-friendly, peaceful, island located less than 2 hours away from the nearest airport in Krabi. We flew from Chiang Mai to Krabi airport on Air Asia, a budget airline. Both the service and experience was excellent. Everything you could expect from an international airline, but for a tenth of the price.

To book the flights, we used a few travel-dollars we have received to apply to credit cards and flew for free. Once we landed, we charted a private transport to Koh Lanta. We had booked a car but they sent us a minivan with plenty of legroom so that was a plus!

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where to go in thailand with a familyOnce we got to the island, we stayed for a week at the Tamarind Twin Resort. The hotel was pretty good for what they charge. We paid only $30 per night, again, booked through credit card travel credits.

It was a very large room, modern, clean, and the walk to the beach only took a minute or two. The pool was great and the beach (Long Beach) was very clean. Our baby had a ton of fun in the sand and playing in the ocean.

The highlight of Koh Lanta was definitively the beach. The water was clear and the sand was smooth. The sunsets were breathtaking and seemed to last forever.

On our second week on the island, we stayed at the Riviera Boutique House. Overall, that was the best budget hotel we stayed at. The service was excellent, our host was very helpful. We rented a scooter one day and drove around the island to the old town, we chilled on the beach, enjoyed the pool.

Our last stay in Koh Lanta was at The Thai House Resort. We had reserved a bungalow without AC but once we got there, we quickly realized how hot it got. Not only was it hot but too stuffy. The bamboo bungalow was very basic, had a tiny window, and a general feeling of ugliness.

Only a few hours after checking in, we asked the owner for another option. She asked double the rate for a modern concrete bungalow with AC ($60). That is pretty much the going rate for beach-front bungalows in the region but it meant we had to spend way more for our stay (and could not pay that extra charge with credit card points). After a little negotiation, we were able to get upgraded to a beautiful bungalow for only $4 more per day.  That made all the difference!

 

How is it to live in a small hotel roomwhere to stay in thailand with a family

 

We enjoyed our three weeks in Koh Lanta but there were a few things that slightly annoyed us.

  • The food options were very limited. There were a ton of restaurants but all serving the same tourist menu. Whenever we see restaurants with a hundred-item menu, (pizza, pasta, Thai food, hamburgers, seafood, fish…) we avoid them. Finding some good, local, restaurants was a challenge and we had to walk around a bit before finding something.
  • Access was not the easiest. Even if this island has a ferry, the drive from the closest airport took us about an hour and a half and cost $100 for a private transfer. This might not sound like much but it is huge for Thailand.
  • The Infrcture was laking. Internet was slow and, water being sparse, the showers had very low pressure.

 

On the plus side, however,

  • At the three spots we stayed, the beach was amazing. The sand was nice, the waves were not too big, and the water was sparkling blue. We did not see any trash in the ocean, nor on the beach.
  • Boat activity was minimal. The island is fairly quiet and peaceful for that reason.
  • Hotels are reasonably priced and, for the most part, well maintained. Everywhere we stayed was around the $30 per night mark. We always booked walking distance from the beach since a minute walk really does not bother us but basic beachfront bungalows go for about $60-$100 per night.
  • The island is very colorful and offers tons of natural beauty to admire. We highly suggest renting a scooter and exploring a bit in-land. We only paid $8 per day for ours.

 

Our stay in Ao Nang

After three weeks in Koh Lanta, we booked a private transfer to Ao Nang. Once again, we booked a sedan car but got a nice, big, minivan. This time, we got luxury leather seats with plenty of legroom. As for hotels, we booked 8 nights at the Ibis with points from our RBC credit cards and got the whole $65-per-night stay for free. The hotel was super nice, clean, offered a nice pool area, and a great breakfast selection.

It can get weird to raise our kid without support or activities. Being so far from family can get hard but nice resort-style hotels like this one are great to get distracted a bit. We hung out by the pool, let her play, and enjoyed the sun.

By then, after months of traveling, we definitively started to miss family. Especially with a newborn, having that support would be nice. We are always by ourselves, only us three, and it even if we are never bored, we do feel a small void.

Another thing we really start to feel is the closeness. We have been living in small hotel rooms for months and it does have it’s downsides. When our baby is taking a nap, for example, it is really hard to stay silent without a living room or office space. Even typing on the computer can wake her up sometimes.

 

perfect family trip in ao nangao nang family travel thailand family islandsraley beach trip with an infant

 

From Ao Nang, we visited Phra Nang Cave Beach by longtail boat. It was a fun adventure. The boat ride only takes about 15 minutes and cost $8 round-trip. From there, we visited a small cave and admired rock climbers conquering the flank. It was an easy day-trip, even with a baby.

 

raley beach trip with a baby

 

where to stay in thailand with a family

Another fun activity accessible from the beach in Ao Nang is the Monkey Trail. This free trail crosses to the national park around the mountain. It was pretty well maintained and easily accessible; simply walk until the end of the beach and start climbing up the stairs.

Unfortunately, we did not see any monkeys. It was still nice to see the jungle and the quiet beach on the other side of the mountain.

 

where to go in thailand with a family

 

A quick stop in Krabi

how to travel thailand on a budget

After months of slow travel through Thailand, we finally did a quick, 3-day, stop in the town of Krabi. This was a nice stop after the month of beach life. We took another private transfer to get there, another $100, but this time actually got the car we booked.

Traveling by land was a big plus with an infant. Even for the island, we were in a van and took a ferry. It was so much easier than taking boats all the time.

Originally, we had planned to visit 2 or 3 islands by boat but after consideration, we rebooked our hotels to stay car-accessible the whole way.

 

fun markets in thailandhow is it to take planes with an infant

 

how to manage your life abroad

We visited a nice weekend market, explored the town, and walked through the mangroves.

It was nice to come back to a city after spending so much time at the beach. The restaurant scene was much better and the liveliness of it all was refreshing. With now much better options to choose from, we finally ate amazing food again.what route to travel thailandhow to travel thailand cheap

 

Traveling in luxury in Phuket

The next stop on our Thailand trip was the island of Phuket. Again, we used a private car transfer to get to our next hotel and got to the Marriott Resort and Spa, Nai Yang Beach bright and early.

We paid for the room with rewards points so it did not cost us anything. In addition, we got upgraded to an ocean-front Villa since we are platinum members with Marriott. Throughout all of our travels, this has to be the most luxurious hotel we stayed at. Our villa had amazing decor, a private pool, and a crazy ocean-view.

The resort was beautiful. They offered watersports, amazing restaurants, and a very relaxing atmosphere to end our stay in Thailand.

 

family trip to thailand marriott in thailand on rewards

 

The service was simply breathtaking. One new thing we never experienced before was turndown service. Every evening. the maids would come to prepare the bed for use, change our towels, set our slippers on the side of the bed, and leave us a little thought on the pillow with fresh flowers.

It was completely over-the-top and no one actually needs this service but it was a nice touch.

 

marriott in phuket on pointsfree hotel in thailand hotel credit card canada

 

Last stop in Thailand: Bangkok

Finally, our last stop before flying out was Bangkok. We stayed 3 nights at the very nice Marriott Marquis, again, paid with points. Once more, they upgraded us. This time to a suite on the 32nd floor.

The view was amazing. the hotel was wonderfully done and the service was outstanding.

 

bangkok hotel marriott marquis

 

The highlight of this property was definitively its breakfast buffet. The ginormous selection was breathtaking and the quality exceptional. They have an Asian section, juice bar, Western section, salad bar, cereal bar, and a never-ending selection of food.

We also tried 3 of their ten restaurants and were very impressed. The service was outstanding and everything we had was delicious.

 

free breakfast at marriott marriott marquis bangkok reviewmarriott marquis bangkok on points

 

Their business lounge was also very nice. It offered great views of the city from the 27th floor and the outdoor terrasse was also a nice touch.

The food was good, however, alcohol was only served from 5:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M. On the plus side, they did offer a full-service bar so we ordered a few cocktails. Most lounges usually only offer self-serve.

 

bangkok hotel lounge for free

 

The suite was very nice and elegantly decorated. We had a huge bathroom with a rain shower, full bath, and marble finishes. We finally got the luxury of hanging out in the living room when Baby was sleeping since the bedroom door could be shut close.

 

bangkok hotel for freemarriott marquis bangkok with rewards points free hotel stay

 

All-in-all, we had a great time in Thailand and after 69 days, we finally flew out to Japan.  Thailand was so welcoming. Especially with a baby, they were all so smiley and happy. They LOVE babies. Some restaurants, we had 5 or 6 waitresses hovering around her and entertaining her! They just go crazy for them.

In contrast, Tokyoites were pretty straight-faced. But that is another story for another post.

Cheers, Mr. Mrs, and Baby Xyz.

 

 

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Traveling

Explore California for Free with Aeroplan Miles

We have not posted in a while since we were enjoying the hot summer in California last week! We traveled for a total of 8 days, flew a total of 5338 miles, ate a total of 4 hamburgers, and spent less than an average week’s worth of rent in San Francisco. Since we can now fly for free pretty much anywhere in the world, why not?

The first flight we took was to San Francisco with a connection in LAX. We always fly for free since we book our flights with rewards points. We got to the airport nice and early since the TSA lines took hours the last time we flew. However, this time around, we basically walked right in and it did not take us more than 20 minutes to cross security. We also flew without any checked bags so this drastically speeds things up.

 

Find your card today and start earning those SWEET miles!

 

Once past security, with about 2 hours before our flight, we took advantage of the perks of travel rewards and enjoyed a Premium Lounge. Had some snacks and drank some 12 years-old scotch while we enjoyed comfy couches all for a total price of $0.00! (Free entry only comes with certain premium cards)

 

Stay in louges for free

 

Departing was a pain and our flight stayed on the tarmac a full hour before lifting but we got to LAX safe and sound. The only annoying thing was that this hour delay made us miss the last flight to San Francisco and we were stuck at LAX for the night.

Air Canada arranged a stay for us at the Holiday Inn and gave each of us a $30 food voucher for the next morning. It was annoying to go in and out of the airport for a layover like that. At least, Air Canada made it slightly less annoying by arranging everything for us on the spot.

At 9 o’clock that morning, we finally flew out to San Francisco. We took the BART train to get from the airport to the financial district for only $9 each instead of using a taxi or Uber that would have cost us roughly $45 to $60. It is as fast as a taxi, clean, the seats are nice, and the BART can take you almost anywhere in the city for less than $10.

On our first day there, we walked the pier, saw the Golden State Bridge, and walked up Lombard street. On our walk to the pier, we followed the heard of tourists (it was a Sunday afternoon after all) and stopped by In-N-Out Burgers.

We had high hopes for this place given the amazing experience we had at Shake Shack in New York, we thought the west-coast equivalent would measure up. Unfortunately, it just was not for us. The fries were worse than the frozen ones you can buy at the grocery store and the burgers were simply ok, nothing fancy. (Sorry In-N-Out fans)

 

Cheap Travel

Cheap travel

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We ended our stroll in the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful park with an amazing theatre and art structures. We played with the swans and turtles, then walked back to our hotel in the Embarcadero district.

 

Travel hacking

 

For the next 3 days, Mrs. Xyz was attending a conference so I walked around the city and explored the ups and downs of San Francisco (literally).

I spent a day around China Town and got a fresh haircut for a big $6. Pretty good for one of the most expensive cities in America! I have noticed this even back home; you can always get a cheap haircut in China Town. The experience is not exactly as fancy as a $16,000 haircut from Stuart Phillips but you get a pretty good cut for a few bucks.

I then ate lunch at a nice Szechuan restaurant and spent $8 on a shrimp and vegetable dish before walking around the neighborhood a bit.

 

San Francisco

 

.The following day, I visited the Musée Mécanique on the Pier 45 of Fisherman’s Wharf. If you want a unique experience, this is the place! Old pinball machines, mechanical arcade games, and coin-operated mechanical musical instruments are fascinating to me and I highly recommend visiting this free-entry arcade museum. A few dollars in coins will last you a while since most of the games are only 25¢ or 50¢.

 

Cheap travel

 

.After her conference, I and Mrs. walked to the AT&T Park to catch a Giants vs Cubs baseball game. On our way there, we stopped by Chipotle for a little burrito (actually it was enormous!). This was the first time we tried Chipotle and I know they have a big following but even with the extra guac, we were not impressed. I would not say it was a bad burrito but it was just not extraordinary.

On my last day of solo-adventure, I walked down Main street, stopped in a few malls but did not buy much. I got this great deal on some Banana Republic shorts that were on sale for $12 when they actually sell for $75 back in Canada. One thing that struck me was the Amazon retail store. We have gone full-circle over here! The biggest online retailer who is killing brick and mortar stores and closing malls is now opening stores in malls!

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Amazon store

 

That night, we hopped on our flight to Los Angeles. If you are not flying first-class, a great little trick is to ask if there are any unsold seats available and mention that you are willing to help in case of an emergency. The exit row seats are now sold as Economy Plus since they offer greater leg room but we often get those seats without any extra charge just by asking nicely.

Once landed, we took the shuttle to our car rental company and had to wait almost half an hour for the under-staffed establishment to finally give us our reservation. We cannot really complain since we did get the rental for free with travel rewards. 🙂

Sonata

It was nice to drive a brand new, shiny-red, full-size sedan. It had Sirius XM radio, Sports mode driving, and only 15,000 miles on it… All things we do not have on our own cheap, old, cars.

You know what else we have never had; car loans. 🙂 The average American borrowers finance their new car purchases with loans over $28,000. Not only is this number super scary high but the car loan industry seems to be in a frenzy to give out loans to anyone in America. The good debt is less and less accessible with the new mortgage regulations that were elected after the 2008 crash but the car loan industry is still very flexible and is giving out shiny new cars to people that really cannot afford it.

 

Loan typesSource: FRBNY Consumer Credit Panel/Equifax

 

We spent a day visiting Malibu, Venice Beach, Beverly Hills, and Hollywood or in other words, we played in traffic all day. Gosh, there is a lot of traffic in L.A.! We had never seen such wide highways with so many cars. According to INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard, Angelinos spent an average of 104 hours stuck in traffic jams last year or about 12.7% of their total drive time. The city was the 2016 global leader when it comes to traffic and even surpassed New York by 15 hours per year.

Traffic data in LASource: INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard

 

There are plenty of cool tech solutions to reduce traffic like Uber pool, Chariot, or Waze Carpool that minimizes single-user cars on the road but the biggest changes will probably come from the recent Measure M, a new sales tax measure L.A. voted into fund as much as $120 billion in subway, light rail and bus system improvements over the next 30 years.

After our fun day in traffic, we drove some more but this time, along much nicer scenery. We drove along the Highway One north up to the Hearst Castle.

 

Fly for less

 

.The tour was $25 and lasted about 30 minutes, not something I particularly enjoyed. It is not a castle and is it not historic, it is more like a very large themed house that a guy with too much money built. This eclectic showcase of tremendous wealth reminded me a bit like visiting the Trump Tower on our last trip; too much ego and too much gold.

We then stayed in a nice Airbnb in Los Osos and hiked in the Montaña de Oro State Park the next morning. This beachfront park was breathtaking. Walking by the cliff-side and looking down to the amazing ocean down below is something we highly recommend.

 

 

California travels

 

That same day, we drove back south on the 1 back towards L.A. On the drive, we stopped in Santa Barbara to grab a bite to eat and were very impressed with this small city of almost 100,000 residents. It has this charm and beach feel to it. The main street has great little restaurants and all the shops you could ever need. It would be a great place to retire, too bad the median home value is a whopping $1,050,800 according to Zillow.

We stayed at Le Méridien Delfina in Santa Monica that we booked for free with SPG points. Even though this was not the priciest hotel we have ever stayed at ($360US/night), it was certainly offered the best services we have seen in a while.

Your stay starts with complimentary valet service, while most hotels in L.A. charge anywhere from $60 to $90, and they even allow you in and out privileges during your stay. Last time we were in New York the hotel was charging $85 per day for valet parking and if you took your car out that day, you had to pay again!

Next, we got a warm welcome with Champaign glasses and got upgraded to a premium room and late check-out since we are Preferred Guests. Later that evening, the hotel offered us a complimentary chauffeur service to drive us to our restaurant but we took the free city shuttle to drop us off instead. That was a neat service offered by the city of Santa Monica and runs on small electric cars.

 

Travel for free!

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That night, we ate at Mao’s Kitchen in Venice. The $8 onion pancake we had to start was just ok but the $1 Beijing Spring roll was excellent. We then ordered the Dan Dan Mian for $12 and that was a letdown but Mrs.’s rice and shrimp dish was excellent. The portions are huge but they charged us a few hidden extras which should have been disclosed at ordering so we would give this restaurant a 3-star review.

The next morning, we used the hotel’s free bikes to ride along Venice Beach before sipping drinks by the pool (complimentary of course).

 

venice beach

 

After a fun and extremely cheap trip, we flew back home and took a cool new transport service that runs on an all-electric fleet of vehicles. We got the chance to ride in the brand-new Tesla Model X from the airport and it was awesome! We hope you the best travels, Mrs. and Mr. Xyz. 😀

 

 

Amazing travels

Categories
Traveling

Our Budget Mexico Honeymoon Barely Cost Anything

Last September, we got married and waited until the winter to go off on our honeymoon. After much consideration, we decided to escape the snow in Mexico. With a few travel hacks and rewards points, we were able to cut our costs down drastically. One of the best travel hacks we used was the hotel room upgrade we got from our credit card. All through our trip, we have kept a tab and tracked our expenses to share with you guys. To make it easier for everyone, prices have been roughly converted CAD to USD at 1.3, CAD to MXN at 15, and USD to MXN at 20.

 

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Most people say traveling is expensive and will easily spend thousands of dollars on weekend trips and holidays but this is mostly pushed by advertising and travel agencies. Think about it, Booking.com who is owned by Priceline and also runs KAYAK, made over $8 billion dollars in revenues last year. Then, Expedia, who also owns Hotels.com, Hotwire, trivago, Travelocity, and Orbitz, made over $6 billion in revenues. Those two behemoths make their money on all-inclusive packages, luxury hotels, and flights. It is not to their advantage to promote cheap hotels and DIY travel itineraries. By sharing our trip itinerary and travel budget, we hope you can find your own way to travel for less than advertised.

To begin, we really wanted to book the flights for this trip with credit card rewards and essentially fly for free! Unfortunately, we waited too long before booking and, since it was right at the Christmas break, there were no more rewards flights available. We still found some fairly cheap flights on Flighthub for $700CAD (540USD) each. The only slight inconvenience when booking a peak-season flight just 3 months before your departure is that it will not be a direct flight unless you are ready to pay a hefty premium. In our case, we got cheap flights and used them to our advantage.

We ended up booking a flight from Montreal to Mexico, with a stop in Dallas, TX, on the way there. For our return flight, we had a correspondence in Miami, FL. Instead of making this miserable and staying in airports for hours, we chose flights with at least 24h layovers to enjoy the stops.

 

First stop: Dallas, TX

Our first layover in Dallas was a blast! We got there in the morning and had all day to enjoy the city. When we arrived at the airport, we took the DART train out to the city for only $4USD each. Taking a taxis would have been roughly $50USD and $25USD for an Uber. The DART is super accessible, reasonably clean, and took us right to downtown Dallas. We were surprised to see that no other tourist were taking the train and it does not seem like a popular option for commuters either.

In Dallas, the hotels downtown are nice but also, they are very expensive. We stayed at the Sheraton and our reservation would have cost $250USD. Fortunately, we booked with our points and paid a grand total of zero dollars for the night! We started booking all our expensive stays through points to maximize our vacation dollars and you can do the same!

 

Day 1 – Dallas, TX
Hotel – Sheraton Free!
Breakfast – McDonalds 12USD
Lunch – Sliders 12USD
Dinner – Burgers 25USD
Drinks 15USD
Aquarium 45USD
Snacks 6USD
DART Train 8USD
Total 123USD (160CAD)

 

After dropping off our luggage in our suite (we even got upgraded to a huge 940 square feet suite for free just for being preferred guests 🙂 ) we went on a stroll around town.

 

SPG card

 

.When visiting cities, we enjoy looking at the architecture and design of buildings and we like to hit up the local food scene to discover their specialties. We walked around the city and stopped at a food truck to try some Sothern sandwiches. Afterward, we visited the Dallas Aquarium, which is more of a zoo than an aquarium, but it was still fun. It has birds, monkeys, bugs, and a lot of fishes. It was a bit pricey in Canadian terms ($30CAD each) and did not offer much to see in comparison to other zoos.

 

Our free trip to Dallas

 

Nice restaurant Dallas

That night, we enjoyed an amazing hamburger at Chop House Burger with some Texas sweet tea then went out for drinks in a sports bar along the Main Street.

Dallas has a great night scene and we really enjoyed our layover. After a whole day there, we woke up at 6 a.m. and jumped on a plane to Mexico.

 

Second stop: Mexico

Mexico City under its layer of smog.

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Day 2 – Mexico City
Airbnb 45CAD (675MXN)
Breakfast – Cereals  0MXN
Subway System 10MXN
Lunch – Tacos 62MXN
Snacks 20MXN
Icecream 19MXN
Groceries 200MXN
Dinner – Tacos 99MXN
Total 1,085MXN (54USD) (72CAD)

 

In Mexico City, we booked an Airbnb apartment for 45CAD (34USD) and stayed there 2 night. At that price, we got a centrally-located, clean, 1-bedroom apartment in an old complex. The room and kitchen were nicely renovated but the bathroom was a bit old.

We spent our days exploring the capital, visiting museums, and again; sight-seeing architecture. We ate authentic Mexican dishes at local restaurants and enjoyed the Mexican hospitality. Like in most of our trips, we stopped by the grocery store to buy snacks, breakfast, and lunches for our expeditions. The local groceries are really cheap and we enjoy taking a break from restaurants once in a while.

 

 

Mexico Trip Credit card rewards

 

On our second day, we went to the Teotihuacan pyramids. This ancient Mesoamerican city is located only 40 kilometers (25 mi) northeast of  Mexico City and we took a direct bus to there for only 92MXN (5USD) (6CAD) each. We enjoyed these architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. It was a great single-day activity but there is barely any shaded areas and bathrooms are only at the entrance so it can be pretty demanding in the beaming sun.

 

Day 3 – Mexico City and Pyramids
Airbnb 45CAD (675MXN)
Breakfast at Home  0MXN
Subway System 10MXN
Bus to the Pyramids 184MXN
Access to Pyramids 130MXN
Subway System 10MXN
Snacks 80MXN
Water 11MXN
Subway System 10MXN
Groceries 75MXN
Lunch – Handmade Wraps  0MXN
Bathroom 5MXN
Dinner – Enchiladas 100MXN
Total 1,290MXN (64USD) (86CAD)

 

Mayan Pyramids

 

Day 4 – Mexico City to Oaxaca
Hotel 66CAD (990MXN)
Breakfast 260MXN
Subway System 10MXN
Bus to Oaxaca 1200MXN
Lunch – Handmade Sandwiches  0MXN
Corn Snack 12MXN
Skipped Supper  0MXN
Water 10MXN
Gum 8MXN
Total 2,490MXN (124USD) (166CAD)

 

We then hopped on a bus to the city of Oaxaca. The direct bus was 600MXN (30USD) (40CAD) per person with ADO and took roughly 5 hours. Besides this first-class bus, second-class buses operated by AU (440 MXN) and SUR (350 MXN) can also get you to Oaxaca but AU stops in Tehuacan so it is a slightly longer route. SUR operates via Huajuapan de Leon, a much longer route, and use the free highways instead of tolls so it was well worth paying double to get there faster.

 

Cheap Ado Bus

 

Mexico travelsThe city of Oaxaca was a nice transition from the mega-city of Mexico (population of 300,000 vs 20 million) with much less smog and traffic. We stayed in a nice hotel on the outskirt of downtown. It was super clean, had a big large pool, and the staff was friendly.

On the night of our arrival, we walked roughly 15 minutes to reach the main square and enjoyed a nice chili corn for only 12MXN (60¢) and enjoyed the festivities that were going on in the square. There were some musicians, some vendors and lots of food. Walking through the streets, we saw some crazy doughnut stands, chili corn stands with lines around the corner, and pizza places with no one to be seen.

 

Grilled Mexican Street Corn

 

Day 5 – Oaxaca
Hotel 66CAD (990MXN)
Churros Snack 10MXN
Breakfast 60MXN
Groceries 210MXN
Skipped Lunch  0MXN
Dinner – Pizza 90MXN
Total 1,360MXN (68USD) (90CAD)

 

The next morning, we wanted to leave early to the beach but missed the bus by 15 minutes. We were then forced to wait 2 hours until the next one so we visited a local market and enjoyed hot chocolate with a proper breakfast. It was interesting to see the market and be part of the cacophony.

 

Breakfast at the market

 

Day 6 – Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido
Airbnb 36CAD (540MXN)
Bus to Puerto Escondido 420MXN
Breakfast 70MXN
Skipped Lunch  0MXN
Cough Medicine 32MXN
Dinner – Gross Fish 350MXN
Water 17MXN
Total 1,420MXN (71USD) (94CAD)

 

Cheap hotel Mexico

 

After Oaxaca, we finally hopped on the bus to Puerto Escondido. This time, it was not in a first-class superbus but rather, in a minivan. This long 6+ hour ride was along windy roads, daring the edge of cliffs, and speeding around corners in the jungle. After almost getting sick, we finally arrived in Puerto Escondido where we stayed another 3 nights.

 

Van in Mexico

 

Day 7 – Puerto Escondido
Airbnb 36CAD (540MXN)
Breakfast 145MXN
Water 17MXN
Lunch – Handmade Wraps  0MXN
Groceries 80MXN
Supper – Cooked at Home  0MXN
Total 780MXN (39USD) (52CAD)
Day 8 – Puerto Escondido
Airbnb 36CAD (540MXN)
Breakfast 100MXN
Groceries 150MXN
Lunch – Handmade Sandwiches  0MXN
Supper – Cooked at Home  0MXN
Total 790MXN (40USD) (53CAD)

 

In Puerto Escondido, we enjoyed the beach but the general feel of the city was a bit off. It was great to watch the surfers go and we played in the huge waves but the city itself did not have much to offer. It was loud, dirty, unmaintained, and most of the restaurants we tried were of very poor quality.

As foodies, we expect to find fresh, delightful, meals in any city we visit. However, we failed to find good restaurants in Puerto Escondido. The ones we saw were mostly tourist-trap, out-of-the-freezer meals at exorbitant prices (by Mexican standards).

We did find one good breakfast place called El Cafecito but there was always a long line to get in. After being served frozen fish and bad squid on our first night and looking in vain for a decent place, we decided to simply cook at home since we had a kitchen in the Airbnb.

 

The view from our Airbnb

 

All through Mexico, we shopped for groceries at Chedraui (pronounced Che-Dra-Wee) which is like the Mexican Walmart. They sell TVs, washing machines, clothes, groceries, and anything you could need. Shopping for our own groceries was about 3 times cheaper than eating out, except when there is strong restaurant competition such as in Mexico City. We also brought home a bottle of rum and bourbon for about half the price as the airport duty-free stores.

 

 

In the picture above; a tall beer, 2L of lemonade, yogurts, cheese, meat, chips, water, spinach, bread, and apples. We bought this perfect lunch for only 150MXN or 7.50USD (10CAD) when it would have cost us about 21CAD for the exact same groceries in Canada.

 

Day 9 – Puerto Escondido to Huatulco
Hotel 125CAD (1875MXN)
Breakfast – Cereals  0MXN
Bus to Huatulco 150MXN
Lunch – Handmade Sandwiches  0MXN
Taxi to Hotel 50MXN
Dinner – Filet Mignon 450MXN
Medicine 150MXN
Total 2,675MXN (133USD) (178CAD)

 

We stayed in a great Airbnb with a nice view, clean, and in a pretty good location. The only issue was the noise of the nightclubs blasting their music until 6 a.m. but that was an issue in the whole city, not just this place. After a sleepless weekend, we finally got a quiet night on Monday night then took a very short bus to Huatulco that next morning.

 

Day 10 – Huatulco
Hotel 125CAD (1875MXN)
Breakfast – Cereals  0MXN
Lunch – Shrimps 160MXN
Groceries 80MXN
Dinner – Steak and Tuna 330MXN
Total 2,445MXN (122USD) (163CAD)

 

Huatulco was one of the highlights of our trip! Our hotel was perfect, the food was perfect, the beach was perfect, and the sun was always out.

 

Food in Mexico

Ocean in Mexico

Traveling in Mexico

 

Our hotel was located in the Chahue bay, which was super quiet, clean, and simply perfect. The sand was a soft gray tone and warm between the toes. After exploring the beach in the next bay over, we were super glad to stay at the Chahue Bay. The beach of Santa Cruz bay had restaurants all along it, was loud and super busy. There was a lot of sellers haggling with us and it was not very relaxing so we stayed in our quiet bay. 🙂

 

Day 11 – Huatulco
Hotel 125CAD (1875MXN)
Breakfast – Yogurt and Fruits  0MXN
ATV Activity 800MXN
Dinner – Shrimps and Fillet Mignon 450MXN
Total 3,245MXN (162USD) (216CAD)

 

After the lousy restaurants of Puerto Escondido, you cannot imagine how delighted we were to eat fresh seafood, filet mignon, and fresh fish. 🙂 On the 5th, we went on an ATV ride through the jungle and along the beach. We used a company recommended by our hotel called Paraiso Huatulco. The ride was pretty cheap (40USD) (53CAD) and entertaining, we got to zoom along the beach but most of it was on dirt roads.

 

My face was the same color as my shirt, I really had a taste of Mexico!

 

After a nice, relaxing, stay we flew back to Mexico City to catch our flight back home. There is a bus option to go from Huatulco to Mexico City with TAPO company, we could have saved a bit there. However, the (50USD) (65CAD) bus ride takes 15 hours and drives through mountainous roads. We did not need to experience this again so we took an hour flight with Interjet for 3000MXN (75USD each) (100CAD each). The flight was delayed but still much faster than the bus and a thousand times more comfortable than mountain roads. Unlike on American airlines, we had a lot of leg room and were not charged extra for our checked bag.

 

Day 12 – Huatulco to Mexico City
Hotel 44CAD (660MXN)
Breakfast – Yogurt and Fruits  0MXN
Lunch – Squid 230MXN
Taxi to Airport 150MXN
Plane Tickets 3,000MXN
Dinner – On the plane 0MXN
Ice cream 60MXN
Total 4,100MXN (205USD) (273CAD)

 

We then spent the night in Mexico and hopped on the plane the next afternoon. We stayed in a cheap hotel downtown so we were able to walk around and explore the city a bit more the next morning. Once at the MEX airport, we walked and walked forever before finally getting to our gate. The airport is super long and unorganized, there were no clear signs so we just wandered until we finally found our airline.

 

Third stop: Miami, FL

Day 13 – Mexico City to Miami
Hotel – Sheraton Free!
Breakfast 200MXN
Lunch – Airport Restaurant 350MXN
Total 550MXN (27USD) (36CAD)

 

Just like on the way there, we decided to do a 24h layover. We stopped in Miami and honestly, felt like we would be stopped there forever! The staff was, again, unorganized, and the security check lines went on for hours.

We slept at the Sheraton and our reservation would have cost $150USD. Again, we booked with points so our total was a big fat zero! Just by signing up you also can get free nights at luxury hotels. With all those savings, we felt like it was ok to splurge a bit and got a pizza delivered, followed by room service.

 

Miami travel for free

Day 14 – Miami
Pizza Delivery 20USD
Room Service – Drink and Desert 27USD
Total 47USD (61CAD)

 

After all of this, after 14 days of exploration, we ended up spending only 2,359USD or 84USD per day per person (3,100CAD or 110CAD per day per person) for our honeymoon. This number includes flights, accommodation, food, activities and everything else!

We spent less on our whole honeymoon than what my coworkers recently spent on a weekend bachelor party in Tijuana.

Think about that for a second. We explored Mexico for 14 days and spent less than a 2-day bachelor party.

Traveling does not need to be expensive. If you plan properly and budget your vacation, you can stretch your dollar pretty far. We did not stay in 5-star hotels all the time and used Airbnb when advantageous. We mostly ate in local restaurants and cooked some meals ourselves but still had a great time. It is always nice to pamper yourself a bit on trips but you do not need that every single day of your stay.

We had a wonderful time and I hope you can also experience amazing trips for much less than advertised. Being on vacation is certainly not a reason to go into credit card debt and there is always an option for your own budget. Plan ahead and look outside of the all-inclusive resorts.

 

Share your own travel stories, we would love to hear your adventures. 🙂

Mr. and Mrs. Xyz.

 

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Traveling

South-East Asia Travel Stories

Way back in 2009, before I had met my wife and way before I discovered the early retirement concept, my parents took us (me and my sisters) to a long trip in South-East Asia. During this trip, we traveled through Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos, flying through continents, walking through borders, and backpacking across mountain ranges. Traveling there and meeting the locals and ex-pats really opened my eyes to what I would later label as; Financial Independence.

 

Traveling to Japan

We started our journey flying from Canada to Japan on a long, long, loooong 23-hour flight. Thankfully, it was with Japan Airlines, one of the best airline I ever flew on. The hostesses gave us hot face towels to freshen up during the flight, the food was excellent, and they even had games for my younger sisters to play. When traveling to Asia, try booking Japan Airline, they are usually the same price but offer much better service. Unfortunately, they are not a member of Star Alliance so you will not be able to use Aeroplan rewards to book with them.

Once landed in Tokyo, we visited famous tourist areas such as the  Ginza District, Sensō-Ji Temple and National Museum of Nature and Science but also tried to go outside the given path and explore the city, like the locals, taking the subway and exploring the lesser-known attractions in town.

Even if it is mentioned in every guidebook, going to the Tsukiji Fish Market sure was worth the adventure!  I did not notice any westerners and the whole experience is as authentic as it gets. The sprawling wholesale fish market is packed with seafood, fishes, and people. Even if I could not understand what they were saying, I really enjoyed seeing their bargaining and trade tactics.

There is also a tuna auction, every morning, but you need to get there around 3 A.M. to see the all the action. 😛 Since the subway is closed at the time, you can either find a room around the market or simply spend the night out until the wee hours! You will be able to view the auction for free but places are limited. After that, you will find plenty of vendors offering a tasty raw fish menu from kaisen-don (seafood donburi) to sashimi. We did not assist to the auction but I am sure it is worth the wake-up call.

 

How to travel to japan on a budgetTsukiji Fish Market at 3 A.M.  Chome-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo

 

Japan has a lot to offer but the cost of living is one of the most expensive in the world. A very basic hotel room can range in the $200 to $300 per night in Tokyo or you can opt for a Capsule Hotel for roughly $100 per night. Personally, I much prefer booking with Airbnb for a nicer, larger, place for half the price!

 

Traveling to Thailand

We stayed in Thailand for most of our trip, for about two months. It was the logical choice given its low-cost of living and favorable views towards tourism. The country is beautiful, simply breathtaking! There are massive temples to visit, the cities are vibrant, and the people are some of the most welcoming in the world. In contrast to the closed and busy-bee people of Japan, Thais are laid-back, smiling, and very welcoming.

Thailand has a lot to offer! I really enjoyed the various temples and religious sites, they are all free to visit and are full of history. It is a great, frugal, way to discover the culture, history, and beliefs of this beautiful country.  There is a lot of architectural landmarks such as the Wat Rong Khun that are simply stunning!

 

Travel to Thailand on a budgetWat Rong Khun (Thai: วัดร่องขุ่น), better known to tourists as the White Temple. Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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On the food scene, Thailand has so much to offer. I enjoyed the hundreds of street food vendors all over the country that cook up delicious meals from Pad Thai to sticky rice. If you are on the more adventurous side, you can even taste BBQ cockroaches or salted ants. Those turned out to be surprisingly good. 🙂 If you are traveling on a budget, you can easily find meals under $3 and accommodation under $15 per night in major urban areas. You can live on even less in the less touristic regions or if you shop around for accommodations.

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Frugal Asia TravellingBBQ cockroaches served in a local Thai market. Bankok, Thailand.

 

Traveling to Laos

Given the 30-days tourist visa offered in Thailand, we had to get out of the country a bit and we took the opportunity to visit Laos. The contrast is breathtaking.  History shows itself through the French colonial architecture and the French bakeries around the corner. Laos is a one-party socialist republic run by military generals and is one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia but they are still smiling and welcoming. Even with a per-capita GDP of only  $1,692 (compared to $57,220 in the US), people are lively.

 

Traveling for cheap

 

We stayed two nights in a nice little hotel in a safe neighborhood for roughly $7 then ventured away on a boat down the Mekong river. I highly recommend the ride, it lets you see the country from a different perspective. From the river, you can see the daily life of farmers and fishermen along the riverbank.

Laos, like most of rural South-East Asia, is a place where traditional markets far outnumber shopping malls. Exploring the villages is fascinating and brings you back in time. Laos offers a rich culture and history but I do not think it will stay as such for long. Outside investments have started to pour in and high-rises to grow. The countryside might keep its authenticity but the cities are quickly changing.

 

How to Travel to Thailand on a BudgetBamboo hut I photographed along the Mekong river. Near Phalat, Laos.

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Traveling to Myanmar

Alongside Laos sits Myanmar (formerly Burma), another war-ravaged country that was bombed for most of the Vietnam War. Most Westerners are not aware of this but the end of the war, over 7 million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam and its surroundings. More bombs were dropped outside of Vietnam than in and the ravages are still visible to this day.

In this mountainous and evergreen landscape, we explored the temples, markets, and villages to discover the local culture. We got our visas in Bankok at the Union of Myanmar Embassy for 810 Bahts (or around $23) but you can also get it online for $50. The visa is valid for 28 days and is for a single entry.

The Burmese food, just like pretty much all the food I ate in Asia, is delicious! They mainly serve chicken or seafood meals and you can easily eat for under $2 per meal. As long as you like rice, noodles, spicy foods, and chicken, you will not have any trouble finding a great, cheap, meal anywhere in South-East Asia.

We did not attend any festivals in Myanmar given our short stay but they sure know how to have fun. If you are visiting, you might want to see one of the many celebrations open to the public.

  • April: Thingyan water throwing festival is their New Years celebration.
  • May: Bo Tree of Enlightenment watering festival is a sacred celebration.
  • June: Tipitaka honors the many monks, offering food to them.
  • July: Robe Offering Festival marks the start of the Buddhist Lent.
  • August: Taungbyon Nat near Mandalay worships the spirits.
  • September: Regatta boat racing is a traditional boat race.
  • October: lights festival to mark the end of the Buddhist Lent.
  • November: Kahtein Thingan where new robes are offered to monks.
  • December: New Years celebration for the Karen state.
  • January: Equestrian celebration for their Independence day on the 4th.
  • February: Harvest festival.
  • March: Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon celebration.

 

Discover the wonders of AsiaGold plated Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon, Myanmar.

 

Traveling to Cambodia

Going into Cambodia was a whole other adventure! I can still remember the long, tedious, walk from Thailand through the border. We crossed, by foot, through the Poipet border with hundreds of Thais and Cambodians along with their chickens. 🙂 Right in between the two passport control counters, there are huge hotels and neon greeting you to a strip of casinos enabling Thais to gamble in Cambodia without needing to go through immigration. Thailand has very strict gambling laws but I guess they found a way around it. 😛

 

travelling tips for everyday travellersPoipet Casino Resort. Poipet, Cambodia.

 

When we first encountered the border agents, they asked for a little incentive before we could cross (in US dollars of course) then we hopped on a bus directly to Siem Reap. Once arrived, we got scammed by a taxi driver that brought us to the wrong hotel and kept telling us that the hotel we had booked was now closed. Taxi drivers in South-East Asia often take you to places they “recommend” just to get their cut but they are generally harmless. We simply paid the man and took another taxi to our hotel. Oh well, down a few dollars…

 

Laos Trip on a BudgetOne of many faces of Angkor Wat. Siem Reap, Cambodia.

 

This trip throughout South-East Asia was wonderful, breathtaking, and enlightening but I simply cannot describe it in a single post. I will continue this journey later…

When you are traveling, take the time to research and stay safe. You can explore and discover the culture with the locals by booking in smaller, locally-owned, hotels or booking with Airbnb. We now travel the world for a fraction of the cost and you can too with reward miles. Xyz.

 

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