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Tag Archives: Traveling
As an immigrant, I’ve somewhat experienced an ‘otherness’, due to my initial accent in English, while living here. It’s been pretty much eradicated over the years, but it never fails to remind me that I am straddled between two worlds — being an immigrant, and yet, being a sort-of-native all at the same time.
(Photograph I took while in Paris, having a hot chocolate)
The other day when I was buying TTC tokens, there was a Chinese lady in front of me. She asked the TTC operator a simple question in somewhat broken, but still understandable English:
I am going to go do X, will I be able to return and use my transfer to re-enter the station?
The answer to that is: No. TTC rides are one-way only.
(If you leave the station completely to do something personal, or you try and use your transfer to go back in the direction you came by using the buses or streetcars on the street, you have to pay a second time to take the trip back home. I have never heard of being able to get a free ride back into the station with a receipt from an office)
The operator, not understanding her question, told her to go upstairs and get a receipt (WTF?).
I was confused at the answer as well, because I knew that it was a one-way-one-ride rule for the transit.
The Chinese woman repeated her question again, obviously asking for clarification as she didn’t understand why she would need a receipt (??) to re-enter the station, and the operator repeated her same answer, but only louder in a more irritated tone.
Two ladies (well, I don’t really want to call one a ‘lady’, seeing as how she acted), came down and seeing the exchange, tried to physically push past me, to buy a tokens, saying to me:
LOOK, are you going to go through OR NOT?!!??
She was beyond rude.
Just that alone, made me want to turn and snap:
BACK OFF, and don’t you dare shove me again. *snarl* *hiss*
However, I was too involved in trying to make sure that Chinese lady knew where to go and what to do, even though I don’t speak a word of Chinese.
I tried to tell the lady that the answer to her question was ‘No’, and the operator started yelling at the Chinese lady again.
I almost wanted to tell the operator that speaking LOUDER was not going to help someone understand better (a common complaint amongst natives in other countries who don’t speak English).
(Photograph I took of a beach in Key West, Florida)
Then the rudest thing of all happened…..
The witch who was trying to push past me, said:
It’s so goddamn clear what she has to do. Why the hell can’t she just go and do it?
I turned to her and said:
I don’t think she spoke English very well.
Although to clarify, the Chinese lady understood what the operator was saying, but not the meaning of the words, because even I was confused, and English is my mother tongue.
Her friend behind her, repeated the same thing almost at the same time I did.
Then she snapped back:
Well she should go get a translator or someone who can goddamn speak English for her.
I turned and I wanted to basically give the witch a tongue lashing, but her friend stopped me with a glance saying:
I’ll take care of this.
Then her friend started to tell the witch off:
I would NEVER be so rude to someone like that, that is just INCREDIBLE.
We aren’t even late for anything, there’s not reason to be like that.
The witch had absolutely not remorse whatsoever, and kept saying:
WELL IT’S TRUE. If you come to this country, you should speak the language!
At this, I really wanted to say to her (and I regret I didn’t):
I’d like to see you go to any other country in the world [save for the obvious English-speaking countries] and be able to speak THEIR native language there perfectly.
Heck, just hop over to Quebec in Canada and see how you like it when you don’t know what is going on.
Oh, what? You don’t speak French? Or Spanish? Or Portuguese? Or Mandarin?
…and the natives of other countries should accomodate you by speaking English?
KNOWING THE LANGUAGE IS ESSENTIAL, BUT DON’T BE AN ASS
I may say a lot of things, like how I feel English is the language of business and that everyone should learn it to compete globally, but as an immigrant I am sensitive to such rudeness and ignorance, even though English is my mother tongue.
Furthermore, as a tourist for whom almost every foreign country except the English-or-French speaking ones is a country where I don’t know the language, I know first-hand what it’s like to NOT speak the language and to feel totally rejected by one or two bad apples who get mad because you don’t speak their language.
I am still in shock over what happened. I can’t believe people like that exist. I’d love to throw them into someplace really shocking like China or Japan and make them realize how ridiculous they are.
It can even go further than that. This Montreal STM (metro) operator beat up a woman because she was speaking in English, not in French. She told her to: Go back to her country.
Mina Barak, 23, told CBC News that Monday’s incident at the De La Savane métro station began when an Opus machine took her money but did not provide transit tickets.
Barak said she asked for help, in English, from the STM ticket-booth employee. A dispute erupted. The agent told her to “go back to your country” and “in Quebec, we can only speak French,” Barak said. [Presumably, the operator said all of this in English]
She said she immediately called the STM and filed a complaint, returning to the booth to advise the employee, who was knitting. She said she told the agent: “I’m going to make sure you’re going to lose your job for what you said to me.”
At that point, Barak said, the employee “got out of the booth and she literally had me in a headlock and she was just punching me.”
Jamie Salomon, who happened to be leaving the station when the incident occurred, said the ticket agent “came out of the kiosk, slammed the door and started wailing on” Barak, repeatedly punching her. Salomon said he called 911 and started pounding on a turnstile and yelling in an attempt to stop the fight.
Another man intervened, managing to pull Barak out of the grips of the agent, who was “completely enraged and acting like an insane, violent maniac,” Salomon added.
It is one thing to not know the language, and to not be able to literally answer someone who is speaking a language you don’t understand, but it’s wholly another to be bilingual and to REFUSE to help and be completely out of line by beating them up.
The French-speaking ticket-taker, a woman in her 50s, seemed frustrated with the boy as he was speaking English, he said.
He said she told him that “the next time you show up here with a bunch of coins, I’m going to call the police on you.”
At that point, the boy got upset and started to cry. Security guards watching nearby approached him and asked him if he was okay.
As an Anglophone, I definitely experience some lukewarm form of this in Quebec, but I am hoping I will get better and better at French as I practice, although I must say I’m concerned I will offend people by not being able to understand their Quebecois accent.
Not all Quebecois folk are like that. Look at Vanessa! She’s a Quebecoise, and is not at all like that.
Update: She says I’m assuming she’s nice, but I told her she’s MY kind of nice
NATIVE SPEAKERS ARE NOT NECESSARILY ABLE TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE EITHER
Frankly, I am not even sure native speakers know their own language that well.
How many times have you read simple misspellings, or grammatical mistakes from people who are so-called college-educated?
There. Their. They’re.
Expected. Excepted. Accepted.
A lot. Not alot, it’s two words.
We’re all strangers who don’t know the language (perhaps even our own), somewhere in the world. A little tolerance would go a long way for immigrants who are trying.
I love packing videos, so when I see a well done, beautiful video created by Wendy’s Lookbook, I can’t help but want to share it with everyone.
She lays out some great tips if you:
- are really into fashion (especially high end fashion)
- like to check in your bags when you travel
- like to pack a lot of different choices in clothing
I like the idea of keeping blazers structured by putting the arms into each other.
I never thought about doing that, hence why I wear blazers on the plane if I bring one. Otherwise, when I pack to move, I tend to put them on hangers in a coat bag.
I personally do not pack like this.
I am someone who refuses to check in her bag when she travels, for 2 main reasons:
- I don’t want to lose anything — happens more often than you think
- I don’t want to wait at the luggage carousel
I also roll my items, and everything I wear to travel is pretty much wrinkle-free for convenience.
Traveling overseas always makes people groan because of the work involved to plan it, but also the cost of it.
On average, we spend about $1000/week each on vacation, which is at least the flight and hotels, but depending on what continent and country we visit, can include food, transportation AND entertainment.
This is by far NOT the super uber frugal way to travel, but I am traveling with some basic comforts in mind such as staying in known hotels (brands I’ve heard of) of at least 3 stars, in a central location.
That amount varies due to a few factors:
- Staying in one place or going from city-to-city
- If we have family to stay with
- Staying in low budget, but still decent hotels (around 3 stars)
- Flying economy, with a maximum of only 1 stop for a trip
- How expensive the city is in general (Sweden is more expensive than Portugal for instance)
Here’s the breakdown of how it works when I figure out a budget when I decide to travel:
When I book flights for the cheapest
Booking on Tuesdays at around 3 p.m. is apparently the best time, but I don’t really subscribe to that.
When I book for flights, these are the 2 main factors:
- Flying on a Tuesday (tends to be the cheapest day)
- Booking 6 weeks in advance (unless it’s in the summer when it gets crazy)
Flying on Monday, Friday, or the weekends are best avoided. It’s because a lot of business people fly on those days, and/or vacationers starting their holidays.
For the time of the flights, I HATE early morning or late night red-eye flights.
I know they are cheaper, but I don’t want to get stressed out trying to get to the airport on time when the subway isn’t running, or other factors I haven’t considered just to save a hundred bucks.
If I was saving $1000 just by flying at 11 p.m. instead of 11 a.m., sure why not? But I find the price difference is not that big enough for me to justify the hassle.
Overnight flights don’t count as ‘red-eye’ and being miserable, if I have to fly to let’s say Hong Kong, and it takes 15+ hours.
I care more about arriving at a good time to get settled in, hunt down some food because some stores are still open and so on.
I do not love the 2 a.m. arrival.
How I book flights
I play around with multi-city trips (layovers here and there), single flights added up to see if it’s cheaper than a multi-city flight, and if flying to another airport would end up cheaper in the end as long as it isn’t inconvenient.
For instance, I usually fly from Toronto, but what if I flew to Vancouver, and then from Vancouver, flew to Hong Kong?
That might shave off a few hundred dollars, and I wouldn’t mind the break in between flying Toronto to Vancouver (5 hours), before the long trek across the ocean to Hong Kong.
I also check to see if going to other airports is cheaper. Newark in New Jersey is a popular airport to fly into when going to New York City, but it costs almost double in transportation to go to Manhattan.
$80 versus $40 if you take cabs, considering that they charge a very unfriendly $12 toll crossing from NJ to NY, and it’s almost 45 minutes in a cab versus 20 minutes from La Guardia, depending on traffic.
I’d rather not fly into Newark, so that I can just take the bus and subway to get to my hotel ($2.25, wuh-what!?), although this is more a choice out of convenience and health than it is cheapness, because I don’t want to travel any more than I have to, especially if the landing was rocky.
Public transportation doesn’t trigger my motion sickness as much as taxis do.
Other amenities I am willing to pay for
Exit row seats. The legroom for tall people (like BF) is really nice, especially on super long flights.
I also try to pick my seat so I don’t get stuck near the bathroom, or near the kitchenette areas on the plane.
I also think it goes without saying that YOU NEVER CHECK IN ANY BAGS. EVER.
It not only costs money, you can lose everything.
I have never lost a bag, but that’s because I’ve only checked in suitcases about 4 times in my entire life (forced to).
I always have everything I need in a carryon and a purse, and I pack as light as possible, knowing that
I could….. I mean I may… Okay FINE. I will bring back something.
Why I don’t stay in hostels or Air BNB
It’s a personal preference. I like 3-star or higher hotels, as long as they’re worldwide brands because service is generally consistent around the world, and I’m not surprised when I arrive.
Plus, if I’m unhappy, I can call a corporate office.
It’s harder to argue with a manager of an independent hotel who isn’t interested in your repeat business if you are unhappy.
What kind of hotels I book
- 3-star or higher (tends to be the minimum in terms of service/amenities I like)
- Brand I recognize
- ..preferably a brand I collect points with
- Location, location, location!
For instance, if I traveled to New York City for a trip, but I would stay in New Jersey and commute each day by ferry an hour just to get to Manhattan, then I am not interested.
I’d rather pay $30/night more just to be centrally located so that I don’t have to think:
UGH. It’ll take me an hour to get back to the hotel, and it’s already 9 p.m.
Then I want to maybe shower, relax… I won’t be sleeping until midnight.
I also look for hotels near public transportation, as I generally avoid taking taxis (I consider it in my personal life to be a ripoff, so I keep the same philosophy when I travel).
If I HAVE to take a taxi, I will, but I am not budgeting for it if it’s a city where I can avoid it within reason.
How I book hotels
I always check the general price of hotels on travel sites, but ultimately, I book directly with the hotel.
I do this, because if you go through a travel site (let’s say Hotels.com), I’ve noticed 3 things:
- They don’t give you good rooms — they have specific ‘travel site’ rooms near elevators or pipes
- You have to still negotiate and talk directly with the hotel if things go wrong
- Hidden fees — fully refundable is not always true in all cases
If you go directly with the hotel, you are very clear on whether it is refundable or not, and you might even get the same deal (or better) through them.
Not only that, you get hotel points with them, so you can stick to one budget-friendly brand or groups of brands, and rack up enough points for a night or two.
How much I budget for hotels
About $100 a night is reasonable as an estimate to start. Some hotels in very expensive cities will jump up to $120 – $150 for a ‘budget’ hotel, and then I have to make a decision to stay there less to fit my budget, or pay more money.
I start by looking at all the hotels in that city, and the price of a budget hotel like Best Western or Holiday Inn. From that benchmark of what it costs, I browse the rest of the hotels to see if there’s something better for about the same price, from a brand I’ve heard of.
Also, please note that BF and I split the cost of everything including hotels. This saves quite a chunk of change in the budget, so when a hotel costs $100/night, we’re really paying $50/night each.
Hotel brands I like
- IBIS Hotels — Part of the Accor Group; it’s a budget-friendly brand I stay with a lot
- Candlewood Suites — This is only for the U.S., but it’s a decent hotel with a kitchen to cook in
- Marriott Residence Inn — Kitchen or a kitchenette is really nice to be able to cook basic meals
Otherwise, I don’t mind staying at independent hotels as long as they are 4 stars or higher — Tiara in Lisbon for instance, is very nice.
Photograph I took in Lisbon, Portugal
I always budget for this, but I also consider that if I stayed in my home city, I’d be paying for food too. So my budget is about $600/month for food (just for myself, organic, fancy schmancy stuff).
I start with that as a base amount, and then I double it because we’re in a foreign country.
BF and I are also not fans of eating in restaurants. Sure, if it’s something incredible, why not? Otherwise, we’re interested in (clean) street cart food (in China we avoided those carts), grocery stores, and assembling food in the hotel like making sandwiches or eating ready-made meals.
Restaurants are nice once in a while, but 80% of the time, the food they serve you is not worth what you’re paying, especially when you know you can make it better at home for a better quality with larger portions.
We’ve also been known to spend about $200 equipping ourselves with a burner, basic frying pan, and utensils to cook in our hotel room. Not recommended if you aren’t used to cooking, but let me tell you…. we made some delicious, basic meals doing that.
Otherwise, we try to book places with kitchens so we don’t spend $15 on a breakfast we can cook or make ourselves for $5.
We always have a few hundred books for entertainment. This includes museums, temples, or anything we know ahead of time we’d like to see.
I usually research the places beforehand, get the approximate cost of the tickets, and then add a 50% contingency.
As I said, we don’t take taxis as a rule when we travel (even going to and from the airport), so I usually estimate about $5/day for public transportation.
1) Cabs in North America are awful
The cabs are crap in North America, when you think about the Mercedes and wonderfully kept cars in Westernized countries in Europe (even Portugal).
Here, cabs are old, they squeak, they drive like they are learning for the first time, and it’s dirty inside for the most part.
But even in Europe or other countries, I am not in the middle of nowhere that I need to take a cab.
2) I don’t take cabs as a rule
I haven’t taken a taxi in my personal life for about 15 years now.
Every time I’m out late (past 10 p.m.) and I am tired, I will sometimes have a fleeting desire to take a cab back home.
Every single time I think about taking a cab back home because I don’t want to wait for the bus, I think:
But it’s $2.25 for a subway ticket, rather than $30 for a cab ride.
That’s SO CHEAP. I could take 12 subway rides for the price of one taxi.
…then I tough it out, tell myself not to be lazy, and I take the subway.
Of course, I also live in very safe cities, so I am never worried about being hassled when I am out. If I were in a more dangerous city, I’d take a cab instead for my safety.
For business, I always take the cab to get to the airport, or around the city, because it isn’t my money and I don’t have leisurely (client) time to waste by taking the subway.
Otherwise, if it’s my time, I’m cheap enough to want to save that $27.75 per trip.
I don’t want to pay more than what I have to.
HONG KONG TRIP: ESTIMATION AND ACTUAL
For our upcoming trip to Hong Kong, I applied the above rules in this order.
General Base Cost of a Week on a Trip = $1000/week
We wanted to stay 3 weeks, so it’d be $3000 in per person, or $6000 together for the whole trip.
That became our budget for the whole trip.
We then discussed that staying a week in Macau might be nice instead of ferrying back and forth 2 days a day, so the hotel costs might be different (higher or lower), and we’d have to plan the timing correctly to make sure we don’t waste money.
On that budget of $6000 for 2 of us:
- Hotel: $2800
- Flight: $3000
TOTAL = $5800
Let’s say $6000, to round up as we weren’t sure when we would want to go and what we would do for going to Macau or not.
Fixed Cost Research: Flights & Hotels
At this point, I can only control the Hotel and Flight costs. I can look back on my notes for transportation, but the basics have to be there: Can I afford to go for 3 weeks on $6000 to 2 cities?
I always start with the flight, because you need the ticket cost to understand what is left of your budget for the hotel. It came out to:
Flight: $2174.40, which is $625.60 CHEAPER
A full $600+ below what I expected! BF and I then concluded we would increase our total budget by a little, and stay a FOURTH week in addition so that we get to go to Macau.
We could still do 3 weeks with Hong Kong and Macau, but we were taking into account the jet lag which would take up 3-4 days to overcome while in Hong Kong.
Changed our minds and added a week
Now with 4 weeks, everything will go up, including the hotel cost, and our confirmation that we would stay a week in another city aside from Hong Kong.
Our original budget of $2800 for 3 weeks = $933.33 a week
$933.33 x 4 weeks = $3733.33 as the new budget
Hotels: $3834.08 for 4 weeks or $100.75 MORE than estimated
We did some searching on Ibis hotels, and what we could reasonably expect to pay in Hong Kong and Macau, and it was in the range of what we expected.
We ended up at only spending $100.75 more than our estimation at 4 weeks, which is not a bad deal at all.
TOTAL FIXED COSTS: $6008.48
Wow. Not bad at all.
Only $8.48 over.
We budgeted $6000 for 2 cities for 3 weeks, increased it by a week, and still stayed around the $6000 range.
Variable Cost Research: Food, Entertainment & Transportation
Our variable expenses are more easily controlled than fixed dates for flights and hotels.
4 weeks x 7 days x $40/day* = $1120 x 2 people = $2240
$40/day = My $600/month food budget divided by 30 days, multiplied by 2 because we’re traveling
$1.20 per trip x 4 trips a day x 4 weeks x 7 days = $134.40 x 2 people = $268.80
TOTAL ESTIMATED VARIABLE COSTS: $3008.80
Let’s say $3000.
This still doesn’t include shopping, however
TOTAL ESTIMATED TRIP COST: $9008.48 for 2 people
$6008.48 + $3000 = $9008.48 for the 2 of us
Each person, it’s about $4504.24 for 4 weeks in Hong Kong and Macau.
$4504.24 x 4 weeks = $1126.06
That’s just around the average of $1000/week (slightly higher, as the $1K is a rough estimate) per person traveling overseas, the way we do it.
What contributes to that extra $126.06 a week is:
- we decided to take a very nice hotel for part of the time
- for the month of October, the IBIS hotel was sold out on the weekends, which monkey wrenched our timing slightly.
I’ll update once we actually go on the trip to say what we spent.
- Google Online Matrix Flight Fare
- Hotels.com (Owned by Expedia, just for checking rates, and/or booking through them or not)
How do you estimate your trips?
I will come right out and admit I am not a fan of Louis Vuitton (the brand, not the guy who started it ).
Let’s just say the print I find the least hideous is the grey and ivory Damier Azur Check print:
I am however, impressed with how professional this luxury juggernaut is (French, mais oui), and I admire the way they run the company from a marketing and business perspective.
(Seriously awesome brand recognition.)
I am also a huge fan of traveling and packing, and LV has come up with 3 pretty impressive online videos entitled: The Art of Packing.
(Hat tip to LifeHacker!)
Sure, it’s a way to sell their LV stuff (I told you they were slick!), but if you go through the 3 guides, the advice they have given is extremely practical.
(I will note that the advice flies by too fast, and you’ll have to keep your paws on the Pause button to read the advice… )*
I also like that they show you how to fold each item.
The only piece of advice they provide that is irrelevant is asking you to pack your toiletry bag at the bottom of your suitcase.
Good in theory, bad at execution.
If your bag has liquids or gels in it over 100mL, you NEED to put it on top so you can access it during security checks.
But then again… maybe if you own a LV suitcase, you’re so rich, you don’t need to worry about that kind of plebian thing because you’d be on your own private jet
*Paws.. Pause.. Paws.. GET IT!? Har har. I kill me.
New York City is full of French people. I don’t know if it’s because I’m more sensitive to the language but someone confirmed the other day that the hotel lobbies they are staying in, are FULL OF FRENCH FOLK!
What is it about NYC that attracts the French?
I think NYC is just like Paris, but American-style.
See: Paris versus NYC
- Macarons to be had (Laduree opened)
- The NYC macaron = the cupcake (TONS of cupcakes everywhere)
- Interesting things to eat (although the cheese selection isn’t as good as in France)
- Lots of tourists milling around
- The sights and sounds — it’s really busy and hectic and the skyscrapers are majestic
- Lots of museums and monuments to see (I still think the Louvre is the best museum, EVER)
- Stinks like Paris — smells like pee in the subways
- Great French restaurants and a lot of top French chefs live/work here
- Great shopping venues — for high end or low!
- Older-style buildings can be seen, it’s not as new or as shiny as other cities
What’s not to love?
See: Paris versus NYC
Paris is like the older brother and New York City the younger sister.
I feel as though Paris is established, beautiful, chic and full of history, but there’s no place like NYC with skyscrapers, lights, sights, sounds and general boisterous ambience.
If I had to pick, I’d choose to live in NYC over Paris, but to fly occasionally to France to stuff my face with cheese.
My top 5 favourite cities:
- New York City — I like the hustle and bustle, food is OK but the shopping.. WOW!!
- Hong Kong — Amazing vibe to the whole city, some of the best food in the world
- London — Fairly organized (not perfect), and lots of things to see
- Paris — Love the cheese selection & general beauty of the country & sights
- Sweden — just SO pretty, a nice place to go and spend a short period of time to de-stress
What are your favourite cities?