How To Travel Smart And Stop Spending Unnecessarily

The biggest question travellers ask themselves is arguably “How do I stop myself from going bankrupt?” The rate at which most of us full-time travellers head overseas (read – Travelling Does Not Mean Saying Goodbye To Earnings) can be mind-boggling to most. Even if you don’t travel very frequently, today’s article on travelling smart will save you some precious bucks when you next jet off! Let’s start with the basics:-

#1: Hunt For Flights Before The Hunting Season

My Virgin Atlantic flight waits for me in London.

My Virgin Atlantic flight waits for me in London.

Last year, I clocked more air miles than the Managing Director of my erstwhile organization!! As crazy as that sounds, I probably spent less than 10% on the flights than he did. Your goal should be to plan early and keep scouting for good deals online before you rush to book. Join Mr. Rebates to get cash back on every purchase you make. Signing up is free and you will also get a $5 BONUS when you shop for the first time. Last minute flight bookings can be quite expensive, not to mention, stressful. And this is where a little bit of pre-planning comes in handy.

#2: Stay With Locals (If Hostels Are Not Your Thing)

Trips are better when your hotel/hostel feels like home.

Trips are better when your hotel/hostel feels like home.

I personally find hotels extremely boring and cold. So my favourite choices are homestays and hostels (read – Dorm Etiquette For Frequent Backpackers). I know, some of you don’t like the idea of sharing your room with strangers, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to shell out a bomb to live in a foreign country. Check out warm hosts on Airbnb or Couchsurfing. If you’d rather have your semi-luxurious stay at a hotel, save some extra bucks by using my referral link to make your hotel bookings through Mr. Rebates.

#3: Drive Down Instead of ‘Ubering’ Your Way

Driving down to Woodward Park in the USA.

Driving down to Woodward Park in the USA.

When I lived in India, radio taxis seemed so affordable. But that’s not the case in expensive countries such as USA. Taking Uber everywhere can burn a big hole in your pocket. If you are in a big city with a well connected public transport system (I love New York for this!), you are good. But what when you explore little hamlets with no humans in sight for several miles? That’s when it really helps to self-drive. Mr. Rebates has tie-ups with several car rental sites (Alamo Rent A Car, for instance) where you will actually be able to earn some cash back (into your Paypal account or opt for a check payment or a gift card) when you book your mean machine.

#4: Choose Your Food Haunts Wisely

Many of us tend to waste a lot of money eating trash at posh restaurants, without really trying out anything unique or local. Eating out takes a little bit of strategizing. You cannot just step out and randomly walk into a place, hoping to have your mind blown. It pays to know what you want and how much you are willing to pay. Do your research online on interesting places which offer experiences instead of just plating out food (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine). I was able to enjoy some live teppanyaki in California without paying through the nose just by picking a weekday afternoon instead of walking in for some a-la-carte on a Friday night.

#5: Shop When The Big Sales Are On

I have the Millerton Lake behind me on my drive to Friant in California.

I have the Millerton Lake behind me on my drive to Friant in California.

No matter how much you control yourself, you are bound to buy a bag full of nonsense on your next trip abroad (read – When A Traveller Takes A Holiday). Because it’s impossible to reign in your impulses, the least you can do is shop during shopping festivals or holiday seasons. I’m currently holidaying in The States and I think I’m going to need another suitcase just to fit all the stuff I bought on Black Friday!

Do you have any travel tips you’d like to share?

Are you guilty of spending unnecessarily on your vacations?

Write your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more pictures and tips on travelling like a pro. Do share this article with your friends who are planning their vacations!

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A Travel Secret Up My Sleeve – Urby Passport Holder

So much goes into planning a holiday, especially if it’s a long one. I have a big trip coming up this week, and all of the planning is stressing me out. Yet, I know the tension is temporary. My joy on reaching that faraway land will drown even the memory of the hassle I’m going through right now.

On-Trip Euphoria Is Greater Than Pre-Trip Anxiety

Alone on a German Island - Old Town in Lindau.

Alone on a German Island – Old Town in Lindau.

This is not the first time I’m travelling to another continent (read – Lleida – A Reminiscence), but this will certainly be the longest I’ll be away from home. I know from experience that the jitters are only before I set foot in that foreign country. All that I explore afterwards, will make me smile ear to ear. It is always a good idea to have all your travel essentials in place – the bags, the documents and the cash. If you are travelling to a country with specific rules, ensure you are prepped for the immigration procedures. Your passport is your first document of importance. It helps to keep it easily accessible.

A Passport Holder Also Helps Hold Yourself Together

You need a handy holder for all your essentials at the airport.

You need a handy holder for all your essentials at the airport.

At airports when I’d mostly be in a hurry, I would often struggle to find my passport in my handbag. Some scrambling later, I’d catch hold of it, only to realize I’d have to keep digging for my boarding pass next. Sitting down for a snack at an airport cafe would require some more ransacking of my bag for currency or cards. I was starting to get worried my passport would fall apart with all of that frequent manhandling. I needed a saviour. That’s when Urby came to my rescue!

A Leather Sleeve Brought Me Sound Sleep

Traveling means exploring living rooms full of books and music.

Traveling means exploring living rooms full of books and music.

My Urby passport holder is essentially a jacket for my passport. It also has 4 slots for me to slip in my multicurrency prepaid card (which acts as an ATM cum debit card for all my spends abroad), credit cards and perhaps a business card. There is also a sleeve which I can use to slide in my boarding pass or air tickets. This elegant way of organizing my air-travel essentials is going to give me a smoother travel experience. That means more time to catch forty winks during layovers! 😉

Luxury Is Personal

Urby sent me a personalized passport holder to make my travels more comfortable.

Urby sent me a personalized passport holder to make my travels more comfortable.

True indulgence is not in plainly sporting a premium brand, but having it customized for you. My limited edition passport holder from Urby’s “Wanderlust” collection is handcrafted and feels great to touch. I have my name printed in gold on the baked-cherry coloured high-end grained leather. I also have a drawstring canvas pouch to store my passport holder when I’m not travelling. Genuine leather needs care, especially during monsoon. The pouch will help keep moisture away, so my little piece of luxury stays luxurious for longer.

I Like To Travel Every Season

I watched the trees change colours during fall in Austria.

I watched the trees change colours during fall in Austria.

When I was growing up, most of our family trips would happen in summer (because we had holidays). Monsoon was considered a bad time for vacation as my folks didn’t like rains (and the ensuing sludge on the roads). We were also quite cautious of getting out in the winters lest we should catch a nasty cold. These unnecessary restrictions made it quite hard to travel frequently and enjoy different climatic conditions. I had decided when I was very young that I would travel far and wide, in every season and every situation. I’m filled with delight as I tell you today that I’m doing exactly that these days! 🙂 (Read – For Travel Goals that are Long Term…)

Travel More, Work Even More!

Urby passport holder has a pocket at the back (so you can easily slide in a business card).

Urby passport holder has a pocket at the back (so you can easily slide in a business card).

My friends often wonder how I’m jobless, yet not penniless. Conservative culture has led them to think there are only traditional ways to earn a livelihood- you slog all day if you are not born rich. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. And contrary to popular belief, my parents are not funding my travels. Over the past 5 years that I worked hard in the corporate world, I managed to save up a little bit. And now that I am a full-time freelance travel writer, I work even harder. More travel means meeting more people and developing lasting relationships, many of whom later become my clients. This is why I always carry my business cards on me. (Check out my friend, Grenville, who designed my card!) Urby’s passport holder has an extra slot at the back of the jacket (which I use to carry a couple of extra cards for serendipitous meetings at airports). You can also use it to carry loose change or some currency notes.

Carry Your Belongings The Way You Would Carry Yourself

Some parts of the world are so bright, you need sunglasses at night! ;-)

Some parts of the world are so bright, you need sunglasses at night! 😉

Immigration desks across the world have convinced me that sharp dressing goes a long way in having a trouble-free clearance. When you carry yourself impeccably, wouldn’t you want your passport to be carried in a similar fashion?

Do you ever struggle to find your passport in your bag?

Are you a fan of leather?

Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter to know more about my new way of living. Do share this article and let your friends know about organizing their travel documents!

Disclosure: The passport holder was gifted to me by Urby. However, the review reflects my honest opinion.

Onboard Air Arabia’s A320

I’m not a fan of late night flights, but there is little you can do to control the time you fly out of your home city (Mumbai in my case)  when you wish to arrive at your destination in the morning. I still remember my first flight to Goa over two decades ago, when I was only 4 and my sister, 2. I had thrown up just before the landing, and all the passengers had to leap over the puddle of vomit on the aisle. Those days of free unlimited candies and poor cabin pressure management are long gone. Cut to the present, and one can get an exclusive first class suite and a pre-booked slot for a shower cabin up in the air!

This post, however, is not to highlight the milestones the airline industry has crossed, but to tell you about my in-flight experience on Air Arabia.

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

A Look At Air Arabia’s Hub – Sharjah

The Sharjah airport is nothing to write home about. But this cost-effective hub means the planes landing and taking off from here will have to pay them less, and in turn, your flight tickets will be more affordable (hopefully). Being a low-cost carrier, Air Arabia has no exclusive lounge at this airport. The airport itself is like a fish market, full of commotion and little regard for queues. The staff seems reluctant to help. At the boarding gates, the ladies in charge behave like school teachers trying to tame an unruly class. After a couple of hours at the airport, it is finally time for me to board my plane.

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

The Experience Onboard

Our A320 was a nifty aircraft, and I thought my seat in the economy class was fine. I asked for a cup of tea to relax for the next few hours that I’d be airborne. It must have worked, because I slept well. I always carry my eye mask and inflatable neck pillow to catch up on my sleep, which I never seem to get enough of (even on vacations). I was was in Sharjah to cover the light festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), and I did too much in too little time.

I pick what I'll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I pick what I’ll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I usually prep my mind to sleep by reading the in-flight magazine and waiting for the plane to go quiet. I previously wrote about my onward trip to Sharjah (read – Flying with Air Arabia), but on my return trip, the excitement had worn off as I wasn’t looking forward to going back to office and continuing with the long hours of work (usual at the investment bank). The air hostess soon cheered me up by getting me some dinner.

Time for Food! 🙂

My vegetable biryani arrives with coconut chutney on the side.

My vegetable biryani arrives with some raita on the side.

My early morning snack on my onward journey was a couple of dosa rolls with a filling of potato and chutney on the side. On my return journey to Mumbai, I had vegetable biryani with some raita. I thought the food was quite appetizing, even if a little too spicy for my palate. The portions were good too. They say that the way to a person’s heart is through her stomach. The rest of my flight seemed smooth after the meal, and the airline’s timing again was perfect! Here’s a selfie from my arrival in Sharjah (the smile is thanks to a full stomach 😉 ):-

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Flying with Air Arabia

It is past 2 in the night. My brain is only half awake. I cannot quite remember how I dragged my sleep-deprived body out of the waiting chair in front the boarding gate for my Air Arabia flight. I blinked through the aisle of this Airbus A320, found my window seat, took off my sneakers, pulled on my eye-mask and got ready to sleep through my 3 hour flight from Mumbai to Sharjah.

Air Arabia's Airbus A320 - the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Air Arabia’s Airbus A320 – the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Because Kids Do It Better!

I was woken suddenly by a bunch of babbling children reminding me to fasten my seat-belt and keep my seat-back upright. Air Arabia’s in-flight safety video is the cutest one I’ve ever watched! I’ve flown with this airline to Moscow before (read – Glimpses of Moscow – A Photo Essay), and I quite enjoyed watching the same clip. I think you should watch it too! 🙂

You Cannot Fly Without Reading At Least One Magazine!

It is hard to fall back into deep sleep once you’ve been woken. I shrugged at my situation and decided to skim through Nawras – Air Arabia’s in-flight magazine. ‘Nawras’ literally means ‘seagull’ in Arabic. The name is so apt for a publication aboard a plane! That month’s edition had stories from the places where Air Arabia flies. You may also want to read about my first impressions of Sharjah – Air Arabia’s hub.

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Food and Beverage

Before I could doze off again, the flight attendant brought me my pre-ordered meal of masala dosa and tea. Now, Air Arabia is a low-cost carrier, and its fare does not cover any in-flight meal. But you can buy your grub onboard or online. I really wasn’t hungry as this was way past my dinner time and too early for breakfast. But I never say “no” to food.

Time for some midnight snacking!

Time for some midnight snacking!

We Reached On Time!

I looked out my window, hoping to catch 40 winks before the landing, but I could already see signs of civilization, glittering to signal I should lace up my shoes and fold up my tray table. Sigh! But I perked up, remembering why I was in this emirate – to attend the Sharjah Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival).

Bird's-eye view of Sharjah - just before we land

Bird’s-eye view of Sharjah – just before we land

Have you flown with Air Arabia before? I’d like to know your feedback in the comments below!

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures and stories from my travels! Please spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who are looking for pocket-friendly airlines to fly to the UAE! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival

Winters in Sharjah are special. Not just because the weather is pleasant, but also because Sharjah’s famed light festival is celebrated in that season. With the onset of February, I flew over to this emirate to witness the celebrations which not a lot of tourists are aware of. I’ve brought back pictures and videos for you to enjoy vicariously! 🙂

When water shines and light rains

When water shines and light rains

When to Visit

This 2017, the Sharjah Light Festival was held from 2nd to 11th Feb across 14 locations. Each evening, the drama would unfold after the sun went down. I was fortunate to have good seats before the crowd would normally gather. It helps to get to the spots early, so you can position your cameras and have a clear view.

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall - before the show begins

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall – before the show begins

Opening Ceremony

On our first evening, we waited at the University City Hall’s open air amphitheatre for the inaugural show to commence. The heavens had other plans, however! It started pouring, and we had to pack up our camera kits. We did manage to see the scientific marvel the next day. I’ve made a timelapse for you to see a bit of the projection-work in a jiffy:-

Al Noor in the Night

One night, I took a walk around the Khalid Lagoon (read: Sharjah at First Sight) to watch the beautiful Noor mosque lit up in an array of colours. The work of light on this building was so smooth, that the facade appeared to be painted. The paintings would not be still, though. The patterns changed dynamically. Before my mind could feast on one, a new design was laid up before my eyes.

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Where Parks are Golden

Sharjah knows how to build up the tempo to the main attractions during this fest. Even the sprawling gardens become a part of the light festival when they hold tunnels of coloured lights for kids (and adults who are kids at heart 😉 ) to saunter through. The tunnels I crossed zigzagged about the palm trees, making them glow as well.

Light Falls on the Waterfront

Al Majaz is one area you cannot miss when you’re in Sharjah! The promenade along the waterfront makes for a refreshing walk. It’s wonderfully breezy here, and incredibly magical once the skyline is bedecked in jewels of light. The still waters look ethereal as they softly reflect the gleaming towers.

Al Majaz waterfront is silent before the show begins

Al Majaz waterfront is silent in anticipation of the spectacle

Music, Fountains and Lights

The light and water show in front of Al Majaz was perhaps the highlight of my SLF experience! Here’s some footage from my film:-

En Route to Al Qasba

Qanat Al Qasba – the mosque which draws its architectural inspiration from one of the mosques in Oman, is another building of note. It was a sight to behold at night! Its minarets were swathed in golden hues, with emerald at the top. The rest of the building looked a patchwork of ruby and sapphire as the light effects brought colours to this masjid.

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

The Story Unfolds at Al Qasba Canal

I stayed till very late at Al Qasba canal. From the bridge, I watched with wonder as the history of Sharjah was told through light and sound works on the buildings on either side of the canal. If you are here during the day, take a boat ride through the lagoons.

Al Qasba waterfront at night

Al Qasba waterfront at night

I know many who complain about the lack of a nightlife in Sharjah. Well, “nightlife” is honestly how you define it. If you are not into drinking and clubbing, this emirate has a soulful display of light-artwork across the city to keep you intoxicated with enchantment!

It all begins when the sun goes down ;-)

It all begins when the sun goes down 😉

Have you been to any light festivals around the world that you’d like to share? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.