{Travel tips} The ups and downs of buying plane tickets

Let’s be honest: most of the time, it is impossible to find the perfect plane ticket (cheap, no layover, great airline). Although there are some tricks that do work, such as erasing the cookies, you have to have a lot of time and be really into finding super deals online to get THE perfect price.

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However, I’ve found recently that there are two basic rules for buying tickets, either for business or for pleasure (even though for business you will not be worrying that much for the price but still, you don’t want your company to pay double just because you decided to plan your trip at the last minute):

  1. You can find the cheapest tickets months in advance, BUT it is not always the case.

What? It is not possible! you might be saying to yourself right now. Well, let me tell you something that just happened. I wanted to go to Mexico in April, so I checked the airfares for Paris-Mexico no layover with AirFrance (I really don’t like AeroMexico, which is another company that flies directly from Paris to Mexico). The price? 1 540 Euros. Yes, you read that right! I decided it was too much money for economy class, so I planned something else to see my family. Anyway, I received an email from AirFrance on Monday announcing great prices for Mexico because of their inaugural A380 flight direct from Paris. Since I like to hurt and traumatize myself, I checked right away and lo and behold, the airfare is 758 euros for the same dates.

Quick pro tip: you cannot always anticipate price changes. Buying months in advance does not guarantee that you will get the best price. 

So, what to do then?

2. Whenever you see what you consider is the best price that you are willing to pay, buy it straight away. 

It is the same logic I apply (most of the time) when buying clothes or stuff. Sometimes you think it soooo much that in the end your size is out of stock or the discount is no longer applicable. So just go ahead and buy it, it is great to analyze and search like crazy for an incredible price but, unless there is an error fare, miracles don’t exist. Another example of this precise situation happened to me this week. I am planning a business trip to Australia (I’m so excited I’ll write about it later!), and since I have family there, I was looking for plane tickets to go to Canberra from Sydney. One week ago I found on vol24.fr (hands down one of the best websites out there) a ticket going for 100 Euros. I didn’t buy it because I was in a lazy mood and whatever. I decided to finally buy it yesterday and guess what, it is now 150 Euros.

Quick pro tip: if you find a price that is a great price for you, don’t over think it, just do it!

So there you go, real life experience coming from yours truly.

Have you ever experienced something like this? I would love to hear your thoughts about it!

-Andy

{Thoughts} My year in review

It is that time of the year when you make a list of everything you are grateful for, what you loved or disliked, but most of all, what you are looking forward to in the new year.

2015 was a challenging year, but also a rewarding one. I finally saw the fruit of many things that I have worked for, so that makes me feel very grateful to the universe for everything that’s going on right now. In regards to the challenges, one of the biggest ones was to take the leap and change jobs. I am really happy where I am right now because I get to do one of the things that I love the most: TRAVEL.

In four months, I had the chance to go to Germany, London, Toronto, Zurich and Vienna. Not too shabby ! I traveled to Rome and Mexico as well, can’t complain!

 

I am looking forward to see what 2016 has in store for me !

I wish you all the very best, and as Gandalf says “All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you”.

xX Andy

 

{Restaurants} Wilbur Mexicana

My trip to Toronto was full of surprises. One of them being the amazing restaurants in this city! I mostly stayed in the entertainment district, and had the chance to discover a couple of awesome places here. One of them is Wilbur Mexicana, a Mexican restaurant in King St West.

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Almost everyone at the office recommended Wilbur or Los Colibrís, another Mexican restaurant downtown that I didn’t get a chance to visit (but there’s always a next time, right ?). Being Mexican, I am extremely picky with any tacos that com across my path outside Mexico, but my doubts disappeared when arriving at Wilbur. There was a considerable amount of people in line, even queuing outside in spite of the freezing cold! We thought that if people were willing to wait under these conditions, then the food is worth it.

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We were not disappointed! First of all, the decoration, as in almost all of the restaurants in that area, has a distinct industrial feel to it. Industrial but at the same time perfected to fit a modern Mexican taqueria. The menu is straight forward : tacos, salad, burrito. You pick up a menu at the entrance and then order at the counter. You can (or maybe not) imagine my surprise when I saw that there were Jarritos, a typical Mexican soda/juice! I haven’t had a Jarritos in years! So with my bottle of Jarritos and a burrito, I was all set.

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My Jarritos !

They bring the food you ordered directly to your table, they have food to go as well, which is great since there are a lot of offices in the area for lunching al desko. Wilbur has a salsa bar, which is quite original! They have like 50 different bottles of salsas from all over the world as well. You can serve yourself all the salsa you want.

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The salsa bar

The burrito was delicious ! You could tell that everything used for preparing it was fresh, from the beans to the guacamole.

Next time you go to the entertainment district, I highly recommend going to Wilbur! Just be warned that you might have to wait in line for a taco, but it’s DEFINITELY worth it.

Wilbur Mexicana

http://wilburmexicana.com/

552 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1M3, Canada

The social media curse

How to prove the world that you’ve been THERE? Is it enough to “check-in” or post a status on Facebook ? Is it to get likes on social media or something else?

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oh, the famous “traveling to” Facebook status…

I am guilty as charged, I do it. The image above comes from my Facebook. Last time in London? I wrote a cheesy status saying: London calling. The obligatory instagram photos followed. Well, I realized that it does not necessarily mean that I am an obnoxious traveler that needs to publicly aknowledge that I am going places. It just means that the way we live and travel has dramatically changed in the last few years.

Social media has revolutionized our entire lives. The extent of its impact depends on us. How many people spend all their time taking pictures, videos (that you rarely watch afterwards), instagramming, snapchatting, etc instead of just enjoying the view? Heck, even Instagram and Snapchat became verbs! I believe it is perfectly fine to take all the pictures you want to share with your family and friends, but this should not become the main concern while traveling. We stop seeing through our eyes, and opt to “enjoy” the view from our iPhone. We are thinking which is the best angle to take the photos, what snazzy caption we can write on Instagram, instead of LIVING the moment.

This is when you have to decide how much you are going to let social media define how you appreciate life !

Camera eats first

Camera eats first

Yes, I want to take great pictures of everywhere I go. Yes, I want to have enough material for Instagram and for the blog. However, if I do not enjoy the moment, if I do not fully appreciate the culture, or the food, or the general ambiance of the country I am visiting, then what am I going to share? Really share? Just a list of “10 best things to do in XXX” ? Well that is not the point of writing a travel blog (in my opinion). So, I will be careful to enjoy the moment, take a good picture if I can (and not stress if it doesn’t work out as planned), and write about my experience here.

Likes in social media mean nothing if you do not appreciate each and every moment, no matter where you are in the world.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this !

X-Andy

{City Guides} A different London

I’ve been lucky enough to visit London 3 times in the past few years. The first one was in 2010, during my first trip to Europe. We did everything we could: had a typical English breakfast, walked from Westminster to Tower Bridge and back, went to Hyde Park, Picadilly, ate fish and chips, went to a pub, and took like 10+ photos at the Platform 9 3/4. The second time was to visit some friends, and since we already knew the city, we were much relaxed, we weren’t in a hurry to see everything. Finally, the third time was for work. I stayed over 2 weeks, but took advantage of the weekend to see a different London.

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the Big Ben (from my Instagram)

Saturday

Woke up early to go to a restaurant that I found online, Caravan Café in Exmouth. I already wrote a review of Caravan, you can read it here. After having brunch, we walked to the British Museum since we wanted to have a little bit more time to explore it. After a 15- minute walk, we arrived !

The iconic British Museum

The iconic British Museum

Apparently, we lost the memo where it says that you go to the British Museum just to see the mummies! We did not see them! However, we really enjoyed the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek rooms.

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After the museum, we took a double decker bus to Leicester Square. Oh, I almost forgot. Everytime we go we have a pay as you go Oyster Card. The Oyster Card costs 5£ but you can get your money back at the end of your trip (check in the metro stations, you can get the refund directly at the ticket machines).

We walked around the neighborhood and did some window shopping. We finally arrived at Covent Garden, and it was as busy as you can imagine in a sunny day !

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Inside Covent Garden

We continued our window shopping and bought a really good tea at East India Company. We were feeling a little bit hungry, specially after all the walking. Since we saw a Five Guys near Leicester Square’s metro station, we did not hesitate in getting a burger for lunch ! After, we were really tired so decided to go back to the hotel on foot. As I always say, the best way to know a city is to walk and walk and walk. You get to see the neighborhoods, how the city changes from one street to the other, and you can find pretty places where you did not imagine you would find them.

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Sunday

Woke up earlier to have breakfast at Monocle Café in Marylebone. I wrote a review of the place here if you’d like to know a little bit more about it. We took the metro to Bond Street and walked from there. After breakfast, we went to Hyde Park. It was a beautiful day and the perfect one for renting a bicycle and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

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Autumn in Hyde Park

The Park is beautiful, specially with all the autumn colors taking over the trees. If you’d like to rent a bike, it costs 2£ for 24 hours. Each time you get a new bike, there is a little machine in the corner of the bike stations that gives you a code. You type in the code next to the bike you want, and off you go !

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After no more than an hour of going around the park, we stopped for an afternoon tea at The Orangerie in Kensington Palace. I found out about it on Instagram, and since my birthday was coming up, we decided to give it a go with a Royal Afternoon Tea. I will talk about The Orangerie in another post 😉 It was a lovely afternoon, it was sunny but not hot, just enough  of an autumn breeze to enjoy the tea and park.

Outside The Orangerie

Outside The Orangerie

Afterwards, we took new bikes to go back to where we started near Hyde Park Corner’s station since we wanted to go from Buckingham Palace to the Big Ben on foot.

Pro tip: Getting around Hyde Park is really easy since there are a lot of maps that let you identify the bike routes, not all pathways are available for cyclists, so pay attention.

Buckingham Palace is not far away from Hyde Park, just follow the tourists 😉 It is a nice walk since there are two parks (Green Park and St. James Park) in between the Palace and the Big Ben.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

After taking a little stroll around the Palace and Victoria’s statue, we started walking towards the Big Ben by going through the Mall and then cutting though St. James park. Again, follow the tourists if you feel lost !

Finally, we topped off our London weekend by going to the Big Ben. It is one of THE landmarks of London, so be patient since there’s a lot of people around, in front, and across the Big Ben.

No need for introductions!!

No need for introductions!!

This 2-week stay changed my feelings about London. I wasn’t in a rush to see EVERYTHING, and this is great. The city feels different and I learned to see it as if I lived there, which is a luxury. This is one of the many perks of business travel (nowadays called bleasure = business + pleasure), and I am very grateful to be able to discover new places and even re-discover others through a different point of view. I leave you now with a couple of photos from my weekend.

I would love to hear your thoughts about London and if you might be tempted to check out the places I mentioned above!

x-Andy

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{LONDON RESTAURANTS} MONOCLE CAFE

Instagram is a great source of inspiration for MANY things : fashion, travel, art, restaurants… so when I see that someone posts a great picture of a restaurant in a city that I will be visiting soon or in Paris, I take note. This is how I found Monocle Café in Marylebone.

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I went for breakfast on a Sunday. I didn’t exactly know the neighborhood, so it was a good way to see another part of London. Since it was early in the morning, Marylebone was quite calm even if it is not too far from the most touristy part of the city. Monocle Café offers mostly japanese inspired food AND an scandinavian breakfast. This sounds odd because japanese and scandinavian and british do not usually mix. However, it works perfectly at Monocle ! If the weather is nice, you can sit outside. If not, there are some small tables next to the counter or you can go downstairs, which is a little bit cozier in my opinion.

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We ordered the scandinavian breakfast, a flat white, and a cup of orange juice. The presentation is lovely !

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The coffee was good, although I prefer the one from Caravan. I talk about this café in another article. The quality of the breakfast is good, and it has a great price for both London and Marylebone (I found later that it is a very nice neighborhood!). Another thing that I loved about Monocle is the music! They have their own radio station, and the music is really really good (I shazamed four songs!).

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If you are looking for a quiet and different café in London, not in the middle of the most “active” part of the city, this is the place to go! Hyde Park as well as Oxford street are not far  – 10-minute walk away.

Address: 18 Chiltern St, London W1U 7QA

Website: http://cafe.monocle.com/

Let me know if you like this restaurant in the comments below ! 😉

Andy

{London Restaurants} Caravan

There are many “techniques” for finding great restaurants wherever you go. You can use Instagram, Yelp, TripAdvisor, but you can also use Google maps. This is how I found Caravan at Exmouth. I searched on the map all restaurants around our hotel. Once I found it, I looked at their website and the customer reviews.

As it turns out, there are two Caravan coffees in London: one in Exmouth and another one near Kings Cross Station.

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They serve brunch during the weekend, but if you are not in the mood for a brunch, they have a solid all day menu. We arrived at 10 am, and people were already waiting for it to open.

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The coffee is excellent ! They roast it by themselves FYI ! The avocado toast is delicious too. Honestly, I was not a big fan of the pancakes, the lemon curd was a little bit too much for my taste. However, the rest of the food was really good. Plus, it has great prices for London !

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I highly recommend it if you are looking for an excellent coffee and breakfast. I did not try the rest of the menu, so I can only endorse the breakfast/brunch. It is located in a relatively quiet but nice area of London (Farringdon). There are many attractions at a walking distance, such as the British Museum.

If you ever go to London and decide to try Caravan, let me know!

-Andy

{Travel tips} Secret flying

A really good friend told me about this website where you could find extremely crazy cheap plane tickets. I had to see it to believe it …

Exhibit A: Many french cities to NY from € 373. Depart from Paris € 287. The link took me to a website I’ve never heard of before: Momondo. What did I find ? Round trip Paris- NYC with a 5h30 layover in Copenhagen from December 25th to January 1st for 552 €

Exhibit B:  Round trip Paris- NYC with a 1.5 hour layover in London and a direct flight for the return trip with British Airways from  March 2 to 9, 2016. All for the convenient (extremely convenient) price of 391 €

This is incredible ! Well, first of all in order to take advantage of this type of offers on needs to have a little bit of flexibility in terms of vacation time (or just a bit of luck!). Second, maybe the cheapest flights won’t leave from your home country/city, so you have to add the plane ticket to Amsterdam from Paris, for example.

There are basically three options for finding tickets on Secret Flying: USA and Canada deals, Europe deals, and Rest of the world deals.

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I haven’t bought a ticket using this website, but as soon as I do I will let you know more about my experience. At first glance, this is a really good option for finding great tickets at very decent prices !

Tell me what you think in the comments below. Do you think this website is helpful?

x-Andy

{Travel tips} Finding the best deals Part 1

I think that the most crucial parts of preparing a trip are 1/ finding a good flight (and by good I mean reasonably priced and without a layover of 15 hours in the middle of nowhere) and 2/ finding a good hotel. Let’s talk about crucial part numero uno, shall we?

I’ve read many articles talking about the perfect time to buy the tickets (at 4 am on a Tuesday??) , erasing the cookies in your computer, the timing, etc. Although there are people and websites (like here) that thrive on finding the perfect deal, there are other ways to find great deals. It all depends on the following criteria :

  1. What type of trip you are going for : weekend trip, long stay, circuit
  2. Means of transportation: plane or train *
  3. What are you willing to compromise or not : budget, comfort, layover
  4. Would you like to stay in a hotel or not

On this first post, I will be talking about the type of trip.

If you want to leave for 3-4 days, I suggest you look for a package hotel/train + hotel. My favorite websites are : Opodo, Expedia, Voyages SNCF.  If you are not sure of where you want to go, you can wait for a last minute deal on Last Minute. Other websites offer the same option as well.

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There are special filters that allow you to find more easily the hotel you are looking for. However, BEWARE! Not all cheap hotels are the best, so it is really important to think about criteria #3 above. You don’t care if the hotel smells bad but you want to save money? Then go ahead ! If you prefer a more comfortable setting, then you should be ready to spend a little more $$. This sounds pretty much logical, but sometimes we forget and get carried away. Exhibit A: I planned a weekend trip to Amsterdam. I found a “great” train+hotel package on voyages SNCF for two persons. The hotel was a little bit far from the center of the city, but I thought that with the public transportation we would be fine and wow, the price ! Alas, the hotel was in the middle of a creepy neighborhood, smelled like sweat and cigarette, and it was cold and dirty. We only stayed one night, the next day we found a last minute hotel deal and stayed at the NH just next the Rijksmuseum. Conclusion: research well before getting carried away by the price. Sometimes its better to spend a little bit more and have a good night sleep than to stay in a smelly, cheap and cold hotel.

After the hotel comes the flight. In Europe, the cheapest flights have the most horrible schedules (6 am flight to Berlin..7:35 flight to Rome). I believe that arriving early is a good option since you can take advantage of the city right from the beginning. The return flight should be a little more flexible. Keep in mind that prices vary depending the time of the flight, so remember criteria 3 for choosing it.

Do not take the fist option you find, if you do it in advance, you can scan several websites every day or every two days. That way you will know what is the best option for you. If there’s something you absolutely like and you are pretty much sure that it is the best price ever, then book it. Do not wait for a magical thing to happen and to get a discount of 100 $ , it’s not going to happen unless a one-shot offer or campaign. I’ve let good opportunities go a couple of times because I believe that prices are going to fall.

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For a circuit, it depends on whether you want to prepare it yourself or go with a travel company. If you want to avoid the hassle, you can book directly with a travel agent (bit old school). We did this when planning our honeymoon to the Greek islands. A great travel agent found the perfect circuit for what we were looking for, everything is taken care for you: boat tickets, plane tickets, hotel reservations. You only have to decide on the day trips available at the hotel and given by the tour company. If you want to control everything about your trip, it’s another story. I will talk about planning a long stay/circuit in another post.

What are your tips and tricks when planning a trip ? Let me know in the comments below !

(*): won’t be talking about taking a car since I am not very savvy car wise