At the beginning of 2018, we got our house on the market, got rid of all of our furniture and belongings, packed everything we had into suitcases, and got ready to move away from the place I grew up in (of 29 years).
Funny thing is it felt like we did the same thing not long ago in 2014 when my parents moved overseas. Except this time (4 years later) I was going too.
In February, I made the big leap of faith and moved to Asia. I was uncertain of my future here but excited to see how the Lord would lead. I remember being at the airport with tears welling in my eyes not so much from the uncertainty of the future but more so leaving the people I shared my life with for all these years.
Why did I decide to move? It’s sort of a complex answer but namely for family and partly for work & finding new opportunities. Looking back, I believe it was a calling God had for me for a some time… I just never saw it because I clung too tightly to what I had in Dallas.
It took God allowing certain events in my life that finally put me over the edge in making the big jump.
So how has it been since my move?
I think I can say without a shadow of doubt, God had opened this door for me so I could see more of His goodness and give Him all the praise. It’s been an incredible year seeing His faithfulness that’s beyond measure and certainly beyond what I could ever dream of.
I’m thankful I found a church home quickly.
During the first month, it was also a critical transition of my work. I wasn’t sure how things would be if I worked completely remote. Yet every week, I saw God’s faithfulness in providing.
Though it was difficult at times, the Lord continued to provide and and I’m so grateful.
In May, I got to go to Myanmar with a friend for a few weeks. I think this was definitely one of the highlights of the year seeing how incredible God is and how faithful He is all around the world in even the most remote country I had ever seen.
Hearing from pastors and missionaries in Myanmar and of the struggles they went through yet the unfathomable goodness they experienced was so encouraging.
Even while I was there, I got to experience God in a very real way I had never experienced before. While being at a very poor orphanage, I experienced first-hand the beauty of what God was and is doing there. I saw how kids with nothing materially still would go out to places even more poor than where they lived so they can share the hope of love of Christ.
I think for me, personally, I realize Christ is truly all we need. Even if you don’t know if you’ll have food tomorrow or clothes to wear, Christ is enough.
Throughout the rest of the year, I’ve gotten to grow with my church, meet some incredible people from all over the world, and most importantly, have continued to see God’s faithfulness each and every day.
I’m learning that faith is often not knowing but learning to trust and walk with God through each circumstance. And often God allows uncertainties in our lives so we can walk through them with Him.
I’m learning that God not only saved us but has prepared for us good works to love, serve, and share the hope of Christ with others.
All for not just our sake… but ultimately for His own glory (Ezekiel 36)
I’ve long struggled with the question of why…? Why would God choose to redeem and love me the way He does? It just doesn’t make sense in light of my sin.
I think this year, I’m finally beginning to have a step of understanding. That it was never about us or me… but it was for Him and His glory.
In 2019, I hope to seek first His glory… that in everything I do, it would magnify His name first and from it I pray it flows into every other part of my life. That I would learn more of what it means to surrender fully to Him while experiencing the joy of trusting and following our Sovereign King.
How to Travel for Cheap in Vietnam – Budget travel planning
Vietnam has long been known as one of the most affordable destinations in South East Asia. It is a dream come true for budget travelers as there are so many activities, delicacies, and attractions that come with very reasonable prices.
So if you are a budget-conscious backpacker, visiting Vietnam is a great idea. And how to travel for cheap in Vietnam? Here are 5 things you need to know.
Get around on a budget
Vietnam is a country of motorbikes. You can get yourself or rent a motorbike very cheap almost everywhere in the country. And getting around by motorbike is always one the of best ways to get on an adventure in Vietnam.
With some basic searches on Google, you will easily find many options under 400USD. However, be careful while riding through the rural areas. There are many potholes and slippery muddy roads after rainy days. Accidents do happen, of course. So make sure you have your body protected with bike gears and travel insurance.
Another option for getting around in Vietnam is traveling by bus. For those who are not quite confident in riding in chaotic streets, going by bus is a perfect alternative. You can fly over big cities by plane, rumble along the coastline by train. But moving by bus is a choice for comfort, budget, and experience.
There are now many bus companies offering bus routes to almost all provinces and cities in Vietnam. They are all backpacker-friendly and the equipment inside is also in good condition.
Where to stay to save your money
There are always places in the country that most backpackers cluster in. Especially in big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Da Nang, you can easily find the backpacker districts.
In these districts, you can find basically everything you want for your stay without being ripped off. Along the pedestrian-friendly streets in the center of the cities, there are many funky bars, tour companies, hostels, homestay, Airbnb, roadside eateries, and street markets.
Thus, staying in hostels, Airbnb, homestay is always the best choice for saving your money on accommodation. Hostels are everywhere in Vietnam. And the cheapest option is a large room with bunk beds. But if you are not used to living in the same room with other people and putting up with their schedules, staying in an Airbnb or homestay will be great.
Also, hotels in Vietnam are cheaper than hostels in wealthier countries. You can consider this option if you just have enough obnoxious drunks and splurges at night when staying at a hostel.
Eat like a local and spend like a local
Vietnam is the best place in South East Asia for good foods with cheap price. Finding a tasty meal under 2 dollars is fairly easy. And you have so many choices for it – Pho, Bun Cha, Banh Mi, etc.
Street food in Vietnam is a part of the country’s culture. It is then worth your time and effort looking around the alleys trying good local foods here.
Avoid the meals in hotels or fancy restaurants, they are not bad, but they will not ever give you that feeling of excitement when trying flavorsome dishes at a very cheap price.
And don’t worry if you don’t know Vietnamese. Just point on what you like and you will have it. Also, English is now taught at grade schools and many local people can communicate to help you out.
At humble-looking venues, you can enjoy your meal with so many healthy cuisines. Vietnamese foods are fresh as they have large portions of fresh herbs, greens, and rice.
What to entertain
Many public attractions offer free entrance or tickets at reasonable prices as they need to be affordable for the locals as well. And further to the big cities, the price will be much cheaper. So do not hesitate to plan a trip to Sapa, Ninh Binh, Hoi An, Mai Chau etc.
All along the country, there are many small cities and provinces with spectacular landscapes you should visit. There are also many places with cheap beers that you may be very interested in. Normally “Bia Hoi” or cheap beer costs around 20 cents for one glass.
To get around the places, besides motorbike and bus, you can also use Grab or GoViet. They are the two apps for ordering scooter taxi. You will need your smartphone, data roaming, and a Vietnamese sim card to use them. The price is shown on the screen so there is no way for rip-off.
Most foreigners do not really know the extent of bargaining in Vietnam. And you may not get used to the bargaining stuff. But once you get the feel of it, you will love it. Shopping is always an ideal way to get to know the culture.
But keep yourself away from the souvenirs in touristy markets. These places know the price range for similar items in your home country. They offer the price that makes you think you are getting a good deal while in fact, you are not.
Instead, go to the local markets where you can find handicrafts, apparels, and so many other souvenirs. Bargain at least 50% of the price for better deals as the vendors usually charge higher for tourists. And if the final price still cannot interest you, slightly bow and say “Xin Loi” politely before moving to the next store.
And if you don’t feel comfortable bargaining with the vendors, try to find places selling things with listed prices.
The bottom line
Even though big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, and Da Nang are now home to five-star hotels, fancy fine-dining restaurants, and swanky clubs, there are still specific areas in the cities that you can live like a local.
There are countless options for a decent meal and a decent room. And hopefully, this guide on how to travel for cheap in Vietnam will help you out.
How to Travel for Cheap in Yangon, Myanmar [Guest Post]
Tun is a keen adventure who explores the world differently. All his travels are more or less for authentic local life which results in insightful experiences. Tun carries his humor along the road with a pair of earphones. See more of his travel guides at here.
Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, is a little known attractive destination. It boasts traditional charm through pagodas & ancient heritages while also offering a slowly more modernized city life. The city has so many things to offer for its visitors from stunning Shwedagon stupa to exotic Indian streets or bustling China town.
It is used to be an expensive place for budget travelers yet things has been changing since 2012 when it opened its doors to the world.
In this guide, I will show you how to enjoy Yangon in the most cost-effective ways :
When you should visit Yangon
Yangon is costly during its tourism season from November to April. Traveling off season means you will benefit very much the service quality and your money!
Summer is the cheapest time to travel to Yangon but if you want to see less rain, head there for shoulder season which is May and October.
Flights to Yangon
The presence of low cost carriers now allow us to grab some of the best deals for Yangon. Air Asia offers cheap flights from Bangkok, Malaysia and Singapore to Yangon.
Vietjet Air is another good option for the flight from Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi to Yangon. The flight can be as cheap as $19/ 1 way.
Transfer from Airport to downtown
For an ordinary taxi ride from Yangon International airport to downtown, it costs about $10 and sometimes you need to negotiate with the taxis who do not have counters. A better option which costs only half of that price does exists : Yangon Airport Shuttle.
It is door to door service and they are willing to deliver you to many hotels in the city.
Yangon has wide range of hostels. Honestly, for the same amount of money, you should not expect the same quality of hostels like in Bangkok or Malaysia. Yangon`s hostels is still a young industry and since the local currency is still at good value, the price is just acceptable.
Here are some of the best choices for hostels according to travel bloggers :
Once in Yangon : the most prominent advantage of this hostel is probably about its building which was build in 1950s, a big recall to the British Era. With a free breakfast, it costs about $6/ night.
BaobaBed Hostel : this hostel charges about $10/ night with breakfast included and you pay what you have. The decoration is cozy and nice. The reception operates 24 hours. Baobabed is recommended for his cleaniness, professionalism as well sleeping quality.
Lotus Bed & Breakfast : the reason why backpackers choose the Lotus is more about its local hospitality than just its service. This reflects perfectly the friendliness of Burmese people.
The owner can also help you to arrange other travel services in town if you request.
Like some big cities in the world, Yangon locals also welcome foreigner with some free sightseeing. Here are some choices:
Yangon Free Walks : Every Monday and Wednesday, this tour is operated during 2 hours from 4.00pm till 6.00 to show you the British Colonial Heritage part of Yangon.
Yangon Free Sightseeing: If you own a blog, you can register for a private free tour with Authentic Asia Tours who also provide discount coupon for bloggers who are interested in their marketing cooperation campaign.
Explore downtown with Ye HTun : this dedicated tour guide bases in Yangon. His insider knowledge of Yangon is very infectious. You will be captivated by the beauty of Yangon through his 2 hour guided town !
Yangon Heritage Trust : an organization who aims to protect the British Architect in Yangon have been opening their free tours 3 times per week : Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
The tour normally costs at least $50/ person can be free with their volunteer. It covers the most highlighted monuments of Yangon including Sule Pagoda, the City Hall, the High Court, and the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue*—the only synagogue in Myanmar.
Some Other Ways to Save Your Money
The very first thing you may care about your travel in Yangon is food. Do not stop by the well-decorated restaurant, Yangon`s street foods are delicious. A noodle at Latha Street costs only about $2. A good BBQ dinner by 51st street of China town with fresh beer is about $7/ person. If you are really here for traditional Burmese food, then Feel Restaurant is a perfect choice.
For transportation, you can opt some local buses from the hostel to some famous attraction. Waiting time may be long but full of fun with the locals. Taxi is good to share in case.
It is advisable to acknowledge that internet is not at high speed in Yangon. Check your mails during the night time, internet will be faster from 11.00pm till 6.00am. Internet shop is not expensive for a call back home !
How I Stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei (& Hotels Everywhere) for Free
My parents recently had a wedding near in Taipei. Being that we live over an hour and a half north, my mom wasn’t fond of the thought of having to travel all the way back home late after the wedding. If the wedding ended at 10:00pm, they would get home at around midnight exhausted.
But my dad wasn’t also too fond of shelling out $200-300 for a hotel room nearby the wedding venue either. The area around is very expensive.
Since it was recently Mother’s Day and Father’s day, I had an idea for a small gift.
In this post, I discuss how I’m able to stay at 4-5 Star Hotels for free.
Staying in hotels for free basically comes down to just having points and knowing how to utilize it. Note that this is a very basic (for newbies) discussion on Hotel Mileage and point. Really, it could get a lot more complex but I’ll keep this discussion simple and for the everyday Joe who doesn’t want to spend hundreds of hours studying points.
For this booking, I looked through my Hotel Mileage inventory to see what I could find. Lo, and behold, I found I could book a night at the Hotel the wedding was held at – The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei with rates starting at nearly $7,000NT ($250) a night.
The total mileage required was only 15,000 Hyatt points, which is a pretty good redemption rate. Additionally, had I not had Hyatt points, I could have also transferred from Chase Ultimate Points.
If you don’t have Hotel Mileage, it’s quite likely you may have Chase Ultimate Points if you use any Credit Card with Chase. You could also transfer those points over.
How to Acquire Hotel Mileage:
The easiest and quickest way to acquire a lot of hotel mileage is through Credit Cards.
I know different questions immediately come into play…
Will this affect my Credit? Short answer is very minimal so long as you pay off your balances on time. Feel free to do more research if you don’t believe me.
Now keeping track of cards is a different story.
Is there a minimum spend? Yes, but with some planned spending this is actually very simple and even more so for hotel Credit Cards since the minimum spend is anywhere from $1,000 – $3,000 in 3 months.
Isn’t there an annual fee with the Card? This is definitely a valid question and under most circumstances, I would say to avoid Credit Cards with annual fees as they can really stack up at the end of the year!
However, here is where I only recommend certain Hotel Credit Cards. These are the Cards that with a free anniversary night, which basically means you can stay at one of their hotels for free each year.
That perk in it of itself makes the annual fee well worth it. But on top of that, there are usually other perks such as upgraded rooms, status, freebies, etc.
What are the Credit Cards with free anniversary night?
There’s also the Hilton & Ritz-Carlton that I know of. However, I would recommend those as the annual fee or spending requirement to get a free night is way too high for it to be worth having the Card (in my opinion).
Why Get Those Cards?
In addition to the free anniversary night you get each year, the sign-up bonus itself is usually quite lucrative and can get you up to 5-6 solid nights at one of their hotels (depending on the category and location of where you redeem your points).
If you have four of the card I mentioned above, you’ll have nearly a month worth of hotel night stays from just the bonus alone.
But I think the best perk is being able to stay 4 nights at any hotel for free each year after the first year.
Even if you don’t travel often, you can gift it to friends or family, you can take a fun staycation near home, or you can just have a backup at your disposal when you need it like what occurred recently for us.
It was incredible! The room was very spacious. I was upgraded since I had one of the status levels from the Hyatt Credit Card. I didn’t get a photo of the room but our room had a large sofa set near the window. The amenities were awesome and had green tea infused soap.
Supposedly the buffet was pretty renowned but would have cost $990 NT (around $33). And since I’m on a diet, I opted not to eat at the buffet.
Location-wise, it was right next to Taipei 101. It was about a 5 minute walk. For tourists, it would have been an even nicer perk to have but for us it was a good place to grab a quick dinner at the food court in the basement.
The highlight of the stay was actually the hotel gym. It featured 3 large rooms for Cardio, Weights, and Yoga/Stretching. The views were nice and the equipment was awesome.
Honestly, the only downside of the hotel was everything would have been expensive to buy outside of the room itself. For example, the buffet was over $30. If you wanted to bring more than 2 people in the gym, it would cost $1500 NT a person (or over $45).
Fridge snacks/food and Room Service were all very expensive as well. But I guess it’s normal for hotels catering to people spending on a Corporate dime.
Would I come back? Heck yeah! But only if it’s free 🙂
This begins to get pretty messy. For a lot of people, it’s probably not worth the hassle. For me, I love it. And believe me, I’ve had worse where I had to wear half my clothes onto a 14 hour flight (I did save a couple hundred bucks, mind you).
I started with an extensive search on Google Flights. Flying out of Dallas would have cost close to $1000 at the time for a crappy United flight.
The main airports flying with lower ticket prices to Taipei are usually LAX, SFO, JFK, HOU, and CHI.
Sometimes you can also snap super cheap tickets to HKG, BKK, SIN, PKG and then find cheap budget tickets around Asia from there.
When finding cheap flights, be weary of budget airline luggage policies, shady sites that have non-existent customer service, and weird transfers to other airports.
There are actually several other things to look out for to prevent you from having to go through hassles that aren’t worth a couple hundred bucks. And there are even some mistakes if you don’t know about can even backfire to where you end up paying more.
(Unfortunately I only know through experience. In the early days of my startup, I had to travel almost every week for meetings. We weren’t funded so I did whatever I could to save money).
Last thing is you always want to pencil in your trip in totality (at least the flight, accommodation, and transportation part of it). From start to finish before you book anything, you want to have all the pieces you need available and at a good price. Otherwise it’s going to cost you…
So after a bit of a search, I found a flight through LAX to TPE for $540. There was someone I was working with in LA that I needed to visit anyways so I could kill two birds with one stone.
LAX is notorious for poor TSA security and customs agents. However, the lounges are quite nice and the airport itself is quite comfortable, particularly if flying International.
It’s always risky to book separate domestic and international flights. I normally wouldn’t recommend it.
But in my case, I had some flexibility. I also checked flights from and back to DFW prior to booking my International flight and gave myself plenty of time on the transfers.
In these cases, lounge access does help quite a bit. That way you can shower, eat, and rest during the long layovers. I discuss how you can get lounge access in this post here.
From DFW to LAX, I found a $50 flight on American Airlines. It was an economy saver seat that normally allows you basically nothing but a seat and a backpack.
From LAX to TPE, I found a flight through Xiamen Airlines for $540. I’ve been to Xiamen a handful of times so I asked some people there about the airline. Overall, they had pretty positive experiences. And I could book directly through the Xiamen Airline site instead of some shady site. Good enough for me!
There was a layover in Xiamen, but it was perfectly fine too. I checked that I did have access to their lounges and could visit a manufacturer I’m working with in Xiamen.
Lastly, for my flight from LAX back to DFW, I found a cheap flight through Virgin airlines. I quickly checked my Virgin Elevate points balance against the cost to see if I could use points to save $70. I had enough to fly back on Virgin for a mere 2500 Elevate points plus $6 in fees.
Had I not had those elevate points, I would have definitely transferred my Chase Preferred Points over to snag the deal. Airline and Credit Card points are different. I discuss the difference in my post here.
My total cost from DFW > LAX and LAX > TPE, then TPE > LAX, and LAX > DFW with layovers in Xiamen so far was about $596.
I had found out a few months ago I had an old American Express Blue Sky card that had just over 45,000 points. The transfer value to cash was bad. But using it to reimburse travel credit was extremely valuable.
So the 45,000 points was just enough to cover all my flights ($600).
If you read through all of that, you’ll see how complex this quickly became. But for me, it’s become a pastime I enjoy. And I still think $1000 is quite a bit of money.
Plus, it didn’t take as much time as you’d think. I got to see more places, and do more things I needed to do.
(Where I live – Taiwan)
My parents have a place in Taipei so it was free.
Here’s a shameless plug: If you’re ever traveling to Taiwan after July of 2018, I know of a place here you can stay at for cheap.
Unlike the weird flights, the place will be pretty nice. It’s a newly built building by the beach in Northern Taipei with metro access to it by 2019.
The great thing about Taiwan is transportation is very convenient, easy, and cheap. You can get to most anywhere you need by the Metro Rail Transportation system (MRT). If you need to take a cab, it’s not too expensive.
At the airport, there’s a new MRT that takes you to the City. From there, you can take the MRT to wherever you need to go.
In Xiamen, it’s similar. Public buses are very convenient and cheap (around $1 a ride). Taxis are also very cheap to take as well.
In LA, public transportation isn’t as popular as driving. Note that I did rent a car for about $40 at LAX but I took advantage of a 5,250 points bonus offer with my United Card which has about a $70 valuation so I actually made money from the car rental. I didn’t include that in the travel cost.
Overall, I had a really productive trip. I visited a site I needed to visit in Los Angeles, I saw my family in Taiwan, and had my meeting in China… all for less than a Grande Latte at Starbucks!
Would I do it again? Heck yes! Though mileage may not always work out the way it did, there’s certainly a lot you can do with transfers and various policies of both airlines and Credit Cards.
What are some of the ways you’ve saved money on travel?
Recently, my parents wanted to visit Hangzhou and Suzhou. When they were young, they had studied literature that illustrated the beauty in both places. On top of that, there were a lot of rich history in the Cities that were thousands of years old.
In my mind (having been there over 10 years ago), I just thought of a huge lake (West Lake in Hangzhou) and lots of silk factories in Suzhou.
There was also a church they had wanted to support. The church ministry had impacted them over the years with their radio broadcast.
In this post, I discuss how I was able to help my parents and sister travel for cheap to Hangzhou and Suzhou. Total cash spent was less than $1000 which included flight, accommodation, and transportation.
I know United Awards can sometimes have pretty good deals traveling within Asia so I searched there. Lo and behold, there was a Saver Award at just 8,000 miles each way to Hangzhou. 16,000 miles RoundTrip was a steal!
I checked with my parents and they had about 40,000 miles left which was enough for 2 tickets and they would just need 8,000 miles more.
That wasn’t a problem as Chase Ultimate Miles transferred to United so I transferred 8,000 miles over for the 3rd ticket for my sister.
Total fees were about $16. The total mileage used were 40,000 United Miles + 8,000 Chase Ultimate Miles.
48,000 miles was a fantastic redemption rate, given my parents would have had to shell out $1800 for the flights.
My mom had a friend who had a cousin who owned an Airbnb in Hangzhou. Each night was a little less than $100.
The only downside was the place was far from the airport (1 hour+) and there was less privacy as the landlord lived in one of the bedrooms of the Airbnb. Hangzhou is so huge though, so 1 hour rides weren’t too out of the ordinary.
The upsides of staying at the Airbnb were we got a more local experience. We learned more about the local culture and food and we got to understand more of Hangzhou through a local’s eyes.
In Suzhou, we booked a 5-star hotel for about $70/night which is pretty cheap for a 5-star hotel!
The breakfast wasn’t all that desirable but Hangzhou and Suzhou are notorious for having less-than-par breakfasts. I’d recommend just going out on your own and finding a bite to eat.
On our last night back in Hangzhou (as we were flying out from Hangzhou), I used 10,000 IHG points to book a Holiday Inn Express.
The hotel itself was new and quite nice but the “Express” booking was for a smaller building right next door that did not have the amenities of the main building.
The Holiday Inn Express building did not have a gym, the lounge I had been looking forward to as a Platinum Member of IHG, and some of the other amenities I don’t normally use like the Spa or Office.
While I was disappointed, it was hard to complain having only spent 10,000 IHG miles (which is very little for IHG).
Transportation in Hangzhou and Suzhou varies greatly in price.
While there are certainly much cheaper options using public transportation such as their buses, it’s difficult to try and plan that with my sister, who has a disability. So we usually opted to take taxis.
Taxis in Hangzhou were pricey, namely because the City has become so huge that getting anywhere requires a longer distance travel. On average, our rides were around 70-200 RMB for a 30 minutes – 1 hour ride.
Most taxis are regulated very well by the government so there shouldn’t be issues of taxis ripping people off. However, there are still the “black cars” to watch out for as it’s not regulated by the government.
My parents took one of those black cars near West Lake and were charged about 30% more than they should have paid.
The nice thing about traveling between Hangzhou – Suzhou – Shanghai are the high speed trains. They’re fairly cheap at around 100 RMB for a Roundtrip ticket. However, they are very difficult to book if you’re a tourist and not from the area.
It’s usually best to book tickets online since tickets sell out very quickly and likely may not be available for a while if you just show up at the station. They will require passport and other information. The websites are in Simplified Chinese.
Overall Thoughts from the Trip:
China has vastly expanded and rapidly developed since the last time I visited about 10 years ago. It’s insane to see how huge and wealthy the country has become.
China also has progressed technologically and has one of the most efficient systems for payment – WeChat. You can literally pay for just about anything using your phone. Cabs, restaurants, stores, friends, you name it.
Skyscrapers, highways, public transit systems are incredible and vast.
The only downside?
Despite how advanced China has become, I would definitely still label it as one of the dirtier places. Unfortunately, it’s just hard to change culture and certain behaviors.
There’s smoke & cigarette butts littered just about everywhere, bathrooms are filthy, and overall it’s just not pleasant walking out and about in public.
It was still cool to see how China has developed though. Would I visit again? Possibly… I’d just be sure to bring a mask the next time.
If you’re considering visiting Israel, Jerusalem is probably at the top of your list of places to visit. As well it should be. Here are five tips from a local that will help you make the most of your visit.
Why visit Jerusalem
Jerusalem is not just the capital city of the modern State of Israel. This city over three thousand years old and has been the setting of so much history. King David is said to have established Jerusalem and King Solomon built the Temple here. Jesus Christ lived here and you can walk in his footsteps along the Via Dolorosa and see his grave in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That’s a lot of history to take in!
And let’s not forget the jewel in Jerusalem’s crown: The Old City. If you have just one day to spend in the Israeli capital, you should visit the Old City of Jerusalem.
Nothing beats strolling in the old alleys, smelling the Myrrh and frankincense in the market stalls and visiting the holy places: The Western Wall, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome Of The Rock.
Is Visiting Jerusalem Safe?
As an Israeli, I am used to people asking about safety issues. I do realize that Israel often makes it to the headlines with stories “from a war zone”. As anyone who has actually visited Israel will tell you, things are very different from what you see on TV.
Israel is generally a very safe destination. Crime rates are low – even in big cities – and there have been very few terror attacks in the last couple of decades. Compared to Paris, London, Madrid or New York, you’re going to be far safer traveling in Jerusalem.
You will see armed soldiers and police while visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. Just like you would in most central tourist destinations in Europe. Don’t let that deter you or affect your visit.
Tips for visiting Jerusalem
1. What should you wear?
Many people wonder about the dress code in Israel in general, and specifically in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Actually, Israel is a fairly liberal country with most people sticking to a very casual and comfortable dress code. When you visit Tel Aviv, you’ll often see locals – men and women alike – dressed in shorts and flipflops.
Due to its religious significance, Jerusalem tends to attract more believers of all religions who stay as residents. That means locals are more conservative on average, and residents of some Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods dress more modestly.
Having said that, as a tourist you’re not expected to follow these codes. No one will say anything if you walk in the streets of Jerusalem – including the alleys Old City – wearing those Tel Avivian shorts and flip-flops.
With two exceptions:
Inside mosques and synagogues – and to a lesser extent churches.
When visiting the above, both men and women are expected to show less skin. Generally speaking, clothes that cover your elbows and knees would be fine just about anywhere. Women don’t have to wear skirts or dresses. Pants are just fine for both sexes. The key here is pants that go under your knees and sleeves that cover your elbows.
On a hot day, capri pants and a tee-shirt will keep you cool as you walk around. Throw a shawl over your shoulders when you enter a holy site and you’ll be fine.
2. Make sure to stay hydrated
Thanks to the higher altitude, Jerusalem enjoys a relatively cool climate – compared to Tel Aviv, Israel’s other big city. Still, it can get very hot during summertime. Temperatures go up into the 90’s (or high 30’s if you’re using Celsius).
You’ll be spending your time walking outside a lot so don’t forget to keep hydrated. Tap water is fine to drink, so you can fill up your personal bottle in the morning and then buy bottled water and soft drinks from street vendors later in the day.
Sitting down for lunch? If you ask for water and get bottled water, feel free to clarify that you meant tap water. Restaurants are mandated by law to serve fresh tap water on demand and at no cost.
3. Try the local food
Speaking of restaurants, make sure you try the local cuisine. Jerusalem has its own culinary tradition which is mostly Middle Eastern. Buying street food is safe so try the local hummus and falafel and don’t forget to sample the colorful side dishes and salads.
Ask about the price before you buy. I have seen merchants in the Old City trying to rip tourists off by charging 30 shekels for a serving of falafel. It really shouldn’t cost more than 15-20 shekels at the most and there are many options around – all of them fresh and delicious.
Another cheap quick option is to get yourself a fresh bagel, covered in sesame seeds. You’ll find bagel sellers all around the Old City and they often offer other local pastries too.
4. Avoid driving and use public transportation instead
Now that we have you hydrated, dressed and full of bagels, let’s talk about transportation.
Like every big city, Jerusalem can be a traffic nightmare during rush hour. While it’s not impossible to drive in the city (we do that whenever we visit), if you’re staying in a hotel and need to get from one place to another, public transportation will be your best bet.
Jerusalem has a good light rail line that crossed the city and covers many central locations including Damascus Gate, Mahane Yehuda Market and the Central Bus Station. There are also many bus services and Google Maps knows them all – all you have to do is look for a route and choose the public transportation setting.
Keep in mind that public transportation is unavailable between Friday afternoon and Saturday night because of Shabbat – the Jewish day of rest. If you need to get from one place to another during that time, a taxi is your best bet.
And speaking of Shabbat, here’s my last tip.
5. Time your visit to avoid holidays
Jerusalem is a holy city to the three main monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Which means there are implications to visiting on a major holiday of either one of these religions. That’s quite a few holidays!
I’m not suggesting that you totally avoid visiting Jerusalem during a Jewish, Christian or Muslim holiday. Just be aware of how the holiday may affect your own itinerary.
For example, if visiting the Dome Of The Rock is important for you, don’t come on a Friday (the Muslim day of rest) or during a Muslim holiday. The area will probably be closed for tourists and open only to worshippers.
Trying to visit the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre on Christmas Day is not necessarily a bad idea. The church will be open at least in part and during certain hours. It will be very crowded though and you do need to plan ahead and check their website for opening hours and services.
As for Jewish holidays, these are nationwide holidays here. Which means people are out and about sightseeing. And that sometimes includes visiting Jerusalem. Some places will just be busier during certain Jewish holidays.
Last – but not least – keep track of the weekend days of rest. Each major religion has its own. The Muslims take Friday off, the Jews rest on Saturday (Shabbat) and the Christians stick to Sunday. Of the three days, Saturday is the most problematic for you as a traveler because, as I mentioned before, it means there’s no public transportation between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. As long as you’re aware of that and plan ahead, it shouldn’t make things too difficult.
That’s it! If you need more information about visiting the Old City, check out my post about visiting the Old City of Jerusalem. And remember to relax and have fun too. Safe travels!
For Flights, I found my flights using a simple Google Search on Google Flights. I input the dates and destinations I needed. The only thing I did outside of what Google Flights can do was I played around with different possible destinations and is how I ended up finding a deal a lot cheaper with a layover in Singapore.
Of course, the cheapest deal I was able to find involved a number of Budget Airlines.
I utilized 5 budget Airlines in Asia to fly to where I needed to go. This was my first time flying on Budget Airlines in Asia. I’ve traveled a lot on Spirit in the U.S. before so knew a bit of what to expect. But nonetheless, I definitely still encountered things I had to learn.
Air China from Hangzhou > back to Taipei (I used just 8,000 United Miles + ~$7.00 USD)
The last flight required a bit more advanced knowledge of mileage usage and the inventory of miles I had. I knew United had good short flight deals and from Hangzhou > China was the most expensive ticket.
I had some United mileage left but could have also transferred Chase Ultimate miles.
Lo, and behold, there was an award flight using United Mileage that saved me around $300!
(In case you were wondering what my flight map looked like)
Total cost for 6 flights to 4 cities and back?
A little over $500. $250 of that was from the local Yangon > Lashio flights.
Air China – I snagged a deal on United Awards for just 8,000 miles, which is an incredible redemption rate. Again, I could have transferred Chase Ultimate Miles if I needed it but I had just enough United Miles left!
Not to mention, I also used the same redemption for my family (parents + sister) to fly to Hangzhou for 16,000 United Miles. For them, I had to transfer a bit of Chase Ultimate Miles but it was cheap!
What’s the Catch with Budget Airlines?
The BIG catch… was not being able to bring much (in essence, not having anything but a backpack).
I actually brought a carry-on initially, having thought there was a 7kg limit.
The policies for these budget airlines, I learned though, was 7kg INCLUDED the weight of everything in your backpack. If you only have a backpack, they don’t bother weighing it.
At the airport, I found out about the carry-on + backpack weight limit policy. To add a carry-on, it would have cost almost $100 USD. I ended up opting to ship back my carry-on to where I lived. Fortunately, at the airport there was a shipping service.
The funny story was I actually tried putting on a bunch of clothes and even threw away some of my food… unfortunately to no avail and ended up still having to ship back the carry-on.
Lesson learned: If you want to travel budget airlines and actually save a significant amount of money, be prepared to only have a backpack.
At Yangon, hotels are very cheap. I used Priceline to search for good hotels with good reviews.
It’s important to look for hotels with not only good user reviews but location. Even not really knowing Yangon well, I looked for a place not too far from the hotel and not too far from some of the sites I had wanted to possibly see.
Often, traveling is a more holistic thing where you want to account for as much as possible before you book everything.
Hotels in Yangon were anywhere from $20-40/night. And if you find the right hotel, they are quite nice. The one I booked was about $40/night. Most come with breakfast, decent wifi, and pretty clean rooms.
I think the only thing to note in Asia is generally beds are smaller… particular if you book a double room. They typically use Twin Beds instead of Queen Beds.
Also, I’d recommend just paying for hotels in Asia since they’re relatively inexpensive. Had I been traveling in the US or Europe, I’d definitely consider Airbnbs, using Hotel rewards, or other alternatives.
Transportation in Yangon is convenient with GrabTaxi. Most cab rides should cost you around 3,000-10,000 kyat which is only a few bucks.
It’s best to use the App GrabTaxi to lessen the chances of getting scammed.
At Lashio, where I spent most of time at the Orphanage, transportation was a lot trickier. Luckily, we had a local contact who brought us on motorcycle or their local pick-up trucks.
Total Cost & Savings:
The total for my trip including flights, accommodation, transportation, and food/miscellaneous costs came to about $900 (including the $50 Myanmar Visa required) for about 7 days which is considerably lower than what most people would have to pay. Under normal circumstances, the trip should have easily cost more than $3,000.
The last thing I wanted to do was to be a “burden” for the orphanage so I made sure I had everything squared as best as I could.
It was awesome to be able to give more money than my travel expense to the orphanages I visited. They really had such a dire need. Many of the children ate only rice and hot sauce or noodles and hot sauce. They owned 2-3 pairs of clothing. And they lived in a shack where any inclement weather could blow their shelter down at anytime.
Personal Thoughts from My Trip to Lashio, Myanmar:
The ultimate twist though… and what really touched my heart to see was amidst the poverty, those kids genuinely believed they had the good life.
Though they did not have parents, they knew of their Creator who loved them. Though they didn’t have much, they had much more than other kids around them who lived in mountains and truly had absolutely nothing.
And out of that outflow of gratefulness, they shared what little they had with the kids who lived in even more remote and poor places.
I think more and more I’m drawn to be able to go and see things like this happening around the World — Particularly in a place like Myanmar that was closed to the outside world for so long.
While vacationing is fun, I really believe there’s also a lot of deep joy to be found traveling to places like this. And for that, I can’t wait for my next adventure…
An Opportunity to Give:
My friend, Tim, who lived at the orphanage for 3 months recently started a GoFundme
I’ll let his summary provide more details but in short, he felt it’d be a good use of money to provide some of the disciples in Bible School a $50/month stipend for basic necessities (such as food, medicine, school supplies) as they study and learn more of God’s Word so they can be better equipped for ministry.
$50/month is equivalent to about a month’s salary on part-time wages in Myanmar.
I’ve personally seen the incredible love these disciples have for the Lord and the people around them. So much so, they went up to the most remote villages and came back sick, malnourished, and physically ill – all so that they can share the hope and love of Christ with people who have literally nothing.
I know these days it seems everyone’s asking for money and there are needs everywhere… but I truly believe God gives us not only the opportunity but the blessing to give.
After all, I believe all that we have is God’s anyways. Yet somehow we’re given resources to manage, share, and be a blessing to others.
I do believe these funds will make a lasting difference in the lives of not only the disciples but of the people in Myanmar whom the disciples plan to give their life to serving one day.
Let me know if I can answer any questions. And as always, I’d be happy to help you save money on your travels (for free) so perhaps one day we can give more and be an even bigger blessing for someone else!
This was part of my Round the World Trip I booked using points. So I tried to be fair and split the total fees by the number of countries I visited.
I know it seems a bit unfair, but that’s really a close estimate of the price I paid to get to Rome.
If you’re flying on a normal itinerary, you can use some of my tactics here to find cheap flights. If you’re flying Internationally, I would evaluate your points inventory to see if you can travel using points.
Flying from Europe, I would definitely consider a budget airline, bus, or train as those methods can get you around Europe for cheap.
Accommodation Costs: $23
I definitely made a big mistake in planning my accommodation stay in Rome as you’ll see later on.
I found a very cheap deal about 30 minutes away from the main city area. It was only about $23 (Euro – USD conversion at the time was 1.05).
However, getting to the hotel was the issue. There were buses but the bus system in Rome is incredibly complex and not many drivers speak English.
I ended up taking a cab to get to the hotel which costed about 45 EUR ($47 USD) for a short 30 minute ride because I got scammed by the driver.
If you stay in Rome, you absolutely should stay near the main city. You can get to the main city by a common bus that only cost around $5 USD.
However, taking cabs in Rome is not recommended.
Transportation Costs: $55
From the Airport
From Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport to the City Centre, there’s a bus that costs 4 EUR. It’s called the Terravision Bus and you can find it easily outside the airport.
There are also many cheap alternatives from the airport to City Centre. You can take the Leonardo Express (14 EUR) or the local train (8 EUR).
At City Centre
At City Centre, I bought a subway ticket for around 3 EUR. For the rest of the way, I walked to all the sites I wanted to see.
If you’re able and willing to walk, you can actually get to a lot of sites without spending any money on transportation. There was only a couple sites too far apart that I had to use the subway for.
In my trip around the world to 14 countries, this was the only scam I fell victim to.
After my tour around the City, I was too exhausted to look up public transportation to get to my hotel. And I had booked a hotel away from City Centre.
With fatigue kicking in, I decided to take a cab. My second mistake was not asking the driver to use a meter. We negotiated a rate of 35 EURO.
After my driver dropped me off, I gave him 40 EUR. Seconds later, he accused me of only giving 30 EUR. I was confused and flustered and had no EUR left so I asked if I could give him USD to make up the difference.
After he left, I realized I had counted my leftover currency and for sure gave him the only two 20 EUR notes I had left.
All-in-all, Rome was still a great place to visit. Below are some photos from the trip:
Business Class Perks…
Inside of the Pantheon
St. Peter’s Basilica
Lounge Food at Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport
In this post, I discuss how I was able to travel cheap to the Tel Aviv, Israel for approximately $90 USD for flight, accommodation, and transportation.
Israel is full of history from the Bible and also just miraculous feats that’s occurred during many major events of the world.
I’ve longed dreamed of visiting Israel to see some of the places I’ve read about in the Bible.
However, traveling to Israel can be relatively expensive. Note that if you really want to see more of Israel, you’ll need to plan to spend a bit more. I chose to take a quick trip just to see as much as I can in 2 days.
So I purposefully didn’t book too long of a stay in Israel. I was on my Round-the-World trip so I already didn’t have much time.
But I also found hotels and stay to be pretty expensive in Tel Aviv.
On top of all that, my flight arrived in Tel Aviv close to midnight. And I had my day tour booked at 6:00am the next morning.
So… I slept at the airport.
And that’s when 5 Secret Agents with guns and semi rifles interrogated me.
It was AWESOME!
And quite frankly, a bit nerve-wrecking.
At first, only 2 agents approached me. But as they listened to my story of how I was traveling around the world and only coming to Israel for a few days without a hotel, they grew suspicious.
Long story short, the director came out and interrogated me for almost an hour. They asked everything from my job to why I was visiting and even how much money I made!
Talk about safe security!
To get to the main city, I took the train which was a couple dollars. The tour picked me up in a bus and I paid $88 on Viator for a full day tour through Jerusalem.
As you can see, I tried to tell the tour company of my plans…
Tel Aviv was truly an experience I thoroughly cherished.
I love history and my worldview was shaped by the Bible. So it was incredible to walk through places like the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ pathway to Golgotha, Old and New Jerusalem, the place of Passover, etc.
I didn’t have as much time as I wished to visit Bethlehem and a few other notable places. Nonetheless, I had an awesome and memorable time in Tel Aviv, Israel.