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Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.
“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).
Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.
So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.
Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).
In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!
Hitting The Reset Button On Life
So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.
The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).
As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!
This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)
Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.
Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.
These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.
South East Asia Is Changing
Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.
But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.
And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.
That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.
Getting My Travel Mojo Back
One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.
Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.
I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.
And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.
One thing I do in every place I visit: I get a bird’s eye view of the city. If there is a high point in town, a high building, or even better, an observation deck, I head to the top. New York City is especially mesmerizing to see from above, thanks to its unique architecture and island layout. Seeing the city from the unique vantage point of the best observatory in New York City helps you to better understand its layout, helps you to understand how to city is set up, where the other boroughs are, see how close New Jersey is. But not just that: it’s a truly memorable experience and it will make you appreciate the grandeur of the Big Apple even more.
But what’s the best place to see the city from above? Do you even need to go up to an observatory or will a rooftop bar suffice? New York City is lucky enough to have not only one, but THREE observation decks – and as soon as 30 Hudson Yards opens in 2020, even a fourth one (here’s a sneak peek!). As for rooftop bars – there are over 50 rooftop bars in New York, and while they are fantastic in their own way and make for a spectacular backdrop for sunset drinks, they can’t quite replace the observation decks, simply because they aren’t as high and can’t provide the same far-reaching panoramic views. (More info on rooftop bars at the end of this article). By the way, you don’t have to go high up for a great skyline view – here are five places with amazing views of Manhattan – and all of them are free.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been atop all three observation decks in Manhattan: The Empire State Building, the Top Of The Rock, and the newest one: One World Observatory, which opened in 2015 – some of them I’ve visited several times. So read on to find out what I think are each observatory’s advantages, disadvantages, unique features and things to know before you visit.
Empire State Building: The Iconic One
Long gone are the times when the Empire State Building held the title of the highest building in the world – it was in fact the first building in the world to top 100 floors – but it is still the most iconic skyscraper in New York City, and the oldest observation deck. Today, the Empire State Building is still the 5th tallest skyscraper in the U.S. and the 28th highest building in the world. The Empire State Building’s observatory has been featured in dozens of movies and TV shows, and most people chose this one because it is the most famous one.
The main observation deck is located on the 86th
floor, and there is an additional observation deck on the 102nd floor,
which you have to pay extra for. I personally wasn’t too fussed about the 102nd
floor deck – you can barely call it that because in reality, it is a tiny space
around the spire. Here you don’t have open-air vistas, as there are glass
windows. While I thought it was unnecessary to go up there (and pay an
additional $20 for it), my friend loved it. So, up to you if you want to spend
$38 or $58 for the experience, I didn’t think the views from the 102nd
floor were better than the ones from 86th floor, and the glass
windows made it difficult to get pictures without glare / reflections.
feet (381 meters); 1,454 feet (443.2 meters) including its antenna
The actual observation decks are at a height of 1,050 feet /
320 meters (86th floor) and 1,224 feet / 373.1 meters (102nd
and outdoor deck on the 86th floor, which is the highest floor in
the actual tower. There is an additional observatory on the 102nd floor
(see below for details of closure). The
16 floors between 86th and 102nd floor are empty (part of
the prominent Art Deco spire, which is hollow).
have great views over Midtown Manhattan from here, and the viewing platforms
are outdoors. That means you don’t have any windows to deal with, and no glare
in your photos.
downside of the Empire State Building is that taking your photos atop this
unique structure, it won’t feature in any of your photos.
floor observation deck: $38 general admission; $65 express ‘skip all lines’
pass; $55 for double admission, once in the AM and once in the PM (ideal to
experience both the day and the night view); sunrise experience $125 (limited
to 100 people per day)
If you want to go up to the 102nd floor, it’s an additional
Note that the 102nd floor observatory will be closed to the
public for renovations December 17, 2018 through July 29, 2019.
Address: 20 W
34th St, New York, NY 10001. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue.
Closest subway stations: 33rd Street (4, 5, 6 lines) 5 min walk; 28 St Broadway (R, W lines) 7 min walk; 34Street – Penn Station (1, 2, 3 lines) 7 min walk; 34 Street – Penn Station (A, C, E lines) 10 min walk. Times Square – 10 min walk. Grand Central Terminal – 15 min walk.
Opening Hours: Daily
from 8am to 2am. Additional hours at sunrise for a special sunrise experience (times
vary depending on time of year).
One World Observatory: The New Kid On The Block
One World Observatory is located in the top
three floors of One World Trade Center, in NYC’s financial district, near the southern tip of Manhattan. The
observatory was opened in May 2015, a few months after the skyscraper, which
was built to replace the Twin Towers, was finished after nine years of construction.
One World Observatory is currently the 13th
highest observation deck in the world. The elevator experience alone is worth
checking out this observation deck: In only 60 seconds, you’re zoomed all the
way up to 102 floor, and during the ride, you are entertained with visuals of
the development of the New York skyline from the 1600s to today. Fun fact: Even
though the building officially has 104 floors, the number of actual stories is
94. The two floors above the Skydeck, floors 103 and 104, as well as floors 91
to 99, are mechanical floors.
feet (541.3 meters) – a symbolic height with a nod to the year 1776, in which
the Declaration of Independence was written. The height includes the 408-foot
spire, so the height of the actual observation deck is 1268.4 feet (386.6
Floor(s): 100 to
Advantages: This is the highest observation deck in New York City, considerably higher than the Empire State Building. That alone makes it the best observatory in New York City for many people. It also offers a different vantage point of the city: instead of being in the middle of the Midtown skyscrapers, you are surrounded by the higher buildings of the Financial District. On clear days, you have a great view of the entirety of Brooklyn, all the way down to Coney Island and the Rockaway Islands. From no other building in the city, you have such a fantastic view over the Bay Of New York, including Governors Island.
One World Observatory also offers views of the Brooklyn and
the Manhattan Bridge as well as the Statue Of Liberty. This is something you
cannot get on any of the other observation decks.
You can enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco with your view.
There are a couple of concession stands inside the actual observatory where you
can buy alcoholic beverages (and soft drinks).
observation deck is indoors, and while you have large floor to ceiling glass
walls on all sides, it can be difficult to get photos without glare (especially
if you want to be in the photos).
You have to buy your ticket for a specific time slot – so head
to the tower with ample time to make your selected time slot. Only the entering
time is set, by the way. Once you’re inside the observation deck, you can stay
for as long as you want.
In this photo, you can see the glare I mention, caused by the window reflection
general admission; $44 admission with priority line; $54 with priority line and
flexible arrival time.
Note that if you choose general admission, you have to select a specific time slot for your visit.
Address:One World Trade Center, 285 Fulton Street,
New York 10007
The entrance is on West Street.
Closest subway stations:World Trade Center (E train) 6 min walk; Park Place (2, 3 lines)
7 min walk; WTC Cortlandt Street (1 train) 2 min walk; Cortlandt Street (R, W)
6 min walk; Fulton Street (4,5,A, C, J, Z, 2, 3) 8 min walk.
Sept. 5 – Dec. 20: 9:00am – 9:00pm (last
ticket sold at 8:15pm)
Dec. 21 – Jan. 3: 8:00am – 8:00pm (be aware
of special holiday hours)
Jan. 4 – April 30: 9:00am – 9:00pm (last
ticket sold at 8:15pm)
May 1 – Sept. 4: 8:00am – 9:00pm (last
ticket sold at 8:45pm)
Please note that there are adjusted Holiday hours on all major Holidays, such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas – check the website if your visit falls on a Holiday.
The Top Of The Rock is the observatory atop the Comcast
Building. Not a lot of people know the building by this name – by most it is
referred to simply as 30 Rock, short for its address 30 Rockefeller Plaza. From
1933 to 1988, the building was known as the CA Building, from 1988 to 2015 as
the GE Building, and ever since as the Comcast Building. Many people know the
building as the home of NBC Studios, and it is here where popular TV shows such
as Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Seth Myers and the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon are
The 66-story building is only the 22nd tallest
building in New York City and 400 feet (122 meters) shorter than the Empire
State Building – the observation deck is 200 feet (61 m) lower than that of the
ESB. And yet it is my personal favorite of all the observation decks. And
that’s simply for two reasons: It’s the only observation deck that offers a
view of Central Park, and you also have the Empire State Building featured in
your panorama pictures, which you obviously don’t have when you’re standing on
top of the ESB. Since it is the most iconic skyscraper in New York City though,
I like having it featured in my photos.
If you prefer a dinner or a cocktail 65 floors above the streets of Manhattan, you can also opt for one of two restaurants inside the Rockefeller Center: The Rainbow Room, which reopened in 2014 after extensive renovations, and bar SixtyFive, which is part of the restaurant. It’s worthwhile to splurge on a pricey drink (expect to pay around $20 for a cocktail) instead of paying for the observation deck, especially if you decide to check out one of the views above.
***Note that both the Rainbow Room and SixtyFive are only open from 5pm to midnight, and CLOSED on Saturdays, and sometimes closed for private events, so definitely check your preferred date. It’s also recommended to make a reservation. Also note that there is a strict dress code.***
Height: 872 feet
Floor(s): The three-level observation deck spreads out over three floors: 67th, 69th and 70th.
above: you have the Empire State Building in your photos, and you can see almost
the entire Central Park. Plus, you’re right above Midtown, which is the part of
Manhattan with the largest number of skyscrapers and tall buildings, making for
an interesting vantage point. Part of the observation deck is outside, which
means you get great photos without any glare.
observation deck is located at a lower height than the Empire State Building
and One World Observatory.
general admission; $54 special Sun & Stars tickets which allows you to
visit twice within 24 hours, once during the day and once at
night. $92 VIP Access (skip the line, no set time).
Note: You have to choose an exact time slot for your visit, unless you purchase the VIP ticket (for which you have to select the date, but not an exact time). I recommend the ‘Flexible Date Ticket’ because if it rains or if it’s cloudy on the day you chose for your visit, your screwed. With the flexible date ticket you can visit the Observatory whenever the weather is best.
Rockefeller Plaza, NY 10112. You can access the building from 5th
and 6th Ave. The entrance is on 50th Street.
Nearest subway stations:
The subway station 47-50 Streets Rockefeller Center on the B, D, F, M lines is
literally right underneath the building.
Other subway stations are: 5 Avenue / 53 St (E & M) 7
min walk; 49 Street (N, Q, R, W) 4 min walk; Times Square is a 10-min walk
away; Grand Central Terminal is about 12 mins away.
Opening Hours: Daily
from 8am – midnight. Last elevator up at 11:00pm.
As I mentioned above, New York also has plenty of rooftop bars, and particularly those in Manhattan offer excellent vistas. None of the rooftop bars are as high as the observatories, however, which means you don’t get the same vantage point. You also don’t get a full panoramic view, because most of the bars are located on one side of building, rather than covering the entire rooftop.
If you want to check out some of the best rooftop bars, here are some recommendations:
Bar 54 (54th floor, on top of the Hyatt Hotel Times Square); 135 W 45th St, NY 10036
Monarch rooftop (18th floor, great Empire State Building views); 71 W 35th St, NY 10018,
I’ve been using rental cars all over the world ever since I was old enough to drive. From my first rental in Spain 20 years ago to my most recent rental in Costa Rica, I must have driven over 40 different rental cars by now, but they never had anything in common. I don’t rent cars often enough to make it worthwhile for me to join one rental company’s loyalty program, and I usually go for the cheapest and smallest (yes, I worry about fitting into a parking spot!) option. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever rented a car directly through a car rental agency; I’ve always compared prices on various car rental aggregators – websites like Expedia, Priceline or Skyscanner that compare prices at all of the available rental companies for you.
On my most recent trip I decided to try a car rental aggregator that I’d heard of but never used myself: Autoslash. If you’re wondering why the world needs another website that compares car rental prices for you: Autoslash has some features that none of the other websites has.
So what makes Autoslash special?
First of all, Autoslash is the only car rental aggregator that does not only compare prices for different car rental companies, but in addition, it searches the web for discount codes and coupons that car rental companies offer temporarily and adds those to each quote. That’s why, contrary to other comparison websites that show you the results for your search right away, Autoslash sends you their search results via email shortly after you submit your request.
Autoslash also includes discounts offered to members of certain rewards programs. These can be frequent flyer programs, credit cards that offer car rental discounts, car rental loyalty programs and association memberships.
Tracking A Rental
Tracking a rental is a unique feature that I have not seen on any other car rental website yet. Unlike other websites that simply list the prices for the rental you inquired about and allow you to book it through their site, Autoslash goes one step further: After making a reservation, you are able to track the rental, and Autoslash searches the various car rental websites on a daily basis to see if one of them offers a cheaper price than the rate you reserved your car rental at. As soon as they find a cheaper rate, they send you an email, giving you the chance to cancel your existing reservation and rebook at a lower rate. Because Autoslash integrates discount codes and online vouchers in their search, it is very likely that they are able to find a better rate for you after you make a booking.
To track your rental you don’t have to make a reservation via Autoslash, by the way. If you have an existing reservation, you can use Autoslash’s rental tracker by simply entering your confirmation number and the company you made the reservation with.
How does Autoslash work?
If you want to use Autoslash to get a quote for a car rental, it works similarly to any other car rental aggregator. The only difference is the added step of adding all your memberships and credit cards, so that Autoslash is able to add any discounts that apply for the specific membership / loyalty program you have.
After submitting your request, you wait for the quote to arrive in your inbox (which usually comes within 15 minutes) and choose the option you like best. When I got my first quote for car rentals in Costa Rica, I noticed that prices started at a very low rate – as little as $10! I’ve experienced something similar in Mexico, where prices started at $0 with some companies – but if that’s the case, don’t be fooled and think you get the car for next to nothing. Rental companies usually make their daily rates for mandatory and non-mandatory (but recommended) insurance fees high enough to make the rental still profitable for them. So if you see a rate that seems to be too good to be true, make sure to look into required insurance and other fees in the country you’re visiting to be prepared for the actual cost. I will be sharing everything you need to know about renting a car in Costa Rica in a separate post, since these fees and insurance requirements vary in each country and don’t have anything to do with Autoslash’s service.
I recommend making a reservation straight away after you receive your quote, because the prices in the quote may change quickly, especially if Autoslash added a discount code it found while searching the web for the best rates. You want to make sure to lock in that rate while the discount last – often, specific car rentals have a sale or special offer that only runs for a short period of time.
After you make your reservation, don’t forget to add your rental confirmation to the rental tracker. It is extremely likely that Autoslash will find a cheaper rate for your rental, so this extra step will definitely pay off. Initially, Autoslash was able to change the reservation for you after finding a cheaper rate, but as you can imagine, car rental companies weren’t too pleased with this service which is why you have to change the reservation yourself now when they email you that they found a cheaper rate. But the couple of minutes you spend re-booking your rental is well worth the savings.
If, for whatever reason, you prefer booking a car directly with the car rental company of your choice, it’s still worth checking Autoslash – go to the coupon section on the website to see if your favorite rental company has a discount code at the moment. There are dozens of valid coupons, offered by rental company in alphabetical order.
You can also search for coupons by typing in the location of your choice and your dates and select the companies you want to have included in the search. So if you have had a bad experience with a certain company in the past, you can easily exclude it from your search.
Autoslash vs car rental companies: The Test
I don’t think I’ll ever rent a car again without using Autoslash: It would feel like I’m leaving money on the table. Even though the process takes a couple of minutes longer than using one of the other car rental aggregators – for me, it is worth it to have things like credit card and loyalty programs included in the search, and of course online discount coupons.
In the end, Autoslash may even send you to the car rental aggregator you’ve used previously (like it did in my case – the cheapest option it found for me was through Priceline), but I did conduct a search for an upcoming trip I’m planning to see if Autoslash would still send me a better quote, and this is the result:
I wanted to see if I would get the same rates if I did the exact same search on each of the listed car rental agency’s websites, and these were the best rates I got when I tried to book with the three cheapest providers that Autoslash had found for me:
As you can see, all three providers offer prices that are higher than the rates found through Autoslash. The most significant difference in rates is the one between Autoslash and the one offered by Avis: Autoslash’s rate is $60 less than the rate offered on the Avis website! The difference between the rate offered by Hertz and the rate found through Autoslash might seem less noteworthy, but keep in mind that this is a short-term rental for only five days – the savings would be greater if the rental period was longer.
Things to consider when using Autoslash
I am not sure how likely it is that the rental agency actually checks for a certain membership – but it might. So do not tick any boxes for memberships or credit cards you don’t actually have. You don’t want to end up being disappointed if you don’t get the deal that you were promised.
Also – if you include certain credit cards, make sure you carry them with you when you pick up your rental.
Compared to 2017, when I traveled eight out of twelve months, 2018 was my slowest travel year in a decade – yes, even when I still had my corporate job in London ten years ago I traveled more than I did this year. The big difference is that now I can go on a trip for however long I want, no time restrictions because I need to get back to work. This year was the first one in a long time in which I didn’t visit a single new country, and so far, I have only made it to TWO of the ten countries I listed in my 2016 travel wishlist three years ago!
You will notice that I spent a lot of time in New York City in the past twelve months – deliberately so. You may remember that at the end of last year, I didn’t really feel like I’d fully arrived in New York, even though I’ve spent more time in NYC in the last five years than anywhere else in the world, and I was finally a legal resident. 2018 was going to be the year I’d finally make New York my full-time home, instead of just swinging by every few months for a while. I even put myself on a self-induced travel ban for six months this year (spoiler alert: I only lasted three).
But even though compared to the last eight years I didn’t travel much in 2018, I never got itchy feet. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about sitting still so much, but I think I needed it after all the traveling I’d done in 2017. And I’ve still got so much of NYC to explore that I never get bored – and if I need my ‘foreign culture fix’, all I need to do is hop on a subway and head to a neighborhood like Jackson Heights (Little India), Flushing (Chinatown) or Brighton Beach (Little Odessa) and I am transported into a completely different culture.
2018 was also my slowest year of blogging since starting Globetrottergirls in 2010, but after a few months of beating myself up about the lack of writing I was doing this year, I accepted that it was okay to take a break from it. After all, this was the only thing I’d done for roughly seven years – longer than any other thing I’ve ever done, any job I held down. It was an incredible relief for me this year to have a more stable income rather than never knowing how much money I’d be making from the blog. As I said last year though, the blog isn’t going to disappear, and I still have so many stories to share, including from my latest trips.
Let me take you on a visual journey through 2018 with some of my favorite photos of the year – I was trying to go with one for each month, but it was too hard to narrow down the over 2,000 pictures I took this year to only a dozen, which is why I created a collage for each month instead.
In January I stayed in New York and got my new business off the ground. I think I led 25 Brooklyn Tours in 31 days, in often sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures. I don’t think there’s a better way to beat a cold weather phobia than walking around in freezing temperatures for five hours every day.
After two months in chilly New York, I was ready for a break and hopped on a plane to Austin, one of my favorite cities in the U.S. Temperatures in the high 60s / low 70s felt glorious, and I tried to visit as many of my favorite spots around the city as possible, and of course try a few new places. Upon returning to New York, a couple of extremely bad things happened, and I am still not sure how much of it I can reveal without compromising my personal safety.
In March I found out that I had gotten into the New York Marathon thanks to the drawing. Anyone can enter, and I was one of 16,211 lucky runners who were picked out of 98,247 applicants who tried to get into the NYC Marathon through the lottery. I also found a place to live that I loved (and still love!), something I hadn’t had any luck with in 2017. Because of the things that happened in February, I was forced to cancel my winter escape plans, but I used the time to further grow my tour business and enjoyed a couple of crazy blizzards – New York snowstorms are still novel experiences for me.
April was all about work – I led 35 tours in 30 days, and there wasn’t much time left to do anything else. The reason for this insane work schedule? April was the tax deadline in the U.S., and it was the first time I had to pay taxes in America. I wanted to make sure I had enough money in my savings account to cover my tax bill.
After a work-focused April, I made it a point to work less in May and to enjoy spring in New York instead. May, when New York looks the most colorful with tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers, is one of the months I love most in NYC. This year it was a tough month, however, since two very special souls left New York: my favorite person and my favorite dog. New York wasn’t going to be the same anymore without them.
In June I went on a spontaneous trip to Germany, triggered by the rough months I’d had leading up to the first warm month in New York. In addition to seeing my family and some close friends, I went on a road trip through northern Germany with my favorite travel buddy. I returned to New York in time for Pride and was lucky enough to experience the event from one of the coolest floats in the parade.
For July, I had only one goal: enjoy the summer in NYC! This was going to be my only full summer months in New York this year, and so I wanted to make the most of it. I went to the beach and to Fire Island, ate copious amounts of ice cream, went to art galleries and open air concerts, and enjoyed some the city’s finest rooftops.
In August, I went on a road trip through Tennessee and North Carolina with my friend Katie. We started in Nashville, a city I’d been wanting to visit for a long time, where we listened to live music and ate and drank our way around the city, before heading towards the Great Smoky Mountains. We based ourselves in Asheville for a few days, went on hikes and scenic drives, and circled back to Nashville via Chattanooga, where we did not only find a surprisingly large coffee shop and craft beer scene, but also some of the best hikes of the trip.
I got to return to Austin in September – for the second time this year. The main reason for my visit was a conference I was speaking at, but I added a few days before and after the conference to my trip, allowing me to soak up some of Texas’ September heat and show some friends around the city who had never been there.
I was supposed to return to Southern California in October, but with a big trip on the horizon (in November), I decided that it would be more responsible to spend the entire month in New York, working as much as possible, to be able to treat myself to some nice hotels on my first real vacation this year. I couldn’t sit still entirely though, and went on a short getaway to Vermont and New Hampshire to see the fall colors, which are known to be the most vibrant in New England. October was also the last month before the marathon, so I trained almost daily to be in top shape on race day.
After finishing my first (and what I thought was going to be also my last) marathon, I was more than ready for a vacation. I road tripped around Costa Rica for three weeks, introducing someone who’d never been to Costa Rica to all my favorite spots, and discovering a few new ones together. It was the perfect time to leave New York, where the ugly November weather (read: rainy and grey days) had just taken over.
Side note: I must have caught the ‘Marathon Bug’ when I tortured myself 26.6 miles through the five boroughs, because I have since signed up for another marathon.
I didn’t spend much time in New York this Holiday Season – just enough to squeeze in a visit to Dyker Heights to see the famous Christmas lights there – but instead, I packed my suitcase again shortly after getting back to Costa Rica. This time around, I was London-bound to visit a couple of very special people, and then I surprised my family in Germany for Christmas. I am in Europe for a month, and I am grateful that I am able to spend the Holidays with my family this year, after a somewhat lonely Christmas in NYC last year.So here’s to more travel in 2019-
This post was updated in December 2018.
How to find cheap transportation and accommodation
It’s been a while since I shared my favorite travel resources with you, and after just planning and booking trips to Europe and Central America, I thought it was time to share an updated edition of my favorite travel resources with you, so that you can also find great deals for your next trip. I categorized them by accommodation and transportation.
How to find cheap accommodation
Hotel booking websites:
If you are looking for hotels, there are plenty of booking websites out there these days that offer special discount hotel rates, such as Booking.com or Hotels.com. Particularly noteworthy here are Hotwire with its Mystery Hotel option, which only tells you the approximate location of a hotel and the number of stars it has, but offers a rate of up to 60% less than the usual rate, and Priceline with its Name-Your-Own-Price concept.
Apartment rentals are often cheaper than hotels and also have the advantage that they have a kitchen so that you can make your own meals, which will save you money on eating out. AirBnb is the most popular apartment rental company, but there are several other ones worth exploring – check out Meshtrip.com which aggregates all of the major apartment rental websites, saving you the time to check each one individually. It also shows only instantly bookable places, saving you the time and hassle to correspond with an owner first before being able to book a place.
I am a huge fan of housesits – like I said, I’ve done four housesits in the past three months – and told you why I think everyone who loves traveling should housesit, but if you’re thinking about signing up with one of the many housesitting websites, I recommend reading these articles on my dedicated housesitting website:
My favorite housesitting websites are still MindMyHouse, Housecarers, and TrustedHousesitters, but I have also started using Nomador this year, a French-based housesitting websites with an impressive number of housesits (especially for you Francophiles, but also international housesits), considering they haven’t been around for that long.
How to find cheap transportation
My most important tip for booking transportation: Don’t wait too long. It doesn’t matter if you travel by plane, bus or train, in almost every country of the world the rule is: the earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket. Here are some of the best websites to use to plan my travels and book flight, train and bus tickets:
If you don’t know yet how to get from your current location to your next destination, Rome2Rio is the perfect place to start your research. The website shows you all the different options you have to get from nearly any city in the world to another. Planes, buses, ferries, trains – and not only does Rome2Rio tell you how you can get to your destination, but also how much it’ll cost you and how long it will take you. If you decide to go ahead and book a train or plane ticket, it sends you straight to the booking website it found the best deal on.
GoEuro: GoEuro is very similar to Rome2Rio, except that it, as the name suggests, focuses on traveling in Europe. The website shows you all available train, plane, bus and even car share options for your selected date, and if you book through GoEuro, you often get cheaper tickets than the ones offered by train and bus companies on their respective sites.
If you know you’ll be traveling by bus within Europe, check out Busradar.com. The number of bus companies traversing Europe these days is huge, and it is hard to keep track of them all, and their prices. Busradar compares all available bus providers for the journey of your choice for you, and also shows you the amenities of each one, for example if there’s wi-fi on board and how many pieces of luggage you can take with you. Busradar also has a free app for iOS and Android.
If you’re flying within Europe, you’re in luck – there are at least a dozen budget airlines that get you to any European city for less than €50. To find out which airline offers the cheapest airfare for the route of your choice, use Whichbudget – this website lists which low-cost airlines connect two cities, and which one offers the best price for your selected date. Whichbudget is also a good website to use if you’re looking to fly from the U.S. to Europe. Tickets to the big hubs like London or Frankfurt are often cheaper, and if you don’t mind having to take a connecting flight, you can easily save hundreds of dollars by flying one of the main trans-Atlantic routes and then use a budget airline in Europe (the same goes for Asia, by the way). To find the cheapest international airfare, I recommend using Google Flights, Skyscanner and Bookingbuddy. Cross-checking all three is time-intense, but it is usually worth it.
It is also worth signing up for fare alerts as soon as you know your travel dates. This feature is offered by Skyscanner for example, and it’ll send you daily email updates with the latest fare for the flight of your choice. Once the price drops to a number you’re comfortable with, you can go ahead and book the flight.
Sometimes it makes the most sense to rent a car instead of relying on public transportation, and some housesits even require the sitters to have a car. Once again, booking comparison websites are often cheaper than the websites of each individual rental car company, and Bookingbuddy.com has a great feature that shows the prices of all available rental companies on one page. Priceline has, similar to its hotel booking tool, a Name-Your-Own-Price concept that is worth trying, and Carrentals.com (owned by Expedia) also has great rates – in Mexico as low as $5 per day, for example.
One thing I wanted to make a priority this year was spending time in New York City. After traveling for almost eight months in 2017 and barely spending any time in my adopted hometown, this year I wanted to take advantage of everything New York has to offer, especially during the warmer months: free outdoor movies, concerts, kayaking, rooftop bars, picnics in the park, beaches, island getaways, and exploring parts of the city I’d never been to. While I feel like I succeeded in some of these things, others got completely neglected, and I only made a small dent in my ‘New York Summer To-Do List’ that I created in the spring. Well, I guess there’s always next year..
Looking back at the summer, among my favorite days were a lazy day picnicking and cycling on Governors Island (a small tranquil island just south of Manhattan with great skyline views), taking in New York from above from both the Empire State Building and One World Observatory, relaxing beach days in the Rockaways, an island getaway to Fire Island (off of Long Island), and more recently a quick ferry ride over to Staten Island to visit a microbrewery I’ve had on my ‘to-do-list’ for a while.
I usually take the ferry every time I have visitors in town, because it is free and it offers some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, pictured above, especially during the Golden Hour, just before the sun sets. But for some reason, I hadn’t gone a single time this summer, even though I had a long list of things I wanted to do in Staten Island (I admit that most of them included pizza).
I figured taking the ferry would also be a good mental preparation for the marathon – in less than three weeks, I will be taking the ferry again, then to get me to the starting line of the New York Marathon. Running 26.2 miles across the five boroughs has been a dream of mine for years, and I am stoked (and slightly terrified!) that I’ll be running it this year, among 50,000 other runners. Admittedly, I am feeling anything but prepared right now, but I will continue to follow my strict training plan and hope for a great race day on 4 November.
Just a couple of days after returning to New York, I found myself at Grand Central Terminal, ticket in hand and ready to board a train to New Hamburg, a small town on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.
This wasn’t going to be a long trip, but even a couple of days away from the city are enough for me to recharge my batteries, and I was on a mission to clear my head with another great hike, after all the fantastic hikes I did in Tennessee last month.
The Lower Hudson Valley has enough hikes to keep me busy (and in shape!) for the next few years, but somehow I haven’t made it up there one single time since a long day hike last summer.
We consulted our hiking guide book to find a great day hike and finally settled on a trail inside the Minnewaska State Park preserve: the 7-mile Gertrude’s Nose Trail with a detour to Lake Minnewaska.
The hike started off fairly easy, on a gravel road, until we turned off the road onto a smaller trail. The entire morning we didn’t see a single other person, and the first sign that we weren’t the only ones in the woods were fresh bear tracks which made me slightly nervous. For the next couple of hours, we followed the path along the edge of steep cliffs, always overlooking the vast forest that was surrounding us. It never ceases to amaze me how close I am to so much untouched nature – just a couple of hours north of New York City.
We walked for over three hours until we ran into another pair of hikers, and only when we got closer to Awosting Falls, we started seeing more people, who had taken the shorter trail to the Falls, which we would use to conclude our loop and get back to the parking lot. The waterfalls were nice, but there wasn’t enough water when we went to make them as impressive as they would be after heavy rains, and so we didn’t spend a lot of time lingering there. Instead we decided to make a little detour on the way down and stop by Lake Minnewaska, which we’d seen in the distance at the beginning of the lake and which was now calling us for a quick dip. When we reached the lake, we were sweaty and hot, and we didn’t waste much time – we took our clothes off and ran straight into the lake for a quick dip. I am not sure if this was allowed, but it sure was refreshing!
We left Minnewaska State Park talking about possible fall hikes – not long until the fall foliage hits peak season, and I hope I’ll get to go upstate to see it when the colors are spectacular.