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Key: Sightseeing (blue), Nature (green), Food (purple), Art/Festivals/Culture/Religion (orange), Travel itinerary (black), Quora question (red)
Latest Travelling Posts
What are some resources that you use when travelling?
My go-to first stop for anything to do with flying is Google Flights. Google Flights gives you a great overview of most of the flights from around the world. Not only can you search for specific flights at specific times/dates, but you can also filter these results. Search instead by the number of connecting flights, price, the number of stops, emissions, connecting airports, duration and many more. I really like that it will list prices from several locations, including the airlines, other travel and booking websites, and airline partners.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can also use Google Flights to explore trips and locations. Select a departure city (or multiple) and then set either specific dates (e.g. 10 to 16 March) to flexible dates. I really love the flexible date options. Not only are there many options (e.g. 1 week trip in the next 6 months) but you can search for amazing deals. Who doesn’t like to travel without paying much?
Booking Accommodation (e.g. hotels)
AirBnB is a platform where you can rent accommodation from a person rather than using somewhere like a hotel or holiday apartment. You can rent a shared room, a private room or an entire house. You can find everything from absolutely tiny rooms to massive mansions available to rent on AirBnB. For AirBnB simply enter the place you will be, the dates and how many people will be going. Optionally you can also use other filters, such as searching for specific amenities (e.g. hairdryer, washing machine, etc.) or whether there is somewhere to park included.
A big part of AirBnB is reviews: not only of your host and their accommodation but also of you. That way you both know something about each other (what kind of person they are, what kind of experience you can expect to have, if you/they are good guests/hosts, etc.) and you don’t have a nasty shock when you arrive.
Booking.com is a similar concept but it is primarily for hotels. Rather than booking directly through a hotel, you book through Booking.com, which has the rooms that the hotels could not fill. You can get some great deals and Booking.com also rewards you for booking through them. Their rewards programme includes bonuses like free breakfast included, free upgrades and other perks. More information on their reward programme can be found on their website here.
travelling in a new place
When I am in a place that I don’t know well, I navigate using Google Maps. Pro tip: don’t hold your phone in your hand when you are navigating. Not only does this scream TOURIST but it can also be dangerous. If you try to cross a street while navigating, you may be hit by a car. You could also run into things if you aren’t watching where you are going. Most importantly in some places, you could be followed and robbed/mugged because you are acting like a typical tourist. Instead when travelling, open Google Maps, set up the directions (don’t do this while moving!), connect your headphones and listen to the directions that it speaks to you. Not only will you be able to be alert, but you can also see everything around you and look for where you are going. It is also safer.
Reading Signs and messages
If you go somewhere where you don’t know the language, it can be hard to communicate. Pointing, grunting, gesturing and trying to speak an international or closely related language will only get you so far. So what can you do?
There are some helpful apps that can help save the day. While Google Translate doesn’t have the best reputation for being a good translator, it does have some very helpful features on its app. The translation camera feature is especially useful.
The following video is a good guide for using the camera function. However the interface has changed since this video was made. If anything, it is even easier to find now:
This has been a real lifesaver in my travel, especially in places where I couldn’t even read the writing. Google Translate does a decent job, especially if it is written clearly. It may not translate it perfectly, but it is a great way to figure out the overall message of a text. However make sure you have a steady hand and try to hold your phone as still as possible. It even works for languages that do not write from left to right (e.g. traditional Japanese written from top to bottom, right to left), although not as well. I have used this a lot, especially since moving to Japan.
Communicating with the locals
One of the biggest parts of travelling is learning from and communicating with the locals. Language barriers can be daunting but there are apps that can help. In addition to Google Translate’s camera feature, it also has a conversation mode. Once activated, you can talk back and forth with someone. I have not used this function very often because Google Translate does not always do so well with Japanese and English.
Another translator that I use is DeepL, which has a higher quality than Google Translate. It advertises itself as the world’s most accurate translator and generally, it understands context better than Google Translate. It is better overall for checking individual words or sentences.
If you are looking for how to say specific sentences though, I recommend HiNative. HiNative is a place for people to ask questions about languages and how to say things. Native speakers answer the question so you know that it is good quality.
You can download the app or you can simply search online. For example “HiNative it’s all done in Japanese”. You will then most likely find a link where a native speaker (who most likely uses HiNative to ask questions about another language) gives you an answer. Especially for the major languages, many questions have been answered and it is useful, especially for basic phrases. It also has a translator/transcriber for answers if you don’t understand the script used (e.g. Chinese characters).
but what about money?
Cash exchange or paying by card?
Money can always be a bit of an issue. Should I just pay with my card in home currency? Should I exchange money? If so, where should I exchange money?
For these questions, the answer is simple: pay in your home currency. Your bank/credit card companies usually do a better job than money exchangers. They may not look like they charge a fee but they often exchange money at a less favourable rate. If paying by card or changing your money are your only options, pay by card (assuming they take your card).
How about a better alternative?
There is a third option: a multicurrency account. There are a couple out there but one that I use is Wise. Wise started out as a money conversion service (i.e. sending money between banks in different countries without the overhead that traditional banks and transfer services charge) and has grown to offer other services, such as the Wise multicurrency account. Wise is not a bank, so they don’t have the fees associated with running a bank. Here is a bit more about Wise:
Here is also a more in-depth review of the Wise multicurrency account:
Wise has been a live saver for me. I have been in Japan since 20 April 2022 and I still don’t have access to transfers to/from my bank account. The reason is that Japan requires something called a “My Number” card, which you need to send or receive money. Because of that (and how slow bureaucracy can be), I still don’t have it yet and therefore cannot transfer money to it, making it effectively useless.
The Wise card has been extremely helpful as a result. Just like making international transfers with Wise, you transfer the money to your account rather than to a foreign bank. From there you can use your card. The only fee you pay is when you convert money – and it’s much lower than PayPal and banks. It can also be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted.
If you don’t have money in your account, if you have your bank account(s) linked, it can draw directly from there. There are no fees if it is already in the same currency. If it is in a different currency, it is treated like any other conversion done by Wise. Very convenient!
If you are interested in opening your own account or just want more information about Wise, use this link. It is an affiliate link – you get a fee-free transfer of up to €500 (or equivalent) and I get a couple of Euros for “recommending” you. Win-win!