Grand Hotel Taipei, Taiwan

Best Places to Stay in Taiwan

Here are some of our favourite places to Stay in Taipei and Around Taiwan

The Grand Hotel Taipei
The Grand Hotel Taipei, Zhongshan District

Your choice of accommodations can make or break your holiday. When we search for places to stay, first they must be clean, safe, and comfortable. Then we like to mix it up, and stay in a variety of accommodations—some budget and some affordable luxury. So our list focuses on hotels and B&Bs with good value, along with that special something that can make your stay memorable. Taiwan is known for its friendly people and hospitality, and this was also our experience in these hotels and B&Bs thoughout the country. Here are some of our favourite places to stay in Taiwan.

Disclaimer: We have personally stayed in the accommodations listed below at our own expense, and received no compensation for these recommendations. This post contains affiliate links where TouristSite will earn a commission if you make a purchase, but there is no extra cost to you.

Where to Stay in Taipei

Grand Hotel Taipei

Staying at the 14-story Grand Hotel Taipei in the Zhongshan District almost feels like staying in an Asian palace. The 4.5-star hotel is a landmark of Taipei, perched high against Yangming Mountain, facing the Keelung River. The interior lobby is stunning and the grounds are beautiful.

The Grand Hotel is well-located near many popular attractions. It’s an 8-minute walk from the Jian Tan metro station (MTR). There’s also a hotel shuttle to the MTR and the Shilin Night Market, one of the best night markets in Taipei. The National Palace Museum, Huashan 1914 Creative Park, Maokong Gondola, and Taipei Zoo are all easy to access by MTR or taxi. It’s a great place for a very-affordable splurge. As a major resort-style hotel, the service is less personal but very professional. This is a great place to stay if you want to be immersed in a grand Asian atmosphere.

The Lobby of the Grand Hotel Taipei, Places to stay in Taipei
The Lobby of the Grand Hotel Taipei

The Rido Hotel in Da’an District, Taipei

The Rido Hotel is a boutique hotel in Taipei City’s main financial district, in a great location facing Da’an Forest Park. Once inside, the art and architecture give it a real European feeling. Da’an Park is a great place to go for a walk, or rent a bike to enjoy on the local bike pathway. It is near the Taipei 101 tower, and you can walk to many restaurants including Din Tai Fung for must-try soup dumplings.

The Rido Hotel is across the street from Daan Forest Park, Places to stay in Taipei
The Rido Hotel is across the street from Daan Forest Park, Taipei

More Places to Stay in Taiwan

Legend Hotel Pier2 Hotel in Kaohsiung

The fun Legend Hotel Pier2 in Kaohsiung is well-located between Lover River and The Pier-2 Art Centre. The quirky “Alice-in-wonderland” inspired murals and bonuses like in-room snacks and drinks make it great for families or young-at-heart. There is also a substantial breakfast buffet, entertainment/games area and laundry facilites. Friendly staff and great value.

Legend Hotel Pier2 in Kaohsiung, Places to stay in Taiwan
Legend Hotel Pier2 in Kaohsiung

Wisdom Garden Home Stay B&B in Yuli, East Rift Valley

The Wisdom Garden Home Stay in Yuli was one of our favourite B&B stays ever. The garden setting is beautiful and peaceful, and the warm hospitality of the family who runs the B&B makes it even more special. The Taiwanese breakfast was so thoughtfully prepared and one of our best meals in Taiwan—we would return to this Taiwan B&B just to eat this meal again. Our room was modest but spacious and clean. Yuli Town is only a few minutes drive away, and the location is perfect for walking the Walami Trail, heading to a hot springs, or cycling on the Yufu Bikeway.

Wisdom Garden Home Stay, Yuli, East Rift Valley, Places to stay in Taiwan
Wisdom Garden Home Stay, Yuli, East Rift Valley

Kindness Hotel in Hualien (near Taroko Gorge National Park)

The Kindness Hotel in Hualien is a perfect place to stay if you are on a Taiwan East Coast road trip. The service is excellent, and amenities include free parking, laundry, meals and bicycles, making it an excellent value. The evening buffet is extensive and with live musicians it almost feels like a celebration. If you have a car and are in Hualien to visit Taroko Gorge, we would recommend staying in Hualien rather than next to the park. It’s a short drive to the trails and in the evening you can enjoy Hualien.

The road from Hualien towards Taroko Gorge National Park
The road from Hualien towards Taroko Gorge National Park

Kenting Maya House, B&B in Kenting National Park

Kenting Maya House (墾丁瑪雅之家民宿 l 防疫ok l 客房二氧化氯殺菌) is a great B&B if you are visiting Kenting National Park, on the southern tip of Taiwan. It’s located in a peaceful rural setting a short fifteen-minute walk from Kenting town, and a short walk from the local market. We enjoyed watching the birds from our balcony while eating our breakfast, which was served in our room.

Kenting Maya House, Kenting National Park, Places to stay in Taiwan
Kenting Maya House, Kenting National Park

Why Visit Taiwan?

Read more about Five Great Reasons to Visit Taiwan. Despite having a rich culture, amazing food, and stunning scenery, Taiwan isn’t widely known by many travelers to Asia. After our first vacation in Taiwan, it’s now at the top of our list. Taipei is a world-class city, and beyond the capital you’ll find eight national parks with lush mountains, valleys, coastlines and fascinating geology to explore.

Taipei 101, Taipei Night View Taiwan
Taipei 101, Taipei Night View Taiwan

Statue of Liberty – Crown Access

How to See the Statue of Liberty with Crown Access

The first thing to do once you have booked your trip to New York City is to reserve your Statue of Liberty Crown Access ticket.

How to visit the Statue of Liberty Crown
Climbing up the statue of liberty to the crown is an amazing experience – but you must have a crown access ticket
Updated February 15, 2020

The Statue of Liberty was designed by sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States. In 1886 the Statue was completed, and she has since become a symbol of freedom to millions around the world.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
 

– Emma Lazarus

Reserve your Statue of Liberty Crown Access Tickets

The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are highlights of a trip to New York, and a regular Reserve Ticket for $19.25 (including access to both) is already good value. But for only $3 more you can instead purchase a Crown Access Ticket, and given access to climb the 393 stairs up inside the statue for an unforgettable view from the crown. Climbing up to the Crown is a much more intimate experience than the regular tour, as only a few people are allowed up at a time.

This tour would be a great family outing. The climb is equivalent to 27 stories, so might not be suitable for some younger children. Children must be at least four feet tall, and must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Statue of Liberty – Original Torch
Statue of Liberty – Original Torch

Plan your visit

  • Tickets can only be booked through Statue Cruises, the official provider. Other ticket sellers either don’t give access to the island, just a view from their boat, or are over-priced/scams.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by phone: 1-877-LADY-TIX (1-877-523-9849) or 201-604-2800
  • Prices including crown access: $22.25/adult, $12/child (age 4-12), $17/senior (62+)
  • Ticket includes ferry and access to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island.
  • Audio Tours of Liberty and Ellis Islands are included.
  • This is a high security attraction, and it’s essential to visit the National Park Service information page, so you know what to expect.
  • All crown visitors must be physically able to climb up and down the 393 steps unassisted.
  • There are 162 narrow and tight steps from the top of the pedestal to the crown.
  • There is no elevator from the top of pedestal to the crown (the Statue’s feet to the Statue’s head).
  • The stairs to the crown are in an enclosed area that can have high temperatures in the summer, so bring water.
  • Try to book your tour earlier in the day as afternoon tours (2pm or later) won’t have enough time to stop at the the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.
  • Ferries leave from two locations: Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City, and Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey.

CLIMBING TO THE TOP
Climbing inside the Statue of Liberty to the Crown
STATUE OF LIBERTY
The Statue of Liberty

Want more budget-friendly things to do in NYC?

New York City is one of the most captivating cities in the world—and one of the most expensive. Here are 10 great things to see and do in New York without breaking your budget.

The Brooklyn Bridge, New York City


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Travel in the USA - Statue of Liberty
Hadrian's Wall Path

Hadrian’s Wall Walk Tips and Resources

Hadrian's Wall Path

We recently completed our first long-distance walk on Hadrian’s Wall Path in England. It was a wonderful trip for us, and we would do it again in a heartbeat! (now that my blisters have healed). Here are some tips and resources to help you plan your own Hadrian’s Wall Walk.


How long is Hadrian’s Wall Path?

According to my souvenier T-shirt I bought, Hadrian’s Wall Path is 136 km (84 miles), with 80 milecastles and six Roman forts. The length will vary a bit according to where your accommodations are, and detours for food or fort visits. The actual Roman wall itself was 73 miles in length, and the trail follows the wall where it still remains, and along the original route wherever practical.

How long does it take to walk Hadrian’s Wall?

Hadrian's Wall Path

It takes 5 to 7 days to walk the full length of the path, or longer if you want rest days or time to visit attractions along the way. We decided to complete in 6 days, and were committed to the itinerary as our accommodations were booked. After our experience I would say 6 days is doable if you are reasonably fit and don’t have any issues, but it doesn’t allow much time to explore beyond the walk itself. It took longer than we expected to walk the distance each day, especially in the hilly, rugged section in the middle third of the walk. Finding accommodation that aligns with the distance you want to walk each is key to planning your own walk.

When to go?

The path is open year round, but the best weather and peak season is May to September. When we went in June it was never crowded. Most of the time we were alone on the path and we would just meet fellow walkers heading the opposite direction. Outside of peak season there may be even fewer accommodations and pubs open. During the wetter winter months walking the path is not encouraged as it can damage the archaeology of the path.

Our Hadrian’s Wall West-to-East Itinerary

Bowness-on-Solway • Carlisle • Banks • Old Repeater Station • Halton Red House • Newcastle-upon-Tyne • Wallsend

Our hotel at the start was in Carlisle, so the first morning of our walk we took bus #93 at 9:10am from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway. There are only a few buses per day so be sure to confirm the schedule.

Accommodations

One of the highlights of our walk was arriving each day at next cozy B&B. We really enjoyed the three B&B’s below, all located along the path. There are more options in Carlisle and Newcastle, but limited accommodations available along the middle. You don’t want to be stuck for a place to stay after a long day walking, so booking accommodations in advance is a must.

The National Trail website has a map that was a great help in finding accommodations along the wall.

Luggage Transfer

Using a luggage transfer service made our walk much lighter, and was very affordable. We chose Hadrian’s Haul, and they picked up our luggage and had it waiting for us like magic each day at our next destination. We never saw anyone from the company in person but their system worked perfectly, and we highly recommend them.

Preventing Blisters

  • Firstly, don’t have a pedicure before any long walk. I did about a week before the walk, and by the end of the second day I had some nasty blisters. Baby-soft heels are not what you want on a long walk.
  • Carry some duct tape and Second Skin or Compeed to treat blisters if they occur. Duct tape is also great for covering sensitive areas on your feet before blisters occur. It’s easy to carry some wrapped around a pencil instead of a whole roll.
  • Bring extra socks in your daypack in case your feet get wet.
  • Make sure your hiking boots are properly fitted, and break them in before your big hike. The store should have a ramp to test your boots on a downhill slope to be sure your toes don’t rub the front of the boot.

Food & Water

  • Walkers don’t have cars, and our wonderful B&B hosts either drove us to dinner, or made dinner for us. Check with your accommodations about dinner options.
  • There is limited food or water available along the path, so you really need to carry it with you.
  • We had 2 litre water bladders that we filled the first couple sunny days. We carried a little less on the remaining cooler days.
  • Each morning we had a full English breakfast, and a substantial pub dinner most nights, so a few granola bars were enough for us. We were able to stop for a drink or snack at a couple of pubs along the way, but they are few and far between, and sometimes closed.
  • There are also few honesty boxes filled with chocolate bars, chips etc., and you just leave payment for what you chose, so bring a bit of cash.

ATMs

There aren’t always ATMs available so you may need to bring cash with you. Some B&Bs don’t accept credit cards, so you may need enough cash to pay for these.

Resources

Hadrian Wall Path by Gordon Simm and Jacquetta Megarry was an essential guide for our trip. This book has maps and detailed descriptions of the path for west to east walkers, but it also includes notes for those walking east to west.

The National Trail Website has an abundance of info about Hadrian’s Wall Path to help plan your walk.

Transportation along Hadrian’s Wall Path If some days you do find your route is too long, it’s possible to catch a bus to your next destination. You will probably have to do some walking to get to a bus stop.


Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links to products we recommend, purchased ourselves, and personally used. We may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. We paid all of our own expenses including transportation and accommodations.

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Hadrian’s Wall Walk – West to East

Hadrian's Wall Path
Hadrian’s Wall Path

“We walked across England!”

Our six-day walk on Hadrian’s Wall National Trail, West to East

The day finally arrived for our first long distance walk, west to east on Hadrian’s Wall National Trail in England. Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built in 122 AD by Roman soldiers, under the orders of the Emperor Hadrian. The path follows this stone wall across England from coast to coast, so we could say “we walked across England!” This path seemed doable for our first walk – but still a challenge. Most walk Hadrian’s Wall east to west, but our route was west to east, so we would have the prevailing winds at our back. This was our route:

• Bowness-on-Solway • Carlisle • Banks • Old Repeater Station • Halton Red House • Newcastle-upon-Tyne • Wallsend •

According to my Hadrian’s Wall T-shirt, the trail is 136 km (84 miles), with 80 milecastles and six Roman forts. The actual length is probably a bit longer when you go off the path for accommodations, detours, food or fort visits. We decided to complete the walk in 6 days. If you are planning your own Hadrian’s Wall walk, see below for more specific tips and resources, and info about our hiking gear. Here’s how our walk went!

Day 1: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle

31 km

It was a perfect June morning to begin our walk, with blue sunny skies. We arrived in Carlisle a couple days earlier to have time to explore the city, and recover from jetlag. For the first section we had to take bus #93 to the path’s start at Bowness-on-Solway, then walk back to our Carlisle hotel for one more night.

Bowness-on-Solway is a peaceful village on the Solway Firth. The cute homes here don’t have addresses, but names like Silver Hill, and the White House. We saw the well-known local pub, The Kings Arms, but it doesn’t open until 4pm, which is too late for most west to east walkers.

And so it begins!
7040 miles from home. Across the firth is Scotland.

The official start of Hadrian’s Wall Path is at a small shack along the Firth, which opens into the Irish Sea. At this point the firth is also the border between England and Scotland. The path begins fairly flat with a long stretch along the firth, and lots of birds.

Early on this first section there was an interesting man who had made a road sign, which he updated for each walker to mark the distance to their hometown.

On the first day, there was no actual wall to be seen…at least not in its original form.  After the Romans left the wall was no longer in use, so people used stones from the wall for their own construction needs. An example of this is St Michael’s Church, in Burgh-by-Sands. This 12th century church was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall. In 1307 Edward I was brought here to lie in state after being killed during the uprising of Robert the Bruce. It is one of many churches and other attractions to see along the path.

St Michael's Church, Burgh-by-Sands: This 12th century church was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall. In 1307 Edward I was brought here to lie in state after being killed during the uprising of Robert the Bruce.
The 12th century St Michael’s Church, in Burgh-by-Sands, was built on the foundation of a Roman Fort, with stones from the wall.

Although we didn’t see remains of the actual wall, there was a lot to make this part of the walk interesting, from listening to birds in the wetlands, cute villages, wooded areas and pastures.

The first of many cows we would meet along the path.
We saw a lot more cows and sheep along the path than people.
Hadrian's Wall gate
Much of the path goes through private property, and there’s an amazing variety of ways to cross through gates or over walls. The acorn on the post is the symbol of Hadrian’s wall path.

Walking into Carlisle we encountered a detour due to the devastating flood in early 2016. By the time we reached our hotel again we had walked 31 km, tired but happy to have completed our first leg. It’s worth spending a day in Carlisle to explore the small city and its castle.

Day 2: Carlisle to Banks

27 km

The Eden Bridge, Carlisle
The Eden Bridge, Carlisle

This morning we rejoined the path at the Eden Bridge, and for the first while the it followed the River Eden. The path leaving Carlisle was beautiful, down a long aisle of spring flowers.

June is a great month for wildflowers along the path.
Wildflowers along the path in June.
The Stall-on-the-Wall honesty box.
The famous Stall-on-the-Wall honesty box.

After a couple of hours, we came across the “famous Stall-on-the-Wall”, which is an honesty box filled with assorted chocolate bars, chips and other treats to maintain your strength during the walk. There are a few of these fun stations along Hadrian’s Path, so if you go bring some small change or bills to enjoy them. One even had a small freezer with ice cream bars.

Much of Hadrian’s Wall path goes right through farmer’s fields, so we passed by lots of sheep, cattle and horses. We enjoyed seeing them, and most animals watched us with mild interest, but this cow right beside the path was a little intimidating. We went off the path to give it as much space as possible, and Darrell promised it he would cut back on beef.

cows
This cow was a little intimidating.
a nice path
After walking 20km we appreciated the comfy wood chips on this path.

Near the end of day two we came across the first substantial section of the wall. It was a fantastic day, but my feet began to protest and I got some nasty blisters. After the last steep hill we were both VERY happy to to reach the Quarryside B&B. After listening to our moans, our host, Elizabeth, asked how far we walked that day, then burst out laughing, “Is that all?”

Hadrian's Wall
Finally, Hadrian’s Wall!

Our Quarryside B&B room with a view
Quarryside B&B room with a view.
The Belted Will Inn, Hallbankgate
The Belted Will Inn, Hallbankgate

Our ensuite room at Quarryside was lovely and spacious with a view of the country. After a short rest, the Elizabeth’s husband drove us to the Belted Will Inn for a pub dinner.  I had a tasty fish pie and Darrell had steak pie, in spite of his promise to the cows earlier that day. After our delicious dinner the pub owner gave us a ride back to our B&B.

Day 3: Banks to Old Repeater Station

27 km (completed 14 km)

Day three started with an excellent breakfast at our B&B, including their own farm fresh eggs and local sausages. We also took Elizabeth up on her option of a packed lunch.

A Milecastle at Hadrian's Wall
A Milecastle at Hadrian’s Wall

Before setting out, I doctored my feet with Second Skin, Compeed, and duct tape. With them fully covered they didn’t feel too bad. The weather had become misty with some rain, but we were prepared with rain coats and covers for our backpacks.  The cooler temperatures were pleasant to walk in so we didn’t mind at all. This section of the path is hilly, very picturesque, and we were seeing a lot more of the wall.

Ready to walk Hadrian's Wall Path - rain or shine!
Ready to walk Hadrian’s Wall Path – rain or shine!
A section of the trail through a quiet woods.
A section of the trail through a quiet woods.
Turret 49B. Two small watchtowers, or turrets, were built between each milecastle.
Turret 49B. Two small watchtowers, or turrets, were built between each milecastle.
Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on Hadrian's Wall.
Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on Hadrian’s Wall.

After about an hour, we reached Birdoswald, one of the best preserved Roman forts on the wall and well worth a stop.

A short time later we arrived at these remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge, which originally crossed the River Irthing. Over time the course of the river changed so these remains are a distance apart from the current modern bridge.

Remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge
Remains of the Roman Willowford Bridge
Some super-cute lambs frolicking on the hill.
Some super-cute lambs frolicking on the hill.

Despite the beautiful scenery, my feet could only make it about 14 km. While walking to a bus stop, a couple of local ladies in an  SUV stopped to ask if we needed a ride. They had noticed me hobbling, and we gladly accepted their ride to our next B&B.

At the Old Repeater Station B&B we had a nice welcome from our host, Les. The room was a small ensuite with a comfortable bed and cozy bedding. There is also a comfortable common lounge and dining room. Les made a delicious dinner for us and his other guests, served family style at his big table. I had steak pie and Darrell had lasagne, served with bowls of mashed potatoes, vegetables and bread.

Day 4: Old Repeater Station to Halton Red House

23 km (Instead, Housesteads Roman Fort to Carrawburgh Temple of Mithras: 10 km)

After another hearty full English breakfast (and a few more packages of Compeed and Second Skin) we were ready for day four.

The previous day we had cut the walk short and missed some of the most spectacular sections, so we took a bus back a few miles to begin our day at Housesteads, the most complete Roman fort in Britain. We were glad to see the fort, and the dramatic landscape in this section was a highlight of our walk.

Housesteads Roman Fort
Housesteads Roman Fort

The path follows the best preserved section of the wall up and down steep hills, with spectacular views. The ground here is steep and very uneven, but with our hiking boots and walking poles it was a pleasure. This was the busiest section of the path with a lot of day walkers, but not at all overly-crowded.

Rugged terrain and spectacular views on day four.
Rugged terrain and spectacular views on day four.

We were only able to make it 10 km, to Carrawburgh, Temple of Mithras, then I had to stop again because of my feet. So we took a bus to Chollerford, then a taxi to our next B&B, Halton Red House Farm. At this point we changed our goal to walk at least 100 km of the trail. My disappointment at cutting short another day’s walk was soon forgotten when we arrived at Halton Red House Farm, another lovely B&B. Our hostess Sheila drove us to a nearby pub where we had another excellent, hearty meal.

Day 5: Halton Red House to Newcastle

27 km (completed 17 km)

After a perfect English breakfast we set off again towards our next stop at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. On day five the rugged terrain was behind us, and the hills flattened to gently rolling farmland that looked beautiful even on this rainy day.

Leaving our pretty B&B, Halton Red House Farm
Leaving our pretty B&B, Halton Red House Farm
A pleasant walk on a grass path.
A pleasant walk on a grass path.

After about 5 km we came across the Robin Hood Inn, where we decided to stop in for an excellent scone with cream and jam.

The Robin Hood Bar & Restaurant
The Robin Hood Bar & Restaurant…
where we had an excellent scone.
…where we had an excellent scone.

We walked 17 km, then stopped at the Three Tuns pub at Heddon-on-the-Wall, then again because of my sad feet, took a taxi to our hotel in Newcastle.

Day 6: Newcastle to Wallsend

8 km

On our final day we hired an Uber driver to take us from Newcastle to Wallsend, which is the eastern terminus of Hadrian’s Wall path. We then walked west back to Newcastle. At Wallsend is the Segedunum Roman Fort and museum. We didn’t visit the museum, but we did go up their tower which looks over the former fort, and has a good video explaining the history of the site through the ages.

The bridges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
The bridges of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Then we walked the 8 km back to Newcastle, which is a very nice urban path once you get past the first bit at Wallsend. Coming into the city the path follows the River Tyne, with Newcastle’s interesting buildings and bridges.

So in the end, we walked 107 km of Hadrian’s Wall path, coast to coast, but with 36km skipped across days 3 to 5.

The only real discomfort was from blisters on my feet. In hindsight I think I caused this by having a pedicure a couple weeks before our walk, which may have made my feet look pretty, but also removed callouses that probably would have been a layer of protection for a long walk. Otherwise, we both felt good, and the hills even became easier as we went. It was a great experience as our first long distance walk, and I’m already thinking of where we could walk next.

The Hadrian’s Wall National Trail itself was fantastic, with a great variety of landscapes as well as the famous wall and Roman forts.  It was a pleasure to get to know the area up close, walking through the many farms, villages or wilderness areas. There are more attractions than we had time for along the way, including Roman forts, and also churches, museums, and villages.

Planning your own Hadrian’s Wall walk

Two resources that helped immensely in planning our trip:

  • The National Trail website: They have a map that was a great help in finding accommodations along the wall.
  • Hadrian’s Wall Path guidebook, by Gordon Simm and Jacquetta Megarry, helped in planning the trip, and kept us on track during the walk.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links to products we recommend and have verified and/or personally used, and at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase.

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hiking gear

Hiking Gear for a Hadrian’s Wall Walk

Hiking Gear for a Hadrian’s Wall walk (or almost any walk). What we used for our first long-distance walk – what worked and didn’t work for us. 

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Kowloon, Hong Kong

Travel More With These Money Saving Travel Tips

If I won the lottery…the first thing I would do is travel.

We’ve all said this or heard this. It’s true that travel can be expensive, but it isn’t necessarily as costly as you might think. Not only that, but spending more money doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a better time. Thankfully there are a lot of money-saving steps you can take to help lower your travel costs. Here are some of my best money saving travel tips to help you realize your travel dreams, without the lottery.

Walking in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Walking in Kowloon, Hong Kong. One of our favorite free things to do is just wander around and just take in the unique surroundings.

Saving on accommodations

vacation rental in Spain with pool

Our inexpensive vacation rental in Spain included this pool to cool off in. Plus it was pet-friendly.

Generally, if you stay in major luxury hotel chains, you will be surrounded by other tourists.The service will be efficient but impersonal. There will be lots of amenities in the hotel you may or may not need, and you won’t need to leave the premises to eat or shop. Sometimes we enjoy these hotels for a couple days, and some are destination-worthy in themselves. But the places most memorable to us are the smaller family-run hotels or independent vacation rentals. I remember the tea and greeting we received upon arrival at the small inn where we stayed in Istanbul,“Come in, sit down, you are at home now.”

  • Before booking a hotel, check for additional fees such as resort fee” or wifi fee. You are much more likely to be charged these fees at a luxury hotel than at budget or independent accommodations. We had a dispute at our hotel in Hong Kong at check-out, because we didn’t see the fine print that we would be charged wifi fees per device. With two phones and two laptops that would have come to $40/day! Luckily it was waived after a discussion with the manager.
  • If breakfast is included in your accommodations, it will save both time and money.
  • Traveling off-season, or even adjusting your dates by a few days can make a big difference in the price of flights and hotels.
  • Spend a week or more at each location to get a weekly/monthly rate. By spending more time at fewer locations you will have more time to relax and get to know the area, plus lower your transportation costs.
  • Consider booking a vacation home or apartment, especially if you are staying a week or more. It is often more spacious, and you can save more if it includes a kitchen. Try Airbnb, VRBO, or booking.com. Also try specialty sites focused on the region you are visiting (always read the reviews).
  • Stay part of the time in smaller towns or villages instead of only the major cities. You will have a great experience plus save money on accommodations. The culture of a place is often much more apparent in the smaller towns than the big cities.
  • For longer stays try house-sitting. We haven’t tried this yet, but many love it. In exchange for taking care of a home (and often a pet) while the owners are away, you get free accommodations. TrustedHousesitters.com and Housecarers.com are two popular sites if you are interested.

Saving on things to do

You’ve come all this way, so make sure to allow money for activities. But there are often deals if you look for them.

  • Visit museums that are free or offer free days, such as MoMA’s free Friday nights in New York City. In London, some of the best museums such as the National Gallery and British Museum are always free.
  • Event tickets: Sometimes tickets are available from more that one source. I was looking for tickets to Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, and first checked Ticketmaster where the price was $223 each plus service charge, but I got better seats for only $132 each by calling Cirque du Soleil directly.
  • Check online for coupons or promo codes for attractions you want to visit.
  • Look for local free things to do, such as markets and festivals.
  • Check out city passes for your destination to see if what they offer is a good value for you. A bonus with these can be skipping the long ticket lines.
  • Spend time in the great outdoors! Visiting city parks or hiking in natural areas is usually free.

Near Windermere, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

Near Windermere, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.

Transportation savings

Small cars are better for navigating narrow streets in Europe.

Small cars are better for navigating narrow streets in Europe.

  • If you’re traveling outside of North America, renting a smaller car will not only save you money on the rental and fuel; but will make parking and driving on narrow old streets much easier.
  • Car rental reservations usually have free cancellation, and prices fluctuate, so use this to your advantage. We recently reserved a car in Toronto for $325. When I checked a couple weeks later, it was going for $183 at the same rental location. So I cancelled and rebooked my reservation.
  • Walk or bike when you can, instead of always taking a taxi. You will see so much more, save money, and work off that extra croissant.
  • Saving money on flights is a big topic in itself. Here are some tips to save money on flights.
  • Avoid checked baggage fees by traveling light with a carry-on instead–but be aware of airline size and weight restrictions.
  • Don’t automatically rule out a farther destination because of the higher airfare. If the cost-of-living is lower, savings on accommodations and food might still make it a bargain.

Eat, drink, and be merry by saving on dining

menu del dias (set menu of the day) in Spain

The first courses of our menu del dias (set menu of the day) in Spain. This is a full meal, usually including beverage, that is meant to be affordable for the average worker.

  • Go to that fancy restaurant you wanted to try, but save by eating at lunch time instead of dinner.
  • Walk a couple blocks off the main tourist strip and you will find restaurants that are cheaper, and with better food and service.
  • Eat like a local – because eating the same foods you do at home can cost a premium. And this is part of the adventure!
  • Shop at the local market or grocery store for a great picnic.
  • Ask for tap water in restaurants, unless the water quality is questionable. Also save by bringing a refillable water bottle.
  • Look for happy hours, pre-theatre or prix fix menus for great dining deals.

Saving money on money

  • Use a credit card with no foreign exchange fees. (We use a Chase Marriott Visa for this)
  • Check into your banking options before you go. See if they have international partners, or a plan that will allow you to reduce ATM fees.
  • Pay in local currency. Some larger stores will ask if you would like to pay in Canadian dollars or US dollars, and then charge higher than average exchange fees.

More ways to save

  • Bring proper ID for senior, student and member discounts (such as AAA).
  • Sign up for a travel rewards credit card, or two or three…
  • Choose a less pricey destination with a favorable exchange rate.
  • Cell phone – check before you go. You can adjust your plan to include long distance or data, rent a local cell phone, or stick to wifi and Skype or FaceTime.

Do you have any money saving travel tips to share?

The White House

How to See Washington DC, Up Close and Personal

Our visit to Washington DC was going to be just a short side trip to our vacation in New York City. But there is so much to see and do that we stayed longer than originally planned. There are numerous world-class museums, monuments, and tours of Capitol Hill, and much of it is free! There are also great restaurants, theatre and arts. Here are a few ideas to make your Washington visit up close and personal.

Yes, that’s really President Obama waving at me!

I’m mostly a moderate (and anyway I’m Canadian), and not politically for or against Obama. But hey, he’s the President of the United States. I was waving as his motorcade drove by, and was so excited when he waved back. Who knows if you will see him when you visit, but we did see motorcades from the White House leave a couple of times.

President Obama leaving the White House.

President Obama leaving the White House.

The other side of the White House

The other side of the White House

We stayed at the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, which is only about a block away from the White House. So we saw it several times from all angles.

The White House is grand-looking, but it lacks the over-the-top opulence and scale seen in the residences of many world leaders…and I like that about it. I can imagine it being a home for a family, like the Obamas.

It would have been great to see the inside, but at this time it doesn’t seem to be possible for international visitors. If you are American, you can contact your Member of Congress to request a visit.

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

The Library of Congress – Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

The Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building was completed in 1897. The design was based on the Paris Opera House, and is a feast of marble, granite, bronze, gold, and mahogany. It is of the Beaux Arts style, which is theatrical and ornamented, and the most beautiful of the official Washington government buildings.

Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 volume library in 1814, and since then the congressional library has grown into the largest in the world. There are several interesting exhibits at the Library, including The Gershwin Room and the Bob Hope Gallery. But the highlight is the building itself.

Tour the United States Capitol Building

If you enjoy architecture, history or art, a tour of the Capitol Building is a must. These tours are free but you need a pass. It is highly recommended to reserve your tour in advance, either online  (local or international visitors) or by contacting your Representative or Senator.

The Capital Dome

In the rotunda of the Capitol Building, looking up at the dome. The fresco at the top is by Italian Constantino Brumidi.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

Sit in on Congress…for a little while

Congress was in session during our visit, so we were able to watch from the upper gallery. Unless there is something really exciting happening, you probably don’t need to stay for long, but it is interesting to go beyond the tourist area and see the government in action.

This isn’t part of the Capitol tour. For non-residents, inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center when you arrive.  Americans may also obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative.

The Capital Building

The Capital Building

See a Play at Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

It is nearly 150 years since the tragic day when United States President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, while attending the play “Our American Cousin”. Ford’s Theatre has been restored and renovated, and today it is both a working theatre, and a museum about the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency. We enjoyed a production there, and seeing the balcony where Lincoln sat watching the play, made it a thought-provoking visit. Click here for more information about Ford’s Theatre and tickets.

That Restaurant where the Obama’s went for Date Night

When the Obama’s went for dinner on one of their date nights, they went to Tosca. They made the reservations under another name, so imagine the surprise of the staff with their unexpected guests!

Since Barrack and Michelle enjoyed Tosca, Darrell and Shelley decided to try it too. It was great! Delicious food, nice atmosphere, and friendly service.

If you go

This is just the beginning of what Washington has to offer. Our visit to DC exceeded our expectations and we left wanting more.

The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see. Also, don’t miss a visit to historic Georgetown, with its quaint cobblestone streets and trendy shops and restaurants.

You will want to visit at least one of the Smithsonian Museums, and probably more. We visited the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. There is also the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Gallery. We could do a whole other trip just to visit more of the museums.

If you have visited Washington DC, which was your favorite museum?

 

Packing List

General Packing Tips

  • Rolling items helps you fit more in and they wrinkle less.
  • Packing cubes are great to keep things neat and organized.
  • Adjust packing list as needed, according to the destination, weather, and your taste. If you like skirts, you may not need as many pants, etc.
  • Pack wrinkle-free items as much as possible.
  • Dark items don’t stain as easily.
  • Pack items that are colour-coordinated to make more outfits.

Clothing

  • 5 pairs of lightweight socks, less for warm weather if you will be wearing sandals
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 2 bras
  • pyjamas (T-shirt and shorts or yoga pants)
  • 3-4 short sleeve tops or t-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeve T-shirt
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 dressy shirt
  • 1 or 2 sweaters (for cooler climate)
  • 1 light cardigan sweater
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 other pair pants
  • 1 or 2 pairs shorts or capris
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • skirt or wrinkle-free dress that go casual or dressed up
  • lightweight jacket (even in cool weather, you can bring a light jacket and add layers as needed)
  • rain/wind resistant jacket (or just use your umbrella in summer)
  • collapsible umbrella
  • scarves/pashmina (great as an accessory and to keep you warm on the plane, or on cool evenings)
  • swimsuit & sarong
  • hats for sun or cold
  • gloves for cool weather
  • inexpensive jewelry

Shoes

(multi-purpose when possible)

  • walking shoes or runners
  • sandals (a nice pair of sandals with thicker soles are more comfortable on cobblestones, and are versatile)
  • flip-flops

Medical

  • prescription drugs
  • Band-Aids
  • Tylenol
  • consider antibiotics prescription depending on destination
  • hand sanitizer

Toiletries

(put all liquids in zip-lock bags to prevent leakage)

  • toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss
  • small bottles of shampoo/conditioner/shower gel
  • make-up (try to bring only what you really want)
  • razor
  • quick drying towel
  • comb/hairbrush
  • hair elastics/bobby pins
  • deodorant
  • feminine hygiene products
  • small mirror
  • moisturizer
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellant (if you are going somewhere you will need it)
  • lip balm
  • nail clippers
  • makeup-remover wipes
  • Small packet of tissues, which can be handy when there’s no toilet paper.

Miscellaneous

  • prescription glasses/contacts & solution
  • sunglasses
  • eye mask and ear plugs
  • a zip-lock bag for liquids and extras come in handy to keep to keep camera dry, store food, etc. plus couple large plastic bags for dirty laundry/shoes
  • notepad and pen
  • a good book (it’s not always easy to find English language books or magazines)
  • business cards
  • apps for travel
  • daypack to fit your camera, snacks
  • water bottle

Tech

(in carry-on/backpack)

  • Laptop (and mouse for me) or eReader
  • Digital Camera and extra memory cards
  • Phone
  • GPS – If you need it more than a couple days, it’s often cheaper to buy one than rent
  • Chargers
  • electrical adaptor/converter
  • earphones
  • tripod
  • portable hard drive for backup
  • Swiss army knife
  • mini flashlight

Documents

  • passport and visas
  • travel documents printouts (flights, accommodation, tickets) I use the travel TripIt for this, but keep a printout in my suitcase as a backup
  • travel insurance information
  • international travel vaccinations
  • driver’s licence and International driver’s licence
  • credit cards, debit cards
  • small amount of local currency
  • student ID/senior citizen ID
  • email itinerary to yourself and family member/friend along with a scan of your passport
  • list of usernames and passwords (I keep mine on a password-protected spreadsheet, or there are apps for that)
  • money belt or travel pouch

Amazing Japan: Five Insider Survival Tips

Japan has one of the world’s most fascinating cultures to explore. Our daughter Carlee has spent the last few years living in Asia, much of that time in Japan. We were able to visit her there recently, and her experience made our trip so much easier. Here are some of her insider survival tips to make your visit to amazing Japan even better.

1. Follow Japanese etiquette.

This isn’t really survival but just to avoid annoyed glances, as foreigners may not be aware of many Japanese customs.

  • Stand on the left when riding the escalator so people can pass.
  • Don’t eat while walking on the street and certainly not on the train.
  • It is considered very rude to talk on the phone on the train and there are signs everywhere saying not to do it.
  • Don’t leave your chopsticks sticking upright in your rice, and never pass food directly from chopstick to chopstick.

2. Ask the police…for anything. Seriously.

I wanted to get my hair cut in Shinjuku so my Japanese friend and I walked around for a while but couldn’t find anything affordable. I thought he was joking when he said “let’s ask the police!” I thought they would be offended that I am wasting their time with my hair dilemma. But he ran up to ask and right away the police officer led us down a street to a quaint little hair shop. Perfect price and they did a great job on my hair. There are little police boxes all over the city and if you are ever lost or need to find anything, they are, in my experience, super friendly and helpful.

3. “Service” food.

While there is no need to tip at restaurants and pubs in Japan, you might notice an extra charge added to your bill.  Usually a server brings you a small side dish and may say it is a ‘service’, but you will be charged for it. This is called a “tsukidashi (つきだし)”. This is very common when going out to a restaurant or izakaya so just expect to pay a little extra on top of your order.

4. Express vs. Super Express trains.

Download a map. Especially coming from the airport or other longer routes, there are some trains that stop at every single stop while others skip most stops and just stop at the main hubs. It’s a brilliant idea for those who are commuting to work but can be confusing for a tourist. As someone who is directionally challenged already, I took the wrong train three times last time I was in Tokyo. Basically, the super express shows up in red on the overhead board and express is in orange or yellow. Make sure the super express will stop at your destination before boarding that train. If you aren’t sure, ask the train attendant to double check.

5. Learn Katakana

I know a lot of Japan-bound travelers have studied Japanese or at least watched their share of anime, so getting around in Japan won’t be a problem. However, if you can’t read any Japanese it can be quite difficult to navigate your way in Tokyo independently, and even more so the smaller towns. Even many train station signs do not have an English translation.

The best way I can suggest to help you find your way around is to learn Katakana. Katakana is the phonetic writing system that is used for English words. Yes, even English words are written in Japanese. Many signs around Japan are in fact English words, written with Japanese characters. For example, gelato is ジェラート (je raa to), pizza is ピザ (pi za), spaghetti is スパゲティ (su pa ge tei) etc. (apparently I’m craving Italian). There are only 48 characters and it can be learned in an afternoon or two. If you learn Katakana a whole world of opportunities opens up and you will be much more independent and aware in Japan.