After a long hiatus, I am finally back on the road, but what makes this trip special is that I am going with my baby sister. Even though we are 12 years apart, we are always on the same wavelength about everything…except when she is trying to convince me to go to a rave and I am convincing her to go to a lecture at the Reichstag. LifeAfter9-5 will be featuring Kim as a guest blogger, describing her travel experience from a student’s perspective.
Unlike my cultured sister, I am unfortunately not as worldly when it comes to travelling. I’ve been to Asia a few times but my parents tend to do all the planning, and I just have to show up at the airport. Being 22, I don’t have a lot of experience organizing big trips (yet), but I’m hoping to change that this summer. Without too many daunting obligations and a year’s attempt of saving money, I’m planning on visiting a few countries. The first stop? Germany and Czech Republic with Caitlin! While preparing for my first major trip, I’ve learnt a few tips and lessons for other aspiring travelers.
1. Booking your flight
As my graduation present, Caitlin and Fausto used their points to buy my plane ticket to Germany, but I had to find my own way home (although spontaneously living in Europe had crossed my mind). At first I used travel sites like Kayak and Google Flights, but I found the prices and times were pretty inflexible. While sites like Google Flights show you when the cheapest flights are, you usually have to plan your trip around that. Unfortunately, since I had to book my return flight for a particular date, most of my options were about $1000 for 20+ hour flights. Luckily, I came across STA Travel, a discounted travel website aimed towards students (or people under 26), and teachers. STA Travel consistently has cheaper flights regardless of the date you choose, and when you book. Due to circumstances out of my control, I had to wait until the end of April to officially book my return flight, and with only 3 weeks before my trip I managed to find a 12 hour flight for $450! You can also book hotels/hostels, tours, and railway tickets/passes on the site at a discounted price. As a poor student, this site bodes well with our ‘save money at all costs‘ mindset.
TL;DR – use STA Travel for booking flights and other necessities on your trip if you’re poor (aka a student).
2. Travel insurance
When I said I was new to this travelling thing, I wasn’t kidding. Up until 1 week ago, I had no idea about travel insurance and what it’s exactly used for. I never had to worry about it because I’ve always been covered under my parents’ plans but since I’m in between schools, I currently have no coverage. Luckily after a quick Google search, I managed to find a few reasonably priced options from most major banks. I chose President’s Choice because their prices were a little cheaper, and offered a comprehensive package (including health, accidental, and flight issues) for $92, or $36 for just medical. I opted for the all-inclusive plan just to be on the safe side, and found out on Monday how lucky it was that I did! Our flight from YYZ to JFK was delayed for 5 hours, and ended up being cancelled due to weather and mechanical issues. After American Airlines re-booked us for the 6 AM flight the next morning and covered our hotel room for the night, we ended up having to spend some extra money on meals. Luckily because of the insurance I bought, I’ll be able to expense these costs and get my money back. It was a crappy situation, but hey, at least we got free food!
TL;DR – always make sure you’re covered when traveling, then profit with free food
3. Finding the best travel companion
Tip 1: travel with your older sister
Tip 2: make her pay for everything
Tip 3: profit
Just joking, I swear that’s not why I chose to go with my older sister. When Caitlin and I decided to go on this trip, I never really considered whether we would be compatible for travelling. We’ve gone on vacations before, but never anywhere just the two of us. Besides our typical sisterly quarrels, Cait and I tend to get along well and have a lot in common. We both love taking silly pictures, exploring and finding weird/quirky things (we’re planning on visiting a bone church in CR), and trying crazy new foods. Besides our similarities, we also have our differences that will (hopefully) balance each other out while we’re on the trip. Cait is like a sergeant when it comes to organization, and while it is annoying to be constantly reminded to follow the schedule (sorry sis), it will definitely ensure I’ll get the most out of my trip than if I were to go on my own. Having a little spontaneity is also good though, and that’s where I come in. Much to Fausto’s disdain, I’ll be making sure we check out the Prague and Berlin night life, despite Cait’s claim that she’s allergic to alcohol now (although I don’t buy it). I think one of the biggest advantages of travelling with a partner is pushing each other to try new things!
TL;DR – go with somebody who you’re comfortable with, and who will bring something to the trip you wouldn’t normally consider
I was originally planning on having some tips about packing, but I’m still trying to master the art of it.
Better leave that one for next time. Despite my lack of packing skills, I am so beyond excited for this trip. Keep an eye out for my other guest blog-posts and our ‘On the Road‘ posts about our European adventures later on (and prepare for an onslaught of silly photos)!