adventure, city reviews, country profiles, lodging, travel

Singapore in one day

First let me just say Singapore Airlines is the best economy class experience flying I have yet to experience (of probably 20 or so airlines I’ve flown on by now). Large seats (even in the back), lots of storage room for luggage, free food and drinks (including selection of alcohol), vegetarian options (the best in my opinion, although not a vegetarian myself), and great free entertainment. No wonder they were rated number one economy option worldwide this year!

En route to Bali, Singapore Airlines offered the free options of having an extended layover in Singapore so we took it obviously. My only regret was not taking two days instead of one, as there just isn’t enough time to recover from flying 20 hours to fully enjoy even a quick city exploration day.

We flew out of SFO at 1:15 am which was perfect as it gave me the chance to sleep for about 6 hours on the flight to Hong Kong. One helpful hint, you must disembark in Hong Kong and go through security again to re-board and continue to Singapore. This is fairly well organized and expedited but was unexpected. Another helpful hint: economy boards from back to front. Get a seat near the back and get in line early if you are flying with only carry on luggage as we did. It was hard to fit our bags the first time because we got in line late but after that we found that by getting in line first we had plenty of room to store both a carry on and a personal item above.

Singapore’s Changi airport has consistently been rated the best airport in the world. I can certainly see why.  It is clean, modern, efficient, English language signs, and full of gardens and good food. the only slightly inefficient part is immigration, which like many US airports involves long waits in line. But luckily the agents are more friendly and being a US citizen, no visa required. Checking back in is a breeze. They fingerprint you into the country and leaving you can use automated check in with their fingerprint recognition! No need to talk to anyone!

To get to Singapore from the airport we opted for the inexpensive option of the MRT (metro or subway system). To buy tickets you must use cash, so visit the exchange counter or ATM first. Our ticket down the East/west line only cost 2.20 SGD (Singapore dollar is equal to $0.75 USD as of 5/18). There was one transfer (from the Airport spur to the main East/west line). The MRT is very modern, clean, not too crowded, easy to follow, and like everything in Singapore, has plenty of English. In fact, English seems to be the preferred language for most public writing!

We stayed in a Hotel 81 (seems to be a popular 2-star chain in the area). I used booking.com (click my link to save $20 off your travels, helps me travel too!) and we spend SGD $75 (55 USD). The hotel room was small, but clean and comfortable and about a 10 minute walk from the Kallang station of the East/West line (25 min ride from the airport).

View From Hotel
The view from our hotel window. Not the newest neighborhood in the city but seemed safe and was convenient

Singapore is a very walk-able city. Between short (two stop) rides on the MRT and walking, we saw a good amount of it in just one afternoon. We primarily visited 4 areas. The first was Haji Lane and more generally the area around it between Beach Road and Kallang Road. There was a fundraiser market going on with all sorts of delicious looking food for a local Mosque. Haji Lane itself was full of tourists visiting quaint shops and taking photos. I can see the appeal of the architecture for sure but it did seem a bit touristy.

From here we walked north to Little India. This is a much larger area full of too many shops and restaurants to count. Some of the food is very cheap (SGD $4 for a meal) and many of the markets were quite crowded. There were many tourists here too but it didn’t have the same touristy feel as Haji Lane. Walking through the entire area took about a 2 hours but we could have spent way more time.

We then headed south-west to the Bugis Markets. Here we tried delicious food, drank amazing fruit juices and explore the vast array of food, clothing and other shopping options. This are was full of tourists but still had a very vibrant local feel to it. The architecture was beginning to get more modern as we approached the downtown core. Once we tired of the shops, we began the long two mile walk to downtown, Marina Sands, and the famous Gardens by the Bay.

Marina Sands
View of Marina Sands Hotel across the harbor

Marina Sands is everything its advertised. A spectacularly beautiful hotel with three impressive towers holding up what appears to be a ship straddling across them hundreds of feet in the air. Its a beautiful site to behold. We did not attempt to reach the pool, but I’ve heard of tourists sneaking in successfully to enjoy the rooftop views. We walked around it to the Gardens by the Bay. Surprisingly these are free for all but the cloud forest and the tree top walkway. We opted not to pay for either, as much of the gardens is open to all and the tree top walkway didn’t look that special. The cloud forest did look nice but I’ve done a lot of these indoor gardens in the past. I believe it was SGD $28 to do both indoor domes and the tree top walkway. The metal tree structures famous in these gardens were not as beautiful as often pictured. In fact the garden in general wasn’t quite up to my expectations. Its beautiful and green but just doesn’t seem as natural or colorful as many photos make it appear.

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The gardens were not fully lit up on this particular day

Overall Singapore is super clean, easy to navigate, and very modern. Supposedly it has great nightlife (number two rated EDM club in the world), but we were too tired for that. Apparently chewing gum and spitting are quite illegal but I saw many people doing both. I really wish we had planned two nights here, however, unless you are in to the modern city life and culture, I don’t think you need much more time in Singapore. Its a beautiful clean city, but still just a city. Perhaps knowing someone who lives there and could help us explore the cities secrets would have made it worth spending more time.

Approximate total cash cost (in USD): $75 (lodging, food, transit, activities).

Discounts received, reward money earned, points used etc: $30 back through Booking.com using affiliate link.

 

World Adventure Score (out of 10 stars)

Cost (overall, i.e. Norway is 1, US is 3, Nicaragua is 9): 4

Food (quality, cost and variety): 7

Culture (diversity, friendliness, etc): 7

Transportation (ease of use, public options): 10

Nature (places to hike, beautiful scenes, green cities): 5

Photography options (from a landscape and nature perspective): 4

Adventure factor (lots of adventurous activities): 3

Safety (ok to walk at night, lack of unsafe neighborhoods): 9

Overall: 6.1

 

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(Disclaimer: some links in here are affiliate links which may give me some compensation and help with my continued travels)

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hiking, lodging, photography, sierra nevada, travel, travel tips

Free Camping in the Sierras

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One of my favorite things about visiting the Sierra’s on the eastern side is all the free camping. Camping allows you to get out in nature in a much closer more intimate way. Cooking your own food and surviving the elements are so much fun (both of which we did on this trip as a huge storm blew throughout the entire night and the next morning we cooked an entire brunch on our fire!). Much of the land in the Sierra’s is BLM land which is generally free to camp in year round. Many of the campgrounds become free in the off season as well. We like Holiday Campground near Tom’s Place, Glass Creek Campground near Mammoth, and Buckeye dispersed camping near the Buckeye Hot Springs (probably the best in the sierras that I’ve been to). Make sure to get a fire permit (available for free online) and put your fire completely out. We don’t need the forest burning any more than it already has.

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lodging, places, travel tips

Awesome Airbnb Travel Deal!!

If you follow my blog you know that I am always looking for the best travel deals. I love traveling well (not 5-star but not bunk beds in hostels either) and Airbnb is one of the best sites I know for doing that. I’ve take 8 trips in the last 12 months with Airbnb.

Yesterday I was doing some shopping on Ebay when I stumbled upon this great deal: Buy a $110 Airbnb Gift card for only $100! I went ahead and bought one but am thinking about buying several more since its basically a 10% discount for free! I’m not sure when the sale ends but I wanted to pass it along.

If you have never used Airbnb, its basically rooms or entire houses that people rent out to travelers. So you can stay in a comfortable homey environment instead of a hotel for a price that is normally much better than hotel. I use it a lot for groups of people when we all want to stay together but need a lot of room. If you’ve never used it before use my link for and extra $40 credit on your account for your first booking!!!

Sign up for Airbnb HERE

Get $110 gift card for $100 HERE

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adventure, lodging, photography, travel, travel tips

What do you want to know about HAWAII?

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I just got back from an amazing nine nights in Hawaii (five on Oahu, and four on the Big Island). It was an epic adventure full of hiking, snorkeling, staying up too late and getting up too early, kayaking, and swimming. I think this trip taught me a lot about travel and was definitely an eye opener for what Hawaii is really like. Even though I prepared and researched significantly, there was much that the blogs, articles, and Instagram posts, I went through did not cover. This seems to be a common theme in my travels: you go somewhere very popular that you would expect to be well covered in the blog world, but you find that many of the things you wish you had known are no covered at all. So let me ask you: what would you like to know about Hawaii? How can I help you plan a trip there?

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lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?!? – Closing Thoughts

There are quite a few other options out there as well. I recently spent a few nights in a rustic cabin in Moab, Utah for $25/night with an external bathhouse (hot running water, heat, showers, etc) to be shared with other cabin campers. It was a cute, cozy cabin with a heater, nice bed, end table, lights, window, free parking, and a chair. The separate bathroom wasn’t far at all and kept quite clean. For the price it couldn’t be beat.

Some people enjoy using Couch Surfers. This is sort of like crashing on your friend’s couch while your in town, except with a stranger. It seems to work well for attractive women as there seem to be many young men willing to host them. My experience is limited but mostly involved emailing 7 people looking for a place without getting a single response. However, I know a number of young single women who have had positive experiences with the community and even the enjoyable spontaneous hook up.

I dislike the lack of safety checks that even Airbnb has (though Couch Surfing has worked to improve these and has a good review system in place), the lack of privacy, and the lack of establishing a means by which to ensure the availability of your stay (if your a stranger offering me a free place to crash, I can’t really get upset if you cancel last minute or stand me up).

If you have a large social media following and influence you can often get places to let you stay for free in exchange for some social media marketing or a good review. Research the place first to make sure you can in good faith give them what they are asking for. I see so many travel bloggers sharing photos on Instagram about their lovely stays at such and such a villa, and I can’t help but feel the knowledge being shared in being diluted by advertising. But if offered, I would certainly do the same while ensuring that my readers knew it was a paid endorsement so as not to be misleading.

Nepal has a lodging option called Tea Houses. These are often small hotels or rooms in people’s larger homes that may be rented by wayfarers and often include meals or have a restaurant associated. During off-season you can sometimes stay for free if you buy your meals from the owner. A private room may only cost your $10, but if probably won’t have hot running water or a private bath. Certainly an adventurous way of travel that I intend to use in the near future.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikon D810
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel: Camping

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Camping:

Outside of friends and family, camping is often your cheapest option. I’ve seen 8-10 people put 3 tents on one $20 camp site and literally pay about $2/each. There are some places you can even camp for free (Iceland and New Zealand are known for allowing people to camp for free on much public land and even the US has some free primitive sites). Being outside with nature is a travel experience everyone should have a least once a year if not much more.

Drawbacks to camping include, cold or hot nights, the need for camping gear, set up and take down, and limited facilities.

To avoid weather extremes, I’d recommend camping in the fall or spring. Bring proper warm clothing and blankets to stay warm. Plan to share a tent in cooler weather and perhaps sleep in a hammock in hotter weather.

Build a collection of camping essentials. These include (but are not limited to) a tent large enough for the group you wish to travel with, a warm sleeping bag, chairs, headlamps and lanterns, cooking utensils, fire starters, lighters, extra blankets, a tarp, a rain fly (if your tent doesn’t come with it), and a large cooler (for food to cook over your cozy fire).

Only camp if you have at least two days to stay at the site. Preferably 3 or 4 nights. While set  up and take down may only take a couple of hours, this adds up significantly when you add cooking time  and inconvenience of showering off site. If you must pay to camp, look for a spot that offers on site showers, has built in fire places with grills, and allows you to make reservations in advance.

One of the last times I went camping was in California in the Inyo National Forest. There were two of us and we stayed 3 days. It was about 45 degrees at night which was rather chilly, but we had 3  extra blankets and two sleeping bags which helped. Set up and take down was about 2 hours total. We did have a couple of fires and cooked our meals on them which was quite enjoyable. Cost was about $18/night plus $5/night for firewood. We already had all the equipment so that wasn’t a new expense.

If you plan on camping overseas and must fly equipment out there, make sure your cost of flying the equipment is worth the hassle. If you are only planning on camping a few nights and flying your gear is going to cost you $$$’s, you may find another lodging option is more affordable and convenient.

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hotels

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Hotels:

The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.

Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.

There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.

I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?

If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!

How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options  (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.

Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.

When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings  (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.

Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.

I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in  Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.

What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II