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

 

Enjoy my adventures?

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

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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

camera, photography

How I get my Photos: Detailed Editing (on my Laptop)

For exceptionally high quality edits, there is no real substitute for a full blown photo editing tool such as the desktop version of Lightroom or even Photoshop. I have an older version of Lightroom but it seems to work just fine for my skill level.  Adobe offers both as a subscription now rather than a one time program download. You can get both Photoshop and Lightroom as well as numerous mobile apps for just $9.99/month which I’d recommend if you are serious about editing your travel shots!

Lightroom for desktop offers incredibly detailed photo editing and covers nearly all your editing needs. I’m not an expert with Photoshop, but from talking to more experienced photographers, Photoshop is only necessary is you need to do drastic changes to your photos such as adding blue sky or deleting entire crowds of people.

Like the mobile version, I usually start with the Basic settings and then use the more advanced methods if these don’t correct the photo enough. The basic settings are nearly identical to the mobile app.

I also use the spot removal tool extensively to remove clutter, errors in lighting, and unwanted people in my photos. This is not available in the mobile app and is not especially good quality in the Snapseed app.

Lightroom for desktop also offers a gradient tool which is exceptionally useful for fixing overly exposed skies and underexposed landscapes at the same time.

Below are 5 copies of the same photo shot with my Nikon D3300 using my Nikkor 18-140mm lens at 18mm with an aperature of f/7.1, and shutter speed of 1/80 second, and and ISO of 100. The first is the originial untouched and the other 4 are various edits with Lightroom and Snapseed.

Original photo taken at dusk January 15, 2017 at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe in Nevada United States
Original photo taken at dusk January 15, 2017 at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe in Nevada United States

 

Photo edited with Lightroom desktop edition. I wasn't trying to make them all looks the same, just going for what looked best on the app I was using at the moment
Photo edited with Lightroom desktop edition. I wasn’t trying to make them all looks the same, just going for what looked best on the app I was using at the moment

 

Edited with Lightroom Mobile, notice the blue and purple tones, this is the effect of the Dehaze setting
Edited with Lightroom Mobile, notice the blue and purple tones, this is the effect of the Dehaze setting

 

Edited with Snapseed using the Drama filter and some minor retouching manually as well, notice the grainy texture from over-processing
Edited with Snapseed using the Drama filter and some minor retouching manually as well, notice the grainy texture from over-processing

 

Edited with Snapseed using basic settings and no preset filters
Edited with Snapseed using basic settings and no preset filters

That’s it for now. Help me do better! Leave a comment with your favorite tips and advice 🙂

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Save money by traveling like I do

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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: 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 🙂

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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 🙂

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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

camera, photography, travel tips

How I get my photos: Camera Settings

So you have all your gear now. How do you set up the camera?

I almost always use manual mode on my D3300. I can be way more specific and have much greater control over the outcome this way. I find that auto tends to overexpose things.

I do use the Auto setting for my White Balance quite often, especially if I’m having trouble getting the correct balance with the presets. However, play with this, because sometimes the Auto setting doesn’t get things quite right you will end up with an overly red or overly blue photo.

The manual mode has 3 primary functions you can adjust: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

I try to use the lowest ISO possible (100 for my camera) to reduce the amount of grain in a photo. Sometimes I go higher if I need a quick shutter speed in a darker situation.

Aperture basically determines whether you are focusing on a very narrow and specific depth of field (lower numbers) or focusing on a larger range of distances (higher numbers). Lower aperture lets in more light (thus you can use lower ISO and fast shutter speeds) and is good for focusing on one specific item while keeping the background and/or foreground blurry.

For a standard landscape photo I use an aperture somewhere between 8 and 11. This allows me to keep the ISO at 100, keep the shutter speed fast enough that I don’t need a tripod, and still get the entire landscape, both near and far, in focus. When trying to get a long exposure I will turn the aperture up to 22 to reduce the light coming in so I can decrease the shutter speed without over-exposing the photo.

Shutter speed determines how long the photo absorbs light. I like long shutter speeds to blur water, take in stars, and give a dreamy soft light feeling to my photos. However, this requires a tripod or something sturdy to set your camera on, much more time, and compensation if it is bright out (a dark filter for example). Quick shutter speeds (1/400) are good for motion that you want to stop in mid-air (my classic jumping photos on my Instagram are taken like this).

I have recently been using an extra dark filter, 30+ second exposure, 100 ISO, and an aperture of 22 to capture some fantastic dusk photos with soft ambient lighting and blurred water (see the photo featured in this post).

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

 

city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

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