How we found the best flight and hotel deals in San Francisco

2014-12-28 14.53.35Flights:

While we scored a relatively good deal (considering it was peak season to travel) on the flights, the exchange rate kicked our butts $695USD > $821CND. I did my usual routine and once again used www.bing.com/travel, an aggregate search for flights, which lead us to book our flights through Orbitz.

The one thing we found was that booking flights separately was cheaper as airlines sometimes release limited discount seating. Ordering through Orbitz can be a riskier process as your flight won’t be guaranteed until a few hours or a day later which is what happened with Carl’s flight. While my ordered processed through, Carl took multiple tries. We ended up with the same Air Canada direct flight into San Francisco (from San Fran we flew into San Diego), but a different United Airlines flight back to Toronto. If you get lucky, like we did, someone at the help desk at United on the day of would put you on standby on the same flight. This depends if you’re willing to travel independently.

Hotel:

Our flight got in at 11pm so I figured we would save a day’s rate and rent the car the next day by the airport. In hindsight, the rate would’ve been the same since it’s within 24 hours but you save on the crazy parking rate ($40/night by our hotel downtown). The first night we stayed by the airport at Hyatt SFO that I found on Orbitz after doing a comparison on Priceline and Hotwire, my other go-to sites. I also used Orbitz because I gained around $2.50 Orbitz rewards every time I used them.

For the next 3 nights, we stayed at Serrano Hotel in the Union Square area so everything would be walking distance (kinda). We found this hotel through Express deals on Priceline where they’ll indicate that there’s a 3 star hotel for the price of $109/night and you take a chance at what hotel you land on vs. bidding. The first night at the hotel was disappointing, the room was mediocre and the tub was small and clogged. We spoke with the front desk though who was very helpful and upgraded us to a suite, which was much nicer with a large jacuzzi tub.

Car Rental:

We rented a car for a day from RelayRides (click here for my review of RelayRides) to go to the places that were outside of the city.

You can determine where I travel to next!

For weeks I have been contemplating my next trip and can’t seem to figure out where I should head off to. I will be taking a vacation from April 1st – 12th during the Easter weekend and I want to hear from you!

Take the poll and tell me where you’d like me to go to, or comment below to give me some advice about traveling to these destinations during April. You can also vote based on where you would like to go, then I can start hunting for deals so I can do the work for you 🙂

– POLL CLOSED, WE ARE OFF TO ITALY IN MAY! –

Cheaper Alternative to Car Rental Companies: RelayRides Review

bmw-328i-m-sport-01-750x500One of the bickering points Carl and I had prior to this San Francisco trip was blaming each other as to why the car rental hasn’t been booked 2 days before we left. This was because I said I would do it (oops!). So I scavenged the web to find a car rental place that worked for our budget (we tried Priceline, Orbitz, Expedia) and by then, they were either not available or way above $80/day for a compact car.

We then stumbled on RelayRides from the San Francisco airport website. The prices were more than reasonable and what an innovative service! While locals are away for travel, they can park by the airport for free and make money renting out their car that would otherwise be sitting in the lot. Of course, you’d be a more trusting person and expect the car to be returned in the same condition. As a renter you should also be respectful of the owner’s car.

Prior to even booking the car, there are 4 items you have to submit. Specifically for Canadians you’ll need:

  • A picture of your drivers license
  • A picture of your face next to your drivers license
  • A picture of your face next to your passport
  • A copy of your driving record (you can get the un-certified official copy from the MOT after office hours for $12 online)

Their response time was quick even for the Christmas holidays. We submitted our form on Dec 25th and was approved the night of Dec 26th. Much like AirBnB, you can see the owner/RelayRides’ response time and rating. But you can only submit an inquiry after approval. There were a variety of cars to choose from, from Toyota Prius from $26/day to Porsche 911s from $100/day. We ended up with a BWM 3 series well below the $80/day price tag and we had the car for 24 hours.

From the San Francisco airport, take the Westin Hotel shuttle where RelayRides’ car lot is. There is an attendant on site who will process your car rental for you. You then make your own inspection and they will also send you an inspection report. That’s it and you’re good to go. Upon return (to the same location or I believe you can negotiate for a drop off with the owner), you sign the app and you’re on your way.

I was really excited to share this post with you guys. I’m always looking for good deals and this was truly a great find. I can’t wait till they expand to Toronto. I don’t want to be too biased though, so you can also read other reviews on Yelp. Would love to hear your experience too!

How well do you know your partner’s travel style?

10911430_10154959607005063_9192723882972842870_oTowards the middle of December, I found Carl and myself bickering more than usual. From the stress of work to the busyness of home, we found ourselves overwhelmed and annoyed at each other. Nothing we did seemed right and we couldn’t figure out why. The carrots weren’t sliced the right way and the trash wasn’t taken out at the right time. You ask yourself, ‘are we usually like this?’ Fortunately we had a 10 day trip ahead of us to finally relax, and what a difference it made.

I’m sure you’ve heard many times that you don’t really know a person until you’ve traveled with them. We’ve traveled many times together and we’ve always been quite compatible. This trip was just a reminder of how well we work together. Once we got on the plane, we took a breather and left the worries and the chill of Toronto behind us.

Carl once again reverted back to the accommodating boyfriend he has always been. He takes the middle seat so I don’t have to be next to a stranger and lifts my over-packed carry on in the overhead bins with no complaints. I push him to ask for directions and questions so I don’t have to. I make him fill out tedious forms even though we’re both equally as annoyed with doing them. These are all the important little things in every relationship you need to learn to appreciate. I’m sure most men are willing to help lift your carry on in the overhead compartment but I’ve also seen those who don’t.

Our habits compliment each other well too, we’re very relaxed travelers. We find that there’s always a solution and there’s no point in stressing each other out when we’ve missed a train or forgot an item. We have a rough idea of what we want to do but no set schedule because they can always change to accommodate the day. We’re honest in what we want to do and what we don’t want to waste time lining up for. We compromise with each others needs and like in everyday life, those are the things that I believe make for a healthy relationship.

Of course, Carl suffers from a condition known as ‘Hangry’. A combination of hunger that is triggered from his stomach and communicated as anger due to his indecisiveness to choose a restaurant that satisfies his needs…but some things can be overlooked 🙂

So remember: before you commit, travel.

San Francisco Itinerary – Day 1 – Suggestions?

This Christmas holiday, we’ll be heading off to San Francisco (Dec 26-Dec 30) for a few days. I’m looking for suggestions on where to go and your thoughts on the itinerary below. Please leave your suggestions/comments in the comment section below and we’ll be sure in incorporate!

SF-day1

 

 

A local’s guide to touring Ontario – Fall Edition

Last December I wrote a post about touring Toronto in the Winter. One comment had mentioned that I did a poor job of showing my family around the city but I’m not sure if they were aware I tried to cater to my 10 year old cousin. This time, my uncle came during the end of October and I think I did a pretty good job. I knew he wanted to relax, take strolls in the city and take lots of pictures to feed his photography hobby.

Here’s the itinerary of his trip:

Day 1 – Mono Cliffs Provincial Park

My uncle wanted to enjoy the fall colours, so along with my family and our two pups, we set off to Mono Cliffs Provincial Park which is about an hour north of Markham. It was a great hike, though a few steep slopes on your way down. There was the options of stairs you can use. By the time we finished the trail, it was around 4:30pm and we drove into Orangeville for him to take pictures of their downtown main street, Broadway. Unfortunately most of the boutique shops were closed.

Day 2 – Casa Loma, Spadina Museum, University of Toronto Campus and the Distillery District

There was a lot of walking but the weather was nice so it was quite enjoyable. We went up the Baldwin Steps towards the Spadina Museum. There we went on an hour long guided tour for $9.00 each – it was a small group so it allowed for a lot of interaction with the guide. Then we went over the Casa Loma and while it was a beautiful place, it was more than double the price for admission and you guide yourself with an audio device (Tip: keep your receipt from the Spadina Museum to get $1 off your Casa Loma admission). We made our way south to walk around the University of Toronto campus and took pictures of historical buildings along the way. We then drove down to the Distillery District for more pictures.

Day 3 – Harbourfront, Humber Bay Arch Bridge, Front Street area.

Day 4-6 – Muskoka (Sand Lake), Huntsville, Dorset Outlook Tower

What an experience! We rented cottage #439 through http://www.cottagevacations.com this time. Just 2.5-3 hours north of Markham, the cottage was private and had a panoramic view of Sand Lake. Though it was raining, we caught beautiful sunsets on both nights. With skylights in 2 of the 3 bedrooms, my uncle was also able to catch the stars at night (a rare sight considering he’s from HK). On our way back to the city, we also stopped to hike up the Dorest Tower for an elevated view of Muskoka and a lunch break in Bracebridge.

Day 7 – Port Hope

This was one of the days we enjoyed the most. I’ve always raved about Port Hope, roughly an hour east of Toronto. Port Hope’s downtown is celebrated now as the best-preserved 19th-century streetscape in Ontario and a much longer main street than most. My uncle got great shots of historical homes and fall scenery. Shop owners were so friendly and one noticed that we had a DLSR and recommended we head over to Trinity College to get some good shots, and so we did. What a beautiful school, enhanced with the red leaves from the vines on the building.

I also have this obsession with trying homemade pies and tarts in small towns so I tracked down Betty’s Pie. The business is located in a quaint house with a homey feel and they had awesome pricing! We got half a dozen sweet tarts and 4 medium sized meat pies and boy, they were delicious. All of them. But they’re exceptional when you reheat it and have it with a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream!

I hope this list didn’t disappoint. As I always say, you can find road trips adventures wherever you go – just keep looking!

Check out more of my uncle’s photos here.

Top places to chow down in GTA (North)

I decided to make this post simple since there’s quite a few places to write about! These are the places that we frequent, maybe we’ll see you there 🙂

Markham

Hana-Bi Sushi – Hwy 7 and Warden

  • Top picks: Zen box 9 (dinner)
  • Pros: Good service, decent portions, good price
  • Cons: Freshness is somewhat inconsistent, tight seating

Korean Express – Hwy 7 and Warden First Markham food court

  • Top picks: Ramen or pork bone soup
  • Pros: Excellent service, good portions, good price
  • Cons: If you get the first batch of the pork bone soup, it’s not as flavourful, food court seating

Forgot the name- will update – Hwy 7 and Warden First Markham food court

  • Top picks: Chicken katsu
  • Pros: Good service, decent portions, good price, comes with a drink
  • Cons: Food court seating

Restoran Malaysia– Bayview and Major Mac

  • Top picks: Chicken laksa
  • Pros: Good service, creamy laksa soup base, plenty spacious seating, clean
  • Cons: A little more expensive

Scarborough/Toronto

Mexico Lindo – Birchmount and Huntingwood

  • Top picks: Fish tacos and ground beef tacos
  • Pros: Great flavours, freshly made foods
  • Cons: A little expensive for a place like this, lack of seating, slower service, a tad smaller portions

L’arte Cafe – Don Mills and Lawrence

  • Top picks: Prosciutto and arugula pizza and regular latte
  • Pros: Lovely design, authentic Italian cafe
  • Cons: Location is hard to find within medical building, limited seating (but usually not busy)

Ming’s (HK Cafe) – Kennedy and Steeles

  • Top picks: Taiwanese brick toast, sirloin steak (surprisingly good!)
  • Pros: You can’t go wrong with a $13 steak with soup and a drink, relatively clean, good selection
  • Cons: Depends on who you talk to but service isn’t always the best but it’s quick

Ni Ji Sushi – Midland and Ellesmere

  • Top picks: Sushi and Maki bento box
  • Pros: Good selection, fresh sushi, reasonable pricing
  • Cons: Tight seating

Tasty Shawarma – Pharmacy and Sheppard plaza

  • Top picks: Chicken/beef shawarma
  • Pros: Good deal $7 for 2 shawarmas, open late
  • Cons: Smaller selection

One2 Snacks– Midland and Sheppard plaza

  • Top picks: Definitely chicken laksa
  • Pros: Good service (though a tad slow), very popular with locals, best laksa soup base
  • Cons: No seating, desserts always sold out

My Favourite Travel Quotes

  1. Go at least once a year to a place you’ve never been
  2. When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half your clothes and twice the money.
  3. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
  4. Live in the sunshine, swim in the sea, and drink the wild air.
  5. Better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times.
  6. It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books. (Chinese proverb)
  7. We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.
  8. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
  9. The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.
  10. We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.
  11. Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
  12. Collect moments, not things.
  13. There are 7 days in a week, and someday isn’t one of them.
  14. A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not why ships are built.
  15. Let’s find someplace beautiful and get lost.
  16. I always wonder why birds choose to stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth, then i ask myself the same question.
  17. Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.
  18. I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I intended to be
  19. YOLO – I’m just kidding

Submit your favourite quote in the comment section below!

Lost summer nights

Dear High Schooler,

Remember that summer you spent at home, occasionally going out with friends and worked a minimum wage, part-time retail job that you took too seriously? Remember that chance you had to spend by the beach in San Diego or somewhere much hotter…but didn’t because you had “work”? Well there’s 40+ years of work ahead and most of the time, your part-time job won’t be a life changer.

But remember that 2 month break you had that you didn’t maximize? The one where you just sat on the couch, played video games and watched time tick by? Those are the moments you’ll regret.

Last night I took a stroll with your boyfriend – yes you guys are still together despite the arguments (last week, you almost fought over a mushroom that fell behind the compost). I began to reflect on all those endless summer nights that you spent at home. Those nights where you stayed up till 3 am, can enjoy an entire McDonalds meal and not gain a single pound.  Those nights that you didn’t spend traveling, learning, experiencing.

Drop all that. Those days will change. You’ll get a little older, a little more tired and have many more responsibilities. What you’ll have much less of is time.

It’s time you go on an adventure and let it all go. Be a kid, be a child even if you don’t feel like one. Enjoy yourself – I can guarantee you that you won’t regret it. What you’ll regret is when you have a full-time job, a mortgage, only 3 weeks of vacation and a family you’ll be saving for…and now you don’t have the time to get away and escape to the adventures of your past. During that simple stroll last night, I thought to myself, ‘if only this was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have to worry about going to work the next day’.

Let me do the working. While I’m still young, I’m a little more ambitious. Let me do the thinking. I have a better idea of where I’m going and I’ll take you with me. You don’t have to worry about any of that.

So why don’t you just go on those adventures for me so we can enjoy it together in the future?

Olivia

The Roadtrip Girl’s choice for top attractions in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has always been my second home. Well, it was really my first home. Born in Hong Kong, my family immigrated to Toronto when I was 4 years old but the sights, sounds and love for Hong Kong remained with me. After my first year in university and savings from my first part time job, the first place I visited was Hong Kong. And shortly after my career began, Hong Kong was the first city I vacationed. Once again, I recently returned from a 2 week trip in Macau, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the city skyline never fails to take my breath away.

I’ve been a pretty dedicated @CathayPacific flyer and have had positive experiences – it’s important for a 16 hour flight! Their meals are good for what it is and I’ve scored pretty good deals on most of my flights. This year they had a sale on Valentines day YYZ > HKG for only $1200 which is a similar deal from my flight 2 years ago. From HKG > TPE the ticket was around $230. The seats were comfortable for my size and had a great selection of shows and movies to occupy my time for 16 hours.

It was unfortunate that it rained every single day that I was in Hong Kong but we still managed to do what we wanted. The weather in May is usually quite rainy (averages 13 rainy days) and around 25C (77F). Humidity is also really high so you’ve been warned!

As a tourist/past local, and with some help from @HongKongTourism, here are the top places I would recommend:

  • The Peak – This location provides the ultimate view of Hong Kong from the skies. The view transforms from the morning sun to the illuminated night.
  • Tsim Sa Tsui/Avenue of Stars– This is the land level perspective from Kowloon across to Hong Kong island. Each night, you can also see a laser light show.
  • Hong Kong Museum of History – The entire history of Hong Kong’s evolution is on display with model adaptations of the past. What a fantastic journey to walk through!
  • Shek O/Stanley – The beach side village is a short bus ride away. With the Victorian Era Murray House moved piece by piece to its current location, its like a step back into history. Sit down and enjoy a coffee, do some people watching and listen to the crash of the waves.
  • Causeway Bay – Check out the hustle and bustle of this busy city with this jam packed area of shopping fanatics. Concentrated with Sogo and Times Square, it’s a shopaholics’ dream! But hidden in between the busy malls is a street with cheap finds and great deals.
  • TBC…

While others refer to Paris as the City of Lights and New York as the City that Never Sleeps, Hong Kong, to me is all encompassing.  Hong Kong is a place that has me going back for more.