The world's your oyster
2016 marks my first year in a decade of not being a teen - yes, I can no longer escape situations with the “I’m a teenager who doesn’t know better" excuse. That said, this year marks a whole host of exciting things - graduation, moving on to the next phase of my life, and most importantly, grad trips.
While I’ve travelled to other countries before, all of them were with my family or school. And in these situations, all we had to do is select our outfits and leave the rest - accommodation, travel routes, and budgeting - to the grown-ups. When travelling with friends, situations can get more stressful, especially when you’re left to your own devices.
Preparing an overseas trip is no walk in the park, but it’s worthwhile. To help you alleviate stress and not turn into a travel-zilla, here’re 14 hacks that’ll make any future overseas trips so much easier.
1. Convert your leftover coins!
For most of us, arriving at the airport 2 hours before departure is the best way to check in without the “OMG am I gonna be stranded here for good” angst. As for me, I reach the airport 3 hours before flying - neither because I’m kiasu, nor because I wanna be the first to check in, but rather to do duty-free shopping just to spend all my coins.
And just so y’know, coins around the world aren't as low-value as the ones in SG - 500 yen (~5SGD) comes in coin form. That's $5 in coins that many of us would just put on a table and forget about forever. But this is going to change.
A new startup called the Traveler’s Box has kiosks in airports around the world that allow you to deposit your leftover coins and convert them into PayPal dollars which you can then use to purchase something more worthwhile. There are currently 7 Traveler’s Boxes internationally, and they charge about 3-10% of the amount you feed it, but at least it saves you from buying fads or just leaving it in a jar to never use it again!
2. Use Your EZ-Link Card as Hotel Key Card
Though the ballers in us would love to travel in style - wearing shades and sliding into a sleek black Mercedes to the airport sounds like a dream - the frugal Singaporean comes through and we get reminded that just because we can spend $30 on taxi, it doesn’t mean we should. But while we save a ton of money taking public transport to the airport, it also means we have to sacrifice a card slot for the EZ-Link card in our newly vacation-ized wallet. By that we just mean a wallet stacked with foreign notes and train maps.
Here’s a way to solve the issue: use your EZ-Link card as your hotel key card. Granted you won't be able to use it to get in and out of your room, but you can slot it in your room to keep the AC and light running. Which means you can enjoy roaming around the city and returning to a comfortable and cool room once you’re back. No more stuffy and stale rooms!
3. Bring home the free hotel room slippers
Source Take it from Miley, she does it too.
Too caught up with packing the most glam kicks and forgetting to pack something comfy for the flight? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. But lucky for us, there is a saving grace - and it doesn’t involve buying a new pair of flip-flops.
The night before leaving the hotel on your flight back, ask for an extra pair of bedroom slippers and wear that on the plane. People who have never tried it won't understand, but the zen your feet feels, caressed in soft cotton slip-ons, will make you abandon your Air Jordans for a few hours.
Not enough plastic bags to hold the shoes you won’t be wearing? Snag a shower cap from the the hotel toilet, they work perfect as shoe holders!
4. Start your vacation early by utilising our airport’s entertainment
We all know how much it sucks to idle at the airport for 4 hours because your flight's at 3am and you wanted to save money by taking the bus to the airport. And it’s even more absurd to think that you have to wander about doing nothing in our renowned Changi Airport when you shouldn’t have to!
Movie buffs can make themselves comfortable at the movie theatres in Terminal 2 and 3 that run round the clock to make sure you’re entertained for at least 2 hours, while nature lovers can feel the night breeze at the Cactus, Sunflower or Orchid Gardens.
Other than movie theatres, the transit area features an entertainment deck, where you can play with XBox Kinects and Playstation 3s, and there’s also a MTV booth where you can jam to the latest hits on a HD 50 inch plasma.
Find out what else you can do at the airport here.
5. Get the cheapest flights
We Singaporeans are a cheapskate bunch, but it’s a totally rational decision. Save money on the plane ticket, spend more on all the food and clothes in Bangkok, yes?
There are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to ensure you’re getting the best deals, and they’re all super easy to do.
5.1 Clear your cache / go incognito
First off, if you’ve got a habit of sitting in the office and randomly Googling flights for your next holiday, you may want to start browsing in incognito mode. Many travel sites track your browsing data, and if they realise that you spend a lot of time scouring for flights to New Zealand, they’ll slowly jack up the price and you’ll be missing out on the best deals.
The same goes for browser cookies - clear your cookies after each flight-trawling session, and you can be assured that the next time you try booking a flight, you’re getting the cheapest price.
5.2 Getting the cheapest fares for non time-sensitive vacations
If you’re planning for a vacation to somewhere further away, like London, check out this handy website called Kayak.sg.
Using their Explore function, you can toggle and see which months you can get the cheapest flights to any destination. A flight to London for $820 in April? I’m sold. This function is great if you have a specific destination in mind, and flexibility as to when you have to travel.
It’s also handy if you know for sure you want to travel during a specific month, but can’t decide where exactly you want to go. Just use Kayak to find out where the cheapest destination is, and that’s your vacation plans sorted.
You can also filter destinations by price as well as amount of time you want to spend cooped up in the plane cabin - talk about a handy travel planning companion!
5.3 Select your seats strategically when traveling in pairs
Here’s one final tip: if you’re travelling in a pair, book the window and the aisle seat, leaving the middle empty. Unless the flight is full, it’s unlikely anyone will book the seat in-between the two of you, giving you the entire row to yourselves.
6. Use the TV to charge your phone
If the odds are NOT in your favour when you bring all your electronics but not their life providers (aka chargers) you’re basically going to be a living scrap metal field, lugging around a bunch of metals. First step: try you luck and ask the front desk for any lost and found chargers. If there aren't any, don’t worry, the end is not nigh - at least if you have your charging cable.
As long as you’re in a decent hotel with a smart TV, you can still charge your phone! Look for the USB port on the side of the TV, and voila! Your iPhone will be back to being functional in no time at all.
7. Snag discounts from all over the world with STA Student card
Source Every student’s mantra when it comes to travelling
For the polytechnic student or university sophomore, planning for overseas trips with friends between school terms or after graduation usually means working an extra shift or two whenever the weekend rolls in. After all, these holidays don’t pay for themselves. But believe it or not, for just $25, you can access over 40,000 discounts all over the world - and not just small knickknacks and useless discounts.
With theSTA International Student Identity Card, you enjoy discounts of up to 40% off airfares via STA, huge rebates on travel and lifestyle purchases such as Lonely Planet guidebooks, and certain discount passes. With this card, a round trip to Copenhagen that once cost $1023 is now $613.8 - that covers the plane fare and accommodation!
8. Use Google Maps even if you’ve no data
Even within our sunny shores, getting to an ulu cafe that’s more than 10 minutes away from the MRT station is a challenge, much less navigating the streets when you're overseas. We can find solace in Google Maps, but what’s one to do when data is limited and we don’t have wifi?
Most of us have and use Google maps on a regular basis, but not all know about its offline cache mapping function. It’s simple - just follow the instructions here.
TL;DR: Google Maps will make directions and maps available for you so you'll never get lost in a land where English is not the common language again.
9. Get travel insurance for an entire year from $98 onwards
There are 7 long holidays in 2016. That's 7 opportunities for a quick getaway, whether to Bangkok, Taiwan, Bali, or Hong Kong, at minimal damage to your leave balance. If you plan to travel so often, it's safer to get travel insurance in case you experience a flight delay or lose your luggage. And yes, it's tempting to not get travel insurance when 4 days of coverage can cost $40, but we have a solution for that.
NTUC Income has a travel insurance plan that's active for one year from only $98. There's only one catch: your travel date has to include one gazetted public holiday in Singapore - which is what most of us do anyway! You'll be covered for worldwide travel^, up to 10 days each trip!
^Except to or through dangerous areas such as Afghanistan, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Sudan or Syria.
You'll be immediately insured for the next 12 months from the moment you activate your plan. And no, there are no sneaky terms and conditions in size 2 fonts that limit you to 2 trips a year. You get to travel as much as you like to anywhere your heart desires, as long as it covers a public holiday!
10. Spur-of-the-moment travelling plans? No worries with accommodation.
In most cases, "the early bird catches the worm" is a good mantra to live by. But in every young adult’s life, there’s bound to be a moment when you and your bestie casually talk about travelling soon, and actually mean it.
“Eh, we should go to Seoul together someday”
"Ya, how bout next week?”
Boom, you log on to book the flight tickets and you’re set to fly in 7 days’ time. Then come the worries. Of accommodation and of everything that might go wrong. The risk involved with flying on such short notice is the availability of hotels or the lack thereof. At worst, you end up in a dodgy hotel like the one in American Horror Story. But don’t worry - to every problem, there is a solution.
HotelQuickly is an app that will solve your last minute accommodation woes. Sign in, customise the relevant filters to the country you’re going, the duration, and the app will show you the best hotels that are around the region. Depending on your budget, you can pick standard rooms to luxury suites. Now that’s sweet.
11. Bring a water bottle with you
This hack is one of the most basic ones, but it always saves me from the painfully dry plane cabin air.
You can’t bring a bottle full of water with you through the security checkpoints, but there’s nothing stopping you from bringing an empty bottle with you. Once you’ve cleared security and are waiting to board the plane, just sidle over to the water cooler and fill up.
This is especially useful if you’re flying budget, and adamantly refuse to pay the exorbitant prices for something you get for free from any tap in Singapore.
If you’re flying on full-cost carriers, there’s a high chance of finding a water dispenser outside the lavatory onboard. A bottle will come in handy then, and you won’t have to trouble the cabin crew throughout a 13-hour flight.
12. Find WiFi passwords on Foursquare
The search for free WiFi is a long and arduous one. Yes, I bought a SIM card so that I can have data on the go, but if I’m having dinner at a restaurant, I’m definitely searching for their WiFi password. Are you sure keying in 0987654321 doesn’t work? What if I reverse it?
Well, here’s a trick. Try checking the comments left behind on the establishment’s Foursquare, or their reviews on platforms like Yelp. You may just find exactly what you’re looking for, and be able to stalk people on Instagram over dinner without burning your precious data.
The era of Foursquare may have ended, but this is a pretty good reason to keep the app around still.
13. Beat the exchange rate with an ATM
So you underestimated the amount of money you needed for all your shopping, eating, and adventures while on vacation. That’s fine, you’ve got some Singapore money on hand, and there’s a money changer nearby.
But then, you realise the exchange rates are horrendous. What’s a traveller to do?
Well, simply head over to an ATM. If your ATM card is connected to either of the three major networks such as PLUS, Cirrus, or Maestro, you’re usually good to go. It’s often the best way to bypass terrible exchange rates and avoid unscrupulous money changers, especially as the ATM usually only charges a flat rate for its money changing service. For the same reason, it’s definitely more worthwhile to withdraw in bulk.
Before going a trip though, just check what rates you’ll be charged, and whether your network is available in the country you’re visiting - just look at the back of the card to find out!
Safety-wise, try to withdraw money from a bank where there are security cameras and guards on hand in case anyone tries to steal your cash.
14. Be a pro navigator in the city even without 3G
An internet connection is something we may not have all the time while we’re on vacation. Sometimes, you just want to cut yourself off from your boss’ endless emails while exploring a new city, but that can be a problem if you end up being horrifically lost and can’t search for directions.
That’s an easy fix with this nifty app called MetrO - pretty much a Gothere.sg you can use offline in other cities. You can download a city map with routes for buses, trains, and trams, making it an all-comprehensive map of wherever you are.
The app allows you to find the best route using your current location, and the best part is, data is stored offline so you can go off on your isolated adventures and not worry if you take a wrong turn.
Sadly for Android-users, MetrO is only available on iOS, but we’re hoping that will change.
Pack Up and Go
I'm writing this while I'm on a trip to Tokyo, so I've done my research and know the importance of getting proper coverage. It isn’t just about covering serious physical damage, but also for flight and baggage delays or loss of any items during transit.
With NTUC Income’s Public Holidays Travel Plan, you can now discount a troubled step in travel planning without relying on just your blessings. Foot a one-time payment of $98 for the Classic plan type or $138 for the Deluxe plan type and you’re immediately insured for any trip over the next 12 months from your policy start date, as long as your trip falls on any of the gazetted public holidays!
The package deal ends 29th of February, so get your NTUC Income Public Holidays Travel Plan now!
This post was brought to you by NTUC Income .