The original plan was to go to Australia & New Zealand for Sept/Oct 2019 with my friend Winnie. We were hoping for a flight deal to come along. Unfortunately no deal came by the deadline we gave ourselves so we decided to go to Europe together instead. Our itinerary is all over the place zig –zagging all over Europe. We narrowed down our top 10 countries we wanted to visit in the time period we had and researched where we could fly to for a bargain. From there, we chose to go to the warmer destinations first to extend our summer. The last leg of the trip was originally going to be staying in London/UK but we decided during the trip to go somewhere warm because let’s be fair, the heat makes things happier especially being in chilly and wet weather for awhile.
Now, before you get to the itinerary (all the way at the bottom), I am posting some (hopefully) helpful tips and information that came up during our trip.
Money – STACK (Pre-paid Mastercard)
36 days of travelling to multiple countries with different currencies takes a lot of organizing. When I travel, I usually carry a good amount of cash on me and pay that way so I don’t incur high conversion fees using my credit card. I made sure I knew what countries I was going to and calculated roughly how much I would be spending per day and got cash for certain countries I knew I would be in for a longer duration.
I tried to average about $60CAD/day. Prior to setting off on this trip, we tried to book our Airbnb’s, car rentals and flights in advance so at least those costs were covered.
My brother told me about this card called STACK, which is a conversion fee pre-paid Mastercard. With this card, you Interac transfer money from your bank account to the card account via the app using the special custom question and answer the app provides you with. Say you decide to transfer $200 to the card, if the card gets stolen, the card is not linked to your actual bank account and if say only $200 is on the card that is the limit that can be used. This card comes as a physical card but is also a virtual card via the app.
What I liked about using this card is that it was a very fast and secure way of paying for things abroad and the app also notifies you when a transaction has been made and will convert it automatically to your main currency so you don’t have to calculate the conversion yourself. And it is conversion fee free!
I used this card more so in the Scandinavian countries because they have started to adopt the cash-less transactions method but I still used cash in many of the other countries we travelled to.
Use my referral link and you’ll get $5 in your account when you activate your card.
Download STACK now: https://getstackco.app.link/fuqEmfMNH1 (this link only works on your phone via the app once its downloaded)
Yes Ryanair has super cheap flights BUT many hidden costs or steps. We decided to go to many countries because of how cheap the flights were (12£ one-way to go from London (Stansted) to Copenhagen (CPH) is a real good price). We also booked early. These cheap tickets have many drawbacks. First off, many of the airports you fly out of or into are not usually the main airports and are usually smaller airports outside of the city centre which adds more travel time.
More recently, Ryanair changed their luggage requirements from what use to be a free carry-on (still smaller than regulation size on other airlines) and now the only free luggage you can have must be 40x20x25CM. Depending on the airport and the staff, they don’t really check the size of your bag. I got the size compliant bag (Swissgear – https://www.shopbentley.com/en/escape-collection-travel-tote-swiss-gear-1016684.html) and it sits under the seat no problem with room to spare. The staff didn’t really check so you could get away with a slightly larger bag or a bag that can squish.
REMEMBER TO ALWAYS CHECK IN ONLINE. You can do this up to 48 hours. For non-EU passengers, you must print your documents, as they will not issue you a boarding pass. I found that with flights not connected to the UK, the boarding pass will be issued to your Ryanair App however, if you are flying out of or into UK, you must print your boarding pass to get a Visa check and stamp. I have heard that if you don’t print it and ask at the check-in desk, there is an expensive fee for them to print for you.
Car rentals – International Driver’s License
As a Canadian, you are required to have your International Driver’s License to rent a car in Spain.
Travelling throughout many countries in Europe for over a month, trying to find a SIM card plan that works in all the countries and for that period of time was a challenge but there are definitely options out there beside “roaming” with your phone plan back home as that can be costly.
For my 36 day Eurotrip, I purchased this 30 day SIM card that works throughout 71 European countries with 12GB + 3000 minutes + 3000 texts. You are also able to top up this plan when in the UK by purchasing in-store.
Photo & Video Storage – SSD & USB – I brought an external to back up my photos from my DSLR and my phone every night. I also bring a USB for back-up to the back-up of the external for peace of mind since my phone internal storage is not large enough to store all the photos from the trip for the entirety of 36 days. I would suggest bringing another USB (64GB should suffice) to be the back up to the back up for the phone photos so you can clear space.
You can also use cloud storage but I am not a fan of that so these are my alternatives.
Alltrails is amazing for finding hikes around the world. People review or comment on each hike and also you can see the difficulty and lengths. You can also download the app.
To be honest, we ate out a lot this trip. When we could, we tried to make some meals with friends. We also stocked up on snacks like fruit and breakfast (skyr, yogurt, granola etc). You will find that there are many grocery stores but some are superior to others in terms of quality for the price. Budget friendly grocery stores you should be on the lookout for are Aldi & LIDL.
Spain – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (5-10%)
Eating times Different times for eating. They take siesta very seriously and will take hour long lunches where the kids will go home as well to eat with family. Dinner usually starts around 8PM.
Desayuno – breakfast – 7-9AM
-a Spanish classic is a toasted baguette with olive oil and crushed tomatoes
-other breakfast foods consist of churros and chocolate or pastries like croissants.
Almuerzo – Mid-morning snack – 1030-11AM – Coffee with a muffin or a croissant with ham and cheese
La Comida – Lunch – 2-330PM – Most important meal of the day.
Merienda – Mid-after snack – 530-730PM – More about socializing – more drinks than food. Churros are popular at this time of day or a small meat and cheese sandwich.
La hora del aperitivo – Tapas Hour – 830-10PM
La Cena – Dinner time – 9-11PM – Dinner is usually much lighter than a standard dinner meal. Traditional Spanish dinners are shared plates.
-Try Clara – beer with lemonade or lemon Fanta
-Try Tinto de verano – Red wine with Sprite or Fanta (very popular in Spain) – very similar to sangria
-Hola – Ola – Hello
-Adios – bye
-Si – Yes
-No – No
-Pardon or Disculpa – Excuse me
-Por Favor – Please
-Gracias – Thank you
-De nada – You’re Welcome
-Lo SIento – Sorry
-Factura – Bill
-Salud – Cheers
-Camamos – Let’s eat
Portugal – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (5-10%)
-You need to try some pastel de nata (Portugese Egg Tarts)
-Ola – Hello
-Oi – Hi
-Tchau – Bye
-Sim – Yes
-Nao – No
-Por Vaor – Please
-Obrigado – Thank you
-De nada – You’re Welcome
-Desculpe – I’m Sorry
-Perdao – Pardon me
-Saúde – Cheers
-vamos comer – Let’s eat!
Sweden – Stockholm – SEK – Swedish Krone
-Open drinking on the streets is not allowed.
-Physical cash transaction is not common here.
-Tap and Swish (E-Transfer) is the common transaction types
-Stockholm is made up of many little islands connected by bridges
-Tipping is not common however, it is common to round up the total to the nearest big number as a tip.
-Access is their tap transport card – I got the 72-hour card. You can take all the forms of transportation ranging from bus, train, tram and ferry.
-Fika – an important part of Swedish culture. Fika – coffee break
-Hej – Hello
-adjö – bye
-Ja – Yes
-Nej – No
-Ursäkta – Excuse me
-snälla du – Please
-Tack or Tack tack – Thank you
-Varsågod – You’re welcome
-Förlåt – Sorry
-räkningen – Bill
-Skål – Cheers
-låt oss äta – Let’s eat
Denmark – Copenhagen – DKK – Krone
-Open drinking on the streets is not allowed.
-Tipping is not common however, it is common to round up the total to the nearest big number as a tip
-Biking is taken very seriously and has its own road rules just like driving a car.
-Copenhagen Card – You can use the calculator on their website to see if it is worth it to purchase this card. We purchased it but mainly for the unlimited travel. We purchased the 72 hours card. It’s sort of an honour system in a sense as you have to write in your start date and time on the card. You don’t tap it when boarding trains/buses etc but there may be a fare/ticket checker on some of your rides and must show your card. I wish we used the erasable pen we had instead so we could adjust it as we were in Copenhagen for a little bit more than 72 hours and it would have been nice to not have to purchase a day pass for the last few hours. The card gets you into many attractions and discounts on many other things.
-Make sure you check if certain attractiions are open on specific days
-Hej – Hello
-adjö – bye
-Ja – Yes
-Ingen – No
-undskyld mig- Excuse me
-Vær venlig (vair-vin-lee)– Please
-Tack or Tack tack – Thank you
-Selv tak (sell tack) – You’re welcome
-Beklager (bi-clay-er) – Sorry
-regning – Bill
-Skål (skuul) – Cheers
-Lad os spise- Let’s eat
Germany – Euro
-Tipping is not common but you can tip if you want (10%)
-Drinking is allowed in public
-Many flea markets on Sundays!
-Many stores are closed
-Grocery stores are closed Sundays however the ones in bus/train stations are exceptions
-Hallo – Hello
-Tschüss – (choose) bye
-Ja – Yes
-Nein – No
-Entschuldigen Sie – Excuse me
-bitte – Please
-Dankeschön– Thank you
-Bitte – You’re welcome
-Es tut uns leid (astudentslight) – Sorry
-Rechnung – Bill
-Lass uns essen- Let’s eat
London – Pound – £
-Oyster Card – train/subway/bus system is very intricate but can get you everywhere.
-Tip is around 10%
Scotland – Pound- £
-Similar to Quebec to the rest of Canada, Scotland is the United Kingdom’s counterpart whereby at a certain point, they wanted to separate to become a country of their own.
-It doesn’t really snow here but the temperature remains an average low of maybe 5C
-Edinburgh seems to be a popular for international students to study
Congratulations, you have made it to the piece de resistance – My Itinerary for 36 days in Europe. We did move around things we did on certain days in certain cities but for the most part, this is what we did and they are grouped by areas in each city to maximize your days.
We ended up switching from our 6 person dorm to a 4 person dorm on the first floor of housing. We journeyed to the Grand Palace but it’s 500baht to enter and we didn’t want to pay that to go in. SO many tourists there and also Amy and myself brought clothes to throw over our shorts and tanks but Adam wouldn’t have been allowed in with his shorts so we moved on and went to Wat Pho. It is 100baht to enter and the ticket gets you a free water. There are tons of buddhas around so you should dress modestly. The temple complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46m long Reclining Buddha. The temple is also the earliest centre for public education in Thailand, and still houses a school of Thai medicine. It is known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced at the temple. Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples; it existed before Bangkok was established as the capital by King Rama I.
Earlier on this trip, we watched a bit of television in Koh Samui and saw this one commercial with one small yet cute ice cream parlour called Farm to Table in which we checked their Instagram and website and saved their location for later. We walked down to the Farm to Table Cafe and I grabbed a matcha tea latte – 52baht and then i picked up a little map that showed there was indeed another location – the main spot which we saw in the commercial. We walked just around the corner and found Farm to Table – Hideout and it was so adorable and the interior decor was great. Here is where the real homemade gelato is made. I grabbed a grass jelly with real grass jelly, brown sugar and jackfruit – 72baht and it was so good! The grass jelly gelato flavour was so intense and tasted better than the actual grass jelly. We walked through a food market which then brought us to the flower market.
All the blogs I’ve read had said if you want to experience what Bangkok was probably a decade ago, you need to visit Chinatown to get a picture of what the old city looked like. We walked from Farm to Table Hideout all the way to Yaowarat aka Chinatown and it was very visually stimulating. Mix of old and new and so many colours. I had read on a blog about a place that sold satay skewers dipped in coconut milk called Jay Eng but the address I saved wasn’t the right location so we ended up wandering around gun street and then walked onward to fabric street. We somehow found ours going into a huge mall complex of just fabrics ensued – Sampheng Centre. There was a food court located on the top floor and there we ate. You have to buy coupons in order to actually order from the stalls. You give them 60baht and then they give you a packet of tickets and if you have some remaining, you can return it for baht. I went to Blue-Taiwan and got myself a fried rice green curry – 45 baht and then at the corner a thai tea for 15baht – both so flavourful and delicious.
We continued to wander and eventually made our way to Yaowarat Rd and walked that street for a bit to visually capture the life that is chinatown. Adam and Amy were getting tired of walking so we hailed a cab to Siam Paragon – It was rush hour so all the cabs were off meter – we settled with 100baht. Siam Paragon is one of Asia’s largest malls and it sure was.
There are so many food courts but we ate in the enormous one on the main floor. I got a huge matcha strawberry daifuku mochi for 100 baht – Incredibly tasty from Tokyo Sweets. We had only eaten maybe an hour previous but they were hungry and got cheese gyoza from 7-time Gyoza Champion before we grabbed ramen from Nantsuttei. I got the Kara-Miso Ramen – 210baht. Not bad but not the best I’ve had – Daikokuya still wins out for me. So much selection – The main food court looked like Eaton’s Centre revamped food court but quadruple the size and that was only one of them. Each floor had it’s own food selection and I wish I had a bigger stomach.
We walked all the floors of Siam Paragon to notice that there was still another complex – Siam Centre. We tried to get over to Siam Centre but it took us a while to figure out how to get out of the mall. We also went to the basement where there is a Madame Tussade and Ocean Discovery – You can literally dive with sharks in a mall. We went over to Siam Centre and it was huge as well. We wanted to goto Siam Discovery and tried very hard to get there but it was closed for renovations. We decided that was it and we should leave. It was still rush hour so we decided to crossed over the bridge looking at the traffic to end up on another street filled with people selling merchandise to locals.
We grabbed a Tuk tuk from outside Siam Centre to Khao San Rd – bargained 150baht – fun and fast ride.
We woke up at 4AM and went to hail a cab to take us to the airport. We had to walk down the street a bit to a busier street at 430AM to find a cab. We found one on a street nearby but as we were getting in a ladyboy came over and was propositioning Amy then Adam. The ride was fast and smooth. There were actually quite a few people out and about at that time of day either ending their day or starting it.
We flew out of BKK and the airport reminded me of Toronto YYZ which is strange because Bangkok reminds me of Downtown Toronto. Adam and myself were flying with ANA airlines in partnership with United and Amy’s flight was slightly later leaving for Hong Kong where she will be for a bit before heading to Shanghai then finally back to Toronto. After Adam and myself checked in, I had to walk to the end of the airport to get my VAT Refund forms stamped – she barely looked at them and stamped – easy enough. Once we got through the security check and what not, I followed the signs to VAT refund only to find out halfway through the walk there was another sign further down that pointed to another VAT refund on the other wing of the terminal which our gate was on. Anyways, got there and the lady didn’t even say a word to me but i got my refund in Baht. I brought the remaining baht to convert to USD and off we went.
We got onto our flight from BKK to Narita which took about 5-6 hours. Arrived and had 2-3 hours there which were well spent. We went to McDonalds and I got the Teriyaki Burger combo + 15 piece chicken McNuggets – 1240yen then went to the origami store and grabbed a few more snacks which added up to 1600yen for myself. These 2 purchases alone were roughly $30CAD which is more than what I had spent the entire week on meals in Thailand but well worth it. When I travel I come back with souvenirs in the form of consumables – coffee beans for my father and then candies especially if I get a chance to goto convenient/grocery stores. I’m still surprised how much I actually fit in my duffel bag considering I only got rid of 3 items.
Onto the next flight with United to Denver – 10 hours. Flew by quickly and watched a ton of movies. Then following flight from Denver to Chicago just felt brutal. It was only 2-3 hours but felt the most uncomfortable and also my movie screen didn’t even work. Outside was -7 degrees celsius. Arriving in Chicago was a good feeling as we were one step closer to home and also in terminal F we found Garrett’s popcorn! I bought 2 medium bags of Garrett mix and Cashew CaramelCrisp – $15USD. Our flight got delayed by 30 minutes because the flight attendant was on another flight and couldn’t come over until the people left the other aircraft and after doing post flight protocol. We got in the air and just went. We actually landed on time. The plane quite small ( single window seat or 2 chairs together).
Overview of my trip:
23 days of non-stop travelling is great when things are planned out. I find that when places or tours are booked and planned ahead of time, things go smoothly but when nothing is confirmed we end up wasting more time than anything trying to figure out what to do. Crocs are the preferred footwear or similar sandal/croc imitations. Deet and tiger balm will be your best friends. Toilet paper roll will save you in Lao & Cambodia. Recycling isn’t something they really do out there unless it’s a person going through the trash and removing the bottles themselves. Garbage cans don’t really exist either (Vietnam had some though) but you kind of just make a pile when you see an open garbage/plastic bag as you walk around. They also have a large assortment of plastic bags and plastic furniture is plentiful here. Plastic chairs/stool/tables are prime tools of people’s trades as they can set up and clean up pretty easy anywhere. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia are more reserved – women stay covered in long sleeve and pants. Thailand – more likely to see tatted people, tank tops on local women but also the whole long sleeve cover up but booty shorts. Also tons of pretty ladyboys everywhere. Get use to smog and smell of diesel as well as dirt/dust. I’ve heard stories of people on motorbikes snatching phones and purses by the side of the road but never saw it happen – just be vigilant and keep your purse on the opposite side away from the road. Otherwise, I felt safe everywhere I went. I had my camera attached to my hand but otherwise everything was out of sight. Ho Chi Minh is very populated so just be cautious when in big crowds or when people are too close. The men there will just keep looking at you though especially if you are wearing tank top and shorts. Siem Reap – same thing, big crowds especially in the night market just be cautious. Bangkok – the only real place we really saw any homeless people – they will leave you alone for the most part… ladyboys will be more aggressive than them.
We got a decent deal on flights ($1024CAD) with United Airlines from Toronto to arrive in Ho Chi Minh / Saigon and fly home from Bangkok however for this trip to be slightly cheaper, there were multiple stopover: YYZ->IAD;IAD->EWR (really UA.. you can’t just fly us to New York instead of detouring out to Washington); EWR->HKG;HKG->SGN. Flight home will be BKK->NRT;NRT->DEN;DEN->ORD;ORD->YYZ.
The flights weren’t actually that bad and I think because it was so broken up in the beginning it didn’t feel as gruelling until we finally made it to Hong Kong and awaited to board one more flight. The airport in Ho Chi Minh is basic. We lined up at the visa counter and handed in our visa approval forms (that we already booked online -$19.99USD ($27.16CAD) – http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/) then had to complete another form with the same basic information (you can leave passport info blank as they take your passport) then fill in your address, profession, accommodation location etc. Then you line back up and hand in that completed form with a passport photo (1 only) then sit down until they call your name. When they call your name proceed to the counter and receive your passport with the visa ticket inside and give $45USD and you are all set. One final bag screening and then out the door you go.
I exchanged $20CAD right away for cab fare and Adam did $20USD. We got swindled off the bat – NOTE FOR FUTURE: STICK WITH MAI LINHS AND VINASUN taxis and negotiate fare before hopping in. There is a exit fee of 10.000 NOT 100.000 which our driver showed us who probably did a switcheroo. When we got to our destination, the meter read 83.0 which is 83.000 but he kept insisting it was 830.000 which we didn’t have enough of anyways but we did give him nearly 700.000. We got ripped off completely but it was also our fault in the beginning because we told him its our first time there… All in all, we are down about $35 already on one taxi ride. If you can arrange a airport transfer, it could be cheaper or same price but less hassle.
We stayed at Hosen 2 Hotel – 4A Thi Sach with a double and a single bed. We ended up falling asleep around 230-3AM and I had set my alarm for 10AM. I easily awoke to 530AM and the sun rises around that time. We started our day around 645AM with our hotel’s buffet breakfast. It wasn’t bad at all as it included normal western food such as omelette, sausage, potatoes, egg, cereal etc but also noodles in soup, custard steam bun, rice, noodles, DIY banh mi, fish, meatballs, squid etc.
After breakfast, we went out to exchange money while trying to spot certain places such as Nhu Lan Bakery and Ben Thanh market. We walked by the water and experienced our first traffic jam with motorbikes, cars, vans, taxis and humans crossing through. I learned how to cross the street by just literally watching an old lady cross the road. You go slowly and keep eye contact with one hand sort of out; this way you and the motorcyclists know whats happening and both can adjust. We found Nhu Lan Bakery but then remembered we didn’t have any cash on us at that point so we went nearby to exchange currency. They round up here in terms of money and also don’t use coins. They barely even use their small bills (500,1000,2000,5000).
After that, we explored Ben Thanh market area which is very similar to every other night market Ive been to selling souvenirs, food and clothing. We walked around some more in the vicinity and ended up at Trung Nguyen Coffee where we sat on the second floor and people watched below and enjoyed some cold beverages. I had the green tea latte with coffee jelly (49.000VND). We then walked around more and ended up going to the Independence Palace which is their version of the white house then continued our walk back to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit and it was perfect timing as it started to pour really hard outside. We watched a little television and re-cooped then off we went to the airport to pick up Amy. This time, the fee was correct with roughly 122.000VND going in and about 155.000VND coming back due to traffic. Amy has been in Asia for 10-12 days prior with family and other friends. Since Amy came in later, we were unfortunately too late to do the Cu Chi Tunnels tour and we didn’t want to spend $52USD/pp to do a private tour since it was only half day and our Mekong Delta (full day) was $50USD/pp.
We got back to the hotel to drop off her stuff then off we went to get lunch at Nhu Lan Bakery (50-64-68 Ham Nghi St. Dist.1,) Trip advisor had this place highly recommended for their Banh Mi and they were pretty good. If you like hot then keep the pepper in but if not, either ask them to leave it out or pull it out. It left a tingle going on inside my throat and on my lips but it was very good. 20.000VND which is $1USD. We grabbed it and continued on our way to Ben Thanh Market with Amy. After visiting Ben Thanh again, we walked around trying to figure out what we wanted to see next since Cu Chi Tunnels wasn’t going to happen. We walked towards the cathedral but it looked packed with tourists so we went across the street to the Saigon Central Post Office (2 Công xã Paris, Bến Nghé, tp.). From there, we ventured to Vincom Centre (70 – 72 Le Thanh Ton | District 1) where it is filled with UK brands and a store that sold some Canadian brands like Venque and Natives. We ate and drank at Mochi Sweets (72 Lê Thánh Tôn, Tầng B2 Vincom, Bến Nghé, Quận 1). I can’t turn down good japanese treats such as mochi! I got the Green tea ice cream drink – 49.000VND (started off just tasting like water until the ice cream melted. We also decided to get 2 mochis each. I got the durian (with real durian chunks) and peach cream – both were good! We also had green tea, chocolate mousse, apple and purple potato. 28.000 each.
We decided we should get pho for dinner and looked up the top 5 places; we settled for one of the top ones which was also one of the farthest. I suggested we go because it was getting dark so it was a little cooler out plus we wouldn’t be walking that far into that area otherwise and I wanted to walk unfamiliar streets to take in more. Pho Hoa Pasteur (p. 8, 260E Pasteur) where I had Tiger beer with a small Tripe pho bowl. Tastes different but nonetheless still really good! We then took our time to walk back and battled the traffic once again and made it back to our hotel for a good nights sleep as the following day we are to do a Mekong Delta tour which starts at 5AM.