How do you find the most authentic food in a foreign city, minutes after you've landed?
How do you find seats on a plane where people won't bump into you while you're sleeping? These and some other nifty tricks are what you're about to learn about in this episode.
How do you decide where to travel? It's one of the most common questions we get from clients.
The short answer is “food”. Renuka and I are “five monument people”, which effectively means once we're done with about five monuments, we stop our sightseeing.
Our travel is then restricted to food, great accommodation and lots of downtime to paint, read and take pictures. However, as we travel quite a bit, we've also picked up some nifty tricks along the way. Here are three and a half nifty tips and tricks.
1) How to get better car rental rates
2) Why we mostly avoid AirBNB—and when to choose it anyway.
3) Where to find the most authentic food in a foreign country.
1) Let's start with car rentals
If you were to rent a car going from north to south, would it cost the same to go from south to north?
It seems like a pretty silly question, but the answer may surprise you. Take, for instance, the way tourists land in New Zealand. They tend to deplane in Auckland, which is the biggest northernmost city, and where do they head next? Exactly, to the south of the country.
Which effectively means that rental cars tend to be picked up at one location and dropped off at more southerly airports. The car rental companies have to either pay someone to drive those cars back or offer much better rates for people driving them back up to the north.
When you're on holiday, where are most people dropping off their cars?
That's the question we often tend to ask when we're renting the car. And it's also the location where we start and make our way to the most popular landing point.
However, as cool as this idea sounds, it might be tricky to work out where to pick up your car and where to end your journey. Nonetheless, you still want a better price. In which case, you may want to pick up the car a little later in the day. And you can try out this tactic within the next few minutes.
If you book a car at 9:30 am, it's likely to be more expensive at 10:30 am
I'm not sure why, but I guess people like to get going by 10 am. A hearty breakfast, packed bags and 10 am seems to be the outer limit for the car rental pickup. At 10:30 am, however, the prices are noticeably lower. The interesting bit, however, is that you might be able to drive away much earlier than 10:30 am.
Recently I went on a photo tour to the South Island of New Zealand. Renuka joined me in Christchurch a few days later, and we picked a car. Yes, we drove north, but we were well on our way before 10:30 am. Just because you've booked the car at 10:30 am, doesn't mean you can't get to the rental place a lot earlier.
We walked through the doors at 9:30 and finished our paperwork in about 20 minutes. The car is waiting for you, anyway. It makes no sense for the rental agency to make you wait. Hence, you pay a good deal less, and often drive off before the rest of the clients show up.
And that's the first tip. The second tip is to avoid Air BNB—if you can help it.
2) Did you know at which point Air BNB really took off as a business?
The company started as a room sharing system, but at one point, Barry Manilow's drummer suggested they get house owners to rent out the whole place. That was when Renuka and I started paying attention to Air BNB. On holiday I tend to sleep in.
I'm not up at 4 am, but usually, 5:30 is all I can manage. In my own house, I can wander out into the kitchen, make some coffee and paint some watercolours. In a hotel room, I'm stuck. I wake up and try not to disturb Renuka while surfing the Internet.
AirBNB seemed like a dream come true.
Until things started to go wrong for us, that is. When we travel, we tend to do so for about three-four weeks. Which means we'll spend as long as a week in the same house. In Aarhus, Denmark, for instance, we booked a place that looked adorable online, and the appearance didn't disappoint when we got to our destination.
Except it had a strong smell of fungus—and we were booked for a week.
I don't know about you, but when things go wrong with Air BNB, there isn't a lot you can do. If you write to them, they wring their hands in despair. Their grief seems to be genuine, but you're stuck in the place you've chosen.
They tell you to work out things with the owner, which is a cop-out if you ask me. Compare this with a hotel, and you're likely to see how differently things play out.
We were in Colombo, Sri Lanka on the eighth floor, and the room felt like a disco.
It was closing in on Christmas, and there were loud parties around the swimming pool. So loud, that eight stories up our room, we were rocking and rolling. In an AirBNB, I would have been stuck. Not so, in a hotel.
Despite the hectic time of year, I insisted we get a quieter room (and yes, it helps if you book with the hotel and not through Booking.com or some discount sites). We did endure the noise for one night, but we were moved shortly after to a quieter zone.
On average, hotels are a more frustrating, but more predictable option.
The beds are better, mattresses cleaner, sheets in excellent condition. Most important of all, however, is that reviews of the hotel are harder to influence. In an Air BNB, all the hosts have to do is keep a little something extra, or help out a bit, and you feel that personal connection.
Once you know the Air BNB owner and they've been kind to you, it's hard to write an unbiased review. A chain usually runs a hotel, and as impersonal as that sounds, the reviews tend to be based solely on the experience itself.
Air BNB seems to have figured out there's room for more consistency and have introduced a “Plus” version of their bookings, but we're still veering towards the consistency of hotels. You don't have to call anyone to let them know when you're coming.
Better yet you can show up at 9 pm, or 2 am, and there's always someone to show you to your room. As much as I love the warmth of a house on our travels, we've found that consistency matters more.
Oh, and if you decide to go with a hotel, know there's another little loophole called half-day rate.
If your flight is incredibly late at night, and you have 7-8 mindless hours to go, simply ask the hotel for a half-day rate. If the rooms are not booked, a hotel might just give you the room at half price for the rest of the day.
Which takes us to our third tip: how to find the most authentic food in a new country.
3) Where to find the most authentic food in a foreign country.
How do you end up eating in the same restaurant as Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver or other celebrity chefs? You do what their producers do when finding a great place to eat. Often enough, producers of a food show won't go to the fancy restaurants. Instead, they'll head right to the marketplace.
If you go to Catania, in Sicily, for instance, you'll find the most authentic and delicious food right near the fish market.
But it's not just Catania. When I was growing up, I'd go to my grandma's house in Goa. On Fridays, we'd take the bus to get market produce. When we were done with shopping, where would all the locals go? Yes, right next to the market itself.
Which is to say that the food has to be top-notch because locals tend to be fussy. It's also the one place you're least likely to get sick because there's constant food turnover.
There are exceptions, of course
When in Hoi An, in Vietnam, possibly the worst place to pick was the market. Hoi An used to be a sleepy fishing village not so long ago. Now it's inundated with selfie-tourists. The area where the food is the most cheesy tends to be right in the centre of the market itself. Which isn't to say that the food is terrible in any way, but it's not quite the place to be.
In most places, however, you'll find the market to be the best source of authentic food and at the most reasonable prices. When Renuka and I travel, we often make our way to the market.
We've enjoyed local cuisine in different cities and countries, going back every single day to the very same restaurant and trying out all their dishes. Sometimes we'll go to other restaurants as well. Even so, try the market.
Which takes us to the final ½ nifty tip.
The final tip
Economy travel—and especially over long distances—can be quite tiring. Even a little comfort can sometimes make a world of difference. We travel solely business class on work and holiday, but there was in an in-between phase as well. And no, it wasn't “premium-economy.”
On many modern planes, there are between four-eight seats tucked right at the back of the plane
Unlike the rest of the seats, they're not straight but are at an angle and have just two seats. A couple doesn't have to share these with a third person. Even if you're travelling with kids, they can have their own two-seaters instead of the three-seat configuration on the rest of the plane.
Most airlines will charge you about $30 for the luxury of these individual seats, but I found them to be the closest thing to premium economy. Because they were angled inwards, no one nudged my hand as they walked down the aisle. Going to the toilet wasn't like jumping over hurdles either.
Check out if your airline has the option. Oh, and book through your travel agent. Good travel agents will not only save you time, but in our case, we also saved money.
That's it. Bon Voyage!