Traveling Within Our Means

Benjamin and I enjoy traveling. To make the most out of it, we set a budget beforehand and always read up on things to do that are not on the typical tourist path. However, hostels and Couchsurfing are not up our alley. In America, we loved Hampton Inns, but overseas, we love Airbnb.

After our conference in Istanbul, we had a few more vacation days to burn up, so we found reasonable flights to the island of Malta and an Airbnb apartment there. We are able to stay in an apartment for $30 a night instead of a hotel for $80, and staying in an apartment also helps cut costs in other ways. Having access to laundry means you can pack lighter and don’t have to pay for laundry fees, and having access to a kitchen is equally beneficial. We ate breakfast at the apartment everyday, packed lunches for the beach and went out to eat at night. Budget traveling is fun and allows us to do and see more.

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Driving on the wrong side of the car!

But there are lessons to be learned when budget traveling. We found out that it was going to cost about $20 to get a taxi from the airport to the apartment, so we started to look at renting a car for a couple of days. We found a car rental that seemed like a great deal and allowed us a little more flexibility for our vacation, and so we committed. Cars are super small in Malta due to the narrow roads and we got a manual shift car just add to the backwards experience.

PSA: Never, ever, under any circumstances rent from the company Gold Car Rental.

They primarily operate in European countries, and it was only after our experience with this company that we found websites devoted to complaining about them (If you have Twitter, use it to get honest reviews on companies).  They pressured us into signing paperwork without allowing us to look over the car, and as a result, we got an extra $200 bill for damages that we didn’t cause. Additionally, we tried to file a compliant, but their e-mail addresses and phone numbers don’t work. Surprise. While we were still on our trip, this made us sad, but now there is nothing that we can do except to spread the word.

Lesson Learned: Beware the car rental agency.

Stay tuned for more details about our trip to Malta!

 

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Istanbul

Recently, we headed to Istanbul, Turkey for training. In the middle of the conference, we heard about the attack at the airport, and those moments were surreal. The airport where we had been only days before was now the sight of a horrific bombing and shooting. In the moments following, I became less fearful for our own safety because I was made aware the people of Istanbul deal with this kind of threat every day. Did you know that Turkey has suffered at 8 attacks this year and that Istanbul has dealt with 4 of those? We spoke to one person who said she is constantly listening for the possibility of gunshots or a man yelling and declaring his allegiance to ISIS or Allah. This is their reality.

As I prayed for Paris, Orlando and Brussels, I pray for Istanbul and Baghdad and Bangladesh.

Despite the awful events we did not live in fear, and we enjoyed the remainder of our time there. Thankfully, the city has an extensive metro system so it was easy to get around and see all of the main attractions. The Galata Tower, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar and Taxsim Square were all beautiful. Overall, I think the Galata Tower was our favorite. It offered a 360 degree view of the city which is almost surrounded by water, but it was also close to Istikal Street which is a great location for shopping. We must have walked up and down that street at least 5 times just to enjoy the life and the people there, and if you go, I recommend you do the same.

What you need to know:

Because tourism is down in Istanbul (as much as 90% we were told), prices are also down. You can bargain and get some great deals. One of our all time greatest purchases were two Turkish towels. These things are thin, light weight, absorbent, and overall good quality. Now that we have two, I can’t wait to go back and buy more. Besides the towels, the city has some great Turkish clothing brands, excellent dried fruits and nuts, beautiful jewelry, great ceramics, and a host of other great products.

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As previously mentioned, getting around Istanbul is a breeze with their metro system (there is an app for that). If you can though, figure out how to get a 3-day pass because that will save you a little bit of money. Otherwise, it is four lira for each token. Unlike other parts of Central Asia, the taxis are metered, so there is no haggling for prices, and that makes the process a little bit easier.

We stayed in another Airbnb after the conference, and it was fabulous. There are a lot of them available, so just make sure to pick one in an area close to a metro or things you want to see. We stayed near Taxsim Square and we found the it to be a prime location.

Lesson Learned: If you are an expat living abroad, and you need to refill your supply cabinets, go to Turkey. Prices are good.

Prepping

I wasn’t sure whether to title this blog post “Prepping” or “The Worst Mistake Yet.” Both are true, but since the “prepping” portion led to the worst mistake, we will start there.

Growing up, I thought the people who had chest freezers were the extremists who were preparing for Y2K. At the time, I was growing up in suburban southern California and the people in my neighborhood weren’t exactly storing a whole deer carcass for the winter. But now, as I look at the large chest freezer now residing in my kitchen, I can admit not all prepping is for catastrophic disasters. We had not been here long when I realized prepping was going to be essential.

When we moved to Central Asia, we were nearing the end of October and the end of fresh produce. Fruits and veggies here are very seasonal. Strawberries are available for about a month. Raspberries have two short seasons and are available about the same length of time. Right now, most fruits are in their prime, but they will soon disappear until the same time next year. This means if I want any fruit come December that isn’t a mandarine, I have to store it now. And this led us to the decision that we needed a freezer. Some special people in the States put some extra money in our account (thank you!), and last week we were able to head to the electronics bazaar and buy a freezer big enough to store a body.

This brings me to the worst mistake that I have made YET. I know many more will follow, but for now, this one was pretty unpleasant.

We already had some apples I was going to turn into applesauce (for the next time that we get sick), but I wanted to freeze some peaches and definitely raspberries if I could find them. Peaches were easy to find, but I was pleasantly surprised to see buckets of raspberries. Normally I see them being sold by the dixie cup, which doesn’t add up to much. The bucket was appealing because it would be easy to carry home and then I would have another bucket for the next time I want to buy 3 kilos of raspberries. I will never again buy 3 kilos of raspberries.

I still have this element of hope in my heart that people aren’t trying to cheat me or sell me crap. I dragged this bucket all the way home only to find that the majority of berries were either squished, moldy, covered in hair or crawling with ants. Instead of sorting through berries, it felt more like I was performing an operation on a car accident victim.

Out of 6 pounds, I was able to rescue about a pints worth. The thing is, I don’t mind squished berries. I would have taught myself to make jam with those ones, but when they are deformed beyond the point of recognition or squished up into a ball of mold, I have a hard time thinking of feeding those to anyone. If I was back at home, I would have driven these berries back to Kroger or Trader Joe’s, but alas, there are no refunds here…

Lesson Learned: Don’t buy produce you can’t actually see. Also, seedless fruits don’t exist here. So enjoy your seedless grapes and watermelons people!