Fight or Flight

it' s thai-m to get out there

it' s thai-m to get out there

How to find ANY flight for cheap

1. Hopper

Hopper is my favorite app when it comes to figuring out flight deals. It keeps a watch on the ups and downs of current flight prices and lets me know, based on history, if I should wait or buy at the time of search. It also sends notifications when the price changes (like the typical price alert from a website, but on your phone so you see it immediately versus having to check email).

2. Skyscanner - set price alerts

Skyscanner feeds my inner gypsy with it's Everywhere feature. You can literally just type in your home city/airport for departure and "Everywhere" for destination. For dates, I've been known to use the "Cheapest Month" feature as well. GYPSYHEAVEN.

Another favorite part of the tool is the ability to see whole months at a time, as well as selecting "Nearby Airports". The larger airports get the most traffic, and therefore, sometimes give the highest prices.

3. Google.com/flights - set price alerts

The advantage of setting both Google AND Skyscanner alerts is that certain airlines (i.e. JetBlue) actually aren't covered on the SkyScanner searches. Google covers them all in real time. I set multiple dates around the time I'd like to travel, and let 'em work their magic over the next few weeks or months. 

4. Choose new airports

In NYC we all know we have the normal options of Newark, JFK or LaGuardia, however, most do not know that Stewart (up north in Newburgh, NY) now has super cheap flight options because of Norwegian Air. 

Just last month I flew Stewart to Edinburgh, Scotland for $385 round-trip nonstop. Norwegian is a low budget airline, and I did choose the most economic option, meaning no seat reservations or checked bags. But I also flew to the United Kingdom for less than a flight to California!!!! It was a new plane, there were no frills like personal TVs, but I popped a melatonin and took a sleep in the sky. I woke up in Scotland before you could say WEE LAD!

5. Get Creative

Sometimes it's best NOT to fly directly into the desired destination. In the above example, I was flying in to Edinburgh to eventually get myself to London (normally $900+ for direct flights in the summer). I took a train- a sleek Virgin Train with WIFI and working outlets included - UK in 4 hours, for $45 each way. In Europe, you can sometimes get lucky and find budget airline flights for anywhere from $20 - $50. I once flew from Dusseldorf, Germany to London for 10 GBP (about $20 USD at the time!) on Ryanair.

I would recommend the same for Asia. While traveling through Southeast Asia we once took a $50, 14 hour overnight train, only to realize later we could've taken a $50 TWO HOUR flight!!!

To this day, the best deal I ever snagged was an $880 roundtrip flight back to the US from Australia on Virgin Australia. I left out of my home at the time, Melbourne, and stopped in Brisbane, finally landing at LAX. From LAX I used miles to fly for $Free.99 to NYC, giggling my way home. I was both delirious from the amount of flying and the feeling like somehow I had finally cheated the system. 

You live and you learn :)

And before/after/during your flight, be sure to treat yo' self!

And before/after/during your flight, be sure to treat yo' self!

*Updates*

6. Skiplagged

Skiplagged gives you the advantage of seeing hidden city flights (legs where the traveler exits before the final destination) faster than any other site. It's like a real-life cheat code. #rosebud

7. Scott's Cheap Flights

Scott is my platonic soulmate that I never met. He used to be a one-man-band (but has developed into a whole team of searchers!) that scan the web for the cheapest flights daily, and then email them out to you once you've subscribed. I found a $505 nonstop flight NYC - Madrid and then Barcelona - NYC last April through his alerts! 

Rocking a canadian tuxedo in espana After getting there for only $250

Rocking a canadian tuxedo in espana After getting there for only $250

8. Earning and Using Miles

One of my favorite ways to (attempt to) cheat the flight system is by using miles (IMO). I promote the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card like it's my job because I truly believe it is THE best. After you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of opening the account, you receive 50,000 bonus points which are directly transferable to major airlines like Virgin, Delta, KLM, and Southwest. OR you can use those miles to book through Chase travel and it will equal $625. You constantly earn double points on travel and dining, so to me it's a win-win. (Oh and $0 annual fee the first year!). Just don't keep a balance and you'll be flying high. 

I've used my miles for free round-trip nonstop flights from NYC to Austin, Atlanta, LA, the Dominican Republic and even London (and at least 2 DC to Vegas flights :)). To put it into perspective, an average nonstop flight NYC - Atlanta (or similar domestic hubs) on Southwest is usually under 20,000 miles, so already you've amassed enough points by opening the account to fly twice. 

 

If you have other flight-finding tips, I'd love to hear them!! Drop a(n) (air)line below.

- Al

Attica

In February of this year, I had the IMMENSE privilege of receiving a text. This was not just any text either, my friends. This was an automated text from a robot, informing me that a table was available at a restaurant in Melbourne where my name had been patiently ingrained in the waiting list for the last SIX MONTHS. This particular restaurant has been rated within the Top 50 Restaurants IN THE WORLD. It's name is Attica.

To be honest, I never thought I'd receive such a brilliant text. I had put my name on the waiting list hoping to eat at the #32nd best restaurant on the globe, after watching the Netflix episode of Chef's Table that featured both Attica and it's head chef, Ben Shewry. I was immediately engrossed in the idea. How would I ever be able to leave Australia, now that I knew of such a place right in my own backyard?

Happy to provide my credit card guarantee, I immediately signed myself, and three others, onto the highly desirable waiting list. The idea was to a) get the table and then b) surprise my roommate, Katie, for her birthday. Only a month before, Katie decided to travel to Thailand for two weeks as a present to herself. As a Travel Coordinator, obviously I had few objections against her choice. Plus, we were getting so close to the date of the dinner, I never thought we had a chance! When I told Katie about the potential surprise, she simply answered, "Knowing my luck, now that I'll be gone you'll get a table". In the end, I received the message just 6 days shy of the requested date. 

Enter - a foraging heaven

Attica is an experience. It's not a casual dinner, no matter if you have the $$$ to constantly book a table there and spend heaps. To truly appreciate the fare, you have to understand the chef's message. Not to get all sappy on you, but Ben creates an extraordinary event on each dish he serves. He brings to life what is normally overlooked and discarded. Leaves suddenly become the highlight, nests are assembled, vegetables are invented, seeds and pits are reintroduced in lieu of spices and garnishes.  And, yes, sometimes things were a bit over the top and too pinky-up for my plebeian status, but isn't that half the fun?

First Course

First off, I need to confess the reason I can retell all the courses I consumed that evening. It's not because I have some incredible memory, or that I've self-taught myself how to remember every dish detail in order to become the next New York Times restaurant critic. No - the truth is - I was writing it all down on my phone underneath the table. Yes, it's true. I took my commoner level in society one class lower, because I simply HAD to remember everything I was eating. I was the nerd taking photos (though I still tried to hide it and only brought my camera out when the servers weren't looking at our table), and I was the dweeb simultaneously taking notes.

Confessions aside (I feel much better), let's get to the food!

The first course for this Chef's Tasting Menu was a cured beef from Cape Green, Tasmania, aged for six weeks, and served underneath a bed of pine mushrooms, along with their leaves. (Again, please picture me rapidly typing this underneath the table, all the while concentrating on the waiter's face so I didn't give myself away). The dish was "served with an egg yolk emulsion, and the pine mushrooms were in their new season". The pictures I attempted of this plate do not - in any way shape or form - do it justice. The beef was smokey in flavor, the mushrooms (and their leaves!) added just the right hint of earthiness to the plate, and an emulsion of egg yolks never hurt nobody (meaning it complimented well overall).

The beef is hidden under the mushrooms, taking the "foraging" from Chef to Table

The beef is hidden under the mushrooms, taking the "foraging" from Chef to Table

Second Course

In our second dish of the night, we took witness to the first vegetable-fruit combination. Ben had created a prodigy of both the pineapple and the tomato: the Pineato. Or the Tomapple. Or if you're not into word combining, just call them Pineapple Tomatoes. These were served with Snow Crab from South Australia and topped with micro basil. It was light and refreshing; sweet yet buttery. 

Third Course

Next up was another seafood dish, this one serving grilled squid from South Australia in a seaweed butter, topped with pumpkin seeds. Unfortunately, I ate this one so quickly that I forgot to take a picture...

Fourth Course

The highlight of the evening, my absolute favorite dish of the night, was the lamb. Lamb is by-far one of the most popular proteins in Australia, and I definitely never ate as much of it as I did when I lived in Melbourne. The main course was a confit shoulder of lamb in gum leaf oil, presented with a mint glaze and an apple cucumber (!!!). The lamb was roasted for 48 hours before being served, and the glaze featured "indigenous mint from Australia". Now, I don't have it written in my notes but I'm pretty sure most chefs don't usually cook with gum leaf, a leaf of the gum tree (related to the Eucalyptus tree) found all over Australia. And yes, the apple cucumber was another brilliant mad-scientist fruit-veggie miracle. The lamb melted in your mouth, the mint perfectly complimented it, and the apple cucumber was crisp and DELICIOUS.

BREAD & BUTTAH

All along this epic food journey, I should mention that Chenaye and I were consuming copious amounts of wine, but more so, absolutely devouring the bread and butter. The bread was a dark rye, but the butter. Oh, the butter. Chenaye repeatedly regarded it as the "best damn butter I've ever had in my entire life". It was hilarious- the servers were never allowed to take it away. If anything, they had to constantly replenish it. The butter was house-churned, and served alongside another dipping bowl of blended macadamia nuts dusted with ground Australian peach pits. I don't know that the pits added any flavor, but they did add a nice reddish-orange color (almost like sprinkling on cayenne pepper). Plus, in the middle of the table rested a small nest of emu feathers filled with the very unique-looking Australian peach pits- so it was intriguing to see them and say you had tasted them as well. Needless to say, our pleb-ness was showing...

Dessert

As dessert was served, I got one of those gut-wrenching feelings. No, I wasn't sick off the wine, I just didn't want the night to end! I knew I wouldn't be at such a highly regarded restaurant again for a long time, and I was savouring every moment. We were given a plate filled with sugar plums roasted in whiskey, topped with Macadamia nuts, and accented with "licorice leaf grown behind the restaurant and picked just as you walked in this evening". I giggled at this line. The entire night I had felt like I was pretending to be someone famous, but in this moment I felt like the server was pretending to be a bit too much.

I promise it looked nicer before I started eating - then stopped midway for the photo

I promise it looked nicer before I started eating - then stopped midway for the photo

The final dish, a now famous parting gift from Attica, was a Pukeko egg for each person at the table. Ben has recreated the egg of the bird indigenous to New Zealand (his home country), in chocolate form. With a perfectly decadent outer chocolate layer, and a creamy inside of salted caramel, these hand-painted eggs are absolutely to die for. I'm not embarrassed to say I was instantly in a state of sorrow when I finished mine. 

In the materials given with the eggs, Ben writes, “The New Zealand Pukeko is quite a character and has often provided my family with first class entertainment… Like me, Pukeko are often seen foraging for food beside roadside ditches, but unlike me they had been forced to adapt because their natural habit, the swamplands, have almost disappeared with human proliferation.”

Life take-away

Attica is one of those places where the restaurant's modest beginning are evident, but not overlooked. It sits on the outskirts of Melbourne, in a quiet suburb known as Ripponlea. It is not overly embellished, and the decor compliments the fare suitably. As soon as you are seated, you take witness to the small, but carefully thought out, tableware. The walls are dark, and dimly lit, but the staff are bright and enlivening. We were not the first guests in that evening, but we were absolutely the last to leave.

As I wrote in my notes circa 1:31 am that evening (/morning?), "We certainly weren't the regulars, but we certainly weren't treated any less regularly. The staff were gorgeous, the food was beautiful, the night was extraordinary".

Wine makes me the cheesiest person alive. Cheers to the universe delivering!!!!! Thanks Uni xx

Strayin' in 'Straya

Seven months and 3 weeks later, I'm forcing myself to update the world on my (eternally wandering) state of mind. And by the world I mean you few (greatly appreciated!) followers of the Urbon Vivant.

I'll be honest- the reason behind the forcing is not that I'm simply ready to share all the highs and lows of my trip, but more so that there's so much to say I feel like just spilling it all out at once. And today was just a superb example of living life outside your home country- but we'll get to that in a bit. 

Eventually, I'll catch up on the rest of the Southeast Asia trip- the ridiculous Thai Islands, the overly tuk-tuked country of Cambodia, all of Vietnam (south, north, and the strange Russian inhabited middle), the bizarrely alluring country that is Laos, the Aussie dominated island of Bali, and Myanmar (the gem in the rough). 

I flew straight to Melbourne on a red eye flight from Bali on Friday the 13th of March. 13 is my favorite number, and while Fridays with it are usually cause of havoc for the superstitious, I took it as a good omen. After 3 months of traveling with my best gals, I was finally heading off into the unknown down under by myself. 

But not really. I was meeting a friend who had spent the last year living and working in Melbs- Alex, an angel of a dude I met while studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain back in uni. First off, let me note that while I had already filed for a working holiday visa, I had no intentions of staying long in Aus. I figured 1-3 months to rid myself of the travel bug that is constantly biting me in the bum, making me feel like I have to run from one place to the next as if there's no time in the future to ever do so. And I could work in Aus to pay off the credit card debt I had accrued on ridiculous, mostly unnecessary, expenditures while in Southeast Asia. 

So to start, I was crashing on Alex's couch in St. Kilda, the beachy, hipster, backpacker-esque side of town. I know I tend to exaggerate but for the next few paragraphs just bear with me- I really was this enthusiastic.

Upon arriving I was OBSESSED. I've never lived in a cool trendy place like I don't know, ALL of California, and I definitely never lived walking distance to a beach. The Long Island Sound doesn't count either. 

Here was a place where it wasn't even that warm but no one was wearing shoes, every girl had a nose ring or blue hair, and everyone, male or female was doused in tattoos. While you're on the thought- YES I've always wanted my nose pierced and YES I've always wanted to die my hair blue. But I've had allergic reactions to every ear piercing I've ever endured and my hair is jet black, so no it doesn't absorb dye very well, especially blue dye. So I choose to live vicariously through the badass bitches of St. Kilda and Fitzroy, Melbourne. 

Which leads me to the area of Fitzroy. If St. Kilda was like a super tiny version of San Francisco- with trams running by the beach but not nearly as steep, and cool people with beards pursuing their life dreams and biking to work- then Fitzroy would be Brooklyn. Flat out, Brooklyn. It used to be a s**thole and then, as hipsters usually do, they started to populate the northern skirt of the city because of cheap rent and then bam that shit got popular. Now you can go and eat delicious vegetarian fare (like ridiculously scrumptious sweet potato fries) at Veggie Bar on Brunswick St, the most insane gelato I've ever had (been caught buying .6 liters of the crack-like substance), and celebrate the 4th of July at New Orleans style bars (that run out of PBR at 7pm- OI WTF MATE).

Speaking of PBR, yes PBR, I've the most painful craving for the sweet substance for months now. Then, one night while walking home from work, thinking about how I used to pay $2 TWO MEASLY LITTLE DOLL HAIRS for tall boys of it, BAM I see it in a bottle-o window. The sweet nectar of the Milwaukee gods had blessed me with their presence. To this day I have no idea what I paid for it (possibly $9AUD) but I savoured every last sip. So people back home, in the name of the PBR gods, do not take it for granted. Beer, all beer, even the piss made down the street, is at least $12 a pint here. Twelve hard earned plastic-y, colorful Aussie dollars. Ferfuxsake. Bloody fuckinel.

I’m sure you’re thinking, why does she want a cheap Milwaukee-made beer so badly? Isn’t there good beer in Aus? What about Fosters?

My response: because everything is so DAMN expensive I just needed a reminder of home and how wonderfully inexpensive things can be. Never mind I was paying 3 times the normal price for the sense of low cost (I think they call this irony).  Yes, there is good beer in Australia, but the wine is even better. And just an FYI no one in Aus drinks Fosters- or says “shrimp on the Barbie” just while we’re on the subject HA Crikey the misconceptions! No one says crikey either hahaha

Just to be stereotypical

Just to be stereotypical

In Australia, everything is casual. People avoid confrontation (much to the opposite of a lot of Northeastern Americans), have wine in the office on Fridays (or out at lunch everyday as I learned while working at a “businessman” restaurant), and curse every other sentence. Even the words alone are casual- most are shortened and made into an –y, meaning sunglasses are sunnies, breakfast is brekkie, sandwiches are toasties, the other day I heard someone call The Bachelor Bachy. HA.

Which gets me onto the subject of The Bachelor: Australia. When I first got to Melbourne, I had 3 waitressing jobs. The first was in a fancy restaurant in the CBD (Central Business District- picture downtown DC), one in an Italian restaurant run by crazy passionate Italians, and the last a laidback hipster café in a predominately Jewish neighborhood (picture Brooklyn).

One night in April I walked into the café knowing I would be catering a function that night. We were setting up his number 35 balloons when I was told the birthday boy was the new Bachelor (with his season about to premiere in a few months). I immediately pictured Juan Pablo and burst out laughing. If he was anything like the American bachelors, this night was going to be entertaining. It was- he was super self-absorbed, looked at himself in every reflection he passed and his “friends” were even worse. There was a point in the night where a girl half breaking her back for attention stopped me as I passed, asking “Um….seriously what other champagnes do you have?” To which I replied, “We only carry SINGLE bottles of bubbles. SOLO boxes of one type. You could say we're kind of like The BACHELOR."

Bachy also ended up making every one of his guests pay for their drinks (even though he had previously said he would be paying for the venue and the beverages). So then we had the pleasure of dealing with 50+ champagne divas paying at one till at once. Moral of the story, don’t believe what you see on TV. They’ve made him out to look like a gem, or at least the insane women on the show make him look like a gem next to them.

Now, back to the good stuff.

The food in Melbourne is ALL on point. When friends ask me what Australian food is I usually say Brekkie. Brekkie in Aus is served all day, erry day. It includes: poached eggs on everything, “smashed avo” a delicious combination of exactly what it sounds like- avocado smashed onto toast (and usually topped with a poached egg), smoked salmon, beetroot in everything (for whatever reason they call it beetroot, not beets. Which makes me think we should also be saying carrotroots and potatoroots, but I digress), and coffee, lots of coffee.

Ray understands the coffee shpeel

Ray understands the coffee shpeel

The city of Melbourne itself seems to be a food capital, and it DEFINITELY has the best coffee in the world. The hipsters will be happy I acknowledged their belief. But just as most gorgeous men usually know they’re gorgeous, the baristas know their coffee is delicious. And so with this sense of awareness, comes an air of pretentiousness (except sometimes it can be more like a blustery wind of pretentiousness).

The other day I went to a coffee shop on my Melbourne Bucket list (of course I have one). It was hands down the best coffee I’ve ever, ever had. But when I read the menu out loud I practically peed my pants laughing. It was a ridiculous combination of adjectives and hoity-toity vocabulary assembled by what I pictured to be a mustached man who drank coffee like wine, naming off subtle ingredients he identified like “hints of orange peel and cardamom dustings”. Just to emphasize that I am actually in no way exaggerating, I will prove it with examples pulled from the menu:

“Pickled celery, compressed apple, quinoa, fennel, celery leaves, watercress, candied walnuts, kale, pomegranate & smoked dried goats cheese”

“Crispy potato hash with braised wild & cultivated mushroom, poached eggs, shaved Gruyere & chlorophyll & truffle vinaigrette”

Chlorophyll vinaigrettes are my favorite.

And since I know you’re DYING to know what I ate that day:

“Smoked salmon on rye with grilled cucumber, radish, cottage cheese, beetroot, horseradish, preserved lemon & sea herbs” L.O.L

Surprisingly enough the grilled cucumber was super tasty, while the rye bread was a weird cracker that I would’ve rather called “essence of rye”.

But hands down my favorite:

“Raw cashew, matcha & avocado cheesecake on caramelized buckini & organic coconut oil crunch base with chia seed pudding & pear & lime caviar salad”

^^ What are you even talking about?

Regardless, I have to admit the food was delicious- I won’t deny the flavors of the overly pompous descriptions and heir of importance throughout the venue. But honestly- compressed apple?

While I could talk about the food in this city for ages, I feel like I owe it a bit of conversation. Food, after all, is the reason I’m still in Australia. It’s how I got the third job waitressing, and ultimately, what placed me in front of a table of 5 celebrating a birthday dinner. It eventually led to the exchange of a business card that now has me listing “Event Coordinator” underneath my name in emails. What I mean is that through my (mild) obsession with food, I got a job waitressing at a sexy little Italian restaurant in a random corner of Melbourne. Through the waitressing job, I served a table that happened to be the owners of another restaurant. Through the business card given to me more so for a hospitality role, I stumbled upon an Events & Travel Company known as Encore Journeys. And through my emailing of said company, I eventually landed a position at my dream job. So to put it simply, my obsession with food led me to my dream job (give or take a few details).

In my book, food really does make everything better. So I’ll end this post with pictures of what I’ve eaten in this lovely city. I’ll dish it to you. Not to be too cheesy. Toastally.  

Brie. Melted. Story over.

Brie. Melted. Story over.

Homemade 'ogis (pierogis) and a fresh 'ry (bloody mary) at 'Borsch (Borsch, Vodka & Tears)

Homemade 'ogis (pierogis) and a fresh 'ry (bloody mary) at 'Borsch (Borsch, Vodka & Tears)

Brekkie at a place called Journeyman. Because every dish is a Journey, Man.

Brekkie at a place called Journeyman. Because every dish is a Journey, Man.

See what i did here

See what i did here

Avo smashin in da club

Avo smashin in da club

Cheers mates ;)