A Fjord ing Scandinavia

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While most people are avoiding cold destinations in the dead of winter, Patrick and I decided Scandinavia in February was a great idea. For one, we usually do stay away from what other people do. We’re not exactly trendsetters, more-so bargain hunters. With Pat potentially coming to the US in March, we needed a destination to meet in the "middle" – somewhere between NYC and London.

After finding a bargain deal on a flight, Copenhagen became the destination. While known to be more expensive than most European spots, we planned to use the advantage of a cheap flight along with eating in and staying cozy in Airbnbs throughout the trip. Still, it was not cheap.

Scandinavian's prized herring

Scandinavian's prized herring

This should not take away from how gorgeous both Denmark and Norway are, however. We were there in the off-season for tourists, making it feel a bit more secluded and definitely less hectic. It added to our lazy holiday vibe, which we enjoyed. Most days were spent waking up late, grabbing unexpectedly great coffee at a local café, wandering around, stumbling upon a good bar or lunch spot, and even having an occasional nap. True vacations are restful after all, right?

On certain days we did plan outings. For instance on our last full day in Copenhagen, we took the train less than an hour away to a city recommended by our Airbnb host. The city was Helsingor, a quaint little port town with a castle, cobblestone streets, and again, delicious coffee. From Helsingor we went about 20 minutes by train to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, named after the original property owner who had wed three separate women all named Louise. The museum is situated in an old house, right on the edge of the sea. It was styled in the typical Danish Modern architecture, and housed some interesting exhibits, including a current one on the ceramics of Picasso. I would definitely recommend the day trip if you have the time while venturing through Denmark.

"When Louisiana opened its doors in 1958, ...it was Knud W. Jensen's vision to create a museum with soul, where the public could encounter artwork – not as something pretentious, but rather something that spoke directly to the viewer...From the start, Louisiana's exhibition practices followed the tradition at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which in the first half of the twentieth century had become famous – and notorious – for expanding the range of modern art to include architecture, design, photography, film and other genres". 

The food in Copenhagen was unbelievably good. It is so rare to find bad food that it will live on in my heart as one of the most foodie cities I’ve ever visited.

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Our best meal had to have been at Host, a restaurant I’d found out about simply by doing extensive research weeks before. Meaning, yes, I curated our days around when we could eat at certain places. Started by a former Noma chef, the venue is made up of dimly lit, minimalist, white-washed walls, retro Edison bulb lamps, potted plants and twiggy vases, rustic wooden tables, as many Danish restaurants seemed to be decorated.

Høst is the Danish word for harvest. As the name reveals, great Nordic ingredients and seasonal greens sets the agenda at Høst—served with a sense of both the rustic and the elegant, and always with big flavors.

Høst has won several International design awards, among them Worlds’ Best Designed Restaurant at Restaurant & Bar Design Awards and World’s Most Beautiful Restaurant in American travel magazine Travel + Leisure.

Copenhagen, Denmark: Top 3 Places to Eat

1.      Kroyers

2.      Warpigs

3.      Host

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Coffee

Coffee Collective (in Torvehallerne Market)

Casual

Torvehallerne Market – fish section with salads, bakery, coffee

I Love Fisk- Fried fish cake

Hija de Sanchez- super casual, small tacos by former Noma chef

Ma’ad Ethiopian – the only “cheap eats” we really found (delicious, too!)

Kroyers – tartines and AWESOME coffee

Christianshavns Faergecafe – herring and smorrebord

La Tigella- Italian, cozy, romantic

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Fancy

Host- Noma-style dishes, local ingredients, impeccable plating, unbelievably good

Ralae – recommended, didn’t visit

Noma

Attractions

Day Trip to Helsingor

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Bars

Warpigs – American BBQ and craft brews

Soernes Ol – craft beers, cave atmosphere

Barking Dog – quirky cocktail bar

Olsnedkeren – craft beers and games

La Fontaine – jazz club (Sunday jam sesh)

Not Your Mothers – low key wine bar owned by American (tastings, cheap, buzzy)

 

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10 Ways to Champagne Travel on a Beer Budget

Pagoda climbing in Bagan, Myanmar

Pagoda climbing in Bagan, Myanmar

In just under two weeks, I'll be taking my first trip to Scandinavia! Thanks to Norwegian, I’ll be flying a direct flight from New York to Bergen, Norway for only $195. No actually – a round-trip, nonstop flight to Norway for under $200!

If you’re thinking, only crazy people who travel all the time can find deals like that, you’re very wrong. Norwegian is not only a budget airline already, but the airline has deals on top of their already discounted fares all the time. I recommend signing up for their email newsletter. I also recommend taking flights from the non-traditional airports. For instance, I’ll be flying out of Stewart Newburgh airport, about an hour’s drive from NYC. Norwegian has been increasing the amount of flights flown from STW and in doing so, has also paired up with a bus service to get you straight from Penn Station to the airport (almost every half hour). Find that here for only $40 round-trip. Also, I’ll be flying into Bergen, versus a big hub such as Norway.

I’ve been told Bergen is a cozy little Scandi town, but you could’ve told me there was only pickled herring there and I still would’ve gone for $200. I spend more on my subway fares going less than two miles every two months.

From Bergen, I'm flying to Copenhagen with Norwegian again. That round-trip flight costs $105 and will take only an hour. Patrick is meeting me in CPH, and we’ll stay there for 6 days, 5 nights. We’ll return to Bergen for a 2-night stay, and I fly out that Friday, one week later.

Though we’ve heard from multiple sources that both Norway and Denmark are very expensive, we’ve used our own resources to figure out the cheapest way to go.

Havana, Cuba (flown for free in September using Delta miles transferred from Chase card!)

Havana, Cuba (flown for free in September using Delta miles transferred from Chase card!)

When people ask me how I travel all the time, live in NYC and am not an investment banker:

1.     Fly budget airlines. It’s only a few hours of your life but will save you a few hundred Benjamins

2.     Fly out of non-traditional airports. You’ll also probably save hours of your life here (not as many people will be commuting there, going through security, checking in at the same time, etc)

3.     If your schedule allows, take the odd-timed flights. Red-eyes, or overnight flights, are my favorite. There are usually less people, and I feel like I’m multitasking by sleeping while traveling (and sometimes, no crying babies!)

4.     Stay in low cost accommodation (hostels, Airbnb, use hotel points)

4b. Keep in mind that most large hotel chains will allow you to convert your points with them into airline miles with certain partners. I.e. Marriott points can be converted into United Miles (8,000 Marriott = 2,000 United). Not recommended at the exchange rate, but still doable!

5.     If you stay in Airbnbs, take advantage of having a full kitchen at your hands. Use local ingredients for meals and feel like a true city native!

6.    Free Tours.

Google "Best free walking tours in" whichever city you're visiting - they are everywhere, usually run by locals, and integrate you into the city with other curious travelers. Sandemans is one of the most reliable, and can be found all over Europe!

7.     Budget ID cards (If you still have a student ID or email, you can still get student discounts!)

Or if you're simply a young traveler, there are ID cards that give you access to a range of discounts abroad. International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or International Youth Travel Card (IYTC)

8.    Save up for your trip with apps like Qapital, Acorns, or Stash

Get $5 towards your Acorns account with the link above! You can contribute a monthly debit, round up everyday purchases, and receive "found money" to put towards an investment account.

9.    Use a travel rewards credit card (!!!)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is how I’ve gotten the majority of my flights for free. (In December I booked my Air France NYC – London flight for free! Peak travel time and still managed a flight that cost a whopping $Free.99). 

a. Chase pairs with the following airlines for 1:1 point transfer: United, Southwest, Air France/KLM (which lets you book Delta and Alaska), British Airways (lets you book American Airlines)

10.   Carry-on your luggage. Most airlines (especially budget) will charge you to check your bag. I promise, you can fit all your stuff in a carry-on, and it will save you time and money

The essentials I keep close when traveling:

St. John, USVI

St. John, USVI

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

Scotland for the Weekend

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A wee bit of Scottish flare.

With a little less than 48 hours in Edinburgh, here are our top recommendations:

1. Coffee at Artisan Roast and Milkman

Milkman vibes

Milkman vibes

Artisan Roast is located on Broughton Street, one of the main, quaint strips of the New Town neighborhood of Edinburgh. I'm no coffee snob (that's Pat), but their coffee was tart and fruity, while Milkman was a bit more mild. Both are great for takeaway brews or as cozy spots to chill with your coffee or tea.

A unique quirk to Artisan is their lack of an actual counter dividing the baristas from the customers. We loved this about it, as it played off a more inviting vibe than the usual separation in a cafe. 

2. Brunch at the Educated Flea

What I believe was named after the Cole Porter song, Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love) ("...even educated fleas do it..."), this adorable cafe located on Broughten Street serves up eclectic, "punchy global flavours" - and delicious - brunch/lunch and dinner. As the website notes, "Book a table and look forward to a warm welcome smile, maybe a cheeky giggle and a generally super time in a great neighbourhood".

Pat and I ordered off the specials menu, seen above. He got the duck hash with hollandaise and poached eggs, while I got the curried butter bean whip with dukkah (an Egyptian topping of herbs, nuts, and spices), soft boiled eggs and crispy flatbread.  IT WAS SUBLIME.

3. Hike Arthur's Seat

This wasn't even from the top of the peak!

This wasn't even from the top of the peak!

About a 15 minute walk from the center of town, and visible from all throughout the city, is Arthur's Seat. This peak is not only an ancient volcano, but one of the area's oldest forts, dating back more than 2000 years ago. Like the rock on which Edinburgh Castle is built, it was formed by an extinct volcano system which became eroded by a glacier moving from west to east over the last 2 million years. Side note: It's really steep, but the views are well worth the hike!

4. Visit the Castle

The historical fortress on Castle Rock attracts many a tourist, though I don't actually recommend paying the 17 pounds to get in. On both of my quick stints in Edinburgh, I've navigated my way up to the top but never actually entered the castle, and I've been just fine without it. If you're a true history buff you may want to buy the ticket, but I'm more of a fan of views and ambiance than tourist attractions and queues. 

JK Rowling wrote some of the first HP books at The Elephant House in Edinburgh

JK Rowling wrote some of the first HP books at The Elephant House in Edinburgh

Embark on a journey through Edinburgh to witness sites that inspired characters and scenes in the series. From the cemetery where JK Rowling began creating character names, to the cafes she would sit in and write parts of the book, this is a free tour for any Potter fan. 

6. Dinner and Drinks at The Devil's Advocate

Pat and I have a thing for genuine bars with authentic feels/food/people. The Devil's Advocate, located in an old Victorian pump station, is just that. The structure is exposed brick and wood beams with touches of brass and steel. The decor accentuates the old with the new, and the food is vibrant without overdoing it. The drinks are in a separate ballgame altogether. 

Pat got the Capercaille (rum, Campari, pineapple Cocchi Americano, Cafe Borghetti, and apple acid) while I ordered the Red Sky in the Morning (Japanese whiskey, Cacao Campari, Fernet Branca, mochaccino stout and chili tincture). UNREAL.

 

7. Stay at Susie's in New Town

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Sometimes you find a really quaint Airbnb and you're over the moon. Other times you find a charming Airbnb WITH a gorgeous host who sees after you like a great old friend. Susie is that host! While her flat is not only centrally located, but still in a quiet, residential area, it also has all the comforts of home with added hospitable touches. Everything you forgot to pack or didn't plan to need, she has: hairdryers, converters, umbrellas, little chocolate treats and water on your bedside table, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. The bed was comfy and the big windows made me feel like a Scottish princess! And although it is a 6th floor walk-up, the trek is worth it after the Scottish beers you'll be consuming every night! 

8. Live Jazz at the Jazz Bar

picture courtesy of theJazzbar.co.uk

picture courtesy of theJazzbar.co.uk

Another favorite pastime done while traveling is truly being spontaneous. After we finished our lovely meal at The Devil's Advocate (meaning after we transferred to a table outside on their deck for a bottle of wine - our version of dessert), we were wandering about the cobblestone streets when we stumbled upon The Jazz Bar. Easily persuaded, we couldn't see why we wouldn't want to go down the secretive steps into the underground venue. And it did not disappoint. The bar serves up local craft beers and THE best homemade ginger beer I've had the pleasure of tasting (with any sort of spirit to be added if you'd like!). 

9. Scottish craft beers/whiskies

Scotland has a plethora of great locally made beer, from ciders to ales to intense dark stouts. I love them all. I wanted to try them all. But I only had 48 hours so I believe I tried about 6. Go forth and prosper, hoppily.

Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.
— Mark Twain

P.S. Dishoom is now located in Edinburgh in St. Andrew Square.

Even the decor at Dishoom was impeccable

Even the decor at Dishoom was impeccable

Known for their procured attention to detail, this Bombay-inspired Indian restaurant is delightfully delicious and easy to share. We split the Sali Boti, "a first-rate Parsi classic, tender lamb is braised in a rich and flavoursome gravy then finished with crunchy sali crisp-chips. Served with buttered roomali roti", and the Black House Daal, "A Dishoom signature dish - dark, rich, deeply flavoured. It is prepared over 24 hours for extra harmony". They were both intensely flavorful and definitely satisfying. I'd also recommend the vegetable samosas (served with their three sauces - chili, coriander and a sweet date and tamarind) as well as the Bhang Lassi (Traditional Holi drink, but with fresh shredded mint in place of happy-go-lucky hemp. Ginger, grenadine, candied fennel sprinkles and almond syrup and yoghurt. Can be served with or without rum, and was just as lovely sans-spirits).