Category Archives: Things I Like

Bratislava is the Most Underrated Travel Destination I’ve Been To

I’m currently in Bratislava, and it’s easily the most underrated place I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling to.

When I told people I was visiting Bratislava, most people didn’t really understand why I would bother. One friend, in fact, gave me a searing look of derision, so I quickly explained that we were just going to spend two nights there passing through, and she told me that there wasn’t even enough in this city to occupy myself for one full day. And to be honest, I mostly added Bratislava on to my current itinerary to check another country off my list. But now I sincerely wish I had scheduled more time to spend here.

No, Bratislava is not nearly as picturesque as Vienna (or even Prague). And it’s not as large or as cosmopolitan as Budapest. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised throughout my short time here, and I would heartily recommend it as a travel destination to others.

For one, it’s super cheap. Like you can get a full meal at a sit-down restaurant for 5 euro cheap. Maybe the city is not as cheap as it once was (and there are plenty of places where you’ll spend much more than 5 euro per person), but compared to Vienna, you’ll feel like a king. There are also plenty of “touristy” sights to see: walk around the Old Town; take a stroll up to the castle that overlooks the city; take a longer trip to Devin castle; visit the blue church; hang out with Cumil; see a performance; etc.

But there are also hipster cafes and restaurants with great food (and cheap prices!) that wouldn’t be out of place in Portland or Austin (U Kubistu and Funki Punki are two specific recommendations that are also good for people with dietary restrictions; we received better service at U Kubistu than I have at many Michelin-starred restaurants). You can go wine tasting at typical/normal spots, but you can also randomly go into the cellars of people’s homes where they sell home-brewed black currant wine (like an old Slovak man served us tastes of his wines and liquors out of giant barrels that may or may not be legal in the US). And we’ve encountered some crazy awesome people.

And finally, from a points perspective, your devalued Club Carlson points will still be put to good use in Bratislava. Even though the Park Inn here isn’t fancy, it’s still got a great location and it’ll still be only 9k points per night. It also has an actual gym, and the elite status recognition was good (upgrade to a junior suite and free breakfast) for someone who only has status through the credit card.

Things I Like: Citi Prestige

It’s probably weird that I get excited over things like new credit cards, but I’m currently really excited for my new Citi Prestige card. It’s the card that I wanted most during my most recent round of credit card applications, and I’m happy to say that I was approved and received the card.

Based on the advice from Rapid Travel Chai, I went to a Citi branch and applied for the credit card in person to get a better offer than what was available online. By applying in person, I was able to get an offer for 30k points after spending $3000 within the first 3 months of having the card, an additional 30k points after spending $15000 within the first 12 months, and an annual fee of only $350. I’ve read that this offer is supposed to be for Citi Gold customers, but the banker that I worked with didn’t ask if I had any checking account relationship with Citi, and there seemed to be only one offer available at the branch.

Why am I excited for this card?
1) Thank You points can be redeemed for 1.6 cents each by booking AA/US flights. I have an old Citi Forward card that gives 5x points for restaurant spend, which means that I am now getting 8% back at restaurants. The Citi Prestige also offers 3x points on most travel spend (airlines, hotels, travel agencies), which means that I’m getting close to 5% back on those categories. This is far superior to cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
2) There’s a $250 airline credit each calendar year, and it’s automatically redeemed (so no need to choose an airline) and is valid for all airline purchases (so no need to buy gift cards in certain denominations). This means that the ongoing annual fee is effectively only $100, and if I wanted to, I could cancel within a year and get $500 in airline credits for only $350.
3) This card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership that gives you free access for two guests as well as yourself. This is superior to the Priority Pass membership that comes with the Amex Platinum card, as guests cost $27 each with that membership.
4) Admirals Club access is another benefit. Great for me since I primarily fly AA and wanted to cancel my Citi Executive card.
5) The normal credit card benefits are good and generous. This card comes with all of the insurances that are associated with high-end credit cards like trip delay (only 3 hours instead of 6 or 12 hours like other credit cards), trip interruption or cancellation, baggage delay, lost luggage, return protection, etc. I will happily put all of my purchases on this card and know that I’m going to be well covered.

Other benefits that are nice:
1) Global Entry fee reimbursement (once every 5 years)
2) 4th night free for hotel stays booked through their travel agency
3) No foreign transaction fees

This credit card doesn’t get enough love in the miles/points blogosphere (probably because I imagine that it doesn’t have an affiliate link), but it looks to be a keeper in my book. I generally don’t go for cash back cards since it’s not as “sexy” as redeeming miles for first class (although you can transfer Thank You points to a number of foreign frequent flyer programs), but at these cash back rates, I don’t think I can rationally choose miles.

Up to $70 for Lyft Credit for New Users This Weekend

In the battle for ride-sharing supremacy, I’m Team Lyft (at least, when it’s convenient to do so). There’s been lots of talk about Uber on the blogs, but the “$30 credit” is often just a $30 credit for your first ride, which essentially means your first ride is free, and not that you get $30 to use on free rides.

Lyft just announced a referral promotion in which you can get up to $70 of Lyft credit: $5 off each of your first 10 rides, and an additional free ride worth up to $20. Given that most of my Lyft Line rides are only $5, this is an extremely generous promotion if you’re new to the service.

If you want to make me happy, use my referral code of EDWARD1359 prior to your first ride. You need to sign up by 11:59pm on February 22, 2015 (I assume Pacific time), and the referral credits are valid for 30 days.

Things I Like: Lyft

Lots of bloggers have posted about Uber. Not sure why no one posts about Lyft (warning: affiliate link!) because they also have a referral program. Possibly because Lyft doesn’t have as many drivers and isn’t quite as widespread, but with Lyft, you get to avoid messy issues about bad business practices and sexism!

The affiliate link that I posted gives you a $20 credit for your first ride (and it gives me a $20 credit, which I appreciate!). Note that you don’t have to fist bump your driver, and you don’t have to sit in the front seat, although you’re welcome to do either.

If you live in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, you should definitely be using Lyft because they have an option called Lyft Line that’s super, super cheap. They try to match you up with another rider who’s going on the same route as you, but even if they don’t match you, you get up to a 50% discount. Like a ride from SFO into the city is only $17, and you can have up to two people riding with Lyft Line. That’s the same price as BART for two people, but significantly more convenient.

I also got an email today about a crazy promotion for $2.25 Lyft Line rides within San Francisco (bounded by Cesar Chavez on the south, Stanyan on the west, and water on the north and east) if you input the promo code MATCHMUNI ($2.25 is the price of a Muni ride in SF). That’s crazy, crazy cheap, and is likely a response to Uber’s $5 Uberpool rides.

Anyway, sign up for Lyft. I’m grateful if you use my affiliate link, but it’s also a good to just have multiple ridesharing apps on your phone since sometimes one will have surge/prime pricing while the other won’t. And, well, I try to use Lyft over Uber now whenever feasible.

Where to Find Durian in Ubud, Bali

I’m currently in Ubud in Bali, and whenever I’m in any Southeast Asian country, I’m on the lookout for durian. I absolutely love durian, and I don’t think it smells bad–it just smells like durian to me.

After not finding much information on the internetz and following multiple false leads (probably because it’s not durian season in January), I finally found someone selling durian at Ubud Market. In the mornings (pre-9am), Ubud Market is primarily a market for locals looking for produce. During the day, it transforms into a market for tourists looking for souvenirs.

My initial mistake was looking for durian at Ubud Market in the mornings when the locals shop. I couldn’t find anyone selling durian the first time I came to the market around 7am (note that I have since found that you can occasionally find fruit vendors selling durian in the mornings, but each time I found someone they only had one durian for sale, so it wasn’t very obvious).

But at 11am, a woman sets up some fruit on the side of the road and has durian for sale. She’s there from 11am until whenever she’s done, which is usually around 6pm. She’s located at the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Karna, or the first road on the right if you start walking along Jalan Raya Ubud from Ubud Palace.

Looking down Jl. Karna into Ubud Market

Looking down Jl. Karna into Ubud Market (can you spot the durian?)

Not really a stand, but more some fruit on the street

Not really a stand, but more just fruit on the street

Durian! And other fruit, but really, you just need durian.

Durian! And other fruit, but really, you just need durian.

The previous day she was on this side of the street

The previous day the durian was on this side of the street

You can expect to bargain for your durian (and anything else you want to buy in the market). Today, she asked for 80,000 rupiah (about $6.50 USD), but I ended up getting a whole durian for 50,000 rupiah (about $4 USD). I later came back to the market and gave her more money just because I want to make sure that she keeps selling durian.

Looks disgusting, but tastes great

Looks disgusting, but tastes great

If you want, you can ask for the vendor to open up the durian and put the fruit into a plastic bag, or you can do it yourself later (the durian here are already cut open so you just have to pull it apart). I ask for mine to be opened on the spot because I can’t wait to start eating it and I can eat an entire durian on my own, but be warned that once it’s open it starts to smell more.

UPDATE: From asking around, there is apparently another fruit seller that occasionally has durian during the off season. She is located on Jalan Raya Nyuh Kuning. Walk west along that road from Jalan Raya Pengosekan (the road that Jalan Hanoman becomes if you keep walking south), and you should see her stand. Depending on how much durian she has on hand, prices are significantly cheaper than those in Ubud market (like 10k or 15k rupiah per durian). I have not verified this personally as it’s quite far from where I’m staying, so I’m happy to pay an extra couple of dollars for convenience.

UPDATED UPDATE: My durian lady did not have durian today, but she assured me that she would have durian tomorrow. So I guess even she isn’t a sure thing.

Things I Like Right Now: US Bank

In the past, I’ve written extensively about how I think the US Bank Club Carlson credit cards are underrated in the miles/points blogosphere. These cards are one reason why I’m a fan of US Bank.

More recently, though, I’m a big fan of the Visa Buxx cards offered through US Bank. I’ve been slacking on the manufactured spending front, but Visa Buxx makes for a couple of grand of easy spend each month at minimal ongoing cost. It helps that there are US Bank ATMs where I live, including near my work as well as near my home.

To make the process of liquidation even easier, I opened a US Bank checking account, so I can withdraw money and deposit it at the same trip (yes, I hog the ATM for 5 minutes or so). And at the time that I opened my checking account, US Bank was offering a $150 opening bonus, so that just made it all the more worthwhile.

Granted, there are things that I dislike about US Bank: namely, their fraud controls are way too stringent. I’ve given up on using my Club Carlson credit cards for any sort of manufactured spend as I hated having to call every single time I made a somewhat large purchase. But Visa Buxx and redeeming two nights for the price of one (which can be stacked back-to-back with two credit cards/Club Carlson accounts) make me a big fan of US Bank right now.

Things I Like: T-Mobile

I never thought I’d say that I like a phone company. I’ve had T-Mobile for a long time, and I honestly hated it for a while, but the changes they’ve been making to try to steal market share from the other three phone carriers are awesome for frequent travelers like myself.

The biggest game changer is the free international data. It’s completely changed the way I travel internationally. Before they added this benefit, I would have to spend a lot more time planning exactly what I wanted to do, all transportation options, dining options near each place I might likely be whenever I get hungry, etc, or else spend a lot of time hunting for wifi. But now I can be a lot more flexible and look things up on the fly, and it’s a lot easier to communicate with other people, so no more buying SIM cards and worrying if your phone is unlocked.

In general, the data speed is decent. I’ve gotten 3G in most major cities. Not fast enough where you want to be spending too much time on your phone, but fast enough to look up directions and check email.

They also recently added an in-flight texting benefit through Gogo, but I still haven’t gotten that to work yet. But free international data should be enough to make you seriously consider trying T-Mobile out if you travel internationally with any regularity.

Using Credit Card Return Protection

It’s no secret that I love credit cards, and not just for miles and points. Credit cards often provide a variety of other benefits and consumer protections that make me prefer to use a credit card over any other form of payment, like trip delay insurance or return protection.

I usually don’t have occasion to take advantage of benefits like return protection or purchase protection because I just don’t buy that many non-consumable goods, but I recently decided to order some clothing online. Buying clothes online is always challenging because you often don’t know how they fit, and one of the items I wanted was final sale, so the store wasn’t willing to accept a return. But I figured that I’d use my Amex SPG for the purchase, which I know offers return protection. Return protection essentially says that your credit card company will cover you if the store doesn’t accept the return, provided that you call within 90 days of the purchase date and limited to $300 per item and up to $1000 total per year (see full benefits details)

Turns out that the final sale item wasn’t a great fit, and when I tried talking to the store’s customer service line, they said that they wouldn’t accept the return because it was final sale (and outside of the store’s 30-day return window). So I called 1-800-297-8019, which is the Amex Return Protection number, and asked to file a return protection claim. I reached a helpful phone agent who asked for basic information like the date of purchase, the items purchased, the total amount charged to the card, etc. And the next morning, I received an email saying that my return protection claim had been closed, and I saw a credit on my statement for the full value of the item I wanted to return. I didn’t even need to send the item to Amex. Pretty awesome, right?

Return protection is one of many reasons why I love credit cards. Obviously, don’t abuse protections like this, but it makes it easier to shop (especially online), when you know that your credit card company has you covered.

Required Watching/Reading for All Frequent Travelers: “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace

This is probably less relevant for people who have the pleasure to fly business or first class exclusively, but for the rest of us frequent travelers who are sometimes (or often (or always)) in the back of the plane, I highly recommend reading/watching “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. Actually, scratch that, this should be required reading/watching for everyone, regardless of who you are. The text comes from a commencement speech that he gave to Kenyon College in 2005.

Essentially, you shouldn’t ever be the person who’s like “do you know who I am”. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, the world does not revolve around you, and people do not exist merely to stand in your way. You have the ability to reframe how you think, and you can choose to reinterpret the world around you. As I’ve internalized this change in perspective, flying has become infinitely more enjoyable, which is part of the reason why I travel so much more than I used to.

How to Pack More Efficiently

Bring ExOfficio underwear (this one’s for women).

True story: I only brought two pairs of this underwear to Europe for my 10-day trip, and I’m sure I would’ve been fine with only those two pairs for a much longer trip than that.

The general idea is that you wash one pair in the sink and let it dry while you wear the other pair. And then you switch and repeat. This underwear is super comfortable, odor resistant, and quick drying, so it works out great if you’re trying to conserve space for other things. You just need to remember to wash the other pair every night.