Norwegian B787 Wing Shot

Norwegian Airlines review – Oslo to Los Angeles – DY7083

Flying from Europe to the USA has always been one of those things you only do once per decade due to the prohibitive cost of flights and until recently, only full service carriers flew the route. But with the advent of airlines such as WOW Air out of Iceland, flying between Europe and the USA doesn’t have to expensive anymore.

I recently flew Norwegian Airlines from Oslo (OSL) to Los Angeles (LAX) in one of their brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and learned that cheap doesn’t have to be nasty.

I bought my wife’s ticket for this flight 3 months before departure for a mere €186 (US$205). She has a perfectly sized carry on bag and because Norwegian are so generous with their hand luggage weights, it easily fit within the cabin baggage limits.

I on the other hand have a beast of a backpack which always has to be checked. And on Norwegian, this is the beginning of where you get stung. I bought my ticket 2 months before departure for €265 (US$296) which is still an absolute bargain. This included a €33 (US$37) fee for checked baggage. They also offer free meals onboard for an extra €33 (US$37) and seat selection for a further €33 (US$37)??? You can bundle these 3 addons for an extra fee of €66 (US$74) which is a little steep in my view. In the end, I chose not to preorder meals or seating and everything worked out fine.

Norwegian Airlines Boeing 787

By now, everyone knows that the Boeing 787 is a state of the art aircraft with large windows which don’t have window shades – rather, adjustable dimmers.Norwegian B787 windowBut the problem with the 787 is that airlines love to pack passengers in like sardines even more than they usually do. The legroom I had was more than adequate and I’m 5″11′ (181cm). But it’s the fact that airlines including Norwegian insist on a 9 abreast seating configuration when 8 abreast is ideal for economy cabins. The means seats and arm rests are extremely narrow. I’m a normal sized guy. Maybe on the light side of things. But when I sit next to another man on a 787, my shoulders touch his. This is torture on long haul because you’re constantly fighting for shoulder space. Luckily for me on this flight to LAX, the guy next to me was short with narrow shoulders. I actually felt comfortable for the entire flight! But your luck certainly can vary. If you’re next to a big person or you yourself are big, this will be a nightmare flight.Norwegian B787 cabin 9 abreastEach seat has an entertainment unit which also serves as your online shop for the snack bar.

There was a reasonable selection of recent movies as well as documentaries, TV shows and classic movies. The games selection is as it is on every other airline these days. Sudoku, backgammon and chess.Norwegian Airlines review entertainmentBut the interesting part about the entertainment system is the snack bar. You simple scroll through the list of items they have for sale, pick what you want and scan your credit card. About 5 minutes later a hostess will deliver your order to your seat. I’m sure they get lots of orders this way.

You can even keep track of all your orders during the flight.

The selection of snacks went way beyond what I had expect and prices weren’t too bad and certainly cheaper than much of what’s available in Oslo airport. Tip: eat on the plane, not at Oslo Airport.

A large selection of spirits, liqueurs and wines are available plus some beers, soft drinks and water. As a general rule, non-alcoholic drinks (330ml) were US$3.50, spirits (50ml) US$8, beer (330ml) US$6, coffee/tea US$4 and wine (187ml) US$7. That’s pretty reasonable in my book. Of course if you want to get smashed on the plane, it’s going to cost you a lot.Norwegian Airways review foodSnacks included muffins for US$4, Pringles US$3.50, hot snacks (like a panini) for US$7, vegetarian sandwiches US$7, chocolate bar US$2.50, salad US$9 and noodle pot for US$4. Again, not cheap, but not so bad if you got a great deal on the flight. And besides, if you want cheap, you simply bring your own food and don’t buy theirs.

And on that note, I wanted to comment on how much food you’re going to need for this 10hour flight. For two people, I brought along with me 2 massive sandwiches, a packet of chips, a block of chocolate, 2 cheese rolls, 2 apple pies, a bottle of water, 2 bananas and a muffin. Let me tell you, it was enough. I could have left off the apple pies and cheese rolls and had been fine. But we ate them anyway so we didn’t have to declare them on arrival at LAX.Norwegian food order processOne last comment on the aircraft itself. I don’t think there are enough toilets onboard. There was a line for the toilets for the entire flight. The red light indicating the toilets were occupied never went green. It’s really odd because I’d never seen that before. Ah well, if you’re desperate, you just have to wait 15 minutes in line. And maybe you need to stretch your legs anyway.

The flight touched down in LAX on time and without and dramas. Truth be told, this flight was so much more enjoyable than I had expected. We got seated together even though we didn’t pay for seats. We were never hungry despite not paying for meals. And our hand luggage had no trouble getting on board because of the Norwegian hang luggage limit of 10kg plus a small handbag or laptop bag.

So while long haul low cost carriers such as Air Asia can be a nightmare, Norwegian Air really show everyone how it should be done. I’d happily fly them again if the price discount was big enough compared to full service carriers. Because at the end of the day, many full service carriers feel almost the same once on board. Especially so called 5 star carriers such as Qatar who I also flew recently and who also have a 9 abreast seating configuration on Boeing 787s.

Buy your tickets early and get a great deal! Check prices now on Norwegian.com

Palenque, Mexico

Mayan Ruins of Palenque – Transport, Accommodation & Agua Azul

After recently visiting the stunning Mayan ruins of Palenque and the nearby waterfalls of Agua Azul, I just knew I had to share about how I got there, where I stayed (and why) and about a separate activity, Agua Azul.

First of all, it is possible to visit the ruins and Agua Azul in one day. I did it and it wasn’t too rushed, although you need to start early.Palenque

How to get to the Mayan Ruins of Palenque

When you exit the main bus station in Palenque (this is where you will arrive by bus), you will see a roundabout which leads in a bunch of directions. For the purposes of this post, the main road in Palenque refers to the road which runs directly away from the bus terminal. Collectivos (shared minivans) come down this main road looking for passengers and one will find you as you set off at about 8am. So just wait anywhere along this road and a van will stop and ask if you’re going to “ruinas”. If you really want to be certain, just look at the sign in the window which also says “ruinas”. But seriously, they’re so desperate for passengers that they will find you. They’ll pick you up, maybe do a lap of the town and then head straight to the ruins.PalenqueFirst stop is to pay the National Park entry fee which is MX$65. Get back on the same collectivo and you will be taken to the ticket office for the ruins (there is one ticket booth for the national park and one for the ruins in separate locations). Pay the driver MX$20 per person for his services and get on your way.

After buying your entry ticket for MX$65 (this is the second entry fee — 65 for ruins + 65 for national park), you can enter the ruins area. I read one post which said you can spin through it in an hour. And while that’s true, you will be missing a lot of the ruins because some of them are a fair hike up and down lots of steps. I think it took me about 2 hours and I was done by then. Collectivos returning to town are waiting where they dropped you off. Just hop on one and it will leave within 5 minutes and drop you wherever you want along the main road in Palenque.Palenque

How to get to Agua Azul

Because at this stage it’s just before midday, it’s a good opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat in Palenque itself. I thought Las Tinajas was good. Massive portions big enough to share between 2 people. Seriously. After this, head back down the main road and look for the collectivo station. You’ll notice a bunch of collectivos, a bunch of guys and lots of offers of collectivos to places like Agua Azul. Pick one guy (there are different operators), pay your MX$40, hop on the collectivo and wait for it to fill up with other passengers. The ride out to Agua Azul takes about an hour and a half along a road known for banditry at night. In the daytime it seemed pretty normal and safe.Agua AzulYou’ll be dropped off at the turn off to Agua Azul where there are pickup trucks waiting to take you to the entrance. Pickup trucks are MX$20 per person which is a ripoff, but walking isn’t really an option unless you arrive really early in the day, have heaps of time and no money. Entry to the waterfall is MX$40. The waterfall is a stunning blue and it’s worth having a dip in the pristine waters. Sadly, much of the area is off limits for reasons unknown, but rumoured to be related to safety.

Getting back to Palenque is exactly the opposite of what you just did. Pickup back to the top, wait for a collectivo to pass by and you’re on your way.

It’s actually worthwhile doing this as a one day trip if you don’t have that much time and don’t intend to spend hour upon hour at the ruins. That way you can catch the night bus from Palenque to some place like Tulum, Playa Del Carmen or Cancun. It all matches up quite nicely.

Accommodation in Palenque

One of the big decisions when in Palenque is to toss up between staying in the jungle near the ruins or staying in town. I decided to stay in town. Initially I had wanted to stay in the jungle because it’s cheaper and more towards my style of accommodation — something a little unique. But I read online story after story of countless hippies with bongo drums partying the night away. If you’re not a hippie, you are going to hate that. Nothing worse than a drum circle when you’re on the outside of it. Pretty sure there would have been fire twirlers, hoola hoops, lots of festy hair and plenty of weed.

I stayed at Hotel Maya Rue which was pretty expensive really. Most of the hotels in town are. But I think it’s a better option to stay in town. Especially because you then have a wide range of food choices which are miles cheaper than the monopoly in the forest. So yeah, you spend more on accommodation, less on food. Works out pretty similar in the end, especially if your hotels gives a free brekky.

Check the price of Hotel Maya Rue on Agoda.

Check the price of Palenque hotels in general on Agoda.

Check the price of Hotel Maya Rue on Booking.com.

Check the price of Palenque hotels in general on Booking.com.

So there you have it. My mini guide to Palenque and Agua Azul. It’s a pretty nifty spot well-worth a visit on your trip through southern Mexico.

Common Grounds Bandung

Common Grounds, Bandung

And the great cafes in Bandung keep springing up. This time, it’s Common Grounds. Common Grounds originated in Jakarta and became an instant success. I went there when it first opened and to be honest, the food offering was poor. But on subsequent visits, they’ve refined their service to the point that I think it’s a fantastic place to go and have brunch and a couple of coffees.Common Grounds Bandung inside

Which brings us to Bandung. I guess the main thing to question is whether Common Grounds Bandung lives up to its successful sibling in Jakarta. And for me, it does. Actually, I prefer the Bandung branch because the fitout is so freaking awesome whereas the Jakarta version is in a crappy old mall.

The coffee at Common Grounds is first rate. Equal to the best in Bandung, but to be honest, there are so many great coffee places in Bandung now that this level is the minimum required in my view. I expect excellent coffee in every cafe I go to and Common Grounds Bandung does deliver. Next is food. The menu here is diverse and includes the usual brunch style items such as pancakes but also heavier savoury things such as burgers and baked eggs. The cake selection is small, but the chocolate souffle cake I tried was awesome. So over-the-top rich, but I liked that. Apparently they ship the cakes in from Jakarta rather than make them in house, but I think that’s OK as long as the taste is good. And anyway, the souffle cake I tried was nothing like a souffle… Not sure what that is about.Common Grounds Bandung Cake

Next, we turn to whether this place is suitable for working from. One of the biggest gripes I have in all of Bandung (aside from the traffic) is the lack of decent work spaces in cafes. Mainly the issue is to do with WiFi. Indonesia does have super fast wifi in many areas. Bandung has it throughout the city. I even have quite fast wifi at home. The problem is that in most cafes the connections are usually shit and Common Grounds is no different. For me, they shouldn’t bother offering wifi at all if they can’t give you something that is even barely usable. With a cafe filled with about 10 people, the internet worked about 25% of the time. And even at those times it was on and off. In other words, completely frustrating and better off if they didn’t have it. This is pretty similar to most cafes in Bandung, to be fair. I don’t know why it’s always so bad, but it needs to be fixed.

One last point is about pricing and it’s something that raises its head time and time again in Indonesia. It’s the issue of charging for an extra shot of coffee. Now some places such as two hands full don’t charge for an extra shot as the coffees come standard with 2 shots. Noah’s Barn does a magic which has 2 shots for 28k plus tax. But I’ve been charged up to 60k in the past for double shot coffees as they often charge for 2 separate coffees. Common Grounds doesn’t do this. But the do charge 10k plus tax and service for an extra shot which probably costs them 2k in beans, absolutely nothing in labour and saves them probably 500 in milk. It’s a rip off. So yeah, I would be OK with an extra 5k, and even then the total price of the coffee would be 37k plus tax. But as it stands, I’ve to pay 47k for that double shot coffee which by world standards is a rip off. By Bandung standards it’s criminal.Common Grounds Coffee

So the final verdict? Awesome. One of my new favourite cafes in Bandung. Just don’t go there expecting to use the wifi.

Qatar Airways Review

Qatar Airways Flight Review

Back in November there was this crazy sale on Qatar Airways where you could get an open jaw ticket for and incredible price. All you had to do was start your journey in Malaysia, end it in Jakarta and enter Europe through one city and return via another. We had no plans to go to Europe, but when we plugged in some dates to the website, we couldn’t believe the price. US$350 for the entire trip inclusive of all taxes and fees — we just had to buy it.

Our flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Copenhagen with a 2h30m transit in Doha. Both flights used brand new Boeing 787 dreamliners and it was our first time flying in them. While most aspects of the two flights were great, the planes themselves were substandard for a full service for reasons we’ll get to in a moment. First, the inflight service.Qatar Menu

On each flight we were offered package refresher towels not long after take off and the meal service started soon after. The food out of Kuala Lumpur was below average for a full service carrier, but quite good out of Doha. A second fairly heavy snack was served out of Kuala Lumpur and a light snack served out of Doha. Both meals out of Doha were far far better than out of KL.Qatar inflight meal

Drinks were offered several times throughout both flights, staff were very friendly and attentive and the overall level of service was good.Qatar snack box

For those of you who haven’t flown on a Dreamliner, the windows are the star of the plane. No window shades — just this dimmer function which can create an incredibly dark cabin electronically.Qatar B787 Window

The seat configuration in economy on Qatar 787s is 3-3-3 and it should be outlawed. The seats are extremely narrow to the point where my body was twisted sideways for 7 hours straight out of KL because I was next to another man. Not a big man. Just a man. And because men often have broad shoulders, it means there is not enough room if two normal sized men sit next to each other. There was no fight for the armrest — we were fighting to see whose arm could be on top of whose. We weren’t just rubbing shoulders, our shoulders were overlapping at times. Eating a meal like this is very difficult. I would hate think how it would be with two bigger people sitting next to each other.Qatar seat space

Aside from the narrowness of the seats, I also found them to be very close together when the person in front reclines their seat. You always get up personal when this happens in economy, but this flight felt more like Air Asia in this regard than any other full service carrier I’ve flown on.Qatar economy cabin

The positives were the entertainment unit which has a large sharp screen, USB port and lots of movies. Each seat also comes with a power socket, but there’s no way you’ll be working on a laptop — there’s just not enough room unless you’re lucky enough to have no one sitting next to you.Qatar seat back entertainment

So what’s the verdict? If I’d paid US$1000 for these flights, I’d be disappointed at being crammed into the the seats like we were. But given that we only paid US$350, I just can’t complain.

But we learned a lesson. Do not fly on a Boeing 787 if it’s fitted with a 3-3-3 configuration. It’s just too uncomfortable for a long haul flight.

How to Make Money Blogging and Why Focussing on Fam Trips is Bad

This is another post for my Indonesian readers. If you’re not Indonesian, it might not be so relevant. 

Terjemahkan dengan tombol ini.

A few days ago I wrote a big rant about how familiarisation trips (fam trips)/media trips in Indonesia were a big deal and everyone seemed to want to be a part of it. It makes sense. You enjoy writing. You enjoy travelling. Some big company or government agency wants to give you a free trip so you can enjoy the two things you love doing anyway!

It all sounds great until you figure out that you can’t pay your bills with free trips. And that means if you’re focus is on getting free trips, you’ll never really travel to where you want. You’ll always be travelling to where they want. And what do you get from it? A lousy free trip and a lot of homework. So I wanted to discuss today why I think focussing on free trips is a bad idea and what alternatives there are.

Everyone loves free things. Free trips, free food and products. Bloggers get this stuff all the time. The problem is that you can become a slave to the corporations giving those free things and you lose a lot of the flexibility that blogging is supposed to give you. So while take free trips and accepting free products is OK, I wouldn’t recommend this being the focus of your blogging efforts. If you really want flexibility while blogging, you should look at how to make money. (In other words, don’t suck up to tourism Indonesia, go out on your own and find new ways to make money)

There are few ways to make money blogging, but most of them also tie in with a big social media profile and a lot of visitors to your blog. With this in mind, you need to work on your personal brand, building a big following and getting the attention of lots of people (more on this in another post)

Sponsored Posts

Sponsored posts have a bad name in the blogging world because it basically means brands are paying bloggers to advertise their product in an editorial way. It’s often an endorsement. It’s sometimes just about getting backlinks.

In the old days of SEO, companies used to pay bloggers a lot of money to buy backlinks on their blogs. Why? Because google uses links as a signal to ranking websites. The more links pointing to your website from someone else’s website, the higher your ranking. But because this system was being abused by brands buying links on people’s sites in order to boost their rankings, google cracked down a few years back (by tweaking the algorithm). Paid links on people’s blogs have almost stopped, except in Indonesia. Lots of brands in Indonesia still buy links on people’s blogs in the disguise of a sponsored post. I don’t know why they still do it here, but they do.

So if you’re comfortable with doing these sorts of posts for brands, you need to decide how much to charge. We have had some brands offering as little as Rp. 100.000 for a post. We would never accept this. Why? Because when you accept these low offers, you are telling the world that you are a low class blogger. If you accept Rp. 100.000, you will be known as a blogger willing to accept anything. It’s a bad image. And once you have this image, it’s very difficult to then start charging Rp. 1.000.000

So what should you charge? I recommend to people to start at between Rp. 1.500.000 & Rp. 2.000.000 and negotiate. Sure, most brands want posts for Rp. 100.000, but I’d much rather have 1 sponsored post on my blog for Rp. 2.000.000 than 20 sponsored posts on my blog for Rp. 100.000. And the brand gets a lot more benefit from me if I’m only putting 1 sponsored post on my blog every few months rather than lots of them.

My best advice is: Don’t undersell yourself. Don’t be tempted by small amounts of money. Value your blog and your work much higher and people will also value you at the same level.

Advertising

There are all sorts of different advertising options for blogs, but Google Adsense is the easiest to implement. You will be paid based on how many visitors your blog gets, what sort of visitors they are (rich/poor), the type of website you have. You need a lot of visitors on a travel blog to earn Rp. 1.000.000 per month with ads. But most of the top Indonesian travel bloggers will easily get Rp. 1.000.000 from google ads, but they have a lot of page views per month.

Affiliate Sales

Affiliate sales is basically the system of getting a commission when someone buys something through your site. There a lots of affiliate programs you can sign up to, but you’ll have to experiment to see which one is the best for you. Again, it’s difficult to make a lot of money on this, but it is possible to get a little bit of side income. You should aim for Rp. 1.000.000 per month on this, but everyone’s results vary. It’s tough to earn good money here. Many online shops in Indonesia offer affiliate programs — just google “affiliate Lazada” or the name of an online shop and you can find out more.

Sponsored Tweets and Instagram

This is a big one in Indonesia. When we first started our website, we were told to offer our sponsored tweet services for Rp. 150 per follower. Back in 2012/2013, this worked so well and we earned a bit of money from this. But today, the situation is different and sponsored tweets earn a lot less money. Still, a lot of people are earning between Rp. 100.000 and Rp. 1.000.000 per sponsored tweet (some a lot more than this). The trend nowadays is to buy a packet of 10 tweets and you give the company a bunch of free tweets as well.

Instagram is similar, but the problem is that buying 10 instagram posts is impractical. Most people charge a lot more for an instagram post than a tweet. Maybe double or 3x.

You need to work on boosting your social media profiles. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth putting effort into.

Freelance Writing

Now we move onto earning money outside blogging. Freelance writing can really earn you enough money to give up your full time job, especially if you combine it with the money you earn above. The problem is, getting paid freelance writing work in Indonesia requires you to have a high profile. This means you need to increase your following on social media, get a lot more views on your blog and start pitching your articles to editors of magazines and newspapers. If you’re successful, it wouldn’t be unusual to earn Rp. 5.000.000 per month doing this.

So, there you have it. Another English language rant for my Indonesian followers basically throwing out there some ideas on how to make money from your blog rather than taking free trips all the time.

If you are earning money through your blog and no full time job, you can still go on lots of trips. It’s just that the trips will be to places that you choose, not to places some company or tourist organisation chooses.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments! You can write in Indonesian and I will understand it. 🙂

Yellow Fever in Colombia: Free Vaccination in Bogota!

One of the problems with travelling in South America is the number of vaccinations that you should get before you go. There are so many diseases which are endemic to many South American countries that it really is wise to see a doctor before you travel.

I recently arrived in Colombia without a Yellow Fever injection. No big deal because I don’t expect that I will get it, especially because I don’t have plans to visit the jungles. But the problem is, Yellow Fever is endemic in Colombia. That is, it is prevalent in many areas of the country and if you catch it, there’s a good chance you will die from it (I read somewhere like 10%).

The main problem for most travellers visiting Yellow Fever endemic countries is that if you want to visit a non-yellow fever country afterwards, that country will usually ask you to prove that you are vaccinated against Yellow Fever. If you can’t prove it, they may deny you entry, especially if you are not a citizen of that country. So in order to avoid any hassles on my future travels and to protect against the low chance of actually getting Yellow Fever, I decided to get vaccinated against it in Bogota Airport.

How to get vaccinated against Yellow Fever for free in Bogota Airport

Located on the second floor of the Bogota Airport is a vaccination counter. You’ll see it right next to the tourist tax refund counter and it is signposted. It is open between 7am and 7pm daily and is operated by Fontibon Hospital. All you need to do is visit the clinic, take a number, fill in a form (which is in Spanish, but they give you a translation) and they will immediately vaccinate you against Yellow Fever for free. No questions asked. After vaccination, they give you a yellow booklet which is your proof of Yellow Fever vaccination.

It took me about 10 minutes from when I took a number to when I left the clinic. It was so quick and efficient that I recommend that absolutely everyone does it, no matter what your nationality. You’re going to need that booklet at some point in your future travels in order to avoid a hassle with the immigration authorities.

Fontibon Hostpital
Level 2
Bogota Airport
7am-7pm daily
FREE

So there you have it. A quick an easy way to get vaccinated against Yellow Fever in Bogota Airport.

I Used SkyPicker.com (kiwi.com) and it Wasn’t a Scam

Recently during my trip around the world I was faced with a number of flight routes which simply could not be booked on the site of the airline itself and other routes which were inexplicably cheaper through an agent. So like any cheaparse traveller, I booked my Avianca flight from Bogota to Cartagena with an online travel agent, Skypicker.

I’d never heard of them before, but they were listed as the cheapest option by 50% on SkyScanner. I didn’t even think twice about booking my flights through them.

And then I got a confirmation email from them and it was kind of odd. Just not as professional looking as I had expected. Also, the booking wasn’t made immediately. In other words, they had taken my credit card details and not yet booked my flight. Just a confirmation email saying they were going to do it later.

So I searched online and I found post after post about Skypicker being a scam. And I was scared. So I contacted their online support and demanded they send through my airline reference number. They refused. The guy on online support was hopeless and said that I would never get that booking reference number because I wasn’t allowed to checkin online.

Because I had no other options, I just waited. And then a couple of days later they sent an email with a confirmed airline booking reference number and I was actually able to use the official Avianca website to see my booking in the system.

Everything seemed OK. So when I arrived at the airport, I expected everything to be smooth as well. And it was.

So while Skypicker’s customer service leaves a lot to be desired and their English is poor, they aren’t a scam company. My only advice would be to make sure you fill in everything correctly during booking and that you make sure you don’t have any complicated requests such as name changes, date changes, odd transits, etc.

Would I use them again? Definitely if the price was right. Have you had a good or bad experience with them? Let me know in the comments.

Fam Trip Madness in Indonesia

Recently in Indonesia the issue of fam trips has reared its ugly head once again. It’s a mess of jealousy, arrogance and bitterness and I wanted to comment on it from an outsider’s perspective. How am I an outsider when I’m married to an Indonesian traveller blogger? Because 99.9% of our travel is self funded and we very rarely seek freebies. That’s not because we don’t like free stuff, it’s basically because we are too busy doing our own trips.

The recent argument is similar to previous ones in the Indonesian travel blogger world. It’s about a select group of bloggers rolling in from around Indonesia to cover a particular city in Indonesia, Semarang. Ostensibly, bloggers from close to this region are unhappy that they weren’t invited. They argue they should be invited because they know the area better, that the bloggers who were invited are always invited and that bloggers from outside of Jakarta never get free trips.

While some of the sentiment sounds ok, I think the argument being used is wrong. There is only one broad argument to in my opinion and that’s whether government tourism authorities (Destination Marketing Organisations DMOs) should be selecting bloggers based on merit or not? And when it comes to merit, the main issue is statistics — pageviews and followers.

Fam trips are useful for destination marketing organisations in order to promote their message to a wider audience and have traditionally been given to traditional media. Traditional media usually has a massive audience and a 2 page article in a magazine has the advertising value equivalency (AVE) of 2 full page ads. Probably more because it’s part of editorial and readers respond better to that.

When a blogger goes on a trip, you’ve got to ask what return on investment (ROI) they are providing (as measure with AVE). And this is where things become tricky. To measure this is extremely difficult. But in order for an investment of airfares, accommodation, meals and tours to pay off, the blogger has to have a big readership, big Instagram following or big Twitter following — preferably all three. Why? Because if a blogger only receives 1,000 pageviews per month, only has 2000 instagram followers, only has 2,000 Twitter followers, there is no way that the massive investment of the fam trip is going to be paid back — that is, the ROI is negative. The AVE of a blogger with these stats is probably less than Rp. 1.000.000. In other words, you could just buy advertising on the blogger’s site without giving them a free trip for Rp. 1.000.000 and get the same coverage. So if the cost of the fam trip is more than Rp. 1.000.000, that is a bad investment and leads to negative ROI.

Clearly, you need to have a certain amount of pageviews and/or followers for the investment to be worth it. What that number is is up for debate. But I think the number is quite high because many fam trips are expensive!

Some people argue that stats are not everything. That engagement and tone is important as well. I agree. People with no engagement and a poor tone should not be selected for fam trips. But people with poor stats should also not be selected. Which leaves you with people with medium to big stats that also have a good tone and good engagement.

So what would be the minimum stats I would recommend for an international fam trip? Well, for an Indonesian blogger, I would expect a minimum of 30,000 pageviews per month. I would expect a minimum of 8,000 instagram followers. Twitter is not as important these days, so it’s a bonus. Of course, if you’re pageviews are a lot higher than 30,000, you would be able to lower the Instagram number. And vice-versa. If you’ve got 30,000 Instagram followers and only 10,000 pageviews, that would be good too.

For a local trip within Indonesia, the expenses are lower, so I think it’s OK to select people with lower stats. 20,000 pageviews per month would be OK as well 5,000 Instagram followers. In Indonesia, there are LOTS OF TRAVEL BLOGGERS WITH THESE STATS. So they should be chosen first if they meet the criteria of good engagement and tone. Again, these are rough numbers because a fam trip to Raja Ampat is much more expensive and you would want someone to have very good stats for that sort of trip. But for a trip to DuFan, you might not care about stats at all.

I get the impression that in Indonesia, people are scared of stats. People believe it to be sombong to ask about stats. But without these stats, how can someone’s performance be measured? It’s none of my business what your stats are. But it should be the business of the DMO. They should ask for people’s stats and select people based on those stats.

Just so you know, there are lots of Indonesian travel bloggers who regularly receive more than 50,000 pageviews per month. I’m guessing here, but there would be more than 10 who receive more than 100,000 pageviews per month. Are there some with more than 150,000 per month? Yes. Aside from this, there are lots of instagrammers with more than 20,000 followers. Lots.

The counter argument to what I have talked about here is this: “why should fam trips be reserved for people with big stats only?” The simple answer is that people with low stats simply aren’t worth the investment — that is, if you choose them, you get a negative ROI. You will not increase the number of visitors to Pangandaran if a traveller blogger with 2,000 views per month writes about it. The same goes for an instagrammer with 2,000 followers. It is better to spend that money on advertising directly on a blog rather than sending a blogger to the destination.

The other argument is that it’s not just about that one blogger, but all the bloggers in combination which promotes a destination. For example, a big group of bloggers might get a destination to be a trending topic on twitter, might collectively get more exposure for the destination compared to bloggers just going one by one — therefore you can’t single out smaller bloggers. They are all part of a team. I accept this argument. But why not fill the trip with bigger bloggers for bigger impact? That is important to ensure a big ROI.

Diversity in Fam Trips

One thing I have also noticed with fam trips is that marketing people are sometimes lazy and they sometimes just pick the same bloggers as were picked last time. This is a problem. Why? Because if there is no diversity in fam trips, you end up with the same people promoting 20 destinations in a year. This means that their audience gets bored of all the advertorial style blog posts about why xxx destination is so awesome when we all really know that everything is awesome when it’s free! (you see this with food bloggers all the time). The other problem with lack of diversity is that people who aren’t included in fam trips get jealous.

So I think diversity in bloggers should be high on the fam trip list of requirements to ensure the DMO message gets across more broadly and without the audience becoming blind to endless PR posts from the same bloggers. But also to ensure those people who are good enough to go fam trips, actually do go on fam trips.

Please please comment on this and put your view forward. English or Indonesian is welcome. I write in English because it’s easier for me, you can write in Indonesian if it’s easier for you. I will be able to understand it. But please also keep the discussion civilised. Any nastiness will be deleted. But I do welcome opposing views.

I am not taking sides. I just want the money from the government to be spent wisely and fairly so that Indonesian tourism can really benefit. No KKN, no waste, no abuse.

Visiting Teotihuacan Independently

How to get to Teotihuacan Independently Without a Tour

One of the things you’re going to want to do when you’re in Mexico City is go to Teotihuacan. Located about 1 hour out of town, it’s an easy place to visit on a half day trip by public transport. Why visit Teotihuacan independently vs taking a tour? Because it’s much cheaper and much quicker. Tours generally cost about 300 pesos, take all day and include lots of stops at shops. Visiting independently costs 167 pesos including entry tickets and all transport to and from your hotel in Mexico City.Teotihuacan

How to visit Teotihuacan from Mexico City Without a Tour

  1. Catch a metro train to Autobuses del Norte for 5 pesos. This metro stop is right at the northern bus station, so you don’t need to worry about walking anywhere. Just get out of the metro station and you’re at the bus station. You can also catch an uber there from central Mexico City for about 50 pesos.
  2. From Autobuses del Norte, search for the Teotihuacan counter. It’s located right next to gate number 8 inside the bus terminal building. Ask for a ticket to Teotihuacan (there will probably be other people asking too) and they will give you a return ticket as well. It costs 46 pesos each way and the price is clearly marked on the ticket they give you and the sign behind the counter. This price will rise as time goes by, so don’t be surprised if it’s 60 pesos each way by the time you read this.
  3. Go through gate 8 and look for the Teotihuacan bus. I didn’t know which exact platform my bus was at so I had to ask. It turns out it was about 5 platforms away from the very end of the terminal (the end that gate 8 is located). There will be a sign on the front of the bus which says Teotihuacan.
  4. Hop on the bus and it takes about an hour to get to Teotihuacan. Staff will shout out that you’re at Teotihuacan when you arrive at Gate 1 so you don’t have to worry about missing your stop. You will know.
  5. Get off the bus and pay your entrance fee of 65 pesos. This price is continually rising and is displayed at the front so you don’t get ripped off. Again, prices will probably have gone up by the time you read this.
  6. Enjoy the day at Teotihuacan. Plan on minimum of 1 hour, maximum of 2 hours.Teotihuacan without tour
  7. Find your return bus. This is where things can get confusing. My ticket stated that the bus picks up from gate 2, but this isn’t true. The bus actually picked up from gate 3 because there was roadwork blocking access at gate 2. Whatever the case, go to either gate 2 or 3. If gate 2 isn’t operating, the touts will tell you go to gate 3, 300m up the road. Buses will come by every 12 minutes and will have “Teotihuacan” in big writing on the side. There will be other people waiting for the bus.
  8. From here, the bus will travel into the nearby town and pick up a bunch of passengers before heading down the freeway to Autobuses deal Norte.Dogs at Teotihuacan

And there you have it. An independent visit to Teotihuacan without taking a tour!

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

If you want to add to your daytrip, you can get off your return bus at Deportivo 18 de Marzo and catch the metro 1 stop to La Villa – Basilica (in the direction of Martin Carrera) where you can see the fantastic Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Note: you will walk about 500m inside Deportivo 18 de Marzo station because you will be catching the train on the red line whereas the entrance you will come in through is closer to the Olive line. This is easy to follow as it is well signposted inside the station – simply follow the signs to Martin Carrera. No problemo! Deportivo 18 de Marzo is 1 stop on the bus after Indios Verdes. If you miss this stop, don’t worry. You can also catch the Metro from Autobuses del Norte, but it takes just a little bit longer.Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Teotihuacan is a top day trip from Mexico City. With a side trip to Basilica Guadalupe, it’ll be awesome and cheap because you did it without a tour.

Lookout near Vik

The Secret to Travelling Iceland on a Budget: $50 per day is possible!

If you haven’t already, also check out my posts on Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle, Guide to Hiring a Car in Iceland, Chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland and Driving Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter.

One of the things I read about Iceland before arriving was how expensive it is. And you know what? It can be expensive. But so can every other country. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while travelling the world is that there is always a cheaper way to travel a country and the way of doing it might not always be obvious. So I’m here to tell you just how it is possible to travel Iceland on a budget.

Transport

The first major expense when visiting Iceland if you want to get out of Reykjavik is transport. I have seen some websites recommend catching the bus around the island as a cheap alternative to tours. But the problem with catching a bus is that you are stuck when you arrive at each of the towns you plan to visit. And the bus doesn’t stop at the wonderful waterfalls or ice covered landscapes along the way. Catching the bus around Iceland is an awful idea, because you will have to pay for tours once you reach each town if you want to see the natural beauty of the place.Self-driving Iceland's Golden CircleThe cheapest way to get around Iceland is to find a cheap rental car. I managed to get my near new rental car for €20/$22/£16/AUD$30 per day. Even petrol wasn’t that expensive because the fuel efficiency of the car was incredible — about 4.8L/100km (more than 50mpg). If you’re travelling as a couple that is just $11 per day plus a bit of petrol. I only spent 16,660ISK ($131/€117/£92/AU$174) on diesel for the entire 1400km trip. This was at the extreme end of how much you would spend on petrol per day because I drove further than most people would. That’s $9 on petrol per day per person.

Transport cost per day – $20

Accommodation

You can really burn through cash on accommodation in Iceland depending on where you stay. Firstly, if you camp in random spots around the island, there is no accommodation cost whatsoever. Things means bringing your own tent and sleeping bags and pitching at rest areas and other spots along the side of the road. Easy to do, but not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in winter. But entirely doable! $0Iceland Mountain Pass in WinterLet’s just say you’re like me and you prefer to have a roof over your head, you’re going to have to find hostels. And there are lots all around the island, even in small towns. Because of this, you are going to need to plan your itinerary based on where these hostels are, because outside of these areas, accommodation can be quite pricey, comparatively.price accommodation icelandThe cost of a standard hostel, depending on how early you book and the time of the year will set you back $20/€18/£14/AUD$26 for a dorm bed. You can often get a private room for 2 for slightly more than this.

Accommodation cost per day – $20 (or free if you camp)

Food

Food in Iceland can be expensive, but you have to be selective about what you want and where you buy it. Some places charge about $5 for a large pre-made sandwich and some places $3.50. Some places can sell you a whole loaf of bread for $2… So if you want to make your own sandwiches, you can really save a lot of money. Just make sure you choose the cheaper ingredients for your sandwich as some items are horrendously expensive and others not so bad. You can easily get away with under $4 per meal if you’re buying your own groceries and making sandwiches, eating pasta and doing the cheap eating thing. That’s $10 per day for food, but some people not used to travelling on a budget may want to put aside a little more than this.

Food cost per day – $10

Activities

The great thing about activities in Iceland is that most of them are free. All the waterfalls, geothermal areas and natural beauty are free and you don’t need to spend a cent. $0.

Of course, you could always shell out $50 for the Blue Lagoon, but it’s not necessary in my view. Try some of the more local thermal pools, some of which are free.Myvatn Hot SpringBe aware that all paid tours and activities are horrendously expensive. If you really want to do these, just be prepared to shell out a lot of money.

Total Cost of Travelling in Iceland

Car Hire – $11
Petrol – $9
Hostel – $20 or Camping – free
Food – $10

Total – $50 (or $30 if camping)

As you can see, it really is possible to travel to Iceland on a tight budget if you’re willing to sacrifice some creature comforts such as private rooms and pre-packaged or restaurant meals. The most surprising thing in my view is that hiring a car is such an economical option — more so than catching the bus. Check out the deals from Holiday Autos to see if you can get a car for $20 per day like I did.

Choose the right season

Choosing which season to go to Iceland in is so important to your budget. As with everywhere in the world, summer is the busy season as the whole of Europe is on holiday. Just be aware that in summer all the cheap places are booked out well in advance and you will be left with expensive options only — in other words, you’ll need to camp to make the trip cheap.

In Winter, it’s a different story. Not only do you get to see the Northern Lights, you also get much cheaper accommodation and rental car prices.

One last tip. Make sure you pick up your rental car from the airport even if you plan to stay in Reykjavik for a night or two because you will save a fortune on the bus ticket to and from the airport which is akin to highway robbery.