- The service tax you have to pay on top of the advertised price is kinda sucky. It’s only 9% on top but when you see something you like and think “Great! What a bargain! Less than 10 bucks” it suddenly becomes over $10 when you ring it up at the register.
- I was freaking out about how I go about tipping but restaurants print suggested gratuity amounts on their receipts so that was really helpful. Although the whole tipping thing got me suss about how nice waiters truly were when they served you. Would they be as nice and helpful if tipping wasn’t a thing? Hmm…
- PayPass doesn’t appear to be popular or used over there. In SF, they still have a swipe system and then you either sign the receipt or enter your PIN but you’re always asked to show some ID. In NY, you would sign most of the time but no ID necessary.
- The New York subway is like a whole nother world underground. You’d think if the streets are busy and filled with millions of people, the subway would be less crazy but no, it is just as crowded and bustling.
- You haven’t truly experienced New York until you feel the stress and frustration of getting stuck in traffic!! A family friend I met up with while I was there was kind enough to give me a lift to Penn station to save me dragging my luggage through the subway. We left the apartment on the Upper West Side with just over an hour before my train departed but in the end I only just made my train – which was a later one than I had planned on catching. What was supposed to only be a 20 minute drive tops ended up being 70. But I got the airport fine and with enough time to check in etc. It’s just when you’re waiting between 45th and 44th street and you haven’t moved in the last half hour that you get anxious and want to strangle someone!
- Everyone sounds like the movies. I guess it’s because most movies I’ve watched were filmed in America about Americans and so every time I hear people having conversations around me – I just think it could be a script taken from a movie or sitcom. I was on the train in SF heading home from Downtown and overheard a young black girl catching up with a young black guy whom she hadn’t seen in a while and it surprised me how much they speak in the way that you would stereotype them. American accents are quite fun to listen to however, the true New York accent is kinda harsh and ugly sounding (sorry!). Although having flown to the UK straight after NY and hearing those Brits talk – I must say, there’s something about the English accent that is way more attractive than the American accent (again, sorry).
- The men here are really forward. Examples to come…
- Hooray for smart phones! If I didn’t have an iPhone to keep me company and connected to people back home, I would be dead bored and lost. Not that you should be fixated on your phone and miss an opportunity to meet someone new but it helps to make you look and feel less lonely when you have something to occupy you.
- When your phone usage is limited and there are just times when you have to wait and not use your phone, is when you notice how lonely you might be. For example, I was standing in line to board the cruise to Alcatraz and all around me are couples or groups of friends and family. I didn’t have access to wifi at the time nor could I afford the battery life playing a Bejewelled game so I just had to stand there by myself, not talking to anyone. It’s times like these when it’s good to have a friend or family member there with you so you can make the boring stuff fun.
- It’s hard when you’re staying with family but then the other side of their family outnumbers you. You meet them for the first time and they’re lovely, warm and welcoming but they’ll still talk about stuff and people that you have no idea of. And when you tag along to dinners that they’ve organised as a reunion of sorts, you feel like a bit of an intruder cos you’re not technically blood related to any of them and yet they’re paying for your meal.
- It’s challenging to go to the toilet at the airport because you don’t have anyone to mind your bag, nor can you leave it unattended. And for some reason, each toilet I’ve used so far at the airport have really small cubicles where the door just clears the toilet itself when it swings open. But Heathrow understands the needs of solo travellers and how much space is required when you have to bring a piece of carry-on luggage with you into the cubicle, their cubicles were so luxuriously big!
- Activities such as ice skating at Rockefeller Centre looks like so much fun but then you remember that you’re alone and so wouldn’t have anyone to share the moment with. And no one to watch your stuff while you skate. Cos who wants to pay to rent a locker?
- When you’re out and about exploring during the day it’s easy to forget that you’re alone but during the 5 flights of stairs that you climb at the end of the day to reach your accommodation there’s a part of you that longs for a familiar face to greet you at the door. But there is no one. No family or friend. Luckily I had great hosts who are friendly enough to provide some company to debrief the day’s events with.
- Deciding where to eat is another challenge though it shouldn’t be. You just wanna choose a place that has good food and is good value. I’ve also discovered that I’m really indecisive at the worst of times. I can’t even decide what I want to eat that I wish I had a friend there to collaborate ideas with. How pathetic! It’s also easy to forget when to eat because as you’re sightseeing on your own, you can ignore your hunger pains for a while and no one else is there to mention how hungry they are for you to be reminded how hungry you are!
- The upside is that there’s no one to fight with when you disagree – even about petty things like what to have for lunch. As I soon discovered when I reached Hong Kong to meet my family and we did a quick side trip to Taiwan. The food was unfamiliar to us there and we were tired having woken up at 5am to catch a morning flight to Taipei so there was tension and before we knew it everyone was grumping. How I wished I was by myself again then.
- People approach you to help them take photos. Not that I’ve never been asked to do so before when I was travelling in a group but I noticed it more this time around. I suppose when you’re on your own, you’re more likely to be aware of your surroundings without the distractions of friends/family around you so from time to time you catch a stranger’s eye and exchange smiles which every so often invites them to ask you to help them take a snap.
- Guys approach you. More on that later…
So I’m back from my Great Adventure. And November 2014 is a month to be remembered.
I didn’t get a chance to write here while I was away but I did write notes on my phone with the intent of posting later so here are some thoughts pondered as I flew myself around the whole world in 30 days.
- I forgot how cold it is on the plane! Even with my air vent turned off completely, it’s still freakin cold. And the blanket I had on my United flight to SF was too short to cover me shoulder down to toe. But as it turns out, United must have been the only airline to have freezing cold air pumping through their planes because on every other flight (flying a mixed bag of airlines) I was fine.
- A face oil is the perfect thing to use when on a long haul flight. My skin usually gets so dried out from all the air conditioning pumping through that normal moisturisers and hydration sprays have never really helped but a Rosehip oil does the job and locks in moisture for 10+ hours.
- I felt intimidated at the thought of new and unfamiliar airports but it’s actually really easy because you just follow the signs, or listen to the PA for announcements. Or you can ask a staff member. Security is a bit here and there though because each airport has its own standard and regulations on what items need to be put through the scanner separately. The No Liquids Exceeding 100mL on Carry On Baggage applies everywhere I flew in/out of but Heathrow was exceptionally insistent on presenting your liquids, gels and pastes in a clear ziplock bag when passing security. Which was a bit of a pain for me as I’d packed my liquids/gels/pastes into a velcro detachable clear makeup travel bag but I was asked to empty that and transfer all my products into the ziplock bag. Boo.
- Make sure you check, double check and triple check your flight times!! Fortunately I didn’t miss any flights but I was a whole 24hrs early for my flight from Heathrow to Hong Kong via Frankfurt. Luckily, Dayna is a gem of a friend and came all the way back to Oxford to pick me up and hang out with me for another 24hrs before dropping me off back at the bus station all over again. Missing your flight because you’re late is devastating and often due to unforeseen circumstances preventing you from getting to the airport but being über early is just embarrassing. But funny.
- I flew a mixed bag of airlines which meant that not all of my flights were eligible to earn Frequent Flyer points but it was great opportunity to test out a few different airlines I’d never flown with before.
– I flew Qantas from Melb to Syd which was really quick so I really don’t have too much to say there as it felt like as soon as I buckled my seat belt we were making our descent into Sydney. Qantas is pretty standard these days. The flight was on time and no meals were served so I can’t comment on how bad the food was.
– United had a bad rap even before I stepped on board. Many friends were saying that the airline was still in the dark ages not having individual in-flight entertainment available – a travesty since I was flying with them for the longest journey from Syd to SF. But to my delight they did have screens on the back of the chairs so you could watch movies and play games. Which may have been more of a curse than a blessing because I was landing in SF in the morning so technically I should have treated my plane ride as night time and slept. But I’d be lucky to have slept 3 hours on that flight. I also flew United from SF to NYC which didn’t include access to free in-flight entertainment or free food but the flight was short. The only comment I will make is that the flight attendants were a little rude in bitching about a difficult passenger to each other still within earshot of that passenger, and other passengers. I don’t think it’s respectful and it doesn’t represent the airline well at all.
– I most looked forward to flying with Swiss Air because my uncle and cousins fly with them all the time! My flight from NYC to LDN (via Zurich) was only 6 hours but in that time I got a hot towel (!! I didn’t think they did this anymore), lemon cake, 2 beverages, and a Swiss chocolate! *nom* I also noticed that the upholstery of the seats were very sophisticated – even in cattle class. Unlike the jacquard type fabric that most airlines I’ve seen go for, Swiss opted with a simple camel coloured fabric with white and red trimmings. In-flight entertainment wasn’t accessible on such short flights but you did have the option of USB charging your devices which I hadn’t yet seen on Qantas or United.
– Lufthansa was a great surprise and I would have to say is my top pick out of all the airlines I flew in this trip. The seating design wasn’t hideous, they offer you a glass of champagne on board and give out menus prior to receiving your two meals. They had really friendly staff who were multi-lingual. My flight with Lufthansa was from LDN to HK via Frankfurt so I had a Chinese girl serve me who spoke Mandarin, German and English fluently. There was also an older air steward who just epitomised the perfect German gentleman who was very friendly and charming and took delight in being able to serve you and made every effort for you to enjoy your flight. Food wasn’t amazing because a German airline was trying to do Chinese food. But the charming air steward offered me a white wine to drown the flavour.
– My parents organised a quick side trip to Taiwan when we all met up in Hong Kong so Mum booked us flights on Hong Kong Airlines who were a nice surprise also. They gave out refresher towelettes and the food wasn’t bad. You just have to be patient when they do the announcements in Cantonese. Then English. Then Mandarin.
– Cathay Pacific is an ol’ faithful. They had the best in-flight entertainment because they had touch screens and no remotes to confuddle with, and their touch screens were sensitive enough that you didn’t find yourself poking the screen so hard that your front neighbour keeps getting woken up by a sharp prod through their seat. The dinner was good – I had a beef stew with mash and other veggies which I enjoyed. The breakfast, however, wasn’t my favourite because I opted for scrambled eggs over the congee as on the morning that I left, I already had a bowl of congee with Dad. I knew the eggs were a mistake but I thought I’d take the gamble. I lost. The seating was hideous though. Their brand colours are that green, white and red and yet their seats were in shades of screaming cyan!
- I was quite disappointed that out of all the airlines I flew with not one of them had a kick-ass safety video/demonstration like Delta and Virgin America do :(