Thursday, December 17, 2015

New Blog - Baggage and Dish

Hi All,

Thank you for the support and love so far. I have finally changed the blog name and have a new website. In order to read my travel and food stories and movie reviews please follow the link below:

baggageanddish.com

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Travel: 6 things to consider when booking cheaper hotel rooms

Being a budget traveler, I always look for cheaper options when it comes to hotels but I keep other things in mind as well. Over the years, I have made some mistakes when booking hotel rooms and have learnt it the hard way. When I say cheaper options, let me tell you that I mean 2 or 3 star hotels as compared to a 4 star or a 5 star which offer you quite a luxurious experience.

The main reason for me writing this post is to share my personal experiences and thoughts on the topic. If I can help a few of you out there, then why not.

1. Distance of the hotel from landmarks
This is the biggest mistake one can make when booking a hotel room. It is well known that hotels around the city center are usually more expensive than their counterparts in other areas. When booking a cheaper hotel room, do check the distance from important landmarks and places that you wish to visit.

It isn't fun if you have to travel for say 1-2 hours everyday to get to one place of interest. Once or twice would still be okay but doing this on a daily basis can be hectic and you lose time you could have spent discover other places. In addition to this, not every country or city has a good transport system that is metro, rail, buses etc. Therefore you end up travelling by a taxi and pay a lot for it. If you add up the transportation costs, you would realize that the savings you had from the hotel room booking have been used up. Research about all these factors before booking a hotel room,

Photo location - Las Vegas, USA
2. Area where the hotel is located
Another common mistake is not researching about the locality and the area where the Hotel is located. This point is always on the top of my list since things can get difficult at times and may affect your travelling plans. One should be aware of the area they are going to stay in. You wouldn't want to be in an area where gang fights, shootings, theft etc. are common. 

During one of my early travels, I had booked a really cheap hotel and was happy about it. It was only later that I realized that the hotel did not have any staff after 11 p.m. The owner would lock the door and leave and anyone could enter through another door which was never locked. To add to my horror, there was a Eros centre in the next building (something like what a red light district would have). Just thinking about what kind of people could show up at the door step gave me chills. Since then, I have never ever book my hotel room without researching about the area where the hotel is located.

3. Spooky happenings in the hotel premises
Yes, this may sound a bit ridiculous, but for me it is as important as other points on the list. Some people think of spooky stuff as fun and adventure. For me it is just something I would like to stay away from. On one of my recent visits to Las Vegas, we just cancelled our stay at one hotel due to the fact that some rooms of the hotel were haunted. The hotel rooms were much cheaper than other hotels but we learnt the reason and immediately booked another option.

If you are like me and want to stay away from such things (even though it might just be a rumor), you can look for other options.

Photo Location: Frankfurt, Germany
4. Size of the room
One of the key things to consider is the size of the room. Most booking websites mention the size of the room in sq. meters. During my travel to Frankfurt, I had booked a cheap hotel room only to realize it was really small. We barely had space to keep our stuff and there was no connected bathroom (yes, I am fussy about shared bathrooms).

However, in certain cities, even though the hotel room prices are not too low, the size of the rooms is still small (for example San Francisco). The price might be less in comparison to other hotel rooms in the same city but still high as compared to other cities. The reason for this is the high standard of living in the city. So when you book the cheaper options do check out the room size.

While in San Francisco, I booked a room which was all crammed up and was facing the street. I could hear people at night and woke up in the middle of the night due to some people talking loudly.

So next time you hit that button to book the room, make sure you have checked the size of the room.

5. Food options and basic supplies in the hotel and around the hotel
Midnight hungers? Water requirements? Basic stuff like food, water, soap etc. is something everyone needs. In the excitement of saving some money, we forget to check if the hotel offers any of these.

I have stayed at hotels where there were no food options whatsoever. In some cases carrying some snacks would be a good idea but what if you just want to have a good meal? Roaming the streets at night looking for restaurants might not be the best idea. Just check if there are basic supplies in the hotel – mainly food and water.

Photo Location: San Francisco, USA
6. Reading the guest reviews
Reviews more often than not come in handy. A hotel may just be renting out rooms at a cheaper rate due to various reasons like cleanliness issues, maintenance issues and worst case scenario a bed bugs issue. Read the comments and reviews and see what common problems did the guests have had in the recent past. Reviews from 2-3 years back won’t help so check recent reviews. In addition to this check for reviews relevant for you. What I mean is that if you are travelling solo, a review from an old couple might not be of use to you.


I have been learning as I travel more and more. If there is anything that comes up in the near future, I will add it to the list here. For the time being, these are the top 6 things that come to my mind. 

All these things, can be taken care of at the planning stage of the trip itself and you can avoid unnecessary stress when you travel. Travel can be tiring but it is always fun. Let us try and keep it that way.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Food Review: 25 Degrees North

I am a bit hesitant when it comes to trying food from a new Indian restaurant. The reason for this being that I evaluate Indian food more critically than any other cuisine (being an Indian, this is something which comes naturally). However, being a food blogger means that I have to overcome any hesitancy and try new places. Therefore, when I was invited to try the food at 25 Degrees North, I did not turn the invite down.

Located at Bay Square, an upcoming commercial area in Business Bay, 25 Degrees North is an Indian restaurant that offers a wide range of Vegetarian and Non-vegetarian options. I visited the restaurant for lunch with a friend. As we entered the restaurant, we were welcomed with pleasant smiles from the restaurant staff. The restaurant was not too busy at that hour but does pull in a lot of crowd during dinner time on weekends (yes, I went there with a group of friends again).

The ambience of the restaurant is more like a semi-fine dining restaurant. The place is spacious and there is ample seating inside the restaurant. I did love the decor of the restaurant, especially the lights used.

As we settled down at our table, we were served with a sweet chutney based dahi (yoghurt) bhalla chaat sprinkled with sev and pomegranate. The bhalla had that little bit of a crunch to it and the chaat item was a bit on the sweeter side. I like sweet chutney so I did like the chaat item.


As we were placing our order for the starters, something on the menu caught my eye. This dish was Palak Patta Chaat (Spinach leaf chaat). I have never in my life before tried any chaat item that is made of Spinach and it was something unique (couldn't give this a miss). The other starter we chose was a prawns based dish called Jhinga Mehrunnisa. My order for drinks was a Mango Lassi.

Even before the starters came out, we were served with Papads (or popadums) with 4 different chutneys or sauces (Mint Chutney, Mango Chutney, Tamarind Chutney and Pickle). This is pretty much a standard when it comes to most Indian semi-fine dining and fine dining restaurants. The chutneys were pretty good, especially the mango one. 



The starters arrived and I was amazed by the Palak patta chaat. It wouln't be wrong to say that it is one of the best chaat items I have ever tasted in my life. Spinach leaves are coated in gram flour (besan) and then batter fried. These are topped with Yoghurt, mint chutney and sweet chutney. This is then topped with some sev and pomegranate seeds. It is the perfect balance of flavours. Since the spinach leaves are fried, the leaves are crunchy. The Yoghurt and chutneys give it a bit of a tangy, sweet and a bit of spice at the same time. This is a must try.



The second starter Jhinga Mehrunnisa is served in shot glasses and is marinated in a special marination prepared by the chef. The Prawns are served with mint chutney. The dish is a bit on the spicy side and the Prawns (Jhinga) tasted fresh. The mango lassi was pretty good too. It was refreshing and the lassi was thick (not too much).


Once done with the starters, it was time to order the main course. We wanted to try both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes so we opted for Murgh Kohlapuri and Paneer Makhanwala.

Murgh Kohlapuri is a chicken based dish which consists of chicken cooked in a spicy Kohlapuri curry. Since I can't take too much spice, I asked for a non-spicy version of the dish. The chicken was well cooked and the curry was rich in flavours and tasted good, however I felt that I made a mistake by ordering a non-spicy version of it. The reason for this being that spice is the essence of the dish and by removing that, it was quite evident that the curry lacked that punch to make it an amazing dish. That being said, the dish still tasted good.


The second main course Paneer Makhanwala was our vegetarian dish. The butter based curry tasted good but I was not too excited by the Paneer itself. It was the only dish that failed to make an impact. I did communicate this to the staff and the chef came to see me in person. I was really impressed by this. The cook did understand the issue and promised me that he would do something about it going forward.


After having such a heavy but satisfying meal, I still had some room for dessert and ordered for Jalebi with Rabdi. Jalebi is a dessert that is pretty famous in India and is really sweet, since it is dipped into a sugar syrup after it is deep fried. It is usually eaten alone or is served with Rabdi which is a creamy milk based dessert. When served with Jalebi, Rabdi is usually not to sweet in order to balance the high amount of sweetness of the Jalebi. The dessert is one of my favourites and 25 Degrees North does justice to it. The presentation and the taste of the dessert is excellent and I couldn't have asked for a better ending to the meal.


Overall I was impressed by 25 degrees north and for me the highlight of the meal was the Palak Patta Chaat. This is a dish, I will not be able to forget for quite some time. The staff was friendly and willing to make improvements whereever possible to enhance the experience of the customers. 

The feel of the restaurant might be a semi-fine dining one but the prices of the dishes are really good and it is by no doubt total value for money. I would surely be visiting the restaurant in the coming months to try more dishes.

Disclosure:
I was invited to try the food at 25 Degrees North, therefore I have not provided any ratings for the restaurant. All opinions expressed are solely based on my experience and are not influenced by the restaurant or its management in any way.

Details:
Restaurant: 25 Degrees North
Location: BB07 Bay Square, Business Bay (The restaurant has other branches too. Search zomato for the restaurant listings)
Contact No.: +971 4 3607474 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Budget Travelling: Save money and explore more

The usual concern for most of us while travelling is the budget. Thoughts like 'will we exceed the budget?', 'should we cut on a few activities?' cross our mind on a regular basis. The following tips ensure that one won't have to worry too much about exceeding the budget, as it will be most unlikely that this will happen.

Frankfurt Eisener Steg
Tip 1 - Booking Tickets in Advance

Booking tickets in advance has to be my favourite tip. Having done this at more than one instance, I can guarantee instant savings even before one has started their trip. A few years back when I travelled to Germany, my return ticket from Dubai to Frankfurt cost USD 520. My travel dates were in December (closer to Christmas). If I would have booked my ticket closer to my travel date, the tickets would cost atleast USD 620.

A more recent example would be the return ticket I booked from Dubai to San Francisco for USD 1,057. The same ticket now costs USD 1,317 (Savings of USD 260). I do know that the ticket will cost atleast a 100 dollars more, if I wait for a few more weeks.

Remember that as one books tickets closer to the date of travel, the options are limited and the tickets become more expensive. You can save this money and use it to visit more places.

Tip 2 – Book Hostels or 2/3 star hotels

It is important to understand the purpose of your trip. Are you looking for relaxation? Or will you exploring the city? If your answer is relaxation, this might not be the best tip for you but if you are looking forward to explore the city, this is the perfect tip for you.

When travelling, the common trend is to wake up early, have your breakfast and go out to explore. It is unlikely that you will be returning to the hotel anytime soon. Atleast for me, I prefer to be out till the evening or sometimes return at night. What this means is that you are spending little time at the hotel and paying for a 4 star or 5 star hotel just for a bed and breakfast. This doesn’t make sense.

Booking a 2/3 star hotel means saving a few hundred dollars. However make sure that the hotel is closer to the area where you will explore and it has a decent rating.

Personally, I am not comfortable with shared bathrooms and therefore avoid hostels, however if you are not too worried about shared bathrooms, a hostel would be the cheapest option.

However before booking remember that most websites do not show you the city taxes. Make sure you include that in your cost while making your budget.

Tip 3 – Using the bus or metro

Travelling around the city or between two cities? Using the bus or metro could save you a lot of money. However this does come with a disadvantage too, you end up wasting a lot of time. The list below shows you the fastest and the most expensive modes of transportation. You can choose the option best suited for you.

By Cost (from most expensive to the cheapest): Airticket, Cab/Taxi, Car rental, Metro, and Bus.

By Travel Time (from longest to shortest): Bus, Metro, Car, and Airplane

Travelling via air would mean missing out on the scenic views between the cities/towns but it also means saving a lot of time.

 Tip 4 – Currency exchange and using credit cards

It is advisable to exchange currency in your home country before you travel (make sure to adhere to the custom rules of how much currency you can carry). In general, if you try exchanging currency at a hotel or at the airport, it will be a more expensive option.

Some people prefer using their debit cards or withdrawing from the ATM. The ATM charges could cost you a lot and carrying currency around could be difficult and an added responsibility. Try using credit cards rather. Some might think what about the exchange rates charged by banks, aren’t these too high? That’s why use a credit card that gives you cashback on international spends or that gives you points on international spends. You might not end up saving too much when using the card but benefits such as cashback or points that you can use towards an airticket or rewards in the future is not a bad idea at all.

 Tip 5 – Pre booking tickets for attractions and discount offers

It is highly recommended that you pre book tickets for attractions such as theme parks, museums etc. Pre-booking ensures that you skip the queues and sometimes it also means discounts.

Online discount offers are common. If you try to book tickets online for attractions, you do get discounts or some added benefits. Do check out these offers before you travel, as there is no harm in saving a bit.
Do try these travel tips and let me know what you think about them. Have any more travel tips for budget travel? Do share them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Competition: Jamba Juice

Whether you prefer Banana Berry, Mango-A-GO-GO, Strawberry Wild or Razzmatazz, there was a juicy opening for everyone in Abu Dhabi as the first Jamba Juice in the Middle East opened its doors in Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi on 19th November, 2014.

With over 850 stores worldwide, Jamba Juice is the World’s Best Smoothie Brand and fans have been waiting a long time for it to arrive in the Middle East and now it’s finally here.


As a special treat for Middle East customers, new flavours have been invented exclusively for the region including date smoothies and juice blends prepared from local favourite fruits, healthy wraps and sandwiches catering to diversity in the UAE region. All the Jamba unique and proprietary favourites that made the brand so popular in the States will be here as well, especially the whole fruit and vegetable smoothies and freshly squeezed juice blends.


Want to win yourself some amazing gifts from Jamba Juice? Just answer the simple question below and like the iThink page on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/ithinkdubai

Question: When and where did Jamba Juice open their first outlet/store in the Middle East?

1 winner will walk away with a Jamba Juice Credit Card preloaded with Dh100 to spend at any Jamba Juice.
5 winners will win Jamba Juice discount books where you could save up to 180 Dhs to be used at any Jamba Juice outlet.

The competition is now closed:
Winners are as below:
Jamba Juice Credit Card: Ritu B
Jamba Juice Discount Books:
1. Deepshri Iyer
2. Amit Vasnani
3. Kunal Bilakhia
4. Faisal Khatib
5. W

Winners are requested to mail their full name with email address and contact no. at gaganjeet@gmail.com

*Photo Credits: IHC