The Places We Live – Pudu, Kuala Lumpur

For our first two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, we are staying in Hote123, a cheap hotel in the neighborhood of Pudu. Pudu does not offer much in the way of tourist attractions, but there is a convenient KL Rapid Transit stop and a nice variety of local restaurants. Once we got use to it (and got over the fact that the internet is very spotty), we found ourselves really enjoying our quaint hotel in this local neighborhood.

We’re just wrapping up our first week in KL, and we LOVE it here! It is a bit hot at 90 degrees every day, but it is also monsoon season, so there is a cool breeze and a heavy rain to cool things off a bit. The other great touch is the air quality. It feels very nice to finally breathe again.

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Kuala Lumpur is located in the country of Malaysia in SE Asia. Malaysia is a peninsula (plus some islands and a piece of Borneo) and Kuala Lumpur is just West of the center of it. The three major ethnic groups found in Kuala Lumpur are Malay, Chinese, and Indian, with the top two religions being Islam and Buddhism. The national language is Bahasa Malaysia, although English is very commonly used in schools and business settings. (Wikipedia)

For our first two weeks in Kuala Lumpur, we are staying in Hote123, a cheap hotel in the neighborhood of Pudu. Pudu does not offer much in the way of tourist attractions, but there is a convenient KL Rapid Transit stop and a nice variety of local restaurants. Once we got used to it (and got over the fact that the internet is very spotty), we found ourselves really enjoying our quaint hotel in this local neighborhood.

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Pudu is Southeast of the Kuala Lumpur City Center which houses most of the major attractions.

The hotel is comfortable with a few different sitting areas on the first floor and another on the rooftop terrace. All of the staff have been crazy friendly and I get the impression that I could literally ask them anything and get an honest answer without judgment. They offer free coffee, tea, and water throughout the day and there is a washing machine for clothes on the terrace.

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Breakfast is 5RM each and is the same every day: Coffee, tea, water, toast (choice of butter or peanut butter), breakfast noodles, and fried rice.

We booked the cheapest possible room online, but were upgraded upon arrival to an identical room… but with a window. That’s right, we originally booked a room without a window! The only problem is that our window overlooks a night club, so I’m not really sure if it is better or not.

The room has two twin beds, a shelf, night stand, large TV (with only five channels), and a huge desk and chair. For a budget room, it is appointed decently well and kept very clean. We have seen a couple of ants roaming around and we now have a pet gecko that we’ve named Hector, but otherwise the room seems to be pest free.

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Our room with our “must haves” from home: framed photo of our besties and travel-sized CO Detector.

The bathroom is quite nice, but Asian in style. We have a sink, mirror, Western toilet, and a shower. As you can see in the picture below, we do not have a shower curtain. This is quite common throughout Asia, so if you are looking for a hotel and don’t see a curtain or divider in the ads, assume there isn’t one. Once you get used to it, it really isn’t so bad. We have found the best practice is to lift the lid of the toilet before showering. This helps the toilet seat dry faster. It can be a little uncomfortable at first to hang out in a bathroom that is wet from wall to wall but, with practice, one can learn to ignore it.

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We just have one more week left in this hotel before we move a little farther North for our house sit. I am particularly excited for this one because it includes a pool! After two weeks of this hot and humid weather, I think a dip in the pool will be exactly what I need to stay cool and feel refreshed! Also, it will be in a much nicer neighborhood, so we’ll get the chance to save up some cash while getting a taste of the good life. Still, our little hotel has been pretty great, with a friendly and (mostly) attentive staff, good surroundings, at a good price.

Sudder Street Guesthouse – Yangshuo

We loved our hostel in Yangshuo so much that we decided to cancel our trip to Kunming so that we can spend more time here.

The plan was to stay in Yangshuo for only a few days, then move on to to Kunming to get into some warmer weather. But after spending a single night in this hostel, we knew we didn’t want to leave. This place is heavenly.

A Chinese and Japanese couple own Sudder Street Guesthouse and named it after the place they met and fell in love. It is located a little North of Yangshuo on a quiet street surrounded by fields and local neighborhood. It looks like the road is getting rebuilt to extend out the Western vibe of the city, but for now, it is quaint and comfortably local.

The first floor common room is large, comfortable, and bright. It includes a front desk where they sell ¥3 ($0.50) beer and ¥10 coffee, a writing and game nook, reading nook with fireplace, dining tables, kitchen, foosball table, great VPN for Western internet, hamster in a fun cage, and a friendly cat.

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One of the other highlights of this hostel is the outdoor area. The whole back wall of the common room is made of picture windows overlooking the sitting area, fire pit, neighboring farm, and the infinity pool. Unfortunately, we’re here in January, and have had a stretch of 37º weather, so we haven’t really had a chance to enjoy it as much as we’d like. But in the summer, I bet it’s the perfect place to relax with a beer and make some new friends.

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The chair is more comfortable than it looks.

And speaking of new friends, this place has been packed with travelers since we arrived,  despite it being the off season. Every evening the couches are full of people warming themselves by the fire and chatting. So far we have been enjoying breakfast with a young woman from Germany who is on holiday from her classes as a Chinese student in Southern China. In the evening, we meet up with her and her friends and compare our daily adventures. Recently, a group of rowdy Australians arrived. They’re a bit loud in the evening, but are really friendly and fun.

Along with the first floor common area, the hostel also has a laundry area that is free to use, providing washing machines, soap, and drying lines. The Chinese washing machines have a tendency to shred my clothes, and the spin cycle leaves them sopping wet, but it gets the job done and has kept us smelling only a little bit like mildew.

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Communal drying area on the deck

Our first week here, we stayed in a six bed, mixed gender dormitory for $6 per night. I slept in a top bunk, Josh in the bunk under me, two Chinese men behind us, and a British man and empty bed across from us. It was pretty comfortable with large cubicles, privacy curtains, and bed lamps. The common bathroom was shared among the entire floor, but it was fairly clean and mostly private.

When our stay was over, we checked out of the dorm and immediately checked in to a private room for another week for $14 per night. The room is wonderful and we are very excited to have our own space again. It is large, has a desk, heater, big window, personal kettle, and a private bathroom with a half-enclosed shower.

We are staying here for at least one more week, if not two. We don’t need to be in Chengdu until mid February, so we are playing it by ear. The weather is supposed to warm up in the next few days, so we’ll be out adventuring again soon, but in the meantime we’re happy to be cuddled up cozy warm in our room at this fantastic hostel.

 

Moon Reflection River Inn

This will be our home for the rest of the month while Josh continues his writing and I explore the amazing karst topography and quirky shops.

We are finally set up in our new apartment in Guilin and so far, we love it! It isn’t really an apartment… more like (exactly like) a hotel.

We found our neighborhood of choice on our way to the Sun and Moon Pagodas. We got a little bit lost and ended up on a street full of restaurants. Each one looked better than the last! We tried one place for lunch and were sold. We walked a little farther and were really happy about the proximity to the river, downtown, and the train station. We knew that this is where we wanted to live.

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The plan was to stay in the hostel for the weekend, find the neighborhood we want to live in, then rent an apartment on AirBnB for the rest of the month. Fortunately, there are a lot of choices in the neighborhood we want and at the price we want to pay. Unfortunately, Guilin doesn’t handle the cold the same way I do. I could not find a single apartment with the amenities we require AND a heater. So, I expanded my search to hotels.

I found a delightful hotel on the border of the neighborhood we wanted. It has a heater, a desk to work at, free and fast wifi, an enclosed shower(!), a kettle, a little floor space for yoga, and a clean bathroom. I think we are really going to like it here.

The common areas of the hotel are also quite nice with free tea in the lobby, English speaking staff, and plenty of seating areas with big windows.

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We are really looking forward to rebuilding our routines and start living while traveling again. This will be our home for the rest of the month while Josh continues his writing and I explore the amazing karst topography and quirky shops.

 

 

Vacation Rental – Melbourne, Florida

Review of a vacation rental in Melbourne, Florida.

Obnoxiously Long Note: If you read my “I’m a Travel Blogger” post, you know that I spent the early part of this week boosting my “exposure” in the social media marketing world. I contacted a few vacation rental owners in the area and asked to tour their properties to feature on my blog. I had a great time and learned a lot. Today’s post and my next one are practice posts. Today’s post is about my favorite condo I visited and the next post is the food tour I would suggest if you were staying at said condo (or anywhere in the Melbourne area, really). 

I call it a practice because we did not actually stay at the featured condo. I would have loved to, but we already have a place here in town and I was too afraid to ask for a comped room for my very first feature. So, all of the pictures and opinions are my own, I was not paid nor rewarded, but my experiences are based soley off of a short walk-through and chat with the owner.


If I weren’t already staying at Mom’s, I would be staying at Tammy’s condo here in Melbourne, Florida.

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Location

This whole area of Florida is just lovely and full of opportunities, so my map radius was quite large. I included the whole town of Indialantic, which is an island snuggled between the river and the ocean, and the southern portion of Melbourne, where there is a lively Old Town area. This condo in Melbourne perfectly placed. Old Town is just a few blocks away, within easy walking distance. There is a fancy pier just a short walk the opposite direction, allowing access to the water. And the causeway into Indialantic is nearby, so that a beach trip is merely a five minute drive away.

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The only side of the complex that is less-than-perfect faces a busy street that is decently loud. I was nervous about this as we approached the apartment, but was very pleased to find that the road sounds did not follow me into the condo or down to the relaxing park and pier.

Room Type

The prices are low enough in this part of Florida that I felt pretty comfortable limiting my search to Entire Home. This particular rental is a large, one bedroom condo with a large bathroom, living room, dining area, and patio that faces the pier.

Amenities

The condo had all of the amenities I require including WiFi, washing machine, dish washer, and television. It had a couple of fun perks, too, including an updated kitchen with nice appliances, a walk in closet, a nicely decorated living area, and an amazing view.

Another amenity I always wish for, but can’t be sure I’ll get until I arrive, is a nice apartment host. The best vacation rentals I have stayed at were ones where I was greeted personally by the host, taken on a quick tour of the property, and given suggestions on nearby restaurants, shops, and activities (in Barcelona, our host sent us to a restaurant off the beaten path that was hands-down one of our favorite stops). I had the pleasure of meeting our host in person during this visit. Tammy was very approachable, friendly, and knowledgeable about the area. She gave us a rundown on the nearby attractions, local lifestyle, and let us know about some of her other amazing properties (including a large home near the Kentucky Derby *dream trip!*).

Price

The property we toured was a brand new one that hasn’t even been listed yet (that’s right, I’m VIP now). However, she did say that she was planning on setting the price at $100 or less per night. Her other condos in the same building were going for about $80 and although the fixtures were slightly more dated, the views from the higher floors were stunning. 3-Star hotels in the same map radius are going for $120 to $200 per night.

Overall, I was very pleased with the condo we toured, and would not hesitate to stay here if we were booking a trip to the Melbourne area. If you are planning such a trip, I suggest you click the link to Tammy’s profile and give one of her properties a try!

Choosing the Right Vacation Rental

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider…

As a mid-30’s traveler, I’ve come to love vacation rentals. I’ve done enough traveling to know what I want out of my accommodations, and in my experience, vacation rentals offer the best bang for your buck. For example, I like having my own space that is quiet and clean. I prefer to spend my money on experiences and not amenities (because I probably won’t use them anyway). I want to eat at home at least once per day so that I can save cash for an amazing brunch or highly-rated dinner. This is why I love vacation rentals, because they offer all of these experiences at a price that is comparable, or often better, than staying at a hotel.

In choosing a place to stay, I like to use a little checklist to make sure I’m making the right choice. Here’s my checklist and the things I like to consider:

Step 1: Is a vacation rental right for this trip?

While I’m a big fan of vacation rentals, they’re not always the most appropriate choice. I like to consider rentals, hotels, and hostels; there is definitely a right time and place for each. When planning my accommodations, I first take a moment to consider my priorities:

Hotels

  • Duration – less than five days
  • Occupancy – four people or less
  • Location – pretty important
  • Price – highest price

Hostels

  • Duration – less than three days
  • Occupancy – less than two or more than two non-couples
  • Location – very important
  • Price – cheapest price
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Be careful not to immediately disregard hostels. This adorable cottage was our hostel in Doolin, Ireland near the Cliffs of Mohr.

Vacation Rentals

  • Duration – five days or more
  • Occupancy – two or more
  • Location – less important
  • Price – mid range price

Step 2: Where should I start my search?

There are many ways to find vacation rentals online. My favorite is Airbnb. HomeAway/VRBO are similar and just as good (we used HomeAway for our Rome trip), but Airbnb is usually my go-to simply because it is the one I am most familiar with.

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#shamelessadvertising #justdoit

Step 3: What should I search for?

Josh is particularly picky about where he likes to stay, so I take great care in picking out the perfect vacation rental. There are several search options available on Airbnb. Here are the ones I use every time:

  1. Location – I narrow the map radius so that I am within ten minutes (walk or transit) of the major sights, but not actually in the thick of things where I am going to get charged extra for being in the “prime location.”
  2. Room Type – I have gotten better, but I do have a bit of a distrust for germs. I need my own space that I can clean to my liking, and that no one is going to touch except for me until I leave. This is why I select my Room Type as Entire Home. Don’t get spooked! Entire Home also includes studio and basement apartments. Mostly this is just my way to make sure that I have a private bathroom.
  3. Amenities – This piece can really limit my options, so I try to only select amenities I can’t live without (first world style) like high-speed WiFi, washing machine, dish washer, and a television with HD input.
  4. Price – Hotels are convenient and reliable, so if I can stay in a nice hotel for the same price, I may chose to do that over staying in a rental. The price is the make-or-break and must be at least the same price as my desired hotel or less (I rarely stay in rentals for more than $120 per night including cleaning).

Step 4: How should I request a booking?

People of the internet, please correct me if I am wrong, but from what I can tell, the hosts don’t seem to care what I write in my request letter. I started by writing beautiful, heartfelt requests, but quickly realized (based on the questions my hosts asked me later) that they never even read my request. Now I either use the Book Instantly option or I write a generic request email:

Hello,

My husband, Josh, and I are visiting location on holiday. We are clean and respectful renters who enjoy experiencing local neighborhoods. We would love to stay in your beautiful apartment if it is available for the selected dates.

Thanks,

Jen

I suggest booking as soon as possible and sending requests to your top two choices. Keep an eye out for hosts that are quick to respond with a friendly note. If the host takes more than two days, they may be considered unreliable (imagine if it took them two days to respond to my “I lost my key and am now locked out” email).


Step 5: How do I make the most of my rental?

I’ve landed and it’s time to head to my vacation rental! Woot! Now what?

By now, the host and I have emailed back and forth and made arrangements for meeting up at the apartment. Some rentals have options to pick up the keys without ever having to see anyone, but I like to take the time to meet with the host and ask them questions.

  • “What should I do if I lose my key or I have issues with the apartment?”
    • The host usually gives me their local phone number, or even better, they introduce me to the complex’s super.
  • How do I use the appliances?
    • This may sound silly, but foreign machines can be a little different.
    • Don’t forget to ask about the shower. We once had a rental with five knobs. It was a chilling experience trying to figure them all out… haha. See what I did there… chilling…
  • Where is the nearest grocery store frequented by the neighbors?
    • I don’t want to shop at the over-priced petrol station across the street. I want to shop at the everyday grocery store where I will find everything I need at normal prices.
    • This question often inspires my host to tell me about some of the other fun neighborhood quirks.
  • What is your favorite place for a cheap lunch?
    • This was our million dollar question in Barcelona. The host sent us to a restaurant that was off-the-beaten path, was filled with locals, no one spoke English, the food was 100% authentic, and the prices were set for the working class.
  • What is your favorite special occasion restaurant?
    • I can read reviews online all day about the hottest restaurant in town. I’ll usually pick my top five restaurants for my one fancy dinner before I leave home. If my host answers with one of the five on my list, that one turns into THE one.

Once we’ve said good-bye to our host, the place is ours and I like to try and think of it as our home. Our first stop is the grocery store to pick up cereal and milk for breakfast along with some fresh-baked bread and sliced meat for a cheap snack, and a bottle of wine… because we are on vacation and we deserve it. This $20 trip to the store usually saves us a ton of money throughout the week by allowing us to skip unnecessary restaurant stops.

Last, but not least, I like to do my laundry on the last full day. I start it when I wake up, hang it after breakfast, then fold and pack it before going to bed. Now I’m packed AND I have one less thing to do when I get home. That’s a nice feeling.


Step 6: When do I get to go again?!

When I have a home away from home, my vacation gains a new layer of relaxation. The places travelers call home during their travels are so underrated. There are so many stories to be told and experiences to be had right in the hotel, vacation rental, hostel, or host family’s home. I can not wait to share the places we live with you!