Hi, I’m Tara!I'm not quite sure where I'm going, but I plan to travel as much as I can while I figure it out. Follow along for stories about living as an expat in Shanghai, getting lost in other countries, and forcing myself to get uncomfortable!
Category Archives: Budget Friendly Travel
Visiting Xi’an was one of the most affordable trips I’ve taken in a while. Generally speaking, I am rather frugal and am careful about what I choose to spend my money on. If I’m going to splurge on anything, it has to be travel related. So of course it’s always extra exciting if I can have an amazing trip that doesn’t cost a lot of money.
This is one of the great perks of traveling around Asia where there are loads of affordable travel destinations. Living in Shanghai, though, isn’t always cheap, so it’s nice to travel to other cities and save some money.
Xi’an, however, is super affordable! For two nights at our hostel, we each only paid $11 USD. For less than $6 a night, I would have gladly stayed longer. Round trip flights from Shanghai were roughly $100. As terrible as it sounds, I’ve spent that on a single night out in Shanghai before!
So now that I’ve shamefully admitted that on occasion I can waste far too much money hanging out in the city, let’s talk about why Xi’an is worth a visit (and how affordable it really is).
Traveling anywhere in China can be quite fascinating. The culture has been around forever, seemingly; there’s so much history to be discovered. The history of Xi’an is one that dates back more than 2,000 years. Xi’an was home to the Qin Dynasty, a fact that plays an important role in its recent popularity as a tourist city. It’s been said to be the starting point of the Silk Road, and there’s a enjoyable combination of Muslim and Chinese cultures. There is really a lot to experience in Xi’an. It feels as though you’re being transported back in time, and it’s absolutely amazing. Let your imagination take you away when you visit, and make the most of your trip!
What to Do
1. Terracotta Army (bingmayong – 兵马俑)
The top of the list is, of course, the Terracotta Army. This is what has brought in so many tourists in recent years, and odds are it’s one of the main things you think of when you hear “Xi’an.” Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty had this army created to protect his tomb. The Warriors and Horses were discovered only 43 years ago in 1974. Since then, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Seeing pictures simply does not do this archeological find justice. There are three separate pits filled with members of the Terracotta Army. The amount of time it must have taken and the commitment to the first emperor is just amazing. It all seems too magnificent to truly comprehend, especially when you think about how long ago these were created.
Cost: 145 RMB
Directions: Take a bus to the Xi’an Railway Station. 1-2 RMB. Hop on bus 306 which will take you to the Terracotta Army (Bingmayong – 兵马俑 in Chinese). It’s about a one hour drive and costs about 8 RMB.
Important: BRING YOUR PASSPORT. YOU WILL NEED IT TO GET IN!
2. Bike the City Walls
This one was super fun for me. I never would have imagined myself biking the city walls of an ancient capital city. The walls are in pretty good shape, but the bike ride is a bit rough. They stop renting out bikes after 6 pm, so it’s important to show up before then.
Cost: 54 RMB to enter and get up on the city walls. 45 RMB to rent a bike for 2 hours. 200 RMB deposit for the entire group, which you should get back unless you do something terrible to the bikes!
Directions: Easily accessible from the same stop to catch the bus to go to the Terracotta Army (hint: look for stairs with a ticket box/security below). That’s the North Gate. The other gates have the bikes as well, and you can drop off at any of the locations around the wall.
3. Muslim Street Market (Beiyuanmen Islamic Street)
Every one of my Chinese coworkers and parents of the students I tutor told me that the food is amazing. They weren’t lying. Do yourself a favor and read up on some of the best dishes in Xi’an.
Going to the Muslim Street Market at night was a memorable experience with such tasty food and a lively atmosphere. Nighttime is definitely the best time to go. Come hungry and try as much as you can!
Cost: However much it takes to get full! Each item typically costs between 10-20 RMB.
Directions: Not far from the city center, you’ll want to find Beiyuanmen street -it’s located right behind the Drum Tower, which you can see from the Bell Tower. Across from the circle of the Bell Tower, there are some stairs that lead to a Starbucks and an alley of restaurants and shops. If you follow that alley to the Drum Tower, Beiyuanmen will intersect on the right.
4. View the Bell Tower at Night
You pretty much can’t get around Xi’an without seeing the Bell Tower. It’s the center of everything, so you’ll constantly come across it. Make sure you make a stop near it at night though while it’s lit up and even more beautiful.
Directions: You can’t miss it, honestly. It is the center of everything. If that isn’t useful to you, the metro stop is Zhong Lou.
5. The Shaanxi History Museum
This one I recommend lightly. If you have time and are looking for a way to spend an hour or two, go for it. There’s a lot of cool things to check out, including history of the Shaanxi people, how the Terracotta Army was made, and lots of bronze as it was popular at that time. It is an EXTREMELY POPULAR museum and with a great reputation. The museum provides you with a lot of history (some in English), however a lot is in Chinese (naturally). Enjoy reading what is available to you and move right along. We enjoyed it overall, but were slightly underwhelmed. Some of the exhibits have an additional cost which can be quite hefty (300 RMB). We opted out of those, so maybe that’s part of the reason this museum didn’t completely blow us away. It was worth 30 RMB and skipping the line though!
As mentioned before, this museum is insanely popular, so the queue to get in is crazy long. Pro tip: Skip the line and walk up to the ticket office across from the mass of people. I don’t know if people are unaware they can get tickets at the other ticket window, but there is no line. Considering the long queue, it’s of course busy on the inside as well. You won’t be able to spend as much time reading and pacing yourself due to the crowds, so you don’t need to leave a ton of time to see it all.
Cost: 30 RMB
Directions: Off of Line 3 or Line 2 – stop: Xiaozhai. Take exit C, turn left, and walk until you see a giant queue of people under tents on the sidewalk (or about 800 meters).
Xi’an is surprisingly easy to navigate. We took taxis, buses, and the metro several times. We never had any issues, even with the buses! Don’t be afraid to go the cheapest route here. It’s relatively simple, so no worries! If you do find yourself needing a cab, they are still really affordable, just make sure you know the street names you’re looking for.
The entire weekend – museums, food, sites, transportation, flights from Shanghai, and accommodation cost just under $175 USD.
We had such a great time in the day and a half we had to explore. There are plenty of other places to visit in Xi’an if you’re staying longer than I did, but with limited time, these were the 5 things at the top of my list.
When planning a tour around New Zealand, it’s fairly obvious that the most cost effective way to do it is to drive yourself (or hitchhike?). There are a ton of companies out there that you can rent a car or a camper from. So how do you choose which rental is the best for your trip?
Many of the rental companies around New Zealand are great for people who are beginners at camping this way. My friends and I had never really travelled in a campervan before. A friend of ours who lives in New Zealand recommended we use Jucy Rentals. We took her advice and booked ourselves a Jucy Chaser. The Jucy Chaser we drove was an automatic *phew* and not a bad size. It felt quite small on the inside, but it did the job for a couple weeks driving around NZ. They are also a good size for drivers who aren’t used to driving some massive vehicle through all the twisty, hilly roads around the South Island on a windy day.
The rental process was easy. They arrange a shuttle to and from the airport, so we didn’t have anything to worry about! We showed up and met with friendly, helpful staff. We checked out our vehicle and got a brief explanation of different things to note on the camper. Soon we were ready to go! Our Chaser came with a TV, radio, refrigerator, dishes, stove, sink, bathroom, and two beds (sleeps 4). It had everything we could have wanted. There weren’t any sort of amenities that were missing. It wasn’t luxurious by any means, but it took care of all of the important things. It was pretty easy to set up at night and pack up in the morning, as well.
Not everything was perfect, though. We had an issue with one of our fuses blowing multiple times. The fuse controlled our radio, TV, and outlets. Lucky for us, it wasn’t anything really important. The first time it happened, we were close to the Queenstown airport and took the rental in for a quick fix. Unfortunately, it blew again. We were a little sad to not have our radio at times, especially because we had put together an awesome playlist for the trip. (Pro tip: Bring an auxiliary cord or portable speakers to play the music you spent so long putting together!) We also had troubles with the a/c. It just never seemed to work and the air from the front didn’t circulate well to the back. It got a little uncomfortable back there some days.
Overall, we had a pretty good experience, and I would definitely do another rental like this in the future. However, we did make a few mistakes when booking. We didn’t really know what we were doing when we made our decision. We definitely could have saved ourselves a little bit of money.
Our biggest mistake was not fully understanding the type of trip we wanted to take. It’s extremely important (if you’re trying to be wise about money) to decide if you want to do freedom camping, or are you staying at campsites and mostly treating your vehicle as a sleep-in car rental. For us it was the latter, but we booked as if we’d be freedom camping. This ended up being more costly for us.
If you plan to FREEDOM CAMP
+ Must be in a certified self-contained vehicle. In other words, the toilet and shower are contained within the vehicle, instead of simply popping out.
+ Free to camp anywhere unless there’s a sign stating otherwise. However, it’s good to be familiar with the rules in different areas. I’ve heard it can vary around the island.
+ Responsible for properly disposing of any wastes. Please be respectful to New Zealand’s beautiful environment and use the proper dump sites.
+ Don’t forget to find a place to charge your vehicle and refill any resources you use (easily found at campsites).
+ Save money by not paying nightly rates at campsites (roughly $70 NZD a night per vehicle for a powered site at a holiday park).
If you plan to STAY AT CAMPSITES (Holiday Parks)
+ Make sure the campsite your staying at accepts your vehicle. Not all places allow non-self-contained vehicles. I think all of the ones we stayed at did, though.
+ Use your vehicle mostly just to travel and to sleep.
+ Take advantage of the charging outlets and garbage services at your site.
+ Use the campsite facilities to shower, cook, wash dishes, use the toilet, etc. Doing this means you don’t have to refill or clean those parts of your camper!
+ Save money by not paying extra for a self-contained vehicle (at least $2-300 NZD depending on which vehicle is best for you).
These definitely aren’t your only options. You can rent a smaller vehicle and get a room at some campsites, or you can get a cheaper site and use a tent! Honestly, this kind of appeals to me. It would be significantly cheaper, and the holiday parks have everything that you need for the night. The only concern would be bad weather. I guess in that case, maybe splurge on a room somewhere?
In my opinion, the most important thing is to think about the kind of trip you want to have and decide the best vehicle for your needs. It’s not necessary to have the ability to freedom camp if you don’t plan on taking full advantage of it. I wish we had planned that out more thoroughly.
Think about how much room you’ll really need for sleeping. Do you actually want to clean up the toilet and shower when you’re done or would you rather use a campsite? Smaller vehicles will obviously use less gas. Each option has its pros and cons, so choose whichever is best for you!
Have you ever done a driving tour of New Zealand? What’s your favorite way to get around?
Whoever said Disney was the happiest place on Earth clearly never made it to New Zealand. Traveling around New Zealand’s South Island for two weeks had me in a constant state of awe. Throughout the entire two weeks, I don’t think I ever picked my jaw up off the floor. I’ve seen photos and documentaries, I’ve read plenty of blogs, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. However, the anticipated expenses can be a bit daunting. Luckily, there are plenty of free things to do in New Zealand!
This is precisely why budgeting a New Zealand trip really isn’t that difficult. There are loads of adventures you can take advantage of on the island that will cost you an arm and a leg, but those things aren’t necessary in order to truly enjoy New Zealand. The best things on the South Island are free. Today I’m going to share with you some of my favorite FREE experiences in New Zealand.
1. Travel back in time with the Moeraki Boulders
2. Take a picture of the 2nd most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere (after the Sydney Opera House) – the train station in Dunedin
3. Enjoy all of the wonderful street art (Dunedin)
4. Walk up the steepest road in the world (Dunedin) 5. Watch the sea lions at Allans Beach (Dunedin) 6. Relax by the Purakaunui Waterfalls 7. Hike any of the trails in Te Anau 8. View Queenstown from The Remarkables 9. Connect with the lonely tree at Lake Wanaka 10. Hike Mount Roy – Exhausting, but beyond worth it! 11. Stargaze at the Church of the Good Shephard (Lake Tekapo) 12. Check out Hooker Glacier Lake 13. Visit the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfalls 14. Watch the sunrise and sunset at the beaches 15. Don’t hesitate to pull over and take photos!
So there you have it, my favorite experiences on the South Island that won’t cost you a penny and will leave you with unforgettable memories.
What are your favorite free (or budget friendly) things to do in New Zealand?