Personal cultural highlights from our trip:
- Exploring Arashiyama
- Enjoying food at the Tanabata Festival (my first festival in Japan!)
- Witnessing the Makura Daiko during the Ikutama Summer Festival
In between transitioning jobs, I asked Charlie to go with me to Osaka (and tour the nearby prefectures) since it seemed like the perfect time for vacation for both of us. It was the first time I’ve visited Japan in summer (an earlier trip with family happened in May, just as spring was ending, where the weather was cool and perfect). I may have gotten feet tan lines and facial irritations (getting better now, thankfully!) but experiencing two summer festival events made the trip worth it!
Of course, it needn’t be said that everything was made better because Charlie and I finally get to take a break from this Long Distance Relationship thing.
We just stayed at an Airbnb in Osaka for all eleven nights, then went out on day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. We took it slow because it’s supposed to be a vacation, and I didn’t want to be too exhausted just before I start my new job, heh.
I recently attended UXHK as an independent designer (i.e. not sponsored by a company). It’s not as easy to plan and budget conferences if you’re doing freelance, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Granted, most of the people I’ve met were from companies who are investing in UX, but some of them have come independently (or started off that way, until they managed to convince their bosses that investing in UX is worth it).
Hong Kong is expensive. Lodgings are quite pricey compared to other Asian countries I’ve been to, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t more affordable options. Sure, I can’t afford hotels charging USD $100++ per night, and PhP 16k for round-trip tickets is no joke, but if you can plan ahead and book sales and promos, it wouldn’t be so bad.
Planning ahead is best, so check out the conferences you plan on attending and subscribe to the mailing lists to know as soon as early bird tickets are up. Don’t worry about the flight and lodgings yet, because early bird discounts are great and you will need it if you want to save some money. Buy the event/conference tickets first, and then hound one of the budget airlines or check every time they have a sale. I’m subscribed to Cebu Pacific’s mailing list and it’s enough to book some discounted tickets even if they’re not always from Piso Sales (any discount is great help).
Hostels are a good start for cheaper lodgings. When you’re a female traveling solo though, things can get a bit trickier. I wasn’t that comfortable taking the dorms, but it’s a cheaper option. Instead, I had a single room from a hostel and for 5 days, the price isn’t bad. It’s easier if you’re traveling with a group of friends, but sometimes your friends aren’t available to accompany you abroad just because you want to go to a conference. I checked Airbnb, but when I did my computations, as a solo traveler the hostel still gave me more savings.
Here’s a quick list of how much I needed (prices rounded up):
I didn’t add in shopping money in there, but for the important stuff for the trip I spent PhP 40,000 / USD 900 / HKD 7,000 (conference tickets, plane, lodgings, transportation, food). Cheaper if you want to book only for exactly the conference dates, but I didn’t want to be rushing so I included a day before and after making it a grand total of 5 days. You can spend less if you don’t take the Airport Express train (around HKD 100), but you have to make sure you have enough time going to and from the airport if you want to take the bus (around HKD 33). You can also check for promos on the Airport Express train if you’re traveling with other people (tickets for a group of 2 would only cost HKD 80, for example).
There were snacks served during the three conference+workshop days so I didn’t have to spend much on my meals (I definitely spent less than the budget I listed for food above). HKD 50/meal is already a mid-range budget (includes drinks), so you can also spend less if you prefer.
My hostel was at Argyle Street in Mong Kok, two blocks away from the station so it’s very near. I added more to that budget for some shopping, but it’s totally unnecessary to make the trip 🙂 There are definitely a couple of areas you can visit for free, and I had little adventures on my own even as I was having money troubles during the trip so it was still a memorable experience.
Was it worth that much money?
I really feel that what makes the conference worth it are the people you meet. Sure, some of the workshops or speakers’ topics can be found online (and if you looked at the right places, you could just take online courses or get subscriptions, listen to podcasts, etc), but it doesn’t have the insights that those giving workshops would share. Or the stories that come from various backgrounds and different contexts that attendees share with each other. Or the new friends that you may make, along with possible professional opportunities from networking with professionals in the field.
Would I attend the next UXHK?
I would like to check the list of speakers, but I’m already 80% affirmative.
It’s been a while since I traveled ‘alone’. When I studied for a semester at NUS, living alone abroad was a very liberating experience that pushed me to become more independent and I missed it. Since then though, I’ve mostly traveled with friends and family.
When I had to fly to Hong Kong alone for UXHK yesterday, I realized that I’m not as confident traveling without company anymore. I try to be confident, less worried, more optimistic.
I did my best to keep calm, even when I was passing through airport immigrations, scared that I might face some kind of discrimination because I’m Filipino and because I’m alone. When my credit card didn’t work with Handy and I had to make a cash deposit instead, I tried not to worry too much about how much money I had for spending left. I needed to make a decision and I felt more secure if I could fall back on the internet in case I get lost, even at the cost of giving up shopping for this trip.
When I realized that the dollars I had left was only enough to pay for the UXHK ticket (since I was going to pay at the venue) and some left for train fare and perhaps not enough for full meals for 5 days, I told myself I’ll find a way. When my ATM card didn’t work either, even when I already went to the bank before to get the Cirrus activated, my heart beat fast as I thought of how to budget all I had. I decided to survive on some bread and the snacks and cocktails from the events that I would be attending until I built up courage to borrow some funds from friends who will be arriving later that evening. But it forced me to spend my time walking around, finding ‘free’ things to do and places to visit. I mustered up some courage to explore unfamiliar places alone, even without really talking to people because I also felt shy. I walked to the Mei Ho House near SCAD, enjoyed the museum, and found inspiring designs in the shop there.
I met up with my friends eventually, and felt more secure knowing that I could turn to them for help (and company!) when I needed it. But there’s a strength that I’m slowly building up as I do some things on my own again. I had so much daring when I was living alone as a student in Singapore; I want to find that much confidence while traveling again.
Charlie and I were looking for a place to visit that isn’t too far from Manila (basically, something we can do in a day). He ended up treating me to Corregidor Island for my birthday last December. There’s only one tourist company in charge of visits to the island: Sun Cruises Philippines.
The PhP 2,300 package includes:
We paid an extra PhP 200 each for the light show, which is pretty interesting (it’s not like we’re coming back soon anytime anyway so we thought that we might as well watch it too).
The place is very clean compared to Manila, and the tour guides say the same thing so it doesn’t feel like you’re missing out if you’re not in the same group. You can’t always go inside the ruins because some of them are pretty dangerous, but some areas are explorable. The guide gives you around 10-15 minutes per area to go around and take photos. The view was great, and I think around this time is the perfect season to visit because it was sunny and quite cold at the same time.
Apparently, if they have Japanese tourists, they usually group them separately and they get a different backlog of history (mainly something that isn’t offensive to the Japanese). Occasionally though, Japanese tourists get mixed with everyone else and our tour guide shared an experience when one of them apologized to her profusely because they don’t get taught that version of history in Japan (with the war atrocities done to the Filipinos and Americans in WWII).
I’ve actually been to the island before, when I was a little girl, but it was still a pleasant experience to revisit the areas because I hardly remember them.
Thanks to a heads-up from Kyle, I managed to book 3 tickets for me, Charlie, and Kasey to Vietnam for July 2013.
That was around P2k for each of us, round-trip, compared to the P14k that the regular tickets are priced at.
Awesome. If all goes according to plan, here are my traveling plans so far:
I still have to find a way to go to Singapore, Bangkok (April 2013?), and Japan (October 2013?) either within the year (for Singapore) and next year for the last two.
Singapore in October? Does that sound feasible?