Tel Aviv, Israel – What happens at the airport security

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Several blogs and articles later, I was told to be prepared for one of the most extensive checks while getting into Tel Aviv. Since I was travelling alone, I had the additional responsibility to take care of the big bunch of papers I was carrying with me and also…myself (eye roll).

I was travelling from Amsterdam to Tel-Aviv and was booked on Transavia. And within a span of 30 minutes, I was through the security check and immigration. There was nothing. I remember thinking that those experiences I read of people through immigration was pretty outdated. Or so I thought. I landed in Tel-Aviv and things were super organized. Without much delay I was provided the Entry Permit into Tel-Aviv. This document is the only proof that you are legally allowed inside Israel. I still have this, I don’t even know why I’ve kept them. It is important to remember that while you may have a visa on your passport, your passport will not be stamped on your entry. This is mostly because some Muslim countries may not let you enter their territory if you were a prior visitor to Israel.

Ben Gurion airport is not located in the city centre and will take you a little time to the centre. If you want to read more about the internal travel and things you must know if you are travelling to Israel, please click here.

And now, back to immigration

I was on my way back to Amsterdam from Ben Gurion airport and decided to reach the airport 4 hours in advance from the scheduled time of departure. And that is something I would recommend you to do. Checking in online does not change protocol of what I describe in the next few lines. Here is how it went – Before the check in counter were officers who would scan your passport and you, and will proceed to ask you few questions. This could or could not be based on your travel history. My travel to countries such as Dubai, Malaysia and Jordan in the past triggered questions of:

    • Who did you travel with?
    • What did you do there?
    • When did you travel to ABC country?
    • Who packed your luggage?
    • Did someone give you a package to carry?
    • Are you carrying something which is not yours?
    • What is the purpose of your visit?
    • It is the MO to catch you unarmed for some questions such as – whom did you travel with. ‘’my brother and sister’’. What are their names? I would be lying if I said I didn’t fumble to remember my own brother’s name. The officers can be quite intimidating! Post this, you go to the check in counter and collect your boarding pass and head to security.
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Based on your answers of several questions, you will notice a yellow sticker on the back of your passport with a bar code. Based on my preliminary research, the start of the number of the bar code details your level of threat from a scale of 1-10. I got a 5. I can’t say if I felt proud or sad that my threat level was a 5.

 

Now at security, you would be thankful if you carry very few things in your carry on baggage because this is what is about to happen. There are around 4 officers who check your stuff. By check, I mean swab. You place your belongings into the tray – also your phone – also take out all electronic items from your bag and onto the tray – these include your chargers, ear phones, curling iron etc – ALL electronic items. Once the stuff is ready, the officer swab every bit of your belongings and once you have the green light, you proceed. You thought you were done? Once you take your bags and almost finish security, you have one last thing to have swabbed – your shoes. And once that is done you reach immigration. At immigration, unless your passport is not readable electronically, can you visit a counter with an officer where you are provided with your exit permit. This moved pretty quickly and then you find yourself in the Israel duty free. It isn’t something like you’d see in Dubai but it has almost everything.

 The whole process from entry into the Airport till the exit permit took about 2 hours but even sitting by the duty free, waiting for the flight, I wasn’t sure if all checks were done. But it was.

 I am told that the entire process described above happens a little more strictly if you travel by El Al. However, I would think the check isn’t such a bad thing after all. It makes you feel much safer. From the locals, we also learnt that it is very very normal for them to see such checks but the check seems a little overwhelming for most tourists.

 To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by Tel-Aviv and what it had to offer. The beach gave some Barcelona and Bombay vibes, there was some AMAZING hummus and tahini to die for and there are memories for a lifetime! I have been to some countries and if I were to pick my top 3 – Israel is definitely one of the podium finishers.

Image by Eduardo Castro from Pixabay

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Why you should chuck Goa for Varkala this time

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You might be a regular at Britto’s, but next time you want a beach holiday, head to Varkala. You won’t miss Goa. Promise.

Geographically located in Thiruvananthapuram, and about 30 kilometres from the city of Kollam, Varkala is Kerala’s best kept secret. Home to various temples, shrines and a breathtaking beach, Varkala’s highlight is the long laterrite Cliff overlooking the beach, the only one in Kerala. The walk along the cliff is an approximate 600 meters with the beach view on one side and numerous spas, restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops on the other. To get down to the beach, one could trek down through a pathway on the extreme end of the cliff or head down a steep flight of stairs directly into the beach. If you are with someone who has knee issues, don’t choose option 2.

Varkala cliff

An ideal holiday to Varkala is to be busy doing nothing – waking up to the sound of the waves, swimming in the beach, a heavy lunch, the afternoon siesta, shopping and dinner with trans music playing in the back. A natural spring, the purest form of water on the side of the cliff, will serve as your pre and post beach shower and quench your thirst. It will be easy to spot this, trust me.

However, since you have anyway travelled to his beauty, you might as well explore other tourist destinations and other little gems I found in and around. Rent a bike though.

Elephant shed (Aana kottil)
  • Sivagiri Mutt – Located 2 kilometres near the Varkala railway station, the mutt is the final resting place (Samadhi) of Shri Narayana Guru, a social reformer and Hindu philosopher. The pilgrimage days extend from 30 December to 1st January every year, where thousands of devotees dressed in bright yellow walk kilometres to reach the Samadhi in order to pay homage to their Guru. You may choose to wear conservative clothes should you visit it.
  • Janadharnan Swami Kshetram – A 2000 year old temple dedicated to Lord Janardhana, one of the several names given to Lord Vishnu. Located on a table-top, be prepared to climb an overwhelming flight of steps to reach the deity. Non-hindus are not permitted to enter the sanctum but can wander around it, and of course, wear conservative clothes. (Men will be required to take off their shirts)
  • Kaapil beach – An off-road from the Varkala-Paravur road bordered by the beach on one side and a lake on the other. During monsoons, the beach and the lake coalesce at a point to form a single body which makes it highly dangerous for a swim during this time. You can also see the Varkala cliff on your left and Kollam beach on your right.
  • Paravur beach (Theeradesham) – Located hardly any distance from Varkala is this breathtaking and almost unknown beach. There are several rock groynes built from the shore to interrupt the waves crashing. Walk up to the end of the groyne, the view is overwhelming.
  • Elephant shed (Aana kottil) – Situated in Poothakulam on Paravur -Parapally road, the shed gained popularity owing to birth of Shivan Kutty – first elephant to be born to domesticated elephants. While you can take pictures with them, make sure you hand over a crisp 100 Rupee note to the handler. Feed them bananas too, you’ll get them from a shop 100 mts away.
  • Buy your own fish – To watch them fisherman fight the waves on a fibre boat, slightly larger than a canoe, and bring in the fresh fish of the day is quite something. Ranging from sting rays, crabs and sardines alike, buying fish could not get fresher for good number of locals and hotel agents. If someone has a mammoth catch, you will be lucky to witness a live auction. The fish is then either sold for much higher prices at the local market or to you. Oh, btw did I mention you need to be at Paravur beach by 6 am to see this?
Fish shopping
Cannot get fresher than this

Varkala has a sizeable number of people from all over the world visiting during New Years.If you do plan to join them on 31 Dec, it is advisable to head in early (7pm) to the Cliff and leave real late. The local crowd may increase in number and getting out of the cliff gates would get tough and suffocating. Having been to Varkala more than twice now, I do have a favourite restaurant there- Clafoutti. Goes without saying that you must try the sea food here. Also, try them local – find a toddy shop and try Kerala’s famous knocker – there has to be a reason why Kerala has the country’s highest alcohol consumption.

Local toddy restaurant
Shopping by the cliff

The ideal time to visit would be around October end to March. However, if you are looking for a much cheaper deal, you could choose to travel much before the peak season starts. A trip only to Varkala can last you 4-5 days, however others differ. For instance, Biji Ratheesh, who lets out her house, has a family from Russia come in every 6 months in a year. “They love it here. They’ve even adopted a stray who we take care of when they leave”, she says. Well, looks like Varkala is not going to be a secret for long.

Featured image -Flickr

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Did you know Palestine’s biggest revenue comes from Tourism?

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I didn’t tell the parents we were going to Palestine. I knew what they’d say. To be honest, it wasn’t on the itinerary, until that Friday.

That night, Rahul and I discuss in immense detail.  “We’ve come so far! What are the odds we will ever get to go to Bethlehem again?!”, I crowed. But he needed his own research – Will Palestine be safe? How do we manage the travel? What about our travel documents – Do we carry our passports? Yes, all the important stuff. All I knew is I had to go. One thing echoed and rightly so – if anything were to happen to us in the West Bank, the Israeli government will not be held responsible.

Some research and hours later, we decided to go. We zeroed in on Elijah tours to help us get there. We booked a private half day tour for Bethlehem and waited in baited breath until we hit the confirmation button. We were to visit the most holy site in the world for Christians, only located in a place which grabs the attention of the entire world for totally different reasons.

We were picked up in Tel Aviv and dropped to a meeting point in Bethlehem where we were scheduled to meet Dia, our tour guide in Bethlehem. An hour into the ride, we are there at the check point which leads us into the Palestinian border. I notice bright red unambiguous sign boards which warn citizens of Israel against entering the area. It states, “You are entering Area A which is governed by the Palestinian authorities.” It also states that, “entry for Israeli citizens is forbidden and against the Israeli law”. I waited in baited breath as we approached the check point and kept all my papers and passport ready for inspection. But there wasn’t any. Great! We saved some time.

We noticed only taxis on the roads for a while and then as we entered the city, we saw a different one. The numbers on the cars were in green, unlike that we saw in Israel, the yellow ones. The streets were dusty, less crowded and the limestone buildings seemed more or less untouched.

The car climbed and swerved up the narrow roads and minutes later, we met Dia and then proceeded onto the touristy places in Bethlehem.

We went to the Church of Nativity (the church is built upon the cave where Jesus was born), Shepherds field (where the Angels announced Jesus’s birth) and also saw the infamous wall bordering Israel and Palestine. Interestingly, most of Banksy’s work is displayed in and around the city, some right behind a car washer/ repair shop.

Flower thrower – Banksy
Dove of Peace – Banksy

Much can be said about this wall. It is said that while the Israelis built this wall for security reasons, Palestinians consider the wall to be apartheid. The conflict saw the intervention of the UN but it still stands tall and strong stretching about 700 odd kms. One of Banksy’s work (angels trying to tear the wall) is quite prominent amongst all the other graffiti.

The Wall

A few hours and one amazing lunch later (best falalel hands down in the world), we were heading back to Tel Aviv. As we cross the border check point this time, we notice atleast 30 cars waiting in line to cross the border check point!

Was it all that scary? Well, the West Bank has always been in the news for all the wrong reasons but Palestine does bring to its shores the pilgrims, art enthusiasts and the adventurers alike. Where else in the world can one witness a site as revered as Bethlehem or view Banksy’s work dabbed on random walls in the city? There is enough and more to do in the city considering 80% of the country’s revenue comes from – TOURISM. If you fall into either of these categories, this place is for you.

Having said that, it is however not recommended for tourists to head to the super volatile Gaza strip.

Our day ended in the peaceful long drive back to the busy streets of Tel Aviv. I was scheduled to leave Tel Aviv a day later, and had only heard about their super intense security check. And then I had to go through it. Never seen something like this. Coming up in the next article!

For bookings to Bethlehem –
http://elijahtours.com/trip/bethlehem-private-tour-half-day-tour-from-jerusalem-or-tel-aviv/
For your best falafel! –
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293978-d1885342-Reviews-Afteem-Bethlehem_West_Bank.html

Russia in December? You’re not cuckoo!

If anyone calls you crazy enough to travel to Russia during the winters, it is probably true. But more than anything, worth it and perhaps the best thing you could do.

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Winters across Europe and the Americas is celebrated for its enormous Christmas trees, adornments, gaiety, but seldom does one strive to discover winters in the world’s largest country. Spread over 11 time zones, one end of this Eurasian country sees Finland whereas the other looks at China and North Korea – that is more than one eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area. And therefore we had to head there, to discover little of what could take a lifetime.

Moscow

For the tips, tricks and costs incurred, skip to the end of this article and for the other details, read on. We flew on Russia’s largest airline – Aeroflot, from Delhi to Moscow, a non-stop, non-tiring 6.5 hour flight. Like most international flights, the airline was a 2-4-2 seating and being an almost empty flight, we took the liberty to stretch our legs on the 4 seater. Also, this was the first time we were hearing Russian.

Easily one of the best subways in the world!

We landed in Sheremetyevo International Airport and checked into Azimut Olympic Hotel soon after. The 3 days in Moscow saw us walking around Red Square for most times and ofcourse, visits to the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Tverskaya Street, Izmailtovsky, the famous GUM mall etc. The city is decorated with buildings from Stalin’s era – magnificent columns, intricately designed arches, elongated shop galleries, every corner whispers a story.

The lit streets

But the best comes with the Moscow metro via escalators that you cannot see the end of. It’s like walking into an art gallery complete with murals, mosaics and ornate chandeliers. And to live all of this with snow around! Oh btw, ‘Red’ in Russian means ‘beautiful’ – therefore, Red Square.

St. Petersburg

Next on our list was St. Petersburg. We were told that St. Petersburg was magical during the winters. And what better way to travel than the rails – something you’d do in Switzerland huh? You must must must try the Russian Railways atleast once on your trip. We took the Sapsan high speed train that covers the distance in 4 hours.

Now that’s a palace!

St. Petersburg, the largest city in Russia after Moscow, was founded by Peter the Great and over the Neva River. This river flows pretty much across the city giving it more than 300 bridges all across the river. Despite located to the north of Moscow, St. Petersburg surprised us with a variety of weather changes in 3 days – rains, snow fall and a peak of sunlight at times. Peter the Great also established the Academy of Science, Gymnasiums, and Universities, perhaps why we saw a tad bit more English speaking Russians around.

Tourism typically includes Church of the Saviour on blood – a beautiful multi-coloured onion dome cathedral adding some colour to the otherwise grey sky, Peter’s summer and winter palace, Nevsky prospeckt etc. Be warned, while Peter the Great’s summer palace may look like a cottage, his winter palace, now a museum, took us an easy 6 hours and a map to cover (only because some sections were luckily under maintenance!). Visiting the winter palace would mean getting tickets to the Hermitage which also includes various other museums and buildings – these are one of the worlds largest and oldest.

And now, most importantly, the food of Russia. What was on our list was the Borsch – a very popular sour beetroot and beef stock soup. Those cold winds hitting our face demanded this of us at almost every day. Then was the Chicken Kiev – something like a baked chicken with a butter sauce and herb filling. A slice into this gushed out this sauce drowning the base of the Kiev. Also we were recommended the Pelmini, simply put – dumplings wrapped with a generous portion of pork and beef. It must be said that the Russians take their sweets very seriously – be it the Alenka chocolates, Ptichie Moloka (Milk cake) or Vatrushka. Alenka makes for a great souvenier too.

Things you must know:

1. Withdraw your Roubles at ATMs – this saved us a lot of time looking for reasonable conversion counters however, make sure you withdraw in largeramounts as each withdrawal entails a service fee of INR 125 levied by your Indian bank in addition to the conversion markup fee.

If you still wish to carry currency, Euros and USDs will be the only way. You cannot convert your INR to Rouble and vice-versa in India.

2. Learn a little basic Russian – this will help, help, help.

Vee govorish po anglaisky – Do you speak English?

Spasiba – Thankyou

Zravtsvuyte – Hello

Izvinite – Excuse me

3. The city gets dark real quick– You are on a holiday but still waking up early will give you more time to explore

4. What you think looks like cheesecake, isn’t cheesecake, it is Smetannik – Russian sour cream cake!

5. A very well planned holiday with accommodation may be done within INR 90,000 per person. The shopping may get expensive, so keep your resources planned. (P.S. If you do not live in Delhi, it will give you more savings to take a flight to Delhi and then head to Moscow. Any other way will increase the travel cost). Therefore, a ‘good trip’ may come up to 1.5L.

6. A tour of the Kremlin costs 500 Roubles per person and a visit to the Hermitage (Peter the Great’s Winter Palace)will cost 600 Roubles per person. You may also want to buy an Audio kit for an additional 200 Roubles as most of the descriptions in the museums is in Russian.

7. Souvenirs include magnets, Russian winter hats for men and women, make-up for women, scarves and stoles.

8. Where to shop – Moscow: Tverskaya Street and Okotny Ryad Shopping Centre in Moscow; St. Petersburg – Nevsky Prospeckt, Galleria mall

9. If you think you have the time, head to the vodka museum – however, we didn’t.

10. Like all foreign cities, use the metro – take an English version from your hotel. While there are enough buses, absence of English sign boards, translations or people speaking English, it may be quite difficult to get around.

11. Don’t listen to anyone telling you not to travel Russia during the winters, its probably the best!

Read more on www.travellingfatty.com

Things you should stop asking your Indian friend!

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1. “No, I do not speak “Indian””

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The same way I do not speak American or Belgian.

India does not have a national language but has 22 official languages. With a country so vast and rich in its cultural heritage, I’d be dammed if the entire nation of 1.3 billion people spoke one language. And contrary to popular beliefs, no, “Hindi” is not a national language, however is one of the most widely spoken languages in the country.

2. “Yes, arranged marriages do exist”

Just to add more to the conversation, there are websites like tinder, except manned by the parents 🙂 , and sometimes by the individual themselves. Long story short, boy and girl meet – boy and girl tend to “match” in all aspects – caste, creed, religion, education – boy and girl inform the parents – parents heave sigh of relief – boy and girl are married. That would be a standard answer, there are always exceptions.

3. “… there is more to Indian food that Chicken Tikka Masala”

Whether Chicken Tikka Masala has its origins in India or otherwise is a whole different story for a blog. But there are times one would want to echo this across the mountains – there is more to Indian food than just “curry”. It would be unfair to name the million others – but as step 1, try walking into an Indian restaurant next time and order something else for a change.

4. “…but, you speak such good English!”

Sigh.

Basic – it starts from school and society. People love and embrace their native language but English also helped connect the country across its length and breadth, also beyond its geographical borders. Do not be surprised to see sign boards, menu cards etc in English!

5. “…Yes, Non-vegetarian please!”

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There are some parts in India who love their meat and then there other others who will not touch it, let alone, be near someone eating meat. There are people who eat all of them except the ”holy one”, and then there are others who love to roast them all with all those beautiful spices.

6. “No, I do not know him”

X – “There is a new colleague joining us from India. Do you know him?”

Y – “No.”

1.3 billion people, remember? Also, it doesn’t help if ”he” came from same city – or same village – or the same school. You get the point.

7. “Yes, that’s the downward dog pose”

It’s wonderful that you do yoga. But expecting your Indian friend to know all of Yoga?

It’s like saying all Asians know martial arts. (Just for the record, they don’t.)

8.”Bollywood much eh?”

No. Yes. No. Okay, fine. We love our Bollywood movies. We love the songs and dances and we love the ones without. A 1000 movies a year, well, can’t blame us!


We love stereotypes, don’t we! Hope all the Mexicans eating their taco, English drinking tea, Dutch on their boterham, and the other Asians practicing their karate have enjoyed this read.

Have a great day!

Before you go road-tripping in Spain!

Have you seen those dreamy videos on road-trips – the one where black and white polka dot scarves flutter against the wind, and the camera pans on a blue convertible with a baritone narration in the background?

A road trip in Spain, its all that, you think. Except it’s not.

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We were a little dreamy eyed when we thought of doing a road trip in Spain, because nothing sounded nicer than that and who wouldn’t want to drive along the coasts in Europe. We ‘’planned’’ this road trip way in advance but when it came to the actual bookings, we were as close as 3 weeks into our travel dates. Our options were unlimited – we had the whole map of Europe in front us when we wondered which road to take – Should we do Croatia? How about Spain to Portugal? Or maybe Amsterdam to Prague? Days, decisions and frantic phone conversations later, we decided to stick to one country. Best decision ever. Our road trip in Spain started in the picturesque Malaga to the beautiful streets of Seville. We took deviations to also ride through Nerja and the palace grounds in Alahambra. It did seem quite convenient to have a car at your beck and call and not rely on public transport for this. The beautiful blue waters along the coast could not have been better viewed nor can you really stop to take pictures in a public transport. The roads along Nerja towards Alahambra was the best views we’d seen from most of our travels. Our eyes were wide open and our noses were glued to the windows – some ooh’s and aah’s too.

Here are a couple of pointers that may help you plan:

1. International driving license

No prizes for guessing this one. Typically, an international driving permit may be obtained from your local Indian RTO within 6-8 weeks of application. If you do have a European resident with you, well, there’s your driver. There are not a lot of checks which happen on this but its always better to not meddle with the rules in a foreign country.

2. Where can you rent your car from

Most countries in Europe have enough and more websites where you can pre-book your car in advance. A few of them would be Europcar, Sixt, Hertz, Booking.com, car2go, rentalcars as also expedia. Read through their reviews, terms and conditions, as also available pickup and drop locations before you pick your car. Booking a car way in advance is MUCH more cheaper. For instance, a 4 person Mini One Cabrio (or similar) could cost you around INR 8.500 per day if you book 8 weeks in advance. If you’re lucky, maybe way lesser depending on the season rush. We were luckily upgraded to an Audi A4!

3. What car should you choose

Nothing looks as good as a BMW on those beautiful roads. But think again!

The car of course depends on the number of people you are. We were considering a Mercedes 7 seater for 6 people but then it wouldn’t be much of a road trip rather will look like an airport shuttle. We therefore settled for 2 cars. However, we had an option to upgrade to a BMW convertible which we hesitatingly declined – second best decision ever. When you are driving on highways, you are bound by the speed limit and are at 120 km/hr.

While our BMW swooshed its way even in the tiniest of the lanes, our Audi A4 demanded two people to guide it back to the main road, where we all finally could breathe again.

4. What must you check once you book your car

Once you arrive at your pickup center and allotted your car, make sure you check for existing damages on the car. Make sure you duly point them out to your representative if not already highlighted. It would be a good time to check on the technicalities of your car should there be any. Once you are out of the pick-up center, you’re on your own.

5. Cross border road trip

Are you planning to cross borders on your road trip? Cross border road trips are definitely possible however, it needs to be checked in advance with your car rental provider if this is permitted. While it may be vide something called a ‘’Green Card’’, the same may endure steep rental charges. Some countries like Croatia, Bosnia etc have toll stations on highways and you may have to pay an entrance fee there. We however, sticked to Spain – which by itself is a huge country to drive along.

6. Carry cash for tolls

Even on the highways, it is advisable to keep some cash in hand for tolls. Our entire trip from Malaga to Seville and diversions to Nerja and Alahambra saw only one tolling booth.

7. The last and the most important one – LEARN THE RULES

If right hand driving is new for you, make sure you research the rules before-hand. For instance:

Vehicles will overtake you from the left side.

The exit is located on the right side of the road. If you are not taking the exit, stay in the middle of the road

Maintain speed limit – yes, we were gawked at some cars that went past us because we were fixated on google maps

Which also means, check your directions frequently – IF you do miss an exit, you need to travel a good distance before you can head back on track

Whichever European country you are in, ALWAYS check the rules ahead of driving

And also, do not forget to BRING SNACKS!!

Sometimes its okay not to follow Google maps 🙂

Sometimes, the best views are hidden away from the maps.

All in all, its nothing like that dreamy scene in a movie. It is much more than that.

-An experience of a lifetime indeed.

About her

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Hi there! I have tried to squeeze in all about yours truly and yes, that’s most of it. 

When I’m not doing any of those, I’d probably still be chewing on something while I scan Google flights for some cheap flight deals. It helps! Statistics (mine) say that I spend more time there than Facebook. Hear Hear! 

I hope something somewhere in my article has helped you in someway. If not, well, I’m still glad you stopped by.
Cheers!