Ah Taiwan. We Singaporeans absolutely love the country! We are so won over by the mix of good food, shopping and breathtaking scenery. There’s really nothing not to love about Taiwan. People are often warm and friendly too! Also, some of the most bittersweet memories (but nostalgic) with hubby Sean were from Taiwan. (Yup, Part 2 will be out later this week!)
So we just returned from a 10-day trip to Taiwan 4 days ago. (I will do a separate blog post on the awesome stuff we did there.) Hubby Sean and I brought Baby J and both our mums along with us. This is also Baby J’s first airplane ride! We are definitely not strangers to beautiful Taiwan. But during this trip, we learnt more about how to budget properly, and still provide comfort to the little one and the two elderly. In the past, when we travel, Sean and I would only book our first accommodation (along with our flight tickets, of course), and settle the rest of our accommodation only while we are there. We no longer have the luxury of doing that since it can be pretty risky.
Before leaving for our trip, we even asked for opinions and experiences of others. So we picked the good tips and improvised along the way to get the best out of our Taiwan trip. Note that the first 4 tips can be applied to any vacation destination. 🙂
Use Incognito Mode on Your Browser When Making Bookings
Many websites use dynamic pricing, especially those for airlines and hotels. Prices usually depend on your search history, your browser and the number of times you’ve visited the same site. This is why you need to hide all these information from booking websites. If you haven’t heard of the incognito feature on your browser, you’d better learn it now. Most popular browsers have an incognito mode (or if you’re using Safari, it’s called a private window). When you open a window in this mode, booking websites will be unable to retrieve such information from your computer. This now leads to our next point.
Compare Prices Using Your Mobile Phone on Data
After searching for airline tickets and accommodation, use your mobile phone to perform the same searches. But use your mobile data together with the incognito mode on your phone’s browser. This sometimes gives you different results, as now your IP address and device is different from that of your laptop. Now you can get the better deal out of your searches.
Get Travel Insurance
Yes, it requires spending more, but it gives you a peace of mind while travelling. In our past experience, we have encountered delayed baggage in our destination country, or getting sick. We managed to claim for these inconveniences using our travel insurance. Especially when travelling with a baby and elderly, it is important to be prepared, in case anyone falls ill. This now leads to our next point.
Pick the Right Travel Insurance
From our experience, travel insurance tends to be more expensive when you get them through the airline. However, Jetstar’s (yes, we picked this airline) insurance price was quite reasonable (at $30 per person) for a fair amount of coverage. The only thing that stopped us from getting it, was that they did not include one for our baby. So I looked for alternatives online. In the past, we would buy them from agents, but it was more costly than that offered by Jetstar.
FWD offered good coverage at one of the lowest prices. In addition to that, they have excellent customer service. I had some queries for them, and specified the time for them to return my call on their website. Their customer service rep called me on the dot, and was very patient and friendly throughout the conversation! 🙂 On top of that, they even offered a $10 cash reward if you referred your friends to get their insurance within 3 months of getting a plan with them.
(Note: By the way, if you have the Citibank Cash Back Credit Card or Citibank Rewards Credit Card, you can get insurance for free if you paid for your airline tickets using the card. However, some airlines charge extra for using credit card to make payment, so you’ll have to do some simple calculation. Also check if the insurance covers your infants, since you will not be purchasing a seat for them in the aircraft.)
You Don’t Need Really a SIM Card (or a Data Plan) in Taiwan
Taiwan offers free WiFi almost everywhere! In train stations or certain major landmarks, there is iTaiwan, where you must register online first before leaving for Taiwan. After you arrive, you can approach a staff in any Visitor Information Centre to help you process your registration with your passport. Easy peasy, and super convenient, so you’ll definitely get free WiFi in many areas.
Even if you’re out of an iTaiwan hotspot, most accommodations, including minsu, provide fairly good WiFi. In many malls and cafes, you can also get WiFi.
Get Your Breakfast in Breakfast Shops
Breakfast shops in Taiwan are famous for super savoury and delicious food in the morning. They usually serve egg rolls, carrot cake, and toasts. Soya bean milk and brown rice drink (米漿) were the favourite beverages of both our mums! The food is also super economical. You can a lot of food for less than SGD10 (we typically spend about NT180 for 4 adults). Try to dine at their location, as the food always tastes better warm and fresh out of the pan!
Take Note of Cut Fruit Prices in Popular Night Markets
Whenever I’m in Taiwan, I would crave for their custard apples.Image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim – Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link
The first night, we went to Shilin Night Market. Super popular, super crowded, but we forgot that unscrupulous vendors may try to overcharge us amidst the excitement. Immediately, we saw an enthusiastic fruit vendor handing out fruits for free (even Baby J got a rock melon piece). She was selling custard apples too, so we enquired her price. She very swiftly grabbed a big cup of freshly cut ones and sold it to us for NT400 (less than SGD20). We enjoyed the fruit, but after visiting other fruit stalls, we realised that we had paid almost double for the amount of fruit we got. Oh well, but there’s always a lesson to be learnt in all these.
You Don’t Really Need a Personal Driver in Most Places
Many friends have recommended we get a personal driver in Taiwan, to save on trouble in travelling. Well, I personally enjoy spending more time exploring places, so a driver wasn’t necessary for us. But that wasn’t what deterred us from getting a personal driver. I asked around and did some research on the costs of booking a driver for an entire day; it’d amount to almost $200 per day, which is really too expensive for our 10-day trip.
In fact, taxis and ad hoc private drivers are common in Taiwan. If you require one, your minsu or hotel can easily call one for you. Even if you visit more rural areas, you can easily approach any convenience store or a shop, and they will help you call for one. (In return, maybe buy something from their shop.) You’ll definitely save on costs.
This also depends on your needs. If you have a long list of places to visit in a day and will spend less than an hour in each place, then perhaps a personal driver is more suitable. Otherwise, if you only have a couple of places in mind and will spend hours in a single area, then getting a taxi, or even taking the public transport will be a more sensible (and economical) choice.
Get the EasyCard for Cheaper Travel
Taking public transport, like the MRT, TRA or buses, is inevitable in cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung. The EasyCard requires you to pay NT100 (non-refundable) for the card, and you will get 20% off the normal fare. In the long run, this will be a more economical way to travel. Besides, if you travel to Taiwan often, you can keep the card, instead of getting a refund at the end of your trip. It will never expire, but it requires a recharge and reactivation after 2 years.
You can also use this card to pay for items at certain locations!
Book Your Taiwan High-Speed Rail (THSR) Tickets Early to Get a Discount
The THSR will save you a lot of time when travelling along the west side of Taiwan. Tickets are more costly, of course. But if time is of the essence for you, skip the Taiwan Railways (TRA) and use THSR for your travels in west Taiwan.
Check out your fares on the website before your travel. It’s important to note that, if you book your tickets early, you may get an early bird discount of up to 35% off for a normal adult ticket. We managed to get a 10% off our tickets, as we were fairly early in booking. You may then collect your tickets at any THSR counter or convenience store.
Hope you’ve enjoyed these tips! Do you have any of your own to share? Feel free to add them in the comments! 🙂
Also, look out for our subsequent blog posts of what we did in Taiwan!