8 things to keep in mind when planning a trip to Hong Kong

Boasting a pleasant blend of city, mountains, and sea, Hong Kong could be a perfect place to get away

No Visa required

One of the perks of visiting Hong Kong is that when planning your trip, you don't need to add getting a Visa to your list. A passport is required, but Hong Kong will let Americans visit Visa-free, as long as you have money and a place to stay. The Customs officials are also generally pleasant toward American travelers, presenting none of the animosity visitors sometimes experience when heading into Mainland China.

Buckle in for the ride

A trip to Hong Kong will take you from 13 to 16 hours if you're leaving from the US and flying nonstop. Be prepared to finish your favorite book, binge the new season of Orange is the New Black, or catch up on some sleep while you're on the plane.

Such a long flight might mess with your internal clock a bit, but since China is between 12 and 15 hours different in time from the US, your internal clock was going to need a few gears changed no matter what. I recommend checking out what time you'll arrive and try to plan your sleep accordingly. Make yourself stay up the last 8 or so hours of your trip if you're arriving at night so you can hopefully sleep when you get checked into your hotel, or sleep the time away on the plane if you'll be arriving in the daytime so you can get out there and see some sights in the sunshine rather than needing a nap after getting settled in.

The sights can’t be beat

Hong Kong is very proud of its nighttime laser show, as well it should be. The spectacle at Victoria Harbour involves over 40 buildings and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show. It starts promptly at 8pm, lasts 13 minutes, and is totally free.

As for the daytime, Hong Kong is a city that feels as big and bustling as New York, but unlike the Big Apple, in certain areas you can stand in one place and pivot to see sparkling, modern skyscrapers, lush, green mountains, and the ocean lapping at the shore.

I personally recommend staying off the beaten path a small bit by finding a hotel in Kowloon rather than on Hong Kong Island. You can still be in walking distance of attractions like the Ladies' Market and easily access public transit getting you to the heart of the city, but while the island is modern and flashy, it can also feel cramped, and finding a place to bed down that isn't quite so bustling is often a welcome relief to travelers.

Getting around is pretty easy

Hong Kong, a former British colony, is pretty friendly for English-speaking people. Most people in shops will speak both Cantonese and at least a little English, and signs will also often have English on them. Hong Kong also has a pretty streamlined subway system and the famed double-decker buses we often associate with London roadways. Be warned that while the subways are pretty easy to navigate, including signs and announcements both in English and Cantonese, it's not always clear when it's your turn to get off the bus, so you have to pay close attention (or perhaps find someone to ask).

The food is amazing (and maybe not what you’d expect)

Credit: Kelsey Fox

If you think of Americanized Chinese take-out when you think of Chinese food, you will be in for a pleasant surprise when visiting Hong Kong. Dim sum is my favorite meal of the day (kind of like brunch food), but from breakfast to dinner to late-night snacks, you really can't go wrong with authentic Chinese.

Ok, well, maybe you should avoid street meat. And also don't drink any water that's not boiled. (Including maybe avoiding drinks with ice.) But overall, the food is delectable, and a much higher quality and with more complex flavors than what most of Americans envision when they think of Chinese food. (By the way, most hotels will provide you with a kettle to boil water and complimentary water bottles.)

It's common to order "family style" meals, where you can order several dishes loaded onto a Lazy Susan in the middle of your table for you to share with your friends. This is a great system because it allows you to order a few things and try them all without having to commit to one dish yourself.

Finally, even though you might be inclined to avoid chain restaurants like McDonald's and KFC, it can also be fun to see the differences in cuisine between what you're used to in America and what the Chinese get when they order a #2 combo at your favorite fast food joint. It's a common misconception that rice is automatically served with every meal in China, but at fast food places, you'll get some instead of fries at KFC, for instance. Chicken nuggets at McDonald's in Hong Kong are actually just actual chicken wings, bones and all, and they're delicious.

There’s a lot to do outside of the city too

If you're in Hong Kong, it's just a quick ferry ride to the former Portuguese territory, Macau. This city is rich with history and hosts an amazing array of beautiful churches and old buildings, as well as an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Portuguese food and culture. Not to mention it's home to somewhat of a mini-Vegas, complete with lavish casinos and a happening nightlife.

Even though Macau has its own currency, the casinos exclusively deal in Hong Kong Dollars, and most businesses in the area do too. This is convenient if you're only there on a day trip as you do not have to spend any time exchanging your currency (or lose anything to the exchange rate). Oh, and you won't need a Visa to visit here either.

There's also Hong Kong Disney Land, with its own dedicated train line replete with Mickey Mouse-shaped windows in its air-conditioned cars. This Disney Park is pretty much like any other Disney Land Park, but if you've never been able to afford such an extravagance before, going while in Hong Kong will help you save a lot of money with the exchange rate considered.

It's also easy to access the Tian Tan Buddha from Hong Kong. This statue/building is so large you can see it from the plane as you fly in. You can get to the area by a bus that climbs windy, mountain roads, or you can treat yourself to a cable car ride over the mountains. Be aware that if you'd like to actually go inside the Buddha, it is a long and arduous upstairs climb, there is a small fee, and no pictures are allowed inside.

Things to watch out for

If you're not Chinese, cabbies in both cities might try to take advantage of you. A common rule is to usually just let them. The fares they'll charge you end up being a few bucks max, maybe with half a dollar's worth of extra fees sneakily tacked on. The extra 50 cents is usually not worth stopping your whole day and trying to explain to a police officer that doesn't speak English what the problem is.

If you decide to go to the mainland after arriving in Hong Kong, you will have to go through Customs or Border Patrol just like you are entering a different country. You will need a Visa, and you will need to exchange your money from HKD to RMB. If you're driving, don't forget that while people drive on the left side of the road in Hong Kong, you'll have to switch to the right when entering mainland China.

You should haggle with shopkeepers. Outside of chain stores, prices are not locked down, and when they see you are not Chinese, the first price offered will always be much more than what the shopkeeper is willing to take. They're just feeling you (and your naivete) out.

Finally, Chinese toilets are not like American toilets. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, it's best to be prepared to … squat. Your hotel will likely have Western toilets (what we're used to) as will many restaurants and attractions. However, other than your hotel, do not expect any establishment to provide toilet paper or soap. Most people carry travel tissue packs and hand sanitizer with them for this reason.

The takeaway

A visit to Hong Kong is an unforgettable one. Though the flight is long and can be expensive, the money you spend at your destination is pretty minuscule compared to some other places, so the cost evens out. The culture and the cuisine is amazing, and you can easily come home with tons of souvenirs for your friends and family without breaking the bank. In the end, Hong Kong is an ideal destination for the traveler looking to step out of their comfort zone, but looking for a little familiarity (and English) along the way.

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There are plenty of things to consider when planning your vacation. Make sure you have all your bases covered by the time you buy your plane ticket!

Going on vacation is wonderful after months of stress and work. There's just one last hurdle before hopping on that plane: planning.

There can be an overwhelming number of things to consider when planning your vacation (COVID-19 not least), but putting them in an itemized list helps. Here's a quick cheat-sheet for you to get a jump-start on that.

Vacation VacationUniversity of Kentucky

Remember Your Budget

If you make a budget, which you definitely should, stick to it. Don't spend more than what you can afford when you start vacationing. Vacations are meant to be relaxing, so saddling yourself with debt will only dampen the fun of your trip. How much are you spending on living accommodations, food, activities, travel? How much are you setting aside in emergency funds in case something happens?

Plan for the Length of the Trip

Are you going out of town for a few months, or do you only have a week off? How much time you have can affect where you can go and how much you can enjoy it. If you only have a week and a half for a trip, then it's best not to go somewhere that's a 16-hour flight away. Half the trip is going to be spent on planes, and the other half will be spent being jet-lagged.

Trip length can also affect how you have to deal with your home while you're away. If you're away for long periods of time, do you need to hire people to cut your grass? Do you need to hire house sitters or babysitters? There are even things to know if you need to board your dog. Keep all these in mind for extended vacations.

Consider the Weather

You never want to ruin your vacation by heading somewhere beautiful in its offseason. Depending on the time of year, most activities could be canceled due to weather restrictions. Some places are ideal for winter trips, and other destinations are made to be enjoyed during the summer heat. Plan accordingly, and don't show up in a swimsuit when it's 50 degrees outside.

That rounds up the basics, but there are plenty more things to consider when planning your vacation. Give yourself wiggle room if any unique considerations pop up in your planning process.

There has never been a better time to learn a language than right now. While we can't really travel, we can still get ready to explore the world and other cultures through film, music, and food. But the key to all of this is language. It can be hard getting started on your own and so we found the perfect solution: Rosetta Stone.

We've been loving hunkering down and digging into Rosetta Stone, a language learning app with many different languages, the best lessons, and an affordable subscription. It's flexible and made to work for you, no matter what level you're starting at. Jump back into French without dusting off your highschool books or pick up Mandarin with a clean slate.

Thinking about Rosetta Stone for your language lessons? Here are the answers to your most pressing questions:

What languages do they offer?

With Rosetta Stone, you can choose from 25 different languages including Spanish, Arabic, and Japanese. When you get the Unlimited Languages subscription you gain access to all 25 and can switch between languages. While you may be intensely learning German, you can take a break and pick up some conversational Korean — all in one app.

What are the features?

What makes Rosetta Stone's lessons really work are the incredible learning features.

Phrasebook will teach you short, useful expressions that are sure to come in handy during your travels, letting you see the practical application of what you're learning. Seek & Speak brings the fun back into learning by having you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and taking photos of them to get the translated name. Even in an app, Rosetta Stone turns any environment into a classroom.

TruAccent is a speech engine within the program that provides instant feedback on your pronunciation so you know if you're on the right track. You'll grow more confident about speaking aloud and it's like having an accent coach in the room with you.

How long does it take every day?

Rosetta Stone's lessons are bite-sized, so all you need is 5 -10 minutes a day to sneak in some practice and work towards your language goals. Of course, you can do more if you want but there's no regimented schedule or pressure to speed ahead.

How does it compare to in-person classes?

With the Rosetta Stone app, your learning is within your control and designed to move at your pace. The app will tailor to your particular interests, strengths, and weaknesses! Plus, with the recent explosion of online classes, most people have fallen away from in-person instruction anyway.

Rosetta Stone brings you expert teaching, fun engaging lessons, and a multitude of language options all on-the-go. Take your classes whenever and wherever works best for you, conveniently on the app.

Is it suitable for all levels?

Absolutely. When you first start, the app allows you to choose a study plan based on your experience level. So, if you're a beginner you can start from scratch and those with some proficiency can advance to where they're comfortable.

How much does it cost?

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month and grants access to all 25 languages, cheaper than Netflix. You get an education at a great value and the best part is no ads while you learn!

We look forward to our Rosetta Stone lessons and highly recommend it to anyone eager to learn a new language or even brush up on an old one. This program makes learning fun, practical, convenient, and most importantly affordable.

Say bonjour, to the go-to language learning app and have the world right at your fingertips!

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!

Like so many out there I haven't been traveling. With everything going on these days I've been staying home, which I love, but it does have me itching to travel. The international section of Netflix just isn't satisfying my travel bug like it used to (trust me, if it's been recommended I've watched it).

I was looking for another way I could travel without leaving home so I did the rounds of take-out food: Chinese, German, Italian, and Mexican. This was fun and tasty but a pricey way to explore the world.

A friend of mine suggested taking a prepping approach to travel and try Rosetta Stone: a language learning program that offers an annual plan with access to 24+ languages.

I've always wanted to learn a new language but have had trouble committing. I was a bit wary about starting Rosetta Stone but ultimately decided to give it a shot.

The Unlimited Languages plan works out to be $7.99 a month for 12 months (what a deal). While I was determined to learn Spanish in anticipation of my dream trip to Spain, this plan allows me to switch to any of the other 24+ languages.

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I ended up pulling back and doing 10-minute lessons a day. This was manageable and easy to incorporate into my schedule whether it was by doing a lesson over my morning coffee or winding down right before bed. Learning in bite-sized amounts helped me digest the information and really process what I was being taught.

After a couple of weeks, I was getting really comfortable with Rosetta Stone and was actually enjoying the learning process… even though I wasn't a big fan of language when I was in school. What really set this experience apart for me was the Phrasebook and Seek & SpeakⓇ features.

Phrasebook teaches short, useful expressions that I know will come in handy on my trip. Seek & SpeakⓇ definitely brought the fun back into learning for me, as it has you do a scavenger hunt for everyday household items and take photos of them. Once you do this it gives you a translation of each item (I've never enjoyed looking for cucumbers in my fridge before).

Watching so many telenovelas I knew how important the accent is (in any language) but difficult without an in-person instructor. Rosetta Stone realizes that too and uses TruAccentⓇ. The speech engine within the program gave me instant feedback so I knew that my pronunciation was on the right track and it made me more comfortable speaking aloud.

Rosetta Stone turned out to be a great choice for me. Now I'm daydreaming about traveling and feel like when the time comes I'll be ready to. I'm so confident in my learning that I've branched out and have done some lessons in Italian and French! I'm thinking, after Spain… maybe Rome and Paris? My destinations list is endless now!

Honestly, with Rosetta Stone, I feel more inspired than ever to travel and all this inspiration is happening right in my home. I can't wait to take what I've learned on the road but until then the preparation is still incredibly fun and useful.

Update: The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers: Up to 45% off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Language Access!