Budget travel: Austria


So as I mentioned in the post where I announced that I was going to Austria, I intended to travel my way through 3 Austrian cities on a budget.

Maybe you’re one of the those who wouldn’t think Austria or Europe and “budget travel” could belong in the same sentence. I certainly thought too that wasn’t possible until I made the trip myself, on a shoestring budget. Here’s what I did to enjoy Austria without breaking the bank.

1. Plan ahead – starting with your international flight from your city of origin to Vienna (or to any point in Austria)

I’ve always wanted to go to Austria since forever and this will be our little secret: I have played a lot on the Expedia app on my phone, entering probable dates, searching when it’s cheaper to go. And after a few trials, I kind of know which dates are relatively cheap. But the basic rule is this: never fly on peak season or holidays. Sad reality, I know for corporate slaves like me who rely on holidays to travel.

However,I found a reasonable ticket around the Eid Al Adha holidays a month before, I swear that was the ultimate sign that I should go. I immediately bought it. It was direct flight via Emirates! I immediately bought it and found out after a few days that the price has doubled (as the holidays neared).


  • Plane fares fluctuate a lot and they do get more expensive as the date of flight nears so better lock it in early when you find something reasonable (and within your allocated budget).

So yeah, install that Expedia app and play around with the dates beforehand!

2. Use the Tourist Cards

I was in Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck and the city cards really helped me a lot. All 3 regional cards will give you unlimited access to public transportation. Except for the Vienna card that offer only discounts for entrance to museums and other attractions, the Salzburg and Innsbruck cards offer free. The cards can be bought online or at the Tourist offices in each of the cities.


Here’s a detailed post about each of the cards and my experience using it: The Austrian tourist cards, are they worth it?

3. Book train tickets in advance

I needed long distance tickets from Vienna to Salzburg, Salzburg to Innsbruck and Innsbruck back to Vienna and if you are planning to visit other places in Austria, what better way to explore this beautiful country than using the railway that travels through stunning mountain scenery, lush alpine meadows, historic towns and picturesque villages.


The train journey from Innsbruck to Vienna was about 4 hours and while it’s tempting to sleep, how can you sleep with this view outside?


The Austrian Federal Railways (Österreichische Bundesbahnen or ÖBB) site is very easy to use and you can purchase tickets online way before you travel. Example, if I am to travel from Vienna to Innsbruck (a must visit in Austria, by the way!) and booking a train ticket a week before my travel, the prices will be like this for date of travel: October 14, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015

Vienna to Innsbruck 1 week early booking


  • The train ticket price for long distance train travel within Austria varies depending on the time. Same distance, different time means different prices.
  • If you are travelling on a budget, play around with the time in the OBB site so you can choose a more affordable one and adjust your itinerary accordingly.

However, if I would be travelling from Vienna to Innsbruck TOMORROW and book/purchase my ticket TODAY, these would be the price options for me for date of travel: October 7, 2015, Date of booking/purchasing ticket: October 6, 2015. Bye bye cheap ticket!!

Vienna to Innsbruck near date booking


  • Everything is expensive when you purchase train tickets near your travel date!

So, when you book early, you have the option of choosing the cheaper ticket called SparSchiene Österreich.


This type of ticket has limited allocation restricted to a specific train, no exchange, no refund, no cancellation so be sure to plan your itinerary well and stick to your time plan because the discounted tickets cannot be refunded, changed or reimbursed.



I bought this type of ticket and the train compartment was decent, clean and safe. No problems, whatsoever.

BONUS TIP (Travelling from airport to city center):

Unless you are in a hurry, I would suggest traveling to the city center from the airport by normal train. I used the City Airport Train (CAT) from Vienna International Airport to Wien Mitte Landstrasse because my flight arrived at night and didn’t want to wander around too late in the city I am not familiar with yet. It only takes 16 minutes for the CAT to reach the city center. For normal train, around 30 minutes. However, the CAT costs 11 euros while the normal train is only 4.40 Euros.

4. Choose cheap hotels

Real talk: You would likely to spend most of your time exploring the city and will only use the hotel for sleeping. Instead of staying in luxurious and expensive hotels (nothing wrong if it fits your budget!), you could use the money to buy some local food fares or souvenirs to take back home.

The good news is that there are still a lot of cheaper accommodation options in Austria like hostels, AirBnB or basic hotels.

There were cheaper hotel options in Vienna but I chose a hotel with convenient metro access for my accommodation in Vienna because I was arriving late and did not want to get lost in a city I do not know yet. I stayed at Motel One Wien Hauptbahnhof as it was literally just a stone’s throw away from Wien Hauptbahnhof station. The hotel was new, modern and clean. Very basic though but comfortable enough for sleeping. They had a good breakfast spread too.

Church in Salzburg

My accommodation in Salzburg was pretty reasonable too. I stayed in a church guest house Gastehaus im Priestseminar. It’s not too near the main train station and I had to take a bus but I know that Salzburg was smaller and less complicated than Vienna so I took the chance. The bus stop was just right outside the station and the church was a short walk from the bus stop. It’s also only 5 minutes away from Mirabell Palace and Gardens so location is not bad! More detailed review in another post.


I also considered booking Salzburgrooms and Hotel Garni Evido for the cheap price as well as proximity to the main train station Salzburg Hauptbahnhof.

From this trip, I learned that there are affordable hotels near the Old Town: Altstadthotel Wiesse Taube. It’s a great base as most of the attractions in Salzburg are around the Old Town.

Booking your Vienna and Salzburg accommodations through the above affiliate links will cost you nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!

5. No fancy dining and drinking

For food, you can find inexpensive fare at snack bars all over town that sell pizza, Turkish sandwiches known as “kebaps” and other quick bites. The most popular, called “wurstelstands,” sell Austrian sausages and hot dogs.


Restaurants in the busy central area of Vienna can be expensive, but you can save on eating out by having your main meal at lunchtime. I had my lunch at Naschmarkt, an open air market with many restaurants offer a cheaper mittagsmenü, where you can get a two- or three- course meal from a set menu for under €10.


And if you’re self-catering there are also several Spar supermarkets in the city centre or at train stations.

When I was staying at hotels in Vienna and Salzburg, I chose hotels that offer breakfast. Then for lunch, I buy a sandwich and water from a deli or Spar to power me through all the walking I made.  At night, I had very light meal of yoghurt, some fruit and bread again because I am too tired to even eat! (Don’t worry mom, I took my vitamin supplements with me on trips…)

TIP: Never buy water at attractions but buy them at Spar convenient stores at the train stations (0.60 Euros compared to 2 Euros or more at museum stores).

Train ride in Sri Lanka, to the mountains!

Sri Lanka airport

After our glorious five days at Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort in the paradise that is the Maldives, we were ready to go back to reality (I mean we really have to, at some point). You know, see people around who aren’t tourists in a small, secluded island, probably have some street food, get on a local bus and explore a city in the real world type of activities.

We landed in Sri Lanka with a renewed sense of adventure.

It is a totally different world. Not necessarily better or worse but different. And we love exploring and experiencing something different in our travels. Sri Lanka has always been on my travel bucket list because of its proximity to the UAE, cheaper airplane fares compared to say when we go to Japan or the Philippines and I heard the food is amazing and the people are friendly.

And it is very green. And even rains in July.

We’ve lived in the desert for almost 8 years now and the words “green” and “rain” always excites us.

(I will skip mentioning our first days in Colombo and jump to the part where we were crazy enough to take the challenge of taking Sri Lanka’s train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya (210 km south of Colombo) because I’ve read that this must be the most scenic train ride in whole of Sri Lanka.)

Train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya is located in the hill county south of the capital city of Colombo and accessible by public transport, by train for about 6 hours (approximately) from Colombo Fort Station to Nanu Oya Station in Nuwara Eliya.

VERY IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIP (and you will thank me for this!): Don’t eat or drink too much during this train ride if you are in the 2nd class or 3rd class carriage. I know it’s a looong journey but the toilets are dirty. And while I know many will not mind in case of emergency (I know I wouldn’t too), I personally did not want to use it, as much as possible. Ever. Until we reach our destination. (Thank me for not posting a photo!)

Anyway, there were a bunch of high school (?) kids in our carriage and instead of taking photos of what’s ahead, I turned my camera towards the back of the train and saw this young student taking photos with his iPhone (as most passengers did). When I blinked, he almost lost grip of the phone and it nearly fell off from the moving train!

Train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya

TRAVEL TIP: it might be very helpful to put something to strap your phone to your wrist during these kind of train rides. (I wonder how many phones/cameras have fallen in this route?)

Also what makes it dangerous for phones and cameras is that the train is really SHAKY. If you live in the Dubai and curse the Metro for the crowd during rush hours, I want you to stop complaining and think of the tracks. How smooth and perfect it is compared to the train in Sri Lanka. See for yourself and be thankful!


We opted to sit in the 2nd class seat because 1st class is too touristy and 3rd class is too local (not that we didn’t like that but with two young kids, we felt 2nd class was the safer and more comfortable choice).

What I’ve read is that you get better views in the 2nd class and it’s true. The views were breath-taking as was the very fresh and cool mountain air!

Note on the train classifications: 3rd class is very basic and gets very crowded, and it is not generally recommended for visitors. 2nd class seats are the recommended option on trains with no 1st class. A 1st class observation car is available on one or two of the daytime trains on the amazingly scenic route from Colombo to Kandy and Badulla. The observation car is normally at the rear of the train or occasionally behind the locomotive and has comfortable though slightly grubby armchairs facing a large window looking back along the track.

Train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya

Travel tip: You may actually prefer 2nd class as the opening windows in the non-A/C 2nd class cars are much better for photography and sightseeing. Plus, we wanted a break from the aircon environment in Dubai!

Train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya

The first few hours was fun. We loved the scenery as it was totally different from Dubai, most especially. Man, look at those trees and plants! And it’s different from Maldives as well. I’d like to think of it as something out of a scene from rural Philippines.

Train from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya

I suddenly missed my home town. The kids enjoyed the ride …well at least for a few hours!

kids in the train

Benjamin is into trains. No surprise, he is after all a boy.

Benjamin and dad

kids in the train

After a while, the little humans got bored, switching activities from drinking juices and Milo (you don’t know how hard I prayed he wouldn’t poo!!), to sleeping to swinging in my legs like a zonked out Koala bear.

in the train 1

I feel very lucky to be traveling with these kids. They love the simple joys on our travels. They don’t fuss or throw tantrums and patiently wait for each of our journey to end. And Benjamin didn’t poo!!

The ride seemed ENDLESS. I was also very tired already – I thought I’d be ok because I have internet data on my phone (life is good as long as you have internet, right?). I updated my social media channels whenever I had the chance (you follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, yes?) but there were places where there is no signal at all. I took a lot of photos through my phone and my SLR to while away the time but FIVE hours into the train ride, I think I stopped taking photos. And just wrote on my journal. But the train was really shaky I stopped doing that too.

Then we reached the peak of the mountain!

Nuwara Eliya

We were 1,464 meters above sea level. The world’s tallest building, The Burj Khalifa in Dubai stands at 828 meters so imagine THAT. We were higher than the top of Burj Khalifa!

The wind was getting colder as well. I never thought I’d say, “it’s cold” while in the tropical island of Sri Lanka! The view was magnificent from up there. Nuwara Eliya is the tea capital of Sri Lanka and sure enough, tea plantation fields are all around.

tea plantation

tea plantation

When the train pulled into one of the stations near our destination, we can see a group of passengers in warm clothing.

Nuwara Eliya

Fleece jacket.

Leather jacket.

Knitted caps.


Ladies in long, thick skirts.

We were in shorts. Flip flops and t-shirt. Thankfully, I always bring jackets for the children when we travel because the plane can get really cold so they used their jackets while my husband and I froze. It as about 10C when we arrive. In July! In Sri Lanka!!

That long stretch of train ride that lasted for SEVEN hours was a very unforgettable experience for all of us. I would highly recommend you do it if you have the chance to be in Sri Lanka although honestly, I don’t think I’d do it again! Maybe because my legs were just tired of Benjamin lying on it like that one in the video or maybe because I was really scared to use the washroom so I didn’t eat or drink much (DON’T JUDGE until you see the toilet, ok?).  Or maybe because I was really cold when we got off the train, haha! I am glad I took a lot of photos to remember that very beautiful place atop the mountain! I wanted to bottle up the fresh air and take back with me to Dubai.

How about you, where was your most unforgettable train ride?

Next up: A review of where we stayed in Nuwara Eliya, Jetwing St. Andrews Hotel.

Dubai Metro Green Line opens

Four years ago, the nearby street where I work looked like this:

and the workers, toiled day and night, braving the fierce Dubai summer during the day.

It was dust, noise, a lot of detours and traffic this past four years. But now, it is done. (Below photo taken September 12, 2011)

The construction of the elevated train rails in 2007/2008 was a sight I thought would stay forever.

Two years since the opening of the first train system in Dubai (the Dubai Metro Red Line) in September 9, 2009, the Green Line was inaugurated last Friday and was open to the public last Saturday, 10th September 2011. Of course, I had to get on it! There’s a Metro station near where we live – maybe a 15 minute walk away. Not ‘near’? I see it as a good morning exercise but not now, I’ll walk when the weather cools down! Luckily, there are buses going the stations so I used that.

Salahuddin Station is where I get down. I love how they painted it red – literally! Look!

A unique chandelier.

And something corded off – it’s beautiful.

Commuters are delighted with the opening of this new train line. I am happy that my commute to work time is only 10 minutes and I don’t have to drive (with a seat belt around my pregnant belly!) or wiggle through traffic anymore!

As the train pulled away, I thought: People who will come to Dubai from now on are so lucky. They don’t have to struggle with traffic, lack of buses, the crap public transport (even taxis were scarce), they won’t have to fight for a seat in the bus like what we have gone through in 2007 when we arrived.

I’ve written about those public transport nightmares before and cried and asked myself “What the hell am I doing here?” Those were dark times, dark times.

Anyway – here’s a short video of the train before it goes to its first underground station – Salahuddin Station in Deira:

When we arrived and Dubai was just starting to construct what would be the city’s solution to horrible public transport and heavy, choking traffic, we vowed we will not leave Dubai until we get on those trains!

I am glad we’re still here to witness and experience another milestone.