Author: thecaptain

How to Survive Angry Customer Service Emails

How to Survive Angry Customer Service Emails

Running an eCommerce store can be great- flexible hours, low startup commitment, can be run from anywhere. The worst part? Hands down, dealing with customer service emails. I used to absolutely dread this, but wasn’t quite big enough to outsource it yet. The good news? The […]

Visa to live and work in France: application process for the spouse of a French citizen

Visa to live and work in France: application process for the spouse of a French citizen

This is my experience applying for a visa to live in France as the spouse of a French citizen. I realize this is a very “niche” topic, but for that reason I wasn’t able to find much information online to help me out when I […]

How to get to (and from) Montpellier, France – Trains, planes and… buses

How to get to (and from) Montpellier, France – Trains, planes and… buses

Montpellier, France is a wonderful place! Full of cobblestone streets, cafes, croissants, and almost too sunny for its own good, to me it’s a little slice of paradise.

But, being a small town, isn’t particularly well connected (no direct flights here from Canada, for sure!) so planning how to arrive and how to leave can be a bit confusing at first.

That’s also one of the reasons the town is worth visiting- when it comes to international travel, Montpellier is still a well-kept secret. Shhh!

If you’re planning to visit Montpellier during your next trip to Europe, wonderful! Here is some basic info to help you plan your trip:

How to get to Montpellier by Train:

Can be pricey if you need to travel on a particular day, but it’s the best way to get here from Paris (and most destinations within France). Try to book 1-2 months ahead for the best prices.

A direct train from Paris it’s only 3 hours because most of the trip is done at 300km/h. Cool experience, plus it’s easier to get to and from the train station than the airport.

Sometimes first class is only $5 more expensive than second class, there isn’t a huge difference in service but it’s quieter and there’s more room for your stuff. (For reference, 35EUR for Montpellier-Paris is a really good price, 50-60EUR is average)

How to get to Montpellier by Car:

Car rental can reasonable (say 35EUR/day- the prices on the site include the basic insurance) but gas and tolls can add up if you’re doing long distances between cities. This site is good for estimating road tolls and gas.

If you have a driver’s license written in French (from Quebec for example) I think you can drive here, but if it’s in English I think you’ll need either an international driver’s license or a translation.

Keep in mind almost all the cars have manual transmission.

How to get to Montpellier by plane:

Montpellier isn’t very well connected- the only cheap direct flights in the winter are to London (EasyJet) and Brussels (Ryanair). The prices are really low but if you need to check a bag it’s extra. We usually try to plan our luggage so we get one big checked bag for both of us.

If you’re not already in Europe, it’s probably easiest (and cheapest!) to fly into a bigger hub for your first stop and then taking a train, bus or low-cost flight to Montpellier. Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, and London are all great options.

If you’re trying to come to Montpellier directly without stopping anywhere else, check out flights into Marseille and a train to Montpellier (2 hours, 20-30EUR).

For example, Air Transat has cheap flights from Montreal to Marseille. For my last travel dates, that flight plus a train ticket was much cheaper and faster than any other connecting itinerary.

(If you’re flying Air Transat though… bring your own food. Trust me.)

How to get to Montpellier by Bus:

Barcelona is surprisingly close (350km)- there are lots of buses going there for as little at 11EUR (it takes 4-5 hours) or Rideshare for 20EUR or so per person

It’s worth the work!

So… lots of information, but hopefully it can help you flesh out an itinerary based on what you’re interested in seeing- the easiest places to get to and from here would be Paris, London, Brussels, or Barcelona, so if you’re interested in seeing any of those places it would be easiest to plan one before and one after Montpellier.

How to get around Montpellier:

When you’re here there is lots to see in the city by foot, but you can also rent a car for a day or two- there are lots of cute little towns, beaches, medieval walls, and more that are close but easiest to access by car.

There are also lots of little towns nearby that are accessible by train, like Nimes and Sète. The historic centers are within easy walking distance of the train station, so you won’t even need to take a bus or taxi- just good walking shoes. Enjoy!

Does working remotely make you more productive?

Does working remotely make you more productive?

It’s common knowledge that working from home is more efficient than working from the office, right? Yes. BUT. When you work remotely all the time, are you really more productive than working from an office? It depends. What do you mean by being more productive?* […]

What *NOT* to do when you buy an e-commerce site

What *NOT* to do when you buy an e-commerce site

I recently sold an e-commerce site I owned. The buyer had plenty of time to ask questions before the sale and was happy with the price. He didn’t even negotiate. The transfer included not just the site with all products + suppliers, but also the facebook […]

What is gate-checking a bag? And is it bad?

What is gate-checking a bag? And is it bad?

A few days ago I flew home from London with Easyjet. I was one of the last passengers to board, and was carrying a big backpack. An employee told me the flight was full and I would have to gate-check my bag.

At first I was annoyed because:

  1. I’m always annoyed in airports
  2. The bag would probably fit under the seat in front of me
  3. I would need to take a bunch of things out of my bag and carry them loose onto the plane (laptop, purse, book)

BUT I knew it was useless to argue with her (and she was probably tired and overworked and not super happy to be there either), so I let them gate-check my bag.

Wait, what is gate-checking?

It’s different than checking your bag the “regular” way, where you line up before security and drop off your bag with the airline.

Gate-checking is when your bag is checked from the gate, i.e. right before you board the plane.

It’s luggage you planned to carry on the plane (cabin baggage), that respects the airline’s size and weight limits, but that they would rather not have in the cabin because the overhead bins are already full.

Usually the airline decides for you and it’s not optional, but if you like it some airlines will agree to gate-check your bags if you ask, even when the flight isn’t full.

What types of bags need to be gate-checked?

If the airline is asking you to gate-check your bag, it’s usually because it won’t fit under the seat in front of you. Wheelie bags are the most common target, but any large bag is a candidate.

You could request to gate-check any bag, but it’s important keep electronics, valuables and travel documents with you.

Was I right to be annoyed?

When I left my bag in the designated spot (in the tunnel, just before stepping on the actual plane), I had visions of it being forgotten, squished, or somehow sent to the wrong city.

As soon as it was too late to turn back, I remembered an important document I left in there. “Goodbye, important document!” I thought.

When I got on the plane and found my seat, I felt vindicated because the under-seat space in front of me was enormous- it could have fit my bag easily.

BUT, even I change my mind sometimes 😛

When we got off the plane, we went straight to the immigration lineup (thank goodness I remembered to take my passport!).

It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it was a good 30 minutes of sardine-shuffle until it was my turn to get stamped and waved through.

(NB: I love French immigration officials, they are so fast because they don’t ask any questions at all. Hi. Stamp. Bye.)

I couldn’t quite remember if gate-checked bags are usually returned to you right after you get off the plane or at the baggage carousel with everyone else. I spent part of the 30 minutes wondering if I’d walked past my bag and lost it forever.

But then, after immigration was the baggage carousel, and I was happy to find my bag there.

So, was gate-checking your bag worth all this complaining?

No, it wasn’t. It was actually really convenient.

Having to lug my bag off the plane and through the immigration lineup would have been a hassle.

Gate-checked bags are the last to be loaded on the plane, which makes them the first unloaded from the plane, meaning you don’t need to wait forever at the baggage carousel.

Carrying my stuff “loose” wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be- I just stuffed everything in my laptop sleeve.

Mind. Changed. I might actually request to gate-check my bag next time!


When can you celebrate success?

When can you celebrate success?

As I was walking to work with my husband this morning, we had a conversation we have often. It always goes something like this: The Ambitious one: “I hope that X deal happens and Y deal happens and that Z project makes us $abc” The […]

How Much Money do I Need to Quit my Job and Travel?

How Much Money do I Need to Quit my Job and Travel?

A good friend asked us this lately, and I wrote up a whole Google Doc to answer his question. I tried to keep it brief, I swear! Then I thought this might help someone else, so here it is below. The context is that our friend […]

How do you plan a year of travel?

How do you plan a year of travel?

We planned to travel for a year, starting in June 2016. As it turns out, we’re still going! (with some stops along the way).

If you’re planning to travel long-term, how do you plan? How much should you plan? With lots of time comes a lot of options, so the choices can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas on where to start:

Step 1: Expectations and a very rough plan

So, you know you want to travel. You know roughly how long. You might have some ideas of what you want to do or see. Now is a good time to get together with your travel companions and set some broad expectations for the trip.
What are your must-do, bucket-list items?
What is your ideal comfort level?
What is your ballpark budget?
Any other constraints or requirements? (work, wifi, visas, residency, health care, etc).

With the info above, start making a rough list of countries you might want to visit, and highlight activities you absolutely want to do there.

Step 2: Monthly plan and rough budget

Now that you have your wish-list, it’s time to start working out how realistic the plan will be given your time and budget constraints. Sure, a year is a really long time- but the world is a big place, and once you start planning you might realize you’d rather focus on just a few areas to have more time to relax and explore.

At this stage, I made a quick spreadsheet, starting with country, # of days, and daily budget per person.

See my other budgeting posts for more details on daily budgets, but for now it’s safe to say [accomodation cost] x 2 = daily budget. Use Airbnb or Hostelworld to find rough accommodation costs for each city or country you plan to visit.

In my spreadsheet, I also add lines for insurance, transportation, special activities (scuba diving, mountain climbing, jumping out of an airplane….) and any extra costs you might have while you’re gone, like rent, gifts for your cat-sitter, or a storage space.

I divide transportation into 2 categories:

  • one called “big flights”, say when I fly between continents and know the flight will cost several hundred dollars
    • I estimate the cost for these using Google Flights or Skyscanner and adding 30-50% as a buffer
  • one called “inter-city transit”, which is for trains, buses or cheaper flights between cities and countries.
    • I make a monthly budget for this, say $200 per month. This cost will vary depending on how often you change cities and how/where you travel. Try to imagine a slow-paced month in one of the cheaper countries you’ll visit, and then a fast-paced month in one of the more expensive countries you’ll visit, and work out an average based on those two scenarios.

Step 3: Sanity check

Now that you have a rough plan and started working out where you’ll go and how much it will cost, I wouldn’t be surprised if you have sticker shock. That’s ok! I did the first time too!

Chances are, you’re realizing one or more of these things:

  • it’s a lot more expensive than I thought
  • if we see and do everything on my list, we’ll be packing up and changing cities every few days
  • one-way flights cost a fortune
  • a week in Paris can cost more than a month in Bali

So, it’s time to think back to your priorities for the trip. In our case, what we originally planned as a round-the-world trip turned into two round-trip tickets ($2000 in airfare instead of $5000+). We decided to skip some more expensive, far-away destinations (Australia, Hawaii) in order to spend more time in more exotic destinations grouped closer together. (Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia)

At this stage, you might feel some FOMO, but rest assured: we were really happy with our decision to cut out some destinations that were beyond our reach for this trip.

The world is a big place, the more you visit the more you realize you still need to see.

There will always be more places on your to-visit list, and that’s a great excuse to plan future trips! (We’re planning our visit to Australia and Hawaii now…)

Step 4: Turning dreams into action

This is where it all gets real.
You set a budget goal and start saving for it.
You set a departure date.
You start planning which cities you want to see, and which foods you want to eat.
You start (keep) drooling over travel blogs on the internet.

Step 5: Bookings!

As your trip gets closer, it starts becoming real. You have your rough plan, but should you book everything in advance? That depends on you.

Once you’re sure you’ll be leaving and which dates, I would book the biggest flights and your accommodation in the first destination, and anything else you need in order to get any visas you’ll need before you go.

Beyond that, it’s really up to you. I would also book major events like a festival or a multi-day trek that you really want to do, or flights for meetups with friends who have fixed vacation dates. If you’re travelling somewhere during peak season, I would book that ahead (Christian countries around Easter, Europe in July or August, Southern Spain during Easter…).

Beyond that, for a long-term trip I like to book accommodation and transit 1-2 cities ahead of time and leave the rest open to change.

Step 6: Drop everything…

You never know who you’ll meet, or when a friend will tell you about their last-minute vacation. Maybe you’ll love a particular city and want to stay, or hear about a great beach town nearby and decide to leave early.

We made plenty of changes to our original plan, and just made them work within our original budget. Swap one city for another, if you spend a few extra days in an expensive place you can extend your stay in the cheaper place next week…

A French couple we met diving told us about this remote island they had visited in Palawan… next thing we know, we’re in a ten-passenger plane headed to Coron… it was one of the most spectacular places we visited!

Just because our plan changed, doesn’t mean it was useless to have a plan in the first place! In fact, it’s the opposite- because we knew exactly what we had available, we were able to make changes without ending up broke and confused 😀

The best part of travel is the unexpected!

When to Buy Cheap Things vs When to Buy Expensive Things

When to Buy Cheap Things vs When to Buy Expensive Things

This is something I think about a lot. Sometimes buying something cheap means you’re spending less money, which overall is a good thing. You can’t buy “expensive” everything- with no limits, unless you’re Jay Z you’d eventually run out of money. Other times, investing in […]