Category Archives: Pre-Departure Trip Planning

Five of the Best Long Distance Trails in the World

Hiking is not for everyone. In fact, not all athletes can survive the tough trails these adventurers have to go through on a daily basis. The combination of breathtaking sights and the uncertainty of traversing through unknown territories bring a sense of excitement and fulfillment that perhaps only hikers will ever learn to love.

If you are one of those who long for great adventure in the outdoors, then we dare you to take on the top 5 most perilous treks that will surely test your wits, patience, and endurance.

Photo courtesy of bixton via flickr.com

1. Tongariro Northern Circuit

North Island, New Zealand

The island of New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most majestic views and is high on the list of the most beautiful and equally dangerous hikes across the globe.

The Tongariro North Circuit is a world heritage site that lies on its northernmost tip. Crossing this great tail involves roughly 2 -3 nights and takes hikers across 35 kilometers of magnificent terrain. Filled with a perfect mix of ashen surroundings, the Tongariro Circuit is like going to another planet.  Set on the grounds of Mt. Ngaurube, doubling for Mt Doom in the famed LOTR movie franchise, a trek around this area will take you through glacial basins, volcanic beds, and smoldering jot craters.

2. Zion Narrows

Utah, United States

Recognized by the National Geographic of America as the 5th best destination for adventures in the country, a trip through Zion Narrows will take you through canyons and streams that abounds with a picturesque sandstone wall that towers over 3,500 feet.

Despite it’s curtain of majestic views, Zion Narrows is not for the faint of heart, as it can instantly turn from calm to treacherous in a matter of minutes. Flash floods are not new to this part of the state and have claimed the lives of some of the most adventurous hikers.

3. Annapurna Circuit

Nepal

Known for its lush landscape, the Annapurna Circuit’s snow capped peaks creates a perfect mantle of land for trekkers who are in search of new and refreshing exploits.

With an elevation of more than 17,740 feet, trailing through this mountain patch takes roughly 3 weeks, wherein you will pass through Buddhist temples, teahouses, and hot springs that have enamored hikers and tourists alike.

4. Inca Trail

Peru

All hikers dream of passing through the world famous Inca trail that offers some of the most captivating sceneries in South America.

Navigating through its elevated alpine terrain, trekkers can take in the sight of Incan ruins and the Peruvian mountains, but this 4 day hike can be full of surprises, which is why hikers only traverse through these lands fully prepared for the journey ahead.

5. Tiger Leaping Gorge

China

Situated along the historical Yangtze River and Jade Dragon mountains lays the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Dubbed one of the world’s deepest river canyons, circumnavigating this curvaceous 14 mile ravine is both challenging and rewarding.

Together, these 5 ultimate hiking destinations make up some of the best that Mother Nature has to offer, and while trekking through these paths present risks and danger, the unique experience and enjoyment they offer makes all the effort worth it.

 

Finding Cheap Air Fares to New Zealand

As a New Zealander who loves to travel finding cheap airfares away from my home country has been a topic of great interest to me for a very long time! Fortunately for those of us who live very far down-under the airfares are getting cheaper and cheaper as the air wars hot up.

Top Tips to Minimize Your New Zealand Flight Costs

  1. If you are touring the whole country consider flying into Auckland and out of Christchurch or vice versa – this avoids a whole lot of backtracking.
  2. As soon as you are sure of your dates make your flight bookings – this should get you the best prices. – 5-6 months seems to be the ideal time to find the best flights.
  3. Avoid school holidays in both Australia and New Zealand if at all possible – prices skyrocket.
  4. When flying short-haul flights which are popular with business travellers e.g. Wellington-Sydney or Wellington -Auckland, you will get cheaper flights on the weekends and mid-week and flights that arrive in the evening, the most expensive prices will be Monday morning and Friday afternoon.
  5. When flying holiday/vacation routes – you will find almost the opposite – more expensive over the weekends – cheaper flights on Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday.
  6. In general the long-haul RTW multi-continent tickets often include New Zealand – but they are expensive – they may be worthwhile if you want to fly the Pacific to the US as that is still an expensive route – otherwise you may save a lot of money, and get a lot more flexibility by buying budget airline’s point-to-point tickets along the way.
Wellington's New International Airport Terminal

Cheap Flights: to New Zealand from Asia

Traditionally the main routes to NZ from Asia have been ex Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok on the main Asian Airlines: Singapore Air, MAS and Thai respectively. In addition AirNZ flew some of the routes as well. These  planes still fly  – but the prices are high: NZ$1200-$1800 depending on the time of year.  With two regional cut-price carriers adding New Zealand to their range – these prices have practically halved.

Air Asia – Christchurch – Kuala Lumpur

Late last year AirAsia began flying ex Christchurch (yes Christchurch had an earthquake and no there is no issue at all with flying in and out of Christchurch and the airport was undamaged). Flights are ex-Christchurch to Kuala Lumpur – their main hub from where its pretty much possible to fly anywhere in Asia including Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and further afield to China and the Indian sub-continent.

JetStar – Auckland – Singapore

From today  JetStar (the budget version of Qantas)  is flying from Auckland to Singapore – with connection on to Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Macau. Headline rates are about the same as AirAsia – you will need to check your own travel dates to find the best deal.

Cheap Flights: Europe to New Zealand

AirAsia are offering not just cheap flights to Asia – but you can connect through to Kuala Lumpur,  to Paris and London Stansted as well with them.

Cheap Flights: Australia to New Zealand

The main carriers between Australia and NZ are Qantas, Air New Zealand, Pacific Blue (owned by Virgin) and Jetstar. The main connections are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch through to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne – other options include Cairns, Gold Coast, Adelaide and even non-stop to Perth.

This post is part of Blog4NZ, a three-day travel writing blitz, designed to let the world know that New Zealand is open for business after the earthquake which struck the country one month ago.

Follow the hastag #Blog4NZ on twitter, check out the  facebook page, and meet the people behind #Blog4NZ.

Australia and New Zealand Airfares: Cheap Flights between them

I was just asked to do the travel agent thing again for a friend so I thought I would add a quick run-down on the local cheap flights scene in Australia / New Zealand. With only limited operators in the market I usually just go direct to the companies websites and compare prices. I find the large international sites just don’t seem to get the Australian/NZ airfares right! I’ve listed the 3 main airlines at the end of this post.

Flights from New Zealand to East Coast Australia

On the trans-Tasman route between East Coast Australian and New Zealand the these are the main airports, which will give you the cheapest airfares and the best choice of flights:

  • Auckland
  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Brisbane
  • Sydney
  • Melbourne

The price of tickets are usually identical, or close, to for any flight from NZ to any of these Australian cities – you may save some backtracking by entering one city and leaving from another. There is now rarely cheaper to buy a return ticket rather than 2 one-way tickets.

Flight time is between 3 and 4 hours depending on flight direction and wind speed and route.

Of the 3 NZ centres Wellington has the least number of flight options because the size of its runway limits the size of jets that can land.

Additional taxes are significant but airlines are now forced to disclose these. Sydney has the highest taxes of the Australian Eastern cities. All Australian taxes are included in the final ticket price.

There is a NZ airport departure tax which is either $25 or $30 per adult, depending on departure airport. This tax is never included in airfares and has to be paid at the airport on departure (cash/debit/credit cards) and a sticker issued. If you purchase a ticket through a New Zealand agent they may include the tax and you should then get the departure tax sticker on your ticket.

Flights: New Zealand to elsewhere in Australia

There are direct flights to Cairns, Far North Queensland mainly from Auckland – it will be more expensive flight because it is a significantly longer flight from New Zealand but it is the perfect start to a trip down the east coast of Australia.

In addition to the routes listed above Air NZ fly direct to Adelaide and Perth ex-Auckland. In general you will get a better price combining international and domestic flights to reach other destinations including: Darwin, Alice Springs and Hobart.

Qantas offer direct flights into the snow capital of the South Island, Queenstown, from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Flying East from Australasia

If you are flying to/from North America you can often add New Zealand as a stop-over on the way to/from Australia. If you do this with Qantas or AirNZ you may have the option to change your second leg to ex-Christchurch if you arrive in Auckland or vice versa. Other airlines probably won’t have this option.
There are limited flights from Australia/New Zealand to South America. Qantas flys ex-Auckland to Papeete, Tahiti and then onto Santiago, Chile. In addition in Papeete you can connect to LAN-Chile’s flight via Easter Island and subsequently onto Santiago. This is not a cheap route and can be difficult to get a booking on but it’s certainly a more interesting and direct connection from Australia to South America.

Air New Zealand (AirNZ)

New Zealand’s national carrier is a Star Alliance member so airpoints can be shared with other airlines including United, Thai Airways, Luthansa and Singapore Air.

International flights include a full meal service with wine/beer/spirits with meals. Only limited audiovisual entertainment – no seat back TVs.

Qantas

Australia’s national carrier is a OneWorld member so airpoints can be shared with other airlines including American Airlines, BA, and Cathay Pacific.

International flights include a full meal service with wine/beer/spirits with meals. Only limited audiovisual entertainment – no seat back TVs.

Virgin Blue /Pacific Blue

Local subsidiaries of Virgin fly internationally and domestically in the two countries. Brisbane is their hub for New Zealand flights meaning that sometimes you will be flying a number of extra legs – meaning that they are not always the cheapest option. They do not offer free food, drink or entertainment in-flight so you should also factor the cost of these to your flight.

Booking a Flight Online

  1. Prices will probably appear in NZ$ or A$ – do not assume US$ ! Use a currency converter site e.g. XE.com to translate.
  2. Remember your cheapest option may be a combination of airlines -there is no obligation to fly more than one leg with the same airline.
  3. Make sure you allow 2-3 hours, varies by airport/airline, between connections.
  4. Make sure that you are comparing prices including taxes – you may have to click a “make booking” button to see this price, don’t be concerned that you will accidentally make a booking – this won’t happen until you provide your credit card details.
  5. Remember you are using the 24 hr clock 12:20 is lunchtime 00:20 is very early in the morning. There is a 2 or 3 hour time difference between NZ and east coast Australia – all arrival /departure times are local – that’s why they look inconsistent.
  6. You will need to check in 2 hours early for international departures – even those leaving at 6:00am!
  7. When you have found the flights you are happy with double check everything:
    • arrival/departure time/day
    • cities
    • spelling of passengers names – the names must EXACTLY match your passports or you will be refused boarding.
    • you will be given a booking number at the completion of the booking which is worth noting. It is not absolutely necessary to print out the E-Ticket to take but it’s handy to have to remind you of your bookings!

Snowbirds and Grey Nomads

There have always been migratory birds and animals but with the increase in wealth and age, the migratory instinct has extended to include the baby boomers. The “me generation” have asked “do we have to put up with long cold winters now the kids have left home and we have retired” and answer is a resounding “we don’t”!
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The temporary migrants go by different names in different countries: the “Snow Birds” in north America as those Canadians and Americans from the northern states who migrate south to escape their tough winters, heading towards the so-called sunbelt states or Mexico. In Australia natives of Victoria and other southern states, brush off their RV or caravan, becoming “Grey Nomads” and head north to the tropical areas of Queensland, Northern Territory and Northern Western Australia.

In order to keep costs down a lot of these temporary migrants will often travel in their own motor home or caravan. This is particularly popular in Australia and the US where nomads can camp for free or very little in many places including beautiful National Parks.
The other sub-group of nomads will hop on a flight to a warmer and typically cheaper nearby countries. Favorites for north Americans include Mexico and Costa Rica, while Australians wanted to leave the country have a lot of choice in South East Asia including Bali and Thailand.

The scary thing is that a lot of the younger generation are looking at these fit seniors heading off to the sun and thinking – why not me… but that’s the next post!

For more information check out these links:
The Secret Life of a Snowbird: An Inside Look at Retirement in America’s Sunbelt

RV Education 101

Live or Retire in Mexico a Practical Detailed Guide

Interstate (US) Rest Area Guide and Walmart Directory

Hobbies and Travel

One of the things I find different when I travel long term is that long with slowing down the actual rate of travel I need to do something creative. Although I take photos and write a journal I miss doing a craft with my hands. When I first started travelling my crafts of choice were knitting and crochet. I found the wool too bulky to carry around, and you have to buy all the wool at the same time so I couldn’t buy as I went. I then discovered cross stitch embroidery and was hooked.
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Compact, easy to carry, and the silks are numbered on an international system which means you can buy them in any Western country – handy, although they don’t take much space to carry. My one and only purchase at Harrods, London’s famous department store, was another skein of colour for my current cross stitch!

In fact your hobby can be incorporated in your travels in other ways: lots of people take a class to learn a new skill or enhance a new one: cooking classes in Asia or Italy, language classes, dance classes, the list is endless. We met a group of English women on a small Greek island siting at an outdoor cafe making lace. They were on an organised tour and found it great because all the locals were fascinated and came up and talked to them.

I remember extending my stay at cheap hotel in Sumatra because although the hotel was new and under-furnished it turned out to have perfect acoustics for a a fellow traveller who was a talented classical guitarist – free concerts every night – I don’t think that guy had to pay for his room all week, the owner figured out he was attracting other people to eat and drink in-house at night!

The ultimate travelling hobby though which can also make you money is being a hairdresser -everywhere in the world travelers will pay $5 for a cheap, convenient hair cut at the hotel – pack your scissors hairdressers -just not in your carry on!

The perfect home for travellers

Not every trip is a long one, but even going away for a few weeks over Christmas can cause issues as to how to secure your home.

I have come up with the ideal list of “lock and forget” housing for the frequent traveler.

  1. Decent neighbourhood – it helps not to be concerned about gang warfare breaking out while you are away, help to keep your insurance premiums down.
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  1. Right insurance company – make sure you know how long you can leave your house unoccupied for before you notify them to avoid them voiding your policy.
  2. Non-existent or low-maintenance gardening. I must admit gardening isn’t my thing, but unkempt grass is a not only a fire-hazard in some climates but an advertisement that the house is unlived in
  3. Secure large letter box. Even if you hold or divert your mail you are likely still to get local newspapers and junk mail appearing regularly.
  4. Neighbours who don’t travel, or not as much as you, are handy too, they can keep and eye on your place, clear the mail, park their car in your drive etc.
  5. A house in a live on a cul-de-sac or deaden road. The neighbours will know who belongs and who doesn’t and it seems to enhance security greatly.
  6. Don’t have lots of pots and planters. These dry out very quickly. Move them out into the rain, or group them and get them covered by your irrigation system. Or get a neighbour to water them.
  7. Indoor plants survive a few weeks if placed in a bath with an inch or two of water in it. They need to be getting natural light at the same time too.
  8. Ideally an apartment or flat in a block will solve a lot of issues for you. The supervisor or management company can probably manage your mail, the grounds are maintained and the flat is secure.
  9. Alternatively a townhouse in a small group will give you similar security and you are more likely to know your neighbours.
  10. Friendly climate – a climate with long periods of sub-freezing temperatures present a whole lot of different issues to prevent both your car and your home freezing solid. A super hot climate is not quite as bad but your plants very well not survive.
  11. Secure garage for you car. If you don’t have one it might be worth it, and even cheaper on the taxi fares, if you park it at the long-term parking at the airport.

How to resign my job?

How do I resign questions on travel forums tend to encourage responses such as – just tellthe b.t..d’s what to do with the job! In fact for most people, particularly those in a professional job, it’s difficult to resign. Resigning is telling the world “I’m taking the road less traveled”. I’m leaving and I don’t have a job to go to. Its the moment of no return and you are informed the group of people least likely to understand your motivation – your colleagues and bosses!

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How to actually resign – the actual answer is of course professionally:

  • try asking for unpaid leave or a sabbatical first. Even if you know the company doesn’t normally allow this it means that you have given them every option to retain you. If you subsequently resign they cannot pretend to be surprised!
  • try to give as much notice as possible; if you know it will be hard for you to be replaced this is particularly difficult, it may give your employer a chance for you to help train your replacement.
  • remember the person you are handing your resignation letter to may be your future referee, or you may even need a job back in the company when you return from your trip of a lifetime! Don’t burn your bridges.
  • explain that you are leaving for your reasons, not because you hate the company, the job or the people!
  • Don’t just drop an email to your supervisor. Ask for an interview, at a time that’s not really busy for him/her. Resign verbally and politely briefly explaining your future plans, the boss will probably be relieved that you haven’t been headhunted by the opposition. You will probably need to follow up the interview with a printed/signed resignation letter.

Make sure you get contact details of potential referees, you can never be sure when you particularly if its possible that you will end up working while traveling. Make sure you keep in contact when you’re traveling as a courtesy.

How to save for your big trip?

Having dreamed your big trip: how do you turn your dream into reality? Unfortunately the answer is often about cold hard cash, unfashionable I know but basically there is no substitute for being in a financial position where your outgoings are less their your income. If you are not in the position to be able to pay off your credit card from one month to the next its not really likely that you can abandon your paid employment for a number of months to have the wonderful RTW trip that you are dreaming off.

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I always remember being invited around to a friend’s home years ago when I was due to leave on a 6 month trip -she said that she really envied me the opportunity, I know we earned similar salaries, but the conversation occurred while we were seated on her gorgeous leather lounge suite which probably cost the same as 3 months travel in India I’m not saying there is anything wrong with nice furniture, a new car or a extensive wardrobe, its just those aren’t my priorities – which I guess is why I keep getting “lucky” with my travel plans! Continue reading How to save for your big trip?

Starting to Plan a RTW Trip

One of my most popular pages is my Travel FAQ which I think reflects people’s confusion as to where to start with all the information bombarding them when they start to plan an extended trip. The amount of information out there is just too over the too and although the Internet is great for research tool you can end up going down endless dead ends.

Step 1: Brainstorm where you want to go

I’d suggest that you don’t initially hit the big travel forums and the airline sites. Instead turn the computer off and get out a blank bit of paper and a pen (quaint eh!) Write down the places or countries that you’ve always wanted to see, think about the activities you’ve always wanted to do! Don’t worry about whether its possible, whether you can afford it on any other practical detail – just brainstorm your ideal places to go. You won’t be able to do it all but it gets you focussed on what you want to do – not what everyone else thinks you should do! If more than one of you are going on the trip – why not both do this exercise, separately and then compare notes – the overlap should be a good starting point, if there isn’t an overlap maybe you have some other discussions to have! Rank your lists to see what is more important than others.

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Step 2: Join the dots

So taking the list you created from step one – lets add the countries to it.

  • Taj Mahal (India)
  • Everest (Nepal)
  • St Peters, Rome (Italy)
  • Antarctica
  • Easter Island (Pacific)
  • New Zealand’s South Island
  • learn to cook Thai (Thailand)
  • Mandalay (Burma)
  • Timbucktoo (Mali)
  • Ayers Rock(Australia)

For the purposes of this exercise lets decide that you live in the UK.

To cover the above wish list we are looking at Europe-Africa-Indian Sub-continent- SE Asia-Australia-New Zealand-Easter Island-Chile-Antarctica-South America-UK

Where did South America come into it – well that’s the only way to get to land anywhere near Antarctica, actually South Georgia, is by cruise ships which depart southern Chile or Argentina. You happily go off to price this routing from your friendly travel agent, I hope you are sitting down because between the expensive Antarctica trip and including Africa and South America in a RTW airfare its not going to be cheap! You also discover that flying into Mali is a bit problematical and the only options most RTW airline tickets offer are via southern or western African countries.

Step 3: Check the weather!

Yes the weather can be a problem in some places of the world – for our itinerary:

  • Rajasthan best time to visit is considered December – February
  • Antarctica ships can only run in the southern hemisphere’s summer: December – February.
  • Australia’s deserts are best between season when its neither very hot or very cold – March – May would be good time to visit
  • You will only get views trekking in the Everest region from December to April avoiding the monsoon.

Step 4: Fit your budget to your destinations.

Is it important to see what you want regardless of the cost? Can you only afford the cheapest destinations? Or like most people are you somewhere in between?

Lets do some research on the prices involved on our wish list :

  • Antarctica – is going to be expensive – we have to go on an organised trip and the cruise is at least 10 days because of how far south we have to go.
  • Australia and New Zealand will be cheaper than Italy especially if we have £ to spend.
  • India and Thailand are very cheap destinations and great value for money too. You could stay in an ex-Maharajah’s Palace hotel for less than a 3 star hotel in Italy – that appeals! Burma is cheap too – a quick flight from Bangkok and train from Rangoon will get you to Mandalay.
  • Mali is going to be expensive because of the lack of tourist infra-structure.

Conclusion:

  • Drop Antarctica – it can be a once-in-a-lifetime trip some other time;
  • Drop Mali – it just seems too difficult and you have some safetly concerns too.
  • Drop Italy – its close enough to home to do another time

Step 5: Fit your time-frame to your Itinerary

Now how long do you have to do the trip – for this exercise lets assume you have 6 month’s leave of absence from your job and you have to be back home by August for a family wedding – so you are traveling February to July. The logical order of countries that you have left, flying east, or the reverse flying west, is:

  • Taj Mahal (India)
  • Everest (Nepal)
  • learn to cook Thai (Thailand)
  • Mandalay (Burma)
  • Ayers Rock(Australia)
  • New Zealand’s South Island
  • Easter Island (Pacific)

Unfortunately February is the ideal time to be in New Zealand as well as northern India – so you have a conflict! What to do – you are probably going to have to choose one. You realise too that you want to spend at least 1 month walking to Everest base camp, a month in India, 6 weeks in Burma and Thailand, and a month in New Zealand so that would only leave 6 weeks for Australia which seems too little – again you need to drop something!

The final itinerary – well that’s up to you – its the process which is important not the final result! Leave me a comment and let me know how you did with your itinerary? Was this post helpful?