Driving in Oz: From Six Lanes to a Dirt Road

Driving a camper van around Australia is a great way to see more of the country, meet new friends and have a great road trip adventure. Once you choose the right camper van rental company, half the battle is done. Sheri did it before and really loved it. Of course, she wasn’t doing the driving and has a very different perspective. As a driver, I also thought it would be lots of fun, but I wasn’t fully prepared for all the challenges that I faced. Continue reading

Of Kiwis and other such New Zealand oddities

I’m sorry to report that Sheri and I didn’t see any kiwis in the wild…at least not of the bird variety. What we did see was gorgeous landscapes, much of which is quite unique to this part of the world. Throw in some movie sets, a few good hikes, a great road trip, and it’s easy to see why people want to live here. In retrospect, we should have spent more time here, but New Zealand is expensive and more time meant higher overall costs. The time we did spend here was already budget busting, but I think we saw and did quite a lot for what it cost us. I foresee another trip in the future to see all that we missed this time around.

Our New Zealand adventure was only 7 full days when you factor in the travel days. We only spent 2 full days on the North Island and 5 full days on the South Island. To see and do as much as possible, we decided to rent a car instead of relying on public transportation; more about driving later. Here’s what we did with the limited time we had. Continue reading

Our Preparation Timeline

Getting ready for a long-term trip, whether it be around the world or just a month abroad, requires quite a lot of advanced planning. Most people don’t realize how much advance planning is required to bring everything together at the right time. Heck, I didn’t know until I started.

As I look back on the last month before our departure, I realize that things didn’t go exactly as planned. Some things took much longer than anticipated and other things just didn’t get done and will have to be dealt with on the road. I think it would have been wonderful to have had some sort of timeline to help with my time management, but until I actually started working on the tasks, I didn’t know how long things would take. And I couldn’t find that sort of information on the Internet since everyone’s situation is different.

Here’s the timeline based on our hindsight that I wish I would have had, outlining what we needed to do and when. It might be helpful in planning your own journey. Continue reading

Destinations chosen – Updated

 

After a lot of research, I have come up with the countries we intend to visit during our around-the-world trip. After looking at the list, you may notice some obvious omissions to our list. Some places we have previously visited, such as China and Egypt, aren’t included in this trip, some are war zones or politically unstable, such as Pakistan and Mali, and a few, such as Japan and Antarctica, are just too expensive for us to include this time.

5 Continents, 61 Countries, 15 Months

We have included 62 countries we plan to visit. This list may change and will most likely get smaller as we whittle down the number due to lengthy travel times. I figure that, in the end, we’ll actually end up truly visiting about 4o countries and passing through about a dozen others. They will be visited somewhat in this order, but that too may change. The countries include: New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, UAE, Madagascar, Seychelles, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. Continue reading

Travel Planning Challenges: Madagascar

Remote, out-of-way, and hard to reach, Madagascar is quite a challenge for travel planning.

It’s Sheri’s desire to visit this unique home to lemurs and other exotic creatures, so I did a lot of research to find a way to make it happen. In the process, I came upon some interesting hurdles while trying to make flight arrangements for our trip to this large island in the Indian Ocean. Just like the characters in the animated film with the same name found out, it may be harder to get off the island than it is to get there.

Antananarivo (TNR) is the destination airport for international flights to Madagascar. Most flights connect through Paris (CDG), Nairobi (NBO), Johannesburg (JNB), or Seychelles (SEZ). Surprisingly, it’s easier to get a flight to one of the small islands surrounding Madagascar, such as Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, and Réunion. And sometimes, it’s even cheaper.

Continue reading

Join Us to Explore Tibet, Bhutan & Nepal

If you’ve ever wanted to visit Tibet, Bhutan or Nepal, here’s your chance. We are organizing a trip of a lifetime and we’re inviting you to join us as we explore this fascinating area. The tour is 16 days from April 5, 2016 to April 20, 2016 and is timed to coincide with the Rhododendron Festival in Thimphu, Bhutan from April 18 to 20.

Monks headed to morning rituals in Lhasa.

Monks headed to morning rituals in Lhasa.

You can join us for the entire tour, just Tibet, or just Bhutan. You can also extend your trip on either end with a tour of Beijing, extra days in Shanghai, or a tour of other areas of Nepal. Our plan is to arrive in Shanghai a couple of days prior to the train departure to see the city. Flights are available from Shanghai or Beijing to Lhasa, but we recommend the train to see some of the spectacular scenery along the way and for additional time to gradually acclimate to the altitude. The train is also about half the cost of a flight.

We are using a very reputable Nepal-based tour company that I have used before. I’ve been negotiating with them and have managed to get the cost down substantially from my first estimate. The current estimated cost of this entire tour is about US$159/day/person or US$2,550 per person for the entire land portion only based on double occupancy. Your final cost will depend on how many people we will have, how much of the itinerary you include, and any extensions you might make. You’ll also need to arrange the follow transportation:

  • Shanghai to Lhasa train trip, about US$250/person
  • Roundtrip air to Paro, Bhutan, about US$450/person
  • Open-jawed airfare from your U.S. city to Shanghai or Beijing and from Kathmandu back to the U.S., about US$1,500/person.

Our tour company may be able to help with the train and flight to Paro. If you can use award travel for the airfare, now would be a good time to use it. The entire trip paid without using award mileage, will be about US$4930/person, including your Chinese and Nepali visa, not including incidentals and tips. If you’re interested in joining us, check out our itinerary and get in touch with us soon, as we need to finalize our arrangements. Continue reading

Tibet: Closed!

closedImagine my surprise when the tour company sent me an email where the first sentence began with, “Tibet is closed…” My first thought was scam, but I decided to do a little research and to my relief and disbelief, Tibet is indeed closed to foreign travelers EVERY year for the months of February and March. Really. This closure isn’t advertised, nor can you find it on any official websites. In fact, if you call and talk with someone at the Tibet Tourism Bureau, they’ll tell you that Tibet has never been closed to visitors.

A little background: The closure is a result of civil unrest that occurred in March 2008 when certain sensitive anniversaries are recognized. Specifically, Tibet Uprising Day occurs on March 10th to commemorate the armed uprising that occurred in March 1959. The uprising resulted in a violent crackdown in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama fleeing to India on March 30, 1959, where he has been in exile ever since. Because of these anniversaries, the Chinese government closes Tibet and I’m sure the official reason is for public safety. However, I suspect the government is also trying to give Tibetans less of an audience by keeping out anyone with a camera. Continue reading

Around-the-world (RTW) award fares, and why they may not work for you.

This is a really long post, so if you just want the summary, jump directly to TL; DR.

I spent nearly two weeks planning our route, figuring out dates and determining how long we plan to stay abroad, but one call to United Airlines and everything changed. The call to United Airline deserves a post all to itself, but the short story is: we called three times, and by our third call, we finally knew the questions to ask and got someone on the line who knew what she was doing. After just a few minutes, it was obvious that we needed to do more planning after hearing the restrictions on the RTW fare. Restrictions that are not clearly posted on their website.

RTW Rules and Regs

There are a myriad of rules for the RTW airfare. One of the rules is that our direction of travel must remain in one general direction, east or west. The airline divides the world into three regions for the RTW fare: Americas, Europe/Africa/Middle East, and Asia/Oceania. We must start and end in the same country. We can cross into each region only once. The crossing between regions cannot be via a surface route, i.e., we must travel between regions by air. We can travel in any direction within the regions. We cannot go through our starting country on the way to another one. We are limited to 16 segments, 15 stopovers, and 39,000 total miles. Segments using surface transport count as one segment even though we’re not flying, which seems unfair. Separate legs of a flight—connecting flights—count as multiple segments. Stopovers are any place we stay more than 24 hours. We are limited to 5 legs that use surface transportation. All travel must be completed in one year.

This all sounds fairly straightforward until you get on the phone with someone from United. Then you find out the rules are a bit different for award travel and all your best laid plans turn to, well, you know what. With over 430,000 airline award miles saved in preparation for this trip, what we didn’t count on was that the RTW award fare was damn near impossible to use for a long trip. Continue reading