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

Choose Your Camper Van Rental Carefully

Traveling around the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand by camper van is becoming increasingly popular. We just spent three weeks driving 8,164 kilometers around Australia by camper van. I found that the company you select for your vehicle can really make or break your self-driving adventure. There are lots of companies in Australia that rent camper vans and what I failed to do was read some reviews on the company I selected. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have used the place we did. We rented from Hippie and received an Apollo camper van. Apollo is just one of several brands from the same company, including, Star, Cheapa Cheapa, Hippie and their manufacturing and sales brand Talvor. All of these companies have received more complaints than good reviews on web various sites except their own. It began with the whole process of picking up the camper. 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.

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Top dozen RTW travel planning resources

We have been planning our trip since 2003, and actively saving for it since 2006. Travel planning is equal parts fun and frustration. It’s exciting to make plans and to see a trip coming together, but it’s also a lot of work researching your destination, arranging transportation and lodging, and determining how long you’ll need in order to do everything you planned. You become a project manager, event coordinator, location scout, travel agent, and financial planner all at once. The last time I went on an extended trip overseas, I didn’t have a lot of the tools and web sites available today. Travel planning is a bit easier these days now that the Internet can provide so much information. Here are the 12 tools that I use extensively for our RTW trip planning.

Google Sheets

Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 9.30.03 PMSpreadsheets may be a bit antiquated, but there’s no quicker way for me to determine travel dates and keep all those destinations straight. If you have a lot of destinations, it can become tedious to keep track of where and when you’ll be somewhere. I originally set up an Excel spreadsheet with destinations, dates, approximate costs, and visa requirements back in 2003 and have updated it frequently. It became the basis of our savings goal. I recently transferred the spreadsheet to Google Docs and keep it updated online now. The format hasn’t changed much since I first created it. The dates are automatically calculated from the initial starting date. I enter the number of nights we plan to stay at a destination and the spreadsheet calculates the arrival dates for all the following destinations. It becomes a dynamic, ever-changing master document that is invaluable for advanced planning. Unlike other online tools, you can add or remove columns for whatever you want to track. Continue reading

Beware of discount Asian airlines

If you’ve searched for an airfare to or from a destination in Asia, I’m sure you’ve seen the low priced options from JetStar, AirAsia or one of those other discount airlines. If you’ve never actually booked a flight with one of these airlines, it sure looks like a great deal. However, if you’re used to all-inclusive fares (checked baggage exempted) like you get in the U.S., you’re in for a surprise. All the prices I mention are per person, and since there’s two of us, the costs double.

Compared to the next lowest fare at $150 with a competitor, the nearly half-priced $79 ticket to Jakarta from Bangkok on Jetstar looked like a great deal, so I went ahead and started the booking process. The first thing I noticed was that there are three tiers of service and the low priced fare was the bottom tier. This basic service included very little and had severe restrictions, such as non-refundable, change fees, and no baggage allowance. With a 7 kg. limit for carry-on, that didn’t allow us to carry much onboard. For $42 more, the next higher service tier still didn’t offer checked bags, but you do get to change your booking with no change fee. But for $289 more, you get the highest tier of service which has 20 kg. of checked luggage allowed, refundable tickets, no change fees and the ability to select a seat anywhere on the plane. 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