Tag: Travel Tips

Travel tips 16 – Choosing the right mode of travel

Travel tips 16 – Choosing the right mode of travel

A feature of our gap year has been the wide range of travel. There’s the flights of course, most on our round-the-world tickets, and others added, liked the ones in Australia, to reduce the domestic miles. But also: trains, ferries, hired vehicles, and long-distance buses.

For our journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, we went by bus – rather than flying – as we wanted to stop-off at the port city of Melaka. It was a drizzly 8am departure from Orchard Road and we crossed the Tuas border causeway about an hour later. For the three hour journey through Malaysia, sitting in the front seats upstairs, we had a perfect view of all the palm plantations.

Crossing the border from Singapore into Malaysia

So here are some thoughts about choosing the right mode of travel for any particular section of your gap year…..

  • To save time covering long distances there’s no alternative to additional flights. We used Expedia.com to find the cheapest options from north to south Chile, around Australia and to travel from Hong Kong to Bali. Remember, to check-in your baggage on these low-cost routes will often cost extra, but with both our backpacks well under 10kg, it wasn’t too bad.
  • The use of trains depends very much on the country. In China and Japan they are fast, incredibly efficient and great value for money; in Japan don’t forget to buy in advance the railway tourist pass. But most countries we travelled through, including incredibly the USA, simply didn’t have a railway system that’s fit for purpose.
  • Often luxury coaches rather than old-fashioned bone-shakers, buses are the best option in South America and much of south east Asia, especially if you want to get a feel of the landscape. Given limited seats on many routes, we found it best to book our bus out as soon as we arrived in any town.
  • Use hire cars when public transport is limited and there’s much to visit out of town. For instance, in the USA and Hawaii there really wasn’t any alternative to hiring a car. Explore one-way routings, check insurance issues carefully, make sure it includes collision damage waiver, and of course in Australia enjoy the camper van experience. But do recognise, the downside of all the convenience and mobility of a car is feeling cut off from the locals.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 15 – Sending postcards

Travel Tips 15 – Sending postcards

We’ve been staying in touch with family and friends using a combination of Facebook, FaceTime, What’s App, Skype, Google Hangout and email. But it’s the regular postcards to our children that’s given us the most fun, and got the best responses.

The montage above shows us posting them at the summit of Mount Fuji, the top of Shanghai Tower, and just now in Hong Kong.

Perhaps it’s because the young don’t send and receive postcards anymore. Or the realisation that this little bit of card has physically travelled around the world.

They are: hand-picked from a tourist shop, covered with our handwriting, touched by others and machines on route, transported in postal sacks on several planes, sorted at various post offices, walked around on foot, and then actually posted through their letterboxes.

To our kids that’s probably more amazing than an email or an Instagram.

Our son is putting them all in a frame to hang on his wall, and our daughter has them pride of place in her bedroom.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 14 – Photography on an iPhone or iPad

Travel Tips 14 – Photography on an iPhone or iPad

Roger is a keen photographer, knowing all about lovely cameras and lenses. But, he decided it just didn’t make sense to take a cumbersome SLR camera around the world, to some fairly high-crime areas.

“Of course it would be brilliant to have a Canon or Nikon with me, but using an iPad still allows me to get some great pictures whilst being much more convenient to pack” says Roger. “The iPad camera is excellent (but it would be better to have the iPhone X announced yesterday!), the screen big enough to really examine the image, the picture enhancing software works well, and of course the files are all ready for uploading onto the blog. But I recognise the iPhone or iPad is not for everyone, especially if you need lenses to get close to nature”.

Here are Roger’s technical tips for using the iPhone or iPad as your gap year camera:

  • Make getting to the camera quick. Adjust the settings so that, even when locked, a quick left swipe, will bring up the camera.
  • Get in the habit of manually focusing. Simply touch the screen at the place you want to be sharp. Also, hold down for a second or two to create depth of field effects on close ups.
  • Always adjust the exposure before you take a shot. After setting the focus, drag the sun icon up or down to achieve the right overall exposure.
  • On the iPad, accept that you can’t use the zoom too much. If you do, the quality of the final image just isn’t good enough. So see this as a challenge to get closer to subjects. On the latest iPhones you have the advantage of the dual lens.
  • Use the panoramic feature to give yourself a wider angle shot. If you hold the iPhone or iPad vertical, and just perform a smallish panorama, you effectively have a lovely wide-angle lens.
  • Always consider reframing your images. Invariably, cropping a bit to the 16:9 format that comes with the software makes for a cleaner shot.
Taken on the gap year – some of Roger’s favourite shots

And a couple of thoughts about file management:

  • Edit as you go along. If you are not ruthless, over the course of the gap year, you will end up with far too many photographs to handle. So, at the end of every day, I tend to have a session deleting duplicate or poor shots.
  • Think about back-ups. The great thing about the iPad/iPhone is that if you have an iCloud account, all images are automatically (when on wifi and charging) uploaded as a back-up. But also use a Sandisc connect drive, available from any Apple shop, to get an additional USB back-up which you can post home.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 13 – Extended stays

Travel Tips 13 – Extended stays

Over the course of the year we have stayed five nights or more in just seven locations, one of them our extended stay here in the heart of Xiamen, China. All have been an opportunity to get to know and feel part of a local community, something you can’t do just rushing from hostel to station. You experience how the locals shop, where the kids go to school and how friendly, or otherwise, everyone is. We’ve also managed to get into an exercise regime at the local park.

Perhaps extended stays are particularly important in cities. When we arrived here, it was dark, a tropical storm was raging, and we had a disastrous meal out. But a few days later we have mastered the buses, settled into a relaxing routine of living locally and are greeted with warm smiles as we return to the same shops. It takes time to find your village in the bigger city.

Getting the balance right between travelling and extended stays is part of any gap-year planning. How did we do? Well, Hilary thinks we haven’t done enough extended stays, Roger feels we got it about right.

Hilary shopping at the supermarket on our street
Roger at the takeaway we have gone to for the last three evenings
Hilary updating her diary in our hostel room

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 12 – Thinking about seasons

Travel Tips 12 – Thinking about seasons

We’ve flown from Cairns into Darwin. The hotter temperature hits you, as soon as you leave the airport. To us Brits, it doesn’t feel like winter.

But, just a week ago, we were shivering in Canberra.

This partly explains our travel choices for Australia. It simply makes sense, at this time of year, to keep north. Conversely, if we had arrived in the Australian summer, we probably would have travelled to Tasmania, or New Zealand, seeking cooler temperatures.

Across the whole gap year, planning for the seasons is a key parameter. But one that most likely will be full of compromise, and some unplanned advantages.

Our path around the world was determined initially by a wish to be in southern Chile and Argentina in their summer; so January and February. Everything else, followed from this.

In April, this meant we arrived in Canada too early for hiking and camping. But instead we experienced a ‘winter wonderland’.

However, next week, we will be able to head south to the Outback when it’s not too hot.

Later in the gap year, in October, we will be arriving in India just at the right time.

There probably will be no perfect way to square where you want to go, with the limitations of a RTW flight ticket, and the time of year. But it’s worth thinking about the seasons, and trying to play them, as much as possible, to your advantage. Good luck!

The view from the Jetstar plane approaching Darwin

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 11 – Spontaneity

Travel Tips 11 – Spontaneity

Leaving Joshua Tree on Route 62, approaching the Interstate 10, we hestitate, unsure which way to turn. Right, and we camp in the cooler air of San Bernardino National Forest, or left, and we visit Palm Springs.  In short, more nature or some sophistication.

On a whim, we turn left. It just seems more fun.

Now driving along Palm Canyon Drive, we read in the Lonely Planet guide about a motel where Elvis hung out in the 60s. 10 minutes later we are checking in.

For us, this is a good illustration of why gap-year travellers shouldn’t firm-up too much in advance. After all, you can’t microplan everything for a year’s trip. You need to have the flexibility to be spontaneous and go with the flow and your feelings.

We have the discipline of our round-the-world flight bookings, but apart from that pretty much everything else has been firmed-up just a few days in advance.

There have been a few exceptions. Yes, we did need to book our days at Torres del Paine well in advance. And just today, fearing we might get stranded and miss our upcoming flight to Sydney, we have booked an inter-island flight in Hawaii.

So, our tips for middle-aged gap year travellers are:

  • Give yourself a framework for the year
    Given that so much is best unplanned, we think its best to have the big picture agreed upfront. So that means sorting out where you want to go at the country/region level and then doing some research to check the allocation of days makes sense. We did this pretty diligently at the time we booked our round-the-world flights.
  • Within each country/region just go with the flow
    Our approach has literally been to start travelling and see how it goes. So, if we like somewhere we can stay longer. If we need a change of pace we can react accordingly. If we hear about somewhere special we can make a diversion. For us this approach is liberating, but you’ll need to check you have the personality to thrive making arrangements on the fly.
  • Constantly look for the new
    Having been on the road for nearly eight months we’re appreciating that you can have too much of a good thing. We really have seen enough Cathedrals. We’ve seen enough volcanic lakes. We’ve seen enough forest trails. So now we are actively searching out new treats. That’s why, albeit at the last moment, Palms Springs appealed so much to us. We wanted to swim under palm trees at midnight, to visit the home of tennis’ fifth most important tournament and to go in our first-ever rotating cable car (see the next post for pictures)
  • Be alert for those things that need booking in advance
    Although highly recommending the laissez-faire approach, we do recognise there will be certain things that need to be booked in advance. The secret here is to recognise them in the first place. For instance, we have just booked our hostel accommodation in Honolulu for seven days time as we read there is only one hostel there and it’s likely to be full.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 10 – Camping USA

Travel Tips 10 – Camping USA

We’ve just finished 13 nights camping in Oregon and California; our longest period of continuous camping ever! And it didn’t rain once. 12 nights in State Park campsites – with the 13th in a commercial RV site. We had no option with the last evening as it was Memorial Weekend and all the State Parks were booked.

We chose to camp for two reasons: ability to sleep in beautiful places and when you are spending several weeks in the USA you save a lot of money (approx $30 – $40 a night) over motels.

Here are some tips if this appeals to you:

  •  The State Parks are much better than private, commercial campsites. They are well managed, people are quiet so you get a good sleep and they are in scenic locations. Whereas private parks pack campers into tiny plots in not very scenic places and charge more.
  • At a State Park you get your own plot, picnic table, parking place and BBQ Pit. Also if you are in bear territory you get a metal box for all your food, toothpaste and anything else that smells.
  • Because they get so busy, it’s best to book ahead for the State Parks. If you do, you can turn up later in the evening knowing you have a secured site.
  • It’s easy to use the State Parks’ online booking sites. But when you pick your site try and stay clear of being too close to the washroom area and any roads.
  • Costs are $20-$30 per night (toilets, water and showers are provided), but in California you’ll need quarter dollar coins for hot showers.
  • There is always a Park Host (warden) who lives there and sorts things
  • You can buy logs at $5 a bundle and have great camp fires; Roger relived his Boy Scout days.
  • We bought all our equipment in Walmart for about $260.
  • In May it is still very cold at night, often frosty, so use a thick sleeping bag.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 9 – Car rental

Travel Tips 9 – Car rental

We are starting our third period of car rental. This one is 34 days from Portland down to Los Angeles.

So here are a few thoughts on the booking process..

  • The online sites allow you to easily do price comparisons – for all our bookings we looked at Hertz, National, Avis, Thrifty and Budget
  • It’s incredible how prices will vary – but not just between competitors, also one moment-to-next from the same company (in Canada the same quote from Avis went up and down by nearly $2000 within one hour)
  • Get online quotes from various devices – the rental companies are using cookies to monitor what quotes you’ve already had
  • Consider the value of Collision Damage Waiver and note this is sometimes included as standard but often not. Also sometimes there is an excess to be paid.
  • Whilst you pay a big surcharge for A to B trips this is often the best way to maximise the enjoyment of the rental.
  • In the USA, check the small print to be certain you can cross state boundaries. We were about to pay for one quote when we realised the policy excluded going beyond the neighbouring state.
  • To record the condition the car was in before it was handed over, take photos straight after you are given the keys.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask instructions before you set off. Many US cars have features we didn’t know about. Just getting a petrol re-fill can be complicated!
  • Make an effort to memorise the number plate. We’ve tried to get into someone else’s car, convinced it was ours… and also motels want to know it

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Travel Tips 8 – Hostel living

Travel Tips 8 – Hostel living

Thank goodness for hostels! Before travelling we had wondered if we were too old to use these, but nothing of the kind.

After spending time in hotels or motels you become desperate for a home cooked meal and a chat to fellow travellers. And this is what you get in spades at hostels.

Equipped with fantastic kitchens and sometimes lounges, they are usually very clean, and lights are out between 11pm and 7am, so you get good sleep. We would use them all the time but they are often fully booked and some just have dormitories.

Prices have not always been that cheap; we get the impression those of us booking private rooms effectively subsidise those in the dormitories.

Here are some thoughts about how to get the most of hostelling:

  • Website Hostelworld is brilliant for planning ahead and online booking.  Get the app on your smartphone
  • Book city hostels in advance, especially for weekends
  • Don’t be put off by the communal showers and toilets
  • Cook early in the evenings before the kitchen gets full!
  • If you are prepared to accept dormitories you can save lots of money!

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips

Pictures on this post were taken at the HI Hostel in Vancouver. It was perfectly situated in a quiet part of downtown. And as you see the facilities were excellent.
Travel Tips 7 – Staying best friends

Travel Tips 7 – Staying best friends

After six months, we are still happy to stand arm-in-arm watching the sunset. This picture was taken on English Bay Beach in Vancouver.

Hilary writes: “It’s hard being together 24×7 when we’ve been so independent in the past 23 years of our marriage. We’ve had our own separate careers and used to often go many days without seeing each other or were only “passing ships in the night”. So to travel together this long, with no friends and family around us for external dilution has involved effort. Fortunately Roger is a good and eternally positive travelling companion and we are kept busy each day doing the basic things necessary just to survive. There hasn’t been much time or energy for argument, we’ve just had to operate as a team.”

Roger writes: “Hilary and I have been apart for only four or five hours in the last 26 weeks – travelling around the world with a partner means you are together a lot. And being together doesn’t mean one of us in the home office and the other in the garden. It means in the same small hostel room, always going to the same activities, or sitting next to each other on a night bus. But it’s worked as I see Hilary as a best friend and she’s a great travelling companion. We’ve had a few tiffs, but these are mainly to do with Hilary’s need for rest and my wish to max it out”

So here in no particular order are some thoughts on making it work:

  • Give your other half “time alone”. We’ve done this in the evenings by simply not speaking to each other for an hour. Or do separate things for a few hours.
  • Try and have a number of conversations with others each day. Don’t let different languages be an excuse; sign language or Google Translate work fine.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends back home. This gives “input” to talk through later.
  • Have a joint project to work through together (ours has been the Blog), or it could be a shared hobby or interest.
  • Understand what is important to each other (ie rests, food, accommodation quality) and make sure you deliver this on a daily basis as a minimum.
  • Allocate some of the key travelling jobs (ie budgeting, map reading) based on individual strengths. Play your team A as much as possible.
  • Make sure travelling plans are flexible enough to respond to how you feel. If you are tired of hiking say, jointly decide to move on. Intersperse city with country, adapt to weather and mix the terrain.
  • Don’t blame each other when things go wrong as they will.

This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips