Tag: 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

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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

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

Travel Tips 6 – staying in US motels

We’ve spent the last two weeks living out of American motels. With the car parked right outside, they offer the perfect stopover.

The big brands (Super 8, Red Roof) provide consistent rooms – very large bed, fridge, coffee maker and microwave, though their cleanliness is often down to local management. In fact, a few nights we slept in our sheet bags rather than get under their sheets!

They cost anywhere between $50 – $130 depending on location. We found it paid to drive around a bit as those sited in the cities are up to double in price.

What to ask. Does the price include taxes? Is there breakfast? Also, if you are a non-smoker, make sure you get a designated room.

Independent motels are unpredictable. They gave us the best and worst experiences. If it’s below $40, then there’s probably a reason.

Unfortunately it often comes down to who your neighbours are. In the middle of one night, we had to listen to a door being battered down a room away from us and a woman screaming. We should have been brave enough to challenge this, but aware of widespread gun ownership, we didn’t.

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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 5 – Knowing when to check out

Travel Tips 5 – Knowing when to check out

It was pouring, we stepped off the bus with no place booked. This hotel looked fun and inside we loved the wacky stone walls, wooden spiral staircases and the back basement room whose window touched the forest.

But come the time to switch the light off and go to sleep it all felt different. First the sounds of large bugs and insects thrashing against the interior walls. This put Hilary into a panic especially when one evil looking monster flew straight into her face.

Then it was Roger’s time to get unnerved. With the forest eerily lit from an upstairs room, the view out of the window looked like a giant aquarium full of aquatic plants – it was as if we were sleeping under water; open the window and we would drown.

Thank goodness we had only booked for one night. The next morning we paid up and left and are now just down the road in a family-run hotel that’s the same cost but so much better.

So our advice for middle aged gap year travellers is to unashamedly move on if you are not comfortable anywhere. And to help, at a new hostel/hotel where you haven’t been able to do any prior online research, only commit initially to just one night.

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 4 – Eating healthily

Travel Tips 4 – Eating healthily

Eating healthily can be hard when you are constantly on the road and on a budget. We haven’t eaten a lot of authentic South American cooking simply because much of it is carnivorous or looks of dubious origin. For instance, the town where we are staying tonight has no place we would feel comfortable eating at.

Also, eating out takes time, costs a lot (over a year) and whilst travelling for an extended time you just crave plain food rather than fancy.

We eat best when we’re staying in Airbnb’s or hostels with kitchens, since we can buy and cook our own food and are in control of what we eat. Dinner basics are often eggs, pasta/rice or beans.

In the day? We have brought our own plate and cutlery plus tin opener. We buy bread and fruit for our breakfasts ( if not included with our accommodation) and lunches. Avocados have been wonderful for calories and filling us up.

When all else fails, like tonight, we buy tinned sardines, lentils and a jar of olives from a supermarket and eat these. Good protein and roughage even when tinned. We have both lost weight since regular meals just aren’t possible, but we’re staying pretty healthy and keeping going.

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 3 – Round the World tickets

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Arriving in Quito, capital of Ecuador – the second flight of our RTW ticket

There are pros and cons of having a pre-booked round the world (RTW) ticket. Ours is with the Oneworld group of airlines. Prices depend on number of flights, continents and total mileage (the max is 39,000 miles).

We looked at booking online using the specialist websites but found it best to chat to an expert. In the end we chose Flight Centre who gave us lots of advice on how to maximise the budget.

One idea is not to always fly onwards from where you land. For instance in January we flew into South America in Santiago, but yesterday we flew out from Buenos Aires.

And we paid a bit extra to be able to change dates – we can change the dates but not the actual routing.

But it’s not just about price. Another pro is that you discuss and agree the structure of the year whilst you are relaxed at home with access to all the information you need. Now on the trip our focus is making the most of each leg – which still gives us so much flexibility – rather than debating which country next?

Of course the downside is that we can’t just wake up and completely change our plans. Also, if you miss a leg of the RTW ticket there’s a danger the whole ticket is cancelled.

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 2 – Shoes

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With only packing room for two pairs each, shoes are important on a trip like this.

Wedded to her training shoes for most of her life, Hilary had to sorrowfully forsake them for a light pair of hiking boots and a pair of sandals. She knew that training shoes simply wouldn’t cope with the rugged hiking we had planned.

So far, the Scarpa hiking shoes have been great and the Ecco sandals have proved ideal for the hot countries, beaches and evenings. No blisters or feet problems yet.

Roger is pleased with his pair of approach shoes from Meindl. With his hiking boots too heavy and large to travel, these were bought specially for the trip and were expensive. The key thing is that they are goretex and therefore waterproof.

In the evenings he’s still enjoying wearing a pair of English slippers. But these are getting smelly so will soon be replaced by sandals.

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