Have Car, Will Drive

I have been booking things left, right and centre for my upcoming trip and now really only have a couple of minor details to work out. I was eagerly awaiting this month’s payday so I could book the last couple of flights. That has now been done and every single flight I need is booked and paid for. I am flying with some airlines I have never heard of before, mainly in South America, and I will admit to being slightly nervous especially with what has happened to the Malaysian Airlines flight.

All I need to do now is book a bus ticket to get me from Concord, NH to Albany, NY and also my Eurail pass. The Eurail pass may need to wait until next month’s pay though (it does suck being paid once a month).

As for today’s subject title…my sister has booked us a car for a week to drive around the French countryside. This makes me excited and nervous. For one, we will be driving on the wrong side of the road. Now, we both have done it before however my one and only experience was eight years ago and my sister’s experience was twice that long (I do believe it was 1997 or 1998 when she last visited America). Also, in our past experiences we drove automatics. I’m normally a manual transmission type of girl but I was glad of the auto as I could concentrate on staying to the right and not worry about changing gears.

Not so with this car. This one is manual. This would normally not be an issue. I drive a manual car every day. Everyone in my family drives manual cars. My main issue will be with remembering I will need to be changing gears with the right hand and not the left. At least the pedals are all in the same position.

So for that week in the French countryside we will be playing it a bit by ear. The sister wants to go to Mont St Michel. I have been before but don’t mind going again. We will probably head to Normandy first, Mont St Michel and then across to the Loire Valley (which is what I want to see) before we head up to Paris. There will be a lot of driving (much to the niece’s disgust) but I think it will be a barrel of laughs.

We have to drop the car off in Paris. I think it will be a matter of drawing straws as to who is the lucky person to drive in the city. We both have experience in driving in our respective cities (Melbourne for me, Perth for her) but Paris is a lot bigger and a lot busier. It could be a very interesting experience.

All of this is still seven months away. I have seven months to psych myself up to driving on the wrong side of the road again.

Tell me – have you had experience driving on the wrong side of the road? How did you find it? Scary, exhilarating, easy? I’d love to hear any experiences.

For now it’s back to the travel guides to do research again until next payday.

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A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving – Laozi

If the quote I have used as a subject line is true then I am not a good traveller. I like to have plans. I like to know how I’m going to get from A to B to C. I don’t plan everything down to the last second but to some people it seems that way.

Having spent the best part of the last two weeks recuperating from oral surgery I have used that time to complete my plans for the South American portion of my trip.

I have all my accommodation sorted. I have nearly all my transport sorted. The days in between are left open so I can do whatever I please in each place, however I do like knowing that I have a place to rest my head and I have the means to continue on my merry way.

One continent is sorted so it’s now onto the next one – North America. This one has pretty much sorted itself, as a fair portion of my time here is either on a tour through the Canadian Rockies or staying with friends. No worries here – just an internal flight to sort, a couple of bus rides and that’s pretty much it.

Europe is going to be a bit play it by ear as well. I will be buying a Eurail pass, so I can have the luxury of jumping on and off whenever I feel like it. Accommodation in two places is sorted (friend in Munich and apartment in Paris). I will be sorting out accommodation in Vienna and Salzburg but after Munich it’s all a bit up in the air until Paris. I do know that after I meet up with my sister in Calais we will be hiring a car and just driving around the French countryside for a week and stopping wherever it takes our fancy.

The trip is coming together. Now I just have to last another five months and five days until departure day. Time to start saving again (especially now the big costs are out of the way).

I have been storing my itinerary on my Tripit account. This is for me to keep track of things and my family to follow along.

Am I not a traveller if I like having things sorted? I like to think I am. There are different types of travellers. Just because one likes to have a plan in place doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing as much as the non-planner. The world is a wonderful place and everyone should be able to experience it the way they want, and not have others turn their noses up at them!

What about you? Are you a planner or more spontaneous? I’d love to know 🙂

Travel

Image found on Tumblr

All I Want Is A Room Somewhere

Ah. Accommodation. The choices. The cost. How do you decide?

I decided a long time ago that I am over the hostel thing. I’m too old to be sharing a room with half a dozen strangers. You never know if you’re going to end up with a snorer or someone who has to get up early to catch a flight or someone who talks loudly and rustles plastic bags and in general makes a lot of noise.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. Even when I was younger I still felt too old for these places. I’ve never been a party person or someone who likes to stay out late. The main perk of the hostel for me was the cost. It was cheap and when you quit your job and start travelling on savings alone, you need cheap.

This time around, however, I have not quit my job. I am taking three months’ holidays, which means I will still be getting an income (most of which will go towards my rent at home let’s be honest). I have managed to save enough to travel comfortably for this length of time (I hope so anyway!).

So hostels are out. Budget hotels may be in (I have the money but not for much more). But wait…how about staying in a stranger’s house? I’m talking about you, AirBnB.

My first port of call in this trip is Buenos Aires. I am lucky in that I have a friend who lives there and has given me tips on where to stay and even links to some hotels. Nice hotels. Mostly out of my price range unfortunately. I started looking at apartments on AirBnB. I made queries to a few and got positive responses back. Yes, they are available. And they are cheaper than hotels. And you get the whole place to yourself.

But how do you then decide which apartment to use. They are both around the same price. Slightly different locations. Great reviews for both. My Buenos Aires friend loves one. The other one a colleague stayed in a few years back and loved it. This is still not helping…

Apartment A – slightly more expensive (negligible). Buenos Aires friend loves it. 

Apartment B – slightly cheaper. Colleague has stayed here previously and loved it.

My sister just gave me those well known words of wisdom – go with your gut. My gut is currently leaning towards Apartment A, but only slightly.

I am lucky that one month of this trip will be taken up by tours (Inca Trail in Peru and Rockies in Canada) and by staying with friends, one of the many perks of having friends all over the world.

Our Paris accommodation has been booked. By the time I reach Paris I will be joined by my parents, my sister and my niece. We have booked this apartment. Splitting the costs four ways certainly helps get you somewhere nice.

The other question is do you plan everything before you go or do you play it by ear. With South America I will be booking everything before I leave as I’m scared of the language barrier (Spanish classes have only taught me a little so far). I would prefer peace of mind knowing that everything is booked beforehand.

When I meet up with my sister in France we are hiring a car and driving around the countryside for a week. I think we will just play that by ear. We will be there late October so don’t envisage there being too many hassles. Plus, it could be fun – the freedom of having a car to drive on to the next town if we can’t find anything (let’s just forget that we’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road…).

The next few weeks will be spent researching and booking accommodation in South America. I will keep you updated on the progress.

For now it’s back to deciding between Apartment A and Apartment B. It may come down to the toss of a coin…

Repeat Offenders

Do you have a special place that you visit over and over? Or are you one who wants to see as much of the world as possible.

I think I fall in between both categories. I like to re-visit places if I feel I did not have the chance to experience it to its fullest. Otherwise, I’m happier going off exploring new places and experiencing new adventures.

It is now less than 200 days until I leave on what I have called my 2014 Dream Trip. When I first started writing this post I had about 10 months to go. Time flies 🙂

I want to see as much of the world as possible, which is why this upcoming trip has only a couple of “repeat offenders” on the itinerary. The first repeat offender is Toronto. I am going there after I finish my tour through the Canadian Rockies. I will be honest. Toronto didn’t really excite me the first time around so the main reason for re-visiting is to see my old flatmate from my time in London. Visiting people you only get the opportunity to see once a decade is a perfect reason to re-visit a city. There has to be a limit though. If you used that as a basis of a trip you would never see anything new.

The second repeat offender is New York City. I absolutely loved the Big Apple on my first visit and feel I didn’t experience it to its fullest. Even this time around I will not spend nearly as much time as I want, although this time I can skip the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. Been there, done that. Some of my time in NYC will also be spent catching up with people (hopefully) but I still hope to add in some new adventures. I feel I could spend years in New York and still not experience it all (like I did in London).

The last repeat offender is Paris. The city of love. My first visit to Paris was with my sister 10 years ago. My second visit to Paris will also be with my sister, but with the addition of our parents and her daughter. This will be interesting to say the least. Similar to New York, my first visit left me wanting more. We only spent three full days in Paris the first time around. This time we will be there for a week. The niece has an obsession which I don’t think will be slaked. Her must-see attractions are the Catacombs and the Sewers (she’s eight!), plus the Eiffel Tower of course. The only one we managed to see the first time was the Eiffel Tower so I’m perfectly happy with my niece to plan the itinerary 🙂

Everything else on my itinerary will be new and I can’t wait to get out and explore. South America really excites me and I have been wanting to visit Machu Picchu since I was young. Knowing I will be able to tick this off the proverbial travel bucket list makes me almost giddy.

So, which do you prefer? Are you a repeat offender or do you scoff at people who keep going back to the same place (I’m not going to lie here…I have been known to scoff at people). Does scoffing at people make me a travel snob?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. I will also keep you updated on my planning.

Au Revoir.

My First Time

Do you remember your first time? Or were you one of the lucky ones who was jet-setting before you could walk?

I remember my first time. I was 17 and lucky enough to go to China on a school trip. I was nervous and excited all rolled into one. I hadn’t even been on a plane for a domestic flight and here I was about to embark on an 11 hour plus flight to a foreign country.

How much do you think a school trip to China would cost? This was back in 1996 (and if you can do the maths I’ve told you how old I am now!) and I’m sure things would have been all around more expensive back then.

$500. Each student only had to pay $500 thanks to amazing efforts of family and friends and the school in doing fundraising.

I should stop here and explain a little about how the trip came about. I was a band nerd (still am I guess). The high school I went to had an awesome music program. We were so fortunate to have the legendary Don Burrows come to our school three times a year to do workshops with us. His first year of doing this coincided with my first year at high school so I was fortunate enough to be there for the whole program.

Over the next six years we toured country Victoria, played numerous concerts, made a CD and eventually got to go to China, where Don was very well known. We scrimped, we saved, we fundraised. Before long it was all a reality and we were headed overseas. I look back now and admire the teachers and parent volunteers who had to keep 30 plus students in line in a foreign country. Kudos to them.

We left Portland at midnight, on the bus to Melbourne. We got to the airport about 6am and I don’t look all that pleased. Guess I’ve never been a morning person.

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I remember feeling petrified on the plane. My first time flying and it was with Air China. The plane felt old and rickety and I was holding onto the armrests at the slightest bump. They seated us alphabetically and just my luck, I ended up between two teachers. We ended up wandering around the plane quite a bit, much to the consternation of the flight attendants. 

Our main destination was Shanghai, which is where we landed. However, the first couple of days of the trip would be spent in Zhangjiagang (no idea of correct spelling but that is phonetically close enough), which was our town’s newly declared sister city (fun fact: my father used to do calligraphy on the side and wrote the scrolls that declared the union – one which hangs in the council offices in town and one which hangs in Zhangjiagang…well, it used to anyway). Because we were a large group we got through customs the quickest I’ve ever been through! We did have to wait a while for our bags though and I was busting to go to the loo. We found the toilets and the stalls were the kind where the doors are always shut. I opened a door to enter a stall and encountered a little old Chinese lady doing her business. I guess they’re not too fussed about using locks! 

The bus trip from Shanghai to Zhangjiagang was interesting. We were escorted by officials (most likely from Zhangjiagang – my memory of this is a bit fuzzy) and felt all important to have cars with flashing lights leading our bus. 

It was quite late when we arrived at our hotel so it was pretty much straight to bed. The next couple of days were full on – tours of the local schools, music workshops with the local students (an interesting blend of Western and Eastern music).

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We had a 15 course banquet put on in our honour. That was…interesting. Fish served with their heads and eyes intact. Turtle soup with the turtle shell still floating in it (and our hosts sucking the marrow out of the bones). I’m a fussy eater at the best of times so not a lot of food was consumed for me that day.

We had a concert one night, which I can not even remember but I’m sure it went well. We were almost treated like royalty the whole time we were in Zhangjiagang. Everywhere we went there signs welcoming the “friendly delegation from Portland”. The one in the concert hall was strung across the top of the stage like a banner.

After a couple of successful days in Zhangjiagang it was back to Shanghai for the remainder of the trip. Our time in Shanghai coincided with some of the worst floods in recent history and parts of our trip had to be cancelled, which was a shame. One of our concerts got cancelled because the venue got flooded out. This left us with a bit more time to explore (and we were even let loose on the city on our own at one point).

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Highlights of Shanghai included going to see the acrobatic circus, seeing the Oriental Pearl Radio Tower (ah…the days before digital cameras and panoramic features!), the boat trip on the Yangtze River in which arm wrestle matches were had with local children, Shanghai Zoo (we saw a panda from a distance – a bit disappointing really).

The hotel in Shanghai was down the road from a McDonalds. The first night there some of the parents went out and loaded up on fries knowing that some of us were struggling with the local cuisine (the tanks of snakes and eels at the front of the hotel restaurant changed nearly daily…). 

Our time here flew by quickly. We only ended up playing one concert in Shanghai, which was at our hotel. It was well received (from memory). 

Before we knew it our time in China was coming to an end. It was an experience I will never forget (although 17 years later some of it is all a haze now – good thing I’ve got photos and souvenirs to look back on).

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The trip home was a bit of an anti-climax. The only good thing was the anticipation of waiting to see how your photos would turn out. I took tons of photos (that doesn’t sound like me at all) but unfortunately only a small handful were decent. Still, that was part of the fun!

It certainly was a wonderful way to dip my toes into the wonder that is travel. Not many people would have the opportunity to say they have toured overseas with a legend and it’s certainly something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

So, that was my first time. What was yours?

ImageDon Burrows, Me, Kevin Hunt (Don’s pianist)

ImageDifferent views of Shanghai

ImageOriental Pearl Radio Tower – Note the old school panoramic shot!

One’s Company, Two’s A Crowd

I was asked recently if I liked travelling with friends or preferred going it alone and meeting people along the way. My first answer is, and probably always will be, go it alone.

I’m sure most people would look at that response and think “But won’t you get lonely?” The short answer is “No”. The longer answer is…still “No”. I don’t feel the need to justify to people why I want and prefer to do things on my own.

I have been travelling with friends. I have been travelling with family. It’s fun. They have been some of my favourite experiences. However, unless you are travelling with someone who is identical to you in every single thing you want to do there will be compromises. A lot of compromising. And the “compromises” usually end up being majority rules. I have found in this instance that I have usually gone off on my own and met up with people at the end of the day. If you’re going to travel to a place together but then not spend any time together, you may as well have gone on your own.

I’m not a party person. I’ve visited places with friends who are intent on going out at night and getting drunk. That doesn’t interest me. If I wanted to do something like that I wouldn’t travel halfway around the world. That’s something that can be done in your own backyard.

I have had some fun times travelling in groups. Sometimes it is unavoidable. I’ve had the tour group experience and it has been hit and miss.

  • Ireland on a bus with 40 other people, mostly Aussies looking to get drunk…not overly enthused by this.
  • Egypt in a group with 12 other people – awesome. A small group where you got to know everyone. This tour was over seven years ago and I’m still in touch with some of the people I met here. I would definitely do this again (tour groups are the only way to go in Egypt).
  • A six night, seven day camping trip in America with 12 other people – so-so. Five Irish girls who had never been camping before and complained nearly the whole trip does not make for a good experience.

I have had some fun times travelling with friends and family. My sister visited me for a month during my time in London. We took off in a car (with a friend of mine for the first week) for four weeks and toured around Cornwall, Devon, and the Cotswolds before heading across to France. We were interested in seeing the same things so it was easy to plan. And because my sister is the complete opposite to me…I was able to let her do all the talking and sit back and observe and listen. I’ve often been told I come across as rude and disinterested but to me it’s the opposite. Just because I’m not talking doesn’t mean I’m not interested in listening to what others have to say…this brings me to my next point.

Travelling on my own forces me out of my comfort zone. I don’t have the backup of friends and family to fall on when I want conversation. I’m a naturally reserved person and I’m quite happy to hide behind someone else who does all the talking. Being on my own I can’t do that. I need to be able to approach people and hold a conversation where needed.

Being on your own means no restrictions. You can go at your own pace. Don’t feel like doing something in the morning? Relax! Stay in bed a bit longer. Unless there are certain times you need to be places (museums, attractions etc.) take it easy.

I should take some of my own advice there. When I go somewhere I tend to try and cram as much in as possible. We live so far away from everything here that an opportunity to travel overseas for any length of time doesn’t come along often. I should learn to relax and take each day as it comes, be a bit more spontaneous (a discussion point for a future post).

Travelling alone is not without peril. Even though I have not had anything happen to me (touch wood) you do hear some horror stories in the news. I’m planning my big odyssey for next year and will be venturing to South America for the first time. Needless to say my Dad is a bit concerned about me travelling on my own through some of those countries. I’ve had people ask me if I’m going to travel the continent using a tour company. My answer is no. I will be using a tour company when I need to (i.e. Inca Trail trek) but I want to experience it for myself. I don’t want people telling me when I have to get up, have breakfast, be ready to go by…

People are still concerned and I’m sure there are valid reasons for their concerns. However, I’m not a party animal. I’m not going to deliberately be putting myself in a situation where I could end up with a spiked drink or worse. I won’t be in places where drugs are rampant (well…I hope not anyway). I’m a smart person. I’m using contacts I know to give me advice on where to stay, what to see, what areas to avoid. I’m not going to just rely on guidebooks. I’m going to rely on people in the know.

This is not foolproof. I do feel some trepidation in doing it on my own but I would regret going all that way and then rely on a tour company to tell me what I am doing each day. Tours are good for meeting people sure but…you also miss out on seeing a lot of the real sights. Hopefully by going it alone I will be able to immerse myself in local culture a bit more.

I’m interested to hear other thoughts on this – solo, with friends, group? Why? How could you convince me to do it with other people.

I’m looking forward to my trip next year. I won’t let anyone put me off my dreams. I want to be a traveller, not a tourist…

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Travel quote found on Pinterest

10 Years

What is so special about 10 years? A lot can happen in 10 years – births, deaths, marriages. The date 12 May will always be imprinted in my mind because it’s the date I set off into the unknown. I left behind all that was familiar and moved clear across the other side of the world.

10 years. It doesn’t feel like 10 years. Sometimes it feels like yesterday. Sometimes it feels like a dream. Sometimes I look back and wonder “Wow. Did I really do that?”

And I guess the big question is why? Why did I do that? I have my big sister to thank for the idea. I was unhappy in my job (almost floundering I guess you could say). Big sis had been invited to a wedding in the States and asked me to travel with her. That would have been awesome…and then she suggested I keep travelling over to England and live there for a while.

The thought was in my head and wouldn’t get out. Could I do it? Could I give up everything to make a go in a new country? Of course I could. Anyone can do anything they want when they put their minds to it. Did I want to? I did, I really did. Did I feel comfortable doing it? Heck, no.

But…the seed had been planted and once there it would not go away. The trip to the States fell through so it was straight to England for me instead. So, I scrimped and saved. I got my passport renewed. I was lucky enough to have a grandparent who had been born in England, so I was eligible for the ancestry visa. This gave me four years with no restrictions, as opposed to the two year working holiday visa. 

Planning started to fall into place. I joined one of those International Exchange programs, who organised my accommodation for me for the first few nights. That was one less stress on my hands. I had my important documents – passport, visa, one-way ticket (eek!).

Why did I choose May? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it was to make sure I had enough money saved to make a go of it until I found a job. Maybe I just pulled it out of the hat randomly.

The day got closer and closer. I had finished up work at the start of April. I moved out of my flat not long after (I loved that place) and went back to Portland to spend the last couple of weeks with my parents. I was getting more and more nervous. I knew some people would wonder if I would make it. I wasn’t known for taking risks (still not really…). I had people trying to tell me horror stories – acquaintances they knew who ran out of money because they couldn’t find jobs.

It didn’t deter me. I wouldn’t let it deter me. I would make it work and I would enjoy it. If I only lasted three months so be it but at least I tried. It actually helped that a really good friend from high school was going to join me a few weeks after I arrived. At least I would know one person.

My parents and I headed back to Melbourne a few days before departure. Big Sis had arranged a farewell dinner for me. I thought it was only going to be family but she had arranged for some close friends to be there as well.

Finally the big day was here. I was nervous. I was excited. I was s***-scared! But I was determined. I was going on an adventure! I had my parents, sister and grandmother there to farewell me. My parents even stayed at the airport to take a photo of my plane departing. In fact, my father documented the whole departure as can be seen in the following photos!

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The flights were long. I flew to London via Bangkok and Frankfurt. I almost missed my connection in Frankfurt because it took me the longest time to work out I had to change terminals.

I finally landed in London on 13 May, which was also my parents’ wedding anniversary. The exchange program, when organising my accommodation, had organised a transfer from the airport so that was one less thing to worry about. I got to the hostel, checked in and then stepped outside to go exploring…and it started raining.

Welcome to London. Enjoy your stay.

I will write more about my experiences in the future but I will finish by saying this…

I thought I would last three months. I lasted almost three and a half years. It has been the most rewarding thing I have done in my life and it now seems almost a dream. 

If you dream it, you can achieve it. If you are contemplating a similar adventure, and you’re not 100% sure I say go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? You get to see a bit of the world? Good on you.

Welcome

There is a certain je nais se quoi about travelling I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. I just know that once I start I don’t really want to stop, and the only thing that does stop me is real life.

I have “been there, done that” to quite a few places in the world, more than some people will dream about in their lifetime but still nowhere near enough to satisfy my curiosity and thirst to see the world.

So what is the purpose of this blog? I aim to share with you my experiences, my dreams, my plans for that trip of a lifetime*, and in return learn from your experiences.

Join me on an adventure (virtual and hopefully real).

I Want To Fly Away

* Not guaranteed to be everyone’s trip of a lifetime.