• If you could go anywhere…

    Carrie of Careful Cents recently asked:  If you could get a free ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?

    If it were up to me, right now I’d probably pick a nice leisurely cruise over anything else (cruising is still sitting pretty on my Life List) but here are some of the places that would be my top picks:

    Spain

    Tapas. Architecture. Sunshine,according to what I read JetSmarter can make all this easier. I’ll get there one day! And it would be a crime to not pop over to Portugal while out that way…

    Vancouver

    Okay, so I hear it’s a lot like Auckland but that hasn’t put me off wanting to visit – plus it’d be a great excuse to explore more of the Pacific Northwest at the same time (Seattle! Portland! etc)

    Hong Kong

    Markets, shopping, street food! Hit me with it all. And while I have no interest in gambling, I do want to visit Macau for Macanese cuisine and taste the Portuguese influence.

    Gold Coast

    Before I get too old to enjoy theme parks (or is it already too late?)

    Melbourne

    To visit a friend who lives there and explore what is by all accounts a very cool and colourful city!

  • The lazy girl’s guide to NZ

    LAZY GIRLS GUIDE TO NZ

     

    Sure, you can jump off ledges, dive out of planes, and roll down hills in giant inflatable balls – but you don’t NEED to be a hardcore adventurer to appreciate the best of nature here. You might, like me, have decidedly average fitness and nerves of cotton wool. So if intrepid multi-day hikes and epic ski sessions aren’t really your thing, read on to find out how to get your fix of amazing sights and scenery with minimal exertion…

    A waka tour in Northland

    You can almost imagine that you’re travelling back in time as you paddle a traditional canoe along the Waitangi River, taking in the flora and fauna along the banks. I won’t lie, rowing is definitely a workout for the arms, but at least there’s a group of you to help spread the load.

    Horse riding along Auckland’s west coast

    Imagine trotting down a windswept beach as waves lap at the shore. You too can have your own movie-worthy scene when horse riding out at Muriwai. (And yep, these treks are A-OK for total newbies.) Take in the black sand of the west coast beaches, then cross the sand dunes and explore the Woodhill Forest.

    Find more things to do in Auckland

    Walk to Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel

    The walk to Cathedral Cove takes about half an hour, and the cliff/ocean views along the way are just spectacular. Of course, the payoff at the end is the cove itself! There’s a secluded beach, where you can sun and swim all day and enjoy the pristine environment. The track does have some fairly steep up and down parts that get a bit rough, so take your time navigating the path – but it’s well worth it.

    Ride through the redwoods in Rotorua

    The Whakarewarewa Forest is packed with biking trails that cater to all levels of rider, including beginners and kids. Ride through towering redwoods, native fern canopies, and keep an eye out for the odd lake and mountain view too while you’re out on the tracks.

    Find more things to do in Rotorua

    Take the Wellington cable car

    A must-do in Wellington, with basically no effort required! Take the historic red cable car up the hill toward the botanic gardens, observatory, planetarium, and sweeping views of the city and harbour.

    Find more things to do in Wellington

    Punting on the Avon in Christchurch

    One iconic way to see the Garden City is in fact from the water. Luckily, the professional punters are the ones doing all the steering and poling as you travel along the Avon River in a flat-bottomed boat. Just lean back and soak up the sights, from the boat sheds to the botanic gardens and more.

    Find more things to do in Christchurch

    Take the Treetops walk in Hokitika

    Take a walk through the West Coast forest – 40 metres above ground, that is. Making your way along narrow suspension bridges high in the air lets you get amongst the treetops and get a whole new perspective.

    Heli hiking in Queenstown

    If you’re keen to get away from busy ski slopes, then snow shoeing will be right up your alley. (Seriously, if you can walk, you can snow shoe – it’s a dead simple alternative to snowboarding or skiing.) You’ll take a helicopter ride high up to the winter wonderland that is the untouched parts of the mountains, strap on some gear and start making tracks across unbroken snow. It’s absolutely silent, stunning and spectacular.

    Find more things to do in Queenstown

  • Wednesday Wanderlust: 3 crazy beautiful places still on my NZ bucket list

    Where are you going this year? Got any travel plans?

    I get asked this a lot at work, and no surprise really – it’s been close to 2 years since my last real trip. Japan in 2015 was amazing but we’re doubling down on homemaking right now and for the immediate future! Any upcoming travel is probably gonna be domestic; luckily I’ve still got a few places to tick off.

     

    Mt Maunganui

    It’s one of our more famous beaches, and there’s a wee volcano to climb. Plus: hot salt water pools! Prime for a weekend trip, just a couple hours from Auckland.

     

    ABEL TASMAN

    By: lwtt93

    Abel Tasman

    It’s a secret shame that I’ve never made to the Nelson or Marlborough regions at the top of the South Island. I won’t be hiking the whole Abel Tasman track – that’s for sure – but I’m dying to explore parts of this coastal national park, on foot and kayak.

     

    Lake Pukaki

    And the Mackenzie region in general. I can’t wait to see Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki in the flesh. Every single photo I’ve seen is out of this world and almost too good to believe!

     

  • How to find last minute travel deals

    how to find last minute travel deals

    Sometimes last minute travel deals are absolute steals. Even though my life isn’t really well suited to spontaneous trips (work, house, pets – my carefree days are behind me) I’m still subscribed to way more travel mailing lists than I should be…

    While I’m going to mainly talk about New Zealand-centric last minute travel deals below, for international readers, there’s always Lastminutetravel and you most likely have your own country-specific versions!




    Last minute flight deals

    Grabaseat is the home of cheap seats on Air New Zealand flights. I wake up to emails from them every morning, but it’s probably best to follow them on Twitter as well!

    Last minute hotel deals

    I’ve used these a few times before, specifically for staycations. I do like the idea of the mystery deals, when you book an amazing discount on an unknown hotel that’s revealed AFTER you make the reservation. If you’re willing to put in the time to do some sleuthing, though, you may very well be able to deduce what the hotel is based off the information they do provide about their facilities/location! Lots of websites offer these – I’ve mainly used wotif.com.

    Last minute rental deals

    One thing I have yet to do is take advantage of a car relocation deal through the likes of Transfercar. They’re great for backpacker types with flexible schedules. When visitors rent a vehicle (a car, a campervan) and drive one way from one end of the country to the other, someone has to bring it back! And that could be you, if you can arrange your own way there. How it works is that you pick it up, have a set amount of days (and kilometres) to drive it back to the home base, and pay nothing or very little for the rental. Sometimes fuel (and ferry fare if it’s interisland) may be covered too. To be fair, you won’t really have time for sightseeing but if you’re on a super strict budget, it’s not a bad option.

    *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

  • Should you quit your job to travel?

    Should you quit your job and travel_

    I’ve been there. Wanderlust eating you alive, from the inside out. Digital nomads and travel bloggers all over the internet urging you to up and go this very instant.

    So, should you quit your job to travel? Before you make that leap, there are a few factors to consider first.

    Your employment

    How career driven are you? How much do you enjoy your job? Could you work remotely?

    If you quit your job to travel, would you get rusty being out of the game? How could you stay sharp or pick up new skills? How might a resume gap look (in some industries nobody will even blink, in others it could be a big deal)?

    What will you do when you get back? Be honest: how employable are you really?

    In my case I had learned a lot from my job and was prepared to quit outright if I had to. I was confident my resume was strong enough that I wouldn’t be out of work for too long.

    But I was also a valuable team member and was able to negotiate an extended leave, meaning I had the security of a good job to come back to. I wasn’t miserable by any means; but my itch to travel was no longer containable.

    Also see: How to Take A Career Break to Travel, by Alexis Grant

    Your housing situation

    Say you do decide to quit your job and travel. What will you do about your home? Rent it out/sublet it? (And what if something goes wrong while you’re away?) Give up your lease? Sell it?

    Where will you stay when you get back? How hard will it be to find a new place then?

    For me it was an easy choice. Our rental was a typical NZ rental – damp, freezing and unhealthy. I wasn’t going to miss it.

    Your current obligations

    Do you have pets? Dependants? Family members who rely on you? Any other commitments tying you down? If so how might you manage these from afar?

    Your finances

    Put simply, can you afford it? How much will you need for your trip? (It all depends on your destinations and travel style.) Will you need it all upfront or do you have a plan to earn money while travelling? Do you have debt repayments, etc to keep up with while away? Are there bills and subscriptions that you can suspend or cancel? How much will you need when you get back – to settle in, cover you while job hunting, secure a home, etc?

    Also see: How we travelled the world without going into debt

    Enjoying the ride

    Will you actually like travelling continuously? A long term trip is not like a brief holiday. Extended travel has very little in common with your typical getaway of a few days or weeks. (There’s a reason lots of big name travel bloggers have now set up a home base somewhere!) Be sure to plan to leave some rest days in your itinerary – even perpetual travellers need weekends 😉

    Finally…

    What if you realise you can’t tolerate going back to your old life?

    You don’t necessarily need an answer to that now. It may or may not happen. But I’m a big believer in plans. So give it some thought along the way – just in case you fall in love with a new city or country, or decide you want to be a self employed free spirit.

  • How to explore the US on a budget

    How to travel the USA on a budget

    My passport recently expired, and I’ve got no travel plans on the horizon any time soon. Just a long list of DIY house and decor projects to tackle (the closest thing to it will be getting travel photos printed and travel footage organised over the winter)!

    I suspect my next trip though – whenever that might be – will be back to the US. There’s more competition on routes now and airfares are dropping, which is exciting. And once we’re actually over there it’s not terribly hard to travel on a budget.

    Getting around the US

    I’d love to do another road trip. We travelled around almost entirely by car (minus a cheap bus trip from NYC to DC) and it was super comfortable, convenient, and frugal. Petrol is practically free compared to the prices we pay here, and we managed to rent a car for just over $40 a day, including insurance. I recommend starting your search with CarHirePlanet. If I was travelling solo, I’d look at joining a tour group with the likes of Grand American Adventures.

    Figuring out where to stay

    In some big cities there’s just no getting around it – you will be paying out the nose for a place to lay your head. But between Airbnb and Booking.com (plus many generous blog friends who opened their doors to us) we managed to find accommodation for around $50 a night on average.

    We moved around on a loose schedule, usually booking at the last minute (the only place this backfired was Boston, where even cheap motels were over $100). If you’re up for it, consider caravan parks, campgrounds and homestays too.

    Seeing the sights

    Planning ahead is the key here.

    If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in national parks (and there are so many! Some of my favourite spots were definitely National Park material) it might be worthwhile to invest in an unlimited annual pass.

    If you’re more of a big city person like me, major centres often have a lot of free attractions; and of the ones that aren’t, many have specific hours or days where you can get in for free. And if you’ve got a lot to pack into a short time span, then the CityPass may be for you – definitely one for travellers with more money than time.

  • Daydreams and wanderlust

    Wanderlust (or bust)

    I’ve been finding myself daydreaming a lot about escaping to the other side of the world – the Americas in particular.

    There’s the Galapagos Islands, with their incredible wildlife.

    There’s Bolivia, with its otherworldly, eerie salt flats.

    There’s Cuba, with intensely colourful architecture and history in Havana and beyond.

    But I think it might be North America I especially want to return to. There have been so many great deals on flights of late and they’re bound to get better – Air NZ now flies to the south as well (Houston) and American Airlines is due to enter the fray this year. I’d love to do another road trip across the US. Returning to New York, of course, to explore more boroughs and gorge on deli sandwiches. Heading down through the southeast, and then zigging up to the Pacific Northwest to see Portland, Seattle, maybe even up to Vancouver. (Yeah, it’d be a loooong leisurely trip.)

    At least dreams are free.

    What travel destinations are you dreaming of lately?

  • Foodie Friday: Japanese indulgence

    Light and fresh are the two words I’d pick to sum up Japanese cuisine. While it took a day or so to adjust, the food definitely agreed with me. I grew up on a diet of rice, and to this date my stomach still does best with Asian food – I have trouble digesting heavier meals.

    Also, impeccable? Someone on the Japanese food subreddit commented that while they’d encountered some food that wasn’t up their alley, they’d never had a bad meal there – and I couldn’t agree more.

    Udon noodles in Tokyo - NZ MuseI’ll never get tired of udon and tempura.

    Burnt ramen noodles at Gogyo restaurant Kyoto- NZ Muse

    You definitely wouldn’t want to eat burnt ramen too often, but it’s certainly something special.

    Champon noodles in Tokyo - NZ Muse

    Stumbled across champon noodles, which turned out to be his new favourite dish.

    Sushi in Kyoto - NZ Muse

    Sushi (say no more). Lean red tuna, get in my belly. The miso that came with this particular meal was mind blowing – the most complex and subtle I’ve ever had. Like with Vietnamese pho, I doubt we’ll ever find that here at home.

  • 5 things you really, truly must do in Tokyo

    Sumo stadium 2015 - Tokyo must do

    Although we briefly visited Kyoto – and swung through Osaka for lunch – most of our week in Japan was spent in the big smoke of Tokyo. Spoiler: I LOVE it. (I feel this way about most global cities, to be fair.) Here are a few things that stood out.

    Stay in a ryokan

    A must do in Tokyo: Stay in a ryokan
    The whole guesthouse experience is just so unique, from the sliding doors to the tatami mats and the baths. It was an incredible introduction to Japan. Also: Sleeping on the floor is amazingly comfortable.

    Order food via a ramen machine

    Ramen machine for ordering food in Tokyo

    Need I say more?! Didn’t think so.

    Go shopping

    Uniqlo cardigan haul from Japan

    Everything is SO cheap compared to home. I’m madly in love with the merino cardigans I got at Uniqlo for practically nothing.

    Also, as an Asian person, shopping in an Asian country makes so much difference, be it bras for the flat-chested or glasses for the flat-faced (you know how the plastic frames that are hot right now have only tiny inbuilt nubs designed to perch on high nose bridges, rather than traditional nose pads?! I found some with extra-big ridges).

    Visit a park

    Just some sake barrels in the park, enroute to Meiji Shrine
    Every city needs green spaces, and Tokyo does them well. Ueno Park brought to mind San Diego’s Balboa Park, crammed with attractions (a highlight were the turtles in a pond!) and at Meiji Shrine, we saw an elaborately dressed bride getting wedding photos taken.

    See a sumo match

    Sumo wrestlers - Tokyo 2015

    As it turns out, we were in town for the very start of the autumn sumo tournament. I wasn’t sold on the idea of shelling out for sumo tickets (and didn’t want to gamble on queuing up on the morning of the match) but it turned out to be the highlight of our trip. The bouts are short so the pace doesn’t flag, the atmosphere surprisingly lively and the rituals fascinating. And we got to see one match that was clearly a bit of an upset! We also saw some of the wrestlers before and after, as people lined the pavement outside like a red carpet to watch them come and go. What  a way to end our last full day.

  • 8 things that surprised me in Japan

    8 things that surprised me in Japan

    Roughly in order of occurrence:

    They eat lotus root!

    This is a food I remember fondly from childhood. I guess I always presumed it was a Chinese thing. We’d have it in this rather plain, watery, chicken type soup. (Yeah, not very exciting – the lotus was basically the only part I enjoyed.) In Japan, we were served lotus root at breakfast, and alongside sushi one night.

    The quiet is real

    And the courtesy signs/warnings on public transport, incessant. No loud, obnoxious, inappropriate phone conversations on trains around here, thank you.

    The only place that was remotely rowdy (bearing in mind we’re not drinkers and didn’t do anything remotely night-lifey, ha) was a little ramen restaurant we stumbled into – it was noisy in the way Gina’s Italian Kitchen in Auckland is.

    So is the cute factor

    Particularly when it comes to roadworks/construction. The billboards I expected, but these little surprises were next level.

    Food isn’t just divine, it’s affordable

    We ate well in Japan, and yet most meals clocked in about NZ$20 or sometimes less for both of us. That just wouldn’t happen at home.

    The toilets are like nothing else

    I was prepared for bidets. I was NOT prepared for heated seats and buttons in the wall you can push to lower the lid – so you don’t need to touch the toilet itself. GENIUS.

    Everyone’s so well groomed

    I was a slobby heffalump in comparison. No surprise.

    Umbrella stands everywhere!

    So, it was pouring buckets when we arrived in Tokyo. The first things we bought at a 7-11 were two white umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we realised practically every building has an umbrella stand at the entrance. Heck, at our last hotel, there were secure slots for individual brollies, with a lock for each one.

    It’s really family friendly

    For example: specific diaper disposal and diaper change table in the bathrooms aboard trains. Stroller service at the sumo stadium. High chair attached to the wall in a public toilet, presumably so mum can have a moment to relieve herself.

    Just a few random thoughts. More of a debrief to come next week!