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5 Reasons to Incorporate a Group Tour into Your Career Break
Monday, October 3rd, 2016

small group tour career break

Take a break from your career break and try a small group tour

Taking a career break to explore the world is a tremendously freeing experience, during which you’ll have the chance to learn much about other cultures – and yourself!  However, planning a long-term trip can be a daunting process. Solo travel is rewarding, but also nerve-wracking, and while on your travels you may find yourself needing to take a break (from taking a break!).  This is where a group tour can provide some relief. Guided tours provide an opportunity to let someone else take care of all those pesky logistics: like accommodation, transportation, and daily itineraries.

You may be wondering “but group tours are so limiting! Will I get to see everything I want?”

The short answer is: “yes!” Group tours are often different than people expect. Particularly those who tend to travel independently. You may be surprised by how much independence you actually have during your tour! Sherry Ott, who took a solo career break in 2006 notes of her own experience: “If you choose the right companies, small group tours can be some of the most rewarding travel you do on your career break – it was for me. The group tours I did arranged all of the logistics (transportation and hotels), but the rest was really up to me. I could eat with the group or go alone, do the tour or explore on my own. But the best part was that you always had a local guide with your group that traveled with you, ready to answer questions. It was a way to get much closer to the culture of the country than I could have on my own.”

Here’s 5 reasons to consider a group tour during your extended travels:

1. Easily Socialize with Others

You’ve been on the road for a while. You’ve met people along the way, but everyone is transient, on their own adventures around the world. It starts to wear on you a bit. Though it’s still exciting, you begin to wish you had more than a few hours here and there with new friends, to really get to know your fellow traveler.

On a group tour, you’ll have a lot of time to meet and get to know like-minded travelers. And some tour companies even provide ways to pre-meet each other in forums or local city meet-ups! While you might not be life-long friends with everyone on your trip, you will likely find a few people that you automatically click with.

small group tour

A group dines in Morocco together on a small group tour of the country

2. Cultural Immersion

Though some may argue that true cultural immersion only comes from striking out on your own, many tour operators give you the opportunity to venture deeper into local life. This is especially true of more dangerous destinations, where solo tourists are advised to stay in very specific areas.

But with a tour, oftentimes your guide will have connections in the area. And you are granted the unforgettable experience of dining in a small local restaurant, meeting local families, and getting a true glimpse into a new culture. This is especially true if you join a small-group tour, where group sizes are usually 10-16 travelers maximum.

3. Some destinations require you to be on a tour

Then of course, there are some places where you simply cannot visit on your own. Interested in seeing the diverse wildlife of Africa? A safari will get you up close and personal with the animal residents of the Savannah.

Although tourism regulations to Cuba have been greatly relaxed, a tour is still a good idea – it will help guarantee accommodation, and you’ll be able to explore the farther reaches of the island.

Want to check that 7th continent off your list? Antarctica is only accessible by tour (unless you’re a scientist!).

Antarctica group tour

Go with a group to Antarctica

4. Local Expertise

Getting to know a destination through the eyes of an expert is an incredible way to have a deeper travel experience. They bring the boring plaque next to the landmark to life, provide context to a famous building, and introduce a new way to think about cultures and customs. Many tour companies employ only local guides, so it’s sort of like traveling with a friend who knows the best places to eat and find that perfect gift for a loved one back home.

5. Maximum bang for your buck

Busy days, covering long distances, checking off famous sites. On a guided tour, you will have the opportunity to see a lot more in a condensed period of time. This can be helpful for those wanting to take a break from the “slow wander” and pick up the pace, participate in activities, watch demonstrations, and get special access to landmarks and attractions. Often times, tours will save you money over solo travel since operators get deep discounts on things like accommodation.

When considering group tours, there are so many options you’re sure to find the perfect one suited to your personality. Let your sabbatical be enhanced and made easier by incorporating a fun guided trip into the experience!

About Samantha Scott

samantha2Samantha Scott is the Content Manager for Stride Travel, a marketplace where you can search among thousands of trips, read reviews, and find the perfect guided travel experience for you.

A Career Breaker’s Troubled Love Affair With Airbnb
Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

Most career breakers utilize the sharing economy services these days as a critical part of their itinerary.  Sites like AirBnB, EatWith, Car2Go, and Couchsurfing are hallmarks of the sharing economy and can help career breakers save money, make connections, enjoy local experiences, and find deals the world over.

Read How to Use AirBnb On Your Career Break

Sites like AirBnB work great most of the time, but the benefits come with risks you may not have considered. This is a true story of how two career breakers learned this lesson the hard way.

bad airbnb stories

Jill and Zac on the road

Love at First Stay

We started using AirBnB in early 2014, and what started out as a week in Seattle quickly bloomed into a monogamous relationship with the service. In the few years we were together, we cataloged over 13 stays in 5 countries. It seemed like a dream.  We had many amazing experiences and only one bad one. We met a lot of great people and were highly reviewed by our hosts. We hadn’t even considered looking at other rental sites.  It was true love.

When we decided to take a career break, sell our house, and travel around the world, AirBnB was a huge part of our plan; starting with a road trip in the US, in which AirBnB was our only choice of lodging.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 3.24.19 PM

Stellar reviews – the beginning of a great relationship

Cracks in the Facade

Upon arrival at our stay in Cleveland, our guts were telling us to leave. There were a lot of red flags that we had never experienced with our other AirBnB rentals. We should have left, but the place was well reviewed by other guests. Everybody has a bad day, right? That’s what love is about – the good and the not so good.

However, things did not get better; in fact they got worse.

The night before we checked out, we could not gain access to the back door. The deadbolt had been thrown from the inside, and key we were given didn’t work. We texted the owner, called through open windows and rang the doorbell until we were admitted by one of the housemates. We told him the key would not work in the top lock. He tried it and agreed. Since we were leaving the next morning we decided to leave from the front door and gave it no more thought. We went upstairs, packed and went to bed.

Early the next morning we said our goodbyes and left – using the front door as planned.


As is customary, the owner of the house reviewed us, and we him. He was short and complimentary as were we. We did mention some of the troubles, but did not go into gory detail. There’s a dance that is done in review giving and we decided to play along.

We were at our next stay in Louisville when we received a notification from the AirBnB resolution center stating the homeowner in Cleveland was demanding $1000 for damaging his door.

We were shocked. That level of damage couldn’t be caused by trying to put a key in a lock. The amount was exorbitant, and it felt like extortion. We were totally floored and ready to defend ourselves to AirBnB.

However, sadly we weren’t given much of an opportunity to do so. Homeowners on AirBnB can provide ample data in their charges against a renter, including video, pictures and testimonials. But as a renter you are allowed only to respond via the resolution center.

Breakup by Text

Airbnb encouraged us to reach an agreement with the owner, which meant paying for the damages. We informed them we were not open to paying what amounted to extortion.

It was right after this that we got a text notification that our next booking in Memphis had been cancelled, and payments refunded. When we called customer support, we were told we were blocked, and they were under no further obligation to discuss the case further. We were dumped, and they were moving on. The relationship was over…

When looking out of our hotel room in Hong Kong, we couldn't help but imagine how many of the lit windows were Airbnb rentals.

When looking out of our hotel room in Hong Kong, we couldn’t help but imagine how many of the lit windows were Airbnb rentals.

In the age of customer-centric, reviewer based economy, we had no standing and were without any rights. Our spotless record and glowing reviews meant nothing. We were never given the chance to state our case as we would have expected.

In our case, we were not innocent until proven guilty; we were guilty without the option to present our case at all.

How To Avoid Being a Jilted Lover

Sadly, our love affair with AirBnB is over, but to help other career breakers from suffering a similar fate, we’ve compiled a short list of key points so you can protect yourself.

  • Reviews have their benefits, but aren’t foolproof. Send an email asking a few questions, and weigh how they respond. If the response feels off, move away.
  • Be wary if there is a deposit required for booking. This means that they could for any reason decide to keep your cash after you leave if they aren’t satisfied with how the space was kept.
  • Trust your gut. If you have any problems with the apartment, you are under no obligation to stay. Sure it can be a hassle to back out.
  • Know your rights – read the terms and conditions for the booking site. It’s a downer to think about the worst-case scenario when planning a dream vacation or long-term travel, but you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Notify the owner via text or email immediately if something isn’t right.  This leaves a trail and shows you didn’t break anything.
documentation for airbnb

Document! Dear apartment owner. Your thermostat is broken, and we aren’t responsible. Please refund our $500 deposit when we leave.

  • Take photos or videos of the apartment upon arrival and check out to show you left it in perfect condition.

We hope that your relationship with AirBnB, and similar services, has more longevity than ours.


About Zac and Jill Stafford: 
Zac bioFeeling that there was more to life than freezing in Minnesota, Zac and Jill sold their house and possessions and are traveling the globe. For them this is more than a career break, it’s a life change. Jill quit her corporate job as a business analyst and became a certified yoga instructor and Zac is taking his paid search marketing skills on the road. They are documenting their journey on their website visa-vis.com.

Traveling With Teenagers – Debunking the Myths
Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

We’re currently on the road traveling the world with our teenagers, Ian (19) and Lily (16) and tackling the myths out there about why you wouldn’t want to travel with your darling, albeit sassy and sarcastic, teenage children.  Last month we debunked family travel myth #1 – you have to be rich to travel with your family. And this month we are taking on the rocky road of the teenager/parent relationship!

teen travel

Lily and Ian – teens traveling the world with their parents.

One thing that thoroughly astounded us when we told people about this trip, was how many people asked us if we were taking the kids with us.  Why would we possibly leave them at home as opposed to sharing all of the wondrous sights, landscapes, food and culture with them!?!?!  I can’t imagine this trip without them!  I can’t decide if this question comes from parents not wanting to hang out with their teens or the perception that teens don’t want to hang out with their parents, but either way, I am calling complete BS on it.

In tackling  family travel myth #2 – Teenagers don’t want to leave their friends and their social lives behind to travel with their parents – I thought it might be nice to interview the kids about their thoughts and feelings about the trip and family travel, in general, and share their perspectives with you.

teen family travel

Visting Taj Mahal

What did you think when I first proposed the idea of traveling around the world?

Ian:  It was a crazy idea, but I just kinda went along with it.

Lily: At first I didn’t think it would actually happen and then after that I thought you had lost your ever-lovin’ mind.

At what point in the planning process did you start to get excited about the trip?

Ian: Like a month before we left was when I just got to the point where this was really happening and we were actually leaving.

Lily: Maybe six months. That’s when it started to feel real.

What were your biggest concerns about the trip before we left?  Why?

Ian: Money because we didn’t know if we would have enough money to go as long as we wanted.

Lily: School. Just being able to get stuff done on the road.  In terms of the trip, I was worried about how we were going to carry all of the stuff we were taking.

What did your friends think about the trip?

Ian: They all thought it was cool, but they were concerned about how we would spend so much time together without wanting to kill each other.

Lily: Some people were baffled by it, but my friends were supportive and their biggest concern was what they were going to do for a year without me there.

What have you learned about your family from this trip?

Ian: I was surprised that mom and Lily did so well on the mountain and made it through to the end.  I learned that they were tougher than I thought they were.

Lily: We’re badass.  We’ve gone through some really stressful moments, I feel like we have pulled through it as a family and I’m not sure we would have been able to pull through it without each other like if it was just me and Ian.

What is your least favorite part of traveling as a family?

Ian: There’s a lot of stuff that we get worked up about that we don’t need to.  Like getting visas.  We’ve gotten better since Turkey, but there’s still stuff that seems ridiculous to worry about that we still do.  (He means mom here.)

Lily:  I don’t have my own space, it’s our space and that means I have to clean up after myself more.

teen travel 3


What is your favorite part about traveling together as a family?

Ian:  That we don’t have to see these places alone – these cool, amazing things that we are seeing.

Lily: That our relationships with each other have gotten healthier because our lives don’t seem so separate so our stresses don’t seem so separate and that pulls us together more.

What advice would you give to teenagers about traveling with their parents?

Ian: It’s not as bad as you think it is going to be.  It’s not going to be terrible to be hanging out with your parents.  It will be what you make it so if you think you are going to have a terrible time you will and if you think that it will be a good time, then you will.

Lily:  You are not going to be independent when traveling with your parents no matter how much you think you are.  There are going to be things that happen that you are just going to want to hold your parent’s hand and you need to be ok with that.  The people you travel with are what makes the experience unique.  If you traveled with other people, you would have completely different experiences and memories.

What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking this kind of trip with their teenagers?

Ian:  Let your kids be part of the planning process and involve them as much as possible in making decisions.

Lily: Save surprises for your kids.  Don’t let them look up everything you will see online so that they can have the experience of seeing things for the first time.  Also, don’t expect them to click into it right away.  Don’t try to force them to like everything, let them experience it in their own way.

What has been your favorite experience and why?

Ian: Petting tigers in Thailand.  It was really cool to see them up close and learn about how they aren’t declawed and just being able to be in the cages with them and watch them play.

Lily:  The cooking school in Chiang Mai because I really like to cook, but I know limited stuff so it was fun to learn new things to cook and succeed at it.

family travel with teens

Lily and Ian at cooking school

What do you miss from home?

Ian: The level of social interaction at home like going out to dinner with friends and going to game night.  I didn’t expect that to be as hard as it has been sometimes.

Lily:  I miss knowing what to buy in the grocery store.  Like the whole milk debacle in Turkey.  We bought milk three times and never got the right kind of milk!!

How do you think this trip has influenced you?

Ian:  It has made me want to travel more and not just stay in one place.

Lily: I am more resilient than I thought I was and I like traveling, but I miss the comforts of home.  I never thought that would be something that resonated so strongly with me.  I mean sometimes people just need some hot chocolate or a freaking brownie or anything else that reminds them of home.

Next time we’ll take a look at family travel myth #3 – I’ll have to home school my kids if we take them on extended travel!  I know. The thought made me want to drink, too.  I mean, there is just no way I am going to succeed at homeschooling my kids in Chemistry or Calculus.  There is no end to the tears and frustration in that scenario.  And the kids would probably be upset too.  Never fear, my friends, there are other options!!


About Staci Schwarz

staciStaci and her family are currently traveling the world for several months enjoying good food, incredible sites and the best of company. You can follow their madness on www.blameitonmywildheart.com or on Facebook at Blame My Wild Heart.

Next month Staci will explore family travel myth #2 by interviewing her children to assure you that they were actually totally excited about this trip and are not being held hostage by their super mean parents who tore them away from their friends to go on a stupid trip around the world.




Valuable Skills to Learn Before Hitting the Road on a Career Break
Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Haggling is part of everyday life in some countries, such as India, Vietnam, and Egypt. Vendors are known to inflate prices for tourists and are very skilled in getting foreigners to pay more than they would charge other locals. This goes for everything from backpacks to t-shirts to fruit to tuk tuk rates. Knowing how to successfully negotiate prices will help ensure you aren’t taken advantage of and overcharged.

Creating a backup plan or two before you start haggling is important in case your first strategy doesn’t work. Plan A could be basic price negotiation. Should that fail, you enact plan B, which could be walking away or threatening to go to a competitor. Plan C could be more creative, like having a travel partner step in or offering to buy multiple items at a set price.

You can haggle for a good deal at the Luang Prabang night market.

While walking down a small side street in Fethiye, Turkey, we came across a table set up with bottles of perfume and cologne. There was a wide variety, like you would find in an airport duty free shop. Mike stopped to look at the selection while Tara stood uninterested a few feet away. The Turkish vendor manning the table came up to Mike and offered cologne suggestions and prices. His initial offer started high, as street negotiations do, and Mike showed hesitation upon hearing the price. This caused the vendor to lower the initial price without Mike having to say a word. He landed at 50 lira, which was still too high for Mike since he knew they were knock-off products. Mike counter-offered with 10 lira. Of course that’s a laughably low number, but the key to agreeing on a price you want to pay is to start low to bring the seller’s offer price down (this was plan A: plain negotiation). After a couple minutes, Mike got him down to 25 lira, but it didn’t seem like the seller was willing to drop below that. That’s when plan B kicked in, and Tara stepped in to the conversation and offered to buy two bottles for 30 lira. Sold!

As Americans who never haggle for goods at home, we went through trial and error until we got used to negotiating. It’s a skill we wished we had developed or even researched a little before leaving for our 14-month RTW trip. As we traveled, we discovered many other skills that also fell into the “wish we knew about that” category. It’s easy to overlook or not even consider learning these skills when you’re planning your career break. After all, you become consumed by figuring out how to save more money, sell your possessions, and plan a smooth transition from working 9-to-5 to a life of full-time travel. That’s why we included a whole chapter on these skills in the travel-planning book we just published, called Create Your Escape: A Practical Guide for Planning Long-Term Travel – because you don’t have time to think of everything yourself when you’re planning your big trip.

There are a lot of skills you can and should learn before leaving, but we’ll focus on a few other important ones here.

First Aid

Accidents happen even if you aren’t the clumsy type. You might wipe out on a bicycle or trip and scrape your knee while hiking. Knowing how to properly clean and bandage wounds will help ensure you don’t get an infection. And, just as important, you should know which first-aid items you should pack in the first place. Sure, you can purchase antiseptic and bandages on the road, but it’s a good idea to have a starter kit in case you need it in a remote area or after hours when shops aren’t open.

Drive a Manual Car and Motorbike

learn to drive a motorbike

Tara not really driving a motorbike in Kampot, Cambodia (more like posing). She never learned before the trip so Mike was the driver – just to be safe!

You don’t want your skills (or lack thereof) to hold you back from cool experiences while traveling. You might have an opportunity to rent a car or motorbike for a day trip or coastal drive, and you shouldn’t attempt to drive either vehicle if you don’t know how.

When we were in Southeast Asia, a local said to us, “You see all the foreigners with bandages or casts? Those are likely the result of a motorbike accident.” It’s true that many people underestimate motorbikes and scooters and think they can drive them with ease. Fully automatic motorbikes might be easier to drive, but many rental companies only offer semi-automatic and manual options. You have to be skilled in driving this type of vehicle to be successful, otherwise you risk endangering yourself and others on the road.

Likewise, many rental cars around the world are manual, and it takes practice to understand how to drive these vehicles. You could ruin the engine if you incorrectly use the clutch and don’t know how to properly shift gears, and that might cost you a pretty penny to replace. Plus, stalling out in the middle of a street (at a light or stop sign) could cause a traffic jam or even an accident depending on the flow of traffic.

A new country with different road rules than your own is not where you should learn to drive a motorbike or manual car. Sign up for a class at home so you feel confident using the vehicle and learn how to be a defensive driver. Doing this will not only ensure you don’t have to pass up an opportunity to rent a vehicle, but it may also help you in an emergency situation where you have no choice but to get behind the wheel.

Learn to Swim

Tara swimming in the Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey.

The underwater world is incredibly beautiful with its colorful coral and curious fish. You’ll likely have at least a few opportunities to snorkel or even become SCUBA certified if you want. You could see the majestic Great Barrier Reef or even watch manta rays swim inches below you. Even though you could use a life jacket or inflatable tubes to help you stay afloat, you really should be confident in the water and know basic water safety if you’re going to splash around in it.

Being a skilled swimmer isn’t just important for water-based experiences, but it could also save your life in the event of an emergency. If you’re not comfortable in the water, take lessons before you leave until you feel confident enough to float, tread water, hold your breath under water, and swim to safety.

Be an Exceptional Photographer

Mike taking photographs in Iceland.

You’ve probably perfected your selfies, but leave the selfie stick at home and turn the camera around to capture the incredible and inexplicable moments of your trip. These are images you’ll be showing others and looking at for the rest of your life, so you should know how to take a sharp, well-framed, and interesting shot, as well as edit the files to enhance them even more.

The first step is learning to take great photos, which you can do through an online course or by reading a book and then practicing every chance you get. Then take it one step further and learn the basics of Photoshop or another photo editing program so you can make your images look even better. You’ll want to understand resizing, color correction, and working with shadows, midtones and highlights. Those are very basic concepts, but they’ll help you create a more vibrant image than your camera may have captured if the lighting was poor when you snapped the shot.

To know what else you should learn before hitting the road, check out chapter 6 in Create Your Escape. It’ll give you good ideas of what to expect in foreign countries and make you an even savvier traveler.

About Tara and Mike

Career Break for CouplesTara and Mike are the original Two Travelaholics. In 2012, they quit their jobs to travel the world on their extended honeymoon, racking up 40,000+ miles in their first year and a half of marriage. When they aren’t traveling, they’re on the lookout for pugs, craft beer, and great bands. They are the authors of Create Your Escape: A Practical Guide for Planning Long-Term Travel, which teaches other travelaholics how to prepare for extended travel. Check it out at http://createyourescape.today

How to Photograph Machu Picchu
Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Machu Picchu. You finally made it. It’s the once in a lifetime event you always thought it would be because all the literature tells you it is once in a lifetime. Having been to Machu Picchu twice now, I have a few photography tips that might be of value when you make this journey in your lifetime. Why did I go twice? I was lucky enough to have won a tour at a Meet, Plan, Go! event in my hometown of Seattle. When you see (photo op) you might want to make a note of the next words.

First, take it all in. Sit for a moment after you pass through the turn styles (or if you pass through the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail) and just sit. Your memory actually works better when you don’t have a camera up to your eye. No, I can’t back that up with ‘facts’, but you know it’s true. Sit and let the view sink into you.

Photographing Machu Picchu

Done soaking? Good! Now grab your camera and take the first left hand turn you can find after walking in the main gate. It will lead uphill. Chances are, if you’re with a guided tour, your guide will lead you out and through the (photo op) main gate. You might need to sneak away when they do this. Or just let them know where you’re going.

I realize this is something of a catch 22; if you stay with the guide you get a wealth of info you wouldn’t get by walking around alone. But if you walk around alone you get photos you wouldn’t get with the guide.

The reason I tell you to hang a left is because of a few assumptions: 1) You made it to Aquas Caliente the day before and 2) you headed to Machu Picchu super early in the morning on a bus. Maybe you even hiked up the hill (it takes about 1.5 hours and is sweaty). The point is you arrived at the gate when it opened. Oh! 3) It’s not horribly cloudy. Heck, even if it’s cloudy, take that first left.

Keep heading uphill. It’ll get your heart rate up. After a while you’ll plane out onto a flat, open spot with (photo op) gorgeous views. You can stop here for some shooting, but if you’re near the front of the pack or if it’s crowded, keep heading up and to the left. Eventually you will start on the Inca Trail itself and head back to your left instead of up. This is good. A large-ish wall will be on your right. When there is a break in the wall, head up about four terraces and then turn right across the terraces.

You’re almost (photo op) there! This area is far less crowded especially in the morning. Find yourself a likely (photo op) spot just before the trail to the (photo op) Inca Bridge. Here is a perfect spot for portrait style shots. Wayana Picchu, the pokey mountain behind Machu Picchu, is well framed from this location. The sun is to your right which will make the foreground on the left side of the hill below the city a bit dark. If there are bright, white clouds this day, you’ll want to do some bracketing to make an HDR in your computer later (unless you’re reading this is 2015 and all cameras shoot at least 15 stops of light).

Photographing Machu Picchu

Spend some time here and watch the clouds. Often, because the jungle holds in moisture at night, you can shoot some intense time-lapse footage as that vapor crawls up the green hillsides. If it is a gray day, this spot works well because there is not a lot of sky behind Wayana Picchu and thus, not so much gray in your pictures. Take your (photo op) “I was here” photo at this point. Then start back on that trail you were on, going up to Sun Gate.

But stop before you get there! You know how some things never quite look like how you imagined them? Because you built them up with fantasy in your mind? Kinda like standing at the foot of the (photo op) Empire State Building and wondering why it doesn’t look like the aerial shots taken from a $2 million helicopter with a (photo op) $20 million IMAX movie camera? That’s why a lot of people go to Sun Gate. It’s cool and all, but really it’s just there to make neat patterns at certain times of the year on certain parts of Machu Picchu (you really should have stayed with your guide to learn that part).

Before you get to Sun Gate there is a spot to stop. Not the first one with the (photo op) tall rock to the right. Past that. The (photo op) spot you are looking for is small and has two simple, small terraces on the right side of the trail. THIS is the spot you want. You’ll be seeing a time-lapse movie later this week that contains that photo from this spot. Bring a wide angle lens to capture the whole valley. Bring a 100mm lens to get a nice closeup of the city and the mountain. Bring a 300mm lens to find your friends in the tour group.

Photographing Machu Picchu

Take some time here and watch the pattern of the shadows over the landscape. No need to hurry. Take photos at different times as the clouds (hopefully)(photo op) dance. Then start your way back down with that classic, postcard shot on your memory card and in your brain (please tell me you sat your camera down for a minute?).

It seems as you get closer and closer to the city it just keeps begging for more photos. The crowds are starting to arrive now and you’ll have to jockey for position. Make sure to get the standard “I was here” shot at the (photo op) main gate to the city. There might be a line.

The rest of what I’d suggest for the city itself is to explore. I could give you another dozen shots but really, inside the city, find your own path. Get close. Look at the details. Look at the craftsmanship. Marvel at the odd shapes [the same (photo op)space aliens who built the (photo op)pyramids certainly did not build Machu Picchu…..no square blocks!]. Climb up Wayana Picchu and get a photo from there if you are feeling up to the task and if you can get a ticket.

Heck, maybe even find your guide and listen to some of the stories that help bring this wonder of city to life.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling professional photographer who hosts a variety of photography workshops in Washington and California.

Photo credits: rest, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Career Breaks: They’re Not Just for Backpackers
Thursday, November 13th, 2014

When we first started telling people about planning our round-the-world trip, we often got the comment: “You two are going to backpack?

The short (and literal) answer was “no.” We’re in our fifties, so this didn’t seem like a good time to start teaching our old spines new tricks. Yet this is often the image of a round-the-world journey: people with overloaded backpacks trudging through airports and train stations. But there are alternatives.

Consider Your Itinerary:  Indoor or Outdoor?

Think about the types of places you’ll visit during your career break. Where will you be hauling your luggage? Through built-up areas or through the woods? Unless you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, it’s probably easier to take a wheeled suitcase. Our itinerary includes visits to major cities, with a few road trips in between. We won’t be camping, so backpacking is not an issue for us.

We each took one 22” wheeled suitcase along with a tote bag, plus one small carry-on bag to share. Each of our smaller bags has a sleeve to slide it onto the handle of the wheelie. Whenever we have long walks we are actually carrying very little, just pulling our belongings beside us. Most airports, train stations and buildings have ramps and elevators, so we’ve rarely had to carry our bags.

Expand Your Lodging Horizons: Beyond Hotels and Hostels

Anyone traveling long-term needs to alter their concept of lodging.  What works on a one or two-week vacation is not going to cut it for months on the road. Hotels and hostels each have their advantages, but when staying for more than a week, they feel cramped, and hotels in particular can get expensive.  We crave privacy and space to stretch out. A place to call “home,” even if it’s just for a week or so.

We chronicled our journey for The Philadelphia Inquirer as well as our own blog, so we spend many hours writing. Wherever we stay is also our workplace, so it’s nice to have more space to write.

The best option for us has been vacation rentals.

Short-term rentals are well equipped and cost-effective. In major cities they’re often cheaper for two people than staying in a hostel. As a rule, $30-$50 per person per night will get you a one bedroom flat with a fully equipped kitchen, wi-fi and sometimes even a washer and dryer. Having our own kitchen means we save money on meals, especially since we can stock up on a few staples to use over the week. Since we both love to cook, it’s fun to visit the local food markets and buy fresh ingredients.  Imagine visiting the spice market in Istanbul and going back to your flat to whip up some couscous.  Or picking up fresh shrimp and cilantro in Saigon to make a rice vermicelli dish . . . delicious!

There are many sites that offer properties with photos, pricing and online booking. Some have global reach, such as Airbnb and Homeaway; others are more regional, such as Stayz in Australia and Holiday Lettings in the UK and Europe.  For longer-term rentals (usually a month or more) we’ve been happy with Sabbatical Homes.  Regardless of where you’re going, simply start with a search using the terms “vacation rentals,” “holiday rentals” or “self-catering” and your destination.  Plenty of options will come up, and you can create your own list of favorite sites.

Most of these sites are listing services. You contact the property’s owner through the site and discuss any booking questions such as dates, facilities, etc. with them directly.  Pricing structures vary by site and country. Airbnb, for example, quotes prices on a per night basis plus a 10% service charge for booking.  In the United States, it’s common for owners to add a one-time cleaning charge to the cost of the rental. In Europe these fees are usually included, but VAT might be extra. Be sure to calculate your total cost so you can make an informed decision.

Since you are dealing directly with the owner, it is possible to negotiate pricing.  Often they will quote prices on a nightly basis, then offer discounts for weekly or monthly stays.  Off-season rates will be cheaper, and booking last-minute might get you a discount if an owner doesn’t want their property to go empty.

The best aspect of renting a flat (or cottage or cabin) is that we can immerse ourselves in our surroundings. Rentals are typically located in “real” neighborhoods, not in the “tourist ghettos” full of hotels and souvenir shops. We love buying our food in the local markets and getting to know some of the nearby residents, who are often our landlords. In the bush country of Australia, our host took us in his pickup truck for an impromptu kangaroo-viewing safari on his 3,000-acre ranch; we played ball with the neighborhood kids in Bali, and the owner of our flat in Malta gave us a homemade figolla, the traditional Maltese Easter cake. These are experiences we probably wouldn’t have had in a hotel or hostel.

When we started out on our career break, we wanted to feel like we were living in, not just passing through, our various destinations. We’ve rented places in Asia, Oceania, the Middle East, and Europe, have had great experiences everywhere, and met some fantastic people. And it’s convenient to simply wheel a suitcase through the door.

Larissa & Michael Milne turned 50, sold everything and embarked on a 1+ year round-the-world trip in August 2011. They have been writing about their experiences for The Philadelphia Inquirer and have been chronicling their journey on their own site, Changes in Longitude. They also participated in the national Meet, Plan, Go! event in New York City on October 16, 2012.

8 Secrets No One Tells You about Being an Expat
Thursday, September 25th, 2014

I have lived in the center of Amsterdam, in the rainforest of Puerto Rico,* and in my husband, David’s, hometown – a very small village outside of Barcelona. In total, I have lived (and worked) as an expat for over three years.

In these experiences, I learned plenty. One of the most profound observations was the shame I saw in expats when it comes to admittedly that, although living in a foreign land is one of life’s most worthwhile experiences, it has definite draw backs, which are rarely, if ever, discussed.

Here are the eight secrets I believe most expats would prefer not to tell you.

#1. Not all expats are awesome

A similarity between home and foreign lands? The people you meet on the road are exactly like the people you meet at home. Some you will click with, enjoy, trust and want to know better, and others will have you sprinting for the closest exit.

While the expat trail holds many wonderful people, there are others who didn’t quite fit in in their homeland and are attempting to give it a try elsewhere. Remember you do not need to participate in their social experiment.

#2. You will experience profound loneliness and feelings of complete incompetence

Every country has two versions: the citizen’s version and the traveler’s version.

The traveler’s version consists of people who speak your language, know how to deliver the comforts you expect, and are there to prevent interaction with uncomfortable situations citizens maneuver daily. Their patience is paid for (by you) and their livelihood is entirely dependent on your happiness – and as such they do their best to deliver it. (Yes, independent travelers, this applies to you, too.)

The citizen’s version consists of 100s of 1000s if not 100s of millions of people whose primary concern is – themselves.

What so many forget about living in another country is it is absolutely NOTHING like traveling in it. When living there, you are not just driving by, walking through, or snapping pictures of a foreign and beautiful place – you are attempting to navigate your life, your career, your personal relationships (most of which will be via a language you aren’t so fabulous at), your health, your finances, your Internet connection, your transport, and every aspect of your day to day life – in the deep catacombs of a culture you – no matter what you would like to tell yourself – don’t know anything about.

Combine this with leaving everyone and everything you know behind (and when I say everything – I mean – the way you buy toothpaste is about to drastically change and the WTF! moments increase substantially, and daily, from there).

All of this leads to countless feelings of incompetence, loneliness, and the ever present awareness of your outsider status. The consolation I can provide? Know that with time, it will pass (and when it does you will look back at what you accomplished and consider yourself the coolest person – you have ever known – ever).

#3. You will find your first real friend somewhere around the 12 – 18 month mark

Most expats decide to be so because they want to experience a completely different version of life. However, one of the lessons most learn is no matter where or how you live – some aspects of life just do not change – the process of finding good friends being an excellent example.

Yes, you will likely meet all kinds of interesting people, but for some reason I find that the true friends, the real ones, the friends that you will stay in touch with no matter where you are in the world, tend to show up around the 12 to 18 month mark. I am not sure why or how this is, perhaps it is because those who are most needy of friendships float to the surface first or because it takes time to figure out what you want and need, but know that it will take a while to find great friends, and committing to enjoying the process will make you that much happier when you find them.

#4. You are the punch line to a lot of jokes

My sister, David, and I were at a gas station outside of Denver shortly after arriving in the U.S. Although David does not have to pump petrol at the gas stations in Spain (they are all 100% full service), he jumped out of the car to pump ours.

But first, he had to decide how many gallons (he is accustomed to liters). Then, how to use a credit card (credit cards being something no one has in Spain) and lastly, what a zip code was. It involved a lot of trial and error with credit card insertions (at one point he tried cramming the Visa into where the receipt comes out), mad beeps, and transaction cancellations.

Inside the car, I was in uncontrollable and sobbing laughter, and my sister was repeatedly telling me I was being a jerk.
The moral of this story? The tiny differences are enormous differences, and what can you do about it? Expect a lot of laughs – in your direction.

#5.  Live in the biggest city you can

Small towns stay little, sweet, and charming for a reason – because people typically don’t move into them. On the flip side, people typically don’t move out of them either, and for the most part, nothing ever changes. That is why we love them. It is also why foreigners (and by foreigners I mean anyone from two cities over to eight countries away) do not fit too well within them.

I have written about the experiences of numerous expats with small town expat experiences and without fail the verdict is: “He who moves to a small town in a foreign land moves home quickly.” (This is from people who both spoke the local language prior to arriving and those who did not.)


Many people move to small towns because they want to experience the local culture.

The problem with this?

The local culture may very well not want to or know how to experience you.

My advice to expats? Start in a big city. There are a trillion (probably more) cultural norms which require adjustment, and no one gets an award for being the most culture shocked, the most overwhelmed, and the most uncomfortable.

Easing yourself into a country is the best way to guarantee you will stay in it. Utilize the “big city’s” expat groups, job possibilities, and general know how of working with foreigners to build your friend and professional base. Learn to speak the language, and if at the end of it all, a small town appeals to you, then by all means move to one! There are lots of small town success stories that used this approach.

#6. Find expat friends IMMEDIATELY

A friend who moved to Paris at the age of 18 told me that if I found expat friends, I would never learn the language. It was good advice for her, and I thought it was good advice for me.

Until after some months I learned this – learning a language, the culture, and customs of a new place are critical. Doing so at the expense of your sanity is just stupid. Friendships, especially those where you can have real conversations, are extremely important to the expat experience.

These expat friendships provide stability and normality to your not-at-all-normal life. They can also provide a much needed sense of “immersion empathy” which expats, and only expats, can give.

My advice? Find every friend, friend of a friend, and friend of a friend of a friend in and near where you live. Get over the discomfort of reaching out to them and set up time to go out for coffee, lunch, or dinner. Find Meet Ups, expat organizations, volunteer opportunities, and anything else you can come up with that gives you the opportunity to meet other expats. The 30 minutes of initial awkwardness is so worth the comfort, friendship, and love of your new country that will result from your efforts.

#7. Know the 2 for 10 or 10 for 2 rule

One difference between the U.S. and many other countries? In the U.S. you spend a few hours with a friend or two. In countries like Spain, you hang out with the entire high school graduating class for 10 hours a day – while, in my case at least, they were speaking Spanish and Catalan interchangeably.

I attempted this.

Consistently around hour eight (on the good days) I was melting down. After a few too many near emotional catastrophes, I implemented this rule: Two Friends for 10 hours or 10 Friends for Two Hours but never 10 (or 40) friends for 10 hours.

AND I highly suggest anyone who values their sanity do the same – starting the first day.

#8. You will have moments of desperately missing “normal” and home


And no matter what anyone tells you – that is ok.

*Puerto Rico is not another country (assuming you are American) but it is quite different from US mainland.

Bio: Linda Rubright is the founder of the delicious day. She has traveled throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, Central America, South America, the U.S., the Caribbean, and Canada. Linda sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with her dad in 2000 and has spent three years living as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean.

Read more about expat life:

Photo credits: Giedriusok, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

Adjusting to Life On a Budget
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

The biggest misconception that people have about our travels is that we are vacationing, while in reality, we are traveling. It’s a lifestyle, not a break from life.

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By choosing to live this way, we’ve had to severely alter our routines. Before we started our career break journey, our vacations took us to glamorous cities in Europe, and during this week away from work and the routine, we would let ourselves indulge. We weren’t over the top and never spent more than we had, but pricey waterfront hotels, wallet-robbing rooftop cocktails, and exorbitant tickets to lookout points, boat rides, or whatever grabbed our fancy is how we vacationed.

The difference between vacation and long-term travel

The life of long-term travel is almost the exact opposite of that. It’s about researching, planning, and if we are going to have any chance of traveling long term, it’s about budgeting.

Our previous travels served as the perfect warm up in the researching and planning department, but we’ve never tried to keep a strict budget, and certainly not a detailed one. For our career break trip around the world, we’ve set our spending to an ambitious $100 per day…total…for both of us…combined.

This includes accommodations, food, drinks, local transportation, and any miscellaneous items that pop up. We count every dollar, peso, and franc that leaves our wallets and document the amount in a spreadsheet full of formulas. This, my friends, is a huge adjustment to our lifestyle.

Before we left, back when we still had an income, we spent money freely. We’ve never been drawn to materialistic things, but we’ve always been partial to the local, trendy restaurant and bar scene. Sure, we often hit happy hours and rarely went out during the work week, but when we did go out, we seldom factored in cost.

We were frugal in so many other areas of spending – I clipped coupons and drove a used Honda – that ending up with a hundred dollar Sunday Session bill was taken with a shrug of the shoulders and a shake of the head (How did we manage to do that again?!). We didn’t bat an eye at $30 weekday sushi lunches or the daily habit of an overpriced cup of Joe; it was simply our lifestyle. If we went back and calculated our spending before we left, even with our inexpensive apartment, the fact that we rarely went shopping and didn’t carry any outstanding balances on cars or credit cards, we would have, on average, still spent more than $100 per day.

Unfamiliar Territory

Only three months into our journey (and relying solely on our savings), we’ve had to completely shift gears, which has put us into unfamiliar territory. Adjusting to our new budget has us kicking old habits.

We can’t just swing into a seaside café and blindly order a bottle of wine. Now we look at the menu before we decide whether or not we can even afford to sit down. Actually, eating a meal in a restaurant has become practically non-existent. The few meals that we have had – less than 10 in the three months since we’ve been gone – were planned adventures in experiencing life as a local, and still, by most terms, budget options.

It isn’t just the dining experiences (or current lack thereof) that have been an adjustment; all frivolous spending has come to a halt, and we never spend on a whim. Before we even step foot in the grocery store we plan out each meal, make a complete list, and only buy what is necessary (chocolate is always necessary).

Recycling has taken on a whole new meaning as we refill our one bottle with tap water (we have a Steripen if water quality is in question). And if there is something we want to do or see, we calculate how the cost would impact our daily budget, research cheaper alternatives that would satisfy the same desire, and then modify our spending in other areas to weigh it out.

Assessing priorities

The most challenging part of this balancing act is ensuring that we are not sacrificing the experience for the budget; the journey is not a journey if we don’t allow ourselves to live it.

But the reality is that the two go hand-in-hand: Breaking the bank would force us to end our journey and get real jobs again (gasp!). Since the latter is pretty much a non-option for us at this point, we are focusing on getting more creative, and up to this point, we haven’t felt like we’ve missed out on anything. Rather, by altering our lifestyle and adhering to a budget, we’ve actually opened our eyes to new possibilities.

  • In Buenos Aires, watching tango is a must. The least expensive show option of $30 (although it did include a couple drinks) didn’t jive with our budget, so instead, we opted to watch couples dance in a square in San Telmo for free. 
  • We couldn’t pass on the balcony views from Icebergs Bar in Bondi Beach, but with a small draught beer costing nearly $10, we limited ourselves to just one…and sipped slowly. 
  • In Chile, I desperately wanted to take a winery tour, but the pricey tour packages would have thrown our budget for a loop. With a little research, we found an affordable option: A lesser-known (and much to our liking, less touristy) winery with small but beautiful grounds gave tours at a fraction of the price, and the local bus dropped us off at the front gate. 
  • And while it would have been impressive to walk across the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the cost of this one activity alone would have eaten up a fifth of our total monthly budget, and besides, the stellar views from the pylon didn’t require climbing gear.

So while the adjustments were at first difficult, often uncomfortable and occasionally argument-inducing, in most cases we are finding an upside to our new found frugality.

  • We eat healthier, waste less food, and litter the earth with fewer water bottles. 
  • When we do decide to splurge and take a seat at a café, it isn’t just another drink in another café in a string of many that is likely to be forgotten; it’s more memorable. 
  • In years to come, when we look back on our travels, I highly doubt we’ll be commiserating over the fact that we skipped a ride to the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland or passed on the overpriced you-might-see-one whale watching tour in Moorea.

Because what we have done, what we will see, and what we are experiencing is worth keeping the budget in check…and us on our journey.

Simply put, we love to travel! Kris’s position at a major airline allowed him to travel all over the world (for free!), and Sarah’s first trip to Europe in 2000 awakened her travel taste buds. Jet-setting has been part of our relationship since we first started dating in 2004 – traveling extensively in America and throughout Europe. In April 2014 we decided to put our careers on hold, sell everything we owned, and travel full time. We are documenting our journey at Jet Setting Fools, and you can find us on social media: TwitterFacebook, and Instagram

Read more about budgeting for your career break trip:

Photo credits: All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

10 Tips for Staying Fit During Long-Term Travel
Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Are you planning a long-term trip and wondering how you’ll stay fit? Or maybe you’re already on the road and looking for a few new tips? 

I hate to break it to you, but it’s more challenging to stay fit while traveling than when you’re locked into a routine at home.

Just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

After 6 months on the road, here are my top 10 tips to staying fit while traveling.

1) Breakfast is for champions

You never skip breakfast right? Okay, good. It’s crucial to refuel your body with nutritious foods when you wake up. Don’t give your starving body junk food! It doesn’t like sugar, simple carbs, and bad fats. It’s easy to succumb to the “unhealthy convenient breakfast,” but you’re body will thank you if you put out a little effort in the morning.

Avoid: donuts, pastries, pancakes, cornflakes, sugar-filled fruit juice

Eat: Fresh fruit, muesli, sugar free yogurt, eggs, whole grains, fresh fruit juice

*For a well-balanced breakfast that’s easily available on the tourist trail (aka banana pancake trail) try “fruit muesli curd and honey” + two hard boiled eggs. Add a large glass of water and a cup of tea or coffee, and you’re good to go.

2) Practice seated meditation

If you already have a meditation practice, this should be a no brainer while traveling. If you haven’t tried before, don’t be intimidated. Meditation is not some weird new-age thing that only monks do in caves.

Simply sit comfortable with your eyes closed while focusing on your breath. Start with 5 mins each day. After one week, increase it to 6mins, then 7mins, with a goal of comfortably sitting for 15-20mins per day.

It can be hard to stay disciplined – I recommend committing to a 30-day challenge of daily meditation. Find an accountability partner, and try something new. You can do anything for 30 days! And if you hate it, you can stop knowing you gave it a fair shot. If you do see value – it may change your life. 

Typical results: Better sleep, less easily agitated, a general sense of well being, more control over emotions.

3) Limit your caffeine consumption

Caffeine is very accepted in western culture. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

When I was working my corporate sales job, I was a slave to caffeine. I used to down several large cups of coffee every day. I thought it helped me. After noticing some of the side affects (trouble sleeping, tension in back, unable to focus without caffeine) I decided to quit coffee cold turkey. While I did reintroduce tea into my diet, I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 7 months. I’ve been sleeping better, my concentration and creativity increased, and my mornings are enjoyable 

If you don’t want to completely cut caffeine, go for green or black tea.

4) Drink tons of water…

Especially right when you wake up. Aim for 1 liter within the first hour of being awake. This will help you wake up, jumpstart your metabolism, and assist with healthy bowel movements.

Drinking 4 liters of water per day is a reasonable goal. Aim for more if you’re in a hot climate, are really active, or you enjoy alcohol regularly.

Protip: Buy lemons from the local market and squeeze them into your water. I recommend 1-2 small lemons per day, best with warm water in the morning. Warm lemon water helps with digestion; it’s good for your skin and alkalizes your body.

5) Keep your workouts interesting!

Think swim one day, jog the next, yoga after that, and then a day of “weight training.” By changing up your exercises you can (hopefully) avoid getting burned out.

Protip: try online yoga videos. There are tons of free options available that cater to all skill levels. It’s a full body workout that supplements other forms of fitness. Here are few choices of yoga mats for travel.

6) Carry peanut butter for a healthy dessert!

Peanut butter is a perfect substitute for that chocolate banana pancake. It goes great on apples or eaten with a spoon (or finger) straight out of the jar. Just try to limit your PB to 2 tablespoons per day.

7) Read more books

I’m not talking about the news, reddit, professional journals related to your former career, or buzzfeed articles. I’m talking about FICTION. Good old-fashioned novels. Books that inspire you and challenge you to think differently. Besides, your career break is a perfect time to catch up on some of those books you’ve talked about reading.

8) Weight training doesn’t require a weight room

At home I enjoy spending a few hours each week lifting weights. Long-term travelers don’t have access to this convenience. Instead create a routine with what you have.

Plan on using your main backpack as the weight (resistance bands work too). You can wear your backpack for pushups, squats, etc. Or you can grip the top handle like a dumbbell for curls and shoulder raises. When you need to change the weight of your backpack, just increase or decrease the stuff inside. For added weight, fill your bag with 2L water bottles.

Here are some of my favorite “weight training” exercises:

  • Upper Body: wide-grip pushups, narrow-grip pushups, incline/decline pushups, triceps extensions, skull crushers (use your bed as the bench), lateral raises, shoulder raises, curls.
  • Lower Body: Single-leg squats, squats, lunges, calf raises,
  • Core: Planks, bicycle kicks, leg raises, crunches

9) Get enough sleep

This one is obvious, but for some reason we deprive ourselves all the time. Forget what they say, listen to your body. For me, I need 8 hours of solid sleep to function optimally. Maintain a regular bedtime whenever possible – our bodies like routine. James Clear summarized the science behind sleep – great read.

Protips: To maximize your sleep time… drink less alcohol, don’t eat before bed, no tv/computer before bed – turn the brightness down on screen if you MUST work late, exercise daily but NOT before bed.

10) Avoid convenience store snack benders

These little general stores carry very few things of nutritional value. Avoid buying chips/crisps or little manufactured sweets. As tempting and convenient as they are, they are made by replacing nutrients with nasty little additives and unwanted processed sugar. As a bonus you will save tons of money avoiding the convenience store snacks as they often cost the same as a local meal!

Protrip: substitute fresh fruit and vegetables from the market. Most places around the world sell cheap local fruit. If you’re looking for some good portable vegetables try cucumbers and carrots.

Your turn – what is your best tip to stay fit while traveling?

PS: If you’re looking for more tips, I asked 16 full-time travelers how to stay healthy on the road. Bonus: Sherry Ott from Meet, Plan, Go is on the list!

Brandon’s BIO: Former corporate sales rep turned nomadic entrepreneurial yogi. Street food ninja, avid outdoorsman, craft beer geek, and live music junkie. Co-founder of The Yoga Nomads – providing you the pulse on the international yoga scene. Come say hello on Facebook or Instragram!

Renting a Campervan on a Backpacker’s Budget
Monday, July 7th, 2014

As a world-traveling backpacker, I’m always on the lookout for best value, whether for quality cheap eats, comfortable budget accommodation, or transportation tips. Because I know the more money I save here and there adds up to more time—translating to a longer career break! 

Finding the best value; however, isn’t only about saving money, it’s also about creating more authentic and interesting adventures. Typically, the most obvious, convenient options result in more crowds, more cost, and an overall less personal experience. For example, would you rather sit down at an international restaurant in town center and order an overpriced burger and fries, or walk down an alley and join locals for a plate of traditional fare and spend one fourth the price? You might regret having that extra chilli, but at least it made for a good story, a lesson learned, and cleaned out the sinuses!

Learning the ins-and-outs of a new place can be time-consuming and challenging—and not without surprises—but in the end, rolling up my sleeves and diving in has been far more fun and rewarding. 

Camper van relocation?

While I discover many great finds through trial and error, I also love gathering recommendations from fellow travelers. One such travel tip came from a friend living in Melbourne and led to the highlight of my two and a half months in Australia, not to mention my most memorable Christmas to date: Camper van relocation in Tasmania.

I had heard from several Aussies that Tasmania, similar to New Zealand, is best explored by camper van (or rental car plus camping equipment). I initially shrugged at this idea. As a solo female traveler, I wasn’t keen to tent camp and knew from prior research that camper van rentals in this part of the world can cause serious cash hemorrhages. So the less-than-ideal compromise was to rent a small car and overnight in hostels, but I knew this option would restrict me from staying in remote wilderness areas.

Naturally, when my friend mentioned relocating a camper van for $1 a day my ears perked up like satellite dishes. Could this be true? I had never heard of such a deal! She had heard of a website providing a list of available routes in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA: www.imoova.com.

Sure enough, on the homepage was an advert for relocations, “one way, from $1 a day.”

I honed in on a route over the Christmas holidays: “Dec 24 – Dec 27, Melbourne to Hobart, $5 / day, $350 towards fuel and ferry crossing.” I couldn’t pick up the phone fast enough. By the end of the conversation, I had deposited and confirmed my reservation.

Merry Christmas to me!

At the Melbourne rental office, I was required to watch an instructional video on vehicle operation and features as well as review and sign a stack of paperwork. I’ll admit to my growing apprehension while signing the contract. Somehow, I had to get myself to the opposite end of town to board the Spirit of Tasmania with the following in mind: I had never driven a proper fully-equipped camper van, I was not accustomed to left-hand manually shifting, and it had been nine months since I had driven on the left! Luckily, I had given myself the entire afternoon for pick-up and orientation. Once all questions had been answered and documents reviewed, I had a good idea of what I had signed up for.

Amelia compiled a detailed cost comparison of doing a camper van relocation vs. a normal camper van rental that we’ll be posting on Thursday. Be sure to check back!

My experience

Before heading to the port, I completed several laps around the parking lot to get my bearings, then hit the grocery store to stock my new kitchen. Crossing the city at rush hour caused a few grey hairs, but once safely at the ferry terminal, I smiled at a setting sun and turned up my reggae tunes.

After a nine-hour ferry crossing and nearly no sleep, I stepped out on deck to the soft morning glow of Devonport, Tasmania and felt a sudden rush of adrenaline. It was 6am on Christmas Day. The entire town was still asleep except for the odd early-morning jogger and dog walker. I found a nice park overlooking the sea to enjoy my first camper van breakfast of instant oats, fruit and tea.

Normally, Christmas mornings consist of gift exchanges, mimosas, and my mom’s famous egg casserole, yet here I was sitting in a little house on wheels some 8,000 miles away on a former island penal colony! But, by design, this was no ordinary Christmas. I had intentionally scheduled my trip over the holidays to experience something different, and I couldn’t wait to see what Tasmania had in store for me.

I had nearly four days and three nights ahead of me and knew only where I’d spend my first overnight—Cradle Mountain National Park. The drive from Devonport to Cradle Mountain’s caravan park is about 80 km, but given my vehicle size and Tasmania’s winding roadways on top of getting lost a couple times, I arrived in about three and a half hours. The passing landscapes of cattle and sheep paddocks, poppies and trees were a refreshing change from Melbourne’s concrete and urban bustle. As I made my way towards the mountains, I couldn’t get over the fact that it was just me, my camper van and the open Tassie road. And literally “open road” since most locals were at home celebrating with family and friends.

In front of the caravan park office, I found an envelop with my name on it, inside containing a map and instructions. A modest gravel road led me deeper into the forest, passing secluded camp sites, curious wallabies and finally to site #9. Home sweet home. I clipped the tag from the envelop to my camp post as instructed and prepared for an afternoon hike. My camper van and I were like new best mates by now. I was equally as excited for an epic Christmas hike as I was about preparing a Malaysian curry dinner and glass of Australian Shiraz with my van.

As one of Tasmania’s iconic wilderness areas, Cradle Mountain National Park woos and enchants its visitors, myself being no exception. After bushwalking through stretches of unmaintained trail, the path opened up to golden blankets of button grass, craggy eucalyptus trees, and feeding wombats and wallabies. Dirt gave way to a wooden boardwalk that seemed like my own yellow-brick road. The air was fresh and slightly cooled by a gentle breeze. A trail runner passed me at one point, but other than her, I was alone in the woods—happily. And, it was blissfully quiet. I listened to the sound of my footsteps on the boardwalk and then of a wombat feasting on button grass. Leaving him to enjoy his dinner, I skipped down the wooden planks for several meters humming whatever melody came to mind. Back in the van, I covered the table with my Thai sarong, set my iPhone music to shuffle, poured a glass of wine, and started in on chopping veggies. A curry a never tasted so good.

A couple days later, once mobile reception and the time difference matched up, I phoned my parents back home to wish them a Merry belated Christmas from Freycinet National Park. They had just returned from visiting family in Canada and were exhausted from driving through heavy rains on I-5, our 12-lane interstate. I had just finished a hike to Wineglass Bay and a refreshing dip in Honeymoon Bay.

As I described my Tasmania adventures, I laid reclined on flat granite rocks with my toes dangling in aqua-blue waters. My day had included: breakfast tarts at the bakery in Ross (population approx. 270), rocking out to my music playlist in the van, road-side cheese tasting, an invigorating hike, and an afternoon swim. I now felt comfortable driving the van, plugging into an electrical supply, filling up the water tank, shifting with my left hand, and securing the inside doors and cabinets before driving (as to not have pots and groceries flying about). I felt so at ease in my little home, and I was falling in love with the beauty and energy of Tasmania. Knowing I had only one more night of camper van life was a sad realisation. I could have traveled around Tasmania like this for another month.

Post camper van trip, I stayed in Hobart for four days—just in time for the Sydney to Hobart yacht race—and had a ball exploring the area and meeting new friends.

In the end, there were no fender-benders and no roll-overs. I arrived an hour early to Hobart and was credited the $1,000 bond. Phew!

After comparing what I could have paid as a normal renter, I calculated a savings of $1,266.82 AUD. In a sense, I suppose, it’s unfair to call this a savings, because the regular cost of $1,767.09 AUD is frankly not within a backpacker’s budget.

However, I most definitely would pay $500.27 AUD again for this experience, and I would highly recommend it to other adventurous travellers.

Amelia Tockston has maintained a longterm love affair with travel. Since beginning her career break in January 2013, she has explored New Zealand’s north and south islands, eastern Australia, Chukotka Russia, Mexico City, Singapore, Palau in the South Pacific, Indonesia, and hopes to reach Nepal and India this coming fall. Prior to taking her career break, she worked for an expedition travel company for nearly eleven years directing the Marketing department. Amelia feels the most alive and present when traveling and has an eye to appreciate the boundless wonders that Mother Nature offers. She’s also realized, particularly while on sabbatical, that the people she’s encountered and their stories are equally as inspiring as the destinations discovered.


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