Real ROUND THE WORLD Trip: Asia, Australia & Africa

How great would it be to have the time to go on a multi-month round the world (RTW) trip with your signifiant other?  Pretty amazing, right?  When you both have full-time jobs it can be really hard to turn that dream into a reality, so when the opportunity presented itself to Robin and Darin (i.e. a cross-country move and the start of a new job), they enthusiastically took it.  Read all about their absolutely incredible travels in Asia, Australia, and Africa below:

How long was your RTW trip, and how did you find the time to go?

We traveled for seven weeks – July through August [2013] – and we were really lucky to travel for that amount of time. We had been living in Boston, and Darin was offered, and chose to accept, a job in Florida. Since we were moving and both of us were going to have to change jobs, we tossed around the idea of traveling before starting work. Before we knew it, our apartment in Boston was all packed up and heading to storage, our new lease in Florida wasn’t starting until September, and we were on a plane to Asia.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

Where did you go (and how much time did you stay in each place)?

Darin has family in Sydney and Johannesburg, so we knew when we started talking about the trip that we had to go to those cities. We then planned around those destinations and decided to go to places that would not be easily accessible on a one or two-week trip once we went back to work. We basically looked at a map and picked out places we had interest in going to or that our friends had been to. We are an active couple, so we were more excited about seeing a country’s natural beauty rather than eating at high-end restaurants or wandering through museums.

Bike riding in Tokyo

Bike riding in Tokyo

We also tried to plan our trip by choosing destinations that we could get to on direct flights. So inevitably, our first destination was going to be a big city.

The Itinerary:

Tokyo – 3 days
Beijing – 2.5 days
Hong Kong – 2.5 days

At this point in our trip we were tired of big cities and were excited to have the same currency for longer than a few days. We spent about two weeks traveling around Thailand.

Chang Mai – 3 days
Koh Tao – 4 days
Koh Samui – 3 days
Gillham’s Fishing Resort, outside of Krabi – 1.5 days

From Thailand we headed to Cambodia based on friends’ recommendations.

Siem Reap – 2 days

We left the northern hemisphere summer for winter down under. It was nice to be able to spend time with family without being jetlagged.

Port Douglas (launching point for the Great Barrier Reef) – 2.5 days
Sydney – 5 days

From Sydney we had a direct flight to Jo-burg, and met up with Darin’s parents for two weeks of travel throughout Southern Africa.

Johannesburg – 2 days
Botswana – 4 days (Nxabega Okavango (tented camp) and Sandibe Safari Lodge)
Zambia (Victoria Falls) – 2 days
South Africa – 5 days (Londolozi and Ulusaba (Richard Branson’s private game reserve))

At Victoria Falls in Zambia

At Victoria Falls in Zambia

Did you have a set itinerary from the start, or did you play things by ear?

We booked our RTW ticket on OneWorld, and they have a very user-friendly website that made it easy to build an itinerary. Although the ticket is flexible (we could change the flight dates and times without a penalty and pay a small fee to add a city), we had all of our stops planned before we left the States, and we had our hotels booked before we arrived in each city. We only had to change a flight once, which is pretty impressive since we took more than 20 flights during the trip.

We planned most of our activities when we got to city based on hotel recommendations and from other travelers we met along the way.

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

How hard was it to pack for a RTW trip?    

The hardest part of packing was that we needed clothes for both the northern and southern hemispheres. Southeast Asia is very hot, humid, and wet in the summer, and southern Africa is very cold at 6AM which is when you do your morning safari drive.

In the weeks leading up to the trip I followed the blog Travel Fashion Girl which has great advice on how to pack for various cities and activities, and there is even a packing list for RTW travel. We certainly were not fashionistas on this trip and definitely packed for function. We are embarrassed to admit that our lifeline in Asia was our Tevas – they kept us cool, they didn’t get ruined in the rain, they were easy to hike in, and we didn’t have to travel with many socks (clean or dirty).

We packed a lot of exercise-type clothes because they are light, sweat-wicking, and easy to hand wash. We quickly got tired of our bathroom being a laundry facility but we couldn’t afford the laundry prices at the hotels. However, just blocks from our hotels we were usually able to find shops that do laundry for $1 / kg.

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

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Real Honeymoon: Jamaica

Karman and Jaime are big fans of the Caribbean, so they decided to honeymoon in Jamaica! Read all about their awesome honeymoon full of beach cocktails, cliff diving, and beautiful sunsets below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

For our honeymoon, we went to Negril, Jamaica [in August, 2013].

Jamaica honeymoon

How long was your trip?

We were there for 6 nights.

Jamaica honeymoon

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We decided on our destination because we have been to the Caribbean a few times and were in love with the water and the laid back island vibe. We had never been to Jamaica, but got a lot of good recommendations, so we decided to give it a try. While our usual vacation style is more adventurous, we decided to take it to the other extreme and stay at an all inclusive resort so we could fully relax after planning and executing our wedding.

jamaica honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

… night snorkeling in the sea, about one mile off the coast of Negril. We could hear a Reggae band playing from the shore, and were able to swim around with spotlights and explore a sunken ship and the diverse fish and animals that “only come out at night…” It was really amazing! We also had a great time just being together, since the weeks leading up to our wedding were pretty crazy!

jamaica honeymoon

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

If I knew then what I know now, we would have stayed in Jamaica longer and planned ahead better — we fully embraced our relaxation, but would have loved to explore more of the island itself. We went on a few day trips, went cliff diving and hung out with the locals, but we didn’t have a chance to really get to know Jamaica.

jamaica

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Our Travel-Crazy October

I’m sorry for being a bit behind on blogging recently, but this month has been totally crazy with travel.  Aaron and I went out of town the last four weekends in a row, and we have one more wedding to travel to before things slow down for us.

october2013

This is what October looked like

Not that I’m complaining though — the last four weekends have been great!  First we took Aaron’s parents to Big Sur and stayed at one of my favorite resorts of all time: Carmel Valley Ranch.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful weekend to show the Minnesotans around Monterey Bay.

Next we went to Portland so Aaron could run the marathon.  Here’s a tip: if you want us to visit you, get a puppy like our friends Sarah and Nick did just a few days before we arrived.  We loved everything about Portland, and having a brand new puppy join us on our adventures was definitely the cherry on top.

The following weekend we went to Scottsdale for our friends’ wedding.  US Airways canceled our flight about 12 hours before we were supposed to leave, so we had to take a later flight and unfortunately didn’t have a lot of free time before the wedding.  However, the wedding was great and we had such a good time celebrating with the new Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan!

And last weekend we spent my birthday in one of the greatest towns of all: Ann Arbor, Michigan.  While Michigan may not be on the top of everyone’s favorite vacation destinations lists, I absolutely love visiting my alma mater, especially when the leaves change color in October.  A little rain on game day didn’t dampen our spirits, and staying in this amazing rental house with 23 friends was so much fun.

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Real Honeymoon: Kauai & Tahiti

What do you do when you want a relaxing honeymoon in Tahiti but your significant other wants an exciting honeymoon in Hawaii?  Compromise and do both!  Yes, that’s right.  Katie and Adam decided to honeymoon in Kauai AND Tahiti.  Is that the ultimate multi-moon or what?  Read all about this amazing honeymoon and check out their incredible photos below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We went to Kauai, Moorea, and Bora Bora in July [2013] (immediately after our wedding). There is only one flight a week from Hawaii to Tahiti, so you have to plan around that.

Kauai Honeymoon

How long was your trip?

2 weeks

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

My husband loves activities! We wanted to do a mix of adventure (Kauai) and relaxation (Tahiti).

Bora Bora Honeymoon

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Bora Bora! We literally wanted to move to the island! We stayed at the Four Seasons and took advantage of every second there. Favorite parts: the breakfast buffet, daily happy hour (which you can enjoy while watching the sunset), paddle boarding around the hotel, a 3 hour snorkel tour we did with Christof, and dinner at La Villa Mahana. Pretty much everything!

Bora Bora Honeymoon

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

We would skip Moorea and head straight to Bora Bora. Not because we didn’t enjoy it, but because it was a pain traveling there for just one night.

How much planning did you do in advance?

A decent amount for Kauai. My husband bought a book on the island and sought out reccs from friends who had been there. We made restaurant reservations in advance, which was key, since the hotel (and island) were pretty full! For Bora Bora, the one reservation we made far in advance (6+ months out) was dinner at Villa Mahana. (There is only one seating each night, and 8 tables, so this is a must!)

Kauai Honeymoon

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Even Travel Bloggers Miss Flights

My brother recently asked me, “Are you ever going to blog about that time that you missed your flight to Austin last year?”

“Why would I ever write about that?” I asked.

“To show the world that even travel blogger miss flights!” was his response.

I definitely wasn’t ready to write about this for awhile, but I think I’ve finally come to terms with the embarrassing truth: it’s true – I missed a flight to Austin last year… while sitting at the gate in the airport.

airplane

There goes my flight… without me.

I recall the gate agent’s announcement that they were about to start the boarding process, but the next thing I knew the screen at the gate said “Boise.”  Was I scatterbrained because I was running late for the flight?  Was I a little tipsy from a pre-flight cocktail?  Was I wearing headphones?  The answer to all of those questions is “no.”  I just flat out missed the flight.

Okay, let me explain.  I was totally consumed by a really good book.  But really, I think the thing that got me was that the plane was a lot smaller than the ones that I normally go on, so the boarding process was much faster than normal.  Seriously, the time it took between pre-boarding the “final call” (if there even was one) couldn’t have been more than five minutes.  Like I said, I was AT THE GATE without headphones on – I’d seriously like to think that if they called my name for final boarding I would have heard it.

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Real Honeymoon: Malaysia

Remember when I asked if there was such a thing as taking too many flights on a honeymoon?  Well Ben and Yoninah are back from their epic trip, and they will be the first to tell you that all of the flying was well worth it.  Read all about their incredible Malaysian honeymoon below (and do not miss their amazing sea turtle video!):

When and where did you honeymoon?

We left for our honeymoon on September 3 [2013] (just over 24 hours after the bride finished her post-wedding afterparty cheesesteak). The honeymoon’s primary destination was Malaysia (both Borneo and peninsular Malaysia), but also included stops in Bangkok and Tokyo.

kinbalu

How long was your trip?

The trip was two weeks long.

tuktuk

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We always knew that we wanted to go somewhere really far away and exotic and somewhere that we would likely never visit again. We also knew that we wanted part adventure and part relaxation. Our thinking was not much more developed than far away and off the beaten path when Yoninah and I were watching a Discovery Channel special on orangutans. Yoninah said “Let’s go there!” After some Googling we learned that the best place to see orangutans is in Malaysia on the island of Borneo. We also discovered that the requirements of adventure and relaxation could be met in Malaysia.

orangutan

We then developed our itinerary around other things we definitely wanted included. We both wanted more wildlife, I wanted some form of hiking, and Yoninah wanted relaxation on a beach. The final itinerary included beaching, a climb of Mt. Kinabalu (the highest mountain in Malaysia and depending on who you ask, the highest mountain in SE Asia), a visit to Turtle Island (a sanctuary where we saw a mother turtle lay her eggs and later see hatchlings released), and five days on Langkawi at the Andaman Resort (off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia). Our slow return home also included day-long stops in Bangkok and Tokyo.

The best part about our honeymoon was…

Reaching the top of Mt. Kinabalu at sunrise, releasing a baby sea turtle in the ocean, and monkeys – Yoninah loves monkeys. Also a big plus was traveling just about the entire way in business class for about 1/10th of what it would have cost to pay cash for the flights (Thanks, credit card sign up bonuses!).

kinbalu2

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Expensive Gift Idea for Travel Lovers: Luggage!

When my parents started buying pieces of luggage for me back in high school, I’ll easily admit that I was less than enthused.  A garment bag for a birthday, a carry-on for Hannukah — it really didn’t seem too exciting at the time, but my parents promised that I’d appreciate the pieces later on… and they were right.

10+ years later (*cough cough*), I’ve learned the importance of having high quality luggage.  Not only does it look a lot nicer, but the good stuff will last a really long time which is why it makes for great gifts for travel lovers.  Whether you’re rushing between business meetings or pulling your luggage along cobblestone roads in Europe, the last thing you’ll want is for your suitcases to fall apart.*

As for the brands that I prefer, I am partial to both Briggs & Riley and Tumi.  Tumi luggage tends to be a teensy bit heavier, but only my grandma thinks that the difference is noticeable.

luggage

Domestic Carry On Expandable Upright Briggs & Riley (left) and Frequent Traveler Zippered Expandable Carry-On Tumi (right)

If you don’t have a set of good luggage already, it’s not a bad idea to register for some as wedding gifts.  The three critical pieces that I recommend registering for are:

  • at least one expandable carry-on upright (like this or this),
  • one “large-but-not-too-large” upright (like this or this — the larger it is, the more likely you’ll surpass airline weight maximums), and
  • a nice laptop bag (like this or this)

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Real Honeymoon: Mexico

After a gorgeous wedding at Santa Clara University (their alma mater), Hillary and Brent jetted down to Cabo for an extremely relaxing honeymoon.  They loved their resort so much that not even a tropical storm dampened their spirits!  Spoiler alert: complimentary daily guacamole deliveries to their room were involved — I would have been in heaven, too!  Read all about their luxurious Cabo honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We went to Capella Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in August 2013.

Sunset at El Farallon

Sunset at El Farallon

How long was your trip?

5 nights/6 days.

Cabo honeymoon

The main pool at Capella Pedregal

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

cabo honeymoon

Lunch in the pool

With such a long engagement (17 months), we had plenty of time to change our mind time and again about whether to honeymoon, and where. At first we wanted to take a long, exotic trip to Europe or Tahiti. But as the realities of PTO and an over-budget wedding set in, we reconsidered. We discussed postponing our honeymoon altogether, but we longed for a way to spend time unwinding together after the 17 month build-up.We looked at mini-mooning in Southern California, but found the time and expense of that trip comparable to traveling to Cabo, which is where we landed. We searched hotels on tripadvisor.com and chose the #1 rated Capella Pedregal because of its stellar reviews and personal infinity pools in every room.

cabo honeymoon

View from Hillary and Brent’s private pool

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The atmosphere at Capella Pedregal. The resort was made for honeymooners, from the ocean-front infinity pool and swim-up bar, to the world-class spa and restaurants, to the luxurious rooms and overly-accommodating staff who deliver complimentary guacamole and Corona to your room every afternoon.

cabo honeymoon

Back in the main pool

cabo san lucas beach

The beach in front of Capella Pedregal

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Nothing, it was literally the perfect honeymoon, even in spite of the tropical storm that hit one night. I wouldn’t be deterred from visiting Mexico again during hurricane season since it was warm throughout our trip and sunny all but one half day. And we were told that tropical storms in August, although not unheard of, are rare.

cabo honeymoon

Tropical Storm? Who cares?!

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Creative Gift Idea for Travel Lovers

Need a cute gift idea for someone who loves to travel?  Just before our wedding last year, my best friend surprised us with these awesome maps she bought for us on Etsy:

photo 2 (21)

It took us awhile to actually put them up in our apartment because my husband and I are pretty clueless when it comes to home decor, but we absolutely love them!  The four hearts represent where we got married, where we met (and still live), and the two countries that we visited on our honeymoon.

photo 1 (18)

The Bombus shop on Etsy has tons of creative gift ideas, and their website has even more wedding-specific gifts that you can buy for your friends (or even for yourself – why not?)  Just keep in mind that they’re based in the UK, so allow yourself plenty of time for shipping if you need to receive your items by a certain date.

(Thanks, Alice!)