Amanda & Justin’s Real RTW Trip: Part 2

Amanda and Justin’s RTW trip was too awesome to confine to one blog post, so you can read part 1 here, and below is part 2 – enjoy!

What were your three favorite places that you visited on this trip?

It’s so hard to narrow down our favorite places from a trip this long; there were so many amazing places! From a high level, our favorite countries were:

Argentina: Justin’s sister lives in Buenos Aires, so we got a real taste of the local culture in the area and got to meet several of her friends. BA is an extremely fun city and it’s impossible to beat the steak dinners and incredible wine at cheap prices. Bariloche is a ski gem, the Lake Tahoe of Argentina: fun little town, incredible natural beauty, good skiing/snowboarding, and lots more amazing food and homemade chocolate. Mendoza has amazing wine and also unparalleled natural beauty.

Bariloche

Skiing in Bariloche, Argentina

Turkey: this country blew us both away, both by the outdoor activities, insanely beautiful landscapes, amazing food, history, culture, and fun. Our first stop was Selcuk – it’s has a great coastline and beaches, and the world-famous Ephesus ruins which were very impressive. Then we went to Pamukkale, which consists of an absolutely gorgeous mountain of hot springs, “travertines,” and waterfalls. This place is impossible to describe, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking. Then we went to Cappadocia for a sunrise hot air balloon ride, exploring the impressive landscapes, and amazing food. Finally, we spent 5 days exploring Istanbul, one of our favorite cities on the whole trip.

pamukkale1

Pammukale, Turkey

Cappadocia

Cappadocia, Turkey

Indonesia: We spent 5 incredible days relaxing and enjoying resort life in Seminyak, Bali. We spent some time exploring the island and seeing the rice paddies, but most of the time decompressing from our hectic travel schedule, enjoying the beach, pool, and being in one place for a change. We then went to the Komodo Islands and did a 3-day liveaboard diving trip, which turned out to be by far the best diving either of us had ever done. The quality, quantity, and size (both HUGE and incredibly tiny and beautiful) of the marine life was unmatched, and the liveaboard experience was unbeatable, including delicious home-cooked Indonesian food for every meal. We also had the opportunity to go on land to see the famous Komodo Dragons – the only place in the world they exist! Finally, we relaxed on beautiful Gili Trawangan, which has no cars, good diving, and great beaches.

One of the most beautiful, rare, and poisonous creatures in the sea: the blue ring octopus. This little beauty was only about 1.5 inches long.

One of the most beautiful, rare, and poisonous creatures in the sea: the blue ring octopus. This little beauty was only about 1.5 inches long.

Komodo dragon!

Komodo dragon!

Also worth of honorable mention as the two best surprises of the trip:

Bruges, Belgium: Maybe it’s just because we didn’t know much about this town before we got there, or because the day we showed up there was a city-wide festival of music, arts, and games going on, but this place stole our hearts. Really, the only word to describe it is adorable. Charming architecture, fun small-town feel, INCREDIBLE selection of Belgian beers for cheap prices, amazing food (so many mussels…) and great Belgian chocolate. We could have spent much more time here.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Singapore: We had heard a lot of negative things about the city-state, but we both loved it. We’ve heard it described as “sterile,” but for us it was just modern and fun. Lots of cool places to wander, stuff to see, great views from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and some of the best street food we ate on the entire trip (the dumplings are too die for!). They have a few areas where they set up dozens of food hawker stalls that allows you to eat any kind of Asian food you can imagine: Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, etc…all for cheap prices. The street food there is pretty hard to top.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Were there any places you wish you had skipped?

Yes, but really the only places we didn’t love are places that we used for transit and didn’t plan on spending any time. These cities include Lima (Peru), Zagreb (Croatia), Podgorica (Montenegro), and Vientiane (Laos). I don’t think we regretted and of the places where we actually spent time – we did lots of research and only visited places we knew we would enjoy.

Do you have any tips for other couples who are considering going on a RTW trip?

  • First, just do it. There are always a million excuses why you can’t do a trip longer than 2-3 weeks, but you won’t regret doing it. It is a lifetime of memories that are invaluable.
  • Kindles and iPads are an absolute must for a trip like this. Both are great for long flights, bus rides, transportation of any kind really. iPads allowed us to easily download shows and movies, and we also bought lightweight USB keyboards so we could write emails to friends and family without having to hunt and peck on an iPad.
  • Facebook can be a very useful tool to get recommendations for specific places – don’t be afraid to use it as long as you’re not being too general.
  • Information is key!! Before you go to a new country or city, inform yourself about how much taxis should cost, whether using the meter is a custom, and what the exchange rate is to avoid being ripped off. Nothing worse than finding out later you paid way too much for a taxi ride. The exchange rate app XE was very useful for us. In general, don’t trust taxi drivers, especially at airports and bus stations! Make sure you have the name of the place you are staying on your phone (we took screen shots) to show the taxi driver. Also, try to google map how far the distance is to your accommodation so you have a general idea of what you are in for.
  • Tripadvisor is your friend: we relied on it heavily for restaurants, activities, and places to stay.
  • If you’ve got hotel points or airline miles, this is the time to use them – but do so in places where your points will go the furthest, and where other accommodations may be less appealing.
  • Try to space out when you stay in nice hotels – it is something to look forward to but also critical in reenergizing for the rest of the trip. If we were moving around a lot, we would then plan to stay in a place for 4 – 5 nights (and sometimes in a hotel) so we could take a breather and regroup for the next journey.
  • Buy a travel backpack. Don’t even think about doing this with a rollerboard or standard suitcase. We both used Osprey backpacks which held up great!
  • Don’t take yourself or anything too seriously because, let’s face it, traveling can be stressful. There will be times that things don’t go your way or you are tested, but always remember that you are a team, in this together, and don’t hold onto the frustration. It’s okay to be frustrated at times but look, it’s all part of the adventure. Just shake it off as best and as quickly as possible. You don’t want it to ruin the trip or your partner’s experience!

Continue reading

Advertisements

Amanda & Justin’s Real RTW Trip: Part 1

My friend Justin is one of the best-traveled people I know, so when he told me that he was going on a round the world (RTW) trip with his girlfriend Amanda after they graduated from business school, I couldn’t wait to hear about their travel plans because I knew they’d be ridiculously impressive.  Six months and 20+ countries later, I was not disappointed one bit. And since they have so many beautiful photos and thoughtful RTW trip recommendations, I decided to split their post into a two-part series. Here’s part 1 – enjoy!

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

Our trip was 6 months long and the timing was perfect for us as we had just graduated from business school in June, 2013. We both had jobs lined up and were offered a late start date (February 2014) – the opportunity to travel for that length of time was too good to pass up.

Justin and Amanda in Bali

Justin and Amanda in Bali

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

The rough breakdown is as follows:

~6 weeks in South America:
• Ecuador (Galapagos Islands, Quito, and Banos)
• Peru (Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and Cuzco)
• Argentina (Buenos Aires, Bariloche, and Mendoza)

~8 weeks in Europe:
• Spain (Barcelona, Mallorca, and San Sebastian)
• France (Saint Emilion, and Paris)
• Belgium (Bruges)
• Netherlands (Amsterdam)
• Germany (Munich for Oktoberfest)
• Austria (Vienna)
• Slovenia (Ljubljana and Lake Bled)
• Croatia (Zagreb, Plitvice National Park, Zadar (coastal drive), Split, Hvar and Korcula (islands) and Dubrovnik)
• Montenegro (Kotor)
• Turkey (Ephesus, Pamukkale, Capadoccia, and Istanbul)

~3 weeks in the Middle East:
• Jordan (Petra, Wadi Rum desert, Aqaba, and Amman)
• Israel (Eilat, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Bethlehem)

~6 weeks in Southeast Asia:
• Thailand (Bangkok, Krabi, and Chiang Mai)
• Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane)
• Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur)
Singapore
• Indonesia (Bali, Komodo Islands, and the Gili Islands)

~3 weeks in New Zealand (Amanda went home for the holidays as she had already been to NZ, so Justin pushed on solo):
• Auckland
• Whitianga
• Tongoriro Crossing / Lake Taupo
• Rotorua
• Queenstown
• Wanaka
• Franz Josef glacier
• Milford Sound

Cappadocia

Hot air balloon in Cappadocia, Turkey

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

We booked the long flights through American Airline’s RTW ticket desk (this consisted of about 10 – 12 segments), and then played everything else by ear. Once we were booked, the cities were set in stone but the dates were changeable for free (luckily, we never had to change anything). For example, we knew we were flying into Buenos Aires on a specific date, and we would generally plan the activities that we did in that area as we went along. One condition of the RTW tickets was that we had to fly into and out of the same city (we were allowed one exception to this rule, which we used in Europe: flew into Barcelona and out of Istanbul). Therefore, we also knew what date we had to be back in Buenos Aires to fly out. How early we planned things depended on where we were: in Europe it was very easy to just make decisions and hop on a train or bus, whereas in Indonesia we had to book flights to get from island to island – so that part required more advanced planning.

Pamukale

Justin and Amanda in Pamukkale, Turkey

Our greatest resources for recommendations for each location were suggestions from previous friends that have traveled there, tripadvisor (we used this A LOT for everything ranging from activities to restaurants to hotels), and posting on FB for recommendations. These resources all were an important part to the planning process. Also, don’t underestimate the time it takes to plan! We would take a day here and there to just do research and plan our next move – you want to make sure you put thought into what you do so you can finish the trip with no regrets which is what we did!

View from the top of the Marina Sands Hotel in Singapore

View from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

How hard was it to pack for a RTW trip?    

The answer to this question varies significantly depending on who you ask – packing was much easier for Justin.
For Justin, the thought of packing for this trip sounded daunting at first (6 months, countless cities and countries, and multiple climates in both summer and winter), but at the end of the day he just simplified and packed light. When it was cold he layered up. He packed mostly things he didn’t care too much about, expecting stuff to get lost or ruined – no real science to it. Amanda put much more thought into her packing…

From Amanda’s perspective, this was a very overwhelming trip to even think about packing for because she didn’t want to forgo her fashion sense for total utility so she worked hard to strike a balance. She wishes she had some advice while packing therefore she has provided some key things / recommendations that she would make to girls packing for a RTW including:

  • Get a backpack that you can easily get into and out of so you don’t feel like you have to repack every time you want to get a shirt – I LOVED my backpack which was the Osprey Waypoint 65L which was great because it had a daypack attached to it (very convenient) and it zips open like a suitcase which was very helpful. Have your backpack fitted to you as well so it is more comfortable (they can do it in any travel or outdoorsy store).
  • Scarves are your best friend – I brought 4 on the trip and bought more while traveling. They are not only great to add warmth and layers, but they can easily change up an outfit to make you feel like you have more clothes than you do!
  • Roll everything you pack – it takes up way less space so you can squeeze more things into your back pack
  • Only pack lightweight things and focus on layering – I brought a lot of solid colored tank tops that I could layer with each other or under sweaters. This is also a great way to change up the look of outfits.
  • Buy space compressible bags to pack bulky items in! I had one from EagleCreek and it was life saving – I could put 6 sweaters in it and compress them to take up the space of half that.
  •  Try to pack things that are one color scheme so every piece goes with everything else – I took a lot of black and white items so then I could add a colorful scarf, tank top or necklace to make many outfits out of a few items
  • Don’t underestimate the amount of active clothing you will need (work out pants / shirts, etc.) – that is one thing I wish I would have brought more of because if they get sweaty, you can’t re-wear them!
  • Find a great crossbody purse that is neutral in color and zips up so you don’t lose all of your valuables. I got a Marc by Marc Jacobs beige canvas bag which was perfect. I could easily clean it, it went with everything, was large and had a zip pocket that I could safely put my wallet and passport so I would not get pick-pocketed.
  • Don’t pack anything you are attached to – I took only inexpensive items and did have some things ruined during the course of the trip. I had to throw them out but it was no big deal since they weren’t expensive!
  • Have a great pair or two of sunglasses – the best accessory to make you look great in pictures when you may feel “not at your best” after camping for 3 nights and not showering, just for example…
An island in Indonesia

An island in Indonesia

_____________________

Come back tomorrow to read the second part of Amanda and Justin’s amazing round the world trip, including thoughts on their favorite and least favorite places, and lots of incredibly helpful tips for other couples considering going on a RTW voyage.

Making the Most Out of Layovers: Part 1

I really hate layovers.  To me, they’re almost always a waste of time and just another chance of a delayed/missed/canceled flight while the airline loses my luggage.  That’s why earlier this year, my husband and I made the conscious decision to always pay extra to fly direct whenever we possibly can.

However, flying direct to many popular honeymoon destinations is just not feasible, even for those who live near big hubs like Los Angeles or New York.  So if you need to have a layover or two, why not try to make the most of it à la Anthony Bourdain?

Los Angeles

You may find yourself stuck at LAX en route to Hawaii, Australia/New Zealand, Asia, or Tahiti/Fiji.  Depending on how much time you have, you will probably want to rent a car since the city is so spread out.

I totally agree with Tony that your very first stop should be In-N-Out Burger – there’s one right by the airport.  (The burgers aren’t huge – you’ll still look awesome in your bikini, I promise.)  After that, the world is your oyster.  If it’s your first time in LA, you may want to drive over to do some shopping in Beverly Hills or The Grove.  If you’re looking to just take it easy, maybe drive over to Malibu or Santa Monica.

Beware of LA traffic though, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to the airport before your next flight.

Miami

Miami is the gateway to the Caribbean and South America.  The infamous beaches are just 30 minutes away, and you can easily get there via the super shuttle or a taxi.

South Beach is a pretty amazing place to people watch and get some excellent seafood.  But if you don’t want to venture out of the airport, there’s a pretty decent Cuban restaurant that you should check out in Terminal D.

London

London is a great city for a layover because there’s so much to see and do, and Heathrow will connect you to many airports throughout Europe and Africa.  Unless you’ve got tons of money to spare, take the Tube into town because taxis are incredibly expensive.  In fact, everything you do is going to be pricey, so just be aware of that.  If you’re going to be in London for < 24 hours, just buy a one-day travel card.  But if you’re going to be in town for longer than that, buy yourself an Oyster card.

Crunched on time?  Just go to a pub.  Which pub, you ask?   Any pub will do.  Really.  Beers will be at least $8 each, but they will be delicious and worth it.  Order some fish and chips as well.

Have plenty of time?  There are so many great (and free!) museums in London, my favorite being The British Museum.  You’ll also want to take obligatory photos near Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace.

Continue reading

Real Honeymoon: Maldives, Sri Lanka & Dubai

My friends Natalie and Josh are the first to kick off the “Real Honeymoons” series on Peonies to Palm Trees.  Read all about their incredible honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

In September 2010, we went to the Maldives, Dubai, and Sri Lanka.

How long was your trip?

We kicked it off with 8 nights in the Maldives, then 2 nights in Sri Lanka, and 12 hours in Dubai. Plus 34ish hours on planes and another 10ish in airports ;)

Private pool at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

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

Shortly after we got engaged, my then-fiancé and I went to Paris for a long weekend. (Damn, we sound like serious jetsetters. I promise, post-baby, this has changed.) I bought a French bridal magazine in the airport and saw an ad for the Maldives. That was it, that was what I wanted to do. We looked into some other island destinations that would have been considered unique for Americans but totally normal for Europeans (Seychelles, Mauritius), but ultimately the Maldives spoke to us. Being the sort of couple whose interests span beyond sand & sea, and knowing that we were going to trek 17 hours to get to this part of the world, we decided to make the most of it. Throw in a long layover in dubai where J’s college friend could give us a full-day tour? And a few days in Sri Lanka since the civil war had just ended and it would be…. different? Sure! Sounds perfect.

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The Maldives. That place is just unreal. Each resort is its own island, as is the airport. You land in the main city, Male, and then take a seaplane or boat to your hotel/island. We did it up — half the time in an overwater hut where you are practically IN the ocean, and half the time in a private beach villa with a personal plunge pool just for us and direct access to the most gorgeous beach on the planet. Breakfast buffets, lazy pool days, an underwater restaurant, jetski adventures, and a sunset cruise were just some of the highlights. I’m proud to say we started a bit of a Maldives trend in our worlds, with now 4-5 couples having gone there for their honeymoons since as well!

Jetskiing in the Maldives

Continue reading