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!

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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

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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.

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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