Category Archives: Australia

Finding Your Way

I thought for a long time about what I would use to guide our way on our mega 3.5 month trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Generally, I prefer the Google maps on my phone over our Garmin Nuvi GPS for many reasons:
1. Google Maps gives you multiple route options.
2. GPS only gives you one route and often the straightest line which involves small farm roads as opposed to major highways.
3. The GPS only allows an exact search. When I put in Phillips Track, it comes back with no matches because it spells the road “Trak”. So if you mistype one letter it won’t find your address.

Despite all of this, Google Maps requires the internet. This isn’t an issue most times in your home country, but once you take your iPad, iPhone or Android to another country you are “data roaming”. Data roaming can incur HUGE fees, depending on your carrier. We were fortunate that our carrier, T-Mobile, initiated free unlimited international roaming, a few months prior to our departure date.

When we were in Australia and New Zealand, we found that many of our apps on our Android phones did NOT work while we were roaming. This included Google Maps, Gmail app, Playstore and Facebook. I was finally able to solve the problem by downloading the Opera web browser, which has an “off-road” mode that works better with 3G and lower web speeds. I could access my Gmail and Facebook using Opera, where I was unable to access them from their installed apps. I was never successful with accessing Google Maps except when we were stationary and connected via a Wi-Fi connection.

It was a good thing that before we left home we opted to purchase Australia and New Zealand maps ($150 USD) on a micro USB card from Garmin for our Garmin Nuvi GPS. This was our SALVATION. Since Google Maps was simply searching and telling us it was unable to locate us, the GPS was our best friend. In two instances the GPS couldn’t find the places we were staying, but we had the owners send us the GPS location and then we were good to go.

Based on this experience, if you are planning an international road trip, I recommend having a GPS option, this can be your own GPS or rental of one from the rental car company. Since we were going to be in a rental car for over three months, the cost of renting a GPS would have been prohibitive, so buying the maps for our GPS was our best option.

That said, I also suggest paper maps to check the GPS routes. In New Zealand we found Jason’s Maps, which were free at any Visitor Information Center. The Jason’s maps also suggest things to see along the way. On several occasions, we turned off the GPS as it kept sending us down farm roads, instead of the main highway. The paper maps kept us on track.

In New Zealand, there is a rental GPS called Kruse. http://www.krusenz.com/. I have no direct experience but heard very good reviews from a fellow traveler. This is both a GPS and a travel guide, as it will suggest things to do in the area. They will deliver the GPS to your rental car location. Cost is $10 NZD per day. Had we been on a shorter trip, I think this would have been our best option.

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Bags Packed

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Our bags are packed for our Mega Trip to New Zealand and Australia.  I bought new bags, which are purported to be the world’s lightest.  They were the lightest bags I could find. As usual I bought them through http://www.eBags.com.   Search for IT Bags. We each have a 22 inch carry on and a 29 inch checked bag. Image 

We packed using our favorite eBags packing cubes.  The packing cubes now come in all sorts of fun colors and patterns. I use small packing cubes for liquids (zipped into quart size zip lock storage bags) and medications. The medium packing cubes are used for clothing.  I also like the slim packing cubes to fill in the blank spaces in our suitcase. 

As I’ve stated in prior posts, I take three clothing cubes full of clothes. One cube goes in my husband’s checked bag, one in my own checked bag and one in my carry on, and vice versa.  For this trip I added a cube full of extra layers, since we will be crossing from fall in the southern hemisphere to winter in the tropics.Packing Cubes 
For this trip I used an REI compression sack, which is sold with backpacking equipment to compress my down coat. See the blue bag that looks like a sleeping bag in the photos.

 The last step is to put our itinerary on top of the packing cubes. We always do this in case our bags decide to take an unscheduled trip to China or some other exotic place without us. This will help reunite us with our bags. I also have tags on our bags from Okoban at My Stuff Lost and Found. These tags will assist the airlines with reuniting us with our bags. http://mystufflostandfound.com/Luggage with It

Mega Trip Part 3 – Where to Stay

Limosa Rise
Photo of Limosa Rise, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia

Once I had the flights booked, I then had to accommodate my plan to the flight schedule. I also kept trying to search for available timeshares. In the end I was able to score a week of timeshare on the North Island of New Zealand and one in Australia near Melbourne.

As I have said in prior blog posts I prefer to rent vacation rentals and not hotel rooms.
https://travelbug1950.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/vacation-rentals-vs-hotel-rooms/

This was particularly critical on this trip in order to hold down the cost of food, laundry and internet access. I have a new “Best Friend” for searching out vacation rentals. I began using Trip Advisor to find vacation rentals and to see reviews. This part of the process is the most time consuming, but I find it to be lots of fun. Once I find a possible choice, I go directly to their web site, if they have one. I like to deal directly with the owner whenever possible. In one case I wasn’t happy with the bathroom configuration of a property and the owner gave me contact information for a similar property nearby.

I found that in both New Zealand and Australia, farms/ranches have purpose built vacation rentals on their property. These units are modern and have all the amenities that I prefer. These owners are also full of helpful tips about where to shop and the must do things in their areas.

Below are some links to places I have rented for the trip.

The Orchard Homestay, Coromanel Peninsula, New Zealand Farm Stay:
http://theorchardhomestay.co.nz/

Johanna Seaside Cottages, Great Ocean Road, Australia Farm Stay:
http://www.johannaseaside.com.au/cottages/glen-tara/

Awatea Cottage, Abel Tasman, Vacation Rental:
Awatea Cottage
http://awatea.com/boutique-accommodation-cottage.html

Art on Hart, Bermaqui, Australia South Coast New South Wales
Art on Hart
http://www.artonhart.com.au/accommodation.html

Limosa Rise, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia
http://limosarise.com.au/luxury-accommodation-yanakie/
We leave in a few days and will post updates on our adventure.

Mega Trip – Part 2 Booking flights with miles – Book EARLY

I had enough miles for two people to fly round trip in business class from San Francisco to Australia using the United Saver Award (270,000 miles). I did not have enough miles for United Standard Award (600,000 miles).
The United (other airlines have similar products) search engine gives you a highlighted calendar that indicates the days that have saver/standard/business/economy flights. You can scroll forward and backward on the calendar and you can clearly see which dates have business saver dates available. Then scroll down and see the specific flights that are available.
United Flight Calendar
I could see several dates available, but we were leaving for a two week trip to Colorado, so I decided to wait until we got home. BIG MISTAKE. When we got home there were NO business class flights available, and very few economy saver dates. I ended up having to book a date almost two weeks sooner than the date I wanted, in order to book an economy flight with miles. I was able to pay for an upgrade to Economy Plus, which gives you four more inches of leg room.
For the return flight I set an alarm on my calendar to remind me to book as soon as the flights were available. Our last destination in Australia will be in Cairns on the north coast. I could book us on business class from Cairns, but we had at least two plane changes en route. Instead I opted to look at the options if I flew home from Sydney. It turned out that I could book us to fly direct from Sydney to San Francisco in business class with a saver ticket, so I booked that flight.
The lesson is to book early and when you see something that works for you, don’t wait, BOOK IT.
Also, be flexible, about what airports you fly in and out of.

Credit Cards with Airline Miles

I should start by saying there are people who will tell you that credit cards with airline miles are the wrong way to go.  They will say that it is better, from a financial perspective, to go with a card that gives you cash back.  Let me comment here, that I pay my credit cards off every month, so I incur no finance charges. 

We travel enough that I prefer to use cards that give you airline miles and other perks.  Generally when you apply for a card and use it once they give you enough miles for one round trip flight.  My husband and I apply for the cards under our own names so we get two round trip flights when we get a new card. 

Be aware that the airlines all have partner airlines. Examples include Alaska is partnered with KLM and American Airlines, among others. United is partnered with Lufthansa and New Zealand Air, among others. You can earn and use miles on these other partner airlines. You just need to make sure you enter your preferred airline miles program when you book your flights.

We just came back from a river trip in Eastern Europe. The tour provider booked our flights with KLM and American Airlines. I went online to KLM and American and entered our Alaska Mileage account numbers. The 9,000 miles each way were added to our Alaska Air Mileage balances.

It is best to limit the number of programs you participate in as transferring miles from one airline to another generally involves a fee.

Here are the cards I have and why. 

United MileagePlus Explorer Card with Chase Bank:  Priority boarding, one free checked bag and no foreign transaction fees. 

We have had a United Mileage Card for sometime. About a year ago they offered the new Explorer Card and the offer included enough miles for a round trip ticket. We both applied and got these new cards along with our round trip miles. We then cancelled our old cards. 

Alaska Airlines: I have used the Alaska Airlines card twice to get free round trip tickets to Alaska (that is four tickets in total).  We applied for the card back in 2004 and used the application incentive miles for a trip to Alaska in 2009.  I then cancelled the cards.  When we decided to return to Alaska in 2012, we both reapplied and were given the application incentive for a second time.  We used these miles for our trip in 2012. This card also gives you a coach companion ticket each year for just $111.

Chase Sapphire Proffered Card:  No foreign transaction fees.  This cards current application incentive is 40,000 points.  I was initially skeptical about the points instead of miles. 

I am no longer skeptical because I recently used our points to book a flight and hotel in Australia via the Ultimate Rewards web site.  It works similar to Kayak.com (which I love).  You put in your flight, car or hotel needs and it gives you a long list of choices and the number of points you will need.

I also transferred points from Ultimate Rewards to Amtrak for my husband to take a train trip coast to coast for free.  Had we booked the same trip with Amtrak the cost would have been $1,200. Before I transferred the points I had to register my husband for the Amtrak rewards program, which is free. I then had to calculate how many points he would need for the trip. I then went to the Chase Ultimate Rewards site and transferred the points. It turned out I had miscalculated and we had 6,000 points left over in the Amtrak Rewards. For 6,000 points I could get a $50 gift card to several restaurants and other businesses, so I used the points for a $50 gift card to Macaroni Grill.    

I am in the process of booking a 3.5 month trip to Australia and New Zealand for 2014. I have been hoarding my United Airline miles to use for this trip. I was able to book six flights for free in most cases or for a small amount of taxes that were required. I had never really used my miles, since this trip has been on the horizon for several years now. I learned a valuable lesson.

The plan had been to have enough miles for us to fly Business Class from San Francisco. The United web site is great because when you put in your selected date it gives you a calendar that highlights the dates where mileage flights are available. Flight schedules are opened 330 days prior to the date of travel. If you want something specific, like Business Class, you need to book as soon as the flights are opened. I checked and there was a Business Class flight I could have booked for our San Francisco to Auckland route, but I waited two weeks and the flights were all gone. For the return flight I booked as soon as the dates I wanted were available and got Business Class from Sydney to San Francisco. So, although booking early is not required it is advisable.

If you have any questions about this, just leave me a comment and I will respond.

Discounts and Road Service Too!

I am in the process of planning a three month trip to Australia and New Zealand for 2013.  I recently became aware of two memberships that can net substantial discounts.

One is my US Auto Club membership.  We can show our US Auto Club card and obtain roadside assistance and discounts at International Auto Clubs.  This is true in many other countries.  I had no idea when I rented a car in Europe that I could use my Auto Club card.  If you are in the US, check out this site http://exchange.aaa.com/automobiles-travel/international-travel/international-clubs/.  If you are in another country, check with your local auto club for reciprocal agreements.

The second savings tip is to join your country’s Youth Hostel Association.   They also provide discounts on rental cars, tours, attractions, travel insurance and other services.  You don’t have to stay in Youth Hostel’s although you might want to consider checking out my prior blog about Hosteling.

In the US Senior membership  for a year is only $18.00. http://hiusa.org/membership/ways_to_join.  This member ship will save us 40% when we travel from Darwin to Adelaide on the famous Ghan train.  http://www.greatsouthernrail.com.au/site/the_ghan/fares.jsp

site - The Ghan - Main Image April 11

So those are my tips for today.