Category Archives: Planning

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. 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.


New Zealand Travel Tips


  • On the left
  • “roundabouts” go in a clockwise direction.
  • Divided freeways are limited to the Auckland area.
  • Highways are two lanes with periodic passing lanes.
  • One way bridges are the norm, so be aware of oncoming traffic.
  • Traffic signals are only in LARGE cities (Auckland mainly)
  • Picnic areas and public toilets are pointed out by blue road signs.
  • Picnic areas outnumber toilets 50 to one.
  • Roads are VERY winding and often precipitous.
    • WARNING: If you suffer from car sickness you may want to reconsider a road trip in New Zealand.
  • Gas (petrol) stations are few and far between on the open road, so keep your tank at least half full.
  • A town name on the road map, doesn’t indicate a town. There may be nothing more than an intersection.
  • Gas costs $2.15 NZD per litre. This equates to $8 NZD per gallon or $7 USD (as of today March 26, 2014).

Rental Car vs RV:

  • Reserve your car in advance. Supplies are limited, especially in smaller areas. You may be told there are none available at the last minute.
  • If you rent a car, be aware that insurance is mandatory and cannot be waived.
  • There is a Excess Insurance amount of $3,000 NZD which is your deductible. It will cost you an extra $35 NZD per day to waive this deductible. If you book through the NZ Auto Club with Thrify, this amount is reduced by $11 NZD per day. Since we don’t normally drive on the left, we opted to pay the extra amount per day.
  • If you are a member of your countries Auto Club, you probably have reciprocity with New Zealand. If so, see my comments below on “Auto Club”.
  • If you opt for an RV be aware of the following:
    • Narrow winding roads are more difficult to maneuver in a wider vehicle.
    • Gas consumption is generally greater than a passenger vehicle.
    • One option for renting an RV, with a smaller frame is to use Jucy Rentals. These are converted passenger vans.

Auto Club:

  • If you are an auto club member in a country with reciprocity, you need to register with the New Zealand Automobile Association. They will issue you a free New Zealand AA card. You can use this card for fuel and rental car discounts. Thrifty is the NZ AA rental car partner. You can book a Thrifty rental on line with your NZ AA club card, once you have it.

Food Along the Way:

  • There is no proliferation of fast food chains. Don’t expect to find a McDonald’s outside of a major metropolitan area.
  • You will find individual cafe’s along the way. We found these ALWAYS to be clean, friendly and predictable.
  • Food seems expensive, but prices include tax and tips.
  • Food choices will include:
    • Toasted sandwiches
    • Meat pies
    • Sweet bakery items
    • Fish and chips
    • Hamburgers (sometimes). Be aware they include a fried egg.  They also sometimes include beetroot and bacon.


  • We never saw a Starbucks.
  • All of the cafes serve the same coffee menu:
    • Flat white – Double shot of espresso with steamed milk. Similar to a latte but with more coffee.
    • Long Black – A double shot of espresso poured over hot water. This is similar to an Americano.
    • Short Black- basic espresso


  • Not required. We were told by a NZ couple that the staff are paid adequately. You only tip for EXCEPTIONAL service.
  • Accommodation:
  • We opted for hotels and vacation rentals that included kitchen facilities.
  • We found that everywhere we stayed, they gave you a pint of milk upon check in. No non-dairy creamer in this country.

Bags Packed


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   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. 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.

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:

Johanna Seaside Cottages, Great Ocean Road, Australia Farm Stay:

Awatea Cottage, Abel Tasman, Vacation Rental:
Awatea Cottage

Art on Hart, Bermaqui, Australia South Coast New South Wales
Art on Hart

Limosa Rise, Wilson’s Promontory, Australia
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.

10 Travel Tips

Wanted to share these travel tips with you from a fellow blogger.

10 Travel Tips.

Car Rental 101

Car REntal

This last week two different people asked me how to find the best car rental deals, so here goes.

When I book travel I have two great starting points, and I use Trip Advisor to check reviews on places to stay and things to do. I use kayak for airfare and car rental, mainly, but sometimes for hotels also.

I love because it searches all the carriers at once. You can even check the boxes at the bottom and let it search Expedia,, priceline and other options. It is, in short, a ONE STOP shop for travel prices. If you create a user ID and save trip information, it will then “watch” for low fares and email you suggestions for your destination.

That said, as I stated in my post about Airline Credit Cards (, I prefer to book directly with the vendor, rather than a third party like or travelocity. I use kayak to see who is the cheapest vendor with the best routing, in the case of airlines. I then click the link on kayak to take me to the vendor’s website.

Back to car rentals. At this point, I have rented enough cars and checked enough prices to fall back on two discount websites. Costco and American Automobile Association (AAA).

Costco Travel ( This web site used to be difficult to use because you had to pick a car rental company and discount coupon and then search, which sometimes required several tries to find the best deal. They have, in the last few months, changed their web search. It now searches all the car rental deals and gives you multiple search results in one screen so it is simple to compare. They call it their “Low Price Finder”. You do have to create a user ID with your Costco membership number to access this process.

AAA: I’m not including the web link because AAA reroutes you to the club for your area, by zip code. As example my AAA website is for Northern California, Nevada and Utah. Be aware that AAA has an “exclusive partnership” with Hertz. When you initiate a search it will take you to results for Hertz ONLY, but at the bottom of the screen there is a button that says “Search More AAA Rental Car Partners”. If you push this button, you will get a side by side comparison of multiple car rental options.

Both of these search engines take you to the car rental booking engine to book your rental. Be aware that you don’t provide a credit card number as with a hotel. You don’t get charged until you show up and take possession of your car. In fact I changed my mind at the airport in Denver once because the rental car kiosk for my reservation was unmanned and when I asked at another companies manned desk they offered to beat the price on the spot.

It is also wise to check at different points in time, like book the car six months in advance but recheck prices, at two months and two weeks. Sometimes you can get better deals at the last minute, so then simply cancel your old reservation and make a new one.

As with hotels and airlines, I join the car rental company travel perk programs. This usually means at an airport location you don’t have to go and stand in line, your car will be waiting for you with the keys in the ignition and your name on it. Took me awhile to figure this one out, after waiting in a line at San Diego for 30 minutes to rent a car I had already reserved.

NEVER NEVER NEVER show up without a reservation. I did this ONCE when my mother was hospitalized and I had jump on a plane on short notice. They gave me a terrible price when I showed up at the rental car place late at night and told me they had no compact cars, when there were at least 30 compact cars on the lot and lot attendant said I could just take one if I wanted, at the full size car price.

Now lets talk about car rental insurance. I would prefer not to, but it is a necessary evil. If you go to the desk they will push hard for you to take the insurance, threaten you with having to pay for “lost” rental days if your car is damaged and has to be repaired. Most credit cards offer some form of coverage, along with your personal auto insurance, but you have to deal with irritating rental car adjusters.

I speak from experience here. We rented a car in Sacramento simply to get us to the airport in San Francisco for our first EVER European vacation. When we got home we found a bill for $890 for damage they said we caused on this three hour drive from point A to point B. I was able to talk them out of it, but it was frustrating and not easy.

We travel enough and rent enough cars that I wanted an alternative option. Since, as stated above, we belong to Costco, we carry a Costco American Express card. American Express has a car rental insurance option. ( You have to pre-register for the program. There is no cost until you use your American Express card to rent a car and then there is a $24.95 charge ($17.99 in California) per rental, not per day. It is good for up to 42 consecutive days of car rental (30 days for Washington State members).

I have had this option for about ten years and have used their services twice. Once where I was hit by another car in a parking lot and once when the car had prior damage, that was alleged to be mine. Both times I called the folks at American Express. Both times they dealt with the rental car company. Both times nothing was paid, and both claims were dropped. These people deal with rental car companies all the time. They know how to do it. The cost is WAY cheaper than the car rental company insurance and, in my opinion, worth the peace of mind. This is also your primary coverage, so you don’t have to notify your personal vehicle auto policy.

Oh one last thing, don’t take the fill up your tank option, unless you are comfortable running on empty. They charge you for a full tank of gas, so if you turn the car in half full, you just bought an unnecessary half tank of gas. When I leave the car rental place I look for a nearby gas station to fill up prior to turning in the car. If I don’t see one, I use Yelp to find one on the last day.

So, that’s all for Car Rental guidelines. I hope you find this helpful.