Never Ending Voyage By Simon Fairbairn & Erin McNeaney
Erin and Simon have been on the road for quite some time, living the digital nomad life and seeing the world. Check out their site for general travel info, suggestions for gear and some of their travel apps that can help you keep on track.
This month we celebrated eight years of full-time travel! It was an unusual nomadiversary—we’re back in the UK for four months, our longest stay here since we left and our first full winter.
Last year we celebrated with a sunny hike up Lion’s Head and a delicious meal in Cape Town. This year we drove the length of England in the snow after spending the week in the hospital with a dying relative. Obviously we weren’t in the mood to celebrate.
Despite its sad ending it has been another amazing year on the road with travels to new countries (South Africa, Namibia, Oman) and old favourites (Japan, Bali, Thailand). It was also the year of the road trip as we got off the beaten track by renting a car or motorbike.
We still relish the freedom of nomadic life even as we were ready for something different over the winter—the novelty of cold days and being closer to family for a while. The beauty of our lifestyle is that we have that choice.
Here’s a look back at the highs of year eight which took us to eight countries, mostly in Africa and Asia.
I covered many of our South Africa highlights in last year’s nomadiversary post including the incredible safaris we did and living in Cape Town, one of our new favourite cities. We totally fell for this stunning country and here are some more top experiences from the beginning of year 8.
Harvest time in Franschhoek
We took a side trip from Cape Town to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands and it was glorious! This charming town is one of the oldest and most scenic settlements in South Africa and is surrounded by vineyards and craggy mountains.
Another highlight was visiting Babylonstoren, a historic Cape Dutch farm. We toured the magnificent organic gardens, sampled their wines, and ate a gorgeous meal at Babel. We will definitely stay at this special place on our next visit.
A Decadent Birthday Trip
The view from Sea Star Cliff Lodge in De Kelders
As if our Franschhoek trip wasn’t decadent enough, just a few weeks later we celebrated my birthday in serious style. First up was an incredible 12 course meal with wine pairing at La Colombe, just outside Cape Town and one of the top 100 restaurants in the world. It was possibly the best meal of our lives and we couldn’t believe we were there for four hours!
Simon then arranged a surprise weekend away to the tiny seaside town of De Kelders. We stayed at Sea Star Cliff Lodge, a gorgeous boutique hotel with insane sea views. We spent most of the weekend on the terrace sunbathing, drinking bubbly, watching the sunset, and stargazing.
On our way back to Cape Town we stopped at Betty’s Bay to see penguins and later in the week took a spectacular helicopter ride over the city. What a week!
Road Trip Across Namibia
One of the best places we stayed in Namibia – Moon Mountain Lodge at sunset.
We were sad to leave South Africa after three months but excited for our next adventure—road tripping across Namibia for two weeks! It’s a wild, beautiful, empty country and we visited some of the most remote places we’ve ever been. We loved the diverse landscapes, plentiful wildlife, spectacular sunsets, and the pure tranquility.
Seeing Cheetahs and Leopards
A cheetah at Okonjima Nature Reserve
One of our road trip stops was Okonjima Nature Reserve, home to the Africat Foundation which researches, rescues, and rehabilitates big cats. We did two safari drives and managed to see both cheetahs and leopards. The cheetah safari was especially exciting as it’s done on foot! It was incredible to walk so close to these rare, beautiful creatures.
Kayaking with Baby Seals
Simon kayaking with seals!
Oh my, kayaking with baby seals is one of the best things we have ever done! Near Walvis Bay there’s a colony of tens of thousands of Cape Fur seals. We only had to paddle a short distance before we were surrounded by hundreds of adorable seal pups. They were playful and curious, nibbling on our paddles, diving and jumping in and out of the water, and swimming alongside us. It was such a special experience.
Climbing Big Daddy Sand Dune
Running down the Big Daddy Sand Dune at Deadvlei is a highlight of Namibia!
Another Namibia highlight was climbing Big Daddy, one of the world’s tallest sand dunes at Sossusvlei. It certainly wasn’t easy as we sunk into the sand and the furious wind whipped sand into our faces, but we felt like we’d entered another, dreamlike world with orange dunes stretching for miles and the stark white salt pan below. Plus we got to run down the side afterwards!
Living in Ubud, Bali
The view from our Ubud villa
Ubud is our favourite place to set up a temporary home. We love the gorgeous rice fields, fascinating Hindu culture (so many temple ceremonies!), delicious vegetarian food, and the ease of renting a villa with a private pool.
We spent five months here over the summer focusing on work, researching new vegetarian restaurants, doing lots of yoga, and enjoying the views from our villa. For our anniversary we splurged on a tasting menu at the fancy Ritz Carlton hotel.
Bali Road Trip
Tamblingan Lake on our Bali motorbike road trip
Honestly, we’ve never been big fans of Bali outside of our Ubud bubble, but our five-day motorbike trip to the north and west of the island changed that. We discovered just how stunning the island is and how it’s possible to escape the crowds, even in high season.
We hiked to waterfalls in the mountains of Munduk, snorkelled at Menjangan Island, and relaxed in the tiny surf town Balian Beach. Along the way we enjoyed views of gorgeous rice terraces, lakes, and jungle ravines from the back of our trusty scooter.
Us dressing up as Mario characters in Tokyo and driving a Maricar go-kart!
Oh, Japan! It felt so good to be back and our second trip only confirmed that this is one of our favourite countries.
In 2011 Tokyo didn’t compare to our favourite city Kyoto, but this time we really enjoyed exploring the giant metropolis. We loved seeking out its quieter spots, even in the midst of seemingly chaotic neighbourhoods like Shinjuku (our pick for the best area to stay in Tokyo).
We did crazy things like drive go-karts on the roads dressed as Mario characters and experienced sensory overload at the insane Robot Restaurant and the epic arcades. We also enjoyed traditional Japan at temples and with an exquisite 12-course lunch in a serene private tatami room at Bon.
Japan Train Trip
Us at a tea ceremony in Kanazawa
From Tokyo we took off with a 7-day Japan Rail Pass (the best way to explore the country) for a whirlwind trip to some of the spots we missed last time. We strolled the forest temples of Nikko, gazed in awe at Mount Fuji at Lake Hakone, soaked in an onsen bath, explored the traditional wooden houses of Takayama, and participated in a tea ceremony in Kanazawa. We loved every minute.
One of the 12 courses of our vegan feast at Bon in Tokyo
Japanese food is so good! Yes, even for vegetarians (with some advance planning). We enjoyed sushi and ramen for the first time (including ordering ramen from a vending machine!), experienced a 12 course Zen Buddhist vegetarian meal, and ate tempura, soba noodles, okonomiyaki, Japanese curry, divine tofu, and so much more.
Living in Koh Phangan
Zen Beach on Koh Phangan
Thailand is somewhere we used to visit often as it’s a great, affordable digital nomad destination for getting some work done, but it had been over three years since our last visit. Rather than go to our usual haunts of Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta, we tried somewhere different.
Koh Phangan is known for its backpacker parties, but we found it easy to avoid all that by staying near the quiet village of Sri Thanu which has more yoga studios and vegetarian restaurants than bars. We rented a cute wooden house by the sea and used the surprisingly good wifi to get some work done. It was a very quiet life but it was just what we needed.
Road Trip Around Oman
Nizwa Fort, Oman
Another road trip to end 2017! Oman was a new country for us and we spent 10 days exploring this little-visited destination, one of the safest in the Middle East.
We visited stunning mosques and sandcastle-like forts, hiked up sand dunes and along the rim of Oman’s Grand Canyon, swam in the crystal green waters of wadis, and took long walks on empty beaches.
Wadi Bani Khalid was one of our favourite places in Oman. We had a blissfully relaxing afternoon at this stunning desert oasis swimming in the emerald pools surrounded by a rugged ravine and vibrant date palms.
We visited Wadi Bani Khalid after a night in a Bedouin tent in the Wahiba Sands desert. After we turned off the main road we drove through a series of tiny villages then up and over stunning rocky mountains.
From the car park it’s only a five-minute walk to the pools, making it one of the most accessible wadis in Oman—the other popular wadi, Wadi Shab, is a 45-minute hike from the car park.
Wadi Bani Khalid Main Pools
After driving through the oranges and browns of the desert the wadi feels like a real oasis, the green of the water and palms shocking after the bleakness.
Wadi Bani Khalid has been developed with a few bridges, seating areas, and a restaurant, but it doesn’t detract from its beauty. It also makes it one of the most convenient wadis to visit as you can buy food and drinks and use the toilets.
The first pool is the largest. The wadi does get busy, especially on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays in Oman), but on a Sunday afternoon it was easy to find a quiet spot on the rocks to ourselves.
In December the weather was perfect for sunbathing—about 25ºC, wonderfully warm but not too hot with bright blue skies.
The pools are full of fish that will give you a foot massage if you dangle your feet it. The nibbling feels odd, but people pay to have this done in Thailand!
Swimming in the pools was wonderfully refreshing—it felt cold at first, but I soon warmed up and loved swimming around the massive pools, apparently followed by a school of fish!
Upper Pools and Cave
From the main pool you can swim (or walk) under a bridge (where many kids like to jump off) and into a narrow canyon with pale rocks looming above.
To get to the second set of pools you have to walk—follow the sign and walk for about 10 minutes on slightly slippy rocks (decent shoes are recommended). These pools are quieter but much smaller.
You can continue for another 10 minutes to visit the Muqal cave—bringing a torch is a good idea.
Eating at Wadi Bani Khalid
The restaurant is on the left overlooking the pools
At the restaurant overlooking the pools you can buy coffee (1 OMR), soft drinks (400 baisas), popcorn, and ice cream. You can also eat at the lunch buffet for 4 OMR, which is what we did. Vegetarian options included dahl, vegetable curry, rice, french fries, and a basic salad. It was quite bland but edible. They only accept cash.
You would be better off bringing a picnic. Omani supermarkets like Lulu have a great choice of salads, hummus, bread etc., but as we were coming from the desert, there weren’t any supermarkets around.
What to Wear at Wadi Bani Khalid
You need to dress modestly at Wadi Bani Khalid as Oman is a Muslim country. Women should avoid bikinis and wear a t-shirt and shorts at least. I wore capri leggings and a baggy t-shirt of Simon’s.
It seems OK for men to wear swimming shorts without a top, but some local men do wear t-shirts as well (just avoid skimpy briefs).
Wadi Bani Khalid Facilities
The toilets behind the restaurant are free and include western and squat styles. They are in decent condition for changing but bring your own toilet paper.
You can rent towels from the restaurant for 1 OMR.
Wadi Bani Khalid Location
Some people visit Wadi Bani Khalid as a day trip from Muscat—you can take a tour (like this private full day tour), hire a driver, or rent a car. It’s a three-hour drive, though, so it would be better to spend the night in the area if you have time.
We had a rental car for our Oman road trip and visited the wadi on our way from Wahiba Sands (the most typical desert area of Oman with large dunes) to Sur on the coast (popular for the nearby turtle reserve). It was a one hour drive from Al Wasil, the village that’s the access point for many of the desert camps.
From Al Wasil drive down Road 23 until you see the sign “Welcome to Wadi Bani Khalid” on the left after about 20 minutes. Turn off here and continue through villages and along the winding mountain road until you reach the car park (approximately 40 minutes after the turn off). This is marked on Google Maps as “Wadi Bani Khalid Parking Area”.
The road is paved all the way and a 4WD is not necessary. From the car park it’s a five-minute walk to the pools.
It’s about a two-hour drive to Sur from Wadi Bani Khalid.
Wadi Bani Khalid Map
Here’s the Wadi Bani Khalid location on Google Maps and directions from the Desert Retreat Camp office in Al Wasil, Wahiba Sands.
Where to Stay Near Wadi Bani Khalid
We visited Wadi Bani Khalid after a night in Wahiba Sands at the Desert Retreat Camp (1 hour 20 minutes drive away), which we highly recommend. The Bedouin tents are simple but have a bed and private bathroom next door. We loved the peaceful location at the foot of a large sand dune, perfect for sunset and sunrise. Read more about the camp in our Oman itinerary.
Tortuga has done it again—they’ve released a new carry-on travel backpack that’s even better than the last one. Simon has been travelling with a Tortuga backpack full-time for over three years now and with each new release he thinks he’s found his perfect backpack—until the next one comes out.
The Tortuga Setout isn’t a new version of the Tortuga Outbreaker (Simon’s previous backpack)—it stands along side it as a lighter, more affordable, but less full-featured bag.
In this detailed Tortuga Setout review we share the pros and cons of the new backpack and compare it to the Outbreaker so you can decide which is right for you.
Simon has been travelling with the Setout for two months (in February 2018) and we’ll keep this review updated with how he gets on with it as time goes on.
Tortuga Setout Review
One of the reasons we love Tortuga so much is that the founders Fred and Jeremy really understand the needs of travellers. They created the original Tortuga backpack after a backpacking trip to Europe when they discovered that traditional hiking backpacks are inconvenient for travel—they stand out too much, it’s hard to access your stuff, and there’s no storage for electronics.
Since then they’ve been striving to create the perfect travel backpack for urban travellers and each backpack gets better and better. The Tortuga Setout Travel Backpack is our favourite so far.
Tortuga Setout Backpack Details
Dimensions (cm): 56 x 36 x 23 cm Dimensions (inches): 22 x 14 x 9 inches Volume: 45 litres Weight: 1.50 kg (3.3 lbs) Colour: Grey Price: US $199 (and free US shipping) Buy from: Tortuga website
Setout Backpack Pros
As with all Tortuga backpacks, the Setout is carry-on-sized so you can take it on the plane and save time and money. It’s the maximum carry-on size allowed on most airlines and it holds a surprising amount of stuff.
Simon isn’t exactly an ultralight traveller these days—his current electronics collection includes a 15-inch laptop, 13-inch tablet, and Nintendo Switch games console (I know!)—but he has plenty of space for all his stuff.
Our biggest issue with the Tortuga Outbreaker was how heavy it was. The Setout is the lightest maximum carry-on-size Tortuga yet at just 1.50 kg (3.3 lbs) and is almost as light as my smaller Osprey Farpoint 40.
The Setout is the best looking Tortuga backpack yet. The soft, matte grey fabric and rounded corners are more stylish than the previous blocky Tortugas. It’s a simple, understated design that looks fantastic and won’t stand out in cities.
Padded hip belt
Most carry-on-sized travel backpacks don’t include a padded hip belt, but we think it’s essential to transfer the bag’s weight from your shoulders to your hips and avoid back pain. This is especially important if you travel with heavy electronics as we do.
The Setout has a robust padded hip belt that takes the load off and makes it comfortable to carry, even when Simon’s backpack weighs 11 kg (24 lbs).
If you don’t want to use the hip belt you can unclip it.
Padded shoulder straps and hip belt on the Setout
Front-loading like a suitcase
Like all Tortuga backpacks, the Setout is front-loading which means it opens along the entire front (along three sides) like a suitcase. This is much better than hiking backpacks which open from the top as it’s easier to access your stuff and keep things organised.
The main compartment of the Setout opens like a suitcase
Simon has only been travelling with his Setout for a few months, but given the quality of materials and our experience with previous Tortugas, we expect it to last a long time. We’ll keep this review updated with how it stands up over time.
The backpack is water-resistant but not fully waterproof. All Tortuga travel backpacks are made with Duraflex buckles and YKK zippers—widely regarded as the best in the business. Tortuga does not skimp on materials.
Simon’s iPad Pro in the tablet sleeve. As it’s 12.9 inches it does pop out so he stores it in an additional neoprene sleeve.
The Setout is ideal for digital nomads as there are dedicated sleeves for a laptop (up to 15-inch), tablet (supposedly up to 9.7-inch but larger ones work), and e-reader.
The padded laptop sleeve is in a separate compartment at the back of the bag, close to your body for the best weight distribution. Simon packs his 15-inch MacBook Pro in a neoprene case first for extra protection, but there’s enough padding to skip the case.
In front of the laptop sleeve is space for a tablet. This area isn’t padded so a case is a good idea. It’s only supposed to hold tablets up to 9.7-inch, but Simon’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro (one of the biggest on the market) fits in just fine, although the top pops out (not a problem if it’s in a case).
The e-reader compartment is a lightly padded sleeve at the front of the bag for easy access.
There are enough pockets to organise your stuff, but not too many.
There are three sections in the Setout, each accessed by a different zip at the top of the bag.
Lots of storage pockets in the easily accessible front compartment
The front section unzips about a third of the way down and is designed for easy access to small items in transit. There’s a zippered pocket and an organiser panel for items like pens, phone and notebook. Behind that there’s a lightly padded sleeve for an e-reader and above there’s a clip for keys.
Larger items can fit in the bottom and take up the whole compartment if needed—perhaps snacks or an extra layer for travel days.
Simon’s packing cubes in the main compartment
The middle main section is the largest and unzips on three sides, so it’s really easy to pack.
There are two zippered mesh compartments on the opposite side which are useful for small items or dirty laundry.
Simon’s 15-inch laptop does fit completely inside the sleeve.
The electronics compartment is at the back and unzips about a third of the way down. It’s easy to reach in and grab your laptop or tablet, which have separate sleeves (described above).
Simon doesn’t use this section for anything else, but you could fit flattish things in front of the laptop sleeve.
The Setout has a lie-flat water bottle holder on one side.
The external storage consists of:
One small zippered pocket on the front of the backpack.
A lie-flat water bottle holder on one side.
Two small zippered pockets in the hip belt that are designed to stash coins, phone and keys when going through airport security.
Injection-moulded shoulder straps
The Setout’s shoulder straps are injection-moulded which means they conform to your body and get more comfortable over time. Simon hasn’t used his enough for this to happen but we’ll keep you posted.
We lock our backpacks with a small combination lock to prevent opportunistic theft. All three compartments of the Setout are lockable.
You do need two locks to secure the backpack fully. The two front compartments are close enough together to share a lock (or Simon keeps the front compartment unlocked for easy access) and you’ll need a second lock for the electronics compartment at the back. Or you could choose just to lock your electronics compartment.
You can unclip the shoulder straps and tuck them away into the back panel. Simon never uses this feature, but it could be useful if you want it to carry it like a suitcase with the side handle or check your bag.
The Setout has a side carry handle unlike the Outbreaker
At $199 the Tortuga Setout isn’t cheap, but it’s good value for the quality and will last you many years. It’s $100 cheaper than the Tortuga Outbreaker and other similar backpacks like the Minaal Carry-On 2.0.
Tortuga offers free US shipping and if the backpack doesn’t work out for you after a test pack, return it unused within 30 days for a full refund. They also pay for the return shipping on US orders.
Setout Backpack Cons
Too big for some people
I’d love to travel with a Setout but it feels a bit too big for me and for now I’m sticking with my smaller 38-litre Osprey Farpoint 40. I hope Tortuga releases a 35-litre version of the Setout (like they have for the Outbreaker) as that could end up being my perfect backpack.
No height adjustable suspension system or load lifters
Unlike the Outbreaker, the Setout doesn’t have a height adjustable suspension system (rare for travel backpacks anyway). This isn’t a problem for Simon, but if you have a short or long torso, the Outbreaker might fit better.
It also doesn’t have load lifters on the top of the shoulder straps which allow you to keep the bag as close to the body as possible for ideal weight distribution. So far the shoulder straps have worked well enough for Simon.
Larger than some airlines allow
The Setout is within most airlines’ allowed carry-on size, but it’s a few centimetres over the size allowed by some strict carriers such as Ryanair, which has a 55cm x 40cm x 20cm limit (and only if you pay for priority).
We have travelled on Ryanair multiple times with the Outbreaker, though, which is the same size as the Setout and had no problems taking it on the plane. We don’t find airlines to be that strict about size and weight if you are travelling with a backpack as it’s less visible than a rolling suitcase.
Shipping is expensive outside the US
It’s only available from the Tortuga website. If you live in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand or Asia shipping costs $30–55 and you’ll also probably have to pay customs—we paid £35.95 for the Tortuga V2 sending it to the UK.
Less full-featured than the Outbreaker
The Setout has fewer features and less organisation than the Outbreaker. See our comparison below.
Tortuga Setout Summary
The Tortuga Setout is one of the best carry-on backpacks on the market. It’s spacious, stylish, durable but light, and very well-designed with just enough support and organisation. It’s ideal for anyone looking to maximise the amount they can travel with carry-on only. It’s Simon’s new favourite backpack.
Tortuga Setout vs Outbreaker: A Detailed Comparison
35 or 45 litre
1.5 kg (3.3 lbs)
2.3 kg (5.1 lbs)
Not height adjustable
No hideaway straps
Fits 17-19″ torsos
Fits 16-20″ torsos
Laptop up to 15-inch
Laptop up to 17-inch
Simon travelled happily with the Tortuga Outbreaker for over a year to eight countries. He wasn’t in the market for a new backpack, but when the Setout was released he thought it was worth trying because the only real issue with the Outbreaker is how heavy it is (5.1 lbs/2.3 kg).
We recently ran a live question and answer session on the #TravelAMA section of AMAFeed. AMA means Ask Me Anything and we were happy to answer dozens of your questions about travel and digital nomad life.
Here’s a selection of some of the best questions and our answers:
Our Travel Favourites
“How many countries have you travelled together for 8 years? Which country is the best to visit?”
We’ve travelled to 60-something countries together including 40 countries in the last 8 years since we were nomadic (we return to a lot of the same countries too). We usually visit about 8-10 countries a year.
Our absolute favourite countries are Japan and Italy.
Japan is like nowhere else in the world and we love how unfamiliar and exotic it feels, yet how easy and efficient it is to travel around. The people are also exceedingly polite and the food is amazing (even for vegetarians if you know where to look).
Us dressing up as Mario characters in Tokyo and driving a Maricar go-kart!
Italy is all about the food, wine, and stunning medieval towns, countryside, and coastline. We love the relaxed lifestyle there.
For short trips, we also highly recommend Slovenia, Jordan, the Maldives, South Africa, and Cuba.
“What was your absolute favourite island beach? One with good food and, for us, good wine too?”
Reethi Beach Resort in the Maldives! It is heavenly! We loved the overwater bungalow, great snorkelling off our deck, sunset cocktails on the beach, a dolphin watching trip, and the most perfect white sandy beach.
The food isn’t gourmet but we really enjoyed the buffets (and I am not usually a buffet fan at all). I’m not sure we had any wine. It’s Asia so I wouldn’t expect too much.
Unfortunately, the best beaches and the best wine don’t really match up. If you are not set on an island or warm water you could consider South Africa. The beaches around Cape Town and the Garden Route are stunning (but too cold to swim) and the food and wine are superb and so affordable. Some seriously spectacular places to stay too.
“We are 7 months into our trip and heading to Malaysia / SE Asia for a few months. Are there any places you would especially recommend and are there places in that area that are on your list to visit? We have read your stuff about Langkawi – wondered if you had any other recommendations?”
In Malaysia, we also like Penang, Perhentian Besar island (we did our advanced scuba diving course there), and of course, Kuala Lumpur is worth a visit (great cheap Indian food). We haven’t travelled the country extensively, though.
In the rest of SE Asia, we love (with links to our blog posts about them):
Ubud in Bali (we’ve spent five months there twice!)
Myanmar for adventure, especially Inle Lake. There was no internet or ATMs when we went, but I believe that has changed now.
One of the many spectacular sunsets we’ve enjoyed on Koh Lanta in Thailand
The Philippines are still on our list and would be a great place for island hopping.
If you don’t mind going a bit further afield, Air Asia has relatively cheap flights from KL to the Maldives, which are absolutely stunning – the best beaches we’ve ever seen. It’s possible to travel there independently so it’s not so expensive—you can see our Maldives budget here.
And Japan is well worth a visit if you can afford it. It’s one of our favourite countries and is unlike anywhere else in the world. We’ve written loads of posts about it but our two week Japan itinerary is a good place to start.
Digital Nomad Life
“It seems that you both are the embodiment of real nomads. Why the lifestyle?”
Freedom! We absolutely love being able to go where we want, when we want. We can fly to Italy because we crave pizza or Thailand because we need some beach time. We can spend months in a place we fall in love with or leave after a day if we discover it’s not our thing. We can follow the sun and only experience winter if we chose to.
We love being able to work on projects we love and not having to commute to an office or answer to anyone except ourselves. We love spending 24/7 with each other and having time to do the things we love—yoga, running, drawing, reading, writing, cooking, video games.
Ultimately, there’s so much of the world to explore—places we want to return to and new places on our ever expanding wish list. We’ve had so many magical experiences in the last eight years and we just don’t want it to stop.
“How do you earn from working online? Are the blog, the books, and the apps your only sources of your online income?”
These are our sources of income from largest to smallest:
Affiliate commission – If someone purchases an item or books a hotel that we recommend on our travel blog we receive a commission.
Trail Wallet app– Our app helps travellers track their travel expenses and stay on budget. We sell it on the Apple app store only. You can try it for free (and input 25 items) but to continue using it costs $4.99. We do have other apps, but they don’t make much money.
The Carry-On Traveller book – We’ve been travelling with just a carry on bag each for eight years so I wrote this book to share our tips on how to pack light. We sell it through Amazon for Kindle and as an on-demand paperback.
Blog sponsorships – Very rarely we will be paid to write a review of a company’s product or service. I am very picky about who we work with, so this doesn’t earn a huge amount.
Freelance writing – I haven’t done any freelance writing in the last year, but previously it’s something I occasionally did if a good offer came my way.
By far the majority of our income comes from 1 and 2. Luckily it’s passive income, so we are able to take a month or two off work to travel and continue to earn.
“Who, between the two of you, creates the iPhone app? How many apps in total have you completed?”
Simon creates the iPhone apps. He has made five apps but Trail Wallet is by far the most popular. These are the apps:
“What are your considerations when looking for a place to settle for some time, aside from price and accessibility?”
One of the houses we rented in Ubud, Bali
When choosing somewhere to spend a few months we look for:
Availability of affordable, medium-term apartment/house rentals. Some solo travellers are happy to stay in hostels/hotels but we really like to have our own space to work, relax and cook. It’s the only home we have after all.
Decent WiFi. We’re not super strict about this as we do manage (if somewhat frustratingly) in places like Lake Atitlan, Guatemala where the connection is slow, but we do need some kind of workable WiFi.
Good vegetarian-friendly restaurants. Or at least access to a good local produce market.
Interesting things to do or beautiful scenery (beaches, rice fields, lakes, mountains etc). We don’t need a lot to do if we can work and go for pretty walks.
Weather – We usually follow the sun although we are currently experiencing our first full winter in 8 years!
Running routes – Not a deal breaker as I can find places to run anywhere but good routes away from roads makes it so much easier.
As for your apartment rentals, especially the longer term ones, are/is noise, odors, cleanliness, general safety and the actual host(s) much of an issue for the locations you typically select?
Finding an affordable, comfortable place to rent where we can feel at home is one of the biggest challenges of being a digital nomad. Especially as we’re homebodies (I know that sounds like a contradiction for a nomad!) and prefer to work at home rather than in co-working spaces or cafes.
We’ve never had any major problems, though. It’s usually just annoying things like a badly equipped kitchen (we have bought knives, chopping boards, frying pans, and rice cookers so often!). Or in Bali we struggled with the lack of privacy in the culture—our landlord would walk into our open-air kitchen without warning. Mexico was pretty bad for noise as it’s not exactly a tranquil culture. Kids, music and a crazy guy next door are some of the things I remember!
We’ve never felt unsafe though or had a really bad landlord. And most things we get used to over time. Travel has taught us how adaptable humans are.
One way to find a good place is to choose an Airbnb apartment with lots of great reviews and carefully read the listing, look at the photos, and ask lots of questions (about wifi, natural light, transport etc).
It is more expensive than renting a place once you arrive but it’s also so much easier. We don’t usually like to book in advance for stays of more than a month, but we did for two months in Cape Town (as Airbnb is the only real option) and it worked out well.
Airbnb is our go-to in Europe and the US, but in cheaper countries like Mexico or in SE Asia we usually look around when we arrive (local Facebook groups are helpful) so we can see the place and maybe negotiate a better rate. It can be a lot of work though.
Us with our carry on backpacks
“Is it because there’s the two of you traveling that each of you can just bring one carry one backpack since one can put more things in the other’s bag?”
Not at all. It does help to be able to share some things, but we could easily travel solo with just a carry on bag—we know tons of people who do so.
Honestly, we travel with so many things that regular travellers wouldn’t need as we work online so have tons of electronics like our laptops and camera.
Also, after 8 years of travel without a home base, we want more luxury items than we used to. Simon is currently travelling with a Nintendo Switch and an AeroPress coffee maker for example! And it still all fits in his carry on bag!
“How can you be confident with only the backpack on with you while traveling? What should be essentials you can do without that this bag should have?”
We feel confident that we have everything we need in our carry-on-size backpack. Most people pack way too much stuff and take things “just in case” that they never end up using. If we really do need something we don’t have we can always buy it locally—most things can be found anywhere.
There are no right things to pack as everyone has different needs, but some things that are useful for packing light include:
Packing cubes – These make a huge difference by making it possible to pack lots of clothes in a small space. They also keep things organised and easy to find. I have one for my main clothes, one for workout clothes, and one for underwear. I really like Eagle Creek’s ultralight compression cubes. You can read more about how to use packing cubes here.
Solid toiletries – If you are flying you can’t take liquids over 100ml and they must fit into a single ziplock bag. Products like Lush solid shampoo bars help you avoid liquids.
Kindle or other ebook reader – A must for bookworms as books are too heavy.
Odour-resistant clothes – You can wear these for longer without them smelling, so you can pack less. We like Ably t-shirts, Athleta Unstinkable workout clothes, ExOfficio underwear, Smartwool socks, and Icebreaker long sleeve tops.
I also recommend only packing enough clothes for a week and then doing laundry. And 2 or 3 pairs of shoes is enough for any situation—I have running shoes, hiking sandals, and Tieks ballet flats.
Our Oman itinerary took us on a 10-day road trip around the north of the country. We visited stunning mosques and sandcastle-like forts, hiked up sand dunes and along the rim of the Grand Canyon, swam in the crystal green waters of wadis, and took long walks on empty beaches.
Oman is one of the safest countries to visit in the Middle East, it’s easy to self-drive, and you’ll have many places to yourself as tourism is only just beginning to grow here. It’s also the perfect place for some winter sun.
If you have less time, you could easily do this Oman road trip in a week.
Oman Self-Drive Tips and Resources
Most nationalities can get a 30-day Omani visa on arrival from the currency exchange desk just before immigration at Muscat International Airport. This costs 20 OMR and must be paid for in cash only. There’s no ATM but you can pay with any currency, although the rates aren’t very good. It cost us US $60 each paying in dollars when 20 OMR should be $52.
Do you need a 4WD in Oman?
Most people recommend a 4WD for an Oman road trip, but they are at least double the price of a regular 2WD car and whether you need one depends on your itinerary.
We decided to rent a small 2WD SUV as it has higher clearance than a regular sedan. For this route we didn’t need a 4WD except for going up Jebel Akhdar mountain where we hired a driver at the base to take us up. The road up Jebel Shams was steep and unpaved in parts but we managed in a 2WD. Most roads in Oman are paved, quiet, and in good condition.
If you can afford it, a 4WD will give you peace of mind and will allow you to explore some of Oman’s exciting off-road tracks, but you can manage without one.
Driving up Jebel Shams in our 2WD SUV
Oman car hire
We rented a Nissan Kicks small SUV through RentalCars.com for £261 for 10 days from the Thrifty office at Muscat airport. We had a limit of 200km a day which is common in Oman and was plenty for us. Technically you need an international driving permit in Oman but we were never asked for one.
Our Nissan Kicks SUV (not 4WD) on the way up Jebel Shams
We have a separate annual car hire insurance policy which covered the excess.
In Oman you drive on the right. The speed limit is usually 120km/h or 60km/h in urban areas.
Fuel stations are attended—you can leave a small tip but it didn’t seem to be expected. Most stations have a shop and some have toilets and a restaurant. Petrol is cheap—less than 40p a litre.
We booked most of our accommodation on Booking.com, which often worked out cheaper than booking direct. Prices in Oman are quite high for what you get. Everywhere we stayed was well equipped (ensuite, air conditioning, WiFi, free parking) and functional rather than stylish. Hotels add 17% tax.
If you are on a tight budget, the cheapest option is to buy a tent and wild camp for free almost anywhere in the country.
We bought an Omantel SIM card from the desk at the airport. The Hayyak “New Welcome Pack” cost 2 OMR (£3.75) including 1.5 GB data (valid for 10 days) and 1 OMR credit. Other packages are available and the staff speaks English.
The data package was very useful as we used Google Maps for directions (although turn by turn is not supported). The mobile signal was often faster than the hotel WiFi.
Oman Travel Costs and Money
The current exchange rate is 1 OMR (Omani rial) = £1.87, €2.12 and $2.60. The rial is divided into 1000 baisa.
There are a few ATMs at the airport and there was no charge to use them with a foreign card. It’s best to stock up on cash as some hotels and petrol stations are cash only.
We used our Trail Wallet app to track our Oman expenses. We spent £134 ($173/€145) a day for two people with the most expensive items being accommodation (£68 a day) and transport (£38 a day).
We found food inexpensive in local restaurants (rather than hotels) and it cost us less than £14 a day (not including the meals that were included in two of our hotels). We didn’t spend a lot on entertainment as there aren’t many expensive attractions and our favourite activities—hikes and wadis—were free.
Our Oman travel expenses shown in our Trail Wallet app.
Our costs don’t include flights to Oman. We flew Bangkok-Muscat-London with Oman Air. It wasn’t the cheapest option but we preferred to fly direct. You can search Kiwi and Skyscanner for the best flight deals.
When to Visit Oman
Winter is the best time to visit Oman as the summers are extremely hot. Our trip was in early December and the weather was perfect—around 25ºC and sunny during the day with pleasantly cooler nights. The nights at Jebel Shams mountain and Wahiba Sands desert were very cold and we needed warm clothing.
Travel insurance is essential in case anything goes wrong on your trip. We used True Traveller as always—they are the best deal we’ve found for UK and EU residents. World Nomads is another well-respected company we’ve used in the past.
We heard mixed reports about whether the water in Oman was drinkable. As I have a sensitive stomach we decided not to risk it and drank bottled water instead.
Our Oman Itinerary
Muscat – 2 nights
Nizwa – 2 nights
Jebel Shams – 2 nights
Wahiba Sands – 1 night
Ras Al Hadd – 1 night
Sur – 1 night
Muscat – 1 night
Our Oman road trip was for 10 nights and we drove 1378km around the north of the country. Distances aren’t long on this route and we had quite a lot of down time, so you could easily do this itinerary in seven days. If time is short, reduce the first stay in Muscat to one night, the Nizwa/Jebel Shams area to three nights, and skip the night in Sur (you can visit on the way from Ras Al Hadd to Muscat).
When you are planning your Oman itinerary, remember that as Oman is a Muslim country the weekend is on a Friday and Saturday and many places close on Fridays.
Our Oman Road Trip Map
Note: The distances of each leg of our journey are taken from Google Maps (which we used for navigation) and the times are the actual time it took us. I’ve noted if we stopped for a break.
Days 1–2 Muscat (2 nights)
Our flight arrived at Muscat International Airport at 7 pm and we picked up our rental car and drove 30 minutes to the Mutrah area.
The next day we got an early start (arriving at 8.30 am) for Muscat’s best attraction—the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. This stunning, huge, modern mosque is open to visitors from 8 am to 11 am every day except Friday and is free. There is a strict dress code—women must cover up completely with long sleeves, long trousers or floor-length skirt, and a headscarf (I used my sarong). Abayas are available to rent if you don’t have anything suitable to wear. Men should wear long trousers and cover their shoulders.
Don’t miss the mosque—it is absolutely gorgeous, both the serene grounds and the extravagantly decorated main prayer hall. I recommend arriving early to enjoy it before the tour groups arrive.
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
In the afternoon we rested back at our hotel before heading out at 3 pm for the 30-minute walk to Mutrah Corniche. This was my favourite part of Muscat (and one of the few walkable areas) with a lovely promenade with white buildings backed by rugged mountains overlooking the sea. It’s especially pleasant at sunset.
The nearby Mutrah Souq reopens after the afternoon break at 5 pm. The crowded alleyways are touristy but a good place for souvenir shopping.
Where to Stay in Muscat
The view from our room at Mutrah Hotel
We stayed at Mutrah Hotel between the Little India area of Ruwi and the Mutrah Corniche. The decor was dated but our room was huge with a seating area, ensuite, fridge, air con, OK WiFi, and room service. We had a view of the mountains behind the hotel and there is a SPAR supermarket across the road as well as a few cheap Indian restaurants nearby. It was one of the cheapest hotels we found in Muscat and we were happy with our choice.
Where to Eat in Muscat
We had lunch at Welcome Restaurant, a small, simple, vegetarian Indian restaurant near our hotel. At lunch they only had thalis but it was very good with an array of curries, puffy puri bread, and a sweet for only 2.5 OMR (£4.70) for both of us including water.
We had dinner near the Mutrah Souq at Bait Al Luban, an upmarket restaurant serving traditional Omani cuisine. It’s named after frankincense (which is grown in Oman) and the pungent scent smokes through the restaurant. They even add it to the water.
We sat on cushions and ordered from the decent vegetarian section—our Omani vegetable curry and fava beans in tomato sauce with date flatbread were good. Afterwards they brought us a big bowl of delicious Omani dates. Bait Al Luban is more expensive than most restaurants in Oman, but it’s not unreasonable and it’s worth it for a special meal as there aren’t many destination restaurants in Oman.
Day 3 Muscat – Nizwa (2 nights)
Distance: 176km Time: 2 hours
The drive to Nizwa was easy on good quality highways through the desert surrounded by barren mountains, passing the occasional oasis town. We continued past Nizwa to the 17th-century Jabrin Fort (also known as Jabreen or Jibreen Castle), one of the best forts to visit in Oman. Entrance was only 500 baisa (£0.95) and it wasn’t very busy. There’s a labyrinth of rooms to explore and you can enjoy views of the date palms and mountains from the battlements.
You could also visit nearby Bahla Fort but we were exhausted so headed back to Nizwa to check in to our hotel.
Nizwa isn’t a particularly attractive town. It’s very spread out and the outskirts (where the hotels are) are full of strip malls and fast food chains. The fort and souq area are worth a visit though and we went in the late afternoon. The Nizwa Fort is now open from 8 am to 6 pm (except on Fridays when it’s 8–11.30am and 1.30–8pm) and the souq opens in the mornings and from 5 pm to 8 pm.
We have mixed feelings about Nizwa Fort. It is beautiful, especially the massive circular tower which you can climb for views of the city and mountains beyond, but it now costs 10 times what it used to—5 OMR (£9.40). For that price you would expect it to be better maintained, but the lights in the exhibition area flashed annoyingly. It probably didn’t help that we’re not super into forts, so if you aren’t on a tight budget or are a history buff then you should visit.
On our second morning in Nizwa we visited Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain). The base of the mountain is in Birkat al Mawz, a 15-minute drive from our hotel. When you reach the town follow signs to turn left to Al Jabal Al Akhdar. You drive up the mountain until you arrive at a car park and police checkpoint—it’s 4WD only beyond this point. As we were in a 2WD we parked and a young guy called Mohammed immediately approached us in his shiny 4WD and offered to drive us up for a tour for 35 OMR (£66).
On the way up we stopped at various viewpoints for spectacular views of the rugged mountains and villages that cling to its sides. At the Saiq Plateau you realise why it got its name as the green refers to the terraces of fruit trees and roses that are grown in the villages. Spring is a better time to visit to see everything in bloom.
We spent about two and a half hours enjoying the views and taking short walks in the cool air (take layers!). An interesting addition would be the two-hour hike between the villages of Al Aqr and Al Ayn.
We were back at our hotel by lunchtime, so you could skip the extra night in Nizwa and continue to Jebel Shams.
Where to Stay in Nizwa
Most of the hotels in Nizwa are quite far from the centre. Al Karam Hotel Apartment was one of the cheapest places we found but was surprisingly good, despite its random location off a highway surrounded by desert. Our one-bedroom apartment was spacious, clean and comfortable, if rather characterless. We liked having a separate living room with couch and used the small kitchen to self-cater. WiFi was pretty good (4 Mbps up and down). A breakfast buffet is included in the price.
Where to Eat in Nizwa
There didn’t seem to be anywhere particularly good to eat in Nizwa, so we self-catered at the amazing, huge Lulu Hypermarket. It really has everything you could possibly need including an excellent prepared food section where we stocked up on samosas, dahl, curries, rice, salads, hummus, and bread. They even had all of our favourite British chocolates and it’s a good place to buy inexpensive dates.
The Nizwa Fort Coffee Shop between the fort and the souq looked like a pretty good option for a coffee, juice, and snack.
Day 5 Nizwa – Jebel Shams (2 nights)
Distance: 108km Time: 2 hours 20 minutes via Misfat
You could visit Jebel Shams as a day trip from Nizwa but we decided to spend a few nights up there to enjoy the views and tranquility. On the way we stopped at Misfat al Abryeen, one of Oman’s oldest and most picturesque villages. From the modern side of the village there are fantastic views of the old village clinging to the mountainside and surrounded by lush date palms—walking through the oasis is a highlight.
Misfat Al Abriyeen
Misfat is an interesting place but we felt a little intrusive exploring the village itself. It’s a tiny, traditional place of crumbling mud houses and has become popular with visitors. There are signs everywhere reminding guests to cover their shoulders and knees and warning people away from walking down private alleyways. It might be more rewarding to stay overnight at Misfah Old House guesthouse, although it’s expensive for what you get.
Oman isn’t a country that many people consider visiting, which is a shame as it has a lot to offer and is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. In Oman you can visit forts and deserts, mountains and beaches, mosques and souqs, and swim in stunning wadis.
These are our favourite places to visit in Oman:
1) Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat
Most trips to Oman begin in the capital Muscat and high on everyone’s list is a visit to the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It’s a stunning modern mosque that lives up to its name with space for 20,000 worshippers. The extravagant main prayer hall features a massive chandelier, intricately detailed blue mosaic tiles, and the second largest handmade Iranian rug in the world—it took 600 women four years to weave.
The mosque’s grounds are a serene place to wander and enjoy the harmonious lines and archways of the various buildings and beautiful gardens. On our visit a rare rain shower turned the marble floors into a reflective pool.
Where to Stay:Beach Bay Hotel has comfortable rooms, a great breakfast, and is only a two-minute walk from Qurum Beach in the diplomatic area of Muscat. You can use the Grand Hyatt’s pool next door for a small fee.
2) Mutrah Corniche, Muscat
Before sunset head to the other side of Muscat to the Mutrah Corniche. Join the locals for a stroll along the lovely seafront where white buildings and mosques are backed by rocky mountains and forts that glow golden in the late afternoon light.
Nearby you can shop in the narrow lanes of the Mutrah Souq, one of the oldest markets in Oman, for frankincense and myrrh, ceramic incense burners, silver jewellery, pashminas, turbans, genie lamps, fluffy camels, and much more.
Where to Stay: You could stay at Beach Bay Hotel (above), but Mutrah Hotel is within walking distance of Mutrah Corniche and is cheaper (but a bit more basic).
3) Jabrin Fort
From Muscat we recommend taking a trip inland to the Nizwa area where you can explore forts, mountains, and ancient villages.
Jabrin Fort (also known as Jabreen Castle) dates back to 1675 and looks like a sand castle amidst an oasis of date palms. You can wander through the labyrinth of rooms and see the defensive methods used like the murder holes, gaps in the floor where they used to pour boiling date oil on enemies.
Where to Stay: Nizwa is a good base. Our self-catering apartment at Al Karam Apartment Hotel was spacious, comfortable, and affordable.
4) Nizwa Fort
Another popular fort to visit is the 17th-century Nizwa Fort with its massive circular tower which you can climb for views of the mosque, souq, distant rocky mountains, and the date palms that surround this oasis city.
Nizwa Fort has recently been refurbished and there are now historical items on display like jewellery, tools, and a timeline of the area’s history. You can also watch women making crafts and baking bread over an open fire. Look out for the murder holes here too.
Jebel Akhdar means Green Mountain but you might wonder why as you ascend its slate grey and burnt orange sides, barren except for a few thorny dried up bushes. The green refers to the villages of the Saiq Plateau, 2000m above sea level, where abundant rainfall allows the growth of pomegranates, grapes, peaches, apricots, and roses for the rose water that’s used in Omani sweets and as perfume. Spring is the best time to visit when the roses are in bloom and the terrace plantations are a vibrant green.
Jebel Akhdar is an easy day trip from Nizwa (or even Muscat), but you do need a 4WD to ascend the steep winding road (we hired a driver at the police checkpoint). The views from the top of the villages surrounded by jagged peaks are spectacular, and the cold air is a relief from the hot plains.
Where to Stay: We stayed at Al Karam Apartment Hotel, a 15-minute drive from the base of the mountain in Birkat al Mawz. If you can afford it, the new Alila Jabal Akhdar high up in the mountains looks stunning.
6) Misfat al Abryeen
Most of the old villages in Oman have been abandoned, but Misfat al Abryeen is still inhabited and is one of the most picturesque in Oman. It’s a maze-like village of crumbling mud houses in narrow passageways sloping down the mountainside. Below the village you can follow the falaj irrigation channels and walk through the lush date and banana plantations—it’s shockingly green after the desert.
Where to Stay: We visited Misfat between Nizwa and Jebel Shams. For an interesting local experience and home-cooked food, you can stay at the Misfah Old House guesthouse.
7) Jebel Shams
It’s a long drive on steep, rough roads to the top of Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest mountain, but it’s worth it for the stunning views deep down into Wadi Ghul, known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Oman.
Our highlight was the Balcony Walk, a fairly easy but dramatic 2.5-hour hike which winds around the cliffs halfway up the rim of the canyon to the abandoned village of As Sab. Tiny stone and mud houses perch precariously on the edge of the ravine under a ledge of rock—an insane place to live.
Where to Stay:Jebel Shams Resort is the nicest of the two hotels at the top of the mountain. We had a good view from our sunset chalet and it was convenient for the viewpoint and Balcony Walk.
8) Wahiba Sands
For the true desert experience head to Wahiba Sands for rolling sand dunes, camel rides, and 4WD adventures. We spent a night in a rustic goat-hair Bedouin tent at the foot of a huge dune which we climbed for sunset and sunrise. We watched camels wandering past, drank tea by the fire, and gazed at the sky lit up with stars. It was wonderfully peaceful.
Where to Stay:Desert Retreat Camp was the most interesting place we stayed in Oman. We liked the simple tents, excellent Indian food, and peaceful location.
9) Wadi Bani Khalid
One of our favourite things about Oman were the wadis, rocky ravines or dry riverbeds that only contain water at certain times of the year, but many have pools you can swim in.
Wadi Bani Khalid is a stunning oasis in the desert with crystal clear green water surrounded by date palms and rugged mountains. The pools are huge and swimming in them is so refreshing in the desert heat. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon.
Where to Stay: We visited Wadi Bani Khalid on our way from Wahiba Sands to Sur. The Oriental Nights Rest House is one of the nearest hotels if you want to stay nearby.
At Sur the desert meets the sea. You’ll find long empty beaches, the picturesque fishing village of Al Ayjah, a dhow boat building yard, and just north, the turtle reserve at Ras Al Jinz. (Sadly there were no turtles on the beach when we visited for the 5 am tour).
Where to Stay: To visit the turtle reserve we stayed at the Ras Al Hadd Guest House (much cheaper than the reserve itself) and then moved to the basic Sur Hotel in the centre of Sur. Both were inexpensive and convenient.
11) Wadi Shab
While Wadi Bani Khalid is all about relaxation, Wadi Shab is about adventure. You take a boat across the river, hike for 45 minutes through a stunning valley, then swim through a series of pools to reach a cave which contains a waterfall. It’s gorgeous and one of the best things to do in Oman.
Where to Stay: We visited Wadi Shab on our way from Sur to Muscat. The Sama Wadi Shab Resort is the nearest hotel to the wadi.
Places to Visit in Oman Map
I’ll be writing a detailed Oman travel itinerary of our 10 day trip soon with more practical details and you can also read our post on what’s it like to travel in Oman.
What do you think are the most beautiful places to visit in Oman? Leave a comment below as I know we missed many of Oman’s attractions.
We are spending the whole winter in England! Are we crazy? Quite possibly.
One of the reasons we left the UK nearly eight years ago was to escape the dreary winters. We’ve spent years following the sun around the world and loving it. But one of the things we seek on our travels is change and we are ready for something different.
Winter is such a novelty to us now that we’re enjoying the frosty mornings, cosy evenings by the fire, roasting root vegetables, wearing woolly jumpers, and snuggling under blankets. We’re also enjoying how easy it is being back—being able to drink the tap water, the huge choice in supermarkets, not having to deal with ants and mosquitos. Even though we don’t really feel that we belong here any more (we don’t get many cultural references), there is comfort in the familiarity. At least for now.
We decided to come back for a few reasons. A number of relatives had health issues last year and we wanted to spend more time with them. We wanted to come back for a proper Christmassy Christmas (and it was wonderful!).
As we have no idea what will happen to our rights to travel in the EU after Brexit in 2019, we decided to focus our travels on Europe for most of 2018. While we could spend the winter months somewhere sunny like southern Spain we find we feel colder there due to the lack of central heating.
Visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour is one of the best things we’ve done since being back. Don’t miss it!
Especially when it’s Christmas themed!
Our England Plans
Our focus for the winter months is to work and save up cash so we can splurge later in the year. I’ll be updating old blog posts and writing new ones about Oman and Japan, while Simon is starting an exciting new project—creating an adventure game.
So we’ve signed up for a series of housesits in Somerset, Dorset, Lancashire, and London, which we found on the Trusted Housesitters website and through family and friends.
We are currently looking after two cats in a teeny village in Somerset where the stone houses have names instead of numbers (The Old Cider Mill, The Old Shop) and an old red phone box has been turned into a help-yourself library. This week we’ll be joining the community for the wassail—an ancient pagan custom that involves visiting the cider orchards and singing to the trees to encourage the apples to grow. It’s a different world here.
We are loving our routine of mornings working, afternoon walks down narrow country lanes, and cosy evenings by the fire. Simple but lovely.
Erin at the library telephone box in our cute Somerset village
I’m Running a Half Marathon!
One of the advantages of the cold weather is that it’s so much easier to run than in the hot, sweaty, pavement-less tropics. So I’ve signed up for my second half marathon! The first one I did in California in 2014 was one of the best things I’ve ever done, but our constant travel has made it difficult to fit in another.
I’m excited to be running in the new London Landmarks Half Marathon in March. Well, once I got over my freak out that could I possibly run 13.1 miles when I didn’t run further than 4 miles in all of 2017? How would I deal with winter running? Ugh, rain!
I’m three weeks into my training (I’m following Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 12-week programme again) and armed with my new warm running clothes, I’m loving it so far, even on frosty mornings. Well, maybe not so much the rain and wind.
It’s easy to get in a sunrise run when the sun doesn’t rise until after 8am!
I’ve also been following the True 30 day yoga journey with the wonderful Yoga with Adriene, which is the perfect complement to my running. The videos are free, it’s suitable for all levels, and you can start anytime. Yoga every day has been a life changer for me (I’m up to 474 days) and I highly recommend it for both physical and mental wellbeing.
I’m running London Landmarks on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Society. Simon’s grandad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year and it has been a really difficult time for all the family. It’s a horrible disease that takes away the person you love and I want to support this charity who are working hard to find a cure.
If you are able to donate I would really appreciate it. You can donate on my Just Giving page where I’ll also be sharing weekly updates on my training.
The Rest of 2018
Don’t worry, we’re not planning to settle down permanently. In April we’ll be heading to one of our favourite countries, Italy. We’ll be taking the train via Paris because flying sucks. Our first stop will be Bologna which we’ll use as our base to explore the beautiful towns of the foodie region Emilia-Romagna. I’m especially looking forward to trying balsamic vinegar at its source in Modena (doubly so since Master of None filmed there).
After that we have no definite plans but it’s likely we’ll head to some of our favourite Italy destinations—hopefully month-long stays in Lecce (in Puglia) and Rome—as well as explore some new parts of the country. Let us know if you have any suggestions for hidden gems!
After Italy we’ll see, but high on the wish list are Georgia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Greece, and Iceland.
Ask Us Anything!
On Friday 19th January from 11am EST (4pm GMT) for at least an hour we’ll be running a question and answer session on the website AMAFeed. You can ask us anything about our travels, digital nomad work, packing, vegetarian travel or anything else. You can submit your question in advance here or join us live on the day when we’ll be answering questions.
Have you ever struggled with packing for a trip? You can’t decide what you’ll need, so you pack for every scenario and take far too much. You struggle to fit everything in your bag, you get stressed lugging it around, and you pay a fortune in airline luggage fees.
The Carry-On Traveller will teach you not only how to lighten your load, but how to pack everything you need into a single carry-on-size bag. You can apply these strategies to any trip, whether you are travelling for a week or a year, to hot or cold climates, alone or with kids.
By travelling carry-on only, you’ll save time at airports, avoid wasting money on checked luggage fees, and reduce the stress of hauling bulky bags.
We’ve been travelling full time with just a single carry on backpack each for nearly eight years. If we can do it, you can too!
Us with our carry on backpacks in Spain
What Others Are Saying
Since the book was released, we’ve had positive feedback from both newbies who have now tried carry-on travel for the first time and loved it and current carry-on travellers who found tips and gear suggestions that made packing light even easier.
On Amazon US The Carry-On Traveller now has 70 reviews with an average rating of five stars! Here’s what some of the reviews say:
“This book is a must have for travelers. It is well written and sensible. Please read this book if you are looking for LESS to NO stress when traveling.” A.M Jacobs.
”If you’re wanting to pack smart for any type of trip this book will have the answers you need. Erin has done the research, tested the products and accumulated a vast amount of knowledge along the way. Highly recommended.” BHarri45
”A travelers must-have guide! The author is fantastic and this guide covers everything from travel itself to what to pack. The product reviews were so helpful and steered me in the right direction for my own future backpacking! Love this book!” ElleM
”I thought I was a packing pro, but there was lots of information and packing tips that I hadn’t thought of that I will definitely use in the future. The links were also really helpful so I could immediately see the recommended items. I also liked the writing style.” Karen
”I don’t travel nearly as often as the author but found all the tips helpful. I am in my 60’s and retired. It can be daunting trying to manage luggage especially on a plane. The ideas, suggestions and examples in this easy to read book were practical and I will use them on my next trip.” Janet
Travel insurance is essential for any trip abroad. Although it’s unlikely that anything will go wrong, it’s important to be covered as a serious accident or illness could end up costing you a fortune. For the past five years we’ve been using True Traveller insurance which is the best backpacker insurance we’ve found.
True Traveller insurance is only available for UK and EU residents, so if you’re from somewhere else we recommend World Nomads instead—more details on that below.
Here’s why we think True Traveller is the best long term travel insurance.
True Traveller was originally an adventure travel company—their policies are designed by travellers for travellers and it shows. They offer a flexibility that other insurance companies don’t and show a real understanding of the needs of backpackers and long-term travellers. With True Traveller you can:
Buy travel insurance when you are already travelling – This is very rare as most insurance companies require you to be in your home country at the time of purchase. It’s ideal if you forget to buy insurance or your policy expires and you need to renew.
Travel with a one-way ticket – Unlike most insurance companies, True Traveller covers you if you don’t know when you’ll be returning home (as we never do) and don’t have a return ticket.
Get cover for a range of adventure activities – Whether you’ll be horse riding, scuba diving, snowboarding, trekking, volunteering, or working on a gap year, True Traveller covers you. You can choose which of their three activity packs is right for you—the Traveller Pack covers 91 activities and is included as standard.
Choose the cover you really need – This can dramatically reduce the cost of your policy (see below).
If you are heading off on a long trip, you can buy a backpacker insurance policy for up to 18 months (and extend it if needed).
Although True Traveller insurance is ideal for long-term travellers, it’s great for short trips too. You can purchase cover for a single trip or potentially save money with an Annual Multi Trip policy which is valid for unlimited trips throughout the year, for up to 30 days (True Value) or 70 days (Traveller).
True Traveller insurance is the best value travel insurance we’ve found. This is because they allow you to tailor the policy to suit you. You can choose the most basic medical insurance or add extras like baggage, electronics, cancellation, extreme adventure activities, and winter sports cover. This keeps costs down as you only buy what you really need.
Getting a True Traveller Quote
True Traveller offers three policies: True Value (the cheapest, for backpackers and travellers under 40), Traveller (their most popular policy), and Traveller Plus (with enhanced medical and cancellation cover). They can not insure people who are over 65 years old.
The three quotes I was given by True Traveller for a one year worldwide trip. We usually choose the True Value backpacker insurance.
If you exclude the US and Canada, you will save a considerable amount—£50 on this quote. On trips over six months, you can spend 14 days in the US without paying extra.
You can see the different levels of coverage above. Traveller and Traveller Plus offer higher levels of coverage and smaller excesses (the amount you pay of any claim). We usually choose the basic True Value policy as our main concern is medical expenses and repatriation and £2.5 million cover is plenty.
I recommend paying slightly more—about £40 a year on my quote—to reduce the excess to £0. We have not done this before, but in the past year we both went to the doctors and ended up spending over £100 each so this would have saved us money.
You can then choose to add an Activity Pack, but for us the Traveller Pack that is included is enough. It covers activities that we sometimes do like horse riding, motorcycling (under 125cc), kayaking, cycling, white water rafting, sailing, surfing, and lots more. You can also add winter sports cover.
Just some of the activities included as standard
For the True Value policy baggage isn’t automatically included but you can add it. We don’t bother as it only includes valuables up to £200 total (£100 per item) and our non-electronic items aren’t worth much.
You can also choose to add electronics separately, but the value limit of £450 per item (or £750 with Traveller Plus) is not enough for our laptops and camera. Unfortunately, we haven’t found a good option for long-term worldwide electronics insurance, so our items are uninsured and we make sure we have enough savings to replace them.
If you decide to travel for longer, you can easily extend your True Traveller policy (before the expiry date) and get a 10% discount. Even if you let your policy expire while abroad you can purchase a new one by ticking the “already travelling” box.
Easy Claims Process
The real test of any insurance is how easy it is to make a claim. Last year I had to make my first claim with True Traveller and was pleased to discover that the process was simple and quick.
To make a claim you have to download the claim form from their website and return it within 60 days of the incident. Make sure you keep any receipts and doctor or police reports.
I had to visit the doctor in Bali on two occasions about ongoing stomach problems and they did various tests to find out what was wrong and prescribed antibiotics. The total cost wasn’t a huge amount over my £125 excess, but it was worth putting in a claim anyway. As I said above, in future I will pay a little extra to reduce the excess to zero.
The claims form was a little intimidating at first, but it was straightforward once I started and it didn’t take long to fill out. As I was still travelling I was able to send the form by email along with scanned copies of the doctor’s report and receipt and my certificate of insurance. Scanning was easy with the Notes app on our iPhone or you could just take a photo.
Claims are supposed to take up to 10 working days but two days later I received an email saying my claim had been processed and a day later the money was in my bank account.
I was impressed by how easy and quick making a claim was. I was also pleased that they hadn’t quibbled over the fact that the doctor had got my date of birth wrong on my report. My claim was a small one, so much larger claims may be more difficult, but True Traveller has excellent reviews on Trust Pilot and I feel confident continuing to use them.
World Nomads: The Best Alternative to True Traveller for Non-EU Citizens
If you are not from Europe, the best alternative to True Traveller we have found is World Nomads. We used them on our year-long round the world trip in 2008 and the only reason that we no longer do is that they are more expensive than True Traveller.
The trip that I used as an example above would cost £425 with World Nomads for their cheapest Standard plan, £125 more expensive than True Traveller. You also can’t reduce the excess (£100 for medical expenses). That said, World Nomads coverage is more extensive, so if you need the extras (higher medical coverage etc.), they are a good option and it’s always worth getting a quote.
Getting a quote from World Nomads
My quote from World Nomads for a one year worldwide trip
The two plans World Nomads offer – Standard and Explorer.
World Nomads has many of the same benefits as True Traveller. You can purchase a policy while travelling, you don’t need a return ticket, they cover adventurous activities, and you can make claims online. We have many friends who use them and they get excellent reviews and are considered by many to be the best travel insurance for backpackers.
If you are from Europe I highly recommend True Traveller insurance. Their website is really easy to use and you can play around with the different options to find the most affordable cover that meets your needs.
I wanted Oman to be exotic. To not feel like anywhere else we’d been before (a challenge after eight years on the road). Maybe not quite slap-you-in-the-face India different, but pleasantly bewildering Japan different.
When we arrived at Muscat airport it did feel unfamiliar at first. The locals wear ankle-length gowns—white dishdasha with turbans for men and black abaya for women. The bathroom featured squat toilets and was a hectic mess of women chattering in Arabic.
Then we walked into the arrival’s hall and were greeted with a Costa coffee and WH Smiths, two British chains that we rarely see outside the UK.
Oman is a modern, wealthy country. It may have only gained its wealth with oil money in the 1970s and been closed to tourists until the 1980s, but in Muscat you can now find Pizza Hut and Starbucks and supermarkets stocked with all our favourite British chocolates, alongside the shiny mosques, bustling souqs, and simple Indian cafes.
I was a little disappointed by this at first. Muscat felt so easy and not really the exotic destination I’d hoped for. Simon, on the other hand, took comfort in the familiar and happily gorged on bags of Minstrels and Toffee Crisp Bites, treats we hadn’t had for a year.
Despite its modernisation, Oman isn’t all chain restaurants and shopping malls, and we found that the further away from the towns we travelled, when Starbucks was replaced by basic coffee shops and goats grazed by the side of the road, the more we enjoyed it.
Us at Jebel Akhdar
I find Oman harder to describe than other places we’ve visited, perhaps because we struggled to get under its skin on a short trip, perhaps because it has fewer obvious attractions than more popular destinations. I have no snappy answer to the question of what Oman was like, but here are our impressions after a 10-day road trip around the north of the country.
Where is Oman?
The Sultanate of Oman isn’t a well-known tourist destination so you might be wondering where exactly it is. Oman is located on the Arabian Peninsula and shares borders with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest.
It’s Easy and Safe
We found Oman an easy country to travel in, but you do need a car as public transport is limited. Many people speak English; the roads are generally quiet, tarmacked, and in good condition; and crime rates are very low. We felt totally safe and never worried about theft or scams or experienced any hassle. Oman is one of the most stable countries to travel in the Middle East.
Muscat is not Dubai
Mutrah Corniche in Muscat
Despite the big highways and shopping malls, Muscat is a low key capital with none of the glitz or skyscrapers of neighbouring Dubai. The city is very spread out between the jagged mountains and the sea. The fancy houses, upmarket restaurants, and long stretch of beach of the diplomatic area Qurum feel very different from the cheap Indian restaurants, busy shopping streets, and medieval forts along the corniche of Mutrah. There aren’t many major attractions but the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque does live up to its name.
The Grand Mosque in Muscat
Oman is a Muslim country so you’ll see many mosques, hear the call to prayer five times a day (expect to be woken at dawn), and won’t find alcohol in most restaurants and shops. 46% of the 4.5 million population are expatriates, primarily from the Indian Subcontinent.
We found the people friendly but fairly reserved, especially the women who didn’t usually acknowledge us, while men in villages and on hikes would say hello. I wonder if this would have been different if I were travelling alone.
Oman is an absolute monarchy. Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has been ruling the country since 1970—the third-longest current reigning monarch in the world. He rose to power after overthrowing his father and proceeded to end Oman’s isolation and make huge changes to modernise and develop the country by building schools, hospitals, ports and a road and telecommunications network.
Landscape and Towns
Oman is 82% desert and we experienced it in many forms from the rolling dunes of Wahiba Sands to the rocky barren mountains around Nizwa and the sandy beaches of Sur. Goats, camels and donkeys can be seen wandering by the side of the road in more rural areas.
Most of the towns are fairly modern and not particularly attractive. There are many old mud hut villages you can visit, but most have been abandoned and are in ruins. Misfat Al Abriyeen is one of the few that is still inhabited.
Misfat Al Abriyeen village
I loved the matter-of-fact shop signs in Oman proclaiming their purpose like “sell food stuffs”.
If you are a fan of forts, you’ll love Oman as every town has one of these sandcastle-like buildings, many hundreds of years old.
One of our favourite things about Oman was the oases that break up the bleakness of the desert with patches of vibrant green date palms.
Some of the oases are found in wadis—dry ravines which sometimes contain glorious swimming holes of emerald water.
Oman doesn’t have a strong food culture and traditional Omani food mostly consists of meat and rice. Despite this, it’s easy to be vegetarian as most restaurants serve either Indian food, where there is always dahl and vegetable curries, or Arabic/Turkish food with hummus, salads, flatbread and other mezze on offer.
Vegetarian Indian thali at Welcome Restaurant in Mutrah, Muscat
We were happy with the simple meals we ate, but it isn’t a foodie destination, and there aren’t many stand-out restaurants. The most common place to eat is a basic coffee shop serving fast-food dishes with aspirational menus—they usually didn’t have everything on the menu but were happy to suggest vegetarian options for us.
Surprisingly Oman does have fantastic supermarkets. We loved Lulu Hypermarket and when we had an apartment in Nizwa we self-catered from the prepared food section with dahl, curries, salads, hummus, bread and so much more. It was better and cheaper than most restaurants.
One culinary delight in Oman is dates, which are grown there. They are cheap and delicious and served with traditional Omani coffee in tiny cups.
It’s Quite Expensive
Oman has made the conscious decision to target the higher end travel market rather than backpackers. We found accommodation particularly expensive, especially considering everywhere we stayed was functional rather than special. The most interesting place we stayed was the simple but atmospheric Desert Retreat Camp in Wahiba Sands.
The bedouin tents at Desert Retreat Camp
Some gorgeous new hotels are opening up as tourism increases, like the Alila Jabal Akhdar, but you have to pay hundreds of pounds a night for any style.
We spent £134 ($173/€145) a day for two people with 51% of our budget on accommodation. We found food inexpensive outside hotels and it cost us less than £14 a day (not including the meals that were included in two of our hotels), petrol is less than 40p a litre, and our favourite activities—hikes and wadis—were free.
The cheapest way to travel Oman would be to wild camp for free as it is legal in most of the country.
It’s Not Busy But Tourism is Growing
It’s easy to get off the beaten track in Oman. We visited in high season and travelled the most common tourist route, but there were still only a handful of foreign tourists at the major sights—usually older Europeans (British, French, German, Italians) travelling as a couple with a guide/driver or in small tour groups. There was only one other guest at our desert camp and we had two of the most popular hikes in the country to ourselves by starting at 8 am. If you stray just a little from the popular attractions you’ll be the only foreigner around.
Tourism in Oman is growing, though, so now is the time to visit.
What to Wear in Oman
Locals dress modestly and it’s important that visitors do too—there’s no need to cover your hair (except women when visiting mosques), but both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees, and in more conservative areas I preferred to cover my arms and legs too. I usually wore linen trousers or jeans and a loose long sleeve shirt.
Erin taking photos at Jebel Shams
The weather in Oman in December was perfect—about 25ºC and sunny during the day, with cooler nights. You do need warm clothes if you are going up the mountains—the nights on Jebel Shams were close to freezing.
Do We Recommend Visiting Oman?
Yes, we definitely recommend visiting Oman. If it’s your first visit to the Middle East, I would probably recommend Jordan instead as it has more major sights and better food. But if you are looking to get off the beaten track in a safe country Oman is a great choice. If you are a fan of desert, forts, wild camping, and adventurous 4WD trails, Oman would be perfect.
I’ll be writing lots more about Oman soon including our road trip itinerary. Leave a comment below if you have any questions.
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