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Australia is one of the most remote countries in the world and, ironically, one of the most popular places to visit, especially among backpackers and budget travelers. Because of its distance from the US, not many Americans tend to visit Australia. The flights are long and expensive, and when you only have a few weeks of travel, wasting a few days flying probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of travelers. Nevertheless, here are a few reasons to save up your vacation time and brave that long venture across the Pacific:

The Great Barrier Reef

One of the most famous reef systems in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is world renowned for its abundance of marine life and world-class diving opportunities. When I was there, I saw turtles, sharks, vibrant coral, and beautiful fish (even a fish pooping, which was as weird as it sounds). It was everything it was cracked up to be. You can spend one day or a few diving this reef. Though everyone leaves from Cairns, leaving from Port Douglas will get you to less crowded dive spots.

Read more about diving the Great Barrier Reef

Sydney

Known for its famed opera house and harbor, Sydney also boasts an incredible bridge, great parks, delicious food, lots of free stuff to do, and amazing surfing. Whether you go to Manly Beach or hang out with everyone else at Bondi, Sydney’s a place to relax in the sun and enjoy the water. Darling Harbor has a number of good restaurants and great entrainment venues, and the Chinese Garden is quite relaxing. For a night out on the town with colorful locals, there’s nothing like King’s Cross.

Read more about my 15 favourite things to do in Sydney.

Uluru

You wouldn’t think that a giant round rock covering eight kilometers of land would be breathtaking, but it is. The wind-blown cuts throughout the rock make it look like a wave of sand climbing over the desert. The iron in the rock produces amazing shades of red and orange during sunrise and sunset. While you can climb Uluru, be forewarned that it is a sacred area to the people of this area. Oddly enough, they allow visitors to scale the rock, even though they don’t like it.

You can take tours here from nearby Alice Springs.

Barbecue

Aussies do a lot of things well, and one of the best is throwing a barbecue. The Aussie barbecue is a serious tradition, and most parks and public areas have at least three barbecue pits. In fact, I don’t know what Australia would be without a barbecue. There’s nothing better than a beautiful warm night, a few good beers, and some grilled-up kangaroo to make you love this place. Barbecuing is a great budget friendly option too!

Read more budget tips on Australia.

Wine

Australia has some great wine regions, which include Margaret River near Perth, the Barossa Valley near Adelaide, and the Hunter Valley near Sydney. There’s a lot of good wine to be tried while in Australia, especially shiraz and pinot noir. You can take day trips to any of the wine areas from the nearby major cities or simply take a trip to the wine store and get drunk in the park…while having a barbecue.

Learn about why wine tasting is one of my favorite things to do in Sydney.

Western Australia

This is my favorite part of Australia. It’s truly beautiful, with its large expanses of outback and white sand beaches that stretch for miles without a soul in sight. I’m glad a lot of people don’t visit Western Australia; otherwise, it could end up like the East Coast — crowded and overbuilt. Karijini National Park puts Kakadu and Litchfield to shame, and Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef are even better than Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef. I love it here.

Read about the time I got stuck in the outback

Perth

Sydney and Melbourne get all the attention, but Perth can hold its own against these two heavyweights. There are great beaches, one of the world’s largest city parks, surfing, and nearby Fremantle, where you can have Australia’s best beer (Little Creatures). Perth is a city filled with young people and has the vibe of a city in motion that’s just coming into its own. Don’t forget Sunday drinking sessions at the famous Cottesloe Hotel.

Read more about traveling in Perth.

Surfing

Australia may not have invented surfing, but it might as well have, given how ingrained it is in Australian culture. The best surfing is on the East Coast, and there are a million places where you can catch a good wave. You can head to Sydney and places like Bondi Beach, but I find the best surfing is up in Queensland. I personally think Noosa is one of the best places to surf because there are waves for both professionals and beginners.

Read more about Broome – a great place to surf.

Beautiful Beaches

With over 50,000km of coastline, there’s no way this country could exist without beautiful beaches. The ones on the East Coast are far busier than the deserted beaches on Australia’s western coastline. But with so much to choose from, you’ll always find a spot to relax by yourself. My favorites include Coral Bay, Cable Beach, Noosa, Manly, and any beach in Perth.

Read more about my beach paradise: Coral Bay

Lush Jungles

One day I’ll settle down, and when I do, it’ll be in some lush, tropical place. Maybe Queensland will be that place. Here you’ll find one of the oldest continuous tropical rainforests in the world (it dates back to the age of the dinosaurs!). There are great places to go hiking, tons of wildlife and birds (watch out for crocodiles, though), and some really nice rivers and swimming holes to cool off in. If you really want to get away from it all, head far north to Cape Tribulation, where it’s just you, the jungle, and some ocean.

Go for a jungle walk in Cairns.

Australia has way more to offer than just these 10 things. I could probably think of 365 reasons to visit Australia (Vegemite not being one of them!). But we get drawn to countries for certain reasons, and these are what draw me back again and again to the wonderful land down under.

For more information about Australia or to plan your visit, read these other articles:

Book Your Trip to Australia: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight to Australia by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel in Australia with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Want More Information on Australia?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Australia for even more planning tips!

The post Ten Reasons to Visit Australia appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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I love Australia. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world. I’ve been going for over a decade and have crossed the country more times than I’ve criss-crossed my own. I’ve stayed in countless hostels throught Australia and, today, want to share some of my favorites.

Base St. Kilda (Melbourne)


Base is like the McDonald’s of hostels. You get full but you’re not really satisfied. Yet McDonald’s (Base) outdid themselves with their Melbourne hostel. It’s my favorite hostel in Australia. The bar is lively every night, and there are BBQs and events during the week. Moreover, the rooms and bathrooms look really nice and are clean. The bar is open 7 nights a week and they offer free breakfast from 8am-10am. They also have a travel desk, recruitment and jobs desk, and free daily activities. Since people come here to party, everyone is very social and looking to interact. Within moments of my arrival, I had a group of friends to spend time with. I went there during my first trip to Australia and went back this year to see if it was still good. It did my memories justice.

—->Book your stay at Base St. Kilda!

Wake Up! (Sydney)

Wake Up! is, in many ways like a backpacker hotel. With its eight floors, hyper-trendy and clean look, and small common areas, you might think it would be hard to meet people. The large size does make it sort of hard to meet people outside the common areas or your room, but the big bar downstairs (biggest night is Monday) lets you meet all the people you see coming and going. I really liked my time there and I especially enjoyed the high water pressure in the showers and uncreaky beds.

The hostel is located just next to the Central Station so it’s easy to get to and from the airport. The only downside is that it’s more expensive than the cheaper options in King’s Cross so you might want to “splash” out for this one because it’s not cheap!

—->Book your stay at Wake Up! Sydney!

Surf N Sun Hostel (Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast)


Located in the Gold Coast, you’ll get both surf and sun at this place. A converted motel, this hostel has really friendly staff, a pool, a central location, and is right across from the beach. All good things. Plus they offer a free pick up from the bus station. The owners are these old backpackers who hang out in the hostel once in awhile and are really friendly. Another plus: at the time I was there, it was the only hostel in Surfer’s Paradise that didn’t have bed bugs. They often have free drinks and BBQs for guest too. I ended up staying an extra week there simply because I was having such a good time.

—->Book your stay at Surf n Sun Hostel!

Bunk Brisbane (Brisbane, Queensland)

Bunk has awesome facilities. They have a pool, hot tub, late night bar, and an awesome travel desk. They can also help you find work too. Their kitchen is spacious, their beds are comfy, and the dorm rooms are cleaned daily and have electronic key access. It’s the best place in Brisbane (especially since Base took over Tinbillys!)

—->Book your stay at Bunk Brisbane!

Kimberley Travellers Lodge (Broome)

This hostel is amazing. They have an enormous pool, a huge outdoor area, a gigantic kitchen, a great location close to the beach, and a small, cozy bar that you can order great meals from. Moreover, when the heat of Broome really gets to you, there are hammocks to lie on. They offer shuttle service to famous Cable Beach for free, and the hostel is a close walk to town. What I really love is the huge kitchen. Even during peak time cooking time, you have plenty of room to move around. I hate cooking dinner in hostels because there’s never space and you’re always bumping into other people cooking. Not here. I wish all hostel kitchens were this big. Rates include a continental breakfast daily and they will even arrange complimentary airport transfers!

—->Book your stay at Kimberly Travelers Lodge!

Witch’s Hat (Perth)

The Witch’s Hat is located near the main party area in Perth, Northbridge, as well as near many good restaurants. The staff is really friendly and can really help you with any travel bookings or related questions. There’s a great kitchen and common room here, plus an outdoor BBQ area, comfortable dorms, and a very social atmosphere. They also organize barbecues and events every so often.

—->Book your stay at Witch’s Hat!

Aquarius Backpackers (Byron Bay)

I stayed at this place over Christmas and fell in love with it. They do such a good job at getting people to talk to each and create a really friendly atmosphere. There’s a free meal every night (small meal) and they organize a huge BBQ lunch on Sundays. It’s close to the beach and the center of town, and there’s free wifi by the pool. The dorms are cleaned often but the beds won’t win any major awards.

—->Book your stay at Aquarius Backpackers!

Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel and Resort (Cairns)

This giant hotel/hostel is where you go if you want to party. The rooms are OK. They have aircon and the beds are comfy but I was less than impressed. But what I did love was the many state of the art kitchens, free airport pick up, wifi, and swimming pool with an open deck bar and massive outdoor pub screens! I had a lot of fun here. Maybe too much. Hard to remember!

—->Book your stay at Gilligan’s!

Nomads Noosa (Noosa)

A cool little hostel that is only 900 meters from the beech. All rooms are spacious and come with their own bathroom. There’s a nice tropical garden, communal kitchen, bar, swimming pool and even a volleyball court! It’s one of the chillest, laidback places I stayed in and the staff was very helpful and friendly!

—->Book your stay at Nomads!

***
When in Australia, I highly recommend you stay at these hostels. For me, a good hostel has all about the amenities, staff, environment, and comfortable beds. These hostels meet all those requirements (which is why they are usually all full so book in advance!)

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

For more help planning your trip, check out my guide to Australia travel.

The post My Favorite Australian Hostels appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Last year, I gave away a trip around the world. After going through thousands of entries, in the end, Heather was the winner. She has had some amazing adventures already, and now and it’s time to catch up with her and find out about her trip, how the budgeting is going (is she doing $50 a day?), and some more lessons learned as she makes her way across South America.

Nomadic Matt: Hi again! First, let’s catch up! What have you been up to since your last update?
Heather: Since our last update, I spent two months in Peru and now I am in Chile. I really loved Peru. When I first left for this trip, I didn’t think I would even go to Peru, because I wasn’t sure I could do Machu Picchu, and it didn’t seem right to go to Peru and not see it. After a few weeks, I met a few travelers who told me how I could do Machu Picchu on a budget, and so I ended up spending two months in the country! (There are a ton of pictures from my time in Peru on my Instagram and more stories on my blog.)

Speaking of budgets, how’s your daily budget going? Can you give us details on how much you are spending per day and where the money is going?
In Peru, I had a much easier time staying on budget. In my first month there, I spent about $600. Northern Peru was so cheap. I couchsurfed a few times and took a camping trip, so it wasn’t hard to stay on budget. My second month I spent quite a bit more, about $1,200. I found the south a lot more expensive, and I’ll admit I was being overindulgent. There were so many restaurants in Cusco and Arequipa that I wanted to try!

In the north, I couchsurfed in Cajamarca and we ate at his place. I spent 10 soles (about $3 USD) on a bus to Namora (outside of Cajamarca), 10 more soles on a taxi to get to the lake we were visiting, 10 soles for the boat ride, 10 soles for lunch, and 6 soles for the bus ride back. In total, that’s about $14 — and it was that much only because we did an activity. Some days our only activity was attending Carnaval, so I might spend just $5 that day.

The next week I took the tour through La Cordillera Blanca. It cost 320 soles ($99 USD) to take the four-day tour, plus the entry ticket to the park was 40 soles. My per-day budget in Peru was about 100 soles ($31 USD), so that tour ended up costing less than my daily budget and I got to do an incredible hike.

However, in the south, a typical day might include grabbing coffee with some friends, eating a lunch out, walking around, eating dinner, grabbing drinks, then sitting in the plaza. Some days that was the full agenda, yet it was so expensive. On our last day together, we decided to eat lunch at a fancy restaurant with a renowned chef, and we spent 100 soles each on that lunch alone. But it was delicious, so it’s hard to regret! For the equivalent of $30, I had a cocktail, a glass of wine, an appetizer, and a full roasted lamb leg with sides that I split with a friend.

How do you stay on budget?
The easiest way I’ve found to stay on budget is to avoid tours. For instance, here in Chile I see pamphlets advertising day trips to Valparaiso for about 55,000 CLP ($90), not including entrance to the museums or lunch. I took a local bus on my own and spent maybe 20,000 pesos on the whole day.

What’s been one of your biggest “budgeting” mistakes? Something that’s made you go “damn, that was dumb!”
My biggest weakness will always be food. I wrote last month that I wasn’t spending that much on food. That was true in Ecuador and my first month in Peru. All that changed when I got to southern Peru, where there are a lot more restaurants and the tourist trade is thriving. My first four days in Cusco I basically camped out at an American-style café, ordering coffee after coffee and 2-3 desserts while I worked on writing and other maintenance tasks.

Boy, was that dumb. I told myself it was TLC, but I didn’t need to indulge that much. I had to learn to balance working in a coffee shop with not blowing my money, by staying in the hostel instead to work — but without going crazy from being stuck inside all day. I’m actually still learning how to do that.

What have you learned so far about yourself?
It feels like I learn something new about myself every day. If I had to pick one thing, I would say I’ve learned that I’m more outgoing than I realized. When you meet a new person on the road and you hit it off, it’s really surprising how quickly you bond. I think it’s partly due to the time crunch — you both know there’s only so much time before you part ways, maybe to never see each other again — and partly that you are both experiencing something new and exhilarating during travel and that tends to bond people together.

I wouldn’t ordinarily be that open to new people back home, but on the road, I’ve met so many amazing people and I love it.

What’s one stereotype/perception you had about South America that you think has changed by actually being there?
The number one stereotype is that South America is a dangerous place, especially for a woman. I did feel wary for a bit in the beginning in Ecuador, mostly because people kept warning me to be safe. After a while, I learned to take that with a grain of salt. In all honesty, I think the fact that I don’t look like a gringo helps, because I’m not often targeted as much as other travelers I’ve met. There have been very few situations where I’ve actually felt unsafe.

More often, I encounter a lot more people who are concerned for me and go the extra mile to be hospitable and helpful. For instance, I was walking in Valparaiso the other day with my DSLR camera out, taking pictures of the street art. No fewer than four times, a local came up to me and told me to be careful and put my camera away. I thought this was very odd. Four times is more warnings than I received possibly in my entire time in Peru!

The woman who gave me the last warning told me to follow her, and she lead me to the colectivo terminal to make sure I got safely out of a dangerous area. Initially, I was worried she was going to try to scam me, but she asked for nothing in return.

Time and time again, I am surprised by the kindness of strangers. I think people look out for one another more here than we do in the States.

What’s been your favorite activity?
It’s gotta be Machu Picchu. I know it’s cliché, but it really was wonderful. I met great friends, and we did things like visit hot springs and zip-line. And finally, finally seeing Machu Picchu was a dream come true. It’s every bit as beautiful as it looks in pictures, and it just felt epic to be there.

What’s been your least favorite?
Rainbow Mountain, without a doubt. It is not as magical as people claim. It was freezing at the top (we are headed into winter here), the trail is most ugly (worn down by lots of tourists), and overall just unimpressive.

What are your plans to give back while on the road?
My cousin connected me with a friend in Brazil to get involved in some of the protests and outreach work that has been happening since the shooting of Marielle Franco. I just need to finalize the details when I get to Brazil next week.

I’m also extremely excited because I found an organization to volunteer with in Tanzania. I fly there July 17th, and I will be helping teach English and basic computer skills for a few weeks. Hopefully, I will do more volunteering after that in Kenya and Ethiopia.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened? Do you think it could have been prevented?
Everyone is going chuckle at my penchant for losing things, but the worst thing that has happened was that I lost my GoPro on my Rainbow Mountain trek. I was so mad at myself because I usually wear it on a wrist strap so that I can’t lose it. So of course, the one time I didn’t wear it, I lost it when I climbed up on a horse to get up the mountain. That’s my lesson for being lazy.

On my way down I was criss-crossing the mountain looking for it when someone told me their guide had it and to meet them at the bottom of the mountain to get it. That was stupid. I should have stuck with that person because when I got to the bottom, my guide made me get on the bus and wouldn’t let me wait and wouldn’t help me find the other guide. It was so frustrating to know that someone had it but I had no way to get it! I lost a time-lapse I took of the fog rolling off Machu Picchu and photos from the trek as well. It’s been a month now and it still bothers me that I lost those pictures.

All things considered, that being the worst thing means nothing bad really happened to me at all. 🙂 My sister jokes that I lose so many things on the road that by the time I come back I’m going to have an empty bag.

Where are you going next?
I head to Buenos Aires tomorrow morning for a quick four days. Then I head to Iguazu Falls for two days and Rio de Janiero for two weeks. Then I head to Morocco for a month. I hope it’s not too hot. And Ramadan begins the middle of next month, so I’m interested to see what that’s like in a Muslim country. It’s going to be the biggest culture shock for me so far, and I’m anxious to see how I react.

In the following months, Heather will be navigating South America, Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. As she keeps going, we’re going to follow along to get more details about her trip, experiences, roadblocks, budgeting, and everything in between! You can follow her journeys on her blog, Confidently Lost, as well as on Instagram. She will also be sharing some of her experiences here!

The post How Our Contest Winner Heather is Traveling South America on a Budget appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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With Australia being over seven million square kilometers, it takes a long time to get around the country. Considering the large distances, it’s no wonder few people end up traveling the whole country—there’s just too much ground to cover on a short trip. These large distances can lead to high transportation costs, and it can often be hard to travel around the country cheaply. Here’s a look at how to travel around Australia cheaply:

Flying

This is the most expensive but easiest way to get around Australia. Limited competition among airlines means that flights here stay very expensive. While there are some minor airlines that serve out-of-the-way destinations, Qantas (and its subsidiary Jetstar) and Virgin are the two big major airlines that service most of the country’s destinations. Budget carrier, Tiger Airways, often has a lot of fare sales and budget deals (like Sydney to Perth for $169 AUD return). When I fly, I look at them more than any other airlines.

However, with so few carriers serving the country, unless there is a big sale, tickets will often be expensive (Sydney to Perth for $300+ each way). The hour flight to Melbourne can cost over $100+ AUD!!

If you book early you can save on fares but otherwise, I would try to avoid flying in Australia. When Australians joke about it being cheaper to fly to Bali than around their own country, they aren’t joking – they are being completely serious.

Backpacker Buses

There is one backpacker bus company in Australia: the Oz Experience. Oz Experience mostly operates along the east coast and the center of the country. However, unlike the Kiwi Experience, I didn’t really like them, despite both companies trying to do the same thing. While the Kiwi Experience took a lot of time to introduce people to each other and offer free activities, the Oz experience didn’t. Granted, Australia is a lot bigger than New Zealand, but if the Oz Experience is just a more expensive Greyhound (and a few drivers told me this too!), then what’s the point of taking them? Not once on my journey did any driver make an attempt to get people to talk to each other. We didn’t have any free stops or walks. I didn’t like the Oz experience. Just as many, if not more, travelers take the Greyhound bus. I say take the Greyhound, save some money, and learn to say “hi” to strangers on buses.

Public Buses

This is my favorite transportation option in Australia. On the east coast, this will be your cheapest option. On the west coast, buses are surprisingly expensive. There are not many people moving up and down that coast, and there’s limited competition. It’s often easier and cheaper to fly out in Western Australia. However, on the east coast, you can find really cheap bus tickets, especially if you book in advance. Greyhound Australia is the biggest company in Australia, though there’s also Premier and McCafferty. All three companies sometimes offer $1 fares but, for the most part, the buses ticket prices are around $35 (night buses are usually around $60–70 dollars). From Melbourne to Cairns, a Greyhound pass will cost you $549 AUD.

If you aren’t renting a car, take the bus! It’s the best way to get around.

Trains

Trains cover much of Australia, but their use isn’t that widespread. In fact, most trains are very expensive, even with the backpacker fare (one way from Sydney to Perth is $692 AUD!). It’s not really a cheap option so, unless you’re looking to splash out on a scenic route with your significant other (or just love trains), I’d skip this. Also, keep in mind tickets for the scenic trains book out months in advance. Book early!

Car Share

If you really want to save money and travel cheap, find some other friends, rent a car or campervan, and drive around the country. This will allow you to share the costs with others (and if you rent a campervan, give you a place to sleep). It will be much, much cheaper than any other travel option. You can look on hostel bulletin boards to see who’s looking for people to join their roadtrip. You’ll always find someone, and it’s a great way to make new friends.

It’s really easy to rideshare in Australia. Every hostel has a bulletin board where travelers post rides and the websites like Gumtree have active ridesharing sections where people look for cars or riders. It’s really robust. I HIGHLY recommend this way of traveling when in the country!

Rideshare websites:

(Alternatively, you can also purchase a car from backpackers leaving the country or locals selling used cars. Rental services like Jucy are fairly expensive and would only be good as a last resort. You can usually find a used car for $1-2,000 AUD. Though that sounds expensive, you can share those costs with other travelers making to the second most affordable way to travel!)

When you plan to travel Australia, make sure you budget for transportation wisely. Outside the busy eastern corridor between Melbourne and Brisbane, travel is expensive. You’ll pay a lot more than you think. If you want to save a lot of money, car share or get the Greyhound pass.

Book Your Trip to Australia: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight to Australia by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel in Australia with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Want More Information on Australia?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Australia for even more planning tips!

Photo Credits: 3, 4

Disclaimer: OzExperience gave me 50% off my Brisbane to Cairns bus pass.

The post How to Get Around Australia on the Cheap appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Good hostels are always hard to come by. Hostels have more to do with the people staying there than the physical place. I’ve stayed in dumps where I had fun, because of the people there, and been to amazing, beautiful hostels that bored me to death.

While hosteling is about the people, staying in a place that knows a traveler’s needs is always better because it enhances the travel experience. When trying to pick a good hostel, here is my advice on what to consider:

Cheaper is not better

Budget travelers have a natural inclination to go with the cheapest thing around. However, don’t try to save a buck just to save a buck. Super cheap hostels are often unclean, the beds uncomfortable, the showers dirty, and the pillows thinner than a supermodel. Pay an extra dollar or two for nicer and cleaner digs. Your body will thank you.

Get breakfast

One thing I hate about hosteling in Europe is that breakfast is often toast, eggs, and coffee. And it begins at 7 am (and ends early too)! I’m not sure who the travelers are that they know, but I’ve never known any to wake up that early, even for a good breakfast. Look for a place with a decent breakfast (i.e., more than toast) or at least one that begins and ends when people are actually awake (breakfasts that start around 8:00 usually go late). Breakfast is also a great way to load up on snacks for the rest of the day, thereby cutting down your food budget.

Check out late

Never stay at a hostel with a checkout time before 10am. The best hostels have 11am checkout times, and the really good ones let you checkout at noon. Sleep is valuable on the road, because you’ll rarely get enough of it. Hostels with late checkout times understand this and are often more relaxed and chiller environments. There’s just something wrong about a hostel asking you to be packed and out so early in the morning.

On the flip side of this, I like hostels that have flexible check-ins. Many don’t let you check-in before 2pm, but I like the ones that say “OK, the bed is ready. Come in now!”

Push-button showers

Just say no to push-button showers! They are annoying and often have no water pressure. You don’t want the water to turn off mid-soaping. My rule of thumb is that if a hostel has a push-button shower, I don’t stay there.

Lockers

It’s surprising, but I’ve actually been in hostels that don’t have lockers or that charge you for them. In this day and age, lockers should be standard. You should never pay for security. This is a deal-breaker for me, especially since I travel with electronics.

Free Internet

While the Internet isn’t a must for all travelers, a hostel with free Wi-Fi and computer terminals makes life a lot easier.

A bar

Bars are not a deal-breaker, and there are a lot of wonderful hostels without them, but they make for a great place to socialize with other hostel guests. Usually if a hostel has a bar, they put a strong emphasis on making sure the people staying there are having fun, interacting, and being festive.

Common area

If the hostel doesn’t have a bar, it should have a big common area. The best hostels are the ones that give travelers a place to hang out and socialize with each other. Common areas facilitate interaction and help solo travelers have an easier time meeting people. The best hostels I’ve ever stayed at always had an amazing common area.

Organized activities

Really good hostels also organize activities such as walking tours, bar crawls, BBQs, or anything else that gets people together.

Knowledgeable staff

Employees make any business, and when I find the staff of hostels helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly, I like that place a lot better. A hostel is like a home, and you want the people there to welcome you like a long-lost family member. I never understood why hostels don’t recognize that being a hostel is not about being a cheap place to stay, it’s about creating a warm environment.

A hostel doesn’t need to have every one of these things I listed, but it should have the majority. A hostel without the majority of these things doesn’t understand who its guests are or what they want. I get that a lot of different people come through hostels with a wide variety of needs. A hostel doesn’t need to be perfect. I’d like a clean kitchen, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Dorm room doesn’t lock? That’s what a locker is for. Hostel showers are always dirty, which is why I wear flip-flops in them. I’m not looking for a 5-star resort, just basic security and comfort.

What makes hostels great are the people, and even the worst hostels will be great if you meet good people. But removing the people from the equation, I look for hostels that have some of the above qualities in them. Hostels that know what you want as a traveler are there to enhance your travel experience, not simply take money from you in exchange for a bed. I would rather stay at a place that is looking to make sure I have a good time.

And to find these places? I read up! When I’m picking hostels, I look at user reviews, pictures, amenities, and star ratings on sites like Hostelworld, Hostelz, and HostelBookers. See what your fellow travelers say. The consensus is going to be pretty spot on.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3

The post How to Pick a Good Hostel appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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A few hours north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. It’s a small area where people go to holiday, sail, swim, see dolphins, and relax. The main tourist town is Paihia, though a lot of people go to nearby Russell too. If you’ve ever been to the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, Byron Bay, or any seaside town that relies solely on tourism and vacationers, then you’ll have a good idea as to what this area is like.

There’s not much going on in this area, so it’s an incredible place to go visit and relax. It can be very touristy, but the range of sea activities and the sense of peacefulness more than make up for it. You can spend your days lying on the beach, swimming, horseback riding, sailing, hiking, or taking a boat out to explore the bay and swim with dolphins, which seems to be the biggest draw here.

I did the Awesome NZ dolphin tour. The guides were friendly and informative, but we didn’t see a lot of dolphins, and the ones we did see were moving too fast to get any good pictures of them (like all my dolphin and whale tours). We spent a few hours trying to find bottlenose dolphins to no avail, and I tried to find something to kill my boredom. We took a break on this beautiful island where you could swim and relax, but the water here, while a beautiful turquoise green, was too cold for me. I’m spoiled by tropical water, and 20-Celsius water turns me into an icicle.

Because of the lack of dolphins, there was no swimming with them. It didn’t bother me, but my friends were really keen to do it. The only thing I can’t figure out (and all the companies here seem to pull this move) is why it costs extra to swim with dolphins. These tours are about 90 NZD to start with, but dolphin swimming costs 30 NZD extra. Why? We’re all on the boat anyways, so there’s no extra work involved. Are the dolphins taking a cut? Doubt it. What if I just happen to fall in the water? Do I get charged 30 NZD too? I find no good reason to charge people to get on the boat and then extra just to go in the water with the dolphins. All the companies here pull this trick, and I think it’s just a way to get more money from tourists.

That being said, the tour itself was cool, the staff knew their facts, and if dolphins are your thing, you’ll want to spend the money to go out and see them. Or if dolphins aren’t your thing, you can also sail, kayak, or take tours of the bay. Whatever you do, you have to get out into the bay. It’s where all the action is, even if the water is cold!

There’s not much else to say about the Bay of Islands. It’s one of those places you come to for a few days to relax. I couldn’t stay here for more than four or five days, though a lot of backpackers seem to spend weeks here. I think that has a lot to do with the available jobs here and the fact that the beer is pretty cheap. What little nightlife the town has revolves around two backpacker bars and one local bar. A lot of the locals come down to the backpacker bars because, as one said to me last night, “There’s no one anywhere else and the beer is cheaper.” (While backpacker bars can be an interesting and fun time, I would hate to know that they were my only option at night.)

The restaurants in town are pretty good, though. For the best food in paihia, I recommend four places. For good sandwiches (get the breakfast panini!), head to the Beach House. Everything is about 8 NZD, well portioned, and delicious. Plus, they have free Wi-Fi. Did I mention you should try the breakfast sandwich? For some of the best seafood in the area, go to Only Seafood. It’s located across the beach and is not a budget option. A meal here will set you back at least 50 NZD. However, it was worth every penny to go over my budget. The salmon and lightly seared tuna were mouth watering. Just thinking about it makes me want to go back there. Additionally. Jimmy Jacks has the best ribs and Charlotte’s Kitchen is an all around solid place for a casual meal. It has a fabulous view of the wharf.

The Bay of Islands is nice, and you could spend about three days here and tick off all the activities. Or you could stay longer and relax in one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.

Book Your Trip to the Bay of Islands: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight to the Bay of Islands by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel in the Bay of Islands with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Want More Information on the Bay of Islands?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on the Bay of Islands for even more planning tips!

Photo credits: 1, 3, 4

The post The Bay of Islands: An Overview appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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Dan Brown may have brought this chapel into popular culture in his book “The Da Vinci Code”, but this chapel was famous in its own right long before that. Rosslyn Chapel has been loved for both its amazing decorative artwork as well as the mystery that surrounds it with people for decades.

History of Rosslyn Chapel
Located 45 minutes outside of Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel, properly named the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew, was founded on a small hill near Rosslyn Castle in the mid-15th century. The chapel was founded by William Sinclair of the Sinclair family, a noble family descended from Norman knights who moved to Scotland when they fell out with William the Conqueror in the 11th century.

The purpose of the church was to celebrate the Holy Mass for all the faithfully departed, including the deceased members of the Sinclair family. It was thought that a fast ticket into heaven was to have people constantly praying for your soul. The Sinclairs did what many wealthy families did – they built the church in hopes of winning points with the guy upstairs. After the Scottish Reformation, Roman Catholic worship in the Chapel was brought to an end, although the Sinclair family continued to be Roman Catholics until the early 18th century.

The chapel is quite small. It was originally built to be a full style Gothic cathedral in the shape of a cross, but when William Sinclair died, his son stopped construction, closed up the “top”, and made that the chapel.

Rossyln Chapel Mysteries
Though small, the chapel is filled with stunning architecture and sculptures that you normally wouldn’t think would belong. In this Catholic church, you’ll find Pagan fertility gods, supposed Masonic imagery, upside-down devils, biblical reliefs, references to Norse mythology, and the death mask of Robert the Bruce – all pretty unusual stuff for a Gothic church. There are literally hundreds of individual figures and scenes, including the Green Man, historically a pagan figure. The vines sprouting from his mouth represent nature’s growth and fertility. Pagan imagery!

You can spend hours looking over all the reliefs, statues, and images. They are fascinating. The most fascinating one is the American maize (corn), which was not discovered at the time this church was built. Over one of the windows, there is clearly maize, leading many people to theorize the Sinclairs had contact with North America years before Columbus did. (Though that isn’t exactly revolutionary as it’s well documented that Columbus was not the first person to discover America.)

Yet what intrigues people about this place is the mystery that surrounds it and the mysterious connections of the family. Because of the family’s connection to the Knights Templar (and the stone that says “Knight Templar” in the church), it has long been theorized that much of the imagery in the church has some secret meaning and that the mysterious treasure of the Templars is actually buried underneath in the church’s vaults. Yet no one knows for sure. The Sinclairs did support the Templars, and there is obvious Templar and Masonic imagery in the church, though some of it might have been added later. What keeps the mystery alive is that the family has kept silent over the centuries about what is in the vault, leading many to theorize they are hiding something.

After the “Da Vinci Code” movie, thousands of people came here every day looking to find some truth in the story, and thousands of people walked away disappointed. But whether you believe in the Da Vinci and Templar theories or not, this church is still an interesting place to visit. The intricacy of the architecture will leave you captivated and breathless. And when you are finished with the church, you can walk around the surrounding hills and visit ruins of the old castle, which is an equally good treat.

Additionally, the secrecy of the family adds to the mystery. Excavations in the 1800s uncovered foundations stretching a further 30 meters beyond the west end of the Chapel. There is also a hidden chamber below the chapel that the family won’t allow to be visited.

A visit out here is a full day from Edinburgh and one that should not be missed by anyone. You can take a local bus from the city and it will drop you off right in front of the entrance to both the church and castle ruins. Honestly, though it is small, it’s utterly amazing and I spent haours wandering the reliefs and asking questions. The surrounding grounds are also beautiful for a stroll.

How to visit Rosslyn Chapel
This place is open every day of the year except Christmas and New Year’s. Last admission is 30 minutes before closing. Admission is 9 GBP for adults and children are free. There are guided tours throughout the day so you can ask lots of questions. You can take bus 37 or 40 from Edinburgh to get to the chapel. Depending on traffic, it takes 45 to 60 minutes.

Book Your Trip to Edinburgh: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight to Edinburgh by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Acommodation
You can book your hostel in Edinburgh with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Want More Information on Edinburgh?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Edinburgh for even more planning tips!

Photo credit: 2
 

The post A Complete Visitor’s Guide to Rosslyn Chapel appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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New Zealand. The land of Middle Earth, Great Walks, kiwis, backpackers, adventure sports, delicious wine and pristine wine regions.

And a land that sucks all your money from your wallet like a giant vacuum.

I first visited New Zealand eight years ago. The country was so much more expensive than I thought it would be. Back then, I was a cheap(er) backpacker and focused on saving as much money as I could. I cooked most of my meals, hitchhiked, skipped all the costly adventure sports, and drank a diet of cheap boxed wine and happy hour beer.

But, when I visited earlier this year, I changed my MO this trip. I was going to say yes to everything, regardless of cost.

I wanted to really know how much money you need in New Zealand for a variety of budgets. What’s it cost to be a broke backpacker? A mid-range traveler? Or a mix of the two? What if you want to eat out a lot but also hike or sleep in a van? What if you want to do all the adventure activities in the world? What if you just let the tab pile up?

So I became the Nomadic Matt of many budgeting hats. And, in the process I learned a lot about, the true cost of traveling New Zealand.

Let’s break it down.

How much did I spend in New Zealand?


Over the course of my 25-day visit, I spent $4,550.90 NZD ($3,292.74 USD), averaging $182 NZD ($131.68 USD) per day.

That’s a lot of money. Like holy hell a lot of money! Way more than my $50 USD a day guideline.

Here’s how my spending broke down:

  • Accommodations: $913.64 NZD ($661.05 USD)
  • Spark phone service: $164.68 (119.15)
  • Pharmacy: $39.98 (28.93)
  • Internet: $15.29 (11.06)
  • Groceries: $235.52 (170.41)
  • Transportation: $1,014.32 (733.90)
  • Activities: $823.65 (595.94)
  • Restaurants: 1343.82 (972.30)

Total: $4550.90 NZD ($3,292.74 USD)

I spent a lot of money, but, again, I said yes to everything. I knew taking scenic planes, trains, and helicopter rides; staying in private rooms, and meals out was going to cost a lot of money.

But even I was surprised how much I spent when I wasn’t tracking my spending.

Looking back, there were things I could have done to lower my costs.

I could have saved money by eating out less or by booking less expensive Airbnbs instead of hostel private rooms (which are always a terrible deal but I wanted to be around other travelers).

With a lot of ground to cover, I couldn’t always spend a day on a bus so flying really increased my costs. Additionally, the scenic rail I took (while awesome) was also $159 NZD! And transportation to Stewart Island is $160 NZD! Instead of doing them all, I could have picked one or the other.

And I definitely blew through way too much phone data. As a person not used to data limits, being data limited at hostels (around 1 GB per day) was new territory for me as I tried to stream Netflix. I picked up the slack on my phone by just ordering more data and not really thinking about it.

If I was slightly more conscious about my dining, accommodation, and spending habits, I easily could have cut $20 USD or more per day from my budget.

How much does New Zealand really cost?


So how much do you need to budget in New Zealand then? If you’re going to travel like I did, budget $110-130 USD a day. This will let you travel carefree and basically do anything you want (within reason). Fly, take scenic trains, expensive ferries, scenic flights, drink expensive wines, have expensive dinner – New Zealand is your oyster!

A more “I want to do a lot but still want to be budget”, a budget of around $142 NZD ($100 USD) a day will get you private rooms in Airnbs, a large number of activities (I let no winery go unvisited!), the occasional flights, and restaurant meals about 70% of the time.

If you’re going on a backpacker’s budget, I’d say you need around $71-85 NZD ($50-60 USD a day). That will get you a hostel dorm room, bus transportation, happy hour drinks, one or two expensive activities (bungy, scenic flights, skydive, etc), and mostly self-cooked meals (around 70-80% of your meals).

If you are going to rent a campervan or self-drive, you could knock $15 NZD ($11 USD) daily off your budget since your van will act as accommodation too. On an even tighter budget, with Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, few if any activities, and cooking 90% or more of your meals, you could get by on $40 NZD ($28 USD) per day. It’s not easy to do but I met travelers who did it. It requires a lot of discipline though.

Here are some sample costs:

  • Spark Phone plan (with 4.5 GB of data) – $40 NZD ($20 with 1.5 GB of data)
  • Buses booked far in advance – $1 NZD per ride
  • Buses booked last minute – $20-60 NZD
  • Airfare – Varied wildly but you’re looking at least $50 NZD each way.
  • Scenic trains – $159 NZD each way
  • Full-day Bay of Islands cruise – $259 NZD
  • Hobbiton tour – $84 NZD
  • Nevis Bungy – $275 NZD
  • Franz Josef Glacier Guides Heli Hike – $459 NZD
  • Waitomo glow worm caves – $51-246 NZD depending on if you walk, raft, or abseil
  • Hostel dorms – $20-30 NZD
  • Hostel private rooms – $55-$100 NZD
  • Airbnb – $50+ NZD for a shared location, $80+ NZD for a whole unit
  • Wine tours – $150+ NZD
  • Drinks – $8 NZD for a beer, $10-15 NZD for wine or cocktails, and $5 NZD for a happy hour drink
  • Bar crawls – $20-30 NZD
  • Casual restaurant meal – $15-25 NZD
  • Fast food meal – $11-20 NZD
How to SAVE money in New Zealand


Spending so much money taught me a lot of about how to save money in New Zealand. Where your budget will go to die in this country is with activities and meals. Adventures activities are crazy expensive, most of them costing $200 NZD or more! I mean a heli-hike in Franz Josef was $450 NZD! That’s CRAZY! Moreover, with most meals costing $20-30 NZD ($15-22 USD), your budget is going to be gone quickly if you eat out a lot (food represented 34.7% of my total spending).

New Zealand’s groceries weren’t that expensive (it’s an agricultural country after all), and there are a lot of free hikes to replace those expensive activities. Taking advantage of these should help lower your costs substantially. When I was in Wanaka, I only spent around $50 NZD ($36 USD) each day ($30 for my dorm, $20 for food and drink, and $0 for activities since nature was free!). It can be done.

Simply put, New Zealand doesn’t have to be expensive if you don’t want it to be. After all, if it was, so many backpackers wouldn’t come here in droves. I mean how many hordes of backpackers go to Norway? Not a lot! Why? It’s f*ing expensive unless the only thing you do is camp! New Zealand has a middle ground. It’s whatever it is you want it to be.

Here is how to save money while there:

Cook (a lot) – I know this is going to sound crazy but, and I can already hear the comments coming, the food scene in New Zealand isn’t that mind-blowing. Yes, there are nice cafés, some hip gastronomy, and really delicious meals, but nothing that’s so mouth watering delicious you have to blow your budget on it. I never walked away going “That was a meal I couldn’t get at home! I’m glad I just spent $60 bucks!”

No. In fact, my biggest regret is that I spent so much on food. I should have cooked a lot more. I feel like I wasted a lot of money not doing so. I probably could have saved about $800 NZD by cooking more and, honestly, I don’t feel like I would have missed anything too great.

So cook as much as possible. You’re going to save a ton of money. Heck, even a burger and fries is $20 NZD! I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever eat out, just do so sparingly.

A week’s worth of groceries will set you back between $80-100 NZD. The cheaper supermarkets are Pak’nSave and Countdown.

Choose your tours wisely – Tours cost a lot of money in New Zealand. Going on just a few is enough to bust any budget and send you home before you had planned. Pick the ones you really want to do and save the rest for another trip.

Hit happy hour – The backpacker bars have cheap happy hours offering $5 NZD drinks — take advantage of them.

WWOOF itWWOOFing is a way to get free accommodation and food in return for working on a farm or in a B&B. You can do it for a few days or a few months. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you travel cheaper and longer. Keep in mind, though, most farms will require you to have some experience, as too many inexperienced workers have caused them trouble in the past.

Work at a hostel – Many hostels let you trade a few hours of cleaning and making beds for free accommodation. Ask when you check in if this is possible — it might just save you some money!

Car share – Car shares are a popular transportation option for travelers looking to lower costs — all you need to do is chip in for gas. You can find rides on websites like Gumtree and Craigslist. Additionally, you’ll see people asking for rides on hostel bulletin boards. As for ridesharing apps, check out Thumbs Up NZ or Carpool New Zealand. (I never found a New Zealand version of BlaBlaCar but if anyone knows of one, let me know!)

Couchsurf – While there are not a ton of Couchsurfing options in the country, there are hosts in all of the major cities. If you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or floor, this is not only a way save money on accommodation but also a way to meet some amazing locals too. (Don’t just use this as a free hotel. If you don’t want to interact with your hosts, don’t use this site.)

Hitchhike – Hitchhiking is easy in New Zealand. Besides Iceland, it’s probably the easiest country in the world to hitchhike in. There are plenty of people who will pick you up. Additionally, you can just ask around any hostel and find a ride — everyone is doing the same circuit. I got from Wanaka to Queenstown to Fiordland that way. Between message boards, Couchsurfing forums, the people you meet in hostels, and just thumbing it on the side of the road, you can always find a ride.

Take a free walking tour – There are a few free walking tours in New Zealand, like the Auckland Free Walking Tour or WellyWalks Limited in Wellington, that offer visitors (and locals) insight into each city.

Remember that nature is free – New Zealand, home to the Great Walks of the World, has tons of free outdoor activities. While the adventure sports, wine tours, glacier treks, and boat cruises can eat into your budget, all the trails and walks are free. You can easily fill your day with free hikes, excursions to the lakes, or days on the beach!

And keep in mind the majority of museums in the country are also free!

Get a bus pass – I tend to buy transportation last-minute so I never scored super discount fares, which is where bus passes come in. I bought the $135 InterCity FlexiPass for 15 hours of travel. I’d suggest this since it is hours based and lasts forever. It will save you a lot of money versus booking last-minute tickets on the bus.

You can find out more on how to get around on a budget in my last post. I list a lot of resources there.

Skip the backpacker buses – While they’re fun, backpacker bus tours like the Kiwi Experience, Stray, or Haka are expensive! Best to avoid them if you are on a tight budget. If your budget isn’t so tight and you do want to check them out, be sure to sign up for their mailing lists first — there is always a sale on.

Use Book.me.nz – This website provides last-minute discounts on activities (and pub crawls) throughout the country. If you’re flexible about when you want to do things, you can save up to 60% off attractions and activities! I can’t recommend it enough. It saved me a lot of money.

***

Saving money in New Zealand is about picking and choosing your battles. As you can see, when you just don’t care, costs can really go up. I made plenty of spending mistakes that upped my daily average a lot. But if you get a bus pass, cook a lot of your meals, find rideshares, stick to Airbnb rooms (or split rooms with friends), and campervan it, New Zealand won’t be that expensive.

Just be sure to watch your budget!

The post The Cost of Traveling New Zealand appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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I’ve been back in the United States for a week and a half now and it’s been a weird transition. Though this is my second time coming back home from overseas, it is no less strange. When I first came home after 18 months away, I found America to be a very strange place. It was a foreign land all over again. I had forgotten so much about America but, more than that, I found the concept of “being back home” far stranger.

To quote Benjamin Button, “It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”

I had come to realize that I didn’t fit in here anymore. I had this fire in me. It yearned to try new things, see new places, and meet new people.

It was hard to adjust to the U.S.’ constant driving culture, fast pace of life, small sodas the size of my hand, appetizers big enough to feed a family of four, cars the size of tanks, and “big box” Wal-Mart stores that housed ten of thousands of things to buy.

“Holy shit! Supermarkets here are huge,” I exclaimed wide-eyed as I walked down the aisle of our supermarket.

“They are YOUR supermarkets. This is your home. Don’t say here like this is a foreign place,” my mother replied curtly.

At first, home was fun. There was an excitement about being back. I went to my old haunts, favorite restaurants, and caught up with my friends.

But as that excitement wore off and I had revisited all my haunts, I realized Mike was right. Home had remained frozen during my time away. My friends had the same jobs, were going to the same bars, and mostly doing the same things. In Boston, the same stores were there, the construction still going, and the bars filled with the same types of people

After a year of mind-blowing adventures, I was back to where I started. My friends don’t understand the new me, didn’t want to hear about your time sailing the Pacific while they sat in rush hour, or don’t get why my feel so uncomfortable being back.

But, the second time around, the biggest shock of coming home wasn’t cultural — it was simply the shock of being home. After my first trip, I found it hard to adjust to driving everywhere, the cost of things, the quick pace of life, and not having people to interact with 24/7. This time around those things, as well as ordering a small soda the size of my hand, meals big enough to feed a family of four, huge cars, lack of intelligent news networks, and “big box” Wal-Mart stores, are still an adjustment.

Yet all that “adjusting” has paled in comparison to the simple shock of just “being home.” That is the hardest thing to deal with. And when travelers talk about adjusting to coming home, we almost always are talking about this — the transition from traveler and life on the road to being back into your old life.

It’s a lot harder than transitioning into travel. When I came home last year, I didn’t really want to see anyone. I was finding it difficult to adjust from such an “on the move” lifestyle to such a sedentary one. Yes, I wanted to see my friends and family but I had just gotten used to the travel lifestyle, and even though it wasn’t always perfect, it was amazing and then all of sudden with one plane ride, it suddenly stopped. The brakes slammed and it wasn’t easy to deal with. How do you go from new people and places every day to the complete opposite and not have a hard time?

While in D.C., I went and visited the James family from The Wide Wide World and we got on the subject of this. In the movie “A Map for Saturday,” they discuss this in detail. And when other long-term travelers talk to each other, they talk about this. And everyone’s conclusion is eerily the same: Home is wonderful but it feels very different and, in some ways, it’s longer home. You’ve changed. You are different but life back home isn’t. Often times it feels like it was frozen while you were away only to defrost right when you return. When you try to express that to your friends, they simply can’t relate and don’t understand.

When you tell your friends about your trip, they’re interested at first but the more details you give, the more their eyes glaze over. They just want an easy answer. Because the more you go on, the more you just make them (a) a bit jealous, (b) think they haven’t done as much and (c) bored. Any long-term traveler who has come home and talked about his/her trip can testify to eyes glazing over after five minutes. And so when you have this angst about being home, it’s hard for anyone but other travelers to understand. Because it’s a feeling without any words. “Weird” or “surreal” or “unstimulating” are usually the best words that we can use to describe it,  but they never fully convey our thoughts. When you talk to another traveler though, you don’t need words. They just understand. They’ve been through it too.

To your friends, it can come off as you don’t like being home and you think it’s boring. But it’s not that. You’ve just changed in a way that’s hard to describe. It would be like a woman describing being pregnant. You know what they are talking about but unless you’ve ever been pregnant, you’re never going to fully understand or relate.

The real shock of coming home is just simply being able to cope with being home. Adjusting back to your culture doesn’t take long. Within a short time, you’ll get back into your groove and remember the little things you loved. But dealing with leaving the constant movement of the travel lifestyle can take much, much longer and be much, much harder of a shock to deal with.

Don’t stop now! Continue reading these articles on travel and home:

The post The Culture Shock of Coming Home appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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It’s easy to get around New Zealand. Buses go everywhere, cars constantly pick up hitchhikers, campervans are easy to rent, and backpacker bus tours zigzag around the country. Plus, there are trains and planes.

In short, there’s no shortage of transportation options.

When I was in New Zealand recently, I used nearly every one of these options so, today, I want to share the pros and cons of each so you know how to get around New Zealand the most (cost) effective and efficient way possible!

Backpacker Tours


One of the most popular ways travelers get across New Zealand is by backpacker bus. These buses offer a hop-on/hop-off service that allows travelers both the flexibility to go at their own pace and the convenience of having activities and accommodation organized for them. New Zealand has two major hop-on/hop-off buses: The Kiwi Experience and Stray.

  • The Kiwi Experience – The Kiwi Experience is the biggest and most popular backpacker bus in New Zealand. It attracts mainly young gap-year travelers. I’d say it’s about 50% 18-22-year-olds, 40% 23-27-year-olds, and 10% 28+. I like how they go out of their way to make sure everyone socializes and gets to know each other: the drivers play a lot of games and icebreakers, and there are group dinners most nights. The downside is that: (a) the buses seat around 55 people, and when they’re full, they get a little bit cliquey (and during the busy season, the bus is pretty much always full); and (b) the passengers are really focused on getting drunk (the bus’s affectionate nickname is “The Green Fuck Bus”), hence why so many young people take it. I’d say if you’re 25 or younger (or just looking for a party), this bus is for you.
  • Stray Travel – Stray has smaller buses, providing a more intimate setting and making it easier to meet people. While there are many gap-year travelers on the bus, Stray picks up more older, independent travelers. The bus drivers don’t play as many games or have as many icebreakers, making it a bit awkward when you first step on the bus alone and aren’t an extrovert. If you aren’t really looking to party a lot or want to spend time with more mature travelers, Stray is for you.
Trains


New Zealand has three train lines: Northern Explorer, Coastal Pacific (currently closed because of the earthquakes), and TranzAlpine. These are not commuter trains but scenic train rides: they come with viewing platforms, audio commentary, information packets, and big windows for taking photos.

Here are the prices:

I took the TranzAlpine across the South Island. It had been a dream of mine to do since my first visit in 2010 and I loved every minute of it. It lived up to all the hype. You pass rivers and mountains, cross gorges, and roll through vibrant green farmland. It was a really peaceful, informative, and scenic way to get across the South Island and made me wish there were more trains around the country (come on, NZ, you can do it!).

This isn’t the most efficient or cheapest way to get around (heck, the Northern Explorer from Auckland to Wellington is 11 hours!) but I can’t recommend this enough. It’s worth every penny.

Tip: InterCity offers a bus/train combo ticket from Christchurch to Greymouth and then onward to Nelson or Franz Josef, but it’s actually cheaper to book it separately.

Buses


If you aren’t renting a car, buses are the best and cheapest way to get around New Zealand. Buses stop in every town, and there are frequent departures from even the smallest cities.

There are two main companies: InterCity, New Zealand’s largest public bus network, and Naked Bus, a holding company for more traveler-centric buses and tours.

Personally, I like the Naked Bus as it tends to be a few dollars cheaper and have more package options geared toward independent travelers. But the bus experience? It’s basically the same. Both companies use similar coaches and both have wifi. (Also, Naked Bus contracts out to InterCity on the South Island.)

These are the average ticket costs for sample routes:


Prices exclude the $3.99 booking fee for InterCity and the $1.99 booking fee for Naked Bus.

You can also find tickets as low as $1 NZD if you book at least two months in advance. I tend to buy transportation last-minute so I never scored those super discount fares but they are an awesome deal if you can!

Both companies also offer bus passes. InterCity has two, both of which valid up to 12 months: FlexiPass, an hours-based bus pass (15-80 hours) designed for backpackers and independent travelers; and the TravelPass, a fixed-route pass that’s only good for spots on that specific route. The FlexiPass costs between $135 – $545 NZD, while the TravelPass costs between $125 – $1045 NZD. The Naked Bus has one too called The Passport, which is valid for a set number of trips: 3, 5, 10, or 20. It costs between $99 – $439 NZD.

With the InterCity TravelPass, you can stop anywhere along the route. For example, if your pass includes travel between Picton and Christchurch, you could do Picton to Blenheim, Blenheim to Kaikoura, and Kaikoura to Christchurch all on one trip. With the Naked Passport, you can only stop at places listed on their pass route’s page.

So +1 for the IC TravelPass.

I bought the $135 InterCity FlexiPass for 15 hours. Adding up my journeys on the South Island individually, the price of my tickets would have been $172, so the pass does save money. However, there’s a caveat: you can only use the FlexiPass on InterCity buses, and on the South Island they contract out a lot of routes, so I couldn’t use my pass from on most of the routes to Milford Sound, Mt. Cook, or Bluff (to get to Stewart Island).

So what’s a traveler to do?

If you’re booking far in advance and getting the cheap discount fares, don’t buy a pass. I’d also skip the big fixed-route pass, as they don’t offer value when compared to other giant passes or tour operators. For example, the InterCity TravelPass is $1045, but Stray has more comprehensive passes for less — currently its Max Pass is only $929 and has more destinations and activities. Kiwi Experience’s Sheep Dog does the same for $799. At the higher prices, the backpacker buses make better sense than a bus pass.

I’d buy a FlexiPass since it is hours based and lasts forever. Combine that with other cheap tickets bought far in advance, ridesharing, or anything else. Mix and match what you do for optimal savings. Use the pass for expensive routes and cheaper options for other, shorter routes!

Flying


Flying in New Zealand isn’t that cheap, as there are only two companies that dominate the entire market: Air New Zealand and Jetstar — and on most routes, it’s just Air New Zealand. While you can find some cheap fares on shorter routes or by booking a few months in advance, unless you are really pressed for time or traveling from island to island, I’d skip flying.

Here are prices for some popular routes:

Campervans and Car Rentals


Campervans litter New Zealand, especially on the nature-heavy South Island, where people hike and camp, because they serve as accommodation and transportation all in one, and for budget-conscious travelers, that’s a win-win. There are five main rental agencies: Jucy, Travellers Autobarn, Spaceships, Britz, and Wicked Campers. Jucy is dominant; I saw more of its cars and vans than any other company.

Prices vary a lot. Your daily rate will change depending on where you pick the vehicle up, if you are dropping it off at a different place, how long you are renting it for, how far in advance you book, and when you book (going during the high season? Prices seem to double!). You need a degree in accounting to figure out how these companies price their cars! Here are sample daily rates for when you pick up and drop-off at the same location:

Here are sample daily rates for when you pick up and drop-off at a different location:

If you drive, getting a campervan is going to be one of the most economical way to get around. You’ll be able to use your van/car as accommodation, pick up travelers to split the cost of gas, and maybe find travel partners to split the cost of the vehicle itself. If you are spending $70 NZD per day for a Jucy campervan that can fit three people, that’s a savings of up to 50% compared to a hostel and daily bus ride, which will set you back $30-50 a day.

If you use a campervan, be sure to download the awesome CamperMate app, which lets you find nearby campsites, gas stations, and dump stations.

Hitchhiking


Hitchhiking is easy in New Zealand, and it’s one of the main ways to get around. There are plenty of people who will pick you up. Additionally, you can just ask around any hostel for a ride — everyone is doing the same circuit. I got from Wanaka to Queenstown to Fiordland that way. Plus, hostels also have boards where people are looking for rides. Additionally, check out the Thumbs Up NZ or Carpool New Zealand ridesharing apps.

***

There are a lot of ways to get around New Zealand. If you’re OK driving, rent a campervan. Don’t want to drive? Bus it or get rides with other travelers — someone is always looking to split the cost of gas! No matter what, you’re not going to have trouble getting from point A to B, even if you wake up and need transport that very day! On a tight budget? Definitely don’t fly! New Zealand is an easy country to travel and, with some planning, a cheap one too!

Book Your Trip to New Zealand: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight to New Zealand by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines. Start with Momondo.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel in New Zealand with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates. (Here’s the proof.)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. I never ever go on a trip without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. You should too.

Need Some Gear?
Check out our resource page for the best companies to use!

Want More Information on New Zealand?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on New Zealand for even more planning tips!

Photo credits: 1, 2, 3, 4

The post How to Get Around New Zealand appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

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