29 August 2013

How to Plan a Round the World {RTW} Trip!

Words cannot adequately describe how over-the-moon excited I was when Rachael of Let's Be Adventurers agreed to guest post on how she and her fiancé went about planning their Round the World {RTW} trip!  For years I've dreamt of spending months exploring the globe with no set itinerary, choosing to spend a few weeks on the beaches of Goa then hopping over to Indonesia and finally spontaneously deciding to jump on a plane to Tokyo.  As RTW travel has grown in popularity, I've often wondered how people save up for such a long-term trip.  Which is precisely why I contacted Rachael as soon as I found out about her plans for a six-month South-East Asian adventure.  I hope you'll find her story as helpful and inspiring as I did!

How to plan and save for a round the world (RTW) trip.

I still remember the day when the idea of an around the world trip entered my mind. It was a few years ago, while I was studying for an exam my first year in college, and I somehow came across this dancing video from WheretheHellisMatt.com. This short video of a guy dancing around the world completely opened my eyes and sparked my curiosity. The more I read, I discovered that Matt would go on trips for several months at a time. How could he do this? How could he afford this? Over the years, my dream of going on a trip like Matt grew bigger and bigger. I had never known anyone who did this type of trip before-hadn't even heard of such a thing!-and I didn't know how Matt made it work...but what I did know is that it sounded like a great adventure.

Nowaways, the world is filled with round the world (RTW) travelers, people who jetset off for gap years, career breaks or vow to travel forever--and actually make it work! Like me, people are realizing just how possible it is to plan an amazing journey.

For the last 3 years, Christian and I finally set our goal to make this dream a reality and are elated to say that we leave for our 6 month backpacking trip around Asia in just a couple months!

So how did we save? No trust funds, no money trees, no hidden piles of cash...we did it the good old-fashioned way--budget and save! But we were still able to enjoy trips and outings along the way.

Today, I'm here to share a few of our savings secrets. In addition to the obvious, such as cutting spending, cooking at home, etc., these tips and tricks made a huge difference in saving and planning for our trip:

1. Pay yourself first! See any RTW trip blog and you will almost always see this mentioned first. Once your paycheck arrives, put money aside before you can even think of spending it elsewhere. Even better, online banking means sometimes it's possible to arrange automatic transfers to your savings account on a specified date. We followed this rule strictly in our 3 years of saving. 

2. Set savings goals (and round up when needed). First thing you should do after deciding to plan your trip is to set your goal and calculate how much is needed to save each month. Each month after we saved and were within $300 to the next whole number then we almost always ponied up the extra cash so we could reach it. For example, if we already set aside savings in a given month and had a total of $7800 in our account, we would each add $100 extra so we could hit the $8000 mark. Setting small milestones like these forced us to save a bit extra. 

3. Join airline mileage programs. This has been my saving grace for years. The world's biggest airline alliances (United's Star Alliance and American Airline's One World Alliance) include partner airlines in almost every country. So flying anywhere means you can accumulate miles. Link your credit card with your mileage program and you're now open to a world of bonus miles, double miles and, the ultimate goal, booking flights with airmiles. We've accumulated enough airmiles to pay for 3-4 flights for the both of us (one transatlantic leg and 2-3 domestic airlines in China and Japan). This is saving us about $2000 on flights!

4. Preplan trips - even though we started saving for this trip 3 years ago, we still had the travel bug. Putting off all travel until our big trip was out of the question and we still wanted to enjoy traveling around Europe from our homebase in Amsterdam. However, we knew we had to keep trip costs to a minimum in order to meet our savings goal by the end of the year. So we made it a priority to book trips early. For example, we traveled to Lisbon and Croatia last summer and booked our plane tickets 7 months in advance. Result? 200 EUR for 6 flights! This year, we traveled to the {very expensive but} breathtakingly beautiful island of Iceland. We booked our plane tickets and car rental nearly 9 months in advance. But saved hundreds of dollars had we waited a few months longer. Also because it was so far in advance, two friends of ours hopped onboard for Iceland and we split costs. So, if you've got your destination chosen--BOOK!


5. Minimize spending at restaurants and go to free events--get takeaway and eat at home instead of dining out. Also, when planning nights out with friends, head to free festivals, outdoor movies or lounge in the park. Food and alcohol really adds up. 

{Cheap hot dog lunch in Iceland}
{Check for events in your neighborhood, like free outdoor movie nights}
{Have date nights or hang out with friends in The Great and free Outdoors}

6. Get insurance which covers the cost of vaccinations. Upgrading your insurance could mean that suddenly you're covered for vaccinations you might need. When these babies are $100-150 per shot, it might be worth giving your insurance company quick call and atleast ask about it. We saved $650 by paying a bit more in insurance each month to cover my vaccinations.

7. Sell stuff you don't need. This one is easy. How much stuff do you really need? Or think of it this way, is *this* so important to carry on my back for 6 months? Or to put in storage for 6 months? If both are no, head over to eBay or Craigslist and get rid of it. We sold furniture and even small things, like a beer crate, on eBay. Now we are $400 richer...straight into our RTW account :).

8. Ride a bike. I am biased here. We live in quite possibly the most bike friendly place in the world: Amsterdam. But even small changes, like biking to the supermarket in your home town, will keep you from wasting gas to drive down the street. I saved over $400 each summer by riding my bike to and from work instead of paying for public transportation.

9. Get a savings account with a decent interest rate. Why not earn a few bucks on your savings? We opted for a safe investment and transferred our money into a certificate of deposit (also to stop us from withdrawing any money) and earned about $400 in interest.

10. Depending how long your trip is, move out of your apartment while you're gone and save on rent. Or if you own a place, see about posting it on Air BnB if the situation allows for it. 

Last few tips to keep in mind while planning:

*Choose cheap countries which align with your budget. Southeast Asia is beautiful and affordable, no wonder it's a backpacker favorite. We knew we wanted to spend the winter on the beach, see many different cultures and stretch our money as far as we could--as a result, we chose Southeast Asia and 6 months became the magic number! Central America is also backpacker-friendly and easy on the wallet.

*Use night trains and overnight flights to save on accommodation. We've saved on booking rooms by taking night trains to Poland, Germany and in Northern Finland. And we definitely plan on taking night trains in Thailand and Malaysia, too! Why pay for a night in a hostel if you don't need to? The night train to Poland included breakfast, too!

{Night train to Poland}

A big thanks to Matt Harding for showing me just how possible a big trip is. And an even bigger thanks to Jenna. Thanks for having me and I cannot wait until we can meet up one day :).

Follow us on our journey around Asia at Let's Be Adventurers or on Instagram!

Thank you so much for posting Rachael!  

You actually make RTW travel sound feasible.  At the end of the year I'll definitely be opening a RTW savings account.  And I can't wait to meet up either... Johannesburg is calling your name ;)

Follow along on her adventures here.

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27 August 2013

{Pilanesberg Private Lodge}

Last weekend, Jurg and I decided to head out of the city and spend some time exploring Pilanesberg Game Reserve.  Although we've visited the nearby Sun City before, somehow we'd never actually set aside a morning to enter the reserve itself and both agreed that it was about time we changed that.  Just two hours outside of Jo'burg, it makes for the perfect weekend getaway.  This trip was also in celebration of our engagement anniversary {can you believe it's already been a year!?} and Jurg surprised me by suggesting that we treat ourselves to a stay at Pilanesberg Private Lodge.  

Of course, I thought that sounded like the best idea ever.

Pilanesberg Private Lodge is actually located within the Black Rhino Reserve, which borders the northern side of the park.  Both reserves are known for being home to the Big 5 {lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and cape buffalo} and I was eager to see how many we would be able to tick off our list during our stay.  Almost as a good omen, a mere five minutes after entering the reserve we came across a herd of elephants.  The safari Gods were looking after us.  My excitement grew tenfold.

As soon as we arrived at the lodge, we were shown to our room {complete with an outdoor shower!} and then spent the next hour or so exploring the property and marvelling at the view of the waterhole from our porch.  Jurg definitely made a good choice.  That night over dinner, as we sat next to the fire and reminisced about all that had happened over the past year, I couldn't help feeling so grateful that we live in such a beautiful country.  Just two hours away from bustling Johannesburg, yet here we were enjoying an evening in the bush underneath a crystal clear, pollution-free sky.  That night we were spoiled with a three-course meal {a tomato soup starter, chicken a la king main, and a candied pear dessert} as well as a nice bottle of wine.  

Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
Room at Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
Bathroom at Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
Pool area at Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
Beautiful breakfast at Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
Room at Pilanesberg Private Lodge, South Africa
That afternoon, Jacomé had already treated us to a private game drive.  Having previously seen such a large herd of elephants, for us, anything more would have been a bonus.  The cherry on top of an already wonderful experience.  After packing our drinks for a mid-drive sundowner, Jacomé decided to head out in search of the elephant herd again.  On our way we passed dozens of antelope and even a few warthogs.  

Quickly catching up with the herd, we spent at least thirty minutes soaking in their presence and snapping photos of them.  We were so close that we could hear them trumpeting and grunting amongst themselves, cracking twigs and branches with every step they took.  There were several babies in the group and Jacomé took his time estimating how old they were, placing the youngest at about six months.  It's such a pity that these incredibly majestic animals are currently well on their way to extinction, for the simple reason that there's a thriving market for their tusks.

As the herd started to disperse, we took off in the opposite direction in search of the remaining four of the Big 5.  It wasn't long before we happened across a pride of lions, four adolescent males who had decided to take a sunset stroll.  Jurgen and I were absolutely wide-eyed; lion sightings are far from guaranteed when on safari.  Especially within the proximity that we were.  Often times you will be able to vaguely make out a tail or tuft of hair in the distance, but this time they were in plain sight, right in the middle of the road.  We spent another thirty minutes or so trailing behind them in the vehicle and laughing at one lion in particular, who kept lying down for a rest and then lagging behind the others.

I always say that one of the things I love most about living in Jo'burg is its centrality in terms the surrounding area.  Jo'burg offers the perfect composition of the prototypical city life, but when one feels the need for some wide open spaces, there are lakes and game reserves within an hour or two's drive.  In a sense, we really do have the best of both worlds.

By the numbers:

Rates: R2,000 {$195} per person per night
Breakfast: Included in the above rate
Dinner: Included in the above rate
Game drives: Included in the above rate

For more information, you can visit the Pilanesberg Private Lodge website here.

{Linking up with Travel Tuesdays}

20 August 2013

Namibia: Why You Should Visit Swakopmund

As many of you know, 
Jurg and I toured through Namibia for a month during this past December and January.
If you're new around these parts, you can catch up here.

Tips for exploring Swakopmund, Namibia

Over the years, the coastal German town of Swakopmund has remained the single constant across our Namibian travel itineraries.  Having been to the country four times now myself, it's sort of warped into our place... our Namibian home away from home if you will.  We've slowly gotten to know the town to the extent that we've developed our own favorite restaurants, cafes and bars that we tend to go back to over and over again.  We also always make sure to see a movie at the tiny cinema and spend a couple hours browsing through the little aquarium situated right off the beach.  It's not the type of place where you want to have a set schedule, just wake up each morning and let the day decide how it wants to unfold.

A previous German colony, Swakop has perfectly retained what it means to be German.  German continues to be widely spoken by its residents and there are German restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlors on every corner.  If you appreciate pretzels, schnitzels, sauerkraut, brotchens and beer, then you've officially found your foodie heaven.  When the quaint German architecture, crowded coffee shops and cozy bookshops are also considered, it's no wonder that Swakop has become the official holiday destination of the Namibians.

Room at Sandfields Guesthouse, Swakopmund Accommodation
Sandfields Guesthouse, Swakopmund Accommodation

While Jurg and I usually look for self-catering options while traveling, in Swakop the variety and quality of the restaurants is just too tempting to ever want to cook for ourselves.  For this reason, we always choose to stay in B&B's.  The only trick is to find one that is centrally-located, as you want to be within walking distance of both the beach and the city.  Having had bad luck with this on past trips, this time I elicited the help of Trip Advisor and immediately came across Sandfields Guesthouse.  The B&B had rave reviews and claimed to be only a couple of blocks away from the ocean {something I could never seem to find previously}.  After a few email exchanges with Jean {the owner}, we confirmed our booking.

During our stay, we loved that we were able to actually go on morning jogs next to the beach without having to get in our car and physically drive several miles first, which is exactly what we've been looking for.  Although Sandfields is a B&B, I loved that our room had a private entrance so that we could easily come and go as we pleased without disturbing anyone.  We also loved that board games were readily available for use by guests, and Jurg and I found ourselves spending most of our evenings playing cards next to our fireplace.  Jean really goes out of her way to include small touches that you wouldn't typically find in other B&B's... and I'm not being compensated for saying this.

But before I end my rant on the loveliness that is Sandfields, I need to also spend a moment gushing about their breakfasts.  Each morning you order off a menu and then the most visually appealing plate of food is set right in front of you... eggs, bacon, mushrooms, fruit, yoghurt... you name it.  Since it's included in their rate, Jurg and I took full advantage of this every morning.  I think it's safe to say that we've finally found our place in Swakop.  Jean, we'll be back!

Swakopmund, Namibia
Brotchen at Cafe Treff Punkt
Although Swakop in and of itself is enough to occupy an entire visit, the town is also a hub of activities.  Adventure sports, yacht tours, township walks... the whole gambit.  We normally try to tick one thing off our list each time we visit.  So far we've done the dolphin and seal cruise, sandboarding and quad biking.  I'm still working on persuading Jurgen to go sky diving, but I'm not sure if I'll ever succeed at this one.

In terms of restaurants, our very favorite is 22 Degrees South {it's located right at the base of the lighthouse}, and we also always make a point of having brötchens at Cafe Treff Punkt.  Cafe Anton is the place to be for afternoon cake and coffee, and Brauhaus is perfect for German beer, schnitzels and a lively atmosphere.  Jetty 1905 and The Tug Restaurant are both nice if you want to eat right on the ocean.  To be honest, it's difficult to go wrong when it comes to food in Swakop.
Lighthouse in Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakop just has a way of drawing people in that is difficult to put into words.  If you're ever fortunate enough to find yourself touring through Namibia, I urge you experience its charm for yourself!

By the numbers:
Rates: R600 {$40} per person per night
Breakfast: Included in the above rate
For more information on Sandfields' see here.  
For more Swakopmund hotel and accommodation options, see below.

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Tips for exploring Swakopmund, Namibia.