Pilgrim without a plan

Travel targets header PWAP

To say I’ve been M.I.A on the blog front is an understatement – it’s been months since I posted… not ok.

Why have I made you all suffer through my radio silence? Missing out on the brilliance that is my writing? I can put it down to one thing – lack of travel depression… LTD for short.

The LTD struggle has been real – worse than ever before. And the reason is this: I’m a pilgrim without a plan.

I landed back in NZ after achieving my 30 by 30 plan with nothing new on the horizon… just a mortgage to pay and a 9 to 5 job.

Not knowing what I’m doing next, where or when I’m going has been a beating to my soul… But let’s be honest, as far as problems go, this is as first world as it gets, so I’m packing away my LTD and getting back on the keyboard to give you guys more tips and tales from my pilgrimages. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as I will have a celebratory article about reaching my initial 30 by 30 plan… I WILL come up with a new plan… maybe with your help and I have some crazy tales from Malaysia and India to share with you. There are terror threats, Malaysia Airlines flights and human poo. You want to read this stuff.

Taj

(Oh and here’s a tease of some of the cool stuff I got to see in India – more about this soon)

Turn up, have fun, see sites – Tour Led Travel

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Travelling alone? Don’t really know where to start? Or just want to meet new like minded friends? I have the travel solution for you – tours!

There are so many benefits of joining a tour, including the fact they organise everything for you, you just have to turn up, have fun and see sites.

I’ve loved every tour I’ve done and as corny as it sounds, have met some life long friends.

Here’s a wee comparison of various tour companies I’ve used.

Planning your Pilgrimage:


Contiki

Contiki

Yes I’ve done Contiki, and I had a ball. I was about 22. Two friends and I booked a the European Escapade – 25 days, visiting 10 countries.

Pros:

√  You get a taster of a bunch of places – helping you decide where you might like to explore further.

√  You get to see so much with little personal planning effort.

√  It’s fun, I mean a bus full of 18-35 year olds = great time.

√  We were lucky and had a fantastic group who didn’t just want to get wasted all the time, so we had a ball.

Cons:

√  You are with the same 30 odd people for 25 days on a bus, if you don’t like them you’re going to have an average time.

√  You are on a bus with air con for 25 days – you will get sick with what’s known as the ‘Contiki Cough’… it’s inevitable.

√  You really do whip through places, I mean two nights in Rome, come on.


Travel talk

Where you sleep at Gallipoli… packed in like sardines. Beaut view though.

I took a tour with these guys to Gallipoli for ANZAC day.

This company is predominantly used by expats living in London so if you are just travelling the area and not living there you may struggle to find others doing the same.

Pros:

√  Easy to deal with, well organised

Cons:

√  The tour guide was BEYOND a creep, he cracked on to every single girl on the tour, it was inappropriate.


Intrepid Travel

Intrepid

I can’t speak highly enough of Intrepid travel, the Intrepid team (from the office staff to guides) are extremely helpful and the tour is right up my ally – organised but not so much that you have to schedule in a toilet break.

I jumped on an eight day tour from Rome to Amalfi (Italy) with these guys and had a ball.

Pros:

√  It’s not as prescriptive as Contiki, sure you are on a tour but that’s more to ensure you have someone to show you the way, someone to have dinner with at night, company if you want it. You can also spend a lot of time alone (if you want) which I love.

√  The tour guides are generally from the area or have extensive knowledge of the area, adding another element to the tour.

√  You take public transport to get around (aka no private coaches like Contiki) which is fun and shows you how to do it for when you’re on your own.

√  I found my group to be very like minded, mostly independent females who loved travel.

√  They only have 10 people max in a group, so you make some great friends.

Cons:

√  I was the youngest in my group by far (at 26), which was a pro and a con. I like an older crowd so it was fine for me but it could be a con for you.

√  The whole thing was a little laid back, a little more communication/organisation may have been appreciated but didn’t ruin the tour by any means.


Sail Croatia

Sail Croatia

I was apprehensive about doing Sail Croatia as I was a little fatter back then, lacked confidence and didn’t want to get drunk everyday on a boat with skinny tarts (that’s how I envisaged Sail Croatia).

What I ended up with was a group of the most fantastic people I’ve ever come across, mainly folk older than I and we had a ball!

We did end up drinking every day, but in a civilised (ok kind of civilised) way, and it was just beyond amazing.

Best part of the whole thing? You’re on a boat for a week, you don’t have to move your bags for a whole week. When you travel for extended periods, moving every few days, you’ll understand how incredible that is.

Now I can’t remember the exact tour group I booked with but it’s fairly irrelevant – look for the one that goes to the islands you want to go to (Hvar is a must) and for the length of time you want to go for.

If you don’t want to party but want a good time, here are my tips:

√  Book at the start of the season, the earlier the better as it is less likely to be a bunch of young annoying assholes.

√  Let the tour group know you want to have a relaxing time not a party time.

Also what you need to know:

√  You start a tab on the boat for your drinks which is semi dangerous as you have no idea how much you’re spending, but it’s fairly reasonably priced.

√  Take loads of books/load up your e-reader, there is plenty of sail time where you have nothing to do but sunbathe and read (it’s the good life).

√  On that note prepare to do nothing – it was a real change of pace for me, but it was fantastic.

√  Take a backpack – for day trips on the islands

√  Don’t be a dick – you’re on a boat with these people for a week.


Those were my tour experiences. I’ve done a bunch of day tours in various locations too and generally enjoyed them for the same reasons. While I love planning, taking a break from that and letting someone do it for you has it’s merits.

Have fun – and if you have any further questions please do get in touch.

 

Rome – Where fun once prevailed

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Health and Safety policies are ruining fun. There, I said it.

Kids games like bull rush are being cut from the school yard as little Billy hurt himself that one time. Hand rails create barriers between travellers and sites because some fool with a camera leaned to far over and fell in…

Rome ItalyMaybe this is why I like Rome, you find yourself imagining a time when fun prevailed over Health and Safety concerns. When the Colosseum was flooded with water to allow battleships to fight. Agh the good old days.

But seriously I love Rome, it’s history, it’s cobbled streets, it’s bustling Piazza’s… all helping you look past the fact you have to weave around every man and his SLR and dodge street performers vying for your tourist dollars.

ANYWHO ‘When In Rome’ there’s plenty to do, here are my top tips.

Planning your pilgrimage:


The Colosseum
Colosseum

√  Numero uno stop for me – love this place.

√  Go super super early or really late in the day – queues for this place can get out of control.

√  Grab the audio guide at the front desk, it’s so interesting listening to all the things that went on here (including dwarf fights and of course battleships).

 


Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio 

Monumento     √  Located on the Piazza Venezia – a short walk from The Colosseum.

√  Made entirely out of marble the outside of the building is certainly worth a look.

√  More importantly though pay to get the lift to the top of the building – the panoramic views of the city are unforgettable .

 


Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain     √  Want to ensure you return to Rome someday? Or want to find love? You have to go to Trevi Fountain.

√  Legend has it that you should throw three coins into the fountain. The first coin guarantees your return to Rome, the second will ensure a new romance, and the third will ensure marriage.

√  Hmmm two parts have worked for me, maybe I need to go back and throw that third coin.

√  Despite all that it’s magnificent in size and design – a must see.

 

 


The Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

√  A little further on from the Trevi Fountain are the Spanish Steps.

√  I enjoy getting something to eat and just sitting on the steps, people watching. There’s always so much going on.

 

 

 


The Vatican

The Vatican     √  Want to add another country to your list? The Vatican is for you. That’s right, technically the Vatican is a country in it’s own right.

√  Of course there are plenty more reasons to visit. The Vatican is eerily holy, with mummies of popes in the basement. There’s the awe inspiring St Peter’s Basilica and then there is the Sistine Chapel and it’s famous Michelangelo painted roof. The guy spent four years on scaffolding painting that bad boy – and I’m glad he did, it’s just… wow, go check it out.

√  Go EARLY –Don’t even brush your hair, just go. You can wait for up to 2 hours to get in here! The earlier the shorter the queue.


Villa Borghese Gardens

View from Gardens

 

     √  While charming and historic, Rome is also chaotic, I recommend heading up the Spanish steps into the Villa Borghese Gardens and just taking a walk, it’s serene and calming, two adjectives I would not apply to the rest of Rome.

 

 


Other helpful bits:

Busy Rome     √  Stay: by the Rome Termini Train station, it’s an easy walk from there to the major attractions and trains to other major Italian cities and the airport go from here.

√  Eat: If the restaurant displays photos of the food, don’t eat there. It’s a tourist trap – the food will be inauthentic.

√  Prepare: For the millions of people. Rome is a bustling place and it can be overwhelming, so plan your time and be prepared for queues.


 

Capri – Living the dream

capri header

Some days in life are just significantly better than others. For me, going to Capri was one of those days.

With the clear blue waters of the Med underneath you and coastal Italian landscape around you it really does feel like a dream. Even more so now as I write about this from my 40 sq/m apartment in Auckland. Sigh.

Capri from above      Capri looking up

So what is it about this island that makes it so dreamlike…

  • Maybe it’s that it’s a play ground for the rich and famous, so for a moment you can walk around feeling a little more well-to-do than you really are.
  • Maybe it’s the Italian homes perched into the sides of mountains with gardens of colours cascading down the mountains.
  • Maybe (and my bet is on this) it’s because it is singularly the most beautiful place to just walk. Imagine if Miranda Kerr and Ryan Gosling created a baby… that’s the level of beauty this island holds. It is literally the cobbled pathways, arches, views of the med as far as the eye can see, and colour, endless colour from the flowers, from the buildings, from the food.

I’m getting goosys just writing this, Capri is for me the pinnacle of sensory delight and I will never forget how the heat of the sun felt as I lost myself taking in the sight, or the smell of fresh ocean air mixed with a bloody good cabonara, or the moment of longing when I had to leave.

Capri1       Capri flowers

Long sigh. Get there now and send me a postcard would you?

Planning your Pilgrimage:


 How to get to Capri:

Getting to Capri

√  I hired a boat and driver from Sorrento with a group of my travel buddies – this was an awesome option as your trip is customisable, you leave when you want and come back when you want, stopping on the way… you guessed it – where you want.

√  If you don’t have a group to go with, don’t fret, there are plenty of other day tours you can book, just google or ask your friendly hotel people.


To blue grotto or not to blue grotto… that is the question:

The blue grotto is a “must-do” around the Island because of it’s beautiful blue water in a ‘majestic’ cave… However I didn’t blue grotto and here’s why;

√  They charge you an exorbitant amount to go in there.

√  Once they’ve got their cash you can only go in for a matter of minutes.

√  It’s so overrun with tourists that your small time spent in there is swarmed by others.


Watch out for:

√  Sanitary pads in the water – not joking. The cruise ships (illegally??) dump their waste into the ocean, my med dip on the way to the island was short lived in fear of being hit by floating crap (literally).


To do:

Walk capri

√  Once on the island my suggestion is to just walk. Literally follow your nose and get lost. Every path is gorgeous, every look out point will have you struggling to tear yourself away.

So it’s as simple as that. No tours necessary, pop your guidebook away. Just walk.

 

 


So off you go, give your senses a present and enjoy all that is great about Capri.

Japan – My tale of two loves

Japa PWAP Header

It only took a one week business trip for me to fall in love with Japan… so much so that I decided to move there.

I was hoping to organise a transfer through work, I was learning the language – game on.

Then I fell in love again – and he wasn’t moving. I had to make a very adult decision. We fight so hard as kids to make our own choices, then when we can it sucks shit.

So I approached it as any self-respecting adult would… got drunk and promised not to leave.

Now here I am, being self-indulgent and pining for the bright lights of Shibuya, the gracious people, the food and the heated toilet seats (I went in the middle of winter, they made my day)…

Go forth and enjoy Japan, here are my tips:

Planning your Pilgrimage:


General tips

Conversing

Tokyo Train   √  Don’t fret if you don’t know Japanese: Nowhere else in a non-English speaking country have I experienced such a willingness to communicate without a common language. I even had one girl stop when she saw I was lost and through hand gestures sent me in the right direction.

√  Don’t speak on the train. Just don’t. Play candy crush, read your paper, don’t bloody speak. They like quiet.

 

Shopping

√  Just remember – as a nation they are very small, don’t expect much to fit you in Japan!

Etiquette

   √  The Japanese people are so incredibly polite, courteous and punctual. Show respect and don’t be late.


 

Tokyo

If you have one day or even one afternoon (as I did) in Tokyo, here’s my recommendation: get yourself to Meiji Shrine, walk to Harijuku, down Takeshita street, then follow Meiji Dori street to Shibuya.

Meiji JinguTokyo Meiji shrine 1

√  The Meiji Jingu (shrine) sits amongst 700,000 square meters of forest, and it’s a great retreat from the bustling city.

√  There is plenty to see, shrines, displays and of course nature.

 

 

 

Takeshita StreetTokyo Takeshita

√  Things that bounce, light up, look good and look wack are all for sale on shopping street. Honestly more of an experience than retail therapy.

√  Stop in at Daiso Harajuku – 100 Yen Shop. Everything is 100 Yen and it’s amazing, great nick-nacks for the family.

 

ShibuyaTokyo Shibuya

√  Favourite place in Tokyo hands down. I even like saying Shibuya. It sounds strong, confident, fun – and it is those things.

√  Electronic billboards light up the night sky, exotic smells fill your nostrils and thousands upon thousands of people get in your way.

 


Kyoto

If you want a taste of traditional Japan – go to Kyoto!

Kiyomizu-dera TempleKyoto Temple

√  This temple and the surrounding land were a highlight for me – a glimpse into history and tradition – try go in Cherry Blossum season.

√  If you are going to see a Geisha – this will be the place.

 

 

Get lost around the canalskyoto canal

√  I literally sigh as I write this, getting lost around the canals of Kyoto is a memory in itself. Old wooden houses line the canals and the Japanese (mainly elderly) go about their business.

√  There is something incredibly peaceful and humbling about it.

 

 

Yamazaki Whisky DistillerySuntory Whisky

√  This seems random – but the business trip I was on was for Suntory beverages, an award winning Japanese Whisky maker.

√  Whisky is actually a massive thing in Japan, particularly the Whisky high-ball (whisky and dry).

√  Get yourself up to Yamazaki, see the passion that goes into each bottle and of course try a drop or two!

 

 

 


There’s obviously loads more to do in Tokyo and Kyoto than what I’ve just mentioned, but when you spend eight hours a day in a boardroom there’s only so much a girl can fit in! I look forward to hearing what you get up to… and if you fall in love!

Solo Travel – You CAN do it!

pilgrim with a plan, travel

You’re “alone”, without a significant other, a single female – a cardinal sin or question of your normality of course. Meanwhile your friends are married, having babies or have a sterling career they can’t momentarily eradicate themselves from. But you want to travel. Do you sit by and work your way through the travel shelves in the library, or do you add some stamps to your passport?

Go with the latter.

Two years ago I took a trip through the Amalfi Coast, Istanbul, Croatia and Dubai all sans travel companion and guess what? I wasn’t robbed, poisoned or harmed in any way. Instead I returned with new friends from around the world, amazing memories and a killer tan (hugely important of course).

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Before flying off into the sunset I heard endless horror stories about women travelling by themselves (which have probably put you off to date)… I would lay a bet that 80% of those stories are just that, stories, yarns passed on through the ages just to be told to you when you say “I want to see the world”.

The last statement is not being flippant and I’m certainly not detracting from the fact that bad things do happen to women travelling by themselves. What I’m telling you is that it’s not a reason to avoid travel.

I have five quick tips that helped me get home with my limbs and luggage, I hope they help you…

 

 

Planning your pilgrimage:


Travelling solo - positivity and paranoia

 

Employ a balanced mix of positivity and paranoia

If you think “awesome I’m in *fill the blank* – it’s going to be a good day, but I’m going to hold on tight to my handbag” then you’re on the right track.

 

 


 

solo travel - understand the culture

Understand the expectations of a women in the country you are visiting. It may go against what you believe to be your rights, but it’s in your best interests.

On a brutally hot day in Istanbul it seemed like torture to cover up, I chose not to. Have you ever wondered what a piece of steak feels like when dangled in front of hungry wolves? Lesson learned.

 


solo travel - pick tours wisely

 

This translates into research, research, research! I used Intrepid Travel around the Amalfi Coast (they are popular for single women) and chose a Croatian sailing tour at the start of the season (before the party kids take over), both resulted in me spending my holiday with complete strangers come good mates.

 


solo travel - don't look like a tourist

 

Don’t carry a monster camera around your neck or wave money about as you get it out of a bank machine – basically don’t dangle the bait if you don’t want the piranhas to bite.

 

 


solo travel - learn a bit of the language

 

Finally (and this is a general traveller rule of thumb) learn hello and thank you in the local dialect – it gives you a platform to appear to be a polite traveller rather than an arrogant tourist.

 

 


So there you have it ladies, go forth, get those stamps in your passport and enjoy.