On the 10th of May 2016 we made our way to Adventure World in the town of Shirahama. Adventure World is home to the largest Panda “family” outside of China and has had considerable success with breeding Giant Pandas over the years. If there’s one place in the world where you can have Panda moments this is it!
It’s with a bit of “woohoo” and awesomeness that I can announce that in 2016 I’m off to Japan to clock up seeing another 11 Pandas.
Naturally Bullet Trains will be ridden and some weird and wonderful Tokyo attractions will be done.
Super Super Happy.
Watch this space as the planning unfolds!
When travelling there’s one thing we all do a lot of, and my preferred method of dealing with it is “old school”. But first lets take a look at some of the Supporting Acts before the Travel Gadget that I have in every trips packing list.
Supporting Roles #5: Travel Charger
It sounds simple, but bringing along a specific travel charger can make your life much easier. I’ve recently bought a high-output model through Kogan (pictured), with 4 ports and 4 different power plugs it will work in most countries and charge my gadgets simultaneously. A travel gadget is worthless if it’s not charged and ready!
The plug heads fit to a more conventional style socket meaning that you can also use cables with figure-8 plugs which are easy to find in most supermarkets or electrical retailers world wide.
While there are some nifty devices out there that incorporate Wifi routers, hide-away plugs or other great features you’re also plugging them into unknown power sources and sometimes sparks do happen. The Kogan unit was “cheap”, meets the need to charge my TZ40, WT8, Smartphone and USB power bank all at once. It it fails during travel I can replace it easily.
Supporting Roles #4: USB Power Bank
I may be starting to seem obsessive about power, and perhaps I am, but I also know how inconvenient it is to not be able to take that last round of photos, quickly find a route to the hotel or double-check an airline confirmation.
Power banks can be cheap, however with hundreds of models available in every country it will pay to seek out some reviews if you’re wanting to pick up a known device. You need to consider how you’ll carry this device, it’s a travel gadget to charge other travel gadgets so portability (weight and size) is critical.
I carry a Patriot Fuel+ 5200mAh unit that has some nice usage features and has served well on a few trips now. It’s definitely not the best device on the market but I would buy again given the choice between an unknown brand and the Patriot. The size is good, and I can generally eek out a full recharge of the iPhone and both camera batteries before it becomes a dead-weight. You should consider the mAh rating of the devices you’re carrying, and how much life you get from their batteries. A spare battery is always a good idea for cameras anyway, but you don’t need to have a fully charged camera upon returning to your hotel.
Having dual USB ports is critical as being able to top-up two devices (camera/GoPro AND Smartphone typically) at once while on-the-go makes a big difference. I tend to “boost” charge my camera and smartphone when sitting around having lunch.
For UK Readers check out this TechAdvisor review of available units.
The Wirecutter Review of US units is a great read.
Supporting Roles #3: Compact “Travel” Camera
I used to carry a D-SLR, or rather, I used to lug a D-SLR, lens, batteries and accessories and eventually I got sick of it. In 2012 we purchased the compact waterproof Panasonic Lumix and were amazed by the quality of photos from such a small and robust package.
In 2014 I upped the game by switching to the Panasonic Lumix TZ40 and came away more impressed.
If you’re a keen photographer you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range of models and capabilities available on the market today. DPReview has shortlisted the hits for 2015 and there’s a few other reviews and comparisons worth reading;
Remember when travelling you want to enjoy the experience and not anguish over photography, get your camera before you leave, learn the modes and read a few more photography tips blogs to hone your skills. Having less gear to carry is always good and these more basic (in appearance at least) cameras will let you work on composition while still delivering stunning pictures.
Supporting Acts #2: Smartphone or Tablet or Both
The holy war on what Smartphone or Tablet to buy and use when travelling is one I’ll skirt around by saying that every technology item you take on your travels should be one that you’re familiar with.
On a shorter trip all you’re going to need is a Smartphone, a few map apps, perhaps the TripAdvisor App with downloaded content and Apps where you can access your email, booking information and some basic messaging.
My Travel Essential Apps include:
- Airline Apps for all airlines I’m using or likely to use on the trip. Flight+ to track all my flights and their on-time status.
- Maps – Google Maps, Apple Maps, pretty much any you can find with coverage of the desitination
- Dropbox/Onedrive/GoogleDrive offer cloud based storage for documents and files. This can be a c=good way to keep your travel documentation handy (those pesky T&C for your Travel Insurance) and also can provide a backup facility for your photos while on the road.
- WhatsApp/iMessage Being able to chat in real time back home without the expense of text messaging (you’ll still need data) is a huge bonus. The “I’ve landed, checked in” sequence can take the worry away from parents and loved ones.
But what of the tablet? I started carrying a tablet (iPad) in 2012 and haven’t really looked back. The extra real estate on-screen helps with eye strain and the range of Apps is awesome. Since then I’ve tried numerous (Android, iOS and Windows) other solutions including going back to travelling with a laptop.
Today my favourite is a 8″ Toshiba Encore WT8. It runs Windows 8.1 and lacks some sophistication but most importantly reconnects me with USB card readers, and fast simple image management software. For 2015’s trips I’m aiming to upload resized photos each day into my Onedrive storage while on the road. The larger on-screen keyboard should make posting much easier too. I’ll keep you all posted on how it turns out.
My #1 Favourite Travel Gadget
I’ve had a Kindle for just over 3 years and in that time it’s given me countless hours of reading enjoyment. It’s my number one travel gadget because it’s filled the hundreds of hours in airports, on planes and dingy hotel rooms with excitement and action. It’s saved me from buying paperbacks to lug around, and with language books, destination guides loaded has become a partner in travel.
The first response most people have is “but my tablet has an e-reader” and yes that’s true, but here’s why a Kindle (or it’s peers is much better)
- e-Ink. This simple display technology is closer to paper, it’s not “refreshed” like an LCD screen which impacts how it stimulates brain activity. Tablets (and other LCD screens) can cause you to “wake up” when using them – hardly ideal for relaxing at the end of the day.
- Extreme battery life. My Kindle is good for around 2 weeks of intensive use with Wifi active. That’s after 3 years! In short the low power consumption of e-Ink displays mean that no matter how long your flights are you’ll be reading from start to finish.
- Size/Weight/Price. Once you’re over the initial purchase cost the only ongoing cost is power. Sure you can buy the latest best-sellers just like you did in the airport (except now you can have the delivered wirelessly at a fixed price) or you can take to any one of a number of sources for extremely well priced books. There’s even hundreds of thousands of free titles available.
- No distractions. A Kindle is a passive device, there’s no messaging pop-ups, you can’t “just check my email” or otherwise engage with the world.
Before every trip I stock up the Kindle with “new” titles gathered from the archives, these older stories can give you an interesting perspective of travel, adventure and life.
Having stayed at the excellent Casa del Mar I felt it was time to add my own views of this amazing resort. It’s situated in the middle of a long beach, giving you a meaningfully long walk either on sand or the road that parallels, along the road you’ll find shops, resorts, hotels and hostels.
We stayed in a Seaview Suite and yes, as you can see from my pictures they are virtually a match of those on the website. There’s no trick photography at play. The suite is very well sized with a private courtyard to the front giving you that extra bit of seclusion from resort life when you want it.
The staff are friendly and we spent many an hour sitting at the poolside bar chatting and inventing new cocktails or adapting old ones. A Pina Colada made from 100% fresh fruit is amazing!
As the sun sets – and it does so in spectacular fashion – the rest comes back to life with the couples filling the tables for drinks and dinner. It’s never raucous like some resorts can be and no matter how busy you think it may be the personal service remains.
Being a “bit” of a Survivor fan we took a Castaway Picnic with a stop at the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden. The boat ride from the beach was amazing, essentially a small runabout, takes you out into the archipelago and onto other islands.
Overall Casa del Mar offers a unique personalised experience that is easily enjoyed. Why don’t you check it out for your next luxury escape
TripAdvisor Forums have their place in a travellers armoury, there’s a huge mix of participants from naive first time travellers to seasoned professionals. However like every other forum sometimes you need to take the “advice” with a grain of salt.
TripAdvisor is really all about making money
Are you a Sales Lead or a Member?
TripAdvisor is really all about making money, you as a reader are nothing but a potential sales lead for the services advertised throughout the site. Every time you search for hotel rooms and flights through the site the cookies being baked into your computer are adding to the sites income.
The staff of TripAdvisor are there to keep that well oiled cash machine running and not to ensure the participants in the Forums provide consistent accurate advice.
So with that in mind lets move onto the next contradiction.
Every Forum has Moderators, people who can keep the peace and offer sage advice when needed. In he case of TripAdvisor the two roles are separated, a Destination Expert typically has a high post-count and a high rate of “presence” on the Forums. The moderation seems to be done by deleting posts after they’re reported and very little (if any) feedback is given to the poster.
In my dealings with these Destination Experts I’ve found a mix of genuinely nice people who have the time and energy to help out, and also those who always seem to grind out the say cut-n-paste solutions that perpetuate myths.
Owee over at Owee58.com wrote a great piece about his attempt to become a recognised Destination Expert.
The term Destination Expert is misleading and in most cases an out right lie. A Tripadvisor chosen volunteer is a more accurate term. Please keep this in mind when using their resource.
Owee’s experience highlights the distinctly profit driven motives, and the level of restriction TripAdvisor imposes upon those experts (which also discourages many reputable writers from participating under their “real” names)
What about Good Advice?
I spend a portion of my time on TripAdvisor kicking through the Bargain Travel forum and was surprised when someone posted a link to the great NomadicMatt “12 Things Not to Do When You Travel” article.
The link got posted in a few threads and a number of Destination Experts chimed in saying it was the best advice ever. Terrific, because the 12 tips are genuinely useful for all travellers.
The ones closest to my heart revolve around money, The “Don’t Exchange money at the airport” and “Use a fee free card”. The advice is rock solid and backed up by posts throughout the forums. Over in the Destination Forum for Malaysia we have a Destination Expert giving a good balanced view of costs while a few people are advocating everything from changing money back “at home” – to carrying large amounts of cash which then contradicts the “beware of bag snatchers” mantra!
Not once did an expert or TripAdvisor themselves suggest checking out the article, nor could many others post the link for fear or falling foul of the “posting links to blogs” rule. That rule would make linking to NomadicMatt.com a breach as it’s a very commercial Blog no matter how much we value the content!
I’m not even going to talk about the Monkey post! Well, ok, I will. There was a post about Batu Caves, the writer had asked if the caves were worth it given they had a dislike of monkeys. Fair question, I’m not a fan of them myself, and while some people tried to balance up the “value” of the attraction versus the population of monkeys others started talking about all the rabies travellers would get while being bitten.
Yes, monkeys can bite. No, monkeys don’t bite randomly
Once again there’s no consistency, and once again not even Destination Experts could agree!
Where does that leave us?
When you use TripAdvisor do so with an open mind. Don’t let some views dissuade you from accessing what is still a marvellous resource, but always be aware of the pitfalls.
Opinionated Destination Experts, False Reviews and people willing to “work the system” to make a buck combined with he profit motive of the TripAdvisor company mean that like Professional Travel Bloggers you need to keep your wits about you.
Lessons from “The Amazing Race”
In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years you’ll be familiar with “The Amazing Race”, for those that are not CBS provides a nice potted summary:
THE AMAZING RACE is a multi-Emmy Award-winning reality series hosted by Emmy Award- nominated host Phil Keoghan, which pits 11 teams, each comprised of two members, against each other on a trek around the world for approximately 25 days. At every destination, each team must compete in a series of challenges, some mental and some physical, and only when the tasks are completed will they learn of their next location. Teams who are the farthest behind will gradually be eliminated as the contest progresses, with the first team to arrive at the final destination winning $1 million.
You can learn more about the details of this challenging “game” by hundreds of hours trawling fan-sites, or just pop over to Wikipedia.
With that out of the way lets talk about four things travellers can take away from The Amazing Race.
Travel as we all know isn’t always easy, it can be long days of disappointing destinations and infuriating experiences dealing with people. The rewards, or the good days more than make up for these, and there’s always “next time” when the same things won’t happen again right?
Lesson 1: Route Info
The old saying of “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail” could apply here, it’s all about the research you do and how you prepare. On “The Amazing Race” teams are provided the basic outline of their leg. They’re told of key route and transit factors, provided a budget and from there it’s up them.
Sometimes it’s not the fastest route (13 hour ferry ride vs a 2 hour flight) nor the most direct route that can give you the best experience. Using resources like TripAdvisor or Travel Blogs can open you eyes to many of the different ways to move around or to your destination. Some may not seem glamorous or exciting when you’re sitting at the keyboard, but do try and remember that “half the fun is getting there”.
So when planning your travel don’t just think about the destination, consider the steps along the way. Can you “tick off” another form of travel, perhaps doing that overnight “sleeper” train journey will spare you the expense of a hotel room and let you arrive refreshed in another city or country. You could have tales of raging North Sea storms to share, stories that will set your holiday apart from everyone else who just flew.
Lesson 2: The Detour
“A Detour is a choice between two tasks”, sure for television these tasks can be arduous parodies of life or culture in of the current location, but for travellers the lesson is about making choices to suit you.
Have you ever read the destination guide for a place and thought how boring it sounds? The lesson here is to seek out activities that you will remember for years to come. Don’t be afraid to step out from your comfort zone, pull on the silly Panda hat and have a go. Do you consider yourself too old for some attractions? Wrong, you’re never too old for a theme park or zoo. Too shy for the beach? Why not get yourself dropped off Survivor style?
It’s these detours – or choices – that can make a good holiday great, some will cost money and others will take time, but unless you get out of the hotel and get amongst it you’ll never know. Eat in a local market, dance along with a street musician or take a look at that ancient monument. In short don’t limit yourself!
Lesson 3: Fast Forward
Plans can change, and sometimes getting the heck out of dodge is a good idea. Sometimes forgoing one aspect or leg of your journey can open up more opportunities. Say you’re sitting in you’re sitting in your hotel, the weathers been bad and you’ve trekked as much of the city as you can. Why not take a “Fast Forward” somewhere else? Check with the local Low-Cost-Carriers, maybe there’s an overnight side-trip you could take?
Just like on the show taking a Fast Forward also adds elements of risk and unknown, you are forced to make plans without having detailed planning, think on your feet and if you don’t pull it off you could find yourself having wasted time and money.
So for your successful Fast Forward be honest with yourself, are you prepared to just pack up and move on without the meticulous research that you’ve been relying on? Do you have the budget available for incidentals that you will incur?
If the answers yes to the above then why not give it a go?
Lesson 4: The Roadblock
Travelling as a couple, or in a group, is great because you get to share experiences, split some of the costs and you’ve always got a (hopefully) friendly face around when things go wrong. Maybe you’ll also moderate your experience to “fit in” with others.
Roadblocks are solo tasks, and for the traveller really it means taking the time to do your own thing. There’s nothing worse than being at the foot of a 1000 step climb into a cave system and hearing one of your travelling companions say “Lets go, it’s too far/hard”. You know what? Just do it without them! That’s right just because you’re in a group it doesn’t mean you’re bound to them.
From dining choices to attractions and travel types who we travel with can affect our experiences and it’s important to stop and ask yourself who’s trip you’re really on.
Tired of comforting to others? Take an entire trip yourself, without your partner or friends you can rediscover your inner strengths, develop your self reliance and even bring out the confidence you never knew you had.
One last thing;
The next time you’re watching “The Amazing Race” think about how you behave when you travel. How do you react when things go wrong, when the taxi driver gets lost and you end up at the wrong monument or the only food around is friend bugs?
Stress during travel can bring out the very worst in people, so think about how you deal with it, try pulling on the smile and thinking “well now I’ve seen Loch Ness AND the local duck pond!”
Don’t be “that team”…
Ive already expressed my skepticism of the “Blogger Dream” – and gone a little ways to describing some of the pitfalls and pittances it can earn. However I still enjoy reading about the dream and occasionally have fantasies about getting rich quick.
Travel Blogging is hard?
I suppose it is, in fact like most creative pursuits it takes time and effort to plan, write and post content that will attract and maintain an audience that’s also willing to follow up with Facebook Likes or Retweets. Although the best perspective I’ve seen thrown on it comes from Theodora at escapeartistes.com
It’s not subsistence farming in a drought. It’s not child protection or first response. It’s not labouring in the sewers, in a sweatshop, or on zero-hours contracts at the minimum wage. Nor is it rocket science, the SAS or brain surgery.
She then goes on to point out the low barrier to entry, hey I meet all of that, well except maybe the high-spec photographic equipment and I’m only partially convinced of my own delusions of grandeur.
Really there’s more, lots more, but you should really pop over to her nicely detailed post on “Why I’ll Never be a Professional Travel Blogger” and then think about what you’re reading when Zite, News360 or Flipboard throws you yet another tantalising story of how some witty hipster has travelled the world for free.
Yes my friends, they may not have spent much money to get around the world but their credibility is traded the moment they don’t declare the true financial link to what they’re reviewing.
Pandas I have seen previously: 2 (Ying Ying & Le Le)
Pandas I will see next: 6 (Xing Xing, Liang Liang, Kai Kai, Jia Jia, Wang Wang & Funi)
That will take my tally to 8/49 of the Pandas living outside of China – and perhaps 0.4% of all Pandas in existence (based on middle estimates of Panda population).
Giant Panda & Why I like them…
“Pandas, mate why are you so fascinated by Pandas?” I get asked this all the time (well ok I’ve been asked once), and I thought I’d explain.
I was born in 1975, by the time the early 1980’s rolled around I was old enough to watch and understand the documentaries on the fate of Pandas in the wild. At the time Pandas in captivity wasn’t really a “done thing” and in the wild they were “rare”. The WWF (Not the Wrestling mob) had kicked conservation efforts in gear and raised the profile of the Panda and so this young impressionable kid in Sawtell/Toormina thought he’d never see a live Panda, ever.
For me the ability to see a real live Panda (even if in captivity) represents in one tiny way just how life can change, and just how things we thought we’d never do/see can still happen.
The Pandas for me also serve as a reminder to take the opportunity to do things when the opportunity arises, to do while I can, not complain when I can no longer.
So yes that’s the Panda story.
Giant Panda I have seen:
2012 – Ocean Park Hong Kong. I’m fairly sure I trekked the whole park but I only recall seeing two Panda despite there being supposedly 4 in the Park. I will have to check the pictures more carefully to ensure I’m not missing any!
Daytrip: Canberra – Orion Beach
In Canberra taking a daytrip to the “coast” usually means loading up the car and taking a 90-120 minute drive to Batemans Bay. We went a little further afield doubling the distance and duration to sit upon the shores of Jervis Bay on the picturesque Orion Beach.
The TomTom mapping on the built in Satnav was oddly convinced to take the middle of three routes, while we were going to follow the highlighted (and more familiar) route following the well trodden Kings Highway to Batemans Bay and then turning left and following the Princes Highway for the remaining distance.
As you’d expect the journey along the coast passes through many towns as it winds from hinterland to the shoreline on a slow progression north. We took a quick comfort stop in Ulladulla, where the highway virtually touches the sea. While the photo shows a magnificent hue it can’t portray the howling blasts of wind coming off the water.
Ulladulla also marks the beginning of the end of the journey with only about 30 minutes of travel left to the clusters of towns around Jervis Bay.
Looking at the pictures above you’d be right in thinking “it looks suspiciously late in the day” and you’d be right as Orion Beach wasn’t our only reason to trek all the way to Jervis Bay – but it was the ultimate goal of the trip to plant our feet in the ocean after many months of land-locked living in Canberra.
The beach itself is a narrow strip of sand and rock features along the shores of Jervis Bay. With and incoming tide and a strong wind the waters were murky, washing away the traces of the days activities.
So how did the GT220 go?
I’ve written other posts here about the long-legged touring ability of the Renault Megane GT220 and once again it failed to disappoint with a good compromise between stability over many varied road surfaces and comfort. The F4RT provides a seriously “adequate” overtaking power while offering reasonably good economy. Given the rather steep terrain and high average speeds over it running around the 8L/100km is not bad.
On the return journey the magically bright Bi-Xenon headlights turned the night into daylight letting us pick-out the roadside dangers of wildlife before they crossed our paths. The brakes pulling us up with metres of space when the inevitable rabbit hopped across the road in our path.
In one way this daytrip is the warmup and practice for a longer roadtrip planned for later this year where we’re looking at travelling around 3500km as we complete the South Eastern triangle between Canberra, Adelaide and Melbourne.
Reproduced (and tidied) from my TripAdvisor Post. In this post I take a quick look at how to snare bargain to let you travel within a budget.
Budget vs Bargain
I budget my travel, that is, I define how much things are expected to cost, then compare that to what the actual costs are. No different to household budgeting or basic accounting. It all starts with research.
Research helps you identify “bargains” and in turn knowing what’s a bargain and what’s the normal prices will help you build a “Budget”!
Say I get promo e-mails from 2-3 flight cost trackers/aggregators and they repeated (week on week etc) tell me that tickets to Asia are available from $500. I know it costs me around $250 more to get to one of the airports these tickets would depart from. So the total of $750 becomes my initial “budget” for flights.
I may do some research on Trivago or HotelsCombined to find what accommodation prices are like in my destination country. Generally I would say that I nominate a budget for this based on guesses and experience. So for Malaysia I know (with appropriate advance booking) I can stay in a comfortable room with ensuite for $50-$100/night right in the heart of KL. If I’m challenging myself I’ll set the budget low, it makes me work harder to find the deal.
Finally I get a quote on proper travel insurance so I know most of my pre-departure costs.
This goes into a spreadsheet (Google Docs is handy for this) and I’ll enter in the actual costs as I book things. If new costs comes up (like side-trips) I add them in.
|F1 Trip 2015|
|Flights (CBR-KUL) Return||$ 750.00||$626.11|
|Flights (KUL-JHB) Return||$100.00||$56.00|
|Flights (KUL-PNG) Return||$100.00||$44.00|
|Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL||$ 200.00||$123.98|
|Accommodation (**-** Mar) JB||$200.00||$153.73|
|Accommodation (**-** Mar) KL||$200.00||$275.20|
|Accommodation (**-** Apr) PN||$200.00||$72.36|
As you can see it’s primitive. But it lets me add up things along the way. That’s how I know I’ve got my 14 days away covered for AUD1500.
When arriving at the destination there’s other things to pay for too. A transit card (if available), a local SIM card, any destination specific packages. For example I may buy a transit package to/from an event I’m attending. For stuff like the F1 (which I’m attending) there’s usually a deal available locally that is much cheaper than sourcing in advance.
Most of these things can be researched pretty well too. You can find information on Local SIMs through the destination forums on TripAdvisor, or Google.
Don’t expect people on the forums to tell you everything, just ask about providers and experiences with providers. Then check out their website, can you recharge online using an international credit card? What data packs are available? etc etc. Know roughly what to ask for when you arrive at the Kiosk at the airport to buy the thing. Know roughly what it should cost.
So further down my spreadsheet I have a section for these costs.
Then there food and living expenses – I don’t budget these but there’s no reason you can’t. I expect to have around $100/day in costs – some days more some days less, it’s a holiday after all 🙂