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Monday, April 30, 2012


Yesterday I went out to Lane Cove National Park with the Conservation Volunteers. They have several projects in Australia's national parks - planting trees, maintaining trails or cleaning up protected areas. I spent my day with CVA pulling out invasive species (read: weeds) at the car park (read: parking lot) at Lane Cove.

The weather was perfect - not too hot, not too cold & a little overcast so we didn't burn up while we were working. Our supervisor kept a keen eye out for any yummy caterpillars or crunchy beetles we might unearth.

Since we were volunteering, the trip out to the park was free. There were some interesting people in our group, & we spent the afternoon trading travel stories as we yanked out the weeds.

Conservation Volunteers does longer trips as well - overnight or several days in a park. You have to pay a minimal charge for accommodation and food on the overnight trips, but it's what you would pay if you went to the same spot on your own anyway.

It felt good to get out & do something physical, & at the same time do something good for the national parks. Even though I'm just a visitor here, I was happy to contribute to the preservation of Australia's natural spaces.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Toy libraries

Libraries are such a good idea. They make knowledge available to everyone - for free. Kudos to Ben Franklin for setting up the first library in the US. But why stop at books? Why not expand the idea of lending to other things as well - like toys?

While I've been in New Zealand & Australia these past several months, I've noticed a fair amount of toy libraries around. What a great idea - lending toys.

I was curious so I dug into it a bit further & found that - at least in Australia & New Zealand - toy libraries seem to charge a small membership fee, & toys are borrowed at a daily or weekly rate. But even with the fees, the libraries seem to be a good way for parents to provide low-cost entertainment for their children. Plus they are often the hub of family social networking, giving parents community support to boot.

There are several toy libraries in the US as well. These seem to be closer to my idea of a library, offering free borrowing of toys. Most of them seem to be established for the benefit of families that can't afford to buy their own toys. But I don't see why everyone can't use the libraries. Who needs a house full of toys their kids are tired of when you can get new toys every week at the toy library? It's good for the environment - less waste. It's good for the community - sharing is caring. & it's good for the budget. What more could you want?

Do you have a mound of unwanted toys? Why not find your nearest toy library & donate them?

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to travel on almost nothing: Tours

I've been talking about how to get the most out of your travel dollar so that you can travel for a longer period of time. That's especially valuable for a long-term traveler like me. But even if you're just looking to make the most out of your annual vacation, saving money where you can allows you to spend it where it counts.

I've already discussed ways to save on accommodation & transportation. Today let's talk about cutting the cost of tours.

Tours are one of the ideas I struggle with while traveling. On the one hand, I'm traveling so I can see amazing things, & tours help me do that in a pre-planned, concise, organized manner. On the other hand, tours are freakin' expensive. Thankfully, there are ways around that.

Of course, doing your research is essential when traveling, but that's especially true when it comes to tours. Trip Advisor is a great place to start looking at the options. It lists the top-rated attractions at your destination with first-hand information on local tour companies.

If you find a tour that sounds good, look closer at what it offers you. A lot of times, a tour is just a bus ride to a point of interest, possibly with lunch included. Once you have the tour's itinerary, check the local transportation system. There could be a public bus going to the same destination for a fraction of the cost. The difference in price could pay for a night or two in a hostel.

Admittedly, this only works if you speak the local language, since local bus systems don't expect to have to cater to tourists. They expect the tourists to take the tourist busses.

Speaking of, be wary of hop-on-hop-off busses. They go to all your points of interest of course, but charge you out the nose to get there. Again, check the local transportation system. You could save a bundle just by being able to read a subway map.

For example, in Rotorua, New Zealand, the hop-on-hop-off bus costs $35, with the attractions grouped around three major stops. The local bus will take you to those same three stops for $2.50 each way.

In Sydney, you can take a harbor cruise tourist style for $100, or you can take the commuter ferry for $15 return, with the added benefit of getting a glipse of what life in Sydney is really like. You may even start a conversation with a local & get some insider information on the city.

If you really do want to go on a tour, do an internet search for sites offering last-minute discounts. New Zealand has a site called Book Me, where I got a $120 river rafting trip for $60. In Australia, check out Last Minute or Ouffer for similar deals.

The key to making your travel dollar last longer is creativity. I like to make a game of it - see how long I can go on the least amount of dough.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to travel on almost nothing: Transportation

I love traveling, & since I'm not a millionaire, I try to focus on getting the cheapest bang for my buck while I'm on the road. My three biggest expenses are accommodation, transportation & tours. I already talked about getting cheap accommodation. Now let's talk about transportation

For flights, I haven't found any website better than I can search a dozen travel sites, but Kayak always comes up with the cheapest price. Always.

Many people believe that, within a country, domestic train or bus travel is cheaper than flying, & sometimes it is. But often a flight will cost the same as - or even less than - those slow modes of transportation. Case in point: I just checked online for travel between Sydney & Melbourne. Bus: $172, 10 hours. Plane: $52, an hour & a half.

It used to be that driving was one of the cheapest ways to go. No more. If you think the price of gas is high in the US, you should see the prices abroad. Here in Sydney, gas is $1.55 AUD per liter. That's $6.44 USD a gallon! If I wanted to drive from Sydney to Perth, it would cost about $650 USD in gas alone - one way - not to mention the daily cost of a rental car. To fly? $179.

It probably goes without saying that you should fly economy class wherever you go. Splurging on business class is nice if it's your annual two-week vacation, but if you're traveling for an extended period of time, the money you save by flying in the back of the bus could buy you a tour of some ancient ruins or a river rafting trip.

As with anything, weigh your options. Would you rather be pampered on a plane, or spend that money to do something amazing? The most important thing to remember when trying to stretch your dollar is to lower your standards. Don't be fussy about the frills & you'll be able to travel for a lot longer on the same amount of money.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to travel on almost nothing: Accommodation

So, I've inspired you to take off to the wild blue yonder, eh? But you don't want to spend a lot of cash on the adventure. No problem. All you need to do is fly under the radar.

My highest expenses fall into three categories: accommodation, transportation & tours - & I'm constantly looking for ways to keep those costs down.

To save on accommodation, the best thing to do is get in touch with other travelers in the area that you want to visit. Couchsurfing & Hospitality Club are great places to start looking. TravBuddy is a similar sight, but it's better for finding activity partners than for finding a place to stay. In China, there's an online community called Tour Boarding that matches hosts to guests willing to teach English to their children in exchange for a few weeks' stay. Talk about your authentic experience!

Once you start digging around in these types of online communities, you may never pay for accommodation again.

If you must pay to stay, get a bed in a hostel instead of paying for a hotel room. Hostels are clean & safe, & they're used to travelers with questions about the local sights. Plus you will meet lots of interesting people. I always get a dorm bed. It can often be $20 less than a private room, & that $20 can be put to much better use.

You can search for hostels in the area on sites like, but never book through these online brokers. Find the actual website of the hostel & book with them directly. You'll save a couple of bucks & the hostel won't have to pay commission.

I recommend getting a YHA or HI membership. Though they are rarely the cheapest places to stay, your membership might get you discounts on tours or transportation, the other two big-ticket items I mentioned earlier.

If you're looking to stay in one place for longer than a couple of days, try housesitting. Mind My House is a good place to start, but there are several sites dedicated to local markets as well. If you don't mind digging in the dirt, try WWOOFing. Also, ask around. You may know someone who knows someone in the place you want to visit, & it's amazing how welcoming people can be.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Top 5 Regrets

In the Guardian, this article talks about a new book written by a hospice care nurse in which she talks about the most common regrets that people have at the end of their lives.

I've read articles like this before. In fact, articles, books & documentaries on this theme are much of the inspiration for my vagabond lifestyle. I'm trying to take full advantage of my opportunities before they pass me by.

Of course I won't be able to experience everything that life has to offer, & I will always have some regrets - I think it's impossible to have a perfect life. But I can at least try to learn from those who have gone before me.

The top five regrets of the dying:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Read the original article here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reading the local news

I love reading the local paper in the places I visit. They give a lot of insight into what's important to the community, & since I'm not personally invested in the outcome of the stories, it's a little bit like eavesdropping on the lives of the local residents.

I'm currently in Sydeny, Australia, where surfing & beach lounging are a big part of summer life (Australia is just going into autumn now), which is reflected on almost every page of the local Manly Daily. Not only that, but the slant of the articles shows just how strong Australians can be when faced with a challenge.
Take, for example, this article, in which a surfer rescued herself when no trained lifesaver (American English: lifeguard) came to her aid.


Or this one, which describes a routine training session on disentangling a whale from a fishing net.

But I think this one is the most telling of all: "A number of surfers remained in the water" after being warned that a shark had been sighted there.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Last view / First view

Last view of New Zealand

First view of Australia

Sunday, April 1, 2012

New Zealand to Australia

My three months in New Zealand have come to an end. Incredibly, I only found time to see the North Island. Since I'm working while I'm traveling, there just wasn't enough time to also see the South Island, which is supposed to be even more beautiful.

Today I'm on my way to Sydney. I'll only spend about six weeks in Australia - much less time in a much bigger country. I'll only be able to scratch the surface before it's time to leave. I guess I'll just have to make another trip down under one day.