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Posts from the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Saving up for travels

Saving Money by 401(K) 2013Let’s be honest. The decision to travel stands and falls with money: how much you’ve got, how long it’ll last, what it can buy you and how long you will be able to get time off work (aka not be able to earn more).

I’ve talked about money last week and discussed the starting point of a travel budget. The idea was to shape your illusive dreams into more tangible destinations and activities. This way your dream turns into something concrete you can start budgeting for.

Now I’d like to discuss one of two further aspects of a travel budgets. The first is “how do I get this budget together”? The second is “how do I manage to travel cheaply so I can make it last as long as possible”?

I’ll focus on the second aspect in a following post and today I share with you some of the ways we’ve tackled accumulating a decent budget so we could take off on our trip. Perhaps I describe our circumstances first so you can get an idea of whether these tips will work for you.

Before our travels we’ve worked in our professional jobs a few years full-time, had no children, lived with a cat in a rental property and owned one car. As part of our travels we’ve purchased a second car and significantly altered it to suit our needs. I count the second car and its alteration costs into the budget as this vehicle shaped the way we travelled later on.

The way we tackled our savings target was to look at our expenses. How much do we spend per month and week? What do we spend it on? We were particularly interested in reoccurring fixed costs like rent, phone bills, internet and insurance. The reason why we started here was these costs didn’t change with our consumption and we wanted to find out whether we could reduce them.

And we did. We cancelled our landline as we felt we could do with our mobiles, we also changed our internet and insurance plans. We even contemplated moving (but we lived in Sydney. EVERYTHING is expensive in Sydney), so we decided to get a flatmate (thank you Steph, you were a terrific flatmate too!).

Next we tackled our varying expenses that fluctuated depending on our consumption like gas, electricity, food – here we couldn’t really change providers and no, we didn’t start eating two-minute noodle soups every day. Whenever possible we purchased goods in bulk, but what I found most useful is to only go shopping when we decided we’d cook. Having a fridge full of cheap food that we’d end up throwing out was a huge waste (not only financially).

The third type of expense we tackled were, what I call, luxury items. Things like going out, entertainment and shopping other than in supermarkets (clothes, shoes, stuff). While we still went out with friends or watched a movie we drastically cut back on buying “things”.

How did you define “things”? We’ve started an assessment of whether something was  essential to buy by asking each other “do you really NEED this?” and “what will this replace?”. For example, if I wanted to buy a new pair of shoes it had to be for a reason other than “Uhw, they’re sooo nice! Wouldn’t they look great?”. However, if my work shoes were falling apart and I needed something to REPLACE them with that would be legitimate. It worked a treat and cutting back expenses was a terrific way of being able to save a sweet stash of money.

About two months before our departure we also started selling stuff to add to our travel budget. Different to many travellers who return to their home we didn’t know when we’d come back to Sydney and didn’t want to store any of our goods and furniture. Piece by piece I sold our household starting with the most valuable items first and working my way through cupboards, wardrobes and drawers.

While selling your coach might not work for you I highly recommend to have a stroll through your place and see what items you’ve stacked away for the unlikely event in the future that you might need it. Chances are most items won’t ever see the light of day again until they’re thrown out….just a thought.

Our last push to add to our budget was a gigantic garage sale. In the scheme of things our previous savings and changes of spending habits had saved us an incredible amount. A garage sale was only the tip of the iceberg, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.

Have I forgotten anything? What savings strategies do you pursue for getting a healthy travel budget together?

What do you think of book trailers?

Convergences of technology really fascinate me. What’s that? What I mean is for example, book trailers: it’s not a movie, it’s not a book, it’s a clip about a book that you can read. Visual representations work really well (at least for me), but the idea that you have a book and can watch a clip showing you the story or content of said book is intriguing, isn’t it?

Since I’m new to book promotions I’m trying out everything there is to try to see what works best for me. My travel guide is packed with valuable information and I wanted to use the fact that it’s also pretty. So, I really enjoyed putting together this book trailer (hey, you look at pretty pictures and shuffle them around until you’re happy. How can you NOT enjoy that?).

You be the critical audience – does it work? Have you done a book trailer before? How did you find the process and has it helped promotion your book?

What’s more important than a travel budget?

While money is often a defining factor in planning - sometimes even considering - a journey there's more to travelling than just a bag filled with notes...

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What is off-road driving?

Off-road, on-road, sealed, unsealed gravel, bitumen – many travellers Off-road driving in Mount Lesueur National Parkexploring Australia by car may not have thought about what kind of tracks they will be driving on. In fact, many backpackers and travellers venturing Down Under may not even be aware what the differences are and what impact their choice of route will have on their selection of vehicle they intend to hire or buy.

Unfortunately not every car can travel every stretch of land (safely) and even vehicles claiming to be off-road ready may not be suitable for every terrain. Worst case scenario is: you choose a car for a destination and have a bad breakdown. By “bad” I mean irreparable, nasty, tuttokaputto – and if worst comes to worst this doesn’t only refer to your car.

So what does it all mean and what do you really need to know? Let’s start with the simple on-road tracks. Every sealed, or bitumen road, is called on-road. Most cars (unless it’s a bomb) will drive here. If you look at a map of Australia most parts of the country, including small towns, can be reached on a sealed road. No probs.

Let’s move on to the more curly definitions. Unsealed or Gravel roads consist of, you’re guessing it, gravel or sand surfaces. Very short stretches – as in, going up a driveway to a farm on gravel – are usually fine with any car. In Australia some gravel roads can be very narrow and only allow one vehicle to drive on it and to pass oncoming traffic both cars will have to slow down and make room for each other. Also, as dust gets kicked-up turning on head-lights is a good idea to increase visibility and so is slowing down because of the surface the car requires a longer distance to break.

Longer unsealed roads are an absolute no-go with usual passenger vehicles. Some paths even have warning signage explaining you can not, under any circumstances, drive this track without a proper four-wheel drive. This could be because of steep increases or descends, deep sand, rocks, river crossings carrying water – the possibilities of nasty obstacles are endless.

The difference between a “true” four-wheel drive as opposed to an all-wheel drive vehicle is simple. In a four-wheel drive you can manually lock the differential. This means all four wheels receive the same amount of torque from the engine (if you need the full technical rundown check out Wikipedia). An all-wheel drive does not allow you to lock the differential.

What does that mean? Let’s say you’re in a tricky situation; one of your tires has lost contact with the ground. In an all-wheel vehicle the tire hanging in the air will spin madly, the other three will do nada, niente, nothing – you’re stuck. In the same situation only sitting in a four-wheel drive you can lock the differential and, voila, all of your wheels (contact or no contact) will spin at the same time and (most importantly) move you out of your tricky situation.

The problem with off-road travels is you won’t know exactly what to expect without a little bit of planning and reasearch. If you’re driving by the seat of your pants and want to check out what’ll come your way one thing is for sure: if you try driving a four-wheel drive only track despite the warning with a regular passenger or all wheel drive vehicle  chances are high that you will have to turn around and go back at the first sight of a problem (which would be fine), you get stuck (and hopefully you have the gear to free yourself and turn around) or you damage your vehicle (and hope someone will come along and help).

If you’d like to make sure you know the ins and outs about planning for your road trip travel adventure have a read of my travel guide. It may help heaps.

5 worst road trip follies or why planning makes sense

Unprepared road trips can evoke dreams of ice cubes.

Unprepared road trips can evoke dreams of ice cubes.

Yes, I know what it’s like. You finally have a countdown to your journey which involves days rather than months and you just can’t wait to get away. The lead-up to any trip is stressful and packed with urgent errands and last-minute purchases. The one thing a traveller (including me) dreams about is to “just hit the road” and forget about all of the lists of things to do.

While some types of travels may be completely compatible with worry-free roaming or lounging around a pool or beach a road trip does, unfortunately, requires a little bit of planning.

I’m not talking about setting-up a day-to-day itinerary. Roughly knowing whether to travel north, south, east or west and in what type of vehicle makes for a whole lot less stress.

I’ll share with you my five worst follies of starting a road trip without a clue:

1. Forgotten items

Happens to the best travellers, but if you’re seeking secluded camping areas and you realise the darn can opener is missing just because you didn’t want to start just another list of things to do/pack/think about, well, it makes for an interesting dinner.

2. Packed away somewhere

Then, a few weeks later when you’ve finally replaced the can opener you dig deep in your van to look for something and – lo and behold – you find the first can opener you thought you hadn’t packed, but in fact, packed it so well you couldn’t remember and didn’t find it in the first place.

3. Too hot and too cold

As you may know from previous posts, overseas travellers perceive Australia’s weather much more positive than it actually is. There’s a right time and place to be comfortable all year around – it just takes a little prep time to work out where and when that is. Alternatively, a whole stack of blankets or ice cubes and an electric fan might help.

4. Not the right gear

Chances are the extra blankets or a fan isn’t part of the standard equipment. Much worse is camping and travelling gear that doesn’t do what you want it to – like a torch you can’t use because you need to hold it the whole time (not good for when you need tow hands to tie your shoe-laces) or the tent that is perfectly insulated and would be great for the cold only its 32 degrees at night.

5. Not enough time

Scheduling a trip that allows sufficient time is incredibly difficult, but oh so important. Even after many many trips around Australia this is still a curly one to get right. A bit of research about what might interest you, how long it takes to get there (and back) may actually go a long way in making your trip unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Keen to get it right the first time? Have a read of my travel guide and make sure you know the essentials. You’ve done a road trip and want to add a crucial folly? Go for it!

Why I wrote an ebook

Most readers will agree the variety of books we can buy, borrow or lend is phenomenal. So is the choice of media – whether it is  hard-copies, second hands, paperbacks or electronic books – I can read on my laptop, phone or reader.

Swapping perspectives this variety also applies to writers. We can choose traditional publishers (or hope they choose us) or do it on our own. Choosing to write an ebook only (as opposed to print+ebook) was a well thought through decision for me. Let me share with you what I struggled with.

To me, print books provide a tactile experience. Particularly travel guides (at least those I like) feature amazing photos that really make you want to pack your bags and hit the road. No doubt, having a decent sized print book would be incredibly gorgeous and flashy to have on my coffee table.

Visuals are extremely important to me. In my forthcoming travel guide Road trip Kathrin Nollek, an incredibly talented photographer and good friend of mine, has contributed a substantial amount of her work that makes the book sparkle – regardless on what type of device it’ll be read.

My main motivation for choosing e-only was a simple realisation: my book is not a coffee table kind of work, but a travel guide and there’s a huge difference between the two. While I love a pretty photo book, hand on my heart, I’m not a big fan of hardcopy travel guides and I tell you why. From experience, most of my books end up looking absolutely shocking with bent backs, frizzled pages, stains and god knows what sticking to the paper. After all, a travel guide is meant to be handled, looked at, reread and studied a million times – it’s isn’t per se supposed to be easy on the eye, but packed with valuable information.

On our road trip I have been using many different guides as functional tools. Even with novels I’ve become an absolute fan of e-readers. Handling a smaller weight without loosing any quality and accessibility of information is the main plus for me.

So, when I first had the idea of writing my own travel guide it felt like the right decision to only go with an electronic version. Luckily I found a publisher who shared my view and also loved my travel guide idea, hurray!

What do you think, do you like hardcopy travel guides or can you do without? What’s more practical? What’s more inspirational?

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