Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Planning a Family Trip - Part 1


Initial Planning

The first thing is to decide on WHERE you are going, then its the WHEN.  Which is often the hardest decision as there are so many places to go.

The WHERE and WHEN is closely linked to the  ..... COST part.  Unfortunately when you have kids WHEN can be dictated by school holidays, exams etc.  Guess what, those school holiday flights are....not the best deal around.

Going off season or shoulder can give significant savings, its quieter but you may be exposed to things like undesirable weather conditions. 
So the first step is to roughly decide on where you want to go, when an how much.  That’s the hard bit.  Once you are committed, its easy to pull it together. 


Decide on when you want to go and have a back up plan.  Peak times, like school holidays, Christmas/New Year and Easter are best avoided, as these are the most expensive.  Also how long you want to go for.  The spring break and summer holidays can be peak times in the Northern Hemisphere.


Set a budget so you know how much money you have to plan your trip with.  That way you can track how much it is going to cost and make any changes. 
I'll put up some more info on budget spread sheets soon.
Start gathering information,  sign up for travel special emails, like facebook pages and start picking up travel brochures.

It is usually more cost effective to book it yourself than use a travel agent.  Search the airline websites as well as ones like


www.skyscanner.com It’s a really good on for finding the cheapest flight.

If you only want to go to Canada then have a look at Air Canada, they are the only airline that does a direct flight from Australia to Canada.  It is Sydney to Vancouver, one of the longest flights but it is a good one.  Service is pretty good and it isn’t a low cost carrier so not too cramped.  That was you avoid having to transit through the USA.  It will save time and frustration.

Once you book stop looking at the specials! 

Plan to have 1-2 days at the when you arrive to recover from the flight before you start any planned activities.


These are a great way to see the place and very cost effective.  It includes your transportation (so no one has to drive and you don’t have to stress about driving on the other side of the road or hire cars!), accommodation, some meals, a tour guide and some activities.  A good guide is anything under $200 per person per day is a fantastic deal. 

Most companies offer pretty similar packages but there can be a great variety in the prices.  Ones like scenic tours and APT are the most expensive.  Evergreen is midrange and Cosmos is the best value, I have found.  The standard of accommodation is 4*.  It is a lot better than Australian standards.  Rooms are bigger and flasher!  One thing to note thou is that coffee makers are usually provided not kettles, so if you are a tea drinker, you can either bring a travel kettle or ask if they have one.  The other option is to pick up a cheap one and leave it at the last place you stay.  They usually provide creamer, its nothing like milk and I think tastes like crap! 

Visas & Passports

Check if you need a visa for the location you are going to.  The best place to do this is www.smarttraveller.gov.au If you are going to the USA (including a cruise to Alsaka) you will need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization)  They cost $14 and are applied for online.  There is only one official website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov .  There are a lot of websites offering the service but really its just charging you more. 

Some countries require you to have a passport that is valid for six months after you come back or a certain number of pages. 

Make a photocopy of your passport and keep it with your other documentation.  Never ever let a hotel, tour company etc hold your passport. 

If you loose your passport you will need to contact the nearest Australian embassy. 


International roaming costs are huge.  You can get prepaid travel sim cards.


You might like to think about getting some business cards printed up with your name and address details to hand out to people you meet.  A cheap website is www.vistaprint.com.au they often have deals where you can get them free.


Take this out as soon as you make your first booking, that way you are covered if you have to cancel it. 

Take a photo of your luggage and what is packed in it, that way if you need to make a claim you have some evidence.  Keep a copy of this on your phone so if your bag goes missing, you can show a photo of it. 


Check if you need vaccinations or have proof of vaccinations like yellow fever (tends to be Africa or Asia).  Some need time to give you coverage and some are more than one shot and have to be spaced apart.

Get a copy of your prescriptions and a letter from you doctor about any medication you may be taking.  Make sure you leave it in the original pack.

Australia has recripcal health care agreements with Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  This is for emergency care.  It is still best to make sure you are fully covered under your travel insurance.

Also carry a copy of your glasses prescription as well as a spare pair.  Nothing worse than not being able to see after breaking your glasses and then having to find an optical store to get them fixed!


Register your travel plans on the smart traveller website ( http://www.smarttraveller.gov.au/ ).  That way if something happens the government know you are there and can render assistance in the event of a disaster.

Print a copy of all your documents and reservations.  Put this inside one of your bags and also email a copy to someone at home you can contact in case something goes wrong and also email it to yourself to a gmail or Hotmail email address, that way you can access it anywhere

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Helping Out

Please help Pindi Pindi SS get a staffroom, currently its a corner in the office. Just register via this link and cast your apples, takes a minute each day. Last year we came top 20, this year we can win it with your help


New Zealand - Greymouth

Everytime we visit Greymouth, it lives up to its name and reputation for being bleak and gray.  However after being here a few times, I have begun to see the beauty in this landscape.
Greymouth, a bit wild and windy but very spectacular.  Look at those waves roll in!

The amazing rock formations that jut out of the sea.

The way the road hugs the coastline and winds its way south.
(Nice driving btw JB)

Single lane- shared bridges, best make sure no one is coming!

I have no idea how long this would have taken to carve this replica of the Americas Cup out of greenstone.  It is worth a fortune


Sunday, 18 August 2013

New Zealand - Trans Alpine

Trans Alpine
One of those bucket list things for us was to do some of the great train journeys.  It will be a little while before we can do the big (read expensive) ones like the Trans Siberian or the Blue Train but a jaunt on the Trans Alpine, thank you very much think we will.   

I love the trip out from Christchurch, it really is stunning and the first glimpses of the Alps is always so exciting.  The Canterbury Plains are so lush and green, its a different kind of green to home.  The Trans Alpine goes from Christchurch on the eastern side to Greymouth on the Westcoast.  The great thing, or one of the great things, about trains is, someone else is driving and we can both look at the scenery zipping past. 

The rivers always amaze me, the way the braid their way across the landscape, the volume of water as the snow melts must be huge.  The fine rock particles in the water give the distinct icy blue colour.  Which I cant seem to get a good photo of!

There was an open observation car, which was really popular but a tad chilly!  Everyone had their cameras out.

It was drizzling by the time we got to Arthurs Pass so it was a quick jump off, grab a few pics and jump back on. 


Its a 4 and a half hour trip which didn't seem to take that long.  I would love to do this again and a few of the other New Zealand train journeys with Rhys, he would love them!


Next stop.....Greymouth.

New Zealand - Milford Sound

It was an amazing drive from Te Anau through the Homer Tunnel, with an unbelievable 1 in 10 gradient, no that's steep!
The boat we were to go on.

A misty kind of day which is actually a good day weather wise here, they have something like 6m of rain a year.  Look a waterfall!!!

Look more waterfalls, they were everywhere and all were just so pretty.  Bit of a photo overload day!

The mouth of the Sound. 

Don't know who this pair are but it did make a good photo.  I wondered if they were going to do a titanic scene!!!!!!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Road to Walvis Bay and Flamingos

Quite often on a weekend -usually a Sunday afternoon we would jump in the car and go for a drive to see the flamingos.  They are such a strange bird and pink! 

It was a beautiful drive along the coast, where we passed the quad bikes and sand boarding areas

Oil rigs in for work... and more sand

and finally get to see the magnificent pink birds.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Planning a Family Trip - Travel Insurance

This is really important, hopefully you never ever need to use it.  Not only are you covering yourself and your family for things like lost luggage but also medical treatment, emergencies, travel delays etc.

There are heaps of providers and it is important to read the policy to ensure you are covered for what you need.  Compare apples and apples. 

Some are:

The activities you will be doing can also carry a surcharge, things like snow sports, you are going to pay extra as they carry greater risks!

Some things are not covered eg acts of terrorism, some countries.  Look into things like natural disasters, a few years ago when the volcano in Iceland (with the name that drove news presenters crazy, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull) decided to spew ash for weeks over Europe. 


There are even websites that will do comparisons for you but it is up to you to read the details and remember they may not have access to all the market.


Pre existing conditions, if you have one search around.  Some companies will not cover you, others will charge extra, some might ask for a medical.  As someone with a medical condition I always am upfront and provide as much detail as I can including last specialist appointment, current treatment, status of the disease, any ongoing treatment and any monitoring or regular checks.  It helps to define the risk. 

But most importantly don't lie or omit to tell them about a problem. 

Finally take out your insurance as soon as you make your first booking, that way you will be covered for cancelling your trip.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Dinosaur Footprints

Okay I may be one of the only people who get excited about this (and some of my geo friends).  We were on the way back from Waterburg NP and decided to find the dino tracks.  It was pretty easy to find - well we had a map, a rough idea and there are not a lot or roads!  I think there was a small entrance fee.

We are sitting above the smaller prints
made by a two foot chicken lizard. 
Someone was not impressed.
Looks like Big Birds footprints!
Reminds me I still have these boots, just need to glue the sole back on.
Yep getting a bit keen to go back. 



Tuesday, 2 July 2013


  Be still my heart, I feel like I am living in Nat Geo World!
The gates to a whole new world....
I will never forget as we drove through Anderson Gate and had signed in, John turned to me and said "Right where are the animals", and as I turned I could see a kudu buck standing off to my side, springbok and then just ahead was a lone giraffe.  It was so fast and amazing neither of us grabbed the camera, to show our age, it was just before the digital camera phase.
The first camp isn't far from the gate and called Okaukuejo.  This was some of the accommodation, it was basic but more than adequate.  It was self catering with a brai area outside that we made use of.  All the camps have had major overhauls and look even better.
Since we were here to see wildlife.....here it is
Yep this girl has a belly full of paws.

Out on the pan.

How cool to see so many different animals.  The guide book was so well written you could not miss them.

How lucky were we to see a heard of elephants on their way to the waterhole.
If you look closely you might see a tiny bubba tucked under its mumma. 
About to settle in for sundowners and game viewing at Halali Camp.
After a few nights we moved to Halali, the camp in the middle.  It was smaller and had less facilities, however the game viewing overlooking the waterhole was said to be special.  As you arrived at the camp, a huge elephant skull sans tusks greeted you.

There is that sunset.
Here is some current info on the park http://www.etoshanationalpark.org/

Monday, 1 July 2013

Keeping Track

While we hate the fact Big Bean has to go away there is some consolation in the form of airline and hotel points.  We had never been big collectors of hotel points until about two years ago.  Points for air travel, well that was always a given even after loosing several hundred thousand points when Ansett collapsed. 

I have been using a program called Awardwallet to manage the points.  It allows you to add different users (good for us) and see the points values for each person and program on the one screen.  It also lets you see the expiry details of the points. 

This is the website www.awardwallet.com

So the upside is that we have enough to do a couple of trips for all of us.  Now to do some serious planning!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Some day we will go back......

One of those things on the bucket list, is to go back to Namibia and show the kids where we spent a year of our life.  It has been over 13 years and I wonder how much has changed in a country so young.  It was only a decade since independence when we arrived and massive changes were occurring.  Having said that it was a safe and peaceful nation, except for the Capri vi which we didn't get a chance to explore.  In the next 2-3 years we hope to go over.  The kids are old enough now to go and I think they would really love the experience.

The first thing we saw after arriving in Walvis Bay (which use to be part of South Africa) was this....

Yep, even we could work that out!
Actually they are warning signs as sand can get blown across the road.  During a bad sand storm we saw cars that had their paint blasted off.
Swakopmund was a very pretty town on the coast.  It reflected its German past in the styles of buildings, restaurants, shops and German was still quite widely spoken.  Actually I would often get spoken to in German when I entered a shop, but JB didn't?????  It was all very colonial.  The Swakop River runs out to the Atlantic Ocean although it was mostly dry, we did see it flood the first weekend we were there.  It only took 2 inches of rain to do it.
The Swokopmund Lighthouse over looked the Mole and near the lighthouse was a restaurant by the same name, where we drank many G&Ts, couldn't risk getting malaria!  They also made a great mussel pot, filled with cheesy hots mussels and rice.  Yum.
I wonder how long we should go for.....  This time there are a few extra places we want to visit.  Maybe I should get out the travel planner and see what a budget looks like.