1. Set a Budget
Our trips to Europe in the last couple of years each cost less than $10,000.00 and so we decided to use this figure as the ceiling for this year’s trip, too. We were not going to Europe this year, though, and we knew it would be a tight squeeze. We have acquired some good travel habits and were confident that we could do it! We made good use of the trains in Italy and all of our hotels included full breakfasts and were either within walking distance of the places we wanted to see or at least close to a Metro stop. We knew we would have to be careful and frugal in choosing our hotels and activities this year, too.
2. Set a Time
Our favorite time to travel is the Spring when travel costs and the weather are most favorable. This is always a challenge for us, though, because we don’t want to miss any of our three grandaughters birthday parties and they were all born in April or May. This year we decided to leave the day after one party (April 16th) and arrive back home a day before another party (May 7th). That would allow us 17 days of lodging plus two more days of air flight with all meals for those two days included in the air fare.
3. Decide Where to Go
We went to North Carolina in the Spring of 2007 and took a cruise to New England and Canada in the Fall. In 2008 we hosted some cousins from Ireland and drove them all over California and Nevada. The next year we spent a week in Ireland followed by three weeks in Italy. Last year we went to Spain and Portugal. So we thought it would be time to venture into the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in our lives. And New Zealand and Australia beckoned to us! In the early days of our planning we also were thinking of going to Guam but after a brief look into the cost of the airfare we abandoned this notion. We could find no direct flights to Guam from either New Zealand or Sydney and we had no desire to visit Korea, Japan, Malasia or the Philippines this year!
4. Acquire Tour Guides
I went on Amazon one day to see what tour guides people were buying and recommending and decided on these three:
- Let’s Go Australia
- DK Eyewitness Travel Sydney
- The Rough Guide to New Zealand
One of our daughters gave me In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson for Christmas and I found it hilarious except for the portions in which he writes about the Aborigines which I found very sad. The Let’s Go and Rough Guide books are really meant for younger, more adventurous travelers with tighter budgets. It was soon apparent to us that the Eyewitness book on Sydney would suffice for the six days we would be in Australia but we needed some additional material for New Zealand. So I bought Fodor’s New Zealand, too. The two tour guides I took with me on our trip were the Eyewitness book on Sydney and Fodor’s New Zealand.
5. Use the Internet to book air fares, lodging and special tours
We discovered right away that Air New Zealand offerred a non-stop flight from San Francisco to Auckland on the day after our granddaughter’s April birthday party. And we soon reaized that we didn’t need to look at any other airlines after examining Air New Zealand’s rather neat package that offerred discounts for all flights between your initial flight and your furthest destination, which in our case was Sydney. We also used the Air New Zealand website for choosing our seats and for printing out all of our boarding passes.
We got some good ideas about interesting activities and places to see from browsing both the New Zealand ( http://www.newzealand.com/travel/USA/ ) and Australia http://www.australia.com/index.aspx ) official tourism websites. We also decided to continue using the recommendations we found in Trip Advisor for lodging and tours since we had a very good experience using them for our travels in Italy and Spain. It is very convenient to book your rooms with Trip Advisor and we used both Orbitz and Booking.com for our New Zealand accomodations. Radisson’s own website offered the best deal in Sydney, however, and so we booked directly with them. We chose the Radisson, by the way, because they were the only 4-star hotel we could find that was both reasonable and offerred free Internet access! We also used Trip Advisor to book two tours: the Wellington Rovers Lord of the Rings half-day tour and the all-day Blue Diamond Blue Mountains tour.
6. Spend some time in Cultural Research
I have to admit that I really enjoy researching before I go anywhere. In fact, I spent six months researching Italy beginning with borowing the books my sister acquired for getting acquainted with the Italians and their history and their art and architecture when she traveled there a few years before me. I added a couple of more books on Leonardo and Michelangelo and even found the time to re-read Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms as a prelude to visiting Milan and Stresa. Last year I had a similar experience preparing for Spain, reading a few more Hemingway works plus Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra.
But what was I to do with these two countries that don’t have much history? They even speak the same language; so there is no need to learn the New Zealand word for Thank you. It’s “Thank you!” Well, there is one thing that got me interested in going to New Zealand in the first place: The Lord of the Rings. So I decided to spend about 50 hours going through the twelve DVDs that make up the extended version set of the LOTR trilogy. There was a major disappointment when I got to disc #12: someone made a mistake and # 12 was really a duplicate of # 11 and so I never got to see the final commentaries on The Return of the King. But I watched everything else and also discovered that someone on Youtube uploaded the entire LOTR soundtrack and I spent many hours listening to this music.
I also listened to other people’s suggestions and incorporated them into my cultural research. A distant cousin, for example, who lives in Australia recommended that we go on a Blue Mountains tour. So we did.
7. Allow for a Plan B because something for sure will go wrong with your Plan A
And something really did! We started our planning in December 2010 and by the first week of February 2011 all of the plans were pretty much in place. We were to spend the first three days of our trip in Auckland and the last six days in Sydney. And this didn’t change. However, we were also planning to spend the middle eight days in the vicinity of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island. Then February 22nd came along and the central part of Christchurch was pretty much levelled by a major earthquake. There goes half our trip!
We had planned to take the train to Arthur’s Pass during our time in Christchurch. And we also thought we would see some of the South Island sites where the LOTR was filmed. We also planned to spend some time with a distant relative whose great grandfather migrated to New Zealand in the 1870s and settled down on a farm near Ashburton about an hour south of Christchurch. Well, we’ll just have to come back to New Zealand someday and visit them!
So we sat down one night in March and devised a Plan B. To our surprise we were able to put together our alternative plan rather easily. We decided to split the eight days allocated to Christchurch and spend four days in Wellington and four more in Queenstown and we used Trip Advisor again to choose and book our hotels and a LOTR tour. And it took just one phone call to Air New Zealand and all of our flight plans were revised and new boarding passes issued. The airlines agent even recommended that we take the ferry to Waiheke Island while visiting Auckland and we did!
Well, we have been home for two weeks now and the jet lag is over (it took me four days but my wife was happily bouncing around the house after only two). And I have downloaded and gone through more than 1800 photos. We also have celebrated the two birthday parties for our May grandkids. It is now time to post a few articles about our adventures and share some of our pictures. So stay tuned but don’t worry — I won’t post all of them!