April 1, 2015

Vagabonding Field Report: Hanoi, Vietnam

In northern Vietnam lies this gem of a city where French food and fashion meet Vietnamese culture and vermicelli. Sometimes overlooked as it’s not as big of a hub as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi offers a taste of authentic street food and genuinely good prices.

IMG_3169

Cost per day:

Hanoi has a huge range of hotels on offer from $4 a night for a shared dorm to much, much more at some of the fancier establishments in the French quarter. We’re at a solid $14 USD a night which has a western bathroom/shower and includes breakfast. With only a few minutes walk to the old quarter, we’re at the heart of the city and don’t need to rent scooters or bicycles. For lunch we eat street food, sitting on tiny child-sized plastic stools along the sidewalk: maybe a bowl of phở or a sweet and savory bun cha, each costing somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 dong. A bowl of fruit salad mixed with coconut cream, tapioca balls, and jelly cubes with crushed ice will only run you about 20,000 dong as a sweet snack to tide you over until dinner. Dinner may set you back you a bit more but can still be done affordably. We often eat phở on the street for 50,000 dong, but there are many restaurants serving western fare as well as Vietnamese and French for a bit more. Household items can be bought from corner shops (we bought electrical tape for 5,000 dong, the equivalent of about $0.25 USD) and shopping for clothing and handicrafts is plentiful but requires a lot of hard bargaining. Beer is the cheapest I’ve ever seen at 20,000 dong or less.

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Category: Asia, General, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 19, 2015

Especially the disasters are worth it

When I’m in the States, sitting on my parents’ couch in the normalcy of the world in which I grew up and my mind begins to wander, it wanders to a moment when my shoes were caked in dust and the Kenyan heat beat on my shoulders. A young Masai boy hung by our side as we leaned against our RAV 4, which sat awkwardly off-kilter in the ditch at the imbalance of a busted tire. The sun worked its way toward the horizon as our only ticking deadline.

On paper, that travel-story was about failure. The Toyota RAV 4, our 4WD vehicle of choice for our self-drive safari in the Masai Mara National Reserve had been a struggle. The pot-holes on the return journey to Nairobi had gotten the best of us not once, but twice, first taking out our tire and then taking out the spare twenty minutes later. We were stranded in the middle of nowhere for 4 hours while half our group hitch-hiked to the nearest town large enough to sell tires.

And when I remember that moment I have to smile to myself. I remember the feeling of half-cynical amusement at the situation we’d found ourselves in and the feeling of adventure in realizing how rugged the Kenyan roads were. All the portions of my attention were awake in that moment, not just for problem-solving, but for soaking in my surroundings. We stood around for hours amusing the curious Masai boy who’d come to see us play with our Go-Pro and pretend to beat-box. The bells of his herd of goats rang softly in the distance.

Kenya flat

Honestly, it’s the disasters that stick in my mind when I’m back in the safe and predictable life of “home”. And those memories don’t bring me exasperation or anxiety or relief. They make me smile. They remind me I’ve had the sorts of adventures that become good stories.

Museums and national monuments and even elephants standing on the roadside don’t quite make me feel that same way.

Why is that?

I’m only sifting through my own travel-stories, but here’s why I think the travel disasters are especially worth it and especially valuable.

1. Stories give us confidence in the value of our journey.

When you can come home and make everyone around the table gasp or snicker or shutter at the things you’ve seen, it validates the fact that you did indeed experience something memorable. “Wow, that is really something.” It doesn’t seem to matter what that “something” is. If you’ve experienced something, you’ve learned that much more about the world and yourself. Which leads me to the next point…

2. Unfamiliar, imperfect situations teach us something about ourselves.

Every time I make it through a new stress or imperfection, I’ve learned a bit more about what my limitations AREN’T. And it can be quite addicting learning how many things DON’T limit you that you thought might.

For example when we visited Easter Island we decided to camp. Wind howled and rain whipped the sides of our tent almost every night. (They were excellent tents so we were never cold nor wet.)  Even though the conditions weren’t ideal for camping, it was wonderful to teach myself that I do not need ideal conditions to sleep in a tent. (Not to mention I learned what a difference a quality tent makes!)

The disasters often teach us what we can endure, and that is an empowering thing to learn.

3. Unfamiliar, imperfect situations teach us about our destination.

It is amazing how insulated travel can be if you aren’t careful. If you book a tour that shows you all the highlights of a place, you may never know what the real heart and life of that place is. Take for example the alternative route to Machu Picchu. The popular train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu is, no doubt, a fabulous way to see some beautiful scenery.

And it is less havoc and headache, no doubt, than taking a series of collectivos for two days until you reach the waste water treatment plant behind Machu Picchu where you either luck out on hitching a train or trek along the train tracks for two hours before reaching Aguas Calientes.

Drew Machu Picchu

Both options will show you some part of Peru. But the messier option will show you, in my opinion, a slightly more authentic spectrum. You’ll see the beautiful views from a spot squished between locals in the back-seat of a 25-year old van that smokes when you stop. You’ll see the bus driver hop off the bus at a little shack deep in the Andes, to bring his mother some clothes before taking off again up the winding mountainside.

 

All of the experiences I’ve referenced in this (rather personal) post were in some way uncomfortable.

And I love it that way. I learned something. I felt something. I saw something.

 

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Category: General, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

March 14, 2015

A day spent wandering a city never gets old

gallavanting through Huntsville, Alabama

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Travel and time are two topics bantered around by those in the world of travel, those who want to travel and those who don’t understand how it can possibly happen. ‘How do you afford to travel?’ ‘How can you take so much time off of work?’ ‘Don’t you just want to settle down and stop moving around so much?’ Whether it is a conversation amongst those choosing to live a travel-focused lifestyle or those wishing to have one, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

Too often when traveling, days are filled with things on a ‘to-do list’. Don’t get me wrong, this list is far more inviting than the one including ‘pay bills, do laundry, clean the bathroom or even go to work’, but positive or otherwise it can lead to exhaustion. Those who retire from a lifetime of work talk about how ‘everyday is a Saturday’ and many tell a story that includes how they’re much busier now than they ever were when working. Whether traveling, being a tourist in your own city or just taking a twenty-four hour period to exist, a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

If it’s your home city, you might just take the opportunity to experience a part you’ve never before explored providing your very own ‘travel day’. Perhaps there’s that special restaurant you’ve always wanted to try but never before took the time to do so. Maybe you’re just looking for a chance to meander by the water, through the park or down the busy streets to truly see the city with open eyes. It’s not often you can take the time to stop and look around or stop at the market you’ve just upon stumbled. Is there a museum you’ve wanted to check out or an event about which you’ve been excited? Take the time to just go. It’s not often you can sit or be or enjoy and taking that time to do so is revitalizing, reinvigorating and reaffirming.

When moving to a new place whether for a few weeks, months or years, I find it incredibly helpful to spend a day wandering. Really able to get to know a city through its pathways, its people, its sights, sounds and smells provides information that no online search ever could. Sure, you can Google map your way to the nearest whatever, but standing on the street utilizing all of your senses is much more authentic. The Internet search of the public transport map can tell you where the trolley goes, but not what it feels like to actually ride on it. The specific app search can give you the ‘best’ or ‘most visited’ hole in the wall café, but how do you really know until you get to taste the delights on your own palette?

A day spent wandering a city never gets old! Regardless of its size or location, a walk through an entire city, or a specific area is an eye-opening experience. You get a chance to see real life happening before your eyes. You get an opportunity to breathe in and experience and let wonder and curiosity lead your journey. This is a rare chance to let your choices carve your path and spend as much or as little time in one spot before moving on to the next adventurous avenue. It’s not often in life (traditional or travel-focused) when you can enjoy a prospect of no plans and a find as you go sort of day. This is a memory-making day.

Time is a gift. Time is talked about regularly in any arena as it feels as if there’s never enough. Travel embraces this view and breaks the mold. Travel forces its followers to take time to do, be, choose, embrace and explore. Travel flings your eyes upward away from the virtual world and plops you smack dam in the center of the real one. If you let it, travel shows the best and worst of people, the true character of cities and authentic everything. If you’re willing to let it-travel can teach, share, welcome, surprise, enrage, encourage, change perceptions and create anew. Who knows what can come from time, but what I do know is that a day spent wandering a city never gets old!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So…get on your way!”

–Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go

For more of Stacey’s musings check out her writings here.

 

 

 

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Category: General

March 13, 2015

Vagabonding Field Report: Exploring the vastness of Rome

Rome with ancient ruins, delicious pastas, and red wine never fails to disappoint. The eternal city, once the center of the world, still captivates and amazes people from all over the globe. From the gorgeous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the cobblestone alleyways in the old city, travelers can not get enough of Rome.

Rome-L

Cost per day

Compared to the overall prices in Europe, Italy is midrange. In big cities like Rome, Florence, and Milian prices are much higher than in the small medieval towns and quiant countryside villages.

Every time I visit Italy, I budget around $2,000 a month or $65 a day. This covers staying in a hostel, eating out a couple times a week, and going out for drinks with friends.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

I have come to terms that there is no shortage of strange events when living in hostels. Recently, I saw a traveler with a backpack that was bulging, almost ripping at the seams. The pack also had an odd square shape to it.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I approached him and asked why his backpack looked so strange.

He smiled as he unzipped it showing me a massive speaker. Seriously, he packed limited clothes and accessories to carry a giant speaker with him around Europe.

Of course, I asked him why. He smiled as he said, “I can’t travel without being able to play loud music.”

[More.. Break]

Describe a typical day

Rome is a city made for walking, and I have a basic routine I follow every day. I wake up late in my hostel dorm, head to a nearby bakery to get some crumbly Italian bread and fresh mozzarella that is so soft it almost melts in your mouth.

I throw it all into my daypack and start walking to whatever site I feel like seeing first. A usual favorite of mine is the Colosseum where I sit on a nearby wall while enjoying the weather and eating breakfast. I spend the rest of the day hopping between shops, cafes, and sites.

Rome is a very personal city for me. It is the first place I traveled solo almost ten years ago, and my experiences in the city have turned me into the traveler I am today. You could say Rome completely changed my life, and I love to reflect on that when I am here.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Trevi-Fountian-Rome2

The locals, history, and culture are things I like very much about Italy. One day I was eating a meal of bread and cheese when a woman and man approached me.

They started asking my opinion on Rome. After chatting awhile, they noticed what I was eating.

“Come on,” they said as they grabbed me and led me to their favorite restaurant. They bought this poor backpacker a meal and gave me a tour around the city for the rest of the day.

Another thing I sincerely love about Rome is the sites. I am a history buff, and so Rome is a mecca to me.

One thing that makes Rome precious is that they built the city around the ruins. Often just walking around a corner, you will stumble upon ancient remains from another age.

One thing I do not appreciate is that Italy does not like my debit cards. Most ATM’s refuse to give me cash which is extremely irritating. While I have credit cards, which work fine, I prefer to have a safety net of cash on me at all times.

If my credit cards ever got stolen, I would be in a world of hurt while in Italy.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Recently, a challenge I have been dealing with is being alone. Rome is a romantic hotspot and everywhere you look, couples are holding hands and softly kissing. It is also the off-season for backpackers, so there are fewer people to meet at hostels.

What new lesson did you learn?

While I believe Italy still has a lot to teach me, this visit was more about reflection.

I thought a lot about this path of long-term travel, and how happy I am with the choice I made. I also thought a lot about where I want to steer my life in the future. Italy is a rock for me and helps me sort my thoughts and make future plans.

Where next?

In a few weeks, I am setting sail on a tall ship that will be journeying down the east coast of America and through the Caribbean. I am thrilled and excited as this new adventure is on the horizon.

Stephen Schreck is a long-term traveler, and lover of all things Italian. You can  read his Italy Travel Tips or follow his travels around the world on A Backpackers Tale.

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Category: General, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 8, 2015

Giving free travel talks—A great way to share the knowledge and ignite others’ travel dreams

As travelers, we often find ourselves talking to friends and strangers alike at parties, at work, wherever, about travel and how to do it right. We evangelize for travel, extolling its opportunities and benefits. We often go on at length about the magic of our favorite places, the addictive high that comes from filling up a passport book, and the thrill of crossing a new border and making new connections. We also find ourselves giving out advice on all matters travel, from where to find the cheapest airline tickets to where to stay and when to go. You know you do this.

But normally it’s one-on-one counseling, spreading the gospel of good travel one conversation at a time. In almost any social situation I would meet many would-be travelers are looking for a better option than shelling out a fortune to join a big-bus corporate tour with an itinerary geared toward hitting the owner’s favorite tourist traps. I was always stuck by people’s desire for useful tips for shaping their own experience and, more importantly, the need for an infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.

After thousands of private conversations, I also realized that the most efficient way to share what I knew with those who were interested was to teach.

Next week at a local Seattle-area library I’ll be giving the first of several ninety-minute “Travel Talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.

This marks the tenth year I’ve been doing them, having originally started in my hometown of Chicago. I tackle the question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that happens to be my specialty), how to plan it, and what to do when you’re there.

I wish more experienced travelers, wherever in the world they happen to hang their rucksack, would occasionally give up a Saturday afternoon to teach these sorts of classes. Not only is there a deep need for the info but there’s plenty of reward in it for the speaker. Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically giving me time and advice for free. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Many of the people who attend these classes have an ideal trip in their minds and have had it for most of their life, but have lacked the skills or confidence to go on their own. And seeing their eyes light up when they realize they can take control of their own travel dreams and plan their own adventure is profoundly rewarding.

Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information of planning a trip on a tight budget, arming curious people with the info and inspiration to broaden their horizons is a good thing for them and for their country. They will likely return from their adventure with not only experiences they will cherish, but a better perspective on their world as well.

So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you adore, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library or school. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket. Let them learn from your trial-and-error. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the amazing places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a wannabe adventurer to take the trip of their dreams and change their life, and that is time well spent. Go forth and spread the gospel.

 

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Category: Adventure Travel, Expat Life, General, Notes from the collective travel mind, Solo Travel, Vagabonding Advice, Youth Travel

March 5, 2015

Rent vs hotel life

Have you ever taken a look at your utility bills and just wondered if you should ditch your lease, pick up some travel expenses and call it a wash?

Well, my husband and I are recording every single expense as we travel, just so that we can do an experiment of that nature.

I’ve picked a pretty average month to demonstrate what our costs have been with travel so that we can compare them to average monthly costs for our old stationary life. But first, here are some of the questions and anticipations we had going into the (now almost 2-year) experiment.

Are hotel points and frequent flier miles enough to buffer the cost of full-time accommodations?

Going into this experiment, we had a pretty advanced knowledge of frequent flier miles, and some familiarity with hotel points. But over the months of nomadic life, we’ve been able to refine our strategies for earning hotel points more and more.

Arguably the easiest way to earn hotel points is simply to sign up for a hotel’s credit card and receive the sign-up bonus. But one unexpected thing we’re learning is that hotel promotions are extremely valuable for nomads. Consider this: an ordinary traveler may or may not have stays coming up during a hotel’s promotion. If they do have a trip that happens to overlap with a hotel’s promotion, then they’ve lucked out and they can earn lots of points with their paid stays. But they’d have to ask themselves if those points outweighed the savings from simply picking a cheaper hotel.

With our nomadic lifestyle however, we ALWAYS are traveling. So we can always assume two things: firstly that we will need a place to stay during that promotion and secondly, that we will have a use for the points we earn later. We need to cover 365 nights and inevitably we’ll have to pay full price for some of those nights. So we might as well pay full price for hotels during promotions.

Can food be affordable without a kitchen around for cooking groceries?

Food is definitely expensive when you can’t lean on grocery-shopping and cooking at home. Even with certain strategies for keeping it as low as possible, like taking advantage of hotels that include meals or free breakfast, it’s very difficult to keep it as low as a stationary person’s food budget.

This puts even more pressure on keeping other expenses low.

 

So let’s see what the numbers were for April 2014 where we traveled in Indonesia, Singapore and mostly India. I will say, these are fairly low-cost destinations and this was one of our lesser expensive months, but it does indeed represent what anyone (with a good credit score) would be capable of replicating.

April Total $1,785
Tourist Attraction Total $32.58
Food & Beverage Total $407.26
Land Transit Total $272.91
Air Transit Total $675.79
Accommodation total $377.92 27,000 Club Carlson points
10,000 Hyatt points
11,000 SPG points
80,000 IHG points
1 Category 5 Marriott cert

Most of these points were acquired through credit-card bonuses.

How does this compare to a month living a stationary life?

Unfortunately when I was living a stationary life, we didn’t keep records of all of our expenses, so we’re going to need to do a little research and estimation for this part.

Tourist attraction total: $0 though perhaps a stationary life would have an “entertainment budget” instead. My husband and I mostly went out to eat with friends as our entertainment, so I’ll leave this calculation at $0.

Food & beverage total: According to information released by the USDA, the average expenses for a couple’s groceries (considering they eat “moderately”) in 2010 was as low as $347.50 and as high as $688.60 depending on how thrifty or unthrifty a couple is, but they set the moderate-leveled average at $550.60. Because we treated food and beverage as our main source of entertainment (instead of paying for movies or sports events,) let’s go with the more expensive amount as that seems closer to our normal tendency during stationary life.

Land transit total: Drew and I were fairly unique in that we have not owned a car throughout our marriage. We did spend maybe around $30 a month on public transit however, so that’s where we’ll set this number.

Air transit total: I guess this doesn’t really apply to the stationary-life budget.

Accommodation total: We shared our rent with a housemate but our portion of the rent alone came out to $900. But once you add all the utilities and internet, we’ll bring that up to $1150.

Total stationary budget (estimate): $1868.60

 

Conclusion

So there you have it. According to my best estimates, we spent $1868.60 on a stationary-life month. (This is considering that we are probably more frugal than the average person in that we didn’t own a car or television.) Then consider that it is possible to spend $1785 on a month spent in Indonesia, Singapore and India. That is $83.60 less.

Of course, not every month is as low as $1785. The truth is, we are still working hard to refine our strategies for nomadic travel using miles and points. Over all, I hope a look at these numbers can show that with some strategy, it really is possible to travel on a stationary budget.

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Category: General, Hostels/Hotels

March 4, 2015

Vagabonding Field Report: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This tightly compacted city holds some of Cambodia’s best food and most tragic history. Without knowing its past of civil war and genocide, you would think Cambodians and Phnom Penhers in particular were just really friendly people. Once you learn their history and realize that everyone you see was affected by the notorious Khmer Rouge in the 1970s in one way or another, then you know they’re more than just friendly; they’re admirable. Visiting Phnom Penh is easy if you’re already in Southeast Asia. Cambodia can be overlooked and a lot of visitors only see Siem Reap in the north to visit the temples of Angkor Wat then move on, but Phnom Penh is the heart of the country and merits a visit all its own.

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Category: Asia, General, Vagabonding Field Reports

February 27, 2015

The challenges and rewards of long-term travel

 

If there is one thing about long-term travel that is underestimated, it is the challenges that come with it. Living indefinitely on the road is not always wonderful. Sometimes it requires choices that are painful and challenging. Do not get me wrong. I love long-term travel, but in all honesty it is not a lifestyle made for everyone.

I have talked to dozens of writers, travelers, and bloggers all over the world.

Many of these people love traveling equally if not more than me, but even so many have told me that long-term travel is not for them, and there is no shame in that fact.

However, for those of us that pursue this lifestyle, the rewards are great.  Let’s delve into some of the challenges and rewards that come from living on the road long-term.

Always starting over

I want to tread carefully here because I don’t want to discredit or insult the hundreds of friendships I have made while traveling. All of the friendships I have made are meaningful and unique. I have met up with some of these friends time and again in different countries. Some of the most meaningful relationships that have impacted my life in irreversible ways have been made while traveling. I cherish these deep friendships and always look forward to when the road brings us back together.

However, most relationships made while traveling are normally the product of random encounters or out of convenience. Unless you are staying in the same place for a long period of time, many of these friendships are brief, yet intense. Basically, bonds of friendship are formed quickly but before you know it, that person is on the other side of the planet and you have to start again.

Another aspect that is encountered while traveling long-term is growing apart from childhood friends. Staying in touch is difficult because of hectic routines and different time zones. Due to the brevity of on the road friendships and growing apart from your lifelong friends sometimes makes you feel completely alone. It can almost be overwhelming as if not a soul in the world truly knows or understands you.

Lack of privacy

Long-term travelers watch every penny they spend. This means that they are likely to be living in hostel dorm rooms and taking overnight buses.

Therefore, privacy is something that is rare and many times in order to be polite, you have to talk to people when you would just rather read a book, write in your journal, or close your eyes and take a nap.

It can be very frustrating when people turn on the lights at 3 A.M. or use your shoulder as a comfortable pillow on an overnight bus ride.

The reward of no privacy is that you meet interesting people from all over the world. You learn about different cultures and customs first hand and with vivid details. You are also forced to break out of your shell and talk to anyone about almost anything for hours.

Plus, waking up in a new place is an exhilarating feeling. One of my favorite travel quotes states “To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark

Dating is practically impossible

There are many long-term travel couples out there; I am just not one of them. For me dating is something from the past. When you are constantly on the move, having a relationship is not just tough, it is practically impossible.

Honestly, I have ended great relationships with girls I really care about, and vice versa, because our lives were headed in different directions. I did not expect them to change their lives for me and I knew I could not change my life for them.

I’m not going to lie; there have been times where I have accomplished a goal, got to a destination I have dreamed about, or have been watching a sunset, and in the back of my mind I wished someone was there to share it with me.

This challenge varies from person to person, however, I know for me to accomplish the goals I have set, I need to be alone. The benefit is that I can focus on my goals, go where I want, and when I want.  Every new adventure, every foreign country, and every fulfilled dream leads me closer to my goals and vision.

Long-term travel is not easy. It is a lifestyle that demands as much as it gives.

For me the rewards out way the challenges. The simplicity and beauty of this life gives me fulfillment and peace. I never grow tired of seeing other countries, interacting with other cultures, and exploring this wonderful planet.

If it is a life-style that appeals to you, I urge you to take the leap.

Stephen Schreck has conquered the challenges of long-term traveler, and has experienced its grand rewards. You can follow his travels around the world on A Backpackers Tale.

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Category: General, On The Road, Vagabonding Life

February 20, 2015

Vagabonding Case Study: Marco Buch

Marco BuchMarco Buch Gravatar

life-is-a-trip.com

 

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Category: General, Vagabonding Case Studies

February 14, 2015

Easy Day Trips from Melbourne, Australia

Welcome to Melbourne

Melbourne, Australia has become my second home. Known for its café culture, four seasons in a day and city of all things sport, this special place has a lot to offer. In the city, there’s the hubbub of business, culture, life, eateries, endless laneways and riverfront activities. Just a short tram ride away gets you the seaside feel of the Docklands, Chapel Street’s boutique shopping and the drool-worthy dessert shop delights of St. Kilda’s Ackland Street. However, there’s a world of adventure beyond Melbourne’s CBD. In only a short amount of time, all sorts of modes of transport take you to exciting destinations around Victoria. Within a day you can dip your toes in the sand of beautiful beaches, explore the Great Ocean Road, eat fish and chips near the Little Penguins of Phillip Island or get up close and personal with native wildlife at Healesville Sanctuary. Be it beach or adventure, koala cuddles or penguin kisses, seaside retreats or gold mining treasures, restaurants or road trips or all of the above- Melbourne’s surrounds have you covered.

Hike and Discover

sovereign hill, ballaratAdventures await in Melbourne. A short trip by train or two-hour journey by car finds you in Ballarat. Sovereign Hill, Ballarat’s interactive outdoor museum appeals to visitors of all ages. Pan for gold, dip a candle, visit the blacksmith and spend your day reliving the city’s gold rush period. There are underground tours, hands-on experiences and a gem museum that adds extra sparkle to the trip. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Mt. Dandenong. Less than an hour’s car ride outside of the city sit quaint mountain towns, hiking trails, fresh mountain air and artistry unlike any other. You can hike up the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk’s thousand steps to happily earn sweet treats in one of the many adorable cafes. Areas of Sassafrass and Olinda are filled with cafes (my favourite: Miss Marple’s Tea Room) lolly shops, toy shops, tea shops and more that delight your fancy.

william rickets sanctuary-Dandenongs, MelbourneArtists, dreamers, believers, creatives and naturalists can wile away the hours at the William Rickets Sanctuary. Meander through the trees to find incredible carvings and artistry all made by one man. Revering native Aboriginal culture and believing strongly in the lives, stories and message of its people, William Rickets creates unimaginable artwork through tree sculpting. Both the poetry and design exude the magic, trust, wonder, reverence and beauty that is nature.

 

Journey to the Seaside

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road

Melbourne’s Yarra River flows through the center of the city. Festivals, fireworks and fun happen along the water daily. Searching for a greater view, that specific scent, picturesque coastline, sailboat sightings or just an expedition all your own-Melbourne has that, too. A quick ferry ride away lies the charming seaside town of Williamstown. With its laid back vibe, quaint boutiques, quirky cafes and ice cream shoppes, Williamstown offers a perfect retreat from the buzz of the city. Explorers for a day or a week can experience the rush of life alongside the Great Ocean Road. Deliriously daunting cliffside views halt drivers in their tracks, forcing a stop, look and photo session at each of its thousand twists and turns. Go for a day, stay for a night or ride all the way to Adelaide-no matter the distance, the Great Ocean Road doesn’t disappoint. Gorgeous beaches line the roadside as seaside towns invite you to taste their splendid fish and chips or take part in their endless outdoor activities.

Live the Beach LifeBeach life-Sorrento, Mornington Penninsula, Melbourne

If you’re visiting and missing the roar of the ocean, Melbourne’s beaches are for you. Whichever direction you choose to head, there are waves just waiting to wash over wiggling, happy sand-laden toes. Visit Portsea and Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula to take in the main streets of the towns while hiking down to local beaches to watch surfers find the sweet spots on the many waves. Want a fun train trip and colourful backdrop to stunning white capped waves, hit Brighton for the day where the iconic Beach Boxes are just as much the draw as the sun and the sea. Looking to add a little wildlife adventure to your day on the sand? Take the two-hour drive to Phillip Island to experience the fish and chips, endless scenic views and the Little Penguin Parade. Channel your inner penguin as you wait patiently for some of the world’s cutest creatures to pop out of the water at dusk and waddle their way past your camera lens and back to their burrows for their evening slumber.

Nature, Wildlife, Wine and Cheese

feeding the kangaroos-Healesville Sanctuary, MelbourneWhether you’re in it for the wine, cheese, or kangaroo cuddles, the Yarra Valley is for you. Filled with lush eye-catching scenery, wineries by the dozen and cafes galore, this bucolic area lies a short distance from the hustle and bustle of one of Australia’s busy cities. If you’re interested in getting up close and personal to native wildlife, spend a day at Healesville Sanctuary. This interactive nature sanctuary is home to heaps of Australian wildlife. Whether you fancy feeding a wallaby, chatting with a kangaroo, counting the quills of an echidna or just relishing time spent with the friendly animals; a day at Healesville will put a smile on the faces of guests both young and old.

For more of Stacey’s musings visit her website.

 

 

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