Planning my Europe trip

This month I will be going on my dream trip to Europe! So far, I have an open-ended plan, basically depending on how long my money will last. I will be aiming to stay between 3-6 months and so far I have the first three roughly planned out. Here is what I have planned so far: 

Why I'm travelling 

 Me and the eiffel tower...I promise to take better photos this time

Me and the eiffel tower...I promise to take better photos this time

I thought it might be good to start with a brief overview of why I'm doing a Europe trip, how I'll be travelling etc.

I've quit my full-time job to do a bit of intensive travelling because I normally just take the standard 4 weeks a year to go on little holidays away. But now it's time for a big trip! I've never travelled long term and apart from moving to Melbourne, my longest stint out of Auckland was 3 weeks in Europe, when I did a week in London alone, followed by an 11-day Topdeck trip. That was heaps of fun, but it's time for me to do a bit more.

I've spent the last year saving (not very well) and I will be spending as little on my trip as I can manage. That means hostels, couch surfing and WOOFing where possible. I will be splashing out a little when I go to Greece with friends for our birthdays, but for the most part, it will be a shoestring budget kinda trip. 

Destinations

I have worked my trip around a few events, following a rough itinerary of the best spots. The first event is Iceland, which I decided to do at the start of my trip because I don't know how long my money will last and I know it will be really expensive. But, it's at the top of my bucket list so I have to go! Then there's Greece for the birthdays at the end of May and at the start of July I have a friend running a fashion festival in Gibraltar so that will be the end of my first 3 months.

 in front of the london eye, november 2014

in front of the london eye, november 2014

In between these three destinations I plan on visiting other places; between arriving in Amsterdam and getting to Iceland I'll be stopping in Germany and Denmark, then between Greece and Gibraltar I'll probably get to Italy, Portugal and maybe Spain. After that I will need to get out of the Schengen zone (a visa zone for most of Europe) because I can only be in it for 180 days, so in July I will head to either somewhere in the United Kingdom, the Baltic area. Eastern Europe, or both. Ideally I would like to go back to Germany for Oktoberfest, we shall see. 

Transport

Because my destinations are quite far away from each other, I'm going to be doing a lot of flying. Skyscanner is my friend for checking the cheapest time to fly in the month, and from there I usually work around the cheapest option that suits my itinerary. So far I'm using WOW Air, Easy Jet and one I've never heard of called Transavia. I'm getting pinged with baggage fees for checking in my pack which is frustrating, it's not cheap! 

Planning my Europe trip

When I'm at a destination, I'm planning to use local transport like buses and trains, but for that, I will be winging it. What could go wrong? 

Insurance

This is one that I was dreading. If you've ever witnessed me trying to be an adult first-hand, you'll know it ain't pretty. I normally avoid life admin at all costs. I'm super stoked that Worldcare have kindly gifted me their GOComprehensive policy; looking through the list of what it covers was kind of a wake-up call. I've only ever had travel insurance once before through work so I didn't look around and I'm a "throw caution to the wind" type, but realistically, I need to make sure I'm covered for things like hospital expenses, lost luggage, terrorism and of course, valuables like my drone laptop. Worldcare is a really affordable option for travel insurance and I'm really impressed with how easy their website is to navigate; I was prepared to come away with a headache and more questions than answers, but I was happily proven wrong. 

And because I love anyone who reads my blog, you can get 10% off any Worldcare policy when using the promo code THELOSTGIRLS10! Offer valid until 31 August, 2018. Here's hoping I don't need it, but it's really reassuring to know that I'm covered if something goes wrong. 

Gear

This one is quite important for me because creating content is my passion. After a lot of deliberation, I've decided to try to sell Harrison (my Canon DSLR), due to the bulky size of it. Because I'm on a budget, I'm going to upgrade my iPhone instead. I'm sure any photographer will kill me, but my logic is that I would upgrade my iPhone anyway, and the new phones are waterproof and take really decent photos and videos. Since getting Lightroom on my phone, I think the quality of what I put out will be fine; I'm not very skilled with a camera yet anyway, and I can do it all on one device that's light and portable. If I had more money I would totally get a mirrorless camera or a smaller DSLR. I will also take my GoPro Hero3 as a backup and of course, my drone, the DJI Spark.

I'm so paranoid about running out of battery when I need it, so I got myself a portable charging station for my drone, it charges on the go which will be really handy, especially if I'm not around power points frequently. Moyork, a New Zealand tech accessories company, have kindly sent me some awesome stuff for my trip too! I'm so excited, they've given me some cables, a powerbank, a phone case, a charge clutch and some extra cables. Good to go!! 

Currency

I've been bad about my money. I'm planning on travelling until I run out and need to come home, but I'm refusing to work out an actual budget because I'm scared of what the outcome will be. I currently bank with Westpac so I tried to get their travel card but the website kept telling me that I needed an AA membership, and the lady in the store was unsure how to get around it so I flagged that option. Other types of travel cards require proof of address, which I pathetically don't have as I've been living with my parents, and all my personal bills are all digital. In the end I've gone with my Air New Zealand Onesmart card, so at least I'll be getting points when I use it overseas. I am having issues with their website and the app, so that one is proving to be a bit difficult too. Hopefully I'll get it sorted soon, before I actually depart! 

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Planning the trip

The actual planning side of things was, and continues to be, pretty shambolic! But I make it work with a few tools that I find really handy. The first is Google Trips. This pulls all my itineraries from my Gmail account and stores them in the app. I can download them for offline access and the app has heaps of other cool features like suggestions on things to do, discounts for local tours/activities and important info about the destination. For the actual planning, I'm still using Dropbox Paper. Last time I wrote a trip about how I plan my travels I was using Google Docs, which are just easy, but after using Dropbox Paper for my trip to the Philippines I just stuck with them. I also have the apps for Hostelworld, Airbnb and Citymapper so those will come in handy soon too, I'm sure. 

 

What tools do you use to plan your trip??

 

Long weekend on Great Barrier Island

 Look out spot on the way to Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

Look out spot on the way to Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island is a place where you wave to every car you pass, you can be totally off the grid and the views will take your breath away.

Getting there

The island is a 30-minute flight from Auckland Domestic Airport or a 5-hour ferry from North Wharf on Auckland's viaduct with Sealink. The ferry is NZ$84 one way or NZ$105 return, which is slightly cheaper than the flights, which start at $89 one way with Barrier Air. I took the ferry there and returned on the plane which was great, I wanted to take the ferry because a lot of the time people see dolphins or whales. I saw one dolphin so that was awesome, but I think next time I would just fly there and back; it still offers incredible views and involves much less travel time. 

The Beaches

The beaches on Great Barrier Island are a huge drawcard. I visited Pah Beach, near my friend's bach in Tryphena which is a gentle harbour beach with some cool rock formations near the local store and pub. On the east side are some stunning surf beaches, which I didn't have a surfboard for sadly, but I did some boogie boarding and body surfing anyway. Medlands was about a 10-minute drive from Tryphena, has a cool island in the middle of the beach and some great little waves. Apparently, they have surf comps there too! I really loved Awana Bay, which was another 15 minutes north, on the east. The waves there were great too, and the beach itself is stunning and very empty due to its location further afield. Great place to stop after doing the punishing Mt Hobson. 

 The Island of Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

The Island of Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

 Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

Medlands Beach, Great Barrier Island

Mt Hobson

 View from the walk to Mt Hobson, Great Barrier Island

View from the walk to Mt Hobson, Great Barrier Island

 Made it to the top of Mt Hobson, Great Barrier Island

Made it to the top of Mt Hobson, Great Barrier Island

Speaking of Mt Hobson, what a cool walk! It's a 40 minute drive from Tryphena to the start of the walk, and the walk itself isn't very long, just quite intense. I think it took us between 60-90 minutes at a good pace, stopping a few times, to reach the top. We definitely didn't time it well though, we started the walk before lunch time, I think around 10 or 11 am and boy oh boy it was hot! Did I mention this trip was in January, the middle of New Zealand's summer? I think it was around 26°C and there were parts where it felt much hotter.

The first third was in the bush, lots of stairs with uphills and downhills. Then there's a lot of walking along a ridge out in the sun, but unfortunately the wind wasn't blowing in the right direction and this part was sweltering. The final third was in the bush again but it was a lot of stairs, all going uphill. The view along the path, and especially at the top, was really worth it though and I'm so glad we pushed through to reach the summit. 

Waterfall hike

My friend Bri has been going to Barrier for years and knows all the good spots! So naturally, I was keen for her to show me the waterfall while I was there. It's off Aotea Road, and about a half hour walk. Like Mt Hobson, it's a very steep walk. This one was straight downhill to the waterfall and straight back up to the road when we were done. Unfortunately, the steepest bits didn't have stairs and due to recent rainfall, we were slipping a lot on the way down. Poor Bri landed on her rear about 3 times, each one looked so painful. 

 Waterfall hike, Great Barrier Island

Waterfall hike, Great Barrier Island

Food & drink on the island

Because the island is quite far out, the food at the local store isn't cheap, and you have to buy water or boil it to make sure it's drinkable. I saw a lot of people taking 10L bottles of water over on the ferry which is a great idea because they had none in stock when we were there so we were constantly buying 2L bottles or boiling water, which gets expensive. Head down to the local pub in Tryphena, Currach Irish Pub, for a delicious wood-fried pizza and a beer, or try the cute little food stalls on the way out to Medlands Beach. Even better, enjoy some of the kaimoana (seafood) that you catch yourself, like kingfish or scallops, there are plenty of great spots! Just make sure you read up first to see what the limits are etc, you can find more information here.

Have you ever been to Great Barrier Island? Would you consider a trip out there? 

What to do in Cebu, Philippines

By the reactions from locals we spoke to on the way to Cebu, it's not as much of a holiday destination as El Nido or Boracay but I loved it!

A lot of people visit this part of the Philippines to swim with whale sharks in Oslob which was the main drawcard for me initially, but after some research I found the ethics to be quite questionable and I decided not to. We found some other really awesome things to do in the area instead!

Sea turtles at Apo Island

It's a bit of a journey, but if you keep going south past Oslob and then across the water to Dumaguete, you'll be able to go to Apo Island. The snorkelling there is amazing and from research, it seemed like the only place in the Philippines where you're guaranteed to see sea turtles. It was a bit of a journey but one we were keen to make considering we weren't going to swim with whale sharks. 

What to do in Cebu 2

We arrived too late to make the ferry across on the first night to stay on Apo Island so opted to stay at Harold's Mansion, right next door to where the tours left. "Mansion" is a bit of a stretch, but the place was tidy enough, has air-con and a nice rooftop restaurant with its own vege/herb garden. When we checked in they informed us that we were too late for the Apo Island tour, it was all booked up. They offered us a spot on the snorkelling tour to Dauin instead.

When we got to Dauin the next morning we managed to negotiate spots on the Apo Island tour anyway and we were so happy that they let us! Dauin was just a beach that probably had nice underwater views, but once we got to Apo Island we were rewarded with the most amazing snorkelling, the best we had on the whole trip and we saw so many turtles! We also saw sea snakes, sea slugs, starfish, giant clams and a plethora of different types of tropical fish. I even saw flying fish on the boat ride over.

What to do in Cebu 4

We were about two swimmers to one guide who showed us around and told us what not to do, but I still saw other tourists try to touch the turtles. Our guide took us to some caves on the shore and we had fun jumping off the boat with the other guides and watching them make bubble rings underwater, it was a wonderful trip. 

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Travel to Liloan

After the tour, we headed back to Cebu Island via the quick ferry and went to our accommodation in Liloan - Tropara Resort which can be found on Airbnb. We loved it there, it was right on the beach and everything about it was really tropical and relaxed. Our room, the Mermaid Room, had a balcony that opened out to the water which gave us some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. 

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What to do in Cebu Kawasan Falls

Kawasan Falls and Cebu City

The next day we were picked up to do the Kawasan Falls, which I will write a full blog post for soon. Let's just say it is highly recommended! 

After that, we took another yellow bus up the island back to Cebu City, where we stayed in the Bayfront Hotel Cebu. It was a nice enough hotel just across the SM Cebu City Mall which we took a trip to. The mall itself was pretty standard, there wasn't anything too outrageous and when I visited the supermarket I struggled to find anything weird and wonderful to take home. We were disappointed by the supermarket's lack of Asian fruits like mangosteens or dragonfruit. But I was really happy with my dried mango purchases and wish I had bought more, apparently, Cebu mango is much cheaper in Cebu, who would've thought! 

We spent a lot of our time in Cebu travelling (it was 6 hours from Cebu to Liloan on the bus alone) but it was a really cool part of the trip; I feel like we got to experience the less touristy sides of the Philippines like the city centre and the small towns that don't see a lot of foreigners. 

Would you give Cebu a try? Or have you been yourself? 

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The 2017 round-up

Well...2017 did not turn out the way I thought it would! It was an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. I won't go into the bad stuff because that's what angsty diary entries are for, but when 2017 was good, it was really really good! Here are some of my highlights from 2017:

5. Mini roadtrips with great friends

One thing I've really come to appreciate over the last few years is how good friends make all the difference. As well as the overseas trips I took, I was also really lucky that my friends have been keen to come on mini road trips out of Auckland! I wrote this post on some of them - the 10 best day trips from Auckland. Even before summer arrived I was hitting the road with friends and going away for bush walks, exploring new beaches and getting cool drone shots of amazing places. 

 Beach day at Leigh.   Photo: Nattaya J Creative

Beach day at Leigh. Photo: Nattaya J Creative

4. Surfing

I have been surfing a couple of times each summer for the last few years, but only in 2017 have I actually put in the effort to get better. I also bought myself a board which has helped my skills dramatically. Although I'm still splashing around in the whitewash, I'm much more confident and able to catch heaps of waves. My biggest resolution for 2018 is to get over my fear of unbroken waves and start making my way out the back.

One of my favourite surf trips this year was when I and my friend Lois went to Ohakune for a weekend of snowboarding but couldn't get up at all due to bad weather. There's not a lot to do in Ohakune when the weather is bad, so we cut our losses and drove home via Raglan and had a quick evening surf. The boards we hired weren't right for our skill levels, being October it was very cold and the waves were quite dumpy, but when I'm surfing those kinds of things don't matter. It felt so surreal being out there on a grey day, being pelted by heavy raindrops, and I was content to just be there.

3. My first trip to Queenstown

I had never been to Queenstown until 2017, and although it was a trip that had a lot of emotional collateral, I still had a wonderful time. I enjoyed being out in nature, with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. A highlight was Glenorchy where I went horseriding along the river bed, with the best view of the Alps. Also, Fergburger for brekkie! You can check out my Queenstown highlights video here.

The 2017 round-up Queenstown

2. Girls weekend in the Gold Coast

After going to the GC twice in the past, I never thought I'd go back there without kids of my own, but I signed up for a girls' weekend away in 2017 and had the best time. I particularly enjoyed Byron Bay, which isn't even in the GC, but it was so fun to go away with a couple of girlfriends and just do girly stuff. 

The 2017 ruond-up Gold Coast

1. Philippines

You might remember that for one of my "Travel to ...." posts I featured the Philippines? Well, I went in 2017! It was so amazing! There was a really decent sale through work that I took advantage of and headed to the Philippines for 9 days, which wasn't nearly enough. I went with my friend Nat to Cebu and Coron, which were both incredible places. We went snorkelling with turtles, canyoneering where we did 45ft jumps into an electric blue river, had a waterfall "massage", discovered a mysterious island with black caves and slept in a tree house. 

Teh 2017 round-up Philippines 3

So far I have a blog post and video on what to do in Coron, but another of my goals for 2018 will be to finish all my content around the Philippines, I have so much I want to share from that trip! 

 View of the entry to the Twin Lagoons, Coron.   Photo: Nattaya J Creative

View of the entry to the Twin Lagoons, Coron. Photo: Nattaya J Creative

What was your favourite part of 2017?! 

Girls' weekend in the Gold Coast

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I've never done a girls' weekend overseas, and after going to the Gold Coast with my friends Steph (also known online as Beauty Lust) and Kerri, I wish I'd done it sooner! 

My friends and I had been tossing up getting a hotel in Auckland and having a big night out, but then there were flights to Gold Coast for NZ$200 so we thought, why not make a weekend of it?! Even though Gold Coast is not a place I've been in a hurry to go back to, after going on a family holiday and a couple's trip years ago and preferring a different style of travel nowadays, it has its merits. 

What to do:

So many Kiwis go to the Gold Coast at some point for a cheap, fun getaway. Because we were only there for three nights, we decided to forgo the theme parks this time around, but they are very easy to get to and you could definitely squeeze at least one into your weekend. We were there for shopping and nightlife, with a bit of sunshine thrown in.

As the name would suggest, you can also surf at Surfer's Paradise. Sherpa, my favourite surf forecasting app, confirmed what the lack of surfers on the water suggested; conditions weren't great. Each day I thought it might improve but alas, it didn't. It would be a really neat place to learn though, and would be a really fun way to spend a morning with the girls!

Girls weekend Gold Coast beach

Then there's the shopping. There are a few malls to choose from, as well as the shops of Surfers Paradise. We hit up the outlet stores at Harbour Town, where we scored some pretty good bargains. The sales are similar to what you'd find at Dressmart in Auckland, with maybe a few more designer brands in the mix. Then there's the recently upgraded Pacific Fair, which is a stunning mall. I hate spending too much time in malls these days, in spite of my past as a shopaholic, but Pacific Fair was so impressive and mostly outdoors, so I didn't mind too much. 

We also went clubbing, and I think we could've branched out down to Broadbeach where it sounds like the clientele is a bit closer to our age, but we still had fun. We only went to Sin City (twice because they asked us to come in free of charge and offered a free drink) and Cocktails, because they were easy to locate and central. We also enjoyed drinks at the Islander but that closed pretty early. 

Girls Weekend in Gold Coast group shot

What to eat:

Girls weekend Gold Coast brunch

One of the joys of being back in Australia is the range of food delivery services! We wanted to be lazy one night and eat in, especially because we loved our apartment, and ordered Chinese takeaways from Deliveroo. It's like Uber Eats, if you're not familiar. I've never found the food in Surfers Paradise to be amazing, but I did enjoy brunch both days. The first day we went to The Beach Cafe and the second day we tried Sandbar. Both were right on the main street with gorgeous decor, I preferred Sandbar because it had a better menu in my opinion; I had a delicious smoothie bowl (to try make up for all the alcohol I'd consumed). 

Where to stay: 

I was very lucky to be offered a discounted stay at the Mantra Crown Towers, right in Surfers Paradise for this trip and it was an awesome place to stay. The main area seems geared more towards families, with a fun outdoor pool area that resembled a fake beach.

We were so excited when we reached our apartment on the 32nd floor, the view was spectacular! We also had our own rooms (I took the one with the biggest bed, seeing as I'm about a foot taller than the others), with two full bathrooms, a large kitchen and open dining/lounge area, and a balcony looking right out to sea. One of the rooms had a mirror that took up the whole wall, which was perfect for when we all wanted to get ready together! 

 The two largest of our three bedrooms, and the bathroom featuring a spa bath

The two largest of our three bedrooms, and the bathroom featuring a spa bath

We had a lot of fun in that apartment, and the lighting was quite good so of course, we took many selfies! It was a really nice place to just relax as well, with a view of the whole Surfer's Paradise stretch, as well as the beach, it was the perfect spot to watch the sun rise and set. 

Where to go:

Girls weekend Gold Coast Byron Bay

I would like to throw in a special mention to Byron Bay. I guess it's not really a weekend on the Gold Coast if you visit somewhere that is over an hour's drive away and in a different time zone...but I would still highly recommend a trip to Byron Bay if you have time! Even though people say it's become far more touristy than it once was, I still fell in love, and it was a stark contrast to Surfer's. Along with the new modern chain stores for people who live beach-side, like Billabong and Tigerlilly, there are also really lovely boutiques, cute stores with retro themes and regular markets. Sadly we visited on a day with no markets, but there was still more than enough to explore. 

Unfortunately I didn't get too many photos here, I was more focused on getting footage for my video (stay tuned for that!) and also trying to find a bargain.

What's your favourite thing to do in the Gold Coast? Have you ever visited Byron Bay?

My first drone - DJI Spark

If you haven't noticed a lot more aerial footage on social media these days then you must be living under a rock! 

I recently joined the drone craze myself, after talking about it for months! I was constantly grilling a workmate about his DJI Mavic Pro, and one day he mentioned that DJI were going to release a new, smaller drone. I researched the Spark and found that it had everything I was after - a small, portable drone with good specs for its size - perfect for a beginner like myself. 

 My first aerial photo, unedited -  Snells Beach

My first aerial photo, unedited - Snells Beach

The main reason I went with the Spark over the Mavic Pro, in the end, was the price tag. In New Zealand, the Spark alone sells for around $900 and the Mavic Pro for about $1800, and then you can get combos for a few hundred more each. I paid $1299 for the Spark Fly More bundle, which includes the drone, remote, spare battery, propellors and guards, and a charging hub.  

 Me and my DJI Spark

Me and my DJI Spark

I don't really know a lot about technical specs, but I know the Spark offers pretty much all I need to take cool photos and decent quality videos. The camera lens is 12 megapixels with a 1/2.3 inch sensor and the video is 1920x1080, which is fine because I'm only using it for a hobby. The camera is on a 2 axis gimbal so the footage remains stable when flying. It does take a little bit longer to stabilize when in Sports mode, however.

It has some cool features that I'm just getting the hang of. There's Active Tracking, which is great for following a moving object which remaining smooth and steady. A big selling point, which I haven't really mastered yet, is the Hand Gesture setting. I have managed to get it to follow my hand side to side once, but I haven't mastered the "dronie" - you gesture for it to take a selfie. I should probably read the instructions a bit more, so that's probably just as much my own fault. 

My favourite thing about it is that I can launch it from my palm! Yes, it would be just as easy to place it on the ground to launch, but it comes in handy if the ground is uneven or wet. I like to think of myself as the Mother of Drones. Anyway...

 Landing my DJI Spark in the palm of my hand -  Kitekite Falls

Landing my DJI Spark in the palm of my hand - Kitekite Falls

The short fly time is definitely one of the negatives I've found so far - the maximum it'll do is 16 mins, which is enough to do a fair bit of filming somewhere, but if I want to shoot a second location in one outing I'll need to make sure my spare battery is charged.

 Aerial shot of Okura Reserve, unedited

Aerial shot of Okura Reserve, unedited

Also, often the video signal drops out and once I had the whole aircraft disconnect when it was out at the beach, around the rocks and out of sight. When that happened, I wasn't sure if I had any control over it or not, or whether it still had its Obstacle Avoidance on so I just pushed the joystick to fly it upwards, and prayed to God it would appear over the top of everything rather than fly into it when it "returned to home". Luckily it did, and once it was in sight I let the GPS guide it back to me. 

 Te Arai point, unedited

Te Arai point, unedited

Overall, the DJI Spark is a neat little toy, and it does everything a part-time blogger like myself needs. If you are looking at getting a drone for professional use you might want to look at something with better specs from DJI but if not, then the DJI Spark is a great option. 

Have you got a drone? Any advice?