As I write this, it’s been three weeks since we left Denver. I’ve already learned I made some pretty bad planning decisions, but fortunately we made one really good one to help make up for it.
- going to Australia before New Zealand: From the US, we flew first to Sydney, then Cairns (Australia), then to New Zealand. This increased the cost of air travel significantly over a route that was more linear. See above for a picture of the flights we’ve already taken and have planned in the near future. We did this for two reasons. First, I wanted to avoid taking Air New Zealand for the long flight over the Pacific, based on bad reviews I’d read online. Everyone said the Qantas flight to Sydney is far superior than Air New Zealand for the long haul. Second, since it’s farther south, I wanted us to visit NZ second, to give it a couple extra weeks for spring to warm up (as I write this, I think it needed more like a couple months instead of a couple weeks before the weather warms significantly).
- getting American Express at Nomadic Matt’s recommendation: There’s this travel writer named “Nomadic Matt” and without knowing much, I took his advice as gospel. He has an article about credit cards for international travel, and says that his favorite card is the Starwood Card from American Express. So I signed us up! Well, it turns out that many places in Australia and New Zealand (and maybe elsewhere) flat out don’t take AmEx but do take Visa and Mastercard. Further, some places, like the automated ticket machines in the Sydney bus/train system, only can do what’s called “chip and PIN” transactions, and all AmEx purchases are “chip and sign”. So having an AmEx has turned out to be a major pain in the ass. I signed us up for some Visa cards, which I’m having sent to us here in NZ (at great expense), and now because of this and one other piece of terrible advice I’m writing off Nomadic Matt.
- getting a dual SIM Android phone: Also based on articles I read online (Money magazine, Nomadic Matt, and others) I decided I wanted to buy a new low cost phone with two SIM slots. The plan was to sign up with an international carrier and use their SIM card in one slot, and then buy a SIM card in each country we visited where we were going to stay a while, and put that card in the other slot. Well, the only smartphones with two SIM slots are Android phones. So after shopping around, I settled on a BLU Studio Energy. It looks good on paper, with two SIM slots, a relatively recent version of Android OS, and a huge battery life that should be good for when we’re off the grid for a few days at a time. Unfortunately, the quality of this phone is terrible. And the international phone carrier I chose is also pretty bad. What I should’ve done is just stick with my existing iPhone, pay off AT&T to unlock it, and then switch to T-Mobile’s Simple Choice plan, which has really inexpensive per-minute rates around the world. Ultimately I switched to T-Mobile anyway, but I wish I could’ve done so on an iPhone instead of this piece-of-crap Android phone. This is an even better choice when you talk on the phone as little as I do. Three weeks into our trip I’ve only accumulated $8 in international roaming charges on T-Mobile, less than I would’ve spent on the introductory SIM cards for the two countries we’ve visited.
- renting a car to take to the Daintree Rainforest: The credit for this really goes to Beth. I guess so far I’ve made all the bad decisions, and she’s made the good ones. We debated about how to get to the Daintree Rainforest, which is in north Queensland, after we finished our live-aboard dive trip in Cairns. We could either pay for a guided tour, including transportation, or rent a car and just drive ourselves. I was originally nervous about the added expense of renting a car and having to drive unfamiliar roads. But the cost was really low once we looked into it. For some reason, car rentals in Australia and New Zealand are only a fraction of what they are in the US, and then there’s the currency exchange rate advantage we have right now on top of that. So we got a car for three days with unlimited miles for $98 US dollars total! And the driving worked out OK; the roads were good and traffic wasn’t bad, so our first time experience driving on the left was groovy. The car we rented was reliable and opened up lots of possibilities we wouldn’t have otherwise. And having done that, we weren’t nervous at all about renting a car in New Zealand, which we knew we had to do.