Travel test run number two

We are heading to California today for my brother’s wedding. I am using it as a way to test packing.

The kids and I are all using our new bags.  I am planning on checking two bags and using one as a carry on. So, the ones that are being checked I tried to pack as much as I could into them. Originally I had started out with the three bags and a travel tote bag but then I had a realization that I could fit everything that I had in the carry on into one of the other bags, and move some of the stuff that I did not need in a carry on from that bag into another bag. That seemed to work perfect and it is one less bag to keep track of.

I packed stuff I wanted to test out. I bought two large size travel towels. They really don’t take up much space in the bag. I am also planning to use one as a blanket on the plane since I get cold.  I also packed the camera and mini-tripod to see how that works. I packed my daughter’s binoculars as I plan to bring them to the big trip and wanted to make sure they would fit. The only thing I did not pack that I wanted to pack was my daughter’s camera…it is slightly on the large side but I am confident I have enough space.

I am trying out a new black fleece that I bought two months ago. I wanted a jacket that I could wear under a shell, but I also wanted something that was dressier than my normal fleece. So I will see if I like it. Hopefully I do as it will be my essential piece for my luggage this summer.

One thing I realized while I was packing for this trip is that I need more packing cubes. I love those things. They are so convenient and I recommend them especially for little items. Granted you could use ziplock bags but the cubes are so convenient.

I am also NOT going to be packing our snow pants. You can rent them at ski resorts in New Zealand and we will only ski once. They will take up too much space in our bags to only wear once. When I pack in a couple of months I will have to reread this post and remind myself NOT to pack them.

So, we shall see how the next five days go and what my thoughts are after that.

Categories: Luggage, Packing Light | Tags: | Leave a comment

Paralysis by Analysis

I am reconsidering our North Island itinerary – again 🙂

Right now we fly into Wellington, then spend two nights in Tongariro National Park. Then two nights in Whakatane and then three nights in Auckland before we return home.

Now I am considering revising that so we spend three nights at Taupo and four nights in Auckland. With our current three nights in Auckland it actually only leaves us two days to sight see in that area. I would love to visit some of the islands close to Auckland via ferry, and also “see” Auckland. But with our current itinerary we only have one day to do each of those things.

Second, if we cut out Whakatane, that is one less check-in and check-out that we need to do.

Third, we could stay at an apartment instead of a hotel like we are currently booked in. I was checking out the cafe prices at the hotel we are booked and and they are taking advantage of guests with their prices – $20 for a burger….so if we were in an apartment in a town we could either cook or get a reasonably priced meal.

Fourth – with an apartment it means the most nights we will be without having access to a laundry machine is two…where as right now there are potentially four nights where we have no laundry facilities in our place.

Downside is if we switch to Taupo we have more driving to do our first day on the North Island, but we are closer to other places the days after. It would be our longest driving day of the whole trip (around five hours, not including stops).

So, I will most likely change the itinerary around – I am just waiting to find out about an apartment in Taupo that I am interested in.

*** UPDATE: I did switch our itinerary around and now I feel good about it. I just wasn’t getting a warm fuzzy feeling before, but now I am. I also went to TripAdvisor to look up Taupo and there seem to be a whole lot of things to do in that area. ***

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Travel test run number one

I headed to California this weekend for a bridal shower. I used it as an opportunity to figure out what I am bringing to Australia and New Zealand.

The “I am leaving at home” items:

One thing that I am not bringing is my water bottle. I love it because it fits 16 ounces but the water bottle I have is just a little too big to be convenient. I also have a water bottle that is collapsible and I think I may stick to bringing that one instead, if I decide to bring one. 

Another item I am no longer bringing are my travel pillows. They are ok, but not worth the valuable space in my bag when I am trying to pack light. 

I am not going to bring my travel blanket. It is not functional enough for me to carry around on our big trip. However I am always cold and I also use it as a pillow sometimes. I think instead of bringing the blanket I am investing in a sarong swim cover up. Someone suggested I look into that as I need one for Australia and I could also use it as a blanket or pillow.

I have decided to leave my running shoes behind as well. I have been thinking this past month about what shoes to pack that are comfortable and can be worn with shorts and jeans. I already know I am bringing my hiking shoes and kept thinking about bringing my running shoes. But I felt they are too similar to both need to come with me. Finally when I was shopping for a dress shoe this weekend I saw low profile casual sneakers. I am going to look for a pair that is comfortable to walk in and that goes well with the shorts and jeans I plan to bring on the trip.

The “I am thinking about it” items:

An item I am debating about bringing is a set of portable luggage wheels. On one hand, it makes it easy to carry my bag, but on the other hand it is a pain to take the suitcase off of it. The problem is the kids are not strong enough to carry their bags which do not have wheels. However, I prefer bags without wheels as it gives you more luggage space.

The “Coming for sure” items:

The new suitcase I bought worked GREAT. I love it. I love that there is a separate section for my laptop. I know when we fly out West that I am not going to check my suitcase, but will check the kids. I plan to mix our clothes between the three suitcases in case something happens to our baggage. Then we are not stuck with no change of clothes for a few days. But I need to figure out how I will carry my work laptop for our shorter flights. Those flights we will need to check bags as the planes will be smaller. 

I bought a travel cooler for Christmas as my daughter and I have a severe wheat allergy. I tested this out on my quick trip. It was ok…it is something I will need for sure on our 15 hour flight, but on our smaller flights I think I will be checking it. 

I also used my travel purse. I wanted a travel purse that would be big enough to hold my daughter’s iPad mini and this one can fit it. The only problem I had with the purse was it had too many pockets! I guess that is a good thing. I need to start figureing out where I will put everything.

I am debating purchasing a book bag for myself that would fit my computer. When we travel my husband always steels my backpack and uses it for his laptop. My son also has a book bag and I am trying to keep our bag count down, so I may just use his book bag instead of purchasing one for myself. Perhaps that way I can tell him that he and his sister can bring a carry on but it needs to fit in that bag AND I need to be able to put my work computer in it on the smaller flights. The work computer is something I cannot and will not check.

A pair of super warm and comfortable socks for the flight. I only had my low ankle socks on my trip. I really could have used some larger socks for the flights. 

I am heading out to California again in 16 days for the wedding, so I will have a chance to refine my packing again 🙂 This time the kids are coming so I can see how much of a pain it will be if I don’t bring a set of luggage wheels. Stay tuned for more updates!

Categories: Airplanes, Packing Light | Tags: , | Leave a comment

100 days to go

100 days to go, 100 days to dream. Time is seeming to fly super fast now. I have dreams regularly about our trip. I have a few smaller trips between now and then which will really make the time go by fast.

What is left to do? Well, most everything is paid for already in regards to lodging. The only places that are not fully paid for yet are our place in Nelson and our place in Auckland. I plan to pay for Nelson on May 1 and Auckland on June 1.  We also have one hotel room that we have not paid for yet. Other than that, all hotels/apartments have been paid for so we won’t have that expense when we return. That is usually the biggest travel expense and it has been nice to spread it out over the last few months.

Airfare – fully paid for. We bought our tickets over to Australia/New Zealand using frequent flyer miles so those were relatively cheap. But I had to buy flights within Australia and New Zealand. I bought those in the fall once I knew our itinerary.

In regards to car rentals – one has been prepaid and two I was not able to prepay. And honestly I can’t find a better rate than what I booked so those probably won’t be prepaid before we go. I can deal with that though.

Activities are mostly all booked and paid for. This month I can book our Alcatraz tickets (yes we are spending a day in San Fran before we go) and our Sydney Observatory tickets. Our lodging in Sydney is right next to the Observatory so we will do that one night. I have two excursions booked but I cannot pay for them yet as they could be cancelled if the weather does not cooperate. I call those excursions the Pandy Excursions. Pandy was my great aunt that passed away in November but she taught me that you only live once and sometimes in life you need to splurge. So those two excursions, if they happen, I will dedicate to her since they will be our splurges. In fact, my motto on our trip will be “What would Pandy do?”.

I still can’t believe we have reached the 100 day milestone. It seemed so far away when I booked our first plane ticket at 330 days away. My brother gets married in 33 days and then the kids get out for the summer in 71 days. Those two countdowns will make the countdown to our trip fly.

Categories: Auckland, Nelson, San Francisco, Sydney | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Next research project: cell phone/gps service in New Zealand

I’m not really concerned about cell phone/gps service in Australia.  There we will pretty much be in populated areas.  However, I am concerned with New Zealand.  There we plan to go off the beaten path to explore.  So I want to make sure we don’t get lost.  I keep going back-and-forth with what we need.  Part of me thinks we don’t need anything additional than the maps we have – afterall – that is how people USED to travel.  Another part of me thinks maybe I should just research this.

I’ve been considering several options.  One is buying the Australia/New Zealand map for my GPS.  One disadvantage there is that then I have to bring my GPS with us.  Another option is buying a cheap GPS in Australia/New Zealand.  Question there is can I find one under $100 and will it work in the middle-of-nowhere in NZ? Additionally, we could rent a GPS from the car rental agencies.  But the cost of that rental exceeds the cost of just buying a GPS.  Another option is just using our cell phones for GPS coverage.  With that both my husband and I each have an AT&T phone, and I also have a Verizon cell phone.  So – what sort of coverage does that translate when in Australia/New Zealand?  Does it make sense to invest in a SIM card once we land in Australia that will equate to better cell/GPS coverage in Australia and New Zealand?  I’m used to buying SIM cards in the countries we visit as data rates are much better than US provider’s “International Coverage” rates.

In the end, I think we’ll opt NOT to get a new GPS or purchase  the AUS/NZ maps for my current 2009 GPS.  Even though GPS make traveling pretty easy, I will most likely remind myself that both my husband and I are good navigators and it will all work out in the end. I actually love maps and sometimes miss the days when people used paper maps more often.

Categories: Australia, Data abroad, New Zealand | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

I left my heart in San Francisco

We depart San Francisco for Sydney at around 10:35 PM at night. My son has been to San Francisco but he was only fourteen months old. My daughter has never been before. Thus, knowing we don’t leave SF until late at night I knew I wanted to show them the city. I also wanted to ease us into the monster time change that would occur. So by heading out a day early we could also sleep in the next day and wear the kids out with sightseeing.

The plan is for me and the kids to fly out to SF the day before we head to Sydney. My husband will join us later that night. The kids and I are actually flying to SF from Minneapolis as my daughter is attending sleep away camp in MN right before our trip. So we arrive around 2 PM on a Friday and we head out to Sydney the next night. 

My husband and I were married in San Francisco. I actually cannot wait to show the kids where we were married and where we stayed when we got married. I love that city so much and I can’t wait to share my love of the city with the kids. I would move there in a heartbeat if I could.

I also plan to take the kids to Alcatraz on Friday. On Saturday my son wants to visit Lombard Street and both kids want to see redwood trees. We will also walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and possibly visit the Golden Gate park. I am just as excited about showing the kids one of my favorite cities in the world as I am about our adventure to the South Pacific.

I have been to SF many, many times. But amazingly enough I have never actually ridden a cable car. Perhaps we will finally ride a cable car?

Also – I was researching transportation in San Fran. We don’t need a car the first day we are there. But the second day we most likely need a car as we want to do Lombard Street, the Golden Gate bride, Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods. Taxis and Uber would be too complex. I was comparing renting a car in San Fran city and returning to SFO (airport) between Budget and Hertz. Budget it is only $55 for a one day rental. Hertz though was over $300! Amazing what happens when you comparison shop. 

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Keeping Track of it All

How have I been keeping track of everything for our trip? I created a binder.  The binder starts with our itinerary on the first page, and behind that page is our travel insurance policy.



 I debated organizing it in date order but ultimately I decided to organize by category. I have five different categories: Flights, Apartments, Hotels, Cars, and Activities. As soon as I make a reservation I print it out and stick it in the binder. This has worked great at keeping me organized. When our flights to and from the South Pacific were cancelled I could easily grab our original flight info when I was speaking with a customer service agent. If something changes I print out the new item and keep the original behind it.



As you can see, right now I am using clear plastic sheets for everything. This lets me change things if needed. Right before our trip I plan to take everything out of the sleeves, make copies, and then get everything bound at a copy store. I plan to keep a copy at home for the memories, and obviously bring one on our trip. However after we do an activity or take a flight I plan to rip that part out of the notebook. By the end of the trip I should have nothing.


I am also using the binder to put local area information. I may need to make another section for that…for example this weekend I printed out local maps of the Mossman Gorge area.

The binder also helps me with my excitement for the trip. There is just something fun about printing something and filing it in the binder.

Categories: Australia, New Zealand | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

How I planned our NZ itinerary

Our trip to the South Pacific was originally planned as a trip to New Zealand. I am still not sure how I managed to convince my husband to let me add on Australia….

The Australia itinerary was pretty easy to plan. New Zealand though created quite a challenge to cover everything we want to see. My husband’s primary interest there is seeing suspension bridges. I actually enjoy seeing the bridges too, but I also want to see awesome things in NZ. So one thing I did was plotted out all the suspension bridges I could find (husband had this info) on a map and see if an itinerary came up that way. I knew we didn’t want to check in and out as well every night so I needed to find places we could stay for a few nights at a time.

Here is what the maps looked like (note – we are not stopping at all markers, they were just used to help me figure out routes that would line up with a majority of these markers):

North Island:


South Island:


I also knew we needed to end up in Auckland to return home. So I needed us to end up in Auckland….which meant starting our trip on the South Island.

Using the map I determined three different starting locations – Queenstown, Nelson, or Christchurch. Ultimately Christchurch won as the starting destination as it was easier to get to from Australia than the other two cities 🙂 

It honestly took me over a month to arrive at the NZ itinerary. Hopefully it all goes well.  In NZ we are seeing a lot of stuff but we don’t have a lot of days of long driving, so there will hopefully be time to go on hikes and hit other roadside attractions. 155 days until our vacation begins and I cannot wait!

Categories: New Zealand | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Wire transfers 

We have five rental places during our big trip. Most of these rental places have required a banking deposit and not a deposit paid with a credit card.

At first I worried how to do this without incurring high transfer fees. I eventually found the website Transferwise. This site is great when you need to send someone money in a different currency. Recently I sent around $750 USD and the fee was only around $5.00. If I had paid by credit card I would have incurred a $14 fee, so the transfer by bank account has made things easy.

I get the feeling that people in Australia and New Zealand are used to bank-to-bank transactions. In the US we seem used to credit card transactions. Another thing I have noticed is that if you do paying credit card, most places assess an additional 2% fee, so it is better to do the bank-to-bank transactions instead of paying by credit card.

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Bangarra Dance Theatre

In the last week my daughter has been looking through a Pocket Sydney guide and listing places she wants to go to. Those sites include a prison museum, aquarium, zoo, and a temple…to name some things. She also asked me if we could see a show put on by the Bangarra Dance Theatre company. I quickly googled them and learned it is an indigenous Australian dance company which has received numerous awards.

Thus, I looked to see if they had any shows for their Bennelong show when we were in town (held at the Sydney Opera House). Unfortunately their last performance is July 22. We arrive two days later. However I noticed that they had a school performance show on Wednesday, July 26. I sent them an email and asked if we could purchase tickets even though we are not a school group – you have to buy tickets through the Opera House’s Creative Learning office.

I received confirmation today that they were fine with me ordering tickets. As a bonus, they also offered a tour of the Opera House either before or after the show. Thus I added that onto our tickets. For a family of four we are paying $105 USD total and that includes four tickets to the show and four Opera House tours. Priced separately, Opera House tours cost around $75 USD for a family of four.

One reason I am super excited about this show is that it a great learning experience for the kids. It will teach the kids about Australian history, and it will also be held in one of the most famous buildings in the world. The show description is:  

In a tumultuous time of Australia’s history, Woollarawarre Bennelong (a senior man of the Eora from the Port Jackson area in Sydney) and his community left us with a legacy that transcended ‘first contact’. Inspired by true events, this theatrical dance work highlights the extraordinary curiosity and diplomacy that led an Aboriginal community to survive a clash of cultures; contributing to the establishment of positive relationships between the Eora and the British.

Featuring a unique Australian dance language and some of the country’s most acclaimed dancers, Bangarra Dance Theatre celebrates the continuation of life and culture through the power, artistry, passion and physicality of dance. Students will love this brand new contemporary dance work that will leave them in awe of Australia’s history, choreographed by Artistic Director Stephen Page.

I guess to balance the Aboriginal culture of Australia I need to find something in New Zealand to introduce them to Maori culture too. Perhaps on the flight home I should ask the kids to compare and contrast the two 🙂

Categories: Australia, Sydney, Theatre | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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