Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Port Stephens 4WD Sandboarding & Camel Ride

As you know, my flight to Australia was delay for a whole day, which meant I lost a whole day of fun. Once the plane touched down in Sydney Amie and I rented a car and drove to Port Stephens to catch up on the time we lost. One of the best ways to get through jet lag is to fight through it. Don't go to the hotel and sleep, get out and get moving. Do stuff. That's exactly what I did. First thing on my list: sandboarding! 




Birubi Beach is a was not at all what I expected. It was a little difficult finding the designated location for the Port Stephens 4WD check-in. Once we found the little road leading down towards the water we found the paved parking lot, two sandboarding companies (4WD was one of them!), and a service that gives camel rides. 



We jumped into the 4WD vehicle for a bumpy ride over the dunes to the designated sandboarding location a few minutes away from the parking lot. From this spot we could still see the car lot and the beach area, but if you looked with your back towards the ocean all you'll see are sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Birubi was a lot larger than I expected and I know that there is also a "Tin City" tour there (11 kilometers of beach driving to "Tin City", a small makeshift fishing village that emerges from the dunes like a mirage" - 4WD website), but we didn't take advantage of that activity. 


My TOP TIPS for sandboarding: 

#1 Do NOT put your phone in your pocket. You'll be finding tiny granules of sand around the case edge for the next seven days; a weird little annoying souvenir. 

#2 Don't wear socks, there's no point since they strongly suggest you take your shoes off - and who wouldn't want to feel the nice warm sand between their toes? Socks would just collect sand.

#3 Leave the purse in the trunk of the car. Or if you're worried about leaving important things in the car park, bring a backpack-type bag so you can keep your things clean and with you at all times!



4WD provided water, which was great. Although we went in August (which is winter in Australia), it was still pretty warm with the sun shining bright overhead and climbing to get to the top of those dunes takes a great deal of energy. I felt like I was on a StairMaster. Between the strong winds blowing the sand around and the steep dunes, it was a total body work out just getting to the top. 


If you want to see all of the action for yourself, I've inserted a video I made about the experience. Take a look ⇊


                                       

On the way back we were going to head to the Airbnb, but Amie talked me into checking out the camel rides. Oakfield Ranch was set up near the car park, so there's no need to search them out, they're very easy to find. We actually first saw them when we can into the parking lot. 


After sandboarding the camels were resting and waiting for the next riders. Fortunately for us, we were the only people around at that time and we got all of the camels to ourselves - which meant we had the pick of the litter.  I'd never ridden a camel before and I was a little nervous, but it turned out to be something I was very glad I experienced. 


The ride was another great way to see the sand dunes and we veered towards the beach and got to ride among the waves coming up to the shore.



 At Birubi point the ride lasted about 20 minutes. Online I saw that there are other rides you can take at other locations, like the hour long sunset ride at Anna Bay. I think 20 minutes is the perfect amount of time to spend in a camel saddle. 



The camel ride was fun and not something I ever expected to do in Australia (when I think of Australia I don't typically think of camels...). Now that I've done it I don't believe I would ever do it again. It's a one and done type of activity. However, I would definitely go sandboarding again!



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Australia Bound - Dallas Layover 😱

I was racing to make my connection from Dallas to Sydney when I got to a very empty gate. The Qantas representative at the desk smiled and handed me some papers and explained that my flight to Australia has been delayed for 24 HOURS and they were putting us all in a hotel with food vouchers. This was the last thing I wanted to hear! But there was nothing anyone could do but go to the hotel, sleep in a bed, and eat hotel food until we got more information and a departure time. 
I appreciate that Qantas put us up for the time we were delayed, but what I did not appreciate was that  there were no notifications or emails ahead of time to inform us that our flight was not going out on the date and time intended. Also, there was no one helping us at the hotel. They did not send representatives to inform us about updates. The only information we received was that the check-in desk would open at 6 pm. All day my fellow Australia-bound voyagers and I stood at the arrival and departure boards in our hotel lobby checking to see if there was an incoming flight and to see if our flight would mysteriously show up with a gate number. There are somethings in which Qantas excelled, however their customer service leaves a lot to be desired. 


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Off to Australia!



It feels so good to be off on another adventure! I'm visiting my friend, Amie, in Sydney and she's going to show me the locals live in this beautiful city. I've never been to Australia and I'm very excited to make some lasting memories, write new blog posts, and film new videos! Make sure you subscribe to my Youtube Channel, follow the blog, or even connect with me on Instagram (Wildechildyup) to keep up on the updates, adventures, and fun times! 

Get to know my good friend Amie in this video we did a while ago (before she even left for Australia) about our different traveling styles: 




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Planning for Australia: Visa


One of my favorite Netflix shows is Border Security; USA, Canada, and the Australian one. Among the smuggling and blatant disregard for the declaration process, other major issues that arise tend to revolve around visas.  Either it's fake, or they are not a "genuine tourist/student", or the holder did not realize that their visa has expired. Really, there is no excuse to skip this VERY important step, if this is a step you need to take, when you are about to travel.  As I mentioned in "The Worst Common Travel Mistakes", a visa can truly make or break a vacation.

I'm an American with a passport, so I can easily travel pass the Canadian border. Planning for Australia was my chance to determine the difficulty of the Australia Visa Application.

Which One?

The Australian government website has plenty of visa options available - and they know it! A first timer, like myself, can get a little overwhelmed with looking through all the types of visa, especially when some are very similar. You have to consider the requirements of each visa, as well as the short-term or long-term time spans, and prices. Which one is THE ONE?



 The Australian visa site takes the guess work out of this whole process with a few simple question determined to direct you to the one you need. 



As a short-term American visitor, my results were:

⇨Electronic Travel Authority (subclass 601)
⇨Work & Holiday Visa (subclass 462)
⇨Visitor Visa (subclass 600)




I picked the electronic option since it would be a faster process than the others offered. This option was also less than $20 USD. 


Filling Out The Application

The electronic visa allowed me to easily fill in my information right away. The form took about two minutes, tops. All you need is your passport.

Confirmation

The electronic application I was confirmed by email within the hour and the whole process was complete. The process will be different and take more time with other visa applications, like the one that requires you mail in documents and they have to put the visa in your passport. That was something I also wanted to avoid mainly because of the time it would take. I was very happy with the online application process. 

In the end, the whole procedure was very easy. The carefully planned website was easy to navigate and utilize. The intuitive questions helped me to get the task done correctly and quickly, instead of spending the day second guessing myself and worrying if I overpaid for the wrong thing. 

Be sure to do your research before you leave. There's more than visas on this government site. If Australia is your next stop, take full advantage of the abundant resources the site has to offer!



Monday, July 24, 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Worst Common Travel Mistakes


Nothing can ruin a trip faster than forgetting something. Whether it's the swimsuit you forgot to pack or applying for a visitor visa, these mistakes can (and sometimes definitely will) make your carefully laid plans fall apart.

Trying to Do Too Much
Trying to do too much can be more of a hassle than you imagine. Being a tourist takes time. Tim to get from point A to point B, time to actually absorb and enjoy events or the sights you're seeing. It's never fun staying at attractions, monuments, or landmarks only long enough to snap a picture. Trying to fit in everything can make your trip activities feel more like obligations. Take your time and pace yourself!

Unaware of Destination Holidays


Arriving in a foreign town in a foreign country to find that most shops and attractions are closed due to national holidays is a very souring realization. I traveled to Japan in December for New Years and most of the major attractions were closed. Even the Robot Restaurant was closed...
Being aware of local holidays will save you a headache and help your trip run easily. Also, if it's a big tourist pulling holiday the cost per day could go up. Hotels and transportation rates may go up a bit, so it's always smart to do your research.

Over-packing

You convince yourself that you need every single thing in your suitcase. Guess what; you don't! Why not save some of that space for cool souvenirs? Not only will they ask you to remove some weight at check-in at the airport, but you also have to lug that heavily laden luggage around until the end of your adventure. Be honest when packing, do you REALLY need all of that? Check out my last packing video!

Do You Need a Vaccination?
Not getting the proper shots before you leave could be one mistake that would be hard to fix. Do the research, make an appointment, and get it done. You want to enjoy the trip you worked so hard for, not spend it in the hospital. 

Not Checking the Weather



A mistake may people make. A mistake of which even I am guilty! There are so many resources (My Favorite Travel Apps) and I have absolutely no excuse to do this anymore. Being ill prepared for the weather of your destination can be a pain in the butt. I've gone to Chicago in the July thinking it would be hot, yet I was wrong. I had to buy jeans and light sweaters, which not only cost money, but also took up more space in my suitcase. 

Forgetting to Inform the Bank
This mistake is one of the worst. Extremely detrimental, especially when traveling solo. Once, a friend and I went to Paris, France. A day or so in to the trip her card was shut down because she forgot to tell the bank that she was leaving. Until this problem was fixed I had to pay for food and transportation for the both of us. Make sure you add "Inform Bank" to your check list of Things To Do Before Trip.

Need a Visa?
Another way to surely ruin a trip is by not getting a visa when it's required. Overlooking this important detail will make all of your vacation dreams vanish. Don't make this mistake. If you are not sure, check the government websites of your destinations and give yourself plenty of time to research which visa you need and enough time for paperwork. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pittsburgh Spots to See On Your Next Trip

There are, of course, so many things to see and very little time when all you've got is about 24 hours in one city. I did a quick day trip to Pittsburgh, PA and challenged myself to see some interesting stuff during my time there. 


 I did the Duquesne Incline and saw the stadiums, bridges, and sights from afar.
(View from the top of the Incline)

 I didn't want to waste time trying to get to all of the best diners all around the city, which I am sure are great, and I didn't go to The Strip or do any tours. Instead, after the Incline, I went to the place that drew me to this city in the first place: RandyLand



I saw this place on Instagram and knew I had to see it for myself. The drive wasn't long for me, coming from Columbus, OH. It opens at 10 am and Randy was there tinkering around. He welcomes everyone with a great big smile and his contagious high energy. Randyland is truly an expression of the man who made it.

(Randy Gilson)


Randyland is free and runs on donations. Visitors are allowed to come and go as they please to see the art in and around the courtyard and buildings. I am really glad I got to see this place and it was a great way to start my day in Pittsburgh.



Not far from Randyland is the Mattress Factory, a modern contemporary art gallery. If you want weird conceptual art, this is the place for you! I'm not going to lie, this wasn't my favorite art gallery in the world. I'm not even sure I understood half of what was displayed, but sometimes it's healthy to get outside of your comfort zone....




Although I didn't enjoy the gallery, that doesn't mean someone else won't. You should go an check it out for yourself, it may be your cup of tea. What I did thoroughly enjoy was the alley behind the Mattress Factory Randy told us about. It's called Poet's Alley. 



The vibrant and intricate paintings in the alley are centered around the theme of a poem also painted on the houses, some in different languages. This unexpected stop, a suggestion from Randy, completely made up for the art gallery. This is one place everyone should explore when visiting Pittsburgh. It may not be on the various "Best things to see in Pittsburgh", but I would definitely put it on my list.




Another thing that may not be on the "Best things to see in Pittsburgh" is the PPG campus. I like to call it the Black Glass Castle. How gorgeous are these buildings? The whole campus is beautiful inside and out.


I saw this place first from the Incline ride and had to go exploring to find it. I'm glad I did. I do not know if there are architecture tours in this city (if you know of one, let me know and I'll return to take that tour!) but they need one. There are many beautiful buildings in the downtown area and I wandered around looking at them. The PPG campus was still my favorite for a two simple reasons.

1. It's a glass castle



2. They had the cutest dinosaur statues! 



Before I headed out, I made one more stop at the Milkshake Factory. I didn't want to stuff the day full of trying to get around to every little attraction or museum and I still had a blast roaming around a city I wasn't familiar with at all. I had a great day in Pittsburgh. 
If you have any special attractions or stops you think should be on a "Must See" list, please let me know in the comments below! I'm always open to suggestions and exploring alternative attractions!