australia travel guide: phillip island & penguin parade half-day trip from melbourne

One of my greatest regrets in the planning of our grand Australia/New Zealand adventure was not giving ourselves enough time in Melbourne. Granted, we only had so many days to work with, and we had two specific things we wanted to do in the Melbourne area, so I did what I could with the allotted time–which ended up being two days in Melbourne (really, one and a half days, if you take into consideration we flew in in the morning, and our flight was late, at that). So it was that we ended up spending very little time in actual Melbourne–but, you know, hindsight is always 20/20, right?

Another one of my regrets is the multitude of early morning departures we endured just to fit everything in; we were just on a very condensed schedule, kidding ourselves that this was the only time we were going to travel to that part of the world, and thus cramming in as much as humanly possible. Day 1 in Melbourne didn’t start off that great, I’m not going to lie to you. (Actually, we had snafus on both days in Melbourne, but I’ll get to that.) For starters, our flight got in late. If we’d had nothing planned for that day, it would have been fine, but because of the aforementioned cramming, we were scheduled to do our Penguin Parade excursion at 1 p.m. that day. Our flight got in at close to 11 a.m. We were going to do a shuttle from the airport to our Airbnb, but of course, there was no one manning the shuttle bus desk at the airport, and no one picked up our multiple phone calls, so we ended up getting a Lyft, but there is a very specific place Lyft drivers must pick you up at the Melbourne airport, and it took us a little bit of circle-walking to finally find it. God bless our Airbnb hosts, who let us check into their fabulous apartment early, and didn’t seem the least bit offended when we breezed back out of there five minutes later because we were in dire need of sustenance before we had to meet for our excursion. Normally, we would have taken a lovely mile-long walk to the meeting point, but we were later, so into another Lyft we went, after which time we searched for some easy takeaway lunchy foods (it took a surprisingly long time to find a place that had sandwiches). Oh, and did I mention it was almost 100 degrees when we were in Melbourne? Yeah, it was crazy, y’all. We experienced some of the strangest weather when we were in Australia; when I was packing, it was actually showing cooler temperatures than the rest of the country, and so I packed accordingly…for cooler climes. [Insert joke about God laughing here.]

Australia Travel Guide | Phillip Island & Penguin Parade Half-Day Tour from Melbourne | Warrook Homestead
My husband and his friend, the camel, who really did not look very well-taken-care-of.
Australia Travel Guide | Phillip Island & Penguin Parade Half-Day Tour from Melbourne | Warrook Homestead
Look how impressed I look. Although, this tiny horse was pretty sweet.

Anyway, we finally boarded the bus after baking in the sun for a good half-hour (thank God Grey Line had umbrellas we could use as shelter, or else I might have died from sunstroke, forreal), and off we were to our first destination–a farm, yay–that was a good hour or so outside the city. The drive was fine, if a little dull, but I’ll tell you, I really could have done without the stop at Warrook Homestead. It was kind of depressing, if you want to know the truth. None of the animals looked particularly well-cared-for, unlike the animals at the Featherdale Wildlife Sanctuary, for instance. My husband made a camel friend by feeding him all of the carrots, but aside from that, it was pretty uneventful.

Next, we were off to the Koala Conservation Centre on Phillip Island, where the koalas at least weren’t in cages, so it was a huge step up from the farm. We walked along the boardwalks that wind their way through the park, I squealed over some more extremely lazy but adorable koalas, and then it was back to the bus to find a place to eat. We had a lovely Italian dinner at a family-owned restaurant (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called), followed by some equally-delicious and authentic gelato that we enjoyed while we sat in the nearby park with a nice view of the water.

We headed to the Nobbies next, which has some pretty spectacular coastal viewing via lookouts and boardwalks. Apparently, the Nobbies is home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony, but alas, we spotted no seals. But the views were pretty amazing. We saw some interesting birds there, too, and even a few tiny penguins ahead of our official Penguin Parade (and yes, they were freaking adorable).

Finally, we made our way to the Penguin Parade, which begins around 9 p.m. (or dusk), when a few “scout” Little Penguins emerge from the water for the first time all day and make sure the coast is clear for the other penguins. (And yes, they are aptly named; you can trust Australians to call something exactly what it is, which they kind of made fun of themselves for, but which I, frankly, appreciated.) Over the next hour and a half, we watched a small batches of penguins emerged from the water and began making their way to their burrows, making a multitude of sounds while doing so. (I never realized penguins are so vocal, but apparently these ones are unusually so.) There are park rangers on hand to control the crowd and to make sure no one takes photos or video (all it takes is one person’s flash going off to throw the whole thing off, and they want to keep the penguins’ habitat as natural as possible to protect them). Thus, I was, sadly, unable to get any photos of the Penguin Parade, but you can watch a video of it here, if you’re interested. It was especially interesting when the rangers would talk about the migratory patterns of the birds, or the ways they mate, or what they reckon certain sounds mean, etc. The whole thing was magical…for about the first 30 minutes, then the magic started to wear off a little bit and I grew a little bored. There’s only so long a gal can sit and watch penguins walk by [insert shrugging emoji here].

We ended up getting back to Melbourne well past midnight that night, which was unexpected; the tour details didn’t actually specify how late we’d be getting back, which made our early-morning tour the next morning a smidge more difficult to wake up for…but I digress…again. I just don’t want you guys to be surprised if you do the same two-day combo tour we did! Like four hours of sleep is never a pleasant surprise!

And basically, if I’m giving you an honest-to-God review of the first part of this tour, I’m going to tell you, it was an all right excursion. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible, it was somewhere in the middle, with a few great moments sprinkled in. As I’ve mentioned before, I often choose to do excursions because I feel we see more and learn more, but while the first may be true, the second wasn’t necessarily on this specific tour—the group was too big, it was less personal, and I would have done things differently if the hubby and I had done this on our own. We definitely would’ve skipped the farm and maybe even the Koala Conservation Centre (you see a lot of koalas in Australia, and while I maintain the koala cuddle is one of the single best moments of my life, after a while, seeing them does lose a little bit of its sparkle). We could’ve, instead, driven out to Phillip Island, gotten in some beach time, hit the Nobbies for some quick photos, then headed off to the parade, where we could’ve hung out and watched the penguins for thirty minutes max before heading back to the city at a reasonable hour. If I’m giving you the honest-to-God truth, which I swore to always do, because I know how much time and money are worth when you’re adventuring—but I also don’t want to crush your dreams! If you want to see a penguin parade, knock yourself out, friend!

In my next post, I’ll tell you about day 2 of our combo tour, the Great Ocean Road tour, which was totally amazing, even with those aforementioned snafus (I’ll just keep dangling that carrot in front of you; you’re welcome; actually, you probably don’t care that much, but I’ll keep telling myself you do). In the meantime, pin my post on the Penguin Parade, share it with friends, decide for yourself if that’s how you want to spend half your day in Melbourne!

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australia travel guide: kuranda scenic skyrail and railyway tour from cairns + the ‘cuddling a koala’ experience

Rule #1: Don’t go to Cairns during their summertime, because it is also their rainy season—though it seems they were experiencing more than typical amounts of rainfall when we were there in December. If our first day was characterized by torrential downpours and day two alternated between a sprinkle and steady rainfall, then day three was somewhere in between—it was a steady, somewhat relentless rainfall on our third and final day in Cairns.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyway Excursion from Cairns
The view of the Esplanade and Pier from our Airbnb on a rainy morning (not that we experience any other kind!).

That day, we were supposed to go on ten-hour day trip to Kuranda from Cairns, wherein we were supposed to be driven to the Freshwater train station, take the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway for an aerial ride to the mountain village of Kuranda. After free time in town, we were to board the Kuranda Scenic Railway for the train journey back to Freshwater station, where the coach would pick us up and transport us back to our pickup location in Cairns. Unfortunately, the rain that day made it unsafe for the railway to run, so we would only be able to take the skyrail into town. While disappointed, we completely understood that the tour needed to be revised due to safety concerns, but it was slightly frustrating that no one tried to contact us to let us know the schedule had been altered; after waiting more than thirty minutes in the rain for the bus to pick us up, we had to call them to make sure the bus was still coming, and at that point only did they explain that the bus was running behind schedule because the driver was explaining the schedule change with each group they picked up. An email to folks on the tour that day explaining the changes would have been a bit more expedient, but that’s just this traveler’s humble opinion. And a small additional complaint about how all of that was handled—the instructions for our pickup location were unclear; they gave us a specific address on Esplanade Street, but the pickup location was on Abbott Street, so really they could have just given us the address on Abbott Street and saved us some time making a big circle in the rain, especially since the actual pickup location was accessible through the building we were staying in. (To play devil’s advocate, I suppose I could have been more prepared, but if pickups are something the company offers, they should be a little more adept at telling us where we’re being picked up, just saying.)

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyway Excursion from Cairns, Queensland
This is a shot taken from the Kuranda Historic Railway, which we were unfortunately not able to take due to the inclement weather. Source: Robert Linsdell/Flickr

Getting back on track now—we were given the option to cancel the excursion since we wouldn’t be able to take the train back as planned, or we could just take a partial refund and still go to Kuranda—so of course, we opted to still go, because what else were we going to do in rainy Cairns? I’ll be honest with you—there’s not a ton to do in Kuranda, either, or at least there didn’t seem to be, but because of the weather, we didn’t explore as much as might have otherwise. We took the skyrail, but because of all the rain and fog, it wasn’t quite what I’d call “picturesque.” We couldn’t see very much, but I imagine in good weather, it’s rather lush and dense and green.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Skyway and Railway Excursion from Cairns
Taken during a small break in dense fog. Behold the lush greenness of the Kuranda rainforest!

The town of Kuranda itself is unsurprisingly touristy. You have to walk through the “market,” which is just a bunch of stalls selling tchotchkes, local coffee, and other local goods, to get to Kuranda’s main attraction (in my opinion, at least): the Cuddle a Koala experience at the Kuranda Koala Gardens. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the most magical experiences of my life, you guys. I don’t know what it is about those cute little buggers, but they make me ridiculously happy, and as you’ll see in the photo below, I felt nothing other than PURE JOY when I was holding my boy Rocho. The Kuranda Koala Gardens also has wallabies jumping around freely, some lazy kangaroos, a couple of crocodiles and other reptiles and amphibians, but the koalas are really the only thing worth seeing there. There’s also a butterfly garden in Kuranda, but we heard from an Australian family we shared the skyrail with that it was utterly unimpressive, and also a place called Birdworld, which we didn’t have either the time or inclination to check out. After the Kuranda Koala Gardens, we had just enough time to grab a lunch of fish and chips before we had to be back on the bus.

Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyrail Excursion from Cairns | Cuddle a Koala
What PURE JOY looks like.
Australia Travel Guide | Kuranda Railway and Skyrail Excursion from Cairns | Cuddle a Koala
The hubby holding our pal Rocho, who was very unimpressed with us, by the way, but it didn’t make the experience any less magical.

Because our excursion to Kuranda ended quite a bit earlier than originally planned, we had some time on our hands that afternoon. If you’re not enjoying time on the Espalanade (which we would have if the weather had cooperated more, because we could have easily whiled away many hours at the lagoon in nice weather). Not knowing what else to do but not wanting to waste time hanging out in our apartment, we decided to head to the Cairns Central Shopping Centre, which is essentially like every other mall you’ve ever been to, but it allowed us to stay out of the rain and walk a bit, so I guess it served its purpose.

We ended up going to the Pier Bar for dinner that night. It was super busy, with people, mostly because they had a fantastic rating on Google. It was super loud in there, a very boisterous atmosphere—which is not necessarily my favorite thing in the world. We ended up sharing their hummus appetizer (which was super yummy), and I got their soft shell tacos (which were just okay). After dinner and during a small break in the rain, we walked along the Esplanade and lagoon—which is nice and lit during the night—before heading back to our room for the night.

Here’s my overall consensus on Cairns: We would absolutely go back, hopefully during their spring season, to avoid the rainy season and so the water would still be warm coming off of summertime. We would definitely opt to do an excursion either in the Atherton Tablelands (so that we could see all that we missed) or maybe choose to do one in Daintree Rainforest and Port Douglas instead. We would also like to go back to Fitzroy Island, with the hope that the glass bottom boat tour would be running, and that we could do the snorkeling excursion on the other side of the island. Hell, maybe by then we’ll have finally gotten scuba certified, and hopefully not the whole reef will have been bleached by then. I don’t know that we would necessarily aim for a redo on Kuranda; I suspect it’s one of those tourist attractions that’s a little overrated, and we can only cuddle so many koalas. But a nice chill day at the lagoon sounds just lovely, so I could see us maybe spending a day hanging out over there. We would absolutely stay at our Airbnb again, too; proximity to the Esplanade was so perfect.

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australia travel guide: fitzroy island great barrier reef snorkeling excursion from cairns

Our second day in Cairns, Australia, was the best we had there, weather-wise. The torrential downpour had lessened to a spritz, but the water was so choppy that some poor souls on board were seasick. The excursion to Fitzroy Island was very laid-back. It included the boat ride to the island, snorkel gear rental (including stinger suits, because it’s jellyfish season), a boxed lunch, a glass-bottom boat ride, and stand-up paddle boards, too.

Australia Travel Guide | Fitzroy Island Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Excursion from Cairns

A steady rain fell nearly nonstop all day, but because we were doing water activities, it didn’t bother us all that much. It was merely unfortunate that we weren’t able to go snorkeling on the other side of the island, the side that wasn’t accessible by foot, because the boat wasn’t running; we also couldn’t do the glass-bottom boat tour because the water was too choppy. It was a little bit of a bummer, but it wasn’t enough to ruin our day by any stretch. Instead, we made use of the stand-up paddle boards. I had only paddle-boarded once before, on the smooth lake waters in northern Michigan, so doing it out on the choppy ocean water presented an interesting challenge. The hubby fell quite a bit (poor thing, it was his higher center of gravity, he swore), but I managed to stay up more often than not. I enjoyed myself. 🙂

Australia Travel Guide | Fitzroy Island Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Excursion from Cairns

A little advice if you plan on doing a similar excursion to Fitzroy Island: Wear water shoes, or, at the very least, some flip-flops. The beach—such as it is—is comprised entirely of bleached bits of coral reef. It makes a lovely tinkling sound with each wave that crashed upon the shore, but it’s hell on bare feet. I hadn’t worn appropriate footwear when we went, so we ended up buying a pair of flip-flops from the one and only convenience store on the island. There’s also a bar and grill on the island, with nice views of the water, in case you’ve got a little time you’d like to while away. We had about an hour between the time we finished paddle-boarding and when our ride back to Cairns, so we grabbed a couple of fruity drinks and relaxed while we waited.

What with it being Christmas Day and all, I was a little concerned that we would have a hard time finding places to eat dinner that night, but I needn’t have worried. The Esplanade was bustling with activity that night. I had a hankering for Thai food, so we ate at Iyara By Sakare, a loft-like restaurant with a veranda and views of the ocean. It was one of the best meals I had in Australia—and we had a lot of excellent food there. I got the Gai Takrai, marinated grilled chicken with lemongrass, peanut and tamarind sauce. The white rice on the side offered a hint of coconut—yum.

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Pin for Later | Australia Travel Guide | Fitzroy Island Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Excursion from Cairns

australia travel guide: the atherton tablelands in cairns

When I was researching for our trip to Australia, most travel guides indicated that summertime (December through February) was the best time to visit. It just so happened that late December into early January worked best with our schedules, so I didn’t give it a second thought. What no travel guides said was that summertime, at least in Cairns, is also their rainy season. And oh, in those terms, at least, Cairns did not disappoint. It rained, consistently, constantly, for the three days we were in Cairns.

When I first planned our trip, we had an early morning flight into Cairns on Christmas Eve, with a midmorning excursion to Green Island to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and on Christmas Day, we were supposed to take an excursion to the Atherton Tablelands. I was surprised that the excursion was running on Christmas Day, but I wasn’t about to question it, though maybe I should have. When I reached out to them about a month beforehand to confirm a pickup location, they informed me that the excursion had been canceled, which annoyed me for a couple of reasons: 1) Why even offer an excursion on Christmas Day if you’re not actually offering it?, and 2) I shouldn’t have had to contact them; they should have contacted me to let me know. But that’s neither here nor there.

The last-minute cancellation forced me to reconfigure our plans for that stop. There were excursions offered to Fitzroy Island on Christmas Day instead, and since our Airbnb host said he preferred Fitzroy over Green Island, it was an easy swap. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy to swap days for our Atherton Tablelands excursion—there were no other Atherton Tablelands excursions offered on Christmas Day, and there were none offered on Christmas Eve with start times that would work with our flight times—so I decided that, instead, we would rent a car and explore the Atherton Tablelands on our own. It was a little nerve-wracking thinking about (my husband) driving on the opposite side of the road, but it seemed like the best way to still see what we wanted to see. I used the itinerary from the excursion that was canceled and plotted the points on a Google map, making an imperfect loop.

We landed in Cairns at about 9:30 am, the sky grey, the clouds thick, precipitation spritzing as we made our way down the stairs and to the jetway. Almost as soon as we had settled behind the wheel of our rental (by the way, foreigners need an international drivers license in order to drive in Australia, and, side note: it’s super weird to be in the passenger seat on the left), the heavens opened up and unleashed a torrent of rain. It was awkward at first, driving on the left side of the road, and the rain certainly didn’t help, but the hubby adjusted pretty quickly; he only went the wrong way once!

It had been raining for days at this point, so the waterfalls (which were to be the highlight of the excursion) were positively raging. We could hear the rushing water long before we caught sight of the rushing water. The mist at the top of the waterfall was so thick we couldn’t actually see the top, particularly at Josephine Falls. We ran into a couple of locals there, bright-eyed with awe, who said they’d never seen the waterfalls like that. Normally, the water was calm enough that people could swim there, but there was no way we were getting in that day. Normally, the waterfalls were graceful and clear, but the rain had rustled up the red-toned earth, making the water a rusty brown instead. It wasn’t quite the magical experience I had been expecting based on photos, but it was still rather thrilling. There’s something exhilarating about seeing how powerful (and dangerous) nature can be.

Of the eight plotted points, we only made it to three that day, largely because the rain was insane: Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, and Millaa Milla Falls. I was proud of us for venturing out into the squally, sideways-falling sheets of rain—I was proud of us for making the best out of a less-than-stellar situation—but there was only so much being out in the elements that I could take. After three stops, I was exhausted and ready to head back to the airport to drop off our rental. When we go back to Cairns, we would probably opt to do the excursion we originally planned to, just to maximize what we could see within a day.

We stayed in an Airbnb with a view of the marina; on a sunny day, it would have been a stunning view. It was also less than five minutes’ walk to the Esplanade, about a thousand different restaurant options, and the Cairns Night Markets, which had a ton of ridiculous tchotchkes and souvenirs (including a surprising amount of things made out of kangaroo scrotums—no joke). After a yummy dinner at La Pizza, we were somewhat delirious and definitely slaphappy and amused ourselves with all of the random objects in the Night Markets before we fell, exhausted, into bed.

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Cairns, Australia Travel Guide | The Atherton Tablelands: Babinda Boulders, Josephine Falls, and Millaa Millaa Falls

australia travel guide: figure 8 pools hiking excursion from sydney

Our guide, Adam (or Adzy, as he likes to be called), blames Instagram for the droves of people making their way to the Royal National Park these days. The pool’s naturally-made Figure 8 pools are the big draw, with people hiking and bouldering down there for that perfect Instagram snap. I’d be lying if I said the photos alone hadn’t made me want to go there. Not specifically for that “Instagram-worthy” photo, but because it seemed like such a unique experience.

Australia Travel Guide | Figure 8 Pools Hike | Royal National Park | Barefoot Downunder

Barefoot Downunder is the only company licensed to operate in the Royal National Park. Sure, you can make your way down there yourself; you don’t really need a guide. But I was happy that Adam was there to guide us, and here’s why: It can actually be pretty dangerous down there if you don’t know how to read the water. We saw countless people wipe out on the slick stones when the waves pounded into them.

Australia Travel Guide | Figure 8 Pools | Royal National Park | Day Trip from Sydney

The weather had been unpredictable our first three days in Sydney, but the fourth day was perfect—low 70s, sunny, a nice breeze. It took us about an hour to make our way down to the water—down a perfect path, along the beach, over boulders (which is so much fun; I love the challenge of figuring out which route to take; it’s kind of like putting puzzle pieces together), before finally getting to the smoothed-out rock formations where the pools are.

Australia Travel Guide | Figure 8 Pools | Royal National Park | Day Trip from Sydney

Adam told us that some days, it simply isn’t possible to get all the way down there safely, but we lucked out. He lined us up by the pool, keeping a close eye on the waves, letting us know when it was safe to slide in for our Instagram-worthy photo, warning us to back up when an especially rough wave was coming in, giving us tips on how to keep on our feet when a wave hit us (turn your back, lower your center of gravity). No one in our group fell, but we saw plenty of others bite it, often with phones and cameras in hand.

The water was freezing, but ridiculously clear and a stunning shade of blue-green. It was cool to get that photo, sure, and it’s amazing to think that these pools were formed over thousands of years just by the erosion caused by the waves. It was even better to venture a little closer to the water’s edge, where the waves surged and pummeled the rocks. There’s something so exhilarating about a powerful ocean. I felt the same way when witnessing Queen’s Bath in Kauai.

We were down there for maybe an hour before heading back to put our shoes and clothes back on, have a snack and a drink of water, sustenance for the much more challenging hike back up to the parking lot—uphill all the way. Despite the slow pace we followed, I was a sweaty, tired mess by the time we finished our hike, but it was totally worth it, and it was definitely my favorite thing we did in Sydney.

When Adam dropped us back off in the city, he recommended Spice Alley, which he said has some of the best dumplings in Sydney—and dumplings sounded so tasty that we decided we must have them, even though we had our Mr. Wong leftovers to eat that night. I wouldn’t say they were the best dumplings I’ve ever had, but they definitely hit the spot, and it was a really cool area—strung with red lanterns, and at least a dozen different food stands offering a variety of Asian specialties.

On our walk back to our Airbnb, we decided that some post-appetizer, pre-dinner gelato sounded just delightful. We stopped at this charming gelateria called Anita, then walked through Chippendale Green, a charming little square surrounded by funky buildings, an interesting sculpture in its center. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

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Australia Travel Guide | Figure 8 Pools Hiking Excursion with Barefoot Downunder | Pin for Later

australia travel guide: blue mountains and featherdale wildlife park day trip from sydney

When I was researching things to do in Sydney, Blue Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were definitely on most “must-see” lists. And indeed, the photos look almost mystical. But remember when I said that the weather didn’t exactly cooperate with us in Australia? Well, it was certainly all over the place that day. Mother Nature apparently was having some crazy menopausal mood swings that day, because it bounced from rainy and cold to warm and sunny at least five times throughout the day. If I’m counting my blessings, I can at least say I’m grateful that the sun did choose to peek out at various times throughout the day, rather than the full-on deluge of rain we experienced in Cairns (but more on that later).

blue mountains and katoomba scenic world

The day dawned with bruised clouds and a drizzle of rain as we walked to our meeting point by the aquarium, but the sun popped out during our two-hour “scenic drive” to the national park. According to our itinerary, we were supposed to stop for morning tea in Leura, but our guide, John S., called Grey Line’s normal stop there and apparently it was already insane there due to the beginning of tourist season (the downfall of going when nearly all the guidebooks tell you to). So we bypassed Leura and went straight to Katoomba Scenic World, which sounds kind of like an amusement park, but really, it just has three “attractions”—the skyway, cableway, and railway—which we could do at our own expense if we wished. Given that the fog lingered heavily along the mountaintops when we arrived, we decided to save our $39 (APIECE).

Australia Travel Guide | Blue Mountains Day Trip from Sydney | Katoomba

Instead, we decided to walk the Furber Stairs, an “easy” and short walk, given that we only had about two and a half hours there total. It was colder in the mountains than expected (unseasonably cold, as locals kept reminding us), but that “easy” hike (and the chai I’d gotten from the cafe) warmed me up pretty quickly (is it just me, or do stairs always caustically remind you how wildly out of shape you are?). We didn’t do the entire walk because we didn’t have enough time if we also wanted to eat lunch, but as we walked and hit up a few of the lookouts, the fog lifted slightly, just enough for us to see what all the fuss was about.

Australia Travel Guide | Blue Mountains Day Trip from Sydney | Katoomba Scenic World

We were glad, in the end, that we skipped Leura and headed right to Scenic World, because it meant we missed the worst of the tourist onslaught as people started coming in droves around lunchtime. And when I say droves, I mean DROVES. The gift shop was ridiculously crowded as we wandered around, mostly sampling honeys, because that’s kind of become my thing. (I bought some really delicious cinnamon honey there, but alas, customs officials in New Zealand made me discard it; apparently, if I opened Australian honey in New Zealand, it could possibly put their bees at risk, so they’re very specific about the kind of honey you can bring into their country; just something to watch out for if you’re also going to be spending time in both countries.) We grabbed some pretty decent fish and chips (and ginger beers!) from EATS270 before heading back to the bus, onward to our next destination for the day.

En route to Echo Point, John took us to a higher elevation for another view of the mountains. By then, the sun was shining, the fog had burned off, affording us some pretty spectacular views. (Funny story about the Blue Mountains: John apparently had a person once ask for a refund for the excursion because the trees weren’t actually blue. Oh yes, this is a true story. And before you ask, yes, she was American, though John was reluctant to confirm our suspicions. I mean, what was she expecting? A Smurf forest? In case you’re wondering, it’s commonly believed that the blue haze is due to the ways the rays of light refract off of the mist rising off the eucalyptus trees blanketing the mountains.)

Australia Travel Guide | Blue Mountains
Australia Travel Guide | Blue Mountains National Park

echo point

Our next stop is Echo Point, from which you can get the best view of the Three Sisters rock formation. Legend has it that three sisters belonging to the Katoomba aboriginal tribe in that region fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe, and they were forbidden to marry. The brothers refused to abide by the law forbidding them from their loves, so they captured the three sisters, sparking a battle between the two tribes. To protect the sisters, a witch doctor turned them to stone. He had intended to reverse the spell once the battle was over, but he was killed before it ended, and the three sisters were forced to remain as the spectacular and unique formation we see today. (Australians and New Zealanders are really big on their folklore, by the way. We heard a lot of legends as we made our way through both countries, which I find endlessly fascinating.)

Australia Travel Guide | Three Sisters | Echo Point | Blue Mountains National Park
Three Sisters Rock Formation, Blue Mountains National Park, outside of Sydney, Australia

featherdale wildlife park

As we made our way back to Sydney, we stopped at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, which is not a zoo. Well, it’s not a traditional zoo, anyway. I specify this because the more I learn about zoos, the sadder it makes me. No, Featherdale is a sanctuary for endangered and injured Australian animals. If possible, they mend the animals’ broken parts and release them back into the wild.

This was where we got our first glimpses of those quintessential Australian animals: the Wallabies (which are freaking adorable, and you can pet them!), the kangaroo, the cassowary (which is a pretty prehistoric looking mofo), a smattering of interesting-looking owls and colorful songbirds, and, of course, the koala, just to name a few. (Note: It’s just koala, not koala bear. They’re not actually bears, even if they have bear-like features. We were corrected. More than once.)

Let me tell you, friends, our sleepy koala friends are just as adorable in real life as I dreamed they would be. And no, they’re not actually stoned, contrary to popular belief—they’re just really sleepy. They’re one of the few animals who can actually subsist on a diet of eucalyptus leaves; for most animals, eucalyptus leaves are poisonous. The koala’s adaptive digestive system is actually able to detoxify the poison in the leaves, but it takes quite a bit of energy for that to happen, which is why koalas sleep 18-22 hours a day, only waking up when they’re ready to munch on some more leaves. About 90% of the koalas we saw in various sanctuaries around Australia (and by the end of our trip, we’d seen a lot) were curled up into little balls in the treetops. 

But Featherdale does offer you the option to take a photo with one of the little guys, though you cannot hold koalas in New South Wales (it’s against the law because a large population of them are infected with chlamydia—it’s true—and a huge problem threatening to wipe out a good percentage of our remaining koalas, and they don’t have numbers to spare. And though it’s a different strain than what we humans get, it can actually be transferred to us through the koala’s bodily fluids, like snot and tears, so yeah, no hugging, and no complaints here). So our first “interaction” with a koala was gently cupping his behind as he wedged himself in the V of what looked like a very artificial tree branch. Not that I’m complaining! It was still magical, despite our fairly awkward-looking photo souvenir!

Australia Travel Guide | Featherdale Wildlife Park | Koala

A couple of hours and a very satisfying koala interaction later, we headed back to Sydney by boat. It was windy as hell, but the sky was a beautiful deep blue. As with our lunch cruise, we had the option of getting off at Circular Quay or Darling Harbor. Since we’d spent a lot of time the previous day in Circular Quay, we decided to spend a little time in Darling Harbor instead.

darling harbor

A couple dozen bustling bars and restaurants form a U around the harbor, making our decision ridiculously difficult. We ended up eating at I’m Angus Steakhouse, which was another expensive meal (but we were in an especially touristy area, so it’s to be expected), but SO TASTY. We started with the bruschetta, which was basically two slabs of Texas toast piled high with juicy tomato chunks—it was heaven. For dinner, I got a half-rack of ribs and it was enormous–-my eyes legit popped out of my head and our waiter laughed as he placed the slate slab with a mountain of meat in front of me and tied a plastic bib around my neck. (In hindsight, I don’t know why I was surprised. They’re listed as “giant pork ribs” right on the menu. They’re very literal in Australia.) But oh man, I was hungry enough to eat a horse and I did a surprising amount of damage to that meal considering how, um, unassuming my stature is. The hubby had to practically roll me out of there.

Australia Travel Guide | Darling Harbor at Night

After that ridiculously satiating meal, we had to walk off some of those calories, so we strolled around the harbor as the sun sank lower in the sky. We noticed groups of people huddling along the waterfront and realized the harbor puts on a fireworks display on Saturdays throughout the summer, so we walked around some more until we found a good spot on the pedestrian bridge. I’m a sucker for fireworks, and for being a free show, it was pretty good, a nice distraction from the chill that set into the night and a great way to end our third day in Sydney.

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Sydney, Australia Travel Guide | Blue Mountains & Featherdale Wildlife Park Day Trip from Sydney

australia travel guide: sydney city tour, lunch cruise, & opera house tour

If you’ve been following my blog, then you know how much this girl loves excursions. There’s something to be said for aimlessly wandering the streets of a new city, but when you only have a few days to squeeze in all the sights of a bustling city, excursions are the most efficient way to see the most in a compact amount of time. One of the nice things the tour company Grey Line offers, at least in Australia, is two-day combo tours, which were appealing mostly because of cost savings. I mean, we were going to do both anyway, why not save a little money along the way, right?

walking tour of the rocks, sydney’s oldest neighborhood

On our second day in Sydney, we were slated to do the first day of our Sydney City Tour with Harbor Lunch Cruise/Blue Mountains Day Trip Combo Tour. We met our Grey Line bus over by the marina bright and early, with our first stop being a short walking tour through The Rocks, one of the oldest areas of Sydney and the place where the first Europeans settlers (many of whom were convicts exiled from Britain), first colonized. Thus, The Rocks has a rather sordid past (which I find ridiculously fascinating). Because America had effectively separated itself from England during the Revolutionary War, England, whose prisons were overcrowded, could no longer send its convicts to America (you’re welcome, Australia). So instead, they gave prisoners a choice: either they could go to Australia, or they could be hanged. Some, fearing the unknown, chose to be executed, but over 160,000 chose to go to Australia over the span of about 80 years. It took the better part of a year to arrive there by boat in those days, with many people facing illnesses and even death before they could step on Australia’s sandy shores, but if they made it, many were able to apply their trades in the new colonies, and once they served their sentences, the ex-convicts could join the “free colonies,” some of them actually becoming well-known politicians and the like (go figure).

We were there a bit early in the morning, unfortunately, but on the weekends, markets pop up throughout The Rocks’ cobbled and storied streets, selling everything from fresh foods to local art. The Rocks also boasts some of Australia’s oldest pubs and most popular restaurants. (Try Pancakes on the Rocks if you’ve got time for breakfast one day—I had the cinnamon roll pancakes and they were to die for.)

mrs. macquarie’s chair

Our next stop was Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, which isn’t so much a “chair” as a crudely carved sandstone bench (the handiwork of convicts, thank you very much), for Elizabeth Macquarie, the governor’s wife. The governor, Lachlan Macquarie, is kind of a big deal in Sydney’s history, as he had a heavy hand in its transition from penal colony to free colony. From Mrs. Macquarie’s Point are some pretty awesome views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge (and a random Navy ship that I honestly know nothing about, but it was kinda cool, if not super random).

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney City Tour | Mrs. Macquarie's Chair
Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair, Sydney, Australia
Australia Travel Guide | Mrs. Macquarie's Chair with a View of the Sydney Opera House & Harbor Bridge
The hubby and me across the harbor from the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge

bondi beach

After that quick stop, we headed to Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s most iconic and well-known beaches, especially for surfers (it was the only one I had heard of prior to going). It was a bit grey and chilly that day, so not many people were out, but I can only imagine how packed that place gets when the weather’s nice. It’s quite a long stretch of beach, but there’s only a small area where you can swim (indicated by yellow-and-red flags); everywhere else is too dangerous, at least without a floatation device, because of strong rip currents, which actually is the case at a lot of Australia’s beaches.

Australia Travel Guide | Bondi Beach
Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Day Tour | Bondi Iceberg Pools
In Bondi, there’s also the Icebergs ocean pool, which is quite the Instagram-worthy place (but alas, we didn’t have time to go—adding it to the list of things to do next time we’re in Sydney). (Photo courtesy Hugh Jackman, the quintessential Australian gentleman.)

sydney harbor lunch cruise

We ended our half-day Sydney tour with a two-hour leisurely lunch cruise. The buffet had a pretty generous and varied spread of hot and cold dishes, a little bit of every kind of ethnic food you could think of—Asian, Indian, Italian, Spanish. I was definitely stuffed afterward—and my husband certainly ate enough to get our money’s worth. The lunch cruise disembarked at two different ports, Darlington Harbor or Circular Quay (pronounced KEY, which totally threw us), which is where we got off because it was closest to the Opera House, which was our next destination.

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Harbor Lunch Cruise
View of Luna Park from our Sydney Harbor Lunch Cruise
View of the underside and pylon of Sydney Harbor Bridge
Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Harbor Lunch Cruise
View of the Opera House from the water

sydney opera house guided tour

I chose not to book our Opera House tickets in advance. Because the Opera House offers guided tours every half-hour, it seemed like a safe bet that it was something we could book the day-of, if time allowed. For convenience, I booked our tickets on Viator once we disembarked the lunch cruise, but you can’t select a specific time. I assumed, being a jerk who didn’t read the instructions in the confirmation email, that we could just show up to whichever half-hour suited us, but alas, you actually have to check in with the box office for “official” tickets (which, in my opinion, totally negates the ease of buying them online, but I digress. I share this with you only in case you’re a jerk like me who doesn’t bother reading instructions. ;))

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Opera House Guided Tour
From far away, the Opera House looks white, but it’s actually white and cream tiles set in an intricate Herringbone pattern. The Opera House remains as white as it does because

I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical about this tour, but the tour, at an hour long, is just long enough and actually quite interesting. Did you know that the iconic building you see everywhere now was actually the winner of an international design contest? True story. In 1957, Danish architect Jørn Utzon came up with its unique design, which is a feat of engineering and design and actually required the expertise of several people to make it architecturally possible. You can read more about its troubled history and the amazing “Spherical Solution” here. The moral of the story is this: There’s a reason it’s the most-visited site in Australia. It truly is awe-inspiring and though I’m sure you’ve seen photos of it everywhere, photos truly don’t do it justice.

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney City Tour | Sydney Harbor Lunch Cruise | Guide Tour of Sydney Opera House
Sydney Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House

After our Opera House tour, we a had a little time to kill; we wanted to be back at the Opera House at sundown to see the Indigenous light show, which is projected on the side of the cafe, a miniature version of the Opera House itself. It was cool, but I wouldn’t necessarily say you should go out of your way to see it. If you’re in the area, cool, check it out; if not, check out videos online and you’ll get the gist.

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Opera House
The Indigenous Light Show projected onto the side of the Opera House Cafe

To kill time, we headed to this “secret” bar I had read about called Bulletin Place. I don’t know how “secret” it really is (’cause it was hoppin’ when we were there), but there’s no signage on the street, so if you’re not looking for it, it would be really easy to miss. It’s located down this narrow cobbled lane, with a hand painted on the wall inside pointing upstairs. There’s a friendly bouncer (yes, that’s a thing) who polices who goes up there, primarily because it’s freaking tiny and only so many people fit up there. The cool thing is that they have a new cocktail menu every day, written on butcher paper hanging on the wall above the bar, each a custom creation devised by the bar’s three owners and resident bartenders. It’s a quirky, dim-lit place with exposed brick and interesting old artifacts and newspapers clippings scattered haphazardly throughout; I found it quite charming and the drinks were rather unique.

Australia Travel Guide | One of Sydney's best "secret bars"
The Bulletin Bar, with its butcher-paper daily menu, located near Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia

After our drinks, we weren’t particularly hungry, but we wanted a little something to snack on, so we popped into the Ship Inn, known for its pizzas. I’d come across mention of them in several blogs and “best of” lists when I was doing my hardcore Sydney research. I remember it being a tasty pizza, but I don’t remember which one we got (which I guess says something—maybe it was the Chicken Delight?). Regardless, I was properly satiated as we headed to the Opera House once more to catch the light show, and we ended the night with ice cream cones from one of the shops located by the train station.

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Opera House
The view of the Opera House at night.

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Sydney, Australia Travel Guide | Sydney City Tour, Lunch Cruise, and Opera House Guided Tour

australia travel guide: sydney harbor bridge climb

When I began planning our epic adventure to Australia and New Zealand, it was firmly with the “go big or go home” mentality. As I’m sure you can imagine, it takes a lot of time and resources to venture to that side of the world, so we figured this would be the only time we’d go there, that this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. After one day in Sydney, we realized how foolish that assumption was. Yes, it took us nearly 30 hours, four planes, and two days to make it from Detroit to Sydney, but it was 100% worth it, and we looked at each other with knowing smiles and said, “Yup, we’ll be back.”

Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Harbor Bridge & Sydney Opera House

I’m not going to lie to you, the mere idea of a combined 30 hours flight time is daunting, but I’m here to tell you it’s not that bad. The worst part, honestly, was all the layovers we had, two out of three fairly lengthy (almost four hours in Chicago and six in San Francisco), but the flights themselves were honestly quite manageable.

Because of last-minute packing the night before we left, and having a super early flight out of Detroit for the first stretch of our trip, I got maybe three hours of sleep the night before our departure. By the time we got on our flight to Fiji in San Francisco, I’d been up for about 21 straight hours. By the time we took off and had eaten our dinners, it was probably closer to 24 hours. Which sounds miserable, I know, BUT on the plus side, it also ensured I was super tired for our 11-hour overnight haul. I slept for six relatively uninterrupted hours on that flight, which is pretty much unheard of. Aside from, you know, being utterly exhausted, I also had a super boring audiobook playing while I slept, so whenever I woke up, I was quickly lulled back to sleep out of sheer boredom. I also had a footrest, which sounds kind of weird, I know, but for shorties like me, it helped make me a little more horizontal and it also helps with circulation, so, you know, it was a win-win.

I was also worried about adjusting to the HUGE time change—Sydney is 16 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in the States, but the hubby and I actually adjusted surprisingly well. I was awake pretty early (probably around 2 am local time in Fiji), but I forced myself to stay awake, and it wasn’t really that hard—I was so excited to be in Sydney!

We stayed in a tiny studio apartment in Darlinghurst, less than a block from Oxford Street, which is the center of the LGBT community. After freshening up, we hit up a little shop near the apartment for sandwiches. We didn’t realize Grill’d was a chain, but they’re all over Australia, and their burgers are delicious. They’re not like a lot of the chains we have in the States, where everything’s cookie-cutter and processed and not very fresh. Everything was so flavorful and so fresh. I had the Bird & Brie, which had a delightful cranberry sauce on it. It was like Christmas in my mouth. I also had a super tasty ginger beer made by Brookvale Union. I drank a lot of ginger beer in Australia, y’all, but this was by far the best. I dream of this ginger beer. I’m really sad I can’t get it in the States.

After a very satisfying lunch, we decided to head toward the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The only thing I had on the docket for that first day was the Sydney Bridge Climb at 4 pm. I was thinking it would be good to do something a little adrenaline-inducing and crazy on our first day, you know, to help with the jetlag and that late-afternoon sleepy slump. We took our time, though, walking through Hyde Park with its ANZAC War Memorial, a WWI memorial; there are actually quite a few monuments in remembrance of both World Wars scattered around Sydney, which is cool, because I think it’s really easy for non-Australians to forget the role that Australia and her soldiers played in both wars.

It was a beautiful day that day, probably close to 80 degrees, the sun was shining. It was almost perfect…right up until the moment we ventured into BridgeClimb Sydney for our first adventure. As we were waiting for our orientation to begin, dark clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and the heavens opened up. Still, we suited up into our giant onesies, went through the training, got all harnessed, and began our trek across the bridge. The rain was coming down in sheets, but we had raincoats and the view of the opera house was pretty cool. Nope, the rain wasn’t the problem, but there were storms all around us. Ones of the lightning variety. So we had to wait a while before getting the green light to start climbing. About half of our group started climbing before they were told they had to come back down because another storm was rolling in. It was actually pretty cool to see all that crazy lightning off in the distance. So we were all waiting under an overhang, high up over the water when the hail started coming down. TENNIS BALL SIZED HAIL, YOU GUYS. IT WAS CRAZY. The sound was deafening, and the hailstones were so large that we could see them pummeling the water, even from that high up. The next day, the news was calling it an ‘insurance catastrophe.’ Needless to say, we didn’t end up actually being able to do the bridge climb, which was a total bummer. We tried to reschedule, but the only time we could do it was in the late afternoon, which was when the storms had been habitually rolling in. Pretty much everywhere we went in Sydney over the next couple of days, that charming coathanger was in view, and every time we saw people up there climbing the bridge we got so angry. That could have been us, dammit! But on the bright side, we now have the perfect excuse to go back to Sydney. (Look at us, looking on the bright side!)

Sydney, Australia Travel Guide | Panoramic View of Sydney Harbor, including Sydney Opera House

Unfortunately, we were not prepared for this unexpected deluge of rain when we left our Airbnb earlier in the day; we had no raincoats, no ponchos, no umbrellas. So we had to wait out the rain a little bit in the BridgeClimb building before we made our way to Mr. Wong Chinese restaurant for dinner. Apparently, the crappy weather actually worked to our advantage, and we got a table in fewer than 30 minutes, which I guess is unheard of on a Thursday evening. I’d read about Mr. Wong on several websites and blogs (I’m pretty sure Lonely Planet recommended it as a must-do), and it was pretty delicious, but it was also very expensive. We weren’t prepared for how expensive food was in general in Sydney, but this dinner cost about $140 AUD, which is about $100 American dollars—yikes! And that was for two drinks, a dim sung platter, pork hock, and fried rice. A tip for eating at Mr. Wong: The meals are meant to be shared, and rice is not included with your entree, and it all adds up. On the plus side, we had leftovers to eat another night—bright side, again!

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Australia Travel Guide | Sydney Harbor BridgeClimb

21 awesome & unique gift ideas for the globetrotter in your life

To get into the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d put together a list of awesome gift ideas for the world traveler in your life. (This list can also be subtly known as ‘a list of awesome gifts for Ashley—wink, wink.) But seriously, this list contains some practical gifts and other thoughtful/unusual gifts you can give this Christmas to your wanderlusting loved ones—or any other time of the year, for that matter! Giving doesn’t have to be limited to Christmas! 😉

Luggage

For the person who carries his life on his back: An antitheft backpack

It’s water-repellent! It has a built-in charger! It has hidden, zippered compartments! It’ll help you stay organized! And it has “illuminating safety strips” so you don’t, you know, get run over by a car or trampled by a heard of gazelles when you’re journeying across foreign lands!

16 awesome gifts for the globetrotter in your life | antitheft backpack

Or, for the woman who would like an anti-theft purse: This anti-theft purse from Travelon.

It comes in a variety of colors and two different sizes, the cross-body bucket bag and the smaller messenger bag. They feature locking zipper tags, interior RIFD blocking slots and pockets for money and credit cards, several different compartments including two expandable side pockets for beverages or umbrellas, and slash-resistant straps and bodies. It’s also waterproof, which is a huge plus! Your valuables won’t get drenched if you’re caught in the rain! They’re also pretty good-looking for such a practical and useful travel item!

Source: amazon.com

For the person who could really use a nice carry-on suitcase: An Away carry-on.

If you’re independently wealthy and feel like being generous, gift one of these awesome carry-on bags, which retail at $225 for the carry-on size. Not the cheapest luggage on the market, I’ll grant you that, but people seem to love the things—look at that 4.9 rating! It’s hard-sided so nothing inside gets squished (yet it’s still lightweight), it’s got 360-degree wheels, a built-in combination lock, and a built-in battery so you can charge your phone (the battery is also easy to remove, as airlines like American begin to not accept smart luggage unless the battery can be removed if the bag needs to be checked).

Organizers

For the person who totes 30 pounds of electronics while they travel: A travel cord roll.

It’ll keep your cords from becoming a jungle, and it rolls up tidily so it doesn’t take up too much room in your luggage. Currently, I use an eyeglass case to hold my various cords while I’m traveling, but this is so much more attractive!

For the light packer: A set of packing cubes.

I’ll admit I have not tried these before (though I’ve been tempted to), but a lot of articles I read about light packing list packing cubes such as these as essential to achieving that task. These travel cubes not only help compress your goods but also keeps it all organized so you’re not always rifling through your suitcase trying to find that one thing.

For the carry-on lover: A TSA-approved toiletry bag.

Do you know how many trips I went on where I tried fitting all my liquids into a quart-sized Ziploc bag? Too many! And I could not fit nearly as much in that sucker as I can into this toiletry bag. It’s a full quart size and square, so you don’t lose all that space where the zipper gathers at the top. I can seriously fit like eight or more bottles of stuff in this thing. It’s a miracle! (I’m one of those suspicious, catastrophe-fearing people who fear their checked luggage will get lost en route to our final destination, so I like to bring some of my essentials in my carry-on bag even if I have checked a larger bag, so this comes in handy even for long hauls.)

Source: http://www.amazon.com.

For the person who likes to keep all their important shit together: A leather passport cover and wallet.

Keep all your most important docs, along with your credit cards and money, all in one handy-dandy place. Plus, it’s just so cute and whimsical! And it’s named after Amelia Earhart!

16 awesome gifts for the traveler in your life | Personalized leather passport cover and travel wallet
Source: ShopAlwaysRooney/www.etsy.com

Or, for the person who is paranoid about their information being stolen (and rightfully so): This RFID Blocking Passport Holder and Wallet, available in a variety of colors.

I tend to just carry my money and wallets around in a little coin purse, with the credit cards in one of those RFID-blocking sleeves, but this is just so much more attractive—and I imagine it’s a little more organized than having to root around for stuff in a tiny little coin purse—just sayin’.

For the Tech-Loving Traveller

For the person who likes to be always be connected (or at least have the option to be connected): A WiFi Hotspot.

I always rent a WiFi hotspot from Tep Wireless when I travel abroad. It’s way cheaper than adding international coverage to my cell phone plan, and it’s unlimited. But if your loved one is a really frequent traveler, it may make sense for them to own a WiFi hotspot and simply pay the daily rate when they use it. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have WiFi at your fingertips when you’re abroad! I use it for directions, to keep in contact with Airbnb hosts, to keep in touch with loved ones back at home, to find nearby restaurants. But you can also turn it off and be disconnected, which I appreciate. I really only have it on when we absolutely need to use it, but even still we go through a few gigs of data per day. There are other pocket WiFi companies out there, of course, like Skyroam, but I’ve used Tep multiple times now and have zero complaints.

Source: http://www.tepwireless.com

For the avid reader: A Kindle.

I’ve read as many as six books while on vacation. How much space would six books take up in your suitcase?! Too much room! Which is why I don’t go anywhere without my Kindle. I’m not limited to how many books I can bring with me; I just make sure they’re downloaded to my device before we depart, and then I can read as many as I want! It’s light, it’s small (fits easily in a purse), and the Paperwhite in particular holds a charge for WEEKS (plus it’s back-lit but can be easily read outside, which I love). If you do happen to run out of books to read (BLASPHEME!) while you’re on vacation, if you’ve got WiFi, you can buy another book and continue living in bibliophile bliss, no problem! 

For the person who likes to read but also likes having the option to watch TV shows and movies while vacationing: A tablet.

The tablet is great because you can load eBooks onto it if you have the Kindle app, but apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime also let you download shows to your tablet for future use, which means you can watch them on airplanes or abroad without needing WiFi—wahoo! (For our upcoming Australia/New Zealand trip, for instance, we’ll be spending like 35 hours on airplanes, so I’m loading it up with episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Younger” for those long plane rides.)

Source: http://www.amazon.com

For the wine lover: Wine Skins.

I once had a bottle of wine break in my suitcase—no lie. It was the white and not the red wine, thank God, but it still sucked to have everything in my suitcase soaked with wine and glass shards, in addition to wasting really good wine! So if you know someone who likes to bring home wine as their favorite souvenir, get them some of these Wine Skins. Not only do they protect the wine bottle from breaking, but also, if the bottle still happens to break despite the bubble wrap, it seals at the bottom so that your wine does not soak all of your clothes—how great is that! Plus, if the worst does happen to you (RIP wine bottle), you can open the Wine Skin and pour the wine through a coffee filter and still drink it! Win-win!

16 awesome travel gifts | Wine Skin, for the winelover in your life!
Source: http://www.wineskin.net

Apparel

For the person who wants everything within easy reach: A sweatshirt or jacket that has 15 “amazing features” (as touted by their website)!

I actually bought my husband the sweatshirt for his birthday in preparation for our Canary Islands/Lisbon trip. I remember seeing the ad for these when they were doing their Kickstarter campaign and thinking to myself, Wow, that’s super cool—but is it really worth $200?! Well, now all of their apparel is on sale, so it’s a much easier pill to swallow. Plus, the hubs loved it—his headphones were easy to reach, there’s a built-in travel pillow that blows up in literally two blows (or maybe three, depending on your lung compacity), a built-in eyemask, a neat passport pocket, a tablet pocket—even a drink pocket!

For the person who is always vacillating between hot and cold: A blanket scarf.

It’s fashionable, but it also keeps her warm. It can be dressed up or dressed down. It can be worn as a scarf or a wrap if she gets cold, or if she’s, say, going into a church and needs to cover her shoulders, and it’s small and light enough that you can carry it with you in a purse or backpack without it weighing you down—so it’s always handy.

16 awesome travel gifts | Blanket scarf
Source: LovebyLudmila/www.etsy.com

Books

For the traveler who enjoys writing: Leatherbound travel journal.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be a famous writer someday, and when you’re dead, someone will happen across this really awesome leatherbound travel journal and will read about all your awesome adventures (wow, that got dark; I don’t know why, but Hemingway really comes to mind as someone who would have had a leatherbound travel journal). But seriously, if your loved one is one of those lovely travelers who clings to that pen-on-paper feeling, I guarantee you this is a quality and personal gift he or she will love.

16 awesome gifts for globetrotters | Leatherbound travel journal
“I don’t know how to put this but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.” – Ron Burgundy http://www.amazon.com

For the foodie in your life: The The World Atlas of Street Food.

If food is your favorite traveler’s favorite part of traveling and they long for that authentic culinary experience, get them this book. It’ll help them avoid tourist traps, fast-food chains, and less-than-stellar food. Plus, I don’t know about you, but street food has been some of the most delicious food I’ve ever put in my mouth. (Food trucks—how do you do it? What’s your secret? Why is your food so amazing?)

16 awesome travel gifts | World Atlas of Street Food
The World Atlas of Street Food by Sue Quinn & Carol Wilson Source: http://www.amazon.com

For the person who is a nervous poo-er: How to Shit Around the World.

Or, I guess, for the person who wants to stay healthy while they travel. (Mostly, I just appreciate this for its name—it tickles me because I am essentially a 12-year-old boy who thinks poop is hilarious. Or, at least, that’s what got me to click on the link.) It tackles problems like traveler’s diarrhea, unhealthy water, and weird foods, just to name a few (or to name the first three in the TOC, if I’m being honest).

how-to-shit-around-the-world-awesome-travel-gifts
How to Shit Around the World by Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth Source: http://www.amazon.com

Home Decor

For the person who likes to travel AND decorate:

A world travel poster where you scratch off the places you’ve been, OR this fingerprint world map, which puts kind of a fun spin on a visual representation of all the places you’ve jet-setted to!

One of my favorite (personal) gifts the hubs and I got at our wedding shower was this world map, where we put pins into each country we’ve been to (it’s a little outdated). In case you’re wondering, the heart is somewhere approximating Paris, because that’s where the hubs proposed to me.

where-youve-been-map-awesome-travel-gifts

Anyhow, if you or your loved one are visual people like me, it’s pretty cool to have a visual representation of where you’ve been in the world, and the maps I linked to above are artsy, attractive ways to show folks just how worldly you are!

16 awesome gifts for the world traveller in your life | Thumbprint world map
Source: bleudetoi/www.etsy.com

A custom map of your loved one’s favorite place in the world.

Personally, I love wall art like this—it’s abstract, it’s attractive, but it is still meaningful for the owner or recipient because it represents their happy place. Plus, you can get it in your loved one’s favorite color for an added touch of personalization.

16 awesome travel gifts | Map Art
Source: TheMapCollection/www.etsy.com

Jewelry

Now, this might seem like a weird one, but I for one love unique pieces of jewelry—and if they speak to my love of travel, even better! I came across these when I was browsing on Etsy; they’re all rather unique, which is cool—the chances of someone else you know having it is slim to none (unless you’ve both using this gift guide anyway).

A paper airplane necklace with initial: This one just screams whimsy to me, while the initial makes it a little more personal.

16 awesome travel gifts | Paper airplane necklace with initial
Source: LeBuaJewelrytoo/www.etsy.com

An airplane necklace, gold with cubic zirconia accents: It’s not a stretch to say that airplanes represent global travel, so get this for the girl who loves cute, feminine jewelry and loves adventuring.

16 awesome gifts for the globetrotter in your life | Airplane necklace with cubic zirconia
Source: WanderandLustJewelry/www.etsy.com

These world map earrings. How cute are they?

16 awesome travel gift ideas | World map earrings
Source: Bubblebox/www.etsy.com

Etsy has no shortage of awesome and unique gifts for wanderlusters. Go to their homepage and check out the “Wanderluster” category (see bottom right-hand corner)—it’s where I found most of these jewelry pieces!

16 awesome gifts for wanderlusters | Check out Etsy
Source: http://www.etsy.com

Gift Cards

I know some people are of the belief that gift cards are not personal gifts. I respect that. I do. I’m just not one of those people. If you’re coming up empty on gifts to get your globetrotter, gift cards are a perfectly acceptable option—you can give Airbnb gift cards, or gift cards for their airline of choice, or even those gift cards that are essentially credit cards you can refill because then they can take it on their trip with them—and that, to me, is still a very personal gift, and one the world traveler will certainly appreciate! If your loved one values experience over material objects, short of paying for a trip for them, gift cards are the next best thing!

Got any other awesome travel-related gift ideas? I’d love to hear them! What would you get for the wanderluster in your life? Or what would YOU want for your travels?

copenhagen travel guide: the copenhagen card

When I was researching things to do in Copenhagen, I came across the website for the Copenhagen card, which is supposed to save travelers money. It includes unlimited public transportation, “free” admission to popular tourist attractions, and discounts on restaurants and sightseeing tours. 

We only had one and a half days to see all Copenhagen had to offer, so I knew I had to be selective in what we were going to do. On the Copenhagen card website, you can choose which attractions you’d like to see (I chose Tivoli Gardens, Canal Tours Copenhagen, the Round Tower, and Rosenborg Castle), then see how much you save by buying the Copenhagen card. It was supposed to save us 28 euros.

canal tours copenhagen

After our walking tour, the first thing we did was the canal tour of Copenhagen. The sun popped out long enough to bathe us in warmth while we took a leisurely boat ride through Copenhagen. Our guide was informative and relatively interesting. It was an efficient way to see all the sights from a different vantage point. 

rosenborg castle

Rosenborg Castle is listed on the Copenhagen card as the fourth most-visited place in Copenhagen. It was built in the 17th century by King Christian IV. There’s free WiFi at the castle, which allows you to connect to an online guide of the castle so you know what you’re looking at. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than wandering aimlessly through the castle without knowing what you’re looking at anyway. The big draw at Rosenborg castle is the crown jewels. 

the round tower

The Round Tower (or Rundetaarn) offers up great 360-degree views of Copenhagen. It was commissioned by aforementioned King Christian VI. It was almost like a squatter, wider version of Pisa, except instead of hundreds of stairs, you make your way to the top by following a ramp. It’s about as useful as the tower of Pisa, too. It was intended to be an astrological tower when it was built, but now it’s just a tourist destination. We were in and out of there in less than an hour.

tivoli gardens

According to TripAdvisor, Tivoli Gardens is the second most popular tourist attraction in Copenhagen, behind only Nyhavn. It’s just an amusement park; supposedly, Disney World was modeled after Tivoli Gardens. There are tons of rides, lots of places to get expensive carnival food, two handfuls of restaurants, and some really beautiful gardens. We sat outside and had a drink as afternoon slid into evening. At dinnertime, we walked around looking for a restaurant that sounded good, but we ended up at the Tivoli Food Hall instead, which offered up quite an array of cuisines. We ended up eating, of all things, Mexican food at Zocalo, and it was freaking delicious. We ended the night by getting churros. It was a nice way to while away a few hours, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a “must-see” in Copenhagen.

was the copenhagen card worth it?

When we got back from our cruise, I sat down to figure out whether the Copenhagen card was really worth it. My consensus? It wasn’t worth it for us. 

  • Entrance to the Rosenborg Castle: 110 DKK (14 euros)
  • Entrance to Tivoli Gardens: 120 DKK (16.08 euros)
  • Fee for the Canal Tours Copenhagen: 85 DKK (11.39 euros)
  • Entrance to the Round Tour: 5 DKK (.67 euros)
  • Total: 42.88 euros

We paid 77 euros per person for the 48-hour Copenhagen card. We had planned on doing some stuff in the morning before our cruise, but when we woke up that Monday morning, it cold, and windy, and rainy, so we ended up going straight to the cruise ship. It seems unlikely that we spent 30-some euros on transportation for one train ride and a few bus rides. Perhaps it would have been worth it if we’d been there another day. The Copenhagen card does include a lot of attractions. But I don’t think it saved us any money. Maybe we evened out somehow, I’m not sure. Just something to think about if you’re going to Copenhagen and are considering getting the Copenhagen card yourself. 😉

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