Category: Blog

Everything You Need to Know About Contiki’s European Inspiration Tour

Humans are an extremely curious bunch. They LOVE to know as much information about a topic as they can manage, even when they are about to find out for themselves anyway. I say this because I find that I get asked quite a number of questions in regards to my travels with the tour company Contiki. I know that whenever I go on a tour myself I spend at least 3 weeks worth of time researching what I am about to experience – so don’t worry, I 100% understand and relate to your curiosity. That’s why today I am going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of Contiki’s three-week European Inspiration tour. (I’ll even share with you some handy hints about how much money you’re going to need!)

Ethan and I decided that we wanted to go on our first big overseas trip together. We knew we wanted it to be in Europe but we didn’t know where, when, or how long for. I suggested that we travel with Contiki as I had previously been to Asia with them and loved every moment. I thought it would be a great way for us to get a taste of a few different European countries so that we could plan all future trips with firsthand experience.

We chose the European Inspiration tour from Contiki’s “Discoverer” range. Contiki offers seven different styles of travel including the Discoverer. This is awesome as it allows you to find the type of tour that suits you and your travel goals. They describe a Discoverer as:

“See it all, do it all – if you’ve been dreaming of exploring your entire life, you have to go Discoverer. Our most popular travel style, these trips are designed to cover lots of ground visiting many destinations on one trip, with a wide range of experiences included in the cost.”

We knew we didn’t want to be rushed and Discoverer tours are known to have an extra night in each main city. Ultimately, we chose this tour based on the number of countries we would visit (10), the length of the trip (just under 3 weeks), and the Discoverer style allowing for maximum adventure.

We decided to travel in the thick of winter and it was a perfect choice for us. We live in a very tropical climate and our winter doesn’t really exist. So leaving our boiling hot summer for a snow-covered winter in Europe was a dream come true.

Let’s get into it!

How much did we spend?
This is definitely the most popular question I am asked.

(I am from Australia so please remember that all amounts listed will be in AUD!)

FLIGHTS AND THE TOUR ITSELF
I am not a big fan of travel agents – at all – but Ethan had a guy he’d used in the past so we decided to see what he could do for us. I went and organised the tour through him with no worries as I knew that it wouldn’t have any mark up on it (considering I could see the regular Contiki prices on the website!). I also got 5% off my share of the tour as I was a past traveller with Contiki, so that was a win. We decided to split the cost down the middle though, so we each got 2.5% off.

In total, we each paid $3549 for the tour. This amount included accommodation for 18 nights (all hotels, no hostels), travel for 19 days (complete with a Contiki coach and expert driver), all breakfast while on tour, eight of the dinners, a knowledgable Contiki trip manager, and twenty-four included experiences – a wine tasting in Tuscany, for example.

If we divide the amount of the tour by the length of the trip, we get approximately $185 per day – this isn’t too bad when you consider the regular price of a hotel room per night and then build from there. All in all, I feel that the price of the base tour deserves a tick. It is definitely reasonable.

The flights were a different story. We decided to do a round trip – home to London, London to home. The travel agent argued with me that his quoted price of $1930 per person was the cheapest possible (it included TWO layovers on an already very long journey) and that the only other option was $2630 per person (WHAT!?) with a “great connection in Hong Kong of only one hour”…

I’m sorry, I’m pretty passionate about this as it gets me very fired up so we are going to take a small detour to allow for this rant. This agent has been in the industry for 14 years and he thinks a one hour international stopover is a GOOD idea!? I’ve been in airports where the journey from my arrival gate to my departure gate is 40 minutes itself! This, paired with a possible flight delay, is an absolutely BRILLIANT example of why a one hour stopover is the worst idea ever. I was shocked. Back to the point!

I wasn’t happy with the offer from the agent – as I’m sure you’ve guessed – so I went ahead and organised everything else myself. The flights we ended up booking came out at $1795 each ($135 cheaper per person than the agent’s cheapest offer) and we flew with Singapore Airlines. We had only one layover each way! They were both eight hours, but they were at the world renowned Singapore Changi Airport, so we were happy as we knew how much there would be to do while we were there. This worked out well.

So! All together we spent $5344 each on our flights and our Contiki tour. Not bad for the base amount of one month in Europe over the New Year period!

CONTIKI ADD-ONS
If you haven’t done a Contiki before, you might not know that there is always a list of extra experiences and adventures that are NOT included in your tour price. However, Contiki will organise these for you if you pay extra. My BIGGEST tip for this is to look up the experiences ahead of time – easy to do on the website – add together all of the costs and save that amount of money SEPARATELY to your spending money. This was something I did differently on this trip that I didn’t do on my first Contiki and it was so, so, so much better.

Everyone always says to do all of the add-ons… #noregrets. On my first Contiki I would have agreed! But on this one… not so much. But I’ll get to that (and a few other tips about add-ons) later on! I worked out early in the game that to do ALL of the add-ons it would cost us roughly $950 each. We knew this and we added it to our budget, and once we saved it we moved it away from the rest of our spending money. When the time came on the tour to choose and pay, it was simple. We already knew what we were signing up for and how much it was going to cost. Boom. Tick.

SPENDING MONEY
I’m not completely sure about Ethan, but I had $3900 in my account when we left Australia. I was paid an additional $2800 while we were away thanks to all of the annual leave that I had accrued. So technically, I had with me a grand total of $6700 for spending money.

While we were away, we made the decision that if we saw something we wanted we would buy it no questions asked as that is what we had saved so hard for. Because of this we didn’t exactly travel on a “budget”, we just did what we did when we wanted to do it. And trust me, if you are able to do the same, I would highly recommend it. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with travelling on a budget, but it was so exciting to feel so free. We worked really hard and sacrificed a lot of other things while we were at home to be able to do this, but it was so unbelievably worth it.

I came home with $700, so I guess I spent around $6000 in a month. Keep in mind though, our bills were still coming out at home, so it didn’t all go towards the trip. This works out to around $220 spent per day we were away which was pretty close to what we thought we would spend when we were planning at home. (We went with a plan of 100 euro per day, and this works out to about 140 euro per day.)

OTHER ACCOMMODATION EXPENSES
We spent one night in London at the beginning of the tour, which is what most people have to do. There is a Kickstart meeting the night before which is one reason to be there a day early, but the main reason is that the tour starts at 6am on the first day so you’re going to want to be well rested (and definitely not running from the airport!).

Instead of staying at the recommended Royal National Hotel (this is where the Contiki Basement is situated), we stayed literally down the street and around the corner at the Tavistock. From the reviews we read online it sounded like the Tavistock was a better option for a quiet night’s sleep. This was confirmed by our new Contiki friends who said that the Royal National was a bit rough – so another tick for us. We spent $105 each on our one night at the Tavistock. We were happy to spend that little bit extra to have a slightly nicer hotel that still made it super easy to get to the coach at 6am the following morning.

We also decided to stay a week in London at the end of the trip – kind of like a holiday after our holiday. We were really glad that we did! This is another thing I wholeheartedly recommend doing as it gave us time to unwind after a whirlwind tour.

For this extra week, we wanted to go all out. We didn’t look for the most expensive but we definitely didn’t want the cheapest, so we booked 5 nights at the Park Grand Paddington Court Hotel for a grand total of $538 each… really not that bad, right!? It wasn’t a great hotel but I think that might just be London. Luckily we were a couple so we were used to living in each other’s pockets but for those who might not want to live on top of their travel buddy, definitely check room sizes when booking. Staff weren’t that friendly, laundry was a rip off, but the location was good. Half a tick for that one.

So in total I spent just under $12,000 to see 10 European countries in one month. 
This could definitely be done for either less OR more, but this was my specific experience and I felt it was really reasonable for the adventure I had.

FAQs

Here we are going to go through all the other questions I get! If there is anything you would like to know that I don’t cover, please leave me a comment and I will be happy to help!
  • Suitcase or backpacking pack?
    This is SUCH a personal thing. However, when I travelled to Italy in 2011 I took a brand new soft suitcase and the cobblestones destroyed two of the wheels. It made for a very difficult trip when I could no longer wheel my 20kg suitcase and had to drag it instead! Because of this experience, Ethan and I both decided to try packs this time around. I bought the Osprey Fairview 55 litre and Ethan bought the Osprey Farpoint 55 litre. They are essentially the same pack, but the Fairview is optimised for women so that it sits a lot more comfortably on our hips. These packs each came with a detachable daypack which was really handy. We used packing cubes inside the packs to keep everything organised and to compress it all, and we were really proud to get on the plane for a month of travel with only 8kg each. This style and size will not be suitable for you if you are a big shopper or if you really tend to overpack. Despite our packs being only 15kg each on the way home, we did have to buy an extra carry-on bag each so that we could fit everything. I would travel with a pack again though, I would just take even less with me in the beginning! (Backpack gets extra points because everyone we travelled with was so impressed that it was all we had with us and that made us feel warm inside.)

 

  • What did you pack?
    I will be doing another post very, very soon that will go into full detail about everything we packed and I will link it here when it is done!

 

  • Is Contiki really strict on suitcase size and weight?
    The short answer is yes. If your tour is starting from London your bag won’t be measured but it will be weighed. It won’t be measured simply because these people are so experienced that they will know just by looking whether or not your bag is within the specified dimensions.Now, we happened to depart on a day when TEN OTHER TRIPS were departing (which is so crazy that it’s nearly unheard of in Contiki world) so they didn’t have time to weigh ours but that is not a common occurrence. Besides, the weight limit is 20kg for a reason – your driver does ALL of the driving as well as loading and unloading of the bus. If you’re thinking about packing more than 20kg, think about your driver and then think about whether or not that is a decent thing to do to them. (Pro tip: it’s not.)

 

  • Should I do all of the add-ons?
    We didn’t feel that the Prague bunker tour was worth doing. The guy who ran it was awesome, but unfortunately it just wasn’t exciting enough to enjoy so we wouldn’t waste our time doing it again. We also didn’t think that the Swiss fondue lunch was all that great – the fondue cheese was kind of gross and the chocolate fondue was only dark, so not to everyone’s taste. Space Electronic Disco is just a night club, so maybe wait to pay for it until you know whether or not you feel like going out that night as entry on the day isn’t too much different to purchasing it as an add-on. We paid for it in advance and then didn’t go because we were exhausted and wanted to sleep that night. DEFINITELY do the Swiss Lake cruise, it was beautiful. The Tuscan evening is also one of the best nights on tour in our opinion.
  • Is there anything I should book in advance?
    THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE. Booking for the Anne Frank House opens exactly 2 months before and if you don’t book you will NOT get in, the line is just so long and you will waste your time. It was a highlight of our trip. We ended up missing the Cheese and Clogs inclusion as well as the Volendam Dinner add-on to do it but we have #noregrets. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. We also booked the Amsterdam Ice Bar as well as the Paris Catacombs in advance and they were both fantastic too.
  • What was your highlight?
    Our highlight was unique as we were in Berlin for New Year’s Eve, so we got to go to the famous Brandenburg Gate NYE Party. It was AMAZING. That was definitely the best night on tour. However, as I said above, Anne Frank was also a huge highlight for us.
  • Is it enjoyable if you are travelling as a couple?
    This tour is frequently recommended to couples, so there should always be at least one other couple on it. On our specific tour we were one of 14 couples, so there were actually more couples than singles. It was very enjoyable and we became what I’m sure will be lifelong friends with three other couples from the very first night.
  • Is it enjoyable if you don’t drink very much?
    I am not much of a drinker at all and I had a great time. I definitely drink more when I am travelling than I do at home, but not that much compared to everyone else. We didn’t go out very many nights at all and we still had a ball. Don’t let the trip manager or other travellers make you feel like you have to go out every night (or even at all!), because you absolutely do not have to. We were always up early in the morning and feeling great because we weren’t constantly hungover. Nothing wrong with getting drunk and partying every night if that’s your thing, but if it’s not? Totally fine. It wasn’t our thing either, and we had a fantastic time.
  • Did you feel rushed at all?
    Yes, we definitely did. It’s just not enough time to see these big beautiful cities that are full of so much history. In saying that, we were constantly thanking our lucky stars that we booked a Discoverer so that we had the double night in each major city. There is a LOT of time spent on the bus. You probably already think you know that… but then you do it and it is next level. Drive days are every second day and I think our shortest drive was something like 6 hours. Drive days are exhausting. On the night when you get to the new city, you have dinner at the hotel followed by the option to go out or go to sleep. The following day (your second night) is the only full day you get in that city so it pays to be super prepared and know exactly what you want to see and do so you don’t run out of time. This trip is FANTASTIC for a taster of Europe, and we now know all the places we want to go back to and where we feel we’ve seen enough of. But if you are only planning to go to Europe once in your life? Maybe reconsider a tour like this, or just book an extra spontaneous month afterwards to do your own exploring through the cities you really loved.

 

  • If I go in winter, will I see snow?
    We saw the most snow our trip manager had ever seen on a Euro trip. We were so, so lucky. Because it is a natural phenomenon it definitely isn’t promised, but we were there from December 28th to January 22nd and we saw snow more days than we didn’t. It was amazing.

 

Other things that are just handy to know…

  • Switzerland is SO expensive that nothing you do will prepare you for the shock.
  • Always have coins on you because you will need to pay to use the toilet.
  • Table water will sometimes cost more than your meal.
  • Pickpockets are everywhere and they will be able to tell that you are foreign, so be really switched on and keep an eye on your belongings more than you would at home. If you do that you won’t have a problem.
  • Same kind of warning as the pickpockets – if someone tries to give you a rose or a bracelet for free and they insist you take it, DON’T. I will just drop it on the ground or not even put my hand near them. They will come back about a minute later and tell you to pay for it. Just be really aware of this. It mainly happens in Italy.
  • If you’re going in winter, for the love of all that is good – PACK THERMAL UNDERCLOTHES. Also for the ladies: no heels and no dresses. You won’t wear them, trust me.
  • If you are travelling as a couple – book a photoshoot! We had a one hour session with a photographer in Paris and we are so glad that we did!! The photos are amazing.
  • Probably the most important: Get out of your comfort zone! Do not go halfway across the world just to do the same things you would do at home. Eat the frogs legs, dance with the Italian opera singer, wake up early to see the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum or the Brandenburg gate with the sunset behind it. #noregrets

Now for some quick and easy Pros and Cons of the European Inspiration and travelling with Contiki in general!

PROS
  • So efficient – it’s all set out for you, you don’t really have to think. Just be where they tell you when they tell you and off you go!
  • Skipping lines – Contiki will get you into some major attractions much faster than you would be able to if you were travelling alone. The Vatican is a great example of this!
  • Experienced and knowledgable driver and trip manager to pass on tips and tricks you wouldn’t always be able to get from Google.
  • Fellow travellers! You will meet people from all over the world (though on our trip only Australia and New Zealand was represented) and some of them will become lifelong friends.
  • Value for money – I would be interested to do an extensive study on this, but from my experience I feel that you really will save money travelling with Contiki as opposed to trying to do everything that they so expertly manage to fit in on your own.
CONS
  • Rushed – it is a whirlwind, you will be tired to the point of exhaustion and you will miss things that you always wanted to see. There is just no way you can fit everything in… even though you do see a LOT.
  • If you go in winter some major attractions will be closed and there will be nothing you can do about that. We couldn’t go up the Eiffel Tower or into the Louvre, for example.
  • Not so comfortable – the bus is pretty cramped and you’ll get sick of sitting, especially if you’ve done a long flight to get there. Also, your feet will get seriously sore if you don’t have awesome shoes… this one is worth it though, in my opinion.

I hope this has been helpful! Don’t forget to leave a comment if I’ve missed anything you would like to know! Or, if you’ve done this trip already, did you agree with everything I said? Let me know!

Also, check out our trip video below for a look at all the incredible adventures we had. The whole video was filmed on our GoPros, so you’ll almost feel like you’ve been there too!

 

 

Katie

 

Setting New Year’s Resolutions… in March!

Hello, hello, hello! Here I am. Back again after a huge hiatus. One day I will be so fantastic at consistently posting that you won’t know what hit you! But until then… sorry friends.

The funny thing is, I’m not even really sure if I have any frequent readers. So if anyone misses me when I’m gone, leave me a comment below so I can think of your face every time I go for more than two weeks without posting. Because at the moment I only think of my own face, and that’s not very motivating.

Today I am here to talk about New Year’s Resolutions! Exciting, yes? Whether you love them, hate them, or are somewhere in between, it is undeniable that New Year’s Resolutions are alive and well. People LOVE to think that along with a change in date will come a change in life. And I think it’s great! Don’t get me wrong… I am all for changing your life at any time of the year! But I do find it fascinating how many people really do change for the better all thanks to a simple New Year’s Resolution.

This year, my resolutions (and my plans to achieve them) are as follows:

Get the diet right. Get the exercise right. Just get the health & fitness right!
This one is pretty self explanatory and it has been at the top of my NY resolutions list for the past few years. I’ve done pretty well in the past! However, I’ve gained a large amount of weight recently, so I am ready to get back out there and give it another go. This time, I would like to find what makes my soul happy to make a positive and lasting lifestyle change rather than a quick fix for here and now.

How will I achieve this goal?
I have signed up to a six week challenge with Bodies By Rachel which will start on March 18th (only 8 days away, yay!) and it will guide me in both areas of nutrition and fitness. I am also SUPER excited to be starting Muay Thai training! I’m looking forward to sharing with you my experience during both!

Read more – not the computer screen, not the phone screen… Physical books.
Again, pretty self explanatory! When I was younger, I would read every single day. I used to write novel after novel too. I really miss that. Now whenever I try to read I seem to fall asleep or get distracted and do something else.

How will I achieve this goal?
I have bought some new books and will be making every effort to read at least one chapter per night before bed, starting tonight! Wish me luck.

Really think about what I want to do with my life and go after it.
I would like to have an idea of what I want to do for the rest of my life. Musical Theatre was always, and still is, my dream. But I would like to have something else I am truly interested in that I can start working towards now while I am away from music studies. Something else that I can have expertise in and passion for.

How will I achieve this goal?
I am constantly looking through university courses, trying to find something that grabs my attention! I think I’ve found a strong contender, but time will tell…

Learn to say no.
I have lived so much of my life doing things purely to please others. I am so ready to put myself and what I want first. It sounds selfish but I truly believe that it is necessary. I get so upset when I think I am disappointing other people and I need to get past that barrier to be able to enjoy all of my time to the fullest. I don’t want to be stuck doing things that other people want me to do for the rest of my life if those things are not contributing to my happiness or health in any way, shape, or form.

How will I achieve this goal?
This one is going to be really hard for me. It’s something I definitely need to work on.
If this is something you have done, please leave me some advice in the comments. I’ll need all the help I can get!

 

What are your 2019 Resolutions? I’d love to hear!

Katie

 

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2017

Here we are again! It’s that brilliant time of year when I get to do a recap of the last 365 days. I love yearly recaps, I really do. They make me feel so accomplished because I can realise – all at once – exactly what I have achieved in what is actually a very short amount of time.

Let me begin by proudly stating: 2017 was the best year of my life. So far, anyway!

When I left my life in Sydney and moved back to Cairns there was only one thing I really wanted from life – travel, travel, travel. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go or how I would get there or where the money would come from. I just had a burning desire to explore the world.

By the end of 2016 I had booked and paid for my first solo travel experience. I left for that trip in February and what followed can only be described as the most magical three weeks I could have ever hoped for. I went on the Asian Adventure Contiki tour which took me through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. For those of you who may not be familiar with Contiki, they are an organised group travel company specialising in adventurous once-in-a-lifetime trips for 18-35 year olds. I met so many fantastic human beings while I was on Contiki. They quickly became like extended family (and when I say quick I mean the first day!).

When I returned from my Asian Adventure it was time to get stuck into cheerleading for the year. I ended up becoming the ‘social media manager’, if you will, for our team during 2017. I really enjoyed doing it and it brought the possibility of social media marketing as an alternate career path to my attention. I’m looking forward to doing it again in 2018 and beyond, hopefully until my time as a cheerleader is up. Speaking of cheerleading, I went to my first competition! My team placed first and so did the dance duo I performed in. I was ecstatic! I have never been a very competitive person and this was the first competition I’d been to since my very young years in gymnastics. To place first was just the icing on a very delicious cake. I was also honoured to be team voted to receive a Spirit Award for 2017. It was a great year of cheer.

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Cheerleading went hand-in-hand with my gym tendencies during 2017. I was very dedicated and focused on my fitness. I joined an F45 Team Training gym and completed my first 8 week challenge with them. The challenge helped me to change the way I think about food and lose a few more kilos in the process. I was two kilograms away from my goal weight when I hurt my hip late in the year. Not to worry though, it was just a minor setback and it’s feeling much better after a few months of rest! I’m very excited to see what 2018 has in store fitness wise… The next 8 week challenge starts at the end of January and I’m raring to go!

In May, one of my very closest friends turned 30. When this happened she said to me, “Katie, I’m going to go to Disney World for my 30th!”, and I said, “Count me in!” And that, my friends, is how easily my second overseas trip for the year was born. We ended up going to Orlando, Florida as well as New York, New York for two glorious December weeks. We went to all the Disney theme parks as well as Universal Studios AND I got to live my life long dream of seeing a show on Broadway. I ended up seeing 5 Broadway shows over 4 days and I was in absolute heaven. There is nowhere like New York City.

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But by far the best thing to happen in 2017? That would be Ethan. My wonderful Ethan. It was by pure luck that we found each other and I can honestly say that the butterflies have not stopped floating in my stomach since the first time he stood up and pulled out my chair for me on our very first date. In 2017 I learnt what it really feels like to be hopelessly in love and it is a magical feeling.

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Speaking of Ethan, we are super stoked to be planning our first overseas adventure together! He’s got the travel bug just as badly as I do, so come December we will be off on our own Contiki. We’ll get to visit 10 European countries together over a blissful month of nothing but us. I’m in another world just thinking about it…

2018 will be all about focusing on health, fitness, and saving up to make our holiday the best one possible.

So here’s what I learnt from 2017:

  1. Solo travel is as good for the soul as everyone says.
  2. When you stop trying to find love it will find you.
  3. Saying no to chocolate isn’t as hard as you may think.
  4. Sometimes you just have to do what’s best for you and move on – people will get over it.
  5. You are never too old to try something new.
  6. Something seems really bad? Take a breath and revisit tomorrow. It probably isn’t.
  7. If someone is nice, they’re nice. If someone is rude, they’re rude. If someone is mean, they’re mean. Get the point?
  8. Love heals all previous pain.
  9. True friendship is very valuable and becomes harder to find as we grow older.
  10. Sometimes, if you take a chance on him, a wonderful man will surprise you with his maturity, wisdom, and kindness.

Katie

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Travel Diary: Thailand

DAY FOUR. 

Today has really just been a full day of travel. I checked out of Tokyu Rei Hotel at 7am and made my way to Osaka Station. I found my way to the JR for the express service to Kansai and hopped on. Being inside the airport was amazing because of how much warmer it was! I checked in and found out that my flight was delayed two hours. Not great, but not terrible. At least it wasn’t cancelled! I caught up with an old friend from Sydney because she was at the airport too, on her way home, so that passed some time.

My flight to Kuala Lumpur was the BEST. I have never been so content on a flight. Great service, great food and a comfortable setup. I watched a bunch of movies thanks to Malaysian Airlines’ great film selections. I was very relaxed .

We landed in Kuala Lumpur at 7:15pm… and I had to be at my next gate by 7:30pm! Which was all the way on the other side of the airport. If you haven’t been to the Kuala Lumpur airport… it’s VERY BIG. That experience was not so relaxing. I legged it through the terminal and ended up being the very last passenger let through the gate. Thank goodness! I got a window seat and a row to myself so at least I had a comfortable flight setup again.

DAY FIVE.

I’ve been so busy that this diary entry will just be dot points!

  • Arrived in Bangkok and my luggage was lost, so I had to deal with that for the first time ever! Luggage has officially been in Malaysia longer than I ever have.
  • Airport transfer that I’d booked and paid for didn’t arrive so I had to get a taxi to my hotel instead. Turns out the taxi was extremely cheap and I’d been way over charged for my transfer anyway!
  • Met some of the Contiki gang in the lobby (after they walked back from a bar where they’d been held up by police for drinking on a religious holiday!) and we all stayed up chatting until about 2am when my luggage arrived – yay!
  • Breakfast at 9:30am the next day before exploring Bangkok.
  • There were eight of us from the Contiki tour so we went to see Wat Arun and Wat Pho (temples).
  • Had lunch at ‘Slow’ across the road from the hotel
  • Relaxed by the pool and met my Contiki roommate before the 6pm Kickstart meeting where we met our tour manager Jess
  • Went out for a night – a crazy night! – on Khao San Road! We ate dinner in a big group at the Nat Guest House, went to Lucky Beer Bar and met Jess, danced on the road, went to Rastafarian bar and went to a Ping Pong show in a tuktuk! CRAZY!
  • Went home for some sleep but I stayed up to repack my bag and do the first of many discards – this time I chucked out my $3 boots and a turtle neck

DAY SIX.

  • 7am breakfast at the hotel, followed by checkout.
  • Guided tour of the Grand Palace with our local guide, Nutty!
  • Private boat ride along the river where we fed the hundreds of Catfish bread
  • Walked home and we all had lunch at Jade’s House
  • Went to Khao San Road for shopping and Fishy Foot Spas!
  • Caught the coach to the train station and got on the very cool Sleeper Train to Chiang Mai!

DAY SEVEN.

We woke up this morning at 6am on the Sleeper Train to a little man yelling “You wake up please! Wake up!”. He swiftly moved through the cabin and turned all of our beds back into chairs. We had a bit of time to mingle before arriving in Chiang Mai! We were taken from the station in our new coach to our Chiang Mai hotel, The Empress, where we had the best breakfast imaginable! Waffles, omelettes, fruit, bacon, potatoes, juice… you name it, it was there and it was awesome. After breakfast we were all very excited to get ready to go and see the Elephant Sanctuary. It was an hour and a bit away so we all boarded little safari taxis to get there. When we got to the sanctuary we made elephant food out of tamarinds, salt and rice and fed them. The youngest elephant we saw was 6 and the oldest was 65. After they had eaten we took them down to the river to have a swim and a bath. The experience mixed with the scenery was unreal. It was a major highlight and I’m so glad I did it.

The next activity on the agenda was our Thai cooking class. We met our instructor Perm at the markets first where we spoke about all the ingredients we would be using and then we all went to his house where he taught us how to cook four traditional Thai dishes. We made Tom Yum soup, Pad Thai, Penang curry and chicken cashew nut. My Pad Thai was burnt but the rest was really yummy! I enjoyed the class a lot.

Afterwards we went to the markets to see the Ladyboy Cabaret! AMAZING! They were awesome and very funny. The best part was when four of the boys from our tour had to get up and be dressed in drag to be part of the show! Extremely hilarious.

We all went home after the show for a well deserved sleep. Party Night in Chiang Rai tomorrow!

DAY EIGHT.

Coming soon.

Travel Diary: Japan

DAY ONE.

I guess I finally did it! The big solo trip I have been wanting to go on for forever and a day. Although the plan had always been to travel solo in Europe, I am glad I changed my mind.

I arrived into Kansai International Airport at about 8:20pm. After going through immigrations, finding my suitcase, and visiting information desks, it was time to hop on the JR and head to Osaka station. Getting on the train was easy enough… it was the one and a half hour train ride that I found a little rough! I was expecting forty minutes tops so I was a little surprised. I have decided to turn my phone to roaming while in Japan to ease the difficulty of finding my way around – relying on WiFi is just not good enough for me on my lonesome. I’ll get better and more confident one day… but hey! I’m in another country completely on my own so it’s not a bad start, right?

When I got to Osaka Station I went outside and grabbed a taxi. It was nearly 11:30pm so I was now well and truly 12 hours into transit. The hotel was actually much closer to the station than I had realised, so the taxi fare was very cheap! My hotel check-in was smooth and painless and the room is super cosy. The bathroom is my favourite part – a tiny little bath tub and a toilet seat that kindly warms my very cold tush.

After putting two extra scarves on I went outside in pursuit of some food. I wasn’t properly fed on the plane thanks to a stuff up by my old travel agent so I was pretty darn hungry. There was a curry place across the road from my hotel – yum, Japanese curry! – so I decided to order there. After grabbing some bottles of water from the 7/11 and collecting my meal – as well as declining two invitations to the nearby bar in the process – I made my way back to the warmth of the hotel. I managed to load an episode of Gilmore Girls to watch while I ate, and once I was done it was a nice warm shower and off to bed.

DAY TWO.

I woke up at a quarter to 8 this morning and called my mum before getting ready to go to Universal Studios. I left the hotel at 9am and started the walk to Osaka Station. It was 6 degrees and raining so I was VERY glad to be wearing two scarves again. I bought an umbrella and, after much confusion and agitation, found my way to the Universal City train. I missed the train transfer and had to spend an extra 15 minutes fixing that but I eventually made it to Universal City Station.

I was cold and wet so I went into Starbucks to warm up. I ordered a white mocha and I was pretty nervous about it thanks to the disgusting drinks at the Starbucks in Sydney… but Japan knows what they’re doing! I will miss these when I leave.

I entered the park with my ticket and wandered through before deciding to spend most of my day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had lunch at Mel’s Drive-In Diner and I saw the Monsters Rock’n’Roll Show. After that I walked around the park a little longer before deciding to go back to the Wizarding World to buy myself a wand (and drink some more Butterbeer).

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On the way out of Universal I had a quick look through the Universal CityWalk. I bought myself a denim jacket from The GAP before catching the train to Osaka-Namba Station. I wanted to find an Aussie bar I’d heard of called Coolabah. It was meant to be very close to the famous Dotonbori strip so I figured I’d hit two birds with one stone. I found the bar  eventually but it was still early so I was the only person in it and I didn’t find the staff very friendly, so I ordered some food and sat minding my own business. I regret not finding a cool Japanese place to eat but you live and you learn!

After dinner I moved through the streets in search of Dotonbori. I was very excited to see the giant Glico Man sign which indicated that I had indeed found Dotonbori. After taking a bunch of photos I Facetimed Mum and Dad to show them the hustle and bustle. I spent some time shopping in H&M and bought some warmer clothes – I might only have one day left in Japan but I’ll definitely be trying to make the most of it. My feet were very sore today because they were so cold so I’m hoping I have a more pleasant day tomorrow!

By the time I left the Dotonbori district it was 2am, so I found a taxi and got myself back to the hotel. It might snow tomorrow – fingers are crossed!

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DAY THREE.

Today was quite an adventure!

I woke up around 8am and repacked my suitcase in preparation for leaving Japan tomorrow. I’m nervous to buy anything in case the weight goes over – which isn’t very good considering I just got here!

I ended up leaving the hotel and arriving at Osaka Station around 11am. I figured out which train I needed and set off for Nara. On the way I caught my first ever glimpse of snowfall out the window of the train. Even better was that it was still snowing when I got to Nara! I ended up getting to feed the roaming deer IN THE SNOW! Pretty magical for someone who had never experience snowfall. It was very light but better than nothing. I enjoyed the experience for a while before making my way back to Nara’s Kintetsu Station to move on to Kyoto.

On the way to Kyoto it was really snowing. It was incredibly beautiful but I was absolutely frozen. I was wearing an extra two layers in comparison to yesterday but I was much colder. When I got to Kyoto I found a little coffee shop where I ordered a hot chocolate and an avocado and tuna panini. It’s crazy – the food in Japan is SO good and I haven’t even really had anything typically Japanese! It was 3pm by the time I finished lunch and dealt with some flight issues… so I turned around and headed back to Osaka Station. I literally just popped over to Kyoto for lunch!

When I got back to Osaka Station I spent about half an hour trying to find my way out to the street – it is such a HUGE station! When I finally made it out I noticed a large Red Ferris wheel in the distance, so I made my way over to it. It was called HEP Five and it was part of the Hankyu Entertainment Building. I got to do the Ferris wheel for free and happened to be at the very top for sunset. It was beautiful. Afterwards I found a ramen place for dinner and wandered through the building until it was time to go to the hotel.

I enjoyed a plunge bath when I got to the hotel – what I am sure will be my last moment of luxury for the next two weeks! Bags are packed… let’s go to Thailand!