Why we’ve Chosen Domestic Travel

As we look forward to our year long trip around Australia I thought we’d share some of the reasons we decided to travel domestically. Domestic travel can seem unappealing for a host of reasons. People often travel to experience other cultures, and we can understand why so many people choose to avoid domestic travel. But we really believe everyone should do some domestic travel at some point in their lives! There’s a whole beautiful world out there and we want to see it all, but there’s a number of reasons for why we decided to stay in Australia.

 

No expensive flights

On most international trips your biggest singular  expense will be your international flights! Our flights from Perth to Dublin cost us $1600AUD each, and our flights to America cost even more. When you travel domestically any flights you take will be much cheaper, and you don’t necessarily need to fly at all. We’ll be doing our trip around Australia in our four wheel drive. This cost us $3,500 and will be our transportation and our accommodation for our entire trip! That’s a pretty big saving!

Domestic Travel

Jerry the Four Wheel Drive!

We’ve also got the added bonus of not having to worry about the weight of our luggage, extra airline fees, or any liquid or food restrictions. We want to travel lightly but we have a lot more room for any extra things we might need.

 

No visas

Visa applications can get complicated, costly, and stressful. I’m lucky to have a  European passport which gives me greater access to other countries, but not everyone is as lucky. If you’ve got a passport that restricts your travel in foreign countries then domestic travel is a great option! You’ll save yourself time and money.

 

No travel insurance

Travel insurance is one of those costs that people often overlook when planning a trip. Paying for something that you hope you never need can suck, but it would be awful to be in a bad situation and regret not buying it. Many countries now require you to have travel insurance upon entering. The great thing about travelling domestically is that you don’t need to get travel insurance! Your regular health insurance should cover you for any potential accidents. In Australia we have good public health care and we know that if any problems do arise we won’t find ourselves paying an insane medical bill, like we would have in America.

 

No roaming charges

Another thing you can cross off your to-do list- roaming plans. You won’t need to pay extra for a roaming plan, unlock your phone, or buy a cheap phone at your destination; because your current plan will work just fine! Now you’re obviously not going to plan your holiday around your phone plan (or maybe you do, I’m not judging!) but it’s a nice bonus that saves you money and takes one less stress off your plate.

 

Environmentally friendly

Unfortunately flying to the other side of the world has a big impact on the environment. All those miles in the air equal lots of burning fuel, and lots of burning fuel equals lots of carbon emissions! By opting to travel closer to home your travels can be that little bit greener!

 

No foreign languages

It’s great to be able to visit new countries, pick up parts of other languages and muddle your way through interacting with others. But sometimes it can be exhausting! If you’re bilingually challenged like myself the idea of learning a new language is not only daunting but potentially impossible. When you travel your own country it’s a nice break from struggling to read menus and trying to remember if “sortie” means entrance or exit!

 

 

No currency exchange/bank card issues

This is a cool one because it’s one less thing to put on your pre-travel to do list! When travelling internally you won’t need to exchange currency, get a travel card, or organise anything extra with your bank. And when you arrive at your destination you won’t spend an embarrassingly long time trying to count your cash out at the check out!

Domestic Travel

Australia is so beautiful!

See your own backyard!

We have been in Australia for a fair chunk of our lives now and we’ve still seen the tiniest portion of it! How many times have you met someone while traveling who’s seen more of your native country than you have? How many times has someone asked you for recommendations on what to see and you’ve been clueless? It’s a great thing to be able to experience and explore your own country. It can enrich your understanding of your own culture and your own environment, and it helps you to appreciate your own unique place in the world. That’s why we’ve chosen to experience domestic travel together before we add any new countries to our list!

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A weekend in New York

Our plane landed in New York just as our stomachs were starting to crave lunch. Our first view of the city was from the air train and I found myself filled with an almost unbearable excitement. I never thought I’d be spending my twentieth birthday in New York City, but here we were. I felt proud that we’d worked hard enough to get here. We’d scrimped and saved, taken the worst shifts and made whatever sacrifice we needed to. Originally we thought we’d be getting a train and staying in a budget hostel, but now we were booking in to a queen room in a Long Island hotel. And we were so excited! By the time we got to the hotel our shoulders were heavy from the weight of our luggage but we had too busy an itinerary to even think about relaxing!

Two very excited travellers!

 Exiting the subway station in the middle of New York City is nothing short of surreal! You look up and the buildings seem to go for miles, as if they’re laneways reaching to the sky. Speaking of the sky-it was snowing. A lot. I saw more snow in New York than I’d ever seen in my life. In fact, the week before our visit all flights in New York had been cancelled due to the weather. Which makes me very glad that I wasn’t born any earlier! New York feels like a fairytail in Winter. As we entered Central Park I could imagine that a month earlier the place had been shrouded in Christmas lights and I thought how lovely it would be to witness that. Something about the contrast between nature and metropolis was magical as we witnessed the city skyline from the depths of the park. Looking around at the horse drawn carriages and stone bridges you could almost pretend you’d gone back in time, until you look up and see the skyscrapers reaching tall into the cloud brushed sky. 
 

The skyline from central park

We decided the quintessential New York lunch was street vendor hot dogs in Central Park. After filling our stomachs and playing in the snow we made our way to Times Square. The subway here is a really convenient way of getting around, but if you really want to see the city you should walk! As you walk between destinations you’ll find yourself recognising lots of places along the way. I have to admit I got distracted a few times by the five figure price tags in some of the designer clothing store windows! 

 

Our Central park snow man

It was still bright when we got to Times Square but the heavy winter skies set the perfect back drop for the lights of this famous square. I’ve heard people say you should skip Times Square. They say it’s a tourist trap, not worth visiting, inauthentic etc. I think those people are crazy! I don’t understand this idea that we should avoid the touristy areas when we travel. If some where’s popular it’s for a reason! Sure, the crowds can be annoying and it might not be the best spot in the city, but it’s worth going and seeing what all the fuss is about. I thought there was a great buzz here, between the lights and the music and the excited visitors. 

 

Times Square

After doing some shopping (how could we visit New York and not buy some new clothes?!) we decided it was dinner time. We had chosen a restaurant recommended by our New York travel guide. Usually we pick whatever place stands out to us, but I’m so glad we followed the guide this one time! We ate at Back Forty West, a funky little bar/restaurant with delicious food combinations and a great selection of drinks. It isn’t particularly cheap, but we thought it was worth it. We paid $130 for two mains, one dessert, two beers and two wines. 

  

The obvious chouce for our first New York meal

The next day we grabbed some bagels for breakfast (again, one of those quintessential New York foods!) and headed to ground zero. I knew it would be sad but I honestly didn’t expect it to be so hard hitting to see these massive holes where two of the tallest buildings in the world once stood. The contrast with the surrounding buildings was striking. I found the memorial to be really well designed and tasteful. What wasn’t so tasteful were the many tourists taking smiling selfies in front of the memorial. It really annoyed me that so many people thought it was appropriate to take these kinds of photos in such a somber place. For this reason we didn’t take any photos while we were here. It’s definitely possible to take respectful photos of the memorial but we just felt it wasn’t necessary, instead we opted to be present and experience the range of emotions that comes with being in such a confronting place.

  

The skyline looks very different to how it did before 9/11

Next on the day’s itinerary was visiting the Statue of Liberty! We booked our tickets online about a week before hand. If you want to go all the way up to the crown you need to book about a month in advance as there are limited spots. Be sure to book through libertycruises.com as other sites charge extra fees. It’s currently $18 for an adult ticket and $3 extra for to access the crown.

 Visiting the Statue of Liberty was another experience that hit me harder than I thought it would. As we pulled up to the island by ferry I thought about the many immigrants we would have arrived in New York by boat and seen the statue from the distance. It was a beacon of hope for so many people, a bittersweet symbol of the new life they were embarking on. Inside the statue’s pedestal the museum displays letters written by immigrants to the statue, and reading them was very touching. Especially as we are both immigrants ourselves, it was easy to relate to some of the things written in the letters; although of course in those times immigrating was much more dangerous and uncertain, with long treacherous boat rides and no real way to research your destination before arriving.

Hello liberty island!

 

After visiting Liberty Island the ferry takes you to Ellis Island, the old offshore processing centre for immigrants. The museum here is huge! Be sure you give yourself a few hours at least as there’s tonnes of information to take in and lots of great displays. We had to skip a lot of the exhibits as we simply didn’t have the time, but it’s definitely worth taking the time to read about the lives of people on this island. It’s also nice to walk around the grounds here too, it was particularly pretty in the snow!

Did I mention it was cold?
 We spent so much longer on the tour than I expected we would (that always seems to happen to us in museums!) and we found that it was already almost time for dinner! We had reserved a table at La Sirene, a highly rated French restaurant in the SoHo district of Manhattan. There are three things you need to know about La Sirene:

  1. The food is the kind of sophisticated yet simple deliciousness that can make grown men cry
  2. The tables are so close together that you may as well be eating with the people next to you
  3. They don’t take cards, except American Express.


 We really enjoyed our meal here but being so close to everyone else didn’t make for the most romantic atmosphere! Some people would call it cozy though, so it really depends on your own preferences.

 Day three began with a trip to the Chelsea markets. Honestly, of all the places we visited in New York this was one of my favourites! Its not somewhere that I’d really heard of before, but I’m always on the hunt for good markets so when I read about this one I knew we had to make a trip there. Located in the meat packing district of Manhattan in an old Nabisco factory, this huge indoor market maintains a funky exposed brick factory appearance. There are so many options here, from vegan sushi to gourmet hotdogs, book stores an jewelry stands, you will almost definitely spend more than you had planned to! It’s also where the oreo was invented, and it’s always cool to visit the birth place of good food.


 After we’d had our fill of the markets we went to the natural history museum. Wow is that place huge! It’s so much bigger than we were expecting it to be! We were there for about four hours and we only got to see a little over half of the museum. I definitely recommend setting aside the best part of a day to visit this museum. We particularly loved the Heilbrunn pathway and the Hayden Sphere. Tickets for the museum cost $22, but this is a suggested price and you can pay anything you wish at a service desk. If you do have the money I think it’s good to support this awesome museum.
 We took so long at the museum that we had to run across town to make it to our time slot at the Top of the Rock! We chose the top of the rock over the Empire State building as we wanted to be able to see the empire state building and have it in our skyline photographs. We picked our time slot to be able to catch the sun setting. The views across the city on one side and Central Park on the other were beautiful. Watching this buzzing city from a distance was an almost surreal experience, like taking a step back to observe the world while everyone else is rushing around. I will say that some people were selfish about the whole thing and hogged their space at the wall. Try and remember that everyone else wants to get a picture too!

The skyline sparkled in the sunset

For dinner that night we made our way back to the Chelsea markets for the New York Chilli Fest! We had seen the event advertised when we were there that morning and we got a great deal on last minute tickets. The NYChili fest is an amazing event where food establishments from all over the city produce their own version of the tex-mex favourite, chilli con carne. Our tickets included all you can eat chilli, plus all you can drink beer and cocktails from the New York distilling company all for $40 each! The festival was a great way to spend our last night in New York. We ate and drank with locals, tried more types of chilli than we knew existed (chilli with Fritos, chilli with tripe, chilli with noodles?) and sampled local beers. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Our weekend in New York flew by but I really think we put our limited time to good use. We definitely made every day of our visit an adventure! 

Bye New York, we’ll see you again soon

  

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Exploring Yosemite

The last national park on our California itinerary was perhaps our most anticipated. Yosemite is one of those magically beautiful places that adorns travel websites. It’s been immortalised in famed photographs by the late Ansell Adams and hiking bloggers always sing the praises of its many nature trails. Right before we arrived the rare phenomenon of the fire falls occurred, further exciting us for the beautiful sights we would soon be experiencing.  

Tunnel View-a serious site to behold

As soon as we emerged on the other side of the tunnel we knew exactly what all the hype was about. You can look at as many pictures of tunnel view as you want, but there’s nothing quite like exiting the darkness of the tunnel and seeing all the wonders of Yosemite laid out before you. The snowy peaks of El Capitain and the Half Dome, the tumbling water of Yosemite falls, and the forest covered plains of the valley floor; all stretched out as far as the eye can see. It is a genuinely grand entrance. We stopped for a while and watched the sun melt behind the granite structures. There were lots of disappointed visitors who had been hoping to catch another fire falls, and I was amazed that anyone could feel disappointed when surrounded by such beauty. 
In comparison to some of the other parks we’d visited it was clear that Yosemite is quite well funded and a bit more commercialised. The park has a shuttle system that allows you to easily get around the valley. It’s especially useful for one way hikes-you can get dropped off at one end and picked up at the other. The visitor centre here is very large and has lots of impressive displays. And there are many accommodation options-the usual campsites, curry villiage,and a hotel-as well as several restaurants. 

The view of Half Dome from Upper Pines Campground

One of the bad things about travelling in the Winter month is that the shorter days mean that you really have to prioritise your time in the park. This is made easier by the other bad thing about travelling in Winter-lots of the hikes are closed. With this in mind we decided to pick three hikes to do. We chose

-The bridal veil falls hike

-The hike to the base of lower Yosemite falls 

-The Vernal falls hike/mist trail
The Bridal Veil falls hike is a short half mile (0.8 km) return walk. The trail is paved and takes you to the base of the falls. I found the walk to be disappointing as it ended quite far away from the waterfall. It is a good walk if you want to take some photos or if you have a low fitness level. It isn’t the most spectacular trail Yosemite has to offer but it did get us warmed up for the rest of the day.

Two happy hikers!

Next we hiked to the base of Yosemite falls. There is a shuttle bus to the trail head and from there it’s a one mike (1.6km) loop. We found this walk much more enjoyable. It took us through the forest and we got so close to the waterfall that we were being sprayed by it. There were lots of pretty views of the waterfalls and Yosemite creek, and exhibits along the way explaining the history of the area. I’d definitely recommend this hike!

The breathtaking Yosemite falls

The final hike was to the Vernal falls footbridge. This is part of the longer mist trail which brings you to the Nevada falls. While fairly short (1.6 miles/2.6 km round trip from the happy isles shuttle stop) this hike can be really steep! 

The Mist trail is steep! nps.gov

However the views are beautiful. There’s a bit of everything along this trail-you can see walls of granite towering above you, forest surrounding you and-of course-gushing waterfalls! It’s my favourite of the hikes we did in Yosemite. California was our first experience with hiking so we did find this trail to be a bit challenging, but it was so worth it! Reaching the footbridge was wonderful- vernal falls is so beautiful and majestic-and we found that we weren’t ready for this hike to end just yet! So we decided to continue to the top of Vernal falls and the Emerald Pool. We felt excited and reenergised and couldn’t wait to reach the top…but then within 0.3 miles of Vernal falls we were met with a sign saying the trail was closed in Winter due to risk of ice and rock falling. So I guess it was a little silly of us to not be more prepared. But we still really enjoyed the hike despite this disappointment! And hopefully you can learn from our mistakes. 

Vernal Falls from the footbridge

In conclusion, Yosemite in Winter is beautiful. It’s less busy, it’s easy to get a campsite in the valley, and there are pretty blankets of snow everywhere. It does have it downsides (Tioga pass is closed, you can’t climb the half dome, lots of trails are closed and you must carry snow chains), but you can always visit again in Spring! And then maybe Summer and Autumn Too 😉

 

One day we’ll hike the Half Dome!

Sequoia National Park- A Winter Wonderland

After spending a star studded night in Death Valley it was time to continue on to Sequoia national park! This park contains the biggest tree in the world and visiting in February was like entering a winter wonderland. 


Unfortunately these beautiful snowy views have their downside-most of the roads were closed and their was no way to enter the connected park, Kings Canyon national park. It’s a legal requirement to carry snow chains in the park during the winter months! Now, on the map Sequoia seems right next door to Death Valley…. But this is deceiving. 


In reality there are no roads that connect Death Valley’s west side with Sequoia’s East side. So the seemingly short trip takes about 5 hours. But don’t let that deter you! It’s a beautiful drive and a beautiful destination. 


So what could we see in Sequoia? Really just a small fraction of what the park has to offer. We explored the beautiful snow play area where you can sled to your hearts content. 


We saw the General Sherman tree and hiked the surrounding area. 


We found hidden waterfalls and learned about the Native Americans that once called the park home.


 And while the road to Moro Rock was closed we could admire it from a distance. 


 But despite the closures we had a wonderful day in Sequoia! I can only imagine how much there is to do in this park when all of it is open. 

Joshua Tree to Las Vegas 

  

Upon leaving Joshua Tree for Las Vegas we found ourselves almost immediately in the middle of nowhere. This drive is one of our favourite memories from California. The open desert roads, mountains looming above us, and the remote crossroad towns felt like something from a Wild West movie. We went miles and miles without seeing another car, mail boxes lined the road with no sign of who they belonged to, and the California playlist we’d waited months to listen to was the perfect background to the perfect drive. 
This drive goes right through the middle of the Mojave national preserve, a wonderfully diverse area of desert spanning 1.6 million acres. When I say diverse I mean it- we saw rolling Sand dunes, extinct volcanic cones, and towering mountains. The whole journey is relatively short- just over three hours- but for those who like to move at a more leisurely pace there are campsites in the preserve. There is also a historic trail which was once used for trading by native Americans! It’s recommended you use a four wheel drive for this trail but if you’re unsure there is a visitors centre where you can ask any questions. 
Another great thing about this drive is that you get to go through a small section of Route 66! It is a very small section but you still get to grab a photo with the sign and tell all your friends you drove on the famous mother road! The town of Amboy here once boomed due to traffic on Route 66 but since the town was bypassed by the interstate it is now basically a ghost town. It’s definitely an interesting stop!

  

  

  
As we got closer to Vegas Alex insisted we stop at Good Springs- a tiny town between Primm and Las Vegas that also happens to be the starting point for Fallout: New Vegas. If you’re a video game fan I’d say this place is a must visit. It’s just a short side trip from the highway and Alex was thrilled to be able to get a picture with the sign, buy a t-shirt, and see the old fashioned saloon. It’s also a nice place to stop and pee! 

  

 
Finally, we decided to head to the Hoover dam as we couldn’t check in to our hotel till three and we’d made good time. From the highway we could see Lake Mead, the huge man made lake created by the Hoover dam. We decided we’d take a quick look at the visitors centre before heading on to the dam. However, it turns out there’s some great hikes around lake mead and I think our quick look turned into a two hour exploration. That’s what road trips are all about though, right?! 

  There are many interesting hikes around the lake with beautiful views. We did part of the historic railroad trail. This trail goes along the path of the old railroad which carried materials to the site of the Hoover dam! You go through the old tunnels which are now home to bats. Along the way you can see the original concrete plugs used in building the dam- when they were removed they were simply tossed off the train. There are also information plaques telling you about the surrounding area and the building of the dam. This trail is 7.5 miles (12 km) return and is an easy well laid out walk. We didn’t have time to go the whole thing but it’s worth just walking as far as the first tunnel- it’s a beautiful walk and a very interesting one too. 

  
Next we went to the legendary Hoover dam. Built in 1936 this monstrous dam changed life in the area surrounding the Colorado river forever. It’s effects are controversial- it tamed the river, flooded towns, powered cities, and killed wildlife. But regardless of your opinion, it’s an amazing site to visit and ponder the achievements of man. 

  
Parking here is a $10 fee. There’s a visitor centre, shop and cafe. You can walk across the dam or the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge- and when you get to the other side you’ll be in Arizona! It’s a great way to fit another state into your itinerary 😉 
So that was how we spent our third day with the camper van! After we left the dam we headed straight to the city lights of Vegas…but that’s a story for another blog post.