Category Archives: costs/money

Keeping it cheap in Cairns

Cairns surprised me.

Because despite a glitzy facelift of the esplanade area, Cairns hasn’t risen to big city status and gone down the ‘we’re-so-good-we’ll-rip-you-off’ route. At least from what I could tell.

Cairns doesn’t seem to be an overly exciting place, with it’s a grid system of functionality, trimmed and watered grasses and all the anticipated visuals of palm city tropics. Before you shoot me for such a low impact first impression report, know that I’m not a city fan. It takes me to know a city to love a city. More on that later. But Cairns, well, on first impressions it seemed pleasant. Surprisingly so.

All I really knew of Cairns – previous to this short exposure – was that it happens to be where many people set off on Great Barrier Reef adventures.

L-man, D-man and me were on a different kind of adventure, a road trip drive-by exploration that had already seen us cover some 2,000km from Ballina in New South Wales. Our destination was the Eclipse 2012 festival, a few hours inland from Cairns, our food was cheap camping cook-ups and our accommodation a couple of mismatched tents.

But on our first night in Cairns we called a friend and crashed his family holiday. So strong was the call of a shower and a social.

‘If we get caught’, he said as we skulked down the side of the holiday apartment building, ‘you guys are gonna have to pay up’.

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$8.50 breakfast + a proper coffee from next door = sorted stowaways

The next morning we breakfasted with two other stowaways at a hole in the wall offering $8.50 big breakfasts before wandering around the free public pool on the ocean’s edge. Ah, the irony. All that salty water so close, a forbidden territory of jellyfish deadliness, and you have to make do with a man-made structure and a dose of chlorine. But at least there is a man-made structure, I guess. The heat of the day was rising and even a paddle in the shallows of the pool brought some cool-down comfort.

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Lagoon on the ocean’s edge

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Heaps* of paddle space (*loads for non-Aussie speakers)

Before leaving the pool area I noticed a sign and I realised that if I didn’t dislike organised aerobics quite so much, Cairns would be a great place to live. Here in the park, every day, were free fitness sessions. No ‘I’m too poor’ excuses for anyone. Aussies and their mission to stay on top of health and fitness, bold and in full colour. Gotta love it. Or at least appreciate the intention.

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What’s your punishment? What’s your happiness?

So what were the tricks to keeping Cairns cheap? Dishonesty in terms of accommodation, grease in terms of nutrition, killer chemical in terms of health and fitness and keeping cool.

More realistically, though, we barely spent any time in Cairns – half a day – so of course it was easy to keep it cheap in this compact city centre.

Why this blog post focused on budget, who knows? The main thing I realised is that I like Cairns enough to go back, maybe to spend some time exploring it’s surface normality a little deeper (whilst not doing zumba classes). It was that kind of place, and it surprised me.

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Filed under activity & sport, australia, cities, costs/money, culture, nature, oceania, roadtrip, sea, travel

Budgeting Tahiti

Be prepared: paradise costs a small fortune. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared for the pain. Over ten years ago some friends of mine were on a round the world ticket when they flew into Tahiti to surf, realised the cost of accommodation and living, and nearly hotfooted it straight out of the place. Beach sleeps led to police warnings but kind local bailouts meant that they ended up staying a while: surfing, fishing, catching wild pigs; all the idylls of island life.

But for most of us, accessing this reality of island life is a little more tough, and a more modern climate means accepting that everything here is a little on the pricy side.

Frustratingly, many of the trails and activities around the island have also been made into paid experiences that require a guide or a group excursion, and even a couple of the free ones require permits (see the tourist information centre for lots of information on island hikes and other activities).

In short, people have moved into Tahiti and the surrounding Society Islands and atolls and have commercialised the experience of paradise (in some places to a point that it pretty much stops being paradise, to me in any case). You can’t blame them for capitalising in on an exotic experience; it is after all, what our current world tells us to do.

Walk down the main streets of Papeete and you’ll pass by many designer shops and jewellers. Who comes here to go shopping? All the people moored up in fancy yachts, maybe, or the people who’ve jetted in on business class, or honeymooners on a romantic escape. Or regular, middle class folk who have scrimped and saved for a once in a lifetime taste of paradise. (Whether it’s actually paradise or not is a different matter). Or me and my crew. Hmmm… less likely.

I was lucky to be able to stay on board the boat for a few days because when I checked with the tourism agency about budget accommodation options, they came back to me with a guest house costing 7,200 CFP. That’s £49.07, or US$78.87. Not really budget, in my opinion, but maybe budget for the people who are more likely to frequent the Society Islands. I did some online searches, having paid a minimum of 3euros per hour for internet (no free WiFi available at all, and charged in Euros because of links with France), and I did eventually find a few backpacker friendly paces.

One little food fact that helped to keep costs down (alongside The Trucks experience) was the discovery that there is a policy on keeping the price of baguettes below 85 CFP (£0.58 / US$0.93)  so that every member of the society there has the opportunity to buy bread. Stock up on the carbs, then, and free, fallen coconuts. Maybe not the healthiest, but it’s a diet that will keep you alive. For a little while, in any case. Or go catch a fish (just be careful with those coral fish).

Here’s an idea of some costs:

Cour   de Franc Pacifique British Pound US Dollar
Cheapest hostel bed 2,000 CFP pppn £13.63 $21.90
Budget hotel bed 8,000p CFP ppn £54.52 $87.62
Taxi 1,000 CFP per km £6.82 $10.95
Sandwich 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Cheap roadside meal 1,200 CFP £8.18 $13.14
Water (1.5 litres) 104 CFP £0.71 $1.14
Coca-cola can 200 CFP £1.36 $2.19
Beer (50Cl) from supermarket 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Icecream in a cone 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Loaf of bread 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Chocolate bar 350 CFP £2.39 $3.83

Realistically, though, Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands are not the smartest place to visit if you’re travelling tight, and budget backpackers may well want to avoid the place.

Money matters momentarily put aside, solo travellers – and especially single travellers – may also want to avoid this honeymoon area. Even if you can afford it, having constant reminders of stereotyped romance mixed in with pitying looks will ultimately grate on even the most established solo adventurer and happy singleton.

Or you can just enjoy it for what it is, accept that everything is expensive and that you’ll blow your budget, and indulge in being surrounded by snippets of paradise and luxury and love.

It’s really pretty damn special.

But it’s time for me to leave. I’m all spent.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, costs/money, food & drink, hikes, moorea, pacific, places to stay, solo travel, tahiti

Diving the Galapagos

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Dive spots in the Galapagos islands (map from http://www.galapagosdestiny.com)

I needed a gentle re-introduction to the undersea world, not an adventure that would see me hanging on to tough, solidified lava for fear of getting swept away into the mouth of a hammerhead shark.

I decided pretty much last minute that I really should dive whilst in the Galapagos. When would I be back?

But I did wonder: was it really worth paying over $150 for two dives in waters that I’d been warned had low visibility and strong currents? It definitely sounded beyond my diving ability.

Ah well. So long as I stayed within my 18 metre limit, I was insured. Galapagos had thus far been good to me and I decided to place my trust in the hands of people who dive these spots on a daily basis.

It was on a Friday evening in May that I excused myself from a social meet-up with a delivery skipper who I’d be crewing for across the Pacific Ocean, and headed off into a dusky Puerto Ayora in search of an open dive shop.

A woman turned the key to her shop door as I approached. ‘‘Everywhere is shut now. But maybe René has space for you’, she said, “I show you.’ Within twenty minutes I was signing paperwork and trying on dive gear behind re-opened shutters.

It was going to happen.

Saturday morning. A sleepy-eyed start for us all, bouncing over dawn waves to the north-east coast of Santa Cruz island.

Dive one at Plazas started off hesitantly. An old boy, a man with sailing skin, natural highlights and a grey tuft of a beard helped me step into my buoyancy aid and tighten up my weight belt. I was a bit nervous. Would I instinctively remember everything? Maybe I should have done a refresher course first. Hmmm.

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Some of the dive team ready for action (*)

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Before the dive at Plazas

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King angelfish tempting us into the water at Plazas

Hands on regulator and back of the head, backward rolls, splash, splash, hitting the water one after the other. Apart from I stayed put. I couldn’t do it.

Second countdown, just for me this time, and pride pushed me overboard.

But I wasn’t the first to panic. A girl with a face full of makeup about to be melted by the lick of the sea started to hyperventilate once she hit the water. She lasted a few minutes. ‘No’, she said, ‘No’, and got back on the boat.

I struggled to submerge. Again and again I hit the surface to reach for air and calm my beating heart to a steady pace.

Eventually I descended, found my buoyancy and balance, and I eased into it, finning gently along a sandy bottom past curious king angel fish and a shoal of yellow tailed surgeon fish, floating along with golden Mexican goatfish, shimmery blackspot porgy – unique to the Galapagos – and grey mickey with delicate trailing tails and fins. And some stingrays. I kept my distance.

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Finally checking out the ocean floor *

It was all fairly relaxed. After twenty minutes two of the boys surfaced, out of air, whilst the rest of us continued cruising around. We were deeper than I should have gone – 23m – and whilst visibility wasn’t great, the grey waters still had enough clarity to keep this underworld from becoming too freaky.

Dive two at Gordon Rocks was a different ball game. The boat rocked heavily. ‘This section is calmer’, René assured us. But the entry was a little hectic and once in the water, my breathing was instantly panicked.

‘Behind you!’ shouted the driver, ‘Look, look! A hammerhead!’ I couldn’t look. A little apart from the rest of the group, the shark was close to me. If I didn’t look, it didn’t exist, and if I pretended that all the fins we’d seen from the boat were imaginary, all was good.

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Approaching the calm side of Gordon Rocks

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Overboard at Gordon Rocks

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My group… left to the sharks

We started the dive, submerging to 18m, down the crater wall. For forty minutes we drifted around the rock, currents spurring us on.

This dive gave me my shark sighting, finally. I’d done my best to avoid them until now, but a couple of whitetip reef sharks were insistent on being seen from a comfortable distance. More Mexican goat fish and blackspot porgy, some blue striped snapper, some surgeon fish. And two turtles. Ah, my beautiful friends.

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A shoal of yellow-tailed mullet, unique to the Galapagos islands *

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Galapagos fish

The safety stop showed me why Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site, with currents in the shallows threatening to rip us away from our handholds. My legs splayed out to the side as water surged past and I gripped on tightly, thrilled and scared and a little sad that it was nearly all over.

And the hammerhead story from the start of this blog post? Yeah, my imagination got the better of me. It could have happened, I guess, but I held on tightly, did my five-minute safety stop and finned up to the choppy surface fully unchomped.

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The reputation of the Galapagos means that they can demand fairly high prices and people will pay. There’s little room for bargaining and you can expect to pay upwards of US$170 for two dives. I paid $135 for two dives as a last minute special deal through Galapagos People Shalom Dive Centre. Carol – my fun, expressive yet calm dive buddy – and René kept a close eye on me throughout the two dives. Thanks guys! Thanks also for permitting use of some of the GoPro images (*) and  stingray footage.

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Why didn’t I think this through? Reality kicks in

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Something to get excited about, or at least be grateful for

What would you do if you rocked up to this tropical slice of Galapagos paradise with enough cash for a hotel room, a drink and absolutely nothing else? Panic? Or trust life?

I bought my ticket for the boat that would ferry me from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz to Isla Isabela at 13:55PM, ran to the marina and made it with a minute to spare. We should have left at 14:00PM, but time ticked by and my breathing returned to normal as we sat bobbing around watching boats load up for inter-island trips.

At this point I should have gone to the cashpoint. I didn’t. But not to worry. There was an ATM on the island of Isabela, supposedly. All good. I could get some out when I got there.

This is where fancy free travel, last minute decisions and lack of research come undone. Of course there wasn’t an ATM.

You don’t take cards?’ I ask Fabricio at Tropical Adventures when I went to book a US$60 tour to visit some volcanic tunnels and craters, ‘Oh, okay… where is the cashpoint’. He looked at me and smiled. ‘No ATMs. There is no a way to get out money in the town. Well, maybe it’s possible’.

Together with an older couple I took to the streets of Puerto Villamil, the main habitation on Isla Isabela. They needed money too, and they needed me. Their Spanish was terrible. I should have charged for my time, been entrepreneurial. I needed the money.

Our first stop at a minimarket proved fruitless, only accepting cards from Banco de Guayaquil or American Express. They sent us on to Hotel Albermarle. Why? Who knows. Maybe because the woman there spoke English.

There is no ATM on Isabela, no way to get cash out ‘, she said, ‘but you could try MoneyGram or Western Union’. Both instant money transfers carried hefty fees but to regain my independence and address my complete helplessness it was going to have to happen.

I tried to do a money transfer but it was declined, possibly because I tried to send money to myself. Maybe, however, it was because a few days earlier the fraud squad at my bank picked up that my card may have been copied in Bolivia and had since placed restrictions on my account. Oh travelling, oh South America. Either way, it wasn’t happening.

I stopped for a moment and thought about my options. I didn’t even have enough cash to leave the island the following day, let alone stay another night, take tours and see the place. How totally silly.

I did what I never wanted to do. I emailed my dad to bail me out. Oh, the shame.

Next I went to cancel my place on the tour before joining a Swede and a French guy for dinner. ‘What would you like?’ asked the waiter. I’d studied the menu and my mind. ‘Just a small beer’, I told him. It was cheaper than a juice and would leave me with 20 cents. Let the alcohol numb my frustration. I watched the other guys tuck into seafood feasts.

Back in my hotel room I was so glad I’d brought along yesterday’s leftover pasta. With no cutlery I squeeze-ate it out of its plastic storage bag. The height of glamour. Dessert was a packet of Oreos that had been squished in my bag for a week or so, but let’s keep things in perspective, at least I had dessert. A little bit of luxury.

I spent a restless night wondering how I was going to get out of this mess, whether the transfer would work, and the next morning I Skyped with my family. After an extended process including phone calls to India and the US, £300 with a £25 fee was transferred to Ecuador. But I still didn’t physically have the money and I wasn’t confident that I’d get my hands on it.

MoneyGram in Puerto Villamil was situated in a convenience store where, typically, the cashier was out on business when I showed up. I’d have to return in an hour or come back later in the day.

But wait a minute! Fabricio at Tropical Adventures had done me a huge favour when I’d tried to scrub my name off the tour list the previous night. ‘Don’t cancel’, he said, ‘I’ll see you at 08:30AM, okay?

I had a few minutes to make up my mind. In a predicament where I wasn’t confident that I could get the money but where there was definite potential for a withdrawal later in the day, would I gamble and go on the trip?

Hell yeah! Trust life, trust it will work out.

It did.

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Budgeting Bolivia

Despite Bolivia having the poorest economy in South America it is starting to chase tourist money and prices are slowly creeping up for visitors. As with many countries in South America, there are tourist prices and local prices, and these are often not transparent. Very little is actually labelled up. Vendors make prices up on the spot and often seem loathe to bargain.

I always find the issue of bargaining a delicate subject. Prices may have been inflated for a tourist market but it does feel awkward to see travellers fighting hard to get a 5Bs. reduction for a quality piece of handiwork, something somebody has spent considerable time slaving over. 5Bs.? That’s US$0.72.

Imported products are more expensive, although you’re never fully sure whether you’re getting the legitimate brand or a counterfeit (shoes, for example, in the style of Converse with All Stan marked on the side are pretty obviously not the real deal, but there are plenty of close calls).

However, in a country where accommodation typically costs between Bs.30 and 50Bs., where a meal out will set you back 20Bs, where bus travel costs approximately 8Bs. per hour, Bolivia still is a place where cash-strapped travellers can go far. The cost of backpacking in Bolivia is cheap. No wonder some people keep extending their visa, postponing their travel on to Argentina or Chile or Brazil where life is a whole lot more expensive.

Hostel bed (rural/city) Bs.20   / Bs.50 £1.83-4.58 / US$2.87-7.18
Private room in hostel/hotel Bs.70-Bs.100 £6.41-9.17 / US$10.06-14.37
Cheap lunch out (al meurzo) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Bottle of water Bs.6 £0.55 / US$.86
Fresh fruit juice at market Bs.4 £0.37 / US$0.57
Beer (large bottle) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Yoghurt (1ltr) Bs.12 £1.10 / US$1.72
Branded toothpaste Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Woolly hat Bs.20-Bs.30 £1.83-2.75 / US$2.87-4.31
Woolly dress Bs.80-Bs.120 £7.33-11.00 / US$11.49-17.24
Travel guitar Bs.350-Bs.700 £32.08-64.16 / US$50.29-100.58
Cigarettes (20 pack)* Bs.8-Bs.10 £0.73-0.91 / US$1.15-1.44
Cocaine (per gram) * Bs.100-Bs.200 £9.17-18.33 / US$14.37-28.74
San Pedro powder (1 hit/trip)* Bs.10 £0.91 / US$1.15

*DISCLAIMER: By including these items, I am in no way advocating their use. I am simply detailing what is available and providing associated costs in order to give a fuller impression of the country and its marketplace.

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Doing my little bit for literacy levels in Bolivia

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Big books, little kids and some high fives

So this was my last attempt at volunteering in Sucre. Third time lucky.

Realising he was still in town, I’d contacted Gareth of Tourist2Townie when I had arrived into Sucre to see about a catch-up and to gain some inside info on the city. He’d already been in Sucre for a couple of months getting acquainted with the locals and volunteering at Biblioworks, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving literacy and opening educational doors through building libraries, supplying books and training librarians in the poorest communities of Bolivia.

Literacy in Bolivia at first glance doesn’t appear to be terrible. Despite the country ranking number 101 out of 183, literacy levels come in at a reported 91%, just above Peru and Brazil (90%), higher than Ecuador (84%), but falling behind Paraguay (95%), Chile (96%) and Argentina (98%).

Despite this, illiteracy in Bolivia is, however, still deemed to be a big problem that is contributing to holding the country back from developing and improving their economic situation, something that Biblioworks echo in their mission statement:

We believe that where knowledge, literacy, and learning exist, people have the resources they need to solve social issues, maintain and strengthen their cultural identities, as well as to grow their community economically.

Gareth was involved in putting things together for Biblioworks’ first ever book fair. We could use all the help we could get, he told me. I asked him to let me know the time and place. I’d be there.

Saturday 14th April, 09:00. Posters decorated the town and Plazuela San Francisco was bannered up and ready for the occasion, La Feria de La Lectura. After a breakfast of sugar dusted buñelos and a warm trojori drink at the central market, I headed over to meet with the guys from Biblioworks. By coincidence I was wearing a bright yellow t-shirt. Turns out that yellow was uniform of the day. Tuned in, oh yeah!

School children threw themselves into all elements of the event. Small groups of boys group read together, classes played literacy games and competed with each other, kids wrote and listened and got inspired. It was beautiful to see.

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Out loud reading

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Literacy game play

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A longer term volunteer helps kids put their creative writing skills to the test

If I’m honest, my role on the day was pretty basic. Much of the time I photographed and videoed the activities. I gave out balloons. I handed out pens and paper to kids continuing a group story. I helped children choose books to read and then passed them on to someone who had a better grasp of Spanish. So although I again felt that I wasn’t really doing anything special or making a difference, being part of a group of volunteers felt good and as a whole we helped to make the event successful.

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Volunteers and school children at the event (me hiding at back right)

Hopefully some kids who might not have previously entered the world of reading and writing may now have sufficient thirst to pick up a book of their own accord or to write a story or a letter or whatever. Everyone certainly seemed to respond well. Focused concentration and big smiles punctuated the day (and I’m sure it wasn’t just the free balloons that did it).

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Blowing the budget in Brazil

Português: Verso da moeda de 10 centavos da se...

Brazil is undeniably beautiful and fun. I partied, I indulged in good food and I visited quirky places and and beaches and natural wonders. But despite staying part of the time with a friend, I still spent a lot of money. Because, as all backpackers I’ve met agree, Brazil is expensive. Having overtaken the UK in 2012 to become the sixth strongest economic force in the world, it’s easy to see how exchange rates aren’t going to be particularly favourable for many of us.

Overall, my daily budget in Brazil came to R$90.74 (£43.02) per day but it’s worth being aware that I spent quite a lot of my time in in the main cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and on Ilha Grande, none of which were the cheapest of places.  My expenses were pretty standard with no major splurges other than nights out. I did visit Iguazu Falls, which cost R$172(£62.55) for both the Argentinian and the Brazilian sides but was totally worth every penny. And the only actual purchase I made was a pair of Havaianas for R$18 (£6.55). I love living in flip flops and as I was visiting the birthplace of the worlds ‘best’ flip flops (or thongs, if you must), it had to be done.

Here’s a rough idea of costs:

R$ £
Hostel bed R$45 £16.36
1.5l bottle water R$3 £1.09
Cheapish meal out R$30 £10.91
Bus travel (per hour) R$10 £3.64
Taxi ride (2km-5km) R$10-R$20 £3.64-£7.27
Club entry R$30 £10.91
Beer R$6 £2.18
Capairinha R$14 £5.09

With very little effort, I way overspent in Brazil. But on my travels I’m not obsessing about sticking to a daily budget and I’ve accepted that you just have to go with the reality of the costs and deal with it. Even if it means cutting your stay short.

Next up: Bolivia, South America’s weakest economy, where I knew my money would go a little further. I hoped that less time in Brazil and more time in Bolivia would balance things out a bit.

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Sun, sea, sand and… snorkelling on Ilha Grande

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Ilha Grande, Brazil

It was my first experience in a triple bunk hostel in a place that clearly practised rack ‘em and stack ‘em, where tripping over bags and inhaling recycled breath was to be expected.

I’d sailed into the simple docks of Abraão on Ilha Grande where touts eagerly awaited new arrivals offering rooms at rates that easily competed with my pre-booked hostel bed.

Once checked in, me and a friend set off to explore the village. It didn’t take long. Consisting of places to eat and shops stacked high with overpriced souvenirs and Havaianas, Abraão is fully established as a tourist spot.

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One of the main streets down to the beach in Ilha Grande, Brazil

Part of its appeal is the lack of vehicles. People walk and cycle about the place and little boats take visitors out on day trips to more remote beaches on the island. Sixteen trails of different lengths and difficulty are mapped out for walks across the island but it’s the beaches that are the main attraction, some perfect for lounging and swimming, others for snorkelling, others still for surfing.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Going snorkelling at Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

I hired some snorkelling equipment (R$15) and made my way over to nearby Praia Preta with its dusting of black sand. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Walking away from the crowds and right along to the rocks, however,  resulted in a pleasing reward in the shape of an enclosed bit of privacy.

Swim, snorkel, sun dry, read, chat, picnic, repeat. Good times.

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Praia Preta, Ilha Grande, Brazil

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Private hideaway, Ilha Grande, Brazil

And then what else to do on the island other than window shop, eat out and indulge on tasty desserts from outdoor sweets trolleys, and sit under twinkling fairy lights on the beachfront whilst listening to street musicians as night took hold?

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Sweets stall, Ilha Grande, Brazil

Overall, with more money I could have stayed here longer, exploring secluded bays, maybe doing some diving. But Brazil is expensive for backpackers, and little islands with inflated prices proved to be even more problematic. After three nights on Ilha Grande, I bade farewell to this cute little place and boarded a boat back to the mainland.

Getting to Ilha Grande from Rio de Janeiro is pretty straightforward and takes between three to four hours. You can either take a bus with Costa Verde from RODOVIARIA (main bus terminal in Rio) to Angra do Reis where you can catch a ferry or local boat to Vila do Abraão, or book a direct transfer through your hostel/hotel. The latter can work out a little cheaper if you factor in a taxi ride to the bus terminal. All in, travel to the island should cost you in the region of R$85. Speedy return transfers are easily booked when on the island and depart three times per day.

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Budgeting New Zealand and Australia

$5 Australian note

Australia and New Zealand are not what I would call travellers’ places. They are, quite simply, expensive.

If you come directly from Europe or the US then maybe it won’t feel quite so harsh. I arrived from South America where US$5 got you a full meal and public transport was cheap. I really felt the difference and struggled to understand how many of the backpackers I met in Auckland and Sydney were out drinking and partying every night, eating expensive takeaways, buying pricey clothing. What was going on?

When I work out what I spent in New Zealand each day, it comes in at NZ$43.69 (£21.84).

During my month and a bit stint in New Zealand, I spent one week in a hostel, used a lot of buses, and stayed with friends and acquaintances along the way. I also CouchSurfed and slept in Auckland Airport. If I had needed to pay for accommodation the whole way, my budget could have increased by an additional NZ$30 (£15.71) per day. I did often pay for beers and food when staying with others, which cost more than if I was just fending for myself, so in some respects things levelled out a bit.

Whilst in New Zealand I also had to replace my camera, annoying, but I wouldn’t want to travel without a camera.

In Australia my daily expenditure was AU$34.21 (£23.41). And that was me being pretty damn careful. I’d found New Zealand expensive. Australia shifted things up a gear. Oh dear.

Initially I was pretty stressed about how costly everything was. ‘Don’t compare back to the UK’, said a Londoner I met at a party. It made sense. Once I started earning a bit in the local currency, it was all relative. Salaries are good, costs are high. Minimum wage is $15.51 per hour; many jobs pay more. A basic chocolate bar, like a Mars bar, costs $1.80 (£1.22), a loaf of bread anything upwards of $3.00 (£2.04). I personally also had to factor in internet costs, replacing a bike lock and helmet, and contributing towards surfboard repair.

My Australia daily average includes one night in a hostel in Sydney and return flights from Sydney up to Ballina-Byron as well as other public transport around and about Sydney.

To save money I slept a night in Sydney Airport and I was really fortunate to be able to spend over a month staying with good friends. I didn’t pay rent but bought in groceries and helped around the place to pay my way. If I had wanted to rent a place for the duration of my stay, rooms in share houses were advertised at around $200 (£136) per week, houses double that.

I hitched or cycled into work rather than take the bus. I didn’t go out and party excessively, but there were also moments when I gave in and paid above my usual cut-off for food or a drink when I just didn’t fancy drinking yet more water or making a sandwich. In short, I could have been more frugal, but I wanted to do things with people and that often upped the costs.

Some ideas of costs:

New Zealand Australia
Hostel bed $27 (£14.03) $30 (£20.41)
Beer (glass/schooner) $6 (£3.11) $6 (£4.08)
Bottle of wine $10 (£5.20) $10 (£6.80)
Black coffee $4 (£2.08) $4 (£2.72)
Pizza/curry/takeaway $15 (£7.79) $15 (£10.20)
Cheap meal out $15-$20 (£8-£10) $20-$30 (£13-£20)
Sandwich $5 (£2.60) $6.50 (£4.42)
Bus travel (1 hour) $10 (£5.20) $12 (£8.16)
Water Free in both New   Zealand and Australia! – water is good to drink out of the taps. All bars in Australia also need to provide   free water, whilst NZ tend to do so, although not required by law.

As a local friend pointed out to me, Sydney and Byron Bay in Australia are pricey places. This experience of Australia is therefore somewhat distorted, so I guess I’ll have to come back and check out the rest at some point soon. Anyone know where the cheapest place in Oz is? And do I really want to go there?!

It may be worth looking at Nomadic Matt’s blog where he has done more comprehensive write-ups on budgeting for New Zealand and Australia.

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Hitchhiking New Zealand: a-okay?

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Hitching Raglan to Hamilton (this thumb out got me a ride!)

Murders, rapes and people on P. I was warned: stop hitchhiking or there’s a good chance it will go wrong. But would I listen?

When I first got to New Zealand, I realised that public transport was going to be pretty expensive when the half an hour journey from the airport to the city centre cost me $16. In all fairness, I had just come from Ecuador where buses cost $1 per hour, and in many respects it’s unfair to compare New Zealand with South America. Nonetheless, it was a bit of a shock. So when the Sunday bus connection to Raglan didn’t work out, I thought it was time to start sticking out my thumb.

This first dalliance with hitchhiking was indeed pretty safe: I was with three other guys who I’d met in the hostel in Auckland. With so many of us we were lucky to catch a lift, but standing on Whatawhata Road in Hamilton was a winner. Within ten minutes we had a ride. All good.

In Raglan itself, I realised that if I wanted to go surfing I was going to need to hitch to the beach. And on all occasions it was fine. People picked me up, even with an 8 foot board in tow. All decent people, who on a couple of occasions even lent me a wetsuit. Can’t complain.

So when a lift to Auckland airport to meet a friend fell through at the last moment, it was a no brainer: hitchhike.

My first pickup was a warm, smiley man who dropped me at a better spot. It started to rain.

A woman stopped when she saw me standing alone, starting to get a bit soggy. ‘You really must be careful’, she said as she drove me a few miles up the road, ‘follow your gut instinct and if it feels dodgy, don’t get in. There are some bad people on P and there’s no reasoning with them’.

I later read that in the past ten years there have been two hitchhiking murders in New Zealand, that of 17-year-old Jennifer Hargreaves and 28-year-old Birgit Brauer. Both young women travelling solo. I thought about where I had packed my penknife and remembered that it was in a little section right at the bottom of my bag. Next time I hitched, I told myself, I would have it to hand.

Another time a sweet girl in her early twenties picked me up. She was really worried about me hitchhiking alone as a female. What did surprise me was that she picked me up with her young child in tow. It made me wonder: what about the opposite? – What if the hitcher was a bit of a psycho? The assumption is that a solo female traveller = safe.

A few days later I stayed with a family up north of Whangerei and I got chatting with the mother, Nellie. ‘When I see a female hitchhiking, I’ll always pick her up and then give her a telling off’ she said, ‘Women shouldn’t hitchhike alone.’ And hitchhiking full stop? In twos its fine, but alone, no.

So what to do now?

Hitchhiking brings with it a real sense of freedom and adventure – who knows who you will meet? What conversations you will have? It is undoubtedly a great way to meet people, in many cases locals who are keen to share stories and history of their area. It In New Zealand, it has been a fairly common way of getting around. The most recent figures that I could find were from 2005 that showed nearly 16,000 visitors were hitching their way around the country, and although there was a predicted downward trend, these numbers should still be balanced against any negative statistics. Hitching is also sometimes more convenient than catching public transport and clearly there is the benefit of saving some cash, although it’s good etiquette to offer a bit of petrol money.

Doing it alone, particularly as a female, is clearly a no-no, even if it is significantly easier to catch a ride. Overall, it is not without its risks.

I was totally fine, but then I guess that I was also lucky. For now I’ll knock it on the head. If I start to travel with someone else, then fine, I’ll go for it again.

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Filed under costs/money, culture, new zealand, solo travel, travel