New Zealand

Stray Bus New Zealand Review

I came across a number of Stray NZ bus reviews, so I thought I’d provide my perspective to those thinking of doing the same thing. Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to a big purchase like this!

I’ll drop this early, and then a reminder mid-way through. If you do end up booking a pass online you can shoot me a message to get a stray mates friends and family code that will give you a 5% discount at checkout. Why don’t you use that money to buy a couple beers and a fergburger! It should work for those looking to book a Stray Asia bus pass as well!

For those not familiar with Stray, it’s a hop on/hop off bus service that gives you some flexibility in terms of how you get around New Zealand. While traveling on a Stray bus you’re guaranteed accommodation for that night at a reasonable rate of usually $28 NZD a night. There are also a couple of activities that are slightly discounted in each of the stops (Usually ~10-15% off retail prices). Each trip has a minimum amount of days that you can complete the trip in, but you have up to a year to use the pass. Booking a spot on the bus is relatively simple. Although it can get complicated at times, and in the case that it does get complicated, you can send an email or shoot a phone call over to the Stray team. If you really like a stop and have time, just let the driver know you’re going to be hopping off the bus. You’ll then have to figure out whether or not there is room on the next bus coming through, which is at least 1-3 days during peak season, if there isn’t room you’ll be wait-listed and may have to wait for yet another bus to come through town. If you don’t like the people that are on your bus, or if you don’t like the driver you can just roll the dice on the next bus that comes through town as well.

Luckily for me I really enjoyed the people on our bus from day 1, as well as our driver, Postie. Although he had his interesting driving quirks. Like swerving into oncoming traffic every time he searched for new songs on his ipod, or going up on two wheels on to the median of a bridge overlooking a reservoir trying to make a hairpin turn. For the most part, our core group stuck together for 1-2 weeks from our start in Auckland, all the way down to Queenstown. So even if there’s a stop you really aren’t into, the people you’re with help to bring up mood.

Other hop on/hop off bus options include Kiwi Experience, Contiki and Magic Bus. While doing research it was basically between Kiwi Experience and Stray for me. Most of the things i heard about Kiwi was that it was predominately a younger crowd looking to get wasted every night and hook up, garnering the wonderful nickname known as the clap trap. The average age of Kiwi is around 21, while Stray tends to skew a bit older, with a greater emphasis on culture and experience. But don’t get me wrong we still went out and partied pretty hard. I’d say the average age of our Stray bus was closer to 24, I myself being 29 at the time of the trip. There were a few parent/child groups on the trip as well, helping to bring up the average age. There was also a fair share of people on the bus that were 18-21 years old, so it really is a good mix, with roughly 40 or so people on the bus during peak summer season.

Before booking my ‘Max Pass’ I tried to find as much information as I could on pricing, and tried finding the best deal possible. I also read it would be cheaper in NZ, but I didn’t want to take that big of a chance. The price ended up being the same once I got to Auckland, so ultimately it’s worth some piece of mind to show up with a pass in-hand, especially during the summer peak season so you can secure your spot on a bus well ahead of time. I ended up buying a pass a couple of weeks ahead of my arrival to NZ, whilst traveling in Australia. The passes typically go on sale during different times of year and I happened to come across a pretty good sale of $930 AUS for the Max Pass, while the retail price of the pass is ~$1450 AUS. The Max Pass minimum amount of travel is 23 days, and takes you through most of the North Island and all of the South Island.

Last time you’ll see this from me on this post or anywhere else on my blog, but if you do end up booking a pass online please use my links to help give me a little kick-back and I’ll be happy to share my Stray Mates 5% discount with you as a return favor!

Now, back to the good stuff.

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Europe, Spain

España

After a few wonderful days in Seville, it was off to some of the coastal towns that dot the southern coast of Spain. First stop was Cadiz. This is a wonderful quaint port town, and one of the oldest cities in Western Europe. In terms of touristy things to do, there are a couple of forts still standing that you can tour. I’d recommend that you walk among the narrow cobblestone streets, and check out the market for some fresh catches of the day. The city itself really only needs a day or two of touring, and then you can continue on your way. Don’t forget to try the Caracoles (snails), a specialty of the area.

My next stop was Malaga for a day, and this is another coastal city that may only need a couple of days. Both cities offer nice beaches so that you can soak up the sun, but for what it’s worth, I really liked the beaches of Portugal much more than Cadiz and Malaga. Those that appreciate the arts should visit the Picasso Museum, the birthplace of the famous artist. The city of Malaga is larger than Cadiz, and has the feeling of a high-end, touristy city that lacks any real character that could easily be left off an itinerary.

From Malaga I made my way inland to Madrid, also skipping over the Alhambra in Granada due to a tight schedule. I gave myself a couple of days to explore Madrid, mainly due to a self-imposed obligation. The city is so large that I felt it needed a couple of days to really give it a fair shot. I found myself on another free tour my first day in the city and got to see all the major sites. Nothing truly wowed me in Madrid, it was a nice place to visit, but now that I’ve been there once I don’t feel a need to go back. If you’re into museums, then Madrid is the place for you. At this point in my trip I wasn’t in the mood to check out the museums, but the Golden Triangle is supposed to be one of the best collections in the world.

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RTW Trip

Lessons learned from the road

Before I took my trip I did plenty of research on what I should or should not bring, since after all I was traveling with only a backpack. Here are some lessons I learned on my own, and some I took from others before I made my trip.
  1. Pack lighter! – not only will your back and legs thank you, it also allows you to pick stuff up as you go. Everything I read said this and I didn’t listen, and ended up sending home stuff with friends who came to visit me along the way. Thanks to all of those who lugged home the crap I didn’t need! You can always buy a t shirt or extra underwear/socks along the way for cheap.
  2. Having a smartphone with data is immensely helpful when traveling abroad. Buy SIM cards as you go along, they are typically pretty cheap and typically faster than a lot of wifi connections you find in hostels. Booking transportation etc on the fly is much easier this way, If you use a plan from the states only use it in dire situations. However it is really nice to detach from the phone as hard as that is to do nowadays. Make sure you bring a paperclip to pop out your SIM card slot for you iphone owners, this will make switching SIM’s easy.
  3. I bought a Macbook air explicitly for the purpose of my trip, while it wasn’t absolutely necessary, it definitely made some days on the road much more tolerable so that I could catch up on my blogging, watch movies, edit and save my pictures, and stay connected. For a short trip I wouldn’t have brought my computer, but 6 months felt long enough to warrant this item.
  4. If you’re on the fence about a nice camera, buy it before you go! Prices abroad are generally more expensive than what you can find on Amazon. I paid that price the hard way and ended up paying $700 for this camera package in the Wellington, NZ Duty Free store, and it’s $570 on Amazon. All the while it was something I wanted to have from day 1, but I was content with my point and shoot and my iphone. You’ll thank yourself later once you have a ton of amazing shots, plus it gives you a new skill to work on.
  5. Find something to remind you of all of the places you’ve been once you’re home. I collect at least one monetary note from each country I’ve been to. An expensive collection none the less, but pretty cool to see all of the money from the world. Plus it makes a rainy day fund! Some people do post cards, shot glasses, etc.
  6. Buy powdered detergent and put it in a plastic zip lock bag and then in another tote bag of sorts (think laundry bag) put it in your pack. It’ll help keep your clothes fresh (who knows when you may be in a smokey bar, there are plenty of those in Europe still), and maybe give your shirt another wear. It’s also cheaper than buying washing powder from a hostel at the price it would cost you to buy a whole box of detergent.
  7. While I’m on the topic of Ziplock bags, bring a bunch of extras in varying sizes, they’ll come in handy to store all kinds of things.
  8. Bring a mini speaker (this one is cheap and awesome, and charges with a provided USB cable), you never know when an impromptu drinking or beach session needs some tunes.
  9. Buy a travel adaptor that has a grounded prong and then buy this surge protector! It is such an amazing device, 3 outlets and 2 USB slots! I’ve had up to 6 devices being charged on this bad boy, especially when outlets can come at a premium. Remember if you’re going to buy an adaptor, make sure it can take multiple voltages, i burnt out a camera and an electric razor learning this the hard way.
  10. If you’re gonna buy a travel lock, buy one of these, the length and flexibility of the cord is better for unknown locker or bag storage situations, and make sure you check your locker. Many times while you think you locked up your goods, all someone has to do is turn the knob to open the locker, these hostel lockers are far from secure. Another good option that isn’t as intense, is this lock with a pliable cable.
  11. Noise canceling headphones might be one of the best inventions ever. Crying babies, snoring roommates on the regular, you get the idea. Just make sure you’ve got some good white noise or music you can fall asleep to.
  12. Don’t try and stick to a set itinerary for your whole trip, sometimes the best of times were buying a ticket on a whim or doing something you wouldn’t normally do. (If there are things that are on your must-do list, make sure you book them well in advance, and do it at the beginning of your stay there, so you’re not disappointed when it’s all booked up or it gets postponed.
  13. Buy an XL travel towel. You may want to buy two of them since these towels aren’t easy to find on the road if you end up losing one. They are light and compact and there’s no chance you want to carry a bath towel with you for that long. Plus, it extends the amount of time between laundry.
  14. Don’t be afraid to eat new things, plenty of awesome different foods out there, but be smart in those developing countries (I’m looking at you Asia!). Use antibiotics only if you must, try kicking the bug with lots of water, charcoal pills, and bland foods like bananas and bread and rice.
  15. Bring a reusable plastic water bottle, it’ll save you plenty of $ in the long run in those countries where the water is safe to drink. Plus it’s good for the environment!
  16. If you’re going to a remote beach town or any town where the beach is the main source of tourism (Thailand and Bali I’m looking at you), bring SPF with you, prices are typically extremely inflated, and you have no choice but to pay the price, or burn.
  17. These pedialtyte packs are perfect for bouts of food poisoning or a wicked hangover to get you re-hydrated.
  18. Buy a raincover for your pack, you never know what the weather is gonna be like, and for that matter, your water resistant jacket should probably have a hood as well.
  19. Carry USD as emergency cash, especially in those places you’ll need a visa. More often than not they accept USD and there are rarely ATM’s available, and you’ll be very lucky if they accept credit cards. This happened to me in Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia.
  20. Make sure you have an ATM card that has zero ATM fees, and zero foreign transaction fees. The Charles Schwab debit card is awesome! Plus it will give you a little bit of interest on your balance.

I’m sure there is more that I will think of to add to this list, but for now this should help all of those looking to hit the road for an extended trip!

 

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Europe, Spain

Sevilla – Olé!

After a wonderful week spent together in Portugal and Dublin, it was time for Amanda to head back  to the states. It turned into a long trip for me that probably could’ve been avoided with sufficient planning. At this point of the trip I had done enough planning far enough in advance and wanted to wing it . Somewhere towards the end of our trip together I decided that I was going to go to Spain instead of touring the north of Portugal. This Spain excursion had me starting in Sevilla and working my way east along the coast and then up to Madrid, ultimately circling back to Lisbon. Sevilla is quite close to Lagos, ~3 hours, but since we rented a car in Lisbon, I had to return it back to the rental agency. So, what could’ve been a 3 hour trip turned into a 12 hour trip. I really wasn’t in a rush, but it was unnecessary none-the-less. The silver lining was that I got to plow through the HBO series True Detective, a must-see show in my opinion.

I arrived Friday night and walked 30 minutes from the bus station to my hostel. The city was buzzing with people spilling out of bars and restaurants. Loads of people were drinking in the streets and snacking on tapas, having a grand ole time. I dropped my bags off and meandered around the city, soaking in the energy that Sevilla had to offer.

I was up early to explore the city and get my bearings. It was plenty hot, but I still saw plenty of men walking around dapper as can be, in colorful pants and button down shirts, sometimes even jackets. I’m not sure if this is because it was the weekend leading up to Feria de Abril, or if this was the norm, but I liked their style! I just wouldn’t want to wear that in 90+ degree heat. Note: A good way to stand out as an American? Easy, wear shorts.

Eager to catch a bull fight, I made my way to the arena, and purchased a ticket from a man on the streets in my broken spanish for $10. There was quite a crowd surrounding the arena, with a large lineup of horse and carriages, along with women and men adorned in fancy outfits. After a number of pictures, I made my way inside excited to see the bull fight. What followed was a parade of horse drawn carriages through the arena for the next couple of hours, eventually I put two and two together and figured out I bought a ticket to this horse show, and not a bull fight, the fight was held later in the afternoon.

I made a beeline for the exit, and made my way to the ticket office and bought myself a bullfight ticket. I spent a few hours meandering around the city, sampling tapas and walking around the city.

Finally the time had arrived, it was bull fight time! For those that are big animal lovers, stop here. For those that want to know more, lets go!

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Europe, Portugal

The Algarve Region of Portugal

After a few wonderful days in Lisbon, it was time to explore more of Portugal via a rental car. We made our way down the Algarve region of Portugal, specifically, Lagos. Hoping to see some magnificent coast line vistas we took the circuitous route that most closely followed the ocean. Unfortunately this ended up being a bad idea. Turning what should’ve been a 3 hour ride via the highway, into a 4.5-5 hour ride with little-to-no-view of the ocean at any point. It also didn’t help that the roads were not properly marked, and that I was trying to save my data usage, since I hadn’t picked up a Portugal sim card, and I was paying $25 per 100 MB. The car ride was tenser than it should’ve been, but I have to give props to my navigator for sticking with it and ultimately getting us to our destination of Lagos in one piece!

We had 3-4 days to enjoy the sun, surf, and sand that Lagos and the Algarve region had to offer. Our first full day, I rented a board and Amanda got surf lessons at Arrifana beach in the northern part of the Algarve, roughly 45 minutes from Lagos. One of the big gripes with this beach was that it was impossible to navigate the beach without destroying your feet walking along the rocky coast line. Other than that it was a decent day out in the surf, but probably a surf break better suited for intermediate to advanced surfers rather than beginners like ourselves. Once our surf sessions were out of the way we decided to explore the coast line all the way back to Lagos, stopping at most of the beaches along the way scouting out more locations for our next few days. Ultimately, with an end goal of catching the south-western most point of continental Europe at Sagres. Sagres was considered the end of the world as late as the  1400’s before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

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Europe, Portugal

Lisbon

After a quick jaunt to Dublin, it was back to Lisbon, this time to explore the city with a partner in crime. Upon arrival in Lisbon we were greeted with a beautiful, warm sunny day. Quite the opposite from what we experienced 24 hours earlier.

We checked into the hostel, dropped our bags off and made a bee-line for some Portuguese cuisine. We ended up at this great restaurant called Portugalia on the banks of the Rio Tejo, and had what was probably one of the better octopus dishes I’ve had in my life. It was a cold octopus salad, and the balance of the flavors and textures was amazing. In addition to the octopus, we had a traditional dish known as Shrimp Bread Soup, which was quite nice as well, albeit a little bland for my tastes, but the flavor profile is something I’d like to experiment with myself at home.

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Europe, Ireland

Oh Goodness, my Guinness

Upon finishing a thrilling ride on the Autobahn, I made my way on to Lisbon for a night via Frankfurt before heading to Dublin for the weekend. This was the second-to-last business class flight on my RTW trip, and boy was it shitty. Lufthansa’s European business class flights are nothing more than an economy seat with a better meal and a curtain separating the sections, good thing it was only a 4 hour flight. I Arrived in Lisbon late in the evening, and  checked in to the hostel some time around midnight in attempts to call it a night. While trying to fall asleep I was kept awake by a massive fireworks display at the port, just outside of my window. Apparently, it was the eve of Portugal’s Freedom day, which culminates in a massive party throughout the weekend, complete with ill-timed fireworks display’s.

I was up early in the AM and on my way to Dublin for the weekend, and it was time to meet up with my final travel partner, Amanda. We had been dating prior to my departure on this RTW trip and kept in touch consistently throughout my travels. (Editors Note: She’s now my gf upon my return back home!) It was cheaper for her to fly into and out of Dublin, and for me, it was an excuse to visit another country I’ve been meaning to visit, plus check off another item off my bucket list. That item? Grab a Guinness straight from the source!

With roughly 48 hours in Dublin we tried to make the most of it. First stop on the tour? Obviously it was the Guinness Storehouse. The museum itself is really well done, and is easily the #1 tourist attraction in Dublin, maybe all of Ireland. It is an experience for all of the senses, capped by a pint of Guinness. You can either learn to pour your own Guinness, or you can have one poured for you by one of the bartenders on the top floor of the Brewery with a wonderful 360 degree view of Dublin in the Gravity Bar. We chose the latter, since there was roughly a 30 minute wait to learn how to pour your own Guinness, and there aren’t many other times where that skill would come in handy, unless of course you’re a bartender. Part of me did want to learn how to pour a shamrock in a Guinness, but I guess that’ll have to wait for another time.

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