Looking Back on 200 Days of Travel
It doesn’t sound all that long when we tell people we have been traveling for more than six months. When I looked on the calendar and saw the 200-day mark though, now that seems long. These last 100 days have taken us to Shanghai, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Our trip has changed dramatically from what it was in Southeast Asia, but it continues to be rich in experiences and an amazing investment in our lives.
After 100 days, we published a post of our travel highs and lows. We only thought it would be appropriate to update our answers after the next 100.
Jill: I honestly dream about ramen. Every bowl of ramen soup I ate in Japan was so warm, salty, comforting and delicious. We found a relatively authentic ramen shop in Auckland, New Zealand to try and curb my craving, but it had nothing on the real deal in Japan. I won’t even comment on the multiple 2 minute noodle varieties that were part of our camper van “dinners.” Super special honorable mention for all of the tasty, healthy, sweet treats eaten at 30 Bruce Lane in Australia.
Dave: Anytime we’ve been to a restaurant has been a treat (have we mentioned we’re on a tight budget? Many times? Right). But I’d have to say some of the most memorable meals happened in the caravan parks. Jill would use either the caravan park’s crappy pots, pans and knives or our van’s crappy pots, pans and knives and we’d often be eating in a cold kitchen or our cramped van and Jill would still be able to turn out something wonderful. She did all kinds of great things with pumpkin and cauliflower that made the cold nights a little warmer. Special mention for Taco Night and Make Your Own Pizza Night at our friend Robyn’s house (meat pizza rules!).
Jill: Since arriving in New Zealand and Australia, we have tasted more wine and beer than I imagined even possible. Recent memory leads me back to the elegant and soft Grenache at Yellands and Paps in the Barossa Valley and a bottle of The Tarot (Grenache, Shiraz, Tempranillo blend) from Alpha Box & Dice in McLaren Vale (both in Australia). Runners up are the Belgian beers being brewed at Wanaka Beerworks in New Zealand.
Dave: The special wines we’ve had are too many to mention. And while I still miss my Riedel wine glasses (they can cost $50 for two in New Zealand and Australia), I have to say I miss drinking our good wine in coffee mugs while we were camping.
Best Cup of Coffee
Jill: Since a majority of our travel has been the self-catering kind in New Zealand and Australia, we make our own coffee most mornings. Given this, we are always on the search for small roasters and specialty beans while we are traveling. The best we bought was a bag from Seven Seeds in Melbourne. By far some of the most flavorful coffee I have tasted.
Dave: One of the differences between Jill and I is that once Jill is up she’s on the move. I prefer to sit and dawdle and take my time before I get going in the morning. This means on most days Jill is making the coffee. That’s my favorite cup.
Best Night’s Sleep
Jill: Since Japan in early May, we have either been sleeping on futons on the floor or in a campervan 90% of the time. Let’s just say my best night’s sleep hasn’t been on plywood covered with a thin mattress in a van. We had the luxury of staying in Tom’s Cottage, a small wine country home in Hawke’s Bay New Zealand. Not only was it amazing to sleep in a real bed, this was the most comfortable bed I have probably ever slept in. It is worth the splurge every once and a while!
Dave: Believe it or not, sleeping in the van is not as terrible as it may sound. We’ve really benefited being here in the winter because it often has stayed dark until 8 in the morning. But the craziest part about our campervan journey has been the birds and their incessant chatter in the mornings. We heard one this morning that was making a sound like a monkey. And they feast on caravan parks since they know people there have food. I’m not really complaining, it’s been incredible to see and hear birds that we don’t come across in the U.S. like cockatoos and magpies regularly.
Favorite Moment as a Tourist
Jill: We only had three days in Shanghai, but we definitely made the most of being there. We joined thousands of people along The Bund in Shanghai, both in the afternoon and later in the evening and the modern buildings across the river juxtaposed against the older, European style buildings behind us was really a sight to be seen. We had to wiggle our way through people to get a few pictures – it seems that everyone is captivated by big buildings and bright lights.
Dave: Kangaroos in Australia are like deer in the States, they’re everywhere. So while locals find them to be somewhat of a nuisance (we’ve seen so many dead on the side of the road), I still get a big kick out of seeing one, especially when they’re on the move.
Jill: Although I may have complained a few times about the confinement, living in a campervan for almost 8 weeks between New Zealand and Australia is an adventure I will never forget. From the beautiful places we saw to the people we met, our life was never without something new those days. Sure there were nights where the gale winds threatened to blow over the van and sleepless moments when I was trying to do everything in my power to “hold it” so I wouldn’t have to walk to the bathroom in the dark. But, all in all, it was a fantastic way to travel and see countries we could not have afforded to visit for so long if we didn’t live out of a van.
Dave: Our hike in a driving rainstorm in the Japanese Alps and somehow ending up in a hut with a warm fire and Japanese beer and sake.
Favorite China Memory
Jill: We started a little late in our conquest, but we gave a valiant effort attempting to eat 72 dumplings in 72 hours in Shanghai. I can still see those perfectly stuffed and steamed dumplings sitting in their bamboo baskets in front of me. It was a really fun three days running around the city trying to find the best dumpling shops and stands.
Dave: The first dumpling stand we stopped at in Shanghai. I held up two fingers for two dumplings and the chef started putting 12 dumplings in a carton, six for each order. I still think they were the best on the trip. Fried, not steamed.
Favorite Japan Memory
Jill: I have so many favorites from Japan that it is hard to narrow it down to just one. The day I will remember the most was our hiking adventure in Kamikochi in the rain. We were soaked to the bone and then happened upon a hut serving warm sake and big beers around a steaming hot fire. We met some wonderful people that day and those were two or three hours of pure, dry happiness. I also loved every interaction we had with Japanese school children wanting to practice their English with us.
Dave: Hanshin Tigers Baseball game!!!! The non-stop cheering and seventh inning balloon launch were great fun. And did I mention that if you have a beer when you enter the ballpark they’ll put it in a cup and let you take it in? Madness!!!
Favorite New Zealand Memory
Jill: When we were told it would get down to -7 degrees Celsius one evening in Queenstown, we weren’t quite sure we made the right decision to be in New Zealand in the winter (though first we had to figure out what -7 degrees Celsius even meant). When we woke up the next morning to a white blanket of snow covering the ground and the mountains, we found we got more than we could have asked for. It was beautiful and made for a magical few days in one of New Zealand’s most breathtaking places.
Dave: We were fortunate to taste so many great wines and meet so many fantastic winemakers in New Zealand that to single one of them out would be unfair to the others. That said, I keep remembering our truly special tasting of Astrolabe wines in Marlborough, where we sat for a couple of hours with owner and winemaker Simon Waghorn and his wife, Jane Forrest-Waghorn, and went through their entire line-up. As we were getting ready to leave, Simon said we should take all seven of the bottles he had opened since he wouldn’t get around to drinking them. Special Mention: Hanging with the locals at the Bluff Oyster Festival.
Favorite Australia Memory
Jill: We have been so fortunate to be around generous people while in Australia. Our new family in Macedon welcomed us with open arms, not only once, but twice and I felt truly blessed to spend so much time with them (and they pulled out all the stops to make sure we really experienced Australia!). I was also able to see an a old work colleague for lunch in Melbourne and we met our fair share of friendly Australians while on the road. Non-people related, I loved traveling the Great Ocean Road, which is a little like Highway 1 on the West Coast of the U.S. The coastal views were spectacular and we saw koalas – definitely a highlight of the trip for me.
Dave: So many! From staying at the Peter Lehmann guest house to tasting a great bottle of 1997 Shiraz, most of my favorite Australia moments have been (SURPRISE!) wine related.
Item I’m Glad I Packed
Jill: Before we got to New Zealand, I asked my Mom to ship a few things in advance of us arriving so we would be prepared for colder weather. They are not something typically on a RTW packing list, but I will forever be indebted to Babs for sending my toasty warm down slippers. They won’t make the trip much further, but in New Zealand and Australia they have been the item I’ve worn the most.
Dave: This isn’t something I packed, but has become a part of what I’m carrying around these days. I brought six of our favorite wines from New Zealand to eventually share with my family. That six-pack has become a 12-pack carrier now that I’ve added some Australian wines. Carrying it the 300 meters to catch an airport bus at 5 a.m. the other morning wasn’t too fun, but I’m hoping the effort will be appreciated.
Item I Didn’t Need to Pack
Jill: I don’t really like wearing shorts and back home I used to always hike in a skort (yes ladies, I’m bringing back the skort). I brought one with me and only wore it a few times in Thailand and Cambodia. It has more practical uses on the trails back home so it got shipped back to the States along with a few other items we decided to forgo.
Dave: I bought these travel shirts from REI that everyone has. They’re extremely lightweight and even though they wrinkle like crazy when packed away, the wrinkles amazingly go away after you’ve been wearing them. For some reason I can’t stand them. They’re practical, but ugly. I’m going to try to pawn one off on my father when I see him in a few weeks.
Best Thing I’ve Bought
Jill: There are two things I have eaten more than anything else in the last few months. Muesli and Cadbury Carmello Chocolate Bars. I can’t get enough muesli for brekky (as they call breakfast here) and a couple small squares of the caramel candy bar have put a smile on my face through many rainy and cold nights in our campervans.
Dave: We’re staying in a small studio apartment in Margaret River for our last two weeks in Australia. It’s denting the budget a little more than the campervan, and combined with our rental car, leaves us roughly $30 a day to spend on food and wine. Amazingly, I’ve been able to buy good bottles of wine for only $10, all from wineries. We spent $20 for a red and white blended magnums (1 magnum equals two regular sized bottles) from McHenry Hohnen and picked up a couple of bottles of Semillon from a few other wineries. Left out of my basket was a four-pack of Sierra Nevada Hoptimum I saw in a convenience store that was $25. Damn Australian liquor taxes!!!
We really have had an amazing run in our travels so far. No major incidents or issues have derailed our plans. There was my panic attack on the flight from Phnom Penh to Shanghai knowing we might get turned away at the airport because we didn’t have the right visa, and you have already heard us bitch and moan about the winter weather in New Zealand and Australia. But other than those little set backs, we are still flying high on having the trip of a lifetime.