It all started with an ill-fated trip to the mall, during which we wandered past STA Travel that was advertising round the world airfares. We were vaguely thinking about going on a trip that year (this was back in 2010), but were thinking Southeast Asia again (we’d been to Thailand the year before, and Bali the year before that) – not a full-on round the world trip! But the idea planted itself in our brains, and before we knew it we had booked our tickets for the trip of a lifetime!
STA Travel has some amazing deals on RTW tickets. We paid $2700 NZD each for a five-stop journey: Auckland-Tahiti-Los Angeles-Paris then making our own way to London-Dubai-Singapore-Auckland. That was a few years ago now, and they’re even cheaper these days! Crazy.
It was a whirlwind trip, and we wish we could’ve spent more time in some places. But it gave us a taste for where we wanted to travel (and didn’t want to travel) to in the future. Note that we were travelling in the low season for the Northern Hemisphere (late December-February) so accommodation was pretty cheap compared to the high season.
Here is where we went:
Tahiti, French Polynesia
We got a free night at Le Meridien in Papeete as our layover was about 18 hours. It was great to break up the long flight to the USA with a night in a fancy hotel in a tropical paradise! The hotel was fantastic – it had a sand-bottomed pool and kayaks to use. We got scared while kayaking when we saw a fin, so stuck to the pool after that!
Los Angeles, USA
Petra had visited LA a couple of times previously, so we knew we wanted to stay in Santa Monica. It’s pretty expensive to stay there, so we booked a place on Airbnb. Our Airbnb reservation fell through a week before we were due to arrive (cue panic!), and so at the last minute we found the Ocean Lodge Hotel, which was a stone’s throw from the Santa Monica Pier. We couldn’t have scored a better place to stay! It was nothing fancy but met our budget.
We loved the shopping in Santa Monica, we walked to Venice Beach, and spent a crazy day at Universal Studios Hollywood. LA definitely delivered on the first stop in the US!
San Diego, USA
One of the things Shaun wanted to do in the US was drive a muscle car. So we hired a Dodge Charger for our road trip from LA to San Diego and beyond. The drive down the coast through Orange County towards San Diego was spectacular. We loved the beach town of La Jolla (complete with seals!), and the old town of San Diego with all its Mexican restaurants. Touristy, yes, but heaps of fun!
Las Vegas, USA
We drove through a blizzard on the way to Las Vegas – it was so bad that Petra’s mum back in NZ saw it on the news there and said there was a 4 hour traffic jam on the I-15! Fortunately we weren’t stuck in it (although it was bloody cold!). Vegas was everything we had dreamed of and more. What an insane place! We loved wandering the Strip and looking at all the hotels, and having a go at gambling too. We stayed at the Luxor which was funky!
Grand Canyon, USA
Petra had always wanted to see the Grand Canyon in the snow since seeing it during the summer a couple of years beforehand, so we made the journey there from Vegas for a night. We saw the Hoover Dam and drove our muscle car along Route 66, and then saw the Grand Canyon in all its glory. It was a magnificent sight with snow settled on the horizontal surfaces down in the canyons. We stayed on the rim edge at Bright Angel Lodge – a fantastic choice that we wouldn’t have been able to afford if we were there in high season! It was unreal seeing the sun go down while sitting on the edge with a beer in hand. After our night there it was back to Vegas for another night, and then we flew to San Francisco.
San Francisco, USA
Ahh, San Fran. One of the best cities in the world (in our opinion)! It’s such a vibrant, ‘happening’ place, and until we visited New York this year we’d never been anywhere that had the same kind of feel. We spent a couple of nights near Union Square either side of our trip to Lake Tahoe. Biking the Golden Gate Bridge was a highlight (although windy and freezing!), as was wandering through the Haight Ashbury area and catching the cable car. We discovered the awesome food court in the Westfield mall at the end of Powell Street, and dined there for half our nights in the city!
Lake Tahoe, USA
Ever since we decided to book our trip during the North American winter, we knew we had to have a couple of days skiing that delicious powder we had heard so much about. We thought it would be a mission to organise with such a short timeframe, but we came across the Bay Area Ski Bus who take weekend trips to Lake Tahoe from San Fran. The bus picked us up in downtown SF at 4 am on a chilly Saturday morning, and we were on the slopes at Kirkwood Ski Resort by 9 am. It was EPIC. The snow was amazing – so much better than anything we have in NZ, and the trees! Oh, we loved making tracks through the trees and ending up in metre-deep drifts of powder. What fun! We were put up in a hotel in South Lake Tahoe and then skied at Heavenly Resort the following day. Equally as epic as the day before. Needless to say, we slept most of the way back to San Fran that night and got back to our hotel in Union Square around 11 pm. It was totally worth it!
The flight from LA to Paris was frightfully long, and for much of our five days in Paris we were dogged down by jet lag. We even (accidentally) fell asleep in a church! We had a great time exploring the little streets around Le Marais and Montmartre, but found the city dirty and unfriendly (compared to the US). Still, it’s Paris – we loved seeing the big sights and enjoyed some great food – especially the falafels from L’As du Fallafel and €1 baguettes from a little shop in Montmartre (nom nom nom…).
Oh, Rome. Rome was the unexpected highlight of the trip. Although we’d always dreamed of what Italy would be like, Rome completely knocked it out of the park for us. I think it was a combination of fantastic food, great coffee, cute little streets, and recovering from the jet lag that had put a dampener on Paris. We walked so far in the three days we were there that we collapsed into bed every night exhausted. But we couldn’t stop – we knew that just around the corner from where we were standing was another gem to be found. An incredibly picturesque and delightful city, Rome did not disappoint!
Florence, Pisa, and Lucca, Italy
Catching the Frecciargento speed train from Rome to Florence was fun – it was our first experience in a super-fast train! Florence was a gorgeous city, although its cleanliness made it seem somewhat sterile compared to the loveable grunginess of Rome. Climbing to the top of the Duomo was a highlight but getting hit on by a creepy Italian man (both of us, not just Petra!) was not so much. Ha. We made the most of aperitivo, the Italian version of Happy Hour where you get free food! Fantastic for travellers on a budget. We also spent a day visiting Pisa and Lucca, a cute walled town with amazing pasta. Check out our 36 hour itinerary for exploring these fantastic towns!
Venice is one of those places that is a bit of a dream world. As a city on water, it operates so differently to anywhere else, and we enjoyed watching people go about their daily chores in a different way to what is normal for us. We had a great hotel in Cannaregio – Apostoli Palace (another place which we could not have afforded if travelling in high season). Food in Venice is more expensive due to the captive tourist market, but we ventured off the beaten track and found some gems – fantastic coffee and frittelle alla crema – donuts with cream. SO GOOD. We made a day trip on the ferry to Murano (of the glass fame – underwhelming) and Burano (a cute colourful town – fantastic). Although it’s super touristy, we splurged on the gondola ride – and it was so much fun! Seeing Venice from water level put a new perspective on the place.
It was SO cold in London. Late January, mid-winter, grey skies, and only 8 hours of daylight… But we had a great time catching up with friends who had relocated there. Shaun got a terrible case of the flu so we couldn’t do a lot of the main attractions (but it gives us a reason to go back!), but we enjoyed trying brownies at Borough Market, shopping on Oxford Street, seeing millions of ceramic sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern, and experiencing the fantastic Lion King musical and Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Totem’ on the West End.
Our stay in Dubai did not start well. The hotel we had booked into had lost our booking, and as it was Dubai Shopping Week (yep, pretty much the busiest time of year – believe it or not!) all the cheaper accommodation was booked out. We ended up at an odd place in the Indian quarter, and then shifted to a much more expensive but nicer place on the other side of the river. We were intending on visiting the souks and the old town, but with so much wasted time we never got there. The malls were insane – so many shops and we couldn’t believe the massive aquarium and ski field in there! We went sand boarding which was a bit of a waste of money (although it was cool to go into the desert) and zoomed up the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) one night. We’re not sure if we’d bother going back to Dubai unless it was for a short stopover – but it certainly was interesting!
We had one day in Singapore between arriving from Dubai and leaving for Bali. It was flippin’ hot compared to Europe! We stumbled around the shops on Orchard Road in search of air conditioning, had a refreshing (but costly) drink at Raffles, and saw some flower bunnies (in celebration of Chinese New Year).
We spent ten days in Bali, and a good friend Annah joined us there. We visited Seminyak, Candidasa, Amed, and Ubud. Hiring a car was not the smartest choice we made, as we got pulled over and scammed by the police one day. We ended up paying them only $50, but it was scary. It was great to be back in cheap SE Asia after expensive cities like London – so we ate and drank well! Spending time at the beach and wandering the markets was heaps of fun. We got invited to a Full Moon ceremony at the local temple in Amed which was pretty special (and nothing at all like the Full Moon parties elsewhere in SE Asia!). Us girls loved the jewellery shops of Ubud – poor Shaun got bored quickly! Our hotel in Candidasa deserves a special mention – Aquaria was amazing. It’s owned by a New Zealand couple, and their Balinese staff made us feel so welcome and the food was fresh and delicious!
It was an epic, amazing holiday – and it was over too fast (but then they always are!). It cost us a small fortune but it was all worth it, we did some amazing things that we’ll never forget. It was the trip that really got us wanting to make travel a bigger part of our lives – and look where we are now! We definitely caught the travel bug!
We hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane – it was fun going back through these photos that we haven’t looked at for ages!