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The Self-Guided Safari: Kruger National Park

On a regular basis we receive glossy travel advertisements in the mail. They show pictures of remote Africa savannahs with robust looking guides driving Range Rovers dressed in Green or khaki. They often are pointing off into the distance at some incredible animal. Our reaction to these appeals: Sign us up! Take our money! Then reality sets in. We don’t have $20k stuffed in our mattress. (we did find a quarter last week!)

Lion in Africa

African Lion

What to do?

After lengthy research, we were able to piece together the idea of doing a self-guided safari. We settled on South Africa as out destination as the flights there are very reasonable and plentiful.   We selected Kruger National Park for our self-guided safari.

Kruger National Park

Kruger park is one of the largest game reserves in the world. The entire park covers 7, 500 square miles and is 250 miles top to bottom and 50 miles wide. Roughly the same size as Massachusetts! It is a massive park. The park is home to the classic Big 5 including: lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Beyond these incredible animals, you will likely encounter hundreds of other animals large and small. The park is home to over 100 species of reptiles and 30 amphibians.

Kruger Park

The Gate to Kruger Park

Getting around the Park

Your first stop for research on the park should be the park’s website (https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/) The site is extremely helpful, especially keeping current on road closures, conditions and weather.   There are 9 main gates into the park. These entry points are for paying fees, securing maps, and getting current info on park conditions.

Roads in the park are in varied condition. You go from paved tarmac to dusty gravel roads. A good map, and in some cases, even a decent GPS will help you navigate the park. At each of the rest camps you will find a crowd sourced “animal” board where other visitors post animal sightings. This can prove helpful as you quest to see the complete Big 5.

Lodging

There a number of different lodging options for your self guided adventure. The park’s website will give you the option to see photos of the “camps”. You can reserve everything from humble bush camps to the luxury lodge option. Pick the right option for you. Each camp is surrounded by high fences that prevent animals from entering. Each camp has set hours for entry, when the gate closes, it closes for the night. There is a significant fee to open after hours. We nearly learned this the hard way. WE were caught up watching a pride of lions, and lost track of time. Not good. We had to step on it to barely make the deadline. Each area is unique in its food and amenities. Be aware of what is available. Some camps have spartan restaurants. Most offer some sort of food offering. The bush camps do not offer food, they are strictly self catering.

What is the difference?

So what are the key differences between a true-guided safari and the self guided option?

The biggest difference from our experience is the cost. You will likely see the same animals, you will see the same flora and fauna. Many of the guided safari tours are in and around Kruger Park. They both offer very similar habitats for the animals. Top end guides are good at knowing where the animals like to hide out. Not having to drive to see the animals is also a definite advantage of the guided option. Park rangers can help with some information, but would not be able to offer the in person perspective that would be provided in a guided situation.

What to drive

The question we get asked most often about our self-guided experience is what we drove. We rented a basic sedan at the airport in Johannesburg. We would recommend something with a little more ground clearance. A small suv would be ideal. You definitely don’t need a jeep or a range rover to get around Kruger.

African Water Buffalo

Water Buffalo

A Word of Caution

Kruger national park is not a petting zoo. It is wild. The animals reign here. Do not leave your vehicle outside to the gated camps. Do not “hike” the park. Just because you don’t see any animals, doesn’t mean that they cannot see you. You very well could be dinner. It is tempting to exit your vehicle to take the perfect picture. We recommend you position your vehicle to take the picture then use your camera lens to get you close. Regardless if you are on a guided safari or self guided, the rules are the same, don’t approach the animals….ever. Stay on the road. Keep an eye on the weather and the environment around you.   You will have the adventure of a lifetime.

What we wished we had known:

We purchased our first “real” camera and long distance camera lens for this trip. We were glad we did. Candidly, we wished we have invested more in longer range lens. Spend the money. The pictures will be priceless.

Expectations: The second thing we wish we had known, was advice given to us by one of the game wardens at one of the camps. “Don’t expect to see anything…then you will be in constant amazement, you will see everything!”. Such wise advice. Don’t come with a list of things to see, be open to the experience and seeing whatever comes your way that day. This is hard for those of us that love lists. Be open to whatever happens.

Enjoy your Safari!

 

Safaris are wonderful, but if your dream is climbing Kilimanjaro  Give our friends at Mojhi a look.  They have a wonderful guide for making this dream a reality.  There are 7 different routes you can take to the top.  Each of the trails offer astounding views of the entire area.   They also rate the difficulty of each of the routes to help you match your ability.

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7 Questions with: Our Escape Clause

Take the world by a storm?  That’s just what Kate and Jeremy Storm have been doing full time for the past two years!  We put this globe trotting couple to the test with our 7 questions.  If you are wondering if the fight, stay tuned!

Give them a follow:

Blog:  Our Escape Clause

Twitter:  @ourescapeclause

Instagram:  Our Escape Clause

Facebook:  Our Escape Clause

1) Tell us a little bit about yourselves. How did you meet? What inspired you to travel together?

We met 10 years ago at an afterschool job in a fast food restaurant–we were both high school students at the time!

We were both excited about the idea of traveling the world, but neither of us had ever left the USA, and of course, we didn’t really have the time and money to make travel happen at that time.

After we got married and took our honeymoon in the Bahamas (our first time out of the USA!) and quickly followed that up with a trip to Paris, we knew we were hooked: within 3 years we had sold almost everything we owned and set off on a RTW trip that has now morphed into a location-independent lifestyle.

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be?  (this person can be living, historical or mythical?)

He Said: Ernest Hemingway–he knows all the good bars!

She Said: Hmm… probably my mom, because I’ve been trying to get her to come travel for years! I think she’d love it, and also, I’m picky about who I spend that much time with.

 

3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?  Why?

He said: Koh Tao, Thailand: it’s a laid-back island with lots of great (and cheap) food. It’s also where I learned to scuba dive, a sport I now love.

She said: It’s impossible to pick one, but I will never be tired of returning to Italy. The food alone is enough to keep me coming back!

4)  One of our favorite posts on your site is “Fire on the Utila” Tell us the story!

He said: I remember that we were returning bikes that we had rented, and I suddenly heard people shouting about collecting buckets in Spanish… it took a minute to realize what was going on, but as soon as I did, I ran in to help.

It was a bit chaotic at first, but once we got the bucket line going, things started to progress.

It was definitely strange see a fire somewhere without a proper fire department–it was quite the reminder of how vulnerable places can be.

She said: Jeremy spotted the fire first, and immediately jumped in to help. It’s was all a whirlwind, but within a few minutes we were both on a bucket line, hauling water and trying to help get the fire put out as fast as possible.

Luckily, it wasn’t too scary of a situation–everyone was calm and helpful–but I remember we were all concerned about nearby buildings catching fire and causing the fire to spread.

 

5)  We love one of the themes of your blog is traveling on a budget.  So important for couples! What are your best tips for traveling with limited funds?

He said: Try to remember that not everything has to be organized or cost money. One of my favorite things to do in cities is to pick up some local street food and wander around aimlessly. We find tons of cool spots when we do that, and also end up having some of our cheapest days on the road.

She said: Track everything! The easiest way to go over budget (or to stress about being over budget when you’re actually under budget, which can happen too) is to not know exactly where your money is going. I write down our purchases every day, and it helps us stay focused.

 

6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

He said: Hunger. It’s a travesty that given how much food that we produce as a planet that we have failed at managing it so badly that there are still hundreds of millions of food insecure people in the world.

She said: Wow, that’s hard. I would say making sure all children are in quality schools until the age of 18–I believe a lot of problems in the world could be solved via a ripple effect if we address that issue.

7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

He said: It’s cliche, but we spend a lot of time arguing about what we’re going to eat. It can be hard for both of us to make decisions, and we often crave different foods on the road.

She said: It’s hard to remember one in particular, but I’m sure it had something to do with getting lost. Not knowing where we are is always a big stress point for us, and sometimes causes us to bicker.

A huge thanks to Kate and Jeremy for sharing their story!  Give them a follow!

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Belize for Couples

The best things in life are the perfect mix of two ingredients:  strawberries and cream, jam and toast, peanut butter and jelly.  We have found the perfect combination of the carefree Caribbean and the flair of Latin American:  Belize.

We’ve put together the perfect couple’s itinerary for your visit to this paradise.  We found 10 days was ideal to relax and see the key sites.

The exchange rate with United States dollar is set at one dollar for every two Belizean dollars. This makes monetary conversions very simple. Most places take American dollars and credit cards.  English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to have a little Spanish in your back pocket.

Getting There

Belize has one major airport in Belize City.  It is easily accessible from just about anywhere in the lower 48 states.  Major departure cities include: Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston.  We elected the three-hour flight from Dallas.  It could not have been easier.

Once you arrive, take a taxi into Belize City. The airport is a ways out-of-town, about 10 miles.  It should cost US $25.  Don’t pay more than that.  (You are already paying double what the locals pay.)  Candidly, we didn’t find much to see in Belize City.  There are some rough spots, make sure you take precautions for personal safety, especially at night. Have your taxi drop you off at the boat terminal. From here you can purchase tickets and board boats to the many island locations. We elected to take a boat to Ambergris Caye.  If time is an issue you can also book a short flight from the Belize City to San Pedro. The boat takes roughly an hour and a half.  The flight will get you there in 30 minutes. The boat ride can be a little rough depending on weather.

Costa Blu Belize

Costa Blu Belize

Resort Life

We highly recommend that you start your vacation on the beach. Select from one of many resort locations along the ocean. You can get everything from simple accommodations to five-star resorts. Definitely pick one with the pool.  We elected to stay at the beautiful Costa Blu Resort at Ambergris Caye.  It is an intimate resort that focuses on providing world-class diving.  The staff is friendly, and the food on premises is really good.  We highly recommend the conch ceviche!

Snorkeling

Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world.   Definitely bring your Go Pro camera!   Your resort can help you in booking snorkeling trips. We elected to use Tuff N Nuff. We went out for two different half day excursions: shark alley, and Mexico rocks. We would recommend both to you. The excellent dive masters were so helpful and patient. Eric was especially nice to Luci who had trouble with her mask at first. They provide all the gear that you need.  They also offer insights into the flora and fauna you will see. If you are scuba certified or would like to become so, there are so many places that offer this service. Again they provide all of the equipment and excellent dive masters. On our visit to Mexico rocks, we swam with nurse sharks, turtles, and even an moray eel.  It was incredible.

 

Chill at the pool/beach

Arriving in Belize you immediately go into relax mode. Whether it’s sitting by the beach or enjoying the sun by the pool, you cannot help at leave all your worries behind.  We elected to have a couples massage right on the beach. Our resort arranged it and the cost was reasonable. We paid $90 for a 90 minute massage with the sounds of the sea and breeze tickling our faces.

Shopping at San Pedro

The major town located on the peninsula is called San Pedro. This rough and tumble beach town gives you access to a wonderful restaurants, souvenir shops, and more T-shirt shops and you can shake a stick at. We highly recommend Elvi’s restaurant for lunch or dinner. You’re not going to find high-end retail shops here. Just the sort that offer fun little trinkets to remember your trip.

Once your stress has melted away when you’re ready for adventure hop on the boat or plane back to the mainland. Here you’re going to need to rent a car. After doing our research there’s only one place that could offer the border transfer documents into Guatemala and that is Crystal Auto.  They have a solid selection of vehicles, it is not a bad idea to rent a jeep   Buy the GPS.  Cell service is a little spotty there. The main roads in Belize are fine, but you have a lot of large speed bumps and potholes the size of Texas or a German Shepherd. There is one major road running north and south and east to west.

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Tikal Mayan Ruins

Day trip to Tikal Mayan Ruins

We highly recommend a side trip to Tikal, the ruins in western Guatemala. It is a beautiful four-hour drive from Belize City. Well worth the travel. You will need to have a rental car that allows you to leave Belize and enter Guatemala. Crossing the border is a bit of an adventure.  The Belize side is fairly straightforward, the Guatemalan side not so much. You will need to trade some Belizean dollars into Guatemalan dollars. Keep in mind, border agents only speak Spanish on the Guatemalan side.  Be prepared for a lot of gestures and pointing.  There are a lot of teenage boys and men more than willing to help you figure out the border procedures, especially if you have a car. We let them help us and tipped them afterwards.

IMPORTANT:  You also need some Guatemalan dollars in order to enter in the Tikal National Park. We made the mistake of not having cash, we had to drive all the way back roughly an hour each way to get cash. Do not make this mistake.

There are two hotels in the park.  Accommodations are not stellar. Both are a bit rustic. We recommend staying inside the park as travel in and out of the park takes a lot of time. There are many guides that are available via your hotel.  Please visit with them before you book your tour. The command of good English is not widespread.  If you keep walking at a good pace you can see the entire complex in one day. You will definitely want to take pictures in the morning and evening, as the light is best. Pack gallons of mosquito spray and sunscreen: both will be an issue.  We elected to take the sunrise tour. This was a mistake. We did not check the weather. Eight out of ten days you will not be able to see the sunrise. The fog is too thick. Have your hotel check the weather forecast for the morning.

There is definitely a different feel in Guatemala. The language barrier is significant at times. The culture is remarkably different. With that said, well worth the adventure.

ATM Cave

Hands-down our favorite activity in Belize was visiting the ATM cave. You will need to book a trip in advance with a tour company that leads small groups through to Cave. You will need to be able to: swim, climb, and be ready for a significant hike.  The ATM cave complex is ancient Mayan religious site.  The cave is filled with archaeological artifacts and geological formations. Cameras and video cameras are not allowed in the cave. Sorry we don’t have any pictures. You begin the morning about 8 a.m..  Your guides will pick you up from your hotel.  From the main parking lot, your guide will take you on a short jungle hike, which includes a river crossing. There is a rope stretched across the river to use your crossing.

At the mouth of the cave you guide will give you a short introduction of what you will see in the caves and the will emphasize importance of staying together. The company will supply you with a helmet and a flashlight for your helmet. There is a moderate creek that runs through the cave. At the mouth of the cave your swim roughly 50 yards   The rest of the journey will be hiking and climbing.

Toward the end of the hike you will climb a ladder remove your shoes and walk into the main sacrificial chamber. There you will see a well-preserved skeleton of a sacrificed Mayan as well as interesting pottery and other ancient artifacts.

The entire experience was impressive.  It was unlike anything we have ever done.   We highly recommend it. It is a bit on the expensive side running roughly US$100 per person.  The guide service provides lunch, and transportation to and from your hotel in the area.

Caracol

If you’re up for another day of exploring Mayan ruins. We highly recommend Caracol ruins. Getting there is a wonderful adventure. You will need a high clearance or a jeep type vehicle to get there. There are several small river crossings as well as some jungle jeeping to get to the location. It is roughly 2 hour drive on a rough unpaved road. Toward the end of the journey you will need an armed guard to get to the ruins. Each day the Belizean army runs an armed guard service from the army base into the ruins. There’s no cost for this service but you have to be on time. There’s a sign in & out location there. Don’t let this scare you away, it is really straight forward and safe.

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Caracol Mayan Ruins

Make sure you have plenty of fuel as well as food as there are no services on the entire road into the ruins. There are guide services that can take you on this trip if you would like. Candidly, the drive in and out of Carocol is a lot of fun.  What makes the ruins better than Tikal would be the number of people.   There were only other 15 people at the entire complex during our visit. This makes for great pictures and you can take your time and seeing each of the ruins.

Enjoy your trip to Belize! The country offers something for the body and soul.  Relax on the beach, swim with schools of fish, then explore the ruins of an ancient civilization.

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Seven Questions with Roamaroo!

Have you ever wondered how to stay fit while on the road constantly?  The couple we are featuring this week are pros!  Not only do they keep their bodies healthy, they also work hard on keeping their relationship strong.  Meet Scott and Collette of Roamaroo.com.  They recently penned a great article for Elite Daily titled:  “10 Ways My Husband and I Keep Our Spark Burning While Traveling.”

Give them a follow:

Blog:  www.roamaroo.com

Facebook:  Roamaroo

twitter: @roamaroo

Instagram: Roamaroo

Lets get to know them better:

1) How many countries visited between the two of you?

We’ve visited 45 countries together! Collette has visited 66 countries. Scott has visited 46 countries.

Scott and Collette of Roamaroo

Scott and Collette of Roamaroo

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be?  (this person can be living, historical or mythical?.)

She said: Mike Rowe for his witty banter, incredible vocabulary, and carpe diem personality.  How cool would it be to be included in an epic Mike Rowe story? Maybe he’d even sing it in his Opera voice…

He said: Superman – I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for plane tickets again.  Also, he could fly me around to get some cool “Drone” shots of all the great places.  

3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?  Why?  Any tips for someone that has never been?

She said: It’s a toss up between South Africa and New Zealand. When we visited South Africa, we went on a safari in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger National Park. There is nothing more primal than being surrounded by nature’s greatest beasts.

New Zealand will always have my heart for its pure beauty. We road tripped around the south island for 2 weeks, sleeping in a van and cooking beans and rice. It was romantic, it was intimate, it was exploration at its purest. No frills, no fuss, just two explorers finding meaning in Mother Nature. If you find your way to New Zealand, we highly recommend renting a campervan to explore the country. Don’t make too many plans and leave your options open to chance!

He said: Istanbul and Iceland.  Istanbul is such a culturally rich city with a fascinating history. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen.  A great thing to do is to take an Uber boat down the Bosphorus.  We took one to Reina restaurant at night.  There’s nothing fancier than arriving to a turkish club/restaurant on a boat.  

  Another favorite location of mine is Iceland.  The vast beauty, dramatic waterfalls, and welcoming people make Iceland unforgettable. We drove a campervan around Iceland for a week.  Every morning we woke up somewhere new and beautiful.  My favorite experience was when we cooked breakfast in our camper while overlooking the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Watching the brilliantly blue ice while enjoying our morning coffee was something no hotel or restaurant could offer.  

4)    You both are uber healthy!  We are not brave enough to try Crossfit.  Tell us, what are you secrets for eating and exercising on the road?

She said: For me, exercise is both a mental and physical necessity. Exercising is my own moving meditation. It clears my mind, keeps my body in tip top shape, and makes me a better person. I even wrote a book about staying fit while traveling called Passport to Fitness!

He said:  I love to do Crossfit and it’s a great way to meet locals.  We’ve made some great friends at gyms who have been nice enough to show us around or take us to dinner.  One of my healthy travel tips is to fast on travel days.  Most people hate the idea of fasting, but new research is showing some amazing anti aging benefits benefits to fasting.  If we have a travel day filled with sitting on trains or planes, it’s easy to fast for the day since they’re no caloric need for large meals.  

Collette in Cambodia.

Collette in Cambodia.

5)  We really enjoyed your posts on Cambodia.  Tell us what your impressions were?   Any recommendations?  How was the food?

She said: Cambodia was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. From a 4:30 am cotton candy sunrise over Angkor Wat to visiting local Khmer villages on the Mekong River, it was one of the most gratifying and eye opening trips of our journey. One memory stands out above the rest and that is when we were cruising down the Mekong River and stopped at a remote village. We ended up having a dance party with the locals under the glowing Cambodian moonlight. Although we don’t speak Khmer and they didn’t speak English, we were all able to communicate via dance.

He said: Cambodia was a great country to visit, I especially loved Siem Reap.  Climbing the temples of Angkor Wat with our local tuk-tuk driver was an unforgettable day.  Due to the horrible actions of Pol Pot in the 1970’s, the people of Cambodia are struggling to rebuild the country.  You can see this in everyday life as many people live without basic technology of developed countries.  Tip for Angkor Wat:  Most hotels will organize tours of Angkor Wat, but if you want to save money, book directly with a tuk tuk driver.  You’ll save 75%.  Just ask any tuk-tuk driver (who has a nice tuk-tuk) if they do tours of Angkor Wat.  Then negotiate a good price.  It’s best to ask a few drivers to find the best price.  

6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

She said: I would love to absolve the fear that people have of other cultures, religions, and differences. Travel is about celebrating and accepting differences, learning other beliefs, and co-existing.

He said: As cheesy as it sounds, it would be world peace.  If we didn’t spend the billions of dollars, time, and resources on defence we could solve countless problems within the world.  We could dedicate resources to the hungry, creating better communities, advance society, and space travel.  Call me selfish, but I would like to visit the moon!

Roamaroo

Roamaroo

7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

She said: Setting the alarm! I am not a morning person, especially when you mix in jet lag. Sometimes I like to wake up naturally and not have to worry about an alarm waking me up everyday. Scott likes the regimented alarm, but he hardly ever wakes up from the noise. I however, always wake up from his alarm and have to wake him up.
He said: Every time we board a flight, Collette likes to be the first one in line.  I’m a little more relaxed when it comes to getting on the plane. This always caused a rift between us in the beginning.  Now, Collette just gives me my ticket and we meet on the plane.

 

1000Fights:  Thanks again to our friends Scott and Collette for sharing a little about their adventure!  Give them a follow!

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Seeing Norway’s Fjords by Car

The fjords of Norway are one of nature’s wonders: gigantic and rugged mountains teeming with waterfalls that churn into deep inlets that empty to the sea.  Most people think that the only way to see Norway’s fjords is via an expensive cruise. Not true. We recently partnered with our friends at Auto Europe to explore the fjords via automobile. If you haven’t already, we recommend reading part one of this feature :”The Perfect Norway Roadtrip“. It highlights our recommendations for the wonderful capital city of Norway: Oslo.  Here is a map of our trip:

Before we give you a detailed plan of what to see in Norway, we think we need to put the debate to rest about the whole fjord cruising thing. Yes, being on the water is incredible. But the problem with the cruise ship is twofold: you have to go where the ship goes or swim really well.  The worst thing about cruising: where the boat goes a whole lotta people go as well. No fun. Having the flexibility of driving a car enables you to see what you want to see. It allows you to spend as much time as you want staring at a magnificent waterfall. It also allows you to be alone with your lover at the base of a majestic lake all by yourself. We did both of these and felt sorry for the hordes of cruisers who never experienced Norway the way we did.

Part one of our series focused on Oslo to Lillehammer. Now it’s time to head north towards Andalsnes.

Gjerdset Turistsenter

Gjerdset Turistsenter

Gjerdset Turistsenter

Located just 18 km from Andalsnes is a beautiful collection of cabins overlooking a lush forest and deep blue lake. You can rent cabins large or small depending on number of your party. It is perfect for traveling with families.  What we love most about this location is the ability to take little row boats out onto the lake. It is truly a surreal setting. You are completely surrounded by the majestic Romsdal Mountains.  Of all of the areas of Norway, this spot mimicked the views from the Disney cartoon, Frozen.  This is a great base to explore the fjords and the deep lakes that are in the surrounding area. As we mentioned in our previous post, Norway is extremely expensive. One of the advantages of renting a small cabin is the ability to do your own cooking thus saving you money.

alesund

Alesund

Once you have your fill of alpine living, it’s time to head for the water. Drive northwest for another hundred miles and you will come to the charming seaside city of Alesund. The old city is filled with Norwegian charm. Architecture and colors combine to create a beautiful tapestry that is pure Norway. The city is known for its art-deco architecture. Hotels here don’t come cheap. This is a great place to use your points. There is a very nice Radisson blu right on the water. They have big rooms and a massive breakfast.

The must do’s in Alesund include climbing or driving to the lookout perch above the city. We would highly advise you to head up there anytime the weather looks clear, which is not very often for this part Norway. Taking a good picture up there is a challenge. The location is quite popular, so try the early morning if you get clear skies. The hike up to the top is quite rigorous, but the steps make it very doable.  As you can see above, this is the best we could do.

The second must do is shopping. There are so many little eclectic stores that have Norwegian folk items, Maritime trinkets, and your standard tourist souvenirs. We found some good deals on some clothing including hats, gloves, and coats all handmade with bright Norwegian colors.

Norway Waterfall

Norway Waterfall

For our tour of the fjords, this is as far north as we’re going to go. From here drive south toward the hamlet of Hornindal. It is approximately two hours drive south. You will follow some of the worlds most stunning scenery. Cascading waterfalls are in view at just about every turn. Yes, we stopped a lot!

Once you arrive in Hornindal, we highly recommend the First Hotel Raftenvold. It is perched on the banks of Hornindalsvatnet Lake.  Try saying that name three times fast! At a depth of 514 metres (1,686 ft) it is the deepest lake in all of Europe! The hotel is located right on the edge of the water. You can even take a swim if you wish!

They’re not a whole lot of places in this area to eat. We do recommend eating in the hotel restaurant.  A word of warning: do be careful because the hours are a little bit confining. Mike took his sweet time getting ready for dinner and they were ready not to serve him because he was five minutes late. Be on time!

Aurland

The next morning we continued our quest.  We drove to the charming town located on a stunning fjord called Aurland. We stayed at the Vangsgaarden Gjestgiveri. It has great little cabins right on the fjords, affording you a wonderful view to wave at the cruise ships as they pass by. The hotel has a rich history, it was once home to the Norwegian Sea captain Juell circa 1770.

The city of Aurland is located on Europe’s deepest Fjord, the Sognefjord. It is 1,308 m deep and 204km long! It is known as the king of the Fjords. Here you will have easy access to Geriangerfjord, the Briksdal glacier and Vestkapp Mountian. This area is considered by many to be the most beautiful place on the planet.

Stegastein

Stegastein

Just outside of town, and up a zig zagging road is the fjord viewpoint called Stegastein. Sounds like some kind of dinosaur?   The viewpoint includes a laminated wood and steel viewing platform that is visually stunning. It is has won numerous international design awards. It juts 30 meters out into the air and affords some incredible selfies with the fjord in the background.

A little Odda

Our road trip now takes us further south to the little fishing village of Odda. Odda turned out to be one of our favorite places during our stay in Norway. It has a number of little restaurants, beautiful water, and some amazing waterfalls. Prices can be a bit steep in town, we elected to rent a cabin at Seljestad Cottages just 20 minutes outside the city.

Latefossen Falls

Latefossen Falls

Latefossen Falls

Ten minutes outside of Odda on our way to our cabin, are Latefossen Falls. Latefossen must mean car wash in Norwegian. You actually drive your car through the waterfall! We struggled to keep our camera dry as we braved the torrent of mist to take photos. Definitely stop and take some pictures!

Trolltunga

The most famous attraction near Odda is Trolltunga (translated, the Troll’s Tongue). Type it into Google and you will see some stunning pictures of the rock outcropping that will make anyone scared of heights go into freak out mode. We elected not to take on the 15-mile hike. It was a bit much for our hiking abilities.  But, good news for you, our friends at www.norwaytonowhere.com did. Here is their report.

Norway is perfect for driving. The roads are in good condition. Petrol in the county is cheap and plentiful, and the rental rates from our friends at @autoeurope are affordable. Skip the cruise and take a drive that will envelop you in some of the world’s most beautiful scenery.

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Seven Questions with SimplyTravelled.com

In our continuous quest to bring you couple travel ideas, we want to introduce you to Rob and Kim of SimplyTravelled.com.

How to give them a follow:

Blog:  www.simplytravelled.com

twitter: @simplytravelled

Facebook: @Simplytravelled

1) Tell us how you met? What inspired you to travel together? How do you make couple travel work?

They said: Kim was finishing her MBA in Tennessee and randomly met two guys from Australia at a conference. She asked them what it’s like to live on an island (yes, she’s part  londe!), and kept in touch via email for 8 months. She clearly made an impression, as then she was invited to head over to Oz for a 3-month working holiday. She met Rob at work,  here he fixed her computer. They fell in love, and now he fixes all her problems ;)

We were inspired to travel because we just knew we weren’t living the life we dreamed of. We were “stuck” – not that we were miserable – we were comfortable with good jobs and great friends and family near by. We just knew there was something more to life, so decided to act on it! More on this in question 6.

We definitely haven’t mastered couple travel yet, but we make it work by being open, learning and adapting along the way. Arguing, fighting, forgiving and moving on, It’s part of the fun of it all (most the time anyways).

Kim and Rob of Simply Traveled

Kim and Rob of Simply Traveled

2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical)

He Said: If it was long term it would have to be my mate Hearschy. We’ve known each other for over 10 years, lived together and both love adventure.

She Said: My beautiful sister, Jennifer! She’s a bit more organized than me, yet enough spontaneous to go with the flow. We see-saw from keeping each other on the straight and narrow to letting loose, knowing there’s a time for everything, so it’s a great balance. In the couple of trips we’ve been on together, we didn’t want to kill each other, so I think she’d make the perfect travel companion!

3) What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?

He said: It’s a close one but I’d have to say Hawaii. We only spent two weeks there, but it was an awesome place. I love being outdoors and Kauai especially tailored to this passion with stunning beaches, amazing hiking and picturesque landscapes. Oh and I had the best pork burritos ever!

She said: Ahhh, such a tough one! I’m absolutely in love with New Orleans – the food, music and culture are the perfect combination for a sublime getaway! Outside of that, the Philippines completely stole my heart – I’ll elaborate on this one in question 5 ;)

4)  I know you guys recently went to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.  Tell us a little more about the experience. 

He said: It’s a sobering experience and definitely worth visiting. I found the S-21 audio tour and museum to be the more moving of the two sites to visit. The stories are gut wrenching and it makes you question how man can be so evil.

She said: An utterly heartbreaking reality! I’m reading the book now, and I still can’t wrap my head around how something so horrible happens. And the fact that history keeps repeating itself makes me incredibly sad. But, without harping on the obvious negatives of genocide, the Cambodian people were some of the loveliest people I’ve met on my travels, so it was great to see the country and its people getting back on top!

Couple's cooking school

Couple’s cooking school

5)  Tell us about the Philippines.  It is on our list.  What were some of the highlights?  Sights?  Food?  Culture?

He said:

Highlights/Sights: Luzon in the North was amazing. The word famous rice terraces were unbelievable and I loved the hiking along the narrow pathways. Apo Island was an authenticate island experience and the snorkelling with turtles was really fun.

Food: Garlic rice with corned beef and fried eggs became a staple. I had it at our homestay and it was some of the best food I ate in the country.

Culture: I can’t think of anything specific but the people were very welcoming, helpful and had great English skills.

She said: Ok, to start on a negative, the food is not amazing (sad but true) – but it’s not horrible either, and actually, the mangos are to die for! The rice terraces in Northern Luzon were phenomenal, and definitely a highlight. Sagada was one of my favourite towns for the quaint nature and laid back mountain vibe. My favourite island was Cebu – we travelled top to bottom, learning to dive on Malapascua Island (home of the thresher shark), before heading south to Moalboal. Pronounced “mwoal-bwoal,” it is a beautiful beachfront town, where you can snorkel with sea turtles and thousands of sardines. I can say I found my real love for the water in the Philippines!

6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?

He said: Pollution/rubbish. You really notice how bad of a problem it is when visiting Asia. A more sustainable way to fuel society and better practices around waste disposal would benefit everyone.

She said: Oooh, good one. Previously I’ve always thought of this question in the context of poverty. However, due to reflections on our current journey, I’ve got a different perspective on this one. The problem I’d solve is two-fold: 1. People realizing their potential and 2. Not being afraid of using it! I see so many people with the brains, the means and the support network to do incredible things that often just “settle” and it drives me crazy! I’m pretty certain if these same people (and I’ve definitely been one of them before) followed their dreams, the world would be a much better place!

Love birds!

Love birds!

7) You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

He said: Generally our worst fights are after we have had a few drinks. Nashville springs to mind. I’m not sure what I said, though I dodged a bottle of water being thrown at my head whilst I was making my way to the vending machine. The next day it was all a big laugh!

She said: Haha, is it bad that I’m completely oblivious and didn’t actually see this question coming at all!?! Ok, let me think…it’s probably not our biggest fight, but it was recent, so timely. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh. Instead of getting organized  for where we’d stay when we arrived (yes, we had free wifi on the bus), we read our books and listened to music instead. When we arrived, it was raining and Rob suggested we take a minute at the station to work out where to go while we had a signal. I was like – are you kidding? Hello! we just had 4 hours to get organized, but you want to do it now? Nope – lets start walking. So off we went. An hour and a half later we were still circling around the city trying to find District 1. To stop from killing each other, we decided to take a break to fuel our bellies and connect to wifi to get a grasp on where we were. Attempting to defuse the situation, I suggested to Rob we just ‘agree to disagree.’ He said, “Nope!” I called him some choice words and walked away. I returned to him and apologized, we ate, walked the 30 minutes to our final destination and lived happily ever after!

1000 Fights:  A huge thanks to Rob and Kim for sharing their love story and a few tips for traveling together.

 

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The Perfect Norway Road Trip

So often we hear that the best way to see Norway is by taking a cruise. We could not disagree more! The best way to see Norway is by taking a road trip! Norway’s stunning natural beauty, friendly people, and captivating history make it a great place for traveling couples. The fjords of Norway are unlike any place we have ever visited and we can’t wait to share with you a few of our tips and tricks for making your road trip successful.

Oslo Airports

Most international flights bring you to Norway via one of three “Oslo” airports. None of the airports are near the city.   The (OSL) Oslo Airport Gardermoen it Is located 47 km north-east of Oslo. The Rygge Airport (RYG) is located at 66 kilometers south-east of Oslo and finally the Torp Airport TRF is located 110 km south-west of Oslo. Do not fret about which airport you arrive at as there is easy access to rental cars at each. There are actually many pros to staying your first night outside of Oslo proper. We elected to stay in the small hamlet of Fredrikstad and had a great experience.

Picking the Right Rental

We’ve written a recent post will help you select the right rental car. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of mountains, climbs, and weather in Norway. Don’t go cheap on the rental car. We used and highly recommend our friends at Auto Europe for rentals in Norway and the rest of Europe.

Oslo

The bustling capital of Norway is truly beautiful. Perched on the edge of the sea. Cruise ships park right in the center of downtown. Norwegians have long been a seafaring people. Sailboats, motorboats and rafts line the harbors and almost outnumber the cars. Your road trip we’ll start with a couple days in Oslo. Holding off on renting your car until the time you’re ready to leave Oslo is also an option. The public transportation is actually very good. As we will address later Norway is very expensive. Oslo is extremely expensive. We stayed at the Radisson Blu on points. It is a beautiful hotel. If you have hotel points Oslo is the place to use them as hotel chains are rare as you head north.

Key things to see in Oslo:

Nobel Peace Prize Museum: we put this one first because it was by far our favorite. Few museums leave you wanting more museum. The Nobel Peace Prize Museum is one of those select few. It is a two-story museum located along the harbor. There is a nominal fee for entry, and then you proceed upstairs to view different exhibits about the winners of the award. It is extremely moving.

The Scream!

The Scream!

 

National Museum of Art: the second must-see in Oslo is the National Museum of Art. It houses the best-known artists from Norway. King of the Norwegian artists is of course much. You must find the scream. The crowds tend to block the view, but be patient and the opportunity to snap a good picture we’ll certainly come. Munch is an interesting character. You really should do some reading on him prior to your visit. An entire museum dedicated to him is in construction as we speak.

Oslo Opera House

Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House One of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the world is the Oslo Opera House. Its shape and placement reflect the shape of an iceberg. The inside is even more stunning than the outside. We highly recommend taking the full tour of the Opera House. They take you backstage, which is it technological paradise. You also visit the ballerina dressing rooms, musicians preparation areas, and a number of other workshops for production of the sets. Really cool! The tours are led by pensioners who have retired from their work with the opera house. They know the place inside and out. Our guide had great stories about some of the performances and performers. One of the best souvenirs we purchased was a used shoe. In the gift shop of the opera house you can purchase used ballet shoes used in actual performances.

Inside of the Oslo Opera House. Each pattern on every chair is unique.

Inside of the Oslo Opera House. Each pattern on every chair is unique.

 

The Crying Baby

The Crying Baby

Vigeland-Land– The famed Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland has a complete museum and even an entire park dedicated to displaying his work. One of his famous pieces is the crying baby. People come from the four corners of the earth to see this baby throwing a tantrum. The park is stunning. It is a great place to take a picnic or there are small cafés located throughout the park are great places to grab some ice cream or a cake. When word of warning about visiting the museum. It is definitely rated PG 13. There are a number of works that depict human sexuality in less than a discrete manner.  The park is fine but the museum may not be appropriate for families.

Want more pictures of Norway?  Just give us a follow on instagram.

Oslo Food Scene

The best food on our trip was found in Oslo. You can get just about any type of cuisine in the city. Our favorite spot is an Indian place called Mister India (http://www.mister-india.no/). Located on one of the side streets in downtown, the food is incredible. There are red & green Curry that is to die for. You maybe wondering why we elected to go to an Indian ethnic place. We figured we’d get plenty of Norwegian traditional food on the road trip up north. This definitely proved to be the case. It’s okay to check out couple ethnic restaurants in Oslo and still call yourself an authentic explorer.

There are number of really good Fish houses along the harbor.

Lillehammer Olympics

Lillehammer

Once you have conquered all of Oslo it’s time to head north. Our first stop is at city whose name is very familiar to sports fans. Willie Hammer was the home of the Olympics in 1994. There are a number of museum displays that celebrate the Winter Olympics. There is a huge hockey stadium that has a bobsled you can check out. Lillehammer also has a World War II museum that is very interesting.

End of Part One of the Norway Road Trip! Stay tuned for the second half!

We worked worked with our friends at @autoeurope to present this post.

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The Perfect Couple Travel Luggage

Picture Venice.   The soft Italian sun reflecting off the glistening water. The gondola masters guiding their vessels up and down the waterways. The lapping water against the colorful mansions.   Our idyllic paradise was nearly destroyed by an unlikely culprit: bad luggage. We made the unfortunate choice to get dropped off couple miles from our hotel. This meant that we needed to cross multiple bridges navigate the sea and hike a long ways. Our heavy mismatched luggage made this trek miserable. Ever since that day we have been on a quest to find perfect luggage for traveling couples.

Atlantic luggageAt long last we have finally found the perfect luggage combo: The Atlantic Compass Unite. We are not ones to wax poetic about our travel equipment. We just want it to work. If we don’t think about the luggage….that’s good luggage. The Compass is extremely light. They are built tough.   The best part? They have a built in secret weapon: a little thing called Link2Go™. This little thing is actually really huge when it comes to couple travel. If we could kiss the engineer that came up with this we would. (Luci would…not Mike.) So here’s how it works, two spinners can be linked together making is one spinner, one suitcase that you can handle easily with one paw. It must be hard to connect them you ask? Nope. So simple you can do it with one hand eating a gelato and the other connecting the two. (Yes we have tried it. Strawberry gelato is the best.)  Pure genius.

We put them to the test on our recent trip to Norway.  So within 5 hours we were in three massive international terminals.  Each one was unfamiliar to us.  We just connected our Compass Unites and off we went!  Look at the picture of Mike over there.  Does he look stressed? Ok maybe a little, we were looking up maps of the airport.  Were we worried about bags?  Not at all.

Give them a try. You can find an Atlantic Luggage dealer here.

Couple travel presents enough challenges…don’t mess up the luggage.

#sponsored

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Our Secret Getaway in Heber: The Better Park City

Being based in the Western US, we are always looking for great weekend trips. One of our favorite places is Park City, Utah, until we discovered the Heber Valley, Utah. Located a few miles up the hill from Salt Lake City, this charming valley is perfect for four-season activity. It has a little of everything for the entire family.

Heber Valley

The Heber Valley is aptly known as Utah’s Switzerland as it sits on the base of the stunning Wasatch Mountains. The area offers green lush meadows, cool streams, and an idyllic setting for those that love the outdoors. The winter brings some of the best snow on earth. What we love about the Heber Valley is that it still remains quaint and feels undiscovered. There a great options for lodging and dining in the area.

heber golf

Great Golf

If golf is your thing, Heber Valley is your place. With five different courses offering every skill level a challenge: Wasatch Mountain Lake & Mountain Courses, Crater Springs, and Soldier Hollow Gold and Silver Courses.

heber dive

Hot Springs

One of the most unique features of the area is the Homestead Crater. It is a geothermal hot spring that is formed in a beehive-shaped crater. The pure alpine water seeps up into the limestone formation and the geothermal forces warm the water to a delightful 96 degrees. The crater is the only warm water scuba destination in the United States. Take a swim or soak. You can also take a tour of the crater and learn a little more about the geology of this interesting formation.

Winter sports

Regardless if you are into snowshoeing, downhill or Nordic skiing, this place has it all. World-class skiing mountains are a short drive from Heber. There are snowmobile trails that offer views and rides that rival any alpine destination. The best part? You avoid the hustle and bustle of the resort with your chalet in Heber.

Biking

For the hard-core mountain biker, the Heber Valley is a true mecca. There are great trails to explore and enjoy. Didn’t bring your bike? You can easily rent the right equipment, and even catch a ride to the trailhead.

Getting there

It is said that there is only one stoplight between Heber Valley and the SLC airport. It is just that easy. It takes just under an hour from door to door. Salt Lake City airport is a major hub for Delta Airlines. Getting there from the major cities in the west is usually around a two-hour flight. This makes the Heber Valley an ideal setting for a weekender. For couples living east of the Mississippi, Heber Valley is a great destination for your couple vacation.

Needless to say, we highly recommend you spend you next couple’s getaway in the Heber Valley.

Our friends at @hebervalley helped us put together this post. Does this affect our love of this beautiful area? Not one bit.

 

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How to Be an Expert in Road Trip Prep

The Fighting Couple is going on a road trip. A really, really, long one: 1,457 km or 900 miles to be exact.   We are headed to the Nordic country of Norway. (Here is a link to our route: (Our Norway Trip Map)

You can imagine there are going to be some serious fights on this trip. Luci and I in close quarters for an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster.

The right travel partner makes all the difference! As our friends Karolina and Patryk say:

“The golden rule of a perfect road trip is to find a good person to travel with! With a good companion you can solve all the problems and make unforgettable memories!”

Public Transit vs. A Car

Once you have found the perfect travel partner.  The next step is the car. We are huge fans of public transit. We wouldn’t see big cities any other way. Cities like Paris, London, Boston, Bangkok, and Singapore offer great ways to get around. But….when you want to get out and see the country, there is no better way, than by car. Taking on a large country like Norway? Having a car is a must.

The Perfect Road Trip!

The Perfect Road Trip!

Pick the Right One

The first thing you need to do is pick the right rental car. Thinking of driving your own car? Sometimes it is more economical to put the miles on someone else’s vehicle. We book our trips six to eight months in advance. Last year, when we began the planning process, we knew that we needed the right car. Here’s our best advice: Spend the extra money and get a bigger car. There’s nothing worse than being cramped in a tiny car getting blown all over the road. Nothing strikes more fear into the heart of a petrol head than the word “compact”. Spend the money.

If you are renting a car in winter, check out our post on winter driving and rental cars.

couple driving

Breaking Up

One of the key things we have on this trip is setting aside two real “drive” days. The rest of the time we drive an hour or two in the morning and the same in the evening. We try to do most of the driving before and after everything opens or closes.   With the help of Google maps, you can get a preview of what the roads look like.

Find a Way

As we have shared in the past, GPS single handedly saved our relationship. Putting miles on your car because you are lost is not an option. Even with great tools, trust us, Wi-Fi and cellular can at times be sketchy. Nothing beats an old-fashioned Garmin GPS with current maps. Rent one from the rental company or candidly, buy one really cheap on eBay. Be familiar with your route and have a rough idea of the direction and cities that you are headed to. Also pay attention as you drive; this will help give you markers in case you do get lost! Think of it as memory breadcrumbs.

Eat

When we take long road trips, we like to hit a large grocery store and load up on snacks and beverages. You never know when a short drive turns into a massive mess.  Nothing is worse than when Luci gets “hangry” and all of the sudden the fighting begins. We don’t want that for you. Candidly, we don’t want the competition. There can only be one Fighting Couple.

couple in car kissing

Questions

Not all the side effects of driving are bad. We have found that it is actually a great time to discuss issues in our relationship. You definitely have a captive audience. A word of warning: Avoid the really heavy stuff. If one of you gets mad, there is nowhere to go. Another conversation starter is the “Book of Questions.” There are a number of different ones out there. We enjoy asking each other these random questions and hearing the sometimes-bizarre answers.

Stop

Buy yourself a good guide to the area that you are exploring. Make some stops along the way. Get out and walk around. Stretch the legs and clear the mind. Getting the blood flowing during a long road trip is critical. We have found many interesting spots that were not on our agenda, when Mike has the courage to deviate from the excel spreadsheet.

We hope that you find a few of these ideas helpful. We can’t wait to share with you our epic road trip. We do need to let you know that our friends at Auto Europe are helping us plan our trip. We have been using them for years. They offer a wide variety of autos at fair prices. Best of all, our experience with their customer service is stellar.

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