Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Australia trip FAQ

With my three-week trip to Australia departing in three weeks and a day (an Excel itinerary will be posted on my blog shortly), I thought it was time to answer some of the questions I hear often. Feel free to submit more in the comments.

John Baker’s 2008 Australia trip:
Frequently Asked Questions

What appeals to you about Australia enough to visit for three weeks?
Australia is the oldest, strangest continent on the planet. The terrain, flora and fauna are unique. The people – whether descended from convicts or recent immigrants looking for a chance to make their mark – have an appealing pioneer spirit. I’ve also wanted to see the southern sky at night – a whole new set of constellations appeal to my interest in astronomy. Plus I sort of speak the language -– although Sean, my Aussie-born former supervisor, may disagree.

Why aren’t you taking your wife and son? Isn’t it strange to not bring them? Wouldn’t this be a great educational opportunity for Ian? Aren’t you going to miss them? Etc.
Neither of them can get the requisite time off. Claire’s got an important, worthy job and young Ian is in a special pre-school program. I know it sounds somewhat selfish, but I also travel more efficiently alone. I’ll see more in the same time frame. Also, Ian is four – he won’t appreciate being on a train for four days, nor will he remember much of what he sees. He did ask, “Can I go to Australia with you next time?” To which I immediately replied, “Yes.” I will miss them terribly, but that’s what the Internet and phone are for.

Claire’s letting you leave her alone with Ian for three weeks? She must be a saint.
She absolutely is, no question. She has been amazingly understanding and I love her so much for being so. Besides, they get to go to Disneyland while I’m away.

Why are you taking this trip now? This isn’t the best economic time to take a long vacation.
No, but the economic climate is bound only to get worse in the short term, so it’s probably now or never (or at least now or when I’m really old). But more pressing are my long-term plans. I’ll be in grad school soon, then (hopefully) have a good job that I’ll likely be required to spend a lot of time at before I can get significant time off. This semester, all my classes are online and I’m working at a job where I can – with good notice – get the requisite time off.

How much is this going to cost, by the way?
I’ve budgeted just short of $4,000 for this voyage – all of it saved up for beforehand -– not counting a little money set aside for the time I’ll miss from work (I have vacation left this year, but not three weeks worth). I’ve put bits and pieces away gradually and a large chunk of that came from more than a month’s worth of accrued vacation/comp time paid out when I left working for the city of San Mateo. I’ll be cutting costs by eating a lot of fast food, using student discounts (including a cheap train pass that’s make me sit upright for six nights), staying in hostels and other thrifty means. But the best cost savings is in the airfare – I’m using 220,000 frequent flyer miles to go down in business class for practically free (I’m only spending $112 in fees).

How the heck did you accumulate enough frequent flyer miles to get to Oz in business class? I know you don’t fly that much.
Actually, I did have about 25,000 miles from actual flying. But, yes, most of my miles are from non-flying sources. For one, I put everything I can on my mileage-earning credit card (which I always pay off in full each month so there’s no interest). Utilities, food, school, taxes, etc. I also took advantages of bonuses where I could: 15,000 miles for investing $10,000 in a Fidelity account, for example (re-invested once I got the miles); 8,000 miles for opening a Netbank account; 21,000 miles for opening a second credit card account (and then cancelling it later). It adds up.

Why aren’t you going to Melbourne, Brisbane, Queensland, Tasmania, etc.?
Because it’s a whole freakin’ continent and I only have three weeks! I had to prioritize and even so, it feels rushed. I’ve expanded my schedule more than I originally figured as it is. For example, I wasn’t planning to go to Canberra but found a great airfare from Sydney and figured that was a better cultural day trip than Melbourne and Brisbane (which were my other options).

Why so little time in Sydney?
With the short time allotted for the trip, I figured I’d use it to explore places I’d be unlikely to visit again (hence Darwin, Uluru, etc.). If I’m ever in Australia again, it’ll probably be in (or at least through) Sydney. I do intend to pack in as much possible in the two-and-a-half days I’m there.

On that tangent, why so much time in Perth?
I’ve wanted to visit Perth for a long time, ever since the University of Western Australia sent me a post-grad recruitment letter. There’s something about being in the most remote big city in the world that appeals to me. I also think a little down time on a vacation is good and look forward to spending time lounging on an Indian Ocean beach. Moreover, train schedules limit when I arrive and depart an area and I figured it was more practical to spend extra days here than in Darwin.

Are you going to climb Uluru (aka Ayers Rock)?
I had long planned to, then learned the Aboriginal community holds it sacred and requests guests not do so. Most people who know me know that I’m usually not one to be restricted by someone else’s religious beliefs, but think of it this way: would Catholics like a non-Catholic climbing the Sistine Chapel? Would a non-Muslim be allowed to sit on the Kaaba? I figure it’s best not to offend and the walk around Uluru is still supposed to be wonderful.

Do the drains really flow in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere?
We’ll find out. I plan on keeping a sink/toilet drain tally on my blog.

What’s the most exotic place you’ll visit on this trip?
San Luis Obispo, Calif. -– Since I’m not paying for it and I love to fly, I’m taking the long way home: Sydney to Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo to San Francisco.

1 comment:

Rob said...

At the end of your trip, when the dust of the Outback settles in the glint of your eye, are you ever coming back?