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Confessions of a Backpacker in Southeast Asia

So while backpacking many different countries, you’ll find yourself in some potentially sticky situations or making decisions that perhaps under normal circumstances at home you wouldn’t consider. Some of these decisions may be questionable to others but nevertheless end up being a funny story! So here a just a few “confessions of a backpacker” that I have come across while travelling, some of which may be personal experiences and some are stories that I have been told or have seen happen:

The Bum Gun!

When travelling through Southeast Asia, you’ll probably get ‘Bali belly’ at least once. It only takes one dodgy bit of street food mixed with non stop drinking and non-potable water to get you rushing to use the toilet! In this rush, you may forget to check if there is (or remember to take your own!) toilet paper in the cubicle. Upon finishing you may also realise there is none, and your only option is to use the bum gun, an amazing invention which as it’s name suggests allows you to spray yourself with a toilet hose after going. With no paper left to dry yourself, you may have to resort to using the t-shirt you’re wearing to dry yourself.

The Sniff Test!

One that every backpacker will come across! Adopting the ‘sniff test’ while travelling, ie smelling your clothes before putting them on to check if you can get another day’s wear out of them or if you will insult everyone you meet that day. The similar ‘turn your underwear inside out to get another days wear out of them’ trick is also something most backpackers will confess to! Oh the joys of backpacking! 😉

Missing Luggage!

When your airline misplaces your bag and you wear the same clothes for 3 days (see above!) instead of buying a new top or borrowing from a new travel buddy. C’mon, we’re on a backpacking budget afterall!

Weeing in the wild!

When your overnight bus breaks down and you’re in the middle of nowhere desperate for the loo so you end up having to wee behind a bush on the roadside. You’ll never see those locals driving past on their mopeds again right? 

Get Low!

When you take part in a topless limbo in order to get a free bucket on Koh Phi Phi. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! 

Money, money, money

It can be hard to get your head around the different currencies in Southeast Asia! With £1 converting to approximately 17,000 Indonesian Rupiah, the exchange could leave even the best mathematician a little confused. You may learn the hard way and end up paying the toilet attendant the equivalent of £10 to use the toilet, instead of the £0.10 they’d asked for!

#DrunkenTats

When your friend says they want to draw you a travel tattoo and you naturally think it’s a fantastic idea and go along with it.. because you always wanted a stickman on a scooter tattoo!

Confessions of a backpacker in Southeast Asia
Confessions of a backpacker in Southeast Asia
Confessions of a backpacker in Southeast Asia - Getting a drunk tattoo in Thailand

Have you got any travel confessions? Share them with us!!

Thinking of heading to Southeast Asia on your travels? Check out our tours in Thailand and Vietnam!

The Ultimate question every backpacker asks themselves before they go travelling… “Should I take a suitcase or a backpack?”

It used to be a given that backpackers would take a backpack travelling with them but, as Bob Dylan said, the times they are a-changin’ and backpacking no longer means packing all of your stuff into a backpack. Lots of backpackers are now opting for a suitcase instead.
So which option is right for you? There are a few things to take into account when deciding:

    • Will you be travelling around a lot?
    • Are you planning on settling in one place for the majority of your time to live and work?
    • Are you heading to Southeast Asia or other not so developped destinations?

It can be a tricky decision to make, as the majority of people don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing during their gap year: that’s the whole idea right!? So to help you make your decision, here’s a list of options and pros & cons so you can decide for yourself:

The ‘Trusty’ Suitcase:

Perfect for:

The ‘I’m going to Australia/New Zealand to live & work for a year’ backpacker; The ‘I’ll be travelling around but to mainly tourist destinations’ backpacker and ‘The flashpacker’.

Pros:

Wheels – Who would have thought such a simple invention could bring you so much happiness!? As you’ll be rolling your things around, you won’t suffer from the dreaded backpacker back aches or back sweats. You can access your clothes and belongings easily and quickly and relax happy in the knowledge that your padlock is keeping your stuff safe and secure! If that’s not enough to sell it.. your suitcase will double up as a handy seat!

Cons:

Stairs will be your enemy.  Those ‘backpack’ w*nkers you were laughing at earlier won’t seem so silly after you’ve dragged your suitcase up to the 5th floor of your hostel. Suitcases aren’t ideal for travelling to places such as the Red Centre, Northern Territory or Western Australia either. Also, as suitcases are normally heavier, you may find yourself having to monitor your flight allowances more!

Tip:

Opt for 4 wheels if you can – that way you can push your suitcase along instead of dragging it. Also, go for a good quality hard case as it will probably take a bit of a beating during your gap year!

The ‘Modern’ Backpack (front loader)

Perfect for:

The ‘I’m travelling around Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Southeast Asia and everywhere in between’ backpacker.

Pros:

The front opening backpack gives you easy to access to your clothes and belongings. Backpacks are normally durable and can be thrown around a bit – perfect for boat trips through Southeast Asian islands and other ‘off the beaten track’ tours. Backpacks fit a lot in, can be squashed into small spaces and lets not forget..backpacks make a great pillow for those nights you’ll spend sleeping at the airport!

Cons:

If you pack too much, backpacks can be really heavy. I struggled to carry my oversized, heavy backpack for a year which meant carrying it for longer than 5 minutes at a time gave me back ache. These front opening backpacks are also generally more bulky than the top loader packs.

Tip:

Get your backpack fitted properly to your body. 80% off the weight should be carried by your hips, not your shoulders to avoid back pain. Lots of these backpacks also come with a mini backpack zipped onto the front – useful for day trips when you want to take a smaller bag.

If your backpack is too heavy you'll get back ache

The ‘Old School’ Backpack (top loader)

Perfect for:

The ‘I’m travelling everywhere and I’m not that fussed about getting to my belongings very often’ backpacker.

Pros:

These backpacks are generally less bulky than other backpackers and are easier to carry around. Most have sections you can open at the top and the bottom and smaller pockets on the back to find things easily.

Cons:

Be prepared to pack & unpack, pack & unpack and pack & unpack your bag. Safety can also be an issue with these backpack. As there two different sections to open along with separate pockets, you’ll have to padlock each section to keep your valuables safe.

Tip:

Get your backpack fitted and try on a few different sizes before you buy!

The Wheely ‘Wheely Uncool’ Backpack

Perfect for:

The ‘I’m doing a bit of everything and I want convenience over style’ backpacker.

Pros:

Wheels? Tick. Problems with stairs? Nope. A backpack with wheels = genius! This backpack has it all..You can roll it around, wear it on your back, open it from the front, throw it around, lock it up…the list of backpack benefits goes on.

Cons:

This backpack doesn’t look as sexy as other backpacks. It’s normally quite bulky and can be heavier than other backpacks too, so it’s best used for rolling rather than carrying a lot.

Tip:

If you’re travelling to Southeast Asia, this is a great option!

What else do I need to think about?

Quality

Getting a good quality, durable case or backpack is essential for your gapyear. It will most likely take quite a beating throughout your travels and you don’t want it breaking half way through your trip!

Extra bags

Along with your suitcase or backpack you’ll probably want to bring a smaller, day pack with you. Small holdalls are great for hand luggage on flights but can be tricky to carry around with you after if you’re doing a lot of travelling. If you decide to go for the front opening backpack, choose one with a small day pack zipped to the front. Some days when you’re feeling extra cool, you may even find yourself wearing the extra backpack on your front!  Girls, a side bag can be used as a small handbag for the day and for nights out!

The most important packing tip you’ll ever get!

Don’t pack too much! If you can’t walk around comfortably for 5-10 minutes at home with all of your luggage, you won’t be able carry it all whilst you’re travelling. Remember, what you bring with you is yours to carry for the duration of your trip so don’t overpack. Not being able to pick up your backpack without someone else’s help is not a good look! 😉

via GIPHY

So are you team backpack or team suitcase? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below!

Planning your gap year? Check out our arrival packages in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam and get in touch for help planning your trip!

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First stop in Southeast Asia: Hanoi, Vietnam. Population: 7 million. Motorbikes: 1.5 million. Girl from Albuquerque, New Mexico: 1. My first time to Southeast Asia, I couldn’t have chosen a better country to begin my journey. Vietnam is beautiful, historic and eye-opening. Tropical paradise, mountainous terrain, eat and drink like a king, buzzing night life, the list goes on and on! Here’s why I love Vietnam..

Halong Bay

Vietnam’s hidden wonder and absolute paradise. This World Heritage site is a must-see on every backpackers’ list. It’s a personal fave! Begin your trip on an authentic Vietnamese “junk boat” (nothing junk about it!) exploring the turquiose waters and viewing the never ending rock formations. Here you can kayak, rock climb, cliff jump, perfect for the adventure seeker. After one night spent on the boat, you arrive to your very own private island. Yes. That’s right, a private island for just you and your friends! Where else can you say you did that?! Play beach volleyball, drink cheap beer, watch the sun go down and karaoke the night away.

Explore Sapa

Want to see the real Vietnam? Venture to Sapa and hike through the endless rice fields. Meet our guide, Vu and her daughter Sho Sho, the giggliest child of them all. We spent two days exploring Sapa by foot and it wouldn’t have been the same without these two. Sapa is truly majestic. The people are colourful in both their attire and spirit, the views are breathtaking and it’s off the beaten path!

Same Same But Different

Anyone who has travelled Southeast Asia knows this common saying. If so – you probably still use the saying today. You may even own a vest with the same writing! Often used when purchasing, this phrase with no doubt will bring you confusion, understanding and most often laughter.
Example: “Are these real Ray Bans? Is this chicken? Is this the correct bus?”… “Same same but different.” All different questions, very same answer. Sometimes a good response, other times not so much.
Regardless, hearing this phrase post your travels will always remind you of your times spent in SE Asia and will most likely bring a smile to your face.

Same same but different!

Hoi An

My favourite place in all of Vietnam! Beach. Culture. Shopping. Food. You name it, this place has it! Ride a bicycle to the beach to watch the sunrise, get tailor-made clothing, see the beautiful lanterns at dark, join a cooking class and party the night away.

Hoi An lanterns

The Food

Some people take photos of the scenery. Others take photos of people or their adventures. My best friend/ co-traveller takes photos of me eating… So the secret is out, I like to eat. In fact “like” is a large understatement. If you’re a foodie like me, you will love Vietnam! A must-eat, the BBQ in Hanoi – we ate here not once, not twice but three times in one day. Also on the list: pho (noodle soup), banh mi (baguette) and fresh spring rolls!

The food in Vietnam - Another reason why I love Vietnam

Ride Like A Local

As the highest motorbike per capita country in the world, what better way to explore a new city than on your own set of wheels? But fair warning: if you’re brave enough to get on the back of a motorbike, let alone drive one yourself – I suggest you invest in some good travellers insurance. Nothing’s worse than letting a small accident spoil your trip. So if you have the guts, hop on board. Otherwise, master the art of crossing street traffic, a challenge in itself!

Riding mopeds in Vietnam is the norm!

Cheap Beer

A true necessity when travelling. Everyone enjoys a good party, but often the cost of drinking can add up. But when a large beer only costs you 50 cents, the round’s on me! Saigon, Tiger, 333 – all common labels. Try them each and see what tickles your fancy. Personal tip: Pull up a baby stool outside a restaurant, purchase a beverage, pair with sunflower seeds and mingle with new friends.

Grab a stool and drink in the street!

Never a Dull Moment

Just an average Wednesday morning. Meet Susie – my new best friend. Deathly afraid of snakes, this is not my ideal moment, but travelling pushes you to step outside your comfort zone. Hold a python, eat a scorpion, feed a crazy monkey – all part of the Southeast Asia fun!

Meet the locals in Vietnam!

Beach Bum in Nha Trang

Want to enjoy the sun and get your tan on? Visit the seaside town of Nha Trang. Known for its blue waters and Russian influence – this town has everything to offer. Partake in one of its numerous water sports such as kite surfing or snorkelling followed by a wild night out on the town. Personal recommendation: Why Not Bar, because why not?!

Nha Trang has got some great snorkel spots.

History

You can’t travel to Vietnam and not learn about the country’s history – it’s inevitable. But that’s what travelling is all about, learning about other cultures and what has happened in the past to shape a country. Travel to Ho Chi Minh and visit the Cu Chi tunnels to learn more about the war. I promise you’ll learn more here than you ever did from a textbook!

Learning about Vietnam's history is great!

Travel the Long Way

Travelling onward? How about to Laos or Cambodia? Don’t take the boring route! We did a 3 day journey from Ho Chi Minh to Cambodia via the Mekong Delta and it couldn’t have been better. Explore the canals, shop the floating markets and see more of Southeast Asia along the way.

Travelling along the Mekong delta was incredible.

Planning a trip to Vietnam? Check out our 13 day Ultimate Vietnam tour and get in touch for info and advice!

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Southeast Asia is awesome! With friendly locals, great food, beautiful beaches, bustling cities, an exciting culture and so much to see any do, no wonder it’s high on the bucket list for so many of us! Luckily for us, Southeast Asian countries are generally cheap to travel in so your travel budget will stretch a lot further than most other gap year destinations! Despite Southeast Asia already being cheap, it’s always nice to nab a bargain so read on for tips on how to save your hard earned cash and travel through Southeast Asia on a budget..

 1. Don’t be scared to haggle!

In most countries in Southeast Asia, bartering is not just expected, it’s all part of the fun! Don’t be scared to haggle for your goods to get a cheaper price. Most of the time, the good sold at markets in Thailand and Malaysia have such a high margin to begin with, you can usually start off by offering less than half price for what you want! You can haggle pretty much anything in countries such as Thailand and Vietnam including travel on Tuk Tuks, boats and taxis! Be firm yet respectful and friendly and remember to have the price you’re happy to pay in your head!

Top tip: Be careful not to go overboard. The most important thing to remember is that both parties should be able to come to a mutually happy agreement. There’s no point arguing over a couple of quid just to come out on top. That money will probably mean a lot more to your seller than to you!

Haggling the price of goods and travel in Thailand is normal

2. Try the local food

Eating street food and local dishes & delicacies is all part of travelling and is a great way to cut down on your spends! If you want to eat ‘western food’ like pizza, burgers and chips, be prepared to pay ‘western prices’ (around 5 times more than local dishes found on street stalls and food courts!)

It’s not all about the price though. Local dishes are usually amazing, and prepared with natural homegrown ingredients. Vietnam has some of the best dishes in the world including Pho (a popular rice noodle dish) and once you’ve tried a Thai green curry or pad Thai in Thailand, there’s no going back! Just take it easy eating fresh fruit and meats from the street stalls that have been left out when you first arrive – give your stomach time to adjust to the new food to avoid getting ill and wherever possible eat from the stalls where it can be cooked in front of you.

Top tip: If it’s good enough for the locals, it’ll be good enough for you! Follow the crowd as the locals know where will be good to eat and where isn’t!

3. Drink beer

Drinking local beer such as ‘Singha’ or ‘Chang’ in Thailand and ‘ Bia Hoi’ in Vietnam will cost you a lot less than drinking imported beers, alcopops and wine in South East Asia. If you’re a fan of spirits, go for the local spirits as much as possible if you want to save money but go easy…local spirits usually have a much higher alcohol % so have one and see how you go!

Top tip: Be prepared. Booze prices on small islands in SE Asia are a lot higher than other parts of the country as they’re ‘imported’ from the mainland. If you’re a fan of spirits, take a bottle or two with you to avoid paying lots for alcohol!

4. Do your research

Most locals you’ll encounter in SE Asia are friendly, helpful and kind however do be prepared to be ripped off every now and then! If you don’t know how much things cost in advance, you could end up paying heaps more than you need to! I’ve been told before that ‘there are no ATM’s on that Island’, ‘you must withdraw/change up your money here with me’ only to find out that there are heaps of ATM’s on the island and that person just wanted the extra commission!
Top tip: Don’t believe everything you hear from the locals and do your research beforehand to be in the know!

 5. Travel like a local

SE Asia is pretty big so it can be tempting to hop on a plane over to the next country on your bucket list but if you want to save money, wherever possible travel with the locals. In Bali, I decided to take the cheapest boat possible over the Gilli islands and ended up in a tiny boat with 30 other people, about 20 chickens flapping around and what seemed like the islands entire food supply for the next 6 months! I always find it’s those experiences you remember the most anyway! Most SE Asian countries have some great bus and train options too such as the overnight sleeper train in Thailand and overnight buses. You can even bus it over the borders with a mini passport control break in the middle!
Top tip: Travelling overnight means you won’t have to fork out for accommodation that night – score!

 6. Give yourself a daily budget

This might seem like an obvious one but it’s easy to spend in Asia. Yes, everything is mega cheap but if you’re anything like me, that’ll just make you spend more because you don’t feel like you have to budget! Having a strict budget will ensure you’ve got enough to last your whole trip without worrying. Spend a bit more on drinks one day? Check into a cheaper hostel the next night!
Top tip: Budget between AUD$20-$40 per day to travel comfortably.

 7. Accommodation

Accommodation in Asia is cheap! On a budget, you could find somewhere to stay for less than $5 per night! Okay your toilet might be a hole in the floor and you may be sharing with a few lizards and insects but it’s a bargain all the same! If you’re prepared to stay in basic accommodation you’ll save yourself a lot of money. If you’re not, you could stay in a beautiful little private poolside villa with free breakfast for around $20-$30!
Top tip: Planning ahead with accommodation is another way to save money. Accommodation prices in Koh Phangan go up for the Full Moon Party so get in there early for the best prices and before all the accommodation is fully booked!

Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park where we stay during our 10 day Ultimate Thailand tour!

Floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park during the 10 day Ultimate Thailand tour!

8. Buy before you go!

Pretty much everything is cheaper in South East Asia and most things can be bought when you get there however there are a few things that are worth taking with you. Imported cosmetics, suncream & makeup can be more expensive so to avoid paying out for your favourite makeup brands abroad, bring them with you!

Top tip: In most SE Asian countries, anti malaria tablets A LOT cheaper when you get there.

 9. Get off the beaten track!

If you want to save money, avoid ‘touristy’ destinations as much as you can. Anywhere packed with tourists will be more expensive than other parts of the country as you’ll be paying tourist prices rather than backpacker prices.

Instead, chat to locals and get recommendations on where to go (take a mate with you!) or get a map and do some exploring! I remember hiring a moped on Koh Phangan and going to visit some of the waterfalls in the middle of the island. It was great to see another part of the island away from the crowds and saved me the money I would have spent in Koh Phangan that day!

Top tip: Having a local guide show you around is a great way to experience ‘off the beaten track’ safely. Our 3 day Sapa tour in Vietnam gives you the chance to stay in a remote village and experience how the hill tribes live! Check it out here.

Get off the beaten track in Vietnam

10. Know what your money is worth!

Checking the current exchange rate is well worth doing before you start your travels. Knowing what your money is worth will avoid you getting ripped off at the airport when you get there! Click here to check current currency rates.

Top tip: Change up some money before you fly so you have some local money to use when you first land. It’ll give you a little time to shop around for the best rate so you won’t be forced into changing up your money in the first place you come across!

Know what your money is worth

Interested in travelling to Thailand or Vietnam? Get in touch for help and advice!

Check out our blogs for tips on travelling in South East Asia and share your budgeting tips with us in the comments below!

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Travelling onwards after your trip to Asia? Keep an eye out for top tips on budgeting in Australia and New Zealand.

Great News For Travellers To Vietnam!

Vietnam is one of the new favourite hot spots amongst backpackers travelling to, or through, Southeast Asia … and with good reason! Now, there’s one more reason to add travelling to Vietnam to your 2015 bucket list … depending on where you’re from, you may not need a visa to enter the country.

If you are from the UK, France, Spain, Italy or Germany and travelling to Vietnam for less than 15 days (perfect if you’re only doing the Ultimate Vietnam tour), you will no longer need to apply for a visa from the Vietnamese government. These changes apply to travel between 1st July 2015 and 30th June 2016.

Well, it was never too difficult to get a visa for Vietnam but now, it’s one less thing to have to worry about, leaving you with more time to get excited about your trip! It also means that you will save at least £54. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but at the time we are writing this, that’s about 1,850,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) which is enough for you to live like a Rockstar for a month!

This is great for Vietnam as it will encourage more people to go and see the amazing things this beautiful country has to offer! And a boost in tourism leads to a boost in economy – happy days all round!

Already know that you’ll want to spend more than 15 days in Vietnam? (We don’t blame you at all!)

No worries at all – check out our Visa Information page and find out about the other visa options that are available …

Got any other Visa queries? Get in touch with the ULTIMATE crew and we’ll come back to you as soon as we can!

There are many many MANY reasons we love to travel. We wish we could do it more often but sometimes life just gets in the way…right? Maybe we should just put off the next trip for a few years? Wrong! Read through why I think there has never been a better time to pack your bags, hop on a flight and travel.

1. Go before you change your mind

Chances are if you’re reading this you’ve thought about going travelling at some point… Maybe you’ve already travelled (How amazing is it!?) or maybe you’re travelling right now (Can I come and meet you!?) If you’ve thought about it but it’s just never been an option, why not?
I honestly think that one of the hardest part of any travel adventure is deciding to do it and sticking to it, especially the first time you’re planning a big trip! Once you’ve decided you’d like to travel, just book it and the rest will fall into place. Whether you don’t think you can afford it , you’ve just started seeing someone, you’ve just started a new job or someone who’s important to you has a big birthday coming up, there will always be an excuse for you not to travel. I find that a lot of the time these ‘obstacles’ come from the fear of the unknown and the idea of change that comes with travelling. Don’t worry, it’s completely natural and anyone who has been travelling knows how you feel but if you don’t pluck up the courage to do it now, you might be wasting valuable travel time! The truth is if you don’t travel now you may keep putting it off until you actually have big responsibilities like children and a mortgage on a house and travelling just won’t be that easy anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I know for some it’s not that simple and this will only apply to people who do genuinely want to travel but I do believe that if it’s something you truly want, you just have to throw yourself in at the deep end and trust me you’ll reap the rewards! Remember: ‘If not now then when?”

2. Lots of people are doing it

Now is a great time to travel because lots of people are doing it! Not that ‘Everyone is doing it…I should do it!’ should be a reason to do anything but the way tourism has developed over the past few years means that travelling to most parts of the world is a perfectly ‘normal’ and safe thing to do. It’s easy to get around, there’s lots of help and support available to backpackers and because others are doing it you’re more likely to bump into like-minded people to travel with! If the thought of visiting the same places ‘as most people’ makes you shudder, don’t worry! You can still get off the beaten track in any country (our travel agents can help you plan this) but it’s nice to know you’ve got yourself a safety net when you first arrive! Travelling now is easier than ever and whilst you’ll still come across some challenging and exciting travel road bumps along the way, on the whole travel help and support is a lot more accessible. Get ready for some smooth sailing people!!

3. Australia has never been so cheap

You may have heard that Australia can be pretty expensive – you’ve heard right!  It can be pricey to live in cities such as Sydney and Perth however with the Aussie $ currently weak, it’s the perfect time to come and spend money in Australia. Your hard earned cash will go a lot further if you visit now! If you’re planning a trip to Oz remember that, despite city living being expensive, the wages are also high and if you’re living and working in a city you’ll have more than enough money to cover your living costs with money left over for fun stuff!

4. Tourism in Vietnam

One of the reasons we love Vietnam so much is that you can travel there and really feel like you’re experiencing an Asian community that is true to it’s roots and hasn’t been overly affected by tourism. You’ll see how the locals live, eat Vietnamese food in small town alley ways and explore untouched nature- ahhhhh! At Ultimate we want to give you an authentic experience so we take you off the beaten track as much as we can on our tours!
 Vietnam
Halong-Bay
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5. Travelling makes you more employable

Sure, the person hiring you needs to know that you’ve got the skills needed to do the job and the qualifications you have are a way of proving them however more and more employers will also take your personal experiences into account when gaging if you’re suitable for the job or not. Your life experiences gained through travel show your employer that you are motivated, interested in learning about other cultures, mature, responsible (we can leave out that time you slept on a goon pillow in Australia!) and many other things employers will look for in a potential employee.
Lets face it, our generation will be working for a good few years to come so why not grasp the opportunity of travel now and think about your career after, knowing that you’ll have more to offer after a year or two in the sun? Before I came travelling I was sure that I wanted to study business and land a well paid job. After travelling I had completely changed my mind and am now working in my dream job and with no degree I know that my life experiences gained through travelling helped me get to where I am now. I understand that for some jobs you do need a uni degree and to study for years to specialise so this won’t be true for all but if you’re a little unsure that you’re on the right path, travelling will open your eyes and may help you decide on a future career you love rather than falling into one you’re not particularly interested in!

6. Technology

Development in technology means keeping in touch with people from home is easy and relatively cheap. Most places you’ll visit will have WIFI so you can Facetime and Skype your friends and family at home to let them know what an amazing time you’re having! Some phone plans in Australia also give you heaps of extra credit so you can call home whenever you like. As part of our UltimateOz Sydney package we will set you up with a SIM card and tell you all about the phone plans available so you can keep in touch with people from home.

7. Save money buying in bulk

Buying in bulk will save you lots of money on your travels. We’ve created packages (such as our East coast package in Australia) that include heaps of travel and as you’ll be buying trips in a package, it means we can discount it a lot more than usual! You can keep your travel plans flexible but travel safe in the knowledge that you’ve saved yourself some money (so that you can travel even more- yay!) Package prices are competitive which makes travelling even more affordable when you get here. Get in touch for current packages and deals!

8. Life is too short not to

It’s cliche but it’s true. Life goes by too quickly to put off something that’s going to make you happy, broaden your horizons and allow you to grow as a person. Your life at home will wait for you and you never know where your travels will take you. Whether you’re thinking of travelling for a few months, one year or a few years, now is the time…get a job, save some money and book that flight!!
For help and advice booking any trips and tours in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji just get in touch!
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Travel changes you: fact. Wherever you travel, however long you travel for, be prepared to learn a few things about yourself along the way!

Here are a few ways I’ve found travelling has changed me:

It’s hard to settle in one place.

Once you’ve caught the travel bug, it’s pretty hard to shake! Settling back into a ‘normal’ routine at home after spending a few months or a year experiencing everything travelling has to offer is really hard! Travelling is fun and there are always new experiences just waiting to be had. Sure if you’ve travelled for longer than a few months, chances are you’ve had to snap back to reality for a little while to find a job and maybe rent a flat but with that next exciting adventure just around the corner, there isn’t enough time to settle in one place for long enough to get into a routine. Going from the buzz and excitement of travelling to getting a job at home, living and spending your time waiting for the weekend can be tough. Travelling made me realize how small the world is and how easy it is to travel to new countries which makes it so tempting to pack your bags and set off on the next adventure!

My advice to beat the bug? Plan the next trip if you can- having something to work towards and look forward to will make life more exciting! If you can’t do that, try to meet up with fellow travellers- sharing your memories and travel stories will make you feel like you still are and you’re not alone!

Believe in yourself

Working in the travel industry and having travelled myself it’s safe to say I love to travel! Saying that, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Sometimes travelling gives you lemons and (when there’s no tequila and salt around) you have to learn to deal with situations that you wouldn’t normally have to. The best thing I’ve taken from travelling is the ability to believe in my own strength and trust my instincts. I’ve learnt that I can deal with anything that comes my way and if I’m stuck in a sticky situation, I’ll find a way out. My mantra after travelling? “I’ll handle it!”

Adopt a ‘no worries’ attitude

This is one thing I definitely noticed after spending a year travelling around SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Life really is too short to sweat the small stuff! Yes you may have missed the last night bus to the islands and be stranded in a tiny Thai town but who cares?! You get an extra day to explore the area, eat Thai food, chill in the sun and chat to the locals! Don’t get me wrong- at the time, it seems like the worst thing in the world when you’re carrying a heavy backpack in the 30 degree heat however once you’ve accepted that these things happen (and in the grand scheme of things really aren’t that big a deal) you can say ‘no worries!’ and enjoy the ride! The little bumps you’ll encounter along the way are some of the most memorable travel experiences anyway!

Making new friends

One of the best things about travelling is how easy (and normal) it is to chat strangers and make new friends, especially if you’re travelling alone. Most people are in the same boat and will welcome a chat with a stranger! After a few months I noticed I was more confident chatting to people and more sociable. Be prepared to have a long list of new friends you can crash with in countries all over the world!

Be more open minded

When travelling, not only will you meet people who have different values and opinions to you but you’ll also be stuck in situations where you’ll be forced to keep an open mind and try out things you wouldn’t usually do. You never know where the day will take you when you’re travelling! I remember my first week in Asia, travelling to a remote island in Malaysia. We hadn’t booked accommodation on the island and when we arrived we found out that everywhere was fully booked! We ended up buying a couple of hammocks and setting up camp on the beach to sleep for the night. As a travelling virgin and being terrified of insects it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind but looking back it’s those experiences that stick with you!

Become less materialistic

I love my comforts and always will but after a year of travelling I realised that there is so much more to life and happiness than buying new things… at least not when there’s travelling to be done, new places to experience and people to meet! The experience of chilling on the beach with new friends means so much more than what you’re wearing at the time or which latest bit of technology you have! Of course, you need to buy the basics but as long as you have enough money to buy some street food, a couple of beers, a roof over your head for the night and a way to actually travel, that’s all you’ll need!

If you’re thinking of travelling, my advice is to just go for it! You never know where it will take you or what you’ll experience along the way. Whilst it’s good to have a rough plan, you can’t plan for everything in travel so just throw yourself in at the deep end and book a flight! If you need help planning any of your trip or want any advice at all, just contact us! We’re happy to help!

Share your travelling stories and pics with us! Like our Facebook page for blogs, travel inspiration and travel pics and follow us on Instagram. Tag your #myultimatemoment pics – we will repost our faves!

Welcome to 2015. It’s a brand new year and whilst the whole ‘new year, new me’ seems a bit cliché, there is something amazing about the clean slate that the 1st January brings and the chance to start a fresh!

Here at Ultimate Travel, we have been thinking about what we would like to get out of the next year. Working in the travel industry, it’s not surprising that most of our resolutions and wishes for the new year revolve around travel. We are EXCITED for the new year and the world of new experiences it brings with it: new places to visit, strangers to meet, foods to try and skills to learn.

We’ve created the Ultimate bucket list for 2015. Download it, print it, stick it on your fridge, in your bedroom or pack it in your backpack and make it your personal ‘bucket list’ check list for the new year. A few of the Ultimate staff share their Ultimate bucket lists with you…

Gayles-bucketlist

Dan's-bucket-list

Max's-bucket-list

Are you dreaming about travelling the world? Trying new things and experiencing the unknown? Now is the time to do it! No excuses … just do it! And we promise you won’t regret it. 2015 is going to be another awesome year for us – make sure yours is too!

Download your New year’s bucket list here. Why not share your bucket list with us on Facebook and keep updated with what we get up to on our Instagram!

Travelling SE Asia is a rite of passage for any backpacker and rightly so! It’s an incredible place, with so many amazing things to do and see! But … you wouldn’t go to London and say you’ve seen England would you? Well, you can’t say you’ve truly seen SE Asia until you been to Vietnam!

Although growing in popularity, backpacking in Vietnam is still not very high on a lot of young travellers’ agenda. Which is a shame, because it is an amazing country! It may not be rich in wealth, but it is rich with culture, has lots of history and is home to potentially some of the nicest people you will meet on your Ultimate quest to tick off as many countries as possible!

This is exactly why we made Vietnam our next Ultimate adventure! If you don’t know by now, our Ultimate Vietnam tour kicks off in January 2015 and we are SO excited for it to start!!

When it comes to launching new tours, we’re very thorough with our research … a lot of hard work goes in to finding the best spots to take you, the best things to see and do etc. After all, it has to be the ULTIMATE tour of Vietnam right?!

So earlier this year, two of our lovely Travel crew were shipped off to SE Asia to check it all out and put something together that will be an awesome experience for everyone that joins us.

The stories they came back with were amazing! Here’s a little snippet of what they thought about their time in Vietnam …

What was your favourite part of Vietnam and why?

Ultimate Hanoi

Dirk: The island stay in Lan Ha Bay, which is part of Halong Bay, was stunning! We cruised through a maze of little islands, stayed on a stunning beach, ate amazing food and saw some incredible sunsets!

Karin:  I loved the authenticity of Hanoi … it feels like a step back in time. The food is amazing and the atmosphere is so different to any place that I’ve ever been before! Life is out on the streets all day and all night. People cook on the streets, people eat on the streets. We sat at little plastic tables, on tiny plastic chairs and drank beer from kegs with the locals.

Was there anything about Vietnam that surprised you?

Dirk: The coffee was crazy good! Also, despite tourism being such a big part of their economy, Vietnamese people live their own lives and culture. Ho Chi Minh is becoming more westernised but the north of Vietnam is still authentically Vietnamese.

Karin: I had no idea that the Vietnamese beaches and underwater world were so stunning! Pristine white beaches and Nha Trang is awesome for snorkelling!

What’s your favourite part of the tour and why?

Da Lat – Where else can you abseil down a waterfall in the middle of a rainforest?!

Dirk: Lan Ha Bay is a definite highlight! But I think the awesome buzz of Hanoi and the chilled out vibes you find in Hoi An will be popular with a lot of people who join us!

Karin: I think everything we do on the tour is amazing but Halong Bay and Da Lat are definite highlights for me! Halong Bay is incredibly beautiful and serene (and has the best food!!) I loved Da Lat because it was the first time I have ever abseiled down waterfalls in the middle of a rain forest – there’s not many places you can do that and I’ll never forget it!

Is there anything that isn’t on the tour that you would recommend people do?

Dirk: Trekking in Sapa will blow your mind! It’s not just about picturesque mountain scenery and rice fields, but also seeing how local Vietnamese people make a living, which makes you appreciate just how privileged your own life actually is.

Karin: Sapa for sure! It has the most amazing scenery and you get an awesome cultural experience! Comfortable shoes are a must as the trip involves a lot of hiking and climbing – it’s so worth it for the views!!

What’s your top tip for travelling Vietnam?

Dirk: Learn a few Vietnamese phrases, be curious and don’t be shy to mingle with the locals.

Karin: Do it with Ultimate Vietnam, we’ll show you the best places and make sure you have the most fun! :0)

Join us on Ultimate Vietnam!

A new poll conducted by MasterCard has shown that Australia is the dream destination for British travellers but nearly 90% said they’d never make it Down Under! Why not?!

Australia has always been an ideal place for Brits looking to travel. It is pretty much the total opposite of home without a language barrier. It’s a country that is well-travelled and squarely on the beaten track but it offers wilderness alongside the usual tourist spots like no other country.

It may be a long flight (it feels every minute of it too) but that shouldn’t stop you from making a go of it Down Under. Once you’ve done the flight, the fun begins!

90% of those asked in the MasterCard survey said they would never make it to Australia! If you’re dream destination is Australia (or Thailand and Vietnam) Ultimate Travel make it easier than ever to explore the world.

Our team of experts make travelling through Australia an amazing, life-changing experience that is perfectly tailored to suit you. Want to explore the remote parts of the country like Kakadu or Western Australia? We can help you. Prefer to stick where the party is on the East Coast? We can help with that too!

Australia is, rightly, considered a dream destination. I’m British and can see why so many people love the idea of Australia but the reality is so much more than expected.

Australia is such an amazing country that just blows my mind. Spend a Sunday sitting on Bondi Beach and compare it with whatever you’d do on an average Sunday at home. Explore Melbourne one Saturday and see how it stacks up with a city break anywhere in Britain.

It’s a bit of an unfair comparison but Australia trounces Britain every chance it gets!

Home will always have that special place in your heart. It’s your family and friends, your favourite bar or restaurant and those awesome home comforts but if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Think about what you want to tell your kids in 30 years time. Either you stayed in the same place for your entire life or you had a couple of months or years exploring the other side of the world. Meeting heaps of new people, experiencing all kinds of new things, jumping out of planes, scuba diving one of the natural wonders of the world….come on!!

Sorry to get a little carried away there but I’m a bit of an Australian-evangelist! No matter what you come to Australia for, whether it is a month long adventure or two years of living and working, your dream is much closer than you realise.

Save the money, book the time off, research as much as possible and ask us as many questions as you like! Make your dream a reality with Ultimate Travel!

Where is your dream destination? Dreaming of a life Down Under or an Ultimate Trip to Thailand or Vietnam? where do you think we should fly the Ultimate banner next?? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!! Or Happy Vietnamese New Year!

Vietnamese New Year, or Tết as it is known, falls on February 19th in 2015 and what better way to celebrate than with an Ultimate Vietnam trip?!

Tết is kind of like Christmas and New Year rolled into one. Vietnam starts preparing for Tết weeks before the actual celebration – they buy gifts, clear debts, visit loved ones and prepare amazing food for the New Year celebrations.

Held on the same day as Chinese New Year, Tết shares similar traditions to its Chinese counterparts. During the celebrations, family and friends exchange red envelopes filled with monetary gifts. The numbers 6 and 8 hold a special place in Tet celebrations too so you might see people exchanging gifts of $6 rather than $10! There are parades and street parties as the country bursts to life!

Tết is an amazing celebration that gives you an insight into Vietnamese culture. While Vietnam, particularly its major cities, have all the hallmarks of Asian growth – Tết gives people a chance to celebrate their history and plan for the future.

One of the most interesting traditions is the Leaving of the Kitchen God. Vietnamese people believe that at the end of the year, the Kitchen God leaves their homes to report on their family to the Jade Emperor. Sacrifices are made to impress the Kitchen God as people burn gold leaf in their homes.

The Kitchen God needs transport for his journey so families buy a live carp, place it on their family altar in a bucket of water to make it easier for the Kitchen God to get to the Jade Emperor! If you see a lot of buckets filled with fish, that’s what they’re being used for!

Like a Western New Year, Vietnamese New Year comes at the stroke of midnight so expect fireworks, fire-crackers and celebrations galore! Tết is a noisy celebration so expect to stay up all night! Drums will be beaten, shouts will be raised, it is even considered good luck to make a dog bark so expect a lot of that too!

2015 will be the Year of the Goat (if you were born in 1991, you’re a goat too so have a great year!) so expect to see a tonne of parades and fireworks in celebration of the New Year with goats taking a starring role.

One of the most famous aspects of Tét is bánh tét – an amazingly tasty rice dish that is only made around the New Year parties! You’ll be able to spot (and smell) bánh tét a mile away – it is wrapped in a banana leaf and will be all over Vietnam in the lead up to New Year.

Bánh tét is pretty difficult to describe. It kind of looks like a Swiss Roll but it is made of rice with a variety of fillings. Wrapped tightly in a banana leaf, the rice sticks together so bánh tét is served in slices of deliciousness!

Watermelons are also incredibly popular thanks to the luck connected to the colour red. The redder the watermelon is in the middle, the more luck a family can expect in the New Year!

If you want to head to Vietnam to experience the culture and tradition of the country, there are few better times to head there than during Tết. Ultimate Vietnam gives you the chance to see the majority of the country and offers unique experiences like spending time with hill tribes, living on the water in a traditional ‘junk’ and eating your way around an amazing country!

Travelling Vietnam during Tết is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed. If you want the perfect antidote to those February blues (they’re a thing, right?) then get in touch about Ultimate Vietnam today!

You are probably familiar with the awesomeness of Thai food but have you ever taken the plunge with some Vietnamese favourites?

Vietnamese food is similar to its Thai counterpart in that they use similar ingredients but the history of Vietnam has had a marked impact on their food.

Having been colonised by the French from the 1880s until the early 1950s, French food and flavours have had an impact on Vietnam. Whether that influence is felt in the amazing bread produced daily, or some of the best coffee you’ll ever drink anywhere in the world – Vietnamese food is one of the highlights of the country.

You’ll try all kinds of Vietnamese goodness during your time with Ultimate Vietnam. You’ll be take on an incredible, foodies dream tour of Hanoi. We’ll stop off at local favourites and get you eating the best Vietnamese food you’ll ever taste!

You’ll also be able to try your hand at creating some of the Vietnamese classics with your very own Vietnamese cooking class! On your 15-day Ultimate Vietnam adventure you’ll eat some of the best food you’ll ever taste and then be able to make it for everyone else when you get back home!

Without further ado, here are some of the Vietnamese classics that you’ll absolutely love when you take head out on Ultimate Vietnam!

Pho

The quintessential Vietnamese food, Pho (pronounced ‘fahr’ not ‘fo’) is a big bowl of the best broth you’ve ever tasted. You’ll see pho on pretty much every menu in Vietnam and you’ll see (and hear) people slurping pho on practically every corner.

A gorgeous, salty broth, packed with rice noodles, herbs and spices with your choice of meat (usually beef), pho is a staple of the Vietnamese diet. You’ll get mammoth portions of pho anywhere you stop so prepare to be full to the brim once you’re done!

You haven’t been to Vietnam if you haven’t gorged on pho so put this on the top of your Vietnamese food list!

Bánh mì

Bánh mì, the humble Vietnamese pork roll, is one of Sydney’s favourite dishes. Whether you’ve been to Marrickville for the best pork roll in Sydney (there is no contest) you need to try a true Vietnamese pork roll, in Vietnam!

Bánh mì is a marriage between the French colonial culture and traditional Vietnamese food. The baguette was introduced in Vietnam by the French and the Vietnamese have created one of the finest sandwiches in the world with it!

The gorgeous bread is about the only constant with a Vietnamese pork roll. Depending on what part of the country you’re in, even what part of a city you’re in, you’ll get a totally different sandwich! We are talking pork though, probably two ways, with a pate thrown on there too. Pickled vegetables, coriander and cucumber are usually there too but your best bet is to try a lot of them!

Gỏi cuốn

Vietnamese spring rolls are another classic of the country. Not to be confused with the greasy favourites of your local Chinese restaurant, Vietnamese spring rolls are wrapped in rice paper which makes them transparent!

Whether you want a vegetarian option or a meaty option, Vietnamese spring rolls are the best. The rice paper makes them so much fresher than the greasy wrap you’ll be used to and the tương xào (hoisin sauce to you and me) is the perfect dipping partner. To be honest though, you can dip them in fish sauce, peanut sauce or nothing at all and they’re still amazing!

Find yourself some grilled pork spring rolls or prawn if you like seafood and you’ll never look back!

Rau muống

Something for the vegetarians, rau muống is also known as morning glory or water spinach and can be prepared in many ways…and you’ll try a lot of them during your time in Vietnam.

A great little healthy bar snack, morning glory is usually stir-fried with a bit of garlic to add to the flavour. Rau muống is a perfect side dish as well, so when you order too much food you’ll probably find a bowl of this somewhere on the table!

It’s like any other spinach but when stir-fried with garlic, is an absolute dream! A good antidote for a lunch after a massive meal the night before…trust us.

Bánh tét

This is a little bit special and is only served around the New Year celebration of Tét held at the end of February. Bánh tét is a rice cake wrapped in a banana leaf filled with other Vietnamese delicacies like mung bean paste – not the tastiest sounding name but they are amazing!

Normally a savory, you can get bánh tét with sweeter fillings like banana and sweet red beans but whichever way you go, if you are in Vietnam around Tét you’ve got to try these bad boys!

Ca phe da

Another holdover from French colonialism, the Vietnamese love a good coffee. Vietnam are the second biggest coffee producer in the world (Brazil top the list for the trivia hunters) so it is no surprise that Vietnam is famed for its coffee.

Ca phe da is actually Vietnamese ice coffee which is a local delicacy that is catching on around the world. Whatever type of coffee you fancy, whether you want it hot or warm, Vietnam has some of the best brews in the world. Starbucks is slowly creeping into the country but stay away from the more expensive chains and find somewhere local for a real taste of Vietnamese coffee.

Ca phe da is perfect for cooling down on a humid day and giving you that extra boost of energy. It’s also great for curing a hangover…trust us, we know!

If you’re interested in Ultimate Vietnam or any of our Ultimate trips, get in touch with us and we’ll help you out!