We Get Mail – Mailbag!


Our thousands of readers…hundreds?…dozens of readers…OK, our 6-13.5 average daily readers send in tons of questions.  Here are a few I’ve chosen to answer along with some additional tips:

Do toilets really flush in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere?
I get this question a lot from our North American readers.  All toilets in Australia and New Zealand flush down, just like at home.  Thank goodness.  What a strange thing to ask.

How do you carry/afford everything you need?
Step 1 is to redefine what you NEED.  We all want a lot, but what do we really need for a trip like this?  One NEEDS three days worth of clothes (some for warm weather, layers for colder days, a jacket for the wind and rain), some toiletries, our tablets, computers, and chargers, sunglasses, and a cheery disposition.  The more you have the more you need to carry.  We’ve sent home three huge boxes of stuff as we better understand our needs vs. wants.  We’ve also acquired a few things along the way (details in a later post).
Step 2 is to make due with what we have.  Some simple examples are:

  • I coat my beard in olive oil before shaving (We almost always have oil on hand for cooking).  Add some warm water and free hair conditioner and the blade slides better than with most shaving creams.  And I smell like a wonderful salad.
  • We bought a small, rechargeable electric clippers instead of paying for haircuts (for L and me, anyway).  I figured we saved well over $100 by cutting our own hair. Somehow we didn’t get offered any modeling contracts, however.
  • Refill travel-size containers when possible (shampoo, conditioner, laundry soap, dish soap, etc.)
  • Just say “No” when the kids (or spouse) ask for things or if you want things.  If everybody gets used to hearing “No”, it makes actually dusting off the wallet and buying something just that much more exciting.  Except beer, cider, and wine.  Don’t say no to those…it’s bad form.

Where do you stay and how do you figure out good places?
We’ve stayed almost exclusively in self-catering places. AirBnB and VRBO seem to be everywhere but each country also has their own local version (Sykes Cottages in the UK, Stayz in Australia, BookABach in New Zealand, etc.)  First, I filter everything so we’re only looking at places with an entire home, with two or more bedrooms, WiFi, a washer, a kitchen, no mice, only limited exposure to deadly snakes and insects, and at a good price. We look at location, accessibility via public transport, other reviews and, of course, the photos and then email a few places until we find the right match.

  • Use our link here to join AirBnB and we all get discounts: www.airbnb.co.nz/c/mdueber
  • Most AirBnB and VRBO places have good discounts if you stay for a week or more.  It might be worth booking 7 nights even if you’ll only stay for 6.  Play with your dates to figure it out.
  • Just ask.  In New Zealand, sometimes linens and towels aren’t included. Ask if roads are flooded or closed due to earthquakes (also New Zealand).  I also often mention the kids’ and their ages and sometimes the hosts have little gift packs.

Why in self-catering places and not hotels and motels?
There area few reasons, but mostly for comfort and to save money. The homes and apartments usually have 2 or 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, WiFi, and at least a clothes washer for the same price or less than a hotel or motel. Then we can buy groceries (we can live a long time on cereal, milk, yogurt, PB & J, apples, cheese, bread, COFFEE, and some sort of fish/meat). And grocery shopping is a GREAT way to compare and contrast different  places and cultures – bring the kids, it’ll take MUCH longer.  With multiple bedrooms, we also don’t all have to sleep in the same room and listen to each other snore. As a bonus, the people that rent out their apartments or homes are typically very nice and usually really interested in helping us figure out the best things to see and do. I think you have to be of that sort of personality to allow some strangers to stay in a property you own.

  • Lots of places have the “side” groceries already provided.  This includes stuff like olive oil, ketchup, salt and pepper, scrubby pads, soaps, etc.  Check before you go shopping.
  • I heard from a friend that one can often extend a stay for a couple days at a self-catering place MUCH cheaper by offering cash than by going through the fee-laden websites.  Remember, a friend told me this.  Cash is king almost everywhere.

How do you communicate wherever you are and with home so well?
We’ve used both Google Hangouts and Facebook to do free video chats with our parents.  I’ve used my Google Voice number to send/receive texts so I can stay in touch with just about everybody, for free.  I’ve also used Google Voice to call credit card companies and banks and stuff when necessary…also for free.  And I’ve had a few Skype calls for interviews and such.

For local communication I’ve gotten cheap SIM card with unlimited SMS texts in each country.  That allows Jody and me to stay in touch when we do separate activities (like if I want to go watch rugby at a pub while she and kids go craft) AND it allows me to easily communicate with the locals for lodging, rental cars, etc.  We both have unlocked phones and it costs less than $25/month total for both of us to stay connected.

  • Don’t pay extra to get a lot of data.  We just rely on WiFi and keep a bit of data on hand in case we need a quick Google Maps update somewhere.  And do you really NEED to know immediately that the same actress from “The Ten Commandments” also played Lily Munster?
  • If the WiFi someplace isn’t working well, just power down the router for a few seconds and fire it back up.  I’ve done it every place we’ve been and the simple recycle has solved 99% of our issues, so far.

Other thoughts and tips

  • Cook bacon on the BBQ grill whenever possible.  It’s delicious and doesn’t make the stove all greasy.  And, it’s BACON!
  • Wash clothes daily if you can.  They will dry on your body if you NEED to wear them…clean and slightly damp is better than stinky.
  • Assume things won’t go perfectly.  I still get a bit frustrated once in a while but, overall, we’re getting more and more comfortable with ambiguity.
  • Finally, here is a Southern Hemisphere water direction analysis link from Scientific American.

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2 Replies to “We Get Mail – Mailbag!

  1. Awesome insights! I’m picturing a garage sale upon your return. Everything but the coffee mugs and olive oil…

    1. We’ll need to keep some clothes too. If you haven’t noticed, our fashion sense might be called “identical” or at least “repeated”.

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