The Brecon Beacons

A few weekends ago we went to the Brecon Beacons with Millie & Jo of Millie Benbow Photography for our engagement shoot.

IMG_3508

I had decided fairly early on that I did wanted to have one, partly because I knew it would help Karl and I feel more comfortable in front of the camera on the day itself, and partly because I was really keen to get some photographs of us ‘as we are’ most of the time. I was so pleased when during our first Skype call, Millie & Jo said that they would love to do a ‘wild’ shoot somewhere, as I felt it would suit us so well. It didn’t take us long to decide on the Brecon Beacons. We are probably both at our happiest in the wilderness, with mountains and rivers framing the horizon. It also, of course, meant that Martha could come along too.

Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-5

We stayed at the Felin Fach Griffin, which was really lovely and the perfect location. We shared a wonderful supper with Millie & Jo on the Saturday evening, before getting an early night for our planned 4.30am start! We wanted to catch the early morning light and mist in the valley, and we were certainly rewarded for our eagerness. The weather perfect for the whole day; atmospheric in the morning and filled with soft afternoon sunlight as the day went on.

The day was so wonderful, filled with such genuine laughter and conversation, that I almost forgot sometimes that they were stealing shots of us as we ambled along. They showed us a few previews on the back of their camera screen throughout the day, so I already knew they had done well, but I still didn’t realise quite how fantastic they were.

Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-104

We are now in possession of the full set, and I am thrilled. Looking through them, a quote came into my mind which I heard a few years ago:

“We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.” – Katie Thurmes

Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-327This seems relevant already, as the photographs brought each feeling of the day back to me in vivid detail. But I’m sure it will be a photo set that we look back on for years from now, and those feelings will be all the more pronounced as time passes, and the nostalgia builds.

It was so hard to narrow them down, so here are quite a few…

IMG_3524Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-24IMG_3559IMG_3532 FullSizeRender 18.jpg
IMG_3535IMG_3529IMG_3476IMG_3494IMG_3541IMG_3525IMG_3485IMG_3552IMG_3536IMG_3519IMG_3544Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-15Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-90IMG_3499Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-102Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-108Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-132Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-167Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-111Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-179Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-195Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-180Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-225Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-247Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-270Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-300Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-282Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-306Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-299Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-296Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-284Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-270Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-5Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-13Brecon-Beacons-sunrise-couple-shoot-330

Watergate Bay Hotel

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetSomehow, in the blink of an eye, it has been six months since Karl proposed. A lot has happened since then. We welcomed Martha, a springer spaniel cross whippet, from an accidental litter nearby (we call her our ‘sprippet’!) into our little family. We’ve more or less planned the wedding – which is going ahead this July. And Wildflower Illustration Co. has been keeping us busier and busier by the week.

So, when planning another short break, our criteria was:

  • puppy/dog friendly
  • relaxing
  • not too far away

It didn’t take us particularly long to decide upon returning to Watergate Bay Hotel. For new readers, we stayed at this hotel for the first time in March 2016 where I fell very in love with it. Karl then booked it secretly for the evening after he had proposed, and both times it felt like we weren’t there long enough. So this time, we decided to stay for a  ‘Taste of the Bay’ – a three night/four day package with three meals at the onsite restaurants included.

There really is something special about this hotel, that leaves you day-dreaming about it long after you’ve left. Perhaps it’s the fact that the crashing waves and ever-changing sky are almost always in view, whether it’s from the dreamily decorated bedrooms, the glass-walled indoor swimming pool or the impeccably decorated ‘living space’. Or maybe it’s the reliability, the comfort that can be found in returning somwhere you have been, and loved before. The knowledge that the food will be delicious, your sleeps will be deep and you’ll leave with lightly freckled skin and salty hair.

For this magical slice of the world, I think photographs speak louder than words, so here are our little moments:

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
The best thing about the hotel: totally & utterly dog friendly!
B09D7624-7DA1-4E3A-A126-0E7AF450BB23
A sunny Saturday!
00975085-F3E2-42FE-AC1D-589F1CAD1B82
Breakfast @ Zacrys

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A ‘#nowherebuteverywhere’ photo at sunset.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Burrata, pickled rhubarb & pistachio – one of the courses at the tasting menu at Jamie’s Fifteen.
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Amedei chocolate torte & yoghurt gelato – Dolci @ Jamie’s Fifteen
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Nachos of dreams for lunch at the Beach Hut

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
The view from the Ocean Room (1)
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
The view from the Ocean room (2)

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset
Jamie’s Fifteen

Processed with VSCO with m6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Sunsets at the bay

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Lines of starters ready to go at Jamie’s Fifteen
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Oysters being prepared in Jamie’s Fifteen
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Desserts – Jamie’s Fifteen
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Martha the sprippet in her new seasalt bandana.

 

 

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Waffles, everyday.
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
The waffle bar!
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Dinner @ Zacrys
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Dinner at Zacrys – Red Onion Pakora, vegetable methi and red lentil dahl.
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Breakfast with a view
Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset
Cheesecake for dessert at Zacrys

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

 

*Disclosure* I worked in collaboration with Watergate Bay to bring you this blog post, but this is an entirely honest write up, and all opinions are my own! I fell in love with this hotel long before deciding to work with them, and as always, I only collaborate with businesses/brands/companies if I would have shared them with you regardless.

Cornwall 

Last week, Karl & I went to Cornwall. I was expecting a lovely, relaxed week of windy beaches and salty coastal walks. I was looking forward to organising some of our travelling photos, reminiscing and reading lots of books.

In the spirit of this, Karl suggested that we should watch the sunrise one morning, to remind us of all our adventures in our year away that began in the same way.

Whilst we were away, our best adventures always seemed to begin with the sunrise. We saw the sun rise above beaches in Vietnam, the temples in Angkor Wat, the mountains of New Zealand. On the flooded salt flats of Bolivia we watched the sky turn from inky black and flecked with stars to pinks and purples and reds as the sun rose into the sky, reflected on the ground below us. We saw it rise before descending on a hike deep into the Grand Canyon. Every morning in Patagonia we woke before the sun and set out on our way as it cast a flood of red through the mountains.

So, Karl persuaded me out of bed early on Thursday morning, and drove me to a coastal path. The twilight sky was completely clear and we could tell that it was going to be a beautiful day. We walked along the path until we found a spot looking out over the sea to the lightest point in the sky.

Karl had brought a picnic blanket in his backpack, so we laid it out and he said he was going to set the camera up on the tripod and the timer to get a photograph of us looking out at the view, just like the ones we have from our travels. I had no idea that he had set the camera to record, but I’m so glad he managed to capture the incredible moments that followed. Karl got down on one knee, and asked me to join him on the greatest adventure of all.

I of course said yes, and we enjoyed a beautiful and blissful rest of the week. Here are some moments from the week.

Adventures include: The Eden Project, St. Ives, Watergate Bay & Gorran Haven. 

One Year of Travel – How We Did it

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a very long time, but perhaps it’s good that I’ve had nearly three months to reflect on it all. Three months to think about what we did right, and what we might have done differently; where we were right to plan or not to plan, to spend money or not to spend it. Because this will be long, I’ve split it into headings – so if only some of this interests you; hopefully you can skip to that point.

But before I go into the details; here’s the summary. If you’re thinking about taking some time out to do your own trip of a lifetime; I cannot emphasise more that this was the best decision of my life. Yes, it was a lot of money to spend in one year. Yes, it may mean you have to make some sacrifices. But for me, it changed my life in ways that I never anticipated. I hoped it would open my eyes to the world, that I would see some beautiful things and take lots of beautiful photographs. But it did so much more.

It taught me to make the most of every hour on this planet, that there’s beauty out of every window if you look hard enough. That the sun doesn’t have to be shining for it to be a perfect day. It gave me the skills to keep calm in stressful situations, to treat every person with respect and never to make assumptions. It gave me a thirst for knowledge; to find out about new cultures, learn new languages, the stories of others and the history of our world. It gave me a new appreciation for nature; it’s overwhelming strength and beauty. It taught me that a smile breaks every language barrier.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Angkor Wat, Cambodia,

And yes, I know that you can read all those things; and you can learn those lessons in different ways. But when you travel and experience them for yourself if genuinely changes the very colours of your experience. We are in an incredibly fortunate position, to live in the west where two or three years worth of savings is enough to fund a round the world trip. But we didn’t win the lottery or a holiday of a lifetime competition. We earned everything ourselves. And I believe that the kind of trip we did is much more accessible than people might expect. We dreamed, and we believed that we could do it, and we did. And here’s how…

The Dream

Karl and I met whilst we were both at university. We had both considered travelling in our gap years, but neither of us had ended up following through. I decided to go straight to university, promising myself a gap year when I finished. So, travelling together was a dream from the early days – we would often talk of the countries we wanted to visit, daydream together of beaches and mountains. We graduated at the same time and I decided to do two years of postgraduate study. We were able to move back into my parents house so I could commute to university, and Karl got a teaching job nearby. I was lucky enough to have my illustration business so I could earn money at the same time as studying, and staying with my parents saved money on rent. We realised that saving a sum of money big enough for some travelling was going to be possible, and we started to draw up a plan. Karl was the real dreamer; he said right from the beginning that it had to be a whole year and it had to be right around the world. I have to admit that for a while, I thought that it wouldn’t really be possible.

New Zealand, near Fox Glacier

The Plan

Neither of us are big planners. I like to know the vague idea of something, but I dislike finalising every detail, which is lucky, as that would be almost impossible for a year. It wasn’t until the April before we left that we finalised the route, and decided on all the countries we would visit. We even added countries on during the trip as we went, such as Nicaragua. And during the trip we planned the locations, the places to stay, the transport – usually not more than a few days or weeks in advance, if that. And for a trip that long, I’m convinced it was the best way.

We decided on the regions together, over time. We both wanted to (and still want to) visit India and Africa at some point, but we decided fairly early on that we would skip these from the ‘round the world’ trip and dedicate separate trips to each at some other time. The route we really wanted was Australia > NZ > South America > North America > Home, but from web searches it seemed to us that this might not be possible on a standard ‘round the world’ flight. So one day we booked an appointment with Trailfinders, and had a game changing conversation with ‘Tom’ – (Thanks Tom!). Tom was honestly amazing. He had done lots of travelling himself, and he spent hours with us giving his honest opinion on where we might enjoy or not enjoy so much, what would be possible on our budget, and how the round the world ticket works. Basically, you can choose a skeleton route from one of the standard ones, such as you might find here, but beyond that you can add on as many or as little flights as you want. There’s an airline group called One World Alliance, and as long as you choose an flights with them then it will be much cheaper if you’re going ‘the right way around the world’ than booking the tickets individually. So we decided on a route, went away for a few weeks and worked out the finances, then returned to Tom and spent more money in one go than either of us every had. But from then it was real; we were really going, and the countdown began.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Although trailfinders were absolutely great and I would completely recommend them for flights, we personally weren’t interested (/couldn’t afford) any of their or STA’s tours within the countries themselves. We didn’t take a ‘tour’ of any country. Of course it depends on your circumstances; for lone travellers or people who don’t want to have any stress of worry of planning, tour agencies can be fantastic in helping you see a part of the world. But we wanted a raw travel experience where we learnt lessons and made mistakes and stumbled across places which weren’t on a tour itinerary. And for us, that was the right way to do it. Often we would take ‘tours’ once we had got to a place ourselves – especially in South and Central America where this is often your only option to see certain locations – such as parts of the desert or waterfalls. This is what I would recommend to most people doing a trip similar to ours; make your way between the places you want to go yourself and take smaller day tours when you get there if you have to; you’ll save money and give yourself the flexibility of stopping somewhere a bit longer if you like it.

How did I plan the details of each place? Pinterest. Yes – in a word – I used Pinterest to plan pretty much my entire trip. I’d start with a country – for example – type in Bolivia to Pinterest. Straight away you’ll see the Salar de Uyuni, Laguna Colorada, La Paz, and Sucre. You’ll also find lots of useful infomercials like this one. You can click through links to find out more- like ’11 unmissable attractions in Bolivia’ or read other’s blog posts about their favourite places and tips for travel in that region. I honestly think it’s better than any guide book, and it’s constantly updated and crowd sourced.

Other than that – my biggest tip for planning within a country is to talk to people. Talk to locals, other tourists, your guest house owner, the waitress in a restaurant. You’ll get honest opinions from people who aren’t trying to get money from you and you’ll make sure you never miss anything accidentally.

The Route

Koh Lanta, Thailand

‘Round The World’ Ticket Flights: (‘…’ means we travelled overland and then got the next flight from the following place)

London, England > Bangkok, Thailand > Sydney, Australia…Brisbane, Australia > Auckland, New Zealand…Christchurch, New Zealand > Auckland, New Zealand > Santiago, Chile… Quito, Ecuador > Panama City, Panama > Miami, USA > Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands > Miami, USA… New York, USA > London, England.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Actual Route ( ‘>’ means flight, ‘…’ means overland)

England > Thailand > Koh Lanta (Thai Island) > Northern Thailand … Laos… Cambodia… Vietnam > Thailand > Australia > New Zealand > Chile … Bolivia … Peru … Ecuador > Galapagos > Ecuador > Panama … Costa Rica … Nicaragua … Costa Rica… Panama > Miami > Cayman > Miami … Tampa … Orlando … New Orleans … Smoky Mountains National Park… Nashville … New Orleans > Denver… Rocky Mountains NP… Arches NP… Canyonlands NP… Bryce NP… Grand Canyon NP … Zion NP … Joshua Tree NP… San Diego… LA… Sequoia & Kings Canyon NP… Big Sur… San Francisco … Yosemite NP … Napa Valley … Seattle… Mount Rainier NP… Glacier NP… Grand Teton NP … Yellowstone NP… Denver > New Jersey … New York > England.

South East Asia wasn’t on our original list, but since we needed a layover between London and Sydney, Tom helpfully pointed out that we might as well spend some time wherever that would be. And of course I knew that Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were beautiful and interesting countries so it didn’t take much persuasion. We decided on six weeks there, and to travel mainly overland (we did take a couple of smaller flights but we booked these days before, and this flexibility was really useful). So we flew into Bangkok, and out of Bangkok six weeks later, but in the meantime we travelled overland through Northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and into Vietnam. This was the region in which we were probably most rushed, but it worked for us, and it was just about enough time. Of course we could have spent so much longer in almost every country, but we actually surprised ourselves about how much you can fit in once you get used to the pace of travelling. If anyone is thinking of a similar trip; it’s definitely possible.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Pai, Northern Thailand
Four Thousand Islands, Laos

Next was Sydney. I had always been tempted by Australia but slightly apprehensive because of its reputation of ‘things that can kill you’. To anyone holding back to the same reason – seriously, don’t. It’s an incredible country and we saw less spiders and snakes there than in Central America. When you do see them, it’s really not as scary as I expected; most of the time they’re pretty scared of you too, or just generally don’t really care too much about your existence. Of course you have to be careful, but the reality is unless you’re going into the outback on your own, the chances of being bitten/stung by anything are very very slim.

With Australia’s vastness, we were torn between trying to cover a lot of the country in less detail, or try and really get to know a region. We decided on the latter, and did the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane. So we flew into Sydney, hired a car, and flew out of Brisbane four weeks later. The main places we stopped other than the cities of Sydney & Brisbane were the Blue Mountains, Port Stephens, Dorrigo, Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay and Noosa. We had a wonderful, relaxed time. It was expensive, especially compared to South East Asia but we lived simply and quietly- we camped in our tent, cooked most of our own food and spent the majority of our time on the beach, in the rainforest or or amongst the mountains. It was a blissful contrast to the rush and excitement of Asia, but completely incomparable.

Sydney, Australia
Byron Bay, Australia

From Brisbane we flew to Auckland in New Zealand. We had read that it’s very easy to buy a car in New Zealand, and so this is what we did. Since we were there for six weeks we figured if it paid off we could save a lot of money on car hire. And the gamble paid off; we sold the car for about the same as we paid (this was helped by the fact we bought in the North Island and sold in the South, where cars are harder to come by). We were lucky enough to have some friends to put us up in Auckland, so we stayed for a few days looking at cars (mainly on a website called trademe.nz – their gumtree type equvialent). Once we found one that suited us – a well looked after 2000 Subaru Legacy Lancaster. We ended up being able to sleep in the back of it which was a lifesaver with the less-than consistent New Zealand weather and the fact that we were still camping everywhere. We left about 3 days in Christchurch at the other end to sell it, (which was cutting it fine, but we were lucky). If you were going for less than 6 weeks, it might not have been worth it, but for us it worked perfectly and it’s certainly doable. Make sure you factor in the expense of having to take a car on the ferry between the islands whether you’re buying or hiring (I don’t think this goes for much less than $300 NZ). If hiring, it might be worth doing two separate rentals and being a foot passenger.

New Zealand

We flew back from Christchurch to Auckland for our flight from Auckland to Santiago, Chile. This was the craziest flight of all. We left at half past four in the afternoon on a Wednesday, and arrived in Chile 9 hours later at half past one on the same afternoon. It knocked us out for about a day, but Santiago was so exciting that we weren’t going to spend too long sleeping. After a calmer few months, we were completely ready for a foreign environment again; new culture, new language, and new landscapes.

When people ask me my ‘favourite place’ – I used to resist because everywhere was so different and it’s sort of an impossible question, but the question became so common that I just started saying ‘South America’. But I think on reflection there is truth in it. If I had to pick one region to go back to – it would probably win – if nothing else purely for its variety. Chile alone has the harsh glacial landscapes of Patagonia in the South and the extraordinary Atacama Desert in the North. But then there’s the incredible Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia; ‘the world’s largest mirror’ in rainy season. The beautiful colonial architecture in the cities of Santiago, Sucre, and Quito. The breathtaking inca ruins scattered across Peru. The high altitude scenery and mountains found everywhere. Not to mention the Galapagos- a secluded sanctuary in the pacific; a volcanic wonderland for wildlife where you can catch a glimpse of a world without humans.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Machu Picchu, Peru
Inca Ruins, Peru

We did the whole region overland, with the exception of a return flight to the Galapagos. The buses in South America are on the whole, surprisingly fantastic. Especially in Chile and Peru, they are basically aeroplane standard; the overnight ones often complete with hot meals and personal video screens (with options in english). Often for $20 or less.

The one catch for South America; you won’t get very far without Spanish. Unlike South East Asia, very few people speak English and they generally expect you to speak at least some Spanish. We learnt the bare minimum before we got there but ended up having a week of lessons in Bolivia, which was invaluable. We had private lessons with a wonderful teacher and a week was enough to get us to a basic conversational standard, and definitely enough to get by; book tickets, order food, chat to hostel/guest-house owners. If you’re there for long, take the time to do this or get lessons before you go, it will be completely worth it. We were in South America for two months.

The view from our Spanish School window in Sucre, Bolivia

We flew between Ecuador to Panama, and then did an overland loop all the way up the Carribean coast of Panama and Costa Rica into Nicaragua and then back down Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. We took this part of the world a little slower – we did a workaway in Bocas del Toro, some islands off the Carribean coast of Panama. Workaway is a fantastic way to see parts of the world even if you don’t have much of a budget; it’s a website that lists places which will give you accommodation and sometimes food in exchange for a number of hours work a day. Often they are hotels, hostels or guesthouses, but it can be anything from to building to childcare. We found a wonderful guesthouse on the cusp of the jungle and the Carribbean sea. We spent a blissful two weeks there, painting cabins and helping with her eco projects in the grounds. This part of the trip was two months also.

Then we flew from Panama to Miami, and onto the Cayman Islands to visit my aunt, who lives there. This was an incredible part of the trip, but I’m planning to write a more detailed blog post all about it, so I won’t go into it too much now. In short, they are a beautiful set of three Caribbean Islands not far from Cuba, with gorgeous white sands, clear warm oceans filled with coral and tropical fish. It’s nothing short of paradise, really.

Our last section of the year was a road trip across USA. We deliberated for a long time over how to do this, especially as our budget was coming to an end and we knew we’d have to be careful. We had initially wanted to buy a car since we were there for two months, but it’s much harder to do in the USA than in New Zealand. Hiring a car isn’t too expensive but unless you’re starting and finishing in the same state, you’ll be hit with huge drop off fees. We were starting in Miami and finishing New York, but we wanted to go via California! So the drop off fee for doing this would have been upwards of $500, not to mention the fact that it would be an extraordinary amount of miles to cover on the ground. So we compromised. We drove from Miami to New Orleans, flew between New Orleans and Denver, Colorado. And then hired a car for 6 weeks there to do a huge loop through Utah to California, up the Californian coast, up through Oregon into Washington State, across to Montana and down through Wyoming back to Denver. This meant we could keep the same car the whole way, get the road trip feel, hit almost everywhere we wanted to go and still avoid the drop off charge. I think our rate was usually around $20 a day. Finally we flew from Denver to New York, stayed with friends in New Jersey for a week and did day trips into New York (about 40 minutes on the train). This was a great way to do the city on the extremely low budget we had by this point!

Grand Teton National Park
Glacier National Park, USA

We always used the car hire company Alamo because we found them to be friendly and reliable, and it meant that sometimes even when we ‘swapped rental cars’- they would let us keep them same car. We avoided drop off fees when we had to drive between states by booking through Hotwire, which do across-state higher daily rates rather than a lump sum drop off fee. I was really pleasantly surprised with how well it all worked, and I can really recommend Alamo. They even upgraded us on our six-week car because we were patient with them when their machines were down. This was a huge help for our comfort on the long drives!

So that’s the route. We booked all the main flights in the April before, which fixed how long we would have in each region – six weeks in SE Asia, 4 weeks in Australia, 6 weeks in New Zealand, 2 months in South America, 2 months in North America, 2 weeks in Cayman, 2 months in USA.
We did have some flexibility to change this if we wanted, but we found it was quite nice to have some deadlines in place and this kept us moving on, and we didn’t end up changing any flights. I think with our lucky guesses we actually apportioned our time very well between the regions!

The Budget

I know this is the section which everyone has been asking me most about. The important thing to remember here is everyone is different and everyone will travel differently. Just because we were able to do the trip with a certain amount of money doesn’t mean that everyone could, and I wouldn’t want people to plan a trip and not be able to finish it because they based everything on my budgeting.

We drank very little alcohol throughout the trip. We didn’t eat out that much and we lived simply. Throughout Australia, New Zealand and the USA we camped almost every night- we bought a very good lightweight tent before we left and took sleeping bags and camping mats. We cooked either on camping stoves or in camp kitchens. In SE Asia and South and Central America, we almost always chose the cheapest ‘reasonable’ accommodation we could find. We didn’t stay in the worst places, and often by staying in small guest-houses rather than hostels we were able to get nice simple double rooms for the same price as a bed in a grotty hostel. This also had the benefit that we met locals who always wanted to make sure we experienced the best that the place had to offer, often with ‘local’ rather than tourist prices. But we were not luxury travellers, and we always had the budget in the back of our minds. Even in ‘cheap’ countries we made sure we were keeping an eye on spending, which is really important as it does all add up. 

The way in which I planned the budget turned out to be surprisingly accurate. I used the travel guides on bootsnall.com, which gives you a recommended, crowd-sourced budget for every day in the country. For example, in Chile, the recommended daily budget was $44. For two of us, this leaves us with $88 a day or around £57 – which was just about accurate for us this region. In Laos, the recommended daily budget was $31 a day – or £40 for both of us. This was also accurate, if not a bit generous. So before I left I worked out, according to this website, how much we would need for each country excluding plane travel. We used this as our savings goal.

Once we were away, I then allocated this amount per day, and we tried to stick to it. Obviously we adjusted the budget once we got to the end of each region and we were able to reflect on how much we had actually spent. At the end of South East Asia I remember we had spent less than we thought we would so we were able to be a little more relaxed in Australia. I’m actually really surprised at how well this worked. Of course I’m sure it varied and it won’t have been accurate for every day or every place, but in the whole balance of things I would quite confidently say that it’s a very good guide for planning your budget. In the end, by the time we left we had saved a little more than the strict guide to be safe, and our daily budget (excluding the RTW flights) for every day of the trip, for both of us was £70. Obviously in some countries we wouldn’t spend close to this, and in others we’d spend more. This amount got us to the end without having to borrow any money (although we were penniless when we returned!)

This allocated budget covered all the overground travel and a few smaller flights too, as well as food, accommodation and souvenirs. We didn’t feel hard done by, we never starved and we often managed to eat good, healthy food. We were able to do almost any tour we wanted in SE Asia, South & Central America, but obviously we had to be selective in Aus, NZ & USA, often opting for national parks and outdoor activities that we could enjoy by ourselves for free. Remember also that travelling with two of you will always be cheaper; you can share food and rooms. We also often met small groups of other travellers which cuts cost too; you can bargain for accommodation and sometimes even tours if you’re in a larger group.

Costa Rica

The daily budget on bootsnall excludes plane travel, so make sure you factor that in too. Our round the world tickets were around £3,500 each, but this included going to Cayman and doing a very tailored route. I know you can get much cheaper ones if you’re willing to do a standard route. But generally, round the world tickets are incredibly good value when you compare them with the cost of individual tickets (Karl added this up before we left and ours should have come to around £20,000!)

The only time we threw the budget out the window entirely was in the Galapagos. We were deliberately very careful with money in the latter part of South America to enable us to ‘bank’ some of the budget – and then we spent it all – in a week! But I wouldn’t ever change this. We’d been told that the only way to do the Galapagos was by boat – this is the only way you can reach the uninhabited islands. So we found a last minute cruise and decided to go for it even thought it was more than we’d spent in the last month- and it was worth every penny! We had a fantastic naturalist guide, we saw the most stunning, untouched scenery and we swam and snorkelled with sea lion pups, galapagos penguins, giant sea turtles, eagle rays and white-tip sharks. It was one of the best weeks of the whole trip.

Giant Sea Turtle, Galapagos
Young seal pup in the Galapagos

In terms of saving; as I’ve already mentioned, we were lucky to be able to stay with my parents whilst I studied and we saved. This did make a big difference, but if this isn’t an option for you then there are still other ways you travel. Maybe you could look into a house share, or get an extra job at the weekend. Or maybe you can see if you’ve got a hobby or a skill that you could make some money from – making cakes or cards or giving music lessons. The other option for travel is to go somewhere to work- if you don’t think you can save a lump sum big enough to support continuous travel, look into websites like workaway which allow you to work for board. For example, in Costa Rica at the Yoga Farm we stayed at, you can volunteer for months at a time in a beautiful jungle surrounded by wonderful people, working on the farm for as little £350 per month. And you get yoga lessons included.

Punta Banco, Costa Rica

I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible with this part of the guide as I know costs were one of my main concerns before I left and throughout the planning. As I said before, please use this as a guide and not a definitive analysis of what you will need on your trip. And feel free to ask questions in the comments if I’ve skipped anything you’d like to know.


The Kit

Yosemite, California

Briefly, here’s what we took in two 60 litre backpacks:

Together:

  • 1 x 2 man tent (We got the Xephyros 2 XL Lite Wild Country Terra Nova 2 man tent – we spent around £200 on this but it literally sheltered us all around the world and it only weighed around 2kg)
  • 1 x box mosquito net (essential for SE Asia)
  • 1 spray bottle of mosquito repellent (we replenished this as we went)
  • 1 x First Aid Kit – with added dioralyte rehydration sachets and blister plasters
  • 2 x Sleeping bags
  • 2 x Camping Mats (self inflating roll up ones)
  • 2 x RAB down jackets (lightweight, small jackets that pack away)
  • 2 x RAB waterproof jackets
  • 2 x Walking Boots
  • 2 x Hamamas Turkish towels (lightweight, great as a beach towel but big enough for showers in hostels)
  • 2 x ‘wakawaka’ solar energy packs – great for camping, a day’s sunlight was enough to charge an Iphone – charges anything via USB.
  • Dr Bronner’s ‘everything’ wash – you can use this for dishes, clothes, you – your hair, literally everything. Often available in health food stores or sometimes (randomly) American Apparel
  • 1 x GoPro
  • 1 x Canon DSLR
  • 1 x tiny gas cooker
  • 2 masks & snorkels
  • 2 x toothbrushes

Rebecca’s bag:

  • 1 x pair mosquito repellent walking trousers – (okay, these didn’t look cool but believe me it was amazing to be able to pull on some trousers and know my legs were immediately protected)
  • 1 x mosquito repellent white shirt – also 50 SPF so great for hot countries
  • 3 x eagle creek packing cubes – invaluable for keeping your bag organised!!
  • 1 x cap
  • 2 x yoga leggings
  • 3 x t-shirts
  • 1 x denim shorts
  • 1 x workout shorts
  • 1 vest
  • 3 x sports bras, 1 x ‘normal’ bra
  • 5 x sweaty betty ‘no show’ sports pants – these were amazing; quick drying and sweat wicking, absolutely perfect for travel
  • 2 x normal socks
  • 2 x hiking socks
  • 1 x lightweight jumper
  • 2 bikinis (I bought a few more along the way..)
  • minimal make up
  • haviana flip-flops
  • hiking sandals
  • 1 x pair nike trainers
  • I bought all other products – e.g. moisturiser, shampoo & conditioner, when I got to each region and tried not to take these on flights.

Karl’s bag:

  • 1 x pair of hiking trousers
  • 1 x mosquito repellent shirt
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 vest
  • 4 x under-armour boxers – quick drying, sweat wicking etc.
  • 1 x nike trainers
  • pair board shorts
  • 1 haviana flip flops
  • 2 x socks
  • 2 x hiking socks
  • 1 x fleece

Picked up along the way:

  • 2 x magic carpet yoga mats (we were doing a lot of yoga)
  • a few more bikinis
  • a few more tops as we went – often threw away worn ones to replace with new
  • classic thailand traveller trousers
  • lots of souvenirs
  • camp cutlery, bowls, saucepans etc
  • hiking poles
  • jeans for new zealand and south america- cut down to shorts for central america

What would we do differently?

Well, really – probably nothing: we had the time of our lives and the things that went wrong were just part of the fun and the stories to look back on. I guess our ‘hardest’ part was the USA – this was where we had the most struggle with money. This was because we had hoped it would be like Australia & New Zealand, where a $20 USD campsite had amazing fully equipped kitchens with fridges and ovens and great shower facilities. We later learned that we had in fact been entirely spoilt here – this is not the norm for USA. The USA’s travel/camp network is designed for people in RVs, whereas the Aus & NZ camping network is designed for people in tents of very small simple campers. So in the US you can pay $30 USD for a campsite and still get only basic shower facilities and definitely no kitchen. This often meant that we weren’t really happy to pay this – so we mainly camped in National Park or State park campsites – (usually around $5-$10). Yes they often had minimal facilities but at least they were in beautiful surroundings! In cities, we often used Hotwire to get cheap motel deals. We also used Air B&B a bit, and we are lucky enough to have a lot of tolerant friends across the US who very kindly put us up. (In fact we met most of these friends whilst travelling in South & Central America!) But on the whole, this was the most expensive place to be and eating well for less was difficult (especially as vegetarians). I think if we did this part again I would want to have more money – but we did make it work!

Joshua Tree National Park, USA

Some Final Tips

  • if you’re on a budget – make sure you save on things you need to (food, accommodation, drinking, nights out etc) – but don’t hold back on the things that you’ll remember. Even though certain tours or sights might seem expensive at the time – if it’s something you can only do there – do it. You’ve gone that far and it would be a shame to miss out on it now.
  • we would often treat ourselves to a nice place every once in a while – we preferred staying in ‘mediocre’ places for two weeks and then one ‘lovely’ place rather than staying in ‘good’ places all the time. This will just be up to you – you’ll work out soon enough the places you’re willing to scrape and the places you don’t mind spending
  • Choose your travel companions very carefully! You will not believe how close you will become with this person – you’ll have to share everything and you’ll see them at their absolute worst. If someone sometimes grates on you in school/uni/the office – you can absolutely guarantee they’ll grate on you in the jungle. But at the same time – don’t overthink it too much; if you’re not quite sure maybe leave it open to being able to go your own way at some point – e.g. only book the flights. You’ll meet hundreds of amazing people when you travel- if you want to split off with your own group then so be it.
  • If like me you’re travelling with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife – don’t worry! You’ll have an amazing time together and you’ll create memories you’ll never forget. Yes, you’ll fight, but you’ll make up too, and you’ll come out stronger at the other end.
  • Always ask for discounts – even in places where you might not expect it. Generally people don’t mind at all and it all adds up. In countries like SE Asia, don’t be shy to haggle, they expect it. But depending on the country – respect the customs and don’t push it too far if you can sense that they feel uncomfortable.
  • Get travel insurance, get travel injections, and take malaria tablets if you’ll need them (you can find an NHS malaria map here. Yes, these things are expensive but your health isn’t worth gambling with. If you can’t afford these things, don’t take the trip yet.
  • Take a good camera and back them up to a good photo storage website as you go. I used Flickr which has a free terabyte of storage per user. Take photos of even things that aren’t beautiful- they’ll become part of the experience and you’ll appreciate the memories later.
  • Keep a diary of some sort, whether it’s online or a few doodles every now and then in a notepad.
  • Spend a few hours every week in a coffee shop – back up your photos, keep in touch with friends and family – and give yourself some downtime. On a long trip you cannot be exploring every second of the day – allow yourself to relax and reflect.
  • Pack less than you think you need. You can always buy things if you decide you need something you didn’t bring; it’s much harder to get rid of things on the road. We were able to wash clothes much more frequently that expected – there are great, cheap launderettes all over SE Asia and South and Central America. In Australia, NZ & USA we just used coin laundries.
  • Be open and honest with your travel companions about what you want to do. You’ll regret it later if you feel you were forced into something you didn’t want to do/couldn’t afford, and equally if you miss something you were desperate to do. Be flexible with each other and discuss any problems openly.
  • Cherish every moment and be brave when you have to be. You honestly will regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.

    Rotorua, New Zealand

I hope this has been useful for you. If you’re thinking about your own round the world trip, please drop me a comment and let me know if you have any further questions. I love the idea of inspiring other people to have their own adventures! 

New Orleans, USA

“Because in the end you won’t remember the time you spent working in an office or mowing your lawn – climb that goddamn mountain” – Jack Kerouac

Oregon, USA

{all opinions are my own and I have not been sponsored by any of the companies mentioned}

The Yoga Farm

We reached the yoga farm after a long day of sticky buses and our bags digging into our shoulders. Clutching a scrap paper of scribbled instructions from the website, we struggled up a steep dusty hill with the setting sun behind us still propelling it’s heat deep into our bodies. 

   

And whilst this goes some way to explaining the relief I felt when we heard the laughter and chatter floating through the jungle and smelt the food carried on the breeze from the kitchen, I think we already knew that we had found somewhere special. 

The yoga farm is such a magical place that a part of me doesn’t want to even attempt to put the experience into words. We were there just a week, and yet in some ways I learned more about myself and the world than I have in our entire time travelling. But I want to remember it and I think it should be shared, so I’m going to try and do it justice. 

The Yoga Farm really goes back to basics. There’s no internet, and in the evenings everybody uses headlamps to find their way around the hallways and to the bathroom. The toilets are composting, there is no fridge or electricity in the kitchen. The food on the table is made by your friends, from the trees and soil beds around you. It’s all shared on big tables with gratitude and conversations. Your waking hours are governed by the sun.  

     

But this simplicity makes room for something so much more valuable. What you gain in place are lifelong treasures and memories. Intense connections, friendships, headspace and laughter. In the evenings, your entertainment is a friend with a ukelele and a beautiful voice and her own songs. The ocean becomes your playground and you bathe in the pools left by the sea as the moon draws out the tide. By breakfast time you’ve already processed the beautiful world around you, greeted your companions and grounded yourself in downward dog. And this leaves you ready for a day of exploring — whether real-life or through the mind of an author from the comfort of a hammock on the yoga deck.  

     

They say the people makes the place, and never before have I fully appreciated the wisdom of this phrase. The yoga farm seems to attract only the most wonderful people, handcrafted to make your stay a million times better, and a zillion times harder to leave. And whilst of course an interest in yoga is one thing that brought you all together, the common thread is so much more than that. Contrary to my apprehensions, not everyone was a kale-eating bendy straw. What everyone was, was kind-hearted, open-minded and talented in their own special way. Our movements united on the yoga mats and the positive, calm vibes cultivated in our practice could be physically felt in the thick humid air, but it wasn’t just the yoga that made it such a rich and valuable experience for me. It was the effortless feeling of belonging. The feeling of finding others with the same values and an atmosphere of sharing and pure enjoyment of one another’s company. And a new appreciation of the simple things in life; a reminder of how little is needed for deep and genuine happiness.  

     

In the hours of deep conversations that take place in the hammocks, you hear of other’s adventures, dreams and narratives, and somehow it makes your own come into focus. The sweat is no longer a nuisance but an unavoidable and constant bodily function that we accept. And the freckles forming on the faces around you becomes a physical reminder of the days that are slipping away. You pass time tasting new fruits and learning about the plants and how to make chocolate, right from the bean. And when you reach the ocean after hours of walking to a nearby town it rewards you in a way it never has before.  

       

Not everyone’s experience of the yoga farm will be the same. Some may be unable to sleep through the deep calls of the howler monkey which permeate the milky darkness, or the pops and shouts of the toads when the sheets of rain have brought them from the earth. There are bugs that bite and rumours of glimpsed snakes under the leaves and grasses. There are no washing machines or cold beers or swimming pools. But the food is hearty and healthy and delicious, and gives you the kind of energy which chemicals cannot. The yoga gives you strength and balance in more ways than just the physical. But mostly, in that special patch of jungle on the pacific coast, there will always people laughing, hugging, talking, planting, singing, baking. And for me, that was more than enough. 

 

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

                                        

Monteverde Rustic Lodge + How We Choose Where To Stay

  

Costa Rica is the twelfth country in our round the world trip. This means that we are extremely well acquainted with hotels, hostels and guesthouses. We have had some amazing ones, a lot of mediocre and a few which have brought me close to tears. We appreciate the simple things: cleanliness, genuine + friendly owners, mattresses which don’t sag in the middle and generally we prefer as few visitors as possible (huntsman spiders + cockroaches being our least favourite). And occasionally we appreciate a little luxury, such as in the 1888 hotel in Sydney, which was pure bliss. 

Travelling for such a long time, staying in a hotel every night is obviously out of the question on a backpackers budget. We have therefore found an ideal pattern of trying to mix it up- camping in countries where this is safe and possible (Australia, New Zealand, parts of Chile + hopefully the majority of the USA), staying mostly in guesthouses or private rooms & sometimes dorms in hostels in countries where this doesn’t make so much sense, (SE Asia, South + Central America), and then taking short stays in nice hotels every few weeks to refresh and revive. We find this works well for us because we don’t mind the cheaper options if we have somewhere nice to look forward to. Plus, nicer hotels are a great for catching up on emails, laundry and calling home.

When we look for the hotels/ b&bs to break it up, we look for these things – 

  • Locally/family owned businesses to help contribute to the community where we are staying. We also find they generally have a much nicer feel. 
  • Eco friendly
  • Reviews which detail friendly and helpful owners (unpleasant staff can literally ruin a stay for me- it creates a sour atmosphere which I find hard to shake)
  • Reviews detailing comfortable beds + good wifi  

 

    I absolutely swear by trip advisor / online reviews as my number 1 planning tool. It has literally never let me down. Whilst good for many things, our lonely planet on a shoe string guide has proved outdated too many times for us to pay much attention to their accommodation section. But nearly all of our hotel/hostel fails have been last minute decisions after turning up somewhere and making bad decisions under the influence of my heavy backpack/hunger. Trip advisor is how I found my three favourite places to stay in South + Central America – The Pink House Eco Hotel in Chile, Sacred Valley B&B in Peru, and most recently, Monteverde Rustic Lodge in Costa Rica. In all of these places we were greeted by the owners who all made us feel extremely at home, fed us fantastic healthy breakfasts and seemed like they genuinely cared about making sure we had the best visit possible. I plan to review the other two over the next few weeks, but today I’m going to write about my stay at Monteverde Rustic Lodge. 

    As soon as we stepped off our shuttle from La Fortuna, Jose the owner was there to help us with our bags and show us into the reception. A few minutes later, he brought us a fresh plate of wonderful Costa Rican fruit and began to chat to us about our trip (in perfect English). We told him about where we have been and how long we are visiting Costa Rica for, and he told us about Rustic Lodge. He set up the place with his brother ten years ago, with a dream to create somewhere which complimented the beautiful rustic feel of the small town Santa Elena, nestled deep in the cloud forest. Using local and sustainable materials, they built a lodge which does just that – makes you feel as though you’re still with nature, without compromising at all on comfort. And I think they were spot on – it would have felt wrong to stay somewhere modern and clinical after spending the day roaring through the cloud forest on ziplines and searching for monkeys + sloths.

      

    Despite it only being 1.00PM, we were shown to our room immediately – a homely and spacious space with high wood ceilings and doors. Jose also pointed out a sloth in the tree just above us! My hostel/hotel experience in Latin America has taught me never to believe in hot showers or fast wifi until you feel the water on your skin or actually manage to stream a video, but here we had both, and the bathroom was completely spotless. The room also had a lovely big mirror and dressing table space with tree stump chairs, and a space to hang clothes. 

       

     

    We also had a small outdoor seating area outside the room which overlooked a pretty little garden: perfect for our morning yoga. Once we were settled, Jose talked us through the options of what to do in the area and his recommendations. We chose the Hidden Valley nighttime walk for that evening, and Selvatura zip lining canopy tour for the following day. Jose sorted all of these out for us over the phone, as well as recommending and sorting out a local shuttle company to take us to our next destination – Manuel Antonio. All of this took a maximum of fifteen minutes – a huge contrast to our usual experience of traipsing through a town for hours, comparing tours/experiences online and working out the logistics. And we were right to trust Jose on his recommendations – everything we did was amazing and our Monteverde trip was the most serene and seamless yet!  

    We didn’t even have to make decisions about food because the Tico Soda he recommended, a short walk from the hotel was so delicious and such good value that we ate there both evenings. Breakfast at the lodge on both mornings was delicious, healthy and included in the price of the stay. It was a generous plate of fruit, fresh coffee + orange juice and delicious eggs on wholemeal brown bread. They serve it from 6.45am which is perfect when you have a tour or shuttle to make   

        
      

      

    The lodge is located a little out of town, which was perfect for us because we wanted somewhere quiet after a few nights in a dorm room. But it’s close enough that you can get there for anything you need in around ten minutes walking. There’s also the Soda + a few small shops minutes away. (A Soda is a place which sells typical Costa Rican food such as Casados – plates of a meat/fish/veg + beans and usually fried plantains, often for much better value than tourist oriented restaurants). Also, both tours we chose collected us from our door as part of the price, which meant everything was even easier. 

    We really did not want to leave, but we left rejuvenated and full of thanks for Jose and the staff at this lodge for making our stay so wonderful. It’s really incredible what positive vibes this place has, and I would stay here over a five star hotel any day. The only thing this hotel is perhaps missing in comparison to its competitors is a pool, but since Monteverde is much cooler than the rest of Costa Rica, I’m sure I wouldn’t have used it anyway. I was far too busy swinging through the trees.   

     We would like to thank Jose for discounting our wonderful stay, but reassure our readers that all opinions remain entirely our own. Had we any criticisms of the lodge, we would have voiced them – but we genuinely did not have one! The price per night for a double room is $70 USD. You can visit their website here.

    IN FOCUS: TORRES DEL PAINE – HIKING THE W

    Patagonia had been one of the first places on our mind when Chile became part of our itinerary. The rising snow-tipped mountains from photographs and the brilliant blue lakes were enough to persuade us, but we also read about spectacular trekking and wildlife. However, as usual, we left the fine-tuning of actually working out how to get there until the last minute. Our flight from New Zealand arrived in Santiago on a Wednesday. I had naively taken a look at a map of Chile and decided one must be able to get a bus, an overnight one perhaps, down to the South. Unfortunately, not only did I hugely underestimate the length of Chile in this plan, I was also forgetting the actual terrain of Patagonia. It turns out the buses, glaciers, fiord-lands and mountains don’t really mix too well. It actually is technically possible to get to Patagonia via bus from Santiago but it requires crossing through to Argentina, a lot of time, and apparently doesn’t actually really save a huge amount of money. 

     

    the three torres at first light
     
    So, after a few hours of googling from our hostel in Santiago, and talking other travellers who were on their way or had just returned, I decided that it was going to be worth buying some plane tickets to get to Punta Arenas- the closest you can fly to Torres Del Paine. From there you still had to take two 3 hour buses, but it was certainly a lot easier than going overland the whole way. We knew that we wanted to trek ‘the W’- a very popular 4-6 day trek that has some amazing views of the three ‘Torres’, so we set aside seven days in total – we flew on a Wednesday and returned on a Tuesday. If we’d had more time it probably would have been safer and more sensible to leave a few more – the buses are sometimes full and if the weather is a wipeout certain legs of the trek are closed – but luckily we had great weather and managed to get spaces on all the buses we needed. However, we did talk to a guy who had awful weather two weeks before us, couldn’t see anything, and wished he had left a bit longer as it was clearing up by his last day. 
    When I was planning, I deliberated for quite a while about whether to camp or stay in the regugios, and whether to bring food or eat at the refugios. Refugios are sort of like very expensive dorms which are in the middle of the park, at most of the major check points of the W. In the end I decided it was a better option on our budget, and considering we had a tent, to camp the whole way. When I added up the prices of all the meals, I also decided to buy all of our food. This actually meant that whilst in Santiago we had to invest in a pot + pan set – if anyone is in the same boat there is an excellent Chilean camping equipment shop called Doite, and they have a shop in the giant mall. Our cooking set was only about £20 and comes in a neat zip up circular bag. Every other Chilean we met on the trail had one! 
    A friend had recommended Pucon to us, and because I don’t like skipping out too much of a country by plane, I booked plane tickets from Puerte Montt to Punta Arenas for about four days time, and we made plans to reach PM overland via Pucon. The tickets were also a fair bit cheaper than from Santiago, but we did still have to spend money on the bus to get there. It turned out to be a pretty nice way of doing it. We took one overnight bus from Santiago to Pucon, where we had lots of fun exploring waterfalls and hot springs. Although we didn’t have time to do it there’s also a great looking volcano you can hike, too. The town is very tourist oriented but still has some charm: it feels a little bit like a skiing town with its wooden buildings and bars. 

     

    Pucon Volcano
     
    We then needed one more bus to Puerte Montt, which was around six hours. There isn’t a huge amount going on in PM apart from a fish market which is quite fun to look around and an average artisanal market. We only had one night here before our flight, and we found a lovely eco B&B called ‘The Pink House’ which I would definitely recommend- good value, wifi, lovely friendly couple-owners. They also let us leave a few things here which we didn’t want to hike with which was really useful, as we carried our packs the whole way in TDP. 

    So, the next morning we boarded the much anticipated flight to Patagonia. Everything went smoothly and I was absolutely stunned by the views. If possible, try to request a window seat on the left hand side of the plane on the way there. On a clear day it’s possible to get an amazing birds eye view of Patagonia; a gorgeous white and blue patchwork of glaciers, rivers, mountains and lakes. It definitely justified the price of the ticket a little for us! 

      
    Once we arrived in Punta Arenas it wasn’t hard to find a bus to Puerte Natalas – the last town with hostels and restaurants before the Torres and the place most people stay before their trek. We got ours last minute from the bus station but if you prebook then you can get straight on a bus at the airport rather than traipsing into the town first. We arrived before dark and made our way to The Singing Lamb hostel (something I had pre-booked!), which was very comfortable and had a great early breakfast – a good way to start a five day trek! We booked our bus for the next morning through them too, which is another three hour trip to take you to the actual park. You also need to take a catamaran either at the beginning or end of your trip. Make sure you have enough money! It’s around $30 USD each (yes, more money! Patagonia isn’t cheap, but the beauty is worth it!)  We had decided to do the trek from East to West, which meant that we took the catamaran first, rather than on the last day. It also meant we saw the Torres on the last morning which was a really nice reward at the end. Because we were camping the whole way so we hadn’t booked anywhere as it isn’t really necessary and gives you more freedom. The only place you need to book is Camp Torres if you want to see the sunrise over the Torres. It’s the only one which books up in advance, but you can do it at Campimento Italiano if you’re doing East to West like us, or at the entrance to the park. (Don’t forget this though! We did!)

     

    the view from the catamaran
     
    By the time the catamaran had dropped us it was early afternoon so we only walked one leg of the W on the first day. The catamaran arrives at the lowest point of the first V of the W, so we walked all the way to the top left, which is marked by Glacier Grey. The weather was a bit gloomy and the rain was spitting, but it turned out this was actually the worst weather of the whole trip, which wasn’t bad at all. We arrived at the campsite, set the tent up at the foot of a snowy mountain and cooked an early meal. The next morning we were able to see glacier grey in all it’s glory- the skies were a crisp clear blue and the icebergs shone white against the grey waters.  We watched as the sun rose above the mountains, drawing the glacier into the light and turning the dark rocks a gentle pink. We knew we had a long day head of us so we set off around six, doubling back on ourselves but taking in the views that the clouds had hidden. We got back to the catermaran port for an early lunch, and continued up along the other side of the V. Campimento Italino lay in the very middle – the meeting point of the two V’s. We collected fresh water from the river, warmed ourselves in the cold evening with soup, and fell asleep quickly – our bodies beginning to ache and our minds peaceful. 

     

    this campsite’s drinking source was the glacial ice cold stream
     
    The next morning we woke even earlier, planning to tackle French valley first thing before continuing back down and beyond. French valley continues up above Campimento Italiano, and because we were going up and down it In one morning, we were able to leave everything but a light day-pack at the camp. It was steep and fairly difficult at times, and I was definitely glad not to have a hiking pack. But it was a rewarding climb with incredible vistas and atmospheric clashes of what sounded like thunder, but were actually parts of the glacier breaking free and cascading down the mountain to the river below. 

      
    We made good time and were back well before lunch, so continued along the sunny, exposed path to Los Churros, along the shore line of the brilliant blue lake we crossed in the catamaran. The white pebbled beaches and the gushing waterfalls that meet it meant that this was possibly one of my favourite legs of the trip. However, there were quite a few ups and downs, meaning that both our knees were slightly struggling by this point, especially after the steep descent of the French valley in the morning. We arrived before four o clock, which meant we had time for some yoga before dinner and bed. We both agreed that we much preferred the pattern of waking up before the sunrise and reaching somewhere, even after eight or nine hours of hiking, in the afternoon. Lots of the tracks close at six too, so we didn’t have to worry about at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so exhausted in such a satisfying way – each evening I was barely able to close the zip on my sleeping bag before my eyes started closing. 
         
     The next day was the last but one, and it turned out to be the most tiring & eventful. We made it to the bottom right corner of the W before lunch, before making the challenging, extremely steep ascent to the Torres. This was definitely a mind over matter section for me. The sun was relentless, my feet were sore and my legs were burning. But with lots of water and encouragement from Karl I did eventually make it. However, when we reached Camp Torres, the campsite closest to the Torres (remember, the only one I told you you have to book) we were informed for the first time that you couldn’t stay there without a reservation. No amount of pleading was going to persuade the warden, so we returned dejectedly down the mountain back to Chileno, another two hour walk, placed approximately half way between the place we’d reached and the place we had been at lunch time. This mean that if we wanted to catch the Torres at sunrise we would have to wake up at around two am, and walk for around three hours. And yes, we were mad enough to actually commit to this. So after our worst day we sat down to our worst, leftover meal (we’d been carrying all of our food, which of course meant that I’d eaten all of the nice food within the first two days), and settled down to our least amount of sleep. 

    I woke up in surprisingly good spirits. “At least we already know the way!” We left our bags at the camp and set off with our torches. We weren’t actually the only crazy ones doing it – we saw a number of others, who nodded at us in solidarity. We put on such a pace, being keen not to miss it, that it was actually so pitch black when we reached the Torres (we only knew because of the sign), that the stars were still out. We found a good spot sheltered by a rock, huddled together and waited. I became slightly deliriously happy when I found that I still had some skittles left at the bottom of my backpack, and for some reason decided that it would be a good idea to eat them at five in the morning. Then we had a slight argument/reasoned debate over what sunrise actually means (is it when the sky starts getting light or when you actually see the sun!?), and finally, eventually, the light crept up on those three special rocks, and they loomed above us in all their glory. Slightly misted by cloud, but we could see them rising above the milky blue lake, and it was pretty spectacular. 
    And that meant our trip was nearly at a close! Having entirely ran out of food we let gravity pull us back to the base, and trudged the last metres to the hotel (yes, there’s a hotel!! If you’re reading this and you don’t like hiking then there is an option to stay at the hotel and just so the last hike up to see the Torres. Or you can even do it on horseback). 
    If you didn’t want to read all that but still want to find out my key tips for trekking the W, they are:

    • It’s up to you to decide before you go if you want to stay in a refugio or camp the whole way. On our budget the camping was a much better option. It was quite cold but only in the middle of the night, and with a good sleeping bag you’d be fine. I also enjoyed staying so close to nature the whole time, peeking out of my tent to see the stars and hearing the birds in the morning
    • By far the easiest way to get there is to fly. You can go from Santiago or Puerte Montt to Punta Arenas, the closest place to which you can fly to Torres Del Paine. From PA you’ll need to take another 3 hour bus to Puerte Natales, and then another 3 hours from PN to the park itself and the beginning of the trek, so bear this in mind when you book your flights and hotels. Our flight arrived in the afternoon, we got the bus straight away to PN and spent the night there. Then we got the bus in the morning and then the catamaran. 
    • We got flights from PM and made our own way down overland from Santiago via Pucon. This was a great way to do it for us but a lot of bus time
    • We took all of our own food and cooked on our mini stove. Standard hiking food – pasta, noodles, couscous, soup. We bought our food from Punta Arenas from a big supermarket but there was actually one in Puerte Natales. But we arrived late and left early morning so we are glad we did!
    • Puerte Natales is a nice town with plenty of nice restaurants and shops. You can hire hiking equipment from here if you don’t have your own. We stayed in the Singing Lamb which I definitely recommend. Although it’s a hostel everyone went to bed early. I assume they were either preparing themselves for hiking or wiped out after finishing 
    • I was worried about how hard the trek would be. It’s not a walk in the park but it’s definitely do-able for anyone with a decent level of fitness and working joints. 
    • Yes it’s expensive, but when people ask me for my highlights of our trip, it’s always one of the top. It’s a once in a lifetime place, and it’s magical. Don’t think about the money. 
    • Hiking poles are a good idea. We also bought these from Doite in Santiago and they were lifesavers on the downhill for our dodgy knees.
    • Prepare to get sunburnt, hailed on, snowed on, rained on and swept over all in one day. 
    • You need hiking boots, I really wouldn’t recommend doing it in trainers.
    • Take as little as you can, ask your hotel in PN or PA if they can keep some stuff for you, most offer this service as standard. Believe me, your experience will be infinitely more pleasant if your back and shoulders aren’t hurting the entire time

    I hope this post has been useful, and I hope you enjoy yourselves as much as we did if you manage to get there! Feel free to email me rebecca.kathryn1@gmail.com with any questions.
    xo