Monday, September 13, 2010

10 days before departure from Vancouver

It is only ten days before I sail out of Vancouver Harbour aboard the Volendam, bound for New Zealand. I'm getting both anxious and excited. Anxiety is mostly negative, while excitement is mostly positive, so let's deal with the negative first.

My anxiety is mainly centred around my family, and how they will make out while I'm away. At six weeks, this will be the longest trip I've taken in my life, so my loved ones will have to cope with my absence as best they can. Needless to say, both my 97 year old mother and my partner have picked up a few life skills along the way, so I know I shouldn't fuss...but I'm concerned about their well-being none-the-less. I provide a cconsiderable amount of stability to both of their lives, but I have to "let go" and concentrate on looking forward to enjoying myself while I travel on this wonderful trip.

I have arranged to keep in touch with my family by using what is referred to as a global cellphone.  You can refer to my JoeTourist website for details about these types of cellular services, however I decided to give this a try for this trip, since I help Telestial promote their service from my JoeTourist website.  I had a spare quad frequency GSM Motorola V551 cellphone, so I unlocked it (following Telestial`s recommendations) and ordered their Passport SIM card. This SIM gives my cellphone two global numbers - one is a +1 US-based number (to be used while traveling in the USA) and the other is a +44 UK number (to be used while traveling in all other countries).  In most countries, I get free incoming minutes on this pay-as-you-go plan, and outgoing calls are charged at US$0.50 per minute.  This is significantly less expensive than roaming with my Canadian Rogers cellular plan, although I will also pack my regular cellphone just as a backup to the global cellphone service.  Keeping in touch with my family always lessens my anxiety while traveling, and allows me to relax and enjoy myself.

Another source of my anxiety is money. My cruise fare and shore excursions are pre-paid, but most of our arrangements in New Zealand will be paid for as we go. This means there are some unpredictable aspects to these travel expenses.  There is also the not-so-small matter of on-board expenses during the 30 days we will be sailing on the Volendam. Cruise lines are notorious for knowing how to pull extra charges out of their customers, which are a captive audience while aboard their ships. I have given myself a budget for on-board expenditures, so it will be interesting to see if I can live within it!

I have notified my banks and credit card companies that I will be traveling, so there should be no problems using credit cards to purchase goods and services where ever I go.  Bank cards can be used to withdraw cash from ATM while traveling abroad.  Once piece of advice however: be sure to use an ATM which has a real bank behind it, so if you encounter problems with the ATM, you can go inside to sort it out with a real person.

My excitement about this trip is really starting to build! I'm walking through scenarios in my mind which I might encounter while traveling, and imagining how I will make this trip work for me. Traveling is not always easy - in fact, some people treat it like a job (of sorts), and end up over-planning. This can easily result in a person not enjoying the travel experience to the fullest...where over-planning means not enough time is left free to fully experience the serendipity which always happens along the way when traveling through unfamiliar (or familiar) countries.

Since I am an experienced traveler, and my travel companions are also well-experienced, I expect the trip to go smoothly. We have the skills to adapt to the unexpected and make it work for us. In fact, encountering the unexpected is part of the travel experience!

Shore excursions

I have booked three shore excursions through Holland America lines for this cruise. I found most of their excursions were not too terribly over-priced, so I was happy to book some of my shore time through them. All three shore excursions involve snorkeling, which is a passion of mine, and which I try to do on every trip I take to tropical countries. This time, I'll be snorkeling on Maui, Hawaii, and two locations on Vanuatu. I`m bringing along my little Olympus Stylus 770SW underwater camera, so I can record all the beautiful sights I encounter below the surface.

My travel companions and I have booked car rentals for our ports of call in Hawaii at Kona on the Big Island, Kauai, and Oahu. We have all traveled to Hawaii before and are well familiar with these islands, so it will be nice to just go for a drive and take our time re-familiarizing ourselves with the sights, smells and sounds of the beautiful Hawaiian Islands.

When we arrive in Suva, Fiji, I will be meeting a Fijiian family who are long time friends. Our families first connected way back in the 1960's. It is so rewarding to be an honoured guest in a Fijiian household. Although my friends live in Suva and have office jobs, their family values and warm welcome reflect their genuine respect for elders, family, and village life. This single day will no doubt be a highlight of this trip for me, personally.

We will make two ports-of-call in New Zealand before our final destination of Auckland. We have arranged for two shore excursions in the Bay of Islands area, and the port of Tauranga through a third party tour company. Mount Classic Tours comes highly recommended by my research on the Internet, and in my dealings with them, it appears they indeed offer genuine value for their high quality shore excursions. They are well experienced dealing with cruise ship passengers' needs, so I expect these day tours to be rewarding. Since my travel companions and I will be spending two weeks on the North Island after we depart the Volendam, we were looking for shore excursions which would give us an experience we will not likely repeat when we are ashore and on our own. I think Mount Classic Tours have given us what we seek.

New Zealand

As soon as we are ashore in Auckland, we will go to pick up our Hertz rental car. I also arranged to rent a GPS navigation unit for the two weeks, since we will be self-driving and don't want the bother of having to read maps and find our way in unfamiliar territory. Heads-up GPS navigation is the only way to go, so I rented a TomTom GPS nav unit from GPS Rentals NZ - they assure me it will be waiting for us at the Hertz office. From my past experience, driving on the left side of the road is not much of a challenge after the first 20 minutes or so on the road.

I won't review our travel plans for New Zealand further (since this is covered in blog entries below), other than to say we plan to connect with an astronomy group in Hamilton, since my travel companions and I are amateur astronomers. I am also planning to visit with my cousin who lives in Warkworth and a Canadian friend who now lives in the Coromandel area.

I don't expect to make another entry in this blog before departure day on September 22, 2010. My next entry will likely be made while I'm aboard ship and on the way to Hawaii, providing the satellite link is stable enough while we are underway.

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