5 Steps to see The Great Barrier Reef on a Budget

Before we left on our trip around the world we made a list of “must sees.” One must see that was on the top of our list was The Great Barrier Reef, a 2400 kilometer long stretch of thousands of coral reefs and hundreds of islands.  Thousands of fish, mollusks and starfish, multiple types of turtles, dolphins and sharks all call this wonderful place home. (click here to see 25 of our favorite great barrier reef photos we captured when exploring)

Now, it’s hard to speak about anything in Australia and associating it with the word “budget” because nothing comes cheap in the land down under. However, we were able to minimize our costs by following a few simples steps.

Step 1. Find a Cheap Flight in

Like all countries we visit around the world we always look for the lowest cost way into a country. To enter Australia, we flew on a budget airline, one-way, from Bali, a relatively close country. Because we were already so close this kept our cost down to $208 USD per person. A great deal, we thought, since flights from the states are easily five times this price. We saved even more money because our flight was the overnight red eye and there was no need to pay for lodging that night. Of course the consequence of that it we were super tired when we arrived into Cairns.

Step 2. Transportation to and from the Airport

Cairns is a small city and there is no public transportation directly linked to the airport. We often times find that it’s the same price as public transport and cheaper than a taxi to take Uber or Lyft into town, however, these companies do not operate in Cairns. It always amazes us how hard it is in some cities to get to and from the airport. With some quick research we found that the easiest and most affordable way to make the 3 kilometer journey into town is with the Cairns Backpackers Shuttle. They have a backpackers special that will take you to and from your Cairns CBD accommodation for only $10 AUD return. Be aware this has to be booked online at least 24-hours ahead of time.

Step 3. Affordable Accommodations

Cairns has accommodations that cater to the budget conscious individuals to the travelers who want to live in opulence while on vacation. Cairns is also an infamous backpacker friendly city. It seems like we are not the only people who have the dream of snorkeling or diving The Great Barrier Reef. We stayed in the Parramatta Park neighborhood which is known as Backpackers District because of the high concentration of hostels and guest houses. We stayed at Ryan’s Rest and was able to snag a private room with a shared bath for $38 USD per night. The backpackers district is also within walking distance of Reef Fleet Terminal, where all the tour boats depart from.

Step 4. Cook Your Own Food and Drink Wine

A cheap meal in Australia is around $15 AUD ($12 USD) per person, add a drink on top of that and expect a hole to burn in your pocket. This can quickly add up when eating three meals a day. Our advice is to head to the grocery store and stock up on the grub. In Australia, often times grocery stores are found in shopping malls. By doing this we were able to get our meal costs down to an average $5 USD per meal while still having a full belly! Going out in Cairns is another way to spend your budget fast. However, we did find that wine was good and cheap. So if you want to have that glass of wine with your meal, drink up! Cheers!

Step 5. Select the right The Reef Tour

This is where the bulk of your budget is going to go and that’s okay, you did not come to see The Great Barrier Reef and not experience it’s wonder. There is a plethora of companies that operate one, two, even three day tours of the reef and islands that accompany them. We opted for the 1-day snorkeling reef experience with Compass Cruises for $109 AUD ($84 USD) per person. Compass Cruises’ boats are slightly older than some of the others we saw on the dock but it’s not the boat we came to see.

When we arrived we found out that our older vessel was broken down and that we had been “upgraded” to another company with a nicer boat so unfortunately we cannot let you know how the boats were for Compass Cruises. What we can let you know is the crew was spectacular since they followed us over to our new ride for the day.

Our day on board was fantastic. We started with complementary tea and coffee. As we sipped our mugs on the way to the outer reef, the on board marine biologist gave a presentation explaining the reef and wildlife we could possibly see. Our excitement began to build!

After an hour journey we made it to Hastings Reef, a part of the outer reef. It was time to put on our sexy stinger suits (a one piece) and jump in to feast our eyes on The Great Barrier Reef! From the moment we entered the water we were hooked. We had over three hours of snorkel time in the water at Hastings Reef. Kevin was even the last one out of the water, he never wanted to leave. In the hours spent snorkeling we saw so much!  

Lunch on board was top notch. We feasted like kings while we headed to Jorgensen Patch, our second snorkel location. Here the waters were a little rougher and the reef deeper. We had do to a lot more free diving style maneuvers to get up close and personal with this beautiful work of nature. It was worth every moment since we were lucky enough to see a sea turtle! Cue the excitement dance!

After an hour of snorkeling we were properly tired for the day and headed back on board for the complementary wine and cheese on our way to the harbor. From the sunny weather to the attentive crew, we could not have asked for a more wonderful day of snorkeling The Great Barrier Reef.

We are two en route for more wonderful budget travel experiences.

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How we spent 36 hours in the UAE

The UAE (United Arab Emirates) is best known for the larger than life skyscrapers that litter the skyline in every direction. It’s also known for being luxurious and expensive, two words that are a backpacker’s worst nightmare. In order to keep our budget in check we downed some coffee, put on our running shoes and set out to see the UAE in 36 hours. Enjoy the journey!

Hours 1-5

Our overnight flight landed in Dubai at 5:00am. As with most overnight flights we did not get any sleep. We made it through customs and into the taxi line to make our way to the hotel to drop off our bags and see if we could check-in to our room early for some shut eye. It turns out it was going to cost us $100 USD to do that, not in our budget.

We figured out the public transit system and boarded a bus to Jumeirah Beach to feast our eyes on the Burj Al Arab. It was the perfect place to kill some time and even take a nap until 10am (the time where we could check in at no charge).

The Burj Al Arab is the only 7-star hotel in the world. This luxury hotel is uniquely shaped like a sail and is built on the ocean at the edge of Jumeirah Beach, a white sand beach with crystal clear water. Talk about picture perfect!

Hours 5-8 

Finally, we could check-in to our hotel room. We hopped on a bus and slowly made our way up to the hotel room like zombies. We showered off the overnight travel and took a 4-hour power nap!

Hours 8-10

Feeling like normal human beings now, we made a spontaneous decision to hop on a 2-hour bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi which only cost about $7USD each way. There is not much to see out of the window between the two major metropolis cities besides desert, so we buckled up, put on some music and got a few extra hours to recharge.

Hours 10-15

After arriving at the Abu Dhabi bus station, we hailed a cab, surprisingly inexpensive in the UAE, and headed to the Grand Mosque. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world, topped with 82 white marble domes, so you can imagine how awe inspiring it was from the moment we arrived. A bonus was it’s free to get in and see!

As we explored around the Grad Mosque grounds appreciating the level of design and detail put into it, we noticed there was an upcoming free cultural tour. We thought, “What the heck” and joined in. The tour was the best thing we could have done. The guide took us around the Mosque explaining more about Islam, the design of the building and the meaning behind the elements incorporated into the Mosque.

One of the coolest things was when the man took us into parts of the Mosque only accessible when with a guide. We even got the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s largest carpet!

After a few hours exploring, it was time to say goodbye to the Grand Mosque and catch the bus back to Dubai. The two-hour journey back flew by quickly. We were still on a high from seeing such a beautiful site.

Hours 15-24

We made it back to the hotel and crashed. Overnight flights always take a toll on us and we needed some proper sleep to fully recharge for the next day’s full adventure. Fortunately, we had had a hotel points left over from when we were working and had a good hotel pillow to rest our head on.

Hours 24–28 

Waking up feeling refreshed it was time to head out and explore Dubai! Our first stop, of course, was the Burj Khalifa! We booked our tickets a few days in advance because they sell out fast on the day of. Our time to head to the top was 1pm! Can you tell we are excited. The price for the tickets were around $34 USD per person, well worth the experience. 

The main observation deck is on the 124th floor. It is on of the highest outdoor observation deck in the world with some of the most breathtaking views.

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, standing at 829.8 m (2,722 ft), which means it towers over all of the other skyscrapers around Dubai. As we stepped up the the edge we looked out onto the modern city of Dubai our excitement elevated. 

All of the buildings looked like something out of Sim City when we looked out of the slits in the observation deck. This give you a great view of Dubai. It is hard to believe that most of the modern dar Dubai was built within the last 15-20 years. 

For an extra $34 per person you can buy a ticket that will get you to the 148th floor observation lounge, however, we didn’t think it would be worth it for us, our heads were already in the clouds from deck 124. 

Looking straight down when you are 124 stories up on an outdoor observation deck can put a knot in your stomach. It’s almost hard to make out the cars, let alone people, from up here. There is also a lounge on the 125th floor you can go up to and get a souvenir. 

Hours 28–29

After spending a few hours At the Top of the world drinking in the magnificent views, we headed back down in the super fast elevator and headed into the Dubai Mall for a cup of coffee and a view of the Burj Khalifa from the outside. 

The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world and is just as fancy as you would think. One of our favorite features in the mall was the 7-story waterfall with life-sized sculptures of men swan diving over the water. 

Hours 29–31

As the sun went down, all the pretty city lights started to illuminate the modern skyscrapers so, naturally, our next stop was do go and see the city at night.

The financial district of Dubai has some of the most unique architectural skyscrapers all highly concentrated. Taking the opportunity to practice our long exposure photography we enjoyed a few hours of picture taking and sight seeing. 

Hours 31–32

It is very easy to visit Dubai and just look at the modern skyscrapers and hang out on the beach (what we have done to this point)… so we decided to take the train to Dubai Creek where the Souks (traditional markets) are located. We didn’t have enough time to walk through them at night or take a Dhow (wooden water taxi) across the creek, but we were able to appreciate the views of the traditional Dubai.

Hours 32–34

Short on time, we headed back to the Burj Khalifa to see the fountain show from The Dubai Fountain. The show rivaled that of the fountain show at the Belagio in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

To us, the most impressive part of the fountain show was before and after when the Burj Khalifa, in all of it’s 2,722 ft, lit up in a spectacular show of lights. It’s indescribable the feeling we got when staring up a the tallest manmade structure and seeing the entire thing light up in every color of the spectrum. 

Hours 34–36

After the show we headed back to get our bags from the hotel and head to the airport, but not before one last view from the top looking back at the edge of the modern city. Who knows what buildings will be built here in the next 15-20 years. 

We are two en route for more fast and fun city explorations

View from the Airplane Window Seat

One of the best feelings in the world is a plane coming in for a landing. It doesn’t matter if it is in a new place to explore or an old favorite, the excitement of knowing we are about to experience new things is thrilling! When going through some of our photos, we realized we had captured moments from our view in the window seat of an airplane. Here are some of our favorites!

 This was a shot taken of the coastline of Australia as we took off from Cairns. Taken in 2017
This was a shot taken of the coastline of Australia as we took off from Cairns. Taken in 2017
 This was our snapshot of Dubai from above at night. We could feel the life of the city even from up here! Taken in 2016
This was our snapshot of Dubai from above at night. We could feel the life of the city even from up here! Taken in 2016
 Flying into Norway was breathtaking from above. We love the little towns that dot the lakes across the country. Taken in 2016
Flying into Norway was breathtaking from above. We love the little towns that dot the lakes across the country. Taken in 2016
 A pic from our decent into the Maldives. All of the islands were unique shapes and beautiful. Taken in 2016 
A pic from our decent into the Maldives. All of the islands were unique shapes and beautiful. Taken in 2016 
 This was from our flight from London back to the United states when we flew over Greenland. It's the closest we have been to this country and it makes us want to go one day! Taken in 2012
This was from our flight from London back to the United states when we flew over Greenland. It’s the closest we have been to this country and it makes us want to go one day! Taken in 2012
 While there are none of the iconic building of Singapore in this photo, we love how the boast fill the port of the island city-state. Taken in 2017 
While there are none of the iconic building of Singapore in this photo, we love how the boast fill the port of the island city-state. Taken in 2017 
 A photo we took of the clouds descending over the rocky mountains on our flight from Dallas to Seattle as we headed to get married in 2013. 
A photo we took of the clouds descending over the rocky mountains on our flight from Dallas to Seattle as we headed to get married in 2013. 

We are two en route for more airplane window wanderlust 

Sunset at Tanah Lot, a Bali must-see

We landed in Bali not knowing where each day would take us. Something we found out quickly was Bali public transportation is not well connected or easy to use. What was easiest for us, and very affordable, was to hire a private driver for around $35 for the day and see multiple sites at our own pace. After asking around we quickly found out from locals and other travelers that seeing Tanah Lot at sunset was a must, so we put that on our list for the day!

Tanah Lot is rock formed just off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. At low tide, the temple is most easily accessible. Build on Tanah Lot is a Pura (temple) said to have been from the 16th-century. The temple is built in honor of the Balinese sea gods. 

Tanah Lot is one of seven sea temples that litter the coast of Bali. In addition to Pura Tanah Lot, we were also about to see Pura Batu Bolong. While this temple is not as iconic as Tanah Lot, it was a treat to be able to see another one of the sea temples. 

We made our way down to get a closer look at this beautiful Hindu site. We were not able to go onto the top of the rock to see the actual temple, just onto the stairs. However, before being able to enter the steps of the temple we had remove our shoes and receive a blessing to prepare us to enter the holy site.

The blessing is called a rice blessing. First, water is sprinkled across your forehead with a brush, then rice is placed on it and finally, a plumeria flower place behind your ear. Kevin decided to partake in the blessing.

Brad decided to sit it out to relax and do some people watching. It didn’t take long for Kevin to receive the blessing then walk up the 25-steps and see the ocean go off into the horizon. 

For the next hour, we wondered around the rocky coastline enjoying the views of the ocean. As we wandered around, waited for the sun to go down, we came across the best little spot to enjoy the sunset from. 

As the sun went down we realized why seeing the sun set over Tanah Lot is a must-see when visiting Bali, Indonesia. The way that the sky turned beautiful shades of purple and orange were a real treat. 

An added bonus to where we decided to enjoy the sunset from was there were stagnate pools of ocean water left by high tide which allowed for some of the most beautiful sunset photos. We love the way Tanah Lot and the sunset reflect off the water. We are so glad we listened to other’s advise and made it to see the sunset over Pura Tanah Lot. 

We are two en route for more must-see sites

Singapore Day vs. Night

Singapore is one of those great Modern Asian Cities full of tall buildings with fantastic architecture, gigantic malls around every corner and lights on everything when the sun goes down. Singapore is equally as beautiful during the day as it is at night. Which do you prefer?

Both day and night were spectacular to see, however, to us the night takes the win! What do you think?

We are two en route exploring Singapore 

Thai Street Food, enough said!

Part of experiencing Thailand is eating the street food! Out of everywhere in the world we have visited and all the travelers we have had the honor to meet, everyone is in agreeance that Thai Street food is the best in the world. From hot and spicy to sweet and savory here is our picks for the best of the best in our Thai street food experience.

1. Tom Yum Goong Noodles

Tom Yum Noodle is a very popular dish in Thailand. With its intense flavor combination of sweet, sour and spicy it’s hard not to love.

2. Pad Thai

Probably the most well-known Thai dish, Pad Thai is a staple of Thai street food. It is a combination of stir fried noodles, fried egg, shrip, firm tofu, tamarind pulp, fish sauce, garlic, pepper, and red chilis poured over flat rice noodles. Often topped with fresh shallots, peanuts, sprouts and banana blossoms.

3. Chicken Stir-Fry in Oyster Sauce

This is a simple chicken and vegetable stir-fry tossed in oyster sauce and served with steamed rice. Anyone could make this is about 3 minutes which makes it the perfect on-the-go street food. 

4. Pineapple Fried Rice

Probably the second most well known Thai dish with expats. This dish is the perfect balance of sweet and savory. Generally this dish is served in a pineapple half filled with rice, shrimp, pineapple, cashews, garlic, onion, red chilis, raisins, egg, and peas that have been tossed in soy or fish sauce. 

5. Khao Pad Gong

Khao pad gong is another simple street food dish. It’s a basic stir-fry with the addition of tomatoes, cucumber and coriander leaves. Ofter served with fresh shirmp you have to open yourself. 

6. Thai Basil Chicken

This is the dish to go for in order to feel the heat! It’s a simple mix of chicken, basil, shallots, garlic and fresh cut red chilis tossed in a fish sauce and served with steamed rice. The fresh cut red chilis are everything you want for a powerful punch of intensity.

7. Mango Sticky Rice

At first we didn’t know what we were going to get when we heard we had to try “Mango Stick Rice.” However, this Thai dessert is so delicious in every bite. It is fresh cut mangos eaten with sticky rice topped with coconut milk and sometimes rice crispy or toasted sesame seed.

8. Thai Rolled Ice Cream

Ever since we saw a video of someone making Thai tolled ice cream, we knew we had to find some!  It is milk with you choice of flavors and fillings stirred and chopped with metal spatulas on a frozen slab. It is then spread into a thin sheet and scrapped off into rolls and packed into a cup. It was then topped with whipped cream, more goodies, and sauce. Delicious! 

9. Coconut Ice Cream

This is exactly what it sounds like! It’s the perfect blend of cream and coconut ice cream served in a coconut half and drizzeled with chocolate sauce and coconuts. 

10. Pint of Chang Beer

No street food list would be completed without enjoying a golden pint of Chang beer. It’s cheap, good and cleaner than the water, so drink up! Cheers!

We are two en route for more enjoying more of the worlds best street food

25 of Our Favorite Great Barrier Reef Photos

One of the natural wonders of the world is the Great Barrier Reef. This 2400-kilometer (1400 mile) beauty stretched from Australia’s east coast to the southern coast of Papua New Guinea. It has some of the most diverse and unique sea life in the world. It comes as no surprise that feasting our eyes on this natural wonder was on our “must see list” before we took off on our world tour. Armed with our GoPro Hero+ (classic), we dove in and explored the reef. Here are 25 of our favorite photos.   

 Us starting our snorkel adventures!
Us starting our snorkel adventures!
 All the beautiful color of the corals
All the beautiful color of the corals
 We found Nemo! 
We found Nemo! 
 Kevin with a Jelly 
Kevin with a Jelly 
 Loving all the unique corals
Loving all the unique corals
 One of our fish friends
One of our fish friends
 Loved this guy. He was so cool. Reminds us of Little Shop of Horrors. 
Loved this guy. He was so cool. Reminds us of Little Shop of Horrors. 
 Our Sea Turtle buddy.
Our Sea Turtle buddy.
 Exploring the reef with fish 
Exploring the reef with fish 
 Great textures all around
Great textures all around
 I really cool long yellow fish
I really cool long yellow fish
 These coral moved with the currents. So memorizing!
These coral moved with the currents. So memorizing!
 Going to school with the fish.
Going to school with the fish.
 Free diving through these big caves in the reef was super cool
Free diving through these big caves in the reef was super cool
 More amazing textures under the sea
More amazing textures under the sea
 Another great school of fish in one of the reef caverns
Another great school of fish in one of the reef caverns
 The colors were WOW
The colors were WOW
 The lone fish who caught out eye
The lone fish who caught out eye
 Brad found a Jelly!
Brad found a Jelly!
 Quinessential coral
Quinessential coral
 Cool fish hanging out over the coral
Cool fish hanging out over the coral
 The reef went on forever!
The reef went on forever!
 Moody Blues on this coral
Moody Blues on this coral
 Kevin down in the reef. Thumbs up!
Kevin down in the reef. Thumbs up!
 The boat, the Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef... we couldn't have asked for anything else.
The boat, the Ocean, the Great Barrier Reef… we couldn’t have asked for anything else.

We are two en route for more photo fun