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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 19:53   #1
Vectis Birder
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Round the world birding travel advice needed

I have decided to do a spot of birding travelling next year, possibly USA - Mexico (maybe Costa Rica too) - Australia - Thailand - Malaysia. This may be a little ambitious, given that I have got a lot of saving to do (I can - just about - manage to squirrel away £200 a month and will attempt to get my bank loan rescheduled by an additional £2000) and have 6 months to do it in (I can jack my job in and go back if it's 6 months or less, they said they'll take me back as I'm going to need employment on my return!). So as I'm soliciting advice (I've not done a trip this long or ambitious before) I have several questions so please bare with me.

I'll get a round the world air ticket which should be cheaper than buying seperate tickets and I'm wondering roughly how much budgeting I'll need to do (I'll be doing the motel/hostelling thing as I tend to think of posher, more expensive, accommodation as a bit of a waste of money!).

I'm thinking of setting off in April/May 2008 as this coincides with an event in Texas that I want to go to as I'll be meeting up with friends there, then going on from there. Birding in Texas is good, and when I was there last year I didn't do as much as I should have (another reason for going back) and I have heard good things about Arizona.

Question is do I head down into Central America (Mexico, Costa Rica, etc) or do I head off for Australia straight away? If I go into Central America, is it feasible to travel by road (public transport) from Mexico or would I have to fly (thereby adding unwanted expense to the trip)? How much would I need to allow for spending several weeks in the area?

Australia I've been to before, so I know what's what there. As for Thailand and Malaysia, how much will I need to live on for a month or two?

Am I stretching myself too thinly as regards places visited and finances as I'll be starting off with two or three thousand pounds (more if the bank agree to extend my loan by a couple of grand)? If so I can revise my options as I'm pretty flexible.

Also, what field guides would anyone recommend, especially for C. America, SE Asia and Australia (I had a field guide to Australia but it got lost last time I moved house)?

Many thanks for reading this ramble and I will be grateful for any advice.

Cheers
VB
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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:09   #2
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Stick to Less Developed Parts of the world and your budget will stretch MUCH further, eg Guatemala costs almost nothing, can live there as long as you need without pestering your bank manager. Likewise, shorten Australia and spend the time in Asia - Thailand is cheap, India and Nepal even more so.

Concerning tickets, I would double check whether a round-the-world is actually cheaper.
I'd be thinking somethink like this:
1. Single ticket to the US, overland through Central America (I did this, PM if need more info)
2. Single ticket to Bangkok (forget Australia if been there before and on budget), bird the peninsula
3. Single ticket to Delhi or other locality in India. Overland around the subcontinent, including Nepal.
4. Single ticket home (or to Nairobi, then later home).

If you do go for individual tickets, use the 'budget hubs', very often much much cheaper than nearby destinations
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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:11   #3
Edward woodwood
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Mexico - Steve Howell's field guide
SE Asia - Craig Robson is the definitive guide
Australia - there are a few - I used Simpson and Day and found it excellent

for Costa Rica there is the Stiles and Skutch guide - used it last year and it was fine. I was fortunate enough to stay with the guy who has just illustrated a new Costa Rica guide that is, i think, out imminently. The pix were beautiful. Top bloke as well.

Thailand and Malaysia are still cheap, especially once in the birding locations - guest houses at Taman Negara and Fraser's Hill are just a few pounds a night and the food is very cheap. If you stay in just a few places rather than bombing around it can be very good value stll, despite being more expensive than in the past. In the cities just crash at a Backpackers' lace if it's only a bed you want. I don't know the score at Khao Yai these days, maybe someone can post details. Northern Thailand is as cheap or dear as you want to make it. Possible to camp at Doi Inthanon still and eat at Mr Deng's - he may be able to put birders up these days as well?

Accommodation in Costa Rica as likewise very cheap last year - $5 for a nice room in Monteverde for example, not much more at Cerro de la Muerte etc. Food too was very cheap if you eat out. If you need to save cash then go to a supermarket and buy fruit, brea and cheese or salad etc.

in the past i have saved cash by birding areas more fully and not moving so much, using public transport and staying in more or less 'basic' places (you're out from dawn to dusk anyay) and eating in local restuarants. Occassionally i splash out on a better hotel (usually in cities) to rest or freshen up and see the sights

i would second Jos's advice to spend more time in Asia and possibly forego Australia for the time being.

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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:22   #4
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HI VB

I would definatley second Craig Robsons book for SE Asia, streets ahead of the other choices. In Australia I used the Slater guide, mainly cos it was small enough to fit in cargo trouser pockets and had all the info i needed.

In Australia, i think prices have risen alot in recent years from what i've heard. Backpackers are roughly £10 a night for a dorm bed, not sure how much for anything higher standard than that.

Its probably best to arrive in OZ after late september, as thats when the tropical stuff starts to arrive.

In Thailand, Camping at Khao Yai is about 50p a night, not sure how much for cabins. At Doi Inthanon, Mr Deang provides free but basic rooms for birders but your sort of expected to eat at his restaurant, still, at less than a quid for a decent thai dish, one cant complain.

cheers

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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:46   #5
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Some good advice there, thanks guys. It looks as though sticking to less developed countries is a plan, judging by the comments so far. Okay, another question - how easy (or not!) is it to get around Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Thailand, etc, bearing in mind that I am aiming for good birding spots?

If I give Australia a miss, I might even be able to hit an African country for a week or three on the way back...

More questions as I think of 'em - it may be some way off but it's never too soon to start planning I guess.

VB
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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:57   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vectis Birder
it may be some way off but it's never too soon to start planning I guess. VB
Too right, time spent in recconaisence (i know thats spelt wrong), is time seldom wasted, as my old cadet instructor used to say!

As for getting around, i can only speak for Thailand, its well easy to get to the main sites by public transport, Nick Uptons site www.thaibirding.com has some really useful instructions on how to get about. Buses, taxis and songthaews are ridiculously cheap compared to the UK.

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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 20:59   #7
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I managed to do all four on public transport

and i'm useless. So it must be easy.

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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 21:01   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vectis Birder
how easy (or not!) is it to get around Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Thailand, etc, bearing in mind that I am aiming for good birding spots?
very easy
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Old Saturday 10th March 2007, 21:17   #9
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Once again many thanks. I've got some stuff to think about.

Nite all, and I daresay I'll think of more questions and post them as they come!
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Old Sunday 11th March 2007, 19:11   #10
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I'd spend more time in less countries, this will save money as well. I spent 6 months just in Thailand and Malaysia - and I've since been back to Malaysia for 6 weeks and I'd love to go back to Thailand. You'll get a lot less ticks this way but it will give you chance to really get to grip with the birds.

I use a hire car in Africa and when with my kids, otherwise I prefer public transport as well as it being a lot cheaper.

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Old Sunday 11th March 2007, 23:34   #11
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I’d second all the above, particularly regarding spending more time in fewer places and leaving out OZ for now – even three weeks in OZ would seriously barbeque your budget I’ve made the mistake in the past of trying to cover too much ground in too little time using internal flights etc and apart from being expensive at the time it has also been expensive in the longer term as I’ve had to return to some areas in search of species I would have easily found with a little more time the first time! These days I prefer to spend a few extra days here and there and drink in more of what I am actually seeing each day rather than racing round ticking birds I can’t even remember by the time I get home!
As for getting around, public transport is easy, cheap & frequently hilarious, & will get you much more in touch with the cultures you are visiting. It will also get you round the key sites in all these regions, so no worries there.

Some random un-asked for advice - sorry if any of it is too obvious…

- build your itinerary for each region around the endemics. Some cherries you get several bites at, some only one or two, so make sure you get a mouthful of those!
- be on the pessimistic side regarding your budget so that in reality you have a buffer for those times you really can’t stand another cockroach-infested room with no AC & holes in the mosinet!! There will also be times when you have no choice but to take the more expensive travel option - to make an onward connection or whatever - if you’ve got some spare cash it’s no biggie!
- travel light! Easiest way is to take a SMALL rucksack for the hold & a SMALL daysack for your optics & valuables. This way you just CAN’T take all that rubbish you are never going to need! First time out of Europe on a 7month RTW trip I took a HUGE 75litre rucksack with sleeping bag etc hanging off it (i.e. it was 80-85litres worth) plus a large daysack rammed with heavy optics, books etc. I nearly died of exhaustion carrying that lot in week one!!! And a couple of months later, having left half of the stuff in a hotel in Pokhara, I still tried carrying the remaining half of it round Annapurna - I get wobbly knees thinking about it even now!!
- forget most of the gadgets but take a good basic medical kit. Sorry, this bit’s my job, so make way for the hobby horse Most people travelling off the beaten track in the tropics get into trouble either because 1) they don’t pay sufficient attention to basic hygiene and the quality of what they are eating & drinking 2) they don’t take cuts, bites, blisters etc seriously & put off dealing with them 3) they underestimate the power of the tropical sun & get severe sunburn, sunstroke or at least chronic dehydration, or finally 4) at altitude they are ignorant of the early signs of altitude sickness. Educate yourself about these things before you go and save yourself some unnecessary nightmares!!
- get adequate travel insurance.

…all a bit serious & boring I know so I’d better leave it there before I get even more carried away!! Anyway, despite all the stupid mistakes I’ve made on previous trips I don’t regret any of it, and it’s certainly never stopped me hankering after more adventures :)

…zzzzzzz…sorry, that IS it…for tonight! :)
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 10:37   #12
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Brilliant stuff, thanks David! And please, feel free to get carried away - the more info the better.

I think that Australia's definitely off the itinerary now, I'll return there one day in it's own right when I have some more money to spend.
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 15:36   #13
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Glad it was of some help! However, there are certainly people on here with LOADS more experience than me - Tim Allwood & James Eaton for instance - who'll doubtless chip in at some point (Tim already did I see!)
In the meantime, here are a couple of Monday afternoon freebies:
- don't get too hung up about buying all the right clothing before you go. Clothes are cheap & easy everywhere funnily enough - they wear clothes in the tropics too, after all - and equally strangely they also make them to suit the conditions you will find there! You can spend a fortune on high-tech, light-weight, man-made fibres & then find they don't stand up to a guest-house laundry iron set permanently on "cottons"!! Been there!! One expensive ball of melted plastic that was!! And one very sheepish launderer too!! If you do get any of that stuff launder it yourself overnight! And if you get one of those wicking t-shirts maker sure it's "x-static" or similar i.e woven with silver fibres & therefore permanently anti-bacterial, the cheaper ones stink to high heaven after a few weeks even after washing...that's MY excuse anyway!!
-do take a light-weight scope & shoulder pod. There are times you'll curse em for the extra weight but they WILL get you birds you'd miss otherwise. And , no, don't even THINK about your big Leica plus industrial scaffolding tripod!! The new Nikon ED50 is every tropical birder's dream in this regard!! "Darn it I wish I'd brought my scope ...oh but hold on, there it IS, in the bottom of my bag all along!!!"
...later
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 18:13   #14
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as you're after tips: try to learn a few words of the language - hello, goodbye, thanks, please, a few basic meals and of course how to ask for beer
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 19:15   #15
Vectis Birder
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Quote:
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as you're after tips: try to learn a few words of the language - hello, goodbye, thanks, please, a few basic meals and of course how to ask for beer
Absolutely, Steve. At the moment I'm trying to commit a few words and phrases of Spanish to memory for my upcoming Ecuador trip.

Keep 'em coming, guys.

Cheers all
VB
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 19:20   #16
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As regard the scope, I guess this is a question of personal preference, but I'd not bother myself ...unless you're with a hire car or planning to do a lot of stuff on estuaries, etc, you're be lugging it about and, in reality, rarely absolutely needing it. I almost never take it, always a bird nearer :)
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 19:33   #17
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I'll probably take my scope which is a small Kowa TSN601, plus a monopod. Both together are pretty negligible as regards weight. I know for a fact that if I left it behind there's bound to be an occasion where I'd be kicking myself for doing so!
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Old Monday 12th March 2007, 22:15   #18
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try to borrow or buy copies of wheatley's "where to watch birds" series of books. these should help in planning which countries and sites you'd like to visit, and give an idea of what birds can be expected in each area. the books are all well-organized and usually quite useful, if out of date for some countries. certainly a good starting point
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2007, 00:16   #19
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For cheap flights in SE Asia there are many no frills airlines, the largest being Air Asia, though they have a 15kg luggage limit it only costs a $ or 2 per kg over. Can book on line and make your itinerary as you go.
Another cheap location is Vietnam, great country, lovely people. Not difficult to do on your own, but get a phrase book (one of the hardest languages to learn).Only 8 endemics but increasing all the time with the splits that are going on. James Heng has a great trip report for the single traveller:
http://www.geocities.com/dojistar/v01_intro.html
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2007, 11:02   #20
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If you have just 6 months, perhaps you should just do the Americas? For instance, after Texas head straight down to central America where it is cheaper. Apart from the Darian gap, you can easily travel all the way down into south america on public transport. But do spend some time in south America - it does have the highest avian biodiversity on the planet after all. Get down to patagonia for their summer.

You would need to speak some spanish, otherwise you might get a bit tired of your own company!
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2007, 15:09   #21
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So much to do, so many birds and places to see, so little time! I might make it longer than just six months as I have very little desire to return to working at B&Q in any case; I hate the place.
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Old Tuesday 13th March 2007, 17:26   #22
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If you are going to Texas, I would thoroughly recommend stopping by Arizona and southern California (certainly the Salton sea) if you can make it.

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Old Tuesday 13th March 2007, 21:12   #23
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If you are going to Texas, I would thoroughly recommend stopping by Arizona and southern California (certainly the Salton sea) if you can make it.

David
Agreed! To a point. Fab locations & actually not too expensive if you camp! But spending time there will still gobble up your budget just eating!! Anyway, if you do linger in the Southern US whatever else you do don't waste too much time looking for "Mexican" rares at the edge of their range when a month later you'll be 300 miles further south & knee-deep in 'em
The advantage for you, starting in Texas in April, is catching a fistful of Nearctic migrants before they slip away North - I'd concentrate on those & the Edward's Plateau endemics & then scarper south, save yourself a ton of money & see all of the rest of the stuff in Spanish, as it were!?!

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Old Wednesday 14th March 2007, 18:19   #24
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So much to do, so many birds and places to see, so little time! I might make it longer than just six months as I have very little desire to return to working at B&Q in any case; I hate the place.
Very wise. It took me 15 months to finally want to go back to work, even though my budget had declined to ten dollars a day by the end. In hindsight three years would have been better.
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Old Saturday 17th March 2007, 12:47   #25
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Thanks for all the info so far. I'm now leaning towards doing Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia [inc. Borneo] and possibly India too). I've always wanted to visit Asia properly.

What I might do is go to Texas for a couple of weeks to meet my friends and go to the Texas Star Party (went last year and it was fantastic), bird the area for a while - Big Bend NP is nearby and is good for birds - come home, go back to B&Q for a couple of months to replenish the savings, renew my passport which expires in April 09 and then take off.
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