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Rental Kia Vans, 3 Story Bunk Bed Hostels, 7 Mile Beaches, Old Hippie Towns, & Rock Pools Paradise.

15 of us decided to take a weekend trip to Byron Bay, located in the state of New South Wales on the easternmost point of mainland Australia. Byron is about an hour’s drive from Surfer's Paradise (a beach community by day, party central by night, located on the Gold Coast) where we lived and went to university. We had heard that this was a great weekend getaway, complete with events such as yoga retreats, pagan gatherings, raves, and music festivals, including the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival and Splendour in the Grass. In an attempt to shake off our studiousness and school-mindedness, we headed off to vibe with the “peace & love” atmosphere of Byron Bay.

We rented 2 KIA mini vans, which cost about $60/day each. The people at EuropeCar ( were very friendly and we used them numerous times. The cars were stuffed full of bags, pillows, surfboards and bodies...and everyone knows that KIAs aren't world-renowned for their spaciousness. Nevertheless, the drive was an adventure in itself navigating the backwards roads and insanely confusing roundabouts at every turn.

We arrived at Byron Bay to drop off our stuff at the hostel and headed straight to the beach. It was scorching hot - just as we had dreamed it would be, and our hostel was some kind of wonderful! First off, it was a 12-person room into which we squeezed 15! The bunk beds were actually triple bunks, which meant (at minimum) there were 3 people per bunk. Founded in the ‘70s by hippies, The Arts Factory Lodge became a center for artists around the world. In the 80s it was an internationally recognized rock and roll venue. It is safe to say that the Arts Factory has maintained its "groovy" qualities with wild paintings and murals all over the property, didgeridoo-making workshops, tent dwelling, roaming iguanas, and an endless array of hammocks.

The beaches at Byron were nothing short of amazing. We couldn't believe how beautiful it was! Everyone went out surfing as soon as we got there. But the beach is not just for surfing. I personally enjoyed a good suntan sesh while grooving to a healthy combination of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, and Rascal Flatts.

After much sun, we decided to go explore Byron and all of its Bayness. We drove up to the famous Byron Lighthouse – the most easterly point in Australia. The view was just smashing! It’s safe to say I’ve never seen anything like it! With the bay on one side and the seemingly endless coast on the other, this view is nothing short of incredible. We hiked down a trail that you can find on your left while walking down the hill from the lighthouse. Along the way we befriended wild bush turkeys and local Australian women walking their dogs. We also found a platform 50 feet above the treetops that we eventually decided to be a hang-gliding ramp. The ramp is an absolute must while in Byron Bay because of the spectacular view and the rush of feeling on top of the world. Another absolute must is laying on your back on the platform and looking upside-down at the ocean and the sky. Just do it, you’ll thank me later.

SIDE NOTE: Although Australia may feel like an infinite abyss of wild jungle and bush, the second you risk going to the bathroom in nature, you will inevitably meet a tour group or someone walking their all-too-curious dog!

The nightlife at Byron was different than we were used to—but a much-appreciated departure from the standard "pub & club" atmosphere of our Gold Coast university. We ate plenty of kebabs during the day (and night and morning) and embraced the local culture by challenging a troupe of 12-year-old Aborigine surf rats to a "handstand/back flip/back flip off the tree" competition.

The main street of Byron Bay is chockfull of street performers. There's a jazz group that does throwbacks to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and the like. I fell in love with the Byron nightlife. In fact, I consider one of my best nights out in Australia to be when I was in Byron dancing on the sidewalk to the local drum circle and didgeridoo troupe. The Beach Hotel ( has a great atmosphere as well and usually has concerts nightly. It is the central gathering place for most travelers and locals alike who are after great food, drink, and entertainment.

The next day, on the way home, we stopped at the most amazing, yet disturbing town in the world: Nimbin; hippie capital of Australia, Nimbin houses such reputable shops as "Bringabong" and "Mardigrass". Upon arrival we were offered weed three times for a total of nine or 10 times in an hour. To be sure, we were glad we visited. But it was a bit disturbing to see a whole town smokin' the gank. My biggest question was how anything ever got done over there.

SIDE NOTE: They have really great dried fruit at the market. They're very good at drying things out.

On the way back to Surfer's Paradise, we stopped in Currumbin for a dip and flip in the rock pools. At the first location along the path, there was an area to jump off a pretty big cliff and an even bigger tree. Here's a friend risking her life for a cheap thrill.

The next location along the path had a waterfall that you can slide down into. There's actually a part in the slide where you catch air and then have to aim to land in a 10-foot diameter pool. Probably one of the top five scariest things I've ever done.

Overall, the trip to Byron Bay was one of the greatest I took while living in Australia. It's affordable, rich with culture and nightlife, and is just plain beautiful. I highly recommend it to anyone planning to travel around Oz.

Ally Stoltz is a student at Loyola Marymount University who is working on a major in Business Travel & Tourism. She enjoys taking school off to travel, finding great deals, and meeting interesting people (usually in hotel Jacuzzis). Her latest passions include negotiating non-negotiables, free samples at grocery stores, and thrift store 80s prom wear. Her favorite countries she's traveled to and/or lived in include: Costa Rica, Australia, & Germany. She hopes to travel to Brazil, Guatemala, England, Italy, & South Africa before summer ends. Her current goals are to get paid as a professional jet-setter and to save the world before she's 30. She is a first class, filet mignon eating kind of girl who, more often than not, is a coach-dwelling, Cheezits and M&M eating backpacker.

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