Planning My Dad’s Big Birthday Trip!

I moved from Tampa to Seattle a bit over a year ago, and to be honest I’ve seen my parents less than I’d like to in that time period. That being said, the time I have spent with them has been a lot more meaningful, and probably my two most memorable trips this year were with my parents. I took my mom to Bali in June for her “round” birthday, and took my dad to Europe in September for a week.

My mom’s “round” birthday this past June worked out well by chance. I only planned the trip a couple of weeks out, and I’d say it was pretty close to being perfect, though I did learn some lessons from the trip.

Anyway, my dad has a “round” birthday coming up next November as well, and I’m trying to get a head start on booking it. Rather than waiting till the last minute I’ll lock it in now. The good thing about my dad is that he’s really easy going, so I think he’ll be happy anywhere we go, as long as we’re spending time together (hey, at the end of the day that’s what really counts). I asked if he’d be okay with me just planning a surprise trip, and he seemed excited about that, so I guess that’s what we’re going with. His only restriction is that he can’t be gone for more than two weeks.

So slight confession time — even though I plan travel for others for a living, and travel on my own constantly, I’m horrible at committing to itineraries. For my own travels I tend to book them as I go. I mean, I’ll typically finalize an award ticket a day before I leave, and then book hotels as I travel. After all, availability tends to be best either 11 months our or right before departure, and I don’t know where I’m going to be 11 months from now, so that doesn’t leave many other options.

My dad has never been to Australia before, so given that his birthday is in November I think that would be a great place to go due to the weather and also the possibility for an awesome flight experience. While my mom enjoys a good flight, for her it’s just a means to an end. My dad, on the other hand, loves first class travel. If you read my trip report about our Houston to Frankfurt Lufthansa A380 flight, you may recall he didn’t want to watch to TV or sleep or do anything else — “I just vant to sit here and enjoy za ambiance.”

So here are the two things I’m struggling with:

How much flying is too much flying in two weeks? Right now I have roundtrip Qantas A380 first class locked in for the trip, and I’m committed to keeping that for the return so he can experience the Sydney first class lounge and the tasting menu ex-Australia. However, I’d love to add some variety to the outbound.

But when you “only” have two weeks, how much flying is too much? I was thinking of a couple of options:

  • Flying to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific in first class, and then Hong Kong to Singapore to Australia in Singapore A380 Suites Class
  • Flying Emirates A380 first class from New York to Dubai to Singapore (with a stopover in Dubai for a couple of days), then from Singapore to Australia in Singapore A380 Suites Class

This way we could break up our journey a bit and he’d experience some new A380 first class products on the trip, which I know he’d love and find unforgettable. But there’s a tradeoff, of course…

Dad Birthday Map

How many destinations are too many in two weeks? What’s the right “pace” at which to plan travel with others? In an ideal world I’d hit Dubai for a couple of nights, Singapore for a night or two, Australia, and even make it down to New Zealand in two weeks if I could. But that also sounds really, really rushed, especially if traveling with someone else. But what’s the right pace at which to go? I’m trying to balance destinations with nice hotels, since I want to make sure we’re hitting great cities and great hotels. For example, in Sydney I’ll redeem Gold Passport points at the Park Hyatt, which should be spectacular. But how many nights should we be spending in Sydney? Two? Three? Four? Five? The added challenge is that I need to lock this all in fairly soon, since Hyatt is devaluing their award chart in January, and it would help to have everything locked in before then so I can get the old rates.

Help me out, folks! I fly hundreds of thousands of miles a year and spend over a hundred nights a year at hotels, but feel like a total newb when it comes to planning travel 11 months out. What would you do for someone that loves destinations, loves nice hotels, and loves nice first class products? Hit up a handful of places for a couple of nights each and “rush” the trip, only hit up two destinations and go “the long way” with a couple of stopovers on the way?

Regardless, very excited to planning this trip down to a “t” as much as possible.

Filed Under: Travel
  1. Your dad appears to enjoy the flying experience as much as the destination city so your 3 city tour sounds about right.

  2. I think it’s fair to ask him generally the “number of days per stay” question. It doesn’t give away any specifics, and it might open up an interesting discussion.

    Good luck, from your local coot club representative.

  3. so jealous but excited for you and your pa. my advice for oz: spend 3 nights in sydney, 3-4 in melbourne and then at least 2 in the bush: be it ayers rock or something more tropical in the north. you really have to see rural australia if you go all that way. i would also consider hitting some of the lesser-visited cities (adelaide, hobart, perth) for their local flavor. perth especially is a nice visit. maybe 2 nights there. what to do with the leftover days? perhaps a stopover in auckland or wellington via an inbound in F on air new zealand. the best of two awesome countries.

  4. Did you book 2 x one-way trips on QF? Only reason I ask is, don’t you run the risk of losing the seats if you try to change the round trip you already have booked (hence why I assumed you must have booked one-wayers)

  5. First, I would ask what is his age and mobility? Colleen also has a great suggestion…… wife and I are both near 60 but are retired Army officers in great shape…….but we still “need” 5 days per location to be “on vacation”…….but if he likes to hang his head out the window and scream “whoopee” then 3 days might be ideal……..and with Australia there is a lot to see Great Barrier Reef, Gold coast…..New Zealand, Tanzania and Bali……you might have to break down and find some Hilton points as they seem to have a larger footprint in that area……..but you can always book Park Hyatt Sydney and Park Hyatt Melbourne as 3-1-1 and then cancel out later if you want to reduce your time in that city……..

  6. since your dad loves of flying in F, it is best to maximize all the flying time around the world til you reach Australia. The Dxb flight looks very good

  7. Thanks – it was purely in the interests of how you construct the itin as you go. I am interested in how you’re going to redeem EK F – JL, AS, or transfer to EK from SPG?

  8. I thought for awards, one could pretty much only book one award for SQ suites, so how would you get two?

    Btw, I’m not sure how old your parents are, but mine are getting up there, and both itineraries you have seem pretty straight-forward to me. Also, on the map, you show LAX-DXB, but you describe JFK-DXB in the body of the piece, and I think for dad JFK is much more humane, though I know that *you* would probably prefer LAX. 🙂

    Colleen got it right with her great suggestion – ask your dad how many night per place. Good luck with the planning!

  9. @ TravelinWilly — That’s the case to the US, though to Europe and Australia it’s possible to get multiple seats.

    Hah, and you’re right about JFK vs. LAX, as tempting as it is. 😉

  10. Minimum 3 nights in every place for a senior. If you visit two cities in Australia, that’s 6 nights.

    So if 14 days, assuming 2 nights on planes, that is 4 places.

    HKG, SIN, Syd, and the Barrier Reef sound awesome.

    Remember your Mom’s ankles.

  11. I think you meant LAX-DXB on EK? At least that’s what the map shows! Sounds like an awesome itinerary! I think 2-3 nights should be fine for each city.

  12. How does your dad handle jet lag and time zone changes? I would skip dubai and just do Asia.

    Maybe mix up the cities with a few short hops?

    CX First to Hong Kong. Spend some time there, show him around one of your favorite cities.

    Maybe Bangkok Air in Coach (I know.. but a very good redemption via JAL) to Koh Samui. Spend a few days in a villa. Sit on a beach, relax.

    Head to BKK (maybe a cash flight). Go on a tour, find that the attraction is closed, but a helpful tuk tuk driver will take you to a few shops.

    Then perhaps BKK to SIN in first on TG to experience the TG F lounge there and massage and then onto SYD? Booking TG on the first leg likely costs more miles, but adds another experience.

    SYD and then return on qantas F.

  13. I would do the following:
    2 nights Grand Hyatt or the W Hong Kong
    because I don’t think you have flown QF J on the A380 – you could do
    HKG – SYD QF J (Thursday through Tuesday only)
    3 nights Park Hyatt – Sydney
    SYD – HBA
    2 nights Saffire Resort Freycinet, Tasmania – can use points plus pay via Qantas Frequent Flyer
    1 night MONA Pavilions and Museum, Hobart – can use points plus pay via Qantas Frequent Flyer
    HBA – OOL or HBA – CNS
    3 nights Sheraton Mirage Gold Coast or Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas – SPG
    OOL or CNS to SYD
    QF F SYD – LAX 14:45 departure

  14. Firstly, they are very lucky tovhave this opportunity. Depends what motivates them, but I suspect they might enjoy being in 1 – 3 places and settlimg in for a few days rather than dealing with constant jet lag. On route to Aus my folks ifrom EU like to stop off on the way back and forth for a day or so (SIN), but the main holiday is the destination. All are different.

  15. Two weeks is a good amount of time to meander on the way over with the long flights. I would vote for US-DXB on EK – he’ll go nuts in that suite. A short break in Dubai before heading to Singapore (where I’d also take 1-2 days) then Australia. You’d arrive there on day 7. Leaves almost a week to get back, time for two stops in Australia.

  16. Oh, and one more thing: Going through DXB would make it a true round the world trip which is something else that would totally get your dad excited. Or is that just me. 🙂

  17. Figure that your father can probably comfortably go at 3/4 of your pace at best. Maybe 2/3. I’ve traveled with my parents extensively while they were in their 60s and 70s.

    14 days, 3 days dedicated to travel. That sure sounds like 3 cities, two for two days each and Sydney for five days. I like both HKG and SIN, but I think HKG is more enjoyable. For an older person, there are a ton of cheap taxi cabs, which will come in handy, as well as the ability for him to take a break on the Star Ferry – a different kind of ambiance.

  18. The fastest route back should be top priority. Heading out, there is novelty all along so different airlines as well as cities will be fun if you soend at least a day-night in each city but by the time two weeks are running out the body will be bust with time zone confusion.

    Sydney two days is enough. Add Tasmania or New Zealand (EK F), avoid Melbourne and Brisbane/Gold Coast.

  19. Go somewhere different for a change. Your world, as you report it anyway, is limited to places that offer three-cabin flights.

  20. Have just returned from my RTW to Australia in November via Asia and Europe and it was exhausting -10 flights and three weeks in Australia – Melbourne (great ocean road), Sydney and Hobart, Tasmania. With less than 2 weeks, I’d keep it simple myself to get most out of Australia visit
    For a first visit, I’d suggest Sydney 4-5 days then go to South Island NZ to get out of city mode -add some adventures in Queenstown and get on the water for Milford Sound and fly back for the incredible views.

  21. Why don’t you do JFK-HKG (CX F); HKG-SIN-SYD (SQ F) on the outbound, and SYD-DXB (QF F); DXB-JFK (EK F) on the inbound?

  22. @ Corky — This trip isn’t about me, it’s about my dad. These are all new places for him, and in a way I’m happy to have already been to the places we’re going to, so I can also plan a bit better in advance.

  23. Ooh, we did something similar for my Dad’s “round” number last year, and we “the kids” planned a family trip to SYD, with stopover in HKG. Best time of our lives! Flights were also booked 11 months out.

    I kept it simple though I had thought about adding more routings to see more places. We did about 2 weeks (6 days in SYD, rest in HKG). Keep in mind jetlag and flight length, I wouldn’t cram more than 1 stopover in there, that’s just me.

    Does your Dad not mind really long flights? (Because it is!) FWIW, my parents don’t like surprises, so I told them WHERE we’re going (got them a bit excited), but not HOW we’re going to get there. My dad (he rarely flies) honestly thought we’ll be sitting in economy (nothing out of the ordinary, and not knowing that we’ve all been saving for a big trip). And boy, was he genuinely surprised once he boarded and matched his seat number to the lie-flat seat in business! 🙂 An unforgettable experience for both my parents. Although I’ve flown F (by myself) before, traveling with my family for a special trip (especially catching their expressions) was just priceless to me.

    Have fun planning. This is one of the fun parts!

  24. Simplicity. It is a ling trip and it should be about the destination. Two days is not enough in Sydney. Plan 3 at least. If you can get the QF flight the better.

    I would plan just Australia and New Zealand. Key Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns if he likes the oceN or Outback for an Australian experience. Adelaide is small and quite different, i would rather sample New Zealand.

    The last thing your father wants( from what I read) is to jump from hotel to hotel That is Luckys world!!

  25. I’d say no more than 3 locations. If you do that, 5 days will be dedicated to travel and 9 to the destinations. Any more than that will be exhausting. Try to do 2 fun or faster-paced destinations with a relaxing stop in between to rest up.

  26. When I first started going to Australia back around 1995, I would visit for a month each year and never regretted spending that amount of time on the ground. I did a variety of bus passes and air passes (on Ansett back then) and was actually glad to get out of the big cities to see what the rest of Australia had to offer. Hopefully you have time to get out of the big cities, particularly now that the Aussie dollar has dropped from $1.06 to 89 cents, making it affordable there again.

    Let me offer a couple suggestions outside of the big cities:

    1. Katoomba/Blue Mountains- easy train ride from Sydney and well marked hiking trails through the forest. There is a gondola and a very steep railway line there. Small town with a nice selection of cafes and restaurants. I’ve always stayed up there but it can be done as a day trip by rail or tour bus.

    2. Phillip Island and Yarra Valley–the penguins come in at dusk at Phillip Island–that can be done as a day trip from Melbourne, and the Yarra Valley has a nice selection of wineries including Domaine Chandon

    3. Great Ocean Road-I’ve done this twice with a tour company in Melbourne that does a 3 day loop, and have also driven it. Nice coastal drive with scenic highlights that have you ending up in Adelaide. Barossa Valley wine country as you get closer to Adelaide (we did an FT event out there two years ago).

    4. Alice Springs to Ayers Rock/Uluru- hotels will be expensive at Ayers Rock as Accor has a monopoly out there. Last visit I did a 3 day trip with a 4WD tour company down dirt tracks. We stopped at Kings Canyon along the way and slept under the stars without any city lights in the way. Third day was an insane drive all the way back to Alice but you could easily avoid that flying back from Ayers Rock.

    I’ve also done some touring north of Perth to Exmouth, and south to Augusta, but don’t think I’d recommend those for the first time out. Pretty isolated as you head north and you stop at road houses for food and gas, and sleep in bunk houses, something rather unique to Australia.

    Let me know if I can help you with anything. I’m back in Australia this May for OzFest in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock.

  27. Forgot to add: Sunshine Coast. This is the coastal beach area north of Brisbane that includes places like Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Noosa and the Australia Zoo (have passed by there a bunch on the train but never gone in). These are areas that get vacationing Australians rather than vacationing Americans. Noosa has a national park with trails and is one of the few places I have seen koalas in the wild. I’ve stayed in all of these and they each have a different flavor to them. If you want to park and relax for a few days, this area would work. Easy access by train/bus from Brisbane or you can fly into the Sunshine Coast Airport at Maroochydore and start there. Also, if you rented a car at the Brisbane airport, you’re well out of the city center and would not have much congestion to deal with heading north.

  28. Consider Southern Ocean Lodge whilst in Australia. By no means inexpensive (think Aman pricing), but extraordinarily memorable.

  29. Camp Cove is a small secluded beach in Watsons Bay, on one of the most eastern points of Sydney. It looks back on to the Harbour Bridge and city skyline. It feels like a secret part of Sydney. Not particularly easy to get to (driving is best but there are ferries to Watsons Bay) but that makes it all the more worth it. I agree with at least 3 days in Sydney, go to The Rocks and see the old part of Sydney.
    November is nice, just before it gets really hot here. Look up the event calendars and see if there are any open air cinema events on 🙂

  30. Don’t underestimate quite how debilitating the trip to Australia from the northern hemisphere is I’ve done it 5 times this year and it takes a lot out of me (albeit only one of those times was fully flat)

    Also, Qantas domestic flights are, like positioning AA flights in the US, a really good use of BA miles.

    With that in mind I’d try and break things up on the way down and spend the bulk of your time down here. Definitely don’t miss out on Melbourne. The suggestions for Philip, Island, the great ocean road and Yarra valley are all good, in the latter you can visit the excellent Healesville native animal sanctuary. (I often bike out that direction and see kangaroos as I cycle through the vineyards).

    My Yarra Valley wine pick is Mac Forbes, but I’m not sure that they have a cellar door.

    In Sydney make sure you take a boat across the harbour, almost any one will do.

    Not been to Tasmania but MONA is pretty much at the top of my lists of things we want to do the next time we get out of Melbourne.

    Also November is Good Food month in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane and there are all kinds of events surrounding that which will be worth doing.

  31. Being an Australian, I think it is wise to just simply stay the whole 2 weeks in Australia and New Zealand. Both offers spectacular scenery and are yet so different. You def need a few days each in Melb and Sydney, also then drop by either Ayers Rock or Great Barrier Reef (or both if possible). I’d avoid the Gold Coast as it is simply too touristy and perhaps would recommend the Whitsundays. Then pop over to South NZ to finish your trip.

  32. I just celebrated my round birthday late last year and we celebrated by going to a couple of the cities you are mentioning. We spent four full days in Sydney (three days would have been fine), 2 full days in Auckland (perfect), and 3 full days in Singapore. I felt that I could have used another day in Singapore – things were quite rushed and it being 112 miles from the equator, it was quite hot and humid as we were rushing around trying to see it all.

    Hope this helps.

  33. Lucky,

    a bit off topic. How can you generate the route map in this post (and also in many of your previous post)? Thanks!

  34. I plan lots of involved family trips. I have found that you can start with 2 day in a city, but as the trip goes on, you need to increase the time in each city to 4 or 5 days.

  35. I tried to put myself in the shoes of your father…the first flights are the ones where I would be gaga. the destination is not *that* important but there are places that some people consider “dirty” and maybe should be avoided. likewise, do you think your father will enjoy australia? (maybe just for the bragging rights of another continent?)

    Here’s what I would do: ask him for a top 10 places from his bucket list. Who knows, you might wind up in the Galapagos, or Tahiti, or South Africa instead!

  36. Lucky, my advice is to take your father to 2 or a maximum of three places and stay in each place for a week. This way you adjust to the time and can enjoy your environment. It will also be far easier on your dad. Perhaps go Quantas to SYD for a week, then Queenstown for a week? Maybe add in DXB or Thailand as well.

  37. From what I recall, you had a cancelled flight and an extended layover in Germany on your last trip with your Dad. How he coped with that will give you a good indication of his stamina levels….

    I do think that Charlie above put together the best trip – if it is possible…. “JFK-HKG (CX F); HKG-SIN-SYD (SQ F) on the outbound, and SYD-DXB (QF F); DXB-JFK (EK F) on the inbound?” If not, I would do the CX / SIN outbound – (shame HKG-SIN can’t be on CX to use the Wing) since IMO HK and SIN are more interesting as cities… (and your parents will have a shared experience of CX F – which they might enjoy discussing..) and then maybe fit in an EK SYD-NZ… just so he gets to try an array of 380s in F.

    But here is thing, I really am not a fan of surprises… I think that what you gain in the “Wow” excitement, you lose in the anticipation… So even though your Dad agreed to a surprise – I would still get him involved in the planning process.

    So what I would do…… use the books function in iPhoto (or similar), put together a ‘travel brochure’ with excerpts from your trip reports, with a few different options and let him give his feedback…

  38. I think Viva and Charlie put it best…


    So let’s put this into perspective:

    On November 7th you can take CX831 that leaves JFK at 1:55PM and arrives at HKG at 7:00PM on November 8th. This is most logical as your dad would not be able to make the 9:00AM flight from TPA and the 12:50AM flight is just…meh.

    So then, you could spend three nights in Hong Kong and depart HKG on SQ861 at 3:20PM and then get to SIN at 7:20PM on November 11th. I think you should skip Singapore entirely as you don’t really enjoy it that much. Then, you could connect onto SQ227 which departs SIN at 9:15PM and arrives at MEL at 7:50AM on November 12th. You really should do MEL first as it isn’t the “best” city in Australia and gives you a good intro to the country. I would say spend two days in Melbourne and depart MEL at 8:10AM on November 14th on EK406 to AKL, arriving at 1:45PM in AKL. Then, spend 3 nights in Auckland and then take EK413 back to Sydney. Departing AKL at 6:40PM and arriving in SYD at 8:05PM on November 17th. Then, spend four nights in SYD and take QF 1 on November 21st to DXB at 5:00PM arriving in DXB at 12:40AM the next day. Then, spend two nights in DXB and take EK 203 or 201 to JFK on November 23rd.

    I really think this would be ideal Lucky.

  39. Frankly Ben, I don’t think it really matters. As you’ve already pointed out, what your Dad really enjoys the most is spending the time with YOU. Thumb through a few choices, pick something (new) that looks like fun and book it. Dad will have a fine time as long as you are on the trip.

  40. Hahaa… it’s so interesting to see people’s regional Aussie biases. You can tell where in Australia people have been (or where they’re from) based on their advice. @jct’s recommendation that you’d spend three of your nights in Hobart is hilarious. It’s like going to the USA once in your life and spending all your time in Bakersfield, California.

    Similarly, Melbournians have a chip on their shoulder about Sydney’s sunshine, beaches, skyline, hedonism and harbor, so they’ll always tell you to spend more time in Melbourne: “fantastic cafes and Italian food!” (which is true, but y’know, not what makes Australia distinctive to foreigners.) I’ve lived in both cities and I love Melbourne, but only because of its European-style charm. If you want European-style charm, why not just go to Vienna? As for Perth or Adelaide, don’t be silly. With limited time, don’t bother with second-tier cities.

    New Zealand is spectacular, but you just don’t have enough time. Australia occupies the same land mass as the contiguous United States. Don’t try to do both countries and end up doing neither properly. Pick one, relax, and have fun.

    As for your flights, returning in QF First is great idea, both for the Sydney First Lounge (call them a few days in advance to book your dad a massage in the spa with the living wall gardens!) and for the flight’s departure time, which enables you to spend the daytime in the air enjoying the 12-course degustation menu, rather than taking the outbound trip which departs late at night. The other commenters who’ve recommend alternative itineraries clearly have a “North American” idea about what first class is (i.e. glorified coach.) If you have a chance to give your dad the experience of QF First ex-SYD, you’d be insane to pass it up.

    On the outbound, unless you adore Dubai — and I can’t imagine why anyone would — I’d choose the Cathay option. A night or two in Hong Kong is far more interesting than the U.A.E. or Singapore… and you get to fly Cathay. No shower, sure, but you know you’re gonna get the finest service in the sky. And watching the Hong Kong Symphony of Lights through floor-to-ceiling windows from a cocktail bar on the 67th floor of a five-star Kowloon Hotel is hard to beat.

    I bring American friends to Australia quite a lot, and the itinerary that I’ve found works the best is:
    • 5 nights in Sydney (day one: the City center, Hyde park, the Opera House, the Botanic gardens, the Domain, maybe the Museum. Dinner in Chinatown, or at a great Thai restaurant like “House” … day two: lunch at Icebergs on Bondi Beach, walk to Tamarama or Bronte along the coastal walking path, look out for whales … day three: climb the Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout — much cheaper and less strenuous than the BridgeClimb — and do the Rocks historic district and Darling Harbour, maybe the maritime museum & aquarium … day four: ferry to Manly, stroll to Shelly Beach for a snorkel, have lunch at Hugos on Manly Wharf … day five: explore the cafes and bars of Balmain, Newtown, Glebe, Sydney University grounds, have a spectacular meal at Tetsuya’s or Longrain or Aria.) And there’s so much more still to do: get the ferry to Watson’s Bay for a seafood lunch at Doyle’s, Australia’s most iconic restaurant, right on the beach. Just to mention one.

    • Two or three nights in Byron Bay or Noosa. (Avoid the Gold Coast. It’s just a tackier, smaller Miami Beach.) Byron is a 1960s hippy surfer community that has turned into a boutique holiday town but retains its super laid-back Aussie vibe. It’s located on three of the most spectacular beaches on the planet, where they converge at the easternmost tip of the continent. It’s worth blowing money on.

    • For the final 2-3 days, pick either the desert, the reef, or the “top end” (the Aussie term for the Northern Territory, where the most iconic Crocodile Dundee-style images of rainforests and watering holes are from.) If you want the desert, go to South Australia and do a small tour that goes to Coober Pedy & Lake Eyre, the world’s largest salt flat. If you want the reef, go to Port Douglas or, better still, Cape Tribulation, the northernmost town on the east coast and the only place in the world where two United Nations World Heritage-listed nature sites bump against each other: the Daintree Rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef. (Avoid Cairns, which is the reef’s commercial hub but is an utterly charmless city, with no beaches.) If you want rainforests and crocs, go to Darwin and take a tour to Kakadu Rainforest.

    For what it’s worth, I stayed at this tiny boutique resort operated by a French couple in the highlands behind Cape Tribulation, and it was one of the best travel experiences of my entire life, bar none:

    • A final option is Kangaroo Island, where I took a San Franciscan friend last year. There are a few spectacular high-end resorts. The beaches are idyllic. Wild kangaroos bounce around everywhere. It’s rugged and windswept. But there’s nothing to do, other than relax. @Tom also recommended this, so you’ve got two thumbs-up:

    In conclusion, I think the most important recommendation is Port Douglas / Cape Tribulation. It’s the best mix of Australia’s three things: rainforests, beaches and the great barrier reef. If you do Sydney for 5 nights, Cape Trib for 3 nights, and either the desert or Byron Bay for 3 nights, then your dad will have a life-changing trip. Plus, you’ll have enough time left over for a night or two in HKG. You won’t miss Adelaide or Auckland or Dubai.

    On re-reading the comments, I also think all of @tom911’s suggestions are great, though they’re different from mine. If you have time in Sydney, do go to the Blue Mountains. I’d suggest you drive, if you can pluck up the courage to drive on the left side of the road. But go beyond Katoomba (the largest and most touristy town in the mountains), to the town at the very top of the mountains, Blackheath, about 20 minutes beyond. That’s where you’ll find two of the most mesmerizing lookouts in Australia: Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout. They rival anything I’ve seen at the Grand Canyon. Plus, Blackheath is incredibly cute. Find a café and have Devonshire Tea with warm scones and clotted cream. Adorable.

    Without wanting to be disagreeable, as an Aussie travel hacker who flies 100k+ miles in premium cabins every year, I must say I disagree with everything @UnitedFlyer says. The idea of hopping to Auckland and Melbourne, seeing only medium-sized cities without seeking out obscure natural beauty, is nuts. @No Fly Zone has a great point: your dad only wants to spend time with you. Park yourself in Sydney, and find a rainforest and a reef in the tropics, and he’ll be delighted. Don’t make him hopscotch hither an thither.

    The other thing to consider is the weather. September is the most rainless month in Sydney, which is why the 2000 Olympics were held then. But November has a reputation for being rainy. Summer really starts in December, and Sydney is at its most spectacular in January, when the Sydney Festival is underway. There are outdoor concerts and events, harbourside movie screenings under the stars, lots of sailing on the harbour, etc. Must you be there on the date of your dad’s actual birthday? If I were you, I’d schedule his “birthday trip” for sometime in the six weeks post-Christmas.

    Hope this is helpful Ben. You’ve helped me sooooo much in leading the crazy first-class globe-trotting lifestyle that I do. (I flew Etihad First last week. Holy crap. It sets a whole new bar!)

    Have fun mate,


  41. I think Josh does a good job pointing out how diverse Australia is, and there really is something there for everyone. I have been to Byron Bay and Cape Tribulation and hadn’t even thought of those as options, so glad he pointed those out (though notice he didn’t list Nimbin- been there?). Reminded me of Berkeley back in the 60s.

    I expect Ben already has his Australia map out and is trying to make sense as to where all these different places are.

  42. Ben, just representing the old folks…keep it easy. I try real hard to not have any 1 nighties anymore. It’s even hard and stressful to keep up with my stuff, even in carry on.

    You need 3 full days in Sydney, so for us that was 2 nights (got in really early am and left on a cruise late) but it could be 3-4 nights depending on schedule.

    We also loved the Great Barrier Reef area and wish we had been there more than a day. We didn’t do Ayers Rock, because it was just too far, too hot, and way too many flies in Jan. not sure about Nov.

    I would no go around the world. Too hard. And I would do either HKG or Sin for at least 2 nights. To break up the trip if you have to change planes there anyway.

    You’re a very special son. Enjoy!


  43. @ Lucky – Thanks in great part to you, I have just booked a trip to Australia on November 12th flying the “holy trinity” of first class (LH, SQ and EK). I will also try QR’s 787 business class (which I think [QR] has a great business soft product).
    My trip is going to be GRU-FRA-DOH-MEL-SYD-SIN-DXB-JFK-GRU. It would be fun to be able to meet you, by chance, in a flight, but that would be too lucky.

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