As travel time goes one month in a country is a long time, so spending two months in French Polynesia, an expensive island destination, became what felt like a stressful eternity.
When flying into French Polynesia you need to have proof of onward travel. Our onward destination was going to be Japan and we wanted to be there for the upcoming summer. This meant that we had a lot of spare time before then. Coming from the Cook Islands we were looking forward to more beach time before Japan. We knew that flying into and out of French Polynesia is very expensive but we managed to do some serious airline hacking.
Using our flight points and search engines to the max, we managed to snag a free flight from French Polynesia to Japan, minus taxes. We also lucked out with a cheap flight from the Cook Islands to French Polynesia, having all of that work out, we didn’t think the cost of flying to another country in between French Polynesia and Japan would be worth the extra cost.
In order to stay in this expensive but once-in-a-lifetime destination for this long we planned on camping and hitchhiking. Emma and I initially decided on seeing French Polynesia only by cargo boats and sailboat hitchhiking. Unfortunately after 4 full days of talking to cargo boat companies and sailboats in Papeete, all while trying to logistically figure out a travel route, based on the cargo boat schedules and what islands we wanted to see, plus trying to find accommodation for specific days on those islands, we eventually relented and decided to fly to the various islands.
It was a quick decision but it made more sense for a few reasons, one being my new injuries from the Cook Islands. I now needed help carrying my stuff and flying would be a lot easier on my body compared to being out on the sea for multiple days at a time. The lack of hard information, anywhere, for inter-island travel and limited space for budget accommodation also were main factors of why we switched to flying. The last thing we wanted was not finding a boat back to Tahiti in time for our Japan flight.
Between the reduced cost of the cargo boat, but having to wait on the boat’s schedule, would not have saved us that much money. We would still have to still pay for accommodation while waiting and then that cargo boat would only take us to one specific archipelago. From there we would have to find a way to each island that we wanted to visit, all while trying to find last minute accommodation, in a country that is sparsely populated, with no infrastructure or way to communicate.
At the time of planning we did not understanding the sheer remoteness and cost of each island. Staying for two months was a mistake but we were committed because we had pre-booked all of our flights. We should have scaled down our ambitions and concentrated our travels to fewer islands with a shorter stay on each. That would have allowed us to do activities that we skipped over because of the cost.
By the end of our trip we could not handle the price of being in French Polynesia, it was too late in our flight passes to make much difference but we found out that we were able to change the date of our Air Tahiti flights for free. We shortened our last few islands allowing us to get back to the main city of Papeete early. After a two days in Papeete we also bit the bullet and paid the cost to change our Japan flight to over a week early. Paying the cost to change our Japan flight plus finding accommodation in Japan, we actually saved money compared to staying in French Polynesia.
Everything is hindsight and the beauty of traveling is that you learn as you go. Knowing what I know now I would probably go back to French Polynesia, even with the cost, because I know how long to stay, which islands are worth seeing and how to properly navigate boats and flights.
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