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Why we shunned Sydney's property madness and now travel the world staying in luxury hotels for free

Photo: Supplied.

In 2013 my partner, Michael, and I were actively looking to purchase a property in Sydney. We were 27 and 31 years old respectively, and felt the pressure to follow in the steps of the Aussie generations before us and commit to a mortgage and the idea of the “Australian dream” – to own a home.

We spent every weekend for months inspecting properties all over Sydney, but found the numbers just weren’t making sense. The property valuations too high, even back then. With Michael’s work on the side as an active investor, after weighing up risk against reward, it just didn’t sit right. It became hard to look past the fact that we would be paying way too much for a house that wasn’t as nice as we would have liked.

Many of our friends were “resigning themselves” to the fact that they would have exorbitant mortgages up to the million dollar mark and would be paying them off for the rest of their lives. But Michael and I questioned this.

Why should we resign ourselves to it? Because that’s what our parents did, and that’s what their parents did? Because it’s what adults do? Why, though? We live in such different times. Thirty years ago, Australians could purchase a house that equated to around 4.5 times their annual salary, these days the median house price in Sydney is equivalent to 13.5 times the average annual salary.

Putting the idea of purchasing a house on hold, we began 2014 working at our usual jobs – Michael in advertising and me as the editor of a small magazine in Sydney. By the end of 2014 Michael’s share trading had become his biggest passion and focus, and the success he had had on the market was opening up a world of possibilities. We had always said that one day we would take a big trip around the world, and suddenly the opportunity to do that was presenting itself.

We recognised that when running the rat race, it’s so easy to slip into a routine and lose sight of the big picture – the enormity and beauty of the world, and the learning experiences that come with it. Having travelled extensively before, we knew how powerful travel could be for giving you perspective, and the opportunities to discover more about yourself and life in general.

Six months before we left I had had the idea to start a travel website due to my obsession with luxury hotels and experience writing about lifestyle and interior design. I created Never Leaving: A Guide to Luxury Travel and set to work approaching luxury hotels around the world for complimentary or heavily discounted media stays in exchange for digital editorial.

Even before the website was up and running, the response was overwhelmingly positive and most hotels were keen to collaborate. We realised we were onto something: with the money we were saving thanks to my website, we could have a luxurious travel experience for the same cost as the average 3-star travel experience. And so, we quit our jobs and, in May 2015, set off for a seven-month adventure which took us through south east Asia, Europe and New Zealand.

We stayed at luxury hotels and resorts everywhere from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, Bali to Singapore, Madrid to Lisbon, Seville to Prague, Budapest to Berlin. All in all we stayed at over 20 five-star hotels, and experienced free spa treatments and three-course dinners all over Europe and Asia. Some of our hotel stays were completely complimentary; others were up to 60% off for hotel rooms and suites with price tags that, at full price, ranged from from $350 – $1000 per night.

During the course of our trip, we worked hard to build an authentic following through social media, which appealed to the hotels we worked with. The main reason for this appeal is that our Instagram account detailed our luxury travel adventure as we lived it, in real time. Most luxury travel blogs simply repurpose other people’s and hotels’ content, whereas we were authentically experiencing the luxury experiences we documented. We now have an active and authentic social media following of 14,000 and this number is growing rapidly.

We have found the whole experience absolutely priceless. It’s like they say: memories last a lifetime, and we have never regretted opting to buy memories over buying brick and mortar, in fact, we wished more people did it, too! We still have a roof over our heads and now we also have seven months worth of unforgettable experiences to add to lives.

Below and on the following pages are some Instagram images of our top 10 most memorable luxury hotels and resorts from the trip.

MACALISTER MANSION, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

One of the first of our luxury hotel experiences for Never Leaving, we loved how unique, quirky and boutique Macalister Mansion was. A refurbished colonial mansion, Macalister Mansion has only only eight guest rooms and each of the communal spaces are a nod to the original building.“The Dining Room”, “The Cellar” and “The Den” are just a few of the communal spaces in the hotel lavishly and eccentrically designed by @ministryofdesign.

THE DATAI: Langkawi, Malaysia

The Datai remains one of our most memorable resort experiences. Guests can choose from rooms with a “canopy”, “beach” or “rainforest” experience, with the resort completely spread out and the choice of three amazing restaurants and two resort pools. Better yet, it has a private beach, Datai Bay, considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s the most ultimate luxe-in-nature experiences we have had.

GRAND HYATT: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Our first stop on our luxury adventure and what a start to the trip! Our room had direct views out to the Twin Petronas Towers, and it was one of the most sleek, tech-savvy and detail-oriented rooms we have stayed in. The showers had “magic glass” which would frost up at the flick of a switch for privacy.

THE UPPER HOUSE: Hong Kong

We experienced the most unbelievable, never-before-experienced service at The Upper House and we believe there is simply nothing like it when it comes to top-tier attentiveness. Rooms have ridiculous views of the Hong Kong skyline and go for a minimum of $600 AUD a night.

THE SAMAYA: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

The Samaya has one of the most peaceful environments we have stayed in – there is just something special about Ubud’s rice paddies. The villas are nice but the real selling point is their strategic location in amongst the natural environment. Our room was right on the Ayung river, while the breakfast is one of the best we have had and is enjoyed while looking out to the rice paddies.

HOTEL VILLA MAGNA: Madrid, Spain

This was one of the few hotels we stayed in that had a traditional, classic and almost old-school lavishness about it. There is a really strong feeling of luxury in this hotel, especially in the rooms, and it’s positioned in the beautiful and upmarket area of Salamanca in Madrid.

HOTEL VALVERDE: Lisbon, Portugal

Hotel Valverde was our favourite boutique hotel experience. It has only 25 rooms and was originally a residential building, built in the 1920s. The interior design in this hotel is absolutely stunning with its strong Art Deco influence and cosy, effortlessly luxe feel.

ANANTARA LAYAN PHUKET and ANANTARA RESIDENCES: Thailand

Attention to detail in this resort is superb. Every piece of material, fabric and finishing is top of the line and doesn’t go unnoticed. The villas themselves are also completely decked out with decorative touches, making it one of the most romantic resorts we stayed at. The Residences by Anantara is the most epic, luxurious development we have ever seen, with each house containing its own 20-metre infinity pool and 180-degree views of the Andaman Sea.

As if the resort wasn't enough, we just got an exclusive tour of the multi-million-dollar development, The Residences by Anantara. A photo will never be able to capture just how beautiful and premium these houses are! _______________________________ Hotel: @anantaralayanphuket Destination: Phuket, Thailand Best for: Luxurious suites and villas on a private stretch of beach. _______________________________ #neverleaving #neverleavingluxury #luxury #luxurytravel #travel #travelgram #instatravel #instadaily #luxurytraveler #beautiful #beautifuldestinations #love #photooftheday #wanderlust #wanderluxe #instagood #phuket #thailand #pretty #luxuryhotels #beautifulhotels #fivestar #seetheworld #luxurylife #beach #beachlife #island #swimming #islandlife

A photo posted by Never Leaving (@never_leaving_luxury) on

HOTEL ALFONSO XIII: Seville, Spain

The most elaborate hotel we stayed at with architecture and design that is so detailed and beautiful it’s hard to take it all in. The hotel is absolutely massive, and it’s worth a stay just for the eye candy provided by the Moorish design. We also had one of the best meals of our entire seven-month trip here, at the hotel’s restaurant, Ena by Carles Abellan. Seville was one of our favourite spots on the trip.

DOUBLEPOOL VILLAS BY BANYAN TREE: Phuket, Thailand

The largest, most impressive villa we stayed at on our trip. Each of the Doublepool villas has a “wading” pool surrounding the main bedroom, as well as an oversized pool for swimming, which makes it one of the best examples of why I called my site, Never Leaving. Ridiculously luxurious and tranquil, Doublepool Villas ranks very high on our recommendations for honeymooners!

This is not a drill. The second pool in the "Doublepool" villas is a "wading" pool and surrounds the main bedroom on three sides. It even has an in-water table and chairs. It is the most peaceful and impressive bedroom we've ever slept in! _______________________________ Hotel: Doublepool Villas Banyan Tree Destination: Phuket, Thailand Best for: A luxurious, tranquil home away from home. _______________________________ #neverleaving #neverleavingluxury #luxury #luxurytravel #travel #travelgram #instatravel #instadaily #luxurytraveler #beautiful #beautifuldestinations #love #photooftheday #wanderlust #wanderluxe #instagood #phuket #thailand #pretty #luxuryhotels #beautifulhotels #fivestar #seetheworld #luxurylife #beach #beachlife #island #swimming #islandlife @banyantreehotels

A photo posted by Never Leaving (@never_leaving_luxury) on

Michael Wills is an active ASX investor and trader and Madelin Tomelty is a writer. Visit their blog Never Leaving or follow them on Instagram at @never_leaving_luxury.

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