Saturday, March 31, 2012

Useful Backpacking Accessories

There are loads of useless gadgets out there that you can fill your bag up with - and most likely never use - so I thought I would list the ones I wouldn't leave home without. I apologise in advance for the amount of links to Kathmandu, but they provide a fantastic online service where I have brought most of my travel accessories from. What makes it even better is that everything is half price at the moment!


When you are buying locks, make sure they are TSA approved - unless you would prefer to have your ordinary ones cut off by baggage inspectors after your luggage has been checked in. TSA locks allow for a master key, which should ensure they will remain intact should your bag have to be snooped! And if you're terrible at remembering where the hell you put your keys, get a coded lock.
The fluro clip straps I brought made my bag really distinctive and easily recognisable on the turntables!

I brought this amazing leather Colorado travel purse in 2010, and its still kicking 2 years on. I will honestly cry myself to sleep and have to hold a funeral for it when it finally dies on me, it has been one of the best things I have brought. It fits everything in it - passport, airline tickets, cards, I.D, money, keys, my iphone, a pen, coinage.. and those who have seen it in person agree on it's awesomeness. I will even add a photo of it for you guys to have a look.

This was useful for little random things.

Came in very handy for sneaking out of hostel rooms at ungodly hours to catch flights etc - all that hard work you put into making friends with your roomies will all go to waste if you decide to turn the lights on at 4am because you can't find your room key in the dark. The torch is worth it.

I brought 2 of these with me last time, for the purpose of keeping everything that was important in the one place. This included itineraries, invoices, directions etc etc.

This was surprisingly extremely useful. I could clip it to pants, my bra, the side of my bag, inside my bag and it would keep all my keys together.


This was something I really needed on my first trip - I have learnt the error of my ways and have invested in a Kathmandu Laundry Kit which includes laundry bag, peg-less clothesline, laundry paper soap and a universal plug. For $15 you can't go wrong!

TOILETRY BAG (a decent one)
You really want to get something that will fit everything. I had a basic sized toiletry bag last time and it didn't fit everything in - it was a pain lugging a number of small bags in and out of the bathrooms. I also couldnt hang it up without everything falling out which was a royal pain in the butt. So I brought one of these: a Kathmandu Kit Bag So far it has been amazing. Fits everything! But girly girls be warned - the only make up I take is the 'Nude' foundation, bronzer and 2 brushes. So you may have to upgrade the size.

This was yet another thing I overlooked on my first trip. My sleeping bag packed smaller then my towel! And pretty much every backpacker I came across had one of these fancy towels that would dry in half the time as mine and would pack into a fraction of the size. But I did learn one thing from being on the bottom bunk in one hostel - make sure you buy 2 micro-fibre towels. Because the dude who hung his up over the end of my bunk clearly only had one, and it really didn't smell pleasant. Double check the size too if you are buying online. Kathmandu has a 3 for 1 offer at the moment, so I picked 3 of these in XL.

This held all the gear that could possibly leak in my pack like shampoo and conditioner.

Other stuff I found useful:
- Mini first aid kit including small sewing needle and thread.
- Nail clippers
- Little shoulder bag
- Scissors
- Spork
- Decent drink bottle
- Another clear plastic folder to keep all my other documents in
- A few pens and a journal (drawing or writing keeps me occupied for ages)

Stuff I wouldn't bother with:
- One of those security under-your-clothes money bag things. They are a pain in the arse to access if you are going to use it as a daily purse. Having to strip naked to find your money isn't fun. You want to blend in with the locals as much as possible so you're less of a target for the gypsies.
- A bum-bag. This screams tourist! The thieves will target you - I have saved a Mexican from this type of theft where a Gypsy came up to us and shoved a piece of cardboard in his face, covering her hands and attempted to get into his bum-bag. I realised what she was actually doing and pushed her off. Don't trust Gypsies with cardboard!

What accessories do you bring for the road?? Comment below, I'd love to hear more ideas!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The truth about hostels

Creeped out by the thought of staying in a hostel? Think they are an unsafe place to stay? Think again... you will come to learn that they become your family and home away from home. 

The main trick is picking a good one. And websites like and make this part of the process a hell of a lot easier. 


- The people that stay in hostels are usually young people keen for a good time. 
- They are usually travelling alone too, so everyone tends to look out for each other.
- They are cheap, usually around $20-$30 a night.
- The hostel staff are usually in the know, and a great resource - so ask a million questions!
- Choose a mixed dorm with a large number of beds - more people to meet and cheaper.
- You never get lonely!
- Find out tips on what to see and do in the city you are staying.

- Expensive.
- People that stay aren't usually very sociable - and good luck finding people your own age.
- Reception staff aren't as accessible as they are in hostels. 
- The facilities are typically better, but I wouldn't trade this factor for an adopted family atmosphere.

So how do you pick a good hostel from a bad one? 
- Book it through hostelworld or hostelbookers.
- Don't choose anything rated under 80% on the website.
- Make an effort to read as many reviews as you can - this is the best feature of the above mentioned websites. 
- Choose something that is in close vicinity to everything you want to see. You will most likely be walking everywhere, so take this into account.
- Make sure you research how close the hostel is to train and bus services. The closer the better for you.
- Choose a hostel with free wifi! Paying for internet sucks majorly... 
- Free breakfast and free laundry is an added bonus. 

Are there any hostels anyone can recommend?? Post the name of the hostel and city! I'd love to hear your experiences =)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Steps to organising an overseas trip

So you've decided to explore the planet - but its your first time, your on a tight budget, and you don't know where to start? The steps below may help you out!

Head down to your local post office and grab an application form. You might need to apply for a full birth certificate and a few other things so make sure you give yourself enough time to get everything organised. 

List all the places you really really want to visit. This should give you an idea of how you will need to commute, and you can determine how much money you will need. Plan the trip you want and do research on places you want to go. 

I use either Student Flights or STA Travel. Their mottos are both that if you can find a cheaper price elsewhere, they will beat it. So I'm cheeky and usually will get a quote with one, then send it to the other again and again, until they have gone as low as they can - or till they get pissed off at me. I managed to get a one way to Vancouver for $870 which included a $20 Youth I.D. card... and the original quote was about $980. Make sure you check out these guys before you settle on a price with your local travel agent. Just to give you a comparison, I couldn't get a quote under $1,200 for a one way to Vancouver through a my local travel agents, and I did the rounds. 
When I book flights, I generally stick to this rule: International flights I will book through an agent/company. Domestic I will book by myself.

Don't necessarily just go with whoever your travel agent quotes you with. They are travel agents, not insurance agents!! Shop around, find a policy that suits your needs and covers you for what sort of activities you want to do. Make sure you google reviews of the particular insurers you are looking at - this will give you a good insight to whether it is worth your time and money. If you have private health look into getting travel insurance through them. I use World Nomads travel insurance. Mainly because I like to keep my trip unplanned and World Nomads allows me to extend my policy online. 

Make sure you find out if you will need a visa to enter all the countries on your list. If you are planning to work you will most likely need a work visa 

Decide whether you would prefer a working holiday or not. If you don't have much money, being able to earn money overseas is a great way to keep your funds ticking along. Also, it doesn't have to be money that you receive for your hard work. Working for free accommodation and a free meal is just as good as earning money in some cases. It may only be painting a fence, or helping with some gardening or farm work - and you get to experience the local culture. To suss out free accommodation and free meals, check out - You can sort through listings in hundreds of countries and choose the host that suits you. 

Ring your local doctors to find out what immunisations you will need before you jet off. 

Thinking of a Contiki/Topdeck type tour? You can get last minute deals while you are overseas and save a few hundred dollars - or if you want to do a specific tour make sure you get in early as they sell out very quickly! They are a great way to begin travelling, and allow you to get a feel of living and travelling in a foreign country.

So everything is booked in and paid for, now make a list of what you will need to buy before you go. Travel bags, clothes, lonely travel books, travel accessories etc etc. 

It is really easy to monitor your savings with a simple spreadsheet in excel. If you are on a really tight budget, tracking what you spend can really help with saving money.

If you are going to a foreign country, I highly recommend studying up on as much of the language as you can. You need to know how to communicate, especially if you are travelling by yourself. I've heard of fellow travellers taking up language courses. I just download free language learning software at It has been a fantastic resource for me.

Make sure you order a few hundred dollars worth of foreign cash from the post office before you fly out of Australia. Give the post office at least 2 weeks to get it in for you. Don't forget about possibly ordering a little cash for the stopover too. For example, I was flying to Italy so I ordered in about $300 EU. I had a short stopover in Kuala Lumpur after a 7 hour flight, but I neglected to get any Malaysian ringgit out to buy some food and things. So possibly think about this factor, as you really don't want to be using your plastic card all the time. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

My top 6 European cities

Looking for some recommendations on what not to miss? Here are some places in Europe I thought were pretty cool..

PRAGUE - my favourite
Sights: Breathtaking. Make sure you walk along the Charles Bridge and visit the castle on top of the hill. The city is like something out of a fairy tale. Castles and beautiful architecture and old cars and carriages everywhere. It was by far my favourite city.

Food: I don't remember much of the food, but the kebabs are amazing there when you are drunk haha.

Nightlife: Amazing. Make sure you check out the Karlovy Lazne, a five story nightclub with a different genre of music, different dj, different bar and different dance floor on each story. It was the most impressive club I've been to, and so much fun. Just make sure you know how to get back to your hostel because Prague can be pretty easy to get lost in.

Cons: The czech currency was a pain in the arse. Beautiful money, but very confusing to try and convert in your head. For example I brought a jacket that was about 110 AU and on the tag it was something like 2500 czech. Makes you unnecessarily conscious of your money.

FLORENCE - my most visited
Sights: Amazing. There is so much to do and see in this city. Wait in the long line to climb to the top of the Duomo because it is a view you will never forget. Try to get to the Uffizi Gallery. And by try I mean really try because seeing Leonardo DaVinci's work in person has changed my life and my art! The work in there is amazing. If you love shopping, suss out the San Lorenzo market. It was the most amazing collection of goods I have ever seen. Again shop around for a good price. And one more place.. Please find a little shop called the 'Scriptorium'. Im not sure if it was because I was an art student or not, but I could have spent hours in that shop, and if I had of had the money, I would have spent up big.

Food: Awesome but very expensive. Make sure you shop around for prices and dont just go straight to the first food stand you see. Suss out the side streets and you will undoubtably save money!

Hostel: I stayed in the Plus Hostel Florence when I was on my Topdeck tour. It was a pretty cool hostel and really close to everything. Has a crazy pool that changes colours! I dont remember it being a very sociable hostel though. Probably would give it a 6/10.

Nightlife: Pretty decent. As long as you dont get sucked into one of those American promo people on the street during the day. I would recommend 'The Red Garter', we had most of our fun here. 'Twice' was pretty good, and we also sussed out the 'YAB' which had a really cool set up but was tricky to get into. There are so many places in Florence, get a good group of people and explore!

Cons: The expensive prices were ridiculous. Most of my trips into Florence were from Prato where I was living, which was a 20min train ride. I could buy a large gelato from Prato for 3.50EU. In Florence the same thing was 10EU - over triple the price. Be wary of the Gypsies and the con artists, as they can sniff out a tourist from a mile away. The only other thing I found annoying was the obnoxious tourists everywhere. Make sure you go see Florence in the off-peak season, otherwise you will be wasting most of your trip waiting in some godforsaken line.

ROME - my first solo backpacking city
Sights: Ancient. If you want to see some amazing historical ruins, visit Rome. It is a very large city to explore though, so give yourself a decent week and a bit to see everything. Make sure you do a guided tour through the Vatican also while you are there. It is beautiful.

Food: Amazing. And lots of choice!

Hostels: I stayed at 'The Yellow' and 'The Hostel Beautiful 2'. Both were close to the train station and had good and bad points. The Yellow had great breakfasts, free wifi (but only in the bar), a good bar/social area and lockers under the beds and pretty good facilities. Id give it 7/10. The Hostel Beautiful didn't have lockers but I did get a private room. The facilities weren't that great but the staff would go out of their way to help you. They reel you in with free breakfast but all it is is a coffee and a pastry. Id prefer to pay 4 euro at The Yellow and get muesli, fruit salad and yoghurt. Id probably rate it 6/10.

Nightlife: I dont really remember the Rome nightlife. Not to say it wasn't any good, but majority of the time I spent in Rome was when I was first travelling alone, so nocturnal activities weren't something I took part in.

Cons: It takes a lot of walking to get to everything, and it is a nightmare city to visit if it is bad weather - as you get very sick of saying no to the umbrella pests.

PARIS - the city with the most to see and do
Sights: Well I have no idea where to begin.. but make sure you do a Fat Tire Bike Tour. Or hire a bike while you stay in Paris. Go see the Eiffel Tower, especially at night, go to Moulin Rouge, go to the Louvre, go to Central Park. It's such a beautiful and bustling city.

Food: Unbelievable. You have to try frogs legs and escargot. Not as bad as you think.

Nightlife: Good, but not as fun as Florence or Prague.

Cons: I found the locals not as friendly as the Italians, but I didn't get a chance to stay in Paris for very long.

AMSTERDAM - the crazy city 
Sights: The shopping in Amsterdam is amazing. Such a beautiful city. Check out Anne Frank's house too, a very interesting experience. Make sure you get a chance to stroll down to the red light district. Very much an eye-opener! And don't take photos unless you want to be chased, possibly bashed and have your camera confiscated by a prostitute. Just respect that they are working.

Food: Good.

Nightlife: Crazy crazy fun. Check out the 'Paradiso' - A church that the Dutch turned into a nightclub to prevent having to deal with squatters. I have never felt so strange parting in a church haha. But so much fun!

NICE - the pub city
Sights: This is an interesting city, with most of the sights including rock beaches and amazing shops. Everywhere. It was an awesome city to go shopping in, but other then that there wasn't too much else to do. Make sure you check out the casino and the view at night.

Nightlife: Fun! If you consider table top dancing a fun activity.. but who wouldn't?! There is a lot of variety for pubs here, and they are all relatively very close to each other.

Cons: There wasn't much to do, so 1 or 2 days here would probably be plenty.

A few other amazing places that I haven't mentioned above are: Switzerland, Berlin, Austria, Naples, Venice, Athens and London. Just see as much as you can!

Whats your favourite city... and why?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A girls guide to a foreign night out

Not sure of what to bring when it comes to partying in a foreign country? I wont be able to help all you girls out there as I am quite content with going out in white canvas shoes and plain tees haha - but you might find this post useful nonetheless.

Here are my top tips for a night out:

1 - Don't bother packing party/cocktail dresses.
              - If you cant wear it as a casual piece of clothing it is a waste of space
              - Bring something versatile, that can be worn with anything else in your bag
              - You generally don't want to attract attention to yourself anyway
I brought a long sleeved oversized shirt that was elastic and skin tight. I would wear black tights underneath it and a little denim vest over the top with beige flats. I could wear this dress as a casual shirt or as an extra layer thermal type thing. The only problem I found was that it was a bit too hot to dance in at some night clubs. A plain black elastic type skirt never goes astray and then you can really change up your party outfits with different shirts tucked or untucked.

2 - Bring something that can dress up a casual/plain piece of clothing. I had a little denim vest that I could wear casually undone with a shirt or I could do it up over a plain skin-tight black dress and it would dress up great. I wore it so much!

3 - Plain black tights. These are great especially if your party city is a bit chilly! They also pack down small which is an added bonus.

4 - DO NOT BRING HEELS!! Only flats or strappy sandals intended for party and casual use. I say strappy sandals because you want to bring something that is going to be well attached to your feet. With the amount of walking you will be doing dressy thongs that don't somehow attach to your ankles will be the death of you. Also some places might refuse your entry if you don't have adequate footwear.

5 - A strong but small shoulder bag. You should find something big enough to fit your phone, money, I.D, the key to your hostel, map, as well as a scarf/thin cardi. You need something that will protect your important stuff

6 - A scarf or cardi (for cold weather). It is amazing what a $12 cotton scarf can do for warmth. I would often bring it instead of a cardi, cos I could tie it to my small shoulder bag or stuff it in. It would open up really large so it was like a blanket if it was too cold, or I could just chuck it around my neck. If I lost it well it didn't really matter because I could just buy another!

7 - A tiny little card wallet. You dont want to bring your purse with you. If fact the less important stuff you can bring, the less likely you will loose it. I would only take sufficient I.D and one of my travelex cash-passport cards (for more info on these see my post about moola). The little card wallet I brought would fit my cards perfectly.

8 - Only use the cash you have withdrawn for that particular night. I would NEVER use my travelex card unless it was an emergency. I would withdraw about $40-50 bucks, and would aim to go home with majority of it.

9 - Dont get drunk. As much as this is the obvious point to going out, you need to know your limits and still be very aware of what is going on around you. Stick with your hostel buddies and never go out alone. Common sense!

10 - Phone. Make sure you have charged it prior and that you have the local taxi and police numbers in it. Something really simple but could get you out of a tricky situation.

11 - Dont wear your favourite jewellery - very high chance of it disappearing.

12 - Make sure you bring a map with you. Getting lost is very easy and definitely not a good option.

13 - Dont get sucked in by those people on the streets that you meet during the day and they tell you all about this awesome club and the free drinks they will give you as they are promoting it, and the awesome night you will have. Its usually a massive scam to strip you of your money. Go and talk to your hostel guys at the front desk and find out all the goss on the con artists and the night-life. They will always be able to give you some good advice!

I guess the main thing to remember when packing party clothes is whether or not you can wear it casually as well as dress it up. I would only bring one particular outfit because you can always buy something when you get to your new country. Just accessorise it up or down with items that can also be worn casually! Enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Who to ask for help

When you are by yourself travelling and don't have anyone within a 20 hour flight radius to help you if something is to go wrong, you will often have to ask a local for help. Being a young woman, I am always strategic with who I ask for help, so I thought this might be an interesting topic to shed some light on.

So what I am about to talk about I find very difficult to explain - so I hope its not too confusing! When you travel solo, and have to rely on yourself and yourself alone - meaning you have absolutely no connections or networks in the continent you are in, and there is no point calling home because lets face it, what the hell could your parents possibly do to help on the other side of the world?

I found I developed a sixth sense so to speak. I had an instinct that would kick in and direct me towards people I could 'trust' and people I should 'avoid'. I guess it was my body's way of surviving, and I believe it was developing this skill and trust in my gut feeling that changed my personality. When it is just you and your thoughts, you become a hell of a lot more aware of what goes on around you. How people interact, their mannerisms, whether they are friendly or have a hidden agenda. Every person I met, I unconsciously would analyse their intentions and figure out whether they were good company to keep or not. And I made sure I would never ignore my gut feeling.

So.. when I needed help, I would call on this instinct or gut feeling. I would target people who I knew would be safe to help me out. I never trusted anyone, I guess a better description would be to say that I used them politely. I made sure I would choose friendly looking women or parents with young families to help me. It seemed that mothers were always very empathetic and would go to unbelievable lengths to help me out... I guess it was because I am very young looking and they couldn't ignore that mothering instinct. I owe a lot of my rescues to mothers!

I guess what I am trying to say to all you young women travellers out there is don't ask the creepy looking guy on the train how to get to such and such. It's plain common sense. If you have an uneasy feeling about a person, don't ignore it and don't forget you are your own boss on the road.

I also thought I would share a story that has inspired me to write this post. It is dedicated to the amazing young English family that helped me get from Gatwick airport to my hostel at ungodly hours of the morning.

This was my first experience of travelling by myself. I had just finished my semester two studies in Italy, and was heading straight to London to begin my Topdeck adventures around Europe. I had not given myself much time at all for errors, which is something I have learned from. I had uni that Friday in Prato, then had to catch the Prato train to Pisa in the afternoon, where I would catch a plane from Pisa to Gatwick airport. From Gatwick I had to catch a train/tube to the Clink Hostel in London, where my bus left for the tour at 7am the next day.
I had a few hiccups getting to Pisa with train delays, but luckily I didn't miss my flight. After getting to Gatwick I had no idea where to go, it was something like 12am in the morning and there was only one or two tubes left to get into the city. I saw a young family and I knew this was my only way out of here - as there weren't many people on the plane, nor was there anyone in the airport with it being so late. I followed them and asked how to get to where I was going, and where they were going. It was by pure chance they were heading to the same place. They helped me pay for the tube (something I didnt even consider) and booked me a taxi from the tube to my hostel (something I couldnt of done as I had no idea of the number for a taxi). The mother refused to let me walk from the train to my hostel, as she had grown up in the area and said she wouldn't dare do it herself. Im glad she was so persistent, because by the time we got to St Pancreas Station it was 1 or 2 am and the nightlife there was insane with it being a Friday night. I would have been a sitting duck walking by myself with a massive pack. There was no way I could slip under the radar and blend in with everyone else.
Anyway the family waited with me for my taxi to come, but it never did. We waited for like half an hour, and they had no obligation to do so. They refused to leave me on the street by myself, so they shoved me in their taxi and drove me to the hostel. I tried to give them money but they refused. I will never forget their kindness nor the help they gave me, and it is people like that who make travelling such a beautiful thing.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The 23 hour flight checklist

This is something that can easily be overlooked! If you're going to be stuck in the air for 23 hours or so, you don't want to be uncomfortable, or leave something you didn't think you would need in your checked in baggage.

So I thought a list of what I wear and what I pack in my carry-on luggage might help.

For clothes, I make sure that I wear stuff that I can bend over backwards in - so to speak. Im very much a sleeper in the air, but with such a small amount of space and the need to change into many awkward sleeping positions, I make sure I wear clothes that are super comfortable and flexible.
This is what I usually wear:
- Leggings that aren't too tight around the waist
- My biggest hoodie/warm jumper I'm taking on my trip (You usually get a tiny blanket and some planes can be really cold.. and if you are cold its really hard to get to sleep!)
- Any type of shirt.. as long as it is short sleeve and that I feel comfortable wearing without my hoodie
- A scarf (which I also use as a neck pillow)
- Slip on shoes (thongs, flats etc)

- I dont usually wear any jewellery or anything metal as it can be a pain to take everything off each time you go through the metal detectors. They usually make you take your shoes off so thats where the slip on ones come in really handy.

Remember if you are travelling to the other side of the world the seasons are usually the opposite, so keep this in mind when you are deciding what to wear. What you decide to wear needs to be versatile. For example I fold my full length leggings into 3/4 if its hot, take off my hoodie and scarf or layer it all on if its cold.. but comfort is the main thing.

As for my carry on, this is what I take:
- A spare pair of underwear
- Those little disposable toothbrush things (Im pretty sure you can bring toothpaste on a plane)
- A pair of comfy shorts or another pair of leggings
- Socks (it can be hard to cover your feet on a plane so these come in handy)
- Chewy (this will literally save your life)
- Anything that is valuable or heavy (laptop, camera, purse etc)
- All my travel documents (passport, air ticket, maps, hostel info, etc)
- iPod (when your sick of listening to the repetitive and annoying radio dude)

I think thats it! However I do change this if my check in baggage is dangerously close to the weight limit. If it is, I wear as much of my bulky clothes as I can including big jackets, and I switch to my heaviest shoes. I will also pack as much heavy stuff in my carry-on as I can, as they usually don't weigh this.. as long as it is the required size they don't care too much. Another tip is when you are carrying all your stuff from the line to the check-in counter, make it look as if your carry-on bag is as light as a feather. If you are dragging it or look like you are struggling, they are more likely to weigh it. Most airlines allow for 10kg's for carry-on I think.

If you are taking a handbag in addition to your carry-on, make sure it can fit inside your carry on bag, in case the airline makes a fuss. Some don't mind if you take the two, but it makes life a lot easier when you are prepared either way!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The sleeping bag dilemma

So your travelling right, and you think it is just plain common sense to bring your own sleeping bag? Unless you are actually camping - don't even bother!

Pretty much all of the hostels I stayed in wouldn't allow guests to use their personal sleeping bags for fear of transferring bed bugs. I cant even recall using my sleeping bag.. it was a total waste of space. The hostels usually supply a decent amount of bedding and sheets, so you shouldn't get cold.

If you aren't sure whether you will need one or not I still wouldn't recommend bringing one. Just buy one while you're over there, they aren't too expensive these days anyway.

Accessing your moola while abroad

Being able to access your bank account while overseas is probably the most crucial thing when you are travelling. The last thing you want is to get stuck somewhere in a different timezone on a weekend with no cash after a foreign auto teller has swallowed your bank card.

I used a Travelex Cash Passport while I was travelling. It was really easy, I didn't have to use my Australian card and it came with a duplicate back up card. So at all times I had three different options for accessing money in case something went wrong. Make sure you dont keep all three cards together... for obvious reasons! Talk to your bank and let them know of your travel plans so they dont think someone has stolen your card. I would recommend transferring to a VISA if you haven't got one already. 

After a day of wearing one of those irritating over the shoulder and under your clothes money belt things and not enjoying it - I decided to make use of it a different way. It became my keeper of all things categorised as back up resources... cash, my spare Travelex card, maps, etc. I would highly recommend a small bag for all your secret stashes that can be easily hidden in a safe place in your pack.  

Another thing to remember is when you withdraw money from an auto-teller overseas, make sure you take out a decent amount. Put enough to last a few days in your purse or day bag, and put the rest in your secret stash bag. Each time you withdraw you are usually charged a fee, so by taking out as much as you can each time you need money you wont waste too much on withdrawal fees. For example, when I was in need of money in Europe, I would withdraw 500 EU, put 50-100 EU in my purse and hide the rest. 

Also, make sure you withdraw money during daylight hours if you can, in a fairly busy public area. Don't put yourself at risk by using the auto-teller down the alley at 11pm at night.

One of my friends recently gave me this advice:
"I found NAB really good for atm transactions. its usually $4 per transaction but if you get the gold card for $10 a month overseas wigthdrawals are free so pays for itself. i did run into some money troubles o/s when my bank card was swiped/hacked and then my back up credit card expired! so think about having a few ways of accessing cash. student flights is the shizz definitely" Thank Jordan =)!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gadgets I use while backpacking

There are loads of options these days with technology. I often get varied responses from different travellers regarding their choices of electronics. So I thought I would list my essentials for you guys.

When you like to keep your travels as flexible as you can like I do, a small laptop is pretty much your best and most trusted friend when going solo. Along with your choice of hostel with free wifi, you are all set to tackle the unknowns and random events of travelling. The main reasons I choose to take my macbook with me are:
- I can find and book cheap flights or tours when I need them
- Skype/Facebook/Twitter so you can keep tabs on your loved ones for free compared with a phone bill
- Movies for rainy days in hostels
- To store all my photos

You would be an idiot if you didn't take one. For my Europe trip I took an Olympus SLR. Great camera, but it wasn't one I could just shove in my pocket, or record videos with. So for my next trip, I've downgraded to a little Canon point and shoot with HD video. Cost me $75 bucks and will be worth every cent! Make sure you have a small cover for it for daily use plus a larger bag that fits the camera plus all its cords and charger to keep it all in one place.

Whatever you do, don't use international roaming!!! Its just not cool. My plan of attack was to bring an old unlocked phone from home, and I brought a 'Travel SIM' from my local post office before I left. Worked a treat in all the different countries I travelled to. If you are staying in one country for majority of your trip, I know of a lot of travellers who just brought a SIM when o/s and used that. I found travel sim super easy to recharge over the internet (yet another use for my macbook) - I didn't have to try and recharge using a receipt with instructions that were in another language. So make sure you consider these options before you jet off.

Music is essential for long train commutes or flights. I wouldn't leave it off my list.

Power Adaptor/Power board
This is an important one. Not all countries have the same adapter holes... so you will most likely need a converter. Check the requirements of the country you are going to... Make sure you get one of these otherwise what is the point of bring all your gadgets? I also like to bring a small power board too, as sometimes the hostels don't have a lot of outlets - and add sharing a room with 6 other people to that equation. The least amount of space you can take up, the happier everyone will be.

An Electronics bag
So you have a million cables for all your goodies above? My final plan of attack is to bring a bag designated to my electronics stuff. There is nothing worse then having power cords getting tangled in your undies in your pack. I keep my camera and its specific cords in one bag, which includes my phone cords and my iPod stuff (I guess you could say all my small electronic gadgets are located in my camera bag) and I also take another bag for my larger electronic stuff such as laptop cord, power adaptors and my power board.

So there you have it. Everything I need for the road.

Going solo? Even better.

So So you want to explore the world - but you have no one to go with?? Consider this an advantage! No one to make you spend money on things you rather wouldn't, you can come and go as you please, see what YOU want to see and not waste your time seeing what's on someone else's wish-list. Travelling in a group is awesome, but you tend to keep more to yourselves and in my opinion (having tested both methods) miss out on meeting some amazing individuals.

For me, travelling solo was a kind of accident. I was shy and I really sucked at meeting people prior to backpacking. Going solo changed my life, and I enjoyed it so much that I think I will find it very hard to travel any other way...

EXCUSE #1 'But isn't it lonely?'No... Farrrrr from it. But this is entirely dependant on how you decide to travel. I like to hostel it, generally in and around major cities. And I will never stay in a hotel ever again. Hostels are like a home away from home for me. Its a community of its own, like a big family, filled with young, interesting intrepid travellers such as yourself - who are usually travelling alone as well. So everyone tends to look out for each other. The vibe is fun, exciting, and its the best way to meet people.

EXCUSE #2 'But I'm shy, and I'm terrible at meeting people'...I was terrible at meeting people and making friends prior to travelling. I found that backpacking solo helped me change that dramatically. It positively forces you into meeting new people. I chose to always stay in mixed hostel dorms of 6-10. This was the cheapest option but also the best for meeting room-mates. I consider the people I have travelled with like family, and have kept in touch with the people I was closest with.

EXCUSE #3 'But isn't it dangerous - especially being a girl?'Travelling solo only becomes dangerous when you stop looking after yourself. 99% of it is common sense that will keep you safe.But below are my rules to keep out of trouble anyway, in case there are any you haven't thought of:
- Never go out after dark alone
- I dont drink unless I'm on some sort of organised tour and I'm with someone I trust (Topdeck/Contiki/Hostel Pub Crawl)
- Along with the above, I never get too drunk.. but I am one of those people who can have the best night sober.
- Always make sure flights you book are in reasonable daylight hours, and give you enough daylight to get to your next hostel.
- I only ever stay in hostels that are rated 80% or higher on Hostelworld or Hostelbookers
- I never trust anyone 100%. Im not saying be paranoid, but tune into your 6th sense or gut feeling and always consider what your new friends intentions might be. 
- Dont get talked or bullied into doing things you don't want to do. Its simple. Only ever do what YOU want. After all isnt that why you decided to go by yourself?If you are still worried about travelling solo - start your adventure off with a tour. I have used Top Deck in the past and it was fantastic. Contiki is another popular tour company for under 30's Everything is planned for you, all you have to do is enjoy yourself and make life long friends. Then after your tour is finished, you are more familiar with the backpacking routine and you have a bit more confidence, then head off on your solo backpacking adventure. Who knows, if you keep your trip fairly flexible you might continue travelling with someone you have met on your tour.

So basically, if you want to change your life forever and truly find yourself - I couldn't recommend travelling solo highly enough. But consider yourselves warned... it is extremely addictive. As soon as you get home your priority is to plan and save for your next trip to a place that a fellow backpacker recommended... you know, that guy/girl you met at that hostel you stayed at in that really cool place.

What to look for when buying a decent travel pack..

So you've recently decided you want to see the world, but don't know what to pack your life into for your trip?

Great =).. I may be able to help you here!

First of all, I would never recommend buying a massive suit case on wheels (been there, never ever want to do that again..) Secondly, after ditching the suitcase, don't just walk into any random camping shop in Florence and buy the biggest pack you can find to fit all your crap into... coz chances are the sales guy wont know what he is talking about, and will sell you a 90L pack that you have to customise to fit you with many knots!

Do your homework and formulate a checklist, preferably while you're in your own country. No language barrier and a wider variety of products will definitely lead you down the right track to finding the perfect travel companion.

This is my checklist:
- Fully lockable
- Opens like a suit case
- Weatherproof, preferably canvas type material
- Separate bottom compartment (for dirty shoes etc)
- Decent detachable day pack that is lockable and fits my macbook
- A harness that actually fits me
- Lots of secret compartments
- Lockable harness cover for the airport
- Evenly spreads the weight on my back and hips - does not sit the weight on my bum making it difficult to walk (make sure you try the pack on with weight in it in the shop. Generally 10-15kg's, and make sure its as evenly distributed as possible)

So I have been very lucky third time around after doing loads of homework and trying on a ton of different packs at camping and outdoor shops.

MACPAC GENESIS AZTEC... worth a look! Check out the online store at Macpac


For all the women out there who are around 5'5'' and small framed, I would highly recommend buying a Macpac Genesis AzTec. I brought a 70L size W2 (this size includes a 15L detachable backpack). The harness is great and it ticks all of the boxes for durability and quality, as well as my checklist above.

What shoes should I take?

Im not one of those girls that has a wardrobe full of shoes, but I still find this part of packing quite tough. My advice? Less is best! Shoes are bulky and will weigh down your pack (obviously!) - and there is no point carrying around a pair of shoes you may only wear twice out on the town...

Unless you plan to live in your runners there is no point taking them. They get wet easily, then take ages to dry and you most likely wont be going on those regular jogs that you thought you would to keep fit like you do at home. A lot of the girls that I backpacked with on my first trip overseas wore those black lack up military dress boots. They could wear them out at clubs, while commuting from hostel to hostel, with jeans, with stockings, with leggings, they were waterproof and durable. They seemed a very versatile shoe, which is exactly what you want!

Another factor I will stress with shoes is make sure they are top quality and don't hurt your feet. Doing the amount of walking you will be doing, you need something that is absolutely perfect.. And if you must insist on runners - buy a waterproof pair.

So this is my list:

- Thongs - for the showers in the hostels and casual wear
- My Timberland boots - which I will wear practically every day. Here's a link if you want to check them out..

- A pair of comfy/supportive ballet flats OR a pair of comfy/supportive dressy flat sandals - which I will wear to party in and commute in if the weather is too warm for my boots.

Dont even bother taking any form of heels with you - being in a foreign country and typically without a car - you will walk a lot of miles in search of a decent bar, and before you have even found the decent bar you will have blisters everywhere and be walking like a spastic.. not my idea of a fun night out!