Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Your checklist for arriving in a new city

I have been doing some city research of my own today as I will be landing in Vancouver at the end of next month, and thought to myself - this might be a good topic to write about!

Before you arrive at your destination, make sure you do a fair bit of research (BEFORE you depart) on the following:

1. The cheapest way to get from the airport to your hostel/hotel
I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but airports are never located within walking distance of the CBD in majority of cities! The distance between the airport and your destination can sometimes be a lot more complicated then you think, and I have underestimated this plenty of times.. When I arrived in London for example, I thought I could just catch a train straight into the city just like you do at Rome... but instead it was a sky-bus, to a train, to an underground, to a taxi! And all of this at about 1am at night - which definitely is something everyone should avoid. I had never used the underground nor a sky-bus which was a bit daunting when you are in a rush so you dont miss the last train before the morning.. I cannot stress arriving in a new city in daylight hours enough!

A new city is always disorientating at first, especially if it is foreign, and it takes you a little bit to get your bearings. Make sure you know all your options and obtain a timetable where necessary so you are prepared, which means you wont get ripped off and your arrival will be stress free and easy! The usual methods of transport are:
- Bus (usually the cheapest)
- Skybus
- Train
- Taxi
Find out transport prices of each of the above to compare (you can contact your hostel for transport prices). Avoid a taxi if you can - unless you are arriving at some ungodly hour and prefer a stress free and safe option to get to your accommodation. Some taxi drivers can take advantage of your lack of knowledge and drive around in circles! The best option is usually a bus or train, so check out your airport's website - they usually will provide information on how to get from the airport to your accommodation. It's always a very good idea to put the phone number of your hostel into your phone. Hostel staff can help you avoid getting lost, and advise the cheapest and easiest way to get to their front door. Taking their number can also be a good backup if you need help and don't have any emergency contacts in your phone.

2. Speaking of phone numbers..
Make sure you do some research of the city you are going to and put the following in your phone:
- Hospital/Ambulance number
- Police
- Your hostel (or accommodation)
- A personal emergency contact if you have one
- Taxi
- Your home number with the +61 3 thing (For Victorians!)
For example, if your mums mobile number is 0407 123 456 then dial +61 3 407 123 456. Take out the 0 at the start. This is what I had to dial when I was in Italy using TravelSIM. I can't remember how I contacted my parent's home phone - I just got them to ring my number and used the caller I.D to get their number. It takes a little experimentation, so make sure you are able to successfully contact home when you arrive at your destination.

3. Maps
Buy a map, save one on your phone or print one from your computer prior to your travels, and label the following on it:
- the location of your hostel/accommodation
- the hospital
- the police
- any sights/shops you want to visit while you are staying
If you arrive in a non-english speaking country and get lost trying to find your accommodation, you can just ask a local to help and point to where you need to go - if you have marked your map. It is so much easier, especially if you can't speak any of the language, but can use your phrasebook to ask 'How do I get to here?'.

Another good tip is to get onto google street view and suss out what the front of your hostel looks like before you go. If you can identify landmarks it will make finding things a lot easier!!

4. Book your accommodation before you leave
Whenever I am going to a major city, I only ever book 2 nights (maximum) in advance at whichever hostel I choose (unless it is peak season and beds are limited). I am usually an unplanned traveller though, so take this into consideration while you read - I like to be as flexible as possible when backpacking. If I like the hostel, I book more nights while I am staying there. If I don't like the hostel, I find another one. Compare www.hostelbookers.com and www.hostelworld.com for the cheapest prices, and make sure you read as many reviews as your eyes can cope with - they will give you a good insight into things you might need, such as earplugs if your room is right next to a busy street or something.

Consider a hostel close to public transport so it is easy for you to get to and from the airport. Remember you will most likely be carrying a backpack containing your entire life, which somehow gets heavier every 200m or so!

(Samesun Hostel, Vancouver)

5. Money
Make sure you either get some currency exchanged, or order it through your local post office. You can also exchange it at the airport or on main streets. But it is probably safer to get it through the post office before you leave so no one has the chance of seeing how much cash you have on you!

Have enough to pay for the basics:
- Your transport
- Whatever you owe for your accommodation, unless you want to pay with your card.
- Food and drink
- Anything else you might buy

Well that is all I can think of for the time being! Like I always say if there is anything you think you could add please do =)

- Kobie

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Buying clothes prior and during your travels - the stuff you probably didn't think of..

There are a few little things to consider when buying clothes prior to your trip and while you're overseas.. so I thought I would share what I have learnt!

- Don't go nuts buying what you think you will need before you head off. Remember you are going to a different part of the world, with a different culture and different style. You want to blend into the crowd, so take the basics (the clothes you live in at home) and buy what you need over there if you can talk yourself into leaving majority of your wardrobe at home! Your taste in fashion will change dramatically, especially in Europe, as there is just so much to be visually exposed to. Consider what might and might not be accepted too - I remember wearing leggings with a polo top and runners down the street while I was living in Italy (an outfit I would usually wear at home) and I had to keep checking I hadn't forgot my pants or something, because the stares I got suggested otherwise!

- Another tip is to look at buying a few basic items such as thermal jumpers and tees/singlets of high quality fabrics. By high quality, I mean something that is designed to repel odour, draws moisture away from your body so the fabric always feels dry, is breathable, stretchy, blocks uv-rays, pre-shrunk, dries in half the time of normal clothes and does not need ironing. Yes clothes of this quality may cost a bit more, but they will make backpacking in hostels more practical, comfortable and care-free!

- If you can't justify spending hundreds on high quality clothes and have become addicted to H&M and Zara, then make sure you buy one size bigger. This is because living in a hostel you don't have a clothesline, you need your clothes dry asap, and the tag on your bargain shirt says do not tumble dry... I'm sure you can guess the rest! I found buying one size bigger would allow for shrinkage, and I could stretch the fabric almost to it's original size, making it the perfect size for me.

So check out stores/brands such as Kathmandu, Mountain Designs, Snowgum, Lululemon Athletica and any other sport/yoga/camping specific brands with a good reputation for quality and design. The major stores often have large sales on too, so take advantage! Another option is to hunt on eBay for those on a budget.

Comment any other clothing tips or advice on quality brands below, I'd love to hear what you have learned!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

What the hell to pack?

The best tip I can give you guys is to pack the bare minimum with the exception of undies! You end up buying clothes anyway, and if you have already packed your 'just in case' stuff there is no way you will be travelling comfortably with the addition of your foreign purchases. So pack the bare minimum - enough to get you through one week - and if you need anything else, buy it. At least then you will know you definitely need it..

I thought it might be useful to share what I will be packing for my next adventure. Keep in mind this is a list for a working holiday, so I have included stuff I wouldn't normally be taking (I have marked these things with an asterisk = *)

The details??

Where: Canada, USA, South America and New Zealand
Seasons: Summer/Autumn 
Type: Working backpacking holiday
How long: 8-9 months
Accommodation: Hostels and farm stays
Tours: 1 Contiki in South America

2 x singlets
2 x tees
1 x zip up hoodie
1 x long but thin woollen jumper
2 x shorts
1 x leggings
2 x tights
3 x long singlets/dresses
1 x long sleeve thermal top
1 x jeans*
1 x PJ's (top & bottoms)
10 x undies
4 x sports bras/crops
2 x normal bras
1 x rain jacket shell
1 x polar fleece/duck down vest 
1 x bathers

Remember, only pack clothes you regularly use at home - the stuff you live in. Try and invest in good quality odour free clothes as well, because there is nothing worse then crappy quality clothes that hold that B.O. smell. Everything I have listed is very versatile - I can mix and match what I've got for going out on the town, heading down the street, or working on the farm. 

1 x scarf that opens large like a blanket
1 x headband
1 x old shirt*
1 x old shorts/pants*

I tend to buy things like gloves, hats and beanies while I'm overseas, and only if I need them. I prefer just taking a warm woolly headband and a large cotton scarf as basics. The scarf comes in handy out on the town and I use it as a cardigan. I can fit in in my little shoulder bag, or tie it to my shoulder bag, or wear it around my neck or use it as a blanket. Make sure you get one that opens up really large!

1 x Timberland boots
1 x thongs
1 x horse riding boots*
1 x strappy sandals/flats

1 x laptop & charger
1 x iPhone (acts as ipod, clock, alarm, torch, personal trainer, and I can use wifi on it) & charger
1 x unlocked old phone & charger
1 x headphones
1 x compact digital camera with video recording & accessories
1 x usb or hard drive

Make sure you put some movies or your favourite T.V. series on your laptop or invest in a hard drive. Sometimes you really just feel like chilling out and watching a movie in English (especially if you are travelling in a foreign country by yourself for a while). Hard drives/usb's are great to back up everything too incase your laptop is stolen. Make sure scans/copies of all your important documents are on your usb/hard drive just in case. 

- toothpaste
- toothbrush
- hairbrush 
- travel hairdryer
- packet of bobby pins
- packet of hair ties 
- perfume
- tweezers
- scissors
- earrings 
- deodorant 
- foundation & bronzer
- moisturiser 
- eye liner & mascara
- shaver
- specific woman's toiletry products.. I'm sure you know what I mean!
- shampoo & conditioner
- mosquito spray
- swiss army knife
- micro-fibre towels x 2
- cold and flu tablets
- panadol

I like to buy my jewellery overseas. It's a great souvenir type of thing! So I only take my favourite hoop earrings and studs and buy the rest while I'm travelling. I use shampoo as shaving cream too which helps keep my pack light. 

- enough locks to lock every zipper!
- bright clip straps 
- laundry bag & peg-less clothesline
- wet pack
- carabiner key ring

I like to keep all my keys on my carabiner key ring. It can fit a bunch and clip it to nearly anything. 

- small shoulder bag
- small wallet to fit in shoulder bag
- travel purse
- drink bottle
- spork and small plastic bowl
- pens and a journal (just because I'm an artist though!)
- little LED torch/head-torch 
- lanyard 
- books
- mini first aid/sewing kit

The shoulder bag/small wallet are what I use when I want to leave most of my valuables locked up in the hostel. That way I can take only the cards/cash I need, it fits my camera too and I can travel comfortably with my hands free! It's also what I use when I am going out. The bag I take is light, deep and has zippers. It's made of leather and is not too touristy looking so I blend in with the locals. 

- passport
- letter for my working VISA
- flight itinerary and tickets
- Contiki tour information/receipt 
- a photocopy of all my ATM and I.D cards and passport (incase your purse is stolen - make sure your parents have a photocopy of all these important documents as well)
- Travel insurance information
- Student I.D card / Hostel membership card
- maps/guidebooks/translator books

I like to keep all this kinda stuff in a clear tough plastic pocket. That way its all together. I have a little plastic flip wallet that keeps all my flight itinerary and tickets in one place too. This way its all separate from my other documents. 

I'm sure I have missed plenty of stuff!! But I hope I have shed light on how to condense your life into one 65-70 litre backpack.. 

Make sure the weight has been evenly distributed in your pack too. 
This image is a good guide for how to pack your bag:

It does take a bit of practice and a good tip I hear all the time is:
Figure out everything you want to pack, lay it out in front of you and then halve it. Repeat this process as much as you can. Its tough, and you will have numerous arguments with yourself - but the less you take the more goodies you can fit in for the trip home! 

If there is anything you can think of please comment below! 


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tips for the female backpacker

You read a lot of the travel articles about what to bring and what not to bring when it comes to beauty products and toiletry accessories, and you think to yourself - I may as well shave my head and bathe in mud puddles in the street. As long as you are practical, you wont weigh your pack down too much with a few personal essentials.

To get an idea of where my girly background lies - I have quite long naturally wavy hair and only use moisturiser and a eyeliner as daily make-up. I add nude powder foundation, a bit of eye shadow and mascara to that combination for hitting the town.

So here is what I learnt from my first trip:

- Learn to style your hair solely with a brush and little travel hairdryer. Try to ditch the straightener if you can, and learn to love the hair you have been given - no matter how crazy it is. There is always someone out there that wishes they had your natural hair.

- Ditch the dyes and let your natural colour show itself... unless you would like to take your chances with a  non English speaking hairdresser every time the re-growth fights back. You will save a heap of money too.

- Choose a style that grows gracefully. I have ditched the fringe I used to have and gone long - because of the maintenance it took, and I haven't looked back! Haven't had to cut it for a year.

- When you are a female travelling solo, and depending where you are travelling - it really isn't a good idea to look amazing. Tone everything right down, especially when you are commuting between countries or cities. No make-up, no really nice or revealing clothes, no expensive jewellery on display. Your aim is to fly under the radar and not attract unwanted attention to yourself.

- If you are one of those girls who is addicted to make-up, narrow down to your 5 favourite make-up specific products. Eg foundation, one colour of eyeshadow etc etc.

- My best advice is to learn to only use make-up for special occasions while you are still at home. Learn to love your natural self - it will take a little bit of getting used to if make-up is your security blanket, but your skin will love you for it in the end, and travelling will be lighter and more comfortable! And if people can't accept the natural you - you clearly don't need them in your life. Once you have had a taste of travelling solo you will understand what I mean about loving who you are naturally. It really puts everything into perspective.

1X Moisturiser
1X Eye-liner
1X Mascara
1X Nude Powder Foundation and brush
1X Nude Powder Bronzer and brush
1X Hair Brush
1X Travel hairdryer with 240/120 Watt changeable settings
1X Toothbrush/Toothpaste
1X Deodorant
1X Perfume
1X Tweezers
1X Nail Clippers
1X Small Scissors
1X Shaver
1X Small Shampoo/Conditioner

All of this stuff minus the hairdryer and the shampoo/conditioner easily fits into my Kathmandu toiletry bag. Don't take anything you barely use at home 'just in case'. You either use it or you don't. Hope this helps!

If there are any other tips or hints anyone can add please comment below!