Travel Tips #3: 5 Steps to Packing Light

I can’t wait until tomorrow, I’m going to Barcelona!! I’ve never been to Spain and I’ve wanted to for ages, so I’m pretty excited. I’ve spent the last couple of days printing out tickets and confirmations, getting some euros together and today I’m packing.

After much trial and error, I am now the Queen of packing light. I hardly ever travel any where with more than just a small carry on suitcase, and let me tell you, it is soooooo liberating! Knowing you don’t have to wait for ages at the baggage collection conveyor belt after a long flight is great, but more importantly, trying to navigate a strange city by yourself with a massive bag you can’t even carry up the stairs is no way to travel. Ever had to catch a train with a big suitcase? Not fun. Everyone hates you and by the time you reach your destination, everything hurts. So to help you avoid some unnecessary stress (and pain!) I’ve complied a few key tips to packing light and enjoy your holiday so much more!

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1. You don’t need a different outfit for every day of the week

You just don’t. No one will judge you for wearing the same t-shirt twice in a row. If anything I would pack as few outfits as you can get away with, because there’s always the chance you will buy something while you’re travelling anyway. And you want to have room for souvenirs right?

2. Colour coordinate your clothes

Probably the most important tool in packing light. If you can curate the clothing you pack so that they can work in multiple different outfits, you’ll get away with packing less. The easiest way to do this is by colour coordination. Some people go with black for everything, or black and tan. I wear a lot of blue and red so that’s what I tend to go with when I travel too. Take a look at the photo below for example: I’ve got three tops: red,blue and navy, all of which go with the navy skirt and pattern shorts I’m packing with them. I’ve got a white and navy cardigan and a warmer red cardigan to go with them, the red cardigan also goes with the floral dress on the left. With only a few pieces of clothing I can wear a different outfit for every day of the week I’m away if I want to, and I’m not even packing that much. If I wanted to pack even lighter, I could take away one of the cardigans and one of the tops, and I’d still have plenty to wear.

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3. Buy your toiletries in mini

This is kinda necessary anyway thanks to the size restrictions on liquids for carry on luggage, but it makes good travel sense too. There’s no point packing a full sized bottle of shampoo if you’re only travelling for a week. There’s a huge range of products made in travel size now at chemists – I’ll tend to buy ones that come in bottles that can easily be refilled. That way I won’t have to buy travel sized products every time I travel, and I can fill it with my preferred brands of goop. Often at the bigger chemists and supermarkets they’ll have empty travel sized bottles that you can buy pretty cheaply, so there are plenty of options available.

Extra hint: Sharing is caring. If you’re travelling with someone, it makes no sense for both of you packing a tube of sunscreen or toothpaste each. The more stuff you can share between you, the fewer bulky bottles you need to pack.

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4. Take advantage of the hostel laundry

If you’re travelling for a couple of weeks (or months) the hostel laundry is a life saver. Not all hostels have them of course, but if you can strategically plan it so that every week or so you’re staying somewhere with a washing machine and a dryer, you can pack so much lighter. In the mean time, pack a plastic bag to keep your dirties in so that your clean clothes aren’t mixed in with yesterday’s undies!

5. Packing bulky stuff? Wear it on the plane.

Seriously one of the biggest travelling cheats ever, but one that makes perfect sense. If you’re planning on taking a pair of hiking boots and a pair of sandals, for example, why would you put the boots in the suitcase, taking up heaps of space that you can use for an extra t-shirt or that super awesome knick knack you found at a local market? The staff at the check-in can stop you taking an extra bag on the plane, (or even a handbag, Easyjet!) but they can’t stop you carrying your big bulky coat or wearing your ski boots.

Do you have any helpful hints or tricks to packing light? Let others learn from your expertise and share in the comments! 🙂

Travel Tips #2: How to Tourist Well (and Not Attract the Wrong Attention)

After a month of gruelling hours and hard work I am finally taking a holiday!! I’m really excited to do a bit of travelling again – even if it is only for a few days. As I pack I’m trying desperately to remember my scraps of French before I reach Lyon and Avignon, and it reminded me of this list I wrote up a little while ago of how to travel without becoming that typical stereotype of tourist, who although generally has the best intentions, often comes off as rude, ignorant, culturally insensitive, and obvious.

Being blonde, blue-eyed and as white as a sheet of paper, there will always be places where I stick out like a sore thumb. It is not always possible to completely blend into the crowd when you are travelling, however, there are still ways to not look completely like an ignorant tourist. Sure, I have had some great experiences from locals who have recognised me as a traveller and have offered me advice and knowledge of where to eat, what to see, local history, etc. and these experiences have been some of the highlights of my travels. However, looking like a tourist also has a downside: especially in busy, tourist-heavy places like Europe or the USA, it can make you a target for pickpockets, cons and scams. Mostly these are simply frustrating, though scams do exist which are meant to harm or exploit in the worst kinds of ways. With that in mind here is a few things I always try to do when I travel.

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  1. Hanging out in cities? Look the part.
    This sounds a bit like a no-brainer, but really, unless you are actually trekking in the wilderness, or going hiking up mountains, wearing hiking boots or heavy-duty-super-comfy-but-ugly shoes in a city screams ‘tourist’. Ditto clothes: souvenir t-shirts, cargo pants/shorts and outdoorsy clothing you get at camping stores are great if your travels take you outside the urban jungle, but inside it tells the world that you are obviously a traveller who is wearing ‘sensible’ traveller clothing. Don’t pander to the cliché! Wear what you would normally wear on a day out in your home town: comfortable flats or casual sneakers you’re happy to walk in for a day and normal clothes likes jeans, t-shirts, dresses, etc. You will be just as comfortable and less people will stare at you for looking like a twerp!

    Most importantly, wear clothing that is respectful to the culture you are visiting. Many Asian cultures, for example, are still very conservative in their dress and don’t like shoulders and chests uncovered. I’ve seen heaps of girls on their gap year who think it’s acceptable to wear tiny tiny denim shorts and bikinis under lace tops because of the heat, while remaining oblivious to how offensive that dress is to the locals. You stay just as cool in a light t-shirt with a long floaty skirt, or the cotton pyjama-style trousers you can buy in any high street in South east Asia. Look at what the locals wear and copy them – they know best how to stay warm and/or cool in their own climate.

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  1. Act like you know where you’re going
    A big unwieldy map and a look of confusion on your face as you try and work out where you are acts like a neon sign for con-artists and pickpockets alike. Taking a little time to plan your day’s adventure before you leave the hostel, or when you are taking a break in a café can save you from attracting unwanted attention on the street, and help you pack in as much sightseeing as possible into the precious time you have. I try to create itineraries based on nearby neighbourhoods and sights that are close to each other– planning also means you don’t have to do any extraneous traipsing around a strange city tiring yourself out trying to get from place to place. I also refold my map around the area you’ll be exploring before I head outside – tear off all the extraneous advertisements that border the edge of the tourist maps to make it more manageable.
  1. Make your daypack as small as possible
    Particularly in big touristy cities, backpacks are the easiest mark for pickpockets as they are easy to slice open without you realising – even if you have taken to carrying it on your front. I’ve never found that I actually need to carry a lot of stuff when I’m sightseeing, and all that you need to carry can often be found in tiny travel size containers – the biggest thing you should need to carry is your water bottle. I use a small shoulder bag that I can keep in front of me so that I can keep an eye on it, and rest a hand on if I’m feeling really paranoid. If you find you need to carry bulkier stuff, try a tote bag – they are universal enough in every city to keep you from feeling too conspicuous, and they fold down really small so you can store it in your little daypack when you don’t need it.

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  1. Put your camera away
    This one is a bit harder, because as a tourist it’s easy to want to take photos of everything all the time. Take all the pictures you want, but when you’re just taking in the atmosphere put the camera away. Or, if your phone camera is good, take a few pics on that to mix it up. I have plenty of photo albums from trips where the only camera I had was my iPhone – it’s never going to have as amazing quality as an expert DSLR but it is certainly less conspicuous. And unless you’re a professional going on a photo shoot, keep the tripod at home.

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  1. Learn a little language
    A MUST for any conscientious traveller, and a necessity I cannot stress enough. You cannot simply assume that everyone you meet is going to speak English, and in fact most locals in any country would find that assumption very rude. And fair enough, how would you feel if someone came up to you in your country and started speaking to you loudly and slowly in another language? I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who heard other tourists try to talk to locals directly in English and get brushed off as a result, where as simply asking someone if they speak English in their native language first gets a much more welcoming response. I always get terrible language guilt while travelling, I wish I was able to communicate more with the people I meet, but no matter how little time I have before I travel I always make the effort to learn a few basic phrases first (‘Hello’, ‘Please’, ‘Thank-you’, ‘How much?’, etc.) to get me by. It will not only make your life so much easier, but you will have a better experience with the people you meet.

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  1. Use your common sense.
    The best advice I could give any traveller going to a new place is trust your instincts. If it feels like someone’s taking advantage of you, they probably are. If something feels off or suspicious or simply too good to be true, it is – go with your gut and walk away from the situation. I’m not saying be completely paranoid about anyone who approaches you, just don’t be super trusting either. It also helps if you travel with someone – even just someone you met in the hostel the night before – as generally it’s the solo travellers who are picked on as easier targets.

    Some of the scams I’ve encountered have been simply for money. Gypsies in Paris were collecting money for ‘charities’ with false donation forms. In Europe and Asia hawkers will try and tie friendship bracelets on you and then make you pay for them. I’ve fallen prey to paying for a ‘special’ boat tour on my first day Bangkok for an extortionate price (in comparison to what you expect to pay in Thailand – it cost me about $20). The boat was nice, just took us on the canals for about two hours, so thankfully it wasn’t really anything sinister, but at the time I wish I’d just gone with my gut and refused to pay the fare with the group of equally confused tourists I met at the ticket desk who also felt like they were being fleeced.

    I was lucky it was only a few dollars that I was scammed for and it wasn’t anything worse, sadly there are people out there who take advantage of incautious tourists from lacing their drinks to physical and even sexual abuse. These occurrences are rare, but it does still happen, and while you shouldn’t spend your holidays in a state of fear that someone will take advantage of you, you also shouldn’t throw all caution to the wind just because you are on holiday.

Travel tips #1: How to stay Healthy

Being sick on holiday sucks. Being sick on holiday and being completely unprepared sucks harder. There is nothing worse than wandering round a city you don’t know feeling like death whilst trying desperately to find a pharmacy, but when the other option is staying curled up in your dorm room bunk in a ball of self pity this is what most of us end up doing. Unless you come prepared with a few essential med kit items that will get you back out looking for amazing experiences rather than doctors. This article is specifically for Southeast Asia though much of it is transferable to all travel.

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1. Aloe Vera gel
Of course sunscreen should always always be worn in hot weather, but inevitably when you’re travelling, sunburn happens. Everyone has their go to remedy for sunburn and this is mine – aloe vera is really cooling and gets rid of angry sunburn super fast – which is great if you’re sightseeing schedule doesn’t allow you to take a few days indoors to recover. Another bonus is you can find it pretty much anywhere, though the best quality is the thick green gel rather than a clear liquid. Slap it on, give the skin a few minutes to absorb it and reapply regularly until the pink turns brown.

2. Snake Brand Prickly Heat
I have super sensitive skin and this is the only thing that makes my heat rash go away quickly. I found it in Thailand’s 7/11 but you can get it all over Southeast Asia – it smells like the talcum powder version of tiger balm. The only other thing that helps is antihistamine tablets taken daily, and preferably before a rash flares up.

3. Berocca
This fizzy vitamin B tablets help you stay on top of your daily vitamin intake and, as my friend discovered, mosquitoes don’t like blood with B vitamins in it. Every time I take one of these in the morning, I remain bite free for a day or two! Works better than any insect repellent I’ve ever sprayed.

4. Doxylin
Having said that, if you’re going into a malaria zone it’s still worth taking malaria tablets as a precaution. It can make you feel nauseous and make your skin more sensitive, so don’t use it unless you have to – talk to a travel doctor and follow their advice.

5. Hydralyte
It’s very very easy to get dehydrated in hot countries, particularly when humidity is thrown in. You loose heaps of fluid just sweating as you walk. Of course carry as much water as you can, but if that’s not enough putting something with electrolytes in it, like hydralyte tablets, into a bottle of water will make sure the fluids are absorbed. You know what also works? Salt. When you swear you also lose salt, and salt helps your body absorb fluids and maintain hydration. Long distance runners and cyclists often carry salt tablets with them if they find sweating is a major cause of fluid loss. Salt tablets are somewhat hard to find, but salty foods are not. A bag of plain salty chips has saved me a few times when I’ve sweated through my shirt and got majorly dehydrated. Crazy but true.

6. Gastrostop
Food poisoning is not the nicest subject, but let’s be practical here: it will happen, more so in Southeast Asian, African or South American countries, but really it’s a risk anywhere. And it’s the worst thing that can hit you when you’re travelling by yourself and you have nothing in your bag to make you better. I got hit by bad pastrami whilst at MoMA in New York, spent two hours bring sick in a McDonald’s toilet until I finally felt well enough to venture back to my crappy hostel dorm and dose myself with alka seltzer from 7/11. You will thank yourself later if you buy some stomach settling medicine like mylanta or alka seltzer and something like gastrostop for diarrhoea so you can deal with an upset tummy as quickly as possible. A good precaution is to get into the habit of drinking a probiotic like Yakult daily – they’re really easy to find at even small local convenience stores.

7. Travel sickness pills
Even seasoned travellers get travel sickness, so it’s best to be prepared . I really like these ginger tablets because they’re natural, they work really well, and they have heaps in one pack. They can also be used to fight nausea generally, not just associated with travel. Acupressure bands are also effective, you can get them at pharmacies.

This is obviously not the most comprehensive list, and you probably will need to add or subtract according to what’s relevant for you. But hopefully these essentials will prove useful through your travels! Anything else you find brilliant while travelling? Let me know!

Luang Prabang – Vang Vieng

After a few days of yoga and great Laos food in Luang Prabang it was time for us to head south to Vang Vieng. At 7:30am our minibus picked us up from our guesthouse to drive us down the twisty mountainous road to Vang Vieng (travel sickness tablets definitely recommended!) The drive can take anywhere between 4-7 hours depending on traffic, road conditions, smoke, etc. but the countryside it winds through is absolutely beautiful – mountains misted with cloud and small Lao villages with children trailing along the side of the road going to school. There are also plenty of stops for bathroom breaks and to stretch your legs.
As a town there isn’t much in Vang Vieng, but it is surrounded by stunning limestone mountains with plenty of caves and lagoons to explore. It was once a Lao Mecca for for the Full Moon Party crowd, however in recent years there have been so many deaths of drunk or drugged up tourists doing stupid things near water. Consequently the government stepped in and shut down most of its clubs and now local guides are required to escort kayakers and tubing enthusiasts down the river, returning Vang Vieng back to sleepy(ish) town it was once before the party crowd moved in.
We spent most of our time wandering round the rice paddies in search of swimming holes. Chang cave near the bottom of the town has a small waterhole where you can actually swim right into the cave, and is fairly quiet. Our favourite was the blue lagoon – about 7km out of town, the water is crystal clear and refreshingly cold, it’s little wonder this place is popular with tourists and locals. Plenty of people were jumping off the tree or the rope swing into the water (it’s safe, the lagoon is 5m deep!) or just sunbathing on the mats provided, sucking fruit shakes from the snack stand. Perfect!

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Journey into Laos

After over a month of living in Chiang Mai it feels strange to be travelling again, but it’s a welcome change. And the relative calmness and intimacy of Luang Prabang is such a contrast to the bustle of Chiang Mai.
Both Rachael and I were sick in our last few days of Thailand so we decided to splurge and fly to Laos – just as well too as apparently the dry season had dried up the river so much the slow boat wasn’t running and only speedboats were going along the Mekong! The other option was over 24 hours on a bus – an option which at our madder moments we entertained before realising that it sounded absolutely horrible! The roads in Laos are notoriously bad, there are only a few stops, and adding a hacking cough to that mix just didn’t sound appealing.
Laos was covered in haze when we arrived, made from the smoke from the burning of the undergrowth that always occurs this time of year. The smoke is choking, but it does make some beautiful photos! We met a Canadian girl on the bus and together we had dinner by the river watching the sunset. Beautiful!
The next day we got up before sunrise to watch the monks collect their daily alms. Word of advice: street vendors hound you quite aggressively to buy food to give to the monks – don’t give in! Monks won’t eat the food from street vendors, and you can enjoy the experience more respectfully by watching from the road. The rest of the day was spent wandering the city, exploring the winding streets, the ethnic museum and the temples, eventually ending up in Tamarind, a famous Luang Prabang establishment featuring classic Laos dishes served with explanations for ignorant foreigners like us! We ate river weed, ‘heavenly’ buffalo meat, steamed fish in banana leaves, purple sticky rice, traditional young bamboo soup – all absolutely delicious!
The night market is also worth a look – more touristy souvenirs invade every day but in comparison to Thai night markets there is still a lot of authentic local craft items and art. There’s also plenty of fruit shakes, crepes and baguettes along the way for cheap munchies!

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Krabi

Running a bit behind! Let me catch you up with Krabi.

I’ll admit when we first decided to go to Krabi I had no idea what was there or why we were going, but it turned out to be one of my favourite place in Thailand! It’s a really chilled out place which lives up to its motto of lively town, lovely people! Our first stop when we arrived was the local Night Market about a block from our hostel where we feasted on the most amazing local food! Steamed curried fish in banana leaves, grilled squid, tempura mussels and fresh coconut ice cream – we tried it all! Lots of cute handicrafts stalls as well, and batik painting for 20 baht!

The next day we did a boat tour of Four Islands off the coast of Krabi. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking: huge limestone rock formations surrounding impossibly white beaches laced with lush green jungle and aqua seas. Pretty much paradise guys. It was a scorching hot day, so we spent a lot of time swimming and snorkelling to stay cool and lying on the roof of the boat eating pineapple and watermelon. I really like doing day-trips like this – not only because they’re super cheap in Southeast Asia, but it’s a really good way to meet other travellers as well, which particularly of you’re travelling alone I find invaluable. It also means you can see places that’s really difficult to do on your own: transport-wise, etc.

That evening was back to the Night Market for more food, souvenir shopping and a fire show by some local daredevil. Next day it was off to the North – a totally different Thailand!

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Thai beaches – Maya Bay and Koh Phi Phi

‘You’re lucky you did it when you did,’ said Dre with a knowing smile. He’s the English manager of our guesthouse on Koh Phi Phi, one of many European ex-pats that seemed to have washed up on the islands of Thailand at some point and never found reason to leave. ‘The Maya Bay Sleepaboard’s days are numbered, not that they know that.’ Dre chuckled. And it’s true there’s something a bit funny about partying in a national park after all the other tourist boats have left for the night, but that’s also the beauty of it. Who doesn’t want their own private paradise?

We started off snorkelling off the coast of some tropical rock, chasing rainbow fish through the coral before heading into Maya bay for the night. We went for a swim while the tourist crowd was still around, which started dispersing around sunset. We watched the sky change colour from misty gold to pink to purple to a dark night sky, changing the colours of the towering rock faces that frame Maya Bay’s turquoise water and white sand. We ate BBQ chicken and were soon handed buckets of rum and coca-cola, with the assurance of there being plenty more to come. Most of the others were party animal types who hung around the fire playing drinking games and smoking ‘Uncle Bob cigarettes’, while we were happy to take our buckets to the beach and song jazz ballads loudly at the stars before piling into sleeping bags on the sand. We woke up absolutely covered in the stuff! Wind blew it all through our hair and into our ears, eyes, mouths, let’s just say we were covered! We got back on the boat just as the first long tails were starting to arrive and headed back to Koh Phi Phi.

I can see why the locals get tired of tourists on this island. They are completely outnumbered by tanned beach bums who wander round the town in bikinis or board shorts in search of alcohol and dodgy western food. We’ve been living off fruit shakes and Thai classics from street stalls, which are infinitely better than the slices of anaemic pizza which attracts most of the party crowd.

The island itself is beautiful though – countless tiny bays of flour-soft sand separating aqua water from lush green jungle. Today we kayaked around the bottom peninsula of the island to a beach up the top of the island – we didn’t even get halfway to the beach Dre suggested! Still it was nice to get away from the main strip. We didn’t get back until late in the day so now as I’m writing this I’m just chilling in the air conditioning, waiting for the sun to sink lower so we can have dinner with the sunset. It’s a tough life!

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