On the trip

How I control my social media when I travel (without disconnecting completely)

I love social media - but I am becoming more aware that social media has a dark side - it can so easily take you away from what you’re doing, especially when you’re travelling.  So I thought I would share my tips for making sure social media enhances your trip instead of pulling you away from it.

Don't cave in to free WiFi

When you’re travelling you’re probably taking some pretty amazing photos for Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. The kind of photos that tend to get lots of likes and comments. It’s hard to resist the desire to check your phone and get the instant gratification it gives to see the notifications pop up.

One thing that I noticed overseas was that lots of places have free WiFi - museums, coffee shops, galleries - and I found it really hard to resist the urge to check my Instagram every time we were in one of these places.

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to disconnect in order to prioritise self care when you’re on holidays and this is an important part of that disconnect.

Don't edit on the go

Although it’s tempting to immediately go and edit the awesome photo you just took so you can share it on Instagram but please wait until you are back at your accommodation. Firstly this will allow you a chance to slowly go through the photos of the day and help imprint the memories forever. Secondly it prevents you from ignoring your friend, lover or your surroundings because you’re too busy selecting the perfect filter.

Choose your time to use the internet

As I mentioned above - a lot of places have free wifi these days; cafes, museums, galleries and of course any accommodation worth it’s salt has wifi these days.  And that’s awesome - but use this access wisely. Decide the times that you are going to connect to the internet and take mini internet detoxes in between.

I like to stay off of the internet in the morning and only connect in the afternoon. Normally by that stage I need some unthinking scrolling time and I find it strangely pleasurable to deny myself internet access with the promise of unbridled access later.

Use a hashtag

I know it sounds strange but having a hashtag for your travels is a great way to keep all your memories in one place. I love going back and seeing all the photos I took on our honeymoon - and they’re conveniently all linked together by the hashtag #lawrancehoneymoon. Jordan of Oh Happy Day is particularly awesome at coming up with amazing hashtags for her travels with her family.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


The unofficial textbook on getting around when you travel

One of the biggest things to consider when you travel is how you're going to get around. That's what this post is hopefully going to help you with! It's divided into two parts. Part One is all about travel between countries and cities. Part Two further down looks at travel where you’re at your destination.

Part One

I absolutely recommend you book as much of your transport in advance - especially when you’re travelling between countries. It can really help things run smoothly when you’re there - particularly in avoiding issues with language barriers.

Planes

Choosing your airline should be based on one consideration - how long is your flight. For myself living in Australia most flights are lonngggggggg and so I have no problem going with a slightly more upmarket airline to get that little bit of extra comfort, nicer food and more entertainment options.

On the flip side for our short flights within Europe we took full advantage of the incredibly cheap options available. I didn't mind so much about getting the most comfortable flight available - instead I was much happier prioritising price. It blew my mind that we could fly (with baggage) from Rome to Athens for under $300 AUD for two people. 

Trains

Whenever you can - take the train. It really involves you in the country in a way flying doesn’t. Some of my favourite memories are of Mike and I flying through the countryside on a train - particularly in places like Switzerland where the scenery is ridiculously beautiful.

Feeling close to nature also makes time go so much faster than when you’re on a plane - there were multiple days where we were on a train for over 5 hours - and it never felt like a long time because you get more space, you get natural light and you can take coffee on the train without getting dirty looks from staff members.

Lastly trains are normally a lot more affordable than planes, and not nearly as cramped and uncomfortable as a bus.


Part Two

Public transport

In our last trip whenever we couldn’t walk we took public transport - to and from train stations, airports and on adventures out to ancient ruins. Amazingly this was less stressful than negotiating the language barriers and lack of local knowledge that comes with taking taxis.

Google Maps is really useful for working out public transport options - you just put in your location and your destination and it will suggest car, bike, walking and public transport routes for you.

Walk

Wherever and whenever you can - walk. It is the absolute best way to see a place. I am fascinated by the way people live and walking in cities really make me feel like I know a place compared to seeing it from the back of a taxi or a bus.

Obviously this isn’t always possible, but most cities are walk-able. Mike and I walked well over 12 km one day in Paris and it is absolutely why I fell so in love with the City of Lights. You will also see things you will would never otherwise have seen - foreign cities are full of things that are so familiar and yet so different to what you see every day.


But what about...

I'm yet to hire a car or use an Uber in a foreign country. I love Uber in Australia but I don't feel like I can give an opinion of using it as a transport method until I've used it somewhere unfamiliar. The same goes with hiring a car. 

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


How to use Trip Advisor effectively

 If you haven't heard of Trip Advisor before, it's a community reviewed website that covers hotels, motels, B & B and hostels. It also has restaurant reviews and travel guides for lots of major cities. It's my secret weapon for booking accommodation, finding restaurants and learning more about fun things to do. I'm really excited to share how I use Trip Advisor effectively to make my holidays more magical.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not being paid by Trip Advisor at all for this - in writing it I realised it sounds like I'm sponsored by them but I'm not. I just really love their website.

Booking your ACCOMMODATION

Finding accommodation that's in budget, in a good location and is a nice place to stay can seem very elusive sometimes. Never fear though, I have a fairly specific method that I use to find a good place to stay and I’m really excited to share it with you. This method has been honed over time and through many, many hotel bookings.

  1. Select your price range (in your local currency): Trip Advisor let's you narrow the search down by price range which is perfect but make sure it's in your own currency - conversion rates can vary a lot and doing this makes sure you stay in budget.

  2. Narrow down by rank: Trip Advisor has different sorting options and I recommend using the Ranking option, this is the rating Trip Advisor users give from highest to lowest.

  3. Now we've filtered we can start investigating what's left: First a warning - the top hotels in the ranking are most likely going to be big chain hotels. They get good ratings because of their size and familiarity but they are a perpetual disappointment - they look pretty but they never have the same level of service or personality as the smaller places. So give those a miss as often as you can and instead:

    1. Start with the highest rating and work your way down.

    2. When you go into a listing read the last five comments people have left. This will give you a great snapshot of the place. It also gives you clues as to any problems with the accommodation.

  4. Check the location: Use the map to see where it is in the city. As one friend told me once - just because a place is called Hotel Venice doesn't mean it's actually in Venice. It also helps with the other end of this spectrum, Trip Advisor comments saying "It's not very close to the city". I'm not sure what most of these comments mean as very rarely is the accommodation legitimately far from the centre of the city.

  5. Go with your gut: Ultimately you could look at 50 hotels and never feel like any of them are perfect. The aim isn't perfection, it's about picking a place that ticks enough of your requirements.

A final point - I always book through the hotel rather than Trip Advisor - even when I might get a deal with Trip Advisor. There are arguments on both sides of this but I like the control I have over the communication with the hotel. When I'm travelling for a long time removing the third party makes me feel more confident.

researching fun things to do

I'm not known for returning to places I've been to previously (Paris and Lucerne are so far the only two repeat offenders out of a possible 14). This means I'm always researching new to me places for all the fun things you can do. The Trip Advisor app comes with travel itineraries for many cities. I've never followed any of the itineraries exactly but I use it as a really good starting point for learning about what I might want to do in the city.

Finding good restaurants

Eating is possibly my favourite part of travelling to new places and so finding interesting places to eat is very important. I definitely think some of the best meals I’ve had were in places that Mike and I just wandered past and decided to check out - highlights include the best ramen I have ever eaten (in Tokyo) and an incredible seafood pasta in Rome (in a place called, no joke, De Niro).

Average meals are the flip side of the taking your chances with restaurants - and that’s where doing a little bit of prep and research can help to out. That way you are guaranteed at least one meal that is delicious.  I know this article is titled "using Trip Advisor effectively" but I actually have a few suggestions for finding delicious places to eat. I hope you don't mind me straying a little from the chosen topic:

  • Trip Advisor: Trip Advisor can be a bit hit and miss because it is relying on the opinion of individuals but you can find some real gems. My favourite restaurant in Venice and my favourite restaurant (so far - I can’t commit to forever) in Paris were both Trip Advisor recommendations. You can also save recommendations so you can start plotting good places to try months in advance.

  • Travel blogs (and vlogs) of people you trust: Local Milk, Smitten Kitchen, A Beautiful Mess and The Cherry Blossom Girl all have travel guides as part of their websites.

  • The hotel you’re staying in: Sometimes they can suggest super touristy places but on our recent trip to our hometown the apartment where we stayed gave us some amazing recommendations - most of which made their way into my Adelaide Bar Guide. So ask for their suggestions, do a bit of Googling to avoid tourist traps and who knows what you might find.


Five quick and simple tips for safer travel

When you travel it’s so important to remember that where you are going is full of people exactly like you. People who go to work, who fight with their families and love their favourite coffee shop. The media can make the  world can seem really scary, but it really isn’t that bad. 

It makes me so sad to think that people might not travel the world because they think the second they leave they are going to be mugged or kidnapped or ripped off. The world is so magical and there is so much to learn from seeing how others live.

Of course this doesn’t mean not being cautious and I have a few tips below for being safe without being silly:

Keep an eye on the news

Most hotels have wifi or newspapers so just keep half an eye on what’s going on - especially if you’re going to multiple places. We were about to travel to Paris on the eve of the Charlie Hedbo attacks. When we saw the terrible news we immediately checked what was going on in terms of travel and also checked in with our families to let them know what was going on. We still went to Paris and I have very fond memories of our time there - but we were far more conscious of regular check ins with family and keeping an eye on flights.

Be aware

I don't think you need to strap your belongings to yourself but you are more likely to be pick pocketed in tourist areas, so be discrete and aware of your belongings when you’re in tourist attractions. In addition the police in some places (such as France) can demand evidence that you are allowed in their country at any time so keep your passport on you (or other travel documents).

Scams are real! Here is a list of the most common ones, and Lonely Planet also has useful information. We’ve never been scammed badly; we once ended up paying 10 euros for a rose in Vienna (we had just gotten engaged so we were suckers for romantic gestures) and donated money to a “deaf and blind charity” (again about 10 euros) that definitely wasn’t a charity. The one that we managed to dodge but could see people being suckered in to was the “gladiators” offering to take photos with people outside of the Colosseum, and then immediately demanding payment. Don’t feel too bad if you do get suckered in, just don’t ever give credit card details or real information to anyone and try to get out of any scam without giving over too much money.

Be respectful

Although you shouldn’t feel like you need to walk on eggshells in different cultures, it is worthwhile doing a little research before you go about anything you should be aware of, such as:

  • Being conscious of any photos you take. Many landmarks and tourist sites are culturally, historically or spiritually significant, and it’s important to be aware of what kind of photos are respectful to the original intention of the location.

  • Be aware of any important etiquette; are you expected to cover your head in religious locations? Is there a polite way to greet people (or an offensive way you shouldn’t greet people)?

Be Cautious

Keep some cash in your bags at the hotel as well as photocopies of your passport and other photo ID and for the love of god purchase travel insurance. If you don't keep all your eggs in one basket it will be less terrifying if something does happen. Also if you're travelling in a group make sure all of your phones are unlocked to make calls overseas. 

Don’t tell taxi drivers or other strangers too much about your travel plans. I was actually the worst for excitedly telling taxi drivers that we’re heading off on an adventure for a few weeks until my husband pointed out that means they know the house (and all our belongings) would be empty for weeks. Don’t be like me, be vague in any descriptions of travel plans or accommodation.

Don't be an idiot

Don’t take stupid risks you wouldn’t take in your home country. If that alley looks super creepy and you’re by yourself don’t walk down it. Most places are no more or less dangerous than your home town so just act like you would at home.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


Five rules for excellent travel photography

It's no secret that I love photography - and travelling is a great way to practice and experiment. I don't think it is at all necessary to have a super fancy camera either. Our first trip to Europe and our week in Japan were all documented on a point and shoot and I am still incredibly proud of those photos.

Don't use your flash

My biggest pet photography peeve when I travel (aside from selfie sticks) is seeing people with beautiful DSLR cameras who are using their flash to take a picture of something like the Eiffel Tower. Regardless of whether you are using your SLR, DSLR, point and shoot, phone or ipad - actually scratch that please don’t use your ipad, it’s a dick move - you do not need need to have your flash on. The only time I will accept you putting your flash on is if you are taking a portrait picture at night.

Play around with light

So what do you do to get good photos now that your flash is off? You learn to play with light. Use it to enhance your photos. I’ve included a few examples below of photos I’ve taken where I have really focused on using the light to capture the moment. Once you start experimenting with light it will become your favourite thing to do.

Tips for photos at night

If you can, sit down or lean your camera on something to help keep it steady. Take a deep breath in and breathe all the way out before taking the photo. Keep trying - night photos are worth it when you get them right! Once again I have a few examples below of photos I have taken at night.

Be respectful

I have three points to make regarding being respectful: 

  1. Be aware of your surroundings: I am very conscious of taking photos of people (especially children) when I'm out and about. Many people aren't comfortable with them (or their children) being shared publicly. I try not to take photos directly of people without their permission. One of my favourite photos ever is of a young boy in a classic car in Paris one morning, not long after the Charlie Hedbo attacks. The light was perfect and at the last moment he realised I was taking a photo and shot me the cheekiest grin. Although I am so proud of this photo I will never show it publicly because I didn't have the parent's permission to do so.

  2. Be understanding: I once took some photos of some beautiful flowers on my phone. Afterwards someone came up to me and asked why I had taken a photo of them. I explained that I hadn't and it was of the flowers. They asked to see the photos and when they saw that they were in the background they asked me to delete the photo. I said yes and deleted them immediately. My point is; it is not your business to know why someone may not want to have their photo taken - and if someone asks you to delete a photo that features them please be understanding enough to say yes and delete them immediately.

  3. Read the signs: If it says no flash photography please do not use flash photography. If there is a sign saying no photographs then don't take any photographs. Rules regarding photography are there for a reason, sometimes to protect the place you are taking photos (such as the catacombs in Paris) and sometimes to protect the sanctity of the place (for example in a church). Some moments are simply not meant to be documented.

What do you want to remember?

I’m just going to give it to you straight, this tip is the best way to get the kind of photos you go back and look at multiple times as well as not infuriating your fellow travellers.

Think about what you want to remember in 20 years. What moments do you wish you had captured? I bet you if you think about it the thing you won’t wish you had captured was a blurry up close photo of a painting in the Louvre. It will be the light in Tuscany, or your morning coffee, or the sweet rabbit you saw on top of the Palatine Hill (though that last one may be just me).

But - I hear you say - what if I want to remember that I saw the Mona Lisa or that insane meal I had. Well this is where journals come in - I write a journal every time I travel and also use it to store ticket stubs and other paraphernalia. It lets me save all these important things and gives me a chance to write about what was happening and gives me a really nice down time task for lazy afternoons and train journeys. I know not everyone is a writer but I do think anyone can jot down the moments they want to remember that maybe don’t qualify for a photo.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


Tips for travelling with your lover

Travelling with your lover is a fantastic way to get to know them better and to have an adventure that you can cherish. It isn’t without its challenges though - it can reveal differences in your personalities that aren’t obvious when you are in your home environment. Navigating these challenges aren't impossible - and it can be a great opportunity to learn more about your beloved and get closer to them.

Understand what you want

The first thing you need to work out is what you want from your trip: do you want to lounge in your hotel pool, go on hikes or drift from one bar to another. There is no right way to travel - and what you want from one holiday might be vastly different to what you want from another.

It can also be interesting to learn what you define as relaxing - it might be that you find skiing relaxing or you might prefer to sip hot chocolate in the chalet. It's important to not just understand what you want to do but to also accept your preferences. As I said; there's no right way to travel - so if you really like laying on the beach and not going anywhere near the sea don't feel bad. 

Understand what they want

This isn’t just about you of course; it’s about your lover as well. What do they want from the trip? My husband is definitely more relaxed than I am when we travel - he does enjoy going on adventures but he also enjoys chilling out in the hotel room as well. His attitude is definitely a really good balance to mine because if I had my way I would be out of the hotel all day and would probably burn out really quickly. So I've learnt to really enjoy those relaxing moments.

You may have a very similar or very different attitudes towards travel - and if they are very different it’s important to chat with your lover before you travel to help come to an agreement. Maybe you’ll go out for a solo adventure whilst your lover takes an afternoon nap (or vice versa). There’s no problem with not having the same desires from your holiday - it’s far more important that you’re upfront about it to avoid frustration and resentment later.

Really focus on them

Going on holiday is the perfect time to focus on your lover. This is the time to put away your phone and really engage in the relationship. In your day to day life you often don’t have much time together (I know I don’t) so take this opportunity to get to know your lover better.

Some of my favourite memories are ones from our trips together; without all the day to day distractions that pull us away from each other. Travelling together has absolutely made us much closer; both through having a shared experience and by making sure that we really engage with each other when we're away.

Allow for some space

I know I just said you need to really focus on your lover, but it’s also important to take some time by yourself. It's likely that you will be sharing all of your meals as well as a hotel room and this is normally a lot more time than most people spend together. For many couples their first holiday will be the most time that they will have ever spent together and the best way to avoid conflict is to take time by yourself.

This could mean taking some time to read in your hotel room or going for a solo walk in the morning. Allowing for some space will help make your time together more special, and help ease any natural tensions that will happen when you’re spending 24 hours a day with the same person.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


Tips for travelling in Europe

I thought I would start this post with a disclaimer: These are my tips for people travelling in Europe based on my experience as an Australian.

I feel like this disclaimer is necessary because I have seen posts about tips for travelling in Australia and have found them hilarious - do other countries really not buy rounds when you're out having a drink? 

So - to any Europeans out there -there’s a chance I’ve gotten the details wrong in places, and I hope you find it as funny as I do when people write guides about Australia.

Smoking laws are different

I think the biggest one for me was that many restaurants still allow smoking indoors in certain areas - and smoking in public places such as train stations (and the Colosseum) is completely normal. It’s something to consider if you are sensitive to smoke or just don't like marinating in it over dinner. Of particular note is Greece - which doesn't seem (at least to me) to observe any rules regarding where you can and can't smoke.

Take the train

The European train system is incredibly good - we've almost exclusively used it on both our trips and love it. You can book ahead online - which I do recommend if you don't speak the language - and it is always very affordable.

Plus travelling via train through Europe is visually stunning  I'm pretty certain Mike and I spent the whole time doing heart eye emojis as we pressed our faces against the windows when we passed through Switzerland.

Dinner is much later

Normally around 7-8. This was one we struggled with, Mike and I are morning people so we would normally get up around 7, have breakfast and then head out for the day. So by 6 we were starving and would have to head out for dinner. I love participating the routines of a country and it made us feel a lot less like tourists when we pushed ourselves and waited until later to head out for dinner. It also gave us a very flimsy excuse to eat afternoon tea.

Food service is relaxed

Food forms a large part of the culture of Europe - it's something to be enjoyed; preferably with loved ones and with no rush. This is reflected in the food service, which is a lot slower than it is in Australia. This isn't bad service; it's just a different attitude to how long a meal should take. It can initially take a bit of getting used to but by the end I really enjoyed the slower pace - it feels more like how meals should be.

Enjoy the culture

European countries are so small (comparative to Australia) but so intensely different and that is all part of the fun! Drink Feldshlossen in Switzerland, eat all the gelato in Italy, ask for raki after dinner in Greece and for the love of god eat any bread you can get your hands on in France. Keep your eyes peeled for moments unique to the country you are in.

Walk everywhere

Some of my best ever memories are from our epic treks around various cities. Check out the cute little gardens that people have on their front steps in Amsterdam, wander down all the random alleyways in Venice, walk through the streets of Paris, pet all the cats in Rome (seriously do). These cities have had millennia to become as magical as they are today - and most of that magic is missed if you drive or take a train around the city.