travel tips

What's in my carry on

Long haul flights can be brutal - but a well stocked carry on bag can help limit the awfulness . Below is my comprehensive list of "must have" items. 

Entertainment

  • Laptop & Phone: Stuffed full of games, movies, TV shows, audio books, podcasts and music to keep me occupied

  • Colouring books & Pencils: I prefer the smaller colouring books because they're a little less awkward to use on the tiny seat trays.

  • Books & Magazines: I normally have at least one of each on hand.

Need some more entertainment inspiration? 


Self Care

  • Water bottle: Absolutely vital for preventing dehydration

  • Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, miniature face wash and moisturiser.

  • Face wipes: I don’t normally like face wipes because they aren’t great for the environment (or ultimately your skin) BUT when you’re on a long haul flight they are invaluable.


Being comfortable

  • Pyjamas: Although I do like to wear "normal" clothes when I'm in the airport I have to change into pyjamas once we're on the flight. I normally go with yoga pants and a loose long sleeved shirt.

  • Eye mask: Excellent for blocking out light - especially from the screens of the people in front of you.

  • Neck pillow: Yes they are a dorky but they’re also perfect for getting comfortable.

  • Scarf: Like the towel in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy it's important to always know where your scarf is. Preferably a big, soft infinity scarf. It can be used to warm your feet or hands, as a pillow, blanket or even as -you know - a scarf.

  • Herbal tea: I can't count the amount of times the airline has run out of herbal tea. Chamomile and peppermint are excellent choices. Peppermint can help with digestion, stress and nausea and is great to have first thing in the "morning" (or whatever they claim morning is on the flight). Chamomile can help you fall asleep a little easier and so is perfect to have before bed.

Need more tips for surviving a long haul flight?


Three quick and simple tips for maximising your frequent flyer program

I was pretty dubious about frequent flyer programs for a long time - but in the last few years I feel like I have cracked how to choose a good frequent flyer program.

So why even have a frequent flyer program? I know a lot of people think they are a waste of time that are only valid if you’re a business person who flies every month. I can honestly say that Mike and I fly about once a year (more if we can manage it) and manage to get at least one flight free each time. Now to be clear - we don’t have credit cards we run up each month to earn the points and I don’t make ANY purchases I wouldn’t otherwise make in order to make points.

Important: I personally use Virgin Velocity points so when I’m talking about my decision I am going to reference that program. I am not sponsored by Virgin in any way (I wish I was)- it’s just easier to talk about this in reference to my choice and it is a choice I’m pretty happy with.

Choose an airline you want to fly with

I mean obviously right? The first frequent flyer program I was with was one of the big airlines in Australia (If you’re Australian you’ll probably guess which one). It’s a well respected airline but I really didn’t like flying with them - I only did it because I didn’t understand much about airlines and they were (and are) a well known airline.

When we moved to Queensland I knew our life would change and we would be flying a lot more and so I actually started to research airlines and try them out. In the end I realised our favourite was Virgin; they were a really easy airline to deal with and I never had a bad experience with them. In the meantime my other frequent flyer membership languished in a drawer.

You are going to try a lot harder to earn points if you love the airline and want to fly with them regularly.

See who they are affiliated with

My biggest reason to sign up for Velocity was Virgin linking up with Singapore Airlines - when we fly long haul we always fly Singapore so it made total sense to sign up and take advantage of all the points. If you’re debating between different airlines have a look at what other airlines you can claim points on.  

Work out where else you can claim points

Once you start unwrapping it there are so many places you can grab points from. I definitely don’t recommend buying things you don’t need or shopping places you don’t like just to earn points but so far I’ve worked out that I can claim points from petrol, wine (through their subscription service) and even our electricity bill.


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


The ultimate guide to surviving a long haul flight

At the airport

Get there early

It is very stressful worrying about whether you are going to miss your flight and so it’s very important to give yourself a decent amount of time to get to the airport.

I recommend taking the estimated time it should take to get to the airport and doubling that time to be safe - I can’t count how many people have told me that they missed their flight because they didn’t know about roadworks or train lines closures or because their car broke down. I also recommend leaving an hour to check in, check your bags and get through security.

I know this might seem like a lot of time and often you will end up with time to spare. Honestly though the time goes past really quickly - especially if once you get through you make a beeline to a bar or cafe for a coffee or alcoholic beverage of choice.

Be Nice

I have been bomb checked multiple times, had my bags searched for nail scissors that didn't exist and had my husband detained (temporarily) because he had travelled to a high risk country as part of his military service and every time I have smiled and been helpful and this makes the experience 100 times more pleasant.

I have also seen people bring downright rude and unhelpful and let me tell you a little secret from someone who works in customer service for over a decade. If you are a dick, we will make things hard for you. We will take longer to do simple things. We'll say no instead of yes.

So, the lesson for the airport (and you know, life) is don't be a dick - they are doing their job and they will bomb check you regardless of whether you are nice as pie or a tosspot - so how that goes for you is entirely in your hands.


On the flight

Let’s be honest here - long haul flights are not fun for anyone. Particularly if (like me) you live in Australia and flights of over ten hours are the norm. Ultimately there is only so much you can do to make an economy flight comfortable (I mean that’s why business and first class exists after all) but there is definitely ways you can make the experience more positive.

Getting comfortable

When deciding what to wear it’s important to dress comfortably both in the literal sense of the word and also in the sense that you need to feel comfortable with people seeing you in this outfit.

Of course everyone has a different level of personal comfort but what I would suggest is wearing something stylish but comfortable for around the airport and for the first part of the trip - I have a dress I wear every time that’s made of jersey material and is short sleeved  which is perfect for all the changes in temperature you can go through when travelling. I also pack some actual pyjamas to wear for “night-time” on the plane to help me get some sleep.

In addition I always pack a loose cardigan and a pair of socks - most airlines these days do provide socks and blankets but you never can tell how cool the plane will get (or how much you trust the blankets to be clean).

Lastly neck pillows are a must have, I know they are dorky and carrying them through the airport is embarrassing but it’s been a game changer for us when we travel. The first time we flew to Europe we tried to get by on the tiny pillows the airline provided. I got no sleep and neither did Mike. The second time around we both had neck pillows and not only did it make the thirteen hours on the plane more comfortable but we both actually got sleep!

Self Care

Self care is so important on long flights to help you to recover more quickly from jetlag. Firstly it is so important to hydrate regularly. I learnt this tip after our first flight to Paris, I had forgotten my water bottle and had to survive on the water provided by the flight attendants. Anyone would think I had been in the desert for days from how parched I was at the end of the flight.

I definitely recommend packing a big water bottle in your carry on, remember to make sure it is empty otherwise you won’t be allowed to take it through security, and fill it up before you board the plane. Also it may go without saying but where you can avoid caffeine and alcohol.

I also recommend taking advantage of any layovers - most large international airports offer some kind of services these days to help weary travellers. For example Changi airport offers showers, massages, lounges for having a nap and even prayer rooms. Many airports also have yoga rooms.

If I was to make one suggestion it would be to take a shower. Pack some travel sized versions of your normal face wash, body wash, moisturiser, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste to make the most of it.

Keep yourself entertained

The most important thing to remember on a long haul flight is to give yourself as many options as possible for entertainment. You don’t want to do the same thing for thirteen hours in your every day life - that doesn’t change just because you’re on a plane.

If you want some recommendations on how to entertain yourself I wrote a whole post on the subject that covers all my favourite ways to keep myself busy.

Getting some sleep

Sleeping on a plane is incredibly illusive. I can’t say I’ve cracked the code but I definitely have picked up a few tips for improving your chances of getting some shut eye.

Firstly, brush your teeth and wash your face. Perform all the normal rituals you would perform if you were in your house to help set your mind up for sleep.

Now let’s get comfortable. Recline your seat back as far as it will go. Use the neck pillow I know you’ve gone and purchased. Also use the pillow the airline has provided (either prop it against the window or use it to help support your back).

Take a melatonin pill. Put on own your socks and if necessary the socks the airline provided. Pull your blanket up high and put on a guided meditation - Headspace, Calm and Buddhify all have some specifically designed to help you to get to sleep. Once the meditation is done put on a playlist to help you sleep - I like the rain forest sounds one on Spotify. Lastly pull your eye mask down and let yourself drift off to sleep.


How to avoid the top five stumbling blocks of first time travel

Deciding to travel for the first time isn't without its challenges. I've definitely faced my own share of mental stumbling blocks on my various travels. So I thought I would share these stumbling blocks with you - and some tips to help get past them so you can enjoy your holiday as much as possible.

Not making time to rest

I am definitely an all go kind of girl when I’m on holidays - I want to do all the things, eat all the food, drink all the wine. I want to squeeze out as much fun as possible. I mean after all I’ve normally spent the last 12 months saving for this - I’m not letting a cent of that go to waste.

Of course this isn’t the healthiest way to approach a holiday - an event that is meant to be relaxing and recharging. Thankfully my husband is a lot better at chilling out than I am - he definitely sees the value in spending the afternoon hanging out in the hotel room having a nap. The ROI (that's return on investment for all you non-business speak geeks out there) on a holiday isn’t just the amount of adventures you have - it’s how relaxed you are as well.

Wanting to see it all

So you've spend a few thousand on flights to a magical new place and you want to make the most of the time you have. I mean there is a chance that you may never come back to this amazing place. Might I suggest an alternative? Always leave a reason to come back. I haven’t seen inside St Paul’s at the Vatican, we didn’t go to Burano or Murano in Venice and even though I’ve been to Paris twice we’ve barely seen anything north of the Champs Elysses.

It’s so easy to feel bad about missing places - but whenever I realise we won’t have time to see something I just tell myself “this is a reason to come back”.

Being scared

Travelling to a foreign country is scary. Before every trip I have been on I have thought at some point, “going overseas to a country where I don’t speak the language and the culture is different sounds like a bad idea. I should stay here in my safe, familiar home forever”.

The summary of my thought process when these fears rise up is: “feel the fear - do it anyway” Just remember being scared is totally normal - it’s not a sign that you shouldn’t travel. It’s not a sign that you should cancel your flights. It’s just a sign that growth and change is scary - and that travel is something that allows you to grow.

Preparation VS Spontaneity

For a long time I thought that being organised when you travel was akin to being “boring”. Travel is meant to be unstructured, unorganised and unplanned. Planning a holiday would make you one of those people in sitcoms who have an itinerary broken into 15 minute increments - and we always know that those people are shown the futility of organisation by the end of the episode.

There is something to be said though for being organised. In general you find nicer places to stay, better places to eat and more interesting places to visit.  It makes you more willing to embrace spontaneity - not less. Although some of our favourite adventures have been on a whim - one of the best meals we had in Italy was at a place recommended by people we met at Christmas dinner in Venice - I would have been far less likely to take a chance on it if I didn’t already have a delicious meal already planned for the night before.

Trying new things

It’s surprisingly easy these days to go to a new country and experience exactly nothing new. Between global chain stores and the universal love of Coca-Cola it’s easy to have no new experiences. Fight the urge to stick with what’s familiar! Try the the weird beverage from the vending machine - sure it might taste like cigarette water (true story that happened to me in Tokyo) but you’ll never know if don’t try it. Go into restaurants where the locals eat - it’s intimidating of course but it is almost always a lot more fun. And if the waiter offers you raki - you say yes*!

*Assuming of course that you are legally allowed to drink and do consume alcohol. Drink responsibly and so on.

Bonus: You take yourself with you

So this is something that Hilary Rushford has talked about a lot on her various platforms in the past (I've linked her Instagram because it's a good starting place).What she talks about (and what I have experienced myself) - is that you are still you when you travel.

So if you get anxious or nervous you won't just leave that element of your personality behind when you aren't at work. Sure you won't get anxious about your inbox anymore - but you might get anxious about missing flights or running out of money.

I'm still working on learning how to give room when I travel for myself and the quirky elements of my personality that I don't really like. 


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


Five essential resources to help you travel

When you first decide to go travelling it can feel so overwhelming - there is so much information out there (and a lot of it is contradictory). Never fear; I am here to help! Here are my five essential resources that have helped me to navigate the occasionally murky waters of adventuring!

Lonely Planet

I know it can seem a bit obvious but Lonely Planet has 40 years of experience in world travel and it is still the best place to start when you’ve never been to a particular city or country. It’s always my first point of call when I decide to go on a trip. You can use their website or you can purchase their guide books (or a mix of the two). Most of their guides have the option to purchase a physical copy or an ebook, and often will let you just purchase the chapters you need. Their website has basic details (currency, times to travel, transport options) for most cities in most countries as well as tons of useful articles.

Trip Advisor

I love Trip Advisor for finding hotels and restaurants. It’s peer reviewed so it’s excellent for determining what places are worth your time;it even includes a map feature to help you find places based on location. I particularly like their app - as well as letting you search and save hotels and restaurants it also has city guides. These city guides are available on and offline - meaning that if you've downloaded them you can access them without wifi or data being on (essential for keeping your phone bill manageable overseas). I love using the city guides as a map (no need to carry around giant bulky maps!) and to find good places to eat on the go (vital if you're a foodie like yours truly).

Google Maps

Google Maps has been an absolute saviour on our trips - particularly for working out the easiest way to get from the train station or airport to our hotel. Once you key in your location and destination it gives you options for walking, biking, driving and public transport.

My favourite feature is the public transport option - it’s hard to work out public transport in cities you aren’t familiar with (particularly when you don't speak the language) and Google Maps makes it really simple. It has saved us a ton of money on taxis and helped us feel instantly more comfortable in a new city.

Folder (& a photocopier)

Bear with me on this one  - I absolutely recommend having paper copies of all of your flights, trains and hotel bookings with you when you travel. I know that you have everything saved to your phone (and if you have Gmail it will be on your calendar as well) but what happens if you lose your phone? What happens if you were counting on WiFi to access a ticket and there is none?

Having paper copies seems cumbersome and old fashioned but it ensures you have a back up option of everything in case something happens. Whether you’re travelling for a week or a month you want as little stress as possible and this is one way to guarantee this.

It’s also worth having photocopies of your passport and driver’s license on hand in case they get stolen or lost. This will help you with reporting it to the authorities, and for getting out of the country when it’s time to leave.

Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is 100% mandatory. No matter where you're going or how long you're going for you will want the certainty of knowing that if you lose your baggage, have your money stolen or get sick that you have something in place to help you. I've been lucky and haven't had to use travel insurance (yet!) but that hasn't made me any less grateful to have it. 

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo