A travel writer confesses to breaking her own rules and tips

Confessions from a travel writer: I’m not as perfect as my blogs may imply!

No doubt with a book called Naked in Budapest you could assume my confessions will be racy – sorry to disappoint you but these confessions are about packing and any ‘racy confessions’ will stay in my travel memoir – not this blog.

So, confession #1

Despite having written a few really popular and helpful blogs about packing for travel and another about carry-on luggage, or for cruising,  I occasionally fail by not reading my own words of wisdom, and if i do, not heeding that voice in my head that says “Heather, I hope you are listening (in this case via reading’) to yourself”.

My recent trip to the USA saw me break my cardinal rule of don’t take anything for ‘just in case.’ and although I think I wore everything once, there was too much in my bag.

I guess swimming gear doesn’t really count – its hard to use  what we Kiwi call ‘togs’ for anything else but in the water or poolside. (mine were only worn twice, once swimming with the Florida manatee and a very quick dip in the Pacific, despite the heat)

A soiree in Atlanta
A soiree in Atlanta – at the Coca Cola site

Confession #2

I’m now gathering things together for my trip to the Rainforest World Music Festival (#RWMF) and already I know I have way too much to even choose from.  So I’m taking myself in hand by writing this confession and hopefully shaming myself into taking what I need – not what I want, or think I want. I will also, this time, reread my helpful packing tips!

One of the issues around packing decisions is the variety of activities we often have to do in one trip.

The USA trip saw me attending a convention, a couple of parties, shopping, hiking, exploring tourist places and checking out restaurants.

My August trip to the music festival, in Malaysian Borneo, also has its challenges: a fancy dinner reception, surviving the photographers mosh-pit, planting a tree as part of ‘greening the festival’ – possibly in a mangrove area, attending performers’ interviews, meetings with tourism officials, exploring Kuching, AND spending part of my significant birthday in a drumming circle.

So, once again, many occasions, and very hot weather, meaning I need to think layers and interchangeable tops and bottoms and colours that mix and match.

Now to choose what makes the last cut! ( and my next blog will be from the annual Rainforest World Music Festival)

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Now to choose from too many items!

 

Photo of the end result for boarding tomorrow … red bag for checked luggage, plus my carry-on and personal handbag (combined they weigh just under the 7kg rules – and the ‘handbag’ could be put into the grey carry-on which is mostly my electronic gear: of course NONE of which I needed when I first started travelling :):)

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The princess comes home – it’s a shock

It’s hard to wake up at home after being treated like a princess on the catamaran, Fiji Princess. It’s a shock to the system.

Having a whole crew look after you (and a personal smoother-of-the-way as well) it seems a sense of entitlement sets in!

How do you want your eggs, scrambled, poached, omelette, whites only? No problem, take a seat and I’ll bring them over. And so you sit, in a lovely salon on the back to the boutique ‘cat’, to eat fresh tropical fruit, bacon, eggs, pancakes and, or baked beans along with your toast and coffee.

The crew catch their prefered breakfast when they can
The crew catch their prefered breakfast when they can

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Now, back in my fabulous apartment, I have to make my own breakfast; make my own bed, clean my own bathroom, and wash my own towels.

No more smiling, friendly, Fijian faces to greet me with a cheerful ‘bula‘, and no warm sun and sea – the three hours flying north – on Fiji Airways – had made a big difference to the New Zealand autumn weather: flying south has made the same change, but this time, negatively.

Guess I’ll just have to adjust to no attention, no-one asking if I want a croissant, more shade, massage, water?

I’ll have to return to being the person providing all the attentions I want and all the things I need like clean linen and great food – being my own supplier of princess-like attention, and dream of the fabulous four nights  and five days aboard the ‘Princess’. (#fijiprincess)

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Would I recommend the Blue Lagoon Cruises … yes, in a heartbeat.

More blogs and photos will follow about local food, resorts, sun and sand, Yasawa Islands, snorkeling, paddle boards, and the volunteer programme that supports these isolated villages and schools – and for now, I will go and prepare some dinner for this disposed princess.

As ‘they’ say ‘toughen up Princess.’

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Life on the ocean waves

Well actually, there have been no big ocean waves – just blue skies, good company,  great Fijian staff, and fun activities. I even managed to get myself upright on a paddle board. So, lots of tales to tell about this Blue Lagoon Cruise on the Fiji Princess over the next couple of weeks – so come back soon and read all about it. In the meantime here are some pics to whet your appetite.  #fijiprincess #cruising #travel Well image image image image image image image image image image image

Post travel distress strikes travellers

OK the holidays are over. You have returned home and now reality bites. Post travel distress is about to attack.

The symptoms are vague but disabling. People you thought were friends don’t ask how your vacation /holiday went, or if they do they don’t  want to stop and listen to your hour-long discourse on the rooms with a view, the wonderful (or  terrible) food you ate, the funny train you travelled or the boat you fell from. About the only thing that whets their appetite is talk of a fabulous French lover.

Paris
Paris

The memories start to fade with the suntan, work acts as though nothing has changed despite your new skills you have added to your CV while teaching English in Tibet, waited tables in Athens or negotiated your way through the London A to Z and learnt how to use the subway system.

Those back from a sabbatical in London or New York wonder why on earth the pedestrian crossings say WAIT when they only car seems miles away and you know it would be easy to nip across in front of it. The city they left has become a village.

The weather – now there is a topic that is bound to bring on an attack of post travel distress. Last week bathing in sunshine under some tropical Pacific or African sun – this week in NZ’s winter-imitating-summer. It’s all enough to send you back to check your CV to see if you have the credentials that could get you a job with the VSA (volunteer service abroad) in some exotic location.   Some warm exotic location.

Culture shock is something you are supposed to get when you go away – not something that happens in the place you were born or live. However its a real symptom of post travel problems. I recall feeling a real shock when after 3 months among African people I arrived in Perth, Australia and was amazed at all the white faces. It’s fascinating how quickly we become accepting of the current  situation or place as the norm.

So how do we counteract the distress, the feeling that we haven’t been away at all, that everyone else has stagnated while we have changed tremendously.

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Firstly many of you will want or need go to your GP for a  check of the various ticks, itches and tummy upsets are not some unwanted souvenir of a great or lousy holiday.

Others will ignore health issues and start a saving routine that will make sure another trip will happen. Soon. I check my frequent-flyer-points hoping for a reward trip that will tide me over until the savings manage to reach a level that will allow me to consult my travel wish-list and travel agent.

A friend in the UK tells me that already they are settling into a boring and overworking routine and their 18m months of travel seems a pipe dream.  To counter this they have started reading their travel diary every Friday night to keep memories alive. A good antidote to their post travel distress symptoms.

So if you are suffering from some form of post travel distress find other travellers who want to talk about travel with you; read travel pages and books; pour over your photos and save to do it all again.

 

Travel packing list and tips

Packing for Poland
Packing for Poland

 

I’ve written a few blogs about how to pack for travel including one about ‘Far away places with strange sounding names.’ And, one with tips for carry-on and checked luggage  that I’m told has been really helpful.  But I’ve been thinking, as I pack for my next trip, (Poland & Thailand) that perhaps my pick and mix list is my best idea – sort of like the supermarket sweets/lollies section. Chose the flavours you want or need! Here’s my current jelly bean and toffee luggage list:

 

Travel checklist           

  • International plugs
  • Multi plug for USBs
  • Camera (s)
    • Extra batteries
    • Charger
    • Memory cards
    • Tripod
    • Mono-pod
    • Small tripod
    • Headlight
    • Waterproof bag
    • Soft wrap bag for camera
    • Bag for camera gear
  • Small camera
    • Batteries /charger
  • Walkman/MP3
    • leads/headphones
  • Samsung tablet
    • keyboard
    • cover/ leads
  • Phone
    • leads/power plug
  • Solar charger
  • Battery pack for ph/tablet
  • Pedometer
  • Binoculars
  • Toiletries/ 1st aid
  • Medication
  • Towel/Togs
  • Umbrella/Sun visor/block
  • Travel docs/ passport
  • Spare glasses & script
  • Credit cards
  • Journal/pens/address book
  • Kobo e-reader
  • Waist bag
  • Small backpack
  • Map/guide-book
  • Small handbag

I go through my list and strike out the unneeded and mark what I want in my carry-on bag. I recommend travellers make their own list . . . after all, we all need different things for different travels and this time I have three very different trips within the one trip. As you can see there are no clothes on this list as I have written about them in my other blogs.

What would be on the top of your list?

sorting my carry-on bag
sorting my carry-on bag

 

Tutukaka and Oceans Resort Hotel

Continuing on my Northland road-trip, when I headed for Tutukaka it took me longer than the books says.  The reported half an hour north-east of Whangarei maybe so,  but I was stopping to see waterfalls and great sea views!

Tutukaka is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve. The Islands, 25km off shore, have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world – the water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life. Sea currents and visibility up to 30 metres underwater allow the diver, (or kayakers and snorkelers) to see a highly populated, rich and diverse tapestry of marine life. The world’s largest sea cave can be found here, a record claim lodged with the Guinness Book of Records. It is an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself. (More of these islands and photos in my next blog)

Right on the edge of the Tutukaka Marina is Oceans Resort Hotel and is where I stayed overnight.  I was told that “with a myriad of water-based activities on your doorstep, fabulous beaches and a lush subtropical climate you will feel as though you have escaped to paradise” and I agree. It’s a peaceful setting and I loved wandering around the water front both in the evening and then again in the morning.

Interestingly, I find Oceans is owned by the local iwi (Maori tribe) Ngati Wai who have recently won two well-deserved prestigious awards. (2011 Customer Choice Awards; 2011 Best Emerging Business)

There is a relaxed kiwi-feel to the resort and it is a popular wedding and conference destination – it also has apartment’s long-term rental too. It seems the local pub that was on the site burned down in 2000 and five years later Oceans opened. As well as having a comfortable night and  good service, I also had a great breakfast which was included in the room rate.

Here are some notes I made while there:

  • Compendium says – they have alarm clocks but say they ‘strongly support the use of island time here in Tutukaka.’ (always good advice when vacationing)
  • Lots of local artists work on view and for sale – wonderful that they give space for locals free and with no commission on sales (Well done!)
  • BBQ beside pool for guests use
  • Interesting New Zealand facts in compendium incl. NZ women getting the vote in 1893; Sir Ed and Mt Everest; a kiwi invented the bungee; and that NZ has 6,000 kilometres of coastline with nowhere being more than 120ks from the coast. (translation for my USA readers – 3728 miles of coast and no one lives more than 74 miles from it)

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For more ideas of things to do in Tutukaka keep reading my blogs and of course check out Destination Northland and for a rental car see NZ Rental Cars.

And, to find out about the birds and other creatures in the area see these fabulous New Zealand books: Collins Travellers Guide, Birds of New Zealand 

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE  by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris.

photo of oyster catcher birds

what to pack or not to pack that is the question . . . .

I wish I had the skills of  another traveller.

Maud Parrish (1878-1976) said in her book, Nine Pounds Of Luggage, that she travelled around the world with approx. 4 kilo of luggage and a banjo. How did she do it – I’m just glad to have reduced mine to around 12-kilos.

I travel for a year with less luggage than my friends take for a weekend! Carrying possessions on my back ensures I pare the weight down to the least possible and still have a change of clothes.

Items that seemed absolutely essential on my first travels are no longer necessary. Things  that individually weigh little, collectively add huge weights to your case and make getting from A to B unpleasant.

It’s the extras that weigh so much. Necessary extras such as toilet-gear, books, glasses/contact lens, and footwear.

So what can a woman with a passion for travel and adventure tell you about what to take?

Travel lightly, in spirit as well as in luggage; wear the world like a loose garment as an old saying suggests but pack lots and lots of enthusiasm

Take less rather than more – a lot less, there very few places that you cannot improvise or buy a needed item of clothing. Remember, most of the people you meet will never cross your path again so there is no need to impress with different clothes each day.

What can  you jettison – well just everything you take ‘for just in case’. Soap is on the out list; body shampoo works well on hair too and saves carrying two items. Disposable shavers will keep your legs just as silky as the designer ones and half empty containers of toothpaste and deodorant from home last for ages. Film canisters are great for keeping things such as hair gel rather than carry a years supply.

I love BIG bath towels! However travel has taught me to dry myself on a well-worn, soft, small one.

Think about where you are going when you pack your clothes. Be respectful in your clothing, even if you don’t approve of, or understand the cultural norms that require you to cover up. Remember you went to that place because of it’s difference, if it was the same as home you may as well stay at home, it would be easier and cheaper!

Jewellery, take the absolute minimum as insurance cover is expensive, and looking after them is just one more worry. I wear small earrings and a gold chain, and of course, like most travelling Kiwis, my bone carving or greenstone. Sometimes I buy a couple of cheap fun pieces in the county I’m in just for a change.

Bank cards are my preferred way of travelling, with a few small travellers’ cheques and a little cash, hidden away for emergencies. Most airports have an ATM ensuring that as soon as I arrive I can get local currency.  Only once did I have a problem with using a card. Leaving Zimbabwe I was expected to pay my departure tax in US dollars which of course I didn’t have. After much pleading and hysterical laughter on my part they finally let me pay in local currency from the ATM machine. I really thought I was going to miss my flight, the next one was in a week – a problem as my ticket expired in five days!

On a practical level, check with your bank about charges. It may pay to put your credit card into credit then use it as a debit card to reduce charges. I carry two different cards that I keep separate in case of loss or theft and make sure the expiry date doesn’t fall in the middle of your holiday!

Traveller cheques  are, weirdly, still  used by lots of people so check the exchange rate, often those offering no commission pay a lower exchange rate. Once again, talk with your bank to get current, and correct, advice.

Soft covered journals weigh less than others, swap your reading material along the way, if still using film send photos home once they have been developed (negatives in a separate letter for safety) and for the rest of us on digita, take lots of cards, memory sticks etc to back up off your camera.

Most of all throw out all your worries and problems about yesterday and tomorrow, they weigh far too much to be of any use to you today.

don’t loose your passport close to home

Just heard a warning story that I thought well worth passing on as a reminder to you.

A friend of a friend went to Australia recently: name any other country here … especially a country that’s ‘next door’ to your own country.  On the trip to the airport she lost her wallet ( pocket book/ purse) which contained her passport along with other identifying items.

This loss resulted in an expensive side-trip to Sydney to get a replacement travel document.  This could have been avoided if she had had a photocopy of her passport – something we often do if we are travelling somewhere distant and or exotic and different to our way of thinking.

So, remember, no matter where you travel, next door or the opposite side of the world – photocopy your documents and keep them in a different place to the originals.

web-passport-etc

Travel and reading: what do you read?

The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page” according to St Augustine.

I am an avid reader and traveller so want to read and see it all. I wonder how many pages you have read? Maybe you don’t believe the old saint and see the world in different ways. Of course his world was smaller than we know it today, and we all read different types of literature.

Guess that makes the saying true, maybe it is a book – if we use that word it’s widest meaning. Some will go to Rome – for instance – and read a very different book to the one that you or I will read.web passport etc

Maybe you are an encyclopaedic type person and will have read all the history you could before arriving. You will know the dates – or at least the order of – all the various reigns and many historical twists that the city has taken. You will know some of the bloodthirsty events that took place at the Colosseum and all about the Sistine chapel in the Vatican City – the city within a city.

Other will prefer their book to be a comic, perhaps a classic that will give them all the details quickly and in manageable bite-sized portions. Comic readers will be like a couple of Aussie women and me, who, when we had been subjected to more than enough views of cathedrals were saying “ABC.” Translated it meant – another b**** church, or another WEB naked-front-coverboring cathedral. It was as if Europe was throwing pearls before swine- we had lost our appreciation when each day seemed to be dominated by yet more churches, cathedrals and their inevitable pigeons – all beginning to seem the same.

Other books I have read to inform me before, during and after my travels are the travel guides. A plethora of them and these too can range from a full hearty meal, a silver service six course classy event, to some world-wide chain takeaway food on the run, or a get your fingers dirty banana-leaf curry. As always the choice is ours: our tastes change with the weather, venue and hunger.

Travelling through this mosaic-like world – physically and via words – is a wonderful privilege and just recently I read figures that really showed just how privileged this travelling life-style is.

  • While well over 50% of New Zealanders have been overseas – so must have passports – I discovered less than 25% of Americans do; World-wide the figure for people owning passports is 3%. Although I haven’t been able to verify these figures they show a number of things. DO YOU KNOW?
  • We are an island nation so have to have a passport to go anywhere! That passport owning is not a right but a privilege – and sign of our wealth – and that kiwis, despite being flightless birds, really get around.
  • Using St Francis and his saying it seems we New Zealanders are avid readers. But what does it say about the other 97% of the world?

For many, in the poorest countries, the word is not even in their vocabulary as something they could aspire to owning. But what does it say about the world’s richest nation when so few have passports. Is it any wonder we hear words such as insular and naïve credited to them at times. Perhaps it’s because collectively they haven’t read much of the worlds pages that St Francis was talking about. Remember 10 years ago – the disbelief of the Europeans (and us Kiwis) when they found out that ‘Dubya’ – the new head of so many people- had never been to Europe, or so it seemed, ever left the USA!

Once again it makes me wonder, do broad-minded people travel or does travel make people broad-minded? I have always been broad-minded – albeit forced on me by circumstances at times – but travel has made me more so: I will keep reading the pages of this world.

There is nothing more exciting than to be alive with travelling, to not know where you will sleep that night – just the absolute certainty of knowing that it will be somewhere you have never been before.

What a wonderful freedom and richness that living on an affluent island that was peopled by adventurous explorers gives us. The privileged richness of owning a passport and therefore reading so many more pages than other nations can or do.

However, remember that privileges are equally balanced with responsibilities.

15 top tips for great photos

Make your holiday snaps even better and impress your friends with these simple hints

Maheshwar, India
Maheshwar, India

Want friends to love your holiday photos? try these tips

Travel sharpens awareness of our surroundings; the different, the unusual and it’s these things, the view of a new eye that makes great photos.

As a travel writer I take many photos during my first few days in another country, a different culture. (www.kiwitravelwriter.com)

If you want your photos to be more than a mere record of your travels try these tips.

  1. Keep your camera with you : some of my ‘best photos’ are the ones I missed by not having my camera read
  2. Filling the whole frame adds impact to many pictures
  3. Eliminate the unessential, cut the clutter. Don’t try to grab it all.
  4. Early morning and late afternoon have the most favourable light.
  5. Avoid midday as overhead sun drains the colour.
  6. Simple blocks of bright colour make bold statements look at other people’s photos to see what works, what catches your eye.
  7. Vertical shots are great for height and portraits, while horizontal ones are good for getting some background.
  8. Hold your camera at an angle for some fun shots: I won a photo-of-the-month prize because my angled shot stood out.
  9. If possible, leave the subject lean on something, or put their weight on one leg for natural pose.
  10. Take photos when the person is unaware of you.
  11. Use a background that enhances the subject: don’t have poles, trees, or the Eiffel tower growing out of your subjects’ head
  12. Balance the picture; rarely does the subject look great right in the centre.
  13. Take a series of photos: signs, doors, sunsets, fountains, or faces.
  14. Use something to frame the subject, a tree trunk and branch, a door, a window – but not with all your photos.
  15. Finally, be considerate and don’t take photos of people who don’t want to be photographed – eg the hill-tribes of Laos. If I believe I will publish a photo of people, I get permission to do so (when possible) and pay them in an appropriate way.
Takahe - a colourful native
Festival of the Hungry Ghost. Malaysia
Kaikoura, New Zealand