A Christmas gift guide… for the travellers

Happy Friday! Hope everyone is ready for the weekend Christmas shopping anarchy that’s about to hit… A little more help coming your way this morning, your gift guide for the travellers and explorers…

Clockwise from top left…

1. Scratch map
What’s it all about? A world map with a foil layer that can be scratched off to reveal the countries you’ve visited. Amazing! Available all over the place – Australian Geographic stores, Etsy, eBay, etc…
Buy it for: The visual record-keepers.

2. Mini globe & stickers
What’s it all about? I decided to take my scratch map idea to another level – I found this cute little globe for $7 at Kmart and bought a pack of stick on sparkles to lay over the cities I’ve visited. Awesome little piece to add to anyone’s bookshelf.
Buy it for: The travellers who like to decorate with their travels.

3. Notebook
What’s it all about? Pretty straightforward – I always carry a notebook when I travel, and I’d rather have  a pretty one! I picked this one up for $4 from Officeworks; Typo also have a lot of very cute ones around.
Buy it for: The travellers who like to record as they go.

4. Luggage tag
What’s it all about? Finding your suitcase on the conveyor belt is never fun – a colourful luggage tag is a no-brainer. I love the ones from Typo and have bought them for heaps of family and friends over the years.
Buy it for: The easily frustrated and impatient traveller.

5. Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food
What’s it all about? One of the best parts of travelling is experiencing all the different food. This is a part travel guide, part cookbook. It’s a great way to re-live the memories you’ve eaten, and it gets a lot of use at my house – the gozleme are a massive favourite!
Buy it for: The travelling foodie.

6. Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book
What’s it all about? It’s a classic for travellers – all of the places in one nifty little volume with all the basic information to get you motivated to pack your bags and visit Tunisia or Belize or New Caledonia…
Buy it for: Everyone!

Photo Journal: Yoyogi Park & Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Tokyo

Yoyogi Park
2-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya, Tokyo
http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/

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Good morning friends  : )  I hope everyone had a great weekend – I’m absolutely exhausted! After checking the calendar, we realised that this weekend just passed was our last free weekend before Christmas (…!!!!!), so we hit the shops like possessed elves, and knocked out all our Christmas shopping in 7 hours on Saturday! I’m so glad it’s done, but my goodness it was exhausting… And the weather was so beautiful, and I’d have loved to head out for a picnic and a bit of outdoor sunshine time! So this morning I’m going to take us all to Yoyogi Park in Tokyo for a visit  : )

For such a big city, Tokyo certainly isn’t lacking in beautiful big green spaces. I’ve always loved spending time in big parks on my own, ever since depression started taking over my life in high school. Sitting quietly on fresh green grass under a beautiful leafy tree has always been something that’s calmed me, so after a pretty busy first 48 hours, my friend and I parted ways for the day and I made my way to the park to re-calibrate a little. And it truly was a truly remarkable space…

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Also within the park is the majestic Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine, tucked deep within the park. Shortly after the deaths of Emperor Meiji (in 1912) and Empress Shoken (two years later), 100, 000 trees were donated from well-wishers around the world to create this beautiful park. The shrine itself came to be in 1920. The main buildings were sadly destroyed in 1945, in the midst of the second world war, and we rebuilt in the late 1950s. You can learn a lot more about the Meiji Shrine here, so instead of telling you more, I’ll just show you…

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10 ways to travel without breaking the bank (part 2) – saving money while you’re actually on the road!

* Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Cover-More. The opinions contained herein are completely my own based on my extensive and independent experience with the company, of which they were unaware when I was approached to write this. *

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A few months ago I wrote an article for Globelle Travels on how to take your dream trip without breaking the bank, which looked at the things you can do in the months leading up to your trip to travel on a budget without having to compromise too much. But I didn’t really touch on what happens when you’re actually there, when you’ve paid off the flights and accommodation, and bought your snow jackets and guide books, and you’ve actually arrived at your destination, still on a bit of a budget. It’s time to take a look at that part.

As stated above, yes this is a sponsored post, and if you’ve been following my adventures for a while, you’ll notice these posts are few and far between; I won’t ever write about anything I don’t actually believe in just for compensation. But I was really happy to take this opportunity when it came along because Cover-More is a company that I’ve actually had a lot of first-hand experience with, and it’s all honestly been great! So on that note, let me now run you through 10 golden rules I try to stick with while I’m actually on the road in order to see and do it all without having to re-mortgage the house in the process…

1. Travel insurance – duh! And not just because of the Cover-More collaboration! For those of you who have been travelling for a little while, you know that sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, things just go wrong. Like that time I was meant to fly from San Francisco to Las Vegas and the airline cancelled our flight two hours before we were meant to fly, and we had to find a new flight, extra accommodation in SFO, lose a night of accommodation in Vegas, organise new airport transfers, and we missed our helicopter Grand Canyon tour (our one big spending extravagance as our Christmas present to ourselves). Anyway, because I like to prepare for the worst, insurance had been purchased with Cover-More at the time we booked our flights so we just submitted our claim when we got home, money was recovered for us and put towards our next trip! Number one rule for travelling on a budget: INSURANCE!!! It would have been really hard for us to keep travelling on the cheap if we’d completely lost all of that money! And why Cover-More? For us, we keep choosing them because they’ve been around for so long and have established a pretty good reputation for offering good cover for a great price – we didn’t want to lose out on decent coverage because of cost, and keep finding that Cover-More fits that option for us.

 

2. Extra accommodation expenses – not the accommodation itself, the extras. Buy a small travel clothes line and a big bar of laundry soap so you can wash your clothes in your sink or bathtub and hang them up to dry while you’re out during the day. Instead of consuming from the mini bar, buy your own drinks and snacks from a supermarket. And if the WiFi isn’t free, wait until you’re at a café that does offer free access and use that instead.

 

3. Staying in touch – I’ve disabled international roaming on my phone and I turn off cellular data when I travel. When I want to contact someone, I connect to free WiFi and call using WhatsApp, or text using iMessage. Taking advantage of free WiFi to contact home while I’m gone means I don’t have a phone bill to come home to – happy days!

 

4. Breakfast – if it’s not included in your hotel room rate, don’t pay extra for it! Breakfast is such an overpriced meal, with cafes easily charging $10+ for a simple bowl of muesli with yoghurt. What I tend to do when I’m travelling is visit a supermarket/convenience store and buy a box of muesli or cereal, a bit of fruit, and some milk or yoghurt to take back to my hotel; it makes a lot more sense to spend $10 on a box of cereal and some fruit that you can stretch out over 4 or 5 days than spending the same amount every morning for the same thing!

 

5. Hot drinks – this may not be as applicable to everyone, but for anyone like me who is a big tea or even coffee drinker, one of the best investments I made was my KeepCup! Instead of paying $4 each time we wanted a hot drink while we were travelling around wintery America over December and January, husband and I just made our own in our hotel rooms (we found that most, if not all accommodation will offer tea and coffee making facilities, I also packed a few tea bags just in case, and we used some of that milk we’d bought for breakfasts) and hit the road! Saved a ton of money!

 

6. Food – so important… I’ve always found that the best food is generally street or market food to be honest! When you have the option to do the street food thing, you’re not only going to save money, but you’re also going to be most likely eating freshly prepared food (high product turnover with lots of locals eating it, too), authentic food (ie not Westernised and served with French fries), and actually experience the place you’re travelling through properly! Nice restaurants certainly have their place, but don’t get caught up thinking that you can’t have just as nice a time in Paris lunching under the Eiffel Tower with a ham and cheese baguette that you’ve made yourself from grocery store ingredients for a quarter of the price of the ones you saw in the café window!IMG_0666

 

7. Cash – this one can seem tricky but doesn’t have to be. If you plan on using your card to withdraw money from ATMs overseas, try to take out bigger amounts at a time to avoid multiple fees (and don’t carry it all around with you – use your hotel’s safety deposit box, or keep it in several places). To combat the fees/carrying too much cash issue, I’ve got myself a Multicurrency Cash Passport, which I’ve been travelling with for years – it’s basically like a debit card that adapts to which ever country you’re in which means low, if any, withdrawal fees. Also super easy to top up while you’re on the road if you want to add more currency. Definitely worth checking out.

 

8. Getting around – generally taxis are a waste of money. If you have the option, use public transport instead, and if possible, walk!!! You will see SO much more of the city and make so many more amazing discoveries on your own two feet than from inside a train or car!

 

9. Travel blogs/social media – this is a bit of a random one, but following travel blogs and social media feeds/tags (Instagram particularly) of the places you’re visiting can give you some really great ideas; my sister and I discovered super cheap Bale Well in Hoi An from checking the hashtag #hoian on Instagram before heading out one night, and the $5 feast we got, as well as the adventure and new friends was something we’d never have experienced otherwise, nor was it an experience we could have gotten from an expensive restaurant dinner! You’ll also find that travel bloggers who stumble across hotels, restaurants, tours etc that are well priced and offer good value will usually share them!

 

10. Souvenirs – one of the biggest money wasters for travellers. I’ve got a new system; if you’ve seen the image below on my blog (which reminds me, it’s a little old and has many new additions since being taken!), you’ve just about seen the extent of my souvenirs, for the most part. I buy something small from most cities I visit, representative of them (the sugar skull from Isla Mujeres, the wooden elephant from Phuket, the carnivale mask from Venice, etc) and keep them on that little table. I also frame a photograph from each city I visit to add to the wall. And finally, I put the hundreds of photos I take each time I travel into photo books so that I can look back over them whenever I want. The memories I have from looking at my own photographs are far better souvenirs and mementos than any tacky plastic touristy object I could have wasted my money on!

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So, there you go – my best tried and tested tips for travelling on a budget. I really hope at least some of them can help others see travel as being a bit more affordable and accessible, and if anyone has any further tips to add to the list, please share; the more help we can offer each other, the more of a chance we all have to see the world!

Finding myself in St Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans

St Louis Cemetery No. 1
425 Basin St. New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/


I wrapped my oversized cardigan around me a little tighter as my feet crunched over the leaves that peppered the footpath, and the early morning wind blew as if it were trying to pass right through me. I’d woken up that morning in New Orleans, the city I’d been inexplicably drawn to, and a long way from home back in Australia.

 

It was with some trepidation that I passed through the entrance of the St Louis Cemetery No. 1. It wasn’t the whole being in a cemetery thing that had me unnerved; I’m oddly at ease among the graves and stories of the past. What I wasn’t at ease with at that time was myself. I arrived in New Orleans with this feeling I couldn’t shake, like I didn’t fit in anywhere, like I didn’t belong. On that thought, the wind blew through me once more, as if urging me on through the front gate, as if pushing me toward answers.

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I moved silently through the decaying tombs, many dating back to the 1700s. Generations were contained within single crumbling structures; how many were truly remembered? What were their stories? The tombs would have been beautiful originally, but the deterioration they faced over the centuries only made them even more striking. Intricate wrought iron crosses and arrows decorated gates encircling tombs, while large stone and marble placards listing the names of the souls resting within lay on the floor beside many of tombs, gently pieced back together, having fallen from the places they’d originally occupied.

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Looking out over the praying angels perched on top of mausoleums, eyes turned to the heavens, I could see Treme Street and the housing projects beyond. Arriving just as the gates were unlocked for the day proved to be the perfect time to visit, with no one else around. I was a long way from the mayhem and commercialism of the tourist hub that is Bourbon Street; I was, proverbially, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

 

I guess travel is the ultimate opportunity to reflect and recharge; we all know the cliché of people “finding themselves” while travelling. New Orleans was so different to anywhere else I’d been. The people there seemed to live authentically, fearlessly. Free. As someone who’s spent the best part of her life held back by fear, I was hypnotised by that thought, ready to start my own new chapter. And, as if the spirits had me in their hands, the last thing I saw before I left the cemetery was an old book, the pages browned and torn, sitting on top of a tomb; as I walked past, the wind blew the open pages shut.

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An interesting encounter at the Temple of Karnak, Egypt

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We arrived at the Karnak Temple complex after a quick visit to the Colossi of Memnon, and bang in the middle of a sandstorm. It was one of those things you see in movies or travel documentaries that looks kinda cool, but is actually just crap in real life. The sandstorm, not the temple.

A staggeringly enormous open air museum of sorts, it’s the second largest temple complex of it’s type in the world (Angkor Wat takes the title). While it’s hard to pick favourite parts, some of the more impressive sections, in my eyes, included the great Hypostyle hall of columns, the rows of ram-headed sphinxes lining the entrance to the complex, and the few obelisks scattered around.

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It was an amazing complex, quite different from a lot of other sites we visited. It stood out for another reason, too. A confronting incident with another visitor.

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Our tour group was made up of myself, my husband, another young woman and two other guys, all of us being around the same age. Us two girls hadn’t had too much trouble during the trip, which we were very thankful for, but what happened here certainly tested our nerves. While we were looking around the lake, we became quite conscious of the fact that we were being circled by a few young Egyptian men, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old. Anyway, I guess the cockiest one, with the oiled, slicked back hair, tight fitting singlet and gold neck chains got a little bored of staring from a distance – I hadn’t really registered that he’d disappeared from my sight until I turned around to look back at the lake to find him only a few inches in front of me and my fellow female travel companion, camera pointed in our faces, clicking away like a possessed paparazzo.

Thankfully, our amazing local guide, Medo, stepped in pretty quickly to get rid of him. Once he was gone and we’d gotten over our initial shock, we asked what the hell it was all about. Medo explained that the big temple complexes attracted a lot of young guys coming from the “country side” (remoter areas) where they don’t get Western tourists. They come to the big tourist spots with their cameras to capture the foreign women they see, so that they can take the pictures back home to their friends and brag and exaggerate about what they’d seen and their holiday conquests. Because I wasn’t already feeling like enough of a zoo animal, being porcelain doll-white, auburn-haired and freckled.

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While it freaked me out, it was also a really interesting experience; I think I’d kind of expected to encounter this sort of thing the whole time we were in Egypt. But this was the second last day of our trip, and it was the first confrontation of that type we had. Us Melbournians aren’t really all that surprised or intrigued by different cultures to the extent those young man were. Melbourne is a stomping ground for any and every culture under the sun – Fijians, Chinese, Americans, Italians, Vietnamese, Indians, Brits, Greeks, Jews, Muslims, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks: they all coexist without any of the outlandish curiosity we were shown in Egypt. Hell, I’ve seen a mature-aged gentleman of what seemed to be eastern European descent standing in the middle of the CBD dressed in a skirt and heels, holding rosary beads, and no one blinked an eye at him as they walked past. It really made me wonder about my own upbringing and how much I’ve completely taken for granted exposure to other cultures from such an early age. Even as a kid, with friends who looked so clearly physically different to me, I don’t think I ever really wondered (or cared) why, yet here were these young adults making special trips from their quiet, secluded home towns to see what foreigners looked like and take home proof that they’d seen these fantastical creatures.