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Travel, Packing Advice and Products I love

To take a trip, large or small, either in your home or a foreign country, requires planning.

If you are like me, planning usually involves throwing things together in a bag, shaking it like a martini and hope all turns out well.

Because I am taking longer trips for longer periods of time, I had to drastically pair down on what I was bringing and actually face my dreaded fear of travel planning. No longer could I afford to take a different outfit for every occasion as baggage fees get really expensive. Not to mention, the lugging around 60lbs of luggage gets old real quick.

For my five month trip to Fiji, NZ, AU and Bali I decided to go hardcore (well at least for me) and use just a backpack and a small duffle bag that doubled as a purse. This presented a challenge, it was September in the States when I left to go to Fiji, so warm weather, and when I landed in NZ (end of Sept) it was early spring and very cold. How was I going to cram everything from beach towels and bikinis, to jackets and clunky hiking boots into one 50litre backpack?

Thus the research began. If I had done as much research on my ex-boyfriends as I did for my backpack, well let’s say I might have made a lot of better choices.

From soaps to socks, I pretty much researched everything. Eight weeks into my trip I want to talk about what has worked for me, and what hasn’t worked as intended. This trip is geared around my experiences in the South Pacific but the products/advice could be used for any travel destination. All of the images are links so click away for more info.

The Gear

After hours or researching it came down to a Deuter ACT Lite 50+10

and the Osprey Meridian

I was drawn to the Osprey Meridian because it doubled not only as a backpack, but it also has wheels and could be used as roller suitcase. The Osprey has a life time warranty and after talking with loads of professional travelers they have told me stories of their Osprey being torn in some far off place and if they mailed it in Osprey would either repair it or send a new one back immediately. The downside to the Osprey is that it was roughly double the cost of the Deuter. Backpackers also gave me excellent reviews of their Deuter, and in the end it came down to money. So with my blue Deuter I went.

That being said, I now love my Deuter. I was shocked at how much I could pack into it. I thought I’d have to rough it with a single pair of jeans the entire time, but I was able to bring plenty of clothes to last me through tropical heat and the chilly New Zealand Spring. There are lots of compartments and areas to store everything your need. Traveling around I’ve seen loads of backpackers and travellers sporting a Deuter so I also get the added bonus of feeling like one of the cool kids.
Even with my pack fully loaded it does not feel super heavy. I’ve had to run (literally) through Auckland to catch a bus and with the straps in place it did not feel cumbersome at all.

Shoes. Ah, what girl doesn’t love shoes?

For some reason I usually have rotten luck with shoes, by rotten luck I mean I always choose fashion versus comfort and end up regretting it. I literally have bled for the sake of fashion, but not anymore. In my new found practicality I have decided to go for comfort and not bleed and blister my way around the world (somewhere my Mother is out there saying “Thank God! It’s about time.”) I’ve traded in my Michael Kors pumps in for hiking boots and proper footwear.

I personally love the Merrell brand. They are comfortable and not unwieldy. I can go from hiking a mountain to roaming a city and not feel like Xena, Warrior Princess. They fit great into the bottom of my backpack and not matter if I hike in water or mud they clean up nicely and are extremely durable.

I’ve also brought a pair of sandals and I would recommend a pair of flats- I really like Sperrys. Cute and comfy, what a concept! The most uncomfortable thing I’ve brought is my books…I couldn’t decide so I brought eight different hard copy books with me- I suffer for knowledge now, not fashion (how hipster of me).

With all of the research on the above items, the last thing I needed was a camera.  I was torn because iPhones really can capture some spectacular pictures, but I felt to go on trip to a country like this I really should invest in a good camera. After surfing around and chatting with some photographer friends I decided to get a Canon EOS T2 DLSR. There new models out there but I found a reasonably priced ($220) on ebay. I got two SD cards, two batteries and two different lenses. One for everyday use and a long range lense. I am so happy I did. There are so many functionalities with this camera and it’s performed better than my expectations.

Night sky Shoot with my Cannon T2
Night sky Shoot with my Cannon T2
Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier

Products I Love

Some tricks to getting the most use out of my backpack….small packing bags. I am SO grateful that the day before I left I went out and bought Sea to Summit packing sacks.

Backpacks tend to turn into the Bermunda Triangle

Clothes simply vanish into the depths and it is frustrating to dig to find what you need. Sea to Summit’s sacks have really prevented disorgnanization. They way I personally have organized mine is I have four sacks, one for socks and undies, one for dirty clothes, one for swimsuits/swimgear and a large one for the bulk of my clothes. Not only helpful for organization but I was able to pack a lot more because the bags become small and can fit around each other and really maximize the space available in your backpack. I can’t recommend packing bags like these enough.

Going from the Marriot to backpacking has been a big transition for me. When planning this trip I knew I wasn’t going to go as hardcore some backpackers do, e.g. always use a hostel or a campsite and go without showering for as long as possible (maybe the more you smell the bigger badge of honor it is?) Anyways, not bringing a hair dryer or straighter was toughing it for me, so I had to really focus on what small amount of girly things I was going to bring. For me this ended up being, a small amount of make up, my skin care products that I live and die by.

Ole Henriksen

Most importantly quality shampoo and conditioner. I am ashamed to admit the amount of hours I spent researching shampoo and conditioner – I didn’t want to bring loads of liquid products that would render my bag unable to be a carry on, and I didn’t want the extra weight. I also didn’t want to run around with scarecrow dry hair- hello I have instagram pictures to take, there are also my twitter fans…so what was I to do? I found these products from a company called Lush. Organic, and designed espeically for travellers their shampoo came in bars that one traveller said lasted her four months. Sign me up. I bought their shampoo, conditioner, and body soap that came in a little cup that looked like jello. The shampoo I like is the Jumping Juniper Shampoo Bar by LUSH

How have these worked out for me? Well if you see my shinning locks from my previous posts I am quite happy with the shampoo. The conditioner and body soap not so much. The conditioner is awkward, it tends to form little balls and it doesn’t seem to get anywhere except the shower drain. Thankfully I brought some Moroccan oil with me and I put that in my wet hair and it does wonders. Enough said about my hair, I don’t want to turn this into a post that sounds like it was written by Fabio.

The soap, as fun as washing with jello sounds, it tends to come out in clumps and doesn’t liquefy, again populating the shower drain with tiny blue blobs and making me feeling like I haven’t really properly showered. So I guess I’ve won some and lost some. I would still recommend Lush’s products- especially the shampoo, perhaps I just need to get a different type of conditioner or body soap.

Random Travel Items 

Let’s chat about food containers, sexy I know.

So far I’ve travelled by car, plane, taxi, bus, and ferry and with New Zealand being remote food isn’t always readily available (unless you spear your own fish like a French dude I met in the North Island). So having collapseable contrainers is really good so you can prep your own food ahead of time and you don’t have to worry about going hungry.

However, be advised about bringing ANY sort of food into New Zealand. The Kiwi’s don’t mess around. Any food/seed/animal product is inspected when you enter the country. Heck I had to unpack my hiking boots and show them to the customs folks to prove I wasn’t bringing anything extra in the country with me.

Sun and Bugs.

No, not the title of my next poem, but a fact about New Zealand that can’t be ignored (at least not for long). Let me just say that the sun and the bugs down under keep it real.

I was devoured, literally by sandflies in Fiji. Since I’ve come to New Zealand I discovered a handy little product called Goodbye Sandfly. It works and isn’t made of Deet. It’s better to come prepared then to be itching for weeks like a methhead from Breaking Bad. My bug bites have taken over two and half weeks to heal. Also, the sun is really more intense down here so if you don’t want to say good bye to the first couple layers of your skin, bring and wear, your sunscreen. Nothing can ruin a good time like itching bug bites on fried skin.

Transportation

Now, this portion is NZ specific but I will take this lesson learned and apply to any country I spend a significant amount of time in. I knew before I left that there wasn’t a robust train infrastructure in NZ like in Europe or Asia. I found Intercity Bus to be the best deal. You buy travel hours instead of routes, so initially I bought 40 hours of bus time for $225NZD. There are two free tours included with this and when you want to go somewhere you book online ahead of time. I thought that would be suitable for the duration of my journey. If I was spending my time just in the cities that would be fine, but most of what you come to see in New Zealand- the breath taking landscapes, you need to travel by car to get there. New Zealand is roughly the size of Colorado in the U.S. but most of it is really rural; especially the South Island. After spending eight days in the Bay of Islands I was so frustrated I ended up renting a car for four days just to get around to see the things I wanted to see- like Cape Regina. it was $50NZD a day, and unlimited km. Rental cars add up, fast. Talking with a bunch of other NZ travellers I was shocked to discover most had bought cheap cars in country. I had to admit buying a car in NZ never even crossed my mind before I got here. I bought a cheap little banger for $1600NZD (about $1000USD) that has awesome gas mileage. Since I am leaving right before the height of the tourist season I expect to sell it at a profit to another backpacker.

My Sweet Honda Logo
My Sweet Honda Logo

A lot of people buy vans and sleep in them as well, saving on hostel/hotel stays. Since I’ll be spending a lot of my time staying at farms (through WWOOFing- see my other post on that) I really didn’t need a car that I would have to sleep in. I love having a car, the sense of freedom is amazing. I can pick up and go whenever I want and I do not have to worry about bus timetables.

Plus, I’ve picked up a lot of hitchhikers and made some fantastic new friends!

Which brings me to another important travel tip: always have a map. Even if you are taking a posh, tour filled vacation, being oriented is always the way to go. Not only for safety reasons (need to make a run for it? At least know what direction to run in) but if you are driving a map is the only way you’d be able to get around NZ. GPS’s do work here ( I don’t have one because why spend the money when I have a MAP) but in the remote areas don’t expect satellite coverage. Plus there is something rugged and badass feeling that you’ve navigated your way through an entire country on sheer gumption and map reading skills.

Lastly and Most Importantly 

Lastly, and most importantly, the best piece of travel advice I can give is to bring the right attitude. Even with all of the research and planning, things aren’t always going to go as you’d like them to go. If you have the right attitude and an open heart I promise you your experience will be richer than your highest expectations.

So much to see in this beautiful world of ours
So much to see in this beautiful world of ours

“The purpose of life is to live it. To taste experience to the utmost. To reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

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Travel and Inspirational Blogs

The Unglamorous Part of Travel Planning

Planning a long trip is what I imagine being pregnant is like. First comes the initial whoosh of excitement when a destination is decided upon, the unknown filled with promises of mystery and future thrills. After the initial excitement wears away, then the angst begins. There are multitudes of options in gear, places to stay, equipment, transportation…the list goes on. I always think, “what if I pick the wrong place to stay?” Will I be miserable for the entirety of my trip? What if I do not do enough research and properly plan my trip- will I end up messing up the experience? Even as a seasoned traveller I still experience a twinge of angst and fear of the unknown.

As in life sometimes you just have to go for it. I always try to remember that the best part about travelling is the experience, the good, the bad and the ugly. No story of a lifetime ever started with “and everything went completely smoothly.” It usually begins with “and there we were, stranded on the side of the road in the rain and a local villager picked us up and invited us to have dinner at his house and it was the most amazing meal of our lives!”

Travel planning is unglamorous, most of the time we just want to get to that beach or mountain and take amazing shots to post to Instgram, however there is a lot of preplanning involved before you head to your destination. Remember though that the experience starts from the moment you walk out your front door and head to the airport. Sure there are some tricks I’ll outline below to make sure you have the best possible trip but the first and most important thing is your attitude when you embark on a journey. Relax, let go and don’t let the unknown phase you, be of an open mind and heart.

Aside from having the right attitude here are few travel resources I use frequently.

  • Maps- I know this seems like a no brainer, but in the era of the smart phone we often forget resources like Google Maps may not be available abroad if we do not have an international phone plan. I could have saved myself a lot of time and grief in Geneva if I had had a local may of the city and had not depended on memorizing Google routes when I was connected to wifi. Hardcopy maps will never fail you, even if you stay at a 5 star resort. Buy a map of the local area that you’ll be stay in. You can always buy a travel guide and most of them have maps included, or you can buy a map of just about any city/country from your local Barnes and Nobles. Having situational awareness will not only prevent the obvious- you getting lost, but it will also enable you to find those little hidden away gems that are off the tourist beaten track.
  • The Local Language – If you travel widely and happen to be a savant I doubt you’ll know the local language of everywhere you visit. My personal rule is to always know how to speak a few key words in the local language. Words like “Please” and “Thank you” are the most important in my book, you above all do not want to seen like that jackass tourist that makes not attempt to understand the language and history of its host country. Knowing “Please” and “Thank You” can make the difference between getting a smile and friendly service to getting a could shoulder and sneer. “Help” and “Emergency” are always helpful to know. Having a basic understanding of the travel infrastructure (see maps above) and what the signs look like will help prevent you from getting lost. If you are a baller you can try Rosetta Stone (a baller I am not) so I use free apps like Duolingo and Translater that are fun and really effective. If you are connected to wifi Google Translate works too for more in-depth conversations, like the one that you are having with that sexy Italian man you just met.
  • Blogs and Connections – Travel blogs abound these days, just about everyone has one. I find them a fantastic way to get the “real scoop” on places I am going to visit. If you are nosy like me and want to really experience a country than blogs and sites like travel advisor are a great way to. WordPress, Medium and even Instagram are filled with travel bloggers that have their own particular niche. I have found some amazingly places to stay and advice on anything from shampoo to backpacks via travel blogs. Once you find a few blogs you enjoy you can always reach out to them for more advice and perhaps in-country connections of people.
  • The Power of Apps and the Interwebs – There are a gazillion different apps and websites out there. Unfortunately I am not immortal so I do not have the time list of all of the different apps you could potentially use, however here are a few that I do not pack my backpack without.
  1. Airbnb.com – this is gaining in popularity but when it comes to places to stay this is my FIRST resource in checking. From a $5,000 per night mansion to a room at someone’s house this app has it all. I find some wonderful deals on there always have had a positive experience. Sometimes I stay in a house that the house lives in – which can be great because they are usually friendly and show you around their city, and sometimes I rent a space that isn’t lived in by the house, affording me a little more privacy.
  2. xe.com – who has time to constantly figure out the currency conversion? My blonde brain doesn’t so I use xe.com (also available as an app) to do the currency conversion for me. #lovethis
  3. kayak.com  and the app Flight Scanner– now there are countless blogs on ways to find cheap tickets. Some involve tactics like pretending you are from another country to get a cheaper rate or making a small sacrifice under the full moon and purchasing your tickets a 12:01 for the best deal. I prefer kayak because it gives me access to a full range of search engines along with timelines when tickets could be cheaper (hint, Wednesdays are usually the best day to depart.
  4. Hotel Tonight – I enjoy the app Hotel Tonight because if I find myself randomly stranded I can find the best deal near me.
  5. Smarttraveler – This app is provided for U.S. Citizens traveling abroad. It gives you travel warnings and alerts by country, a list of embassies, phone number, safety and security tips for that country, local laws (don’t get fined in Singapore for spitting your gum on the ground!), Health, Travel and Transportation tips. Incase you didn’t realize ISIS is taking off people’s heads in certain parts of the Middle East this handy dandy app would tell you.

These are just a few tried and true travel tricks I have learned over my years of traveling. There is nothing that beats plan ol’ research when you start your travel planning and it make take long hours to find the right fit in hotels, destinations, gear ect…However no manner of tips will improve your trip if you do not head into with the right attitude and spirit, remember positivity and high energy attracts good vibes in others.

Always plan ahead. #Travel #Scotland #Traveltips
Edinburgh, Scotland