Tag Archives: travel tip

An Ode to the Long-Haul Flight

When travelling long-haul there are times of despair
But there are certain ways in which one can prepare
Each flight is different, each is unique
But read ahead for some ways to make them less bleak

Armrest Ownership is a curious battle
And of crucial importance in the Class of the Cattle
If you have a greedy-guts sitting right next to you
Apply elbow pressure until more space you accrue

The scent of those close makes me want to say,
“Did you forget to use some deodorant today?”
Instead spray yourself with some floral tea tree
Then aim it on them: “Oopsie got some on you – so sorry!”

Another aroma fills the cabin air
A little girl has peed on her Dad over there
Her ear-piercing screams could burst eardrums, but not mine – 
The noise-cancelling headphones come on just in time

A trip to the loo is no walk in the park
The aisle is a meeting place for limbs in the dark
Once you make it inside, try not to breath much
And even more so, aim for little to touch

Try not to think, “What created this vapor?”
And don’t expect more than one-ply toilet paper
Don’t look in the mirror, don’t try fix your hair,
Just do your stuff quick and get out of there

It’s meal service time, the best time of the flight!
But wait – why is there spicy lamb curry in sight?
Stick to the chicken and prepare for the fact
That ‘silent but deadlies’ are gonna be cracked

The eye-shades come on, I’m finally sleepy
But why is the guy next to me so painfully creepy?
His head’s on my shoulder, his thigh’s touching mine
This calls for a show of Faux Coughing Fit Time

I doze off in a most unnatural position
A neck pillow helps minimise the condition
When I come to again, I can totally swear
That I’ve been out for 5 hours and we’re almost there

I see the flight map in front and I almost bawl – 
I slept for 22 minutes – that’s it, that is all!
Because Words with Friends can’t be played in the air
I continue my Angry Birds long-time affair

Who knows how it happens, but we come to the end
The cabin lights brighten and we start to descend
I chuckle at those trying to squeeze shoes on cankles
You should have brought some comfortable jandals!

Disembarkation etiquette is tough to condone
‘Each man for himself’ is what’s normally shown
As I gladly step off, I wave the aircraft goodbye
“Never again!” I mutter, but it’s always a lie…..

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Top 5 things to do in Auckland

Below is a copy of a guest post I wrote for GotSaga.com

New Zealand’s largest city is a haven for lovers of the outdoors. It is a prime destination for travelers who enjoy nature walks, bush walks and the ocean but appreciate the comforts of a metropolitan city. The driest and warmest months are December to March, but September to November and April can have great weather too. However, it is smart to always pack for the seasons because the weather conditions can change fast. This is especially important if you plan to go hiking.

1) Visit the Waitakere Ranges
Seeing the west coast of Auckland is like going back in time. The native rainforest and rugged coastlines provide access to walking tracks, beaches, amazing views and a range of activities. Piha Beach is one of Auckland’s best-known west coast black sand beaches and is a premium spot for surfing. Aucklanders will often spend a day at Piha over the weekend in the summer months. 

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Hamilton’s Gap beach on Auckland’s west coast – photo by R Blundell 

2) Explore North Head 
North Head is a small volcanic headland in the North Shore suburb of Devonport, which is accessible from Auckland by car or a short ferry ride.  In the late 1800s it became the site of a fort to defend Auckland from a feared Russian attack. It was later expanded during World War I and II and now provides an interesting network of tunnels and bunkers to explore so bring your torch!

North_head

North Head – photo by M Dentith

3) Climb Rangitoto Island
Arguably Auckland’s most iconic natural landmark is the city’s most recent and largest volcano, Rangitoto. It is reached by a 25-minute ferry ride from Auckland’s Downtown and the climb to the summit takes about one hour. Bring your camera to capture the stunning views of the island from the ferry, and of Auckland from the summit. Note that the island has no shops so bring food, water and sunblock from the mainland.

Rangitoto_island

4) The Sky Tower
Auckland’s most defining man-made landmark towers 328 metres above the city and offers incredible panoramic views. The Observatory restaurant has a great seafood selection, or alternatively visitors can enjoy a changing view at the revolving Orbit restaurant. Daredevils can take it one step further and do the SkyJump off the tower, or Skywalk around the pergola at 192 metres high.

Sky_tower

Auckland City & Sky Tower – photo by Vince P Star

5) Visit Waiheke Island 
Waiheke is an island about 18 kilometres from Auckland, and is accessible by ferry from Downtown Auckland. Waiheke is known for its beaches, walks, friendly locals and plentiful vineyards. For a day trip, catch a ferry in the morning, walk to one of the beaches then go winetasting over a long lunch at one of the vineyards. Some of the most popular are Mudbrick, Stonyridge, Cable Bay and Te Whau.

Waiheke

Honorable mentions:

  • Have fish and chips on the beach in Mission Bay
  • Explore the Auckland Museum where amongst other things you can learn about Maori history and culture
  • Visit Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Adventure and Underwater World where you can come face to face with sharks, rays and other creatures 
  • Do the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb or bungy
  • Explore the Matakana Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning
  • Go up Mount Eden and watch the sun set over the city
  • Find a café on Karangahape Road, Ponsonby Road, Kingsland or Grey Lynn and take in the vibe of the locals

Copyright
All images appearing on this blog (solange.posterous.com) may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois (or contributing photographers)© 2010

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How to be a traveller in your own city

Recently I wrote a brief guest post on the CheapoAir guest blog site, which hosts posts from travellers all around the world. They also offer cheap airfares. Because the blog is a global one I thought I’d touch on the idea of how to be a traveller in your own city…..

How often have you learnt something new about the place you live in from a visitor? Are there attractions in your hometown that you still haven’t been to? Taking the place you live in for granted is common, after all, “there’s always tomorrow,” but checking out your own city is perfect when you’re tight on time and cash. Here are some helpful hints to make tomorrow come faster:

  • Sign up to e-newsletters about what’s on in and surrounding your city. There may be markets, festivals comedy shows and gigs that you wouldn’t hear of otherwise.
  • Follow popular magazines from your city on Twitter. Many hold competitions so you can win tickets to certain events.
  • Take your camera with you to post photos online and get others excited about nearby attractions or activities.
  • Start a blog about the highlights you’ve come across. Locals and travelers will be grateful for the information you share.
  • Check out iPhone apps about your city – there are many with suggested tourist walks to take.
  • Suggest a brunch, lunch or dinner in an area of the city that you rarely frequent. You don’t need to be doing something “touristy” to enjoy a new part of the city.
  • Be the organizer! Your friends will leap at the chance to go on a day trip somewhere new.
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How to minimise jet lag

You love travel. That’s why you’re reading this post. And we all like different things when it comes to travel, for instance destinations, modes of getting around, and budget. But if there’s one thing we all agree on, it’s our dislike of jet lag.

After all, there’s nothing quite like being cooped up on a plane for 12 hours or even more, crossing through multiple time zones and ending up at your destination as an insomniac by night and a lethargic sloth by day, especially when your trip is only a few weeks in total.

I used to suffer enormously from jet lag, but as I traveled more I began to change my ways and picked up a few tips that I want to share with you. I categorise these tips into two groups: Obvious and Not So Obvious.

Obvious Tips:

  • Try to fly west instead of east, when possible. Generally, flying west is easier on the body.
  • Talk to your doctor about sleeping pills. (Before I’m reprimanded for saying this, I accept no responsibility for Deep Vein Thrombosis or any other possible side effect – that’s why I suggest you talk to your doctor).
  •  Stay hydrated with water before, during and after your flight.
  • Go on a big walk or hit the gym the day before your flight.
  • If it’s night-time at your destination, try to sleep with the aid of eye-shades, neck support, a blanket, noise-cancelling headphones and relaxing music like Enya and Fleetwood Mac.
  • If it’s daytime at your destination but night-time on the flight, play some upbeat, lively music and watch an action film.
  • Take a big outdoor walk or hit the hotel gym when you arrive at your destination. Get some sunlight, drink lots of water and stay up until at least 8.30pm.

No So Obvious Tips:

  • Get some Vitamin D pills and start on a daily course about a week before you depart, and keep it up as long as you need to. Vitamin D is some of the good stuff that we get from the sun, and it also helps the immune system so prepares the body better for the stresses of travel.
  • Put your watch/clock to the destination time as soon as you board. If you have a transit stop, ignore it and set the time as the final destination.
  • As soon as you take off, close your eyes and visualise yourself at the destination, on the destination time. Is it 3am? You are asleep. Is it 7am? You are waking up and having breakfast.
  • If it’s night-time at your destination, have a glass of wine. If it helps you sleep, why not? Just ensure you drink plenty of water too. 
  • Eat as if you’re at the destination time zone. Sometimes I pretend that dinner is actually breakfast.
  • What you eat is critical. Of you want to sleep, carbs are great, but if you want to stay awake, stay off the carbs!
  • Freshen up with a moist towel. Feeling fresh and clean means feeling awake.
  • If it’s daytime when you arrive, spend a bit of time in the sun without sunglasses. Our eyes play a big part in absorbing sunlight and this can help with regulating the body clock.
  • Have a light dinner to help you sleep on your first night. Avoid dairy or meat after 6pm.
  • Have a high-protein, low GI breakfast on the first day after you arrive. It’ll help with maintaining your energy levels during the day so you’ll be back to your usual routine in no time.
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One for the girls: What makeup should I take when traveling light?

I’m aware that not all girls take makeup with them when traveling, but perhaps I’m a little bit vain. I like my eyes to not look as if I’m still asleep, and I like to have a warm, even glow, even if it’s the middle of winter.

However, deciding on the bare minimum isn’t easy. The first thing to examine is “where am I going?” In certain areas of Western Asia and South America and most parts of Europe, North America, and Oceania chances are that you’ll be surrounded by women who aren’t too far away from their eyeliner. In other parts of the world, areas in South America and much of South-East Asia there will be a far more relaxed attitude toward aesthetics because it’s either too hot to wear makeup or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs places things like shelter and food at a higher priority level than your $100 Guerlain Bronzer. You also have to think about the elements as well as your safety and pack accordingly. For instance, will it be really sunny/windy/cold? Then take a foundation with SPF 30+ and a decent lip conditioner. Will you be in cities like Costa Rica’s San Jose? Guatemala City? Rio? Apart from the fact that your highlighted hair and peachy complexion will already have you standing out from the locals, nothing screams “rich foreigner” more than a thick coat of iridescent, super plumping pearly gloss smacked all over your English-speaking lips.

The second question to ask yourself is, “what are my strong points?” If you are blessed with a perfect complexion you might not need concealer or foundation. If you are a rosy-cheeked English or Irish lass, you probably won’t need any blush. If you are Asian, you probably won’t need anything, unless you want to look even younger than you already do. 

The third question to ask yourself is, “do I want to pick up?” Because really, in cities like Rome or Paris (particularly where I was staying in Montmartre) you can look feral and still attract attention from the opposite sex. I remember my days in Paris, sans makeup, red-faced and shiny in 35 degrees and 85% humidity, jogging along the street in my very unfashionable exercise gear…..yes, believe it or not, even this heavenly vision managed to rouse some excitement.

So when you know where you’re going, what your intentions are and how much you want to stand out you can start seeing how much makeup you’ll need to take. Try to get things that can double up, for example brown eyeshadow and also be used to fill in your eyebrows and rouge is good for both lips and cheeks. I keep it minimal but comprehensive (and this is now the extent of my makeup purse when I’m back home, too):

All this goes on top of a daily SPF 30 moisturiser and for daytime takes me about 3 minutes to apply, and about 5 minutes for an evening look. As you can see below it’s not much in total, packs nicely into a small toiletries bag and isn’t much larger (or heavier) than a regular paperback book. Easy peasy!

Copyright 

All images appearing on this blog (solange.posterous.com) may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010

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And a few more travel tricks

The third installment of my travel tips and hints saga (after this one and this one).

  • An iPod Touch is the perfect travel companion if you don’t want to carry a laptop with you. You can connect to the net when there is wi-fi, take notes, use Skype, email, Facebook and Twitter, record voice memos, check the weather, plan with the calendar, download maps, check-in for flights, read books, play games, listen to your music and with a multitude of useful apps, much more!
  • Buy a drawer sachet to put into your suitcase – keeps everything smelling fresh. I love lavender or vanilla.
  • Don’t take the entire bottle of your favourite perfume/cologne. I carry The Body Shop’s Chrome Atomizer – also great for nights out back home!
  • Take an external harddrive with you to save your photos as you go.
  • Use www.carhire3000.com to hire your car around the world. They act as a middle-man between you and various agents, so you get a better deal.
  • When traveling with a group, carry a small notebook and pen at all times so you can record how much you owe each other rather than waste time trying to count up exact change in restaurants, etc.
  • If you’re somewhere slightly dodgy, use plain black headphones for your iPod/iPhone instead of the tell-tale white ones.
  • I’ve mentioned previously that flattery can go a long way. So can a simple smile 🙂
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A Kiwi’s guide to driving in LA

When we (my friend Christine and I) picked up our Dodge Charger last week for our Vegas road-trip, I wasn’t too nervous about driving. After all, we had GPS. However, since we returned the car we’ve been getting around in Christine’s sister’s Jeep, with no GPS, no cellphone…just us and Google Maps printouts. What can I say…it’s scary. Firstly there’s the whole driving on the right thing. Secondly there’s the traffic, the huge freeways, the confusing signs and the ruthless drivers. 

When things do go right it’s a huge ego boost: “Wow, I just totally merged onto the 605 South!” But there have been wrong turns and moments of suspense. Learnings from the past few days include:

  • Don’t cross the double yellow lines EVER
  • When entering the freeway/highway merge with caution because the merging space is short
  • Sometimes the freeway you’re meant to be on suddenly changes to another one so watch the signs to see what lane you should be in
  • When changing lanes start turning the wheel as you turn on the indicator. Nobody is going to give you space to let you in anyway!
  • Further to previous point, you can also opt to not use the indicator at all (not uncommon)
  • You can turn right even when the light is red if there is no sign to indicate otherwise and if the road is clear
  • At intersections with or without STOP signs give way to vehicles already in the intersection, otherwise give way to the vehicle on your right if it reaches the intersection at the same time as you
  • Lanes are often referred to by number, e.g. the left or fast lane is called the ‘Number 1 Lane’. The lane to the right is ‘Number 2’, e.t.c.
  • If parked on a hill (more applicable to San Francisco) ensure you turn your wheels into the curb – you will get fined if you do not
  • Drive about 10mph faster than the speed limit which is usually 40-45 on main roads and 65-70 on the freeway. If you don’t, you’ll be driving too slow for the other drivers
  • Roads are LONG here. If you see a familiar name and think that you may know roughly where you are, you’re probably wrong
  • Don’t panic. If you miss a turn, take the next exit off the freeway, get back onto the same one but in the opposite direction and hope for the best!

For further tips and hints check out Wikitravel’s page on Driving in Los Angeles County and download the California Driver Handbook

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All images appearing on this blog (solange.posterous.com) may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010

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More little travel tricks

Following on from this post a few weeks ago, here are some more tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Check out your route on Google Maps before taking cabs, especially if you’re alone or in a country where they might take you on the scenic route! Note down main street names and even ask the driver to take you via certain streets to let them know that you know where you’re going. I often take map screenshots on my iPod.

  • In addition, if you’re a lone female in a cab and you feel uncomfortable at all, fake a phone call and even state the taxi number if you can read it, e.g. “Hi Bob, yes I’m in the cab, should be there in about 10 minutes.”

  • Remember that most commodity items will be cheaper almost anywhere else in the world than New Zealand. Of course, there are exceptions everywhere but generally you will find what you need so there’s no use in overpacking.

  • If you’re in a city for a few days it might be worth investing in an unlimited 3 or 7 day train/bus pass. You’ll have more freedom in moving around, won’t have to keep taking out cash to pay for tickets, and you can do a good deed if you leave before it expires by passing it on to somebody else.

  • If you have a daypack you might have to check it in when visiting certain sites and museums. Carry a small fold out carry bag to transfer your valuables into when you check your daypack.

  • Look at bookingbuddy.com, priceline.com and hotwire.com for great hotel and flight deals in USA and Canada.

  • Ask locals for directions – sometimes there’s a little trick for getting from A to B that you couldn’t possibly know about but will save you plenty of time.

  • Call ahead to confirm that venues are open, especially in South America and Paris! Sometimes places just close for no reason.

  • Buy local magazines for suggestions on special events, restaurants and gigs. Some will have discount vouchers too.

  • If you use your iPod or iPhone as an alarm and you’re staying in a hostel dorm, put the device into a cash belt and strap it around your waist overnight to avoid it falling out of bed and possibly disappearing forever.

  • Carry several locks with you and also a luggage security cable. If your backpack/suitcase doesn’t fit in a hostel dorm locker you can lock your valuables in the locker and then secure your backpack/suitcase to a fixed item in the room with your security cable.

  • Take a Dyna band away with you so you can do some basic resistance exercises on the road.

  • Take the time to do your research online. For example, you can plan to be in a city for a certain special event, or you can arrange to visit museums on their free or reduced entrance fee days.

  • Use Twitter to find out information about the cities you’re travelling to. I’ve connected with some awesome people who’ve given me great tips, and I’ve even met up with some of them.

  • Join Couchsurfing.org. Even if you don’t want to host people or surf their couches, you can sign up to receive notifications about things going on in cities you visit. I’ve met some amazing people through this and have been able to attend events I wouldn’t have known about. And some of them for free!

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Little travel tricks I’ve picked up along the way

During the course of my shorter trips I’ve always learnt something new, but the last five months have been particularly enlightening. Here’s a list of some of my favourite tips of all time:

  • Don’t put clothes in hotel room drawers if you might forget to take them out when you leave.

  • It’s always better to ask a question when in doubt rather than stand back and accept something. A negative answer is the worst you’ll get.

  • Never assume that the person next to you can’t understand the language you’re speaking.

  • Help save the world by taking a reusable shopping bag with you. I got mine through Envirosax. They’re super strong but compact.

  • In addition to a travel adapter plug, take a double adapter plug so you can charge two items at a time.

  • Always carry loose change.

  • Go with your gut instinct – it’s usually right.

  • Pick up on little things that locals do or wear, and adopt them if you are having trouble blending in. Pay special attention to shoes, bags and accessories, and on public transport wear a scowl and roll your eyes at the lack of air-conditioning!

  • If you’re a female traveller by yourself, bite the bullet and pay for an authorised taxi home if you’re returning late.

  • Check reviews on tripadvisor.com to avoid disappointment with accommodation you book. Reviews will also let you know if the hotel/hostel is in a good location and if it’s suitable for certain groups of people. But something to note is that only excellent or terrible hotels will have plenty of reviews; people don’t usually feel compelled to comment on something that was satisfactory.

  • Ensure that your bank offers convenient and easy options for banking online, and that you clarify how you can contact them from overseas. Most banks will allow you to call collect in an emergency.

  • Over-the-counter drugs (for sore throats, headaches, or insomnia) are usually excellent in parts of South America and most of Europe so don’t bother bringing too much from home unless it’s really specific.

  • Never have expectations about food (or anything, for that matter) in different countries, because you could set yourself up for disappointment. For example, hamburgers in Argentina don’t generally come with lettuce and tomato unless you ask for it. In parts of Europe, your side salad may be huge and the main might be small.

  • For a few Euros, the Paris Circulation map booklet is a good investment if you’re in Paris for a while, and means you can avoid the instant tourist “I have a huge foldout map” look. Even the locals have them.

  • Take a small AM/FM radio so you can learn about what’s on that day in the area, or if it’s in a different language then you can be exposed to the music they like.

  • Wearing headphones (even if there is no music playing) is a great way to not have to acknowledge unwanted attention, without feeling too rude!

  • Remember that people everywhere are still people. They like to be liked, praised and accepted, so keep this in mind when you’re asking for anything. Flattery does work!

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Long-distance bus trips – the how-to guide

With a lack of rail networks and what feels like a monopoly on air travel within South America the costs of flights can be exorbitant which means that buses become your number one option for getting around.

However, not all buses and routes are created equal so here are some tips that I’ve picked up over the last few months:

Purchasing
– Ask the company if the bus is direct. You can often pay a little more for a direct bus that doesn’t stop everywhere
– Ask for the arrival time so you can let your accommodation at the destination know when they can expect you
– Figure out which side the sun will be on for most of the journey and select seats on the opposite side if it might bother you
– If you love taking en route photos, figure out which side will have the best views
– If travelling alone, ask the bus companies if they have any Suite or Executive class buses on the route – some of these have three seats per row, with one on its own (common in Argentina)
– Clarify the bus company name because in some areas they will sell you a ticket on another carrier’s paper and won’t actually tell you what the actual carrier is
– Purchase tickets directly at the bus station as agents often add a significant commission on fares

Safety and Security
– Mind your bags and sleep with a strap looped around you if possible
– Wear your seat belt and try not to sit at the very front or very rear (common sense – these areas are most susceptible to damage in an accident)
– There are occasional reports about hijackings/robberies on overnight buses in some areas, particularly in Bolivia. We only took daytime buses in Peru and Bolivia but felt comfortable with overnight buses throughout Argentina

What to take
– Toilet paper, as it’s not always changed promptly
– Noise-cancelling headphones – you may get stuck right under the speakers that are blasting the sounds of a badly-dubbed  movie, or you might get a snorer on an overnight bus
– A fully-charged iPod and/or book to read. Movie selections are often dubious
– Snacks and fruit – Argentinean buses serve a Celiac’s worst nightmare for breakfast so if you want some healthy fibre, take your own fruit (unless you are crossing a border and fruit is not permitted). Also, on some buses the only food provided is that of local people who come on board to sell their goods.
– Tummy pills/stopper pills in case you have eaten something that wasn’t quite right – there’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus with a sore stomach
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