Prep and Packing: Wrangling Your Holiday

No matter where you’re going on holiday, you’ll have a lot of prep to do before you jet off. So whenever I’m going somewhere, I always approach this task with a certain methodology, and that helps me balance what I have to do and how long I have to fill out the paperwork, make the bookings, acquire the kit and prepare my itinerary. I’ve found it really helps to project plan this so that you don’t miss anything out.

1. Decide Where You’re Going.

This is very important, as this sets the scope of where you’re going, as well as why you’re going. You need to research the destination for travel information such as, is a VISA required? Vaccinations? Will there be a language barrier? If you plan to cross borders, this can get quite complicated, as they all have different rules for tourists, and it’s your duty to know the local customs of each place you visit so as not to make a faux pas. You’ll need to know seasonal information too, climate, local holidays, how liberal their alcohol consumption rules are, and if things like kissing is allowed in public. You’ll need to work out your accommodation as well. Your choice should depend on budget and where you need to be close to. If you’re not bothered about the exact hotel, you should consider booking a blind hotel. This is done via a website and you get a random hotel in the area you specify. Don’t worry, its limited to at least a 3 star place, but you’ll save a lot on the room.

Preparation is key, and knowing where you are going will go a long way to helping you organise the other stuff. Once you know where you are going, you’ll know what currency you’ll need, and if you’re buying in bulk, buying it online is cheaper than a bureau de change, especially one at an airport. Also, don’t forget to check your passport is in date, and that it won’t expire half-way into your trip. In some cases, you may need upto 6 months left on your passport, so check that as well. I know, there’s a lot to check, isn’t there?

2. How long are you going for?

This will impact on how much you’re going to be taking with you. I once went on a three-week trip to China that had the potential to be cold in the north and really warm in the south. This meant I had to be very careful with my choices. You’re going to have a maximum luggage allowance, so you need to be creative if you’re planning on taking a lot. I’d think about the things you can pick up for cheap when you get there.  You should also read a guide on packing tips if space is the issue, not weight.  Aside from your luggage, you have housekeeping tasks to organise.  You’ll need to have a plan for who looks after your pets, cancel deliveries, the cleaner, and informing a relative or a good neighbour to watch your home while you’re away, and you might want to tell your boss that you’re not coming in to work for the period you’re away…

3. How are you getting there?

Are you flying? How are you getting to the airport, and what time do you have to be there for? Renting a car: What’s included in the rental agreement? Do you need specific insurance, for example? Do you know the rules of the road? Catching public transport: Do you have the city metro app? Is it worth getting a 3-day pass? I digress… it can be worth doing some research if you plan to be around for a few days.

4. Do you need any specific clothing or equipment?

We’re talking swimming gear, walking gear, climbing gear, as well as evening wear/formal attire. Do you have to take it all with you? Can it be rented cheaply enough? How often can you get your clothes laundered?

5. Those things that could make it more complex.

Do you have specific dietary requirements? Disabled? Things like this can make all of the above much more complex. Finding the right places to visit and where to eat will be something you need to research thoroughly, fortunately, there the internet can help you with this. If you’re taking your kids, you need to find family friendly places as well. Yup, this task just got significantly more complex.

6. Technology can assist you.

There are numerous apps and websites that will make some of this stuff much easier. Firstly you should have a calendar with all of your tasks and dates put in, this will help you get prepared for your holiday. TripAdvisor can show you the best value restaurants in the area and are user rated, so you know you can trust people to give their honest opinion. You should also get an app that updates live flight information as well, as this will warn you of any delays. I also use an app called Trip Case, which puts a lot of your lists and itinerary into one place, along with your flights. If you have to learn some phrases in a new language, technology can also help you there too.

As I’ve said above, you should always try and get as much of this preparation done as possible before your holiday starts, leaving you to enjoy your holiday when the time comes. Always expect the unexpected though too, and have a plan for if your flights are delayed or you lose your luggage, or indeed your passport, like I may have done in the past…

So, how does that differ form your prep? I’m always interested in hearing about how other people plan their holidays and what they do to keep it all together, so feel free to comment with your suggestions.

A Traveler’s Playlist

Now we’re in the modern world of the twenty-teens, we are never far the devices that connect us to our digital universe.  For me, I have to take my mp3 player with me wherever I go; whether it’s in the docking cradle of my car, or in my pocket, I love listening to music on journeys.  People listen to their audio devices for different reasons.  For some, its about learning about the places they are going, or learning a language.  Perhaps its an audio book or podcast, and losing yourself to pass the time.

Then there are those like me.  For us it’s because our flights are long or we have a few layovers between our intended destinations, and sometimes we just need to hear a little piece of home.  This is holiday playlist.

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There are three things that make up my holiday playlist: The Anticipation, The Party, and The Nostalgia.

I know I’ve made it sound like three bosses from a Metal Gear Solid game, but these are very important aspects of what makes up my playlist, and I’m going to illustrate how and why.

Firstly, there’s the section I call ‘The Anticipation’.  This section is made up of songs that invoke my expectations of the holiday as a whole.  For example, when I was going to Vietnam and Cambodia, I included songs and artists that reminded me of Vietnam and Cambodia I had read about, or seen on TV.  Therefore ‘Paint it Black’ by The Rolling Stones and ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ by the Dead Kennedys we perfect inclusions to the playlist, capturing the atmosphere of the places as they had been perceived from afar.  Following on from places I was planning on visiting were the activities I was planning to do when I got there, and the journey itself.  One of the activities I planned to do on that trip was hire a moped and take to the open road, so I put Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ on the list, others included; ‘Run Through the Jungle’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, as I knew we’d be spending some time in the Jungle.  Lastly, I included ‘The End’ by the Doors from the movie ‘Apocalypse Now’.

Vietnam Countryside

The next set of songs make up the section called ‘The Party’.  For this I usually have an upbeat mix of songs that flow well together that make give me an excited energy.  This is usually pop and alternative, but of course, includes an element of dance too.  This is especially true if they have a holiday feel, so ‘Cake by the Ocean’ by DNCE and ‘Lemonade’ by Alexandra Stan (the Cahill radio edit) are a good start.  Flo ‘Rida’s ‘Right Round reminds me of ‘The Hangover’, which in turn reminds me of the great time I had in Las Vegas, so this also falls into the Nostalgia section as well.  A few pop classics like U2’s ‘Discotheque’, ‘All Fired Up’ by the Saturdays and even a couple of modern floor fillers like Daft Punk and Pharrell William’s ‘Get Lucky’ will get the party started.  I may then creep in a few alternatives like Belle & Sebastian’s ‘The Party Line’, ‘Trainwreck 1979’ by Death from Above 1979, and ‘Fire’ by Kasabian.  I finish off with some bridging tracks like ‘What Kind of Man’ by Florence + The Machine, ‘Happy Idiot’ by TV on the Radio, and ‘Magic’ by Ladyhawke to make the transitions between tracks much slicker and I’m set.

So lastly comes ‘The Nostalgia’, and this falls into two categories; songs to make you homesick, and songs that hark back to other holidays or good times.  Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Sunspots’, ZZ Top’s ‘Doubleback’, Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’, and ‘Sand In My Shoes’ by Dido all make this list for various reasons, but they make a flight home especially nice. ‘I Love L.A.’ by Randy Newman also holds a dear place in my heart from my first adventure holiday, and ‘We Built This City’ by Starship for similar reasons.  ‘Santeria’ by Sublime reminds me of my Central American holiday, and I think of two friends I made on that trip whenever I hear it.  The rest of the playlist is just full of good songs I love at the moment.  I try to keep it eclectic but try to keep a familial feel to the playlist as a whole.

Though a lot of thought goes into a playlist, I rarely think about it for long when I’m on holiday. I just know its there if I need it.  There may be times we are stuck on public transport to get between locations, or the noise in the city we’re staying in may require me to put my ear buds in and drift off to sleep in lieu of ear plugs.  Even the flight itself can seem like forever with the droning of the engines in the background, and so having an aural reprieve from this can make all the difference.  Music preference can be a personal thing, but I love hearing what other people are listening to in case I find something I like to listen to.  This was very much the case when I rediscovered Daft Punk’s ‘Instant Crush’ on my holiday in Turkey, which now has made it into ‘The Nostalgia’.

What makes up your holiday playlist?  Feel free to drop me a comment below.

When Hotels Go Bad…

Hello, I’m sorry its been such a long time since I last ran this blog. A lot has happened. So before I start, I’d like to give you a brief rundown on what’s been going on over the last year.

Last year, it was announced that the department I was working in was going to go through a heavy restructure, the implications of which meant I had to reapply for a job similar to my previous role. However, as fortunes played out, I didn’t get offered the job, and had the option for voluntary redundancy. There were quite a few of my colleagues that went through a similar outcome, and many, I’m happy to say, have moved on to other organisations, and indeed, other sectors. Myself included, but only recently.

I’m now a co-founder in a business that designs and makes tabletop games, and this week I’ve traveled with my business partner to the annual Spieltage convention in Essen, Germany. We are staying in a hotel that I booked on “Booking.com”, and as I begin to write this, I’m still staying in the very hotel room that I am about to wax lyrical about.

I wouldn’t normally do this, but I want to help others in avoiding this ridiculous mistake, which I found both ridiculous and totally preventable.

When I first looked into booking a hotel, I wanted to get somewhere that was easy to get to from the airport, and close to the convention centre, so that travelling there each day would be both cheap and easy.  However, the convention itself is so popular that to find a reasonably priced hotel close by, you’d have to book really early or be very lucky.  I had to book a room for myself and my co-director, and to save us money, we decided to book what we thought was a twin room through booking.com.  However, upon arrival we discovered that we hadn’t booked a twin room, we had booked a twin room or double room, and it seems the hotel is under no obligation to honor your preference in either case.

Of course, you don’t know this until your arrival, at which point, if they can only offer you a double, and this is unsatisfactory, as was in our case, it was too late to book a hotel somewhere else, as all the other hotels nearby were fully booked.  So therein lies the problem.  There was little we could do about it.  The man on the front desk said he could move us to a twin room on Saturday, meaning for three days, my business partner and I had to compromise and share a double room.

“Double room” was pushing it to be honest.  Yes the bed fit two people, but only two thin pillows and no spare.  A bath towel each, but no hand towel, flannel or toiletries, other than liquid soap for the sink (not the shower).  There was a sanitary bin in the toilet but no bin in the rest of the room.

No tea or coffee making facilities either.  There was a tray of water and glasses, but they wanted 3.50 in euros for it.  We grabbed two coffees from the bar and the next day after the maids had been, the dirty coffee cups were both still there.

As well as this the bed was rock hard solid and the room was so hot, I could not get comfortable on the first night, and I had the bed.  My colleague had the floor with a spare duvet and the bench padding as a mattress.

I don’t expect much in places where you’re paying little, but the room was not that cheap, and virtually no effort had been made to make our stay any more comfortable.  For that, they are not going to get a favourable Tripadvisor review, I’m afraid.  I’m only glad I didn’t pay extra for breakfast, and to be fair there were quite a few bakeries nearby.   However, nightlife left much to be desired, and aside from a high street that became deathly quiet after 8pm, there was only a handful of restaurants to choose from.

I think for next year, we’ll have to book much earlier or perhaps choose Cologne over Gelsenkirchen, for a bit of something to do after the convention of an evening.

I guess I’m not that upset about the room not having certain amenities more than I am about there being nothing that could be done once the mistake was realized.  I think that Booking.com should have done more to highlight that room choice was not a confirmation, just a preference, because at the end of the day, we would have just booked two singles, and would have only been mildly disappointed by the hotel, instead of severely disappointed.  Oh well… The moral of the story, always check the small print.

 

Inspiration for Your Bucket List

Everyone is different, but most of us at some point in our lives will have a ‘bucket list’ of things we want to achieve before we die.  As morbid as that sounds in itself, it is actually a nice little checklist of inspiration if you’re ever feeling that your life is lacking something. Also at the end of the day, its something you can look back on and be grateful for: ‘Achievement Unlocked!’ or ‘YOLO’ as they say.

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I’ve compiled a primer for your bucket list if you’re unsure where to start.  We don’t all have to have become leaders in our chosen profession in life, or have had our two point four children by the time we’re forty years old.  If you’re a late bloomer like me, your list will be modest in itself, but there will be aspirational goals as well as goals we may have already achieved and taken for granted.

Here are some ideas for your list, should you need them, but feel free to comment with ideas of your own, as I’m always interested to hear what you think makes a good life goal.  I’ve gone for leisure activities here for bucket list inspiration.

Climb a Mountain, Any Mountain

I’ve said it before, one of the best feelings you can get on holiday is that feeling of accomplishment that comes with finding an epic view under your own steam.  It really makes you feel like you’ve earned it, and it’s something always better in the flesh than in a photo.  You don’t have to climb Everest or Kilimanjaro, but set yourself an achievable target, and you won’t regret it.

Swim, Snorkel or Scuba in a Warm Sea or Ocean

There is something about the waves and the taste of the salt in the air, but actually the feel of the water once you’re in it is an unforgettable experience.  I’m quite lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to swim at some amazing places.  The Belizean Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Pacific Ocean and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam to name a few.  Sometimes you see colourful fish, and sometimes the water is so clear you can see clearly the bottom of the sea bed.  Not just that, but you feel at one with the primordial earth in some way, and it leaves a mark on you.

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Visit at Least Three Wonders of the World

As a common goal for many is to see the wonders of the world, but with many different lists for the wonders of the world, you’re spoilt for choice.  That’s the good news, and some of closer than you’d think.  You could start off by visiting your nation’s capital city and view it as a tourist would.

Here is the Lonely Planet’s Top Twenty:

  • Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Great Wall of China, China
  • Taj Mahal, India
  • Grand Canyon National Park, USA
  • Colosseum, Italy
  • Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina
  • Alhambra, Spain
  • Aya Sofya, Turkey
  • Fez Medina, Morocco
  • Twelve Apostles, Australia
  • Petra, Jordan
  • Tikal, Guatemala
  • British Museum, England
  • Sagrada Familia, Spain
  • Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
  • Santorini, Greece
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Museum of Old & New Art, Australia

 

Take a Road Trip, by Car, Motorbike or Bus

The road trip is the ultimate expression of freedom in the world of travel.  A set of wheels, an open road and a map, (or at the very least, a direction), and you’re set for a good time.  You must have heard once or twice; it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and to a large extent, that is true.  The magic of the road trip lies in ensuring the pit stops are full of character, and the scenery, diverse.

One of the best road trips I’ve undertaken was a week-long tour of the western states of the USA, during which the backdrops ranged from coasts to forests to desert and canyon, and the weather was temperate, but warm throughout.  I also really enjoyed a five moped convoy from Hoi An to the My Son ruins in Vietnam.  However, I can honestly say, I’ve also had some great road trips in the UK, down to Glastonbury Tor and Cheddar Gorge, and the frequent trips I’ve taken down to Weston-Super-Mare.

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Take a ride on an overnight train

I know it doesn’t sound like an epic experience, but trust me when I say, it is an experience.  If you’re with a group of people it can be a fun way to bond with your group, and it’s a nice way to get to different places, if you don’t want to spend a lot of your day time in transit.

I’ve done this in both Vietnam and China, and it’s been an experience, but the ultimate is the Trans-Siberian Express that runs from Moscow to Vladivostok, although most travelers opt for the route that terminates in Beijing.  This is the extreme in terms of overnight train travel and it isn’t for everyone, but it’s certainly an option for you if you’re feeling adventurous.

Camp out under the stars

Camping outdoors is a great way to feel one with nature.   If possible, try and do this without a tent.  An insulated sleeping bag or bedroll will be fine if it’s a clear, warm and dry night.  It’s usually too cold to do this in the UK, but I have done this on a boat in the Mediterranean, and many have done this on some overland tour of USA or Australia.

It’s wonderful to catch the stars on a clear night sky, especially if you’re miles away from a heavy population centre, because the light pollution from street lighting will be less, giving you a clearer view.  Staring at the infinite starts and constellations is quite humbling, and it puts into perspective quite how extraordinarily improbable your existence is.  Mind blown!

Walk in the Footsteps of Your Ancestors

This can be anything from visiting an ancient preserved site, a museum or it could be simply studying your genealogy.  If you can visit the actual places, you can really get a feeling for what it must have been like, and further study will give you a greater understanding for the period, the people and their culture.  The sites where war and genocide have occurred are important lessons that we heed well or we are doomed to repeat them, such was the case with Gallipoli and the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge at Choeung Ek.

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Eat Like a Native

If you’re a foodie or not, I would always recommend you at least try to eat like a local.  What does that mean?  Not only does it mean try the local dishes and delicacies, but also eat at the kind of places locals eat.  I tried my first bowl of Vietnamese Pho, a noodle soup, on the streets of Hanoi, seated on a miniature plastic patio stool, while mopeds sped by on the street.  By all means be safe though, so if somewhere looks like hygiene isn’t high on their list of priorities, for example if there are flies buzzing around the meat, then perhaps give it a wide berth.

In the USA there is there is the urge to ‘go big or go home’ in a ‘Man versus Food’ style.  Well do it, if you can handle it.  Just remember to earn it.  After a day of hiking Yosemite, I treated myself to a veritable banquet at the diner I went to for dinner, and I have no regrets whatsoever!

Exercise Outdoors or Take Part in an Outdoor Sport

As many people will tell you, the natural endorphins that come with exercise are nature’s anti-depressant, and fresh air is good for your body, mind and soul.  Add in a social element, by including a group activity, whether that’s a team sport or an exercise class.  Exercise doesn’t always have to involve lots of fancy equipment either.  A brisk hike or a run can be as good as anything else, but the key is to make it fun, set yourself a goal and get out there and do it.

There are apps out there if you want to log your progress as well, and people are surprisingly encouraging if you’re seeking to better yourself.  I’m currently using an app called Strava to log my cycling progress.

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Enjoy a Live Performance in the Open Air

Festivals are a great example of a place you can enjoy a performance in the open air.  Indoor gigs can be stuffy and claustrophobic, especially if they’re sell out performances with very little room to move.  Festivals and other outdoor performances do leave a mark on you though.  I remember seeing Metallica headline the ‘Big Day Out’ festival in Milton Keynes in 2001, and as the sun was setting they opened their set and it was incredible to watch.

It doesn’t have to be a music festival.  It can be an open air play, or stand-up comedy, or a dog display team.  If it’s enjoyed outdoors, with other people then it’s worth noting you’ve done it.

Defy Gravity: Jump or Fall From a Great (or not so Great) Height

Your inner adrenaline junkie might want to suggest a skydive or a bungee jump over a canyon or a bridge as a thing to do before you die.  There’s a lot to be said about your appreciation of life once you’ve taken the plunge, so to speak, and even if you’re afraid of doing it, it’s nice to have an aim that you can work yourself up to.

I’m not afraid of heights per se, but I am not a fan of falling at terminal velocity either.  There is an inherent fear in falling that I’m unashamed to say I want no part of.  That being said, there is a little bit of fun in the rush you get diving off a pier or boat into the sea or a clear pool.  That will do for me, at least for now.  Just be sure you’ve done a risk assessment before you do anything rash.  At the very least you should look before you leap. 😛

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Speak to Others About Their Beliefs and Their Culture

The ability to converse with others on matters important to them is a gift that we sometimes take for granted.  It improves our understanding of their points of view and helps us to see things from new perspectives.  There is only so much you can glean from a book, and you can’t ask the book to explain things you don’t fully understand.

When you speak to an individual about their beliefs and their culture, you accept their perspective on the subject and they can debate with you your viewpoint.  I once had the opportunity to speak to an Imam in a Mosque in Turkey, about religious beliefs and I found that there were more similarities than differences in our perceptions of spirituality.

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Do Something Tacky, Despite Yourself

There’s something pure in the expression, dance like no one’s watching.  What I take from that is don’t apologize for being yourself if your motives for enjoying yourself are benign.  I like to encourage others to be the same, but I appreciate that some require a bit of encouragement to get there.  If you can step out of your comfort zone and enjoy yourself, then the world is your oyster.  Confidence is a trick, and you are a con artist whose mark is yourself.

So try something daring and tacky, you might like it.  That might be Karaoke on a Chinese river cruise, entering a talent competition, or going to a place or event you’ve never been to before that might be a little different to your usual kind of thing.  You might even make new friends or inspire old ones.

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Aim to Read at Least 10 of the Top 100 Novels of All Time (according to Time Magazine)

This is a specific item on the bucket list.  One aimed at myself for sure, but I figure that others may appreciate this as a choice they may want to add.  Reading is something we often do when we have the time, but after I’ve finished a novel, there’s usually another one I’ve got to read that my peers are reading or have read.  I need to brush up on my classics, and I can be doing that while I’m travelling.

Start Writing About Something You Love

Finally, if you find yourself with time and inspiration to share something you love, then write about it.  You’ve just read what I like to write about.  If I can do it, so can you. 😛

A ‘Bucket List’ is certainly something that isn’t set in stone, and I’m sure you’ll keep finding things to add to your list.  Some other things I’m considering adding include; Volunteer for a Conservation Initiative, Learn a Foreign Language to a Conversational Standard and Visit All The Continents.

Photograph Your Journey, then Bring it to Life!

You’ve been on holiday, and you’ve seen some amazing places and taken a thousand photos on your various devices.  When you get them back home and look through them, sometimes, you feel the photos just don’t do justice to the places you remember.  That is partially due to the fact that your eyes are the best lens you’ll ever see through, and you pick up a range of colours and constantly adjust to the levels of light when you focus.  Even the best SLR cameras can’t yet pick up this much detail and reproduce this in a single image.  However we can still enjoy impressive digital photos, with the use of editing software.

After Editing Cmabodian Sunset

I’ve recently begun to teach myself how to use photo-editing after effects in order to get a little more from my photos, and as it turns out, you can get quite a lot out of them if you’re prepared to give it a try.  I am a novice at this, and although I am an IT professional by trade, I still found the process quite daunting to start with.

There are quite a few options, but I went for Adobe Lightroom on a trial basis, as there seems to quite a number of free tutorials on how to use it, both on their site and other video websites.

After Editing The Bridge at Hoi An

So, the main advantage of post-processing is that you can alter the exposure on certain parts of the photograph, making darker areas lighter, allowing you to get the details out of the clouds if you make the top level exposure slightly darker while making the contrast sharper.

You can also change the warmth and the tint on photos, allowing water to look bluer  than it should, or making dry hills look golden, as opposed to beige.  Sunsets get that fiery glow, and whites take on an effervescence like no other.

You can enhance the highlights and the shadows, soften or sharpen the image or add vignettes to apply different effects to parts of the image.  The versatility is overwhelming to start with, but the tutorials definitely help.

After Editing Sultan Ahmed Blue Mosque Istanbul

For illustrative purposes though, its perfect to give your pictures extra oompf, if you’re trying to capture the spirit of the aesthetic.  It may mean that the images take on an out-of-this-world dimension that evoke a reaction, even if its not quite as it appeared, but the truth is that no matter how good your pictures are taken on camera, they can be improved with a little tweaking here and there.

So all of the images on this post have been enhanced in some way using Lightroom, and I’m really happy with the results.  The only thing I’ve not done is use .raw image files, and I’m sure that if I did, the results would be even better.

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My only problem now is that I want to be able to go to other places and take more photos, expanding my portfolio.  Its become addictive.

Lightroom allows you to apply the same filters to a group of pictures at once, using the user-defined presets, and it has an edit history so you can undo a change, or go back to the image at any point you manipulated it if you start to lose what you were trying to create.

I am a long way from being an expert, but I’m already happy with the results I’ve seen so far.  I’ll continue to practice with it and no doubt, you’ll see the results in my future posts.

 

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If you have any tips for me, I’ll welcome them in the comments.

Looking for Travel Inspiration? To the Movies!

When I was young and growing up, my world was a small one.  I never went abroad as a child as my parents were never that well off, and for my mother especially, she had a couple of bad experiences (including a coach holiday to Italy that she once described as torturous!), and so for me, adventure was limited to places like Brean Sands, Rhyl and Brixham.  Hey, don’t knock it, I had a wonderful time as a child.

For me, though, adventure abroad was something I only saw on film and in television, and its just one of many ways people find inspiration to pack a bag and fly to somewhere special and inviting.  Here I’ve brought together two of my fondest loves; Film and Travel to present to you 10, nay 11 movies that I think are well worth a look if you’re looking for inspiration for where to travel.

1) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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The third in the trilogy in which Harrison Ford plays the eponymous hero is one of the best, and takes us from Utah to Venice to Austria/Berlin and finally to Jordan.  The cinematography has always been the hallmark of all three of the original trilogy, and it certainly doesn’t fail to ignite a sense of adventure.  The cavernous valleys of Petra is the highlight, and its why its on my own bucket list.  All of the Indy films are great for travel inspiration though, as are the Star Wars films.

2) Lost in Translation

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Nothing quite encapsulates the fish-out-of-water theme so well as being in a metropolis, surrounded by people who don’t speak your language.  Its reminiscent of that holiday you had, when you met that girl, and nothing really happened, but you both knew it would be something that you’d think about for years to come.  There is an eerie sense of loneliness in the lead characters which is amplified by Toyko’s neon landscape, which is why you feel their connection so strongly.  See also Black Rain for a late 80’s buddy cop take on Japan, also one of my favourites.

3) The Motorcycle Diaries

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Charting the travel experiences of Che Guevara and his friend through South America, with such great iconic visuals such as visiting Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Amazon, its hard to deny your sense of wanderlust.  It inspired me to explore part of Vietnam by motorbike as well.

4) The Beach

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Based on the Alex Garland novel, the Beach follows the journey of Richard, a backpacker in Thailand, trying to find a legendary beach untouched by tourism – a true paradise.  Visually stunning throughout, thanks to Danny Boyle’s direction, it invokes that desire to take a diversion from the tourist trail and find something unique.

5) XXX

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A strange choice you might think, but actually XXX is almost exclusively set in Prague in the Czech Republic.  It is a beautiful old city, and its architecture and riverside are showcased in a number of chases within the film.  It is a film with many faults.  The plot is weak, the dialogue also weak, and the acting is questionable, but as an advertisement for Prague, its a solid choice.  It’s also, nowhere near as bad as XXX-2 with Ice Cube.  At least this one had Asia Argento and Marton Csokas in supporting roles.

6) The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

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If there’s a film that screams at you: “Its not too late to try something amazing.” Its this film.  Ben Stiller plays the underachieving Walter, who takes a leap of faith and goes on a world-hopping adventure to save his and his co-worker’s job.  It’s not a great script but the visuals and the music are amazing.  If you want to take the plunge and travel the world but are afraid to, then this film might be one you need to watch.

7) In Bruges

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Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Colin Farrell (Ray) are laying low in the Belgian city after a hit went bad, awaiting further instructions from their boss, Harry.  In the meantime, they’re free to enjoy all that Bruges has to offer, and for Ray, that doesn’t appear to be much.  It shows off Bruges beautiful buildings and canals, even if Ray isn’t enamored with it, and it seems to be a city filled with charming little pubs and tourists attractions.  If you don’t want to go to too far from the UK, you could do a lot worse that visit Bruges.

8) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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The story of the fellowship who journey to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring is littered with perfect examples of why New Zealand is a beautiful country filled with diverse landscapes.  You can actually visit the set of the Shire, where the Hobbits live, and the New Zealand tourist board are very proud of their connection to the film that Wellington Airport is littered with characters and backdrops from Peter Jackson’s epic.  So its hard to remove the association if you do go to visit.

9) Slumdog Millionaire

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The second of Danny Boyle’s films in this list is centred around Jamal, a call centre operative who has made it as a contestant on India’s version of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’  As he answers some difficult questions correctly, he is arrested overnight on suspicion of cheating before completing his run on the show, and asked to account for himself.  The story then focuses on how Jamal has come to know the answers through accounts of his life story.  The film itself is well directed and paints a colourful canvas of life growing up in the slums of Mumbai.  Its a great story and fun to watch, but it also shows you India in the raw.  See also Life of Pi for some incredible visuals of French Colonial India at the beginning of the film.

10) Once Upon a Time in Mexico

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From the opening scene with the Mariachi walking through the town square to the end with the parade through the city, it painted a vivid vista of Mexican life and culture. It came with a great soundtrack too.  Robert Rodrigez’s homage to the Mexican Western genre was over the top, but we’d expect nothing less, and Johnny Depp’s CIA antihero was a marvelous addition.  Mexico is as picturesque as that movie would have you believe as well.  See Desperado, El Mariachi and From Dusk Til Dawn for more.

11) The Water Diviner

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One I saw recently, stars Russell Crowe as an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey to discover what happened to the three sons who went off to fight the Turks at Gallipoli.  It shows an account of the aftermath, during the reclamation of fallen troops from the infamous campaign to hold the Dardanelles straits, he arrives in Istanbul unable to get a permit to visit Canakkale, and befriends a Turkish war widow and her son at the hotel she works.  It shows both sides of the conflict, which is nice, and some incredible, picturesque landscapes as well.

Some other films worthy of mention include the original Bourne Trilogy, and the James Bond movies, for their diversity in locations, and how they’re used.  Inception gave a great view of Paris, Manhattan and Mombassa among its various locations.  There are too many films to mention that bring to life the American Road Trip, but the first Hangover Movie is a good example.  City of God, in much the same as way as slumdog, gives you a no-holds-barred view of life growing up in Rio De Janeiro, but if you want to see a more modern view, then Fast and Furious 5 is good as well. Then there’s Lawrence of Arabia, South Pacific, Doctor Zhivago, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Dances with Wolves, Hidalgo, The Last King of Scotland…., et cetera.

Whatever it is within a movie that makes you take a breath and say, that looks beautiful, I really wish I was there right now.  Let that be your reason to book your flights.

 

Luggage: What Should I Take?

One… no, two of the hardest decisions to make, once you’ve decided on a destination, is what to take and how to carry it.  If you can get away with one bag, bully for you, but for most of us, a two or three week adventure holiday will require two bags.  Any more than two bags is too many, believe me, especially if you’re going to be traveling to a few different destinations on your trip.

I’m going to offer some insights into what you should consider, but I am not an authority on the subject.  I found choosing a good bag quite daunting, and you’ll find frustration with whatever bag you choose, I’m sure, as I did initially, but hopefully, reading this will prepare you for the challenges, and at least give you a starting point.  I am always interested in hearing responses about what people found has worked for them, as I need the inspiration sometimes as well.

The first consideration is going to be how you pack for your flight.  Then how you’ll carry your inventory once you reach your destination.  There are various rules about what you can include in your carry-on and what must be transported in the plane’s hold, but I won’t go into that, as it changes so frequently in this time of every-changing security needs.

travelers bags

There are many different types of luggage on offer, but for your flight, you’ll need one bag you can carry on to the plane, and one that will be checked into the hold.  For the bag going in to the hold, you need to ensure you can remove or tie any loose straps down, and I’d advise the use of TSA approved padlocks on your zips, especially if you’re going through the United States.  (TSA approved padlocks can be opened by TSA officials for inspection of your luggage, should they need to carry out any checks, though this will not break your padlock).  For your carry-on luggage, I’d advise something lightweight and easy to carry on your back, or with a long handle and wheels.  I’m not a big fan of the wheeled cases myself, because they take up too much room in overhead compartments and people make a meal of getting them on or off the plane, (cue tutting!).  Traveling with luggage is much more convoluted than it needs to be, but I’ll try and break down what I know about allowances and suggest some good choices if you’ve no idea where to start.

Baggage Allowance: So this is one of the main considerations for whatever choices you make for luggage you take with you.  The maximum number of bags and their total capacity will depend on what airline you take and how far you are traveling, but that’s not to say, you can’t pack a bag inside one of your allowed bags, or pick one up at your destination.

Its worth checking with the airline you’ll be using before you make your decision, especially if you plan on taking a lot of gear or doing a lot of shopping on your holiday.  You really want to be able to bring back all you take with you and some additional souvenirs and gifts for friends and family, don’t you?  Okay, not everyone does that, but its nice to know it will all fit the bags you take.

So British Airways checked baggage allowance is 90cm x 75cm x 43cm (208cm total)(at time of publication) at a maximum weight of 23kg.

Easy Jet however would allow a bag of dimensions equal to 275cm total, and with a maximum weight of 20kg

This is the basic problem, you have to ensure your bag is suitable for all of your flights.  In the case above, if you were taking a flight with each airline, your total dimensions would be 208cm and a weight of 20kg.

You can take extra baggage if you’re a silver/gold class traveler with certain airlines and/or if you upgrade from Economy Class, but lets assume you’re on a budget, or you’re new to this, and in any case, more baggage is more to carry around with you.

So the next thing you need to know is how you’re traveling on your holiday.  If you’re going from taxi to airport to taxi the other side, and spending the trip either in and around cities or level countryside, then I’d recommend that one of your bags have wheels.  You’re going to have a lot to carry on a trip of two or more weeks, where you’ll be undertaking a wide range of activities.  So for all your gear, you need something that’s easy to pack and easy to find things in.

For this I usually use a Berghaus Mule 100 or 120.  The 120 has an additional end pocket, which can be useful, but both are suitable for most long-haul flights from the big airlines.  Its lasted me a few years and certainly has a bit more life in her yet.  The only thing I don’t like is that the wheels are tiny, and are prone to overturning if you have a lot within it.  It’s also a little noisy, but it suits my needs in other areas.  It has padlock holes on the main and end pockets for locking down your luggage in shared accommodation or during your flight, and its not too deep, meaning you can stow it underneath a bottom bunk on an overnight train.

Here’s a video on the bag if you’re interested:

If I’m not using the Berghaus, I usually use The North Face Base Camp Large Duffel Bag. It’s 95 litres and it’s extremely durable.  It’s made of a hardwearing material that is water repellent, meaning you don’t need to worry about moisture penetrating the bag if you’re out in the rain.  The downside is that it doesn’t have wheels and when full it can be pretty heavy.  That said, some trips, having a case that relies on wheels can be a nightmare in some places.  Like the Berghaus bag though, you can padlock the main compartment, and it can be worn as a backpack.

There are many other suitable bags on the market, it just depends on what you want.  A lot of the trips you can get away with a standard wheeled luggage case, but if you’re going to stay at a base camp for a few days, you’ll need something a little more practical.

In either case (pardon the pun), you will want to ensure the main compartment is big enough for the majority of your clothes and toiletries, and that you can find everything you need easily.  Also consider where you’ll put dirty clothes.  I advise taking carrier bags with you so that you can keep your clean and dirty clothes separated within the bag.  I also use packing cubes to separate my t-shirts/shirts, trousers/shorts and underwear.  Again, this just makes finding things easier when on the move.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/eBags-Packing-Cubes-3pc-Set/dp/B004YLIS9Q

Packing Cubes in various colours on Amazon (UK Link)

When it comes to my carry-on bag, I’ve gone for The North Face Borealis.  It’s a medium-sized backpack with three compartments.  The front compartment is a single zip pocket that goes fairly deep but isn’t too wide.  Both the middle and rear compartments have doubled pull zips that can be padlocked.  The middle compartment has a section within to separate paperwork, pens and equipment, making it idea for your travel documents/maps, and small devices/cables.  The main section nearest to the wearers back is the largest and holds the bulk of the things you want to carry.  For traveling through the airport, your cameras and laptop may occupy this section.  There are also two drawstring mesh pockets each side for water bottles and many clips and loops to hang carabiners from.

This has been my primary backpack for a while now, and it shows no sign of wear on the handles or stitching.  It is a fairly heavy pack though, and so you might consider a smaller pack if you plan on day hikes.

The video below shows a newer model of the Borealis.

 

So I do take a smaller pack with me as well, but I keep it in my hold luggage until I arrive at my destination.  I use the Berghaus Remote 20L Rucksack  It’s much lighter and smaller than the Borealis, and is great for 2 hour hikes, Mayan temple exploring and bike riding.

 

I’ve noticed that some people like to take a small hip bag with them on trips, and I certainly see where they can be useful, but I have yet to use one.  This can be useful if you don’t really need a bag but don’t want to over-stuff your pockets.

However, I do make use of a waterproof toiletries bag for my luggage in case of seepage from my suntan lotion or similar.  The last thing you want to be confronted with when you open your travel bag is a cream explosion all over your clean clothes.

Helly Hansen washbag on Amazon (UK link)

I think I’ve covered most of the basics here in terms of what to consider with your luggage, other than how to pack.  There are loads of youtube guides to help you with this, though to cover the basics:

  1. Roll up your socks and stuff them into your shoes.
  2. Adopt the marines-style of packing t-shirts (google it!)
  3. To keep shirts crease free, try vacuum bags.
  4. Put the heavy stuff at the bottom, or this may happen!
  5. When you return, if you’re worried about the weight, ditch the toiletries.
  6. Souvenirs are best bought towards the end of your trip, if possible.

I wish you a pleasant trip, wherever you’re headed.  Bon voyage!