travel

Road Trip: California’s Pacific Coast Highway

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway isn’t exactly the most ‘original’ or trips, but I question the need to be original with travel  – at least the need to be original all of the time. I trust that the many, many travellers before me had good reason to tackle that route, be it recommendation or the mere reputation of the trip as being one worth taking the time to do.

In this blog post I’ll share with you our road trip journey, what we did and why I think the crowds of tourists – in this case – are correct!

San Francisco

Having driven over from Yosemite National Park, we spent a few days in the Bay City. I blogged about this some time ago, so you can read about my stay here.

Monterey

After 4 days in San Francisco, we took the scenic drive to Monterey. There were two things I was most excited about when we decided to visit Monterey: seafood and whale watching.

Let’s first address the whale watching situation. You can book a whale watching trip which lasts around 4 hours, either for a morning session or an afternoon session. Given we were due to continue the drive south after the trip, we booked morning tour tickets with haste!

In hindsight I’m extremely thankful that we chose a morning trip because it meant there was less content for me to throw up over the back of the boat.

Yup. Sea-sickness.

seasickness

Never before had I suffered from travel sickness. My first experience of motion sickness was in fact only 10 months prior to this – and was the result of jumping out of a plane over Queenstown, so seemed reasonable.

This sea sickness was like nothing I’d experienced before. 45 minutes into a 4 hour trip, I was barely able to lift my head off the handrail at the back of the boat without inducing another wave of retching. This was highly amusing to my husband, who was remarkably unaffected by the choppy ocean swell. It was less amusing for the other slightly sea-sick passengers, who also began to spew once they had seen my green tea soy latte expelled from my mouth at speed. Despite the sickness, I did manage to see some whales, dolphins, seals and other marine life.

monterey bay

The calm of Monterey Bay

My top tip? Take a travel-sickness pill even if you don’t normally suffer from motion sickness!

Once we hopped off the boat I felt fine within a matter of seconds, at which point I then became ravenously hungry! Queue scoffing a smoked salmon sandwich before heading to a restaurant for chowder and crab! You really must sample the fresh seafood when you’re in Monterey Bay!

seafood monterey

Carmel

Carmel beach boasts one of the best sunsets in the world. Head here in the evening, park the car and gaze out over the shore line and you’ll see the sun visibly dive over the horizon in a haze of golden orange.

We took the drive down from Monterey, taking a hot drink and sitting on the white sandy beach. We were not alone, as many of the locals walk down to the beach to witness the evening ritual.

On the night we went, there was significant cloud cover, yet the sunset was still mesmerising. What’s strange is the speed at which you can see the sun setting. It’s something you really ought to see for yourself if you’re stopping in the area. Check online for the estimated sunset time, because the whole thing is over in 20 minutes so you could easily miss it if you’re not careful!

carmel beach sunset

Santa Barbara

Before I visited the US, if I had been asked to imagine a Californian Surfer town, the picture I conjured in my mind’s eye bore a remarkable resemblance to the reality of the experience when we finally arrived in Santa Barbara. One long sweeping beach, ocean waves, a chilled out vibe and the smell of salt in the air all contribute to a feeling of relaxation and youth associated with that culture.

Arriving late afternoon, we took an evening stroll on one of two piers before settling down for an al-fresco dining experience at a charming Italian restaurant.

*We actually cut dinner short because of a minor disagreement, resulting from spending 2 weeks consistently in each other’s company, no doubt!*

Having slept off any residual marital irritation, we headed (together) to Sambo’s beachfront café. Given that it was recommended to us by a local, expectations were high!

From the moment the complimentary home-baked mini-muffins landed on the table as we perused the menu, I was SOLD! Even though ‘Biscuits with Gravy’ (flat dry scones with creamy sauce, to those outside of the USA) was a little unusual, I enjoyed my Sambo’s experiences immensely nevertheless!

sambos santa barbara

Los Angeles

Many of our friends remarked – prior to our holiday – that we probably wouldn’t like it in LA and that 2 nights was therefore plenty of time to see the sights. I’d have to say, I’m glad I heeded their advice!

Los Angeles is like no other city I’ve ever been to. It appears not to have a true ‘heart’, instead sprawling over many miles and making tourism somewhat a pain-in-the-ass.

My favourite part of LA was Santa Monica. Hours could be lost browsing the shops, padding on the beach and trying out arcade games. I left there having finally learned what ‘Skeeball’ is and having picked up a self-help book* in Kitson. How very LA.

skeeball

Griffith Observatory is also worthy of a mention. A visit after sun-down allowed us to take in panoramic views of the city and escape the traffic, noise and perceived ‘tensions’ we felt driving through Little Armenia. Take the time to queue for a view through the telescope! It’s worth the 10 minute wait!

griffith observatory

We stayed at a renovated old-hollywood hotel not far from where many of the studios are based. One thing I noticed whilst staying at the hotel is that many of the inhabitants seem to behave as if they are constantly in an audition! People walk around singing loudly, wear full make up and heels to the pool and do not appear to eat. In our 2 nights in the hotel, I saw only 2 people eating in the on-site pool café.

We took a drive out to Beverley Hills – clearly a very wealthy area and a desirable place to live – and visited Fogo de Chao for an evening meal. It’s similar to Bem Brazil or Fazenda in the UK, only with valet parking and a slightly bigger salad bar. It also had valet parking. The necessity or even desirability of valet parking is something I still cannot comprehend.

fogo de chao los angeles

San Diego

By this point in our trip we had been touring for around 3 weeks! We had already taken in the sights in New YorkVegasDeath Valley and Yosemite National Park before we hit the coast. Naturally our pace began to slow down when we reached San Diego!

San Diego Zoo is world-famous and home to one of very few remaining Giant Pandas. We visited the Zoo on a very hot day and were slightly disappointed that many of the Animals were ‘missing’ – perhaps taking cover from the intensity of the Californian Sun.

flamingos san diego zoo

Having paid a visit to San Diego Zoo, I remain conflicted about zoos generally. On one hand, I think they’re distasteful and that the sterile, unnatural surroundings are somehow cruel. On the other hand I think they’re important in terms of looking after animals (and to some extent species) who would not otherwise survive in the wild.

We were staying over on Coronado Bay – a retreat from the city but only a 20 minute journey by car. We stayed at the Loewe’s resort which was excellent and despite the weather being horribly overcast we spent the final day of our trip by the pool and in the Jacuzzi chatting with fellow travellers about beer, fracking in Tulsa, and what it’s like to live and travel outside of the USA!

candelas on the bay

Amazing food at Candela’s restaurant on the bay!

The Verdict

There’s a good reason why this remains a popular holiday for those who live in the US as well as those visiting. If you’re stuck for time then do as well did and cut out some of LA – don’t skimp on time in San Francisco or starve yourself of the ability to pull over and take in the views along the coastal road. The road trip isn’t supposed to be a sprint, after all! Take the time and enjoy the journey!

*the self-help book was called ‘You Are A Badass’ and was written by a very witty and non-preachy Jen Sincero. It was the beginning of a new-found appreciation for self-help, self-discovvery and provided me a massive kick up the ass, which resulted in me writing a book and starting this blog! Worth a read!

Advertisements

Geneva Motor Show / Snowboarding

So for my Dad’s somewhat belated birthday present last year, we decided to take him to what might be one of the best motor shows in the world – The critically acclaimed Geneva Motor Show.

Often the place where new models are revealed, Geneva Motor show seemed like the obvious choice. Add to that cheap flights and it’s an even more obvious choice!

We decided to head out there for a few nights to see the cars and to experience the charm of the city itself.

Getting Accommodation

The first hurdle was finding accommodation. The flights may have been a bargain, but hotel rooms in the city were eye-wateringly expensive for motor show weekend, at c.£1000 per night for 6 of us in a mediocre set-up! We had only booked  few weeks prior, so I guess it was what you might call ‘last minute’ and availability was poor.

Cue a search within a 30 mile radius, for more reasonably priced accommodation coupled with 2 cars. A short search later (look here for tips) we found a reasonable apartment in France – a 20 minute drive from the convention centre and airport – for less than £400 for the entire duration of the trip. Add to that the cost of two hire cars (around £150 for both) and the cost is suddenly back within a reasonable range for a weekend away!

Getting There

Getting there was easy – the flight from Manchester to Geneva is relatively short at 1 hour 50 mins. When we arrived, we waited nearly 2 hours for our hire cars! I wouldn’t use dollar / thrifty again IN MY LIFE because of this farce. As a gesture of goodwill, they offered us a free upgrade.

Unfortunately due to being under 30, I was allocated a tiny ‘hairdryer’ car for my rental, whilst my dad was ‘upgraded’ to a large Mercedes 4×4. Whilst this initially seemed like a nice treat, it was one we accepted dubiously, when the attendant asked for £5,000 deposit for it, but only a £500 one for mine. 

14944

Saturday Night – Why Is Everything Closed?!

We arrived on Saturday night, hungry and tired from the car-saga. We drove to the accommodation, freshened up and headed out to find some food.

8:30pm on a Saturday night and even the fuel stations were closed! The only lights we saw were those on the roads, and the CERN.

2home

All we had to eat that night was a couple of snacks left over from the journey, sloshed down with some sugary tea.

The Main Event (Sunday)

We awoke the next morning, readied ourselves with our fully charged phones and cameras and set off to the exhibition centre. We arrived early, allowing ourselves the opportunity to find a little snack! Hurrah!

The show itself was brilliant. There were new models, customer builds, new technology and plenty of photo opportunities. The only criticism is that you couldn’t get in / close to some of the best models without having VIP tickets of an invitation, which made it all feel a little bit ‘us and them’ when at some of the stands occupied by the more prestigious marques.

The food on site was expensive (as expected), so we had a small lunch and then headed out from the exhibition at around 2pm. We decided to head into Geneva town centre – a 10 minute drive away – for some food and a wander around.

Geneva Centre – Pretty, but pretty dull.

OK so eating out in Geneva on a Sunday is a near impossibility. In any other city I’ve ever visited in the world, there’s at least a small possibility of being able to walk into a restaurant and get a satisfying meal. On this occasion we were surprised that we couldn’t find any open restaurants (even with the help of Google) so we instead found ourselves snacking on chicken nuggets from McDonald’s, washed down with green tea from Starbucks. You can always count on there being a Maccys and a Starbucks open.

The architecture itself is very pretty and there is a ‘fairy-tale’ look about the place. The few people who were milling about in the town centre appeared to be either homeless or at a loss for something to do.

A kind local Gentleman pointed us in the direction of the more ‘lively’ part of the town –a mere 5-10 minute drive from our current central location, so we trusted the young man – who looked very out of place walking through the old square we were occupying – and set off in that direction.

After struggling to find parking in said area, we identified an underground parking garage and I zipped down the ramp and parked the car. A few minutes later, I walked back up the ramp to find my dad awkwardly shuffling between drive and reverse as he tried to un-wedge the car from a tight turn in the ramp without touching the sides. Given the £5k excess on the upgraded vehicle, it was a particularly tense time. A worthwhile note for anyone wishing to drive in Geneva is that the streets and the car parks and relatively tight on space! Whilst initially the complementary ‘upgrade’ seemed like a bit of a ‘win’ we soon came to realise that there are few benefits to having such a large car in such a small place.

france-2013-013

Geneva centre… on a busier day… when there were people. This is from google images, but serves as evidence that there are in fact people in this town.

Finding Food 

It would have been easier to hunt and kill our own food in Geneva that weekend. Never have I found it so difficult to track down a meal!

We walked the streets of the area for 45 minutes before we noticed a small light flickering on the horizon. We shuffled towards it, only to discover a charming little restaurant. The food was beautiful, and very welcome. It was nearly 9:30pm by the time we had found food, so we were pretty hungry!

Snowboarding in Les Gets (Monday) 

On the way out to Geneva, we saw lots of snowboarding and skiing groups. Feeling impulsive, we decided on our ‘spare day’ to drive the 2 hours from our random French accommodation to Les Gets, buy some snowboarding pants and a lift pass, rent a board and catch the lift up the mountain for a day of snow sports.

Given that we’d only ever snowboarded in Manchester’s Chill Factor-e some 4 years previously, the first hour was a little bit hit and miss. Queue embarrassing ourselves on the ski lifts, falling repeatedly and making poor choices with regards to the many layers of clothing we wore and subsequently had to dump when the sun came out.

By the end of the afternoon we were battered and bruised, but we could make it down the slopes with vigour and (might I add) a small amount of style.

After the light began to dip, we ditched the boards and headed to a restaurant for our last meal before the light home the next morning.

 

Would We Go Again? 

I wouldn’t go back to Geneva for a weekend, purely because there was so little to do in the area. I would however, consider flying in to Geneva for the day to visit the motor show.

I know that sounds crazy, but the flight it short and the exhibition centre is a 5 minute walk from the arrivals gate. You could save yourself the cost of a hotel by taking an early flight from the UK and taking a late evening return flight.

As for snowboarding, I’m looking at going next spring! Yay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rant About Social Media

It’s a shit rainy Monday and you’re putting off ending ‘breakfast time’ to go and get in the shower because that unfortunately indicates that the working week is about to begin and people actually need you to be on form. In a somewhat foolish move, you whizz onto Instagram to nosey through a few photos. That won’t take long, and doesn’t require much brain power, so it’s all good.

Holy shit.

Why is everyone else apparently on a 52 week long holiday? How can these twenty-somethings afford to swan about wearing expensive bikinis on the world’s beaches whilst I’m cramming my holidays into 5 weeks and paying for them for the other 47?

Not only am I now closer to 30 than 20 (and actually have been for a few years, but was happily in denial), I’m now acutely aware of the fact that my success rate as a ‘globetrotter’ is potentially below par. Add to this the fact that – despite my fitness obsession – in my present state I wouldn’t be able to fit one bum cheek into the bikinis these girls are wearing and #MondayMotivation just turned into #FuckThisShit and #ShitImGoingToBeLateForWork

The Problem With Other People’s Glossy Lives and Perfect Bods

The appearance of a glossy and untainted life can lead to us normal folk feeling somewhat inadequate. Is my three week holiday to NYC, Vegas and California not enough?! Am I ungrateful or simply the type of person who strives for more?

The problem with social media is that people tend to edit out the crap parts of their lives (which they obviously don’t want people to see) meaning sometimes the content is plainly misleading.

Social media is often criticised for not being ‘real’. I know through speaking to some more influential social media personalities that often apparently ‘in-the-moment’ holiday snaps which look relatively natural and ‘ad hoc’ are the result of considerable effort and editing. One such travel and fitness influencer said of her Instagram pictures that in order to be able to post a snap which looks natural, she has to position herself in the correct lighting, prop her phone up on a stool at the right height and take a series of photos (usually around 45 in sequence whilst she constantly repositions herself) and only then can she select the best snap, apply a filter and post it to her thousands of followers.

Packing in Airport

The less glamorous side of my holidays – re-packing my case to make sure I avoid £100 baggage charges

This made me feel quite a bit better about the fact that I am actually quite terrible at selfies and also made me realise the amount of work some of these Instagram-famous personalities put into maintaining this glossy and well-travelled image.

When you consider that, suddenly your own terrible double-chin selfies in front of the Brooklyn Bridge don’t seem quite as horrific.

My Instagram Accounts

I have two instagram accounts. My personal account (@_afrothunder_) is not planned and features mostly food, shoes, exercise and more food – a reflection of my life for the majority of the year.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.30.22

loads of followers. NAAAAT. 

My ‘travel blogger’ account (@the5weekwanderer) on the other hand features only pictures from my travels, holidays and days out. It’s not intended to make it look like I’m a full-time professional travel blogger – after all I do this in my spare time – but I do wonder what impression it gives given I don’t post my day to day activities. My feed looks like one long jolly.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.34.11

Absolutely smashing it in terms of followers… and sarcasm apparently. 

If you only flicked through the5weekwanderer’s account, it would be easy to assume I was jet-setting all of the time. I can assure you that whilst I would love to travel more than I do, it’s simply not an option which is currently open to me!

Does the fact that my account could be interpreted in this way make me a hypocrite? Does it make me a master of deception?

I think not.

I choose to separate the day-to-day life from the ‘wanderer’s’ life because I highly doubt that my limited ‘travel followers’ would be interested in what I ate for breakfast or my career in finance. Perhaps I should share more of what I do in my career. After all, I’m much more proud of my career than I ever would be of my ass in a bikini, but that’s a whole separate conversation.

What Do Other’s Think?

I invited the opinion of some of my fellow travel-oriented social media acquaintances. I was surprised there was less of a ‘defensive’ response to the question, which was potentially a little bit loaded!

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.39.21

The Big Question. 

igtravels16 had this to say: “As an accountant who likes taking holiday snaps I see so many people travelling on here and wonder how they do it 😕”

dinelivetravel commented: “Personally, only take photos of where we go and what we eat. One main reason for starting my blog was to give people a totally honest positive view. I was tired of negativity. If we don’t like somewhere, I don’t broadcast it, we simply move on. If there is a negative at a place we visit, I will balance this with what we found as being positive and enjoyable. Surely it cannot all be bad. I juggle the photography and blogging around our full time jobs. We are lucky living in Brisbane to have access to so many wonderful areas for quick weekend breaks as well as an incredible choice of venues for meals. We work hard and reward ourselves when we can. Something we both believe strongly in.”

So it seems that for the few of us who are ‘part time’ social media users and bloggers, it’s all about positively sharing our experiences. Having said that, it’s also relatively clear that none of us really understand how the ‘big players’ of social media manage to be travelling all the time!

Fuelling Wanderlust

 The relevance and usefulness of social media is one of those topics which divides opinion, but unless you live in a cave then you probably can’t avoid interacting with it in some form or other. Despite being occasionally pissed off by social media, I continue to use it and even go as far as to admit that I like it!

There’s no doubt that Instagram and Pinterest have been a catalyst to my ever-growing wanderlust over the past few years. This is one of the more positive influences social media has had on my life. It gives me the images to add to my sense of willing to travel, so my daydreams are more vivid as a result.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.45.37.png

My desire for escapism is also legitimised by the fact that I’m clearly not the only one with travel on my mind! Unlike many, I don’t really want to quit my well-paid job for  the chance to travel all year round. If it was what I really wanted, then I would simply do it. That’s the kind of person I am – impulsive in a considered manner.

I’ll continue to draw inspiration for my next holiday from social media, but with a touch of realism so that my expectations are a little lower than 5* all inclusive Indonesian villa-based spa breaks with daily massages and a personal infinity pools overlooking the ocean.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 12.48.53.png

My Travel Must-Haves

Aside from the obvious stuff – like passports and a supply of clean underwear – there’s a collection of items I don’t dare travel without.

Here’s what makes my travel must-have list:

Fit-kit

Although (somewhat unfortunately) you can’t always tell by looking, I’m a bit of a fitness addict. The idea of going away for more than a few days and not being able to keep up some kind of fitness regime makes me sweat for all the wrong reasons.

I always pack my running trainers and several sets of kit. Not only is this useful when I fancy heading out for a morning jog to combat the let-lag, this kit lends itself to doing adventure-type actives on your trip because it’s so easy to wash and get dry in your hotel room. It’s much easier to dry off in your yoga pants and a gym vest than it is to dry off in jeans and a cotton cami when you’ve been on a high-speed jet boat ride or been caught in an Indonesian 2 minute downpour.

Camera

OK, so most phones have a camera in them capable of taking pretty reasonable snaps, but they’re still no match for an SLR. You simply don’t get the crisp detail you see on a photo from a good camera if you use your phone, however good the phone.

I don’t pretend to know much about cameras, and there’s no way I’d want to cart about a huge SLR with a massive lens when I’m exploring new landscapes and city spots. So what camera do I use?

My Dad bought us a Canon Eos M as part of our wedding gift two years ago. They still sell them, but the model has been superseded).

Labelled a ‘bridge camera’ it’s a good step between a compact point-and-shoot and a larger DSLR. It’s light, durable and small enough to be discreet (for those times when you feel like you need to cover your valuables)!

 

eos_m_000000_tcm14-945218

The Canon Eos M – Small, but packs a punch in terms of features!

Make sure you take both a charger and a huge memory card so you can happily snap away! On my last 3 week trip, I took just over 3000 photos. Many of them were garbage, but lots of them made it into the holiday scrapbook and even into some photo frames!

if you really can’t be bothered carrying a camera, perhaps try a snap-on lens for your phone. I’ve had relative success using a fish eye lens which slid onto the corner of my iPhone. Don’t expect massive gains in photo quality but you can expect lots of fun snaps!

New York times square

The bright lights of Times Square at night, through a fish eye lens snapped onto my old iPhone 5

Journal

Even before I started blogging, I always carried a travel journal. I like to keep hold of tickets, receipts, maps and other bits and bobs so that I can make a holiday scrapbook when I get back. In my journal, which I tend to write daily during our evening meal, we bullet point what we did in that day.

it takes only a matter of a few minutes, but means we can tear out the page and stick it in the scrapbook when we get home, amongst the memorabilia we’ve gathered and the photos we’ve chosen to print!

It’s great looking back over the scrapbooks after a few months or years!

00554555_2

Blank pages require adventures to fill them!

Teabags

Nowhere does tea like Great Britain. I tend to take a selection of teabags, but you still have to awkwardly seek out non-UHT milk to complement your Earl Grey, unless you’re one of those people who believes milk in Earl Grey is akin to Blasphemy.

Document Wallet

When you’re going on a multi-destination trip, you’ll probably have a lot of tickets and booking confirmations. I find that it’s well worth having them all printed off and tucked into an organised document wallet.

Why do that when you have electronic copies? When you arrive at the car hire office after travelling for 36 hours with very little sleep and your phone is flat, the last thing you’ll want to do is explain that you need to charge your phone before you can provide proof of payment and take the keys.

Flexible Luggage

Why anyone would take hard bodied luggage is beyond me! I always take a rucksack (like this Eastpak one) and this Eastpak suitcase / holdall.

Eastpak baggage

I tend to do multi-centre trips, so being able to easily stuff things back into the hold-all is essential. Hard bodied luggage doesn’t really lend itself to disorganised and last minute packing, so having the flexibility of the expandable and flexible case is essential for me!

Kindle

I like to read on holiday – especially if I’m going long-haul. The problem is, I could get through a good fiction book in one flight. Back in the olden days, that would mean carting 5-10 books in my hand luggage or buying books in the airport and leaving them in the hotel when I was done.

In comes the Kindle. Small, backlit and books are normally cheaper on it. The only downside is you lose the ‘feel’ of reading a paper book and you’re a bit screwed if you run out of power. I never travel without it.

61-nx2bu95bl-_sl1000_

Phone (+ Data!)

We’re so attached to our phones now that you’d be forgiven for wanting to switch it off and leave it behind for a few weeks.

I would argue that the phone is actually one of the best tools you can have when travelling! I usually opt in to the roaming packages so I can use my data (cost effectively) and that allows me to message, blog, instagram, tweet and use google maps as much as I want!

I also use it to check ratings for restaurants I might be about to go into, or to see what’s going on in the area I’m in!

Google’s translation app (which uses the camera on your phone to read and translate text) is great for deciphering menus and making sure you’re ordering chicken breast and not chicken eyeballs. This came in handy in Barcelona, where the menu at Tapas24 was not available in English! If only we had used it back in Hong Kong, we might have avoided the chicken feet incident.

I also use apps to help me navigate public transport and use the sat-nav to make sure the taxi I’m in isn’t ripping me off by taking me around several blocks before we go back to the hotel.

There’s no excuse for not being a savvy traveller when you’ve got the immense power of the internet at your fingertips.

Macbook Air

Not everyone wants to take a laptop on holiday, but when you have a travel blog it’s par for the course! I like to start writing about my experiences whilst I’m still immersed in them, and have also been using travel time (long flights) to write my non-fiction book.

Whats essential is that it’s light, small and quiet to type on (for the sleeping travellers around me)! The Macbook covers all that and more.

design_storage

MacBook Air – Typing machine of choice!

First Aid Kit

Not because you might need to stitch yourself up, but because you’ll probably encounter blisters, insect bites and a jiffy belly at some point in the trip. Pack there usual first-aid-kit contents (or buy a travel first aid kit) then top it up with indigestion tablets, Immodium and UK-purchased pain killers and antihistamine tablets.

The last thing you want is your request for paracetamol getting lost in translation and ending up with a laxative.

Credit Card

Nobody wants to be in an emergency situation when you’re on holiday, but the fact of the matter is – it does happen sometimes.

Be it getting bitten my a monkey and needing a rabies shot, falling off a moped in Thailand and needing stitches or getting food poisoning on the last day and missing your flight because you’re on a drip in hospital in Barcelona – it happens. I know it happens, because those things have happened to my friends!

Not everyone is a fan of credit cards, but even if you’re ‘against’ them you would be a fool not to travel with one. If you’re in the back-end-of-nowhere and you need medical assistance then the chances are you’ll need to pledge a form of payment (even if you’re going to claim it back through your travel insurance later).

Not only that, if you’ve followed the principles in my guide on how to get the best hotel deals, then there’s a good chance you secured your booking with a credit card. Present this card on arrival for faster check-in.

What I Leave Behind

Obviously there’s loads of stuff I leave behind. This section is about pointing out the things that people tend to thing they should take, but that you never end up using!

The main thing you might be tempted to take, but should definitely leave behind is your travel guide book. Yes, you read that right.

If you’ve not read the guide books by the time you’re heading off on your trip, it’s probably a bit too late. Don’t send hours of your holiday with your head in a guide book. Leave it at home and just go and get lost in the culture and scenery of the place you’re actually in. That’s much more exciting that reading about it.

Do read travel guides, but make it part of your holiday planning process rather than an afterthought.

*******

For more tips on packing, read this!

 

The Taboo That is… Travelling as a Couple

Sometimes people are surprised when I say I’ve only ever really travelled with my Husband. It’s almost as if it’s disappointing that I’ve not run off ‘travelling’ on my own and mingled with other single twenty-somethings on a beach getting wasted.

I recently stumbled across a blog post with the title “14 Breathtaking Countries to See Before Settling Down” and it made me wonder whether there is a general consensus that travelling (and other fun things in life) need to be done before you ‘settle down’.

Is there even really a need to ‘settle down’ totally? What does that mean? When I got married two years ago it marked the start of a new adventure rather than the end of a life I loved and wouldn’t ever see again! If settling down isn’t to do with marriage, is it houses? I was a homeowner 10 days before graduation, so I don’t feel like I have impending mortgage doom looming on the horizon either.

Perhaps then, it is children? I don’t have children but if I do, then they’ll be coming on holiday with me, even if it’s a budget stay-cation to a random place in the UK that we’ve never laid eyes upon before.

I’m of the opinion that settling down need not be the prison sentence people think it is. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to travel with anyone other than the very person I’m settled down with – and here’s why:

Complete relaxation

When in the company of your partner, you know you can completely switch off. I don’t need to worry whether we’re doing something they want to be doing, or secretly wondering whether he’s having a good time because if he wasn’t, you know damned well they would have said so.

‘Extra’ space on the plane

You can almost guarantee that on a long haul flight, at some point I will have a claustrophobia related hissy fit. Queue husband offering for me to sprawl out into his personal space and get some shut-eye. He’s a good ‘un.

There Need Not Be Toilet Shame

Travelling brings out the worst in everyone’s gut, no matter how hardy you are. At least if the person you’re sharing your hotel room with is your husband then the chances are he’s seen it all (or smelt it all) before.

You can relax and try that local delicacy (whatever the hell it is) without having to concern yourself with seeking out Immodium later.

How very attractive.

There’s Always Someone to Hit the Ball Back

How would I play ping pong or table hockey on my own? If I was travelling with friends, they might not want to play, and there’s much less chance (and reason) for a friend to compromise than the other half!

Travelling with a partner can mean you occasionally have to compromise, but you know that when it comes to doing something only you want to do later – that same person with have your back!

You Already Know You Can Live With Them

I love my friends – of course I do – but I simply do not know whether we could travel together for three weeks. It’s unchartered territory.

Fuses can be short when you’re jet-lagged. When you’re having an adult tantrum in the isle of a plane because you’ve been sat still for 10 hours and you still can’t sleep, you need to know you’re with the one person in the world who can call you on your sh*t.

You Don’t Have to Narrow Down Food Choices (as Much)

It’s nice to be able to go halfsies on a hotel or to split the bill when you go out for your evening meal, but I imagine you could do that with a friend anyway.

The couple benefit is thus:

You order a meal each (on agreement of the other party) then mid way through, you switch. We went through most of the USA feeling like we’d had 6 courses for dinner rather than 3 because we applied this couples-eating logic, even to things you bite and not cut.

I’m sure some friends would be willing to do this, but it’s much less likely that you’ll get them to agree to ordering something you both like. We’re a couple who both eat anything and everything (except peas), so choosing two meals off a large menu is easy-peasy!

Death Valley Steak

Giant steak for two? Yes please. 

Ahem. Shared Experiences and Stuff.

It’s sort of soppy, but it’s actually quite nice to hop around the world making joint memories, right?!

hiking boots

Adventuring together. Awww.

You Can Still See Other People!

Not like that.

Just because you’re traveling as a couple doesn’t mean you’re excluded from being able to socialise like a human being. You are not mute or invisible due to your settled down status.

You might even find that you make friends, like our San Diego jacuzzi friends. We started chatting about beer, and 2 hours later we were still putting the world to rights (which somewhat oddly included a long conversation about the implications of fracking in Tulsa, Oklahoma)!

the 5 week wanderer barcelona

Why wouldn’t people want to talk to those friendly faces… Right?!

The Verdict:

Other than the fact that you (hopefully) get on pretty well with your partner, there are benefits to travelling together and I’d like to think  they outweigh the chance that I’m missing out on solo travel experiences. Besides, as ‘the group’ slowly couple off and settle down as well, there’s a whole raft of stag and hen parties to look forward to where I’m quite sure we’ll get our fill of travelling separately!

36 Hours in London

Last year it came to my attention that I had never visited London as a tourist.  As an Accountant working for KPMG Audit in Manchester, I had worked and trained in London for weeks on end. Although I had seen a a fair bit of London, it was usually when I was en-route to a hotel, the client’s offices or the restaurant of choice for the evening.

I decided to go and spend a Saturday seeing the sights, tourist style and  give my own take on it.

Here’s how the day panned out, what I saw and what I thought about it. All opinions are my own and are not intended to offend!

Getting There

We left the house at around 6am, walked to the station (Warrington Bank Quay) and hopped on the Virgin Pendalino which delivered us to Euston in 1 hour 45 mins. It was a welcome change to take that train without feeling like I had to work on-route. Instead I slept most of the way apart from when I woke up needing a cup of tea and a breakfast sandwich!

London Euston Tube Station

Our hotel was only a short walk from the station. Really short – like 250m or something. We dropped our overnight bag and set off on the tube to Camden.

Score? 10/10!

Camden 1.0

Only  few of the larger shops were open as it was before 10am (apparently thing kick off a bit later in the south – not sure why… Seems unreasonable) so we walked along the river with a green tea latte and then made our way back to the tube stop. Even if you’re only there for a couple of days, sort yourself out with an Oyster card – much easier than faffing about with tickets, and probably cheaper but if I’m honest I didn’t bother to work it out. I don’t like doing finance-y things when I’m out of work!

2/10 – pretty but I’m not impressed with people having a lie in when I want my second breakfast!

Camden tube station

No people… anywhere!

Borough Market

If you like street food – you’ll like borough market. Think artisan bread, baklava, macarons and cheese. Need I say more?

Score? 10/10 – not to be missed!

Borough Market

Bread Jenga at Borough Market

st. Paul’s Cathedral

We walked from Borough market to st. Pauls. The weather was glorious so it would have been criminal to hide away on the tube (I also wanted a record-breaking day on my Fitbit so I could beat my dad).

We took a couple of photos and sat on the grass for a little while admiring the view, before wandering over the bridge to the Tate Modern.

Score? 6/10 – quote pretty but really it was more of a time filler whilst we waited for the city to wake up.

Tate Modern

Some alright art. Free entry, but donations encouraged.

To be honest after walking around in an empty space on the ground floor searching for some artwork I decided it was no surprise that entry was free.

The atmosphere was highly pretentious and a little infuriating.

Time to move on… Places to see and all that Jazz!

Score? 1/10, and only a 1 (as opposed to a zero) because of the entertainment value of some of the more obscure exhibits like the crayon bondage mask which was actually pretty cool and deserves applaud.

Trafalgar Square

Busy and bustling as you might expect on a sunny saturday, the square on this particular day was home to a series of street performers.  A lively atmosphere and lots to see made this the perfect spot to stop and people watch for 20 minutes, given there was a high proportion of people in the area behaving in a somewhat excitable and unusual manner.

Score? 5/10

trafalgar square

Tower Bridge

Oh jeez. Good look taking a selfie here without someone photo bombing – intentionally or not! I know this is a ‘must see’ on the London tourist list but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite a busy as it was!

Crowds aside, the sun was beaming down and the view was rather pretty.

Score? 7/10

tower bridge london

Buckingham Palace

The queen was home, so the atmosphere around the palace was pretty cool. I often wonder what the perception of the Royal Family is outside of the UK. The adoration of the visitors clinging to the railings around the palace suggest that the general feeling is good!

Score? 5/10 – worth a visit but not much to see unless you see changing of the guard, which we missed!

buckingham palace london

Downing Street

As a student of politics, I used to muse about what it would be like to take residence in downing street. I thought it would feel stifling and oppressive – like you were a contestant in a terrible reality TV programme like Big Brother.

When we arrived at downing street gates my musing opinions were confirmed. It looked much smaller and darker than on the TV and access seems so much more limited. Security was so tight that there was an unseen barrier between the street and the tourists on the other side.

The whole scene was intimidating and I most definitely wouldn’t want to live on that street. It’s a good job I’m an accountant instead of PM. What a relief.

Score? 8/10 – go and see it for yourself!

Camden Market 2.0 – around 4pm

Hurrah. The hipsters finally dragged themselves out of bed! The shops were open and the stalls in the market bustling with trade. The sun was out and everyone was merrily eating and drinking.

I bought a burger and sat eating it on a ‘communal picnic bench’ type thing (probably re-purposed out of something else, like a lot of hipster stuff is). The middle-aged guy sat next to me started photographing the arse of a woman stood in front of us and making strange noises. I don’t think the woman knew, but she moved away before I could even think about alerting her to the behaviour. We swiftly finished the burger and moved on ourselves.

We had a wander round the stall. There’s a lot of random stuff, including old board games (like you’d find at a car boot but for one-hundred-zillion times the price) and mouse-based humane taxidermy.

Camden is quirky, but try-hard quirky. It’s like everyone is trying so hard to be different that they’re all in fact the same!

Score? 8/10 once open! plenty to do and see, and good food.

Chocolate churros. camden market london

Oooh yeah. Chocolate Churros.

Hyde Park

After rushing around most of the day it was time for a rest! We wandered to Hyde Park and decided to hire a Pedalo on The Serpentine lake.

As it happens, being on a pedalo against a gentle breeze is far from a rest, but lots of fun!

Score? 10/10 – fab park and hire was good value!

hyde park london

Piccadilly Circus Area & Leicester Square

We changed at the hotel before heading back out for food. Leicester Square is full of people at night and although not on the same scale, has a similar vibe to Times Square, New York.

There’s another giant guy being paraded around outside Ripleys’ Believe it or not and a massive M&Ms store.

We sat and took it all in for a few moments then headed to Jamie’s Diner for a good feed.

Score? 7/10 – a good area to visit for lazy evening food and drinks, but highly commercialised and touristy

jambs diner london

Oxford Street Shopping

It wouldn’t be a city break without a spot of shopping! We were up relatively early the next morning, so checked out and left our bags at the hotel before heading into town for retail therapy. By early afternoon it was nearly as busy as the Trafford Centre is on a Sunday so we decided to head back up North!

Shopping Score? 7/10

Home Sweet Home!

As much as I enjoyed my brief flirtation with being a tourist in London, it made me more grateful for what we have on our doorstep in Manchester, Liverpool and Chester.

Score? 10/10 – after all, it’s always nice to be home! 🙂

 

 

Holiday Packing Tips

The 5 Week Wanderer’s Packing Tips

Asking me to pack for a holiday is like instructing me to put an elephant into a locket. At any one time at home my clothes are distributed between my walk in wardrobe, my spare room (on the drying maiden), the washing pile and the washing machine.

When you put them all together (which is rare, because I’m never that on top of the laundry) I could probably fill 10-15 large suitcases despite the fact that I flogged a load on eBay and sent 6 black bin bags to the charity shop this year alone.

Having been on two three-week holidays in the last 2 years, I’ve had to learn to pack properly! This post contains my top tips for travel packing – based on my experiences and obsession with shoes, bags and shopping!

 

DO Underpack

It’s simple really. You’re probably going to go shopping when you’re on holiday. If it’s a city break, there’s a good chance there will be daily shopping involved! Take New York. What right-minded fashion-loving individual would travel to new York with a full suitcase?

If you have one beach bag, a clutch bag, a backpack and a medium-sized-tote-bag already in your case then it’s suddenly much harder to justify buying that Marc Jacobs black number.

Another bonus to under-packing is the obvious benefit of being able to bring back more goodies. Just don’t fall foul of the baggage weight limit like I did when we came back from Barcelona last week, or you’ll have to find a way to get the 10kg additional baggage onto the plane without it going on the scales. Queue wearing all the jewellery you own and layering so many items of clothing that you can barely get through security.

Packing in Airport

This is what happens when your Husband doesn’t leave room for his many in-holiday purchases. Your have to wear everything on the way home, abandon barely-used toiletries  and repack the case in the airport. Do I look impressed?!

DO Take Hold Luggage

I do understand why people take hand luggage only, but when you’re going away for a week and have to cram everything you own into a tiny suitcase for the sake of saving yourself a pocket-money-change amount, I question whether it’s really the best use of your energy. Dump the bags, pick up a cocktail and wait for your flight without heaving your belongings around the airport like a pack-horse.

Besides, if you think you’re getting one over on the airlines by foregoing your hairdryer, wearing your biggest heels to the airport and taking cabin baggage only for a week’s holiday, you’re wrong. As much as I like value for money (comes with territory when you work in finance), unless I’m only going away for a couple of nights my bag is getting checked into the hold!

DON’T Use Packing Lists Written by Backpackers

Unless you’re also going backpacking, travel packing lists are often not only irrelevant but tediously boring. “3 long sleeved tops and 3 vest tops for mix-and-match layering” will never be going in my suitcase, let alone on my body – It’s not 1992 and I’m not in a girl-band.

Yes, I pack sensible clothes (including sports clothes for trekking about in) but I draw the line at dressing like someone who’s been hitch-hiking for the last 35 years without making it to a shopping mall. Anyway, who goes away for 3 weeks and only expects to wear flip-flops and hiking boots?! That’s asking for blisters.

Do use a packing list written by someone like you who is going on a similar holiday. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure you’ll be either bringing back most of the case unworn or throwing it out to make space for your new purchases!

New balance trainers

No, you can’t pack all of those.

DO Pack Your Ludicrously High Heels

Holiday life isn’t the same as day-to-day life. If you can’t wear your most impractical stilettos in Vegas, where can you?

Pack for excitement and fun even if it means you can’t walk more than 100m without needing to sit down. Hell, treat yourself to a taxi – you are on holiday after all!

DON’T Sweat the Small Stuff

Unless you’re going to Siberia or the jungle you can probably buy most of what you need when you arrive at your destination, so there’s no need to have a hissy fit when you inevitably forget to pack a toothbrush.

The people of Hong Kong also need toothbrushes, so the corner shop will stock them and it’s not like shampoo is a rare commodity in a hotel.

DO Wet Your Swimsuit

How awkward is it when that bargain white and gold bikini that shows your tan so well also shows off your ass-crack and nipples as soon as it comes into contact with the sea?

I wouldn’t know, because I always check my swimsuits for see-through-ness – especially the cheap ones!

Bikini Swimsuit

Don’t give people an eyeful at the pool. Test that swimsuit!

DO Pack a Darker Foundation

If you must wear foundation (personally I tend not to, especially on holiday) then make sure you account for the change in skin tone when you expose yourself to sunlight.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I’ve seen girls queuing up to get on the return flight looking like they bathed in gravy then dipped their face in flour. Not a good look, and easily avoided!

DO Carry on Valuables

Take your camera, best jewellery and posh handbags in your carry-on luggage. You don’t want to misshape your Mulberry in the hold or have your beloved Chanel* travelling around the world without you.

I know plenty of people who have had luggage delayed or lost, and although most of them eventually got them back they were often dirty, smelly, wet or torn.

If there’s something you can’t bear to lose but have to take with you on your trip, keep in close to you at all times!

If you must put bags in the hold (i.e. if you buy a few on holiday and need to get them home) then stuff them with clothes and put them back in the dust bag so they don’t lose their shape!

* If only… A girl can dream!

DO Pack Several Pairs of Sunglasses

Being mixed race, I tend to tan very easily, which means that when I return I typically have tanning stripes. As you can imagine, its also very easy for my to end up with terrible un-tanned areas around my eyes which looks ridiculous once you return to the less-than-sunny UK.

The effect of this is much worse if you’re a fan of big outrageous sunglasses like I am! Limit the damage by packing several different pairs and rotating throughout the holiday – the more different the shape the better!

sunglasses

DON’T Be Ignorant!

Always be mindful of differing fashion conventions and pack so you can observe cultural rules. High waisted denim Levi cut offs that show your underbum crease and a lace ‘bralette’ are probably not OK for a trip to the UAE.

DO Buy Quality Luggage

I don’t mean pretty luggages, or designer luggage or even the lightest ever luggage. Buy luggage which will last many miles of travelling, is flexible and expandable, water resistant and easy to live out of for weeks on end!

My luggage of choice is Eastpak – My Husband and I both have a backpack and a suitcase/holdall that my Dad bought us as wedding gifts before our honeymoon. Crap luggage is false economy, especially if you’re replacing them every few years! These bad boys have a 30 year guarantee, so it’s a worthwhile investment!

Eastpak baggage

Overall, Just don’t stress!

You’ll probably forget something, but it probably won’t even matter once you’ve arrived at your designation and begun to get into ‘holiday mode’.

Happy holidays!

If you wish, feel free to contact me @ the5weekwanderer@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram or twitter!

Why You Should Visit Fox Glacier – South Island, NZ

Glaciers. One of mother nature’s most extreme and fascinating natural wonders. Thanks to global warming, there’s a limited possibility for most people to see them, let alone walk on them. If (like me) you were incessantly bored by them in school geography lessons, you’d be forgiven for not jumping at the chance to visit one now.

As someone who doesn’t have warm hands unless I’m on a beach holiday or washing up – both of which are quite rare –  visiting a glacier wasn’t necessarily at the top of my to-do list, but I’d now tell anyone visiting any-way near New Zealand’s Glaciers to make sure they stop off and take the trip to walk on the glacier.

It’s simply a must and here’s why:

The glacial valley is pretty stunning.

Massive transit-van sized hunks of glacial ice just sitting around? Ice cold glacial river crossable only by rubber dingy? Flat-bottomed valley created by years of ice erosion?

It makes for a pretty impressive landscape and is something you really should see with your own eyes!

fox glacier valley

View of the glacier from the valley floor, once the rain had stopped!

It’s one of the most accessible glaciers in the world.

You can take a 2 hour guided tour from the visitor’s centre (as we did) which consists of a quick scenic drive in a minibus to the car park and a 45 minute trek to the terminal face of the glacier – pretty quick and great if you’re impatient like me!

Depending on the current situation of the river, you might need to cross the water on a raft tethered by a piece of string – a little bit of added excitement!

Alternatively you could take to the skies in a helicopter to get above the glacier for an arial view. Some of the helicopter trips land on the glacier further up the valley so you don’t necessarily miss out on walking on the glacier if you do that! It is more expensive though!

fox glacier river raft

It’s literally string tied to a rock on either side the prevents you getting pulled down the valley by the ice-cold river

If you’re feeling brave, you can skydive over it.

Now there’s a better way of getting that arial view!

The skydive over Fox glacier has been voted the second most scenic skydive in the world (behind Everest!) so if you bottled it in Queenstown, you’ve got a chance to redeem yourself here!

You get to wear crampons.

That’s enough on it’s own really! There’s something pretty cool about pretending to be a real-life explorer, even if you’re only ever a 45 minute walk from a van and an hour from a hot meal. String up the crampons and crunch into the ice as you climb up onto the surface of one of the few glaciers left in the world – like the badass you always knew you were!

Fox glacier Crampons

I think I did a fine job of tying the crampons with no assistance and with cold hands. Yes. Quite proud. 

You might be able to go under the ice itself!

If you can put aside the claustrophobia and the fear of being crushed under the gargantuan weight of the glacial ice then you can pretend to be Pingu for a few minutes and peek up at the sky from your own private naturally-formed ice-room!

n.b. If you’re like me and terrified by the thought of being trapped under the ice, you could hover in the entrance to the ice-cave instead (see header image).

fox glacier ice hole

The view from inside the ice-cave. Credit to Mr Spence. 

The sheer scale

We all know glaciers are big, but nothing prepared me for the sheer scale of the ice, the valley and the cracks in the glacier’s surface! It’s bloomin’ massive.

fox glacier ice crack

A big-ass hole in the ice!

The sound.

If you listen carefully you can hear the glacier creaking under its own weight as it melts and shifts. It’s pretty eerie and makes it sound like it is somehow alive.

The rush of cold air

What you don’t get from a geography lesson is the feel of standing at the terminal moraine. When you’re there, the cold air rushes down the valley- cooled further by the surface of the ice. It’s quite strange!

The photos are cool

With New Zealand’s 4-seasons-in-a-day weather and stunning natural landscape, the photo opportunities, even for amateurs like me who only know how to point-and-shoot, are not to be missed!

fox glacier valley sunset

Epic valley views? Yes please. 

 

Your kids might never have this opportunity

We know, we know. The glaciers are melting, global warming, etc etc.

It sounds like a rant, but the time to experience the glaciers is NOW! At this rate, it’s possible (according yo our guide) that by the end of this century the Fox glacier will have receded fully, so there really is a time limit on being able to enjoy it!

That’s a wrap.

So get yourself down to the glaciers edge. You won’t regret it!

glacier in ice

Toodle-pip.

 P.S. See more South Island NZ destinations here!