2017 flat lay

When we travel we create collections of things we think we’ll need. These collections of things are a snapshot in time and tell stories of ourselves: where we are in life and some challenges we face. Like the tennis balls I have joined together with duct-tape to roll along my ever-stiffening spine. Here’s what I’m taking (carry-on) to the US this weekend – top to bottom, left to right.

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  • A resistance band which helps me build shoulder strength through exercise.
  • Black Ray Ban wayfarers sunnies – the sunnies that everyone has and I don’t care – I’ve had these a few years and they’re still going strong
  • My 🇦🇺 Passport in an old Qantas toiletries case – I love these Jack Spade cases as they zip up and keep my passport and travel documents safe.
  • Toothpaste, tooth brush and some Coles medistrips in an old Qantas First class toiletries case that reminds me of that one time I got upgraded to First class from Sydney to LA 😍
  • Sukin facial scrub 50ml – my new favourite skincare brand – Australian, natural and reasonably priced
  • A year of the Rooster pendant Kitty gave me for this year
  • Some Rose quartz Kitty gave me when she went back into hospital
  • Voost multivitamins – I love how these are dissolvable in water
  • Qantas eye mask from a previous flight
  • Korjo travel umbrella – because it’s always raining somewhere
  • Rosehip face wipes from Kitty – why not
  • Two ‘calm’ cards from The School of Life
  • Underneath: a 2015 13” Apple MacBook Pro in a black Crumpler wetsuit sleeve (for when it wants to go 🏄 in winter)
  • On top: ‘Judge This’ a TED book, from my local library, from my new favourite book series (short and interesting books)
  • A double tennis ball to help un-stiffen my spine
  • A Crumpler zip case with US Apple chargers – I travel to the US enough now to have US Apple Chargers too
  • A single pack of Blink eye lid wipes someone recently gave me – might try these on the plane
  • Shaving cream – non-aerosol
  • Metamucil ‘trial’ sachets – perfect for long haul travel 👌🏻
  • The body shop mango body wash – also from Kitty
  • Mitchum roll on anti-perspirant – long lasting and good for travel too
  • An old disposable razor – I really should get a new one
  • An index card with a quote I like that I heard somewhere I can’t remember
  • A nail file: a brand new thing for me – I stopped biting my nails in May this year for the first time in my life so I actually have to maintain my nails now (which is kinda annoying)
  • 5 x vials of artificial tears – because you can never have too many tears 😭

camels!

Last Sunday we went on an afternoon drive to the scenic rim to visit Lake Moogerah for a picnic. On the way Kitty spotted a sign for a Camel Farm and Diary so we stopped on the way home, of course. Summer Land Camel Farm only opens Sundays from 9:30 to 4 and has a cafe and an area where you can get up close and feed the camels – we all loved it so much!

 

 

yerra-bin king island

Yesterday we visited Wellington Point, about 30 minutes drive from Brisbane, for a family picnic. Just north of Wellington Point sits a small island known as ‘Yerra-bin’ or King Island. During a low tide you can walk across the sand bar to the island. Fortunately the tide was low and we walked over and back in time for a play at the playground and a cup of tea using our new family sized Thermos.

 

day trips

Presented at my local Toastmasters Club 7 August 2017


See Australia is our family theme for the next few years as a recent family event has put a constraint on family overseas travel. This has made me realise that I’ve actually visited more cities and places abroad than in Australia even though I was born and raised here. I am embarrassed to admit that, despite living for over 20 years in Queensland, the furthest North I have ventured is Noosa.

It’s all good and well to plan holidays and See Australia but this requires two things: time off work and money. A family of five with a sole income may not have a lot of either! This is where Day Trips come in.

Day Trips are the perfect solution to our mundane nine-to-five existence. They require little upfront planning to arrange, need not be convoluted, are low-cost and allow us to see our own backyards that we so often overlook.

There’s no costs for accommodation during a day trip, and no sleeping in uncomfortable tents.

Sometimes you feel like you’re stressed and you need a holiday but choosing and planning a holiday is stressful in itself! You get into a never-ending cycle of stress: “I’m so stressed I need a holiday, taking a holiday is so stressful!”

Earlier this year I felt a little bit ‘meh‘ so I decided to take a last-minute day trip to Toowoomba: a wonderful Queensland city that sits on the Great Dividing Range West of Brisbane and Ipswich. I started at the crack of dawn and arrived into Toowoomba early enough to climb up and see the sun rising over Table Top Mountain. I saw some world class street art which is created every year as part of the First Coat Street Art Festival. I also ate some delicious street food from Toowoomba’s thriving hip cafe scene. I finished the day descending into the Lockyer Valley where I purchased some locally grown road-side produce.

I had an amazing day trip to Toowoomba and the best part was that I was home in time to cook dinner (with my sourced produce) and sleep comfortably and soundly in my own bed.

There are some downsides to Day Trips. There can be lots of driving for one day, but you can overcome this by sharing the driving with a family member or friend. Day Trips also typically require a car which makes it hard if you don’t own one, but there are plenty around South East Queensland that don’t require a car: you can catch a train/bus to the Gold Coast or Noosa, or a train and ferry to the beautiful North Stradbroke Island. There are also lots of car sharing schemes you could utilise.

The latin phrase Carpe Diem translates into English as Seize The Day. It is one of the oldest philosophical mottos of the Western World. My own personal motto is Carpe Diem Trinus or Seize The Day Trip.

cho-cha foodstore, kuala lumpur

We didn’t have one bad meal on our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, so the bar is very high, but the one meal I remember most was a snack I had during a 9km walk I did around the city on Sunday morning.

The place was called Cho-Cha Foodstore which is a restaurant in an old hotel building at the Southern end of Chinatown/Petaling Street.

From the outside it looks like an old hotel:

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As soon as you enter inside you find a restaurant but they’ve kept a lot of the original interior design and have given it a modern/urban/industrial edge:

I ordered the fried chilli squid and a homemade pineapple soda. It was hands-down the best fried chilli squid I’ve ever eaten: so much flavour including kaffir lime leaves, lemon, fresh lime and it came with nuoc cham which complimented it perfectly.

Feeling very satisified I left to continue to explore the great street art around Southern chinatown in Kuala Lumpur.

10/10 would eat fried chilli squid at Cho-Cha again 😊

five qantas international cabin classes

I’ve been lucky enough to fly Qantas internationally in all cabin classes. One of the key differentiators of cabin classes is usually quality and variety of alcohol but since I don’t drink I’ll compare the tea.

  1. Qantas Economy (B747/A380): narrow seat with average leg room, tea comes pre-brewed in paper cup, no amenities kits, cabin smells like fart.
  2. Qantas Premium Economy (B747): a slightly wider seat with slightly more leg room, tea comes pre-brewed in small porcelain cup, small ‘Country Road’ amenities pouch (toothbrush and eye mask), lots of people pretending to be people they’re not, and wine discussion; cabin smells less like fart.
  3. Qantas Business (A380/B747): a wide seat turns into a fully flat bed (with the world’s thinnest mattress topper), tea comes freshly made in small porcelain cup, amenties kits contain actually useful products; feels like a rich person pyjama party.
  4. Qantas Business (B747 Upper Deck): same as Business class on the lower deck of the B747 but a much cosier cabin size, especially when you have a whole row of four seats to yourself. Plus you can see the cockpit (see pic). Feels like flying on a private jet; so worth it.
  5. Qantas First Class (A380): instead of having a seat you have a suite which is like a mini cabin all to yourself. There’s no meal or drinks service, you order whatever you want whenever you want. There are so many staff as soon as you turn your head someone is there. Amazing SK-II amenities kits. Tea comes freshly made in a pot. The pilots come and say hello. As close as you can get to heaven at 40,000 feet.

arugula

On my recent trip to Washington DC we visited &Pizza; a cool local pizza chain that constructs and cooks an oval shaped pizza in front of you with whatever you like on it. After my pizza was cooked I asked for ‘rocket’ to be sprinkled over it, as you do, only to be met with blank stares. My work colleague came to the rescue and told me it’s called arugula in the US. That was the first time I’d heard that name.

Arugula: one of my favourite things.

washington d.c april 2017

I’ve been working with my team in Washington D.C this week. It’s my first time to the nation’s capital and I made the most of a tight schedule to see some sights walking around and about in between work.

I really enjoyed the cherry blossom around the tidal basin, and all the different street art around the place. We walked as close as we could get to The White House to be suddenly told (with everyone else) the park was being vacated – it turns out the President was being visited by the King and Queen of Jordan.

The food was particularly great as there are plenty of healthy options around; my favourites were Cava, &Pizza and Shake Shack (which is arguably not that healthy).

a perfect brisbane-toowoomba day trip

Toowoomba is a pretty sweet little city. Despite having a relatively small population (~100,000) it has the vibe of a bigger city.

Another good thing about Toowoomba is its proximity to Brisbane. You can get up there fairly easily in 90 mins on a weekend, which makes it a perfect day trip destination if you set off early.

I set off early yesterday as the sun was rising and began my road trip. I couldn’t help but stop at the abandoned Servo Plus service station at Plainland (cool suburb name) for a few quick snaps.


There’s also a really cool red elephant statue on the same side of the road at Plainland (right near Wet Dreams Aquatics 😳) which is worth checking out as you drive by.

My first destination in Toowoomba was Table Top Mountain. This is a mountain just East of the main range which has a large grassy plateau on top which you can walk around on checking out the views of the surrounding pristine Lockyer Valley. I wanted to get here early before it got too hot, and also to see the rising sun to the East. The climb isn’t for the unfit or faint-hearted but the views are definitely worthwhile.


After admiring the views I made my way into the city to check out some of the Toowoomba street art. There’s a long weekend festival in Toowoomba each year called First Coat where street arts cover buildings around the city in murals. It’s been running since 2014 so there’s already plenty of murals to check out. Any lane in the city is pretty much guaranteed to have a few different murals.


One of the benefits of exploring the laneways in the city is you come across places to eat you wouldn’t otherwise discover. One such place was called Skewers which is an Indonesian street food style restaurant serving skewers grilled over hot coals, and slow cooked rendangs 😍


After wandering the streets and eating some lovely food I decided to start making my way back home.

I’m a huge fan of roadside produce stalls and doing some Googling I discovered that the Lockyer Valley sitting just East of the Great Diving Range has lots of farms, and lots of roadside produce stalls. So I descended from Toowoomba into Flagstone as Flagstone Creek Road has heaps of the roadside stalls. My favourite stall was at Winwill, and during the drive back I managed to pick up two dozen fresh eggs, two pumpkins, spinach, potatoes, a watermelon, two punnets of tomatoes, and three stems of broccoli.  All so fresh and delicious! The fringe benefit of this ‘produce run’ is that the views driving through the valley are top-notch:


It’s been a long but fun day so I make my way home to unload the produce and edit all the photos I’ve taken. Good times. 

 

toowoomba street art

For a city of only 100,000 (ish) people, Toowoomba has some amazing street art. Most of the large scale pieces have been done as part of the First Coat Festival which has been running over a weekend in May since 2014.

There’s even a Fintan Magee mural (the elephant) who is one of my all time favourite street artists.

Toowoomba is only about 90 mins drive from Brisbane so I’d thoroughly recommend checking this out sometime if you’re into street art.

table top mountain, toowoomba

I started my day in Toowoomba by climbing to the plateau of Table Top Mountain.

I can’t believe I hadn’t been up here before: it’s amazing.

The climb up and back down was much quicker, but much harder, than I was expecting. Once you’re at the top there’s a huge grassy plateau to walk around and admire the gorgeous views of the pristine Lockyer Valley around you 😍

There were a number of large prickly pear cacti growing around various parts of the mountain covered in fruit.

I definitely would do this again if I was in the Toowoomba area.

Elevation: 596m (206m gain)
Time up: 19m
Time down: 18m

wellington

I spent the last few days in Wellington representing my company as a sponsor at a web conference. Whilst my daily schedule was jam-packed, fortunately Wellington is very small so I still was able to squeeze in some local exploring and taking some snaps in any opportunity I could.

The botanic gardens had a small collection of cacti and succulents (despite the cold weather), and there was a fair bit of street art, especially around the Cuba Street precinct which reminded me a lot of Fitzroy in Melbourne.

overseas travel tips for australians

I travel overseas for work quite a bit so I’ve worked out a few things that make it easier and more streamlined when traveling abroad. 

Here they are in case they come in handy for you:

  1. Vodafone overseas roaming is a godsend for traveling Australians. It’s automatically activated for post-paid accounts and charged at aud$5 per day for 90 odd countries (including all the big ones like USA, Canada and the UK) and free for New Zealand! Since it’s automatic you can use your phone as you would at home to make and receive any number of calls and use your included data. I used to use Optus but their $10 daily travel packs are limited and complicated so I’m so glad I made the switch to Vodafone. 
  2. Using foreign ATMs is risky. I’ve had cards swallowed by ATMs whilst abroad which is a PITA so I avoid using foreign ATMs completely, avoiding ATM fees, skimming and potential card loss. I do this by having a few hundred dollars of currency of each country I regularly visit which I use for things like very small purchases where cards aren’t taken and tipping. I keep the currency for multiple trips so I don’t need to get currency for each trip. For everything else I have a 28 Degrees MasterCard which offers fee free currency conversion so I use this whenever I travel for all purchases. 
  3. When departing Brisbane airport you can use the BNE Airport App to generate a QR code which you can use to print departure cards at the airport. This saves standing around trying to fill out your departure card at the airport with everyone else. For other airports I keep a few spare departure cards in my passport pouch and fill them out at home so they’re ready to go. Same applies to arrivals cards for coming back into Australia – I always have one pre-filled to avoid filling it out on the plane. 
  4. Australians can claim the GST they paid on items costing $300 or more that they purchased during the 60 days before their departure. You need to take the receipts, and items to the TRS counter at the airport (after customs). There’s a TRS app you should use to prefill your details which allows you to use the express queue (which can still take some time – so be early)
  5. Drinking plenty of water is the most important thing you can do on any flight; especially long haul ones. I always take my own water bottle and fill it during the flight during the filtered water dispensers which are typically near the toilets. You’ll need to empty it before taking it though airport security but you’ll be able to refill it airside at water fountains available in all airports.  
  6. If you’re an Australian traveling to the US  on an ESTA, you can use the kiosks on arrival into immigration. You don’t need to fill out the blue US arrivals form given to you on the plane (no matter what the flight attendants tell you).
  7. When coming back into Australia avoid bringing any items which you need to declare (such as wood or food) as this will slow you down a lot coming back in. 

This year I’m experimenting with taking carry on luggage only so I’ll see how that goes. 

That’s all for now. Here’s wishing you a streamlined overseas travel experience. 

→ travelling with young kids

I recently read an article by Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore (via Kitty) about the benefits of traveling with young kids:

“If I had a penny for the number of times, well-meaning friends and family have looked at me and asked “why do you travel so much with young kids? It’s not like they’ll remember any of it!”

The words between the lines are of course this idea that travel is wasted on their young minds. That all they will have, are photographs to look back upon when they are older. That they won’t remember hiking up temples in Cambodia, or riding on mules to explore the lost city of Petra. They won’t remember feeding giant tortoises in the Seychelles, or visiting the memorial church in Berlin. That the true benefits of travel can only be enjoyed as a young adult. That the money spent on traveling the world with them is somehow wasted.

To this I usually respond tongue-in-cheek “well, then why take them to a playground or push them on a swing? Why read them a book or cuddle with them at bedtime? They won’t remember any of that either.”

Travel is the same. Except wait, it’s even better. It’s about the experience. Of making memories together. And this is the part they will remember.”

Overseas travel with young kids is insanely hard but we’ve found it very worthwhile. We’ve taken our young children to Malaysia (Junior Pixels), Los Angeles/San Francisco (Junior Pixels), Sri Lanka/Singapore (Junior Pixels and Little Bear), Auckland (all three) and San Diego/Palm Springs/Los Angeles (all three), and we still have fond memories.

And it’s not only about the kids: it’s about us having fun too. Why wait until the kids are old(er) to have fun ourselves?

We’re taking our three boys to Malaysia (via Singapore) at Easter this year to experience another culture, and we’re all looking forward to it already.

lake tahoe (jan 2017)

I spent the last three nights in Lake Tahoe for a quick work trip. Lake Tahoe is a large lake that is split between California to the West and Nevada to the East. The Northern Nevada side just East of the border has a number of old-school casinos since gambling is legal in Nevada.

Two days before I arrived the area had one of the biggest snow storms in recent history which meant it was a winter wonderland every where we went. The drive up and back from Reno (the nearest airport in Nevada) was very scenic to say the least 😍 (see time-lapse video below)