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. 

travel throughout your decades

Travel in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, because every decade you will have different constraints and experiences. e.g 20s may lack money, 60s may lack health. So don’t wait. It is money well spent.

I found this little gem on an Australian forum I frequent. 

It’s easy in your thirties with young children to forgo travel by putting it in the ‘too hard’ basket, but it can still be very rewarding when you actually do. 

I imagine the forties will have similar challenges of traveling with teenagers, but I don’t want to get too old to realize I haven’t traveled enough. 

rules for travel

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

~ Peter De Vries

I’ve been thinking about travel a lot lately. In the past I have made a big mistake of returning to places overseas I’ve already been to, and inevitably they were never as good as the first time. So, I’m proposing some new rules for travel:

  1. I will never return to an overseas destination that I’ve already been to before. It will never be the same so I should go somewhere else!
  2. I will never travel to an overseas destination to relax on a beach. We have some of the best, and cleanest, beaches in the world on the east coast of Australia and it feels kinda criminal to fly across the world when we can drive 50 minutes in the car to experience the same thing.
  3. I will never travel to an overseas destination to do ‘cheap’ shopping:Β that’s what the Internet is for.
  4. I will seek an experience overseas that I won’t forget and can’t replicate at home: I don’t really want to just surf the net or watch movies in a hotel room on the other side of the world.
  5. I will do it for the experience rather than the memories. I once read an article about how we’d all be better off it we treated a holiday as if our memory of it would be erased when it was over. That way we’d actually experience it, rather than just try to accumulate memories of it for later.
  6. I will turn off the work email on my phone: and not check twitter either.
  7. I will eat local: no food like you get at home, or fast food like McDonalds either.
  8. I will focus on enjoying the travel rather than taking photos of it.

“Didn’t have a camera by my side this time

Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes

Today I finally overcame trying to fit the world inside a picture frame

Maybe you should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes

It brought me back to life”

~ John Mayer:Β  ‘3Γ—5’

Update: 8 October 2012

I probably should clarify: traveling domestically to the same place, eg. Byron Bay, to relax is good, and preferable. Traveling overseas for adventures should be to different places and traveling overseas for relaxation is not on.

uk ireland 1999: 10 year anniversary redux

This month marks the tenth year anniversary of my very first trip overseas. In 1998 I finished school and had just turned seventeen, so I decided to take a year off before starting Uni. I ended up working in Australia in a cafe for about nine months, then spending just under three months backpacking overseas. I went with Kitty, who I started dating in year ten in high school. We went to the UK, Ireland, Paris and Thailand.

Some of the things I remember from the trip were:

  • Wondering what the fuck we were doing after being grilled by British Immigration after a 30 hour journey over;
  • Being well and truly sick of seeing castles after navigating our way completely around England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales;
  • Thinking the Avebury stones were better than Stonehenge because you could actually touch them;
  • Freezing our buts off, everywhere we went; and never being able to manage a hot, or at least warm, shower in any hostel we stayed (says something about our budget);
  • Visiting my first ever Starbucks;
  • Thinking Glasgow was cool, even though people told us not to stay there;
  • Being admitted to hospital in Cork, Ireland for the first time in my life, with the worse case of food poisoning I will ever endure;
  • Deciding at the last minute to travel to Paris from London for our last day in Europe. We slept in the bus overnight on the way over and arrived at 3 am. We then left the same day at midnight and slept in the bus on the way back. The bus drove onto a ferry on the way over, and drove into a train (channel tunnel) on the way back;
  • Ireland using a different currency called a Punt, which no longer exists with the Euro;
  • Everything being so darn expensive, considering one dollar bought less than 40 pence and I just saved all my money working as a 17 year old in a cafe for $8 an hour;
  • Getting to Thailand at the end and actually having money left.

Good times.

babymooning

I have to admit I am a bit confused by the term babymooning. You see, in anticipation of Junior Pixels, Kitty and I went to Sydney last weekend for one last time. When we told people this, they would say: ‘oh, you’re babymooning‘. I’d look oddly, because excuse me if I seem dumb, but don’t you actually need a baby to go on a babymoon? Isn’t going baby-less on a babymoon like holidaying before your wedding?

I looked in the ‘B’ volume of my 1989 edition Encyclopedia Britannica and couldn’t find any such term, so I fired up the old Wikipedia (yet again):

A babymoon is a period of time that parents spend bonding with a recently-born baby.

More recently the term has come to be used to describe a vacation taken by a couple that is expecting a baby in order to allow the couple to enjoy a final trip together before the many sleepless nights that usually accompany a newborn baby. Babymoons usually take place at a resort that offers appropriate services like prenatal massage.

~ Wikipedia (empahasis added by me)

So it seems that what originally was deemed a period of parental bonding, has somehow become a cash-cow for the hospitality/tourism sector. This was confirmed as soon as we began our alleged babymoon.

We were on the plane, and we fly Jetstar (with the remaining Australian bogan population). There’s that awkward bit when you’re taking off you know, and you can’t use anything, not even a myPhone in ‘flight mode’, and being the Gen Y that I am, I got fidgety. Trying to find anything to do except watch the silly safety demonstration for the millionth time (actually, subtly, every plane is the same) I grabbed the JetStar Magazine, July Issue, and fingered it open, landing coincidentally on the page sixty/sixty-one spread.

JetStar Magazine

Ahhh! I couldn’t escape. The article was about how all these resorts were offering special babymoon packages which surely just means they raise the price 50-100% more than non-babymooners. You know, like they do for honeymooners.

Upon check in in Sydney the lovely lady on the check-in counter asked what our businessΒ  was in Sydney. I told her we were babymooning, and then she gave us a look I couldn’t quiet place. The look either meant “so where is the baby?”, or maybe just “Damn, I wish we had known, we could have charged them extra.”

Subtlely

a few hours in LA

I flew to LAX last night and I had a few hours to spare in Los Angeles this afternoon so I caught a local ‘big blue’ bus (line 3) to Santa Monica.

It’s my first time in America so here are my first hand observtions, some expected, others not:

  • The weather is weird, it was warm and sunny today although it’s winter; I wore a t-shirt but could see snow on the mountains;
  • The buses are cheap; I caught one from LAX to Santa Monica for 75 cents which took over half an hour;
  • The food servings are massive, my burger was huge and they keep filling up your soft drink glass for free;
  • I saw a place that advertised ‘organic dry cleaning’, but I have no idea what that actually meant;
  • I saw a restaurant advertising nightly turtle races (weird);
  • It’s weird seeing the sun set over the Pacific ocean, it’s usually the other way round;Β  and
  • The local people who I have met have been really nice, especially the bus drivers who go out of their way to assist with directions. The waitress at the diner made me a free milkshake because it was my first time ever in an American diner.

Finally, here’s some photos I took this afternoon. I am off to Austin, Texas tomorrow, yee-haa.

The giant LAX sign right outside my hotel
The giant LAX sign right outside my hotel
The Big Blue Bus Line 3
The Big Blue Bus Line 3
Santa Monica Boulevade Sign
Santa Monica Boulevade Sign
Santa Monica
Santa Monica

to do: in bangkok

We leave tomorrow morning for KL. Even though BKK isn’t for another week I thought I would share some initial ideas on our BKK to do list.

See In Bangkok

  • Chinatown Markets
  • Jim Thompson House (link)
  • Royal Palace: Emerald Buddha

Eat In Bangkok

  • Seafood Market & Restaurant – My parents went here last year and said it was amazing. You can choose your (live) seafood and then have your chef cook it for you. (link)
  • Tom Yum Kung (9 Trokmayom Jakapong Road, on the western end of Khao San. (link)

Stay In Bangkok

  • New Siam Guest House II: Banglamphu (link)

Shop In Bangkok

  • Propaganda – Siam Discovery Centre & Emporium: Unique Thai designer homewares (link)
  • Siam Centre & Siam Discover Centre: Connected to each other
  • Mah Boon Krong: Bangkok’s busiest mall
  • Siam Paragon: Bangkok’s largest mall
  • Central World Plaza (formerly World Trade Centre)
  • Thonglor: a long street where Thailand’s in-crowd hang, and home to various funky homeswares and design stores in sleek little malls like J-Avenue and Playground.
  • H1: Sukhumvit (link)
  • Comfort Zone: Music Store in Siam Discovery Center
  • Shades of Retro: purveyor of 1970s collectibles
  • Bangkok’s New Hip Haunt: Ekkamai: Sukhumvit Soi 63

Relax in Bangkok

  • DVN Spa & Wellbeing Centre (link)
  • Shewa Spa: KSR (link)

Travel In Bangkok

  • Taxi to newish airport: Meter + 65B surcharge (About 300 Baht Total to KSR)

coming to america

Today I managed to get some cheap tickets to the USA to travel for three weeks in May 2009. They were AUD $1250 return including all fees with V Australia from Brisbane direct to LA. Although it’s operated by Virgin Blue, it’s still full service which means we get drinks/food/baggage included in the fare which makes it a really good deal. I got them when they went on sale at 2pm today and just noticed less than 3 hours later they are already sold out.

I can’t wait. I’ve never been to the USA before, so now we have some researching to do on where to go.