8 Travel Essentials

As I start to think about packing for my trip to Thailand, I’ve put together a small list of the essentials I have come to love, that at one point, hadn’t crossed my mind.

When packing for a long trip, you need the fine skill of covering every eventuality; packing for all conditions and preparing for the extremities that Mother Nature may throw at you.

So, while you’re battling over what 5 outfits your going to be rocking for the next month, don’t forget these essentials.

 

  1. A Travel Towel

Super compact and light as a feather, these towels don’t feel so good on your skin, but they dry incredibly fast; ideal for those early check-outs.

One of the best things about these towels is how small you can fold them; buying you some time before the inevitable battle when packing your rucksack towards the end of your trip.

 

  1. A Light, Waterproof jacket

Newsflash; it rains, everywhere.

As much as you think you may be escaping the miserable weather by traveling to more tropical parts of the world, no matter where you go, rain will soon follow.

Don’t be caught out!

It may not be glamorous; some countries don’t do drizzles; re-usable ponchos are advised.

 

  1. Mosquito Repellent

Over the last few years, cases of mosquito related diseases have risen to devastatingly high levels. Staying protected, particularly in notably dangerous areas, is essential.

DEET will do the job, but if you have sensitive skin, it burns. Aside from the burning sensations, your hostel bunk-buddies will not be your friends for much longer if you gas them with the smell, so you might want to consider an alternative.

Citronella essential oil based mosquito repellents are completely free of chemicals, protect you and smell so much better, so everyone will be happy.

In addition to the repellents, keeping a low salt diet and avoiding floral perfumes or moisturisers is strongly advised.

Should you have aches and pains, a fever and/or a rash, seek medical attention immediately.

 

  1. A Hoodie

If you are headed for the sunshine, don’t overlook this one!

Tropical countries are also known for having some of the most powerful air-con around.

During the day, you’ll be sweating like crazy wandering the streets in 35 degrees, but everywhere from coffee shops and supermarkets to the bus to your next destination will be blasting Baltic temperatures.

If you feeling a bit on the tired side after your travels, this is a one-way ticket to sickness, so keep your hoodie close by.

 

  1. Sun-cream

May seem obvious, but re-application is the key!

Red is definitely not a good colour, for anyone. So save yourself from pain and embarrassment and apply regularly.

I always get caught out after swimming, so keep an eye out for that one.

Remember, the closer to the equator you are, the hotter it is and the stronger the sun, so leave your factor 8 at home.

 

  1. Waterproof Wallet

A friend introduced me to these beauties that are ideal for solo travelers.

You might think that you look like a tourist holding a ‘rob me’ sign, as it’s a bit too close to sporting a fanny pack, but these little cases are a wonderful invention.

Pop your phone, keys and money in and wear it like a tiny cross-over handbag and say hello to carefree swimming and forget about your things being snatched; genius!

 

  1. A Waiter’s Friend

If you’ve ever worked in a bar, then you will understand the true value of owning one of these, and traveling is with no exception.

Whether you are looking to fix, cut, make a hole or help out the one guy who brought a bottle of wine with a cork to the party; a waiter’s friend is always the answer.

 

  1. Scarf-sarong-style piece of material

When traveling light, the problem of how many towels you should take is a big issue when it comes to compromising space in your rucksack.

My answer to this; you only need one (see essential number 1).

When looking for something for the beach, go for a scarf-style piece of material, available in all markets across the world; light, soft and easy to air, so it doesn’t stink.

It’s hot, the sun can dry you, and after a little shake you needn’t worry about getting sand in your bag.

Problem solved.

 

What are your essentials for traveling? Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips and tricks for a relaxing weekend in Bangkok

One of the central points for tourism in the world, a melting pot of cultures, business and design; Bangkok is the hub of Asia.

For many, Bangkok is nightmare; when visiting the city for the first time it seems to be near impossible to navigate without spending a lot on taxi fares.

Fear not, with a few tips and tricks, you’ll be embracing the city and discovering a more relaxing approach to the concrete jungle.

Why Bangkok?

For most, the vast city is the gateway to the mountainous landscapes and crystal clear seas of Asia. Bangkok is one of the cheapest cities to fly to from Europe.

In fact, stopping in the city on your trip to Asia is often cheaper than going straight to your final destination. Tried and tested.

The streets of Bangkok are filled with delicious street food, huge parks and so much more; here are my highlights.

 

Shopping and Food; malls and markets

Shopping and eating are a great combination for those who are not too found of browsing the racks for extended periods of time, such as myself. It’s important to have rewarding breaks.

Bangkok has a great range of malls and markets, each with it’s own style and offering great prices for well made clothes; not forgetting the numerous pit-stops for fresh snacks, juice and beers.

 

Malls

Bangkok is famous for its extravagantly themed malls. For locals and expats alike, it’s a prime hangout place that offers the additional luxury of air-con.

Most are open until around 10pm and have a food court on the top floor where you can take your pick of a great range of food in a canteen-like setting. Alternatively, for a more formal dine-outs, there are restaurants too.

When it comes to traveling, I’m not too fond of the more Western means of entertainment, however Terminal 21 has to be one of my most entertaining ventures in Bangkok.

Located in the heart of the Sukhumvit area, the mall is designed to be like an airport with each level being thematic of the big cities around the world; wondering the alleys of each level of the mall is a truly unique experience.

 

Quick tip: If you do go to Terminal 21, go to the bathroom, it’s the best toilet experience you will ever have.

 

Markets

To continue with the eating and shopping tour of Bangkok, exploring the markets of the city is absolutely necessary. The two I frequent are the infamous Chatuchak and a slightly newer addition, the Neon night market (Talad Neon).

Chatuchak (more commonly known as JJ market) is one the biggest markets out there. It’s a labyrinth of boutiques, accompanied with endless amounts of tourist tat and household amenities. I am very certain this market has everything.

Gear up for a sweaty day of wondering as there is no escaping the heat, but there are many coconut ice-cream and juice stalls to keep the sugar levels up and the temperature down.

When wondering JJ, it’s worth hunting around for the slightly nicer looking shops if quality is what you are looking for; from my own experience, I have bought one or two items that don’t last too long. The record being one day; I wasn’t too happy about that one.

To make matters worse, I didn’t realise I had a rip on my ass until I got home.

Talad Neon is a shiny new market that got its name from the birds-eye view of neon-lit market stalls that make a rainbow. The market front is very easily spotted by a giant neon sign, should you be looking for a selfie opportunity. On my first visit, it was relatively unknown and still aiming towards local shoppers, however this quickly changed. Upon my last visit, despite being slightly blinded by a storm and kitted out in a plastic poncho, the signs of elephant pants didn’t go unnoticed.

 

Quick tip: make sure you stop by the coconut water and ice-cream man in the centre of the market; it’s too good to miss.

 

TravelHack: stay near the MRT/ BTS line

We’re all fans of convenience, and transport goes without exception when you are in a city this big.

If a party is what you are looking for in Bangkok, then you’re going to want to stay on Khao San road, the backpacker haven of BKK. Although this area is specifically designed for tourism, it’s not easy to get to as the metro not doesn’t stretch that far, this can result in a slightly more expensive trip as you are almost guaranteed to be taken on a few taxi tours of the city.

Whenever I stay in Bangkok I aim for the more local yet still central areas where not only do you get more for your money, but it’s much easier to access too. Making sure your hostel is next to the BTS or MRT (underground and over-ground metro lines) will make your life so much easier when it comes to getting around the city and getting to and from the airport.

With a big city, comes big traffic jams, you want to avoid this as much as possible, there are much better things to do in the city than sit in traffic for hours.

 

Temples & Chinatown

The temples of Thailand are some of the worlds finest. With endless wonders of finely carved shrines and gold encrusted buildings: visiting Bangkok without seeing one is like visiting China without seeing the great wall; ludicrous.

Most of the temples are within the old town area which do not have the luxury of a metro line, however; although commonly not advised, a tuk tuk tour could be your best bet for getting around the attractions with ease.

With a little haggling, you will be able to visit several temples for what could be the price of one taxi journey.

I have only ever had one negative experience with this, where a tuk tuk driver took myself and a backpacker to a temple and then promptly abandoned us. We never paid, so I guess it wasn’t so bad.

Once you have finished the tour, hop on over to Chinatown to wonder through the street, grab a few snacks and soak up the bustling daytime in the area, it’s a feast for the eyes, with endless streets selling everything you can possible imagine and temples on every corner.

 

Top Temples to visit:

  • The Golden Mound
  • Wat Pho
  • The Grand Palace
  • The Giant Swing (not a temple, but it’s actually a giant swing, very cool)
  • Wat Suthat
  • Wat Thepthidaram

 

Thai Massage

If you’ve been backpacking for a while and the 16 hour buses are wreaking havoc on your back, a Thai massage will sort you out in no time.

When staying in more local areas, massages come with local standards and local prices; Thai people take their massages very seriously and frequently head to their local masseuse, so the small corner shop with no sign on is going to be one of the best places you have ever been to for a massage.

Ask the folks at your hostel and they will point you in the right direction. If you haven’t had a Thai massage before, don’t go thinking they have the touristic conventional soft touch with a little elbowing here and there: this is not for the faint-hearted, so you might want to ask them to go easy on you.

 

3 Things You Don’t Think About When Moving to Asia

Moving abroad is an exciting and stressful time. The time between making the decision and leaving flies by; before you know it, your right in the thick of it, in a place you’re not familiar with and wondering where to start.

With all the stress of preparing documents, organising visa’s and getting immunisations, thinking about the smaller implications of living in a country that is not your own is the last thing on your mind; you probably didn’t think about the following things when packing your bags.

 

What do I eat if I don’t like the food?

If you’ve never been to the country before, how do you know if you like the food?

The world is full of strange and rather acquired tastes and you’re not going to like all of them; Asia is home to some of the smelliest.

Cities are tourists first stop when visiting an country. With this, comes a variety of foods from surrounding country’s and Western food to accommodate all those fussy foreigners who are scared of noodles and chilli. Western food comes at a price, and it’s difficult to find the quality to match that. There’s a good chance you will find yourself paying $10 for the worst burger you have ever eaten.

For the good stuff, areas that are more focused on the ‘expat life’ will cover you when it comes to decent burgers and the type of Sunday roast your Nan would be proud of. Foreigners have been moving to Asia for years, but it has taken some time for them to be able to re-create and sell their food.

 

Where’s the big size?

Asian people aren’t built like Western people; there is a science to it, people from tropical country’s don’t need to have big bones like foreigners.

In every day life, this means that even if you are 5ft nothing and a size 8, you’re still going to struggle to find your size.

The main problem for men is that boxers are a strange alien thing Western guys always talk about and for women, jeans don’t look like they will accommodate one of your legs, so your hips are out of the question.

Over the years of development, Asian city’s have become more accommodating to ‘big size’ clothes. For the good quality, long lasting clothes you have to be willing to pay; with shops like Zara and H&M cropping up in shopping malls, you can shop as you would in your home country, but the import tax will make you want to weep.

If you are a woman with larger feet or just an average man, then stock up on strong, sturdy shoes before you leave your home country, and make sure you like them too, you’re not going to find that aren’t flip flops for sometime.

Where do I go to get clothes then?

Bangkok has more options than most other cities, with big markets such as Pranutam and Chatuchak, they have a great variety of sizes and prices to match.

In Ho Chi Minh City, you can find the rejects from factories of companies such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara on the streets of Distrct 5 and Tan Binh; be prepared to bargain.

 

Where do all the foreigners go and how do I meet them?

You’ve done it; you’ve got your house, a rough idea of how to get around, your settling back into work; heck, you’ve got time on your hands, so where can you meet people?

Good question.

Hunting out local bars in city’s that aren’t quite up on the marketing front is damn near impossible

You try to find out where bars are is by doing a little search on Facebook and hoping for the best, but having a look for local English publications and finding there recommendations will get you to the right place.

Alternatively, find out where the expats live in the city and check out the area; people love convenience. While this is not the most local or authentic social experience, it will give you somewhere to start.

Do you have anything you wished you thought of before you moved to Asia?
Comment below!

 

 

 

Traveling around Vietnam: Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

Travel on local transport

Traveling on local transport seems like a foregone conclusion when traveling around a country, but many services offer ‘international’ standard services that are more expensive and specifically aimed at tourists that make it difficult to do as locals do.

When it comes to trains; you’ll rarely see a foreigner on one. It’s easy to understand why when you discover that the train stations are far from the main attractions and have little information on how to get there. To add to this, you may find yourself walking half-way up a train track to get on the train, but that’s the fun of it – right?

Trains are easily bookable online, with the option of hard or soft seats and beds.

If you are traveling for a long period of time take snacks, however there is a food cart that will be pushed around at meal times.

When it comes to getting to and from the train stations: city’s are fairly easy to navigate, however in smaller areas it is best to ask locals how to get there.

 

Try all the food

In Vietnam, you can forget your idea of what a restaurant should look like; eateries come in all shapes and sizes, especially in the mornings, when you will see plastic chairs and tables outside formal restaurants.

‘Street food’ is a way of life in Vietnam and if you want to get the good stuff, you not only have to be an early bird, but you have to be prepared to take a risk; it’s not always clean, however there is a simple way of finding the good stuff.

You’ll often see crowds of people sitting around street corners or on roundabouts getting their fix from their favourite street food vendor. There are no dodgy dealings here, just really good food for the equivalent of 80p. As many a seasoned traveler will tell you, if the place is packed with locals, pull up a chair.

 

Take locals advice

With Saigon and Hanoi now ranking as having the best English in Vietnam, many Vietnamese people take to the streets to find foreigners to practice their English.

You can expect to be stopped while walking around or accosted when having a drink in a street bar. During your free lesson ask lots of questions; find out where the best places to eat are, ideal day trips and weekend getaways.

You never know what might happen, you could end up at a wedding or if you’re staying long term, taking English classes for a company.

 

Break your big notes in chain-stores

Shop vendors don’t expect you to have the correct change, but if you are whipping out 200,000VND for something that is 10,000VND, then you’re going to annoy people.

In Vietnam, the smaller the shop; the smaller the change you must have.

If you’ve got 500,000VND a chain supermarket such as Family Mart or Circle K will give you small change without the evil eye.

Depending where you are this can be a big deal, so be prepared with your ‘pennies’.

Quick Tip: Don’t be alarmed when someone walks away with your money without giving you change, they’re going to find someone with the smaller notes they don’t have; promise.

 

Don’ts

Take shit from a taxi driver, especially outside airports

Taxi drivers can be ruthless. When you’re looking for a taxi outside the airport, it’s unnerving. When you arrive, you’re greeted by people shouting at you from all directions and what appears to be aggressive demands for dollars; not the best experience when you’re jet-lagged and don’t speak the language.

With the number of tourists coming into Vietnam, airport taxi’s rely on naive travelers who don’t know that the journey is actually half the price.

However, the development of apps such as Grab and Uber, have created fierce competition: not only do they have customer services who are at hand to give a rude guy the boot, but they can pick you up from the airport for a fraction of the price.

Alternatively, with the exact address, ignore anyone that tries to ‘help’ you and go straight to the nearest official looking taxi rank, these guys are normal taxi drivers; ask for a meter before you get in.

Important things to remember:

  • all taxi drivers should have their registration card clearly displayed on the dashboard, get out the car if they don’t.
  • Mai Linh or Vinasun tend to be the more reliable, avoid any variations of these names
  • There is an extra 10,000 VND charge to get out of the airport, unless you are in a Grab or Uber, you may have to pay this to them before you leave.

 

Say no to an invitation

Socialising is part of every day life in Vietnam and when it comes to big events, it’s an all out feast with every member of the family you can possibly imagine.

With this, Vietnamese people love to invite people, especially if you are a foreigner, they want to invite you into their way of celebrating.

The most important thing in all of this is if someone invites you to something and there is no reason for you to refuse; you cannot.

For example, it’s traditional for Vietnamese people to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s death. One day, I notice big preparations for lunch in the house I am living in: enough food for 30 people, crates of beer and Aunt’s and Uncle’s arriving and the family I live with are rushing around frantically – they’re preparing to celebrate their Mother’s life. As I make my way through the house to my room I’m stopped and invited to sit down by the ‘father of the house’ – I cannot say no!

Instead, I sit with the family and celebrate their Mother with them, and I end up drunk by 3pm.

 

Wave your expensive possessions around

As with any city, crime is to be expected, so you have to keep your wits about you.

No matter the time of day, if anything containing or worth money looks easy to grab, someone might just do it. Secret wallets hidden under your t-shirt are an excessive Western idea of safety when visiting a developing country; it’s unnecessary.

There are some tried and tested ways to avoid loosing your things when out and about:

  • Keep your possessions in a zipped bag, close to you.
  • Try not to purchase flimsy strapped bags, there are people out there with scissors and they are not afraid to chop your straps.
  • Separate your money by having big notes and small notes in separate compartments.
  • Try not to flash your cash.
  • If you can, don’t take your phone out when in markets or in the backpacker area. If you do need to check it, hold it with both hands.

 

Do you have any advice for travelers visiting Vietnam?

Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Steps to Becoming a Minimalist Traveler

The world is a distracting place.

Whether we’re being force fed the latest product or told our wardrobes are dated; we are born and raised by the media with a a niggling urge to buy stuff.

What does this result in?  A heck of a lot unused possessions.

However, consumer-based companies are now freaking out.

Why?

Minimalism.

The minimalist lifestyle is a simple and cost-effective ‘trend’: buying only what you need and will use.

Having originated with the Japanese belief in maintaining peace and harmony in the home, minimalism has become a life-changing solution. This simple lifestyle offers the ability to live independently, save money, focus, and have freedom from the ‘need’ to buy into materialism.

That’s fair reason for companies to panic.

However, choosing a minimalist lifestyle isn’t easy, we have been brought up by generations of hoarders, with a family-home that’s bursting with possessions: the home comforts that make a house a home. Materialism is an obligation in the average household. So deciding to live with the bare minimum is going against the grain, by doing so we’re challenging the minds idea of what makes us feel comfortable or ‘at home’.

Minimalism forms itself in many ways; for example,  I’m a firm believer in having a clean space to work in, practicing a little feng shui to de-clutter the mind by having structure in my surroundings.  Not having much in the first place makes this easy, so it’s a great way to limit distractions.

For others, not having many possessions means more freedom and spontaneity in life, with the ability to to pack up your bags travel the world at your leisure, without the worry of how much you will have to leave behind.

It’s estimated that over 250 million people live abroad, while some families move everything, the younger generation are traveling alone with one or two bags. When you go solo, you have the choice to move around at your leisure, so minimalism becomes a foregone conclusion in your life, purely because of practicality.

Going minimalist when traveling is a way of detaching yourself from the clutter. You can’t expect to take everything you own, some sacrifices have to be made along the way. If you want to keep your expenses to a minimum, you’re going to have to really love what you have because you are going to have it for a long time.

 

Step 1: Maintaining the minimalist lifestyle – de-cluttering

 

De-cluttering is really satisfying.

When you’re brought up to love having things, it doesn’t go away,  having frequent clean-out’s keeps the habit at bay.

Having lived with just one bag of clothes for a year, when visiting my home-country I chucked out everything I never wore or used, giving what I didn’t need to local charity shops.

It felt so good!

If you forget you have something: why do you need it?

You need to ask yourself this a lot, and so we have step 2.

 

Step 2: Ask yourself 4 questions before buying something

 

Picture this: you’re out for coffee with a friend and they need some bits and bobs, so you keep them company.

Normally, you don’t go into shops unless you need something, but you can’t just leave, that’s rude.

You start browsing and immediately a blouse catches your eye: STOP

  • Do you have something similar?
  • Are blouses really your jam or are you feeling a little risky today?
  • Are you going to skip dinner tonight because you bought it?
  • Do you need it?

 

This is where the discipline comes in.

No-one’s perfect, there will be a time where you ignore all the questions, we’re human after all.

 

Step 3: Finding home comforts in small things

 

This was a struggle for me the first time around, but a fundamental lesson to learn.

When I moved to Asia I brought 2kg of home comforts, some of which never left my suitcase.

We all need to make a house as a home and that usually shapes itself into useless things, the important part is getting the right ones.

Go for small, personal things that mean a lot to you, this can take the form of:

  • Postcards, birthday cards, photo’s – paper things
  • Small trinkets/jewellery
  • Thin fabrics (that’s a personal preference)

Main objective: not heavy!

 

Step 4: Discovering what you really need and cannot live without.

 

This is very much a gradual process.

Only having exactly what you really need can be both liberating and terrifying.

This is your life, so you are the only person that can make your list of what you need.

I think this is where the happiness in having a minimal life really is: respecting what you have.

Start with the simple things:

  • Clothes (but how many items?)
  • Underwear
  • Laptop/phone
  • Shoes
  • Home-comforts

You will work out the rest of the list over time.

 

Step 5: Quality over quantity – minimal maintenance.

 

When you are keeping your spending to a minimum, each purchase is a long-term investment.

While buying the same cheap pair of shoes three times over may seem less cost effective when you do it, splashing out on something that is good quality is much cheaper in the long run.

I know, the word investment is scary, but don’t panic!

Think of how much time and effort you will save when you only have to look once.

If your like me and hate shopping, this is fantastic.

 

 

What are your tips for a minimalist lifestyle?

 

Comment below!