Tag Archives: travel

Hand Luggage Only – Packing like a Pro!

27 Jul

Tomorrow I set off on my longest solo backpacking trip thus far in my life – a 3 months trip that will take me from South Korea, to South East Asia to Australia and then back home to Ireland via London at the end of October. I have been looking forward to and planning this trip for months, but in typical Janet fashion…I always end of packing my bag last-minute. It’s currently 7pm here in Korea, and I’m heading out for one last Korean BBQ dinner with some close friends in an hour. That means I have minimal time to get my bags packed and get started with the epic task of cleaning and clearing out my apartment before getting on my one way flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning.

I’m not too worried to be honest. All my friends here know that I’m a pretty quick and light packer – just give me 10 minutes to throw some stuff in my sturdy little backpack and I’m ready to go! Usually for weekend trips, I only bring one small rucksack and for longer trips overseas I bring my 10-year-old 60-70 liter backpack which has been to over 30 countries with me! This time, however, I have set myself a challenge. I am attempting to pack everything I could possibly need for my 3 month trip into my tiny weekend rucksack and I’m going to document this challenge right here, in this blog post!

Okay so the first thing I did was to empty my wardrobe. I realized, despite shipping home 15kg of clothes and shoes, I still had WAY too many bits and pieces left behind. I had to be very firm with myself and anything that there is even a SLIGHT chance of me not wearing was not allowed to come along on the adventure. ESSENTIALS ONLY JANET!! I really wanted to bring my curling iron but NO that got put in the ‘stuff to be sent home’ box. ALong with my old laptop, 4 very pretty dresses, 2 extra ‘just in case’ pairs of shoes, a huge make-up bag, a GIANT beach towel (nobody’s got room for that!) and many other things that simply do not need to come with me. After all, I really don’t need very much when backpacking through South East Asia, especially considering the temperature is rarely going to drop below 30’c for the entire trip!

Anyway, here is everything that was left on my bed, post wardrobe cull! As you can see from the picture, there’s still quite a lot left.

packing like a pro

 

Here is a list of exactly what I plan to pack – the next challenge is fitting it all into 1 small bag!!

  • 12 t-shirts.
  • 4 summer dresses
  • 2 jumpers
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 bikinis
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • A headband
  • A wash bag with shampoo, conditioner, face wash, cleanser, toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Face Wipes
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 1 small Body Shop perfume oil – sweet scent lasts all day
  • A few basic make-up items such as Mac and Bare Minerals Powder, 1 mascara and 1 lipstick.
  • 1 hair brush
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 pair of flips flops
  • 1 pair of Vans shoes for walking/sightseeing whatever else
  • 1 documents folder with all my flight info/visa applications/hostel bookings etc
  • 1 book (Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer – one of my favorites!)
  • 1 small box of photos given to me by my best buddy here in Korea…to make me smile!
  • Passport, wallet and other essentials!

STEP 1: Lay everything very flat in the back section (usually designed to carry a laptop!)

2014-07-27 18.36.40Step 2: All of my make-up and any smaller items can be squashed into the small front pocket!

2014-07-27 18.39.50Step 3: Neatly pack everything else into the bag – it’s a tight squeeze but hopefully it will all fit!!

 

2014-07-27 18.40.04Step 4: Put all my most important and valuable items into my handbag (passport, wallet, book etc!)

 

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And…I’m all set for my 3 month backpacking adventure!2014-07-27 18.42.49

 

My Top 10 Hostels Around The World

11 Jun

Having stayed in 100’s of hostels in over 40 countries and on 5 continents, I think it’s be about time I shared my top 10 favorite hostels. These gems are the type of places that were so good, so welcoming and so jam-packed with facilities (despite their rock bottom prices) that I would return to a country JUST to stay there again.

In no particular order, here are my TOP TEN hostels worldwide.

10. Away With The Fairies Backpackers, Hogsback Mountains, South Africa

snow south africa

This was one of my favorite places in South Africa. The name itself was enough to persuade me to leave the stunning South African coastline and make the trek inland and up into the Hogsback mountains. Perched high on a cliff-top overlooking three beautiful mountains, Away With The Fairies is the perfect place to escape for a few days, and ‘return to nature’. The greater area also happens to be the birthplace of famed writer J.R.R Tolkein and trekking through the many trails, waterfalls and scenic villages, it’s not difficult to see where he may have got his inspiration from. The rooms have names such as ‘Bilbo’ and ‘Frodo’ and the common room and dormitories are the most cosy and homely rooms I have ever stayed in.

outdoor bath hogsbackWhether you come in Winter or Summer, you will feel right at home in this backpackers. If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Winter, you might even get to see the area covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the hot summer months, there is an outdoor bath with the most incredible view of the surrounding countryside where you can cool off. A visit to this magical hostel is a MUST if you are ever visiting South Africa!

 

 

9. Reggae Mansion Hostel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

REGGAEMANSION

While many hostel names can be a little deceiving, Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpar is exactly what is says it is. It is an absolutely HUGE boutique backpackers hostel and besides the price and the fact that there are backpackers everywhere, it’s as far from a regular hostel as you can imagine.

reggae barEven looking at the hostel on arrival makes many people think, “Wow, what is this place?!” Then comes the vast range of facilities which include but are not limited to; A rooftop bar and tanning area, a cocktail bar, a restaurant serving delicious Malaysian and Western meals, dormitories where everyone has a double bed and their own private curtain and plug sockets, multiple areas to chill out and read and…a cinema. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has its own cinema on the property! They can also organize tours to just about anywhere, have nightly parties on the roof and take the guests out to many of the amazing restaurants and clubs KL has to offer. If you are looking for a place to stay in KL, look no further!!

 

8. Gili Hostel, Lombok, Indonesia

gili hostel

 

If you are traveling around Indonesia by yourself, The Gili Islands are THE place to go. If you are traveling to the Gili Islands by yourself, Gili Hostel is most definitely the place to go. It’s the only backpackers on the island and it is an absolute melting-pot of people each night.

gili-hostelSo famed are parties in Gili Hostel, mainly for their cheap as chips Vodka-Joss shots, that people who are staying in the islands other hotels make the effort to come over to the rooftop bar each night to party the night away. However, in true backpacking spirit (and to give many weary-eyed travelers a chance to sleep!) the bar closes at a respectable hour and all the patrons are brought as a group to one of the islands nightly parties! Besides being a great place to meet people, the hostel is mere meters from the crystal clear waters and the staff are happy to help you organize an array of trips such as scuba diving, snorkeling, sunset walks and more. The spacious dorms are kept spotless and always refreshingly cool, and the price is cheap enough that you may never want to leave!

 

7. South Coast Backpackers, Diani Beach, Kenya

south coast backpackers kenya

Their tagline is, “It’s not a business. It’s a house with a bar and a pool’ and honestly that is EXACTLY what it is. The property was once a luxurious villa, where only people who had more money than they knew what to do with could stay. After the violence and political unrest in Kenya, tourism was severely affected and many of the luxurious hotels near Mombassa were forced to close down. Their loss was our benefit, and by ‘our’ I mean backpackers the world over! This beautiful villa has been turned into a pseudo backpackers hostel but like the two owners say, really it’s just a beautiful house with a bar and pool. There’s even a personal chef who will cook you up whatever you like for breakfast!

Beach-Kenya-1125x784During low season, or if you stay mid-week, it’s possible to have the whole house and pool to yourself! During the weekend, however, backpackers, peace-corps workers and expats flock to this little piece of paradise to let off steam, enjoy the great ‘Happy Hour’ deals at the poolside bar and soak up the sun. The guys who work there are super laid back and full of incredible travel tales. They can also organize a variety of trips for you and will be sure to remind you that despite the fact that you may not want to leave their property, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kenya is only a 400 meter walk away! Kenya is very lacking on decent hostels so if you are traveling in this region and are craving a ‘true backpackers experience’, this is the place to go.

6. Frendz Hostel, Boracay, Philippines

the-view-from-the-frendz

Talk to anyone who has been to Boracay and there are two common themes that they all talk about. The fact that you simply must stay at Frendz Resort and that you must, must, must do the Boracay Pub Crawl! I’m not sure if they are connected but they both have the same mission, ‘Turn strangers into friends!’.

frendz-guesthouse-lounge-boracay-philippinesFrendz Hostel is literally meters away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Do a quick google search of ‘Boracay’ and you will know what I’m talking about! While there is nothing too special about the dorms or the common area (there’s a bar, a large table to eat or chat at, a pool table and they have private deck chairs on the beach for guests to use) it’s really the people who make this place so special. Everyone who stays here is dying to make new friends, party all night long and find a fun group of people to go exploring the island with. I would especially recommend this hostel is you are traveling solo to the Philipines and while you’re at it, sign yourself up to the Boracay Pub Crawl. Fun guaranteed!

 

5. Kimchi Guesthouse, Hongdae, Korea

hongdae lights

After almost 2 years in Korea and countless weekends staying in various hostels around Seoul, Kimchi Guesthouse in Hongdae remains one of my favourites. The rooms are spacious but cosy (an essential during the cold, Korean Winter!), the staff are friendly and welcoming and best of all, the hostel is only a hop, skip and a jump from the most-happening party district in Korea.

kimchi guesthouseWhen it comes to a place to stay, it often comes down to ‘location, location, location’, and Kimchi Guesthouse seems to have got this spot on. It’s in a quiet enough street that you can go to bed early if needed but also close enough to Seoul’s vibrant nightlife district that you could walk home alone and not feel concerned for your safety. My friends and I have probably stayed in over 10 hostels in and around this district of Seoul but this one is a firm favorite.

 

4. Fawlty Towers Backpackers, Livingstone, Zambia

victoria_falls

If you want to visit  Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the worlds, and don’t want to fork out hundreds of dollars to stay in one the limited hotel accommodation options in the area, Fawlty Towers is the place for you. You can’t really go wrong with a large backpackers just minutes away from the Zambian/Zimbabwean border , located in the small town of Livingstone which is now known as the ‘Adrenaline Junkie Capital of Africa!’ Bungee jumping, rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting, gorge swings, micro lights flights and walking safari’s are just some of the nail-biting activities on offer.

fawlty towers backpackersIn the hostel itself there’s a bar, a large swimming pool with deck/lounge chairs and the dorms are fully equipped with much-needed mosquito nets and fans! This spot is also a great meeting spot to connect with other travelers as it is very close to the point where the Tazara Train (that runs from Tanzania to Zambia) ends and thus is a melting pot of backpackers, some having traveled all the way down through Northern and Eastern Africa while others are just beginning their adventure North.

 

3. Friendly Fun Franks, Riga, Latvia

Riga-Latvia

Any hostel that gives it’s guests a free beer before they have even fully checked in will always be held in high esteem by me. Voted Best Hostel in the World by users of Hostelworld.com a few years ago, staying here was one of the best experiences I have had in Europe. Not many people think of going on holidays to Latvia, but when a group of friends and I found cheap flights to Riga a few years back, booking this hostel for the duration of our stay was one of the best decisions we ever made.

friendly-fun-franks-backpackerLocated in central Riga and overlooking the Daugava river, on which many locals (and some brave tourists!) can be seen skating across during the winter months, the hostel is in a great location. The common room is both large and comfortable (and adorned with many certificates of praise received by the hostel!) and the bar, which they open at all sorts of crazy hours to meet demand, is the perfect spot to unwind with other travelers. The staff, however, are what made this place truly special. I’m not sure who Frank is, and he may not even be all that friendly, but he sure knows how to hire some of the most helpful, beautiful and friendly staff on the planet! Throughout our stay, they showed us all around the city, brought us to new bars and clubs each night, and booked us on all sorts of wacky adventures such as shooting AK47’S in old Russian Bunkers and sending us to some quaint town where we could go sledding! By the end of our one-week vacation, we had made many lifelong friends and I had a new hostel to add to my list of favorites.

2. Nomads Hostel, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown_in_Winter

 

This hostel was one the most amazing places I have ever stayed. It was one of those times when even your super high expectations for a destination are exceeded and you just know that you have picked THE best place in stay. The hostel itself is huge but what makes it great is that they have an ample amount of facilities for everyone. There are lounge chairs everywhere, the dorms have balconies and there are tons of computers for guests to use. The dorms are spacious, and if you have the cash to splash out on a private room you might even think you are in a top hotel rather than a cheap hostel.

960_960_sauna-queenstownThe people working and staying here are super social, and as you are allowed to drink in the hostel, it is a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers without having to go out on the town and spend lots of money. They organize lots of nights out including a 10 dollar pub crawl and can also organize a variety of tours, adventures, flights and adrenaline pumping activities to fill your days and empty your wallet! Also, did I mention there’s a sauna?! Madness. If I ever go back to New Zealand, this will be the first place on my list! 

 

 

1. Buccaneers Backpackers, Cintsa, South Africa

buccaneers-lodge-backpackers

Honestly, I could probably write a full bog post on hostels in South Africa as there are so many great spots! I was going back and forth for the last hour deciding whether to include one of the hostels I stayed in while traveling in Australia or to include a second South African hostel. In the end, I had to stay true to myself, and this gem of a Backpackers on the wild coast of South Africa wins the last spot! The hostel is really rustic and the views of the beach below are spectacular!

buccaneersThey can organize horse back riding along the beach, daily surfing lessons or weekly surf camps and their poolside parties are out of this world. It’s a strange place as it feels like you are escaping the hustle and bustle and getting back to nature but at the same time it’s such a popular spot that you are bound to meet rakes of other backpackers while staying here. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the precise reasons why a hostel is great, you just get a feeling while staying there that you never really want to leave and be it 1 year or 10 years since your last stay, it is a place that will always stay in your memory. For me, Buccaneers is one of those places. :)

How To Book Cheap Flights – A Guide to Skyscanner

10 Jun

A lot of people regularly ask me how I always seem to find the cheapest flights to the places I plan on traveling to, so I thought I would write a quick post about one of my favourite booking websites – SkyScanner.

Tip 1 – Search regularly

I browse SkyScanner as often as most internet addicts browse Reddit or 9Gag…let’s just say I spend an obscene amount of time on the site and am always ready to grab any cheap deals which interest me. In fact, my addiction to skyscanner and browsing flights to exotic destinations at bizarre times throughout the night recently led me to booking a flight in my sleep! When I woke up in the morning I had an email confirmation from SkyScanner with a booking reference number for a 1 way flight to Thailand! Turns out I must have half woken in the middle of the night and found a flight from Seoul, Korea to Bangkok for less than 100 euro – a bargain, in my sleepy trance, that I simply could not refuse!

Searching for flights on a regular basis would probably be my first tip to those looking for flights – always be on the look-out. Many budget airlines like Air Asia and Ryanair hold last-minute sales that are only available for 48 hours so if you don’t always have one eye on the prize, you will risk missing out.

Tip 2 – Delete those cookies!

Did you know many popular booking websites, including skyscanner, will increase the price of the flights if they know the specific flights you are looking for. Every time you refresh, you may notice the flight price sky-rocketing. You may think, “Oh Crap – If I had booked 10 minutes ago I would have got that deal.” or “Damn, someone booked the flight I wanted and now only the expensive seats are left!”. Wong, wrong, wrong. The airline knows what you want, knows the days you want to fly and each search you type in is being saved and used against you. Each time you log on to SkyScanner, make sure to delete the cookies on your computer. This way, only the cheapest flights will appear and you won’t get tricked into thinking the best deals have already been taken. This simple trick could save you hundreds of dollars!

cookies delete skyscanner

Tip 3 – Never book flights at the weekend

I’m not talking about the day you FLY, I’m talking about the day you actually sit in front of the computer and SEARCH for your flight. Did you know that the cheapest days to book flights are Tuesdays and Thursdays? The airlines release new seats on these days and often there are lots of great bargains to be found. The most expensive time to look for flights is at the weekends because that is when most people have free time and start to plan vacations. Airlines know this and thus hike the price of flights at the weekends. Goodness, they’re a sneaky lot. (Note: this doesn’t ALWAYS apply, see example below, so make sure to play around with your days and dates to find the best option for you).

skyscanner prices

Tip 4 – Be Flexible

Similar to Tip number 3, there are also cheaper days and cheaper dates to fly. Some of these are obvious such as flying on September 11th, Christmas Day or New Years Eve. 3 days that most people in the Western world really, really, REALLY don’t want to travel on. Other days include Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I mean, nobody really wants to leave for a vacation on a Tuesday, do they? If you are willing to fly on these unpopular days, you are guaranteed to find much cheaper flights. On SkyScanner, there is an option to click WHOLE MONTH when choosing the dates you wish to fly. When you pick this option, the website will tell you the cheapest dates to fly.

Skyscanner-flights-search1

Tip 5: Go EVERYWHERE

Not fussed where you go, as long as you get out of  your home country for a few days? Skyscanner will be your new best friend. Whenever I want to go away for a long weekend in Korea, I click the option from Seoul to EVERYWHERE. This means that SkyScanner will tell you the cheapest cities and countries to fly to on the specific dates you are free. Using this great feature has landed me in the Philippines earlier this year and on a solo trip to Japan in October last year. Use this feature, and use it often, and soon you will be traveling to more countries than you ever dreamed possible!

skyscanner-cheap-flights-results

 

Tip 6 – Switch Browsers

I was told recently that flight prices can increase or decrease depending on the browser you are using. Apparently the browser you use can be linked to the computer you own and this can be linked to what kind of income you earn/your social class. For example, if you search for flights using Safari, then you must be a Mac user and are deemed to have more money than someone using Firefox or Chrome. I just did a search using both Safari and Chome, at the exact same time, to test out this method and sadly it did not seem to make a difference. That said, you never know, so no harm in trying, eh?

If anyone has any more tips about booking cheap flights, please leave a comment!

 

 

A Korean Island Escape – Camping on a Deserted Island

5 Jun

When I signed up last-minute to a weekend camping trip on a deserted island off the West coast of Korea last weekend, I had no real idea what to expect.

As some poor unfortunate soul dropped out on the Friday morning, I jumped at the opportunity to take their spot and spend what was predicted to be a scorcher of a weekend camping with 60 other waygooks on an island. Although WinK (When in Korea, a travel group I often go on tours with here in Korea) described this island as having ‘no electricity, no running water’ they also said their would be the chance to see bioluminescent plankton and build a campfire to beat all campfires!’ Sounded like my kind of place!

panorama beach shot

I had less than 5 minutes to pack my bags for the weekend before I ran out the door to work, and spent my lunch break frantically running around HomePlus in search of a tent, snacks to munch on and sufficient alcohol to survive 2 days on a deserted island.Later in the day another friend of mine secured the last spot on the trip, I managed to borrow a tent from a friend and we were al set for the weekend ahead.

After many hours of traveling (4 hours standing on a subway!) Coral and I eventually found the motel we were staying in and joined the group for dinner. I mean, who doesn’t love eating galbi (Korean bbq) at 1 o’ clock in the morning. After a few beers, some shots of soju and talking to both old and new friends, it was time for bed. Despite only getting 2 hours sleep and having to wake up at 5am Saturday morning, I leaped out of bed with a smile on my face and was ready for the journey ahead. We would need to take a bus to the port, a large ferry to a  nearby island and the WinK leader had prepared 3 smaller boats to take us to the private island which would be all ours for the weekend!

group on ferry

peeps on ferry

We waited at the ferry port for about an hour for everyone to arrive and I couldn’t help but laugh when people started cracking open bottles of beer at 7 o’clock in the morning. I followed suit soon enough and the weekend was suddenly off to a fantastic start! The ferry journey was really relaxing, withe everyone sitting up on deck watching seagulls follow the ferry as local Koreans through big chunks of bread off the side of the boat. Beers were drunk, jokes were told and many photographs were taken.

One more, smaller, boat ride later and we arrived at our final destination, Sa Seong Bong Do. Considering the amount of stuff everyone had with them, the half hour walk to the camping spot was a bit painful. If I was to do this trip again I would re-think what i consider ‘essentials’ and pack as light as possible. That said, the people with the most stuff happened to be carrying ice-coolers and canopy to provide shade to the masses, things which would have been greatly missed if left at home!

arriving on deserted island

boat drinking

We were all pretty wrecked, and a little tipsy in my case, by the time we set up camp and pitched out tents. Many decided a quick dip in the sea was needed while others went for a nap. The day was spent playing games on the beach, making new friends, searching for wood for the campfire and relaxing with new friends while sipping on cold sangria and laughing and the ludicrous card combinations turned over in the always-popular ‘Cards against Humanity’!

Later in the day, people started preparing their food for dinner. Turns out just because you are going camping does not need you need to starve yourself. In fact, judging by the food and crazy-innovative ideas thought up by the dozens of other super-prepared campers, I realised that camping food can in fact be bordering on ‘gourmet’ if you are fully prepared.

While I munched on doritos and salsa, apples and a few protein bars, others were cooking steaks (one guy managed to eat more than SIX steaks in a 12 hour period!!), grilling sausages and meat kebabs, wrapping potatoes and a mixture of veggies in tin foil and cooking them over the camp fire. There were smores, breakfast burritos, fried eggs, french toast, potato salads and an array of other things to make your mouth water. Gas cookers, frying pans, saucepans and an array of other cooking utensils that I would never have thought of bringing were on offer, as people cooked up fresh clams, pasta and who knows what else!

sunset

colorful sunglasses

cards against humanity

 

The night was spent playing drinking games, singing along to typical campfire songs and some people braved the cold water in search of the bioluminescent plankton which we had all being told about. Lighting the fire was a pretty amazing moment, as everyone gathered around in a circle, mesmerised by the flames, watching with anticipation for Skofes ‘Bird effigy’ to explode into a Burning Man-esque fireball. Less than a few minutes in and the masterpiece was pretty much ruined, but it sure was fun to watch!

Waking up a little hung over Sunday morning, I crawled out of my tent to see just a few stragglers stil sitting on the beach chatting. I wasn’t too sure whether they had simply woken earlier than I had or they had decided to stay up all night. The campfire was smouldering, the surrounding area was littered with empty bottles and remnants of what had happened the night before but best of all there were half empty bags of marshmallows  scattered about the place. The wonderful Ashley provided us with chocolate biscuits and whoever was awake got treated to delicious smores for breakfast. As they say, the early bird catches the worm!

bonfire

breakfast

seagulls ferry 1

All in all, it was probably one of the best weekend I have had while in Korea. The fact that it was so isolated made it all the more special. In Korea, we are so used to being near to the every-day comforts like toilets, corner stores which never close and restaurants which stay open til the wee hours of the morning. We are surrounded by people, cars, buses, subways and flashing lights on every street corner. It was so great to just get away from city-living, even just for one weekend, to relax on a beach with not a worry in the world and sort of ‘get back to nature’.

If you want to go on this trip, or similar ones, check out the WinK Facebook page for a list of their upcoming events! I would HIGHLY recommend it!

Spring has Sprung

8 Apr

A small taste of the photographs I took last weekend at the Gyeong-Ju Cherry Blossom Festival. No words can fully describe how beautiful spring is in South Korea…even if it only lasts a few weeks!

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Mastering the Travel Selfie in Japan

7 Mar

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Fushimi Inari Shrine – A Sea of Orange

6 Mar

One of the highlights from my trip to Japan last October.

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