A Gypsy Guru’s Travel Guide
The first time I ever went on an overseas trip was when I was three months old and I was leaving Auckland, NZ to move to my dads homeland – Penang Island, Malaysia. I lived there just shy of 12 years and in that time my childhood was filled with many amazing South-East Asian adventures.
My mum, who’s kiwi European, also happens to be a descendant of a Romani gypsy queen so you could say that I started out my life with “gypsy genetics.”
I love to travel and I’ve done a fair bit of it in my lifetime. Many moons ago I was a flight attendant and that ignited my lust for far flung adventures and since then I have had some amazing experiences both shared and solo.
One thing I picked up on my travels is that sometimes shit happens, life gives you lemons and you have to quickly adapt and learn what to do with those lemons when you’re a million miles from home, had your wallet stolen and your phone is dead (Yes, this has happened to me in Bangkok on one of my solo backpacking missions, and it’s why I go a little more prepared now by using Booking.com to at least have my accommodation sorted 😉 )
Travelling teaches you a lot about yourself. It teaches you what you’re truly capable of, what your limits are, and how to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It humbles you, breaks you, inspires you and leaves you forever craving more. It’s by far the most addictive thing I’ve ever experienced and I don’t think my case of wanderlust will ever be cured. Heck, I hope not anyway!
Over the years I have picked up a few travel hacks that I thought might be helpful to some of you reading this.
So without further adieu, here are some of my travel tips in no particular order……….
#1 Purchase Travel Minis – I love finding mini versions of toiletries and beauty products so much that sourcing them has almost become a hobby of mine. They free up space and weight in your luggage not to mention they’re adorable. Both Sephora and Mecca Maxima have whole sections both instore and online dedicated to travel sized products. Often you’ll also be able to find some at Pharmacies and even places like K Mart and Farmers. What’s also handy about investing in mini sized versions of your fav essentials is that if you travel frequently you can just have cosmetics and toiletry bags always packed and ready to go instead of having to constantly repack everything. I also prefer to use roll on perfume oils or solid perfume because they’re compact and easy to travel with plus the scent is so much longer wearing when it’s an oil or solid perfume. Here are a few of my favs….
- Dyptique – Philosykos solid perfume
- Kai – “signature scent” perfume oil
- BYREDO – Bal D’Afrique roll on oil
#2 Check for Visas – Before booking flights anywhere, check what the local laws are about entering the country. Places like the USA and now Canada require an electronic Visa that needs to be pre-approved before being allowed to board your flight.
#3 Passport Expiration Date – This sounds basic but make sure your passport expiration isn’t within less than 6 months prior to travel or some countries won’t allow entry. You’d be surprised how often I’ve heard this one happen to friends.
#4 Use Travel Apps – Having a bunch of travel apps loaded on my phone makes organising things before & during my travels so much easier so here are a few of my favs:
- Booking.com is hands down my favourite service when looking for the best hotel deals. I’ve been using them for years and I’m always raving about how fast and easy the booking process is. Adam and I recently did all our hotel bookings through them on our trip through Mexico which made all the last minute travel we were doing so much less stressful. Once you’ve signed up and all your details are on file it’s as simple as clicking on the “book now” option and your confirmation email comes through immediately. I actually have a special discount link at the moment where you can get $40 off your next hotel booking! (I’ve previously done a post on our last Bali trip using Booking.com which you can click here to read)
- A good offline maps app can seriously be your best friend when you have no cell reception. Trust me! I use Google Maps and download maps for offline use before I go.
- With over 300 locations, Culture Trip is an app that’s basically curated by locals for savvy travelers that really want to see and experience things at your chosen destination from a locals perspective Culture Trip
- Pinterest! This might seem random but I use this app on my phone constantly when I am planning a trip. It helps me to thoughtfully curate holiday destination folders where I can pin restaurants I want to visit, images of landmarks or tourist destinations I want to go to and even retail shops I want to shop at. Seriously if you are a visual person, you’ll be hooked!
- To make life easy I also use Google Pay which uses a virtual credit card on my phone to use as payment at all places that accept contactless payments (payWave/Tap&Go etc.). Talk to your bank about setting it up before you go if you need help.
- Something that I never thought of until I had my wallet stolen was having pictures of stored photo ID’s like my drivers licence and passport as a backup to show proof of id when you’re either not carrying any on you, or you’ve misplaced or had it stolen. For added security don’t sync these photos to the cloud and keep them in an encrypted folder on your phone!
#5 Use Seat Guru to help you when you’re booking a flight and you want to try and select the best possible seats on the aircraft. You can type in the flight number and it will automatically show you what type of aircraft it will be, the seating layout and explain which seats have more legroom, which are closest to the toilets etc. We use it all the time because at 6ft5, Adam needs all the extra legroom he can get!
#6 Pre-book a Flight Meal – I hate waiting for meal service to commence during a flight and if you’re seated in the back section by the time the flight attendants arrive at your seat your meal choice is often no longer available! Something I have done for a long time now is prior to flying I put in a special meal request online. If you request a special meal, whether it’s vegetarian, gluten free, kosher, hindu etc, putting in a special meal request insures that you will be served that meal before the crew commences the full meal service. So you can enjoy your meal, kick back and relax whilst everyone else around you is still starving and asking the flight attendant why you got special treatment.This happens a lot btw! haha
#7 Invest in a good portable luggage scale/weigher! Between all the camera and tech gear Adam and I pack for work shoots and my shopping habit, it can make things extra tricky when different airlines have drastically different luggage weight restrictions. For example, Air New Zealand is 23kgs per bag whereas Qantas is 32kg. So having a portable weigher has been incredibly handy for us especially during long trips where we fly to heaps of different destinations on different airlines.
#8 Book a Rental Car Away from the Airport – If you are wanting to book a rental car during your holiday and are trying to save money, consider catching a taxi or Uber to a more centrally located rental car business as the same rental car places can be at least 25% more expensive when booking directly from the airport due to airport fees. On our recent trip to Brisbane we rented a car for about 12 days and saved a ton of money by choosing to rent a car from a place in the city and were still able to return it at the airport drop off on our way home.
#9 Packing Cells/Cubes – These are my obsession and I’ve managed to convince quite a few of my friends to use them as well over the years. Seriously they make packing a breeze and transform your suitcase into a beautifully organised space. You’ll never find yourself frantically rummaging through your luggage searching for things because the packing cells allow you to organise things into different compartments. Most of mine are from my Japanese obsession, MUJI but I have also bought some from a Kathmandu sale as well as a travel luggage store in Auckland. Here are some I found online that you can purchase….. Kathmandu Packing Cells and Travel Store Packing Cubes
#10 Download TV Shows and Books – For long waits or in flight (hard copies of books can come in handy in areas where use of electronic devices are not permitted – like crazy long customs/immigration lines at LAX that nearly break you!) I usually just download a bunch of Netflix shows/movies prior to travelling so in case the inflight entertainment choices are crappy I have my back up. This is also handy if you can’t read without getting car sick and you’re stuck in an Uber during peak hour traffic and are too tired to have a d&m with the driver after a long haul flight!
#11 Speaking of Uber – Make sure you have the app downloaded on your phone and update the contact number details when you get to a new destination. Use Uber where it’s available instead of local taxis as it’s cheaper, safer and often when you’re in an Asian country like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia it saves you the hassle of having to haggle with the driver about prices or falling victim to one of those annoying meter scams a lot of them run.
#12 Survival Kits – I also like to make sure I always pack a mini medical kit when I travel. It always contains a mini pack/bottle of tylenol/nurofen or panadol, sticking plasters – because blisters, a small bottle of disinfectant or tea tree oil as sometimes a random scratch or cut can get infected, electrolyte sachets (have you ever had a stomach bug in the tropics?? Not fun!!), antacids, travel friendly probiotic capsules that don’t need to be refrigerated and hayfever allergy pills.
#13 International Drivers Licence – A lot of countries won’t accept your local drivers licence alone and will require an international licence as well before you are legally able to drive in their country. You can either visit your local AA centre or do it online. It costs $20 and you’ll just need your full drivers licence and a passport headshot.
#14 Instagram – An amazing tool when you want to do a bit of investigative research into what a destination actually looks like in “real time/life” vs the way it might look in a holiday brochure or a hotel website. What I like to do is click on the location tag or certain hashtags like #tulum and then make sure I’m looking at “most recent” images. This means I get to see exactly what the weather is like there, if the beach still looks swimmable or its covered in garbage, if a well known restaurant or cafes food actually looks good in normal photos and not just on an influencer’s page (you know the drill!) I find using the gram fro travel research is one of my fav ways to help me decide on places to see and things to do whilst travelling.
#15 Pack Snacks! – I love my food and I hate getting caught out when Adam and I are travelling and we can’t find healthy decent food that meets our needs. I am gluten sensitive and both Adam and I switched to a plant based diet (we still eat the occasional bit of seafood and dairy) over a year ago so we have had to be a lot more organised with our food choices whilst travelling. I literally have a mini cooler bag that I use and a packing cell that I use to fill with all sorts of options. Things that contain clean ingredients, are gluten free and fuss free. For example, packs of mixed raw nuts, mini packs of olives, travel packs of our fav plant based protein powder, crackers or gf pretzels, packs of nut butter, small tins of line caught tuna in olive oil and if I’m using my mini cooler bag I will fill it with a bunch of fresh veggie crudites (cucumber, red peppers, radishes, carrot, celery etc),fruit, hummus and maybe a hard cheese. Adam often makes fun of me for being this snack obsessed but then he’ll be the first one to ask me “have we got any snacks?” whilst on the road! *rolls eyes.
#16 Split Credit Cards and keep some US dollars (this seems to be the most popular universal currency to travel with) in a hidden location amongst your belongings so that if you lose your wallet or fall victim to pick pocketing etc you aren’t left completely penniless.
#17 GET TRAVEL INSURANCE! – When Adam and I were recently in a place called San Miguel De Allende (Mexico) we were on this beautiful horse trek in the middle of nowhere and I was stupidly trying to capture it on my phone when I suddenly dropped it and it smashed on some rocks. Yes a small piece of me died that day BUT, this is why we always have travel insurance so that things like this are covered. We actually use the travel insurance that comes with our Air New Zealand Airpoints Platinum Mastercard from Kiwibank, which we’ve found to be the best deal around for insurance and earning Airpoints on our purchases, double win!
#18 Get a local SIM card – I rely on my phone a lot, it’s a huge integral part of my work and when I’m travelling it’s basically how I plan all our travel arrangements. Not all countries are created equal when it comes to the purchasing of a data plan and sim card. Some you land in and can choose from a bunch of different counters at arrivals that sell great data packages and sims and will install them for you and make sure they’re working on the spot. Other countries I’ve visited like Canada, Japan, South Korea etc are not so simple and have had no services like this at the airport when I’ve visited. This gets tricky and can sometimes be a nightmare trying to track down a shop or provider that will sell you a prepaid sim. So my tip here, is to google ahead of time so you know what to expect, where to get the best price/deal and be as organised as possible so that when you land you’re not left for a long period of time without data and scrambling to find a solution.
#19 Pack an “Emergency Kit” in your Carry-On that sees you through unexpected situations like your luggage going missing or being stranded in transit for long periods of time due to a natural disaster or bad weather conditions. Things like basic toiletries, extra amounts of your prescription meds if you take any. I have clinical depression and have to take a prescribed antidepressant every day so always make sure I’ve packed extra in my carry on luggage to avoid getting stuck somewhere without my meds. A clean change of comfy clothes,or at least clean underwear is also something you’ll be glad you thought to pack if you’re suddenly stuck in transit because your connecting flight is cancelled or delayed. Trust me, I have needed my emergency survival kit more times than not. Thank me later! 😉