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Sunday, June 22, 2014

My favourite travel blogs and websites

As a travel-junkie, obviously I do my own fair share of reading other peoples' blogs and tips for their travels, even when I don't have plans to visit a place it's still brilliant to read them and day-dream about when I might get to visit far-flung (or some nearby places). There are also some websites I check regularly and find very helpful. So, since I have many friends who like to travel almost as much as I do and I thought I'd share them with you.
This is a no-brainer - the cheapest flights I've found, my parents use it and I've recommended it to numerous people. It has lots of options for you to choose from (You can check flights for the whole month or year if you like) time you want to fly, you can exclude certain airlines if you don't like to fly with them. I've been using it now for about 7 years and I'm always stunned that people don't know about it.
Here's a great article about what $1 will buy you in each European country - I don't know why they put  Walkers crisps in Ireland, if you want potato chips in Ireland you must buy Tayto or King. You don't know what you're missing until you eat these, that's a fact. Also, $1 in most Irish supermarkets or Centra/Spar etc will buy you 2/3 sausage rolls - which are brilliant for the hangover you will undoubtedly experience at some point in an Irish trip.
This is a pick-up service from airports around the world. They do offer reasonable rates (I've checked and I've often taken tuks, taxis and buses from airports to the city centre or where I'm staying) and if there are more than one of you it can be good value. It also means that you don't have to worry about negotiating the journey in a foreign language after 14 hours travelling. They'll be waiting for you with a sign. Definitely cheaper than taxis and helpful in places where buses aren't readily available.
If I had known about this! I first heard about Wwoofing when I was in New Zealand and it sounds like a great way to get free food and accomodation whilst travelling, particularly in more expensive countries in Europe or Australia/New Zealand. They also offer stays as short as 4-7  days so you aren't stuck doing something if you really hate it and - in the great tradition of travellers - you might actually learn something! Alternatively you can try for longer stays (usually at least a month) and a wide variety of positions (au-pairing, working in a hostel, helping school-children, photography, marketing). Be very careful about vetting the owners/place though. I thought I had a month sorted in Sri Lanka volunteering at a hostel when the owner hit on me (via Skype). He suggested we have an affair whilst I was there. Needless to say, I turned him down and was lucky enough to find other work, without the site. There are many good projects though and I don't think it's a reflection on the website.
I love this blog. A fellow female traveller, she has done so much that I'm envious of and the layout of the blog makes it very easy to navigate. It's always worth looking up her blog for tips on different places, hotel rooms (for the traveller with a bit of extra cash), places to see, ways to save prior to your trip etc.
Another good article on low-cost airlines. WhichAirline recently did a cost comparison (WITH baggage) with some interesting results. Some budget airlines are excluded from the comparison search engines so this up-to-date article is a handy tool on which airlines websites to visit for the best deals.
I subscribe to Nomadic Matt and I've included a link here to one of his great articles on travelling with no money. For most of us, having no money is a concern of some sort, particularly when we want to get to our next place. Matt scours the net and partners with some travel companies offering great discounts, who are doing the best travel-related deals now on credit cards and other sites and he always has an abundance of helpful info in his emails and articles.

If you like to read about travel, like me, who likes to have a deeper insight into the places I've been or am going to - not just from Lonely Planet, Rough Guide etc - check out Conde Nast's list of travel books.

For places to stay, I always use and I would highly recommend becoming a member on their site. Their ratings are great and always from people who have stayed in a particular place. I vehemently advise against They double-booked me on the one occasion I used them, in Christchurch and I ended up having to pay NZD150 for a room that night, last-minute. The website weren't even apologetic. The reason I was double-booked (along with a few others) was that hostelbookers hadn't sent through the booking forms to the hostel in question until the day I was due to arrive and by that stage they were fully booked. I had a 'confirmed' email in my hand. The staff at the hostel were ever so helpful but two other couples arrived in whilst I was online trying to find somewhere else and the exact same thing had happened to them. I've used hostelworld on approximately 30-40 occasions and nothing like this ever happened.
I met Ansley in a hostel in Kaikoura, New Zealand and we've kept in touch. I subsequently discovered her wonderful photo-blog. She really captures the essence of places on her travels and has photos of some neat little wonders that I have yet to come across. If you are keen on photography and far-flung places you will enjoy this blog.

Here are a couple of app's I have on my phone which I can't do without.
XE Currency - does what it says on the site, converts any currency to another in seconds. Free.
Travel Safe Pro. Emergency numbers for any country you may visit, embassy details and other numbers you might need should you have an emergency far from home. No, a lack of wifi isn't actually considered an emergency. However, if that is your emergency - there is a free app called Wifi Finder to help you.
TripIt - Picks up your flight details, bus details etc and stores them all in a handy format. It also tracks how many miles you've covered and where. You can also add your loyalty programmes to it and it will track those. I found it quite handy.

So there you have my little collection of websites and apps I use on a regular basis that make my life easier and more interesting. If you have any, please let me know as I'm always interested in anything travel-related.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Part SIX -Pub-crawling around the world: The Establishment, Wellington, New Zealand

I arrived in Wellington in the very early hours of Waitangi Day, which is New Zealand's National Holiday but it doesn't inspire the same celebrations as St. Patrick's Day or Australia Day for some reason. Kiwi's are pretty laid-back, maybe that's why?
Windy, but lovely, Wellington

Anyhow, after exploring the windy city of Wellington on this beautiful summers' day in February, joining in the modest celebrations down at the harbour for an hour or two, I decided to find a bar and sample some of the local wine, which I'm told is very similar to the Marlborough region wines.

After a little wander down the street, the Establishment looked promising and were doing $5 glasses of beer and wine for the occasion. It was also the beginning of the Wellington 7's weekends so there was much merriment and rugby-related paraphernalia strewn around the bar.

I settled in at a table with my glass of wine and was immediately pounced upon by some members of "Jay and Flynny's quiet couple." I quickly discovered that Jay and Flynny are local celebrity DJ's (I use the term celebrity loosely here) and participants had won the right do join this big 'ol Waitangi/7's/bank holiday party getting free and special drinks in many of the bars around town. A giant pub-crawl no less :) Each member was sporting a t-shirt with the tag-line (as mentioned above) emblazoned across their chest, which apparently made inebriated members of the party find each-other more attractive. I saw people launch themselves across the bar at each-other, pointing at the t-shirt like it made them part of this great club where they had free access to each-other for random snogs and couplings. I'd wager Jay and Flynny may have been inadvertently responsible for an unplanned pregnancy or two.

Still, I was enjoying the tunes and met some other new friends - the friendliest Frenchman I've ever met (and his girlfriend, so no, that wasn't why he was friendly) who had lived in Wellington for three years and had spotted me on my own (after Jay and Flynny's lot moved on for 'quiet' ones elsewhere). The resident DJ, Shaun, was amping everyone for the rugby 7's with chart tunes and anthems, he even played 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' which proved surprisingly popular and I joined in with the crowd, shamelessly twerking with the rest of them.

A short while later I was back at my table with a fresh glass of wine. A group of lads entered and asked if they could sit at the other side of the table. I agreed and shortly afterward one of them, Danny, started chatting to me. I was beginning to think that Wellington people were just the friendliest in the world when Danny stuttered:
"Er, can I ask you something? It's my stag do and the lads have dares for me and I have to give a girl a lap-dance, would you mind?"
Well, what's a girl to do? I played my part  and even tried to tuck a dollar into his belt. He was mortified, it was all caught on smartphones for posterity and the stags high-fived me and bought me a vino before they left. All in all, I think I did very well out of it. Danny was very grateful and said if I was ever back in Wellington, he and his wife would be happy to accomodate me at theirs. I wasn't quite sure but it certainly reinforced my belief that Wellington people are super-friendly.

After I'd finished my wine, I figured that was quite enough excitement for one night, especially given I had a lovely single room to myself tonight and those are hard to come by whilst back-packing. I also had an early start for the ferry to Picton the next day. I reckon if I was with Jay and Flynny's lot, I'd definitely be still going. Still, it was a very happy and pocket-friendly Waitangi Day for me.

Ambience: 9/10 - The Establishment has a great vibe and the crowd ranged from 20 - 50, definitely a party place.
Price: $5 for wine and beer every day until 8pm - bargain!
Food: Food is available, and the prices were very reasonable ($10 upwards) but I didn't see anyone eating.
Location: Courtenay Place, very easy to find in Wellington.
Toilets: Clean and checked regularly. 
Overall: I had a great night here, I should award bonus points for all the friendly people that approached me! 9.5/10