Travel gadgets on my radar in 2019

The year has just begun and for most people travel is on the brain.

I’m no different really. I’ve been planning my trips for this year since the latter half of 2018 and while nothing is confirmed just yet, it looks like I have a pretty decent lineup so far.

I had originally wanted to do a travel gift guide for Christmas but obviously, I missed that deadline so ‘Travel Gadgets I want to get in 2019’ was the next best thing.

Like most travellers, I LIVE for a good travel gadget, and I’ve come across a few in my last few years of travel that has become an integral part of my packing list.

Here are some of the gadgets I am hoping to add to my arsenal this year, and some I’ll just be lusting after from afar.

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Hanging Gonex Toiletry Bag

I have stayed in enough hostels to know that a hanging toiletry bag is life. Right now I’m using a toiletry bag that I think I’ve had for over 12 years and it’s holding up well but it’s time for a re-up.

I like this one from Gonex because it’s black (duh) and compact but has a ton of compartments for me to separate the ridiculous amount of toiletries I carry with me when I travel.

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GoPro HERO7

This is one of the items I’ll be lusting after until I can justify spending $400 USD to capture videos I never post anywhere.

I bought my first GoPro in 2016, ahead of my first solo trip to Thailand. The GoPro Session 4 was around $200 USD at the time and I had planned to create these awesome travel videos so it made perfect sense then to get it.

Three years later and I’m older and wiser now and appreciate that the only reason I’d be getting this upgrade is for the screen on the back.

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SANDMARC Roll-Up Case for GoPro Hero 7

Again with the GoPro items. Right now my GoPro and accessories are in various baggies, which makes keeping them organised pretty difficult. As a result, I often end up leaving gear home or losing it in my luggage and never using it. I’m hoping this roll-up case will help with that.

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Multi- Travel Wallet

I love my current passport case as it’s super thin and sleek but I am intrigued by this Amazon top seller. While I don’t need a new passport case, I’ll be getting this purely for variety.

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Trivium Duffel

So I like to travel light. However, a problem arises when I travel very compact to a country then realise the shopping is BOMB af. Where will I put all my new treasures? Well, when I went to Thailand I ended up buying a whole other suitcase, but since I am now living a minimalist life (ha), I won’t be operating on that extreme again.

I’ve found a happy medium in carrying foldable bags that expand into carry-on sized duffels or backpacks. I like this duffel especially because you can adjust the bag to suit the amount of goods you need to lug back home.

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Travel Steamer

To appreciate this selection you need to know two things about me:

  1. I am a woman obsessed with steaming my clothes and prefer to buy clothing that steams easily versus having to iron it
  2. I almost always pack clothing that’s bound to get wrinkled in transit. I’m just not a wrinkle-free clothing kinda gal

So enter this portable steamer. Full disclosure, I already own a portable steamer – in fact, I may even own two – but I find it too bulky to travel with when I’m opting for carry-on only. This steamer appears to be a bit more compact and the reviews are positive.

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goTenna Mesh

So this is a bit of a random selection. I first discovered this when searching for a GPS/Geolocation device to give my dad for his hunting trips (he’s gotten separated from his group before with no cell service and basically just a great set up for a lost-in-the-woods saga). 

Basically, goTenna – sold as a pair – is two off-grid SMS & GPS devices that pair with any phone. Once paired with their respective phones, the persons with the goTenna devices can transmit messages to each other without a cellular network. 

Outside of using it to keep my dad from getting lost, I thought this could be useful for people who don’t opt for a sim when in a foreign country, or, even better, for folks heading on a cruise who want to stay in touch without buying the wifi plans on offer.

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Trtl Pillow Plus

I feel like I buy a new travel pillow every couple months, especially if I’m preparing for a long haul flight. The newest travel pillow on my radar is the yet-to-be-released upgrade to the massively popular Trtl pillow. I actually never got the Trtl pillow for one main reason – I overheat, and one of the prevailing criticisms of that pillow (and there were not many) was that the fleece fabric ran warm. I can guarantee you it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to sleep with my neck feeling warm, so I never purchased it.

This Trtl Plus, though, addresses that issue by incorporating a lighter, more breathable fabric than its predecessor. I’m hoping this gets released by February so I can try it in time for my trip in April.

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Scrubba

Travelling light means washing clothes in transit. I remember washing my underwear in a very undignified manner in my hotel in Patagonia, willing the thing to dry before I checked out the next day.

This Scrubba wash bag allegedly gives your clothes a machine-quality wash in just three minutes. That eliminates having to find a way to stop up your hotel or hostel sink to wash your dirty clothes in the middle of your trip. Bonus item – these laundry detergent strips save you having to carry or buy laundry detergent powder on your journey.

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Away The Bigger Carry-On

To be clear – I in no way need new luggage…but how NOT to get caught up in the hype around Away luggage? I swear every travel podcast, magazine or blog I follow mentions this brand so I need to see what all the hype is about.

Considering I got my whole luggage set for $150US or thereabouts, it’s going to take some significant momentum (or a sale) for me to spend $245 on a single carry-on.

The lifetime (limited) warranty does help soften the blow though. They’ll repair major damage to the suitcase for as long as you both roll across the earth.

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Cenote-hopping in Mexico

I can’t remember exactly when my fascination with cenotes began.

Actually, that’s a lie. It was when my friend Veesha went to Mexico in 2015 and posted the wildest photos of these underground water-filled lairs that looked like something out of a Guillermo del Toro flick.

Since then, I knew that if I ever went to Mexico, I would have to see these geological wonders for myself, and maybe, if I was brave enough, even take a dip in one.

The opportunity presented itself this August when I deliberately booked a Carnival cruise for my boyfriend and I that stopped in Mexico.

At first, browsing the shore excursions on the Carnival website, I assumed we would end up in some ancient ruins, climbing mind-boggling man-made structures in the sweltering heat and jungle steam.

Then, I saw it. A cenote-hopping tour.

Well, I’ll be damned.

It was an easy choice for me – reviews on most of the tours to the ruins confirmed my worst fears – long commute to and from, crowded, and very little face time with the actual structures. Not my idea of a day well-spent.

The cenote tour, on the other hand, promised a visit to four different cenotes, plus lunch!

My boyfriend went along with it only, I learned on the day because he didn’t expect to have to go into the water (more on this later).

On the day we docked in Cozumel, Mexico, we took a roughly 30-minute ferry to the mainland, disembarking at Playa del Carmen – a posh beachfront lined with hotels, restaurants, shops and a healthy heaping of sargassum seaweed.

Our guide, Martin, was a blast. It would be around an hour by bus to our destination of Tankah Village – a private compound inhabited by descendants of the Mayans, villagers who maintained the cultures and traditions of their forefathers as much as possible.

Martin explained that the site itself only opened up to tourists around 6 months before we arrived, and that part of the money we spent on the tour would go towards running electricity to the village.

We visited four cenotes on the compound – Cenote Piranas (not the best name for a body of water, IMO), Cenote Cueva, Cenote Naval and Cenote Azul.

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Cenote Piranas

Piranas was a good ease into the cenote experience – freezing cold water, possibly around 20 feet deep with a cavernous mouth you could easily jump off of into the water about 10 feet below. This particular cenote had a blowhole further back, under the rocky outcrop you see in the photo. So you could swim into the darkness then look up at your friends on solid ground, but since the cavern seemed to be teeming with bats I passed on that epic photo op because fuck bats. This was probably the most creature-filled cenote since there were also heaps of little fish that were nibbling on your feet, allegedly giving you a pedicure but who knows, maybe they were baby piranhas.

Brandon isn’t a fan of bodies of water where you can’t see the bottom so I didn’t get him to venture too far into this cenote. Clearly, I need to work on my peer pressure skills. He did climb down the stairs though and got a mini pedicure from the fish before he was like nah, fuck this.

Once we left Piranas we headed to La Cueva. This cenote had a zipline running across it, and for the more adventurous, you could swing yourself across before dropping into the water below. Of course, your girl was out here zipping around in the people cenote. Other than the zipline there wasn’t too much excitement around this particular cenote.

Brandon mostly hung out on the dock and recorded me dropping into the water like a big heavy stone. We took a minute to observe one girl in our group being egged on to jump into the water from the surrounding wall, and she was getting visibly upset in the process. Fun fact guys – people are allowed to enjoy themselves however they see fit. Traumatising members of your party into doing things they aren’t comfortable with really isn’t the best approach to a great time in a foreign country.

After La Cueva, we walked about five minutes to the next location – a cenote we wouldn’t be swimming in, but ziplining across in a harness.

This was Cenote Naval, and while we weren’t allowed to swim there (I presume due to ancient water creatures dwelling within) we did get to canoe across the cenote to get to our next location. Pro tip: sit up front and let your boyfriend who used to be on a dragon boat team do all the work.

One we disembarked rather precariously from our canoes, we walked to the next cenote – and the crowning glory of the compound – Cenote Azul.

Talk about an appropriate (even if not super creative) name. Wow oh wow was this water pristine and a strikingly blue (and cold).

You could literally see to the bottom of this particular cenote without even needing goggles (so I wasted my money renting goggles since this was the only cenote worth peering into anyway). And this is how I managed to cajole Brandon into getting into the water to frolic for a bit.

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Brandon enjoying Cenote Azul

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Me, trying to mimic those cool Instagram travel models

For the duration of our stay at Cenote Azul, one member of our group (a different woman from the one before) stood at the edge of the cliff trying to muster up the courage to jump in. She literally stood there for the entire time we were there, and never jumped, and she didn’t get to swim in the water below at all. Seems like a good metaphor for travel, or life in general.

Anyway, once we said goodbye to Cenote Azul, it was time for lunch!

Some of our group stopped for a tequila tasting on the way to lunch but we opted to head straight on to the grub.

The menu was simple but very delicious – chicken pibil, pork, rice and beans and fresh salad. You also had the choice of salsa rojo or verde. On each table was a little clay pot filled with freshly made corn tortillas (like so fresh they were literally making them as we were eating).

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Lunch was washed down with a cup of piping hot Mexican coffee.

After we ate Martin guided us through some of the homes in the village so we could see how the people in Tankah lived. The village is currently working towards getting electricity so for now, they use car batteries to power whatever they need to in their homes.

When you’re on a cruise and only have one day to spend in a country it can be tough choosing how to spend that time. I think we chose the best possible experience given the time constraints – able to experience some of the Mayan Riviera’s natural wonders as well as observe the life of the people indigenous to the area, who remain something of a world apart from the tourist-laden beach fronts.

I’ll be back to Mexico in the near future, but for now, the cenotes at Tankah Village will keep that vibrant country vivid in my memory of my travels in 2018.

 

What Bali cost me

I don’t sell drugs.

I fund all of my trips myself (no sugar daddy in sight).

I am not SUPER rich (God I wish).

While I’m not a “budget” traveler per se, and I don’t always adhere to my budget, one thing I try to stick to is visiting places that are either 1) relatively cheap to get to 2) have a relatively low cost of living so my dollar goes a long way.

Reason # 2 is probably why countries in south-east Asia are my favourite travel destinations to date. Pricy sometimes (and difficult always) to get to, but once you land, totally worth it, trust me.

It has come to my attention, through a very scientific Instagram poll, that a lot of people opt out of travelling to Asia because they think it’s too expensive a destination.

I could weep.

Because while the plane ticket to get there might be a decent chunk of change (I’d say cater $1500USD per person for most destinations), once you land, you have infinitely more price flexibility where accommodation, dining, experiences, and shopping are concerned.

In order to demonstrate this, I decided to share with you guys what my trip to Bali set me back. I’m omitting the cost of Vietnam and Cambodia because I don’t think I stayed long enough in either location to give a comprehensive idea of cost of life (but if you do have questions about either country I’m happy to share what I do know).

The costs cited here are in TT Dollars.

My return ticket to NYC from Trinidad and Tobago cost me $1,136.00 (I used my miles for this leg of the journey, so the cost reflected here is the taxes I had to pay). Signing up for a miles reward programme through a credit card or through an airline is a great idea and I wish I had done it sooner. The great thing about my current miles programme (I have a Scotia Aero Rewards Visa card) is that I’m not tied down to one airline, and there are NO blackout dates for travel (I just have to book at least 14 days before I plan to travel).

In terms of my return to NYC, I have to note that I actually travelled to Bali from NYC, but returned to NYC via Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam because I travelled from Bali to Cambodia to Vietnam. That ticket cost $7,440.04. Generally, though, I’ve checked some of the more affordable months and the cost of a return ticket to and from Bali will run you around this or even less if you’re willing to try the cheapest airline. I had my heart set on flying Korean Air because I travelled with them to Thailand two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the in-flight experience so I insisted on going with them again. I could have shaved about $1000 off of this cost if I was willing to fly with someone else.

Accommodation is something I am pretty flexible with. I can stay in a hotel one night, a hostel another and a homestay the next and be extremely happy with my choices. My requirements are pretty basic – be clean, and have a/c. Everything else is negotiable.

I didn’t use Airbnb in Bali. I booked all my accommodation on booking.com for a few reasons: I found that a lot of the accommodation listed on Airbnb was also on booking.com at comparable prices. Because I book through booking.com frequently, I have “Genius” status, meaning I get 10% off the cost of many hotels, as well as the option of early check-in and late check-out at some hotels. It was the best choice for my schedule in Bali.

I got into Bali on a Sunday night. Ubud, where I planned to base for most of my trip was about an hour and a half away from the airport, so I opted to stay at a hotel closer to the airport for the night, in an area called Seminyak. I stayed at a chain hotel – Harris – which set me back $200.

Once I got to Ubud, I checked into what I’d consider the most luxurious of all my accommodation for my trip, Adiwana Arya Villas and Residences in Ubud was my home for four nights, costing me $338.50 per night inclusive of breakfast. The only major downside to this accommodation was the distance from the town. I had to get transportation to and from every day, but the hotel had a free scheduled shuttle service, which I used as often as I could. Because I knew I wanted to stay outside of the town centre for the first few days, I specifically looked for a hotel with a free shuttle service into town so I could save on transportation costs.

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My room at Adiwana Arya Residences

When I left Adiwana, I headed to another island, Flores, to dive and trek Komodo National Park for the weekend. While this isn’t Bali, I’m still including the cost as I think anyone headed to Bali should make a pit stop to the Komodo National Park if they can.

The return flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, Flores, was $645.84. I stayed in a private room in a dive hostel near the port – Dragon Dive Komodo Hostel – for three nights, which cost me $275.10 a night for my stay. Now, this is pricy by hostel standards. If you’re willing to stay in shared rooms at a hostel you can get spots as low as $60 a night. As a solo female traveller though, I opt only for private rooms in hostels, ideally with an en-suite bathroom but I will share a bathroom if necessary.

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Heading off to dive Komodo National Park

Back in Bali, I stayed one night in Kuta, which is an area near the airport again, and that hotel cost $188.34.

Once I got back to Ubud, I checked in to an inn (which is like a bed and breakfast, Bali style) Gatra Ubud Inn, which turned out to be my cheapest accommodation for my entire stay, costing just $120.51 a night inclusive of breakfast.

All the necessary travel and accommodation expenses for my two-week Indonesia trip came up to just over $12,000.

As for any additional expenses – my travel insurance for my entire three-week trip cost $1022.73. Bear in mind that this includes my visit to Vietnam and Cambodia as well, plus, I took the Explorer option on World Nomads so my scuba diving could be covered. A basic package for two weeks travel will cost less.

Food and drink in Bali were ridiculously affordable. The average cost of an entree in a top-rated restaurant was around $40 – $50. 

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Enjoying some crispy duck at Bebek Tepi Sawah Restaurant & Villas. Cost the equivalent of $46

Transport was also very cheap. A 1 1/2 hour taxi to Ubud from Bali’s airport run me between $120 – $140. To get around Ubud and Kuta I used motorcycle taxi and the most I paid for any trip was $6. That was the 20-minute ride back to Adiwana from the town centre. Most trips within the city centre cost less than $3.

I didn’t do many tours while in Bali but the ones I did do were full-day private tours in an air-conditioned vehicle and included a personal guide and entrance fees to major sites and cost between $355 to $400.

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At the Goa Gajah aka Elephant Cave in Bali – one of the stops on my day tour.

You can find cheaper tours if you’re travelling in a group or open to joining a group.

So there you have it, now you know all my business.

I fully acknowledge this is not a cheap vacation by any stretch, but I hope you were at least a little bit pleasantly surprised by what it cost me to travel to this jewel in south-east Asia.

Travel to far-flung destinations doesn’t have to break the bank, it just requires patience when planning, flexibility and above all else, an open mind.

Right now I’m toying with the idea of starting a vacation-planning or consultancy service to help other people make their bucket-list destinations a reality.

What do you guys think? Is something like that worth exploring?

Let me know in the comments!

The case for taking a break

I need a break.

At the beginning of this year, I was working out every single day. Work was demanding – juggling a schedule with limited resources and an abundance of coverage to be done (I work in the media, for those of you who don’t know).

I got sick on Carnival Friday and it took me about two weeks to recover fully.

I knew by Ash Wednesday that I needed a time out. Desperately.

Easter is usually the time I travel, because why use 10 vacation days when you can use 8? I got the rare luxury of getting three weeks vacation approved this year, so I was originally planning to spend two weeks traversing Vietnam and one week in Cambodia.

However, the more I considered this plan, the more I realised I was starting to dread my vacation.

My holidays are rarely ‘relaxing’ in the typical sense. I try to pack a lot into a short space of time and I tend to do activities that are moderately physically demanding.

When you’re in a wild, vast land like Peru for just 12 days, it means you may have to spend the night on an overnight bus, hours after climbing three and a half hours one way to 4600 metres to spend 15 minutes at the edge of a glacial lake.

The face of someone who’s not entirely sure it was worth it

Or perhaps you decide to go kayaking in a sea kayak for the first time on an extremely chilly and windy day in Patagonia, Chile.

You catch my drift, right? I am #teamoverdo when it comes to my vacations. Also, #teamfirstworldproblems

After the last couple months I’d had, the thought of sleeping on buses, trains and boats, piling myself and my backpack into small, inconvenient spaces, maybe trekking through jungles and other miscellaneous terrains (because who the hell knows?) was giving me serious anxiety.

Why just visit Machu Picchu when you can CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN BEHIND IT!!! (maniacal laughter)

At that point, I considered something radical. Why not book a relaxing vacation?

Like a…lounge by the pool, stay in reading all day, take leisurely walks, lay out on a beach, do some shopping kind of vacation?

I consulted with my friend Shanya (@baglady_basics) who happened to be in Vietnam while I was making the decision about what to do.

She advised me to look more closely at Indonesia. So to the Lonely Planet I went and everything I read about the place seemed right up my relaxation agenda.

I settled on making Bali my main stay for two weeks, because if you can’t take it easy in Bali then what the hell are you doing?

I also figured as long as I was on that side of the world I may a well go to Cambodia and Vietnam anyway, but just brief stops in each country.

So, I now have no idea what I’m doing with the next two weeks of my life.

Ok that’s a bit dramatic…

I’m accustomed to planning every detail of my holiday down to the hour. I know where I’m going to eat every day of the week and if I’m feeling particularly neurotic I’ve read the menus and already know what I’m eating for every meal too.

But alas, Indonesia will not be getting this treatment.

So far I know where I’m staying for the first 7 days of my trip (I’ll be there for 14 days) and know that I’m heading to Komodo Island to trek and dive next weekend.

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Beyond that…everything is pretty murky.

I’m surprised by how relaxed I am about this to be honest.

Who are you Imposter Belix?

Real talk though… I’ve decided I need to let go of this idea that I have to have every minute of my vacation accounted for, that my days have to be packed with activities to the point where I’m falling into bed exhausted every night, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again.

I read and posted about traveller’s guilt a few weeks ago and how it can impede your ability to make good decisions as it pertains to your overall wellbeing while on vacation.

Sometimes (all the time) I feel this overwhelming obligation to do every and all things possible while on vacation because when will I be here again? When will I get to do this again in my life? When I have a screaming toddler nipping at my heels and sucking me dry of all my disposable income? (JK, I fully intend to rear my lil homie (my nickname for my imaginary child) to be a mad chill traveller and very hipster-woke-minimalist from birth).

I digress.

I treat every trip I make to a new country like it’s the one and only time I’ll be there so I have to make it count.

But what does ‘make it count’ mean? And why can’t it mean lots of different things?

To be honest I also feel a sense of obligation to anyone with even the most remote interest in my travels (especially the women) to show them all the amazing experiences and sights and sounds and tastes of the places I go to so maybe it’ll inspire them to buy the ticket they’ve been putting off buying.

Think of all the elephant butts you could be watching

All that said, I didn’t intend for this to be a long post.

I just wanted to say it’s ok to take a break from what everyone expects you to do, and what you expect yourself to do. It’s cool to go somewhere far and not tick all the boxes…maybe you’ll turn the page over and see a shit ton of boxes you missed before.

Less intense and demanding but maybe just as rewarding boxes.

For now, my loose itinerary involves wandering some rice paddies, fighting off mosquitoes, getting a massage everyday, smelling everything (it’s wild how strongly my memories of my vacations are tied to smell), having long leisurely meals with a beautiful view and running from Komodo dragons and active volcanoes (sorry Mom).

Let’s see how this goes.

Follow my Instagram @CeolaB for all the adventures (or to see me doing a lot of nothing at all).

My not-so-obvious travel check list

So you’re getting ready for a trip! Maybe it’s solo, maybe it’s with a group, but regardless there are a few things you need to check before you go, especially if you’re going somewhere that lies off the beaten path of the US or Europe.

I got the idea for this blog after my friend Val randomly decided he was going to India and wanted some tips. I mean India requires a different level of preparation than most destinations but the idea is the same:

1. Visa and passport

Do you need a visa? If yes, what’s the processing time? Do you need to show proof of any immunisations (another point) in order to apply?
If you don’t require a visa, how long are you allowed to stay in the country without a visa? Do you require a minimum number of months validity on your passport to enter the country?

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2. Immunisations and medication

Check the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) website to see if there are any mandatory immunisations you need to get and what’s the timeframe within which you need them and any subsequent boosters. If there are no mandatory immunisations, consult your doctor to see if there are any recommended immunisations.
Depending on the part of the world you’re headed to you may also want to consider taking your own medication for illnesses commonly experienced when travelling (travellers diarrhoea for example) or illnesses unique to your destination. Consult your doctor or your pharmacist for recommendations.

3. Travel insurance

Travel insurance is probably pretty easy to overlook until you need it. Luckily I’ve never had to use mine ever (knock on wood) but I always feel better about having it.
I use a really great provider called World Nomads which is underwritten by BUPA (my dad says they’re solid) and covers all manners of sin.
There is a basic package that is well…pretty basic…and an ‘explorer’ option that covers more extreme activities as well as compensation in the event of a potential hijacking, so this is obviously the one I take.
They also give you the option to donate $2 to various charities when you check out.

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4. Embassies, consulates etc

If you’re travelling somewhere new and far away, it’s a good idea to do some research as to whether there’s an embassy/consulate of your country in that country, and if not, locate the closest one. Record the address and number in case you may need it.
Also worth asking around to see if anyone has any contacts in the country, official or otherwise.
So if something really bad happens you at least have a number to call that’s closer than your mom (or another responsible parental figure) halfway across the world.

5. Offline maps and languages

There are two map apps I use when travelling, the ubiquitous Google Maps and Here. Both allow you to download offline maps of specific areas. Here allows you to download an entire country while Google Maps lets you get very granular with the area you download.
Google Translate allows you to download languages offline. For languages with other alphabets, you can use the image scanner to decipher the alphabet and give you a visual translation. I should mention though when I used this in Japan it wasn’t perfect by any stretch.

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6. Currency

Time to do some research on the currency situation in your destination of choice. What’s the recommended mode of getting local money? Are you converting USD (good luck with finding any USD in this Forex desert)? If yes, then you need to research the availability of cambios or money exchanges in the cities you’re visiting. One highly recommended mode is ATM withdrawals. No USD required and you pay a one-off fee per transaction, so my recommendation is to withdraw as much as possible, or necessary, in one go. Don’t take it for granted that the town you’re headed to has an abundance of ATMs though – one town I visited in Chile had all of three. Make sure you call your bank and let them know you’re travelling so they put a travel notice on your account. This will avoid any embarrassing and inconvenient blocking of your cards while abroad.

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So there you have it – the foundation for a successful, relatively stress-free trip. Whatever comes after this is just icing on the cake. I’ll get into gadgets, gear and apparel in another post and maybe show you what I take with me on different types of trips (aim high Ceola…)

Hope I gave you some homework to do for your next trip!

 

 

7 things I learned (so far) travelling in South America

It’s only been two years now that I’ve been dipping a toe in the ocean of experiences on offer in our closest neighbouring continent. On my own I’ve only visited Colombia, Peru and now Chile but I’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way that I think can be applied to most travelling situations.

1) Not everyone speaks English

Native English-speakers often make the (arrogant) assumption that most persons in foreign countries speak at least some English. I know I did. The immigration officer in Colombia’s Medellin Airport quickly proved me wrong though, as have a vast number of denizens of South America since.
Last year in Peru I took an entire cycling tour in Spanish because my guide spoke not a lick of English.

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These guys no hablan el inglés, but were great nonetheless 🙂

It turned out fine because my understanding of Spanish is vastly better than my speaking ability, but it was a valuable experience for me as a traveller. I’ve noticed that in both Peru and Chile, a large number of people on the tours are actually locals, or from neighbouring countries. Therefore it makes some sense that English isn’t a requirement to work in the tourism sector in this part of the world. I will say though that MOST of my tour guides have been able to speak some English, but I’ve had to improvise along the way when it comes to ordering food, buying anything anywhere, conversing with fellow tourists, etc. While I encourage learning a few key phrases in the language of the place you’re visiting, Google Translate (download your language of choice offline) is essential for excursions to South America.

2) Skip the capital

Ok ‘skip the capital’ is a little drastic, I mean you could stand to spend like a day in capital cities, of course, but in my experience so far, you wouldn’t miss it if you did pass it up. I’ve had my richest and most memorable experiences outside of the capital cities in the countries I’ve been to (and not just in South America).

Learning from my experience with Lima last year (i.e., bored out of my mind after one day) I opted to only spend one full day in Santiago at the end of my trip. I’ll use that time to visit some museums (Santiago seems to have a really vibrant art and museum culture) and eat some food and then get the hell out of dodge.

3) Do a food tour

I’m a firm believer that the best way to get to know a country and its people is through food. I make it a point to do at least one food tour in every country I go to. Food tour guides have also proven to be the most comprehensive, holistic ambassadors for the country, because food has its roots in every single aspect of life – from culture, to religion, to the economy and class divisions. It was a food tour guide who took me to temples in Thailand and then in Japan, and explained the prayers and rituals they have there.
It was food tours that took me down lanes and alleys traversed mostly by locals, giving valuable insight into daily habits and ways of life in the countries I was visiting.

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Ceviche in Peru (along with a few varieties of corn, which Peru has by the hundreds, maybe thousands)

If you only do one tour in a foreign country, I strongly recommend you do a food tour, but make sure your belly is up to the challenge.

4) Less is more

If you told me even a year ago that I would not only own a backpack, but I would be using it to traipse up and down Chile, I’d be like ‘Ok weirdo, you don’t know me AT ALL!’

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My sexy Osprey Porter 46 😍

Some people balk at the idea of backpacking. God knows I did. It’s definitely not for everyone – packing minimally for a few weeks of travel. But there are certain advantages to having nothing but a backpack when traveling – like when you have to climb a few flights of stairs cause the hotel or hostel you’re at has no lift and you’re on the top floor. Or when you’re rushing to catch a bus and can run like the wind because you don’t have a suitcase to yank along behind you. Not having to wait at a luggage belt or deal with lost luggage. And the list goes on. It challenges you to be resourceful and versatile.

I washed all my underwear and thermals in a hotel sink last week and HOPED to the heaven above it would all dry before I had to check out the following day. It did. Thank God.
My scarf on my Chile trip is actually a Turkish towel I got in a subscription box and I carried it because it’s a versatile item – scarf, sarong, light blanket or towel (of course).

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Plot twist – it’s a towel!

Packing light forces you to be economical with space and weight, and you’ll always be pleasantly surprised how much you don’t need to carry with you.

Some blogs I read recommended just buying toiletries in your destination, instead of loading up your luggage with them. If you’re not comfortable with no toiletries at all, buy some travel-sized bottles and decant your must-have potions accordingly.

Packing cubes have become travel essentials for me and I use them even when I’m not using a backpack. They help keep your clothing compact, separate and easy to find.

If you’re travelling somewhere temperate, I’ve tried and tested the Uniqlo Heattech line and found it to be toasty warm when you need it to be, but extremely thin and light weight. Pair it with the Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket – also super packable – for extra warmth.

5) Functional wifi is a luxury, not a right

One thing I’ve had to get very comfortable with when travelling in South America is a lack of connectivity.
While it was very easy to get wifi or data plans in Asia, South America has proven to be more of a challenge on two occasions. In Peru, my schedule was just so packed I couldn’t get to a mobile provider store to get a SIM. Their set up is similar to T&T’s where you have to go to a dealer to acquire a SIM card, but even more stringent as even the phone kiosk in the airport couldn’t sell me a SIM, I had to go to a flagship store. And in Chile, I got my hands on a SIM, only to have it stop working on me 15 minutes in because apparently my phone isn’t ‘unlocked’ for Chile. You can imagine how thrilled I was by this, seeing that I’d already spent my money. But to be honest, not being reachable all the time is a real blessing. It means I can concentrate on the experience in front of me and not get caught up on what’s happening elsewhere. I’m a hyper-connected person when I’m home so it takes something as drastic as complete digital isolation to give me the space and breathing room I need to be fully engaged in what I’m doing in the moment. Sure it gets annoying, not having the resource of the internet in a fix but you can prepare for eventualities ahead of time and go brave. Also! I’ve had my fair share of janky wifi in hotels – both high end and hostels. My most reliable wifi to date has been at a hostel in the Atacama desert. My fancy lodge in Patagonia had the worst wifi ever – it didn’t even work properly in the advertised communal spaces. So be prepared to be disconnected, and be prepared to love it, even if you don’t want to.

6) Layer up 

The Andean mountain range and its surrounding topographical siblings provide a healthy range of sub climates across the South American continent. I’ve experienced sub zero temperatures giving way to T&T-like heat within a matter of hours; torrential rainfall and immense gusts of wind combined with hail and snow and then abruptly, heat again as you descend to sea level. To cope with this you have to get comfortable with the idea of layers and pack smart. Right now, as I mentioned previously I’ve been using the Heattech as a base layer (this post isn’t sponsored by Uniqlo, promise) and had every intention of using a lightweight sweater over that, then my down jacket, and when necessary, a waterproof shell from Columbia.

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At the Tatio Geysers, where the temperature dipped below zero (at over 4200m above sea level) but quickly rose as we descended back to 2000m (where San Pedro de Atacama sits)

Being able to remove and add as necessary makes moving across the varying climates much more manageable and comfortable. Don’t forget the hiking boots if you’re heading for even the slightest of rugged terrain. Opt for something waterproof and with ankle support.

7) Relax and enjoy the ride

I’ve grown so much as a traveler since my first real solo trip to Thailand early last year. I did nowhere near the level of planning for this trip as I did for Thailand. I think that’s a normal and healthy progression. I encourage anyone travelling solo for the first time, or indeed even if you’re not travelling solo to take some time and prepare your agenda. However, be prepared for things to go off track from time to time. Sometimes you might miss a flight or a bus, sometimes you might realise your hotel is NOT what was advertised and you end up with no water in your bathroom (true story) after 12 hours of travelling and multiple delays. Sometimes your hotel calls to say they can no longer accommodate you (also a true story). Sometimes a tour you were reaaaalllly looking forward to and kind of planned your trip around got altered or cancelled due to the weather (true story x 2 in Chile) MEH. Wah yuh go do? Having a credit card and a sense of humour will take you far when travelling, not just in South America but anywhere in the world. Have all your necessary documents secured, upload copies to Google Drive or your cloud service of choice, make sure your bank knows you’re travelling and do your best to keep a positive attitude on the road. Shit happens but you don’t have to let it ruin your trip.

I’ll add more travelling lessons as time and my adventures progress, but I hope what I’ve written here is helpful so far if you’re considering exploring this beautiful continent. If you have any questions about any of the places I’ve been or am planning to go (Bolivia or Ecuador looks like it’s up next) leave me a comment or reach out to me on IG @CeolaB.

Things to leave behind in 2015 – VPL

VPL…

It’s like…the biggest faux pas ever.

Seriously…let’s consider:

Visible bra straps? Hell…showing your whole bra is a hot trend now.

Free the nipple? It was a movement on social media at one point and side boob is a thing to behold. 

Underwear as outerwear inspired entire designer collections back in 2014.

But one thing no one has EVER found even an iota of couture in…is the visible panty line.

Since the dawn of time, women have been saddled with the burden of finding the appropriate under garment for every outfit.

The most elusive of these has been, no doubt, that drop dead sexy slinky dress that hugs every crevice, cranny and valley of your body. You know…those dresses that look painted on, but the material isn’t sturdy enough to keep your underwear from printing through.

And with these dresses…it’s not just the panty line around the derriere that we have to contend with…it’s the straps of the underwear that create that less than flattering indentation in the hip and gives you that dreaded muffin-top-like illusion on even the fittest of females.

So what have we done? Well to date…women have fallen into one of three camps:

Camp 1: Those who don’t wear that kind of thing at all. They’re the boring bunch.

Camp 2. Those who rock the look AND the visible panty, and don’t really give a damn. They’re the nonchalant crew.

Camp 3: The commando cadets. These ladies are the devil-may-care bunch who rather spend an evening sans draws than subject themselves to panty-line scrutiny.

However…there’s a fourth camp emerging. It’s a little radical…and some may say even a little bit of a fad. But from personal experience I can say there’s something to it.

I first came across Shibue strapless panties in the run up to Carnival 2015. I bought a pair and used it beneath my costume on Carnival Tuesday and let me tell you…God send.

It wasn’t until I was approached by the rep for Shibue to write a review of the underwear that I began to consider its other applications – much like the scenario I presented above.

I own a lot of close-fitting, body con dresses that are made of a stretch cotton or jersey material.

I wore one of the aforementioned dresses for my birthday dinner back in October and it was a real relief not to have to worry about any unsightly visible panty line, with the security of coverage you’d enjoy from a regular pair of underwear.

The Shibue strapless panty has a strip of silicone on the front, as well as on the rear end of the underwear.

You have to ensure your skin is clean and free of moisture and press the front part of the underwear to your lower abdomen (basically where you’d expect your underwear to rest normally) and then pull the other end through your legs and attach the back end just above your butt. Make sure it’s snug…you don’t want to be all loosey goosey down there.

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When you’re ready to remove it, just unstick both ends from your skin, hand wash your Shibue and leave to air dry.

Turns out Shibue was also the official underwear for the Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week (2TFW) 2015 and is used by Claudia Pegus in her runway shows.

Babes like Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez also use Shibue.

If it’s good enough for Chrissy…it’s good enough for me.

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Before (yikes) and after

Persons interested in retail or wholesale purchases can email shibuecouturetnt@gmail.com

Disclaimer: I was not paid for this review. I was, however, given a Shibue strapless panty for my consideration.