Addiction, or obsession, rules – even in the luggage shop

My daughter looks at me wryly.  I know what she’s going to say – she’s sitting on my bed looking at the top shelf of my wardrobe.

This is what she can see.

“Why have you got three cases the same size?”

I explain: the red one is a hard-shell case and I use that for my checked luggage, it has two expandable zips; the lavender one on top of it is the one I use for weekends away, and I know, should have checked the size of that before I bought the dark blue one last week – which was to replace my small red carry-on bag which I had to jettison during my recent travels after a bedbug scare!  I thought it was smaller than the lavender one.

However, I know I have been sprung: I have a luggage obsession – what else can I say? 🙂

So, I’ve got all my bags out and photographed them just for you!  Do you have a luggage obsession?  Do you find it difficult to walk past a shop selling luggage?  I do.  I wonder if there is a word as describes an addiction to luggage – a luggage-aholic perhaps.  If so, I’m one.

Here are my bags – and they don’t even show my many multi-coloured handbags (do Americans still call them pocketbooks or some-such word – the ones you take when you go to the café, library, mall etc) – although I now notice my yellow handbag in a photo – recently bought in Malaysian Borneo.







And, this is the last bag shop I went in to.  It takes time to compare and contrast the pros and cons of each bag!

It’s on Lambton Quay in the Wellington CBD.  I went there to get a small, hard covered carry on suitcase to keep my photographic gear, my laptop, or tablet, and of course all the bits and pieces needed to keep them going when you’re on the road.  Leads, battery chargers, power plug converters: you know, all the things that weigh so much in our luggage.  They are also the most important things in my travels.  I can replace clothes or toiletries really easily, but not so my electronic gear.  (Of course, when I started my long distance, long-term, solo travel  (1995)I didn’t have any of those.  Just a little camera with film.)

After some time, comparing, opening, wheeling, and checking the weight of hard-shell cases, I decided although they are great, that they keep your gear safer and, you cannot overpack  – I also realised you have to open them completely to get the offending, suspect gear out, when going through security.

I prefer a carry-on that has a front pocket big enough to put everything that needs to be screened in the one place and pull it out quickly – so not holding up the line and having to repack at the other end  – to be checked as I go through security.

So that long-winded explanation is how I explained to my daughter why last week I bought a suitcase almost the same size as my lavender one, but with a better pocket on the front – well, that’s my reasoning – it didn’t wash with her either 🙂

#Follow me for new photos from Mongolia, Malaysian Borneo, and Penang

It’s only one week until I leave on my next big adventure to Mongolia and Malaysian Borneo! (and the mainland too) I have written a short blog about Mongolia, (see here) a country I’ve never been to, and I plan on posting a photo a day on my kiwi travel writer Instagram and Facebook pages – so #follow me. My blogs will follow once I return to New Zealand after my 5 weeks exploring.

While I have been to many parts of Malaysian Borneo (Sabah and Sarawak) and I’m looking forward to revisiting the Rainforest World Music Festival and Bako National Park, I also expect to discover new things in Kuching – including the fishing village of Kampong Buntal – and which is very close to where I’m staying at Damai Beach Resort during the festival. So, watch this space!

I’m of course hoping to see orangutans, proboscis monkeys, wild pigs, and possibly a crocodile or two. My must-eat food list is too long – and once again I’m hopeful my bathroom scales do not show a huge upward number when I return home. Malaysia has such wonderful food and Malaysians are all foodies, and who will always entice you to try this and that and yet another thing.

I’m spending about five days in Penang, which is considered the food capital of Malaysia, and as it’s been a long time since I was there I’m wondering if some of my favourite places will still exist. Feel free to give me advice about your favourites in the comments at the end of this blog.

In Sabah, the northern region of Malaysian Borneo, I will be snorkelling in new areas -Mabul island, and also Gaya island where I will visit the Marine eco-research Centre. Another new place will be the Sabah Tea garden after a short hike and Kinabalu Park – one of Malaysia’s world heritage sites.

Check out blogs I have already written about Malaysia (use the search button on this blog site) and make sure you follow me for five weeks of daily photos – as many of you will know, Malaysia is my favourite Asian country – and who knows, Mongolia – which is a blank canvas for me – could end up on my favourites list too.

Hope I get to see Richie again – he’s a big boy!
Heather helps plant mangroves


The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak,  photo by Gustino – Sarawak Tourism Board
A fisherman uses a net on Batang Ai, Sabah. Malaysian Borneo


Seems everyone loves to ride steam trains

Arriving at the bus departure place, near “Fed Square’,  Melbourne,I was not surprised to find many others had also signed up for a Puffing Billy day trip – it seems everyone loves a ride on a steam train.

My first driver, Ismet – who in the Aussie tradition has had his name babified/shortened to Issie – regaled us with local stories as we drove out of Melbourne and, as this was my first trip to the city, I valued the historical and current background context. He told of car museums, rich suburbs, soccer, wide streets; that the city has 32% of its land in sports fields and gardens, and explained the thirty-six ‘right-hand hooks’ – the unusual but elegant solution to keep the trams moving in the city.

As well as the Puffing Billy trip, other activities on the day included a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary, Billy Tea, riding through forest and little towns and for those who wanted to, feeding colourful Rosellas and King Parrots; chocolate, wine tasting and  a roast dinner – the day covered them all. (But more about those topics in another blog)

We boarded the Puffing Billy at Belgrave for our short trip (about 30 mins I think) in the Dandenong Ranges, but first its seemed all passengers took many, many photos of the fire-fueled steam engines.

Puffing Bull getting up  a head of steam
‘Puffing Billy’ getting up a head of steam for our trip

This line, built in the early 1900s, helped open up the area and carried logs, livestock, and other goods it now carries about a million and a half tourists annually: it is mostly staffed by volunteers.  Running every day except Christmas Day, of course it is also closed on high temperature-high fire risk days for fear of starting a bush fire – a wise precaution.

Our Grayline tour had its own carriage and it seemed all the other carriages were full too – I said, seems all the world loves a steam train!

Here’s a slideshow for you – a few of the many photos I took on this little section of our day tour. (A friend had recommended I rode the Puffing Billy and I’m glad I took the advice)


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on our way
On our way – on a comfortable bus (or coach -depending on where you live and the variety english you speak!)


Many thanks to Grayline for hosting me on this fun day.

My travel essentials


I bought this for my mother many years ago, she gave it back when in a rest home as liked the electric one better … so do I, but on the road this is perfect. Made from cotton and bamboo.


An umbrella drops the temperature by many degrees when traveling in hot places. I didn’t believe that until I tried it – I use it for the sun 100 times more than for rain.

At the airport – your pre-flight check list

A pre-flight check list for #travel

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

Travelling? Here’s your pre-flight check list to make the sharing of such confined spaces means we need to be considerate – and we want our fellow-travellers to be respectful too.

It starts at home – before you left home or hotel you put comfortable clothes on and soft socks to wear during the flight and then, items you will need during the flight have been put in a little bag (for inside your carry –on) for at your seat – notebook, pen,  e-reader/ paperback, moisturiser, lip balm for instance.

Of course before you approach the check-in desk you will have your passport/photo ID, and tickets handy and, of course, you will only have the number of bags you are allowed on the flight and they will be the weight permitted.

Once you have your boarding pass, now is the time for a pre-boarding check and some reminders about how to…

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How to travel alone! Why, tips and warnings!

How do you travel? With a partner? Friends? On a tour? Alone? Solo?

I’m a passionate nomad, a solo traveler: I love to travel alone for many reasons. High on the list is the freedom to decide when, where, and how  I will travel – that I can satisfy my wanderlust pretty – selfish huh!

Being alone also means I suffer 100% of the pain BUT get 100% of the pleasure too 🙂

Trucks & rough roads sometimes means breakdowns - I was on the back of this truck when the axle broke in the middle of the jungle!
Trucks & rough roads sometimes means breakdowns – I was on the back of this truck when the axle broke in the Cambodian jungle!

Of course there are downsides to being alone; it often costs more for accommodation and you will always have to make all your travel decisions, always read the map alone, and always be totally responsible for your own actions!  This can be tiring, however, I also can always stop to eat where and when and what I want. The augments – or heated discussions I have overheard on this simple topic are amazing in their length, ferocity and frequency!

Being alone means sometimes I have been afraid but that’s rare. One fear I still have is my strange combination of fear and excitement when I move from one place to another, more noticeable when I go from village to city, or when I cross a country border.

I vividly recall the pervading feeling of unease I had when going directly from a months peaceful stay on an Malaysian island (a marine reserve with no roads or power) to a busy city in Thailand. Within hours of my arrival I had bought myself a No Fear T-shirt to bolster my courage; “Don’t Just Break Limits, Shatter Them” it told me. With that yellow shirt and its message on my back I felt more ready to cope with the changes from snorkeling in warm water and few people around to the crush of many people, a new language and the seediness that usually goes with prostitution.

Being alone also means there are no safety nets as I walk the tightrope of solo-travel. However being alone does not mean being lonely. 

On my recent travels, in Borneo for 8 weeks, I occasionally felt sad I was not with a group when I saw locals sharing their meals –  sharing lots of bowls of food while I had just one or two plates on my solo table. So not that I wanted to be with others but I did want to taste all those yummy Malaysian dishes!

When alone I am approached by locals more than when I’m spending time with another traveler. It seems that I am less threatening alone, I am not talking to someone and so am not being interrupted by the local person – who often are really keen to practice their English or just talk to someone with a different background. So I believe I can meet more people on my own, have direct contact with those who live in the country, so I needn’t be lonely

As I travel without reservations or plans I also often need to approach locals for information in a way that is not required by tourists who have had their bookings all arranged before they leave home, or have a traveling partner to talk plans with. It is also a great ploy to get to talk to women who are often in the background, sometimes almost invisible in many places.

Even when I ask a couple for information it is to the woman who I address my query.  Although often it is the man who replies ( often the woman have limited English) but I have made myself more acceptable and non threatening, less inappropriate, in their cultural eyes anyway.

These little interactions with locals also gives me a different perspective on the country than when I sit and talk with another traveler over a Turkish coffee, a Malaysian long tea or a Thai curry. Conversations with other travellers are useful, fun and interesting too, but better kept for evenings at the hostel, tent or hotel I’m staying in.

If, when travelling alone, you feel lonely one can always join someone for a an hour or a few days. Once I joined a group of ten in a truck to travel in Botswana and Namibia, not because I was lonely but for convenience. Although I got to fabulous places and saw great sights, I didn’t get to have interactions with the very people I came to meet. A big group is too intimidating for most people to approach, and the truck tour convinced me lone wandering is my preferred style.

Finally the other really great travel companion for me is my journal and a good book. they add some silent consistency to life when all else is changing. Constantly.

So what other advantages are there, for me, in living a nomadic lifestyle on foreign roads?

There is no compromise in the experiences I have, I can stay as long or as short as I wish, so the ability to be flexible is a wonderful asset.

I have had to develop skills and strengths that I did not know I wanted, needed or were lacking, and my experiences – both the pain and the pleasure are intense, undiluted by my old thumb-sucking security-blanket of others.

So why am I a solo traveler? Maybe because I feel more of a soul-traveler that way . . . or maybe it’s because I am totally selfish and self-centred and want to clasp the intensity all to myself. And it’s that very intensity that makes me a passionate-lone-nomad.

How do you travel? What are the advantages of your preferred way whether it’s solo, with someone, or a group?

Travel lessons from a travel writer

It’s funny that until you have someone ask the questions it’s often hard to know what travel lessons a travel writer can pass on.  Travel seems so normal that it’s not until someone is surprised, amazed or horrified about something that you realise  things have become ‘normal’ when maybe theya re not!

So this blog is for Margaret from the San Fran area, in the hope she reads it before her trip to Tanzania. And, the photo of the city mosque is either a reminder her of our over-coffee conversation this am, or memories of her trip to view this stunning building in its’ man-made lake. 

I wish I had had a tape rolling as I talked about the pros and cons of  solo travel, and how to pick the perfect travel partner. I’m so selfish and self-centred I do like to travel alone, but it has it’s disadvantages.

Solo travelers have to make ALL the decisions which can be good, but also exhausting especially when you are tired or under the weather. SO what advice did I give my new-found, ships-in-the-night, travel friend?

Body clock or bio-rythms in sinc are vital: I hate ‘killing time’ in the mornings, while night owls are frustrated by my early to bed, sleep through anything habits.

Fussy eaters can be hard to travel with. If they liked international chain food often I couldn’t travel with them .. once a week to keep the peace would be ok, but I want to taste the local food in the local down-home types of places. What about carnivores or vegetarians? Or gluten intolerant?

For me a place and their food is as vital to knowing about them and their culture as is their religion. I dont have to like all their food, customs or religious practises, but it’s none of my business: I’m a guest in their country and if I don’t like it, I need to go home!  Luckily for me, there has only been one place that I felt uncomfortable in and left quickly. (See my book – Naked In Budapest -travels with a passionate nomad – avaliable via Amazon etc – and no, it’s not the place in the title !) Not bad considering all the places I’ve been. Of course not liking a place or culture usually says way more about you, or me, than the places  or people.

The other  ‘advice’ I gave was to treat other travelers as adults … you both don’t have to do the same thing at the same time – programme days off, mornings off  for when you each do your own thing. After all when you always do what the other wants you will return home with lots of regrets about the compromises …and, memories of my days a counsellor has taught me that usually one person makes most of the compromises.

So, if each make a list of wants  (sights/ sites/ activities) from the place and  then put all the same ones onto the master list .. then do trades for the other things  – “I’ll do this with you if you’ll come to xyz with me’. Others can be non-negotiable for each of you .. and those are for your solo part of the day or week.

Margaret suggested I write  a blog about fellow travellers from hell but I’m not sure this is wise – but I’ll put the idea on the back burner and see what happens with it .. maybe a short story would be best, although I’m sure some people may still correctly, or incorrectly, identify themselves.  

What advice would you add about picking someone to travel with?  Who were nightmares to travel with and who were perfect? Or are you a solo traveller like me, and if so why?

Lets make this  blog a list of tips that are worthwhile for many travellers.  

City mosque: Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. July 2013

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Far away places with strange sounding names …. the call of travel

I was only 2 or 3 years old when Vera Lynn sang the song about ‘faraway places with strange sounding names’ and it’s always resonated with me – no wonder I finally morphed into a travel writer!

While I haven’t been to China, I have seen the ‘castles in Spain’ and been ‘to Siam’ (Kingdom of Thailand) as mentioned in the lyrics sung by the popular, WW2 UK singer, Vera Lynn . (Lyrics below) I’ve also been to many other places around the world some with ‘strange sounding names’ – and if I haven’t been somewhere, you can guarantee it’s on my bucket list!

With all the travelling I do, I have found lots of luggage-type  odds and ends that helps keep my bag to the smallest size while making sure I can find my gear – and more importantly I don’t forget something vital – electronics have changed our travel needs (and or wants).

In 1995, when I started serious, long-term, traveling and writing I didn’t even have an email addresses let alone a computer or mobile phone. How quickly things have changed!

I’ve written about packing for plane travel before, but here are a few more tips for you so living out of your travel bag is easy;

  1. Buy a smaller bag than you think you need! This will help concentrate your mind on your NEEDS. (I always take too much when I’m traveling by car, from home, as I know I have space for all the just-in-case items – which should be culled.)
  2. Use organiser type bags or cubes so you can keep like with like. E.G. one mesh bag for underwear and socks. I also use airline toiletries bags for electronic bits and pieces.  And of course your toiletries need to be in small containers in a small bag. Keep any medication in your carry-on bag.
  3. And of course, rolling or folding? I believe rolling creates less wrinkles – in fact I sometimes roll clothes as complete outfits – usually clothes that are for ‘best’ or will rarely to be worn but are needed.
  4. A waterproof bag for keeping electronics/ passport/tickets can be useful if you will be on boats or during monsoon season. The same bag is great for keeping out sand in deserts or the beach.
  5. And, finally, keep all these in one bag along with lists of what’s needed for a ‘weekend’, a ‘month’, in a ‘hostel’ or a ‘5-star’ trip: and of course for that last-minute invitation to travel. Even with a list I can forget something in the last minute rush.

Here photos of my mix and match bags that I use when on the move – it all depends on the length of the trip, destination and of course the type of accommodation and transport.

Media needs a variety of bags .. for batteries, leads, chargers etc
Media needs a variety of bags .. for batteries, leads, chargers etc
Waterproof and dust proof bags are often essential
Waterproof and dust proof bags are often essential
My cat - Mista - is alert once these bags appear .. false alarm this time!
My cat – Mista – is alert once these bags appear .. false alarm this time!
I keep all my travel bag bits and pieces handy in one bag
I keep all my travel bag bits and pieces handy in one bag

What are your best packing tips? Add them in the comments for others to try for size.

See below for the lyrics to the song:

Faraway places
With strange soundin’ names
Faraway over the sea
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin’ names
Are callin’, callin’ me

Goin’ to China
Or maybe Siam
I want to see for myself
Those faraway places
I’ve been readin’ about
In a book that I took from a shelf

I start getting restless
Whenever I hear
The whistle of a train
I pray for the day
I can get underway
And look for those castles in Spain

They call me a dreamer
Well, maybe I am
But I know that I’m burnin’ to see
Those faraway places
With the strange soundin’ names
Callin’, callin’ me…

Christchurch, New Zealand. Lonely Planet gives a thumbs up to city and people

As a  frequent visitor to Christchurch, New Zealand, (last time only days ago) it’s good to see Lonely Planet’s new edition New Zealand Travel Guide, released today, pays tribute to the strength of New Zealand’s people in the wake of a series of challenges. It particularly gives a thumbs up to the city and its people.

“There’s no denying it,” the guidebook says, “New Zealand has had it tough over the last few years.” (p.638)

Reflecting on the past two years in which the country has endured the vagaries of the global economy, the Pike River coalmine explosion, the Rena oil spill, and two Christchurch earthquakes, the guide says “in the midst of all this … New Zealanders have soldiered on stoically, with the people of Christchurch proving remarkably resilient.” (p.639)

The new edition hails the energy and creativity on display in Christchurch, saying “nowhere in New Zealand is changing and developing as fast as post-earthquake Christchurch, and visiting the country’s second-largest city as it’s being rebuilt and reborn is both interesting and inspiring.” (p.480)

Christchurch International Airport wins international awards

New Zealanders’ welcoming nature and eagerness for travellers to enjoy their visit is unchanged, and the guidebook says, “you might be surprised by the extent to which the average Kiwi will genuinely want you to have a really, really good time during your stay.” (p.639)

I note Lonely Planet also reports “that in December 2011, the influential United States magazine Foreign Policy nominated Christchurch one of the urban centres of the 21st century,opining that the ‘massive rebuilding effort is a unique opportunity to rethink urban form’. Draft plans for the city’s rebuilding over 20 years include a compact, low-rise city centre, neighbourhood green spaces, and parks and cycleways along the Avon River. Coupled with the endurance and energy of the people of Christchurch, the city’s future promises to be both interesting and innovative”.

The Sign of the Kiwi has great views of Christchurch, Canterbury, and Lyttelton Harbour

Christchurch-born and educated (& now living in NZ’s capital) each time I return I’m both saddened and encouraged and I know visitors will be amazed at the regrowth already.  I saw in the paper last week that the City Council has granted about 80 permits for new buildings, 17 within the “four Avenues’ which mark the centre of the city and where lived at the time of the September 2010 quake – see this blog for photos I took within hours of it, and many blogs written since.

If you are coming to NZ, make sure Christchurch is on your list, do a quake tour, tuck this latest guide-book under your arm, and note all the new things that will have popped up since the book was published  (things are happening fast here)  and, make sure you let LP know too for their next edition!

NOTE: New Zealand (16th edition) is the first of four new guidebooks to NZ that Lonely Planet is publishing in 2012.  New Zealand’s North Island (2nd edition) and New Zealand’s South Island (3rd edition) will be available in October, with Discover New Zealand (2nd edition) following in November.

Read, travel, and inspire

Enjoying the Wellington waterfront

I’ve just found (or rather they found me!) way to ignite your travel life, make a difference, and  have fun – and for you to read, travel and be inspired by other women.

So many women’s travel pages feed on fear and concentrate on protection of our bodies and gear that if we followed them all we would never travel – of if we did, it would be with one eye over our shoulder always.  Unfortunately this means we miss out  on what’s happening now, right now which is the only safe and exciting place to live.

When I travel I rarely blog as I go; I’m too busy enjoying the place I’m at. I also rarely email home – my friends and family are happy to wait to get the whole story, not a blow-by-blow account of the back street I got lost in or the amazing meal I had at ABC. Others of course love to tweet and travel and isn’t it great that we are all different while being the same.

So if you want some good info about places around the world (Including my home city Wellington where “women in Wellington seem happier, more confident and just plain fabulous”  Worldette is the place to start– so,see you on their pages, and while you’re there, download their 45 page guide and see their philosophy about women and travel.

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