• Take a couple of packets of noodles or muesli bars etc… if you’re arriving at your accommodation late at night. You might find you are hungry and room service is not available. Just don’t forget to declare them at customs.
  • Many hostels and hotels offer all you can eat breakfast. Unless otherwise indicated, save yourself some money and consider taking a piece of fruit and making yourself a sandwich for lunch.
  • Alternatively, pop into a local supermarket or deli for lunch. Many stock hot food or you can get a bread roll and some meat.
  • If eating out, look at where the locals eat. The food here will often be much better than the tourist haunts.
  • Some countries, like Spain, will place bread or appetisers in front of you. This is not always free so if you don’t want to pay, don’t touch it.
  • Other places such as Italywill charge you more for your coffee if you sit down, so unless you actually want a leisurely hour, drink it at the “bar”.
  • Tip varies from country to country so be sure to find out what the custom is before you dine.
  • Find out what the local specialities are and try them. You will discover a whole delicious world out there.
  • As I mentioned in my health post, be careful when eating in third world countries. Cooked well, no ice, no salads and be wary of seafood. Also be very cautious of food stalls. They smell delicious but the cooking and cleaning techniques will often leave you unwell.
  • As a traveller you will often find you do not eat as well as you do at home. Junk food often becomes a staple which will leave you feeling run down. Many hostels have cooking facilities so if you’re travelling for a while take a small empty container (a filled unlabelled one might not make it through customs) and once at your destination fill it with some cooking oil so you don’t have to carry a big bottle with you. Take a list of simple quick meals that you can easily make. This will save you money as well.
  • Avoid headaches and cramps by keeping well hydrated. A lot of site seeing and walking will deplete your fluids more than normal particularly in places like Africa.
  • Travel forums such as the lonely planet, world nomads, travellers point and virtual tourist are a great way of finding out what the everyday person thought of where they went as well as getting loads of tips and advice. On some of these websites they provide you with the opportunity to ask locals questions about where you’re going such as safe areas to stay in, good local nightspots, places to eat and sights worth seeing.
  • When looking for accommodation I search using a hotel or hostel booking website that lists thousands of accommodations. Then I always use trip advisor to read independent reviews from people who have stayed in the places I’m looking at. Many reviews include photos. Keep in mind that some people are completely unrealistic about what is and is not acceptable accommodation. If you pay for one star you should not expect four star! There are also reviews for attractions and restaurants.
  • While web based flight agencies often quote cheap airfares, places like flight centre will actually match the quote and they do all the work for you including organising visas and providing invaluable advice.
  • Don’t limit yourself to tours. A lot of countries now offer a hop-on-hop-off way of exploring. Generally a bus will pass through a town every second day and you notify them (online) in advance if you require a seat. That way you decide how long you’ll stay in one place. There are also rail passes available or the option of flying between countries (obviously this depends on your budget).
  • If you’re booked on a tour or going to a special function plan to arrive a day earlier in case there are delays in your flight.
  • Research the weather of the places you plan on visiting. It would be so disappointing to book your trip and arrive only to find it’s the rainy season, monsoon weather or a grey winter.
  • Consider travelling when there are beautiful seasonal changes ie: March/April in Japan to see the cherry blossom, early spring in South Africa or Western Australia for the vast display of wildflowers, autumn in Switzerland to see the magnificent array of colour on the deciduous trees etc…
  • Don’t plan your trip around only the cities. There is much to see in the country and in small towns.
  • When planning your itinerary:
    • Use a travel book and the internet to do your research but also talk to people who have been there before because they will know what is worth seeing and what isn’t. Just make sure you ask them why they didn’t like something because it might not apply to you.
    • Allow some flexibility (unless you’re on a really tight schedule).
    • Be logical in your planning – avoid backtracking – and be realistic. There is no point in adding destinations to your list that you will barely see just so you can say you’ve been there. Aside from giving you a lengthy detour, it adds expense and cuts down on time you will spend in another place.
    • Consider flying in to one country and out of another rather than doing a round trip.
    • For longer trips, plan for rest periods. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Constant sight-seeing is tiring and a half or full day of lounging in a café or a park can make a huge difference.
    • Don’t overload yourself on cathedrals and museums inEurope. Believe me you will get sick of them if you do too many!
    • Look beyond the frequented sights for something a little different ie: a bike ride tour of a countryside, day boat trips, hiking, night time walking tours, markets etc…
    • Find out what days and times tourist sites are open (most places close for one day of the week).
    • Write out your itinerary list using excel (makes it easier to work out a budget). You will be ready when you arrive with estimated budget and know you have back up sights to see in case of unexpected hindrances like weather, public holidays and unplanned closure of sight-seeing places.
    • Look for tourist cards (ie:Londonpass) that offer entry into a certain number of tourist sites at a discounted price.
    • Don’t be afraid to use public transport to get around. Just remember where you need to get off at the end of your day.
  • Research festivals and celebrations that might be occurring at your destination. There is nothing as exciting as taking part in a community or national celebration in another country.
  • With this is mind, if there are festivals occurring at the time you plan on visiting be sure to book your accommodation in advance or you might be sleeping on the street. ie: Most cheap accommodation inMunichis well and truly booked out come Oktoberfest.
  • Be aware of laws, cultural differences and customs in the countries you plan on visiting. Not only is it wise to respect another’s culture in some places you could be arrested for blatantly ignoring cultural traditions. Just because you are a visitor there does not mean you will be let off lightly. This can be as simple as not taking photos of law or military officers and their buildings.
  • If you plan on driving overseas your own licence may not be enough. Make sure you get an international drivers licence before you leave.
  • Know the emergency number of the country you are visiting, you never know when you might need it.
  • If you plan on undertaking any activities such as sky diving, white water rafting, scuba diving, riding a moped etc… make sure your travel insurance covers you for this (many don’t).

Why is it so hard to be still, to just stop and breathe in the fragrance of being alive? We have a thirst for activity whether we give an illusion of busyness or are in fact dictated to by the seemingly endless entries on our calendar. And this is not just a 21 century phenomenon – man’s quest for more; more entertainment, more toys, more fun, more possessions, greater self-fulfilment and increased recognition has existed for millennia. Who’d have thought I would hear quite such profound words as those uttered by Captain Von Trapp in the musical the sound of music. “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose”. For a moment I completely forgot what I was watching (and ceased throwing my anti-Baroness vibes at the TV) and considered what I had just heard. Isn’t that just so true for many of us today whether consciously or subconsciously?

We complain of there not being enough hours in the day or express the desire to just stop and rest and yet the very next moment sees us driving out to yet another dinner party or going to another movie that we may have already seen or catching up with a friend for another coffee. There is nothing overtly wrong with these things in balance but so often they consume our lives. In activity we think we find meaning. If I told you to go and sit in the park for an hour without your MP3, without a book, without a friend; just you and nature what would your response be? Perhaps, “what is the point”? Maybe, “what a waste of time”? Or even “but I’ll get nothing out of it”. If we simply live then die and there is nothing at all outside of that then indeed we would be wasting precious minutes. We would want to be remembered as someone who lived a full life, busy, prosperous and well loved. As far as the world is concerned human existence is all about us from the moment we are born until our final breath. But if our epitaph reads “He/she had a really busy life, that’s all…” does that mean we discovered meaning and found true contentment outside of possessions and friends?

I think the need to be busy arises from 3 views:

  1. To displace the thought that we are nothing more than a cosmic accident.
  2. To fulfil the need to be loved and wanted.
  3. The desire to make a difference in a world that for all intents and purposes makes no sense.

I don’t believe I am a cosmic accident and I know that there is someone who loves me with a love that cannot be matched on earth. And I believe I can, with His guidance and strength make a difference in this world that has God value that lasts rather than temporary earthly value. I have known this my whole life but have never really grasped it. Knowledge is one thing accepting its truth is another. And that is where I find myself today. The world is constantly telling me that I need to find my meaning in people and in tangible things; God is telling me that if I look to Jesus I will find out exactly who I am and as I begin to comprehend this truth I think my need to live a life of purposeless activity will be replaced by a dynamic life of glorious living, just as God promises (Ephesians 1:11).

NOTE: If you’re grappling with the meaning of life, the purpose of our existence, then can I suggest starting with a book called “The purpose-driven life” by Rick Warren.

I heard someone quote rule one of the “10 rules of being human” by Cherie Carter-Scott this morning. Rule 1 says:

Blue-Banded Hermit Crab (Pagurus samuelis) spo...

Image via Wikipedia

“You will receive a body. You may like it or hate it, but it’s yours to keep for the entire period”.

Ahhh! And here I was thinking that eventually I would morph into some gorgeous Gisele Bundchen or Elle McPherson! I have never been happy with my body. When someone asks me what feature I like about myself I have always answered “my feet”, not just because I think I’d be a pretty hot foot model – I mean you want to see some shoes really look good in a magazine, use my feet – but because for my whole life I have had a great dislike of the body I was given. It doesn’t matter what people say or what my eyes actually see in the mirror, I see something else, something that deserves my disdain. And the ridiculous thing about it that this hasn’t changed even when my body has.

Hearing the above quote got me thinking, really , what am I so concerned about? The human body is nothing more than a shell. It does not define me despite what the world would have me believe. Consider the hermit crab; as he grows he need to crawl out of his shell and into a slightly bigger one. The new shell may look entirely different but he is still the same hermit crab. Of course I’m not suggesting the hermit crab has a whole individual personality like humans but you get my point. If I could remove my body, my shell, would I suddenly be without a personality, without character (whether flawed or not)? Would I become catatonic, just existing until my last breath? Absolutely not! The essence of who I am is found not in the flesh and muscle that make up my exterior but in the inner part of me. Of course the superficial aspects of a person’s personality can alter somewhat as their body does but not their entire character. I’ve never heard it said that someone had so radical a personality change that they became an entirely different person in every way when they lost or gained weight, had plastic surgery, became disfigured or lost a limb. Aspects of their personality might change, even if only temporarily, but their true essence is the same. A blind person for obvious reasons discerns your character by the way you speak, act and react; looks have no impact what-so-ever and nor should it for the rest of us.

And so, how to love the body we are given? Well I could ream off a half-dozen principles, philosophies or practices that could work but clearly that’s a case of not practising what I preach because I still only like my feet! However recently I started reading a book called “Who switched off my brain” by Dr Caroline Leaf. She discusses what research is now showing us about the chemical effects toxic thoughts can have on our life, so much so that not only do we come to believe the things we say about ourselves it also affects us emotional, mentally, spiritually and physically. I don’t necessarily agree with everything she says nor do I think it’s as simple as may be implied but I appreciate very much the theory she discusses. I am keen to finish the book and start looking at some of the tools she offers in this book and her new ones. Why? Because I’m sick and tired of defining my character by how I look and I hate it even more when I hear other people, especially young girls, constantly put themselves down or reject compliments, whether about their looks or their personality, based on their distorted perception that “body ALONE is beauty” and defines who we are. I am given one shell, for life. I may as well accept it and get on with living rather than try to climb out of my shell and into another. I am not a hermit crab!

I have been thinking a lot about prayer lately, probably because I’m finding it challenging. It’s not that I don’t want to pray, more that I’m finding it hard to pray. Prayer is one of those things that we so easily complicate and yet it really shouldn’t be that way, after all prayer is simply conversation with God. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs one of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my Christian walk has been how I made my faith a religious act rather than a personal relationship and that has affected all aspects of my walk with God, including prayer. I got to a point where I felt that unless I structured my prayer God wasn’t interested. It became nothing more than an obligatory ritual. What lies of the enemy I believed! Lately, I suppose because of circumstances in my life that have led to unreasonable self condemnation, I have once again taken on non-biblical expectations that I think God has of me and of my prayer life. Because I can never meet those expectations, I give up altogether.  

Two nights ago I was sitting on my front porch and I had the strongest awareness of God’s presence. Though I couldn’t hear Him audibly I sensed Him saying “I just want you to talk to me and I want you to listen because I have things I want to tell you”. I sat there thinking about it and realised it was as simple as that. I thought about some of the close relationships I have and how I interact with those friends. There is no superficiality, no rituals, no pretence, and no awkward silence; instead there is meaningful and intimate two way conversation and times of quiet reflection. Why shouldn’t it be that way with God? He created us not because he was bored or lonely but for relationship with him. More astounding than that he had planned each of our lives before he had even created the world. “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love…” (Ephesians 1:4).

If he is our Father and loves us more than we can imagine any earthly father could love their child then surely he wants meaningful conversation rather than lip-service. Have you ever heard a child pray? They pray with an unpretentious honesty that as adults we often lose. Their humility and complete trust in Jesus is sometimes astounding and it is as if they are indeed having a conversation with their dad. In fact it is something Jesus wants in all of us (Matthew 18:2-5). I want to start having that type of conversation with my heavenly dad once again whenever, however and wherever and just as my catch up’s with a close friend differ from day to day – text messages, lunch, a phone call or an email, deep conversation or crying on their shoulder – I need to remember that so to can my prayer. After all Jesus himself prayed in many ways both on his own and amongst the crowds. He prayed all kinds of prayers; prayers of praise to the Father (Matthew 6:9), prayers of thanksgiving and gratitute (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 10:21, John 6:11; 11:41-42), petitioning prayers and prayers spoken in anguish (Matthew 26:39-42; 27:46). Prayer should be conversation not a ritual; maybe I need to have another cup of tea with Jesus!

Australians, until perhaps the last decade, have not been flamboyant when it comes to displaying pride in their nation on Australia day. Our style has been to simply relish the public holiday with a BBQ, family and friends. More recently though Australia day has become more about acknowledging who we are as a nation and expressing gratitude for all the things that make Australia a wonderful place to live. As well, our national flag is making an appearance as a hat, a towel, a t-shirt, out the front of homes, on cars and so on and  I would have assumed it is because of the pride people have in their nation, but I heard this week that there are those who consider it an act of racism. I can not for any amount of thinking, understand how this could be deemed so. I understand that there are both individuals and groups who consider themselves superior to others, who would, if they had their way, banish anyone not of their liking from living in Australia but they are not the majority and nor do they speak for the majority. I also acknowledge that we have had some dark periods in our history where we have treated others in abhorrent ways and of course this could indeed lead people to thinking that we are a racist nation but it is simply not so.

How can I as an Australian, celebrating Australia day possibly be considered racist by displaying the flag of my nation on my national day of pride? I have a few little flags around the house and some flag tattoos for the kids but I do this because I love my nation, with all her faults, and this is my day to show it.  By doing this I am not excluding those from other countries; I don’t care who you are, where you came from, what language you speak, or what colour you skin is because it is those very things that makes this nation what it is today. An “Australian” is not defined by colour, race or language, I embrace our multiculturalism and when I fly my national flag I do it for all those who consider this country their home whether permanently or temporarily.

We are indeed a multi-cultural nation and if you were not born here but have immigrated her for whatever reason whether because of greater opportunity, to be with family or because of devastation in your own country I embrace you and your culture. I am not asking that anyone change all those things that define their heritage because they bring these things to this country making us the nation we are today. Australian way of life is as richly diverse as the landscape itself and it’s only that way because of the multitude of people from other nations that have immigrated here. So I will not take down my flag because I fly it with a sense of pride in my country and all her people’s wherever they may be from. Happy Australia Day!

  • Most international flights now allow online check in 24 hours prior to your flight. And if you do this you can arrive at the airport 2 hours before the flight rather than 3 hours (check with your airline first to confirm this). Checking in online also means you can choose your own seat.
  • Some people like a window seat for the view but you will be too high to see anything once you’re cruising and half you’re flying on a long flight will be in the dark so it’s pointless for that reason. Others like it so they can lean against the wall but if you have a good travel pillow you won’t need to worry. I suggest an isle seat as you can get up and down without disturbing the other passengers.
  • Seat guru is a website designed to help you find a seat that suits your preferences on your airline. http://www.seatguru.com/
  • Don’t leave any of the tags on your bags from previous flights. This can lead to your luggage being inadvertently placed on the wrong flight.
  • Keep a little pouch for your passport, tickets, boarding passes, GP letter so they are easily accessible and all in one place but always keep it in your bag so you don’t accidentally leave it behind.
  • For Australian residents: If you spend $300 in one transaction on something you will be taking with you overseas (ie: camera, MP3) within 30 days of travel, you can claim back the GST. Just take your receipt and the goods and go to the claim desk once through customs. http://www.customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/travellers___english1.pdf
  • At boarding time there always seems to be a rush for the plane. Wait until most people are on, then you can stroll on and to your seat straight away rather than wait in a cue and then sit for 20 minutes while everyone else boards.
  • What to take on board:
    • Take a little refreshment bag on the flight. Include:
      • Chewing gum or lollies to reduce any ear pain during takeoff and landing.
      • Toothpaste and brush for long flights.
      • Deodorant.
      • Hand cream & lip balm (your skin and lips will dry out on long flights).
      • Take all your electronic equipment, including charging cables on board the plane. You don’t want to risk them being stolen or lost.
    • Take all medications (especially prescription) on board in case your luggage gets lost. Make sure you have your GP letter handy to show customs if required.
    • I’ve mentioned the lowepro camera sling (for a DSLR) in another post. This has extra space that I use for my electronic equipment and it can be considered a handbag meaning you can take that plus another bag on board (providing combined, they fall within the onboard baggage allowance).
    • A blow up travel pillow is a life saver on long flights. Get one that wraps around your neck so you don’t wake with pain from sleeping awkwardly.
    • You never know when your luggage may be lost so take a spare pair of underwear & a top just in case.
    • A pair of silicone ear plugs will help block out a lot of noise if you’re a light sleeper.
    • Bring a book and an MP3 player. There are only so many movies you can watch.
  • Before your seated take out the things you think you’ll need and either keep them in a bag under your seat or in the seat pocket. That way you won’t have to keep getting your bag out of the overhead locker and rummaging through it.
  • Most good airlines provide socks and sleep mask to block out light.
  • They should also have water fountains somewhere on the plane. Every time you get up to walk or use the toilet get yourself a drink. Depending on the country you are in you can carry an empty water bottle on the plane but don’t buy an expensive bottle, just a supermarket bottle of water. Many airlines no longer stock bottles of water, only little cups.
  • Remember that post 9/11 you are very limited as to what you can take on board and you can only carry certain liquids (either 50 or 100ml depending on the airline). Check this out before you pack you bags.
  • Many airlines now have USB sockets where you can charge your electronic gear.
  • ALWAYS declare whatever is asked of you on your incoming passenger form. It’s not worth risking a fine or worse to try and sneak something in. Customs officials will not listen to any explanation you have if you ticked ‘no’ when in fact you should have ticked yes.
  • For long haul flights dress for comfort not style. 24 hours on a plane does not feel comfortable in restrictive clothes.
  • Most airports have showers so if you have a stopover during a long flight and there is time, have a shower, you will be surprised how refreshed you feel.
  • Some airports have free wi-fi just go to the information desk to get the password.