5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Going to Australia

My first trip to Australia happened in the middle of a Melbourne winter. North Americans get slammed with the trope of sunny Australia: Throw a shrimp on the barbie! Wear sunscreen! Spiders will kill you! So naturally, I packed four swimsuits, a pair of tights, a pair of jeans and sundresses.

So. many. sundresses.

It was never warmer than eight degrees.

This time we went for spring/summer and were there for three months. We drove from Cairns to Melbourne and had an awesome time.

There were definitely things that threw me for a loop, like…

1. Not everything in Australia will kill you.

That’s not to say hazards aren’t there. However, there are easy ways to prevent getting hurt. Our sailing tour wouldn’t let us in the water without a wetsuit for marine stingers. Beaches have very clear signs when there could be jellyfish or crocodiles. This is incredibly frustrating when it’s gorgeous and all you want to do is swim, but it’s also good to know that you won’t immediately die when you set foot in the country.

I think our tour guide in the Daintree said it best:

“Go into a pub in a small country town and find the oldest guy there. Listen to him talk. He’s survived. You’re good.”

This non-poisonous guy was in the Daintree Rainforest. It was one of three spiders I saw in so many months. 

2. The internet can be really, really bad.

Living in North America and spending most of my travel time in Europe, I’ve taken wifi for granted. Hostels in Australia tend to only have wifi in the common rooms and for some reason, my phone and laptop wouldn’t connect to it. “Premium” wifi costs $5/night, and it wasn’t very… well, premium. I never thought of myself as the type of person who would freak out about not having wifi and on nights 1-4, I wasn’t. Night thirty? I’ve found out some things about myself.

That’s not to say good wifi doesn’t exist, but don’t go into places expecting it. We saw a working, busy Blockbuster in far north Queensland. Think about that.

3. Tasty Cheese = Cheddar

This “tasty” cheese is all over the place. It was making me slightly, erm, uncomfortable. When I asked Adam, he informed me that in his thirty-two years of being Australian and seeing this ambiguous modifier, he had never thought to ask more. I did the research. It’s cheddar. And yes, it is tasty.

We went on board the Solway Lass and explored the Whitsunday Islands.

4. It’s good to always have cash.

It’s not abnormal to have a 1-2% surcharge for using cards. I thought this would lessen in cities and hotels, but it didn’t. Cash is definitely king in Australia.

5. Australians have issues with shoes.

Apparently “no shirt, no shoes, no service” hasn’t reached Australia yet. I saw people get on a bus with no shoes. People ordered coffees, people in malls. Pavement gets really hot there, and are flip flops (or thongs as they call them) really aren’t that much of a departure from shoes, so… why? I thought about going shoeless for a day just to see what all the fuss is about, but I couldn’t. It felt so very wrong.

Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island at night

So, what have we learned?

Australia is great, and you won’t die of animals there. Honestly, my biggest recommendation would be to budget for books/art supplies/other offline entertainment and for however much your bank charges for taking out cash.

And eat tasty cheese. They’re right- it’s tasty.

 

How to Look Like You’ve Slept on a Long-Haul Flight

Recently I’ve learned that I can, in fact, sleep on planes. My entire travel life has been spent eagerly loading up on books, magazines, anything, anything to keep me occupied for a few hours. Imagine how startled I was on hour twelve of a long haul from Melbourne to Doha when I woke up. What sort of wizardry actually allowed me to sleep for a few hours?! While I’m grateful for any sleep, those three hours left with me twenty-three to sit and contemplate how tired I must look. Luckily, I’ve learned how to pack the ultimate carry on.

airplane makeup bag contents

The main goal is hydration.

Plane air is notorious for being disgusting. There’s something about the thought of recirculated air… I mean, it’s enough to make you grossed out about your own habits, let alone everyone else’s. While it seems feral, I’m constantly assured by my plethora of plane-people friends that it’s run through a hospital grade filter. Really, the biggest problem is that it’s so dry.

So, what should I pack?

I’ve gotten everything here through security multiple times. A lot of this stuff was bought in drugstores, airports… Impulse buy type things. I’m not super loyal to anything, though all this stuff worked well.

sheet mask, makeup wipes, antibacterial wipes

Makeup-Removing Wipes

Chances are you don’t want makeup sitting on your skin for the length of a flight, so I take off all my old makeup as soon as we hit cruising altitude.

A Sheet Mask

Nothing pumps your skin into gear like a good sheet mask. Yes, some people might look at you funny, but you know what really looks bad? Gross skin after hours in the air. All up, the person who teased me the most was my husband. The main thing you’ll get is other women who give you a look of admiration and jealousy as they start to feel their skin drying out. While I have a stash of sheet masks, I had to go buy this one because, and this is key so pay attention, on a plane you must pack a neutral scent. As much as I love the scent of lilies and calendula most people like you a thousand times better if you stick to aloe, green tea, or lemon. Remember you’re sharing the recirculated air-space with others.

Anti-Bacterial Wipes

This has nothing to do with looking like you’ve slept and everything to do with the horror stories my flight attendant friend has told me about tray tables.

A Mirror

I don’t really go anywhere without a mirror. How else can you admire how amazing your skin looks all flight?

Oil Blotters

It’ weird to think about oil blotters in a place where you’re trying to prevent dryness. However, if you have any proneness to oil at all, well, you know what I’m about to say. Your skin has this oil-making safeguard it can (and will) put in place to hydrate itself. Extra oil can sadly cause extra acne- and it’s totally the oil… definitely not the travel diet of booze, bread, and cheese. Yeah.

hair tie and bobby pins

Hair Ties

I straighten my hair before a flight because I find it just makes it lay smoother and prevents tangles. I love the telephone-cord type hair ties because I find they leave less creasing. They’re also fun to play with.

Bobby Pins

For all those stray pieces that just won’t get themselves into your hair tie.

Why pack makeup?

I like to reapply makeup when I land. The extra five minutes means the customs line has had a minute and that I have a lower chance of sitting next to an empty baggage carousel. Also, I find it nice to start in a new place looking refreshed and feeling like I’m ready to take on anything.

retractable kabuki and little brush

Makeup Brushes

I love a retractable kabuki, and a good fluffy travel brush will get you enough for a quick look.

Makeup

Makeup

Obviously what you pack depends heavily on personal preference. I go for a pretty powder-based but super light look. Powders also tend to be easier with security liquid guidelines.

The most important thing isn’t something you pack.

If there’s only one thing you get out of this, here it is:

Drink a tonne of water.

I usually buy two bottles at the gate and every single time I get offered water I take it. People (myself included) are constantly running around buying “holy grail” beauty products. The biggest holy grail? Water. Dehydration isn’t cute.

How do you pack for a flight? Have you ever seen someone with a sheet mask in flight? Let me know in the comments!

Love this post? Check out my makeup blog Glossy…ish for more on beauty.

 

Suitcases Vs. Backpacks

I used to be a backpack or nothing person. There’s a weird romance to the words backpacker. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a packing implement. Some of us, no matter what we choose, won’t immediately become a free-spirited hippie the minute we put two straps on our shoulders. Of all the decisions you have to make before a big trip the thought of whether to bring a suitcase or a backpack is a pretty big one. Unfortunately, like most things in travel, the answer isn’t simple.

Really Think About Your Trip

My last trip to London and Paris presented me with a new challenge. My trusty backpack had snapped for the final time and I hadn’t got my new one yet. For the first time, I had to experience Europe with a suitcase. I had used a suitcase before for family trips, I knew the drill. You get off at the airport and head straight to your destination. Usually, my Dad would load up a luggage trolley and carry my stuff into a hotel or family member’s house. This trip was different. My friend had found an Airbnb in London and we were staying in a hostel in Montmartre in Paris. As I lugged an admittedly overpacked suitcase around train stations that hadn’t progressed past the stairs part of technology my memory of spryly jumping through crowds with an awesome backpack haunted me.

Be critical and think about what you’re doing on a trip. Packing for an intense hike is different than packing for a month’s train journey in Europe, which is different than staying at a gorgeous all-inclusive resort in the Carribean. Do you have lots of transfers? Are you taking public transit and walking to your accommodation? Think about every scenario you might have your luggage.

Remember That Stuff Can Go Wrong

I was working in Brindisi while my cousin was travelling through Rome. I went to meet him for the weekend and while I was trying to figure out the electronic check-in I heard a thud, immediately followed by the sensation of a much lighter shoulder. My weekend bag, and only carry on for another month had broken. I ended up fixing it with athletic tape and by some miracle that lasted for the rest of the trip.

It’s naive to think that our stuff will be in good repair forever, and this is the only place a backpack shines. Sure, straps break, zippers can get mangled, but both of those things are a lot easier to get to good enough than say, a wheel blowing out on cobblestone. No matter what you choose make sure you have enough cash to do a quick repair, and always, always pack a roll of duct tape.

Packing is All About Personal Preference

There’s a common idea that you should invest in a piece of luggage. It’s not a bad idea, I have an awesome hand-me-down suitcase that, while on it’s last legs, still functions perfectly fine. My other suitcase is, well, huge. I got it at Winners for under a hundred dollars. The front zip has already broken. I got my Elephant Stripes carry-on backpack from their Kickstarter campaign, and while I got a good deal it wasn’t cheap. I needed suitcases for this trip. I’m moving, and there’s some stuff I wanted to take with me. However, I decided to put more money into a backpack because after using both, I like a backpack better.

I wouldn’t recommend dropping that much money on your first piece of luggage.

Go to a thrift shop or a discount shop. Pick up a backpack and a suitcase for as cheap as you can get it. Use them on short trips. Experience which one feels easier, better. Notice which one you reach for first. When that piece, whether it’s the backpack or suitcase, wears out, invest in a good one.

Do you like suitcases or backpacks better? How did you figure out your favourite luggage? Let me know in the comments!

 

A Rant About Reviews

Reviews: we all read them. Some of us live for writing them, going over every pro and con in exhausting detail, completely convinced we’re doing our part for the greater good. As much as I love the super-reviewers, I’m more of a review if it’s really good or really bad type.

I’m not much of a stickler for reading reviews. I get myself sold on things and there’s no telling me no. However, I’m married to a “make-all-the-plans-do-all-the-research” sort of person. While planning our last trip we ended up reading a lot of reviews for, well, everything. I’ve come to realize that a lot of them are absolutely useless. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some that are legitimate reviews for an awful experience. If you end up in a hostel with dirty sheets and mice in the room, yeah. I want to know. Those aren’t what I’m talking about. You’ll constantly see things like “I stayed in a twelve-person hostel dorm and someone snored all night. One star.” Half of all adults snore. What on earth do you expect in a twelve-person dorm? If you want a quiet, luxurious experience, you need to expect to pay more than $20 a night. That’s nothing compared to things that are just… looking to go to a beach resort? Be prepared to read thousands of reviews for things like, “too much sand.” What on earth can a resort do about sand on the beach?

While writing the first draft of this I was in Australia sitting in a 4WD that refused to start. The car had worked perfectly, until an hour before we had to have it in. We managed to get it working, but here’s the conflict: Is this worth giving a bad review to the company we got it from? I don’t think so. It was an old car, we were on a bumpy road. Everything else about both the car and the company was amazing- when we dropped the car off they even drove us back to our hostel.

I think reviews have gotten a bit out of hand. It’s like reviews are just an excuse to nit-pick everything wrong with something. What we really need in a review is to know whether or not you’d recommend the service. So, take reviews (even mine) with a grain of one of those big, gloriously expensive, super flaky salts.

And remember that beaches are supposed to have some damn sand on them.