It’s a big step

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Top 5 travel moments of 2014

I am moving to www.thelitebackpacker.com 🙂

Blogging… it isn’t easy.  I still remember my first post about my favourite village in England.  It took me hours to write, days to re-write, weeks of feed back from friends and family, and countless hand wringing moments.  When I finally hit the publish button I felt simultaneously elated and exhausted.  The next few posts got only a little easier – and then suddenly I had an epiphany – no one but people I knew was reading my blog, I stopped taking it so seriously.  Over night, I relaxed my writing style, poured more of my heart and personality into my posts and found fulfilment in just writing.

Then suddenly there were people following my blog who weren’t related to me…

The excitement I felt at seeing that email in my inbox to tell me that someone was following my blog… AND I DIDNT KNOW THEIR NAME! I then called my mum (obviously), texted my best friend and spent the whole day smiling.

That was the beginning – 2 1/2 years ago!

Lyme Regis in Snow

The last couple of years has helped to shape me as a blogger and a writer. Through the highs of getting likes to the lows of feeling un-inspired.  I have loved every second of it and through this blog I have learnt so much, about writing, connecting, networking, how big and small the world is, and about my own strengths!

The time has now come for me to take the next step, to build further on the foundation of this amazing blog.

I have spent the last couple of months building a website that will embody all of the things that I loved about this blog and have the platform to build so much more.  It’s still about travel (obviously) but with a healthy twist!

Check out www.thelitebackpacker.com to keep in touch with my adventures!

Here you will see some of the posts that you have loved from this blog, such as:The Lite Backpacker

Looking forward to connecting with you all through my new site.  Would love to keep in contact and continue to share. If you are my wonderful family and friends who have faithfully followed this blog from the beginning – I expect you are already following my new website… 😉

Thanks,
Helen AKA The Lite Backpacker

The Lite Backpacker - logo

5 things you can do to be a tourist at home

We all think our city is great for a variety of reasons, and we all like to boast/defend our city to the death.  How many backpacker conversations have gone sour when someone says “oh I have been to (insert your home town) and I didn’t like it very much…” When I lived in

Walking around the Lake - Canberra

Walking around the Lake – Canberra

Canberra (which if you know anything about Australia you will know that a) it’s the capital city and b) it’s not renowned for its “entertainment”) I would rave about all of the amazing things you could do there if you just knew a local who could show you around (bushwalking, Tidbinbilla, the space tracking station, lake walks – just to mention a few). Now I spend most of my year in Sydney which many argue IS the greatest city in the world. It’s famous for its stunning beaches, relaxed life attitude, beer gardens, seafood and of course the harbour.  But, I would question how many Sydney Siders really KNOW Sydney. Sure they know that Cabramatta is the best place to get Vietnamese, or if you want a great surf beach away from the crowds you need to head to Marobra not Bondi and every local knows that underground bars dot the city if you know where to look. But have the locals walked the harbour bridge, surfed Bondi, gone up Sydney Tower or eaten a Balmain bug on the balcony of the Fish Markets? Sometimes its easy to miss the amazing things that make your city so famous to the rest of the world – so here are five tips on how to get to know your city a little better.

1. Pub Crawl – we all have our favourite bars or pubs, for whatever reason we prefer a select few above all of the rest – but they are usually far away from those that are considered tourist hot spots. Spend a lazy Saturday afternoon doing a pub crawl through your more touristy areas. If you are able to look past the tourist prices and the tourists themselves you will see why those pubs are so popular. Maybe it’s the view, the micro beers, the great cover band or even the mismatched group of tourists who are so friendly that you are instantly their best friend for the afternoon.

Rocks pub crawl

Rocks pub crawl

2. Picnic – when you are travelling you often end up grabbing a quick takeaway sandwich or salad and sitting next to the famous tourist attraction just taking it all in. Why not pack yourself a picnic, grab a blanket and head to that great-place-with-a-view for a relaxing lunch. Don’t be afraid to do it on your own, take a book and soak up the feel of the place.

Picnic in front if Salisbury Cathedral

Picnic in front if Salisbury Cathedral

3. Get a little lost – When we live in a place we rush from point A to Point B as quickly as possible, we know all the short cuts and have passed each of the stores so many times that we don’t even notice them. Give yourself a mission – head into the centre of town, pick a direction, start walking and go in search of a new bookshop/dumplings/whisky bar/clam chowder/vintage clothing – the only rule – DON’T USE GOOGLE!

Searching for long lost pubs in London

Searching for long lost pubs in London

4. Tourist Attractions – Every city has a top 10 tourist attractions, just type it into Google and I am sure TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet will be able to tell. Run your eye over the list and make sure that you have been to all of the items on there. I have yet to go into the Sydney Opera House and I live in Sydney (shock/gasp). Spend a weekend ticking every single one off the list.

Westminster - London

5.Eat – Your city has specialties, things that it thinks it does better than anywhere else in the world! If you’re in Sydney head to the Fish Markets and delight in fresh oysters, if you are in San Francisco head to the piers and warm up with some chowder, If you are in Ho Chi Minh head to Pho 2000 to eat where President Clinton did! They are specialties for a reason, I guarantee their reputation is well-earned!

Crab, Cheese and Cornish Pasties - Doreset

So this weekend – instead of heading to your local or your favourite beach, read the lonely planet for your city and head out on the town with camera in hand and get to know it a little better!

It’s Time to Pay Mona a Visit!

Mona art gallery

So you are heading to Tasmania for a weekend of great food, amazing scenery and delicious wine. You are struggling to squeeze everything into your already adventure and gourmet gorge fest itinerary.  The question has been posed – should you visit Mona? It’s an Art Gallery, sure… but it’s in Tasmania… is it really worth giving up some valuable wine tasting time for??

The short answer is: Yes! Hell Yes!

If you are a spontaneous person and need no more encouragement, I suggest you stop reading now, jump online and purchase your ferry tickets to Mona.  If however, you want more a more detailed analysis behind the “hell yes” then keep reading!

Mona Art Gallery

What is Mona: It is the Museum of Old and New Art hat was created by Tasmanian Millionaire David Walsh who is a professional gambler with an extreme love of art. The Museum is primarily stocked with pieces from his own collection and is the biggest privately own and run art museum in Australia.  But it’s not just an art museum – on the site there is also a winery, an outdoor theatre and restaurants – it’s basically a one stop shop for all of your cultural needs.

But what makes it sooooo special? Mona is a complete experience. Every part of your journey to, through and from Mona is incorporated in art.  This is what really sets it apart from other museums – the complete emersion in the design of the concept.

Start with the ferry ride from the central Warf in Hobart – a giant catamaran painted in camouflage colours sports a bar that sells delicious wine from the Mona winery. Sit back and relax with a glass of wine while looking at some of the art pieces that are gracing the ferry’s decks.  The fun has started before you even arrive.

Spend some time exploring outside before you head through the Museum.  There are loads of great pieces dotted around not to mention some great views of Hobart. Then get in the elevator and descend through the levels to start exploring the exhibitions.

When you first emerge from the elevator it takes a while for your eyes to adjust.  It helps that there is a bar selling delicious wine right there – I suggest grabbing one, if only because the wine is delicious and heightened by the artful atmosphere.  I also strongly suggest you grab one of the audio tour devices – they are great and they completely change, expand and enrich your whole experience.

Mona Art Gallery

Take your time where you need it – with Mona I think its important to linger over the pieces that are speaking to you, that grab your attention.  Plug into the audio tour and relax as you take it in.  Some of the exhibits are fun hands on experiences, don’t be afraid to take your shoes off and jump on the chimed trampoline.

Some pieces are dark and powerful while others are playful and light.  Some I just didn’t understand and others grabbed me like a powerful jolt to the stomach.  There are paintings and sculptures, performance pieces and statement pieces.

Lunch is a complete continuation of the Mona encounter.  The menu is vast and full of fresh local produce.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen will set your tummy grumbling.  There is also a great wine list with loads of local wines to sample. If its warm sit outside with the chickens and the ducks that roam the yard antagonising your fellow art lovers.  If its cold then definitely sit near a window to admire the view and to still be able to see the previously mention chickens.

Mona Art Gallery

If you have time before your ferry home then take a rest and enjoy some sweets and some more wine at the Mona Winery.  There is usually a hens do or two happening so there is plenty of people watching for those who appreciate their macaroons with a side of the absurd.

Finally relax on the ferry back to Hobart – watch the sun set over the sea and sip that final glass of wine before you head home to dream of blank TVs and model cars!

 

Learning the Ropes on a Budget

The weather is starting to change to winter (instead of those balmy 31 degree days we now have 26 degree days) I know it will get even colder but this already feels like the North Pole to me.  I am definitely a weather spoilt Sydney-sider.  In an effort to make the most of the beautiful days before Sydney does the torrential rain thing that it likes to do every winter, a few friends and I went sailing round the harbour.

Sailing Sydney Harbour

Now I can actually hear you rolling your eyes from here  – sailing, that’s for the rich and opulent! How can a simple backpacker/living by a shoestring budget afford to do that?  Well cease your rapid eye movements my friends there is a cheap way to do it.

Groupon.com of course! If you haven’t heard of this site and you are travelling to Sydney – get involved now. In a nut shell it is another deal website that offers cheap versions of things from facials, fancy dinners, cocktail courses and of course sailing. As a local, I love Groupon, it gives me access to things I wouldn’t normally be able to afford. I also recommend it to anyone who is travelling to Sydney as you never know what deal you may find on there – giving you some insight into our very beautiful city that you wouldn’t see if you just sloth through Kings Cross and Bondi.

We paid $120 per person for a full day of sailing round Sydney’s harbour’s with lunch included, was it worth it? (I have just checked the site again and there is a different sailing deal going at the moment for $69.)

Sailing Sydney Harbour

The great thing about this deal is that no sailing experience was necessary and you get to choose how hands on you are – if all you want to do is sunbake and look at the scenery, no one will mind – though of course you won’t be getting the most out of the experience that way.

We met nice and early at the Middle Harbour Yacht Club which is home to the Flying Fish Sailing School – who was responsible for our day of fun.  We would be the crew of a Beneteau 42 which was a former Australian racing yacht.

The weather gods were in our favour as the day started off with some light cloud cover,  there was a medium breeze which meant that the sales were always full but the sea wasn’t too choppy – in saying that I still took some sea-sickness tablets before I boarded (something I inherited from my father’s side of the family).

Our captain was a retired public servant who was teaching young hooligans like ourselves on the weekend for a little fun and some free sailing. There was no “tit-farting” about though – as soon as we were on board he had us grabbing lines and hoisting sales and winding in cranks.  Before we knew what was happening we were out in Middle Harbour with the sail flapping above us.

Sailing Sydney Harbour

Over the course of the morning he showed us how to tack back and forth, to catch the wind, the names of the different ropes and the most efficient way to winch anything. As we headed towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge the clouds finally disappeared leaving us with nothing but glorious sunshine and spectacular views.

Heading towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Heading towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge

We had tacked around the bridges skirts for a little while before we headed to the southern bay of Rushcutters for some lunch and relaxation.  Once the yacht had been moored, our captain and first mate had disappeared down into the galley to prepare our lunch, we hooligans quickly jumped into the water. For a moment we discussed the possibility of sharks (Sydney harbour being infamous for its Bull Sharks) but decided that in the middle of the day they were probably skulking along the bottom and not very interested in our thrashing legs.

Once we had tuckered ourselves out we climbed back on board only to find a feast had been laid out for us! Every delicious picnic food you can imagine, blue cheese, salami, cheddar, smoked ham, olives, salad (which you had to eat quick or the wind would blow it away), crusty bread, three types of dip, chips and some chocolate for desert.  Just what a human body needs after a morning on the high seas!

That afternoon our trusty captain took us up towards the Manly Heads for a little bit of reverse tacking.  At this point he let me steer… which was something the rest of my shipmates instantly regretted. Turns out I don’t have a knack for steering boats… I was constantly over steering to compensate for the previous oversteer I had done –  it was a little like being in a washing machine while I was navigating.

The helm was promptly wrestled out of my grasp and I went back to winching duties as we crossed out into open waters – I kept my eyes peeled for whales or dolphins but sadly none appeared.

Manly Ferry heading out through the Heads

Manly Ferry heading out through the Heads

As the sun started to turn golden and our thoughts turned away from guide lines  to napping our captain wisely pointed us towards home.  As we neared the dock we watched the gauge that told us how many meters of water was below the bottom of the ship.  Our captain assured us that we would be fine, he had navigated this a hundred times.  Just as he finished saying this, a yacht that had been cruising in beside us suddenly stopped – it had run aground!

But our nerves were for nothing as we watched the depth gauge increased as suddenly as it had dropped.

Back on land my legs felt strange and as I lay in bed that night completely exhausted and sun burnt the world still felt like it was silently rocking.  An awesome day that was worth every penny!

The Wanderer: top five places I’ve always wanted to visit

Sometimes I have too many blog ideas clamouring to get out of my brain that i get word constipation, other times not matter how hard i search the dark corners I can’t find inspiration anywhere, and then there are the perfect days where the minute I sit down in front of my computer my fingers start vomiting words.

Well for those constipated or empty days there is a solution. There are great blogs out there that are designed to give bloggers topics to write about, which is great for those days when you want to write something but your brain has turned to mushy peas.  I wasn’t stuck for a topic today but loved the “Daily Prompts” topic so much more than my own that’s what I am writing on.

So 5 places I have always wanted to visit!

  • Antarctica I have always been fascinated by snow and ice and standing in a landscape that is dominated entirely by these elements would be like visiting an alien world to me.  But if I am completely honest, I have wanted to go to Antarctica ever since I saw David Attenborough’s Life in the Freezer to meet the Emperor Penguins (not going to lie – I will be dressed in a light blue shirt and cream pants under the scarfs and mittens)
  • The Lake District I have actually been here, but I was so young that I don’t really remember it.  I just want to ramble through the hills and valleys stopping at pubs for lunch… or snacks… or drinks… or just because they are pretty!
  • Pemba, a small island off the coast of Tanzania.  My mother spent three years there in her 20s working with UK Volunteers International and bought me up with stories of banana rice, crystal clear water and of the children she taught.
  • A volcano. I’m not picky about which volcano but ever since the movie Dante’s Peak scared the life out of me when I was 12 I have wanted to climb one to get over that fear.
  • Space! Yep – outaspace! It’s not just Richard Branson who wants to see the starry heavens. In a world where a new horizon is harder and harder to find, space is the final off-the-beaten path yet-to-be-discovered location

What five places have you always wanted to visit?

For when you need a little escape!

So you have been back at work for a couple of weeks and holidays are quickly fading to a distant memory.  What you need is a quick escape from reality, and if you live or are visiting Sydney I know just the place to runaway to.

Kangaroo Valley

Just follow these 10 easy to steps on how to avoid reality in Kangaroo Valley

Step 1 Preparation: Grab a good group of mates. Pack your essentials, bikini, sleeping bag, playing cards, food – I suggest cooking up Jamie Oliver’s Vegetarian Lasagna for re-heating when you get there – means you have a great meal after the drive.

Step 2 – Getting there: Convince your boss to let you finish work early on a Friday so that you can get out of Sydney before the commuter traffic clogs up the M5. Employ your amazing packing skills to cram in all of your belongings, food, beer and friends into the car. Find a short cut from Mittagong that will cut off half an hour travel time and put your rally driving skills to the test. Avoid killing any wombats that are suddenly crossing the road in the dusk light.

Step 3 – Arrival:  Arrive at Glenmack Caravan Park (call ahead if you are going to be late so they will leave a key out and the light on – great customer service!). It’s a great Caravan park for those travelling on a budget.  We had a caravan that slept 5 for just $20 a night with a built-in shower and microwave. Unpack, open wine, re-heat lasagna, relax, stay up late talking, sleep

Kangaroo ValleyStep 4 – Kayaking: Get up early and cover yourself in sunscreen. Pack your friends back into the car and head to Safari Kayaks. Spend twenty minutes discussing the logistics of who is going in single and who is going in double kayak on the way to the river. Go get coffee. Push your kayak or have someone less clumsy push your kayak onto the river. Jump in and paddle down stream, be careful not to tip over. Get left behind a few times, then paddle ahead of the group a few times, work out how to steer in a straight line. Pull over and go for a quick swim as all of that kayaking is hard work. Sick of the downstream view? Why not turn around and give yourself a real work out by paddling up-stream for a while!

Step 4 – Lunch: Pull your kayaks up onto any space where you can sit and relax – hopefully a nice grassy knoll… if not, stones and fallen trees will suffice. It is important that someone reliable and not likely to tip over has the lunch bag in their kayak, it’s even more important that you packed lunch.  If not scab lunch off the sensible friends who thought to bring an amazing picnic. Explore the area, being careful if the spiders whose home you are invading.Kangaroo Valley

Step 5 – Kayaking again: Head back down stream and hope that the head wind that helped push you up stream with so much ease isn’t still blowing in the same direction – if it is you are in for a hard afternoon.  Remember the skills you learnt in the morning… or forget them completely and zigzag all the way back.Kangaroo Valley

Step 6 – Relaxing: Return exhausted to your caravan, flop down on beds and chairs, eat left over cookies and chips (you earned them). When you can breathe normally, jump in the shower, lather on moisturiser to try to combat the sunburn you know is coming up. Crack a cider/beer.

Step 7 – Evening fun: Meander slowly in the dying afternoon sun into town (30 seconds walk) to the pub, The Friendly Inn Hotel – which is also the only two-story building in town. Discover that there is a giant beer garden out the back complete with playground, long Viking sized tables and a bocce pitch.  Order up a steak that is hearty to match your appetite. Try to avoid spilling beers as you climb in and out of the benches to go and play bocce. Stay there until its dark and you are being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Kangaroo ValleyStep 8 – Sleep: Avoid wombats on the way home. Lather yourself in more moisturiser, that sunburn is kicking in now. Curl up in a ball on your bunk, you are asleep before your head hits the pillow.  You are then awoken at the crack of dawn by the plethora of native birds that apparently live on top of your very thin caravan.

Step 9 – Climbing: After packing everything back into your car, drive towards Mittagong again.  Stop off for coffee and world famous pies. Take a friend with you who knows all about the secret climbing locations and who also has all the fancy ropes and gear.  Let them lead you to a secluded place in the bush (hopefully that this isn’t a recreation of Wolfcreek).  Wander around the bush for a while looking at cliff walls and thinking “Seriously, climb that?!” Watch in amazement as they set up the harness and ropes and scale the 15 meter sheer rock face. Work out how to climb into the harness, then the cliff, climb up at least 2 metres before having a panic attack and demanding through tears to be lowered back down. Eat lunch and marvel at your crazy friends who have turned into monkeys.

Step 10 – Head Home: Back in the car once more. Stop off for ice creams. Switch drivers several times as you are all tired.  Sing songs really badly. Laugh at the three in the backseat who have fallen asleep.

If you follow those simple steps I guarantee that you will feel refreshed and as though you have been away on a real holiday break.

Kangaroo Valley

Learning to Live While Still Budgeting.

Budgets – they always start with the best intentions, then slowly those intentions are forgotten as we wander through shops filled with shiny things, or head out for a dinner and decide to have just one more bottle of that REALLY nice wine.IMG_0049

I have always thought that I am good at saving – having been on several big trips over extended periods of time, therefore I must have saved up a fair bit to get started.

In keeping with my new year’s goal I have created a rather ambitious savings plan for myself where I will live off only $350 a fortnight – that’s $125 a week – after rent and bills. When I first came up with that number I was like, shme whatever, that is so easy – I could totally do that! To prove that I could do it I spent this last fortnight recording all of my spending’s – while also consciously ensuring that I lived as frugally as possible.

I spent a whopping $733.10

I was gob smacked – how on earth did I spend so much when I thought I was being good? Luckily I kept a full break down of what I spent my money on.  Looking back over my expenses for the last fortnight I clearly wasn’t as frugal as I thought when there are things like “Sneaky Cupcake” and “Australia V England Cricket Tickets”

Watching England lose... again!

Watching England lose… again!

I decided to divide up the list so I could get a better idea of my frivolity.

Essential for living

The bare essentials such as groceries, suncream (I live in Australia after all), doctors and a bus tickets only came to $249.10. If I am honest I wasn’t stingy when I was grocery shopping, if I thought things through a bit better and planned things ahead I could probably shave off another $50.

The cheapest things to buy are vegetables so I may just have to get in touch with my inner vegetarian (I tried to be a vegetarian when I was eight after watching a David Attenborough marathon… it only lasted two days) – no more fresh salmon and prawns!

Because I wanna or should

This category hit a massive $310.80! At the time all of these items felt like they were essential but in retrospect… eh… maybe not so much. I could definitely walked on the days I lazily took the train to the gym.  Basketball registration is essential if I’m going to fulfill my New Years Goal of winning some games… but it’s not something I would die without. Farewell gifts for a workmate and team lunches are important for the workplace bonding – so they are almost essential – but maybe I will have the cheap soup next time.

Seriously you don’t need this

$173.20 of stuff I clearly didn’t need – or even want that badly. A sneaky donut forced me to do an extra Zumba class, the cheese and crackers evening was tasty – but maybe a triple cream brie could be exchanged for my famous avocado dip (a 3rd of the cost), I definitely didn’t want that sack of goon on Australia day, and although I loved going to the cricket (watching Australia obliterate England, again), having friends round and watching it on the TV would be just as fun and cheaper. The thing I regret the most was the takeaway Chinese – it left me feeling blah for days – so blah I didn’t even want the left over’s.

The trick when saving for a trip is not to forget to live in the place that you are.  If it becomes all about the saving you run the risk of wasting time, and traveling is all about appreciating time – don’t wait until you are on a plane to start. Although I am cutting back on things like goon sacks, I am doing more bushwalking (swimming in a waterfall beats a goon hangover any day), less cupcakes and more strawberries (healthy and yummy), passing on the cricket matches but having friends round for dinner – or better yet going to theirs.

Bush Walking

Bush Walking