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A Traveller’s Perspective: Things Every Hostel Bedroom Should Have October 4, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel.
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Hostels, it seems, are easier to get wrong then they are to get right. I have stayed in so many hostels now, and some have been great. Some have tried hard, yet fallen at every hurdle. Some haven’t tried at all, and it has shown with painful clarity. Yet more fall into that dull and neatly disappointing limbo between being a dosshole, and being somewhere liveable. The sort of place you sleep in, and then promptly forget about.

Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Why is it so hard to get right?! Surely a simple set of facilities and little extras can make a hostel guaranteed to be the recipient of excited reviews and positive life-choice-affirming praise?

So, let’s go through it room by room. This is what it takes to be the perfect hostel… starting in the bedroom!

Beds

1. You should be able to sit on either the top OR bottom bunk without smashing your skull on the bed above, or on the roof.
2. Beds should be long enough for people of significant height to sleep in. I’m not saying you should cater for the occasional Scandanavian giant who stoops through your doors, but for “normally” tall people, be nice!
3. Bunk ladders should be easy to climb – preferably with flat steps to reduce pain on those annoying midnight toilet runs.
4. All bedding should be changed for new guests, including the duvet covers. EVEN if you use top sheets. New bedding should ideally smell fresh and like home, on a really clean day.
5. For god’s sake, don’t charge for bedding, you tight bastards! Also, be climate suitable and have blankets available.
6. Mattresses should be firm and not lumpy. In the same vein, pillows should be of medium depth to suit the majority.
7. Please stop beds squeaking. Not only is it annoying, but it’s a surefire way to make sure everyone is awake and paying attention to the amorous couple who rolled in drunk at 3am.

Accessories.

1. Everyone should have a locker. Most people won’t use it, but that one person will want it and you’ll make them really happy.
2. Beds should come with a personal light. A gentle one, that doesn’t light the room up like a sun in supernova when you can’t find your tissue in the wee hours.
3. Bins. In rooms. Empty them often.
4. Every room hould have a full-length mirror with good lighting, and a silly sticker that says “Don’t worry, you look amazing” and “Remember, everyone else is travelling too”.
5. Two coat hooks on each bunk bed.
6. It isn’t vital, but a clothes horse of some description doesn’t half help. When you’ve just given yourself blisters washing socks in the sink it is really depressing to realise there’s nowhere to hang them!
7. Windows are great for letting light in. At daybreak. Give us curtains, please. If the windows can open for hot days too then that would reduce the frequency of boiled-alive syndrome in stuffy dorms.
8. Extras are always appreciated. A chair or beanbag in a corner, a little table, some pretty pictures of the local area. Anything that can make you feel a little more home when on an alien continent. Rugs are good.

Have I forgotten anything, travellers?

On feeling like a girl October 1, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Fashion, Makeup/Cosmetics, Travel.
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Generally, I don’t really care how I look when I travel. Let’s be honest – I am not out here to “pull” anyone, I’m here to enjoy a country and experience the best it has to offer. Whether or not I look presentable or not isn’t really the priority here. In addition, I’m travelling. I don’t have that same easy access to girly bits and pieces, to straighteners and hairdryers and far too many pairs of shoes. If I was going to worry about my looks, I would be fighting a losing battle. Plus, if someone I meet is going to judge me based on whether or not they think I look good enough, then my normal approach to life still applies – they simply aren’t worth knowing.

As it happens, I think, most people don’t judge me. I have sported some pretty funky hairstyles these past weeks, I’ve spent nearly every day makeup free and blinking like a newborn foal in the sun, I’ve worn the same clothes all the time (and a secret relief it has been too).

However, that doesn’t stop the girly qualities catching up every now and then. Those days that actually anyone of any gender, of any inclination, can have. The morning when they wake up a little fragile, for some reason not approaching the world with quite the same casual ease as they normally do. And when that happens, you either battle on in your androgyny, or you accept the situation and do something to make yourself feel better. For me, I dyed my hair – no easy feat I belatedly realised, in the restricted facilities of even the best hostel. I also put makeup on – I may rarely wear it, but I have a basic little selection with me for just such an “emergency”.

And today? I feel pretty. People have told me I look nice (OK, drunken people, but who’s counting?!). Tomorrow, I’ll be off the makeup again. But for today, I needed to feel like a girl.

RTW Trip Update 3: All the way down to Melbourne September 7, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in RTW Trip Updates, Travel.
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Well well well, for someone who was desperate to reassure anyone that would listen that “don’t worry, I’ll update my blog, like, every minute”, I haven’t really been doing a very good job at keeping y’all up to date. In fact, the last post was on the 22nd August, back when I was in the tropics, officially. By now I’m in far more temperate climes, and I actually fly out of Oz this coming Monday. Crazy!

So, what have I been up to?

Well, there was the Whitsundays trip, where the outwards journey (of a 2 day 2 night sailing trip) was full of the fun of getting your sea legs on a boat fighting its way through three metre swells and against 30 knot winds. It was, to keep it short, a little bit (shall we say) choppy. Thank god it calmed down in the end though, and the tour of the beautiful islands actually saw a little bit of sun. Wowee! The highlights had to include snorkeling with some funky coloured fishies, and more than anything the sheer scale of the sky at night. I have never before seen such a parade of stars in such a pitch black sky, it was beautiful.

My boat, Avatar, on the Whitsundays

My boat, Avatar, on the Whitsundays

Beautiful Osprey on the Whitsundays

How's that for a good shot?!

From Airlie I continued heading down south, and thankfully the ground only rocked when I closed my eyes for a few hours after I got off the boat! I don’t think I could have handled anything more! The trip down south involved more hours on a bus than I care to say, but we did manage to break it up with trips to various snake and croc infested parks, a highlight for someone who is still endlessly entertained by the comparatively dull British wildlife, let alone the creatures of a place dedicated to nasty bitey dangerous things!

The mighty crocodile at Snakes Downunder

He was a scary looking fella!

The big bus journeys paid off though, and eventually I ended up in Rainbow beach. It’s a small little place, a bit quaint, but the main reason so many backpackers migrate there like whales on heat (sorry, sorry, whale based joke had to be made as this location was whale-watching central for all the Humpback whale breeding going on!) is because it is close to the treacherous and shark-filled waters of Fraser Island. I did a day trip out here, and saw Dingos, rainforest and even some dolphins on our way over. It was a great day, and the lunch in particular was delish!

A very healthy looking Dingo on Fraser Island

A very healthy looking Dingo on Fraser Island

After stopping in at all these backpacking places, I just had one night in Brisbane (which I made the most of, to be fair, taking in art galleries and gardens and views oh my!) before flying to Melbourne. That’s where I’ve just been – abusing my host’s hospitality in the No. 1 Most Livable City in the World. Not bad going, really.  I’ve been to the aquarium (my swotting up on shark knowledge by reading through “The Secret Life of Sharks” on the way down really paid off here!), strolled around the town and war memorials, and I even attended an AFL match. Except for the fact that I got wildly drunk, and the fact that Aussie Rules football is a crazy game invented by crazy people purely to confuse us foreigners, I think a good time was had over the few days I got to stay there.

As for now, well I’m Sydney-wards, completing my last few days in the should-be-capital before I fly to NZ. I can’t believe a month is nearly over, and that I am nearly on my second country of the trip. It really does fly by, and whilst I obviously am not counting the days to getting home, it is also reassuring to know that it is approaching, and that I will get to see familiar faces, places and things (OK, not things in general, mainly just shoes. Beautiful shoes. And dresses. And hair-straighteners) in good time. For those few moments where home is all you can think of, a deadline is the sort of encouraging thought that makes you able to enjoy the time you do have away. If that makes any sense…

So yes, a good time still being had by all, with much being done, seen and enjoyed. I’ll update you all again soon enough, and for now I will leave you with the skyline of Melbs, and a shot of me with birds on my head. Lovely.

Melbourne city skyline from the Shrine of Rememberance

Sunny Mellbourne (I have been VERY lucky with the weather!)

 

Birds on my head...

Checking out the birds (sorry, sorry)

RTW Trip Update 2: Down to the Whitsundays August 22, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in RTW Trip Updates, Travel.
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So, what a lot has happened since I last updated you. Where shall I start?

Well, after leaving Cairns I headed down to Mission Beach. T0 be honest, I don’t really know why I got it into my head that this was where I wanted to go – it’s a long long beach that was ripped apart by the February cyclone, and which is pretty much just the destination of people wanting to jump out of planes at 14,000 feet to land on the beach. Needless to say that is not me (hah!) so I spent a somewhat depressing day being ignored by the cliques and reading my book with a sulky expression on my face. The next day I escaped, getting out of there and to Magnetic Island as fast as you could say “bored to death”!

Base Backpackers on magnetic island

Those are our huts...

Thankfully it went up from there on in. I arrived at Maggie, or Magnetic Island, and it was all wonderful. The people were nice (and we kind of did things as a group which was awesome), and perhaps more importantly the room was a log cabin literally centimeters from the bright blue ocean. I somehow doubt I will ever spend a night anywhere as superbly located again.

As well as the location, the island itself was great. We walked (for 10k, turns out this hurts a lot when you are as grossly unfit as I currently am!) all up and down the hills, in the blazing heat, arriving on the other side knackered but kind of satisfied – and very glad to get a chance to refill our empty water bottles. It just kept getting better too – after a lunch of the best calamari I have ever had in my life (I mean, like, wow) we adventured into the Koala sanctuary, where as well as getting to hold the super cute Koala we also got to hold and poke various Australian animals. Me being me, and pleased by anything exciting and zoological, I was in my element!

Me holding a Koala on Magnetic Island
Koala! Cute Koala!

Now I’m in Airlie beach, killing time before I head out on a 2 day sailing trip to explore the beauty of the Whitsunday islands. I’ve got my goon, I’m all packed, so bring on the boat!

 

Happiness and Anticipation July 25, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel.
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Well well well, who’s got a little lax with the posting? I seem to have disappeared off here somewhat!

The reason, my friends, is because I am (remarkable as it may well be) actually happy. Not that I have been miserable at all much lately, but currently my mood has blossomed into something that is undeniably exuberant and chirpy. Every day I wake up, and though my body may be desperately craving more sleep, my mind is mellow. I float through work blissed out, I come home and watch tv, grinning all the way. I keep catching myself wiggling to cheesy tunes in the supermarket, and I’ve noticed on more than one occasion a happy-but-inane humming emitting from my person. I don’t even complain as much, finding annoyances somewhat less annoying, my foibles less pronounced.

It is wonderful to be like this. And yes, so the fear of my upcoming trip is setting in (three weeks to go peeps), but even that is starting to be accompanied by a sense that, most likely, everything will work out. I’ll chat to people in the hostel, and before I know it I’ll be making friends and having adventures. Watching the sun set over the ocean and scribing postcards to make their way home.

The only downside to all this happiness? That it means I am going to miss people when I go away. Because, though I wouldn’t change my plans for the world, certain newcomers to my life have managed to make themselves rather too integral to my happiness, and rather too missable. Still, that isn’t much to complain about, is it?!

Please help me win a trip on the Orient Express! April 21, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel, Wordy Business.
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Click the image to vote for me! If it doesn't work, refresh and the story should be there!

All help appreciated guys – if 100 people like this then I get entered into a draw to win a trip ion the Orient Express! I don’t have much time though, so need all the help I can get!

NB: My story is called “when it rains it pours” – sometimes you need to refresh the page for it to work!

Frugal February February 1, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Life, Chatter & Politics, Meme, Travel.
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As you no doubt know, I am on a budget at the moment. I am saving about half of my wages every month for my RTW trip,  and anything left over is going towards the RTW things that I can book in advance. It means that spending freely and treating myself has kind of gone out of the window. In fact, I am selling my shoes, so you know that something must be serious!

So, what better timing could there be to partake in “Frugal February”? The brainchild of wonderful blogger Gemma Cartwright, Frugal February is a month of avoiding buying anything that you don’t actually need. Shoes, expensive meals, luxury items and so forth are all banished to the land of no return, and instead we are all concentrating on saving money and only buying that which can really be justified.

Thankfully the rules are somewhat flexible. For example, I am allowed to justify nights out at the pub with friends as things I “need”, because without them life would just be miserable. The rules as explained by our fearless leader are as such:

This means buying no clothes, shoes, accessories, makeup, cosmetics, books, DVDs, music, magazines, gadgets etc for a month.

Food and drink don’t count, though it’s worth paying attention to unnecessary expenses in this area – do you really need that bottle of wine? Do you have stuff in the cupboard you could use to make dinner, rather than getting convenience food? I also suggest banning takeaways and any unnecessary eating out if you’re really serious!

Daily use items such as toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo etc are fine to buy, but only if you’ve run out completely! Same goes for any makeup you might ‘finish’ during the month. On the off-chance you use up the last dregs of your only foundation during the month, you can replace it, but only if you don’t have an alternative.

Frugal Feb doesn’t mean waving goodbye to a social life. Though you may choose to cut down on nights out to save a bit more cash, my time spent with friends is important to me! My Frugal February ‘no spend’ rule doesn’t include things like the occasional ticket or cover charge, or travel expenses. If I want to go somewhere and there’s a cost associated, that’s fine.

Are you going to take part?

 

So many “What Ifs” January 30, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel.
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I booked my round the world tickets yesterday. It was terrifying, but the cash has exchanged hands and all of a sudden I am £1300 down and in possession of the ability to visit three different country and completely separate myself from my day-to-day life for a grand total of three months.

It’s exciting. Obviously. After all, there lies in front of me such a path of adventure and excitement, there are so many friends for me to make in different corners of the globe, so many things for me to see, and do, and experience. Give me a week or so and the planning bug will have kicked in again, and I will be gibbering on about routes, and destinations, and I will be irritating anyone and everyone with my enthusiasm.

For now, however, I am freaking out.

Firstly, I am having a little emotional crisis about doing this alone. It has been a choice, I want to do it this way, but flying half way around the world and then surviving entirely alone for a quarter of a year. How will I do it? What if I’m not brave enough? What if I fail to make friends, and traipse my way around the globe thoroughly alone until returning to Britain in disgrace. Don’t get me wrong, hopefully this won’t be the case, but my mind is full of “what ifs” at the moment.

Then, of course, there is the life I leave behind. My job will be here when I come back, I am lucky about that, but I don’t know what will be happening with my house, this house I rent that I adore. Will there be any way to keep it? What about all of my friends? I spent so much of January being ill that I already feel isolated and alone, completely out of the circle of friends that I treasure so much. If it is like this after two weeks of absence, then what will it be like once I have been away for three months. How do I slip back into my life once it is done?

It is a scary thing. Very scary indeed.

The First Of Many To-Do Lists January 16, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel.
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Round The World Trip Organisation…

  1. Set up a “Planning my RTW Trip” blog. Tumblr is probably a good place to start. RTW In 90 Days – All set up!
  2. Book plane tickets. Waiting for people to get back to you with quotes is boring – keep hassling them, and haggle haggle haggle.
  3. Make sure I save money. I HAVE to be tight, but I also don’t want 6mths of misery prior to leaving!
  4. Develop a lot of lists like this – what to pack, where to go, who to contact!
  5. Once flights are booked, book other pre-payable elements – but remember to leave flexibility!
  6. Swot up on my new guidebooks, winging their way to me as we speak.
  7. Read my new “Woman Traveller” books for clever insights and inspiration.

Eeek, here goes!

Discovering my independence January 14, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Travel.
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In case you somehow managed to miss it, I am currently planning a pretty big trip away. It is a solo trip, and I am going to hopefully spend three months making friends and memories before coming back to the real world. Prepare yourself for a certain onslaught of holiday related blog posts!

The first life lesson from this trip has happened before I have even booked the tickets.

I have always been a bit of a lone wolf. I had best friends rather than groups of friends for most of my school life. Now I have moved to Leamington I find it easiest to keep in contact with only a select few people. I can up sticks and move houses or towns without much in the way of worries, although I do still miss people. However, a lot of the time I feel like I ought to want company, and that my favourite time spent alone would be better spent with other people. Don’t get me wrong, I like company and suchlike, but the need to sometimes do things my way has always seemed like selfishness and self-indulgence.

After exploring options for travelling with people for large sections of the trip, I suddenly realised something. I am an independent and able woman, and this is my holiday. I don’t actually want to share the planning with people – I want it to be mine, I want to head out into the world and make my mark. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to do the trip in silence – I will meet people on the way and am consciously planning ways to make this easy – but I want to do my trip all by my lonesome as far as the entirety of it goes.

Essentially the life lesson is this. Sometimes, it is good to be selfish. For an amazing experience like this, the most important thing is how I feel – and if that means I get to discover my independence and bravery in the bargain then that? Well, that is great.

 

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