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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?

Sorry for the absence September 22, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in RTW Trip Updates.
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I am very sorry to have deserted you guys. I got a comment from my sister on my Facebook wall berating me for my lack of blogging dedication – believe me, I have been severely admonished and am writing this under pain of death or worse (and if you know Jess, you know that worse is certainly a realistic possibility!). Absence makes the heart grow fonder though, so hopefully you might all actually be at the point where you actively want to hear about my wandering!

So, what have I been up to?

Well, I finished my time in Australia, and am now currently in New Zealand. My last destination in Oz was actually one of my favourites, Sydney. The city is amazing, accessible and intuitive, the sort of place where you walk out of the station and you already feel like you know where you are going. It is also the sort of place where far too much money trickles in an endless stream out fo your account, spent on trips to the zoo and food and the buying of delicious lattes that lead to the development of a nasty coffee habit. I fought off the call of caffeine all my life, and then good old Sydney slayed me. Anyway, after avoiding seriously deadly snakes and seeing the wildlife, avoiding all the kites at Bondi’s Wind Festival, and generally knackering myself walking around and around (never wear a skirt on a windy day either guys, half of Sydney was treated to a wonderful view of my underwear!), I got on a plane and headed on the short hop over to NZ.

The gorgeous tiger at the Toronga zoo, Sydney

The gorgeous tiger at the Toronga zoo

Now, Australia is amazing, but NZ kind of blew it way out of the water. The descent into Christchurch alone was worth a million pictures, snow topped mountain caps rising from the crystal blue ocean.

Seals frolicking in the water at Kaikoura

Looksee - it's a seal!Kaikoura

I’ve gone quite a way since that first incredible flight. I started off on a high note too, in the single most beautiful place I have ever been to, Kaikoura. I’m loathe to describe it to you guys, it is the sort of scenery (all mountains and snow and pebble beaches leading into crystal water,with whales, dolphins and seals just to cap everything off) that you really need to see yourself. I walked around, and cooed and oohed and ahhed over just about everything that revealed itself around every corner I trotted round.

From there it was up to Nelson. The scenery here was of a different ilk, more about beaches and wooded hillsides and national parks stretching off as far as the eyes could see. The guys on the bus and I were exceptionally lucky here – our 12.7km walk was done in blazing sunshine with lunch on a beach, and I really think we got to see everything at its very best.

Beaches in the Abel Tasman National Park

Picture perfect beaches!

From Nelson, on to Hokitika, a quiet little place that quite literally shuts down as soon as the sunsets, like something out of a vampire novel. You can wander the streets and feel like you are totally alone, there aren’t even any cars on the streets (and yes, I have been introduced to the concept of garages… apparently they aren’t just for storing “the junk you can’t be bothered to carry to the attic”!). I loved it here – I walked on the beach, strolled arround some random museums (Sock Museum, and an exhibition on Whitebait), and generally enjoyed everything it had to offer. We even walked up to a glowworm dell, where we marvelled at the hundreds of greenly glowing lights framed from above by the dark silhouettes of trees, with just the trickle of water as an accompaniment. The stars on this walk too were worthy of remark, so great they were in number and luminescence.

Whitebait tins in the Hokitika Museum

Whitebait (in case you missed that!)Such amazing views!

The last stop before now (where, apparently, I plan to spend absurd amounts of money catching up on EVERYTHING one could possibly do online) was the glacier town of Franz Josef. I passed up the opportunity to pay for a glacier walk, and boy am I glad I did. A guy from my hostel (and my hostel in Hokitika, as it happens. And this hostel too!) and I instead did a 12km walk up to a viewing station, where just as you thought you legs couldn’t handle another upwards slope the rainforest drops away, revealing a huge expanse of ice and rock. It (and the Kea that put on a show) was incredible, and made the exhausting walk well worth it. It was very satisfying!

The Franz Josef Glacier from Robert's Point

The huge glacier!My friend, the KeaWhat a reflection!

I hope that updates you all, next you hear from me I might have lost my mind and jumped off a bridge – but don’t worry, the chances are I will be attached to a bungee cord! Wish me luck!

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!

 

RTW Trip Update 1: Welcome to Cairns August 16, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in RTW Trip Updates.
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Gosh I’ll tell you what – this travelling malarkey isn’t half scary! I know I’m stating the obvious, but despite my terror prior to getting on the plane, I don’t really think I had realised how utterly mind-blowingly freak-out-worthy it could be when you actually touched down. Still, touch down I did, a 30-hours-down-the-line bundle of nerves and hormones, strolling (read shuffling in an exhausted fashion, biting back tears) up and down unfamiliar pounding hot Cairns city streets.

So, what did I do, in a new city and brutally alone? I freaked. My poor mother got a message something along the lines of “aaaarghh I want to come home, come get me”, whilst my Andy got a largely babbling and incoherent email, looking back over which makes me feel nervous again, so desperate are my tears and stresses that they practically crawl out of the computer screen. Even Facebook was hit with the mania, potentially in the hope that someone would come to my rescue with the invention of a cheap and accessible teleportation device that would get me straight home lickety split.

The only way to deal with this was to sleep, and once I’d done that for 15 hours (15 wiggly freak out filled hours, I must admit), the world seemed a somewhat less stressful place. I was up and about, and I have to admit to really liking Cairns. There’s a pretty man-made lagoon down by the semblance of a beach, I took a trip out to a rainforest topped coral cay (where I saw sea turtles. And whales!), I got burned in the sun because it turns out by yourself you can’t successfully suncream your back (who knew?!). I have a trip planned with one of the girls in my hostel room tomorrow to the botanical gardens, and I’ve just booked the next step of the trip (Mission Beach, but please please please don’t try to persuade me it makes sense to jump out of an airplane to land on it. I’ll walk thanks).

Sea Turtle Green Island

Sea Turtle Green Island

So, what it this thoroughly jumbled and slightly hyper post trying to say? That I think, I think, I’ll be OK. I am missing people desperately (and they are no doubt fed up of me saying it, and quite glad I went away), but I’ll deal with that and it will all be wonderful. Well, if not wonderful, good at least.

Now I’m off to write my first batch of postcards – but only very special people are going to get them super regularly, as the stamps cost an arm and a leg!

Byee!

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?!

The Tipping Point July 4, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Depression, Life, Chatter & Politics.
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Isn’t it funny how one little thing can tip you over the edge from happiness into something more akin to fear?

This morning, I was all excited about my trip. For the first time in a long time I was actually coming around to stop feeling petrified, and to feel anticipatory instead. The butterflies of terror in the pit of my stomach were becoming lighter by the day, my nerves were dancing rather than clamouring violently for attention. I was enjoying the 5-6 week count down, knowing that my trip was getting closer by the second.

Then I decided the time had come to do some of my chores. Namely to organise myself a credit card, so that I could buy things securely abroad. It was a simple job – go online, fill in the form, and get accepted. Except I didn’t get accepted, I got rejected, and that in combination with the cloying, sickly, sticky humidity has somehow managed to drop me straight into a seething pit of  grumpiness.

It is, in part, the endless certainty that something, anything, will go wrong and stop me from getting on my plane. It’s also triggered by a great number of other worries and gripes, leaving me in one of those tired, hot and headachey moods that cause everything in your brain to get all angry and jumbled.

To add insult to injury, I just bought a corset. It is gorgeous, red with a brocade pattern, and the workmanship is glorious. Despite all this though, it was too small on the waist (where I’ve put weight on recently) and far too big on the boobs. I tell you what – that does little for self-esteem when you’ve spent the entire week before it arrives wondering if you’ll look even vaguely good. So, with much regret, back it goes. That little thing on top of already feeling kind of crappy. That tipping point.

Bring on tomorrow – it had better beat the hell out of today.

The Whirring Of A Spiralling Mind May 2, 2011

Posted by Lauren Cooke in Depression.
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You may have noticed that the happier I am, the less I write. Something about my previously default position of melancholy made for plenty of writing fodder, and now that I am happily drifting through life in a fog of chirpiness, the need to whine and complain is somewhat reduced.

Still, some days you just feel a little fragile.

Today was actually a wonderful day. I learnt all about the cracking of the enigma codes at Bletchly Park, and wandered around with a peculiar combination of fascination and blank wonderment at the idea that anyone could naturally get their heads around that many numbers and concepts.

Still, this evening I am tired. I am slumped on the sofa, a book and a laptop within easy reach of my lazy fingers. I can also feel my mind whirring – I got to thinking about my trip, and that rather vocal mental voice started gibbering and worrying away. You see, I am terrified. The terror is growing steadily, day by day. I am freaking out about money, about the trip itself, about the growing sense of inevitability as the due date trips ever closer.

The feeling is horrible. A deep sickness deep in my belly, a fuzzy feverish buzz in my mind that threatens at any moment to bubble over and make me swoon and panic. I need a big hug, and some chocolate, and an appeasement of the deadline.

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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