Several friends and family members have been embarking on long haul international travel recently, and have asked for advice on the art of packing. So, here it is!
Firstly, you should have two bags to pack – a backpack for carryon, and a suitcase.
Part 1: BACKPACK
Anything heavy or breakable should go in here, including guide books and laptops.
Laptops need to be easily accessible, as you’ll need to take them out during security screening at the airport.
You should have your mini toiletries in a clear pack – a zippy lock back works well, and also doubles as an easy way to protect the rest of your stuff in case of spillage under pressure.
All your electronics cables go in a large zippy lock bag, so they don’t get squished in your suitcase (and you can still use them if your suitcase goes missing).
Always have a spare change of clothes in your backpack when you fly, just in case.
If you’ve ever received a travel blanket you were allowed to keep, this is a must on long haul flights.
All your travel documents should go into a single travel wallet, or if you don’t have one, into an envelope per location.
All medication that you take should be in your backpack, even if you’re not due to take it during transit.
Regardless of the weather from your departure point, or the weather you anticipate in your destination, take a good jumper for the plane. A hoody works really well, and doubles as a way to help you sleep.
If it’s a longhaul flight, you’ll also want either a blowup neck pillow or the beanbag style lightweight ones. If you have a good quality backpack, you can often tie your beanbag pillows to the outside of your bag, rathern than having it take up space on the inside.
You MUST be able to lift your carry on bag over your head by yourself, to use the overhead bins on the plane.
Part 2: SUITCASE
I’m going to start with the stuff to skip: hairdryers (most hotels will have one), hair straighteners (travelling isn’t about glamour), full sized toiletries (mini travel ones are lighter and easier to pack, and if you need refills, you’ll be able to buy them at your destination), and a full-sized umbrella (fold up ones are much better and more convenient, and if you really need one, you’ll be able to get it in your destination).
Pick two or three pairs of shoes, and leave the rest at home. I try to wear the heaviest ones on the plane (normally my trainers), and then pack a pair of thongs/sandals and a pair of closed in/dressy shoes.
Think through your your itineraries – what are you going to need? Walk your way through the day, collecting and putting in one spot all the things you need or making a list of them if you’ll still need them before you leave. Eg, “I wake up – I need pj’s. Go to the bathroom and get ready for the day – toothbrush/toothpaste, brush, spare hairties, BB cream.” etc. Make sure you don’t lose the list before you go! This stuff is usually super important!
Try to pack clothes that are light and versatile, and also easy to wash/dry. If all your tops go with all your pants, you can mix-n-match. Even when going to a cool climate, think layers.
We bought 4 cheap, light, drawstring bags from Kmart or Big W to use as our dirty clothes bags/laundry bags. They have a shoulder strap, for those times when you’re absolutely loaded up.
Think about how often you can do your laundry. Do you need 10 pairs of socks if you’re going to wash every 4 days?
Pack the heaviest things at the base of your bag, so it doesn’t tip over (especially for upright, wheely suitcases).
Pack some spare zippy lock bags of different sizes – they’re great for keeping things together that you collect along the way or keep things separate from others, and super light.
Liquids in your suitcase should ALWAYS be in a zippy lock bag to prevent spillage under pressure or breakage.
When putting things in your bag, try to put similar things in the same spot, as in all shirts in a stack, all pants in a stack. It will save you rifling through your whole bag. This is also the reason I’m not an advocate for the ‘rolling’ method of packing, or travel space bags (also a fast track for overpacking and exceeding your weight limit).
Pack your ‘list items’ the morning you leave.
Voilá! Easy to use bags :)
17 January, 2014
Today was the last day of our trip, and after we got up and checked out of our hotel, we had to hotfoot it across to Burbank for our Warner Bros deluxe VIP studio tour. I’ve figured out the tricks of the motorway, and it took us just over 30 mins for a trip that was meant to take 50! We checked in and went into a little theatre, where we saw some clips from the history of Warner Bros, before being introduced to our tour guide for the 5 hour tour, Thom. He brought out a steel suitcase, containing an important little man called Oscar. It was a real Academy Award won by the studio! We both got to hold it and have pictures, before heading on to our big golf cart for the day.
Then we headed straight on to the backlot to start looking at sets! The first we checked out a street of houses, which are actually functional. Aside from serving as a set, the houses are also used as production offices, and we could see people coming and going, hard at work. Next we went past the sound stage that Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum were inside, working on a film called Jupiter Rising. I was hoping that Channing might come out for a coffee, but alas, no sightings. Then we headed to the Mid West – well, the TV version. It’s a set of two streets that are very country looking, and are fairly empty on the inside. They tend to just use these for exterior shots and film the rest on a sound stage across the lot. They were filming Pretty Little Liars today near part of this, so we couldn’t go near. We also headed in to our first set of the day, Suburgatory. It was interesting to see that different sets are right around the corner from each other, that it’s really cold inside there, and that one space can look very different in a very short space of time.
Then we continued on in our golf cart, and saw the area that used to house ER, and is the Chicago area. Tonight they were going to film a car crash into a building, and they were doing some rehearsing. They also had ‘snow’ ready to lay about. We continued on a minute in the cart, and came across ‘Central Park’ in Friends, which I immediately recognised from the scene when Rachel and Phoebe go ‘running’. Right across from this was Gotham City Hall from the Batman TV series. We kept driving, and came across ‘New York’, a series of facades made to look like an NY street. The famous water tower appeared (which no longer holds water), and then we headed to lunch in a fancy restaurant on the lot, where the executives tend to eat. It was a gourmet, three course affair, and was incredibly tasty. We continued on past the Friends sound stage, which now shoots Mike and Molly inside, and saw Nyambi Nyambi, who plays Samuel in the show. He stopped for a bit of a chat, and asked where we were from, before heading back inside to rehearse. We went past the Conaco (ie Conan O’Brien) offices, and through the design studio and workshop, where they fabricate the sets.
We hopped off the bus at the props warehouse, and went behind a big door with a picture of Friends on it, to be greeted by the ever so familiar orange lounge and neon lights of Central Perk from Friends! Being the VIP tour, we were able to go in and sit on things and take as many pictures as we wanted. I stood at Phoebe’s microphone, and at Gunther’s post behind the bar. It was amazing, and much, much smaller than I thought it would be!
We headed out into the props warehouse then, seeing famous props from films and TV, as well as every sort of house décor and fitting you could think of! There were also many that had hold tags on them for shows like America’s Next Top Model, and CSI. We walked across the road and into the transport museum, with cars from Get Smart, Great Gatsby, Harry Potter, Dukes of Hazzard, Austin Powers in Goldmember and Gran Torino (which is actually Clint Eastwood’s car!), Trinity’s bike from The Matrix, the Big Bang Theory space capsule, and four Batmobiles. We headed in to the sound stage right next door, and we were on the set of The Fosters.
Next we headed out to the Ellen studio, in the ‘artist entry’, and outside their dressing rooms. Yesterday, Kim Kardashian, Twitch and Dermot Mulroney’s names were on the dressing rooms! We were also able to go in to the studio, stand where Ellen stands for her open, and sit in the audience. Then we went across the lot to another sound stage, and this one was pretty active. The Big Bang Theory cast had just left for the day after on set rehearsals, so now stagehands, producers and other production staff were running around checking lighting, blocking and sound. It was really exciting to see a functioning sitcom set!
We were golf carted to the on-site WB museum next, and they have exhibits from 90 years of film and television on show. On the ground floor, we saw costumes from Smallville, the Batman films (including Heath Ledger’s Joker costume), costumes from The Hangover, The Great Gatsby (including Leonardo Di Caprio’s), Sandra Bullock’s spacesuit from Gravity, the piano from Casablanca, and my personal highlight – Friends props and costumes, including the red shirt Ross wore (that gave away he was Emma’s father), the bling bracelet Joey gave to Chandler, the sonogram of Emma, and that letter Rachel wrote Ross at the beach.
The entire second floor was dedicated to the Harry Potter films. There were costumes from most of the series (Harry, Hermione and Ron, Snape, Cedric Diggory, a dementor, Voldemort), the goblin from Gringotts, Dobby, a petrified Hermione, and probably the highlight of this floor – a working sorting hat! It was put on my head, and after humming and haaring, I was sorted into…Griffindor!
After almost six hours it was time to leave so we were carted back to the main building, where we could buy some souvenirs, and then we hopped in the car and headed to our final stop – LAX. We dropped off the car after our hour drive during peak time, and then caught the shuttle to Tom Bradley terminal. We got through security quickly and had time for our last dinner in the States – Panda Express for me, and Umami Burger for Clinton. The 11 hour flight on Fiji Airways went by pretty quickly for me, as I slept for about 8 hours. It was a four hour stop in Nadi airport, before heading on to our final three hour flight back to Brisbane.
Phew! Travelling is amazing, but it’s always wonderful to get home. Thanks for following this adventure! Now to start thinking about the next one…
16 January, 2014
Today we had a bit of a sleep in, heading down to breakfast as late as we could, before driving in towards Central LA. We parked at The Groves, an upmarket outdoors mall, and had mini hotdogs for lunch. We had a bit of a look around, and again were surprised by how many people take their dogs out shopping in department stores! I saw dogs as large as golden retrievers inside a Nordstroms! They are all well behaved, though, and even in the outdoor ‘park style’ centre, the dogs sniffing on poles didn’t even look remotely interested in peeing on them.
It was early, but we decided to head around the block to CBS Television City, where the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson is filmed, and line up. We were only due there at 1.45pm, but we arrived at 1.15pm, and there was already a line! There were about 40-odd people in front of us, but by 1.45pm, the line was another 50m down the road, so we’re very glad we lined up early! While we were waiting, 1iota, the ticketing company, had people come down the line and take our information and make sure we had tickets. We had to wait out on the street, in the sun, with a massive Craig Ferguson golf umbrella. There were other shows lining up at the same time, too, but most of them didn’t have umbrellas (sucked in!).
At about 2.30pm we started filing through the gate, having our ID checked, our purple wristbands applied, and our phones confiscated. We then had to wait for everyone else behind us to do the same, but now we were underneath the building, seated, with access to toilets and, soon after, a snack truck. We were waiting here for another 40-odd minutes before a Late Late Show guy who looked a lot like Woody from Toy Story started telling us what we needed to do, how we needed to laugh, and what would get us kicked out. Then, in our lines, it was time to walk up four floors of stairs to Studio 58. A guy came walking along, checking us out (I think it was our clothing he was checking, as we were meant to wear bright block colours with no logos, which show up better on TV). Then, we went in to the studio. We were sent to the opposite side, and all the way down the front. Unfortunately, Clinton and I had to split up, so that I got the front row on the aisle, and Clinton was right behind me. Front row!
Before long, the warm up guy came out, and then it was time for the big cheese – Craig Ferguson! He came out, threw out chocolate coins to the crowd as he normally does, and I was disappointed to see that the one that I grabbed for bounced out of my hand and back on to the stage. The lady I was sitting beside me told me that another was on the floor beside me. Huzzah!
He did his monologue to start with, followed by the seemingly impromptu cold open, which actually screens first. The cold open was hilarious, with Craig reading from Harry Potter to his ‘horse’, Secretariat. Then it was time for the tweets and emails, followed by the first guest, Chris Pine. He wasn’t scheduled to be on today – it was meant to be Kenneth Branagh and Jane Lynch, but we had two segments of Chris Pine instead. He was a tiny guy, and I was surprised that the interview as you see it on TV was pretty much exactly the same as what we were seeing in the studio. Chris Pine seemed like a really genuine guy, chatting to Craig between segments and looking often at the audience, waving to us before he left. Morena Baccarin was next up, and considering she gave birth 12 weeks ago, she looked in great shape. She played Brody’s wife on Homeland, and has a new film coming out. While nice, she wasn’t as warm as Chris Pine. Then it was time for, “What did we learn on the show tonight, Craig?”, and the end of the filming. We also filmed a stand up comic, Chris Roth/Roff (???), who was quite funny, and it was interesting to see that Craig actually watched and was into the comic, too. Craig then came over to the front and did a couple more jokes before farewelling us one last time. We left, feeling totally satisfied with the last hour’s entertainment!
We headed back to The Groves for dinner, and ended up at The Whisper Lounge. The food was absolutely amazing! I had a gourmet cheeseburger, and Clinton had (what else) a steak. So yum! Today was our last full day in America, so our next update will be back at home, with our last day and our trip home!
15 January, 2014
Today was another big day of driving. We got up, had breakfast at the roadhouse across from our hotel, and hit the road. We had a couple of little stops to make before lunch, the first being McWay Falls, a waterfall on to the beach. Unfortunately, we missed the turn off, as there wasn’t a sign, so our first stop ended up being Limekiln Creek State Park. After paying to enter (something we think Australia does much better – and free-er!), we started our hike up to the falls. It was lovely and cool inside the forest, and there were again lots of redwoods. We had to do several crossings of the creek, some trickier than others, before arriving at the falls.
We hiked back to the trailhead, and decided to hike the trail to the lime kilns. It took us another 20 or so minutes to get there, and even though the kilns have been out of use for quite some time and have rusted and started to be reclaimed by the woods, they still seemed very out of place.
Then, it was time to get back on the road. The highway around this area was really lovely, and had lots of windy roads around sea cliffs. Unfortunately, this also meant no overtaking lanes for idiots in Jags doing the advisory speed (you can definitely go three times faster than that and still stick the corner in a Jag!), and roadhogging RVs. Every once and a while there would be a turnout (ie a 5 or 10 metre section of bitumen for you to pull over and let others pass), but these were few and far between, making an otherwise lovely drive very frustrating.
Next stop was the elephant seal colony at Piedras Blancas, just down the road from the little light station here. Having seen quite a few seals over the past week, I thought I’d be prepared for the smell – but these guys were pongy! The males had elongated noses, hence the ‘elephant’ seal name, and they liked to dig sand over themselves. This time of year is mating and birthing season, and there were lots of cute little seal pups with their mums.
Then it was down the road 10 mins to Hearst Castle. Unfortunately, you had to do a guided tour here, and it would take about 1.5 hrs – time we just didn’t have. As well, I thought you could drive all the way up to the castle and just take a look about, but we only got as far as the visitor centre, at the bottom of the hill that the castle is on. We did have a nice lunch at the visitor centre cafe, though, and got some photos from the observation landing.
Back in the car, it was time for the long stretch of driving. We continued south along Route 1, which turned into Route 101, through some nice seaside areas like Pismo Beach (“Clueless” reference, anyone?), before finally making our way in to Santa Barbara. We headed for Stearn’s Wharf, and were a little shocked to find that you could actually park out on the wharf! We got ourselves some saltwater taffy and watched the sun set, before getting back on the road.
It was another 90 mins down the road to our next stop, passing through Malibu on the way. The mind boggles to think of how expensive some of the real estate is through that area, and how many celebrities we may have been very close to! Finally, we made it to the Santa Monica Pier, and after parking the car, we went for a wander around its wooden boards.
Being after dark on a winter’s day, many of the shops were closed, like the amusement park rollercoaster and ferris wheel, and many of the smaller food outlets. We headed in to a restaurant that is quickly becoming one of our favourites, Bubba Gump, for a delicious dinner, before out final 15 min drive back to our hotel from our last stay in LA, the Inn at Marina Del Rey.
14 January, 2014
Today was moving day! After a quick breakfast, we packed the car and headed off to our last San Fran stop, Vermont Street. Much like windy Lombard Street, Vermont Street is steep and has many hairpin turns. In fact, Vermont is actually steeper and has fewer turns than Lombard, but the turns are sharper. Once we’d wound our way down, we headed for the Pacific Coast Highway, and Monterey.
It was only a two hour drive to Monterey, with picture postcards everywhere. We saw sea spray over the coastline, rocky and sandy outcrops, and pounding sets of waves.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, and by the time we made it to Monterey, we’d certainly worked up an appetite! We had fish and chips at a nice restaurant on the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and had a table overlooking a pod of sealions and their otter friend, sunning themselves on a pontoon. I was excited to find out that some noted authors had called Monterey home, including John Steinbeck and RL Stevenson, and Clint Eastwood calls the area home now.
After lunch, it was on towards our home for the night, Big Sur. Continuing on down Highway 1, we saw one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline we’ve ever seen.
Everywhere we looked was amazing. We pulled over several times to take pictures, including at Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest single span concrete bridges in the world, and certainly one of the most photographed.
Then, it was another 15 mins down the road to our hotel for the night, Glen Oaks Big Sur. We were excited to find out we had been upgraded (yay!), and our gorgeous room has a fireplace just across from the foot of our bed. We headed out to dinner up the road at The Restaurant at Ventana, which was super delicious, and came back to have our first experience of s’mores at the fire pit outside our room – fire roasted marshmallows on chocolate, between graham crackers. They were AMAZING! Just about to head off for bed – a big day of driving ahead tomorrow!
13 January, 2014
Today we headed to the Embarcadero to collect our last hire car for the trip. After getting our Chevy, we headed straight for George Sterling Park, where we tried to head a couple of days ago. We got there, and had a nice (albeit distant) view of the Golden Gate bridge.
Then we drove down the very bendy section of Lombard Street, amongst the throngs of people taking pictures, before heading to Baker Beach, just to the east of the bridge.
Again, we had another great view of the Golden Gate, this time from much closer. On the way to the beach, we passed a big viewing area, so we stopped there on the way back. We went into the pavillion, which housed lots of information and artefacts from the building and opening of the bridge in the 1930s. We could walk up to the top of the viewing area, and had an amazingly beautiful view of the bridge right behind us.
While we were up here, Clinton and I asked a random to take our photo. It turned out he was Australian, so he asked where we were from, and he happened to be from Brisbane. He headed off to bike across the bridge, and we hopped back in the car and drove over the Golden Gate. It is much bigger when you’re on it than you realise! The towers go way up into the sky, and the contrast of the orange bridge with the blue of the sky was gorgeous.
We continued driving up to Muir Woods, a pocket of Redwood trees only 30 mins from the San Francisco city. Over here, you need to pay to get in to many of the national parks, so we paid our $7 and went for a walk through the redwoods.
Most of them grow in clumps, or ‘families’, and are incredibly tall! It was so lovely and cool inside the forest, and I wish we had more time there. But alas, it was time to head back over the Golden Gate bridge and back into the city, to head up to Twin Peaks (cue creepy 90s theme music). Nope, not that Twin Peaks! Twin Peaks is the geographic centre of San Fran, and almost the highest peaks in the city. We had an amazing view of the Golden Gate bridge, downtown San Fran, and the bay from one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other. The sun was starting to set, and it was just another incredible vista, in a day full of them!
Next we headed across town and back over to Fisherman’s Wharf, to the Musee Mecanique, in interactive museum of arcade games. We had peeked in here on our segway tour, and it was a great way to spend an hour before dinner. There were old wooden diorama games, mutoscopes (think of an automated flip book), automatic pianos, fortune tellers, love testers, and some newer machines, like awesome 80s and 90s video games, a mini bowling machine, foosball tables and mine and Clinton’s favourite, air hockey (I won, for the record).
It was time for dinner, so we headed across the to Boudins, a famous sourdough bakery. When the earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906 happened, the owner rushed in to grab the starter yeast, rather than her cash register, and as a result they are the only bakery in the area that has used the same starter yeast since 1849. We had clam chowder in one of their amazing sourdough rolls for our entree, followed by steaks, which were great, and we had a great overlook of the wharf and Alcatraz’s winking lighthouse in the bay. Then it was time for the drive home, and packing to leave tomorrow!
12 January, 2014
Today we got up and organised relatively early, because we had an appointment with Alcatraz! We took the historic F line tram to the Embarcadero, and hopped straight on to our ferry. Once we got to the island, a docent told us about the events on Alcatraz for the day. We walked the Agave route towards the top of the hill, which is closed for nine months of the year for bird nesting, passed the parade grounds and some of the old officer’s quarters, before lining up at the door of the cellhouse for the audio guide, which was incredibly well done and informative. We saw cells set up as if they were lived in back when Alcatraz was opened, could go in to an isolation cell, and learned about the escape plans of several groups of inmates.
There was also quite a bit of time dedicated to the Battle of Alcatraz, a siege by six inmates trying to break out. When you walked out the front of the admin building, there were the most beautiful views of central San Fran and the Golden Gate bridge. Then it was time to go in to the dining room. It’s hard to imagine the hundreds of inmates eating in silence (as silence was a rule throughout the prison). In here, we found a talk being given about one of The Rock’s most famous residents – Al Capone.
We listened to most of it, learning that he died a free man (albeit not a very sane one – syphilis had ravaged his brain by the time of his release), before heading back down to the ferry and returning to the mainland. Clinton and I found it really interesting that Alcatraz has such a harsh reputation, because some of the facilities here seemed better than those at Fremantle Prison in WA, even though Freo closed as a gaol 27 years after Alcatraz!
We walked down Pier 39, which we saw last night, but this time we stayed in the centre and looked for some lunch. Bubba Gump was really tasty, and very apt, considering we’d seen most of the movie over two consecutive nights in Vegas last week. After lunch, we meandered along the pier, before catching a bus to Fort Mason and walking along the seafront, towards the Golden Gate bridge. We stopped just past the yacht club at a small beach and took in the bridge, which was looking spectacular.
Luckily we didn’t wait until after sunset to make it home, because we (again) had issues catching the bus home. After almost an hour, we made it back to the hotel, and had some down time before walking across the road to an Italian restaurant for dinner.
Picking up the rental car tomorrow…eep!
11 January, 2014
Today we had a bike tour, and the forecast was for rain – eeep! We made it to the starting shipping container office, before heading off into the cloudy morning. First stop was City Hall, where we were told by our guide Beebee about how the city burned to the ground in 1906 after a massive earthquake, including City Hall.
We then headed up into the Mission district, where the Spanish originally settled, and which now has bright, beautiful murals on the walls of many buildings.
Next was Castro, which is the centre of the LGBTQ movement in San Fran, and there were many rainbow flags hanging about.
Then it was time for us to take the Wiggle bike route with many other San Franciscan bikers. The Wiggle route is a low grade incline between the hills in SF, and this took us up to the panhandle of Golden Gate park, which we rode around for a while. It’s a huge park, much larger than I thought. Unfortunately, it was here that it started misting rain. We got started again, and headed downwards into the Haight, which is one of the hipper and hippier areas of SF, with quite a few medicinal pot houses. One of the last stops was Alamo Square, and some houses that I’ve seen many, many times in the theme tune of Full House – the famous seven painted ladies.
From this high vantage point, it was easy to see why it was so wet – the skyscrapers of the CBD had disappeared into the clouds and fog. Then, it was time to cruise down the hill and back to the container office. It was hard to believe that we had ridden all that way up! It was very satisfying.
Being a little wet, it was time for a warm lunch in Patxi’s, still in Hayes Valley. They had Chicago style, deep dish pizza, which was amazingly good! Then we took a bus to Clarion Alley to see a whole alley of beautiful murals.
It was still miserable wet weather, so we took a few photos, and then rushed back into the train station, to catch the train to the next stop, followed by a 10 min walk to Balmy Alley to see more murals. The rain seemed to be getting worse, so as it has many times before, the golden arches appeared out of the rain and we headed in for coffee and apple pies. We were still in the Mission, and it felt like the Buena Vista Social Club in there! By the time we left, we were very fortunate in that it had started to clear! The murals in Balmy Alley were absolutely beautiful, and very varied.
Next, we wanted to head to George Sterling Park for a sunset view of the Golden Gate bridge, seeing as it had cleared, but we had quite a few problems with buses, and once we finally got back into the CBD another bus that we needed to take didn’t run on the weekend. Feeling disappointed, we ended up taking a bus and going straight to Chinatown, ready for our night walking food tour. We were a little early so we headed in to Starbucks for a quick drink. We came out and met our tour guide, and again we were the only punters. We walked up the hill a little to a tea tasting, which we’d never done before. Like wine tasting, you start mild and work to full bodied. There were quite a few nice ones, but Clinton burned his tongue on the steaming brews.
Next, we headed to the fortune cookie factory, and after learning how it worked, we got to have some samples. Next, we walked back to have dim sum on the main street of Chinatown, and it was very different to all the foods we’ve eaten at dim sum previously. In a few blocks, we walked down Jack Kerouac Way, and all of a sudden we were in North Beach, the Italian district.
We wandered past the City Lights book store, a Beat Generation publisher and haunt, before moving down past Cafe Trieste, where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay for The Godfather. We wound up our tour, and our day, with a delicious Roman pizza and wine at Cinecitta`, a film themed Italian restaurant.