a new project: thebeautifultraveller.com

Hi guys!

It’s been a little quiet lately over here at flygirl… I know, I know, it’s the number one blogging sin. But I promise I’ve been working on something!

I started a new baby with my sister Dayna (www.thebeautifultraveller.com) and I would love it if you could check it out. It’s brand new so it’s still being built and refined but we would just love, love, LOVE any input you might have.

Have a suggestion, a tip, a hint or a criticism? Send ’em my way.

flygirl has been an amazing first foray into the world of blogging and it’s taught me a lot, but I still have a long way to go. I will of course keep this site up and running as I’d love to stay connected with everyone I’ve met through this site and I really would love to hear from everyone.

If you also have any travel stories or insight into a particular destination you’d like to share I would be forever grateful!

Of course that goes both ways, always happy to help you out in any way I can.

Amelia x

a last-minute flight to perth…

The other night we received some sad news: we had a death in the family. This wasn’t unexpected but until it actually happens you never know how the news will hit you. This family member lives Perth (a three-hour flight from us) so we have booked some last-minute tickets to fly over on Sunday.

As sad as it is, it will also be a new experience: this will be Baby’s first time on a plane and with that comes our first time flying with an infant. There’s so much more to travelling with a bub than I ever imagined (checking in the pram, feeding him on take off so his ears don’t hurt, making sure the hire car has a car seat, booking a hotel room with a cot), but seeing his little name on the ticket puts a huge smile on my face.

This will be the only time we can get away together for a while and it’s obviously the first time the three of us are travelling together so, even though we’re flying over for a sad occasion, we’d like to have one day to do the touristy thing and have some family time.

So, dear readers, for those of you who have been to Perth, what are your must-do activities for someone who only has one day free? (hint: we’ve been before and are confident with the roads, but have never had the chance to properly explore) And for any one with kiddies, what hints or tips would you offer for a first-timer like me?

xx

layover: 24 hours in tokyo

From Australia, it’s a long way to Europe (or anywhere, really) so each time I travel I try to incorporate a stopover in a different city. Japan Airlines flies from Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Cairns to Tokyo and passengers can then connect through to Europe. It’s not the most common connection from Australia to Europe (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or Dubai would probably be the most popular) but it’s a really interesting option for something different. Flights don’t connect efficiently though which usually means a mandatory stopover, but the plus side to this is that, if you book the quickest connection, JAL will usually provide you with accommodation for the night. If you’re up for an adventure though, bypass the airport accommodation and head into the city for a 24-hour Tokyo jaunt.

shinjuku at night

shinjuku at night

night life

Tokyo possesses some wonderful night life, whether it be hole in the wall bars, karaoke clubs or Ministry of Sound-style super clubs. Shinjuku is where I based myself since that’s where our hotel was, but Roppongi and Shibuya have a great atmosphere as well.

a view from the top

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku provides a wonderful view over the whole city. It’s worth it to gain an appreciation for Tokyo’s mix of old and new – this concrete jungle has beautiful green gardens scattered throughout. Unless you happen to be in Tokyo on a super clear day though, don’t expect amazing views of Mt Fuji – smog usually makes it pretty hard to see.

something fishy

Stay out late enough and you can head straight to the fish markets before dawn. “The Fish Markets?” you ask. Yes, the fish markets. I guarantee you will never see anything else like it. You need to be there early enough (say, about 4am) but it’s worth it to see the major players of the sushi world bidding tens of thousands of dollars for the best fish (especially tuna). It’s madness… like watching the finale of The Block, only better (and stinkier). So these are the three things I would do on a one-night layover. There’s so much to do in Tokyo if you have the time (Studio Ghibli, Disney, shrines galore, Harajuku etc etc) but for one night, immerse yourself in the crazy. Also, check out my friend’s page over at kittenishgirl, she’s a Tokyo fiend!

review: phinda mountain lodge, south africa

This would have to be it… the most wonderful place I’ve ever stayed (so far, anyway).

Phinda Mountain Lodge, an andBeyond property, is located near St Lucia in the province of KwaZulu Natal. The lodge itself is located on the Phinda Private Reserve and there are several other lodges within its confines.

The first impression of this place is incredible. We were seated on the main deck for our welcome drink and orientation, and it was hard to take in much information when the view of the mountains and valley is such:

lounge/main deck

lounge/main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

view over the mountains from the main deck

We were assigned a guide and driver and briefed on the afternoon’s game drive before being shown to our rooms. The rooms could be more accurately described as a villa; a sprawling space with everything one needs, opening up to a beautiful deck complete with loungers, a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. One can sit in the plunge pool and look down onto the plain to watch elephants roam. Or imagine taking a shower afterwards and a giraffe pops his head up to say hello!

We were given extremely strict instructions, however, that after dusk we were not to attempt to enter/exit our rooms without security as the risk of injury was too high (read: being eaten)! No matter, the security guards were so caring and obliging of us that it felt lovely to be looked after so.

my bed - wonderful

my bed – wonderful

The mini bar was extensively stocked (to the point of having cocktail shakers) and this was included in our room rate – no nasty surprises upon checkout!

In the evening, I would arrive to my room thinking to myself “gee, what a day, a long soak in the tub would be beautiful” only to walk into the bathroom and find it already filled – complete with rose petals!

bathroom

bathroom

outdoor area

outdoor area

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

getting around on game drives with our driver/guide and spotter

Unforgettable experiences are guaranteed at Phinda, whether they be sundowners on a hill overlooking a herd of elephants, tracking a rhino on foot, or a candlelit braai feast in the middle of nowhere. The wonderful guides and spotters are extremely well-educated on the wildlife, but the highlight for me was having an in-depth discussion on the universe with our guide while star-gazing. I thought I knew quite a bit on this topic but he put me to shame!

All in all the three days/two nights spent here on safari were absolutely incredible and I’d recommend it to anyone. The only negative about my stay was that hubby wasn’t there to share the experience; no matter – we’ll be staying here when I manage to make it back with him.

the author travelled to Phinda as a guest of South Africa Tourism

fridays with hubby: an osaka wrestling match

Sometimes I struggle to find inspiration, particularly after a long day. Sometimes I think, “what is it that makes my life so interesting? Why bother writing?” then I realised… I live with one of the most interesting and inspirational people I know – my husband! He’s not much of a writer so I thought, in between coats of paint on the house, shed-building, landscaping and the million hours of work he does per week I would hassle him for some of his stories (over a beer) and attempt to dedicate a few posts to him. Here goes!

This adventure starts on the way to find “some local market or something”. Fly-man and his intrepid traveller friends wander past a brightly coloured building aptly titled “Osaka Pro Wrestling” with two clowns painted on the front. The wrestling wasn’t on at that point but somehow they managed to find their way back later in the evening to take in the show.

 

Osaka Pro Wrestling, Logan Winter

Osaka Pro Wrestling, Logan Winter

 

When seated (in the front row!) it becomes apparent they’re the only Westerners there. As a result, hubby says they were treated like (sort of) celebrities/a bit of a novelty. At this point, hubby says he really doesn’t know what he should tell me, so I try to ask more questions.

“Was the wrestling good?” I prompt.

“Nah, it was shit-house” is the reply I get. Then he adds that it was a super-fun experience but that I shouldn’t expect WWE-style wrestling. Okay then. (Trying to talk to me about wrestling is like trying to talk to him about nail polish).

“Was there music?” I try again (because clearly I know nothing about wrestling).

“No of course not.”

“Was there yelling?”

“Yeah but it was all in Japanese so I have no idea what they said, but I can only assume there was some form of banter.”

He does go on to say that after the show, the organisers made them try some local lemonade and the wrestlers wanted to have their photo taken with these curious Australians and ask them about various Australian wrestlers. (At this point I ask hubby: “are there any Australian wrestlers?” to which I get a slightly annoyed “YES! Duh.” Ummm… Okay.)

So there you have it. My first attempt at trying to dictate some of my darling hubby’s travel stories. Probably shouldn’t expect that Walkley anytime soon…

Aussie tourists and Japanese Wrestlers, Logan Winter

Aussie tourists and Japanese Wrestlers, Logan Winter

review: centara grand at central world, bangkok

We were off to a slow start when our driver (after negotiating an hour’s worth of Bangkok traffic) dropped us at the wrong Centara. We were booked into the Centara Grand at Central World and not the Centara Grand Central Plaza. After a long flight we were weary and didn’t notice we were at the wrong hotel until well after the driver had gone, leaving us to schlepp across town to find the right hotel. When we reached our hotel, it’s fair to say we were glad we were booked at the Central World Centara and not the Central Plaza – the Central World just nails the wow factor as soon as you walk in. The check in staff were friendly and helpful.

It was so late by the time we reached our room that the restaurants were closed so room service it was; we promised ourselves this would be the one and only time we ordered pad thai on this trip (we wanted to sample more quirky local foods) but alas – the dish was disappointing and set in motion a ten-day quest for an authentic version.

As is often the case in Asia, the bed wasn’t particularly comfortable for my Aussie bottom and the room did have a couple of quirks; for example one of the lights in the room wouldn’t turn off which made for some restless nights but the room itself was lovely and spacious, very clean and the bathroom was excellent. What you want is a massive tub to soak in after a gruelling day shopping at one of Bangkok’s mega malls or markets and that’s exactly what this bathroom had.

There are some things you don’t really expect at a five-star hotel: the restaurant running out of spoons at breakfast, paying through the nose for internet, having to call up at 5pm because your room hasn’t been made up etc… but hey, it’s not like any of these things ruined our stay.

The hotel itself is in a decent location – in the high-end Western district of Pathumwan so it was nice and close to MBK and the Paragon mall but harder to get to Patpong night markets, Chatuchak etc. One night taxis and tuk tuks flat-out refused to take us to Patpong because of the traffic which was pretty disappointing.

The Red Sky bar on the 55th floor really was the highlight (and actually what drew me to this hotel in the first place) – amazing food (we had the squid), delicious cocktails and breathtaking views over the whole of Bangkok.

Overall would I stay there again? Absolutely, although I’d consider an alternative like the Banyan Tree which is a little closer to all the action.

P1020418

P1020419

considering a babymoon? read this first.

There’s a trend these days for couples to enjoy a “babymoon” before their babies are born – that is, to have a little getaway, enjoy some quality time together and relax before that little bundle of joy arrives and sleepless nights set in.

It’s a cute idea for those who have the time and resources and let’s face it, what new mum or dad isn’t at least slightly anxious about impending parenthood?

I’m all for the idea in theory but there’s one really big thing to think about that a lot of people seem to be forgetting: their travel insurance.

Being an expectant mum myself, I’m seeing lots of women considering babymoons which is great, but what concerns me are two trends: travelling without insurance, or travelling with insurance and assuming baby is covered. Here’s a little newsflash that surprises a lot of people: baby won’t be covered if you travel overseas.

For Australians, travel interstate is fine because pregnancy will always be covered by Medicare (the joys of being a citizen of a country with such a scheme). If you travel on a cruise though (even if it’s a domestic cruise) or you fly out of the country this is where expectant parents really need to consider the risks far more thoroughly than they have been.

On a standard policy (bearing in mind this is a generalisation, however it is based on experience and in-depth conversations with several insurance companies) a woman with a single pregnancy would be covered up to about 26 weeks (depending on the policy) provided she has experienced absolutely no complications whatsoever. This 26-week limit means all travel must be completed by then, NOT that you must depart by then. It’s usually about 18 or 19 weeks for women pregnant with multiples.

But here’s the trick: while the mother is covered, the baby isn’t. This means that the mother could go to the hospital complaining of pains and be treated but the minute the decision is made that the baby is to be delivered, that’s it. Cough up the dough because the insurance company won’t be.

Consider the risks of this: what if a mother went to say, Fiji or Bali for a week at 25 weeks, fully intending to be home by the 26 week mark. While away, she goes into spontaneous labour and needs to deliver. At 25 weeks the foetus is viable and is born alive, but now needs three months of round-the-clock care in the NICU of the hospital. Sorry, but those parents will be paying. Not to mention having to stay in that country for the whole time, paying for food, accommodation etc and not going to work. Can you imagine?

Or, on the most awful end of the scale, consider the tragic case of the lady who this week delivered her baby at 24 weeks on board a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane. The plane needed to be diverted to Denpasar and unfortunately the baby passed away. No post-natal care would be provided for this woman and the repatriation cost of her baby’s body wouldn’t be covered either.

As ridiculous as much of this may sound, I’m yet to come across a policy that works differently (but if you happen to come across one let me know!)

My advice: ALWAYS read your Product Disclosure Statement, ask as many questions as you can and really consider if a particular policy is right for you – or indeed, if the risk is worth it.

mother nature doesn’t care about your annual leave dates

One of the most famous wildlife events in the world is the Serengeti-Masai Mara Wildebeest Migration. It traditionally happens every year sometime in June-July.

While the migration pattern itself is fairly predictable, the actual timing of this phenomenon is becoming less so. Last year it started in early June and this year it was late May, earlier than ever.

The Migration is a weather-dependent occurrence and I think we can mostly agree world weather patterns are currently changing. As the rains arrive earlier the migration in turn starts earlier and becomes even less predictable than usual.

Africa is a region I’m really passionate about and, truth be told, it’s the region I get the most excited about sending my clients to. It has the wonderful diversity of dramatic landscapes, unique wildlife and a fascinating ix of different cultures. The one thing constantly requested though is to ravel at the time of Migration.

This is a really difficult experience to plan. I could toot my own horn and list some things I think I’m quite good at but predicting African weather patterns is not one of them. Unfortunately, I can’t offer my clients any guarantees they will see migration; indeed, I try to tell them it’s more than likely they will not. Why? Because it’s my arse on the line if they expect something they don’t get and they complain.

But here’s where I think I’m going to say something prospective clients of mine may find controversial: personally, I’m not sure I would bother. Sure, it’s an incredible sight to behold but or the average Joe, who has to take leave from work and fork out thousands upon thousands of dollars to get to Africa, I don’t  think it’s particularly reasonable to expect or to plan to see migration.

For many people, Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They come for the safari experience; particularly to see the Big Five. The Serengeti and Masai Mara are two of the best places to see this and at any time of the year the chances are much higher than many other places. The joys of heading out on Safari cannot be fully described and, while the animals are obviously the main focus, the experience is heightened by a good tracker and guide. It is a remarkable opportunity to increase one’s knowledge of the world we live in and, in my opinion, this should really be the focus of any Safari.

I know I’ve said this before about other destinations but if you have the time and the resources, just go when you can. No matter what time of year you arrive, you won’t regret it.

i’ve cracked.

Well… I’ve added a bucket list (see the top menu). I’ll keep ticking things off as I go, but let’s be honest I’ll probably add just as many things as I tick off!

I know the idea might be kind of naff, but I thought it’s a nice way to remind myself to “just keep swimming” when I need a bit of encouragement.

 

What’s on your bucket list?