Pre-Europe: Packing Light

I’ve always considered myself a good packer. I went between my parent’s homes for 15 years, I’ve been on a lot of holidays interstate. I spent 2016 touring theatre in Australia. I’ve done New Zealand twice, I’ve been to America. But this trip was something else altogether. Five weeks, 13 countries, literally the other side of the globe, and in the dead of a European winter.

Now, we Australians know how to handle heat. When my mother and I visited Disneyland in 2016, it was 38ºC. That’s pretty standard heat, but without the humidity. The cast members, on hearing our accents, kept apologising for the weather and we just waved it off. “This is nothing!” And we meant that. Give me dry heat any day of the week. I’ll take it. But with the levels of humidity we get in Sydney, neither I nor my hair enjoy that situation.

Until I went to Europe, I had seen snow exactly twice in my life. Once when I was eight, and my Dad drove my brother and me out to a town called Oberon, located 180km from Sydney’s CBD. There were a few patches on the ground and we got to make a snowman for the only time in our lives. Then, in 2004 when I was in Year 6, we went on school camp to Canberra and the Snowy Mountains. All you need to know about that trip is I vowed I’d never go skiing again, and to this day it remains a threat I have carried out.

Childhood trauma aside, I did an immense amount of research on what to pack. Having never really had to dress for extreme cold and snow, nor having ever stayed in hostels before, I needed help. Plus, I’m just one of those people who loves researching and planning, so it was a lot of fun anyway.
I knew I’d be limited in weight and space for Topdeck, and I’ve never been one to overpack in the first place. However, I discovered there were plenty of ways I could improve on my already formidable packing abilities.

Now before I go on, a lot of the websites I looked at were advocates for packing carry-on only. As appealing as this idea can be, you also need to be realistic. For me, this was the other side of the world, in winter, 34 days, changing countries every few days…it just wasn’t going to happen. This didn’t mean that I was going to pack three suitcases containing my entire wardrobe and the kitchen sink, but but I also wasn’t going to get everything I needed into seven kilograms either. Some airlines in America and Europe may allow more generous carry-on allowances, but in Australia, 7kg is standard. In this post, I’m going to go through some tips for packing light, and what I actually ended up packing.
Not packing carry-on only doesn’t mean you’re overpacking!

1. Get a smaller, lightweight suitcase

Some people on the Winter Spirit had a backpack, and if that works for you, great. I’m more of a suitcase girl myself, and I prefer soft ones. If you’re going on a coach trip like I did, you will likely have luggage limits in terms of dimensions and weight. For Topdeck the weight limit was 20kg, and my airline, Cathay Pacific, was 30kg.

The bag I travelled with was the Lanza Roam 68cm Expand Spin Suitcase. It measures 68cm x 41cm x 27cm, and weighs 2.6kg when empty. It also has an expandable section if you’re really in dire straits. I have a larger Flylite suitcase which came in handy while touring and moving house, but I needed something smaller for this trip. The lighter the suitcase, the more you can pack. And the smaller the suitcase, the less you can fit.
Also, it’s not a bad idea to get a bag with a distinct colour or design, or using some kind of tag to identify it at the carousel.

2. Choose clothing carefully

Every tip I’ve read about packing light comes down to one thing when talking about clothes: Choose clothes that mix and match.
I went through every item of clothing I picked to take with me and made sure they went with every other piece. Stick with solid colours rather than patterns, and neutral colours like black, grey, blue, red. You can add accessories to spice up your outfits. You’d be amazed how many outfits you can make with just a few pieces. And if you’re travelling in cold weather, your outfits will be hidden under your jacket most of the time. For me, I had a taupe down coat from Uniqlo. It was perfect.
Layering is your friend. To stay warm in Europe’s winter, I packed thermals to keep myself warm. I chose a lightweight down coat and lightweight merino wool jumpers/sweaters, and I bought wool socks from Kathmandu. Pick clothes that you can easily wash and will dry quickly. Wool is your friend, because it’s light, very warm, easily layered, and doesn’t need to be washed often. Also, think of clothes that can be dressed up or down for versatility on nice nights out.
I’m a low maintenance kind of girl, and pyjamas aren’t really important so I stuck with some cheap leggings from Supre instead of thick flannel fabric.
Typically for a day of sightseeing in Europe, I would wear a thermal top and leggings underneath jeans/ponte pants and a merino sweater with my down coat on top, scarf, hat, gloves. With my lined boots and wool socks, I was warm as toast. I did laundry maybe once or twice a week, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Be brutal when packing. If you don’t wear it in normal life, you won’t wear it on holiday. If it needs dry cleaning, ditch it. If it takes a week to dry, forget it too. Forget the heels unless you actually need them for an event or something. 2-3 pairs of shoes MAXIMUM is all you need.

Another tip I know to keep baggage weight and space down is you can wear your winter boots and coat on the plane. This has worked wonders for me in the past, but because I was flying out in the blazing Australian summer, this wasn’t an option for Europe.

3. Packing cubes are your new best friend

I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d known about packing cubes years ago. They have changed my life. I will literally never travel without them again. They’re small fabric zippered bags which serve to keep your clothes organised. They help you pack less (you’ll be amazed how much they fit when you roll your clothes!), stop you digging around in your bag for that elusive pair of socks and when you need to repack (as I did every couple of days), you just throw them in your suitcase and away you go. I had one for sweaters and tops, one for socks and underwear, one for pants and one for thermals, scarves, hats and my gloves. Just four packing cubes held everything. My down coast came with it’s own pouch, and I had a toiletry bag. All electronic cords stayed in the zippered section in the lid of my suitcase. I also packed a cheap laundry bag from Daiso to keep my dirty and clean clothes separate.
You can get packing cubes in different sizes all over the place. Amazon, Kathmandu, travel stores, even the $2 shop. Get a few and prepare to have your life improve.

4. Downsize toiletries and makeup

Toiletries and makeup, along with shoes can be the bane of your life. You can either decant all your toiletries into smaller bottles, buy full size once you arrive, or go with solids. For makeup, I did just fine with mineral powder, blush, brown eyeshadow, neutral pink lipstick and light eyeliner. In fairness, I don’t wear makeup much except when I’m performing so….

I highly recommend getting a hanging toiletries bag, especially for Europe, because the bathrooms can be very tiny and there usually isn’t anywhere for the bag to go.
And for the girls, if you want to make everything easier, ditch the pads/tampons and go with a menstrual cup. For more reasons why, click here. Again, I wish to heaven I’d known about these a long time ago.

5. Whatever you do, don’t pack at the last minute.

The best thing you can do is start packing at least two days before you go. Last minute packing is stressful, and tends to lead to overpacking. If you find you’re missing something a day or so before you leave, you have time to fix this. Take the time to write a list, and stick to it!

Below, I present my packing list. In this form it may seem like a lot, but in total it weighed 9kg.
Next blog will be dedicated to the long haul flights and carry on.

My European Winter Packing List

Clothes
7 x underwear
4 x socks
3 x bras
3 x thermal tops
2 x thermal leggings
5 x merino/merino blend sweaters (1 black turtleneck, 1 red crewneck, 1 blue crewneck, 1 light blue crewneck, 1 grey crewneck)
4 x ponte stretch pants (1 black, 1 navy blue, 1 green, 1 dark grey)
1 x skinny jeans
1 x belt
1 x blue top (for going out)
1 x black skirt (for going out, wore thermal leggings to keep warm)
2 x cotton leggings (used as pyjama pants)
1 x cotton pyjama shirt
1 x cotton t-shirt (for the flights)
1 x taupe down coat
2 x scarves
1 x merino wool gloves (these had touchscreen fingers so I could still use my phone)
2 x merino wool hats
1 x lined walking boots (could be dressed up or down for nights out)
1 x sneakers (for the flights and long travel days on the coach

Toiletries
Prescription medication
Lush solid shampoo bar
Hair conditioner (also doubled as shaving cream)
Body wash (replenished in Vienna)
Face wash (replenished in London
SPF moisturiser
Night cream
Body lotion
Exfoliator
Deodorant
Razor
Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Body puff
Contact Lenses
Contact Solution/Case
Makeup (powder, blush, eyeshadow quad, eyeliner, lipstick, mascara, eyelash curler)

Miscellaneous
Laundry bag
Portable clothesline
Microfibre towel (a must if staying in hostels)
Plug adaptors
Chargers
Portable luggage scales
Spare padlock

https://thesavvybackpacker.com/

Dedicated to European travel, this website is brilliant. It’s full of tips, packing advice, travel guides, scam warnings, you name it. I would have been lost without it.

https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/

A great website for packing light. Literally has a list for every destination, in all weathers. They’re big fans of carry-on only, and they also have ideas for reducing toiletries, makeup etc. Great for the ladies.

Next time: Long haul flights and carry on advice

Pre-Europe: Planning

Travel has been a huge part of my life, especially over the last few years. Those who read and followed my Wanderlust recap know that from Dec 25, 2017 – January 29, 2018 I travelled from my home in Sydney, Australia to Europe. I visited 13 countries over five weeks as a solo female traveller. This trip was one I planned meticulously and I was not supposed to go alone (I don’t feel comfortable going into the how/why details at this point). My next few blogs will be about how I planned, packed, and survived the long haul flights. This, obviously, is my own experience and what worked for me. It may not work for you or your destination. But never forget the power of adaptation!

1. Decide where you want to go!

It may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to figure out where exactly you want to visit and how long you want to spend there. Being in Australia, it’s a huge trek to get anywhere in the world, so I wanted to see and do as much as I could. That’s why us Aussies spend so long overseas. We get 4 weeks annual leave every year, and if we’re going to spend 20 hours in the air, we might as well make the most of it.
What do you want to see? What do you want to do? What is your goal, so to speak, for this trip?
My goal was to get a taste of everything, a taste of Europe. I chose to spend some of the trip on a 23 day Topdeck tour, because it went everywhere I wanted to go, ticked a number of items off the bucket list, and if I was somewhere I ended up not liking, I would be stuck there long (I’m looking at you, Venice!). Moreover, if there was a place I really liked, I knew where I wanted to return someday. I doubt I’d do another bus tour anytime soon, but for a first trip, and especially since I ended up alone, it was the best option, and probably the safest for a first time solo female traveller.

The entire trip I visited Hong Kong, London, Paris, Swiss Alps, Florence, Rome, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, not including day trips and stops in towns/cities throughout the journey.

2. Consider weather, time of year

Summer is tempting, but remember that it’s also peak season and lines/crowds will be horrendous. I chose winter because a) it was the most convenient time for me b) it was off-peak season and therefore a lot cheaper and c) Ok, the idea of snow and the holiday season was very appealing.
I was not used to that kind of weather, but I managed fine, and the lack of crowds and lines meant I could fit in so much more to my schedule, and being on my own I could do a lot more in a shorter amount of time.

3. It’s best to have solid ideas that can be adapted rather than a rigid schedule

Obviously, this all depends on your situation, but when I travel, I find it’s best to have a list of things you want to do, the non-negotiable must-haves and a list of ideas as well before you book. For me, I wanted to spend more time in London either before or after the Topdeck tour, and I wanted to make the most of a stopover in Asia.

4. Trust your travel agent

They know what they’re talking about. For instance, my original travelling partner and I had plans for a three day stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, and meet the tour in Paris, then spend time in London afterwards. He also had the grand idea of cutting costs by flying on different airlines. However, the travel agent was upfront over how difficult this would be. Changing airline carriers adds a whole lot of expenses that you neither need nor want, and Singapore was going to be difficult to do in three days. In the end, it seemed Singapore should be a separate trip altogether. We still wanted to make the most of a stopover, if only to break the 20+ hour journey. Instead, Hong Kong was suggested as an alternative, and with a stopover of close to 12 hours, we could definitely get a good feel for the island. I had never even thought of Hong Kong as an option. It literally never crossed my mind. But I agreed, and will be forever grateful I did, because Hong Kong was a wonderful place and I’m dying to go back!
Travel agents know your destination. They can give you all sorts of tips, recommendations and ways to make things smoother. Trust them, and it may just make travelling better than you imagined.

5.Book your flights early, and don’t forget travel insurance.

I cannot stress this enough. Not only will this save you a LOT of money by booking as far in advance as you can, but it takes a lot of stress off. My original companion kept delaying and delaying. We were meant to leave in December, and didn’t book flights til mid-September. Only a few dramatic weeks later, I made the difficult choice to travel alone. Thank goodness for travel insurance, or I would have been screwed. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you cannot afford to travel.

6. Research, research, research!

This is crucial for a trip like the one I took. I had never been that far away from home, and despite my fascination with history, I knew very little about some of the places I was going to. After my less-than-great first experience with a long haul flight to America, I wanted to figure out what I should do differently next time. I knew Europe was full of petty crime and scams. Being Australian, I’d only ever seen snow twice in my entire life so was unprepared how to dress for a European winter. I needed to know about public transport, the airports I would be flying in and out of. And when it became clear I was going on this massive venture as a solo female traveller, something I had never done before, I wanted to know how to keep myself safe.

Google is your friend. Look up all you can about your destination. There’s some incredible websites about travelling that meets every need. More on that in the next section….

Next time: Packing light!

Interview: After Nightfall

After Nightfall is a web series that has me hooked. It’s a refreshing new mystery surrounding the murder of gay teenager Troy McLeavey. It’s not set in the 1950s, doesn’t take place in the outback, has nothing to do with either world war, and thank heavens for that. In March and April this year, I reviewed the entire first season. And, full disclosure, in September I spent two days on set with the cast and crew filming a brief cameo for Episode 1 of Season 2. Everybody involved could not have been nicer, although part of me wondered if that was because I was known as ‘Superfan’ to most of them, having written such glowing reviews. I’m joking by the way. Wayne and his team of actors, camera crew, DOP etc are all professionals of the highest order.

With Season 2 due to be released in early 2019, I sat down with writer/director/star Wayne Tunks for a spoiler-free talk about the process behind filming such an ambitious project, and what we can expect in Season 2 and beyond.

For a writer, inspiration can come from anywhere. Where did the inspiration or spark first come for After Nightfall?

I was actually going for a walk late one Sunday night and the idea came to me. I walked for about an hour and the ideas kept rushing at me. By the time I got home to write everything down I had the basic premise, the name, many characters and the killer. I barely slept that night and the next day started writing. It was a story that needed to come out of me.

Did you map out every detail of the story before writing or did parts of the mystery happen organically?

A combination of both. To start I usually just write and let it flow out but then as the project continues I make a more detailed story map. The first 2 eps just came out organically and then the rest was planned. Having worked as a storyliner on Neighbours, our job was to plot story, so I still use a lot of what I learnt there.

What was the biggest challenge with shooting?

Independent filmmaking is an exercise in shooting on the smell of an oily rag. Shooting on a tiny budget is challenging but also rewarding. So as director I end up as production manager, set dresser and caterer as well as directing. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The entire world of After Nightfall is about the murder of a gay teenager. However, Troy himself remains shrouded in mystery. He’s mostly seen as a ghost and has had maybe five lines of dialogue so far. Was this a deliberate choice?

For Season one, definitely. It’s about the people left behind and how they react and which of them is the one that killed him. I like that Troy is a mystery, at first you’re even asking if his ghost is really there or if his Dad is going mad. In Season two we will see a lot more of Troy, including a flashback episode – so the mystery will slowly be revealed.

Troy is gay, and one of the things I personally love about After Nightfall is how this is portrayed as being completely normal. However, let’s be honest, the majority of LGBTQ characters in pop culture seem firmly rooted in stereotypes and coming-out stories. Why do you think this is the case?

For me all gay stories are important, whether it be a coming out story or others. For the 19 years I’ve been writing I have always tried to put gay characters in my work. When I am watching things now, especially TV, and there are no gay characters I get a little angry. Gay people are in every part of society and deserve to have our stories told. So whether it be coming out, a love story or just a gay cop, I’ll take any gay themed stories and characters.

After Nightfall has a large ensemble cast with many interesting characters. Do you have a favourite character to write for?

I love them all, my characters are like my children. But I have always enjoyed writing a good villain, living vicariously through them. So characters like Kobie, Oscar, Dave and Faye are fun. Plus, writing for myself is fun, guarantees I get some good lines!

My favourite character is Nathan Kelty. His harrowing storyline involves being trapped at a conversion camp. This is a reality for many LGBTQ people, but it’s very swept under the rug especially in media portrayals of the LGBTQ community. Were you at all apprehensive at tackling such a sensitive and rarely-seen issue?

It is our society’s big shame at the moment. I am constantly confused as to why certain religious people seem so obsessed with gay people. They are ruining the lives of young members of the LGBT community and governments let it happen. We like to believe it is just an American thing, but these horrendous places exist in Australia as well, so we need to talk about it. And we need to stop them hurting more innocent people.

What are the challenges of appearing in a project you wrote and directed?

I have been doing it in theatre for a long time but doing it in film is new. It is often intimidating but I was lucky to have an amazing crew around me to help out. But I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, I’m just one of these control freaks who likes to have a finger in every pie.

Obviously, we don’t yet know who killed Troy McLeavey. How have you managed keep the secret with so many actors and crew involved? Was it difficult?

Season One it was just myself and the actor playing the killer who knew. So many people would ask but we were both good at keeping it a secret. I loved hearing the cast and crew’s theories. Now, naturally, after filming Season two, a lot more people know. It was a relief to reveal it and now hope they can keep the secret.

What has been your favourite day on set so far?

Day one for sure. It was all so new and was a big risk. It was an experiment, we would do one day and see if it worked. It was a great success and I felt such a sense of achievement. After one day we knew it was viable and we began planning the rest.

Season One was definitely a success. It’s been screened all over the world and has won a number of awards. Were you surprised at how well people responded?

It’s always the hope that whatever you create, is a success. But I don’t think you ever really believe it will happen. People have been great fans and I feel very humbled. And the awards were the biggest surprise. It feels even more special that other people seem to enjoy the project as much as we do.

To the eagle eyed viewer, it would seem there are clues peppered throughout season 1. Is the mystery solvable to someone who is really paying attention?

100% there are clues, but to be honest, they are subtle. To me they are obvious, but the clues are small and there a lot of red herrings, as you would expect from any murder mystery. I hope when people discover the killer that they look back and see that it makes sense.

What do you most want people to take away from this project?

First and foremost, I want people to enjoy watching it. Love when I hear people binge the series. And I love when I hear people talking about who killed Troy McLeavey. And if we can also talk about important issues while entertaining, even better.

Now that Season 2 filming is done, what’s next for the world of After Nightfall?

We have one more season to go. There will be a new mystery and a lot of storylines to clear up. So after Season two, you will get to see your favourite and not so favourite characters. So watch out for Season Three.

Click here to watch After Nightfall Season 1

Reviews here:

After Nightfall Episode 1 & 2
After Nightfall Episode 3
After Nightfall Episode 4
After Nightfall Episode 5
After Nightfall Episode 6

Wanderlust Part 11: The Final Chapter

This is it! The last part of the Wanderlust journey. Have you read them all yet?

Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London
Wanderlust Part 2: Paris, Swiss Alps
Wanderlust Part 3: Florence and Rome
Wanderlust Part 4: Rome to Venice
Wanderlust Part 5: Salzburg and Vienna
Wanderlust Part 6: Budapest to Krakow
Wanderlust Part 7: Krakow, Auschwitz and Prague
Wanderlust Part 8: Berlin and Amsterdam
Wanderlust Part 9: Amsterdam to London
Wanderlust Part 10: London

Day 32: January 25th, London

Today I’m basically living out a dream I’ve had since 1999. I’m standing outside the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio, about to go in and take the tour.
I am one of the original Potter generation. I was five when Philosopher’s Stone was released and have been a die-hard Potterhead from day one. My love for the Wizarding World has only grown as I grew up. I may be in my 20s, but anything Potter related (except the Cursed Child!) and I’m practically swooning. You have to get up pretty early to out-Potter me.
The exhibition is basically just props, costumes and behind-the-scenes of the films, but I don’t care. I’m like a kid in Honeydukes, running between sections, spotting the hidden Snitches, getting the chance to ride on a Nimbus 2000, learning wand choreography, and FINALLY tasting Butterbeer. 
I finish up in the gift shop, picking up a pair of Deathly Hallows earrings, and a tshirt so nobody can ever doubt that I am a Ravenclaw.

But even the Wizarding World can’t stop reality forever. I have hit the 36 hour countdown. Less than two days until I’m on the plane home. I spend the evening checking into my flights and working out how I’m getting to Heathrow Airport. I need to make the most of the time I have left.

Day 33: January 26th, London

My extended family take me down to the town of Bath, since Stonehenge isn’t going to be a possibility on this trip. Nor is Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe Theatre, or Buckingham Palace. I didn’t get back to Paris either. But this just gives me more reason than ever to come back. 

Bath is a very pretty town, full of sandstone and the most English scenery imaginable. I get to visit the Roman Baths, full of history, and have lunch at an adorable cafe, while teaching the cousins some Australian slang. Personally, I find British slang/insults far more entertaining. Each to their own. 
I take the 3 hour train trip back to Paddington, then to Whitechapel and back to the hostel. I’ve got something booked for the evening, but with a couple of hours to kill, it’s really time that I start packing up everything since I have to check out at 10am tomorrow. 
It’s pretty tedious stuff. I reorganise my packing cubes, throw away empty bottles/unnecessary packaging, and pack my Disney tote with flight essentials. Finally I make sure my flight outfit is on top. A quick weight check, and I’m only a couple of kilos heavier than I was when I left. Yay for packing light and not buying useless souvenirs. 
I only have one night left, and I brave not only the cold, but a Jack The Ripper tour. You’d think it would be scary, but the tour guide was beyond hilarious. He’s written several books on the subject, so we learn all the gory details of each murder, possible related cases and the various (often crazy) theories as to who the Ripper was, but the mystery remains. Thanks RipperVision for a great night in a great city!

With a 24 hour flight home looming in the distance, I head back to the hostel. There’s an Australia Day party going on in the bar. I figure why not, and duck inside. It’s pretty easy to spot the Australians. They’re teaching the Americans our drinking games and generally being the life of the party. 

I have a number of free drink vouchers that I’m never going to use on my own, and I ask the group if they want any.

I’m an instant hero.

Day 34: January 27th, London. Last Day!

The next morning feels strange. I’ve been away from home for so long, and feel like I’ve grown so much older in these five weeks. I’m in a pattern of exploration now. I want to go home, but at the same time I don’t. It’s an odd sensation.
But I don’t have a lot of time to dwell on this. A final check of the room, and then I go downstairs to check out. I leave my bag in the holding room and head outside on a mission to visit a few last minute places. 
First stop: Madame Tussauds. The famous wax museum is very crowded. More crowded than almost anywhere else I’ve been on this trip. Honestly, I could take or leave this place. People aren’t exactly behaving well. Literally shoving to get a photo with a wax model. I get a decent shot with Benedict Cumberbatch, but I mainly came to express my distaste towards a certain orange President. I only last 30 minutes at Madame Tussauds before I can’t hack it anymore. 
Down the road I find the Sherlock Holmes statue and 221b Baker Street. When I walk into the bookshop, one of the workers sees how excited I look and sends me off to the ‘real’ 221b Baker Street where the actual series is filmed. It’s a ten minute walk away. There’s nobody there but me, and I have lunch in the cafe next door. It’s awesome.

I’m running out of time, so I hurry to the nearest Underground station and get the train to Kings Cross, for obvious reasons. Sadly, the line is far too long for me to justify waiting to take a picture at Platform 9 3/4. I have to satisfy myself with the Potter shop next to the trolley.
And finally, I race back to Westminster, walk over the bridge one last time and get on the London Eye. It finally re-opened yesterday, and I figure it’s a great final activity before I go to the airport. But the line is so long I’m seriously fearing whether I’ll be able to do it before I have to head back to the hostel to collect my bag. The London Eye is ok, I guess. But it’s just a giant Ferris Wheel, and I can’t say I’d be rushing to do it again. 

Now it’s time to go back to Whitechapel. I collect my suitcase and begin the trip to Heathrow Airport. I’m not going to have the disastrous experience I did when I arrived, because the Heathrow Express is running. 
I catch the train to Paddington station. I have a little more time than I thought since I’m early to a fault, so I go into the Paddington bear shop, and take a picture of the Paddington Statue with my beloved travelling bear Cecil.

The Heathrow Express is smooth and quick, and very quiet. Heathrow is crowded and bustling with movement. 
I don’t check in straight away. I’m still heavily layered up in thermals, about to go home to an Australian summer. I drag my suitcase into the largest vacant bathroom stall and change completely. My boots, down coat, thermals, turtleneck, scarf and gloves go into the bag. I won’t be needing them anymore. My flight outfit is waiting on top. A loose t-shirt, stretch hybrid pants, my blue sweater, and sneakers. Comfortable, warm enough for the arctic chill I’m about to face and presentable enough.

The flight to Hong Kong is uneventful in the best way. The night has fallen and after dinner is over I recline my seat by a couple of centimetres. I’m rewarded with an swift and instant kick to the back of my chair. Not having any desire to become a viral sensation, I move back up without a word. 11 hours, 40 minutes and I do not sleep at all. 

The plane lands early evening in Hong Kong. I don’t need to worry about my luggage but I do need to go through customs. I’m hardly conscious at this point, but suddenly the security guard makes me snap awake.
“What’s that in your bag?” 
My mind is instantly in panic mode. What could I possibly have done? I double and triple checked my carry on. My liquids were all fine, or were they? I don’t use drugs….but what if….
He pulls out…my book.
“You read? Nice to see a young girl read,”
My knees are weak with relief. “Yes!” I stammer.
“Don’t see much of that now. You keep reading, ok?”

There will be no exploring the city today. My stopover is about 5 hours. There’s just time to eat, and get some rest in the relaxation lounge. Before I know it, it’s time to board the flight to Sydney. Another 9 hours til I’m home. 
As I take my seat, the little girl next to me is quietly sketching away. I don’t pay much attention to her until she slides me the paper. “It’s you. Because you are very beautiful,”
My heart melts. Her name is Angelina. She 12 and can sketch as well as any anime artist. She has some serious skills. She draws me another picture later in the flight. I’ll cherish them forever.

The plane is delayed for about an hour on the tarmac due to some technical/logistical error. And again, I can’t sleep. At around 3am the kids have fallen asleep so I decided to finally watch the movie IT. What I don’t realise is…the kids wake up. I found this out during the infamous jump scare. The less said the better. 

Morning comes, and the plane descends into Sydney. I see beaches, sparkling blue water, sunshine, Sydney Harbour. There’s nothing quite like it. Angelina gives me a hug. “I will miss you very much,” I’ll miss her too. The flight lands with a thud, later than scheduled but I’m not too bothered by this. I’m back.

I stagger off the aircraft and into the terminal. I get through immigration without a lick of trouble but have to wait an uncomfortably long time for my bag at the carousel. Customs merely glances at my landing card and sends me on my way. 

I walk down the hallway towards arrivals, dragging my blue suitcase behind me. A rush of emotions threatens to engulf me. 34 days, 18 cities, 13 countries, 13 hostels, 7 currencies, 5 weeks, 3 shows, 1 suitcase. 
Deciding to travel alone was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. But I did it. I’ve navigated public transport systems in foreign languages. I’ve walked through ancient structures. I’ve seen sights I’ve dreamed of for years. I’ve fallen in love with Europe and left pieces of myself everywhere I went.
But here I am after the fact. Holy hell, I actually did all those things. 

Just before I go through the final door, I catch a glimpse of my exhausted face reflected in the glass. I haven’t slept for more than a day. I’m starting to sweat in the heat. But as I step into the bright arrival hall and see the smiling face of my friend, I feel prouder than I’ve ever felt before.

I’m home!

Wanderlust Part 10: London

You’ve come this far, so don’t miss a moment of my Wanderlust recap!

Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London

Wanderlust Part 2: Paris, Swiss Alps

Wanderlust Part 3: Florence and Rome

Wanderlust Part 4: Rome to Venice

Wanderlust Part 5: Salzburg and Vienna

Wanderlust Part 6: Budapest to Krakow

Wanderlust Part 7: Krakow, Auschwitz and Prague

Wanderlust Part 8: Berlin and Amsterdam

Wanderlust Part 9: Amsterdam to London

Day 29: January 22nd, London

When I wake up, there’s borderline commotion in my dorm. The lights are still not working, despite multiple trips to reception. Nobody likes showering in the dark. Do not try it at home. So management moves everyone into different rooms, and I’m given a couple of breakfast vouchers and free drink vouchers for the bar.

My winter boots have been thoroughly soaked in the rain yesterday. I stuff them with paper towels and let them sit under the heater in the dorm. Today, I’m wearing my sneakers. Thankfully it’s about 14ºC outside, quite pleasant compared to the rest of the trip.

I’m well rested, and VERY eager to cram in as much of this city as I possibly can. Since it’s just me, I can do whatever I like, and stay however long or short I wish.

I make a plan of where I’m going to go today, and tonight I’ll see my first West End show.

First stop, Oxford Street, which of course has a very different reputation back home. I was thinking I may do some shopping here, but once I arrive I feel more like a hot chocolate. At the Starbucks, I experience the only time on my trip (and quite likely my entire life) that someone can’t understand my accent. I’m not kidding. In the heart of London of all places, the Starbucks employee can’t make out what I’m saying. I didn’t think my accent was that strong. I’m far from ‘ocker’. Quite the opposite; I’m continually being mistaken for British. Not just in Europe, but also when I visited the USA in 2016.

I wander along Oxford Street, but it’s not really for me. After a little while, I begin walking to Trafalgar Square, past a number of theatres including Her Majesty’s, where Phantom of the Opera has been playing since 1986. Trafalgar Square is somewhat crowded. I’m prepared to bet it’s far worse in summer. And frankly, thanks to Blackadder, I can’t take the Duke of Wellington seriously.

It’s time for a break. After learning that the legends of British fish and chips are true, I keep walking along to Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben which is also under renovations. The London Eye is too, but will be open the day before I go home.

There’s still more I want to see and do. Next on my list is the Imperial War Museum. I could easily take the Underground but I decide I’ll see more of the city if I walk. An hour later I seriously regret that. The museum is seriously worth it though. With each floor dedicated to a different conflict, my inner history geek is more than satisfied.

I’m curious to see what Harrods is like, but I stupidly walk there too. And my feet are literally screaming in protest because my sneakers are nowhere near as supportive as my boots. When I arrive at Harrods, I want to leave immediately because it absolutely sucks. But my feet hurt too much and I have to sit down for a few minutes. No more walking. As soon as I’m capable of standing, I take the Tube back to Leicester Square, have dinner and make my way to St Martin’s Theatre for The Mousetrap. Running for 66 years and counting, I’m watching performance #27, 192. Yes, I’ve read the script. Yes, I already know the twist ending. No, none of that matters. It’s a wonderful production. Afterwards I’m the only one at the stage door and get the cast’s autographs.

Today’s been a good day.

Day 30: January 23rd, London

When I wake up the next morning, my legs and feet are incredibly sore. I’m also absolutely worn out. The past four and a half weeks of non-stop movement and adventures have finally caught up with me.

I ring home, and Mum suggests I have a more relaxing day. My boots are dry at last, so I won’t be punishing my limbs by walking too much today.

I catch the Underground to South Kensington and begin the five minute walk to the Natural History Museum. But literally next door, I spot the Science Museum. I’m reminded a little bit of Questacon back home. I have the whole day, and since museums in London are free, I see no reason not to go inside. So I do. It’s a fun place with a number of incredibly cool exhibits and free WiFi, but I have to admit it’s more geared towards children. Plus there’s no rollercoaster simulator, guillotine simulator, earthquake house, or free fall slide. I don’t spend as much time in there as I thought I would, but I don’t regret going either.

The Natural History Museum on the other hand, is absolutely magic. I almost lose track of the hours, walking through the massive and varied exhibitions. I recognise some from a charming video my brother and I adored when we were kids (Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact and Fantasy). The display of Australian animals makes me smile, especially seeing everyone else ooh and ahh over the kangaroo. If only people understood how aggressive they are.

You could spend days in the Natural History Museum, but I manage to get through the entire thing, satisfactorily, on my own in about three to four hours.

That evening, I take in my second West End show, The Play That Goes Wrong. It recently played in Sydney, and I missed it. I’m not missing it here. I have a good seat in the stalls, and in a happy coincidence, one of the boys from my Topdeck tour is seated right next to me.

I will not dare spoil the genius of The Play that Goes Wrong. I will say that I was honestly sobbing with laughter by intermission. But to reveal anything further would be a major disservice to the piece.

However, not all is well. My anxiety disorder is bubbling beneath the surface, and on my way back to Whitechapel I’m making a massive effort to keep it under control.

But it can’t last.

I’m standing at the entrance to Leicester Square station, figuring out which platform to go to, when I hear the word every female is all too familiar with…

“Smile!”

I ignore it.

“Hey honey, give me a smile!”

I ignore it again.

“Smile! Smile sweetie! Smile! SMILE!”

I’ve had enough and look around. There’s a young homeless man sitting by the entrance, though very obviously in his right mind. He and the man handing out the evening paper are smirking at me.

“Give us a smile!” Homeless Guy says again (he’s persistent, I’ll give him that).

“No,” I snap and turn back to the sign.

“Aw, come on!” he grins and spreads his arms wide.

Maybe it’s the panic attack threatening to emerge any second. Maybe it’s the memories of those revolting waiters in Venice, or the creep in Prague. Maybe I’m overtired, or I’ve just had enough at this point. Whatever the reason, my temper flares.

“WHY?!? WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT I SMILE, HUH?” I roar back in his stupid face. “WHAT DO YOU CARE SO MUCH?”

He considers for a moment. Clearly he hadn’t expected this kind of reaction. “Because…life is….great?”

“That’s not a good enough reason. Screw that!” I give him the most acid-filled look I can muster. Newspaper Man shoves a paper in my face. Big mistake.

“F*** off!” I storm down the stairs onto the platform. A second later my blood pressure drops and I realise. I just yelled at a catcaller. And I’m still alive.

It’s a miracle.

Day 31: January 24th, London

Today, I’ve got some exciting plans. First stop, the London Dungeon. This is one of my favourite activities on the whole trip. It’s an interactive theatrical show which takes you through 1000 years of British history. Yeah, Sweeney Todd didn’t really exist. But still. It’s great fun. Just the right amount of creepy and hilarious. The actors really embrace the gore of Britain’s often gruesome history, and you can’t help but enjoy every minute. Even though I scream a couple of times.

That night I have a lovely dinner with a dear friend from university, who I haven’t seen in 3 years. Bec and I studied musical theatre together and she moved to London in 2014. A few members of our class were also expats, but she’s the only one still there and doing quite well for herself. We have a lot to catch up on, and I’m amazed at her British/Australian hybrid accent. She’s coming back to visit Australia for Christmas in 2018, so it’s not a forever goodbye.

I quickly go back to the hostel and put a few things in my Disney tote bag I use on flights. My suitcase goes securely in my locker. I take the Underground to Paddington Station and then catch a connecting train to Swindon, where my extended family are.

Next time: Part 11/11 The Final Chapter

Wanderlust Part 9: Amsterdam to London

Don’t miss any part of my Wanderlust recap!
Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London
Wanderlust Part 2: Paris, Swiss Alps
Wanderlust Part 3: Florence and Rome
Wanderlust Part 4: Rome to Venice
Wanderlust Part 5: Salzburg and Vienna
Wanderlust Part 6: Budapest to Krakow
Wanderlust Part 7: Krakow, Auschwitz and Prague
Wanderlust Part 8: Berlin and Amsterdam

Day 26: January 19th, Amsterdam

Marijuana use is tolerated in Amsterdam. We were warned about the side effects and cautioned to be very careful, but in my mind there’s no point in going to any of the cafes, because you can practically get high by breathing in this place.
I have some special plans for today, which I worked out last night. I’m going to visit the Ten Boom Museum in Holland. It won’t be easy, but it seems doable, so I’m going to give it my best shot.
I catch the tram to Amsterdam Central, and get on a train down to Holland, about 45 minutes out of Amsterdam. The train is absolutely gorgeous, with WiFi and plush seats that wouldn’t be out of place in a movie theatre.
Once I’m in Holland, I stop into Starbucks for breakfast, and follow the excellent signage to the Ten Boom Museum. And I’m in time for the only English tour that day!
The Hiding Place is one of my favourite books, and to actually stand in the secret room where eight people hid from the Nazis (and were never found) is surreal. It was definitely worth the trip down here. I’ve lived a piece of history today.

Once I make my way back to Amsterdam, I can’t resist heading into a cheese store since we missed out yesterday. I end up choosing regular gouda and pesto gouda. They’re vacuum sealed so they’ll keep and I can get them through customs as well.

It’s the final night of the Winter Spirit tour, and it ends with another dinner cruise on the river. Afterwards we walk through the city as a group, snapping pictures and admiring the figure skaters. My phone falls into a puddle, but it’s miraculously undamaged.

Tomorrow, a lot of people won’t be joining us to head back to London. Some are staying in Amsterdam for a while, others are going to other countries, and some are simply going home. But not me. I’m seeing this trip through, right to the end.

Day 27: January 20th, Amsterdam to London

The morning comes, and there’s a lot of goodbyes in the dining room. The few of us who are going back to London climb onto the coach for the final time. We started with about fifty on December 28th. People have arrived and left, and now there’s about twenty. And I’m one of the only ones from the original group who did the entire trip. I don’t know if that’s actually an accomplishment, but still. One of the last few standing.

Everyone on the coach is tired. Not me so much, but I’m definitely ready to travel on my own. As we drive, Morgan gets everyone to come up to the microphone and share their favourite place from the trip. I also take the opportunity to use up the rest of my WiFi allowance, since I’ve used it very sparingly.
Before we get to the boat terminal as Calais, the coach is stopped and everyone is told if they have any marijuana from Amsterdam, get rid of it NOW before the sniffer dogs are brought on. A hilarious number of people sheepishly get off the coach and retrieve their bags from underneath.
Finally, we have to go through customs. One of the boys doesn’t have an arrival stamp from Heathrow (because customs somehow forgot) and he’s given the third degree. Some others are practically interrogated about their travel plans. I’m quaking in my boots but my border agent glances at my passport. “We’ve had a lot of Australians coming through here. Don’t melt when you get home to that heat,” And just like that, I’m through without a hitch.
We miss the ferry we were aiming for, so there’s a long wait before we get on the boat. A few hours on the water, watching the French coastline disappearing, and we’re back in Dover. It’s getting dark. A final video is made of everybody waving goodbye just before we get back to Wombats, where this all began. We gather our bags and exchange some last goodbyes. Many are going home tomorrow. Some leave for other hotels, some are leaving on other Topdeck or Contiki tours the next day. I seem to be the only one who plans to stay only in London for the next week before home. I check back into the hostel again, and plan to get some sleep. 24 days, so many adventures. And more on the way.

Topdeck is done, but I still have to tackle London before I go home.

Day 28: January 21st, London

I finally have the luxury of sleeping a bit later today. A whole week in this glorious city, and no early morning starts.
Unfortunately, there’s an issue in my female-only dorm. The lights aren’t working so I have to shower in the dark, which is an experience to say the least. I go down to do some laundry, then take care of the bird’s nest I call my hair, and at around 2pm my extended family show up. I haven’t seen them in a long time, and we go to the Tower of London, which is right near my hostel.
The tower is massive, and we walk around the entire thing. It’s here that I learn I am possibly the worst person to visit a historical site with because every five seconds it’s “Knew that…knew that….they missed that detail out….didn’t know that….knew that but here’s the entire story in minute detail….”

The day cuts short because Rachel and Chris have to get home, and in true London style, it starts to rain. Hard.

And the lights in the dorm still aren’t working.

NEXT TIME: Part 10/11 London

Wanderlust Part 8: Berlin and Amsterdam

Missed any part of my WANDERLUST series? Catch up here!
Wanderlust Part 1: Hong Kong and London
Wanderlust Part 2: Paris, Swiss Alps
Wanderlust Part 3: Florence and Rome
Wanderlust Part 4: Rome to Venice
Wanderlust Part 5: Salzburg and Vienna
Wanderlust Part 6: Budapest to Krakow
Wanderlust Part 7: Krakow, Auschwitz and Prague

Day 23: January 16th Prague to Berlin, Germany via Dresden

Some people joined in Budapest and left in Prague. Some have joined us for the final week. There are fewer than ever on the coach, and just two more destinations before the Winter Spirit trip ends.
We leave Prague early in the morning. After the usual morning stop at the service station for snacks, our lunch break will take place in the German town of Dresden. In WWII. 4000 tonnes of explosives were dropped on Dresden over two days, obliterating the city. But you’d never know, because it’s been rebuilt and is absolutely beautiful.
While walking around, I get to know Hannah, a 19 year old from Queensland who’s one of the most recent additions for this last week.We have a nice lunch at a fun little place. She’s studying occupational therapy and she’s never seen snow.

We arrive in Berlin that evening and get a driving tour of the city by a local guide. I sign up to do the Third Reich walking tour the next day, and as dinner is served that night, I have my first ever shot. For the record, it was a vodka sunshine, and it’s all captured on video.

Day 24: January 17th Berlin, Germany

When I booked my trip to Europe, one of the things I was most excited about was the amount of history on the continent. Especially war history, which is fascinating to me. I’m very keen to see how Germany handles WWII memorials, for obvious reasons.
Our guide is Spanish, and has lived in Germany for a few years. The tour starts at the Reichstag building, where we learn about Hitler’s rise to power, followed by the Brandenburg Gate. It starts snowing at this point, and you can definitely tell who the Australians are in this group because we all start squealing like kids in a candy store. And yes, there is still that one guy who ALWAYS wears shorts.
I take some hauntingly beautiful pictures of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the snow, and then we’re invited to walk through the stone maze.
We stop at a cafe for a quick break, then it’s onto the site of Hitler’s bunker and we finish at what’s left of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie where we hear about a few very creative escapes.

People scatter after the tour, and again, I decide to go off on my own. I’m much happier this way. I wander into a nearby store and get a beautiful new pair of gloves to replace the ones I’m currently wearing. They’ve been saturated by the snowfall outside. I walk along the Berlin Wall to the war museum, entry is free, and spend some time looking around. But to be honest, a lot of the information is stuff I already know from a lifetime of loving history.
The snow is getting very heavy, and it’s soaking through my coat. I head into a giant shopping centre to dry off a bit. The fashions in Berlin are lovely, and I want to take this chance to revamp my wardrobe.
Because I have ten days til I head back to Australia, and the sweltering heat, I’m conscious of the fact that I haven’t got any summer clothing to change into on the flight home. There’s a sale on, and I get a new pair of denim shorts for 10 euros. And a new winter hat. I’m sure everyone in the store thought I was crazy getting shorts in the dead of winter. If only they knew.

Outside, it’s snowing harder than ever and I’m wet to the skin, boots and all. I hate to admit it, but it’s time to throw in the towel and head back to the hostel if I want to get dry. I decide to walk back and see as much of the city as I can. On the way I find an adorable cupcake shop, and get a couple to take with me.
Back at the hostel, I strip off all my wet clothes and hang them up to dry. The heating system will soon take care of that for me. My boots go under the heater on the wall, and I take a hot shower to defrost.

This is my first experience with real, heavy snowfall. And I’m quite happy to make it my last.

Day 25: January 18th Berlin to Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s time for the last drive day, and onto our final destination. Amsterdam.

This is the only day where literally nothing eventful happens. It’s a 12 hour drive day, and bad weather (which even makes the news in Australia) means we have to miss the cheese and clogs factory demonstration we were meant to do today. It sucks. Guess that just goes to show, traffic and weather is a global issue. At least the coach is relatively comfortable and very well heated.

The only noteworthy experience is arriving in Amsterdam, and being warned in no uncertain terms to not step into the bike lanes. “You WILL get knocked over and they WILL yell at you,”
As soon as I have access to WiFi, I send a desperate message home. I fear I may not make it out alive after seeing these bike riders in action. If I don’t, avenge my death.

Next time: Part 9/11 Amsterdam, London