What’s in My Carry On

By Kate Arnold

I’m off everyone! Today I’m leaving for Peru! I love the ‘What’s in My Bag’ tag that’s been going around the internet for years so this is my variation on it. Here’s everything in my carry on that I’m taking to Peru:

  1. Laptop – I don’t usually travel with my laptop but I’ll need it for teaching and since I’m gone for such a long time I’m hoping to get a lot of work done while I’m away and I’ll need it for that.
  2. Phone – no surprise here. I like to send my family messages when I can get free wifi at airports to let them know I’m okay. Plus I’ll have it loaded with music, audiobooks and podcasts to keep me entertained throughout the looong journey.
  3. Headphones – for listening to said music, audiobooks and podcasts
  4. Chargers – my phone battery sucks. Most planes have USB ports that mean I can use my phone through the whole flight if I want and not worry about depleting the battery.
  5. Portable phone charger – again, my phone battery sucks. Not having to worry about my phone dying while I’m alone in a foreign country is a huge weight off my mind.
  6. Documents, records of vaccines, photocopies of passport and birth certificate – even the thought of losing my passport gives me heart palpitations. I want to make sure I have all the documentation I need to get another one if needed.
  7. Boarding pass, flight information and itinerary – pretty standard. I won’t get far without them.
  8. Tavel wallet and passport – Can’t go anywhere without these
  9. Change of clothes – it’s going to take around 30 hours to get from Melbourne to Lima, having a change of clothes will make me feel human are wearing the same thing for more than a day. This is also handy to have incase my luggage gets lost and takes some time to get back to me.
  10. Socks – I always get cold on planes. Always.
  11. 500/S – this is the equivalent of about $200 AUD in the Peruvian Sol. I don’t know where I’ll be able to get money out when I arrive and how many places will take card. Having cash will be handy for getting a taxi to my hostel when I arrive and for getting some food when I get off the plane.
  12. A book and my kindle – I’m undecided on what the physical book will be yet but I like to have something I can read wherever I go.
  13. Toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, etc. – all the toiletries I need to make me feel (and smell) human after travelling for so long.
  14. Malaria tablets – I need to start taking these tablets two days before I leave and everyday while I’m there.
  15. Glasses and sunglasses – need them to see.
  16. Empty drink bottle – I can’t have a full bottle of water when I go through security but I fill it up before I board.

Have I missed something essential that you always take on your carry on? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to check out Laura’s five essential items for her carry on here.

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Our Time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando.

By Laura Jemetta

Are you heading to Orlando? Excited to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Then you don’t want to miss this series – read about our Wizarding World itinerary, our planning strategy and tips and tricks for budgeting at the parks.

We spent three days at Universal Studios Orlando, which meant that we essentially spent three days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World is one of my favourite places in the world after those three days, and I learnt that like Disney World, a little bit of planning goes a long way on a trip to Universal.

Universal Explained

For those who don’t know, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a land inside Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios is split into two parks, (not including the water park), and the Wizarding World itself is split into two as well, with one half in each of the parks: Hogsmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios proper.

Okay, there’s good news and bad news about this set-up. The bad news is that if you want to visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you will need to buy a separate tickets to each of the two parks. I know that sounds kind of sucky, right? If you don’t want to get just half an experience, you’re forced to pay twice, essentially. But the good new I have for you is this: the two separate parts of the Wizarding World are connected by the Hogwarts Express, so you can easily travel between them if you have your two tickets.

So, do you recommend getting a ticket to both parks? I guess there’s no simple answer to that question, but if you want to get the full Wizarding World experience, and you can afford it, yes. Seeing Diagon Alley without Hogsmeade will mean that you won’t get to ride the Forbidden Journey, or see the Hogwarts Castle. And only going to Hogsmeade means you won’t get to experience the unique magic of Diagon Alley, or go to the Leaky Cauldron. Also, you will not be able to ride the Hogwarts Express without a ticket to both parks, so if you don’t want to miss out on that experience, then buying a park-hopper ticket (allowing you entry into both parks), would be something to consider.


Getting Your Planning Started

You have a few decisions to make once you know you’re going to Universal Studios:

  • How many days you want to spend at the Parks
  • How many of the Parks you want to visit
  • Whether you want to add Express Passes onto your tickets

We booked our tickets when we were still back home in Australia, and that worked out great for us. Like I said, we decided on three days at Universal because we wanted to have ample time to see both sides of the Wizarding World, as well as to explore the rest of the parks. That ended up being a perfect amount of time for us to ride every ride we wanted to, multiple times!

Should I buy Express Passes? In a word? No. I really believe that you don’t need to pay for Express Passes to skip the queues, because there is a way to do it for free! Check out my post about Universal’s Best Kept Secret to read all about the Single Rider Line – the free way to skip the queues at Universal Studios. In short, if you don’t mind not sitting directly next to your friend or family member on the rides themselves, then you can queue in the much shorter Single Rider line, for free. On our first day at Universal, we inquired about Express Passes, but just couldn’t justify the extra cost (approximately $100 USD). When we realised that most of the rides we were most excited about had a single rider line anyway. we were so glad we didn’t pay that extra money. It was like getting those Express Passes for free – and you can too by using the Single Rider line instead!

Our Itinerary:

We started out at Universal Studios proper on Day one at the parks. We were so excited to be there, so our plan was pretty simple: make a beeline for the Wizarding World. We took one of the earliest shuttles available from our hotel, and were at the park early.

TIP: It’s a longer walk than you think from the buses, and through the City Walk to the park entry, so add on a bit of extra time (roughly 15-20 minutes) to your travel time if you’re trying to be at the parks at a certain time.

Once we’d queued up and had our tickets scanned, we headed straight for ‘London’, where the entry to Diagon Alley is. We took a wrong turn, and ended up walking the longest way there, but we finally made it across the bridge and into London.

A cool detail about the Wizarding World is that, like in the books, the entry to Diagon Alley is non-descript. It’s as if you could walk right past it if you didn’t know what you were looking for (which is kind of the point for us Muggles, right?)

Like in the Philosophers Stone, the entry to Diagon Alley is behind a brick wall, and once you make it through, you’re greeted with the Diagon Alley from both your imagination, and the films. Pair that with the stirring Harry Potter score wafting through the air, and you have a real tear-jerker moment. (For me anyway!)

As you enter, the first thing you notice will probably be the giant dragon on top of Gringotts – especially if you catch it breathing fire! You’ll recognise familiar sights everywhere – from the shops from the books to the cobblestones – everything feels like coming home. Once we had arrived and taken it all in, we headed straight for Escape from Gringotts – all the tips I’d read prior to arriving said to get straight in line for rides because wait times can get astronomical as the day goes on.

Escape to Gringotts takes place inside the aforementioned dragon-topped Gringotts Bank. To queue for the ride, you actually wind through Gringotts, including a walk through the hall with the goblin bank tellers. Even at that early time of the morning, the wait was pretty substantial, but I think Gringotts is my favourite Wizarding World ride, and the waiting is worth it (even if you’re not using the Single Rider Line!)

After the ride, we spent quite a bit of time wandering in and out of the shops in Diagon Alley – (just a warning, some of the ‘shops’ in Diagon Alley are just shop-fronts). But you can actually walk inside so many of the shops you’ve read about, like:

  • Madam Malkan’s
  • Magical Menagerie
  • Ollivander’s
  • Florean Fortescues
  • The Leaky Cauldron! – My favourite

To me, the shops in Diagon Alley are more than just shops – even if you’re not going to buy anything, (which you don’t need to in order to enjoy the Wizarding World), I highly recommend taking a leisurely walk through the shops – it’s magical. Try to pick up on all the little details from the books and films – and there are a lot of them – that show just how much thought went into the design of the park.

By the time we’d been in and out of the shops, we decided it was time to do something at the top of the list for the Wizarding World – (for me at least!) – try Butterbeer. This was honestly one of my favourite things about the Wizarding World – it’s one of the tastiest and most tangible things that was brought to life from the books, and I loved it. We decided to get our first Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, which I thought was a pretty damn cool place.

TIP: There is almost always going to be a queue for the Leaky Cauldron, even really early in the day, because they serve breakfast! But it’s worth the wait at least once for the decor and atmosphere alone. It’s one of the coolest places in the Wizarding World, serving traditional English fare, or you can just order a Butterbeer like we did on our first day.

Next, we decided to move on to Hogsmeade, so we went to board the Hogwarts Express. The whole queue for the train is so well done – it’s designed to be like a real London train station, (Kings Cross, to be exact). ‘Station Attendants’ scan your park ticket again (to make sure you have a park-hopper ticket), so you will need to have that at the ready. Then you wind your way through the station, through an English convenience stand, (where you can purchase real British lollies and snacks), and then through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4.

TIP: There is a really cool detail as you go through to Platform 9 and 3/4, and it’s a great photo opportunity. If you’re travelling with someone, get them to stand back back around the corner as you walk through the arch, because mirrors create an illusion that makes it appear that you are actually disappear through a brick wall. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean!

Platform 9 and 3/4's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, Orlando

Next, it was time to board the Hogwarts Express. Now, we found that there was always quite a hefty wait for the train, but it’s worth it! Not only is the Hogwarts Express a convenient way to get between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, (and a great chance to sit down for a while!), it’s also an immersive Harry Potter experience in itself.

The Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

Once you get to the front of the queue, you board the train, you get to sit in a real train compartment and enjoy the ride from Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure. It’s a short ride, but there are special effects that make it feel like a real train journey, (I’ll leave those as a surprise for you to experience yourself!)

TIP: Make sure you ride the Hogwarts Express at least twice – once from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, and once back the other way. You get a different train experience in each direction!

Hogsmeade is pretty magical – the first thing I noticed was the ‘snow’ topped buildings, which is quite the juxtaposition when you’re sweltering in the Floridian heat! Again, the sweeping music as you enter really pulls at your heartstrings, and Hogsmeade feel a bit like home.

Honeydukes lolly shop in Hogsmeade. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Studios, Orlando.

So, Diagon Alley is probably my favourite part of the Wizarding World, but Hogsmeade has Honeydukes, which is my favourite shop to visit. Candy-coloured and candy-filled, it is the lolly shop of dreams. I got a little carried away with the chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts, but it was just so cool to be able to purchase those sweets from the books!

Undoubtedly the best part of Hogsmeade though, is the Forbidden Journey, which was Kate’s favourite ride. It always has an astronomical queue, but it’s one of the best rides in the whole park.

TIP: Of course, I’m going to remind you to take the Single Rider Line whenever you can for the Forbidden Journey, but make sure that you use the regular line at least once, because you will get to wind your way through Hogwarts if you do. See the Herbology Greenhouses, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledores office, and more while you wait in line. It’s something you have to experience at least once!

After the Forbidden Journey, we explored Hogsmeade which, along with Honeydukes, features The Three Broomsticks, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and plenty of Butterbeer stands. To be honest, there is more to see and do in Diagon Alley, but Hogsmeade can sometimes be a nice break from the business of Diagon Alley. We found it was generally a little quieter in Hogsmeade, (except for around Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey!)

We spent the next two days at Universal Studios doing two things:

Number 12 Grimmauld Place at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Orlando
  1. Going back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade: We explored everything – and I mean everything – that the Wizarding World has to offer. We had a lovely meal at the Leaky Cauldron. We had a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks. We wandered in and out of every shop, perusing everything and carefully deciding on the souvenirs we wanted to buy. We watched the shows in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We got an ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s (butterbeer for me!) We hung out in London too – we got pictures in front of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and got connected to the Ministry of Magic in the London phone booth! And we rode the rides. Over and over again. The Wizarding World rides are some of the best I’ve ever been on, and I didn’t get sick of them, even when we were going on them repeatedly. We did everything there is to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I still want to go back someday soon. If that doesn’t indicate how great a place it is for a Harry Potter lover like me, I don’t know what will.
  2. We explored the rest of Universal Studios: This is important – we’d paid for tickets to Universal Studios as a whole, so of course we were going to get the most for our money and explore the rest of the parks. Three days there allowed us to see all of the Wizarding World, and see the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal has a lot of offer – from themed worlds from some of your favourite films, to some of the best and most thrilling rides you’ll find. I highly recommend the Hulk roller coaster, the Rip Ride and Rock It roller coaster, and the Mummy Ride to name a few.

There you have it – the third, (and most comprehensive!), part of my Universal Series.

Please let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are about my Universal Studios Series – did you get any good tips or inspiration? I certainly hope so!

Thanks for reading, whether you’re an old or new reader! We appreciate your support so much!

How to Save Money at Universal Studios

Hogwarts!

By Laura Jemetta

Okay, here’s Part 2 of my Universal Studios Series! How did you like Part 1? Let me know below if you plan to use any of my tips when you go to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Today’s post is all about saving money at Universal Studios – you know we’re all about budgeting here at Xen, and you know that theme parks are damn expensive. So I’ve put together a list of specific ways that you can spend money at Universal Studios Orlando.

Don’t Pay for Water:

You can stay hydrated for free at Universal Studios, simply by asking for a cup of water. Drinking plenty of water is the best way to protect against heat stroke, and you don’t have to pay for bottled water to to do. Alternatively, you could take a reusable water bottle with you, and refill it at the parks as you need.

Skip the Express Pass:

Okay, you’re probably sick of me going on about the Single Rider Line. You can read about it in depth in my post about it here, but just know that you can get most of what the Express Pass offers you – for free – just by using the Single Rider Line.

Snack Throughout the Day:

We took this approach when we were at the parks: instead of paying for two to three full, sit down meals each day, we would fill up on a big hotel breakfast, and then snack for the rest of the day. We packed muesli bars to take with us, and then bought popcorn here, or an ice-cream there when we were hungry. There are so many snacks at the park to choose from, and if you combine these with fruit or a sandwich from home, it makes for an all-round cheaper day at the parks.

Think Carefully about Your Souvenirs:

Some of my favourite things I bought at the Wizarding World are pins – one of the most inexpensive things you can buy at theme parks. There is so much on offer at the shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but take the time to think about what you’re really going to use and enjoy once you’re at home. I know the wands are tempting, but will you actually have a use for it in your real life? Probably not. I went a little bit mad with the souvenirs from the Wizarding World, but I have to be honest and let you know that I haven’t yet worn the pair of Gryffindor socks I bought.

Remember that you don’t NEED to buy things: 

You don’t actually need to buy anything to enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; it’s a place all about experiences – the experience of riding the Hogwarts Express or of riding through Gringotts in an escaped carriage or of sipping a frosty butterbeer while sitting in a shady corner of Hogsmeade. (I realise the Butterbeer one will require you to spend money, but everyone should have the Butterbeer experience at least once!) Think about only buying the things that will sustain the memory of those experiences for you, (or maybe nothing at all?); things that will take you back to the time and place and give you the same feeling of magic. One way to do this without spending money is to take some photos of yourself in the park, and then display them when you get home – then you can look at them every day and be reminded of those memories.

Which Vaccines do you Need to Visit Peru?

By Kate Arnold

Which vaccinations do you need to go to Peru?

As part of my preparations to go to Peru I have been getting all of the vaccines I need, and there are A LOT. Here’s all the jabs you need if you are staying in Peru for an extended period and planning on doing any hiking:

  1. Typhoid/Hepatitis A – You can get theses two vaccines in one combo jab (what a bonus). Together they’ll cost you around $130. You should get a Hepatitis A top up six months after this jab and you’ll be immunised for life.
  2. Malaria – This one isn’t an injection, instead you have to take tablets. You start taking them two days before you leave, then one everyday while you are in the zone where malaria is a risk and then one everyday for a week after you leave the zone. For six months worth of tablets this cost me $65, just over $10 per month.
  3. Rabies – You only have to get the rabies jab if you are going to be in Peru for an extended period or if you are going to be going into any places of nature such as the Amazon or hiking Macchu Picchu. You have to get three rounds of this injection. After you get the first round you have to wait seven days to get the second round. You have to wait 14 days after the second round to get the third jab. All of these cost just under $300!
  4. Yellow Fever – The average chemist doesn’t stock the Yellow Fever vaccine and they can’t order it in either. I went to City Vaccine in Melbourne CBD for the jab. They specialise in travel vaccines and I didn’t have to get a prescription for it either. This vaccine costs $130 and the appointment was another $40 odd on top of that.

All up I’ve spend approximately $665, which is about $265 more than I was expecting to pay. Don’t forget to get records of each of your vaccines from the nurse to show at arrival at the airport if you are requested. You may also be required to show proof of vaccinations if you want to go on guided hikes or tour to places like the Machu Picchu or the Amazon.

Read more about my up coming trip to Peru here.

Which places have you been to that needed multiple vaccinations? Let me know in the comments!

The Ultimate List of Tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Honeydukes, the lolly shop at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Lolly-Shop of dreams – Honeydukes

By Laura Jemetta

You probably know by now that I’m a massive Harry Potter fan. One day I might do a post about why, and what Harry Potter means to me, but for now, just know that it’s been a staple in my life for over 16 years. That’s a lot of life (for a 24 year old). With that in mind, you can see how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be one of my favourite places in the world.

That’s why this post is the first in a series about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! (And more broadly Universal Studios)

Like you might have read in my posts about Disney World, the key to a visit to any theme park is planning. Don’t worry though! I did all the preparation for my trip in 2017, so you don’t have to – just grab a snack, sit back and read on.

  1. Take a small bag or backpack: This is my most important tip for visiting Universal Studios, and it’s crucial because in order to go on 90% of the rides at the parks, you are required to store your belongings in a locker. As in, you cannot take anything onto the rides with you: not your bag, not your phone, not your sunglasses. Nothing. It’s a rule that’s in place for safety reasons, and so Universal provides free lockers for you to use while you’re on the rides. They’re quite small though, so it’s important not to come to the parks with a backpack or handbag that’s not going to fit in the lockers.
  2. Book your tickets in advance: We booked our tickets online when we were still at home in Australia, and it worked out really well for us. It meant that we didn’t have to wait in the queue to buy tickets at the gate – which was really long – and we could just line up for a short time to have our pre-purchased tickets scanned.
  3. Choose your Hotel wisely: There are heaps of hotels you can stay at in Orlando, but my number one tip for accommodation is to choose a hotel that offers a free shuttle service to the parks. This will save you a lot of money, time and effort every day in figuring out how to get to the parks. Another thing to research is whether staying at a Universal Hotel will be beneficial or not. They are lovely hotels, (so I’ve heard), they are either situated within walking distance to the parks, or they offer a free shuttle, and there are often other benefits like extended opening hours. But they seem to be quite a bit pricier than other options in Orlando, so it’s worth weighing up your options before making a decision.
  4. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen: Put it on in the morning. Put it on at the parks. Get as much shade as you can during the day. You won’t regret it when you don’t end up terribly sunburned at the end of the day.
  5. Don’t buy Express Passes! It’s just not worth the price. I’ve written about my love for the Single Rider Line here and here, but in short, it’s a free way to skip ahead of the massive queues for the rides at Universal, (including the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts!) -Universal will try and sell you Express Passes, which are upwards of $100 USD, but if you take anything away from this post, it’s that the Single Rider Line is a free way to get the same thing! Take a look at my post explaining the Single Rider Line, and see how easy it is to save yourself the expense!
  6. Stop to Notice all the Details: There are so many little details that make the Wizarding World what it is, so try and slow down to notice them. If you’re rushing about, you’ll miss so many magical details, so take it slowly, take notice, and stay in the magic.
  7. Catch the Wand-Choosing Ceremony at Ollivanders: This is one of those cool details – you can line up for a wand ceremony at Ollivanders. It takes place in the back room of the wand shop, (which you can only go into for the ceremony), and you will witness someone from your group (normally a kid), get their wand. Special effects make it appear that the wand really does ‘choose the wizard’, and it’s a fun little feature of Diagon Alley that I think everyone should see at least once!
  8. Skip the Flight of the Hippogriff: (Unless you’re travelling with kids, or you prefer tame rides). Probably an unpopular opinion, but I was thoroughly disappointed with the Flight of the Hippogriff. There is no single rider line, so the queue was massive, and I swear the ride itself is about 30 seconds. It was the only ride in the whole of Universal Studios that I didn’t think was worth the wait. Like I said above though, it is a nice, gentle rollercoaster for children, or for those who don’t really like thrill rides, so it might be a ride you’d like to try depending on your circumstances
  9. Don’t forget to step outside of the Wizarding World: As much as I love the Wizarding World, Universal is not a cheap place to visit. Make sure to get the most out of your money by exploring the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, as well as Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. There is a lot to see and do in the parks, including themed worlds from some of your favourite films, and some really great rollercoasters. You won’t regret stepping out of the Harry Potter magic for a while and seeing what the rest of Universal has to offer.
  10. Try the Butterbeer: If there’s one thing you do in the Wizarding World, it has to be trying the Butterbeer. Is it expensive? I think so. But it’s so worth it. It’s literally the perfect drink to have in the heat of the day at the parks, and to me, it puts you right in the world of Harry Potter; that’s why I love it. Give it a go, just once, and be transported straight to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.

There you have it: leave me a comment if you made it to the end of this long post! Let me know if you’ve found any of these tips useful!

As always, don’t forget to like and follow the blog – we’re really grateful for your support!

A Day at Highgate Cemetery

By Kate Arnold

Highgate Cemetery London

One of my favourite days I spent in London was taking a day out to visit Highgate Cemetery, a beautiful, quiet place, where I spend hours wandering around, looking at old graves that have been overtaken by nature. Many of the plants and wildflowers have been planted and grown without human intervention, creating an environment overrun by nature, which is incredibly soothing, especially after experiencing the hustle and bustle of London.

highgate cemetery London
Gaves overtaken by nature

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to the cemetery from London by tube. Get on the Northern Line heading towards High Barnet and get off at the Archway stop. Don’t go to the Highgate stop, it’s a much longer walk. From Archway Station exit towards Highgate Hill. From there you can either walk over Highgate Hill to Waterlow Park or alternatively take the bus (210, 143 or 271) two stops to Waterlow Park and cross the park to get to the Highgate Cemetery Gates. For more information about how to use the tube check out my article Your Guide to the London Underground.

East Cemetery

Highgate cemetery London
Two headstones collapsing against one another

The East Cemetery is known for containing the tomb of Karl Marx, which has been listed as a Grade I site for historical importance. You’ll also find the graves of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author George Eliot (whose grave says Mary Ann Cross), anatomist and surgeon Henry Grey, who authored the compendium Grey’s Anatomy and Academy Award nominee Diane Cilento, who was an Australian actress and author.

You can either wander around the East Cemetery at your leisure or you can join a guided tour run by one of the cemetery’s volunteers. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £4 for members and children. General admission to the East Cemetery is £4 for adults and free for children under 18.

Fireman’s Corner

You’ll also find Fireman’s Corner in the East Cemetery, which is where 97 members of London’s Fire Brigade have been laid to rest. This memorial to these service men and women was erected by the widows and orphans of London’s firemen and is cared for by the Brigade’s Welfare Section.

West Cemetery

The West Cemetery is only admissible via a guided tour, which runs for around 70 minutes and costs £12 for adults and £6 for children aged 8 – 17. No children under the age of 8 will be admitted. A ticket to this tour will also allow you general admission into the East Cemetery. Bookings are essential for tours Monday to Friday, which run twice a day, commencing at 11 am and again at 1.45 pm. Weekend tours are sold on a first come first serve basis and run every 30 minutes from 10.30 am to 3 pm. Tours will still run in light rain and the paths can get muddy and slippery and are steep in some parts, choose your footwear accordingly.

Egyptian Avenue

The West Cemetery is also home to the Egyptian Avenue, which is also a Grade I listing for historical importance is so called because of the Egyptian style architecture. This avenue of tombs leads to the Circle of Lebanon.

Circle of Lebanon

An ancient and enormous cedar tree stands at the heart of the Circle of Lebanon, it is so old that it long predates the cemetery that has risen around it. Tombs surround the base of this giant tree, which is still a focal point of the cemetery’s landscape.

Terrace Catacombs

Inside the Terrace Catacombs is a hall stretching over 80 yards, which is lined with 825 recesses in the walls, each tall enough to accommodate a coffin standing on its end.

What You Should Know

We all know how rainy it can get in the UK and the paths can get muddy underfoot, I recommend you break out your wellies or another waterproof, closed toe boot. Don’t let the rain deter you from going though, the cemetery looks even more beautiful during light rain.

George Micheal was buried at Highgate Cemetery in 2017, however his grave is in the private section on the cemetery an cannot be view by the public. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other interesting people buried in the cemetery and there is a memorial garden dedicated to George Micheal outside his home in Highgate, which is tended to by his fans.

Have you been to Highgate Cemetery? If you have or you’ve been to any other amazing cemeteries around the world, let us know in the comments.

Xen. Is Having A Giveaway!

To celebrate hitting over 100 followers on both Instagram and Twitter, we are having our very first giveaway!

Giveaway prizes!

What are we giving away? 

  1. Travel Memory Box: This box is for all your travel mementos – ticket stubs, brochures, photos, playbills and anything else you want to save from your travels. Inside is a mini-photo-album (perfect for Polaroids and Instagram’s), photo cards, sticker sheets and a gel pen.
  2. Travel Diary: We’ve selected the perfect travel diary for you, (the style that Laura always takes with her when she travels). Made of a mist grey PU leather, with 240 lined pages and a press-stud closure, it’s the perfect place to record all your travel adventures in.
  3. Ballpoint Pen: We’ve also included our favourite pen from Kikki K – it writes perfectly and won’t bleed through the pages of your diary!

All products are from Kikki K – one of our favourite places in Australia to get travel-related stationary – though this giveaway is not sponsored.

To enter all you have to do is:

  1. Follow Xen. on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram
  2. Like this post
  3. Comment below and tell us where you would travel if you could get on a plane right now

We are pleased to say that the Giveaway is open internationally and closes on Sunday 20th January at 11.59pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time)

Good Luck and don’t forget to enter soon so you don’t miss out!

-Laura and Kate, the Xen Team

The 5 Best and Worst Hostels I’ve Stayed At

By Kate Arnold

I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my time travelling and some are winners and sometimes, well, you get what you pay for and as we all know, whether you are on a top or bottom bunk can make or break the experience of a hostel. Here are five best and five worst hostels I’ve stayed at:

The Best

  1. The Freehand | Chicago, US – This hostel is lovely. I stayed in a four bed dorm, which had an ensuite bathroom attached. The beds were comfortable and big bunks built into the wall, with curtains for privacy, personal lights and power points. Everything I want in a bunk bed. The Freehand is conveniently located in Chicago, I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Bean and theatre district. There is a communal kitchen where breakfast of cereal or toast is free.
  2. St. Christophers Inn | Paris, FR – I stayed in an eight bed dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which also had similar bunk beds to the Freehand, with curtains, personal light and power points. The hostel has an attached restaurant/bar call Belushi’s, which makes a killer burger, just what was needed after a rather rough day in Paris. Walking distance to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co and the train station Gare Du Nord, which will get you everywhere else you want to go in Paris.
  3. Broadway Hotel n Hostel | New York, US – This hostel didn’t have great bunks like the above mentioned, in fact the room was tiny and only contained one bunk bed, a sink and locker. The reason it’s on the best list is because of the price. For New York it is very reasonably priced and located close to a subway station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines, which go through Times Square and all the way down to South Ferry near Trinity Church, the 9/11 memorial and the Staten Island Ferry. Read about finding budget-friendly accommodation in New York here and the Hamilton-lover’s guide to New York here.
  4. St. Christopher’s Inn | Edinburgh, UK – Though not a great as the St. Christopher’s in Paris, the Edinburgh location definitely make the best list. As with the Paris location (and all St. Christopher’s as far as I know) there is an attached Belushi’s. The dorms just had normal plebeian bunks but they were more comfortable than most.
  5. International Budget Hostel | Amsterdam, NL – The International Budget Hostel wasn’t as budget as the name might imply but that’s because EVERYWHERE books out in Amsterdam durning the summer. The stairs to get up to the reception are pretty perilous and the wifi only worked in the reception. But this hostel is well placed in Amsterdam, I walked everywhere I went, very close to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. Read about 10 hidden gems of Amsterdam here.

The Worst

  1. Wild Zebra Backpackers | Wellington, NZ – This is by far the worst hostel I’ve stayed. The door to my dorm room didn’t open properly and the staff just told me it was fine. There was damage from the earthquake, which is hardly their fault, but still undesirable. The dorm room wasn’t very clean I had to find a communal room just to charge my phone because there weren’t enough in the dorm.
  2. Haka Lodge | Taupo, NZ – I only stayed in Taupo for one night and admittedly I didn’t spend much time at the Haka Lodge but the bed was so hard to get into because of an awkwardly placed ladder. If I’d had a bottom bunk I’d probably feel differently about this place.
  3. The Backyard Inn | Rotorua NZ – What sticks out about the Backyard Inn was that it was an uncommonly hot day in New Zealand and none of the rooms had air conditioning. On the plus side they had a pool but when I jumped in to get some relief from the heat I realised it was a thermal pool at it was hotter in than it was out. It would be great for colder days though. Also I had to pay for wifi, which is a no-no for me.
  4. Fat Cod Backpackers | Picton NZ – The Fat Cod doesn’t foster great memories in my mind because of the staff. They were generally unhelpful and abrasive. They wouldn’t let me use a phone or even tell me where I could use one. The dorms were okay, there were no bunks just six single beds. The hostel was close to the beach and some walking trails, which had lovely views that were worth the visit to Picton.
  5. Banana Bungalow Hollywood | Los Angeles US – For a hostel in the middle of Hollywood The Banana Bungalow sure should have air conditioning. The dorms were fine but not great and the area didn’t have that much that I was interested in. On the plus side the offered cereal and toast breakfast for free and shuttles to places like Santa Monica. Read about our short stay in Santa Monica here.

Let me know about the best hostels you’ve stayed in below! I’m always looking for recommendations.

Unique Travel Journal Prompts

By Laura Jemetta

I take a travel journal with me on every trip I take – it’s just about the first thing that goes in my carry-on backpack. When I journal, I really enjoy to mix up free-writing with answering some structured prompts, so I’ve come up with a list of prompts for travel-journalling.

You can use them in conjunction with free-writing if you like, or if you prefer to simply have some prompts to work with, you can use them by themselves. I find them thought provoking to use, and they really make me think about my travel in a thoughtful and grateful way.

Pre-Trip: (While you’re on the plane)

  • What am I most excited about for this trip?
  • In what ways am I grateful for this trip? Make a list.
  • In what ways did I need to be brave in order to take this trip?
  • Why am I going to this city/country/region? Why did I choose this destination.
  • What are my hopes for this trip?

During the trip: (Every day)

  • What was the best thing about today?
  • What am I grateful for today? List at least three things.
  • What was the nicest thing I ate today?
  • What was the most interesting thing I saw or experienced today?
  • In what ways did I get out of my comfort zone today?
  • How did I go with budgeting today?
  • What are my hopes for tomorrow?

Post Trip: (on the plane home)

  • What was the absolute highlight of my trip? (Try and choose just one for now)
  • What are all the things I loved about this trip? List everything, until you have a great big list!
  • In what ways am I grateful for this trip – make a list.
  • What exactly did I love about the city/country/region I travelled to.
  • In what ways am I a different person now? How have I grown during this trip?
  • List the ways I am grateful, ,(instead of sad), to be going home.

Let me know if you plan to use any of these prompts the next time you go away. I’d love to hear!

Don’t forget to follow the blog, and check us out on Facebook and Instagram too!

Xen is looking for Guest Posters!

That’s right! We want to work with YOU.

Do you have a fantastic travel story, or a must-read travel tip that you want to share? Do you want to give us an insight into your hometown? Or have you traveled somewhere we haven’t featured on the blog yet?

Well, we would love to feature your work on Xen! Shoot us an email (find this in our FAQ section), or contact us on our Instagram or Facebook, and let us know how you would like to contribute to Xen. Whether you’re an emerging or seasoned writer; planning your very first trip or a veritable nomad, we want to hear from you.

Submissions of all lengths will be considered, and those that fit with the tone and style of Xen will be highly regarded. Take a look at some of our posts to get a good idea of what we’re all about, and then let your writing do the talking.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

-Laura and Kate, The Xen Team

My Travel Goals for 2019

By Kate Arnold

The New Year is just around the corner and this is the time of the year that I like to think about my goals and resolutions for the coming year. I’m all about Here are some of my travel related goals for 2019.

  1. Visit Machu Picchu – when in Peru, right? I can’t go there and not see these amazing Incan ruins, at the moment this looks like it’s happening in April but nothing is set in stone yet yet
  2. See Hamilton on Broadway – I was lucky enough to see Hamilton in Chicago last year but I’d still love to see it ‘in the greatest city in the world’ (check out my Guide to New York for the Hamilton-lover)
  3. See Mean Girls on Broadway – I love the movie of Mean Girls, it has become such a classic and I love the music in the musical (fingers crossed Barrett Wilbert Weed is still in the show at that time, I’m a huge fan of hers)
  4. See Frozen on Broadway – I’m dying to see the show, particularly ‘Let It Go’ and that quick change (check out all the ways you can save money on Broadway tickets, I’ll be revisiting this article before I go back to New York)
  5. Live like a local in Peru – I’ve never travelled somewhere and stayed for such an extended period so I’m looking forward to living in Peru rather than just visiting (learn more about my upcoming trip to Peru here)
  6. Travel to one other country in South America – while I’m teaching I’ll have time to go on little adventures on the weekend and I’m hoping to spend one of those weekends in Brazil or Chile or maybe Bolivia
  7. Teach English overseas – so I know that this is definitely going to happen, it’s the whole reason I’m going over there in the first place but this has been a person goal of mine for years and I’m so excited to finally be ticking it off the list
  8. Invest $5000 to my travel fund – I’m currently investing into mutual fund with the goal of building up a yearly passive income of $5000 that will finance my travelling in the future (let me know in the comments if this is something you would like me to write about in more depth)
  9. Get freelance work while I travel – I’ve just begun my journey as a freelance writer and I want to make sure I keep momentum up while I travel as well as bring in some extra money while I’m away
  10. Visit family in Queensland – the plan was to go this year but with one thing and another I never made it up north to see my family in Queensland, when I get back from Peru and have a bit of money saved I’m thinking about making a road trip out of it, maybe stopping in Sydney on the way

Tell me about some of your goals and resolutions for the New Year in the comment section, whether travel related or not. Don’t forget to check out some of our other 12 Days of Christmas articles like Laura’s Gift Guide for Travel Lovers or my insights into going to Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight concert in Melbourne.

Happy Holidays!

Santa Claus Around the World

By Laura Jemetta

For Day 10 of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas I thought it would be fun to take a look at what Santa Claus looks like in different countries around the world. Check out this post where I got my information about Santa from.

France: Pere Noel

In France, Pere Noel – which translates to Father Christmas – wears a long red cloak and fills children’s shoes with gifts after Christmas Eve mass. Traditionally, he also travels with Pere Fouettard – which translates to the ‘whipping father”.

Spain: Los Reyes Magos

In Spain, children are actually visited by three jolly figures on El Dia De Reyes – which is the day that the three wise men reached the baby Jesus. In the days leading up to El Dia De Reyes, the children in Spain write letters to their favourite Magos, asking for gifts. Then, they leave sweets out for the Magi, and hay for the camels they ride on, and the next morning, the shoes that they leave out are replaced by presents.

Russia and Ukraine: Ded Moroz and Snegurochka (Father Frost and Snow Maiden)

Traditionally, Father Frost would punish misbehaving children by kidnapping them, but this story has softened over the years so that he travels all over the Slavic Region on New Years Eve, bringing gifts to kids with his happy companion the Snow Maiden.

Iceland: Yule Lads

The Yule Lads are 13 mischievous elves who play tricks on Icelandic children. During the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, children leave their shoes by the windowsill, in the hopes that the Yule Lads will leave them goodies. Children who misbehave receive rotten potatoes in their shoes instead!

Finland: Joulupukki or Yule Goat

Nicknamed the Finnish Santa, the Yule Goat was initially a malevolent spirit associated with Norse Mythology. Nowadays, Joulupukki goes around the each house and asks ‘are there any well behaved children here?’ He travels around in a non-flying sleigh pulled by reindeer and delivers gifts.

Italy: La Befana

La Befana has been part of Italian folklore since the 8th Century, and she is a cheerful witch who flies over Italy on her broomstick. According to the folklore, the three wise men actually came across La Befana’s house on Christmas Eve, and after she invited them in, they invited her to go and see the baby Jesus with them. Nowadays, the story goes that she flies over Italy on the Eve of the Epiphany, and leaves toys and candy for the children.

There you have it – a few Santa Claus traditions from around the world. Please tell me in the comments the folklore or traditions in your country! I’d love to hear!

Laura’s Top Five: Christmas Holiday Destinations

Today is Day Eight of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas! Today I’m sharing my wishlist of destinations I would love to see at Christmas time. I’ve never been in a different city during the Christmas season, but I’d leave Melbourne for a Christmas in any of these five places. 

1. New York

I already love New York – the bustling, frenetic energy, the sprawling city-scape, the melting pot of art, culture, history and entertainment; I love it all. And I think the only thing that could make me love NYC any more is combining New York and Christmas. I’m thinking, Going to the Winter Village in Bryant Park, seeing the Rockerfeller Center Christmas Tree, and walking through Central Park with a hot chocolate. You can also check out my post about 5 free things to do in New York, and my Budget Friendly Tips for New York Accommodation, if you’re going to be in New York over Christmas. 

2. Manchester

My Dad grew up in Manchester, and I haven’t been there yet! I would love to see Manchester at Christmas, and to meet the English family that I’ve not met yet. I think it would be really lovely to be in England at Christmas time, and to celebrate a proper White Christmas with the family that I’ve spoken to on the phone and heard so much about. 

3. London

I also have lots of family in London, and there’s so much I want to do and see in London, so I think it would be the perfect Christmas destination. I’d love to see the lights and decorations at Harrods, and to do Christmas shopping on Oxford Street, and of course, to see a couple of shows! Perhaps at the top of my list is the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour – which I hear gets a special Christmas makeover this time of year. It sounds like the Harry Potter tour would be even more magical in December – though I’m wondering if that’s even possible considering how much I love Harry Potter! If you’re going to be in London around Christmas, don’t forget to check out Kate’s guide to the London Underground

4. Berlin

I have an idea of a perfect Christmas in my mind: it involves a snowy European city like Berlin, with me rugged up to the max (gloves needed!), and perusing a Christmas market sparkling with fairy lights. We don’t really have anything like the Christmas Markets of Europe here in Australia, and I would love just once to experience one. Combine that with Berlin being almost top of my European to-do list, and you have once of my ideal Christmas destinations. 

5. Honolulu

If you’ve been reading since Xen started, you’ll know that I love Hawaii. I’ve been twice, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful and atmospheric places in the world. The people are absolutely lovely, and the spirit of Hawaii is warm and bright. With that in mind, I know I would love a Hawaiian Christmas – one that is ‘green and bright’ like here in Australia. I imagine a Hawaiian Christmas would be slow and relaxing, spent soaking up the beautiful weather, probably with a trip down to the beach, and in the midst of a stunning landscape. It sounds perfect to me! If you’re thinking about a Hawaiian Christmas, check out my post about 5 Ways to See Oahu, to get some ideas on unique ways to experience beautiful Hawaii. 

There you have it, my Top Five Christmas Holiday Destinations. Tell me in the comments where in the world you would love to spend Christmas, and don’t forget to check out Kate’s Top Five here

An Australian Christmas Day

Christmas, Christmas Tree, Australian Christmas

                                   Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Have you ever wondered what Christmas is like in Australia? The answer is it’s probably pretty much like Christmas anywhere, except there’s no snow here, and it’s too hot for Christmas jumpers, ugly or otherwise. 

Australia is a large and diverse nation, so Christmas celebrations vary, but here’s a little look into how I celebrate Christmas. 

Christmas really starts for me on Christmas Eve, with our family tradition of watching ‘Carols by Candlelight’, which is what I think of as an Australian institution. It’s a televised Christmas concert where various Australian artists perform carols by, you guessed it, candlelight. In my house, we eat dinner, and then sit down and watch the carols by the light of our Christmas tree, and usually with the air conditioning on full blast. Check out Kate’s post all about the Carols here. 

By this time, the presents are under the tree, wrapped and ready for the next day, and Christmas Eve night is all about relaxing and spending time together. Watching the carols is the sort of tradition that still brings back the same feelings of bubbly excitement in me that I used to get when I would watch it as a child, waiting for Santa to arrive. By the time the carols finish, we do any last minute preparations, and pack off to bed. 

Christmas Day starts with a bit of a sleep in, now that I’m an adult. It, of course, used to begin as early as possible – because I could never stay asleep for the excitement. Once the whole house is awake, we open presents together by the tree. We make sure that the lights on the Christmas tree are on, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album is playing in the background, and then we get to opening. 

It’s Christmas-breakfast time now, which is a new-ish tradition in our house. Growing up, we used to each grab something to eat on the go, but now I like to make something special for breakfast, and we all eat together at the Christmas table.

By this time, it’s late morning, so we all get ready for the day and then start to get Christmas lunch ready. This is when I duck out to my  local cafe for my Christmas-day-coffee. That’s right – in Melbourne at least, some cafe’s open on Christmas day – which I find amazing – and my local cafe is one of them. They only open for takeaway’s, but it’s enough for me to get my coffee fix for the day.

After this, I pop back home and help with getting the veggies ready, or cutting up the bread, or setting the table. I’m not a huge cook, so I take care of the barely-cooking tasks. 

Now we’re getting onto early afternoon, and we sit down to our Christmas lunch. The food is probably the biggest part of an Australian Christmas – with the food on Christmas table’s across the country varying from seafood, to roasts, to cold meats and salads. For our lunch, Mum makes a roast with veggies and bread, and salad. Lunch-dessert is Mum’s famous ice-cream pudding, which is my favourite Christmas food. It’s layered ice-cream moulded into the shape of a plum pudding, flavoured with pistacchios and berries, and it’s perfect for a hot day. 

After lunch, we usually sit down and either watch a film together, or take a food-induced nap on the couch. After this, we usually use the afternoon to take our dog out for a run at the park. It’s nice to get out in the fresh air and go for a bit of a walk after eating all that food! This year, we’re even thinking of taking Cody down to the dog beach in the afternoon, which is a pretty typical Aussie way to spend Christmas day. 

Once dinner rolls around, if we’re hungry at all, we have some cold meat and salad, and then we hang around the house together for the rest of the night. We might watch a Christmas movie together, or play a board game, or make plans for Boxing Day.

That’s our Christmas Day here in Melbourne, Australia. I’m sure it’s not so different to how you spend Christmas, aside from a few little Aussie touches. Make sure to let me know in the comments how you celebrate Christmas, I’d love to know! 

Kate’s Top Five Christmas Holiday Destinations

By Kate Arnold

I’ve never travelled overseas for Christmas but hit definitely something that’s on my bucket list. Here are the top five places I want to visit at Christmas time.

1. Amsterdam

I have a lot of Dutch family so visiting them over Christmas would be incredible. So far I’ve never travelled internationally with any of my family and going to the Netherlands for Christmas with my mum and sisters would be an absolute dream. I’ve been to Amsterdam in the summer and it’s such a beautiful city but who wouldn’t want to see the canals in the wintertime? If you’re heading to Amsterdam some time in the future check out my article 10 Hidden Gems of Amsterdam and find some quirky places, off the beaten path that will make your visit brag-worthy as hell. 

2. London

It’s so hard to choose but I think that London is possibly my favourite place in the world. I image my Christmas holiday in London would include going ice-skating, drinking hot chocolates and going to see and show on the West End on Christmas Eve. Fingers crossed that it also snows. I recently heard that the famous Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree that is put up in London every year is a gift from Norway in gratitude of the British support in the Second World War. Ever since I heard this I’ve been dying see the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square. Read up of the ins and outs of travelling on the tube in my article Your Guide to the London Underground.

3. New York

I mean do I have to explain this one? I was in New York City in October last year but the weather still hadn’t turned and it was so hot. Not the American fall experience that I was expecting (but still had a great time). I would absolutely love to see New York in the snow, wearing sweaters and coats and mittens (it’s never cold enough in Australia to wear mittens), going ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza and seeing as many shows on Broadways as possible. New York is expensive, especially at Christmas time, here are some budget friendly activities to do in Laura’s article, 5 Free Things to do in New York City.

4. Prague

This is the first one on the list that I haven’t visited yet but I’ve always wanted to go to Prague and it looks like a beautiful city during Christmas time. The Squares are filled with fairy lights and the Christmas markets just look downright magical. I’ve yet to visit anywhere in Eastern Europe but Prague is top of my list and the holiday season looks like the perfect time to start.

5. Lapland

So this one might seem random in comparison to the other destinations on this list but Lapland, Finland, is one of my top Christmas destinations because I’m dying to see the aurora borealis one day. I don’t know what traveller doesn’t have the Northern Lights on their bucket list so I know that this isn’t particularly original of me but who cares? I’ll get there one day and it will be breathtaking. 

Don’t forget to check out Laura’s 12 Day’s of Christmas articles so far: Gift Ideas for Travel-Lovers and her Christmas Guide to Melbourne and look out for her wishlist holiday destinations in the coming days.

What places are at the top of your list to visit during the holiday season? Or where have you been that you would recommend? And have you been to any of the places on my list and what did you love the best? I’d love to know in the comment section.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas Guide to Melbourne


Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

On Day two of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas, I’m bringing you a Christmas Guide to Melbourne. Whether you live in Melbourne, or you just want to see how we do Christmas here, this list has some fantastic options for getting into the festive spirit! 

Carols By Candlelight

Vision Australia’s Carols By Candlelight is my favourite part of Christmas in Melbourne. It’s an annual Christmas concert held on Christmas Eve at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl. It’s been a Melbourne tradition since 1938, where Australian musicians come together to perform Christmas carols to raise funds for Vision Australia – to support those who are blind or have low vision. Melbournian’s either watch the Carols from home on Christmas Eve, (like me), or they head to the music bowl to experience the Carols well, by candlelight. It’s my favourite way to get in the Christmas spirit, and relax before Christmas day. 

Summer Night Market

The Summer Night Market at the iconic Queen Vic Markets is the perfect way to start your Christmas celebrations off on the right foot – it’s basically a huge outdoor party, complete with strings of fairy-lights. Taking place on Wednesday nights from November 21 – March 20 (excluding Boxing Day), the market showcases over 60 global street food stalls, specialty shopping stalls, live music, and festival bars. It’s a lovely way to spend a summer night, maybe do some Christmas shopping, and start your Christmas celebrations with some loved ones. 

Moonlight Cinemas

You have to check out the film lineup at Moonlight Cinemas – in the lead up to Christmas you can watch Elf, the Grinch, and LOVE ACTUALLY under the stars in the Royal Botanic Gardens. If Christmas movies aren’t your thing, don’t worry – there are films on the program to suit everyone. You have several viewing options at Moonlight Cinemas, from packing your own picnic and relaxing on a blanket, to the ‘Gold Grass’ package, which includes a prime viewing location and food service. There are heaps of food and beverage options available to purchase (including alcoholic beverages!) – but remember that Moonlight Cinemas is now cashless, so don’t forget your debit card. 

Ice Skating (at the Summer Night Market)

Would you normally see ‘ice skating’ and ‘Summer night market’ in the same sentence? No. But, the Queen Vic Summer Night Markets have partnered with Air Canada to create the first outdoor Summer ice-rink in Melbourne! Have you dreamed on skating under the Rockerfeller Center’s iconic Christmas Tree? Or maybe in Central Park at Christmas time? Well, while I can’t offer you tickets to New York, I can tell you that you can take a spin around the ice-rink under the iconic sheds of the Queen Vic Markets. There will also be Christmassy treats to enjoy rinkside, including coffee, maple syrup ice-cream and poutine! The ice-rink will pop up for the first three weeks of Summer (closing on December 24), and will be a great way to add a little festive magic into your Christmas season!

Lido on the Roof

Another cinema-related entry – did you know that the Lido has a rooftop? That’s right, a rooftop cinema in the heart of Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn. The Lido is offering a bit of a Christmas program just like Moonlight Cinemas, so you can catch the new Grinch film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, or my personal favourite non-Christmas Christmas movie – Die Hard! Imagine kicking back on the roof of the Lido, drink in hand, and watching Die Hard in Summer night air. Sound heavenly? I think so. You can book tickets online or the Lido also offers gift vouchers if you would like to organise an experience for someone as a gift. 

The Myer Christmas Windows

A list about Christmas in Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without the Myer Christmas Windows. This is a free Christmas exhibition in the shopfront of Myer, Bourke Street which has delighted young and old alike for 63 years. This year the theme is Alice in Wonderland, so the windows will be decorated to the nines in magical Christmas-Wonderland style. The lines are almost always long, especially the closer it gets to Christmas, so you will probably have to wait. However, there’s almost nothing more iconically Melbourne at Christmas time than this tradition. 

There you have it – a Guide to Melbourne at Christmas-time. I hope some of these Melbourne experiences help you get into the Christmas spirit! 

Let me know below if you try out any of these experiences, or if you have in past years! 

-Laura

Gift Ideas for Travel-lovers

We’re nearing that time of year again – Christmas time! That means it’s the time for gift buying and giving, and for collecting ideas for what to give your nearest and dearest. 

Have you got a travel-obsessed Mum, or a friend who’s heading off on a big trip in the new year? I’ve rounded up the best gift ideas for the travel lover in your life, below. 

Let’s start with my favourite – travel accessories. A lovely travel wallet or luggage tag always makes a fantastic and practical gift idea.You can check out my post on must-have travel accessories to find out why these are travel essentials. I’ve also rounded up some beautiful passport holders – (a non-essential, but lovely to have nonetheless) – and my favourite style of journal, which would make the perfect travel-journal. 

Reads from left to right, starting at the top-left corner

Travel Wallet: This is what I consider to be the perfect travel wallet – it has a zip for security, pockets for currency and boarding passes, a space for passports, and slots for travel cards and ID. It’s just the right size to fit everything they’ll need it to, without being cumbersome. An extra bonus for gifting purposes – you can even have it monogrammed with the recipient’s initials, or their travel destination, for a small extra charge.

Leather Notebook: I love this notebook from Kikki K – it’s actually a leather notebook holder that comes with a notebook inside. This way, when the notebook is finished, the recipient can buy another blank notebook, and take the sturdy leather cover on another trip. It’s a great gift idea – especially for your loved ones who like to record all their travel experiences. 

Passport Holder: This passport holder by Mimco is made of a textured synthetic leather, and makes a fun gift for the frequent traveller in your life. Mimco also offers personalisation services for this product – so you can have the recipient’s initials embossed on it for an extra special touch. 

Luggage Tag: Everybody needs a luggage tag for their suitcase, so if it’s in your budget, you can check out this one from Mimco – it’s textured synthetic leather, and it opens to reveal a clear window for all the ID information. 

Leather Luggage Tag: Here’s another luggage tag that’s a little bit more affordable, at $24.95 – it’s an eye catching colour, has an ID window, and can even be monogrammed as well. 

Black Passport Holder: Another passport holder for you – in a sophisticated black. This one can be monogrammed too – I think a nice rose-gold embossing against the black synthetic leather would be really lovely. 

City Map Print:  I love this idea for a Christmas gift – pick a city that you know the recipient loves, or has always wanted to see, and order a city map for them.You could order two or three prints, which makes a really nice wall gallery. My tip is to order the print in a standard size, and then grab some cheaper frames from Kmart, to make them look really beautiful on a budget. 

Travel Notebook:  Pick up this travel notebook from Kikki K as a cute stocking stuffer – your loved one can keep all of their travel related notes together in it, or even take it on their trip with them. 

Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist:  You’ll know that Lonely Planet publishes some awesome travel guides – but in the Ultimate Travelist Lonely Planet compiles 500 of the best places on the planet. This would be a great gift for travel inspiration. 

Lonely Planet Travel Guides: The Lonely Planet Guides make fantastic gifts, especially if you know your loved one has a trip planned.There are so many guides, that there’s almost certainly one out there for wherever the recipient is going. 

Bucket List Book: I wish I had one of these Bucket List books – they can be used to set goals ahead of time, as well as to record when a goal is achieved. These notebooks make great gifts for travel-lover’s to record all the places they dream of visiting. 

Packing List Notepad: This packing list from Kikki K makes another great stocking stuffer. Everyone can use a handy packing list for travelling – nothing worse than leaving something important behind! 

There you have it: the travel-lover’s gift guide! If you have a travel lover in your life, (or maybe it’s you!), any of these travel-related products would make a lovely gift! 

Leave a comment below if this gift guide was helpful, or if there’s anything you would add to it! 

How I Make it Through Long Haul Flights

Airplane, Plane, Long Haul Flight, Flying, Flight

                                                Photo by Shalom Mwenesi on Unsplash

Honesty time: I don’t find flying particularly enjoyable. In fact, I really don’t like it at all. Plus, living in Australia means that it’s a long haul flight to get pretty much anywhere, so I need to have some tricks up my sleeve to make flights more comfortable. 

So how do I get through a 15 hour flight? I have a few tips for you in this post, but the most important thing I do isn’t something physical at all. 

The Travel Mindset

When I fly, I try to have a special mindset for the plane ride, and that is to be grateful for the journey and the experience that’s getting me to wherever I want to be. It’s a privilege to be able to travel, and by remembering that, I try to be consciously thankful for the journey itself. I also try to remind myself that any discomfort or boredom I feel during the flight will be short lived, and will pass soon, and this helps to put everything into perspective for me. 

So, if you’re taking a long haul flight soon, try and put yourself in the mindset of gratitude when you get on the plane. It will remind you how lucky you are to be able to travel, and will give you some grateful warm and fuzzies for your flight. 

And now for some physical things you can do to make your flight more comfortable: 

Get Your Meal First

I’m going to share a secret with you, (though it’s a pretty well known secret in travel circles now): there’s a way for you to guarantee that you will be served your meal first during food service, regardless of where you’re seated. 

All you have to do is order a vegetarian, kosher or halal meal prior to your flight, and you will be one of the first to get your meal. When I’ve done this, sometimes I’ve totally finished my meal before the rest of the people around me have even been served their meals. 

I like to get my meals first so that they’re done and out of the way. That way, after the rubbish is cleared away, I’m totally free to watch a film or try and get some sleep without any interruptions. 

Plan Different Activities for Yourself

When I’m on a long haul flight, I find it handy to have several different activities for me to swap between during the flight. Having the in-flight entertainment screen is fantastic, and I’d find it hard to travel without that, but during flights, I do tend to get a bit bored of watching a screen. 

I always watch a couple of films on flights, but when I do get bored I make sure I have different options to fill my time with. I always take a book – usually one that I’ve already read and loved so there’s no chance of disappointment. Then I also take a crossword book, my travel diary to spend time writing in, and of course I also have my phone in case I get really desperate and want to play a phone-game. 

I rotate through these activities throughout the flight, so I feel like I’m having some variety and mixing things up, even while I’m sitting in the one spot for hours. 

Move Around

Something I know about myself is that I find it hard to sit in the one place for an extended period of time. In my everyday life, I get restless easily if I can’t move around, have a change of scenery, or get up and down from where I’m sitting. Because of this, I find it’s a challenge for me to sit in the same seat for an extended period of time. 

It helps me to move around the cabin when I can – I take trips to the bathroom, which is as close to a change of scenery as you can get on a plane – but you can also take a walk around the plane. This helps with preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis and swollen feet, and it sometimes helps to get up and out of your seat every now and then.

Drink Plenty of Water

I know it sounds like a good idea to have an (alcoholic) drink on the plane to celebrate the start of your holiday – especially if alcoholic beverages are included in the food service. But, a way, way better choice is water. Plain old water. Try and drink as much of it as you can on your flight. Flying is naturally dehydrating, and alcohol only exaggerates this. Keeping on top of your water consumption will help you to feel better, fresher and more awake by the time you get to your destination. 

Wash-Up

This is something I’ve just started doing on flights – about two hours before the end of the flight, I go the bathroom and take my makeup off with a makeup wipe, and splash some water on my face. It makes me feel so refreshed and ready to brave the landing-deboarding-customs routine, and it wakes me up a little after not really sleeping on the flight. 

Sleep

I don’t know about you, but I find it really, really difficult to fall asleep on planes. It’s got to do with trying to fall asleep sitting up, and in such a cramped space, or who knows, maybe I’m just uncomfortable with falling asleep in a room full of strangers? Whatever it is, it’s generally hard to fall asleep on flights anyway, but I still recommend trying to get as much sleep as possible. If you can fall asleep, it’s a great way to pass the time, and it will help combat jet-lag and tiredness when you reach your destination. So, once those lights go out, close your eyes and try your best to fall asleep. It’s the best way to make that flight go faster!

There you have it – my tips for making it through a long-haul flight. Remember to use my travel-mindset to prepare you for the flight, and to make it a lot more enjoyable. Do you have any other tips for flying? Let me know in the comments below what you do to make flying more comfortable. 

Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas is Coming!

Join us for a celebration of Christmas and travel right here on Xen!

We will be posting Christmas related travel posts for the 12 days leading up to Christmas Eve to get you in the festive mood! 

Keep your eye out for some great post, including gift guides, travel-wishlist’s and insights into Christmas in Australia! 

A Short Stay in Santa Monica


                                   Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

By Laura Jemetta

Like I’ve written about previously on Xen, last year Kate and I did some travelling in the US, and at the end of the trip, we decided to stay in Santa Monica for one night before we caught out flight home. We needed to be in LA to catch our flight out of LAX anyway, so we figured that we may as well get some rest in sunny Santa Monica before sitting on the plane for 15 hours. 

It turned out to be a great decision, and the perfect way to recharge before starting the long journey home. I would highly recommend doing a short stay in Santa Monica if you’re catching a flight out of LAX – Santa Monica has a bit of a different vibe than Los Angeles proper does, and boasts a beautiful beach, an iconic pier and some fantastic food. Plus, at best, Santa Monica is only about 15 minutes away from LAX so it’s nice and close when airport time comes.

How did we get there?

Well, we arrived in LA early in the morning on an overnight bus from San Francisco, and we caught the light rail to a station near our hotel. From memory I believe this took about 20-30 minutes, and while it was a little difficult with our suitcases, it is definitely do-able. And cheap! It was only a really short walk from the station, which was so handy, especially after not sleeping on the bus! 

The Hotel

Our hotel was the Hampton Inn and Suites, and it’s one that I would recommend without hesitation. Maybe it was simply because we were coming off the back of a stay in a slightly disappointing, shoe-box room in San Francisco, but walking into that bright, airy, air conditioned foyer was heaven. I knew when we arrived that we’d hit the jackpot. 

At the time we stayed there, the Hampton Inn and Suites was virtually brand new, opening in April 2017, and to me, the hotel was immaculate. The hotel is aesthetically beautiful and beautifully functional, with a modern design and a sophisticated palette, and the best part is, the hotel is situated only three blocks away from the Santa Monica Pier. 

When we arrived, we were greeted by friendly staff, who happily stored our bags for us until check in time. Because breakfast was still being served when we arrived, we were invited to eat some breaky in the dining area while we waited. It was a really nice gesture, and so appreciated after travelling all night.

So what did we do in Santa Monica? 

We had a great time in Santa Monica. We spent plenty of time down on the pier – which was so close to our hotel – just relaxing and taking in the sights. The Santa Monica Pier is the obvious must-do if you’re in Santa Monica – it’s a fantastic place to get some food, see some entertainment or to just people watch. If you’re on the pier, don’t forget to check out Pacific Park, the family amusement park on the pier. I recommend taking a ride on the ferris wheel for spectacular views of the beach. 

The pier is the heart of Santa Monica – a hub of activity drawing huge crowds of tourists. It’s over 100 years old, stretching out across the water and providing awesome views of the ocean and Santa Monica Beach. Just across the road from the pier and it’s iconic sign, is Blue Plate Taco, where we had two fantastic meals; an afternoon snack, and proper dinner later in the evening. It’s a fantastic mexican restaurant, serving fantastic food and drinks, with a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for a lazy lunch or afternoon drinks. 

We also spent time in Downtown Santa Monica – an outdoor shopping mall which we were able to walk to from our hotel. We did a little shopping, but my favourite part was going to Barnes & Noble for the first time. We walked to Santa Monica Place from there, to get lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, which I was hugely excited about. We don’t really have anything like it in Australia, so I jump at any chance I get to visit the Cheesecake Factory. 

By the afternoon, we had to get back to the hotel to pick up our bags and go to the airport, but it was nice to walk back via the pier one last time. We had enough time to ride the ferris wheel, before heading back to the hotel to order an uber. The ride to the airport was quick and painless – because Santa Monica is situated so close to LAX. 

There you have it – our one and a half days in Santa Monica. Why not consider Santa Monica for a short stay, (or a long stay), next time you’re in the Los Angeles area. It’s a great base from which to explore greater LA, or just to stay overnight if you want to be close to the airport. 

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve been to Santa Monica and loved it like I did! 

How I Travel Without Paying For Mobile Roaming

By Kate Arnold

Travelling is expensive enough without adding mobile roaming charges to your list of daily costs. So  I decided to forgo having mobile service and data on my phone while travelling to the UK and Europe, New Zealand and the US. Each trip ranged from two to four and a bit weeks and I managed to survive each one without much inconvenience. Here’s how I did it.

Use Free Wifi Wherever Possible

There’s probably more free wifi out there than you think and when you’re travelling you get access to some of the best free wifi out there. Here’s where I did most of my wifi sponging while travelling abroad. 

Hotels/Hostels/Airbnbs

When I’m looking at booking my accomodation it’s important to me that there’s wifi available so that I can message my family and let them know that I’ve arrived safely. It makes it so much easier to plan your days when you can use unlimited wifi wherever you’re staying. 

Museums

So many museums like the Louvre, the Vincent Van Gogh museum, MoMa in New York offer great (and free!) wifi that you can access with your pass. Some places, like the British Museum in London has free entry (though a donation is appreciated) and the wifi is complete free to access. When travelling I generally visit one or two museums and I always take advantage of the free wifi.

Public Libraries

Public libraries also have fast wifi that you can login to and power outlets if you need to charge your phone. Big shout out to the Wellington Public Library for providing me both services in a pinch. Sometimes you’ll need to sign up to become a library member to access the interent but this is often free.

Chain Cafes and Restaurants

When I was in America, Starbucks was a huge source of my wifi sponging. I would go in for a drink (cold brew coffee is my go-to, if you’re wondering), send a message to my family letting them know I was okay and telling them what I’d been up to, post an Instagram or two and look up whatever I needed for the day like maps, opening times, costs of things, etc. McDonalds is also a great one. I’d grab some fries and sit down to do whatever Googling I needed. Sometimes I’d use the free Starbucks wifi to order an Uber and stand outside where I could just get a few bars of internet while waiting for my driver. 

Download an Offline Map

Offline maps have saved me so many times while I’ve been travelling from getting lost. When I’m going away I always download the Ulmon CityMaps2Go app. I’ve used Ulmon maps in London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando and LA but they have maps for many other cities as well. You can search and pin where you want to go ahead of time, while you have wifi and when you’re out exploring you can see where you are and how you need to get there. They also have public transport maps embedded in the app to help you navigate whatever city you’re in. There are plenty offline maps you can try. Maps.Me is one that’s getting great reviews, though I haven’t had a chance try it yet.

We use our phones constantly so not having access to mobile data and reception forces me to put down my mobile and concentrate on where I am. I never want to spend my time travelling looking at a screen and not having the ability to check Facebook or Instagram whenever I want is one way to keep me focused on the place around me. Sure, it can be inconvenient at times and it took a little while to stop reaching for my phone when I was bored but I saved heaps of money and that benefit outweighs any negatives that I’ve encountered. 

Attractions You Can’t Miss at Magic Kingdom

Disney World, Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Disney Parks, Castle
Photo by Cody Board on Unsplash

By Laura Jemetta

Magic Kingdom has so many wonderful rides and attractions to offer, but without some pre-planning, you might miss out on something fantastic. Make sure you check out my Disney planning guide to get you started, and then read on below to start making your list of attractions you simply have to experience.

This guide will help you do just that – it’s a guide to the most popular and most iconic attractions at Magic Kingdom, and at the end, you’ll be ready to start your own list.

The Haunted Mansion

Let’s start with one of my favourite rides – The Haunted Mansion. Located in Liberty Square, this haunted ride is less scary, and more whimsical (for adults that is). The ride starts with a winding queue through the courtyard of an antebellum-era mansion, at the end of which you find yourself being welcomed into the foyer of the mansion itself. The less I say about the ride from here, the better, but it involves taking a ride in carriages aptly named ‘doom buggies’, throughout the mansion. Don’t miss this ride – especially if you’re at Magic Kingdom around Christmas, when the Haunted Mansion is transformed with ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ theming.

Splash Mountain

One of three ‘mountains’ at Disney, Splash Mountain is what I would consider to be a thrill ride. Located in Frontierland, Splash Mountain takes place in log-style carriages, which take you on a river-boat style ride. Glide lazily past singing animatronic animals until you reach the final, steep climb to the summit of Splash Mountain. The ride ends in a thrilling 15m, 45 degree angle drop, which deposits you into the waiting ‘river’ below, where you will probably get splashed. It’s an iconic Magic Kingdom ride, (and Disneyland ride, for that matter), and you don’t want to miss it.

Space Mountain

Second of the three Disney ‘mountains’, Space Mountain is possibly even more thrilling than Splash Mountain. It’s actually the oldest operating rollercoaster in Florida, and is an original Disney World ride – having been replicated at almost all the other Disney parks around the world. Space Mountain is an indoor, space-themed rollercoaster, featuring a series of sharp turns and steep drops in almost total darkness. If you like rollercoasters, you’re going to want to make a bee-line for Tomorrowland. Fair warning though – the lines can be astronomical, sometimes upward of three hours, so snatch up a Fastpass+ for it if you can.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Mountain is the third of the ‘mountains’ of Magic Kingdom, and is also found in Frontierland. It’s a frontier themed outdoor rollercoaster, just as thrilling as Space Mountain. Big Thunder is almost an exact replica of it’s original counterpart in Disneyland. It’s a super fun ride if you like rollercoasters, featuring steep climbs, sharp turns and drops, and it’s especially magical to ride at night, when the climbs will give you the most beautiful view of the illuminated Castle. Just remember: the wait times are generally long, and the queuing area is in very close quarters, so maybe take an iced water with you into the line to keep you cool.

Mad Tea Party

The Mad Tea Party is a simple spinning ride themed around the un-birthday scene in Alice in Wonderland. It’s a colourful and joyful sight in Fantasyland, and one that consistently draws crowds of all ages. All that spinning makes it notorious for causing motion sickness, so if you’re prone to it, maybe steer clear. That being said, kids especially will love this one, and everyone will find it fun to see how fast they can make their teacup spin – each one can be controlled by a central steering wheel independent of the ride itself. That’s double the spin and double the dizziness.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Located in Adventureland, Pirates is a dark themed ride that actually inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. I know – I thought it was the other way around, but the ride pre-dates the films by about 40 years. In fact, the original Pirates ride was the last ride whose construction was overseen by Walt Disney himself. That being said, Pirates is one of the most iconic Disney rides, and one of my personal favourites. It’s a simple boat ride that positions you as a bystander to a pirate-themed story, and takes you through a beautiful waterfall of mist. It’s a great ride for the whole family, and if you’re struggling in the heat of the day, duck into Pirates – it takes place entirely inside and it’s always gloriously cool in there.

The Jungle Cruise

Another one of my favourites, the Jungle Cruise is located in Adventureland, and is a ‘river-boat’ style cruise down the great rivers of Asia, Africa and South America. Featuring animatronic wildlife and a charismatic guide, you will wind your way through the ‘jungle’ on your very own boat. It’s one for the whole family again, and is a charming break from the hustle and bustle of the park.

It’s a Small World

Another water-based ride, It’s a Small World is simply iconically Disney. It’s an indoor boat ride through scenes of animatronic children representing different countries from around the world. I realise now that that description sounds a little weird, but it’s fun to spot your country represented along the way, and the whole theme of the ride is global peace. Just be prepared to have ‘It’s a Small World’ in your head for the rest of the day. Seriously. The rest of the day.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

This is another iconic Disney ride. I’m not sure about you, but when I was a kid all the ads for Disney World or Disneyland featured the flying Dumbo ride. Dumbo is a tame and kid-friendly carousel style ride through the air in Dumbo-shaped carriages. If you’re at Magic Kingdom with kids, it’s one not to be missed, though you’ll likely need a Fastpass+ if you want to avoid huge wait times.

The Parade

Trust me on this one – you can’t miss the parade. It’s a spectacle of colour and sound, and there’s something magical about those elaborate floats rolling past you; those characters from your childhood floating past you; the spectacle of it all. It is truly something, and it happens at least twice a day. Make sure to at least catch one of the two parades – the mid-afternoon, or the evening, (the evening one features swathes of fairy lights!), especially if there are kids with you at the parks. For us adults, we are aware of the trickery of it; of the people behind the costumes and characters, but for kids, those characters are so real. Even as an adult, it’s magic to be a part of.

The Fireworks 

Disney fireworks are fireworks as you have never seen them. These are spectacular fireworks. These are fireworks against the backdrop of the illuminated magic Castle. These are fireworks set to the soundtrack of your childhood. I challenge you not to be moved by these fireworks. I always am. The fireworks take place every night that weather permits at Magic Kingdom, and you can catch a great view by getting a spot somewhere on Main Street, though there are several other great vantage points throughout the park. Make sure you don’t leave Magic Kingdom before Fireworks; they will fill you with nostalgia, happiness and joy.

There you have it – my guide to the best and most iconic Magic Kingdom attractions. Now you can use this list to create your own list of the rides you have to see during your time at Disney. Don’t forget to think about which rides you would like to Fastpass+ too!

Please leave me a comment below if you liked the list, or if there’s any rides you would add to it. Maybe I missed out your favourite ride – let me know!

How To Tip In America

By Kate Arnold

best bistros

Tipping in America is so important but it can also be kind of confusing. If you come from a country where tipping isn’t customary, like I do here in Australia, then it won’t come as second nature to remember to tip your waiters, drivers and others in the service industry. When you’re travelling you will be using these services even more than you would at home so it’s important to make sure you remember to tip.

Why Should You Tip?

Leaving tips for your servers can be controversial. A lot people who believe that people in the service industry should just be paid more and tipping should be done away with but the reality is that people working in the service industry rely on tips because they get paid minimum wage. Minimum wage in America varies from state to state but in some places it can be below $8 per hour. By refusing to tip out of protest you won’t change the laws on minimum wages and you will be taking money away from the people who have worked hard to prepare your meal and dining experience. For the people who don’t tip… let’s just say there’s a reason you get bad service.

Do You Tip Before or After Tax?

The answer to this question may change depending on who you ask. There’s no real right or wrong answer but it most common to tip based on the amount after tax. You always want to be on the higher side of tipping so calculating your tip based of the after tax amount of your bill is safer.

How Much Should You Tip in a Sit Down Restaurant?

The standard for tipping at a sit down restaurant is 20%. There are a lot of people behind the scenes that work hard to get your meal out to you and make your dining experience great and they all rely on your tip. If you have a really great experience and the wait staff, hosts and kitchen staff have done an exceptional job or gone above and beyond to give you great service then you should tip more.

How Much Should You Tip for Take Out or Curb Side Pick Up?

If you’re not dining in you should still leave a 10% tip as a minimum. Less effort has gone into serving you but someone has still prepared your order. You shouldn’t tip less than $1. If you’re getting a Chinese takeaway that only costs $8.50 you should still give a $1 tip, even though it’s more than 10%.

How Much Should You Tip Bartenders?

If you’re sitting at a bar and you’ve ordered a beer, a glass or wine or cider or a standard cocktail like a vodka raspberry or a gin and tonic you should tip your bartender $1 per drink. If you order a really fancy cocktail that takes time for your bartender to make or you order a more expensive kind of alcohol, say an aged whiskey, you should tip between $2-5 depending on the time it took to make and the price of the drink. If you’re in a really upmarket bar you may want to tip more than if you’re at dive bar or club. If you’re paying a tab, tip between 15 and 20%.

Use The Tip Jars At Fast Food Restaurants and Chain Cafes

If you go to a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s or a chain cafe like Starbucks where you order and pay at the counter you don’t have to tip. Generally you’ll see a tip jar on the counter, right next to where you pay. If you get any $1 bills or coins in your change drop some in the tip jar. If you’re paying with a card have $1 bill ready to put in the jar for after you pay.

Offload Some of Your Pennies and Singles

When I was in America I ended up with so many pennies and single ($1 bills) just weighing down my wallet. I’m not say you should just tip in pennies, that would be annoying for the person you are tipping. But if you see a tip jar and you put a few dollars or quarters, use this as an opportunity to offload some of your pennies as well.

Always Keep Change on Hand

By keeping some spare coins and small notes in your wallet at all times you can make sure you won’t get caught in an awkward situation where you don’t have anything to give someone.

Don’t Forget to Budget In Tipping

If you don’t have enough money to tip your servers then you don’t have enough money to go out. In America it’s as simple as that. Make sure to budget tipping into your spending plans for the day. Look at the dish that you want to buy and add 30% to the price to take tax and tipping into account. If that’s more than you’re willing to pay then you should look for a less expensive item on the menu or look at going somewhere else for a meal. If you’re having trouble budgeting while on your travels check out my article Tips for Traveling on a Budget.

How Much Should You Tip For Bad Service?

If your service has been really bad you should still tip at least 10%. Remember that it’s not just your waiter that gets your tip. Other people, like bartenders, bus boys, kitchen staff and hosts also rely on your tips to make up their wages. They may have had nothing to do with the bad service you received and they may have had no control over it.

Who Else Do You Need To Tip?

When you’re travelling in America you’re likely to be using a lot of services that require you to tip them. Here’s a list with appropriate tipping amounts.

Bellhop

If someone at your hotel is helping you carry your bags you should tip them $2 for the first bag (i.e. you suitcase) and $1 for every additional bag (hand luggage, etc.) and and addition $3 for any extra service like carrying them up to your room.

Coatroom Attendant

If you’re checking a coat you should tip the attendant $1 per coat.

Concierge

You don’t have to give a tip if you’re just asking questions. If you’re getting tickets from your concierge you should leave around $5-10 for tickets and reservations or $15 for tickets that are hard to get or 10-20% of the ticket price.

Delivery Person

Remember that your delivery person is probably using their own car and petrol. You should tip $3 or 15% of the meal, whichever is higher. For difficult or far away deliveries tip between 15 and 20%.

Doorman

You should tip your doorman (or lady) $1-3 for carrying a bag depending on how big and heavy it is and $2 for hailing a taxi and more if it’s raining.

Housekeeping

It’s a nice gesture to leave $2-4 per day in your hotel with a note to housekeeping to say thank you.

Spa and Salon

If you have a spa treatment or get a massage you should tip between 15 and 20%. The same goes if you get a hair cut or your nails or any waxing done. You can ask for the tip to be shared by the people who helped you.

Taxi Drivers

You should tip your taxi drivers between 10 and 20% of the fare. If it’s a short trip you can just round up to the nearest dollar amount so that there’s no need for change. If it’s a longer trip, say to the airport and the fare comes to around $20, give $3-4 as a tip.

Tour Guides

You should tip your tour guides 20% as a standard. If they are engaging and informative above and beyond your expectation and you really enjoy the tour, consider tipping more.

Valet

Tip $2-5 depending on how nice the place is. Remember to only give the tip when the car is returned to you.

Wine Steward

15% of the price of the bottle of wine.

Tipping can be confusing but that’s not an excuse not to do it whist you are visiting America. Think of it as wearing modest clothes when you visit a place of worship in other countries, you may not want to do it, it might not be convenient for you but you have to do it anyway. People in the service industry rely on tips so always make sure you are tipping appropriately. Have I left anything out? Share your tipping tips in the comments.

The Ultimate First-Timers Guide to Disney World Preparation

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Entrance to Magic Kingdom

By Laura Jemetta

Lucky you! You’re heading to Disney World for the first time! I’m significantly jealous, because you’re going to have the best time.

So, you’re a first-timer, which means you might have a lot of questions about Disney, and about how to have the best time at the parks.

Preparation.

That’s it. That’s the best way to have the greatest time at the parks.

Sure, it might not sound as wonderful and glamorous as just winging it and going wherever the day takes you, but trust me on this one: Disney is one holiday you have to prepare for.

The good news is this: the Disney preparation is one of the most exciting parts of going to Disney! You’re going to have so much fun doing all your planning and research, and it’s going to make you all the more excited for your trip.

This is the guide I wish I’d had when I was going to Disney for the first time – comprehensive and common-sense. It will let you know how to navigate your Disney planning, what to bring with you to the parks, and how to prepare yourself for the Disney experience.

Keep reading, and let me know in the comments below if you find my tips helpful!

Step 1: Research and Planning

Let’s start at the very beginning…it’s time for some serious planning. This is where you’ll learn all about Disney World, and come up with your plan-of-attack for the parks.

1. Download the Disney World app – My Disney Experience: Walt Disney World

Okay, you’ve got your park tickets. You’re on your way to Disney World. Your first step is going to be to download the official Disney World app. This app has everything. It’s awesome. You need it. That’s it.

The next thing you’re going to do is go ahead and link your park tickets to your Disney app. This means that your tickets and reservations will be connected to the app on your phone – so handy.

2. Check out the park maps

Next step is to start familiarising yourself with the maps of the parks you’re visiting: check out the size, scale and general lay-out of the parks. Luckily, you’ve already downloaded your handy-dandy Disney app, on which you can access maps, as well as ride locations and up-to-date ride wait times.

3. Create your ultimate ride and attraction list

It’s time to get into some serious research – you need to create as list of the attractions and rides that you simply can’t miss. It’s not an an easy or cheap job to get from Australia to Disney, so when I do get there, I’m always conscious that it will probably be another 5-10 years until I will get there again. That’s why it’s so important to me to see and do everything important to me, and to make the most of my time at Disney.

It might seem like a better idea to wing it, and see and do whatever takes your fancy on the day. But, there’s simply so much to see at Disney, that you’re bound to miss out on something fantastic, if you don’t have a plan of action.

4. Its Fastpass+ Time!

That’s right, now you can take full advantage of the Fastpass+ System! In case you don’t know, Disney’s Fastpass+ System is a free way to skip ahead of the lines for the best rides and attractions. All you have to do is make a Fastpass+ reservation on your Disney app. You can read all about the Fastpass+ System here to make sure you take full advantage of it.

So, you have your must-do list, it’s time to start selecting your Fastpasses+. Use your Disney app to get an idea of which rides on your list have the longest wait times, and try to Fastpass+ those.

TOP TIP: When picking your Fastpasses+ keep in mind that it’s best to avoid criss-crossing across the parks all day. Try to choose Fastpasses+ that will take you in a logical clockwise or anti-clockwise route around the parks. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re not running back and forth across the park all day for Fastpasses+.

5. Plan Your Meals – (if that’s your thing)

The Disney app even allows you to plan your meals at the parks ahead of time. Now, spending a lot of money on food might not be your thing, and that’s okay. If it’s not, check out my post on sticking to a budget at Disney, for some tips on saving money on food at the parks.

But, if you’re going to want to experience Character Dining, or want to check out some of the unique sit-down restaurants at Disney, it’s a good idea to plan these ahead of time. The Disney World app allows you to make dining reservations ahead of time, and for a lot of the dining experiences at Disney World, this is essential.

MY TIP: go ahead and do some research on the dining experiences available at Disney World, and use the app to book them ahead of time. This won’t necessarily save you money, but it will save you the disappointment of missing out on something you really want to experience.

6. Leave Room for Spontaneity

I know, I know, I’ve just told you to do all this planning, and it might feel like you’ll have no room in your day for just being in the moment, and going where the magic takes you. But it doesn’t have to be this way – the planning won’t take the magic out of your trip if you leave room for spontaneity. Spread your Fastpasses out so that you don’t spend your day running from reservation to reservation. This will leave you room to stop and wait for a ride that catches your eye, to meet a roaming character, or to sit and enjoy a drink somewhere in Fantasy Land.

Your day is going to be filled with magic regardless, but remember for all your planning and preparation try not to be too restricted by your schedule. Leave space to take the breaks you need, to stop and watch that performance, or to take a look in that shop you pass by. These spontaneous moments and the little surprises that Disney has to offer may end up being some of your favourite moments of your trip.

Step 2: Get Your Disney Bag Together

So, you’ve done all your planning and research. You know your must-do rides, what your dining reservations are, and the general route you’re going to take around the parks.

Now it’s time to start thinking about what you will need to take with you to the parks! Check out my list below for tips on what to put in your Disney bag

1. Start with a small cross-body bag or backpack

Keep it small, keep it functional, and lightweight and sturdy. The last thing you need at Disney is to be lugging around a heavy and cumbersome bag. Opt for something strong, functional and something that you don’t mind (possibly) getting a little wet or dirty.

2. Your Phone

Obviously. The first thing that’s going in your bag is your phone, right? Good, because now you’ve got your Disney app, tickets, reservations and Fastpasses+ on there, you’re going to need it.You already know the deal, but you’ll need it to reserve more Fastpasses+, to check out up-to-date wait times for rides, and of course for those all-important holiday photos.

Make sure you charge up your battery to full capacity, and pop in a portable charger too. Check out my post here to find out why portable chargers are a life-saver while travelling.

3. Sunscreen

It’s Orlando. You’re going to need sunscreen. As an Australian, that’s just where my mind naturally goes: sun+heat = sunscreen. Save yourself the sunburn and the sun damage, and just Slip Slop Slap. (That’s Slip on a long-sleeved shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, and Slap on a hat, for my non-Aussie friends)

Oh, and pop that sunscreen in your Disney bag for re-applications throughout the day. While Disney World does offer quite a bit of shade, the queues for rides are often in the direct sun!

4. Bandaids

Just in case you do decide to wear those shoes. Throw a couple of bandaids in your bag – you never know when you might need one, even in the best of shoes.

5. Your Preferred Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

Imagine this: it’s hot. It’s humid. You’ve been in the sun all day, and you haven’t had enough of Disney’s free iced water as you probably should have. Now you’ve got a pounding headache, but you still want to make it to closing time.

Don’t fear. Luckily, you read my handy packing guide before you even arrived at Disney, so you packed yourself some pain relief in your trusty bag! Even if you’re not usually prone to headaches, the combination of the Orlando heat and sun is a special sort of recipe for a headache.

Headache. Toothache. Period pain. You never know what’s going to happen, and there’s nothing worse than traipsing back to Main Street to buy some overpriced panadol.

6. Hair Ties. Bobby Pins. Pressed Powder – if that’s your kind of thing

Side note about me: I am a notorious over-packer. I have a fear of being unprepared, so I tend to try and prepare for all eventualities. So, this entry may seem a little extra, and if it’s not for you, feel free to skip ahead. I won’t mind.

Anyway: probably not the most essential of things to put in your Disney bag, but if you’re a mid or long-haired person like me, you might appreciate something to get your hair off your face in the heat of the day.

Same goes for the pressed powder – it’s hot. Humid. You’ll get sweaty. I’d have appreciated something in my Disney bag to make my face a little less sweaty.

Let’s move on from sweat, right?

Step 3: Prepare Your Disney Mindset

1. Bring Your Tolerance and Patience

Okay, let’s be real. It’s going to be really hot. It’s going to be really humid. It’s going to be crowded. Like, really, really crowded. You’re going to wait in lines longer than you thought possible. There’s no getting around that. You’re probably even going to get frustrated at some point in the day, but that’s okay – Disney’s a high-energy, overwhelming sort of a place.

There’s going to be a lot of overtired kids. And strollers nipping at your ankles. And people without common courtesy. (I realise now that I’m not making Disney sound like a lot of fun, but you’ll have to trust me that it is). Just be prepared for everything Disney involves – not just the fun stuff – and remember that you’ll need your patience.

2. Bring Your Sense of Wonder

TOP TIP: It’s a lot easier to ignore any of the frustrating things, (overzealous stroller-pushers, I’m looking at you), if you take a healthy sense of wonder with you. Yes, Disney is a place for adults to re-discover their inner child, but it’s also a place children, and I recommend trying to see things through the eyes of those kids. Everything will be more exciting; more magical, if you try and experience Disney this way. Seek out the small details; the little Disney touches throughout the parks that are designed to bring more magic to your day, and see Disney as kids do – as the most magical and happiest place on earth.

3. Bring Along Your Childhood Nostalgia

Disney is the one place in the world that you can break out all those childhood Disney memories and revel in them. Still know all the words to ‘A Whole New World’? You can use that at Disney. Feel like crying at the parade as you watch all the characters of your childhood dance past you? You can do that at Disney.

(Confession: Yes, that is something I did. I was 14 at the time, and evidently a lot more emotional)

You’ll be reminded of the part Disney played in your childhood – that swell of music as you walk down Main Street will move you, and seeing kids meet Ariel will remind you how much you loved that film as a child. You will have moments of nostalgia during your time at the parks, because that’s the pull of a place like Disney – they remind us of growing up, and what it is to be childlike.

Wow, did you make it to the end? I’m proud of you. Now you’re all set, all prepared, and ready to have the greatest time ever at Disney World! Did I mention I’m jealous? Never mind me – you’re on your way! Make sure to check out my post about the day I had at Magic Kingdom, and please leave any specific questions you have about Disney planning in the comments below. I’d love to chat about Disney World with you!

How I got Scammed in New York

By Laura Jemetta

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So, it’s time for an embarrassing story. I was in New York for three weeks last year, and yes, I did fall victim to a couple of scams in my time there. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. See, in my real, non-travelling life, I consider myself to be a very savvy and aware person. But I think there’s something about being a tourist in a strange city, that probably makes you let your guard down a little, making you more vulnerable to being scammed. Unfortunately, there are people in every city in the world who will target tourists for this reason.

So, here it is: a cautionary tale for you, so hopefully the same won’t happen when you are travelling.

So, how did it happen?

This particular morning, we had tickets for a particular time-slot at the One World Tower, and we were cutting it fine to make it downtown in time. I remember rushing down the stairs to the subway station, which in hindsight, made us the perfect targets. We were in a hurry, and anybody in the area would have been able to tell that we really wanted to catch the next subway. We all needed to buy new tickets, and so we were headed to the ticket machine, when a man yelled to the station in general that the ticket machines were out of order.

Red Flag no. 1: He wasn’t wearing a metro uniform.

Red Flag no. 2: He said we could buy new tickets from him instead.

You can guess what happened next right?

Yes, we bought ‘tickets’ from an uniformed ‘metro’ employee.

To be honest, I don’t have much of a defense, apart from the fact that none of us were really thinking, (evidently), and that the man pulled out key with which he unlocked the locked gate to the platform.

But, here comes the really stupid part: we gave him money for the ‘weekly subway passes’. As in, cash money. We just handed it over, and got – you guessed it – expired subway passes in return.

  • Yes, this man disappeared as soon as he pocketed the cash
  • Yes, we realised immediately that we had just been scammed
  • Yes, we panicked. We had just handed over roughly $150 US to a scammer
  • Yes, we felt, (and feel), exceptionally stupid about it

Realising we had just been scammed, we found the nearest Police Officer, who directed us to the nearest Police Station. A report was made, though nothing came of it. Of course, I don’t hold anything against the NYPD; the officers took out report dilligently, and likely did as much as they could do. After all, police have much bigger fish to fry than tourists willingly giving $150 to a scammer.

  • Note: I always recommend reporting any scam or crime you are a victim of to the Police, even if you think nothing will come of it. 

Top Tips to Not Get Scammed

Stay Aware: I believe we were caught off guard because we were in such a rush; we had blinkers on, and we just wanted to catch the next subway. When you’re travelling, it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing; in trying to make a reservation you’re late for, or in exploring the attraction you’re visiting. But remember to keep your wits about you – and to keep a bit of paranoia in the back of your mind. I know it’s not very pleasant to be questioning the genuineness of everyone around you, but it’s necessary when you’re a tourist – as I found out.

Pay Attention to Red Flags: Listen to your gut. When something feels uncomfortable, it’s a sign that something probably isn’t right. I remember the thought crossing my mind that the man should have been wearing a Metro uniform, but I dismissed it, because of how confident he was – with his Subway station key, and carrying out his scam in the middle of the day in the station, where there are cameras. It all seemed too brazen to be a scam. I now know that I should have listened to my gut. Yes, you risk offending someone, but caution can go a long way when you’re travelling.

IMPORTANT TIPS FOR TIMES SQUARE: 

  • You will probably be drawn to Times Square on your first visit to New York, but it is a hotbed of underhanded activity, under the guise of busking
  • When in Times Square, do not let anybody hand you anything – people will try to ‘give’ tourists their ‘music’ on CD’s, but once you have it in your hand, you will be hard pressed to get away without making a ‘donation’ to their ‘musical career’. Spoiler Alert: the CD is blank, and there is no musical career.
  • To avoid this, don’t make verbal or physical contact with anybody who tries to hand you anything. Just don’t. Keep your head down, and just keep walking.
  • Also important: there is an area of Times Square that is designated by a large green square on the pavement, where anyone is allowed to busk. Avoid this area like native New Yorker’s avoide Times Square. Do not step into this green square. Don’t talk to anyone in the green square. If you find it hard to walk away when salespeople are pitching to you, just give the green square a wide berth.

New York is a wonderful city, 99% full of wonderful people. However, like you will find in any city in the world, there are people who will take advantage of vulnerable tourists. While I hope you enjoy the city, and open yourself up to everything it has to offer, I also hope my story helps to remember to always keep your wits about you and listen to your gut.

Oahu Spotlight: Waimea Valley

By Laura Jemetta

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The waterfall at Waimea Valley

Waimea Valley is an historic and sacred cultural site located on the North Shore of Oahu. Beautiful and expansive, Waimea Valley 1,875 acre botanical garden and ahupa’a – division of land stretching from mountain to sea.

Waimea Valley is recognised as the ‘Valley of the Priests’, after having been given in perpetuity to the Kahuna Nui, (high priests), as early as 1902 AD. Waimea Valley features a beautiful botanical garden, and many significant cultural sites, as well as a beautiful waterfall.

Take the 1.2 kilometre trail through lush gardens and be rewarded with a beautiful ‘wailele’, (waterfall). The name of this waterfall actually changes depending on how the water is running at any given time. Called Waihe’e when the water is gently trickling, and Waihi when the water is rushing, this waterfall is breathtaking.

My tip is to wear your bathers to Waimea Valley, because you can actually swim in the stream below the waterfall. Borrow a free life jacket from the lifeguards and take a dip; it’s a lovely way to experience the waterfall and the valley.

Let me know if you’ve ever been to Oahu, and if you have, leave me a comment below if you have seen beautiful Waimea Valley. I’d love to hear about your Hawaiian adventures!

What is the Disney Dining Plan?

By Laura Jemetta

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The entrance of Magic Kingdom

Have you ever wondered what the Disney Dining Plan is, and if it’s worth it to purchase one for your trip? Read on below to find out all about the Disney Dining Plan, and for my tip before purchasing one.

What is it?

Disney Dining Plans are available exclusively to Disney hotel guests, and are a way to prepay for your meals, snacks and drinks prior to your visit to the Parks. With three plans to choose from, depending on your needs and budget, the Disney Dining Plan is something to consider when customising your Disney visit.

How does it work?

Once you select your package, all your meal entitlements are loaded onto your Magic Band. When you want to redeem a meal, snack or beverage, you simply touch your magic band to the sensor at the kiosk, quick-service diner or restaurant.

So, what are my options?

The three Dining Plan options range from a basic plan for those looking for ease and convenience to a deluxe option for those looking for some extra-special meal experiences.

1. QUICK SERVICE DINING PLAN

The first of the plans includes meals at over 50 Quick-Service dining locations. This means you have a wide range of food options to choose from, including pasta, burgers, soup and fish available from self-service restaurants.

Included in your plan, per night of your visit, per guest:

  • 2 Self-Service meals
  • 1 non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage per meal
  • 2 snacks (selected items only)
  • A refillable mug

2. DISNEY DINING PLAN

This plan is the middle point between the basic plan and the deluxe plan, offering a balance of convenient Quick-Service meals, and more relaxing Waiter-Service meals. You have the option to choose character dining and buffets, or to grab a light meal on the go at a Self-Service restaurant.

Included in your plan, per night of your visit, per guest:

  • 1 Waiter-Service meal
  • 1 Self-Service meal
  • 1 non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage per meal
  • 2 snacks (selected items only)
  • A refillable mug

3. DELUXE DINING PLAN

The deluxe plan includes 3 meals a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Parks! Available at over 100 locations, your meals can feature gourmet food options, as well as meals at Signature Restaurants and Character Dining. This premium product is a Disney luxury.

Included in your plan, per night of your stay, per guest:

  • 3 Waiter-Service or Self-Service meals
  • 1 non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage per meal
  • 2 snacks (selected items only)
  • A refillable mug

My Tip: 

Make sure you consider whether the Disney Dining Plan is for you. When I did Disney on a budget, the Dining Plan definitely wouldn’t have worked me – Kate and I ate light and took advantage of the free iced water, so the dining plan wasn’t practical for us. If you know you will want to eat square meals and have regular snacks, it may be advantageous for you to have prepaid for your food before getting to the Parks. If like us, you aim to eat less inside the Parks, and more outside, the Disney Dining Plan may not be for you.

5 Ways to See Oahu

By Laura Jemetta

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you’ll know what an amazing place it is. Check out my post about why you have to see Oahu here, and my post about the best beaches on Oahu here. But, if you’re looking for a way to make the most out of your time in Hawaii, read on to find out some unique ways to discover beautiful Oahu.

By Outrigger

What better way to see Oahu than from the ocean, as the early Hawaiians did? While the Outrigger Canoe didn’t originate in Hawaii, it arrived there around 200 AD, and is now an iconic symbol of Hawaii. In fact, Outrigger Canoeing is actually the official state team sport of Hawaii. Outrigger is a fantastic way for you to see Waikiki Beach, as well as some of the other beaches on Oahu. Paddle out with two experienced Oarsmen and, if you’re lucky, catch some waves in your very own Outrigger; a thrilling way to see the sparkling ocean, the beach, and lush green Diamond Head in the distance. There are plenty of opportunities for Outrigger Canoe tours on Oahu, and it is a unique and relatively inexpensive way to see Hawaii.

By Air

Yes, you can experience the island by helicopter, and these tours are a spectacular and thrilling, albeit expensive, way to see Oahu. I have seen Oahu by open-door helicopter, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Oahu. You will be stunned by seeing the commanding majesty of Diamond Head from the air – with the ocean to it’s right, and the specks of the city at it’s base. Do almost a full loop of the island in your helicopter, seeing not only Diamond Head, but Waikiki, Honolulu, the Dole Plantation and some of Oahu’s most beautiful valleys from above. It is an amazing way to see the island, and an unforgettable experience in itself. Long pants and a jacket are definitely a must for helicopter tours – while Oahu is generally warm and muggy, it is freezing up there! And remember, closed toe shoes are required to board helicopters, so pack some runners if you want to see Oahu from the air.

By Car

Oahu is a very drive-able place, provided you can get your head around driving on the wrong side of the road! Sure, Waikiki is built up, and can be confusing with it’s abundance of one-way streets, but the freeways are well signed, and with a GPS, they can be easy to navigate. When I was in Hawaii, we rented a car and took trips up to the North Shore, driving from beach to beach, and did the same for the East Shore too. This is a fantastic way to explore the real Oahu, and to pack a lot into your days. Rent a car and drive yourself around for a shopping day at the Premium Outlets and Ala Moana, or drive up to the Polynesian Cultural Center for a day of education. You can even drive yourself to Pearl Harbor, though it can be very difficult to find a car park there! My tip for renting a car in Hawaii: try to stay on the road for a full day, so you don’t need to park your car in Waikiki, though if you must, spaces can usually be found at the International Marketplace car park.

On Horseback

If you love animals, consider experiencing Oahu and some of Hawaii’s most beautiful valleys by horseback. I recommend renting a car and driving yourself up to Kualoa Ranch; a 4000 acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch on the East Shore. There are so many exciting activities offered at Kualoa Ranch, and horseback riding is a fantastic way to explore the ranch, and see Oahu’s natural beauty. Both one and two hour tours with an experienced guide are available at Kualoa, and closed toe shoes are essential.

By Zipline

Also operated from Kualoa Ranch, zipline tours are another way to see Oahu from above, and more specifically, to see Ka’a’awa Valley, which you may recognise from the film Jurassic World. The zipline experience takes roughly three hours, and includes some education on Hawaiian culture and traditions from your experienced guides, as well as some short hikes, before you zip your way through the treetop canopy zipline.

The Hamilton-lover’s Guide to New York

By Kate Arnold

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If, like many of us, you’ve fallen in love with Hamilton: An American Musical and you’re heading to the greatest city in the world, you may want to visit some of the historic sites that you’ve heard all about. Here’s a guide to all the places in Manhattan that every Hamilton-lover should go see.

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The Richard Rogers Theatre

If you can get tickets to this insanely popular musical then what are you waiting for? The Richard Rogers is located on West 46th Street right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Times Square. But if you didn’t manage to get a ticket, don’t despair, there are plenty of other Hamilton related things to do and see in New York and you can always try the lottery, who knows? You might get lucky. Check out my article, How To Save Money On Broadway Tickets and get the lowdown on how to enter the Hamilton lottery.

Trinity Church

If you’re familiar with the show then the name Trinity Church will sound familiar to you from the lines ‘I rely on Angelica/While she’s alive we tell your story/She is buried in Trinity Church near you/When I needed her most she was right on time’ from final number of the show. You’ll find Hamilton’s grave on the edge of the churchyard and Eliza’s right next to her husband’s. People throw pennies onto Hamilton’s grave as a symbol of his great contributes to the American banking system. You’ll also find Angelica close by, though her name does not appear on her grave, as well as the graves of Philip Hamilton, Alexander and Eliza’s oldest son, who was killed in a duel and Hercules Mulligan, a revolutionary who fought in the war for America’s Independence.

Federal Hall, The Financial District

A short walk away from Trinity Church is Federal Hall, located on Wall Street, in the heart of the Financial District of New York. George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States in 1789 on the steps of Federal Hall. This historic event is marked by a statue of George Washington, which has been placed on the steps in the approximate place of the inauguration.

Fraunces Tavern Museum

If you take another short walk towards South Ferry from Federal Hall you’ll find Fraunces Tavern Museum on Pearl Street. This is a historic tavern where George Washington bid farewell to his troops and where Hamilton and Burr shared a meal one week before their duel in 1804 where Hamilton was killed. Lin-Manuel Miranda has spoken out about the Fraunces Tavern as being the setting for the iconic song ‘My Shot’ in the show. You can still eat at Fraunces Tavern Museum as well as visit the galleries on the second and third floors, where you will find portraits of George Washington and maps that were used during the Revolution.

Central Park Statue

You’ll find this statue of Hamilton on the East Drive of the park, opposite 83rd Street and close by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was erected in 1880 (76 years after Hamilton’s death) by his son, John C. Hamilton. This statue stands at more than 15 feet high and is carved out of granite.

Hamilton Hall, Columbia

Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and his son Philip all attended Columbia when it was still knows as King’s College. Hamilton Hall is an academic building named after Hamilton, one of Columbia’s most notable alumni. A statue of Hamilton stands at the entrance to the building, which was erected in 1908. Hamilton Hall is located on Amsterdam Avenue. The 1 subway line will drop you off at 116 Street, right outside Columbia.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial

If you do visit Columbia, while you’re there jump back on the subway and follow the 1 line to 137 Street to Hamilton Heights and check out Hamilton Grange National Memorial. Here you’ll see Hamilton’s writing desk as well as Eliza’s tea set and the pianoforte, gifted to the Hamiltons by Eliza’s sister, Angelica. The Grange is thought to be the only home that Hamilton ever own and the construction of the house was only completed two years before his death though the house remained the Hamilton family home for 30 years after he died. The house had been relocated twice but now sits on the corner of St. Nicholas Park, just north of The City College of New York. Entry is free.

New York is full of history and you’ll be seeing familiar names on street signs and building names wherever you go. While you’re on your Hamilton tour of New York you’ll be using the Subway a lot so don’t forget to check out Laura’s article on how to use the New York Subway System.

What’s your favourite thing from the musical that you want to see in real life and will you check out any of these things on this list? Let us know in the comments!

Oahu Spotlight: Diamond Head

By Laura Jemetta

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The view from Diamond Head

If you have seen a tourism photo for Hawaii, then you’ve already seen the Diamond Head State Monument; that lush, green mountain to the left of Waikiki Beach. Diamond Head is actually a volcanic tuff cone, formed over 300,000 years ago by a single and brief volcanic eruption. This created a 350 acre wide crater, and the crater is actually wider than it is high.

Diamond Head is actually climbable, and it is a fantastic way to see Oahu. The Diamond Head trail was built in 1908 as part of a defense system of the US Army. While people climb Diamond Head every day, the trail is uneven and hard going, and includes some very steep stairs. Proper, enclosed walking shoes are a must; don’t make the same mistake as me and wear birkenstocks!

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Diamond Head from above

1.3 kilometers long and a 171 meter climb from the crater floor, the trail is difficult, (unless you are super fit!), but it is highly rewarding to get to the summit and see the ocean and the city below you. You’ll get some fantastic photos from up there, and you might even get a rain shower to cool you down from your climb, like I did.

Take your time at the summit, and then have a much easier downward climb back to the bottom. My tip is to grab a huge Shave Ice to enjoy on the way home, from the truck just before the car park. Shave Ice is the Hawaiian version of a snow-cone, and yours will taste all the sweeter for just having scaled Diamond Head.

10 Hidden Gems of Amsterdam

By Kate Arnold

Amsterdam Hidden Gems

Amsterdam isn’t all cafes and sex shows (though if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll find plenty). These winding streets are full of mysterious places lurking behind hidden doors. Here are just some of Amsterdam’s hidden gems that you must check out when you visit.

1. Vincent on Fridays

I know what you’re thinking, the Van Gogh Museum isn’t a ‘hidden gem’, everyone knows about it. But not everyone knows that every Friday night they host parties at the museum, complete with tours of the museum, comedy, music and cocktails. The weeks are generally themed (the most recent one being on Failure) and the first Friday of each month is generally the most extravagant. Tickets cost 18 Euros and sell out quickly. The event goes from 7 to 10pm so it’s the perfect way to begin your Friday before heading to one of Amsterdam’s bars for the rest of your evening.

2. Oude Kerk (Old Church)

Oude Kerk was one of my favourite places that I visited in Amsterdam. The floor is made entirely from tombstones because the church was built on a graveyard and there are 10,000 bodies buried beneath the floors. Today the church is more likely to be the venue for art exhibitions than Sunday mass Oude Kerk is located on Oudekerksplein (Old Church Square), not far from the Red Light District, where the bronze statue of Belle honours the prostitutes of the world and an anonymous artist set a bronze torso of a woman and a hand caressing her breast into the cobblestones. The sacristy of the church has been converted into one of Amsterdam’s most charming cafe’s, Koffieschenkerij de Oude Kerk.

3. Cafe Papeneiland’s Hidden Tunnel

Cafe Papeneiland has been around since 1642. Papeneiland (meaning Papists’ Island) dates all the way back to the Reformation. At this time there was a secret Church that Amsterdam’s Catholic population worshiped at when Catholicism was illegal. The tunnel through the basement of Papeneiland led beneath the canal into a church called Posthoornkerk. The hidden church is now gone and another (not hidden) church named Posthoonkerk was built in its stead, but you can still see the tunnel, just ask the bar staff to point you in the direction of the stairs.

3. The Vrankrijk Squat’s Bar

In the Nederland there are many squats, where people are able to live for free in abandoned buildings due to a legal grey area. The Vrankrijk is one of them and it has a bar and hosts events. Every Wednesday is WTF Night, which is hosted by Drag Queers Amsterdam. There are different themed performances every week and you’ll find vegan food available from 7pm and the party starts at 10. Every Friday is Punk night, vegan food is available from 7pm and the bar opens at 9. Most Saturday nights are various parties or concerts but the first Saturday of every month is Hip Hop night with De Rauwe School. If you’re looking for the bar, just find the chequered door.

4. Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal (Gin Tasting Tavern)

Did you know Gin comes from Holland? Gin or jenever is the national drink of Holland and you can go to Wynand Fockink, one of Amsterdam’s oldest tasting taverns (dating back to 1679) to try some. The tasting bar is open every day from 2 – 9pm and the gin is free to try. You’ll find the tasting tavern in an alleyway behind the National Monument on the Dam square.

5. The Smallest House in Amsterdam

Located just around the corner from the Red Light District is the Smallest House in Amsterdam (and even in all of Europe). This house is only 2.02 meters wide (6 feet and 7.5 inches) and 5 meters deep (16 feet and 4 inches). Built with the iconic bell-gable and in the canal-side style that Amsterdam is famous for, this tiny house has been converted into a tea shop. The upper floor has a capacity of only five people.

6. The Trippenhuis and the Fetish Store across the Canal

If the Smallest House in Amsterdam intrigues you then you may want to visit the Trippenhuis, which is the largest house (more of a mansion) in Amsterdam. It was built for the wealthy Trip family who wanted to have the largest possible house in Amsterdam. In those days you were taxed on how large the front of your house was, facing the canal. The driver of the Trip family was reportedly jealous of the mansion and is said to have told the family that he wished he could have a house on the canal too, even if it was only as large as the Trip’s front door. The family granted this wish and built a house for their driver, right across the canal, which today has been converted into a fetish sex store.

7. Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Sweet Lord in the Attic)

If you liked Cafe Papeneiland then this church in an attic is for you. Built in 1663, this bourgeois house had a concealed Catholic Church in its attic, which was frequented by upper echelon business men who were forced to worship in secret. Today the Attic Church is a museum, which displays much of the church’s silver, paintings and other religious artefacts.

8. OT301

This is another squat house but this time it’s been turned into an art space, filled with street art inside. In 1999 the house was being squatted in by a group of artists, who decided to turn the space into somewhere that artists could live and work together on new, alternative and experimental forms of art. Today there is also a zero waste restaurant, which is run by volunteers and you should book ahead if you want to get a seat.

9. De Poezenboot (The Catboat)

De Poezenboot is the only floating cat shelter is the world (niche, I know) but it’s a must visit for any cat-lovers heading to Amsterdam. This canal boat is a sanctuary for stray and abandoned cats in Amsterdam and it has been floating since 1968. You can visit for free (though donations are welcome) and opening hours are between 1 and 3pm. The Catboat is closed to visitors on Wednesdays and Sundays. De Poezenboot is located on the canal close to Centraal Station.

10. In’t Aepjen

What would this list be without a hidden bar in the Red Light District? In’t Aepjen is located on the main street of the Red Light District but most people walk right by it. This bar has a colourful history as a place where sailors of the Dutch East India Company would return from their travels with pockets full of money and exotic monkeys. When the sailors inevitably spent all the money on booze they would offer up their monkeys to the staff, who often accepted the trade. There are no monkeys at In’t Aepjen anymore, except in the decorations. The owners, who ended up having a rather large flee issue created what is now the Amsterdam Zoo, to house all of their monkeys. The name of the bar, In’t Aepjen, comes from the dutch phrase ‘in the monkeys’ referring to the bizarre practice the sailors had of paying their bills with monkeys. They were ‘in the monkeys’ rather than ‘in the money’. You can get a great beer, ale or jenever at In’t Aepjen but they no longer accept monkeys as currency.

Amsterdam is full of hidden gems (sometimes literally hidden) and all it takes is a little exploring and know-how to get you in the door. What are some hidden gems you’ve found while travelling? Let us in on the secrets in the comments.

Disney’s Fastpass+ System Explained

*This post has been written with Walt Disney World Orlando in mind*

Disney’s Fastpass+ System is, in essence, a free way to skip the lines of your favourite rides and attractions, that can really enhance the magic of your Disney visit by minimising wait times. The Fastpass+ system is included in the price of your admission, though not all guests are aware of the system, even though it is user-friendly and easy to control with an app on your smartphone.

Read on to find out how to use the Fastpass+ system to make your visit to Disney that much better.

So, how does Fastpass+ Work?

The Fastpass+ system allows guests to preselect a window of time to ride or see an attraction, giving them the opportunity to bypass the general queue and enter the shorter and swifter Fastpass+ queue.

Your selections are made using the Disney app on your smartphone.

So what’s the catch?

There are some restrictions on the Fastpass+ system that you should be aware of

  • It isn’t unlimited.

Each guest receives three Fastpass+ selections. You must use your three selections before you can make another.

  • Your ticket or package can change how you use the Fastpass+ system:

If you have a general ticket to the parks, you can access the Fastpass+ system 30 days before your visit, while guests staying at a Disney Resort can access the system 60 days before arriving at the parks

So how do I use my Fastpasses+ in the Parks?

There are two ways to use your Fastpasses+ and both involve using the Disney app on your phone or smart device.

  • If you have a general ticket or park admission, you will receive a card, (resembling a credit card) upon your entry to the park. This is linked to your park ticket, and thus to your preselected Fastpasses+. When it is time to use your Fastpass+, you simply touch the sensor at your chosen attraction, and enter the Fastpass+ line.
  • If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you will receive a Magic Band, which is also linked to your pre-selected Fastpasses+. When you need to use your Fastpass+, you simply touch your sensor at the start of Fastpass+ line at your chosen attraction.

Our top-tips for Fastpasses+ :

  • Time is of the essence:

Our tip is to take advantage of your Fastpass selections as soon as they become available to you. Whether you have 30 or 60 days to make your choices, it is wise to use the time you have because allocations for your favourite attractions will fill up!

  • Check back!

Checking back on the Disney app after you’ve made your three selections can pay off big time. Slots for the most popular rides and attractions often open up unexpectedly, and you can come across some of the most coveted Fastpasses+ by keeping an eye on the app. This is especially important to do while you are at the Parks!

  • Go in all guns blazing

Have a favourite ride? A character you simply have to meet? Don’t wait, grab a Fastpass+ for it whenever you can, because chances are it’s someone else’s must-do attraction too!

  • Our top-tip for first timers:

Familiarise yourself with the must-do rides and must-see attractions that Disney World has to offer before you even get to the Parks. If you need some help, see our list below of valuable Fastpasses+ to pick up if you come across them.

  • Space Mountain
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Autopia
  • Dumbo
  • Pirates of the Carribean
  • Big Thunder Railroad
  • It’s a Small World

A (Bad) Day in Paris

By Kate Arnold

Paris

Paris is undoubtably a beautiful city but when I visited I didn’t have a great experience. This was down to a few reasons, some in my control, some not. Travelling isn’t always a breeze and it isn’t alway awe inspiring, character building and life affirming. Sometimes it’s just a bit shit.

Here’s a sonnet I found in my journal that I wrote, holed up in my hostel in Paris:

— Dear Paris, fuck you

So it goes, I did not love this city
such as I always thought I would
It smells like piss, ev’ry surface gritty
It did not look like I thought it should.
Beautiful monuments not worth the cost
Local’s hatred for tourists: resolute
Pick-pockets prey on the young and the lost
Oh — that was an actual prostitute.
In the time it took to buy one ticket
three men asked for any change I mightn’t need.
I have never seen so many children
and their mother’s living on the street.
Dear Paris, fuck you, your unkind natives
And fuck the four days that I’ve wasted.

Yeah. It’s not the best poem I’ve ever written and I never thought it would ever see the light of day (that half rhyme of ‘ticket’ and ‘children’? not my finest work), and needless to say this was not the adoring poem I thought I’d be writing to this famed city of love. I was mad. Mad at the city, mad at the locals, mad at the other tourists.

Time and Money Wasted

It’s no secret that travelling isn’t cheap and I felt like I’d wasted so much money going to a place where I felt alone, unsafe and in general, unhappy. It would have been better for me to have stayed in London, which I love, and I would have enjoyed myself more. I kept thinking that I was wasting so much time. This trip was little over a month long and I felt like I needed to enjoy every minute of it. Sure, I went and saw Ground zero, Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co. and of course, the Eiffel Tower. I went to the Louvre and saw Mona Lisa. I went on a cruise along the Seine. There were shinning moments but in general I was les misérables.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

The Football (or Soccer)

Here’s a big mistake I made: I didn’t check to see if the soccer (I’m Australian so that’s what I’m going to call it) was on. Why would I? I don’t care about sports. It didn’t even cross my mind except when I was trying to book the Euro Star and thought Huh, I wonder why tickets are £300? It didn’t occur to me that this would mean the city would be more crowded than usual. The flow on effects of this were immense:

  1. Everything cost more,
  2. Locals were sick of tourists, which meant that
  3. They could be pretty nasty, and there were
  4. Large groups of men were EVERYWHERE and they were
  5. Drinking from 10am in public (where there are minimal free public toilets), thus
  6. EVERYWHERE (I’m talking the streets, the stations, the eateries, the shops) smelled like urine

I Was Alone

By this I don’t mean that I was unhappy to be alone in this city of love and romance. I mean that I got lost. I was targeted by pick-pockets and people asking for money. I couldn’t overcome the language barrier well. I found the public transport difficult to navigate. My mentality when travelling and getting lost is always just to ask someone, but whenever I did I was met with such hostility. I felt very unwelcome in Paris.

Brexit

This one is another example of poor timing. I arrived off my sleeper bus from London at 9am on the day that it was announced the UK was leaving the EU. As an English speaker (as I’ve said my French is très mal) locals assumed I was British and did not treat me favourably for it.

Homeless Mothers and Children (and Prostitutes)

I’ve never been anywhere that I’ve seen mothers and their children living on the streets. It was profoundly disturbing to see this. I had so little money, being close to the end of my trip, that I didn’t have much to give any of them. I have great guilt about walking past homeless people, even in Melbourne, but I know that I can’t stop and talk to every one of them and I can’t give them all money. Seeing young children sitting on bridges and outside train stations while their mothers beg for money, while I was privileged enough to be travelling outside my own country made me feel as though I was wasting my money on my own self indulgences, when I should be donating to homeless shelters and charities that would help these people out.

Similarly, I was on my way to Notre Dame when I passed a woman standing on the street and I just thought: She is a prostitute. An actual prostitute. It was like something out of Les Misérables. I saw a man, at least twice her age, walk up to her, take her hand and she led him into the building. I felt so sad for her. And look, I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t homeless mothers and children and prostitutes in the world but it’s one thing know it and another to see it and seeing theses people in these terrible situations in such a beautiful city was extremely confronting.

Here on Xen. we talk so much about how travelling is so wonderful and life affirming, but it isn’t always the case. Travelling can be lonely, you can feel homesick or lost. You can be in an iconic, beautiful city, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and not know why you’re there. I don’t want to discourage anyone from travelling alone. It is an amazing experience that I think everyone should experience at least once, if you have the chance. Just know that, like in life, travelling has its ups and downs. And don’t worry, my trip got much better after this. I headed to Amsterdam and had a great time. Check my article on the hidden gems of Amsterdam here!

I’d love to hear about any travelling experiences that didn’t live up to your expectations and why that was. Leave a comment and let me know.

How To Save Money on Broadway Tickets

By Kate Arnold

Broadway New York City Times Square
Photo by Daniela Echavez on Pexels.com

If you love theatre as much as I do (which is A LOT), then you’ll know that going to shows isn’t cheap. I went to New York last year and I was determined to see as many shows as I could on (and Off) Broadway but I was on a serious budget. Here’s how I saved money on Broadway tickets and a few other methods as well.

TKTS Booth

The TKTS Booth is in Times Square and you can buy rush tickets for select shows that same day. You won’t find tickets for Hamilton or The Lion King but there are always great deals on great shows. Laura and I got our Anastasia tickets through this method and saved around 40%. You can get up to 50% off shows but there’s no way to know which shows will have tickets available until the day of. Theatres give the booth the tickets that they haven’t sold yet so that the shows are more likely to sell out. This means there’s no way to know how good the seats available will be until you get to the window and ask and you probably won’t have a lot of choice. If you’re interested in seeing a play check out the ‘Plays Only’ line, which tends to be much shorter. You can buy up to six tickets from the booth but ONLY buy from the windows at the booth. NEVER trust people standing on the street or walking through the lines claiming to be employees of TKTS, they are scammers. As it gets closer to curtain rising the lines will get shorter and prices may get cheaper but more and more shows will sell out so if you don’t have one show in mind that you really want to see it might be worth waiting but you may also be disappointed. You can ONLY buy tickets from TKTS in person, never over the phone or online.

Return Ticket Line

While I was in New York I was dying to see Dear Evan Hansen and I was entering the lottery every day, which I never won. Finally, on my last day I decided to try the return ticket line and I ended up getting an unclaimed lottery ticket for only $42! It was a standing ticket but I had a great view and it was completely worth spending the two hours in line. If you are going to try the returns line there are a few things you should know:

  • It’s first in best dressed. I recommend looking up the time the box office opens and aim to get in line by that time if not a bit before
  • You could be standing in line for hours, in my experience each time has been around two hours but it could definitely be longer
  • You will be offered a ticket that someone has phoned it to get a refund on because they cannot attend the show, you will have to pay face value for the ticket and you don’t get a choice where you get to sit or how much you have to pay
  • You can pass up a ticket if it’s too expensive for you or if you’d like something with a better view but there’s no guarantee that something better (if anything) will come along
  • There is no guarantee that you will get a ticket

Today Tix

Today Tix is a website or smartphone app that can give you great discounts on tickets for popular shows. You’ll find tickets for Mean Girls, Come From Away and Book of Mormon from $69, School of RockAnastasia and Lifespan of a Fact starring Daniel Radcliffe from $59, Chicago and Waitress from $50, Avenue Q from $45, Fun Home from $35, Puffs! The Play from $22. I never got around to getting a ticket from Today Tix, I had my eye on a performance of Come From Away but sadly I ran out of time.

Broadway Box

Broadway Box is similar to Today Tix but there are select shows that have discounts, usually mid-week and matinees, and you use a discount code to get the special prices. You can buy these discounted tickets through the Broadway Box website or app or you can give the code to your sales person at the box office and get the ticket in person. I bought tickets for both Chicago and Puffs! The Play though this website using various discount codes. On Broadway Box you can get Waitress tickets up to 70% off, Kinky Boots up to 40% off, Anastasia and Chicago up to $50 off, Puffs! The Play up to 29% off, Avenue Q up to 38% off and many more.

Lotteries

Sadly I didn’t win any lotteries but they’re worth giving a try. Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are all shows that are expensive to go to, hard to get tickets to and often sold out so I’d recommend trying these ones.

To enter the Hamilton lottery you need to download the Hamilton app. You can enter to get up to two tickets and if you win, tickets only cost a Hamilton ($10 each). There are lottery tickets available for every show.

The Dear Evan Hansen lottery is also online and you have until midnight the day before the performance to enter and you can win up to two tickets. Winners for matinee performances will be drawn and notified around 9am on the day of the performance and will receive email instructions on how to proceed. You must complete your purchase of the tickets by 11am and you can pick up you ticket 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the show. The protocol for evening performances is similar. You will be notified around 2pm and you must complete your purchase by 4pm.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does lotteries a little differently. They call it the Friday 40 where they release 40 tickets for every show in the upcoming week for $40 ($20 per part). The Friday 40 opens at 12.01 every Friday morning (Thursday night) and is open until 1pm on Friday afternoon. Winners will be notified between 1 and 5pm and will have one hour to buy the tickets. Due to the split nature of the show, Cursed Child runs four performances each week. Again, you can win up to two tickets and you can enter the lottery here.

NOTE: If you have your heart set on seeing any one of these three shows I’d recommend buying them full price in advance as chances of winning any of these lotteries is slim.

Being a theatregoer isn’t a cheap hobby so I look for discounts wherever I can get them, especially while travelling. Let me know how you scored cheap theatre tickets or if you’re going to try any of the methods I outlined above. If you’re headed to New York sometime soon check out Laura’s articles on 5 Free Things to do in NYC and how to use the New York Subway System.

How To Save For A Trip

By Kate Arnold

How To Save Money For A Trip

Planning for a trip can be so fun, saving for one… Not so much. Here are some of my tips and tricks to make saving for a trip easier.

Set a Goal

First thing is first, you need to set a goal. Work out how much you want (or need) to take away with you and what time frame you have to save it up in. You need to know exactly how much of every pay check you need to put away. Say you have eight months (or 32 weeks) and you want to save $10,000, this means (if you get paid weekly) you’ll need to put $312.5 of each pay check into your holiday fund.

Put it Out of Reach

Set up an account that is for your designated holiday fund, preferably with another institution to your regular bank so that when you are doing your everyday banking you don’t see that money there. If the money is out of sight and out of mind you won’t be tempted to skim a little off the top when you’re dying for a fro-yo and you’re waiting for pay day to come around. Make sure this money is safely stored away in a savings account with high interest and no card attached to the account. Bonus points if there’s a waiting period for transferring the money back into your regular account that you can spend from. Most institutions allow you to rename your accounts and if you have this option then you should take advantage of this feature and rename the account ‘Holiday Fund’ or ‘Japan Trip 2018’. This will remind you what this money is for if you are ever tempted to skim some money off the top.

Sell Your Stuff

If you look around you, you can probably find something that you don’t like or need that you can sell on eBay or Gum Tree. The average person have $2000 worth of unwanted items in their house, including old models of phones and laptops, unused furniture and appliances and barely worn clothing. Have a look and see what you could turn into money.

Get a Side Hustle

Whether it’s baby sitting, dog walking, waiting tables, taking online surveys, tutoring, delivering Uber Eats or Uber driving there’s a side hustle out there that will earn you a bit extra dosh that you can put towards your holiday. You could start freelancing if you have any writing, photography or editing skills. What ever kind of side hustle you get, if you get it with the intention of bolstering your holiday fund, make sure 100% of your earnings go into your designated holiday account.

Know Where You Spend

Before you can change your spending habits you need to be aware of your current ones. Print out three months worth of bank statements and go through each transaction, highlighting any transactions you don’t remember buying as well as all of your purchases of dinner and drinks out, getting take away or ordering in, going to see movies, concerts or show and shopping for things you don’t need.

Embrace Frugality

If you are saving for a holiday (or anything) you need to rethink where you spend your money and you need to reduce the amount of disposable spending you do. Disposable purchases are things like shopping, entertainment or dining out, which should be the first things you cut out of your budget.

Tell Your Friends

Accountability is huge when it comes to finance goals and having a friend hold you accountable can be just the drive you need to stick to your goals. If you are travelling with a friend you can become saving buddies and check in with each other’s progress and talk about your saving strategies. Telling your friends (and family) will also help make them aware that you’re committed to not spending excessively for the moment and that you don’t currently have room in your budget for eating out and going to see movies. If they invite you to go out for dinner, remind them that you are saving for your trip and instead invite them to your place for a meal that you can make and enjoy with wine. If a friend asks you to go see a movie with you, suggest that they instead come over and watch a Netflix movie/TV show with snacks, drinks and blanket forts. Cinemas can’t compete with blanket forts.

Treat Yo Self

Saving hard core can be dispiriting, especially when you feel like you are missing out on going out with your friends and depriving yourself. Don’t forget to treat yourself when you hit milestones. Maybe you and your friend can go out for a cocktail after you’ve saved your first $1000. Maybe you can go out for your favourite meal when you’ve hit the half way mark. Maybe you can buy a book that you are really excited about or get a cheap ticket to a concert or show that you really want to see. Don’t go overboard and spend hundreds of dollars and undo all your hard work but plan something that you can look forward to while you’re deep in the midst of frugality.

Saving money can be the least exciting part of planning a trip but if you implement some of these tips into your strategy you’ll find financing your holiday less painful. What are your tips for saving for a trip? Leave a comment, let’s create a wealth of money saving knowledge.

How to Save Money at Disney World

By Laura Jemetta

disney on a budget 2_Pinterest

In this post, I share my tips for visiting Disney on a budget.

Plan Your Meals

Planning your meals carefully can be really good for your wallet. When I was at Disney, I made sure to eat a filling breakfast before getting to the Park – this was my first defense against unnecessary spending. When I was hungry again, I snacked on inexpensive things like popcorn, and instead saved my money for a nice quick service meal for dinner.

Stay Hydrated Without Breaking the Bank

Staying hydrated at the Parks is essential, especially in Orlando and California. Did you know that you can get free iced water at any kiosk or quick service restaurant? All you have to do is ask. My advice: skip the expensive sugary drinks in favor of the healthiest and cheapest option – good old water!

Take Advantage of Disney’s Free Experiences

Can’t afford character dining or the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? Don’t worry – some of the most magical Disney experiences are actually free. Grab a spot on Main Street, or outside Adventureland and catch the Parade. It is a spectacle of colour, music and dance, and you can see all your favourite characters pass by. Of course, the Parade ends with everybody’s favourite; Mickie and Minnie, and the kids will love getting a wave from them from atop their float. There are also heaps of opportunities to meet your favourite character for free. Meet Ariel in her grotto, the Princesses at Fairytale Hall, or be lucky enough to spot a rare character out and about around the Park. Make sure you also catch the fireworks – trust us, you’ve never seen fireworks like Disney does fireworks. The show is magnificent, (and free!) – spectacularly set to your favourite Disney songs and bursting with colour, don’t be surprised if they move you to tears!

Skip Most of the Souvenirs

Don’t get me wrong – you don’t have to forego the souvenirs entirely! Just be smart about what you buy. Skip the edible treats and the balloons – they won’t last past your trip to the Parks, and you won’t be able to carry that balloon back with you on the plane. Perhaps give the Mickey ears a pass too, (I know; unpopular opinion) – will you ever wear them again once you get home? Think about getting practical things instead; things that you will be able to use or look at every day. One of my favourite souvenirs is the Magic Kingdom mug I picked up at the Starbucks on Main Street. I use it every day, and it makes me think of the magic of Disney each time.

What are your tips for saving money at Disney World or Disneyland? Let me know in the comments below if any of my tips are helpful to you! And don’t forget to check out my post about our day at the Magic Kingdom.

The Best Beaches on Oahu

By Laura Jemetta

Waikiki Beach

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View of Waikiki Beach from the air

You can’t go to Honolulu or stay in Waikiki without going to Waikiki Beach. You will have seen this beach in those tourism shots of Hawaii, and it is just as beautiful in person. Crowded at almost every time of the day, Waikiki is a pristine, white sand beach with the bluest of blue water. The ocean is usually dotted with surfboards and outriggers, which are both a fantastic way for you to experience the beach. If you prefer, you can sit on the sand and watch the surfers, enjoying Diamond Head to your left, and Honolulu to your right. Whichever way you choose to enjoy Waikiki Beach, my tip is don’t let the tourists deter you; just join them and take in the beauty around you.

Waialae Beach Park

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Waialae Beach

Waialae is a beautiful and more secluded beach about 10 minutes east of Waikiki. This is a beautiful beach for a walk or a picnic, and a great place to take some beautiful palm trees. This beach is less popular with the tourists and more popular with the locals, but we recommend taking the short drive to Waialae for a peaceful retreat from bustling Waikiki. Waialae’s more secluded atmosphere, along with the palm trees and blue, blue ocean make it a popular choice for Hawaiian weddings; in fact, I chose it as the location for my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary vow-renewal.

The North Shore Beaches

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A quiet beach on the North Shore

Is this a cop-out? Maybe. But I couldn’t choose just one beach on the North Shore, because as a whole, the North Shore is known for both its swells, and it’s beauty. The beaches of the North Shore stretch for more than seven miles up the coast of Oahu, and are home to some of the biggest waves in Hawaii, and some of the best surfing competitions in the world. Less busy and bustling than the beaches around Waikiki, the North Shore offers a laid-back taste of the real Hawaii. Rent a car and explore Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, or Ehukai Beach; also known as the Banzai Pipeline. If you go during the winter months, you will be rewarded with some of the biggest swells you’ll ever see – just remember to leave them for the professional surfers, and don’t attempt to swim or surf on the North Shore.

Halona Beach Cove

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Halona Beach Cove

Halona Beach Cove is a secluded cove on the East Shore of Oahu which is colloquially known as ‘Eternity Beach’ because part of the movie “From Here to Eternity” was filmed here. The cove can only be accessed by a hike down steep and jagged rocks, so make sure you wear proper shoes if you plan on heading down. If you are brave enough to take the hike, (I wasn’t!), you will find a small and beautiful beach at the bottom, which is perfect for sitting and watching the ocean, or maybe for a picnic. Just remember not to try and swim here, as the water can be dangerous, and there are definitely no lifeguards here. If you do visit Halona Beach Cove, don’t forget to check out the blowhole a little beyond the cove; it is pretty spectacular in itself!

If you’re in/going to Oahu check out our article on must see places while you’re there. Let me know in the comments below what your favourite beaches on Oahu are!

Universal’s Best Kept Secret: The Single Rider Line

By Laura Jemetta

Universal's Best Kept Secret_ The Single Rider Line.jpg

That’s right, many rides at Universal Orlando have a Single Rider Line, which is a free way to skip ahead of the general line for some of Universal’s most popular attractions.

Really?

Yes, the Single Rider line allows you to access a special queue especially for single riders, significantly shortening your wait times.

So, what does this mean?

Generally, guests opt to be seated with their friends and family on the rides themselves, which can result in a spare single seat in a row or carriage. As a single rider, you opt fill that spare seat where needed. The wait times in the Single Rider line are significantly shorter, for what I consider to be the small trade-off of not sitting beside your friend or family member for the duration of the ride.

But don’t despair!

You still queue up with your loved ones, and only say goodbye to them for the two or three minutes of the ride. In fact, the many times I used the Single Rider line at Universal, Kate and I ended up seated next to each other on the ride anyway!

Think of it this way: you won’t be chatting to your friend on the ride anyway, so why not save yourself the two hour wait in line for Gringotts?

MY TOP-TIP

For both Gringotts and The Forbidden Journey in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, take the general line for your first time riding, no matter how long the wait. Both have a spectacular walk-through queue that you have to see at least once.

Tell me in the comments below: have you taken advantage of the Single Rider Line at Universal Studios? What did you think of it?

Travel Accessories You Don’t Need

By Laura Jemetta

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Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Here is my list of travel accessories you don’t actually need in order to travel comfortably. The travel industry is saturated with travel accessories, so read on to find out what you don’t need to bother buying before going away!

A Travel Pillow

Possibly a controversial choice, but hear me out: you probably don’t need to take one of those neck pillows on the plane with you. They are not only a cumbersome thing to have to carry with you, but they take up room in your carry-on that you probably don’t have to spare. I would happily and easily leave my travel pillow at home on every trip I take from now on; it didn’t actually make it easier for me to sleep, and took up too much room in my luggage when I wasn’t using it. I didn’t even bother to take it out on some flights. My advice is: use the pillow they give you in economy; it’s there for a reason. That, or your rolled up jacket or cardigan makes just as good a pillow as you will need on a plane.

If you’re really attached to your travel pillow, consider a blow-up version. Just blow it up when you need it, and let it out and fold it away when you don’t.

Carry-On Suitcase

I’m sure some people swear by their four-wheeler carry-on’s, but I would never travel with one again. Large and cumbersome, carry-on suitcases are hard to lift into the overhead compartments, and difficult to access during your flight. While a carry-on suitcase can made a good foot-rest while I was waiting for flights; that was just about the only thing it was good for; having a small and large suitcase to deal with through airports and in and out of cars and ubers, was more trouble than it was worth.

My tip: Skip the carry-on suitcase and invest in a great backpack. You can fit a huge amount in the right backpack, and the best part is, you don’t carry it, you wear it! Backpacks are easier to hoist into the overhead compartments, or like me, you can usually stuff them under the seat in front of you without trouble.

Lonely Planet Travel Guides

Don’t get me wrong! I love Lonely Planet Guides, I do. I would buy every one of them if I could, but they can be expensive, and I find them cumbersome to actually take away with me on holiday.

My top tip: download the free Lonely Planet app from your app-store, where you can find shortened e-versions of Lonely Planet guides. Now, you can’t find every city or country on the app, but it does feature some of their most popular destinations, and a really good selection of well over 60 guides. The app version of the travel guides are so handy to have when you’re overseas as they still feature recommendations for places to eat and the best sights to see, as well as an offline map!

Your Guide to the New York Subway System

By Laura Jemetta

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Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

The New York subway system can seem very overwhelming at first – that multi-coloured map with it’s criss-crossing lines looks like a bit of a mess. I had so many questions about the subway when I arrived in New York. How was I going to buy a ticket? How would I know which line to take? What if I get lost?

But don’t worry! The subway is a fantastic, reliable, and, most importantly, user-friendly mode of transport that will get you around New York City with no hassles.

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Map of the New York Subway System

The subway map features all the subway lines that service both Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Yes, it looks confusing at first, but it’s actually handy to have every line on the same map. Each subway line is denoted by both a colour, and either a number or letter. For example, the line I took most often when I was in New York was the ‘green line’; or the 4, 5 or 6 train. You can see it on the east side of the map above.

What you need to know

As you can see, most lines travel either uptown or downtown Manhattan, rather than across town. There are a few exceptions, including the seven train, but it is always more difficult to travel across town than it is to just travel straight up and down the island. Use the subway to travel uptown or downtown, and then you can easily walk across town to wherever you want to go.

But how do I pick the right station?

It’s easy. Locate the nearest subway station to you, and check out the sign on the front of the station. It will have the name of the station, (for example: 56th Street), followed by the colour and number/letter of the lines that service the station. Most importantly, the sign will say whether the trains at this station are travelling uptown or downtown. Don’t worry, if you find yourself at an uptown station, it’s downtown counterpart will be close by – usually across the street, or at most, a block away.

Important Tips

  • Download the app ‘NYC Subway‘ app – it is a fantastic guide to the subway system. I used it when I was in New York, and it features the all important subway map, service updates and a route planner. I highly recommend it.
  • You might make mistakes, and that’s okay! Everything is well signposted, and most stations have station-attendants to help
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that you will more than likely just be travelling up or down Manhattan. If you make a mistake, it is easy to get off the train and simply go back in the other direction.
  • If you are planning on making good use of the subway, purchasing a weekly ticket is more cost effective than several daily ones.
  • Every station is well signposted, so you won’t be stuck on a train wondering where you are.

Let me know your best Subway tips and tricks in the comments below. I’d love to read them!

5 Things You Must Pack in Your Carry-On

By Laura Jemetta

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Not sure what to pack in your carry-on, and what to pack in your checked luggage? Read on below for my list of carry-on essentials!

1. Travel Documents

An obvious one; you need your travel documents and this is the place to put them.

2. Medication

If you take any sort of medication, it is so important that you pack it in your carry-on to keep it with you at all times. One of my fears when travelling is that my luggage will be lost on the way to my destination, and I will be without the things I need; including my medication. Keeping your medication on you will avoid you having to go without, just in case your luggage does go missing.

3. Travel Diary

I have a tradition for the plane every time I travel. I board the plane, get settled in my seat, and after take off, before even turning on my entertainment screen, I start writing in my travel diary. I write about how excited I’m feeling, what the check-in and boarding was like, and everything I’m excited for about my destination. I’ve never regretted the small amount of space it takes up in my backpack, and I think it’s a nice idea to be able to record the very beginning of my trips.

4. Spare Clothes

This is part of my contingency plan for lost luggage – since it’s always possible that your luggage could be lost by the airline, I always pack some spare clothes in my carry-on. I don’t usually pack a full outfit; just something that can be worn as pajamas, or that I can change into if needed. A spare top, and pair of soft pants can really get you out of a bind if your checked luggage does go missing for a day or two.

5. A Book

If you’re taking a book with you on your trip, (which I will always recommend you do), you won’t regret taking it on the plane with you. I appreciate having my book with me on long haul flights especially, to break up my screen-time, and to give me something new to do on a long flight.

There you have it – my list of carry-on essentials. I’d love to know what you take in your carry-on – let me know in the comments below!

Our Day at Magic Kingdom

By Laura Jemetta

Last year we spent a day at Magic Kingdom. Yes, it was just one day, but between our days at Universal Orlando, and the time constraint of our next destination, (San Francisco!) this was all we could fit in! We made the most of our day though, staying from rope-drop to fireworks, and cramming in as many rides and attractions as possible.

So, how did we do it?

We went in armed with the Fastpass+ System, and a plan of attack that included our must-do rides and experiences. Having already chosen our Fastpasses+ we already had a general plan of where we needed to be and when, so all we needed to do was fill in the blanks.

Importantly, we left time for rest breaks and for spontaneity, so that we wouldn’t feel as though we were following a regimented schedule on holiday!

What our day looked like

Our day started as everybody’s does – with a walk down Main Street. We headed towards the Castle, and stopping for some pictures before heading into Fantasy Land. We had our first Fastpass+ at It’s a Small World, so we explored Fantasy Land before boarding our Small World boat, and ticking our first must-do ride off our list.

After riding the Tea Cups, we headed into Tomorrow Land, where we rode Autopia and the People Mover, before stepping back into Fantasy Land to brave the lines for the Carousel. Feeling a little strange amongst all the children with their parents, we made it onto the Carousel, and were glad in the end that we waited out the line. Laura’s choice was Under the Sea – for her favourite Disney film, The Little Mermaid. We were grateful that we applied sunscreen that morning, because part of the line offers no shade from the harsh sun.

Our next Fastpass+ was for the Jungle Cruise, so we made our way over to Adventureland, where we visited Pirates of the Caribbean and explored the Swiss Family Treehouse while waiting for our time slot.

After grabbing some popcorn for lunch, (we were saving our money for a quick service dinner), we grabbed spots for the parade, which were fairly good considering we only got them about fifteen minutes before the parade started. One of Laura’s favourite Disney traditions, the Parade was spectacular as usual.

With the parade done, we were losing stamina after so long on our feet. We trudged back to Tomorrow Land with Space Mountain in mind – another one of our must-do rides. We weren’t to be swayed by the two-hour wait time, instead stopping off at a kiosk to pick up some slurpees to drink while waiting in line. This idea proved to be great – the drinks cooled us down as we waited out of heat, and made the sometimes stagnant line a little bit better. You can read about Space Mountain here.

When we got out of Space Mountain, dusk was approaching and we headed over to our net Fastpass+, The Haunted Mansion, which you can read about here. We found ourselves back in Fantasy Land for an early dinner at Pinocchio’s Village Haus. The food was nice and inexpensive, and we were definitely glad to off our feet for a while.

Fueled up and ready to go again, we walked to Frontier Land to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We found this queue to be the hardest of the day, as it proved to be a colossal wait time in a confined, almost airless space. We both agreed that the wait was worth it, though, for the thrilling rollercoaster that turned out to be one of the best rides of the day.

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By the time we exited the ride, night had fallen, and it was time to get spots for the fireworks. After a little souvenir shopping on Main Street, we took our placed to watch the fireworks. Kate had never seen Disney fireworks, and we both agreed that they were spectacular, and one of the highlights of the day.

We both agreed that after the fireworks were over, it was time to call it a day. We went to the Starbucks on Main Street and got Iced Tea for the ferry ride, and made our way out of the park.

Short and sweet, our Disney was exciting, and full of colour, light and music. Laura got her Disney fix, Kate saw Disney for the first time, and we left exhausted, perhaps a little sunburned and filled to the brim with Disney magic.

What is your favourite Disney memory? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Free Things to do in New York City

By Laura Jemetta

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There are so many ways to explore the real New York City that are actually free! Keep reading to discover some of my favourite free things to do in New York.

Explore Central Park

This is such a fantastic thing to do in New York, and the fact that it’s free is just a bonus. Central Park is just massive, it could take several days to explore the whole thing, which can make it a little overwhelming to start with. My approach has always been to explore Central Park bit by bit; taking it easy and enjoying whatever I have time to see while I’m in New York.

There is something for everybody to see in Central Park. Book lovers can take a stroll down the Mall and Literary Walk, and music lovers can discover Strawberry Fields – the tribute to the Beatles’ John Lennon, who was assassinated blocks away. Take kids, or the young at heart to the popular statue of Alice in Wonderland, or the nearby Hans Christian Andersen. You can watch the boaters on the lake at the Loeb Boathouse, check out the famous Central Park Carousel, and explore Belvedere Castle, a victorian folly right in Central Park.

Whatever you do in Central Park, I know you will love it like I do; sprawling and beautiful, rambling through Central Park is one of the best ways to explore New York.

Visit the New York Public Library

This is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. The New York Public Library is open to the public, and there are some interesting things to be found there; see the first Guttenberg Bible in the new world, visit the library’s free exhibitions, or see the real life toys that inspired AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, in person. This library is a must-see for any book lover, if only for the fantastic gift shop and the stunning architecture. Put it on your itinerary – you won’t be disappointed.

Walk the Highline

Built on the tracks of a disused railway system, the Highline is now a beautiful walking trail 30 feet above the Manhattan streets. This perspective makes for some terrific and unique views of New York City, and the walk itself is both low-impact and lovely. The entire length of the Highline is 2.33km, stretching from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 12th Avenues. My advice: put on your walking shoes, take yourself to the Meatpacking District, and take a nice stroll down the whole length of the Highline, stopping at all the lookouts, and taking in this unique perspective on New York City.

Ride the Staten Island Ferry

Riding the Staten Island Ferry is a fantastic – and free – way to see the Statue of Liberty! You could spend a fortune paying a very pushy tour company to take you onto Ellis Island, and (possibly) up to the viewing part of the statue. Don’t get me wrong; this is worth doing once in your life. But if you are in New York for the second time, or are strapped for cash, then taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry is such a terrific way to get closer to Lady Liberty.

The Staten Island Ferry is a free ferry to – you guessed it – Staten Island. The ferry leaves every 30 minutes from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, and travels to Staten Island, where you will need to disembark. You have the option of staying to look around Staten Island, or you can get straight back onto the ferry for the return trip. The ferry is a great opportunity to get some sunshine, as well as some terrific photos of the Statue of Liberty, as well as some unique ones of the New York skyline from the water.

It’s a lovely way to spend a morning – standing on the deck of the Staten Island Ferry, on the water, watching the iconic Lady Liberty grow nearer. I highly recommend taking the subway down to the financial district and riding the ferry – it’s such a valuable free service, and you won’t regret the spectacular views you get from the water.

Top-Tip: As you approach the Ferry Terminal, there will be hawkers from the expensive Statue of Liberty tour company’s. They will say, (or shout), anything to stop you from seeing the Statue of Liberty for free; including that tourists aren’t allowed to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Don’t listen to them. Tour company’s station hawkers at the ferry terminal to trick unwitting tourists into paying for unnecessary tours, but the Staten Island Ferry is a completely free service available to anybody who wishes to make use of it. Just keep walking, and enjoy the free ride you are entitled to!

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Haven’t you always wanted to walk all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge? I have – and last time I was in New York, I did it! It’s a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon, and I highly recommend it to anybody wanting to see the city from a different perspective.

The pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge is 2.09km long, and a slow walk all the way from Manhattan to Brooklyn should take about 45 minutes. It’s important to be aware of how crowded the Brooklyn Bridge can get, mainly due to it’s popularity with tourists. I would make sure to avoid peak times, when New Yorkers use the bridge to get to and from work, and be aware that you will probably be sharing the bridge with hundreds of other people, no matter what time you go.

My advice: take yourself down to the financial district mid-morning, hop onto the bridge, and go for an easy stroll all the way to Brooklyn. Make sure to take in all the sights from the bridge, don’t let the crowds deter you, and spend the rest of the day exploring Brooklyn!

There are so many fantastic and free things to do in New York City – it can actually be a really budget friendly city. I would love to hear if you have enjoyed any of the free things on this list, or let me know below your favourite free thing is to do in New York!

Places You Have to See: Oahu

By Laura Jemetta

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View of Diamond Head from the air

Oahu: this is the Hawaii you imagine when you dream of Hawaii. Possibly the most popular destination in Hawaii, Oahu is home to stunning beaches, beautiful natural scenery and fantastic shopping and dining experiences. There are so many natural wonders to be found on Oahu – look out of your hotel window to one side and you will see the bluest ocean, and to the other, luscious green mountainside. Oahu really is a spectacle of colour and natural beauty.

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View of Oahu from top of Diamond Head

Oahu has something to offer everybody; from nature lovers and shopping addicts, to history buffs and foodies. The main strip offers great shopping and dining, Pearl Harbor is a moving experience for anyone who has studied 20th Century history, and the Diamond Head and Waimea Valley offer an interesting and authentic cultural experience for those interested in Hawaiian culture and history. Oahu is a place for families, couples and group of travellers, as well as solo-travellers, who will be welcomed by the naturally friendly Hawaiian locals.

Have you been to Oahu? What do you love about it? Let me know in the comments if you love Hawaii, or if you’d love to go!

5 Essentials for Travelling Solo

By Kate Arnold

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When travelling solo there are a few things that you need to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible and ensure you have a great (stress free) time. Here are a few of my essentials for travelling solo.

1. A Money Belt

My money belt has been used so much it’s just about falling apart. Having somewhere to store larger amounts of cash, a spare bank card and my passport, on my body and where I’m less likely to be robbed is crucial to me, especially when I’m travelling alone. I know it can get a little sweaty, especially on those hot summer days in Europe, but just the thought of having to replace my passport in a foreign country is horrifying. In my opinion the security is worth a little discomfort.

2. A Combination Lock

If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel you’ll know they’re not always the safest environment for your belongings, which is why they often provide lockers for you to store your things and more often than not it’s BYO lock. A combination lock is handy because there’s no chance of losing the key (although there’s always the risk of forgetting the combination, I recommend you set the combination to something you’ll easily remember or store that information in your phone).

3. An Offline Map App

When I travel I generally don’t bother getting a sim for that country or pay the extra money for roaming on my phone. Pretty much wherever I stay will have free wifi and there’s usually a McDonalds or Starbucks around that I can go to get online if I need to. The biggest downside to not having data to use on my phone is not being able to use the Maps app. So when I go to a new city I always go to the App Store and search for an offline map for the city I’m visiting. There isn’t one for every city in the world but all the major ones are pretty well covered. My go to is Ulmon CityMaps2Go which allows you to search and pinpoint locations without wifi and they have an app for cities such as London*, Paris*, Tokyo, Brussels, Singapore, Venice, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam*, Dubai, Los Angeles*, Prague, Vienna, San Francisco*, Florence, Munich, Chicago* and more. These maps also contain a map of any public transport in that city, for example the Underground in London and the Subway in New York, which will also help you greatly in getting around. Also all Ulmon apps are free and most others are free to download as well.

* denotes the apps that I’ve personally used and can recommend (though all Ulmon apps, in my experience, follow the same format).

4. Emergency Money

When I travel I carry an Australian $100 note, folded up and hidden in my phone for emergencies. If there’s a time that I need money and my bank cards aren’t working for some reason (or I’ve lost them) I have some money that will get me out of most situations, whether I need to take a taxi somewhere or go to a doctor or pay for a night in  a hostel that money is there and I can find a bank or a currency exchange place to get the money converted easily. I’ve never had to use it so far but it gives me peace of mind having it.

5. Reading Material

When you’re travelling alone there’s a lot of downtime in airports, on planes, trains and buses that needs to be killed. In transit is a great place to get some reading done. Bring along a paperback that you won’t mind leaving in a hostel or donating to a charity shop or library. If you have an e-reader then you can load all the books you want on there and you’re good to go. You could also look into e-books or audiobooks that you can read/listen to on your phone. I use an app called Borrow Box, which I use through my library membership and allows me to borrow e-books and audiobooks for free, which is a great, budget-friendly alternative to having a Kindle or an Audible membership.

There you have it, a few of my essentials for solo adventures. What are some of your travel essential? I’d love to hear about them.

Must-Have Travel Accessories

By Laura Jemetta

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There are so many travel accessories out there, sometimes it can be hard to know what you really need. Here is my list of must-haves for travelling comfortably and well!

Packing Cubes

I was skeptical about packing cubes to begin with, but now that I have used them, I would never travel without them again. Packing cubes are fabric cubes with zips, that you pack your clothes into before putting them in your suitcase. They lay flat in your luggage, keep your clothes folded nicely and compactly during travel, and they save a lot of room. Packing cubes are great for keeping alike things together; for example, keeping all your tops or pants together, and they are easy to move around when you need to find something quickly. Pick up your own set of packing cubes; even if it’s only three or so, and see how much easier it makes travelling.

A Luggage Tag

This is essential for your luggage. It doesn’t have to be a fancy tag, or an expensive one; it just needs to have space to write your contact details on, so that should you be parted from your luggage, it is identifiable. It helps if your luggage tag is a unique shape or colour, as this makes it a bit easier to find your luggage on the carousel. It is also handy to have a luggage tag on your suitcase in the event that your luggage does get lost; you will need to be able to describe your luggage for the airline, and it helps to have another identifier, like ‘red luggage tag’, to put on the form.

Document Wallet

When I travel, my document wallet is the first thing that I organise and pack; I would never travel without one. Documents wallets are an easy way to keep all your travel documents together, and being the person that I am, I find it comforting to have just one thing to reach for in my bag that holds everything I need. Something I know about myself is that I can get frazzled easily in airports, and having a place to keep my boarding passes, passport, visas, as well as my itinerary and insurance documents, really eases my nerves. Again, it doesn’t need to be an expensive leather document wallet, it just needs to be big enough to fit all your documents, and be nice and secure, with a button or zip.

Portable Charger

Portable chargers are terrific to just throw in your bag, even if you think you’ll never use it. They don’t take up much space, are inexpensive to buy, and can get you out of a no-charge-situation, fast. Compatible with most phones, portable chargers hold a certain amount of charge, which you can use to give your phone’s battery level a boost – usually between 80-100% extra charge. I have found my portable charger to be a lifesaver to have in my bag for those times during travel when you can’t really charge your phone. Pick one up and pop it in your bag; even if you don’t end up needing it, it will give you some peace of mind that you can charge your phone quickly if you really need to.

There you have it – my travel must-have’s. Let me know below what your must-have travel accessories are – I’d love to know what you can’t travel without!

Welcome To Xen.

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Welcome!

Hello and welcome to Xen. a travel blog run by two friends and xenomanics, Laura and Kate. We just wanted to share some of our travelling stories and tips as we go on our adventures.

We would love to hear from you! Let us know the best place you’ve travelled to or where is on the top of your list. Get in touch in the comment section below, on our contact page or email us at xenomania18@gmail.com. Let’s talk about travel!

Laura and Kate
The Xen. Team

Xen. launches tomorrow!

Xen. launches tomorrow on October 1st! We are so excited to share our travels with you!

Here’s a sneak peek of our first post. Make sure to check it out tomorrow!

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A sneak-peek of tomorrow’s post!

We would love to hear your favourite travel destinations in the comment section below. Let us know the places in the world you love best!

– Laura and Kate

My Favourite Places in Melbourne for Food and Coffee

Cappuccino in a Melbourne coffee shop

Mebourne is the food and coffee capital of Australia – don’t let Sydney tell you otherwise! I think that’s my favourite thing about living here, but it’s made me a bit of a coffee snob, because I’ve not been anywhere (yet!) where the coffee rivals that of Melbourne.

The food in Melbourne is heavily influenced by our multicultural society – you can find amazing Vietnamese, authentic Mexican, traditional Italian and great burgers, all within two streets of each other.

We love food here, and we do it really well, so I’ve rounded up a list of some of my favourite places for coffee or a meal.

Poncho:

Poncho is the first cafe that I called ‘mine’ – you know how everyone has a cafe that’s ‘theirs’? One that they go to regularly enough that the Barista knows their order as well as their name? Well, mine is Poncho. It’s just up the street from me, so it is seriously local, and in the days before I could drive, I would walk up there to get my coffee. Nowadays, I do a lot of my work for Xen there, with a great coffee by my side. I don’t mind the cafe noise while I’m working, in fact, the grinding of the beans and the steaming of milk is a nice kind of white noise. Check out Poncho for fantastic coffee by Inglewood, and my favourite scrambled eggs on toast!

Good Times Milkbar:

Good Times is about five minutes away from me, which is dangerously close because of how much I love their potato gems. It serves some of the best food in the Bentleigh area, including breakfast, burgers, and milkshakes. One of my favourite things about Good Times is that I actually remember when the building used to be a corner milkbar – hence it’s name. It also features a puppy-friendly courtyard, with seating for the humans, and some of the brightest, loveliest pastel decor going around. Head to Good Times for cafe food done really, really, really well, and great coffee by Small Batch Roasting Co.

Fonda:

I know this isn’t very sophisticated of me, but I do love Fonda. It’s a chain of restaurants serving ‘mexican street food’, (that part is in quotation marks because I don’t know how authentic Fonda’s ‘street food’ is). But I love their chipotle chips and the quesadillas and of course the frozen margaritas! There is a Fonda in the shopping center where I work, and it’s a nice place to go after work for a quick dinner or drink.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna:

This is a restaurant that I think of as quintessentially Melbournian. It’s burgers, done really, really well as well as awesome drinks and desserts. It’s themed around a trailer park, with fairy lights strung everywhere, and booths made from caravan parts. Situated in the middle of the theatre district of Melbourne, the Grand Trailer Park is a great place to grab a meal before or after a show, or to enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down, they even have a terrace!)

Winkel:

Not technically local to me, Winkel is more than worth the travel time. Serving great coffee, and the most amazing breakfast burger you’ll get anywhere, Winkel is the perfect place in Richmond to grab a bite, or get some work done. Amazing food paired with bright and airy decor and friendly staff? Perfect combination.

Leave me a comment if you’ve been to any of my favourite places!

Make sure to like and follow the blog – it means so much to us!

14 Things to do when you’re Bored in Economy

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Blurry airplane-window photo

By Laura Jemetta

Okay, I’ve got a list for you today. Now you might know by now that as much as I love travel, I’m not the best flyer. In fact, I’ve written about it in detail in my post about how I get through long haul flights. Long Haul flights can be really boring – and when you live in Australia, it’s a long haul flight to get just about anywhere! So below is a comprehensive list of things you can do during a flight to keep yourself occupied.

  1. Write in a travel diary: This is something I do on every flight that I take; after the meal service, I take out my travel diary and write my first entry of the trip. It’s usually short, and mainly describes the what the airport experience was like and how excited I am for the trip. Also, if I’m really bored, sometimes I’ll just write about how bored I am.
  2. Watch a Film: one that you’ve always meant to see, a new release that you’re excited to watch, or an old favourite of yours, that you already know you love. Even if you only watch one movie, that’s about two hours taken up already.
  3. Do a Crossword: I really enjoy crosswords – I always have. So sometimes when I’m in the airport, I buy myself a crossword book to start on the plane. Of course, a more cost effective option is just to bring one from home, but ether way, crosswords will keep your mind occupied, hopefully for a good stretch of time.
  4. Start a TV show: Okay, so this might not deserve a it’s own entry, but you can also start a new show on the flight, which I actually find preferable to watching films. I don’t know why, but something about watching multiple, ,shorter episodes of something gives me the illusion that time is passing faster. My favourite thing to do is to start something fun and a little bit trashy – when I came back from the US, I started watching Riverdale, (which I can’t seem to stop watching even now, no matter how outrageous it gets!)
  5. Answer my Travel Journal Prompts: which you can find here. I really enjoy more structured writing tasks when I’m journalling, (as well as freewriting), so I developed a list of prompts that you can answer pre-trip, during your trip, and post-trip. Don’t forget to check them out!
  6. Read a great book: In the past, I’ve overloaded myself with books when travelling – I used to take both a fiction and non-fiction title, ‘just in case’. But now I think all you need when travelling is a book that you really love, and haven’t re-read in a little while. That way you know you’re going to enjoy what you’re reading, and there’s no disappointment.
  7. Budget for your trip: I’m assuming most people will already have done this before leaving, but the plane could be a good time to work out how much you want to spend each day and where you’re going to spend your money and where you’re not. You can also start tracking your spending now, if you spent any money in the airport.
  8. Explore the Lonely Planet app for the city/cities you’re going to: I love this app! Now, the guides on there aren’t the complete guide that you’ll get if you buy the hard-copy book, but they are full of information about places to eat, accommodation, and the best things to see in that city. Why not explore the app and get even more excited for your destination?
  9. Make a list of all the places you want to eat/see/go: (If you haven’t already). I’m a list person, so I’ve usually done this weeks before departure, but if you haven’t you can use the info from the Lonely Planet app to make a list of all the places you want to visit.
  10. Play a Game: I love board game, and there are quite a few that you’ll be able to play in the confines of Economy. You could play solitaire, or another card game with your seat-mate, scattergories, a modified version of pictionary, or some sort of trivia game, (there are lots of free trivia apps so that you can pretty much play trivial pursuit without all the pieces and cards).
  11. Get some sleep
  12. Write something: You know I’m a writer, so I like to spend a great deal of my spare time doing some form of writing. I’m trying to write a novel, so a flight is a good stretch of uninterrupted time to get some writing done, but you could also write a letter, (to yourself or someone else), poetry, (write an ode to travel-boredom), or some non-fiction, (start a memoir?). Whatever floats your boat.
  13. Do some colouring in: My mum is a huge fan of colouring books – she finds it a soothing and relaxing hobby. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, (severe lack of patience), but creating something with your hands can be a really nice, mindful thing to do. Pack a colouring book and a small pack of pencils/markers, and you’ve got another activity to do.
  14. Listen to something: Music, a podcast, an audio-book. I sometimes put my headphones in and try to fall asleep to my music – it blocks out the noise of the cabin, and makes it a little easier to sleep.

Leave me a comment if you made it to the end of this post – tell me if you have, or plan to use any of these tips on your next flight!

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