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!

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.

14 Things to do when you’re Bored in Economy

Photo out of airplane window and night
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!

Don’t forget to like and follow if you would like to see more content like this – we appreciate your support so much!

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 Laura Jemetta

It’s New Years Eve today, and I’m already thinking and planning all the travel I’m hoping to do in 2019. In reality, I’ve been thinking about it since my last trip to Hawaii earlier this year, but now I thought it would be fun to share these goals with you!

  1. Go to New York. Twice – That’s right. I’m planning on visiting New  York twice this year. Once will be with Kate in August, it’s looking like the second time will be during Christmas time with my family. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and I would probably visit 10 times a year if I could afford it! Most of my plans for visiting New York again involve seeing shows, (which you will find out about below), but I’m also excited to have some other uniquely New York experiences.
  2. Take my first solo flight – I won’t technically be taking a solo trip in 2019 (as far as I know), but I will be taking my first solo flight and meeting Kate in the US next year. I’m looking forward to the new experience, and I’m confident that I’ll be able to handle everything airplane travel brings, by myself.
  3. See London – 2019 is going to be the year that I finally visit England. My Dad was born in London, but I haven’t managed to make it over there yet. I’m excited to visit and do all the touristy things (read: see more shows). I think I’m most excited to do the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour, which has it’s own entry in this list!
  4. Visit Family in England – We have lots of family in the UK, so I’m excited to travel to London and Manchester to visit them. Some of them I’ve not met, and some of them have visited us in Australia, so it will be nice to see them in their own hometown.
  5. Go to Sara Beth’s for Brunch – I know there is so much wonderful food to be found in New York, but I’ve always had this thing about having brunch at Sara Beth’s. Now, I’m not sure if it really is going to be the best brunch ever, or if it’s one of those touristy things, but next year, I’m just going to try it!
  6. Drink Hot Chocolate in Central Park – When I was in New York last year, there was a strange heat wave going on, even though it was late September. So since then, I’ve been dreaming of being in New York in the cooler weather, and I can’t think of anything better than wandering Central Park, rugged up in a coat, with a hot drink in hand.
  7. See Hamilton on Broadway – As much as I love Hamilton, (and I do. A lot.), I was really late to the party. Kate tried to get me to listen to it for a couple of years, before I actually did, and now that I have, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it earlier, because I could have seen it when I was in New York last year. So: seeing Hamilton on Broadway is pretty much top of my list for New York next year.
  8. See Frozen on Broadway – Okay, if you don’t know by now, I love musicals. And the plan for next year is to see as many shows as possible in New York. I really want to see Frozen the Musical – I actually re-watched Frozen last night, and all I was thinking about was how amazing it will be to see it on stage!
  9. Do the Warner Bro’s Studio Tour in London – So this is probably the top of my list if things to do in London. You probably know by now how much we love Harry Potter here at Xen, so I’m so excited to experience the next best thing to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, when I’m in London.
  10. See the Rockerfeller Center Christmas Tree – To me, there’s nothing more iconic about Christmas in New York than the Christmas Tree at the Rockerfeller Center. There’s something so magical about it, and I really hope our Christmas plans work out, so that I can see it in person in 2019.

Let me know some of your travel goals for 2019 in the comments below – I’d love to hear! Don’t forget to check out my posts about my adventures in New York in 2017 – like my tips on free things to do in New York City, and my guide to the Subway system in NYC!

Stay tuned for lots of exciting posts in the New Year about Kate’s trip to Peru, and my travels to the US and UK!

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! 

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.