Category: Travel

12
Jul

The Bose sleepbuds work! And also don’t.

“Hello, you’ve reached First-World Complaints, this is Zoë speaking, how may I help you?”

My wonderful ears grant me many, many pleasures: the sound of my baby’s laughter, crunchy toast being buttered, Vampire Weekend’s new album, a fresh mug of coffee being poured… but I fear they are taking their job far too seriously. They think they work for the CIA, and must never dip below Aggressively Vigilant. On the plus side, I do feel like I might save the family if a burglar ever gives it a crack.

Just like my inability to jump on trampolines, I blame the children. It pretty much kicked in the day my firstborn arrived, as did my anxiety and complete loss of rhythm on the dance floor, and it seems to get more powerful with each new child/year that goes by, yknow, like the stench of a Camembert that’s rolled under the back seat.

On any given night my extremely over sensitive ears will run the auditory gauntlet of:

1. My husband’s snoring breathing. It was just occasional snoring , but then I coerced him into sinus surgery to “help” him, and now his basic inhalation and exhalation volume is set to AUDITORIUM thanks to all the new airway space created. So that’s cool. No regrets there. (Fun fact: The thing that stopped his snoring – til he stopped practising – and which stopped his daily use of Ventolin and prednisolone for his asthma, was the Buteyko method. It works. And as the person sharing a bed with him, I can vouch for it.)

2. My five-year old calling out for a drink… or that he is cold… or coming into our bed, or my one year-old crying because she is a one-year old and they do that, especially when they are teething, or sick, or their brain is doubling in size and capability, so, always.

3. Possums fucking around in the tree right outside. We’ve got the goddamn Possopranos out there: it is violent, it is relentless, and I swear I heard the word gabbagool the other night.

4. High-density urban living… i.e.: neighbors daring to have a life and drinking and chatting outside or parties, traffic helicopters flying overhead at 6am, 5am garbos etc etc whatever. That’s life, I get it, let’s all bloody move to Bangalow.

Hotel rooms, of course, are a firm turd out of five for getting a good night’s sleep. Lifts going up and down, the air con vent, party cats, late-night TV viewing next door, housekeeping vacuuming the hallways at 12am (WHY), doors clanging etc. (I am now one of those assholes who checks in and asks for a quiet room away from the restaurant and bar and lift, please.) If anyone can recommend a genuinely quiet hotel room in Sydney, which is where I travel to the most for work: please do. I am six years into my search and still no dice.

Of course, all of this over the top sooking and night waking means I’m a bit of ear plug connoisseur. I reckon if you shine a torch over my Google search bar, you will see the faint words: best ear plugs light sleeper, which I type in relentlessly.

The ones I found to work best I bought in the UK and until my sister-in-law’s dog made off with one of them, I swore by them. Then I found them here in Australia, and discovered they are actually swimming earplugs, and under no circumstances should they be worn overnight for sleeping.

I‘ve tried expensive custom fit ones, and every size and variety of foam plug Amazon reviewers rave about. Yes, before you ask, I tried the Earfoams, and no, they weren’t for me. A friend raves about the Antinois brand, but I generally just revert to 3M or Mack, make sure I insert them properly, and hope for the best.

And that is still kind of the case, even though I bought the Bose Sleepbuds for almost $400 hoping they would be my saviour, mostly with regards to the human sharing a bed with me, and his various, adorable breathing (how dare he) and honking habits. I bought them after a weekend away with my husband, where his snoring was so AGGRESSIVE that I ended up sleeping with my airpods in, and nature music turned up to the point of ear drum perforation.

I’m not gonna go to deep on what these things are/do, the Internet has that covered; they are noise-masking in-ear earbuds, that deliver sounds via Bluetooth from the Bose app in your phone. It’s like a white noise machine, in your ear. You can not use them for calls or music: they only work with the Bose app and the library of noise-masking sounds within. That’s a lotta cash for a very limited job, but Bose aren’t dummies, they know the sleep deprived will pay anything for some zzzs.

This is the case/charger. You get 16 hours of bud charge (cool name for a band?) from a full charge.

The Sleepbuds are good, but also not. They could be better. I was holding out for V2, which is generally the time to buy new shit, cos all the bugs have been ironed out by then, but there was no V2 on horizon, so I dived in. They really need to make a V2.

PROS

They work.
But not in the most useful way since I can still hear snoring, banging and loud music. Maybe that’s too much to ask from a small piece of plastic or foam, it’s highly likely. We have been gifted the blessing of hearing, and we should be grateful. That said, I find that if you blast the ‘downstream’ sound, it can mask pretty well. But man, it’s intense. I feel like there is a waterfall IN my head. It’s disconcerting and gives me weirdass dreams. I couldn’t do that all night if my partner was a total honker. It’s too full on, and I think it’s unnatural to have that kind of level of noise, even a gentle nature noise or a soft ambient pink noise, funneled directly into your ears.

I do it when my husband’s snoring is dialed up to 10, or when a neighbor is having a party, or when my husband is trying to give me a sleep in and the kids are being VERY LOUD. I use a lesser noise choice and a lesser volume to mask street noise etc.

My buds have saved me in hotels when the people upstairs wake at 5am and stomp around before they leave for their 7am flight, and it’s allowed me to sleep through parties, and it means on holidays where we are all in one room together sleeping, I don’t turn me into a murderous witch.

They’re comfortable.
I’m a side sleeper and they are totally fine. Comfortable. And they stay in.


These are the buds, they are cute, fit well (there are three sizes of cover with each set) and comfy.

 

They’re update-able.
You can (finally) download more noise masking sounds. (There was only 10 for ages.)

CONS

They do not mask snoring.
Ooof, they try, but they don’t. If I am already asleep with them in, these may keep me from waking from my husband’s snoring, but if I awake because he belted off to dreamland first and started snoring? No.

They don’t seal the ear like a foam plug.
So, yknow, noise is gonna come in.

They’re fiddly as hell.
As an Apple fan, and daily user of airpods, I’ve had the enormous privilege of an instant Bluetooth connection, and efficient retrieval and removal of the earbuds from the charging case. Bose are several decades behind Apple here. It’s not uncommon for it to take me 5-6 goes to carefully align the buds into their charging unit, and there have been many, many nights when I take the buds out and insert into ears, (which is when the connection is meant to fire) and the app cannot find and connect to them. At 2am, in the darkness, this is really fucking annoying.

The app as the controller.
It’s a pest having to fire up your phone and app to use these. Hey, sleepyhead, here is some INTENSE BLUE LIGHT just to soothe you back to sleep. I sleep with my phone on flight mode on the other side of the room, and the whole procedure is fiddly, riddled with bugs, and feels very clunky. Do better, Bose. Please. You are onto something here.

Volume adjustment
Same family of complaint as above: you have to go into your phone and the app to adjust volume. THIS IS SO DOPEY. Make it work with the volume buttons on the side of the phone, you heathens. We’re tryin’ to sleep and you keep making us light up our dang phone!

Low sound quality
As in, for this kind of money, I don’t want to be able to detect the loop on a nature sound. I suspect my brain’s over activity is part of the reason I am a light sleeper, so if it can find a loop or rhythm in a ‘white noise’ or nature noise, my god it will, and with furious pace, and then it will obsess over it like a tongue with a loose tooth. Several of the sounds I could easily detect where the noise started and stopped. Boo. Hiss. (Repeat.)

You will know they’re there.
By that I mean: I don’t really notice foam plugs, they can stay in all night. But I am aware of these guys being in there, as comfy as they are. They don’t fall out, they’re just… not my ears. And I know that my ears don’t usually have sounds pouring into them. So if you’re a hyper-sensitive weirdo like me, you may feel this is all a bit foreign and it may annoy you during the night, causing more night-waking than if you didn’t have them in… if that makes even a licka sense.

OVERALL

I do not at all regret buying them, esp when I travel for work, and know a noisy night awaits. I pack them every time I go away, and they’re always charged and ready to go at home. But, I think of them as a smash-glass-in-case-of-emergency tool, not a useful, every night solution like foam ear plugs. And, they don’t block out snoring. In my experience, only a spare room truly does, and as we have two kids and a three bedroom house, that’s not really the answer.

Also, if my husband is away, I can’t use them, cos I worry I wouldn’t hear the kids or the fire alarm. So in that sense, they are, um, too effective.

What a brilliant customer case study I am for Bose: “They don’t work! They work too well!”

Anyway. I wrote this not cos I have a tech gadget blog or time to write product reviews, I wrote it for the many other light sleepers or people with snorey spouses who are looking for a yay/nay on these things. Even though of course the whole thing is hugely personal and subjective. I myself read a breathtaking amount of reviews on these things before buying them, like, waaaaay more reviews than on something I’ve paid a lot more money on, (a mattress for example) because I wanted very honest, very specific advice, and also, I’m used to spending $7 on ear plugs, not $380.

In summation: They’re useful, and they have helped me. I feel confident going to bed knowing they’re in my artillery.
If you can afford them, and your sleep is suffering because of noise, I recommend them.

Fondest,
Tikki Tikki Tembo, Recommendo.

PS If you use ear plugs that are game-changey, please, for the love of light sleepers, tell us below!

Responses to this drivel: 40 Comments
02
Mar

(Why and how we did) New York City With Small Kids

The jovial travel lords at Expedia commissioned me to write a piece on travelling to NYC with young kids, presumably because most people would read that sentence and think to themselves WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT ARE YOU CUCKOO NEW YORK CITY WAS BUILT FOR COCKTAILS AND RESTAURANTS AND SHOPPING LEAVE THEM AT HOME WITH GRAMMY AND POPPOP FOR THE LOVE OF BAGELS.

As it turns out, not only is NYC entirely do-able with kids (the people who live there even have some of their own!) it’s fun. And it makes for a pretty exquisite set of memories.

I say this because last year my husband and I spent six weeks in summery, sweaty NYC with our four year-old boy and 14-month-old girl. Partly for my work, (if you’re in North America reading this, next time you’re in Sephora, try Go-To skin care, okay thanks) but mostly because we love that city, and our kids are not yet locked to the school term, so we can afford to be a bit cavalier/ambitious/obnoxious with our trips.

We arrived in NYC after six weeks of training in Greece and Italy, where we perfected the art of constantly moving into new places, and eating pasta and pizza every day.

We chose to stay in three different areas of NYC. This is because:

1) If we booked one home for six weeks and it was noisy, (HAHAHA JK, every place in NYC is noisy) or it sucked, we were stuck

2) NYC is huge; there are so many areas to explore, and limiting ourselves to just one felt silly

3) We enjoy packing and repacking suitcases, schlepping them up and down lots of stairs, and making our children feel displaced and confused.

One of many city playgrounds we got to know very well. This one is on Bleeker.

We began with two weeks in a cosy apartment in SoHo.

This was ideal, since my work was based there, and we could get all our favourite NYC restaurants (Sant Ambroeus, il Buco, Minetta Tavern etc) and shopping out of our system so we didn’t spend the rest of the trip hankering for the part of Manhattan we know and love best. Our apartment was RIGHT IN THE THICK OF IT. Tourists everywhere, sirens, party drunks: SoHo is never quiet. But, the kids didn’t care. We slept well. Big days mean big sleep.

I found a babysitter through a friend so we grown-ups could enjoy the city. No point being in NYC and staying home every night. She babysat for us for the duration of the visit, and I am very grateful to her.

At Color Factory. If it ever comes to a city near you… ya gatta!

We ate: Out a lot – we were right on the cusp of Little Italy after all. Aside of that, take-away soup, sushi and chili from Gourmet Garage was our go-to. (I live on chicken noodle soup in NYC.)

We kept the kids busy with:

  • Numerous city playgrounds: There are a few around Bleeker that are huge, with water parks and fountains and lots of local kids to play with
  • Exhibitions, plays, and kid-based art stuff. (We went to Color Factory; it was phenomenal)
  • Going to Times Square (ahem, the M&M store) and the Empire State Building
  • Trips to The High Line for ice creams and sweltering strolls/tantrums (mine)
  • A train trip to Coney Island for the day with some friends (just the boy and the husband; too hot and far for baby)
  • Walking around the city finding parks and patting dogs

We had to: Buy a ton of Lego and puzzles for hot afternoons inside.

A wheely wonder-full time was had at Coney Island (sorry)

Next we headed to Park Slope (Brooklyn) for 16 days.

My knowledge of Brooklyn was limited to Dumbo and Williamsburg (I’m a Carrie, not a Miranda, after all), so we booked this having never been to the area. Next time we’ll spend a bit longer on Google maps, or ask any ex-pats we know over there for insight, as it wasn’t quite what we had envisioned. 

Alas! We’d heard Park Slope was great for families, and it really is. Lots of playgrounds, the colossal, lush Prospect Park, and tons of family friendly eateries and shops. The best way to sum it up is that it was like Real Life, whereas Manhattan always feels romantic and crazy and like I’m in a movie. (And that’s why I love it.)

Prospect Park BRINGS IT.  Esp on a Sunday morning. 

We ate: Mostly at home; there were loads of those dazzling, overflowing NYC grocery stores around. There were some great places around for early family dinners, notably Hugo and Sons, and we bought crepes at the delicious Colson patisserie on our daily walk up to Prospect Park. I booked an organic toddler food delivery service,(frozen, delivered in bulk for the week ahead, Nurture Life was the company) so we always had healthy lunch or dinner options.

We kept kids busy with:

  • Daily trips to Prospect Park (rivals Central park in size and beauty; above)
  • Numerous local playgrounds
  • Brooklyn Zoo
  • A ferry over to Governor’s Island to camp for the night under the gaze of the statue of liberty (just my son and husband; baby not a keen camper) Even if you don’t camp, go: it has the longest slide in NY and an awesome park
  • Brooklyn Bridge park in Dumbo, (AKA, we went to the Jane Carousel, but this whole area is brand new and great)

We had to: Rack off to the Hamptons for a weekend to stay with friends to escape an epic heat wave. The Hamptons were GREAT. So pretty! Such good food! Many things for the kids to do, and many celebrities to spot! (Important.)

At LUNCH in the Hamptons. Yes, ’tis the diner from The Affair.

For the finale, we moved up to Central Park.

We’ve never stayed uptown (midtown, more accurately) before, but with kids it made sense. So, for the last 12 days we booked a hotel one block back from the park (1 Central Park – 10/10 recommend) to go out on a movie-set high.

I want to say: if you have young kids, stay up here. We were in that wonderful park twice a day, for the playgrounds, duck feeding, the zoo or the fairground. It’s magic, and it tires them out, and it’s just so dang beautiful.

We ate: Mostly in our room. (We upgraded to a room with a dining table and more space after seeing our tiny original room, knowing from experience that the money is worth it when you spend so much time at home with your kid and still-crawling baby.) I still had the toddler food delivery in place, but classic diner breakfasts or picnics in the park with sandwiches were good fun. The grocery stores in the city all do great soup/stews/salads, which I have zero problem with after three hours at a museum.

We kept them busy with:

  • Central Park (squirrels! Rocks to climb! The best playground we’ve ever seen!)
  • Central park Zoo
  • A Yankees game
  • MoMa (it has a lovely outdoor area and interactive kids room)
  • The Intrepid air sea and space museum (you can see a real space shuttle)
  • The American museum of Natural History
  • The subway anywhere. Kids. Love. Trains.

Before booking, I made sure each place we stayed had:

Some space to play indoors – Hot NYC summer days are super exhausting for small people. The kids could generally tolerate one big session outside a day, then they would nap, and hang inside on hot afternoons til dinner, which we would often go out for, because they were buzzing to get out, and so were we, and we’re more relaxed on holidays so we can forgive the later bed time and amount of ice cream being consumed.

Dark bedrooms – I always double confirm there are blackout blinds in the kids room. (We always travel with gaffa tape to tape down any light leaks too.)

White noise – much needed in NYC with all the sirens etc.

Proximity to playgrounds or parks – no more than a block or two. They act as your backyard.

A lemonade fountain and indoor slippery slide – obviously.

Oh, it was a big, beautiful, blur of a trip. We were in a constant loop of excitement, FOMO and exhaustion in NYC; it’s a city that gives as much as it takes, and we are more than happy with that transaction. (We are also more than happy with the amount of Aussie cafes popping up over there, because we are Melbournians and therefore very ARROGANT ABOUT OUR COFFEE.)

At Dumbo House. I LOVED this night. Thank you, friend with membership!

Responses to this drivel: 2 Comments
03
Jul

Fiji is the perfect family holiday destination.

My husband went to Fiji when he was three, and had the holiday of his life. He vividly recalls the beach and kids club in great, and some might say, unnecessary detail; it was a profoundly happy time in his life. Had I not revealed this, however, you would never know: he keeps that trip a closely-guarded secret, mentioning it only if someone mentions they’re going to Fiji, or whenever we consider holiday destinations with our two small children, or on Tuesdays.

It was horrible. As you can see.

Why Fiji made such a lasting imprint on him made no sense to me. Truth be told, Fiji never held too much appeal to me, I relegated it as a ‘family place.’ Friends with kids and their knowing nods only cemented the notion: “When you’re a family, you’ll see. Families LOVE Fiji.”

And so, once we had kids (plural: you can go anywhere with one kid; two steps things up a notch.) Fiji suddenly became very alluring. Especially after schlepping 18 hours to Maldives recently, for, if I’m be honest, The Exact Same Thing.

Just a teeny baby girl and her big ol’ daddy living their best sunset life.

And just like everyone says, Fiji really is the perfect holiday for families. The good overlords at Expedia knew this, which is why they sent me there to get proof.

The water is pristine, the weather is perfect, the diving and surfing is sensational, the flight is only five hours (from Melbourne), our favourite show in the world, US Survivor is filmed there, but the best thing about Fiji, is the people. Ask anyone who has been, (my husband included though you’ll have to drag it out of him, he’s very enigmatic) what they loved most; it’s the people.

Sure, when we hold hands and stroll in Melbourne it’s nice. But not THIS nice.

The Fijians I met were walking, talking sunbeams. Total A+ in delightfulness, helpfulness, and warmth. Because of who I am, (an optimist dipped in healthy cynicism) I searched for chinks in the armor, a momentary lapse in charm, but I never saw it. Not even when I had to politely ask for my baby’s dinner to be mushed up a bit more… and then send it back again for more mushing because perfect mush levels are known only to me. Oh, and Fijians LOVE kids.

This is wonderful Kat. My son loves her more than seems fair, considering I gave birth to him, and Kat did not.

Maybe even more than I love my kids, and you love yours. The way Fijian people connected and interacted with our children was genuine and whole-hearted. It never felt contrived or like it was their job. No matter which part of the island we were on, no matter what time of day, the staff would swoop our baby out of our hands, and whisk her off for songs, cuddles and quiet flower gazing. Meanwhile, our preschooler knew everybody’s names, and they his, and every day was like that scene in a movie where the popular guy walks through the school and everyone serves up pistol fingers and high-fives. (He cried in the shower at night because he wanted to go back to Kids Club RIGHT NOW, not go to stupid bed.)

Both of our children relished their deity-like status, (how strange!) and tailor-made activities and toys on offer. Resorts in Fiji are READY-MADE for kids: this is not arriving to find one of the conference rooms housing a few balls and a cheap tent as the “kids zone.” This is purposeful, considered child-minding, and it’s a huge relief for parents. Because if your kids are thrilled to be finding crabs and building pirate ships all afternoon with a gang of other kids and some funny adults, and your high-energy baby is with a doting nanny and 1000 toys at kids club while you and your husband have a meal and a swim, then everyone’s having a holiday.

We travel for lots of reasons: to see the world, to make the kids resilient, to bookmark our lives, and to be present with each other and especially our rapidly-growing young children, which is hard in our big, busy life back home. But at risk of breaking an unwritten parent code, parents don’t actually get much time off on holiday. We’re still parents! Gotta tend to the sick baby all night, and keep the kid entertained, and find clean clothes/snacks every two hours!

Good lord. This is the most ‘mum’ photo I have ever seen myself in.
I have two kids! How’d that happen? I thought I was still 22.

But in Fiji we got PROPER time off. The golden, rare kind where you know your kids don’t want to be with you, even if you want to hang out, cos they’re having more fun without you. And when you collect them, you’re revitalised, you’re excited to spend the afternoon with them swimming (three year-old) and eating sand (baby) and enjoying paradise (parents). You’ve had time to read a book, and relax, instead of Real Life, where any time the kids are out of the house, you’re working, or doing errands and household shit, so when you’re with the kids again, you’re buggered, and operating at 40 watts, and Just Doing Your Best To Get Through.

My idea of a happy family holiday isn’t about ditching the kids and sipping rosé all day, (…or IS IT?), it’s about having some time to re-charge so that the time I spend with my children on holiday is outstanding. Quality, present and who-cares-where-my-phone-is, time. Slow morning strolls and raucous pre-dinner swims, none of the snapping and ‘hurry-up-and-put-your-shoes-on-we-have-to-go!,’ that peppers each day in Real Life.

Fiji offered all of this and a bag of coconuts. We were lucky enough to stay at Kokomo Private Island, which is new, and very luxurious, and where everything (especially hiring!) is done exceptionally well. Families abounded, often boasting several generations, the food is world-class and the reef is breathtaking. We had a week our (then) three-year old has a chance of remembering for the rest of his life, and that’s not nothing. (Just ask my husband. He’ll never tell, obviously.)

Actual view from the front door of our villa. Disgusting.

At the end of our stay, I cried. Maybe it was the rousing, smiling choir of new friends that assembled to bid us farewell in song on departure, or maybe there was sand in my eye, or maybe we’d just had one of the best holidays a young family could ask for. Who can say.

What I can say is we are going back to Fiji next year.
We’re a family, you see.
And families love Fiji.

Responses to this drivel: 6 Comments
07
Jun

How to (easily) look after your skin on flights.

Back when I was a product-obsessed beauty editor and didn’t sashay round with a handbag full of corn puffs and plastic cars, my flight skin advice would have read something like this:

“Start with a deep cleansing exfoliating mask, then a hydrating mask, then three serums, a face oil, eye gel, and SPF then makeup before you leave the house. Once you’re on the plane, cleanse your face with a cleansing balm and muslin, and pop on a sheet mask. Ignore the weird looks. Once you remove it, re-apply serums, oils and SPF again. Before you land, apply tinted moisturiser, mascara, blush, brightening eye shadow, a pop of pink lipstick, and apply dry shampoo throu-“ … you get the idea.

Who has time for that?

Lots of people probably, the lucky squids.

But not me people.

These days I spend all my energy, time and handbag real estate on nappies, sippy cups, snacks and Lego. I know! I know. It’s as glamorous as a burp.

And so, since I now boast the holy trinity of:

  • Very young children
  • Lots of travel under my belt
  • Years spent creating skin care products for people who don’t want fussiness and confusion and seven-step routines, just skin that looks good and feels nice

… I have a pretty effective, simple philosophy of flight skin care. Most of it is done before you get on the plane, so you can focus on your meal and a movie/walking your child up and down the aisle 75 times.

My humble travel overlords at Expedia asked me to share my tips. I warned them they weren’t very glamorous, but they insisted, so here they are:

Do a mask before you fly.
You’ve seen how much flights suck your face dry, right? Well the battle starts before you get to the airport. So whether it’s a nourishing cream mask the night before, or a serum-drenched sheet mask (I am pictured below in my own creepy little glow-boosting sheet mask: Go-To Transformazing) the morning you fly out, DO take 10 minutes to hydrate your skin before a long flight. Bonus points for exfoliating first. I like Sodashi’s Plant Essence Replenish Mask.

Layer oils and creams.

To give your face (…and neck and chest because your face stops at your boobs) its’ best possible chance to retain moisture, apply a nourishing face oil and then a rich facial moisturiser the day you fly. I slather myself in my own Go-To Face Hero and Very Useful Face Cream, obviously.

Click here to read the rest of the article, or risk dry post-flight skin and probably a huge loss of reputation.

Responses to this drivel: 2 Comments
24
May

A trip to Europe is a YES, no matter your age or life stage.

When my friends and overlords at Expedia asked me to write a piece about Europe as a good holiday destination I said NO WAY and pretended to jam my fingers down my throat.

“Europe is the worst.”

“Then why do you keep going?” they said.

“Oh yeah,” I said. “That’s right. Europe is the FRIGGEN BEST.”

It really is. God, it’s good. And I’m not alone in loving a trip to Europe: USA and Asia aside, Europe is where Aussies go most for holidays. And good on us, I say! If we can suck up a 30-hour flight to Athens/Rome/Heathrow, we bloody deserve it.

Depending on our age or life stage, your Euro holidays will vary tremendously. But they’re all significant, whether they’re building resilience, or inspiring us creatively, or just giving us some unrivalled memories. After all, having your handbag stolen in Berlin when you’re 25 means you’re a smarter traveller when you’re in Venice at 35. Missing your flight to your cousin’s wedding in Sardinia at 22 and having to spend a night in Naples and $1,000 Euro on a new flight ensures you’ll never miss another flight again. And taking a two-month trip around Tuscany at 48 because you’ve earned it, well, that’s just bloody golden.

But before we get to the elegant-strolling-through-vineyards bit, there are a few European-holiday rites of passage…

*These may or may not be based on personal experience. You’ll never know and I’ll never admit it.

The Total Blur Trip

When you’re 18 and fresh out of high school, a party trip through Europe is a fantastic idea. (Do NOT tell my children this, please.) Mostly because organised tours, backpacking, compulsory socialising with strangers, and being broke doesn’t yet faze you. You must capitalise on this. Within a few years the idea of sharing a Spartan room with three snoring, deeply-boozed mates (and 1-2 non-English speaking but quite handsome holiday flings) in Mykonos will not seem fun, nor will having no money when you lose your credit card on a nightclub floor. Also, your body won’t be resilient to a daily diet of gyros and red bull vodkas forever. You’re here because the tour was cheap, because everyone else was going, and because FOMO in the age of social media is torture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeeing important ruins with a hangover/while being a goose, and not paying any attention is a vital part of growing up. 

 

The Fun Seeking Adventure

In your early twenties the thrill of being overseas far outweighs the expensive and largely prohibitive experience of visiting places like Paris and London. But you’re 23! You don’t care that your bedroom is the size of a mandarin! That you’re sleeping next to a train line and a nightclub! That the low cost airline lost your suitcase and you’ve been wearing the same jeans for 10 days! You’re as robust as McDonalds lard, which, funnily enough, is probably your major food group, along with street crepes and pots of cider. You walk or catch trains everywhere; you actively and happily meet new people (a trend that will fade with each subsequent trip), and the idea of your accommodation being anything more than a place to store your suitcase, and occasionally, your head, is truly foreign. You’re here for adventure, for excitement, and for experiences: good, bad, uncomfortable, ecstatic: all of it. Your energy, resilience and enthusiasm is disgustingly buoyant. Embrace it.

VENICEPlease note my elegant bumbag. Please also note it’s fake Gucci. Many thanks.

 

The Grown-Up Euro Holiday

By thirty, many of us have set off on the classic sightseeing adventure of, say, Venice, Rome and Florence. This is when travel finally starts to look a bit more like Real Life, as opposed to making you feel and live one notch up from a backpacker. Your hotel offers more for breakfast than boxed cereal and cordial, decent dining kicks in, and souvenirs extend beyond ashtrays and shot glasses. Since you saved up so much money for so long to take this trip, you chew the bone and suck the marrow: no landmark is left unphotographed, no three hour queue for David unjoined, no signature aperitif undrunk. You give every day 120% and your sore feet, depleted bank account and sky-high calorie count are proof. You’re here to see and appreciate other cultures, collect memories, and amass a nuclear social media feed. GOOD!

 

SCOTLANDThis is a small Scottish castle. It was 11.30pm and freezing, despite being mid-summer. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA ladies trip to Santorini. It may not get better.

….. Read the rest of the article here!

But not here.

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27
Feb

Tips for flying (long haul) with a toddler.

Those congenial Expedia travel lords recently asked me to write about my experiences travelling with a toddler.

I happily obliged, because if there’s one thing I know about travelling 36 hours with a toddler, it’s two things:

  1. If possible, choose a toddler you actually like or are related to,
  2. It’s achievable.

We decided we liked our two year-old enough to fly to Europe with him, and so the planning began. We are frequent flyers, we travel domestically a lot and overseas a few times a year. We have even done this exact trip with him before… except he was four months old and all that was required was my boobs and the plane bassinet. We have flown to NYC and the Maldives with him, but this was before he was moving around. A toddler is different. And by different, I mean, do you really need to go to Italy?

There is a reason many antipodean parents instill a no-fly rule when their kids are aged between about 10 months and three. It’s a marathon effort. My husband wears sports clothes because he genuinely thinks of it as an endurance race.

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Alas, I write this knowing our parent (2) to child (1) ratio is comically easy, especially when a friend of mine with SIX children, including twin one-year olds was on the same flight as us, but there is still planning involved, inasmuch as ideally you:

  1. a) Avoid melt-downs (yours. But also theirs, I guess)
  2. b) Get some sleep
  3. c) Not deliberately leave your child in transit because they’re slowly but powerfully extinguishing your will to live
    Here are some of the tips I have accrued for long-haul toddler flying.

Fly at night

Choose a night flight if it’s a long one. The child will be wide awake and stimulated at the airport, so run them ragged and make sure they have food in their belly. Yes, you risk a bit of a meltdown choosing a late night flight and it likely won’t be pretty at the departures gate, but better to have them so exhausted they can’t put up a fight on the flight, rather than well-rested and ready for ice cream and Despicable Me followed by Frozen and a few hundred laps of the aisle. Day flights have always failed for us. It’s too bright and exciting for child to sleep, and they are generally already hungry, antsy and tired from transit before we even board. What fun.

Be at the airport first, but board last

Be at the airport early. Everything takes longer with kids. If you’re travelling as a family, try to get one parent on first to ensure you get some cabin space for all your bags, then the other parent boards last with the kids (why sit on the plane any longer than required?) Once you’re on, try to make their seat as ‘bedroomy’ as possible: bring their sleeping sack/blanket or pillow, their comforter or teddy, and our travel must have for both the flight and the hotel at the other end: a big black scarf or piece of fabric and gaffa tape to tape over any lights above them. Read books to calm them.


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Spare clothes

Pack a Wondersuit/PJs for child, (we dress ours in this for the airport, just chucking a jumper over the top and some shoes on for a stylish update) plus a full change of clothes for arrival. And plenty of undies or nappies. (We went through TEN NAPPIES flying to Greece with him as an infant. TEN. And four Wondersuits.) Also pack a spare top for you. You’ll be grateful for it.

Read the rest of the article over here.

But not here.

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28
Nov

My favourite bits of Italy.

Despite the fact that it requires many thousands of dollars/kilometres for Australians to holiday abroad, and our currency is always being picked on by the bigger kids, we Strayans continue to travel overseas in rising numbers, and with craftier luggage tricks. Good on us.

I usually choose Italy. I’ll go there annually if they’ll continue to have me, despite my terrible pronunciation of “grazie”.

Some reasons include:

  • Carbs
  • Fashion
  • Negronis
  • Ricotta cheesecake
  • Swimming off rocks and no sand anywhere
  • No judgment when ordering a bowl of pasta, then pizza
  • Friendly, warm, welcoming Italians
  • Everyone looks great because everyone wears sunglasses always
  • Carbs

Like most people, I’ve done the classic Italian hotspots: Venice, Positano, Sicily and, of course, Athens. Here are some of my favourite things to do/see/eat/visit in the aforementioned hotspots.

Taormina, Sicily

We stayed in Taormina, on the beach, rather than up in town. But with a cable car swinging its way between the town (all the food/shops and most of the hotels) and beach (a handful of hotels and restaurants) all day, both options are good. Have a fancy, view-soaked drink at Grand Hotel Taormina, and outstanding aperitivo at Timoleone. Have your (daily) granita at Bam Bam bar, swim at Isola Bella, and make a day trip to Noto and Syracuse if time permits. Definitely eat lunch (or ideally stay) at Country House Villadorata, just outside of Noto, if you’re roaming. It served up the finest meal of my trip.

 

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Portofino

Portofino could never be accused of being cheap, but that’ll happen when you’re a) tiny, b) breathtaking, and c) overrun with super yachts and tourists. But it’s so lovely! Pop on your best boaty pastels and make the trip already! Head up to Hotel Splendido (often called the best hotel in the world, and after staying there, I’m a believer) for a sunset cocktail, and when the bill arrives suck it up and file it in your “Lifelong Memories” folder. Buy some cheese, wine and crackers in town and have a picnic in the surrounding national park; have a casual lunch at La Taverna del Marinaio, or walk away from the packed main square to L’Isolotto for some of the best pizza of your goddamn life. There’s a small, protected swimming area just below Splendido where locals swim laps (scene of one of the most magical rock swims of my life), or Paraggi beach just outside town.

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Venice?

Rome?

Capri and Positano?

Florence?

Click here.

Definitely not here.

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27
Oct

How to pack for (and dress up on) your holidays.

When Expedia (he’s just one guy wearing a cowboy hat and board shorts, by the way) said to me: “Hey Travel Ambassador Lady, does dressing up on holidays make sense to you?” I said, “Expedia, to me, dressing up on holidays makes PERFECT sense.”

I put it in the same category as ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ except that it’s more, ‘dress for the place you’re in, not the one you came from.’

I cop a fair bit of stick about it from my mates, of course. It’s so much effort, my mates say. Who cares how you look on holidays, they say. Take off that velvet cape, they say.

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But it’s not an effort for me. I love it. I adopt a new personality overseas, a much more flamboyant, fruity one than the jeans and trainers girl back home.

To me, the holiday experience is about playing along. About immersing into the city or country you’re in. So, if you’re in Sicily, you eat pasta alla norma, cannolli and caponata, you drink Zibbibo and you swim where the locals tell you to. And for me, you dress in bright colours and with as many pom-poms as legal.

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I’m embarrassingly osmotic when I travel. If I see a cool woman wearing a slip dress with a flamboyant head wrap in Portofino, I want in. If I see a minimalist woman wearing bejeweled slippers with a white pantsuit in Rome, I want in. And if I see a babe in a white shirt tucked into a colourful ankle-length skirt with a neckerchief in Florence, I want in. To me travel is Real Life Instagram; I see things that inspire and delight, and in that moment, in that piazza, in that sunshine, I want to play along. Even if it’s just with a new ZARA top and belt, and a bucket of holiday confidence; I’m in.

Anyway. Recently I went to Italy.

I knew I’d shop over there, so I packed light: a tight edit of shoes and a few dresses and tops from last summer, half of which I was ready to farewell if space got tight. This, I’ve learned, is smarter than flying with nothing, assuming you will fill your suitcase with cute new stuff the second you arrive, only to arrive and discover they are already doing autumn-winter fashion, and it’s 30 degrees, and you’re screwed.

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Read the full story here.

Not here.

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03
Aug

Five Total Florence Food Wins.

In a sentence that’s so gross even I’m repulsed: a few years back I lived in Tuscany while writing a novel. When I say ‘lived’, I mean schlepped around from B&B to B&B, from Lucca to San Gimignano, Forte dei Marmi to Florence, for six weeks. But still, it counts for something. Oh no, no, no, you mustn’t call me a local, it’s too much, basta, basta!

Florence swiftly stole my heart, the old dog. That’s its thing! It’s a heart-stealer, an extremely pretty, romantic city boasting an exciting history, art superstars, terrific food, world-class shopping and breathtakingly long queues for nude statues. (Also, in July, far too many tourists, but as one of them, even a local one, I’m not meant to say that.)

ZOEFLORENCE

 

As it happens each time I fall off a plane, I Goog everything from ‘finest Negroni in Florence’ to ‘best gelato in Florence’ to ‘local favourite pizza Florence.’ I need to know what’s best, old and new. If I’m in a city for only a few days, there is no time for a bad meal. They each must be sensational, lest my holiday slip below a 100% perfection rating. (Airports and, yknow, actual travel in general notwithstanding.)

And not a bad meal was had. Here are my favourites, perfect if you only have a few days and a stomach with a perfectionist complex:

 

Write-a-blog-about-it level ricotta cheesecake: Osteria Buongustai

This is a teeny, local-loved joint just back from Piazza del Republica (the big square with the antique carousel that must be ridden, no matter your age) serving delicious panini and very delicious spinach and ricotta crepes in dark, crowded, loud chaos but the homemade, warm baked ricotta cheesecake slapped in front of us with zero fanfare, was the stuff of dreams. We went back three times. Three.

 

Outstanding Gelato: Gelateria De’ Neri

Look, most gelato is pretty great when it’s summer and you’re in Florence. But at the same time, if I’m gonna eat gelato in Florence, I want it to be excellent. Here’s what a local taught me about gelato buying: Avoid places with all English wording, or with bright neon colours, or huge mounds or unnatural colours, or brand labels on the tubs (the equivalent of buying Streets ice cream posing as homemade.) The best gelato will be imperfect, smooth, flat and wavy, in a stainless steel mega tub, and somewhere nearby there will likely be the words ‘Gelato Artigianale.’ To that end, my stomach can personally vouch for the very popular, very traditional, very NOMNOMNOM Gelateria De’ Neri (they offer soy and sorbet options for the dairy-free, but I went hard on the ricotta and fig and rice flavours), the much-loved Vivoli, and also Cantina del Gelato. But like I said: Florence/summer/gelato – life is good.

 

Very delicious pizza: La Bussola

You’ll almost certainly come across this restaurant in your pizza-pie Googling, and with good reason: it’s delicious. Crispy and thin and simple. Ask the charming, playful waiters which to order, they know what’s up. (I went Margherita with olives.) The cocktails (“Two Americanos, please”) were strong and perfectly made, the interior was cool and dark, (the floating stools at the bar are terrifically ‘60s and quite frankly, they should be in my house), and the place is heaving with both locals and fellow pizza-Googlers. We had our concierge book us a table (and a babysitter, ahem) on the day and got an 8:30 booking easily, and they were accepting walk-ins, (with a wait). Dessert looked gorgeous, but my rule in Florence is to always walk home and grab a gelato. Duh.

 

The fancy, blowout meal: Cibrèo ristorante.

Celebrity chef, long-time local favourite and proprietor of a million fantastic reviews, Cibréo ristorante is not cheap, but it’s VERY worth it. (There’s also a Cibrèo trattoria and caffé across the street, and a theatre, Teatro del Sale, which apparently does great/odd shows + food) and are all great/use the same kitchen, however the menus/cost/experience differs. We had a Negroni outside at the caffé, before dining inside at the ristorante. We wanted to try the trattoria few nights later but – GASP! – it was closed because it was Monday. Remember this, cos it’s true of many restaurants in Italy. We were unjustifiably gutted.) The (traditional Tuscan, and pasta-free) food is exceptional (the chicken and ricotta meatballs are so YES) and the wine list was deeply impressive, if fermented grapes are your jam, which they probably should be if dining here. The diamonds were in the details for me, the eccentric, delightful service, the waiter sitting down with us at our table and talking us through that day’s menu, the enormous assortment of complimentary starters, the hilarious breadstick, the scent of the candle in the toilet…   Some meals are different, they lodge themselves in your memory, and this really did for us. 15/10.

 

The luxurious afternoon tea and stroll: The Four Seasons Hotel

If you hanker for greenery after plodding around in the heat on cobblestone streets for days, I urge you to come here for coffee and cake, or a spritz. Head to The Atrium Bar, which, like the entire hotel, a former palace, is opulent, regal, plush, and just so, well, expensive, but head outside as a matter of priority: The Four Seasons sits gloriously on Florence’s biggest private garden, Giardino della Gherardesca, all five acres of it. It was walled off, owned by Florentine nobles and unseen by the public for five centuries but now we’re in! And thank grass for that, cos it’s friggen paradise. Have your drink (it won’t be cheap: be warned, in fact, anti-cheap is probably the best way of putting it), then take a long stroll, and lay down under a tree for bit. It’s pretty special, and unlike Australia, there are no bindies.

Ah, Florence, ever the gent.

 

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10
Jun

Go on. Be obnoxious on your anniversary.

When my friendly overlords at Expedia asked me to write about anniversaries and travel, I was ready. I bloody love an anniversary. And if it involves travel, even better.

But I’m not necessarily the norm. Well not after a few years of marriage, anyway. Of course, when you first start seeing someone Really Great you celebrate being together for a month. Six months gets heavy fanfare. A whole year warrants a weeklong celebration and fifty cute selfies.

But for some reason, maybe it’s familiarity, or the introduction of children, or just the general energy-sucking cycle of daily life, the celebrations go from 100 watts to about 20 watts by the time you are actually married, and have earned a legitimate, legal anniversary.

Case in point: I recently texted a mate to wish her and her husbo a happy anniversary. She text back saying: We both forgot.

I found this so dismaying that I immediately sent over a Celine Dion impersonator to serenade the two.

Marriage isn’t always cupcakes and Jesus juice, but it’s important to show each other your marriage is a priority, and that you still love them. An anniversary is a reminder as to why you love and married this person.

My husband and I will take any excuse to kick up a fuss, especially if it involves a weekend away, or a new restaurant or drinking strong, well-mixed alcohol in elegant glasses.

We don’t give a bee’s burp about the gifts you’re ‘meant’ to give each year, like paper, silver, or leather, or insect wings, but we do think you should give each other a ‘memory’ – commemorate each other, and what you have achieved in another year of marriage by doing something, whether it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, or something you used to do but never do anymore, or just doing nothing.

And yes, the longer you’ve been married, the more extravagant and obnoxious those things are allowed to be. (I plan on buying a diamond-encrusted pergola for our 20th.)

In case you’re struggling, here are some ways to give your anniversary a figurative tequila shot this year….

Read the list here.

But not here.

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