Backpacker’s Best Friends: Gadgets, Gizmo’s And The Rest

The most useful things I own also happen to take up the least amount of space in my backpack. I’ve chosen eight of my favorites I think every backpacker should take with them when traveling.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

The Mayan people sharing their favorite gadgets before the internet.

Clothes-pegless clothesline – these are widely available at camping stores and I do not remember where I got mine but it’s easily the most useful thing for me backpacking. I have used mine in countless countries to dry my clothes (both after being washed and after being caught in the rain) and even used it with I lived in Canada and the university clothes dryers were dodgy. Very small and very useful. Should be part of anyone’s kit.

Sewing kit – I’ve used mine a number of times and sadly one of those was when my backpack broke. Even for someone like me who’s never had any skill for needle work can use these to fix some pretty daunting problems.

Sleep sheet – I didn’t have one of these before I went to Asia for the first time and I regretted it when I stayed in places that didn’t offer sheets to travelers. They’re also useful to wrap around fragile souvenirs when you’re going home.

Sarong – used this in place of a sleep sheet before I had one. Also used it for my hair, as a towel at the beach, as a skirt, a top, to cover up for temples and after tubing in Laos. I could keep going but I won’t. Just make sure you have one.

Travel towel – best thing ever! I actually now have two, I loved mine so much! They are towels that are super absorbent to dry you off easily but also dry easily themselves and don’t take up as much space in your bag as a regular towel would.

Toiletries bag that has a hook – sounds so simple, and it is! I’ve appreciated the little hook on my toiletries bag so much over the years. Goes everywhere, no drama. As you’re using it daily in different locations you will grow to love it!

Ear plugs – lifesaver! Mine are special ones for the plane that do something weird to you so your ears don’t pop – not complaining and don’t totally understand them but recommend ear plugs for all that plane/bus/train/car travel with crying babies/drunk backpackers/locals playing their music at unsociable hours and for the hostel room when you’re sleeping right under the snorer.

Money belt – I don’t always use mine as a money belt but it does have RFID blocking technologies so has often just been there to protect my passport (from theft and from having water spilt on it in my bag)

RFID wallet – I have one of these and love it, it’s small but great. Everyone should have one. As someone who’s had their card compromised while overseas I can tell you, getting cash when you have no card, don’t speak the language and are not sure what’s going on is tough.

 

What about you? What gadgets have saved you over the years’? OR, what gadget do you think you would get the most use out of while traveling?

Most Useful Travel Apps for Independent Travelers

Well, I guess everyone's going mobile now...

Well, I guess everyone’s going mobile now…

I’ve been asked what the most useful travel apps were for independent travelers a number of times over the years’ and have decided to do a round-up this week of the best travel apps I’ve used so far in my life as an independent traveler. Of course, every location will have specific apps (like bus/train apps for different European countries, for example). I chose to keep this pretty general though so not to get too bogged down. Feel free to add your favorite travel apps in the comments too so other readers can benefit from your experience.

Google Maps

Old faithful Google Maps has everything an adventurer who’s consistently getting lost needs plus a little extra. If you’re looking for something in particular in a city Google Maps can come in very handy. Of course, you can put in an address or name of business but you can also do more general searches and see what’s around you. Things like “ATM” or “Restaurant” plus there is reviews, etc. given by other users of google so you’re never going anywhere comply blind which is great.

XE Currency Converter

I pulled this app up when I first got to Belize and the hostel owner smiled at me, “You all use this app!” he said, “It’s good because if you didn’t, I’d just charge what I wanted!” then he laughed. He was joking (one hopes), this is a super useful for when you’re not totally comfortable with a new currency yet or when you will be using a few different currencies on your trip and want to stay on budget.

WhatsApp Messenger

Easiest way I’ve found to keep in touch with loved ones while traveling (and at home!) is WhatsApp Messenger. You can send an SMS for free to anyone as long as you have a WiFi or 3G connection.

TripAdvisor

An old favorite, I’ve used them TripAdviror app to look up great places to stay but also to double check claims of some places that they have high ratings on there (the website doesn’t always match claims!)

TripIt

Your mum will love you for this! Instead of asking you all the time exactly where you are, you can email your itinerary to other people from your phone, plus having your itinerary all in one place makes life easier for you. TripIt is great for new independent travellers who don’t want to miss a thing!

Accommodation

Depending on your style and budget there are a number of apps available. I’ve chosen my three favourites.

HostelBookers/Hostel World

Competing companies these two both have great deals, it just depends on whose interface you prefer. Occasionally for some parts of the world too, one website/app is better than the other, this is something you learn through experience however. HostelBookers app is here and Hostel World’s app is here.

Hotel Tonight

Not that we want to always be booking last moment but in travel, things are constantly changing and it’s good to have this app to find those last moment deals when you need to be hooked up.

AirBnB

Love this website! The AirBnB app is great too for when you want to stay somewhere a little different to the usual hostel/hotel and have a more unique and local experience. You’ll stay with locals and learn more about the place you’re staying in from them than you may staying in tourist-centric, less personal accommodation.

Airfare

Depending on your preference as with accommodation apps, both of these are great apps.

SkyScanner

I first heart of SkyScanner a few years’ ago when I was backpacking South East Asia for the first time. Everyone was using it and it was brand new and shiny then, now it’s very popular and much more polished. I use it all the time when booking flights myself (Note: I also recommend the website for booking flights).

Hipmunk

I’m newer to this than SkyScanner but like it so far! The Hupmunk is pretty cute and I also like how they list the lowest prices first in both airfare and accommodation and how in accommodation it tells you on the first screen if there is WiFi there. Wifi is a high priority of mine.

As mentioned previously, I’d love to hear your recommendations for travel apps worth using. Please comment below and share your favorites so others’ can check them out.

There’s No Shame In Going Home

Chicken-bus-central-america-guatemala-adventurer-stacey

When I left Scotland I felt pretty bad. That’s an understatement, really. I felt like I had failed at something. I’d set off telling everyone that I was going to live in the UK. There were multiple going away dinners, parties, casual, after-work drinks. There were even over-dramatized cries of, “I may never see Stacey again! I want to enjoy every moment!” I’d even written about it on the blog for my international audience. Then, after very little time in the UK, I’d decided I’d really wanted to travel. I wanted to just backpack freely with little to no plan. This was how I’d travelled previously and I really missed the sense of freedom and adventure.

While I was traveling and feeling the unpleasantness of stomach issues, how travel was harder than I told myself and around the time I discovered the spiritual side of travel I felt an epiphany. I really loved backpacking and I was broadening my horizons more than I could have previously imagined but, there I was feeling the pull back to the UK. But not to Scotland, to London. I wanted to experience a mega city. I wanted to see things in a different light as a foreigner living somewhere rather than travelling. I was now ready. Finally.

UK-Scotland-edinburgh-Adventurer-Stacey

Sometimes, as strange as it can seem, we are not ready when we assume we are. Sometimes, actually almost all of the time life is not as we think it should be. Instead of a smooth course that goes on until it reaches a logical conclusion, life can throw things at you all the time that you never expected and that’s fine. That’s life, you have the learn to be adaptive and roll with the punches as much as you have to learn to sit back and enjoy a few cool rums and some lobster on the beach (Belize was a happy find for that!).

I’ve learned so much from my first “failure to launch” in the UK and feel so blessed to have had that experience. If I had not, I would not be now happily telling you all that I’m landing in London on the 22nd of March, would you like to catch up? I also wouldn’t be able to share my own story for those who’re upset at the idea that maybe things won’t turn out as planned and maybe they will have to go home for whatever reason. Perhaps they will run out of cash quicker than they imagined, perhaps they will have to go home due to family emergency, perhaps they will get sick or perhaps they just weren’t ready like I was.

Swimming up to say hello (one of my favorite shots from snorkeling in Belize!)

Swimming up to say hello (one of my favorite shots from snorkeling in Belize!)

Whatever happens, it’s always okay to go home. There is no shame in admitting that life happens and the best laid plans do not always work out. Maybe next time.

Over to you, have you ever had an experience of leaving a place earlier than expected? What advice would you give to others staring down the barrel of these decisions?

Working Holidays

I’ve tried to blog about these as an abstract idea a number of times however, it’s difficult to really write just one post that tells one all they need to know about working holidays in general terms when there is so much to know.

Essentially, working holidays are a way for young people to travel in a way that they can legally work in a country where they do not have citizenship or residency, a work sponsor or any real ties to the local community. Essentially, they’re a great way to pick up odd jobs to supplement your travels and explore. Some people use working holiday visas as a way to scope potential professional employers, to spend time in their partner’s country without having to marry or for a million other reasons. Today though, I’m going to talk about working holiday visas and what they’re traditionally used for. If you’re looking for sponsor advice, you won’t find it here. That’s a post for another time.

UK-Scots-Flag-Adventurer-Stacey

Where can I go for my working holiday?

This really depends on which citizenship (or passport) you hold. If you only have the one like myself, then you can google “working holiday arrangements for X NATIONALITY” and lists will appear with working holiday agreements that are applicable to people of your nationality. As a general guide though people tend to visit places that are on the other side of the world to them. Most Europeans want to come to Australia or New Zealand and most Canadian’s and Antipodeans want to go to Europe. Working holidays can be hard for those in places like South Africa (with fewer options now after the UK changed their laws) and in the USA as the American government doesn’t seem so keen on working holiday visas. There will be options for most people with most passports however.

How do I choose a place?

A question I can answer with another question, what do you want to get out of the experience? Depending on how you want to answer that, I will give you a better answer, but to help you on your way, here are some things you’ll want to consider.Sydney-Harbour-Bridge-At-Night-Adventurer-Stacey

Cost of living vs. saving

One cannot blame people for wanting to enjoy their working holidays by finding space to rent and work in cities like Sydney, Tokyo, London and New York but then, how expensive it is to live in these cities is something that should be considered. Although one can earn enough to live comfortably working odd hospitality jobs in Sydney the same cannot be said for London where the minimum wage (which is what you will earn, don’t try telling yourself otherwise) is so low that there are huge campaigns to move to a ‘living wage’ which happily for the people in the UK are now being taken up on a governmental level.

A good way to work out cost of living is to google “cost of living in CITY”. I have used Numbeo as a good comparison website where in the past I have drawn comparisons between my home city of Melbourbe, Australia and the cost of living in other places. I then go on to look at wages – what’s the pay like in ‘survival jobs’ like hospitality, customer service, retail? What’s the salary like in professional jobs once I am settled? What’s the likelihood on this visa that I would get a job in the field that I want to work?

A great way as well to find out what it’s like in-country is to find friends who’ve lived in the place before, or friends of friends. Posting a status update on twitter or facebook could be good for this. Asking your friends if they or anyone they know has lived in this place is a good start to get information from people. Another good idea is to hit up travel forums, facebook groups (such as the Aussies in London facebook page or Kiwi’s in London facebook group) and to hit google. Google is going to be your friend a lot here, you can already see that, can’t you?

The Beautiful Manly Beach at Sunrise (Image credit: Nigel Howe)

The Beautiful Manly Beach at Sunrise (Image credit: Nigel Howe)

Lifestyle factors

Another thing to think about as well is what lifestyle you want to lead when you are there. What climate do you want to live in? What hobbies do you want to pursue? Is there anything you don’t want to have to deal with that is a deal breaker when choosing a place to live? If you don’t like smog, London’s probably not for you. Happy with your monolingual English-speaker status? Tokyo is likely not your place either.

I know two friends’ had a working holiday in Australia and they chose Sydney not for the pretty harbor (which they would hardly see) but for the city beaches being so close. This way they could go to work in the morning and work on their sun tan in the afternoon. Another friend loved history and wanted to learn French so went to Paris for her working holiday (the first, she’s been on several working holidays now). Work out what you want first then work out how to get it’s the best way to do things in this situation.

Ireland-Thatched-Roof-House-Adventurer-Stacey

Cultural interest and language

I touched on it already, but if there is a culture you’re particularly interested or a language you want to learn, sometimes working holidays give you that valuable immersion time you wouldn’t be able to enjoy otherwise. Not only do you live in a place like a local but you work like a local too and having the same lifestyle, it’s easier to understand a language and culture when you’re living the local rhythm. There’s a bunch of words that will make sense that are native to this place and that there’s no equivalent to in your own language that you will learn more about when you see how the people live, work and play.

 

So what about you? Have you been on any working holidays? Got any planned? What’s some general advice you would give to someone who was planning this type of trip?

Travel Fails: How I Always Miss The Party

I recently booked a flight and while talking to the travel agent* I told him how much I was looking forward to this trip as I’d previously been to Dublin in March of 2012 and had left the city before the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and now I was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin 2016!

That’s right guys, I’m having a proper St. Patrick’s day this year!

But before you get all jealous and start telling me how unfair it is that you don’t get to be at the party, let me tell you a few of my own stories about how I’ve missed more than one big party because of poor travel planning. I’ve never been a great planner, but sometimes you really do have face-palm moments when you realise you could have, should have done something differently.

I loved how excited people were for the national day - Chilean flags EVERYWHERE!

I loved how excited people were for the national day – Chilean flags EVERYWHERE!

Missing Chile’s National Holiday

This was painful! Not only did I miss the great day, but I flew out of Santiago on Chile’s national day. Poor form by me not only because I missed this wonderful day but also because I missed it, almost didn’t make the airport because nothing was running for the national holiday and experienced an earthquake (perhaps unrelated, but I wanted to throw that in!). What was I doing!?

Missing A Genuine St. Patrick’s Day In Dublin

Okay, so I touched on this already. But it still hurts to know how much green beer and craic I missed out on. Especially when I consider I’d made some decent local friends when I backpacked Ireland who could have shown me all the awesome things about Dublin – and Ireland – on their national day that weirdly, seems to be the only national day of any one nation celebrated by everyone in the world. Perhaps this is a testament to the charm of the Irish that everyone wants to celebrate their national day or perhaps it’s their huge world-wide migration with something like 70 million people all over the world having Irish names or maybe just good marketing. Not sure, will tell you after March 17th.

Laos-Adventurer-Stacey

Missing The Boat And Other Asian Disasters

I didn’t plan my first trip to South East Asia very well at all as testament to the fact that I seemed to miss out on all the great backpacker experiences. Instead of being able to spend 30 days’ in Thailand and traveling the whole country in one go, I flew from Bangkok to Phnom Phen just four days’ after arriving which meant I had to keep leaving Thailand and going back in for two-week long visa sprints. I also missed the rocket festival in Laos by a few hours, missed taking the slow boat into Laos and flew (doh!) which meant I missed all those great ‘slow boat friends’ everyone else had and was travelling with not to mention the fact I spent stupid money flying about because I didn’t want to book with local airlines and would book last moment. Yeah, total fail.

I hope that perhaps in all my travel mistakes, my reader’s can learn from them and not repeat them themselves. They would easily save money and have a better time themselves. You’re welcome.

How about you? Do you have any great travel timing fails you’d like to share? Please comment below so the rest of us can learn from your mistakes, cheers for being awesome enough to do that in advance too!

 

*I don’t always use agents however, when I do I use STA Travel. They have great deals and are totally understanding when you tell them you only want to book a few things (like flights and insurance) through them and want to do the rest independent. I recommend them and plenty of other great travel brands to my readers.

2016 Is Here! No-One Forget Their New Year’s Resolutions!

Often people set themselves unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. Thing like, “I’m going to lose weight” and “I’m going to learn a language” are great, but just a few short weeks’ in, they’ve stopped going to gym and have stopped their language classes through a mixture of complicated emotions, unclear goals and other personal reasons. If people really wanted to do these things, they wouldn’t need a resolution to do them, these things would just get done.

Fireworks in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. (Image credit: Chris Phutully)

Fireworks in my home town of Melbourne, Australia. (Image credit: Chris Phutully)

However, as someone who’s so interested in travel she has a travel blog and nerds on all about travel whenever she has a chance, I feel I can attest that any travel-related New Year’s resolutions I say I will do will happen because 1) I am obviously committed to following my travel dreams and because 2) you are all watching me and will remind me this time in 2017 if I do not fulfil these travel dreams.

Don’t lie to yourself, you totally will remind me and that’s totally okay, I welcome it. I appreciate the social responsibility here as someone who’s constantly trying to inspire others to travel to do some travel myself.

How cheeky those London street artists are!

How cheeky those London street artists are!

So my travel resolutions for 2016 are:

  • I am going to succeed in living abroad. I’m not going to just go abroad for a short time, decide it’s too hard and leave again. I’m going to be a proper expat, if only for a few months. I have some plans in the works that I’ll talk about in the coming weeks’. Watch this space!
  • I want to see three new countries this year – I’ve visited something like 32 countries to date (I think, don’t quote me on that because I never was much of a numbers woman) but I want to visit three new ones, countries I have never visited before, so I can have different experiences and insights into a new (to me) culture.
  • I’m going to connect more – with the places that I am and the people that I meet. I want to find out one interesting thing about every person I meet on the road in 2016. Perhaps I will write them down. I will write them down and share the most interesting with you all. Likely this blog post will come out in late 2016 so again, keep watching this space.
In front of Chichen Itza Pyramid (Did you know they were built to mark my birthday? 21st of September, those Mayans!)

In front of Chichen Itza Pyramid (Did you know they were built to mark my birthday? 21st of September, those Mayans!)

Those are my three. I would write more but those three are enough. I’d rather focus on three totally awesome things to achieve and do them well over a bunch of things that I could do not-so-well.

Now it’s your turn! What are your New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 and do any involve travel?

If Money And Time Were Unlimited, Would You?

Adventurer-Stacey-Bath-England-UK

A girlfriend of mine often asks this question whenever people say ‘no’ to her when she asks them to go someplace or do something awesome with her. Usually people are saying no because they don’t want to do something and they’re often dishonest with themselves that that’s the reason they’re saying no, but she uses this question to make them aware of what they want and also of whether they truly want something.

Often, when it comes to travel people use a bunch of excuses, mostly around money and time. Often they will also put down travellers in an effort to make themselves feel better for not chasing their own wild dreams. Sadly, they think by saying this they can get away with continuing to be unhappy.

The Natural History Museum, London's own Roaring Dinosaur!

The Natural History Museum, London’s own Life-Size Roaring Dinosaur!

What I want to do is unlock the reasons for these poor feelings and make people realise that they really can have everything they want and that their life right now – believe it or not – is exactly as they want it to be.

I’ll start.

If I had all the money and time in the world I would own houses all over the world and use them to spring board to wonderful places. In these properties I would stay with my loved ones and we would travel together. No-one would need to work or worry about anything because we have all the money and time in the world. We would travel slowly, making new friends and having amazing experiences along the way.

Melbourne-Yarra-River-Adventurer-Stacey

I would also find some causes as I travelled that I could give my time or money to; find things that fed me and gave me insights into myself and the world like meditation, yoga and art; I would be as loving as I could be to those around me in the hope that I could be part of a positive change and not just taking from places but giving something back.

I would learn, teach and walk through the world with a big smile on my face, taking in all that I could and giving all that I could to others.

The Scott's spit in the Heart of Midlothian (do you know why?)

The Scott’s spit in the Heart of Midlothian (do you know why?)

My hobbies, like SCUBA diving and sampling delicious foods would be things that would draw me to different places and other ways to see things.

Of course, I don’t have all the money and time in the world, but I am doing my best with what I do have. Although I can’t travel full-time with my family and friends and we can’t stay in the best digs when we do, I do travel with others for periods of time in my travels around the world.

These guy's were so kind to pose for my photo! Their colleague even took it for us - Great PR for the UK police force!

These guy’s were so kind to pose for my photo! Their colleague even took it for us – Great PR for the UK police force!

I do give as much of myself as I can to others in my time, energy and a helping hand when needed. I think that all humans should seek to give as much –if not more – than they take as part of my spiritual philosophy.

Life will never be perfect and we cannot have everything as we want it, but we can be – in ourselves – the closest to the people we want to be each and every day.

Mr. Darcey and I in bath (I was so excited to have met my Jane Austin favorite!)

Mr. Darcey and I in bath (I was so excited to have met my Jane Austin favorite!)

So why not?

 

A note: I realise it’s the festive season and many religions are having holidays’ around this time of year however, as my blog is read by an international audience I thought it would be better to not have a “Christmas” (the holiday I celebrate) post this year. Of course, my love goes out to everyone, every time of year.

Joining Protesters In London

Anti-Austerity-March-UK-Union-Jack-Adventurer-Stacey

A British friend of mine who happens to be a staunch Tory had suggested I spend my morning in London doing some sightseeing. I’d get to see Big Ben (again), go for a walk on the river, do all those touristic things while I was getting over jet lag.

After having my photo taken at platform nine and three quarters, I jumped on the tube and got off at Westminster, grabbed a sandwich for lunch and chilled out for a bit before going for a walk. Bored with the normal touristic stuff I started by walking away from the Thames and into all the beautiful, historic buildings. It was a grey, overcast London day and I was snapping photo’s of grey buildings. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun but then I saw something very interesting.

Loved this banner!

Loved this banner!

The police, all kitted out in riot gear were acting strangely. They’d obviously been waiting for a signal to move from this quite side street and they’d received it. They packed into a van and started moving quickly into the city of grey. I followed them but lost sight of the van. After this, Big Ben was on hold. This seemed way more interesting.

I was walking around a while before I saw them: old hippies walking towards me carrying signs with leftist slogans. All the excitement had me buzzing. What was going on? What was I missing?

They made the news (helicopter above)

They made the news (helicopter above)

One of the more vocal hippies had stopped, was chanting still but had taken a moment for himself. I moved closer to him, “what’s all this about?” I asked, motioning at the stream of now everyday British people walking past me. There were Brits as far as the eye could see and although the first I’d seen were hippies, they weren’t all hippies now. There were tones of young people, people around my age. This was big and I was curious why it had been such a big deal to the police that they were hiding in side streets in riot gear.

A few people stopped and chatted to me, they all encouraged me to join. I felt a little odd about joining a protest march against their government when I was a guest in their country but I figured this was as cultural as cultural experiences got.

This man had to work on his banner in front of Downing Street.

This man had to work on his banner in front of Downing Street.

Then one girl stopped next to me as I snapped my pictures, I asked her where the march was going (where it would end) and she told me parliament. I asked her where that was then it clicked – “Parliament’s the building under Big Ben isn’t it?” I said excitedly. Her uncle who was marching with her said it was, he even smiled and called me ‘dear’. I joined the march a moment later, I was ready to experience this huge march – there was over 100, 000 people there that day!

I’d recently attended a similar march back home, much of what people around me were saying – and chanting – was the same here as it was at home. There had been cuts to welfare, education and healthcare and these people knew in their bones that those cuts wouldn’t mean an over-spending government would reduce debt.

Big Ben from a whole new (non-touristic) perspective

Big Ben from a whole new (non-touristic) perspective

Unlike our peaceful protests at home, these guys’ were a whole lot more serious. There was police everywhere (and I knew already that there were plenty of police we couldn’t see). The procession passed Downing Street and everyone booed and yelled their feelings at politicians unseen. That’s when I saw the funny red clouds in front of me. Later I would hear on the news (as I often did after big events I’d been involved in like the Chilean earthquake and tsunami) that the red clouds were not flares let off by an excited crowd as I had assumed but were tear gas let off by trigger-happy police who were scared after former protests had turned into riots.

Something else I found strange while I was taking photo’s at Big Ben (this time with better angles as I could stand anywhere I liked – including the middle of the road with no cars coming down – there were plenty of young men there, angry guys’ who covered their faces and yelled about anarchy. They climbed on statues to have their photo’s taken by their mates for Instagram and to put their banners up high so all could see them.

On a tree nearby to the marches end point, I couldn't help but wonder who'd left it there...

On a tree nearby to the marches end point, I couldn’t help but wonder who’d left it there…

I left the march early, everyone had been dancing to the music and listening to speakers as they put their banners around the square and taking photo’s when I left. I learned plenty about the leftist movement in the UK that day and after. Apparently as those angry young lads had shown me, punk was not dead. Hippies were still in huge numbers in the UK as well. In Australia, although we have these subcultures, they’re not as prevalent or in some cases as authentic as the UK. Of course not every protester was a punk or a hippy, but there was enough to bring my imagination – and curiosity – to life.

Have you ever joined a protest abroad (or similar event) out of cultural curiosity? I’d love to hear your stories below!

Harry Potter Tour, Edinburgh

Tour meeting place: Make sure you rub Bobby's nose for luck!

Tour meeting place: Make sure you rub Bobby’s nose for luck!

The first time I saw him was when I was walking down the street looking for the café J. K. Rowling had written the first book in, my eyes wide, NO WAY I thought. I was suddenly transported to a different world I’d only read about and here was the famous Harry Potter.

I’d seen them walking around Edinburgh a few times since. Groups of muggles trailing a handsome wizard who looked like a grown-up version of the famous Harry Potter. I didn’t want to spoil everyone’s wand-waving fun so asked around at the hostel I was staying in. Did anyone know about this tour? Was it, like I thought a Harry Potter tour?

Our Tour Guide: Harry Potter(look-alike). He was great though!

Our Tour Guide: Harry Potter(look-alike). He was great though!

The next day I was standing under the famous statue of Grayfriars Bobby waiting for the famous Harry Potter to show me his Edinburgh.

I was quietly excited when Harry Potter gave me my first wand and couldn’t keep the smile from my face as he showed the group how to wave their wands and how to pronounce the magic words just right. We were to use this, our first spell to change traffic lights from red to green. This turned out to be a very important spell for road safety.

Diagon Alley (With my wand hand showing!)

Diagon Alley (With my wand hand showing!)

Harry showed us around Edinburgh, chatting to us about his world in his English accent and showing us all the hidden gems I’d missed while Potter hunting on my own.

I learned plenty about J. K. Rowling’s writing, inspiration and a few of the real-life inspirations she used. She had loved funny names and used many of the names she found in the Grayfriars Church yard, she changed the names of course as she didn’t want her characters to reflect on real people, especially the baddies.

Tom Riddle's Grave... or is it?

Tom Riddle’s Grave… or is it?

Tom Riddle’s name, for example is borrowed from someone buried in Grayfriars and every Halloween apparently there is a bunch of Potterfiles who head to the cemetery and duel with their wands in front of the grave every year. Although I would like to say I would enjoy watching this, I can’t see myself going into a cemetery, after dark, on Halloween.

We also saw the school that inspired Hogwarts and that later J. K. Rowling’s children attended. This very exclusive school is next to Grayfriars church yard and had four houses the same colours as the Hogwarts houses and that were also named after important people to the school. Interestingly enough, both of J. K. Rowling’s children were placed in the red house – Gryffindor.

The real life Hogwarts!

The real life Hogwarts!

As a Potter fan who loved the books as a child and grew up with Harry, I wasn’t happy to hear about J. K. Rowling’s treatment by the media. Apparently she had been sitting in one of her favourite café’s writing as she always had and the media were hounding this quiet writer. One photographer sat next to her and took pictures over her shoulder as she wrote. I enjoyed however, J. K. Rowling’s revenge. She wrote nosey, annoying reporter Rita Skeeter into her novels. This was satire of what she was dealing with as she tried to work.

And where exactly were all these great sites? Want to learn to wave your wand to change traffic lights? If you’re interested in taking the tour yourself, it’s a tour-for-tips arrangement (as in, you pay what you think the tour is worth). You can find more details on the tour company’s website.

The hand prints of the woman herself!

The hand prints of the woman herself!

Have you been on the tour? Suggest any other great tours in Edinburgh? Write about them below.

What It’s Really Like To Survive An 8.3 Magnitude Earthquake

Chile-Adventurer-StaceyI felt cosy tucked into bed in my pink, flannel PJs, I’d been talking to a girl who’d been placed in my dorm room maybe an hour before when the room started shaking. I was the first to notice as I was lying in bed and her standing. Like anyone who wants to be in denial I turned to the new girl and asked, “Is that an earth quake?” At first, she tried to laugh it off, “of course not! How could it be!”

I stood up anyway and walked to the doorway, I’d seen this in an American film. They had earth quakes in America and they always stood in doorways until it was over.

There was this guy feeding his well-dressed alpaca in a city park, awesome!

There was this guy feeding his well-dressed alpaca in a city park, awesome!

Quickly, a few things happened. A French-Canadian guy asked me if it was an earth quake too (apparently I’m not the only one who’s keen on denial) then a Spaniard jumped out of the shower, towel around his waist and asked me the same question. As the Spaniard got out of the shower and found me sharing my doorway with two other people, we all realised how funny the scene was and laughed. I laughed all the way down the stairs and onto the street as our hostel owner ushered us out of the building: you’re told to leave buildings and stand on the street in case of earth quakes as buildings often collapse and it’s best not to be in that collapsed building if you can help it, right!?

As we stood there plenty of locals passed us on the Santiago street. They all looked confused and some women even gave me a funny look. Where did all these gringo’s come from and what did that girl think she was doing, standing around in her PJs? I wasn’t the only fashion disaster as I stood next to the guy in his towel. Luckily we weren’t out there long – the first time.

I loved how excited people were for the national day - Chilean flags EVERYWHERE!

I loved how excited people were for the national day – Chilean flags EVERYWHERE! (Photo taken in Valparaiso, one of the most heavily damaged tsunami areas)

I messaged my parents (like any well-trained solo female traveller who had a habit of being in countries when they had natural disasters). My dad messaged me back quickly to let me know there was a tsunami warning and the earth quake had been a big one, he sent me this message even before people in-country knew what was going on. The power of the internet! I wasn’t really sure if I should worry about tsunami warnings however, so asked the hostel owner if this was a problem. He said we were inland and it wasn’t. I would read in news reports later that coastal towns I had just visited were affected by the tsunami and realised that I was lucky that I had come back to this hostel earlier than expected because I had had such a wonderful time here.

The second big earth quake hit again when I was in bed. Again I walked outside. Everyone teased the man who had previously been wearing a towel and told him he shouldn’t bother with the clothes he was now wearing before rounding on me to tease me about my poor fashion sense.

Santiago-Chile-Mountains-And-City-Adventurer-Stacey

Even with a light atmosphere I did feel a bit uncomfortable, I could feel this earth quake was bigger than the last one and that it had lasted longer. Later I would discover this earth quake was an 8.3 and the previous had been a 7.9. Of course I hadn’t been at the epicentre so the earth quakes I felt were not as strong as they were in other places.

Throughout the night it felt like there were aftershocks constantly. I had tried to sleep through them but was a little jumpy – getting out of bed two or three times thinking it was another big earth quake when it wasn’t – I eventually got to sleep and the next day discovered that my bed was half off its base, obviously in the night the earth quakes had moved my bed so much I was almost on the floor, yet I hadn’t woken up. Proof you can sleep through anything if you’re tired enough.

Life's tough for palace guard dog's as you can see...

Life’s tough for palace guard dog’s as you can see…

At breakfast we read more about the earth quakes – finding out how big they had been and the damage they had done. I was surprised the death toll was so small, I knew locals were used to earth quakes but that they’d managed to get through such a huge event relatively unscathed still surprised me. Of course there were huge problems close to the coast with people’s homes and boats being flung around by the waves.

Later that same day I met a local guy who was a friend of the hostel owner. His whole family were in affected areas and he was saying he would go there and help them rebuild – another testament to the generosity of Chilean people, he had no question weather he would go help his family: Family are important and it’s just what you do.

Reading reports of the earth quakes later inspired me to write my own story so others’ would see that they are not as scary as had been made out in media and that the world is much safer than we think. Also because I think Chilean’s are pretty awesome people and this is a place everyone should visit and not be scare off by seismic activity.