Travel Hacks

Keep currency from your departing country when a layover is involved

Travel hack guinea pig at your service! I actually came up with this one just as the flight attendants came down the aisle with the food cart, on my AirAsia flight from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, on my three flight journey to Cloud9, Philippines. I was pretty excited to trial this travel hack and it was a success, so here it is!

Instead of desperately trying to spend your last penny at the overpriced souvenir shops at the airport prior to leaving the country, because the foreign currency will be of no use back home, pocket it! Why? Because it’s the perfect solution if you have a short layover or overnight layover in another country before your final destination.

I kept the highest note available from Thailand which was 1000 Thai Baht (about $40AUD) to pay for my onboard snacks, knowing that the change I would get back from the breakmoney exchange Thai Baht to Malaysian Ringgit would be in my country of destination’s currency! A simple “sorry it’s all I have left” will serve as an apology to the attendant as you pay for one snack, while she robs the last of the change in the cash box. Most airlines will accept payment for on-board services from both the departing and arriving countries you are traveling between, but the change usually always comes back in the destination’s currency.

No need to visit the currency exchange at your layover stop, where they will charge sky high commission fees, nor a trip to the ATM and pay the big withdrawal fees when you arrive at the layover country. Even if you do need to get cash out later at the ATM at least you’ll have enough money to cover transport to and from the airport to your accommodation (if spending a night there) and food on the go. You could even get really cheeky and break a second big note towards the end of the flight, as by this stage they would have plenty of cash in the kitty!


Music on the Go

With so many different types of music apps and programs out there it’s hard to know which one to choose. I have an old surf girl music  school mp3 player as I can play it 24 hours straight without having to recharge. Music truly is a saviour when embarking in tedious travels. As I recently purchased a new laptop I didn’t want to risk downloading free mp3 files nor pay for a program. I stumbled across a brilliant program called “Youtube to mp3“, which allows you to drag and drop any Youtube clip into the program window and it then converts the file to mp3. Totally free and safe! So stoked I can download endless songs!

www.mediahuman.com/youtube-to-mp3-converter/ 

media human for surf travel

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The transits to reach Philippines

Somehow I managed to survive two months in Northern Thailand, completely extracted from any sniff of a surf scene. It was a pretty beautiful place. I had initially planned on a six month stay to work on my online business. But for the first time since learning to surf, I completely lost my muscle tone in my paddle arms which was a very bizarre feeling. I so badly needed that extraction. To see the world through different eyes. But it was long enough. Tracking somewhat close islands for a chance of a wave, began to take over the time I should have been working on my online stuff. And then I did it. I booked four flights en route to Philippines. In particular Cloud Nine surf break. Boardless.  I like to talk about going on a surf trip prepared. Well this was going to be different.

Kuala Lumpur (KL)

Heading through KL is a pretty common route for surfers wishing to get a slice of Cloud9. I like KL as it’s been a transit point for multiple Indo, Mentawai and Malaysian trips. It’s familiar and I know where things are.

KL offers many options accommodation wise (affordable backpacker dorms to luxury hotels) and public transport is reliable and regular. Services are available by way of taxi,how to get to cloud9 train and bus direct from the airport. There’s two airports so make sure you get the right one. All Air Asia flights leave from KLIA2.

The city of KL itself is pretty bad and pollution
rules. It’s  rare to see blue sky through the thick smog that permanently coats the city.

Poverty is real, as it’s a common stop for refugees that have fled Myanmar (Burma) who stay illegally in slum-like conditions, waiting for the next option to flee the city. Usually by road and then sea.

Most with falsehoods on reaching the shores of Australia. The land of milk and honey.

As I found out, the Australian Government funds search and rescue operations in Malaysia by helicopter. They also carry out Police raids and water patrol units to hunt out refugees and send them back to where they came.

I spent three weeks throughout Malaysia in 2014 and the general vibe of the locals wasKuala Lumpur not great. They came across as quite unwelcoming. Perhaps the Australian Government’s influence is part of the reason why.

If you have an overnight in KL it’s worth checking out China Town in the city. Scores of markets line the streets, similar to the markets in Bali (Kuta).

As usual, be prepared to bargain for prices. You can get cheap clothes, sunnies, watches and bags. There is also an array of amazing food and fresh tropical fruit at low cost.

Transit through Cebu

OK so I must admit I didn’t quite do my research about Cebu. I just pictured a little island in the middle of a turquoise blue ocean, palm trees and beachside markets. Some of the atolls, reefs and islands we flew over were incredibly beautiful but by the time the plane flew over the island of Cebu, I realised it wasn’t anything how I had imagined. I had a one night layover here.

Grabbing the nearest taxi outside the small airport, I was in for a bit of a ride. From the driver, I had the usual “where you from, where’s your boyfriend, you had no one pick you up at airport?” type questions which you get used to when travelling alone as a female!

I was then quick to notice he was off-chops (drug induced) through his mannerisms and erratic energy.

At one Cebu travel point crossing a large bridge, where it was clearly sign posted that there was roadworks up ahead and the lane ended, he went straight through the signs, which smashed the rear of the taxi.

He burst out laughing and I said “taxi’s too big to fit through!” and his reply while throwing his hands in the air was “oh nah miss you’re just so beautiful it make me swerve all over the road!”.

The remaining trip involved him texting at every chance while swerving all over the road, running red lights and making up random and lengthy arrival times when I would get to my hotel.

I was pretty worried that he was actually taking me back to his house but so relieved when I recognised the sign for my hotel.

Stray goats roamed the city streets on miscellaneous missions, oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them. Kids barely old enough to walk, equally as oblivious as they clung tightly to their brother’s shirts, while mounting the back of rusted bicycles.

It wasn’t until I was safely in my hotel room, that I looked up “Cebu local news” on my laptop, that I realised just how bad it was. Bold text splashed the page, showing the past three days of events:

College student raped, killed in Cebu home. Man faces murder charges for daughter’s death. Lovers found dead in Cebu hotel. Boxing champ stabbed multiple times in domestic dispute.

Many were targeted Western attacks.

Luckily, downstairs from my hotel room was a small convenience store. I stocked up on asurfing cloud9 healthy array of white bread rolls, peanut butter, canned tuna and instant milo. Pretty much anything I could grab quick enough to then spend the duration of my time safely locked away in my hotel room.

I felt a million miles from Cloud Nine surf. Through tired eyes, I was surprisingly able to get a restful night’s sleep.

That morning I returned to the store to buy a local sim card.  While at the counter, I heard a kid whistling past the open shop door and glanced up to see a cheerful smile, dead chicken casually dangling from his clutching hand. I couldn’t help but smile back at him as our two worlds’ collided.

Past his small ripped t-shirt shoulder, something caught my eye on the other side of the busy street. A heavy looking, long and limp object in a white bag was being loaded onto the back of a pickup truck. Others that passed by, did not so much as blink an eye as they went about their day. I doubt I did either, as I struggled to hide my dinner-plate eyes. begging-1683496_1280

I honestly couldn’t be more happy to pack my bags and get the hell out of there.

It seemed my newly built hotel ($5.75 a night) was in a rough part of town. Their website did a great job at selling it to me.

I had to stand on the side of the road for a very long fifteen minutes praying for a cab to  pass by. Every passing car slowed to stare at my lonesome presence.

When a cab finally arrived, my bracelet got stuck on my lace shirt and I couldn’t lift my hand out to flag him down. It was like a nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Thank goodness a local guy came just in time to hail the cab for me. This ride was not as bumpy as the last.

Finally to Siargao

In the safety of the airport I could relax a little. I had two families come up to me and ask for photos in broken English. The kids giggled as their eyes curiously glanced over my hair, face and clothes as if they had never seen a Westerner before. Philippines kids

Once the plane passed over rusted tin roofs, visions opened to a vast ocean, full of every shade of blue imaginable.

Coming into Siargao is absolutely stunning, with a lush island rich in palm trees and jungles, peculiar shaped mountains and wide canyons. I could not wait to explore.

It was everything I hoped and more. Perhaps my excitement was exacerbated because my two months in Thailand without an ocean felt like an eternity.

Basic bamboo shelters lined the paved road, underneath thick canopies of palm trees dancing in the ocean breeze. The locals come equipped with that naturally laid-back island energy and are stoked living their simple lifestyles.

I was lucky to arrive when the swell was 6ft and barrelling at cloud nine surf spot. However I had to wait for the swell to back off as I could see just how challenging the takeoff was.

Top Tips for this Journey

Avoid the overnight in Cebu if possible!

-It really isn’t a safe place to be hanging out. The more I spoke to expats in Siargao, the worse the stories became.

It is possible to link your flights and get from KL to Siargao in one day with Air Asia from Cloud 9 boardwalkKL to Cebu. Then choose Cebu Pacific for the Cebu to Siargao leg.

Bring cash as there’s only one ATM 

-Best to get cash out before heading over as there’s only one ATM on the island and it’s regularly out of order. Never been happier with my purchase of my money bag that was strapped firmly around my waist under my t-shirt!

Watch your valuables in your hotel or shack

-I heard theft is very common here. Be sensible where you stash your cash, laptops, phones etc.

Take your own boards

-On the off chance you’re on a surf trip without boards (laughs). You already know tosurfing Philippines bring your own boards in your specific dimensions. Board hire is around 200 peso per hour ($6AUD) or 500 peso per day ($15AUD). Expensive. To buy a board here will set you back 12,000 peso ($370AUD). Cloud nine surf also has a high potential for breaking those boards in half.

Sunscreen and zinc

-Also very expensive here, about 520 peso (over $15AUD) for a small tube. Again experienced surfers know to bring their own.

Always be on alert

-Philippines is a dangerous country there’s no doubt about it. The use of meth is very common in many regions. The longer I stay here the more stories I hear of attacks on locals (mostly in transit to Siargao). Many attacks are in a bid to get money to fund their meth habits.

The threat of typhoon is very real

The slightest drop of rain will see your flight from Siargao back out to Cebu cancelled. The authorities simply don’t take the risk. If you can afford the luxury I would not booksurfing Cloud9 your international trip home until you are out of Siargao. Or better still make it a coupleI saw many surfers missing their next leg

Other than the general warnings, it truly is a stunning part of the world and one that blew my expectations right out of the water. I spent four weeks living in a very basic bamboo shack around the corner from Cloud Nine surf.

More in-depth rundown coming soon!

Mentawai Islands

If you’re a princess kind of surfer who must wear delicate designer bikinis and only paddles out to be “seen” by the men,  I highly recommend staying home as this place is not for the faint-hearted. If I could associate one word with Mentawai my first pick would be “wild”. Think jungle meet waterfall, meet crystal clear lagoon and waves that will absolutely blow your mind type perfection. If you’re a surfer, this is the one part of the world you definitely should not leave untouched.

Stay at home princesses

Just getting to the outer islands can become a treacherous and very tedious adventure, depending on your style of travel. For me I opted heading over to work at a surf camp, which turned into an accidental-lets fall in love at first sight with owner of camp- have craziest period of my life to date type of travel.

Totally unplanned. Totally let’s drop everything I thought I knew about life. Totally and utterly unforgettable.

Doing it rough

Over the period of two months in these islands, my mock itineraries included being the 10361064_10152102063020168_2727645846378015545_nonly Westerner sleeping top to tail amidst hundreds of local Indonesians on the floor of a rusted out boat.

The very same port to port journey in which a boat of similar description capsized in rough seas killing seven locals that same evening.

I sat for 12 hours in a tiny fishing village wondering if a boat home was ever going to arrive. I found myself being transported in dug-out canoes built to strictly transport supplies to the camp.

The scariest of all was stepping foot onto the same supply boat racing out through a narrow reef passage into the biggest, roughest stretch of ocean I have ever seen before, drenched to the bone and terrified if I would make it out alive.

vs doing it in luxury

Now, enough of the crazy stories.  The majority of surfers that visit the Mentawais opt for a more comfortable experience for their short period of time in paradise. There’s thirty or so charter boats from budget to luxury that buzz around the chain of islands.

You’ll also find a select number of land camps to choose from- most in which offer a safe and enjoyable ride from the mainland (to avoid the crazy alternatives that I found myself taking). The Mentawaisocean house feature the “no rules, anything goes” type lifestyle where you can truly live with no restrictions that you find back home.

Some surfers take this too far and end up living out there too long and completely losing their minds or going “troppo” as they say.

An amazing experience

Being a chick in the Mentawai rocks. Guys give you massive credit and respect in the lineup as they’re stoked to have a female join them in some heavy waves. Your surfing ability will improve faster than you can imagine, with mechanical barrels galore and long green walls that seem to peel forever.

When you’re not surfing  you can go brave the dense jungle, practice your Indo on locals in the small villages, pick fresh tropical fruit from the trees, explore outer islands and reefs,  snorkel & spearfish, gaze at picture perfect sunsets or pretty much anything your heart desires. But remember- no barbie dolls in these neck of the woods.

exploration

 The Importance of BYO skincare products when travelling remotely

I think it’s amazing these days seeing the prevalence of cancer amongst seemingly “healthy individuals”. How many times have you heard someone say “yeah he passed away from cancer but it makes no sense, he was the healthiest guy, always eating the best foods and exercising regularly”. It is my belief it all comes down to the products we are applying externally and surrounding ourselves in daily that are endocrine disruptors (or hormone disruptors). See Wikipedias definition here.

A few years ago I never used to care for what I was putting on my skin, in my hair or brushing my teeth coconut oil with until I dated a highly passionate vegan. I hadn’t even heard of the concept of chemical beauty products, all that mattered was that it smelt pretty, moisturised, left a minty taste, smoothed or untangled. A simple internet search of unpronounceable chemicals contained in my favourite deodorant or moisturiser revealed some pretty disturbing results.

I started exploring alternative options and visiting speciality health food stores and paying more money for natural products. This was certainly trial and error as I found many products were not effective and I had to go through many brands until I found one that suited. For example finding a natural deodorant that actually worked took quite a few months and quite a few dollars, but I was so happy when I finally found a reliable brand and have to this day stuck with it.

Common Misbeliefs 

The biggest misbelief people follow regarding everyday skin care products you find at your supermarket is “if it’s so bad how can it end up in the supermarket and why would these companies want to harm your health?”. The sad truth is many companies want to find the most cost-effective option for manufacturing their products, with very little care for your health but total focus on how much profit they can make.

The use of animal products 

This involves using multiple animal by-products which include ground up intestines, meat industry beauty productshormones from adrenal glands and proteins obtained by boiling ligaments, bones and skin. For a full list see peta.org’s animal ingredients’ list here . The reason companies decide to use animal products is because they are cheap and usually by-products from the meat industry. Also animal skin oils etc are most closely related to our skin, therefore giving a smooth texture upon application, especially in moisturisers and makeup.

The use of chemical products

Again the main reason companies (including big names) use chemical products which are harmful to your health is because of the low cost involved. Have a look at the top chemicals to look out for in your personal skin care products here. You will see listed many chemicals which can affect internal organs, lead to skin allergies, cause chest pain, nausea, affect your immune system and the worst- cancer.

So the issue is not if you use these products once or twice or even for a few months at a time. Rather it is the long term exposure to these carcinogenic chemicals that will do the damage. Of course your skincare routine is engrained to your daily habits- my main tip is don’t change your entire beauty product range overnight- it’s just too overwhelming, trust me I tried! Once you start looking at the ingredients of every bathroom product you will find toothpaste, shampoos, moisturisers and all hair products contain some kind of toxic chemical or ground up animal part. Start with just one and go from there. It took me almost a year to almost fully change my beauty products to natural options. It is also a process of simplification- for example my everyday hair wash I just use diluted apple cider vinegar and for moisturiser face and body I use coconut oil.

The problem with remote regions

Luckily in countries like Australia there are regulations and bodies in place to measure what makes a product “organic” or “vegan-friendly”. Many remote spots just haven’t been educated on the dangers, therefore I’ve found products are much worse off than Australia because of a largely unregulated industry. In Thailand there are entire sections in supermarkets that claim to be organic but a simple scroll of the ingredients will reveal anything but. Small villages in Indonesia, Polynesia and Philippines that I have lived in all rely on toxic products as there is no other option.

Herein lies the importance of bringing your own beauty products on your surf trips. You could say you’re only living in these spots for less than a few months but once you are aware of just how bad most supermarket products are, it’s hard to go back. Again simplification wins. You don’t want to pay for excess baggage because of all the products you’re going to bring to last a few months.

The lesson learnt is not to only evaluate what you put inside your body but equally as important, be aware of what you’re exposing your body to and the long-term effects on your health.