helping keep hungry backpackers fed:

Monday, 27 February 2012

50 Things to do before you die 1: La Tomatina

Bunol the night before
I remember watching scenes of La Tomatina on television as a kid. A massive tomato fight orchestrated by hundreds of people of every nationality in a usually sleepy Spanish town. I thought it looked amazing and always wanted to go. In 2009 I did. La Tomatina is a once in a lifetime experience; once you’ve done it once you probably won’t want to go back. Not that I’m saying it isn’t fun, in fact the problem is more that it’s a little too much fun. We arrived the night before and discovered how far the Spanish entrepreneurial spirit will go. On every corner of every street from the train station up to the town were makeshift bars and pubs. Anyone with a vehicle and patio furniture seemed to have purchased as much beer as possible and got down to the serious business of selling it. Just outside of town a massive rave commenced at 2am (the time when a night out commences for the Spanish) and charged 20 euros for entry.

Ready for the tomatoes

Once all our money was gone we found a place to chill out and waited for the morning. As it came, so did the people, in their thousands. Everywhere you looked were organised tour groups in branded shirts, Australian men dressed in ludicrous costumes and wobbly looking Canadians downing whole boxes of warm wine.
here they come....
A massive pole in the centre of the town is covered in fat, a massive ham hung from the top and thus the fun begins. For what feels like hours a mosh pit forms within a 10m radius from the pole. Hundreds of people attempt to climb to the summit and secure the ham. Maybe someone succeeds, but much hilarity will ensue before that happens. Finally a succession of massive trucks drive right into the already packed town square and dump tones and tones of tomatoes into the crown. Chaos ensues. Tomato everywhere. Huge water guns spraying with excessive force. The heat, the smell, the sound. Before you know it the streets are knee deep in water and tomato juice. People are diving into it, swimming around. And suddenly it’s all over. A mass migration begins towards a river on the outskirts of town where revellers assess their war wounds, attempt to cover up any body parts revealed by torn clothing and make a fruitless effort to clean the rotten tomato from their skin and hair.

The Exodus
 Locals are in the streets offering hose-downs, some for money, others for free, many just to the attractive females. The migration switches directions towards the train station. There are stalls on either sides of the streets selling food, drink and clothes. The line for the train is jaw-dropping. Eventually we make it through the gates and onto a train. The train is air conditioned and everyone is soaking wet. People get turned away for being without a t shirt or shoes, or being too caked in tomato. The train smells like rotting fruit and everyone is shivering. It takes what seems like hours to leave the station and even longer to get back to Valencia. Some people complain, others sleep, most sit in silence. We agree that it was amazing, but that we will probably never do it again.

50 Things to do Before you Die

I’ve recently been reading lonely planet’s 1000 ultimate experiences;an awesome book which has resulted in me deciding to become a millionaire so I can afford to travel the world forevermore and tick off each and every suggestion that they make. You may have noticed that I’m a fan of the concept of lists. I enjoy the way they bring order to chaos and can be followed in a linear order and struck off as you go. For this reason I have written my own list- 50 things to do before you die. Most of these things I have done myself, and want others to experience whilst a few of these things I have not done, but want to!

1. La Tomatina
2. Oktoberfest
3. Australia Day pool party
4. Christmas in the snow
5. Ride powder
6. Go surfing
7. Go skydiving
8. Go bungee jumping
9. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
10. Work abroad
11. Eat something weird (Snails, Crocodile, Bugs etc)
12. Play pub golf
13. Visit Dracula’s castle
14. Multiple day Music festival
15. Sing karaoke
16. Fall in love
17. Ride a snowmobile
18. Ride a jet ski
19. Ride a motorbike
20. Sleep under the stars
21. Have a crappy job
22. Learn to play an instrument
23. Learn to speak a language
24. Go on an epic road trip
25. Shower beer
26. Be poor
27. Have a sleepover/ pyjama party
28. Go white water rafting
29. Go whale spotting
30. Go swimming in really cold water
31. Pride festivals
32. Visit Vegas
33. Buffet challenge
34. Ride a scary rollercoaster
35. Go fishing
36. Go Downhill Mountain Biking
37. Cheese rolling
38. Go to Africa
39. Backpack around India
40. The Inca trail
41. See giant pandas in China
42. See emperor penguins
43. See the northern lights
44. Go on a shopping spree
45. San Francisco
46. Food van party
47. Get dragged into a street show
48. Throw a massive party
49. Full moon party
50. Look back with no regrets

 Watch out for a detailed post on each of the experiences I have partaken in!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Backpacker gear and gadgets

There is an art to the skill of packing for a trip. If there wasn’t then excess baggage fairs wouldn’t exist. It’s difficult to toe the line between bringing everything that you need and travelling as lightly as possible. I’m going to share with you a few gadgets that will enable you to travel in comfort and style, without spending your whole time struggling to lug your bag around.

1. The bag itself- the bag that you chose is a key piece of equipment which could make or break any trip. For any extended trip, a backpack is the only way to go. Wheeled cases may seem easy, but they are really only practical if you aren’t intending to walk up any stairs, or over any uneven surfaces. The wheels themselves also increase your bag’s overall weight. When buying a backpack you need to think a lot about what size and style you would like. Take your own strength into consideration. The BF has an 85 litre and he can barely lift it when it is full. However, if you’re planning on bringing a lot of bulky items a smaller 55 or 60 litre bag will not be big enough. Never buy a bag you haven't tried on first. Comfort is top priority! Avoid cheap supermarket brands or choosing based on colours or patterns. Additionally, many bags are gendered and will be ergonomically designed to fit either a female or male body shape, so take this into consideration. Below are a few reasonably priced, good quality examples.

2. An MP3 player- sometimes travelling is really, really boring. It can also be loud. I find that an MP3 player is a must have travel tool. It’s never a good idea, however, to carry anything too expensive. Touch screen devices are easily damageable and first choice for thieves. When I’m travelling I carry an iPod shuffle (fantastic for the gym), or a second hand iPod classic.

These are durable, have decent battery life and I wouldn’t be too devastated if someone stole them. It’s easy to forget, but Apple is not the only company making mp3 players.Some of the offerings from other companies include similar specs for a far lower price.

 3.A reusable water bottle and/or a camelbak- bottled water is more expensive than petrol, so a good money saving tip is to rely on tap water wherever possible. Obviously there are some countries in the world where this is inadvisable, however it is almost always cheaper to buy large bottles of water and use them to fill your drinking device of choice. Camelbaks and other bladders are great for hiking, biking, jogging, skiing and any other time when drinking with your hands free may be required. Most good backpacks are compatible with these hydration systems.

4.What’s the point in seeing everything the world has to offer if you aren’t capturing it? Trust me, if you set off on your trip without a camera you will be very disappointed. I am far from a camera expert, so I am not going to give advice here on what kind of camera to buy. Just pick something that you are able to operate and isn’t too big and heavy to lug around. I have a Panasonic Lumix FP1 which does everything that I could ask for.

5.Sleeping bag- even if you don’t plan on camping at any point, a sleeping bag is always a good idea. Some hostels don’t supply bedding and you might find yourself on a cold overnight train or boat. Synthetic sleeping bags tend to be cheaper than those containing duck down, but the natural alternative will be lighter and more compact.

6.Travel towel- normal towels are extremely bulky and difficult to fit into bags. I would recommend investing in a lightweight travel towel. This is the one that I have and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made!

7.Plug adaptors- don’t forget that your electrical items will need a plug adaptor before they can be used abroad. If you plan on travelling for any length of time I would suggest getting a worldwide to worldwide adaptor, as you will pick up devices from countries along the way. Trust me, it is annoying having multiple adaptors, or buying an adaptor for just one appliance. Often worldwide-worldwide devices are quite bulky and I have known some to fall out of walls repeatedly. This Micropix adaptor has received very good reviews and is a reasonable price. Additionally it can be used to charge compatible devices via USB cable

8. Kindle or e-book reader- if, like me, one of your favourite parts of travelling is getting time to read a good book then the kindle will change your life as much as it has changed mine. When I was backpacking around Europe I had space for only one book in my bag at a time and, whilst many hostels have book swaps, I still found that I was spending a lot of money on books only to abandon them when finished. Kindles are tiny, light and have space for hundreds of books. The battery life is incredible and unlike laptops and most other entertainment devices the screen is specially designed to eliminate glare. I have however found them to be a little delicate (I received mine for Christmas and have already broken one screen and been sent a replacement!) the devices have Wi-Fi so new books can be downloaded anywhere with a network, and any books written before 1923 are completely free due to copyright expiration!

9. Small speakers- ok, so this isn’t exactly a must-have, cant-live-without item, but it is always nice to have a small, compact speaker for social occasions. I’ve used mine whilst building jumps in back-country areas of ski resorts, for relaxing in front of the fire whilst camping in forests and on secluded beaches with a couple of beers to start the party early! The X-Mini is by far the best of its kind that I have found. The BF and I have even been using it as a stereo system in Turk and it has done an amazing job of being heard over the sound of the road. It also has a good battery life and decent sound quality. These are amazing value for money and I would recommend them to anyone!

10. Netbook- Again, not top priority, but a computer is a great travel research tool and netbooks are made for people on the go. Smaller and lighter than a conventional laptop, netbooks generally have very good battery life and every feature a person on the road would need. Ok, so the screens are too small for group movie nights, but by being both inexpensive, simple and small, they are the perfect travel companion. Check out the whole of Amazon's range right here.

So there you have it, my suggestions for the best backpacker gadgets and gear. Hope that you find it useful!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Why I want to be a Canadian

Now, as you’ve probably gathered from reading this blog, I’ve done my fair share of travelling. True, I’ve still only explored 3 of the 6 continents available but I think it would be fair to allow myself a little moment of arrogance and admit that I think I have a decent idea of what else is out there in the world, and what opportunities are available. Who knows, maybe I’ll fall in love with some exotic little Asian island or sprawling African metropolis later in life, but right now the only country for me is Canada. A lot of people have asked me a simple question- why?

let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

My daily commute

 1. As a snowboarder, there’s a glaringly obvious element of Canadian life which appeals to me. The snow. Snow was the reason I first visited, the reason I loved it and the reason that I returned. Not only do I love the white stuff as a surface on which to glide, it is also stunningly beautiful and makes the world look magical in a way that no other weather will. There’s a reason why most Christmas cards show snowy, festive landscapes! Even after spending six months of my life trudging to work at 5:30am with powder to my knees I still love snow….it must be serious! Additionally, the whole ski resort lifestyle has so much going for it. It’s active, sociable, stylish and as a local you can enjoy feeling superior to all the newbies and tourists who have no idea what they’re doing. I do, however, wonder if I would feel the same way about my country of choice if I’d only ever visited the cities.

Hiking the chief, Squamish
2. Canada boasts some of the most stunning landscapes one could ever wish to see. True there are a lot of very boring flat parts, but there’s no one there anyway so who cares? Towering mountain ranges sink into deep blue lakes and oceans and everywhere you look you see green. Or white, depending on the time of year. The most astounding thing about Canada’s beauty is that it’s all natural. A lot of their main tourists destinations are not huge man made monoliths (ignoring the CN tower…) or even ancient ruins and artefacts, instead it is just what has always been there. And I think that’s pretty cool

3. What is the purpose of nature and beauty if there is no one there to see it? And how do you see it without ruining it? Well, according to Canada you get out there and you get involved! It seems to be the norm there to spend the majority of your free time hiking, biking, skiing or snowboarding. The lifestyle is just so healthy! Of course, I’m not claiming that there are no fat Canadians but the amount of children and young adults you see out enjoying the countryside far surpasses anything I’ve seen in the UK, Australia or anywhere else I’ve visited. I was never an ‘outdoorsy’ child but whilst in Canada I became an avid hiker and spent many days cycling around breathtaking lakes and along nature trails hoping to spot native wildlife.
a seamless intermingling of two cultures

 4. Racism is an unavoidable part of life and something that exists everywhere in the world. People just find difference too hard to look past. However you rarely hear of racist incidences occurring in Canada. This is surprising considering that in the 2006 census only 18.4% of people classified themselves as being 100% Canadian (in contrast, in the most recent census of the UK over 80% of people identified themselves as White British) Obviously there are a large amount of minorities in Canada. This gives the country a very multi-cultural feel. All of the large cities that I have visited have been an amazing hodgepodge of identities and cultures, meaning that there’s usually something for everyone.

a standard canadian night out- ski gear and shots
5. Lowering the tone of this blog post somewhat I would like to state for the record that, from my experience, Canadians know how to party. Maybe it is because I have spent most of my time there in resorts and tourist traps but having fun and letting loose seem to be an important aspect of Canadian life. There is a big emphasis on live music and the atmosphere in most bars is extremely social. When we visited a pub in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island we found ourselves dragged into a karaoke night full of locals insistent on buying us drinks and getting us onto the stage. Clubs tend to be eclectic and play a wide range of music styles. Additionally a night out in Canada is comparatively cheaper than I’ve experienced in Australia, the UK and Western Europe.

 6. In fact, the cost of most things in Canada is extremely reasonable. I found that my living costs there were far lower than any of the other countries I have resided (France, UK, Australia)

A friendly local!
7. Finally, Canada is a backpackers dream because of the endless travel opportunities. The USA and Latin America are both accessible reasonably easily and cheaply and Canada itself has so much land to explore. It’s almost like the country was designed for adventure travellers, with culture, natural beauty, friendly helpful people, an emphasis on fun and recreation and so many outdoor sporting opportunities.

 So, there you have it. Why I love Canada. But despite all the thought and effort I have put into writing this post I still don’t feel like I’ve really managed to put my finger on it. Maybe you’ll just have to go there and check it out for yourself!!

some (possibly) useful items:

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Recipes on the Road: Spaghetti Bolognese and Chilli

I’ve already mentioned once or twice that I love food. Now, I’m no professional chef (although the BF is) but I’ve been cooking since I was in my early teens and I find it to be a great way to relax and have fun. Lots of people who have eaten my cooking enjoy my recipes and say things like “I wish I could cook like you” I find this amusing because when I took Food Technology (essentially cooking) at school my teachers despaired of how useless I was. What I am good at is experimenting, combining flavours and textures in classic ways which anyone can enjoy. What I am REALLY bad at is anything fiddley or complex. You won’t find any roux based sauces or delicate presentation tips on these pages; the food that I cook is simple, tasty and can be made by absolutely anyone. I will post new recipes whenever I have time here, give them a go and don’t be afraid to change things or experiment. I’ve honed these meals to suit my tastebuds so do the same and tailor something special just for yours!
Today I’m going to share with you my recipes for Chilli and Spaghetti Bolognese. I am posting these together because they use a lot of the same ingredients and back when I was a poor student I used to buy vast amounts of mince when it was on special offer and cook up huge batches of both on the same day. They would then be frozen and available for dinners whenever I was running low on money or just had a craving for something tasty! The recipe that these were developed from were actually originally in the weightwatchers pure points cookbook, however they have been adapted so much now that they are barely recognisable and definitely no longer low in calories!

Generally the pure points cookbook is actually a really good recipe book which details how to cook almost every basic dish you can imagine with a low fat spin. I’d suggest it as a great first recipe book for any health conscious teens just learning how to make food. 

 Often whilst travelling, measuring devices are an expense than backpackers cannot afford either cost or space-wise and I’m therefore going to give some of my portion amounts in more estimable units than pounds or millilitres, in most cases accuracy isn’t that important as seasoning should always be to taste. I will give amounts in grams if it will be sold by the gram (e.g. meat)

 Spaghetti Bolognese (makes 6-8 serves)

 Ingredients :
  • 500g minced beef (although also nice with lamb where available)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 or 5 small mushrooms or 2 large mushrooms
  • 1 carrot
  • Two dessert spoons dried (or fresh where available) basil
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (if unavailable use peeled tomatoes or even fresh; fresh will  require an increase in cooking time by an hour or so)
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • A squirt of tomato puree/ ketchup
  • 4 glugs of red wine
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Dried pasta of your choice (I suggest spaghetti or linguini)
  •  Parmesan cheese to serve

select the largest pan that you have, Slice all vegetables as small as you can. Feel free to add any other vegetables you have available. The more vegetables you have the more serves you will get out of this recipe and the longer you let the dish simmer for the less noticeable the vegetables will be. I often add a few fresh tomatoes, a stick of celery or green peppers. Sautee the onion and garlic in oil until they become clear and soft. Add the mince, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until all the mince is brown. Add all other vegetables and basil and cook for a few minutes more, stirring constantly. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock cube and tomato puree/ketchup and stir, then slowly introduce water and wine a little at a time. Leave to simmer, stirring every 10 minutes or so and adding more water or wine if the pan is boiling dry. After 40 minutes taste and add more salt, pepper, basil and wine to taste. Keep simmering for as long as you are able to, adding more wine or water to taste as the liquid in the pan boils off. 20 minutes before you wish to eat, bring the pan back to the boil stirring constantly until desired consistency is obtained. Bring a separate pan of water to the boil simultaneously. Add the dried pasta and follow packet instructions for cooking times. Drain pasta and serve when it is at desired softness. Add Bolognese sauce and parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and basil to taste. this recipe is all about tasting and adapting as you go. You should end up with a very rich tasty sauce which you will be proud of.

Give it a twist: add a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes and 2 finely chopped Birdseye chillies

Make it decadent: use grated mature cheddar cheese instead of parmesan and substitute all water for wine to make your dish even richer!

Chilli (makes 4-8 serves)

  • 500g minced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 or 5 small mushrooms or 2 large mushrooms
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • Fresh chilli peppers
  • Chilli powder
  • Teaspoon of Cumin
  • Tin of sweet corn
  • Tin of kidney beans
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • A squirt of tomato puree/ ketchup 
  • 4 glugs of red wine
  • Water 
  • Salt and pepper

Chillies and chilli powder:

I haven’t given quantities above because everyone has very different thresholds regarding spiciness. Also chilli powder differs greatly everywhere in the world. If you love your food spicy then buy a hot chilli powder as well as two or three small hot chillies such as Birdseye or Habanero. If you have a more delicate mouth, just purchase mild chili powder, start off using a tablespoon or so and then add more to taste. Cumin gives dishes that classic Mexican flavour but is not always available.


Again, select the largest pan possible, and slice all your vegetables. I often add carrots or courgette/zucchini to the ingredients above. Sautee the onion, fresh chillies (if you’re using them) and garlic in oil until they become clear and soft. Add the mince, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until all the mince is brown. Add chilli powder to taste and as instructed on the packet. Add cumin. Stir until spices are evenly distributed. Add mushrooms, peppers and any other fresh vegetables and cook until they begin to soften. Add beef stock cube, tin of tomatoes, tomato puree/ketchup, and red wine and fill the pan with water. Bring to the boil stirring constantly and then leave to simmer, adding water as the level in the pan starts to drop. Stir occasionally. After an hour or so, taste and add more chilli powder, salt or pepper as desired. If you find it is too spicy, add more tomato puree/ketchup and/or another stock cube. Keep simmering for as long as you are able to, adding more water as the liquid in the pan boils off. 20 minutes before you wish to eat, add the kidney beans and sweet corn and bring the pan back to the boil stirring constantly until desired consistency is obtained.

Serving suggestions:

Chili is very versatile and can be served in a number of ways. If you want a simple option just use plain boiled rice or a crispy baked potato. Chilli is also delicious served over chips/fries or as an ultimate nacho platter with tortilla chips, cheese, salsa and guacamole. It is also deliciously warming and hearty in a bowl as a soup with crusty bread, if you wish to serve it like this then do not boil off as much water and allow it to have more of a liquid consistency. If you find your chilli too spicy then a good dollop of soured cream or crème fraiche will make it far more bearable. Grated cheese and green onions are other common accompaniments.

Happy cooking and feel free to post anything you add or change from these recipes and how it tasted!

Friday, 17 February 2012

How to get skinny

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I LOVE food. I've never been a person who would be described as fat, probably because I live a pretty active life most of the time, but I tend to have a lot of weight fluctuations. At my heaviest I've been up to about 10 stone 3 pounds (143lbs or 64kg). This doesn't sound like a lot, but considering I'm only 5"2 (157cm) it is enough to make me appear on the chubby side and affect the way I dress and see myself. At the moment however I'm probably the skinniest and lightest I've been since I was about 12. I'm now down to 9 stone 2 (128lbs or 58kg) and have fallen 2 dress sizes. I know this doesn't sound particularly drastic especially when it happened over a period of at least 4 or 5 months but what is important is that I lost this weight without a large amount of effort and definitely without any structured diet.
I'm not going to claim in this post that I have any amazing diet secrets or guaranteed program you should follow, however I have looked back at my lifestyle and seen what may have caused my weight fluctuations. Due to the frequency of big changes in a backpacker's life its easy to pinpoint when and where I must have been going wrong. I also have a few little tricks up my sleeve which help me. Sorry if none of this helps you, but I swear by all of it!

The number one and absolutely most important factor in weight gain (in my experience) is alcohol. It’s not surprising either. Even a neat shot of a pure clear spirit such as vodka can contain as much as 100 calories (dependant on alcohol percentage) whilst just one pint of cider or beer often provides over 250! What’s also important to remember is that these are empty calories with no nutritional benefit- skipping dinner to make up for alcohol consumption is a BAD idea and if done regularly could lead to malnutrition. When I was living in Canada last summer I was eating relatively healthily and was being quite restrained with portion sizes. I was working two jobs, both of which were physically demanding and spent my free time hiking, biking and running. Despite this I was still overweight and was not happy with the shape of my body. My problem at this point must have been my alcohol consumption. I partied a few nights a week and tended to socialise in bars and pubs where alcohol is always part of the equation. If you can't figure out why you're not losing weight despite eating sensibly and partaking in regular exercise have a look at how much you're drinking. It may surprise you!

Having an active job has definitely made a big difference to my weight as well. When I first arrived on Hamilton Island I was working at the bakery, mainly standing in an air conditioned shop and serving customers. After a while I started job sharing at a busy fish and chip shop. Now I spent my days running around cooking and prepping food in a stuffy kitchen with a number of deep fat fryers keeping the temperatures well above 35 degrees! I noticed that the pounds started to fall off me, and even more so when I stopped working at the bakery altogether and became full time cook for the fish and chip shop. This role involves a LOT of heavy lifting, carrying and quick movement. If you don't fancy structured exercise and are in a position where it is possible, maybe consider a career change. If this isn't an option consider walking or cycling to work. Look at your body like a machine; it uses a certain amount of energy a day. If you are putting on weight, it is probably because you're giving your body more energy (food) than it can use. You have 2 options; increase the amount of energy it uses (through exercise) or decrease the amount of energy you're giving it. It’s as simple as that.

I've found that it works for me to give myself very specific rules which I am never allowed to break. I realised that whilst I worked I was snacking on deep fried food. Just telling myself to do it less didn't seem to help. Instead I decided my new year's resolution was no deep fried food whilst at work. Period. I have also banned myself from any snacking, and am only allowed to consume fruit aside from my 3 meals a day. It's easy to tell yourself that one chip or one cookie won't make a lot of difference but if you're allowing yourself these things 10 times a day then the calories will add up!

To stop myself from craving unhealthy foods too much I give myself "treat days” when I’m allowed eat certain things. Whilst working at the bakery I started "sweet treat Sunday"- allowing myself to have a cake, pie or something chocolaty only once a week on a Sunday. I similarly allow myself only 2 days a week when I can consume alcohol. I find it hard to resist a beer after a hard day's work, but, like everything else, one beer a day can add up. This way I really think about which 2 days of the week I want to have a drink and control my beer drinking much better. Similarly I allow myself treat weeks, when all other rules are off and I can do whatever I like. These should really not be too frequent and I always give myself a pre-defined period and a date when the treat week is over. I would say 4 or 5 treat weeks a year shouldn't affect your overall weight too much and can then cover important events like Birthdays, Christmas and other holidays.

I've already spoken a bit about skipping meals and only eating three set meals a day. I feel this is really key to controlling weight. Don't think that skipping meals will help you lose weight. It just makes your body go into starvation mode and convert whatever you next consume into fat instead of muscle. Even if you don't think you're hungry make sure you eat 3 meals a day. Make sure two of them are on the smaller side too. A good healthy cereal is a good start to the day and a sandwich should really be plenty for lunch. Think about your day and what you will eat in the morning or the night before. Plan what time you will eat what. This way you won't leave eating until you're starving hungry and end up eating twice as much as you planned. Sometimes this is hard to fit in with work but whenever it is possible try it. It will not only help you control your weight it generally makes you feel a lot healthier and happier. I found I had a lot of control over my weight when I was working long hours at a theme park and dinner was not provided. On my days off I would cook myself meals for the rest of the week and freeze them. I would then wake up in the morning, eat a bowl of cereal, make a sandwich for lunch and get a frozen meal out for dinner. I had complete control over what I was eating and living this way is much cheaper than buying packaged meals or takeaways.
Now as I've already mentioned I love food and therefore the earlier option of cutting back on the energy you give your body isn’t appealing to me. I have to make a conscious effort to control my portion sizes but aside from that the actual food I eat is rarely low in calories. I love meat and cheese and feel that most food benefits from generous helpings of sauces and dressings. I get great pleasure from anything involving pasta or bread both of which are full of carbohydrates. I think diets like Atkins where carbs are outlawed would be completely impossible to stick to and aren't actually at all good for you. Carbs give you long term energy and keep you healthy. Because I'm not willing to compromise on the amount of calories I feed my body I like to control the amount of calories that my body uses. Here's a secret about exercise; when you're out of shape you will not enjoy it. If you need a little motivation try starting off with easy relaxing exercise- walking, swimming or relaxation based classes like yoga all have benefits. They will not, however, burn very many calories. I've been exercising regularly now since I was 18 and I really honestly do love it. The feeling after a good exercise session is totally addictive. My personal activity of choice is running. Yes, it's hard when you're doing it but the feeling of accomplishment and adrenaline when you're finished makes it all worthwhile. I find I have to distract myself whilst running. If I'm in a gym I listen to comedy podcasts. I don't find music alone requires adequate concentration. Some treadmills have games on them which I love; others have TV screens which is also helpful. I find running outdoors to be more enjoyable but there are a lot of variables. Here in Australia it's often much too hot to keep running for long before getting dehydrated and sunburnt. Hills have to be the right gradient to keep me motivated too. If they're too steep I find myself walking half of the time. I loved running in Canada where I had a set loop which I ran around. I knew the distance and the direction and that kept me motivated until the end. I'm a very competitive person and I find running against myself really good fun- on a treadmill I try to run 0.5km/h faster than I did the day before, or 1km further, when road running I time myself and try and beat previous times. If running isn't your thing find something that you love. Some people love being part of a team, others love to dance, even cleaning can be really good exercise if you're a bit of a neat freak. Just remember whatever you're doing will of course seem hard at first if you're out of shape. Get through that period and just keep going. I'll bet that soon you will love the feeling of accomplishment you get.

So, like I said, this is how I got skinny. I know some people have real willpower issues and I can understand that but if you really want things to be different then it's always possible. You just have to be willing to change your life a little and make things happen. Lots of people claim not to exercise because they don't have the time but I was still managing to go running at least 3 times a week whilst also working 70 physically demanding hours. Other people claim not to have the energy, but once you start exercising you'll find it actually gives you MORE energy, and makes you feel a lot happier! Give it a go, what have you got to lose??

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Hamilton Island Highlights

I recently realised how weird this blog actually is. The journey I have written about so far is considered, by most Australians, to be one of the most barren and uninteresting parts of their country. On the flip side I have been living on one of the premiere domestic tourist destinations and have said nothing positive about it at all. Its true that the grass is always greener. Whilst I can see that living on a tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef is an enviable situation to be in, I have a confession to make: for the last couple of months I've been totally sick of it. This is for a number of reasons.

1. I came here to make money and then save it. This is not an easy place to save. Everything costs money. A lot of it.
2. Staff are somewhat limited on what they can and can't do here. However they also have a lot of benefits that guests don't
3. When you're working the tropical temperatures are less bearable that when you're lazing about on a beach or by a pool. Also the air con hasn't worked in our staff housing since November.
4. Due to the afformentioned money making, I have been working A LOT. This has given me a lot less time to enjoy the touristy side of things.
5. Imagine living in a place with one general store, one phamacist, one pub, one night club and one takeaway restaurant. The choice is somewhat limited.

However I have to look at the last 6 months from an outsiders perspective and remember all the amazing things I've done and seen. So here it is. I'm going to pretend for a moment I haven't become jaded and bored by this bubble, and tell you all about my Hamilton Island Highlights.

When we first arrived at Hamilton Island I remember writing myself a mental list of all of the different things I wanted to do whilst here. Our first couple of days were packed full of company inductions, which were designed to not only get us ready for working here, but also for living here and of course spending all our money here. I've worked for a number of companies that do the same thing; basically they want to pay you, and then get that money right back into their own pockets. Fair enough (Whistler Blackcomb well and truely succeeded in this aim, here I feel like I've had the last laugh, I'm definitely leaving with more money than I came with!) Anyway, I said I was going to pretend I hadn't been jaded, so I'll get back on point. In the induction they made us as a group list all the activities that were available to guests on Hamilton Island. We were all pretty excited by the idea of going to the reef to snorkel with the fish and see all the amazing colourful coral. We were given training forms to fill out and told that when our forms were completed and handed in we would all recieve a discount coupon for a visit to the reef.

Our first visit to the reef was with a company called Fantasea, who also run all of the ferries to the mainland. They have a floating pontoon at Hardy Reef which they call Reefworld. For extortionate amounts of money you can stay the night at reefworld, fly to or from there by helicopter and have scuba diving lessons. I would suggest that none of these options are really worth the price you will pay for them, and all can be done much cheaper elsewhere. Included in the price of the Reefworld experience is a free lunch, snorkelling equipement, a tour in a makeshift submarine, entry to an observation room and a few other things. Now I'm a pretty adventurous person, but the one thing that does scare me is claustrophobic situations, and snorkelling is one of those things that tends to trigger my claustrophobia. I'm usually happily snorkelling along, feeling fine, and then I get water in my tube and end up panicking and thrashing about. I've never really seen the appeal of the whole thing. Until now. Getting to see all the beautiful colourful fish darting around you as you swim along is really something I think everyone should experience, and it makes the whole harrowing breathing underwater ordeal worthwhile

Myself and The BF. Literally swimming with the fishes

Aside from this, and if we hadn't secured our tickets for just $50 thanks to our vouchers I wouldn't call the reefworld experience great value for money. I would instead reccomend Cruise Indigo's Day Sail and Snorkel. Instead of taking you out on to the reef, the snorkelling is done at Chalkies beach, adjacent to the famous Whitehaven Beach. I actually felt that this area was far more beautiful and unspoilt that Hardy reef- the coral was more colourful and the fish seemed somehow less aloof (yes, I am aware I am a crazy person, but the fish at reefworld seemed like they were celebrity fish who didn't have time for the little people, whist the ones here seemed to interact a lot more with you as you swam with them) I even followed a blue tang as it reenacted the scene from finding nemo where Dory shoots Marlin suspicious looks over her shoulders as he trails her. Pretty cool. As well as the snorkelling being superior on the Cruise indigo trip, the amazing On the Edge catameran far outranks the boring Fantasea ferry as a travel vessel. I also thought the lunch offered on On the Edge was better although I know most people aren't quite as obsessed with eating as I am. As if that wasn't enough, after the snorkelling, sailing and eating, you even get to visit Whitehaven Beach itself which is considered amongst the best beaches in the world by whichever people decide that kind of thing. So, Hamilton Island Highlight number 1: Swimming with the Fishes and sailing on the wonderful On The Edge.

Staying with the theme of sea based fun, another of my highlights is thanks to Hamilton Island Dinghy Hire and their range of motorised craft. Myself and the BF celebrated our third anniversary during our stay here, and decided to rent a motorised boat for the day. We were given a very thorough safety breifing, shown how to operate our boat and sent on our way. I would reccomend it greatly as a fun day's activity and the shop also rents fishing and snorkelling gear if you are that way inclined. We just used the boat to cruise around nearby islands and sip champagne on secluded beaches! Don't expect to be able to go too far or too fast though. The Dinghys are very slow and there are strict rules on how far you are allowed to travel in them.

 If you're after something more fast paced try the Jet Ski Safari. As a bit of an adrennalin junky, I don't think I could have lived it down if I lived on a luxury tropical island for 6 months without ever having tried jet-skiing...and it is just as exciting as it looks. The slightest of choppy waves make you feel like you have no control at all over the skis and our instructor urged us to go as fast as possible at all times, as this makes the crafts more stable. Hamilton Island Highlight number 2: Exploring the sea with motorised vehicles!

Obviously when most people think of a holiday on a tropical island they imagine sitting in the sun on a beach or by a pool. When we first arrived on Hamilton Island we were a bit disappointed with the size and quality of Catseye beach (which is really the only beach here for the tourists) and immedately tried to find other, more exclusive beaches. Coral Cove is a good 20 minute walk from anything else but offers a far better beach experience than catseye. There's hundreds of meters of white sand, fun rocks to clamber over and most importantly, there's noone else there!  

Coral Cove- Worth the Walk!

If you weren't put off by the idea of walking to Coral Cove, there's a whole network of bushwalks available on Hamilton Island. I enjoyed the hike to passage peak but am very glad that we did it in september, when the temperatures were far more bearable than in horrifically humid wet season. If on the other hand, you can think of nothing worse than walking all the way to Coral Cove then the far more easily accessable Pool Bar might be more up your street. Is it a pool??? Is it a Bar??? it's both! You can relax at submerged bar stools with a nice cold can of beer or even bob up and down in the water with a cocktail during happy hour. And you don't even have to deal with the sand afterwards. Hamilton Island Highlight 3. Relaxing in the sun!

I am not a golfer. I've never golfed and I don't intend to. If you are a golfer then your Hamilton Island Highlight would probably be Dent, the island next to Hammo, which has been turned into a full golf course. I have visited Dent on two occasions and would greatly reccomend a trip even if, like me, you don't golf. Dent is extremly hilly, I would think this would be a drawback for golfing but what do I know? This hillyness (real word?) gives you the opportunity to take in some breathtaking views of the Whitsundays and beyond, and makes for a very challenging running course. Despite this, Dent Dash is one of my definite highlights of my Hamilton island stay. One Sunday a month, the sports centre charges $20 for transport there and back, as well as a free breakfast and the opportunity to stay for as long as it takes you to run, jog or walk the course. It is a total of 10.6km, although you are welcome to choose to just complete the 4.2km front nine or 6.4km back nine. If running isn't really your idea of fun then the $60 clubhouse 2 course lunch is another Dent highlight, and includes a tour of the island on golf buggies and lots of photo opportunities.
Hamilton Island Highlight 4: Dent Island

I am a person who very much sees eating and drinking as leisure activities. I often wish I could write them on job applications and surveys in the "interests and activities" column. Hamilton Island is a bit of a foodies dream. Unfortunately due to the afformentioned lack of funds I haven't been able to sample all of the Food and Beverage options on the island but those that I have tried have made me feel extreme gratitude for the existance of tastebuds. There is a real cocktail culture here, with Sails making a staggering array and Romano's having some very inventive monthly offerings. The nightly sunset cocktails is a must if only for the standard facebook profile pictures that it will produce. The best cocktails I have had here have actually been coffee based and so delicious that they fall somewhere between dessert and cocktail in a bizzare grey area. The Espresso Martini can be found at most restaurants here on Hammo and seems to involve espresso coffee, vanilla vodka and a lot of ice. The Affagato is stunningly simple consisting of just vanilla gelato, espresso and Frangelico.Yum!

Espresso Martini- Who knew coffee could be sooooooo good

Other personal food highlights include the massive pile of beef nachos at Sails, Romanos' seafood linguini of the day, yummy fruit smoothies at the Marina Deli, the innovative Brunch pizza at Manta Ray and the amazing Spicy Mussels at Mariners.Hamilton Island Highlight 5: stuffing myself silly!
My final Hamilton Island Highlight isn't actually on Hamilton Island at all. Bit silly really, but a lot of the best times I've spent whilst living here have been on day trips to the mainland and the nearby town of Airlie Beach. Airlie is a backpacker town through and through and very much makes money off hedonistic pleasures. Bars and tour desks line both sides of the main street and campervans with parking tickets litter the roads. Since I was a child I've always wanted to go skydiving, but have never before been able to justify the cost for just a few seconds of enjoyment. The combined forces of 3 months of saving safely in the bank, the amazing scenery of the great barrier reef and the relaxed yet impulsive atmosphere of Airlie finally convinced me to shell out the cash, and I'm so glad that it did!
My Skydive :o)

Aside from skydiving, Airlie is worth a visit just to sit at one of the pavement bars and watch all the different characters go past. From scruffy hippies with multi-coloured hair, to the local teenagers wearing scarily short hotpants and all carrying a skateboard, from drunken football teams on tour, to groups of confused looking Germans with matching backpacks and sunburns, I promise you won't be bored. My favourite shop in Airlie is the kooky little bead shop, where you can make your own jewelry from the startling array of trinkets, shells and charms available. I decorated my hat with beads there (or more accurately watched as The BF decorated my hat to my specifications- I'm not good with fiddly little things like beads) and it is my favourite item of clothing ever now.

Hamilton Island Highlight number 6: Airlie Beach day trips.

So there you have it. Maybe this old rock isn't so bad after all!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Epic Aussie Adventure: Day 4

Airlie Beach

Today's Travelling Track:
Train- If It's Love

Hi! Turk here. Finally a rest and time to write my own blog entry. So I've made it all the way to Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. I'm pretty impressed with myself to be honest, I'm nearly 20 and I didn't know I still had it in me, but after a couple of weeks rest I'll be ready and raring to go and see the rest of Australia. This last leg was pretty boring. We stopped briefly in Mckay, 100kms north of the lovely beach we slept on the night before. Mckay isn't really anything special, just a town with lots of malls from what I saw. The Hungry Backpacker and The BF went to some shops and bought some tools and stuff to fix my little aches and pains with, so hopefully i should be even more as good as new by the time they get back on the road. We then travelled the final 150km to Airlie Beach. The Hungry Backpacker and The BF ate some really yummy looking sushi and it was time for me to go to my new home for the next 3 weeks. More about that later.

A few people have been asking where I came from, and wanting to know a little more of my history so I thought i would talk a little bit about that. I don't remember much of my life before The Hungry Backpacker and The BF purchased me. I had been very ill before, after a previous trip with different owners and was sold to a company called Travellers Auto Barn. They diagnosed me with engine problems and gave me a transplant, they were looking for a donor from a tired old van in a scrapyard, but happily couldnt find one, so i was given a brand new reconditioned engine. They also had a carpenter go to work on me and fit me with a nice big bed, a pump sink and heaps of shelving and storage room. When they told me I had a new owner I was thrilled and left my home in Sydney to meet them in Brisbane where they were picking me up. In Brisbane i was fitted with more commodities. I was given a cooking stove, an Esky/coolbox, tables, chairs, a tent, sleeping bags, map books, crockery, cutlery, curtains and lots of other useful things. I was also given a roadworthy test,  a guarantee that the company would pay at least 40% of my price if I was sold back to them within 6 months AND lots of different waranties. The Hungry Backpacker and The BF were even given a number to call 24-7 if I get ill again, as the company have trusted mechanics all over the place who will fix me, possibly even for free depending on what went wrong! Travellers Autobarn have lots of vans they can do this to, and they show them all on Cars 4 Backpackers. some are cheaper, some are more expensive, some are older, some are newer, some are bigger, some are smaller, so you have lots of choice. I was $6000 dollars which I think is a pretty good deal considering everything you get with me, so The BF and The Hungry Backpacker will definitely get at least $2,500 back when they try and sell me. They can also sell me privately if they think they can get more.

Enough about that, I'm going to get some shut-eye and enjoy my short holiday. The time will be over before I know it and the three of us will be back on the road again.

I visit.....My Holiday Home (episode 4)
Pretty sweet pad eh? And it's right by the sea!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Epic Aussie Adventure: Day 3

Today's Scenery:
Beautiful Beaches and the Capricorn Coast

Current Location
Free campsite right on the beach. Score.

Today's Travelling Track:
Blink 182- The Party Song

Sooooo, turns out entry to the crocodile farm was $25 each so we decided to give that one a miss. Instead we spent the morning visiting Emu Park (not a park and there is no not be fooled!) and Yepoon (nice beach, apparently a good place to get sunburnt...) We then drove down the most boring stretch of highway ever- Bruce Highway from Rockhampton to Mackay. I particularly liked the signs on the road which read things like "No kids, you aren't nearly there yet!" and enjoyed the entrepunurial spirit of the few buisnesses that existed along the highway. They had used handmade signs to start teaser campaigns, starting with just a tempting "Nice cold ice cream" and then giving you more and more information every 100m or so until you realised their shop was actually 15km away, making you really want cold ice cream. Unfortunately not enough of these buisnesses supplied the most important of commodities- fuel. We spent a slightly nerve-wracking 20 minutes driving with the tank almost empty until we reached the first petrol station for 140km. The Lady inside cheerfully informed me that they weren't even open 24 hours, and if we'd arrived after 6 we would have been screwed!

We have this awesome camping book which came free with Turk. It's been very helpful so far and I'd reccomend everyone travelling oz should get one. It notes down all the free camping spots in australia, lists them by road and marks them on maps. The book is responsible for us spending 2 of the last 3 nights in entirely free accomodation and relative comfort. Thankyou free book and thankyou previous owners...

realisations of today:

1. Australians aren't very inventive when naming creeks. We have seen countless signs for __mile creek. Try harder guys.

2. The easiest way to save money when road tripping is to buy all supplies in normal supermarkets. That way you avoid eating at expensive roadside services or finding yourself caught without food in the middle of nowhere. we find bakery items are good, as well as nuts and fruit.

3. See above regarding the camping book.

4. Maybe we should plan our fuel stops better. We may have laughed at and mocked the BFs brother when he told us we would need to do this.

Not to break all of your hearts, but tomorrow we will return to Hamilton island for the final month of our employment there and Installments of The Epic Aussie Adventure™ will be put on hold for a while. No need to worry though, I promise I will keep posting Hungry Backpacker insights and we will get right back to these blogs when The Epic Aussie Adventure™ resumes.
Turk Visits.... The Beach (episode 3)
Even Turk needs chill out time, so when he found this picture perfect beach, and a small friend, he thought he'd stay put for a couple of hours and enjoy the scenery. A well deserved break if you ask me.

Epic Aussie Adventure, Day 2

Highlight of the last 24 hours:
High Fiving a baby turtle who just emerged from his nest, before watching him and his mates run to the sea and off to freedom! :o)

Todays Travelling Track:

Panic at the Disco- Northern Downpour

Soooooo, I know you're all on the edge of your seats awaiting this next installment of The Epic Aussie Adventure™ so I won't be keeping you a minute longer. In fact today I'm braving great beasts (mozzies) and trecherous conditions (no lights) to come to you at all as the laptop was starting to die so I'm sitting outside next to a power point! Anyways, we've had a couple of negative realisations since my previous installment.

1. Petrol is expensive and Turk is thirsty. We've probably spent 200 dollars on drinks for him already.

2. Turk has a few holes in him. We learnt this during a massive rainstorm and had to cover him with a tarp in order for us to spend the night dry. Today we've bought sealing stuff and filled in most of the holes. Unfortunautely a lot of the leaking was coming from one of the sliding doors, which is currently jammed shut because the handle is broken so we couldnt do much about that.

3. The cable attached to the lever which opens the petrol tank has snapped, we had to jimmy open the cover with a knife to fill up.

Thats about it for the negatives and not too bad for a 19-year-old van, but watch this space. Whenever I buy 2nd hand cars I always think of the father in Matilda and wonder what dodgy tricks mechanics have pulled to make vehicles run perfectly for the first 200ks or so and then suddenly all these glaring flaws show up. At least i don't think anyone put sawdust in Turk's engine.

Best moments of the last 24 hours-
1. Mon Repos Turtle Rookery. For the low low price of 10 dollars we were priviledged to watch a whole nest of baby turtles hatch, help them find their way to the waters edge using torches (they navigate against the light on the horizon, but get sidetracked nowadays by bright lights from nearby towns and often get lost) and then watched a MASSIVE female turtle digging a nest and laying her eggs. Probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen and the little turtles were SO cute. Just like squirt!

2.Learning that the baby turtles were embarking on their own epic backpacking adventure. Aparently most just ride the waves wherever they take them and eventually travel all the way to South America. They chill out there for a few years until they're ready to return home to Australia and start their own families. Me and The BF think they are the world's original travellers and hippies. Far out dude....
3. Finding an awesome free camping spot last night whilst it was pooring with rain and getting a really really good night's sleep.

4. see today's "Turk Meets..."

5. Making it to Rockhampton, and celebrating being in the beef capital of Australia by buying and cooking some amazing steaks!

Tomorrow the plan is to visit a crocodile farm, ignore my multiple mozzie bites, and hold an intervention for turk regarding his drink problems. More to come, watch this space....

Turk Visits...Mystery Craters: A truely unique rock formation (episode 2)
We were lured off of the main road by a sign advertising these mystery craters, when we saw what looked like a makeshift themepark in someones back yard (with an admission price) we decided against it....

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Epic Aussie Adventure, Day 1

Current Scenery:
The Glasshouse Mountains

 Current Transporation:
Turk The 1993 Mitsubish Express

Todays Travelling Track:

Jason Mraz- Dynamo of Violition

And we're off! The Epic Aussie Adventure™ has begun! Today began at 5:30am when the BF had a minor asthma attack and we had to drive to his parents house from our "camping" spot to secure some sweet steriody goodness to enable him to breathe again. The previous night we had met with some friends in Brisbane, gone to a bar called JoJos purely because I insisted it must be named after me. Turns out I may have been right because we were given free margheritas (they definitely gave them to me because I was the inspiration for the establishment's name, not because they had made them erroneously and we were the closest people to the bar). We then walked around for a while looking for sushi, and as we got hungrier our mission directive changed from very specific ("It must have a train; can't be too expensive; must be a proper sit down sushi restaurant and must have a fully stocked bar") to extremely vague ("I'll eat anything 'Asiany' right now") The high point of the takeaway chinese we settled on was when I asked if they had a bathroom and was told to "just go on the street" Luckily I didn't take this suggestion literally and instead successfully navigated my way to the nearest underground public toilet. Anywho, we decided to have a couple of drinks and therefore couldn't drive home, which is why we awoke on a street in outer Brisbane at 5:30am and started our day from there.  As I type we are cruising down the Bruce highway in the rain, heading for Bundaburg, home of Australian rum and, more excitingly for us, the Mon Repos Turtle Rookery where we are going tonight to watch baby sea turtles struggle their way out of their shell-based homes and scurry across the beach into the sea and freedom. What a metaphor. I think i understand exactly how they feel!

Turk meets....A Giant Pineapple (episode 1)
Turk was stunned to find a pineapple bigger than him!

Thats all folks, more insights from the road tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Places I have stayed in Europe part 2: Prague to Amsterdam PLUS the UK and Ireland

Prague, Czech Republic - HostelOne Prague
Prague looks like every fairytale you ever read as a kid. My recollections are of every building being stunningly beautiful although this surely can't be true...The hostel gave directions which included catching a tram. Maybe we were being stupid or were simply unfortunate but it took us forever to find the tram station and a few further millenia to figure out how to purchase tickets for it. When we finally got on the tram we discovered it was only a 10 minute walk! We made a lot of friends in this hostel and went on one of the most well organised and value for money bar crawls I have ever attended. HostelOne was a on the large side, which normally translates to a lack of that homely feel you get in small backpackers but somehow they had manged to create a friendly close-knit kind of atmosphere. The kitchen was large and well equiped and the communal areas were really nice. Prague is another of my must see spots in Europe, especially if you like a nice cold beer, and you could do a lot worse than stay in this hostel!

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic - Hostel Postel
In the heart of Bohemia, Cesky Krumlov feels a bit like stepping into some kind of themed medieval village, but with cars and pizza restuarants and mobile phones. The cobblestoned streets are charming, and the castle (Cesky's main attraction) would be impressive enough even if it wasn't guarded by bears (I kid you not!) The hostel was made up of a series of cabins with a central kitchen area. It was clean, pretty and well equiped and the staff were really friendly. Be careful if you plan on staying here, reception is not open 24 hours and the entire building is currently closed until at least the end of March. Despite all the positives, Hostel Postel did lack atmosphere somewhat and we found ourselves visiting the bar at the far more lively Hostel 99 and looking on somewhat folornly at the fun everyone seemed to be having. Hostel 99 is also closer to the station, just sayin'!

Munich, Germany - Thalkirchen Camping Site
This campsite was MASSIVE. A good thing too, considering the number of people who seem to stay here when Oktoberfest is on. I can imagine it would normally be pretty spacious and relaxed and in a lovely location in summer. It was situated next to a river and a park making it seem like the countryside, but close enough to the metro station to be in Munich centre within 10 minutes. There was a takeaway food window which served prezels and bratwurst hotdogs and a decent sized shop which, when we were there, was stocked mainly with alcholic drinks. The atmosphere on the campsite reminded me of my time at English rock festivals such as Reading festival, with tents pitched almost on top of each other and merrymakers stumbling around searching fruitlessly for their dwelling looking extremely worse for wear despite it being midday. Oktoberfest is one of those things everyone should experience at least once before they die, and considering the potency and volume of the beer combined with the temperature in a tent in Munich ovenight in the Autumn, it's suprising that it isnt the LAST thing many attendees experience in their lives!

Berlin, Germany - St Christopher's Inns Berlin
The St Christophers chain is generally a pretty safe bet whenever they are available. Commonly situated above Belishi's bars, they're usually clean, secure and easy to find. This was no exception. A free breakfast was offered and we took advantage of a free walking tour as well as extremely reasonably priced food and drinks in the bar. St Christopher's staff always speak fantastic English and have the knowledge and resources to help you find whatever you may be looking for. The only downside of the chain is that, due to their size and almost hotel-like status they rarely have kitchens or washing facilities, this was particularly disadvantagous for us since we arrived late at night, with literally no clean clothes and starving hungry after the bar had finished serving food. We were directed to the nearest laundrette, ran by an extremely eccentric elderly gentleman and were successful in getting our clothes washed and not-quite-dried just before he closed up. There was also a late night noodle shop opposite which was greatly appreciated. Berlin is a fascinating city, especially for history buffs and there's an overwhelming amount of things to see and do there. Give yourself a few days, we felt somewhat rushed.

Bacharach, Germany - Burg Stahleck
When myself and the BF first started planning eurotrip we had decided we wanted to find interesting buildings to stay in. When a friend of mine told me he had heard of a hostel which was built in a 12th Centuary castle we decided we HAD to stay in it. Being an Australian, the BF is particularly fond of castles (which he identifies by the existance of what he refers to as "turrets"- basically anything with a spire including many churches and a handful of pubs!) and he was adamant that we secure a bed in this piece of history. What we didn't know was that the hostel is often frequented by large groups of school children and that when we arrived there our room was the only one not full of pre-pubescents. Despite this I do not regret our stay one bit. Bacharach is stunning and the rhineland in general looks like a real piece of old Germany. There's actually a suprising amount to do as well. Most of the other people in our room were hikers and there were some decent hiking trails around the town. Others were wine lovers, as the reigon is famous for producing top quality Reisling. We found in most countries that we enjoyed visiting these slightly less touristy spots and felt we got a stronger sense of the culture of their people outside of the big cities.

Frankfurt, Germany - Five Elements Hostel Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a weird city. It almost makes a statement about the efficient and straightforward nature of Germans that such an upmarket financial hub would also have one of the most sprawling and astonishing red light districts I've ever seen just a couple of blocks away. As you walk down the street it goes from swanky coffee shops and restaurants with 80 euro salads to flashing neon signs advertising shows, girls, dances and everything inbetween. Its like they decided there was no point trying to hide corporate need for such distractions so it might as well be easily accessable! This red light district is also where the hostels are found. Probably because its the only land they can afford to own. Conveniently its also where the station is. We were a tiny bit disconcerted to see a guy smoking a crack pipe on the street that our hostel was on but the security was incredibly good and the establishment boasts an almost OCDesque level of cleanliness and organisation, almost in deliberate juxtoposition with the chaos of the streets outside. If you do visit, try a Frankfurt specialty- a glass of their delicious Apfelwein (esentially cider but somehow more wine-like)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands - Vita Nova and Youth Hostel Meetingpoint
There's a staggering array of available accomodation options in Amsterdam. We had booked the Vita Nova, a converted houseboat, long in advance as another of those novel hostelling experiences we thought would be cool. The Vita Nova was well organised and the rooms were suprisingly spacious and comfortable for a boat. The free breakfast was good and the staff were helpful. The location wasn't bad and it was nice being a little way away from the craziness of the red light district and the party areas, although the walk was quite long. We decided to stay a couple of extra days, but move to a hostel right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, the day before we were to move hostels, the BF nearly collapsed on the way to the Anne Frank Museum (I thought it was just an excuse!) After returning to our nautical home, he was violently ill for 24 hours. I wouldn't recommend the Vita Nova as a place to be when you are sick. Rather than moving hostels the next morning, I asked the Vita Nova staff for directions to the nearest hospital where he was immediately admitted with suspected Swine Flu, then Leigonaires Disease, and finally a far more comforting confirmed case of Pneumonia. On a side note if you decide to become ill anywhere in the world, Amsterdam is the place to do it. Their public hospital was nicer than any private hospital I've visited in the UK and they have reciprocal healthcare agreements with a lot of other countries, making the BF's stay in his own private room (he was quarantined primarily due to the Swine Flu prognosis) completely free. Additionally every doctor, the receptionist and the triage nurse spoke perfect English, in fact the BF tells me that the only person who wasn't fluent was the lunch lady. In the meantime I went to stay as planned at Meetingpoint. Ideally located within the red light district, and less than 5 minutes from the train station, this hostel was more than adequate. The staff were sympathetic when only I turned up and although they charged me for two beds on the first night, they allowed me to cancel the second bed for the rest of my stay. The rooms were large and a nice touch was the lockable barrels provided- often lockers simply aren't big enough! There were no laundry or cooking facilities but a cheap breakfast was offered and there was a laundrette 3 doors down the road so that wasn't a problem. Amsterdam itself is always a fun experience and when I finally made it to the Anne Frank museum (alone) I found it extremely interesting. Apart from that i didn't get the chance to be much of a tourist as I was too busy carrying clean and dirty clothes back and forth from the hospital and keeping the BF company. After he was discharged we decided he was too weak to keep backpacking so we flew back to England. We were sad to miss out on visiting Belgium but glad that we had managed to fulfill most of our plans.

On seperate occasions we have also stayed at:

Dublin, Ireland - Brown's Hostel (now Myplace Dublin)
Our trip to Ireland was right at the start of our backpacking career when myself and the BF were just a couple of crazy kids looking to save some cash and excited about seeing the world. Our selection method for this Hostel was to sort all the Dublin hostels on by price, and then book the cheapest (ignoring the extremely low satisfaction score..) Despite this, we were pleasantly suprised with what we got. The location was excellent, only 10 minutes walk from Temple Bar, and close to supermarkets. There was also a well equipped kitchen making budget eating a possibility. Trust me, if you need to save some money anywhere, Dublin is the place to do it! I've lived in one of the most famous and highly regarded North American ski resorts and on a luxury island on the great barrier reef and have never come across anywhere with as high a price of living as Dublin. Anyway, of course you get what you pay for and this hostel had quite a few cons as well as the pros. They didn't provide any bedding, and i recall a group of Japaneese travellers all fast asleep in our 20 person dorm one night with towels and jumpers covering them. The showers were also particularly disgusting; most were missing curtains and those which were still intact were covered in thick black mould. Finally, the staff on reception were surly and unhelpful. Despite this we were pleasently suprised with what we got for our money and felt this experience was a necessary rite of passage which gave us the right to call ourselves backpackers.

Edinburgh, Scotland - High Street Hostel
We visited Edinburgh on a whim whislt on a family holiday in rural Scotland. It was the final weekend of the famous Edinburgh festival and we didn't book long in advance giving us a somewhat limited amount of accomodation options. Despite this we found a hostel in a prime location, right off of the royal mile and just a 5 minute walk from Edinburgh castle (the BF wanted to stay there instead, and I had to point out that in most cities he couldnt stay in the castles, just visit them.) The staff here were friendly and the facilities good, although wi fi only worked in the reception area, making it constantly packed. The worst thing about High Street Hostel was its long term guests, of which there seemed to be a few. These residents were aloof and self-important and seemed to look down on any tourists. The staff on the other hand were exceptionally friendly and helpful. I would reccomend taking the free walking tour whilst in Edinburgh, there's a LOT of history and plenty to see. We also greatly enjoyed a fantastic pub crawl in this city (there's also a LOT of pubs).

London, England - St Christopher's London Bridge- The Inn
I grew up less than 2 hours from London, so seeeing somewhere so familiar to me through tourist's eyes is an interesting and novel experience. This hostel is in the Southwalk area, which is one of my favourite parts of London and in walking distance of most places you would want to visit. My top tip for London is not to just rely on the tube. Get a map and walk. You'll see a lot more and learn the geography of the city plus save a LOT of money. This hostel is ideally located, close to South Bank where you will find the Tate modern (I've never really visited this iconic art gallery, but have used its bathrooms to be ill when very hungover once) and the London eye. Yet also a reasonably easy walk to Oxford Street (busy but a shopping heaven), Covent Garden (lovely market area, kooky shops and street performers)  and the West End (even if you don't see a show there's lots of good restaurants and its fun just walking around). There are 3 different St Christopher's Hostels in the London bridge area, which use the same reception and have shared facilities. I had one of the most fun nights of my life in the Belishi's Bar underneath the Village hostel. Myself, the BF and some friends had a bargain dinner, discovered all drinks were two pound and therefore later participated in kareoke night, swapped hats with strangers and made best friends with all of the staff. The only negative point about the Inn hostel is the lack of bathrooms. I've heard dreadful stories of some budget hostels in London, pay a little more and you will have an amazing time.

Porthleven (Cornwall), England - Penrose Campsite
If you visit the UK try to get away from the big cities and see a little of the heritage. Cornwall and Devon on the south west coast are almost like a seperate country. We visited the beautiful town of Porthleven just after purchasing Roarie, wanting to give him a test before embarking on eurotrip. I actually prefer simple campsites like this one to ones bursting with facilities. there was a toilet and a shower and aside from that you were on your own. Cornwall is like a flashback to times more simple and we made our payment for the campsite in an honesty box on the side of the shower cubicle and chose wherever we wanted in a large field to set up. The campsite was a short walk over a field full of cows from the beach, and a further 10 minutes from the town centre. There you will find an ice cream shop, a couple of pubs and a fish and chip shop. Plus 2 cornish pasty shops. There is no bank however. a Porthlevel local told me that there was one there once but the first pasty shop couldnt keep up with demand so they had to scrap the bank and change it into the second one. That just about sums up cornwall for me!

I hope this has been helpful to everyone, plese feel free to post any of your own tips, comments, reviews, suggestions and criticisms!