Category Archives: Packing

Packing suggestions for a South African family safari

When we were preparing and packing for our trip to South Africa I looked online for suggestions of what and how much to pack for us, two adults and two kids.

Our trip included:

  • 2 x 12-14 hour flights to South Africa and back
  • 2 nights in a hotel near Johannesburg (Maropeng) and day trips to the Cradle of Humankind and a Cheetah Research Centre
  • 1 night and 2 days on the luxury Blue Train, including a dinner requiring formal wear
  •  5 nights in Cape Town with day trips around Cape Town, to Table Mountain, and the Cape Peninsula
  • 4 nights on safari at Tswalu Kalahari with early morning and afternoon/evening game drives

The weather was predicted to be mid to high twenties (Celsius) during the day and colder in the mornings, evenings and overnight. It certainly was cooler in Cape Town than in both Johannesburg/Maropeng and Tswalu. It was especially hot during the day at Tswalu. But it was quite cold on our early morning game drives.

On many safaris, including ours, you are restricted in the amount of luggage you can take and you need to pack in soft sided bags (not wheely bags). For Tswalu we were restricted to 12 kg each of checked luggage and 6 kg each of hand luggage. So just 18 kg each. I also read online advice about colours and fabrics for safari clothes (not black, not navy, not white, not red!).

Also of relevance, in Cape Town (at the Cape Grace Hotel) we could send dirty laundry to the cleaners and have it charged to our room; at Tswalu our laundry was free. Several safari lodges include free laundry, so it is worth checking.

For families planning a safari, here’s how we packed and what we packed for this trip. Perhaps it will help you.



North Face Large Base Camp Duffel Bag 90 L

For checked luggage, we used two North Face Large Base Camp duffel bags (90 L each), packing 1 adult and 1 kid’s clothes per bag.  We also took a Samsonite suit bag, packing our “good clothes” for the Blue Train’s formal dinner, as well as overflow items.

For carry on luggage, my husband and I each carried a Crumpler Backpack (The Dry Red No 5, 20 L) for camera gear, electronic devices, stuff for the plane, wallets etc. And our two kids each carried a small backpack for a few books, toys, colouring pencils etc

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack


Herschel Packable Duffel Bag

In addition, we packed a light weight Herschel Packable Duffel Bag (30 L). This cunning bag folds up into a small package and then unfolds into a good-sized bag. We used this on the Blue Train to separate out items from our large duffel bags we wanted in our cabins (the rest of our luggage was stored in a luggage carriage). We also used it to carry home souvenirs we needed to declare to Customs.

Finally, I packed an empty Crumpler iPad bag in my luggage to use on day trips as my hand bag.    hand bag

When fully packed before leaving, our luggage weighed about 62 kg, 10 kg less than our weight limit. And we were well under our 48 kg checked luggage and 24 kg carry on luggage limits. This is partly because our kids’ back packs weighed very little. I recommend limiting toys and other items from home since kids will pick up souvenirs and other items on their travels. So start light!

Packing Lists

For both adults and kids we used a rule of thumb of 4-5 days of clothing, planning to do laundry when we reached Cape Town and then at Tswalu. We ended up doing a large load when we arrived in Cape Town and another small load just before we left for Tswalu. Then we did another large load our first day at Tswalu and small daily extras (because it was included in the cost of our room).

Here’s what we packed for our kids …

  • 1 pair of sneakers (Louisa, 5) or 1 pair of walking shoes (Oliver, 9); sneakers were fine for the game drives we went on, which involved minimal bush walking
  • 1 pair of pool side shoes (sandals for Louisa, Crocs for Oliver)
  • 1 pair of “good” shoes for our formal dinner and nice outings (silver flats for Louisa, fancy sneakers for Oliver)
  • A rain jacket (which we didn’t in fact use — no rain on our trip — but still worth packing).
  • A warm fleece jacket/jumper for planes, cooler mornings, early game drives
  • 2 short-sleeved t-shirts each, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts each, plus an extra long-sleeved t-shirt to wear on the plane; we found nice merino long-sleeved shirts for Oliver at Pumpkin Patch and nice long and short-sleeved easy care shirts for both at Kathmandu
  • For Oliver’s pants, 2 pairs of Kathmandu light weight pants (with zip off legs converting them to shorts), a pair of shorts, a pair of swimming “boardies”. We also took a pair of track suit pants but he didn’t use them
  • For Louisa’s pants, 2 long leggings (1 heavier weight, 1 light weight), 2 3/4 leggings (we only needed 1 pair), a pair of shorts
  • 4 pairs of underpants plus 1 extra for the plane; 2 singlets each; 4 pairs of socks plus 1 extra for the plane
  • A pair of pyjamas
  • Swimmers and goggles
  • A broad-brimmed hat each and a cap each
  • Toiletries (especially sunscreen for game drives) and a selection of medicine (we used panadol, neurofen, cortisol cream for various ailments while away)
  • For the formal dinner and other nice outings, for Oliver we took a pair of navy Chinos, collared shirt and blazer. For those in Sydney, I found the pants and shirt on sale at Birkinhead Point Factory Outlet Centre. For Louisa we took two sleeveless dresses from Pumpkin Patch (because she and I liked different ones!) and a light long-sleeved cardigan

Most of Oliver’s clothes were in neutral colours: grey, green, blue. Most of Louisa’s clothes were in purple, lilac, green. We didn’t especially look for “safari” clothes so everything could be worn again back in Sydney.

My husband and I followed the same pattern:

  • 1 pair of sneakers (for me) or 1 pair of walking shoes (for Peter)
  • 1 pair of pool side shoes (sandals for me, casual shoes for Oliver)
  • 1 pair of “good” shoes for our formal dinner and nice outings (silver wedges for me, leather shoes for Peter)
  • A rain jacket; we both took Kathmandu packable rain jackets, which fold up into a small zipped pocket
  • A warm fleece jacket for planes, cooler mornings, early game drives; we found these on sale at Kathmandu
  • I took 2 long-sleeved merino t-shirts and a vest for the plane and early morning drives. I also took 3-4 light kaftan tops layered over singlets for everyday wear
  • Peter took 2 short-sleeved shirts and 2 long-sleeved shirts like the kids, plus an extra shirt for the plane. Again, Kathmandu was a good source for easy care shirts
  • For pants, I took 2 pairs of 3/4 pants, 1 pair of long cotton pants, and 1 pair of light weight jeans
  • Peter took 2 pairs of Kathmandu light weight pants with zip off legs, an extra pair of shorts (which he didn’t use), and a pair of jeans
  • We took a similar number of pairs of underwear and socks as the kids
  • Pyjamas
  • Swimmers
  • A broad-brimmed hat or cap each
  • Toiletries, medicine
  • For the formal dinner and other nice outings, I took a pair of navy slacks, two fancier tops, and a soft jacket. I didn’t need the second top. Peter took a nice pair of pants, formal shirt, jacket and tie
  • I also took two extra warmer layers, but I didn’t really need them. I dressed in them on a few cold mornings but changed after breakfast. They were too warm. There was only one morning at Tswalu that I might have worn them but didn’t. So I could have left these at home

Most of my clothes were navy, grey and cream; colours I often wear. Dark colours such as black or navy are not recommended in summer in Africa because they attract the heat or flies, but I had no problem with them in spring. Peter’s clothes were like Oliver’s: grey, green, blue. Again, we didn’t want to buy special “safari” wear looking clothes, which we might not get use out of back in the city.

We easily had enough clothes as well as met our luggage limits. In addition to the items above we took chargers and cables for our electronic devices (including a plug for Africa and a power board), a large Canon 5D Camera plus lenses for good quality animal shots, a small point-and-shoot camera, and a small video camera for the kids to use.

I was tempted to buy into the whole safari look, but mostly we took and packed our normal clothes with just a few additions: Oliver and Peter’s pants with zip off legs, which they will reuse for Scouts; our rain jackets; our new fleece jackets; and some extra easy care shirts.

At Tswalu, a number of the other guests were wearing safari kit from top to toe, but many were in the midst of a series of safari stays spanning many weeks. For just 5 days, our selection of clothes worked well (with just a few items we should have left at home). The most important thing is to pack light if you can and use laundry facilities at your accommodation.

I hope this list helps in planning your African adventure. Please add any other suggestions in the comments below.

Cheerio Amanda

Recommendations for a family holiday in South Africa

Now that we have returned from our two week family holiday in South Africa, here are our top recommendations for places to stay and things to do, see and buy. I’ve already posted suggestions for successfully travelling with children (based on my trip with Oliver to Europe last year and which we tried to follow this trip). And you can read here for safari packing tips. So in this post I focus on people, places and things in South Africa that we loved and recommend to others (especially families).

#1 Recommendation

We all agreed that the highlight of our trip to South Africa was our four night stay at Tswalu Kalahari Reserve in the Green Kalahari of the Northern Cape Province. Tswalu is a luxury private game reserve catering to just 30 guests at a time. We chose (and extended) the Cape Grace/Tswalu package, which gave us five nights in Cape Town (see below for more on Cape Grace) and four nights in The Motse, Tswalu. Read about our magical experiences at Tswalu here, here and here.


View of the pool and waterhole at The Motse, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve


Tswalu’s Malori Sleep Out Deck


Sunrise across the Kalahari, Tswalu

Getting There and About

We flew to South Africa from Sydney, Australia on Qantas. We were pleased to secure direct flights to Johannesburg with no stop over in Perth. So just 14 hours to South Africa and 12.5 hours home (which is a very manageable flight time and distance coming from Australia). The outbound flight worked well because we arrived in Johannesburg in the evening and could go straight to bed when we arrived at our hotel in Maropeng. Our evening homeward flight also worked well because the kids slept most of the way home, tired from the early starts for game drives at Tswalu.

We travelled from Pretoria in the north east to Cape Town in the south west on the Blue Train. The journey, in luxurious surroundings, takes 28 hours. Through the large picture windows we gained amazing insights into the South African landscape and life. Read about our experiences on the Blue Train here. Although we enjoyed the novelty and comfort of our overnight train journey, I think it is one best suited to couples, young or old, than to families with young children. We were the youngest by far on the train and the train’s magnificent style and five star service probably are best appreciated by those with time and freedom to sit and ponder in the Club Car or linger over drinks in the Dining Car. The Blue Train also is best for people who are untroubled by motion sickness. The ride could be rather bumpy at times and I had 24 hours of mild disembarkation syndrome when we arrived in Cape Town.


Boarding the Blue Train


The Cafe Car on the Blue Train

Recommended Hotels

As above, our #1 hotel recommendation is Tswalu Kalahari, especially if you are looking for a unique safari experience. But we also stayed at four other hotels, three in the major cities of Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In Cape Town we stayed at and highly recommend Cape Grace Hotel. Situated on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, Cape Grace is a beautiful and very comfortable hotel. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment, which was enormous and included a kitchenette, dining area, large lounge area, two ensuite bathrooms, an extra toilet and a verandah with an outdoor table and chairs. The service was impeccable with lots of complimentary in-house activities for kids (including gingerbread decorating, free xbox games for the room’s xbox machine, board games). We used room service quite a bit for dinner, eating on the verandah. The meals were amazingly inexpensive. Louisa and I also tried Cape Grace’s Spa, which again was lovely and inexpensive. The Concierge and Reception Staff were extremely helpful, providing lots of tips for our stay in Cape Town as well as complimentary shuttle service within a 10km radius. On one day we ordered a picnic lunch to take on a tour of Cape Peninsula. We ended up with bags and bags of food and drinks that lasted us all day and night for a very reasonable cost of less than AUS$50. Read about our experiences in Cape Town and at Cape Grace here.


Table Mountain, Cape Town, with Cape Grace Hotel in the foreground

Outside of Johannesburg, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, we stayed for two nights at the Maropeng Hotel. This boutique hotel is located just moments from the Maropeng Visitor Centre and saved us a long drive from Johannesburg to this fascinating place. I was very keen to see the Cradle of Humankind Exhibition and the hotel made this easy. Again, it was geared more to adult visitors than children but the rooms were large and comfortable. The breakfasts, included in our room rate, were delicious. Maropeng is quite a way from Johannesburg and near no other shops or activities — we came just for the Maropeng Visitor Centre — so may not suit everyone, especially if you don’t have a car (we were driven from the airport to Maropeng in a shuttle). Read about our experiences in Maropeng here.

On the night before we joined the Blue Train we stayed at the Sheraton Pretoria. As you would expect from Sheraton, this was an extremely comfortable and beautiful hotel right across from the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African Government. Finally, on the night before we flew home, after Tswalu, we stayed at the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg. This hotel seemed very large and busy after the privacy of Tswalu but appealed to us for its position next to Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton Shopping Complex (good for souvenir shopping!). There are lots of hotels to choose from in the Sandton area.

All of our hotels included free wi-fi, which made life easier for adults and kids with devices!

Recommended Guides, Tours and Transfers

In places such as Johannesburg foreign visitors are recommended to hire cars or drivers since public transport is limited. So in Johannesburg and Cape Town we organised guides/drivers to transport us from airports to our hotels or to take us on tours.

In Cape Town we highly recommend Safari Lodge Shuttle. We were very fortunate to book Liese Mossner-Sequeira from this company to collect us from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and drive us to Maropeng, and then the next day to take us on a tour of the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre and some local markets before driving us to our next hotel in Pretoria. Liese was incredibly knowledgeable, very friendly and wonderful with our children. Read about our experiences with Liese at the Cheetah Centre here.

In Cape Town, the Concierge at Cape Grace recommended Jarat Tours. We booked them for a day to drive us down the Cape Peninsula. Read about our drive here and here. Although our driver was not as excellent as Liese in Johannesburg, our shuttle bus was comfortable and affordable (about AUS$325 for 7 hours of driving plus we paid all entrance fees and tolls).

Recommended Attractions

Here is a list of places we visited in Maropeng, Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula and at Tswalu. All highly recommended for adults and kids.

1. Cradle of Humankind, Maropeng (photos from our visit here)

2. Van Dyk Cheetah Centre, De Wildt (photos from our visit here)

3. Table Mountain, Cape Town (photos from our visit here)

4. World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, Hout Bay (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

5. Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Town

6. The Penguin Colony at the Boulders, Simon’s Town (near Cape Town) (photos from our visit here)

7. Tswalu Kalahari Spa, Tswalu Kalahari Reserve


We mostly ate in our hotels or quite simply. But in Cape Town we went to the highly recommended Gold Restaurant, featuring Cape Malay and traditional African food. Dinner included a lesson in African drumming as well as African face painting, music and dancing. This was a fantastic, and inexpensive, night of African food and culture.


Drumming lesson at Gold Restaurant, Cape Town

Suggestions for Souvenirs

Although we had strict limits on the amount of luggage we could take on the small plane that flew us to Tswalu and our safari, we managed to find a few lovely souvenirs of our trip in Maropeng, De Wildt, Cape Town, at Tswalu, and in Johannesburg. Some suggestions:

1. Football jerseys. When Oliver and I visited Europe last year he bought some football (soccer to us in Australia) jerseys in London. We found some terrific new ones in a sports store in Sandton: the jersey of the Kaizer Chiefs and the jersey of the Orlando Pirates, two South African Premier Soccer League teams based in Soweto.


2. Carrol Boyes silverware. Carrol Boyes is a South African designer who makes beautiful pewter and silverware with African and other motifs. In Tswalu I found some wonderful teaspoons with Meerkats on the handle. In addition to the specially created designs at Tswalu, we visited Carrol Boyes stores in Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport.

3. Born in Africa plush toy african animals. During our trip Louisa collected a whole zoo’s worth of plush animals including Cheetahs, African Hunting Dogs, a Rhino, a Zebra etc etc. Relatively inexpensive, good quality and a great souvenir for smaller kids.

4. In Cape Town we found Taunina, makers of hand embroidered teddy bears. From their website:

Celebrated for its iconic hand-embroidered teddy bears, Taunina is a luxury house synonymous with timeless artistry and social upliftment. The company provides full-time employment to women from disadvantaged communities in Africa through its flagship atelier in Cape Town. Each creation is one of a kind, designed and embellished by a single artist over five to seven days. The rare beauty of a Taunina collection pieGentian-SA-JK-SB-14-0004-FRONT-78x104ce lies in the opportunity it affords a woman in need to provide for her family and be recognized as an artist. Taunina bears carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It a gift that changes lives.

I chose a little one named Crispin who looks somewhat like this but in grey.

5. Books about South African history. I chose two with great reviews on Amazon: Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith; and A History of South Africa by Leonard Thompson.

6. Finally, in De Wildt outside of Johannesburg, in Cape Town, and in Hout Bay we visited local markets and shopped for smaller trinkets and jewellery. Because of Australia’s strict customs laws we were careful not to choose anything made of wood. But the kids chose a number of bracelets and necklaces made of stone or beads. I got ripped off in the De Wildt market when one stall holder started the bargaining process by asking for 4500 Rand (AUS$450), which I managed to get down to 700 Rand, but still too much for what I bought. I preferred the Cape Town and Hout Bay markets and shops where the prices were marked on the items. If not, then take a local with you.

We hope these recommendations are helpful. Please add your own suggestions below in the comments.

The day before the day before we leave: Packing

Peter and I are packing for ourselves and the kids — Oliver and Louisa — before we fly to Africa in less than 36 hours. We realised today, as we debated which bags to pack what into, that we have an awful lot of luggage lying around our house. Peter has the original backpack he took on his first journey around Africa more than 20 years ago, as well as the backpack from his 18 month sailing voyage from Sydney to Europe via South East Asia and the King’s Cup in Thailand, across the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea to the Sailing World Cup in Cyprus. And I have luggage galore from an academic career of conferencing and lab visits around the world, not to mention an ongoing love affair with Crumpler and Rushfaster, among other luggage and travel specialists (Magellan’s, Flight 001, Ciao Bella Travel …).

Our packing task this trip has a slightly higher degree of difficulty because although we each can take 40 kilograms of checked luggage and 7 kgs of hand luggage onto our international flights, we only are allowed 12 kgs of checked luggage and 6 kgs of hand luggage each on the small private plane that will take us 850 kilometres north from Cape Town to the game reserve, Tswalu Kalahari.

We also need to bring formal(ish) wear for dinner on The Blue Train, which will take us from Johannesburg to Cape Town on one of the first legs of our journey. And Tswalu is almost the last leg of our journey after 5 days in Cape Town. So where and how to pack any souvenirs we might like to buy?

So here’s our first crucial piece of packing equipment: a portable digital travel scale. I picked mine up in Flight 001 in San Francisco, but you can buy similar versions very easily. For around $20 you can keep under those weight limits.


I also really love Herschel Packable Luggage. I have a backpack, again from Flight 001, which transforms from a small little soft parcel that is easily stashed in your bag into a good sized, light weight backpack. I use it when I hire a bike during a conference trip or when out and about for the day.



For this trip and for Father’s Day, the kids gave Peter a packable version of Herschel’s duffle bag:


10078-00003-OS_02_0503e114-8135-4a8d-bb99-3b760d2ba317_grandeThis will be perfect for when we need to decant some of our luggage for The Blue Train trip. Our sweet little sleeper cabins (perfectly formed but limited space) can’t fit all of our luggage, so we need to separate what we need for the train journey from everything else, which will be stored in a luggage hold.


Herschel Packables also include a messenger bag and a tote. I often buy a cheap tote bag from the airport book store to carry my overflow water bottles, coat, magazines etc, but Herschel’s likely would be more long lasting.


My final go to bag when packing is my Crumpler Dry Red No 5 backpack. I have blogged about this before and have been singing the praises of this bag far and wide. Recently I purchased two of these bags in black for our memory research team, so they can transport our electronic and audio equipment back and forth from Sydney to Melbourne. This carry on bag safely stores my laptop, iPad, kindle, a change of clothes, wallet, some toiletries, paperwork and other odds and ends.

I adore Crumpler bags and have far too many or not enough. This is one of my favourites:

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack

Crumpler Dry Red No 5 Backpack

So back to the packing. The only other challenge we face is that Peter and I both are reasonably seasoned travellers; at least for work travel. So we each have our own preferred luggage, methods of packing, tricks and lists. Yes, so back to the packing and the negotiations. Next stop: the airport.











I am reviving this blog a second time to document a new adventure. In May this year, my husband (and Oliver’s dad), Peter, is attending a conference in Pretoria, South Africa. Peter backpacked through Africa in the early 90s, although not South Africa, which still was in the grip of apartheid and under sanction. He started in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, africalargemapand travelled through Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. He was on the road for 6 months. I will ask him to post some pictures and memories to the blog at a later date.

Peter is keen for the whole family to travel to South Africa and join in a safari adventure.

Peter will fly first and then Oliver (9), Louisa (5) and I will fly a few days later to meet him. We will fly from Sydney to Johannesburg and drive to Pretoria. Pretoria is one of three capital cities in South Africa.  Interestingly, South Africa has separate capital cities dedicated to the executive (Pretoria), the legislature (Cape Town), and the judiciary (Bloemfontein). So perhaps somewhat like Canberra?

While waiting for Peter to finish his conference commitments and for the first of three legs of our trip to start, we hope to visit a cheetah research and breeding centre as well as the “Cradle of Humankind” World Heritage Site, where it is claimed humans originated from.


On board the Blue Train

A few days later we plan to travel on The Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town: a 27 hour, 1,600 kilometre journey through the heart of South Africa. The Blue Train was part of a plan in the 19th century to build a train line for steam engines from Cape Town to Cairo. The line was built in the 1920s but only got as far as the Zambezi River; far from Cairo. Today it still runs around mountains, across deserts and over grasslands from the top to bottom of South Africa and back. We can watch the African world go by out the windows of luxuriously restored carriages; the Blue Train is billed as “a window to the soul of South Africa”. Half way to Cape Town we stop in Kimberley; an historical diamond mining town and home of the famous De Beers company.

In Cape Town we will stay on the V&A (Victoria and Albert) Waterfront at Cape Grace Hotel, which sits below Table Mountain. From here we hope to visit Cape Point (the Cape of Good Hope), the most south-western point of Africa, rich in maritime history. Peter and Oliver also hope to visit a Cub Scout Troop while we are there.

Cape Grace Hotel, Cape Town

Cape Grace Hotel, Cape Town

Cape Point, Cape Town

Cape Point, Cape Town

From Cape Town we will fly to the edge of the Kalahari Desert and Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve. Tswalu is South Africa’s largest private game reserve covering 100,000 hectares. Kalahari Bushman have lived here for 20,000 years. Unlike many game reserves, Tswalu welcomes children. We will stay in The Motse, which means “village” in Tswana, in little houses made of local stone, red clay, and Kalahari thatch. On game drives we will see lions, cheetahs, giraffes, rhinos, zebras and many more animals.


The Motse, Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve


Looking out over the Kalahari

Finally we will fly from Tswalu to Johannesberg and then on to Sydney.

Peter is enjoying planning this trip, although mindful of important contingencies. Many game reserves do not allow children under 12 to participate in game drives (thus his careful choice of Tswalu). We also are sticking to malaria free areas (which rules out for now amazing destinations such as Kruger National Park, in north-east South Africa, and KwaZulu-Natal, also north-east, with its rich and fascinating Zulu Kingdom history).

Over the coming few months I am going to encourage Oliver and Louisa to learn and post about South Africa and to help decide our day-to-day plans. We also need to plan our luggage carefully because there are very restricted weight limits on the small plane that will fly us from Cape Town to Tswalu. So lots of time to think about new bags, trial packs and safari clothing!

If you’ve been to South Africa and have any suggestions for things to do and places to visit, please post in the comments. More soon!

Amsterdam, bikes, feeling at home and Crumpler

We interrupt our Legoland posts for a quick travel update!

Today Oliver and I travelled from Aarhus to Amsterdam via Copenhagen. This involved one bus ride, two flights and one train ride. It took about 6.5 hours. Oliver is becoming quite the seasoned traveller and, so long as I tell him each of the travel elements to expect for the day, he does not complain (although he is not looking forward to the long flights back to Sydney on Sunday).

Amsterdam seems crazy busy after the peaceful lane ways of Aarhus. The streets here are a profusion of trams and cars and motorbikes and bikes and pedestrians. So. Many. Bikes!!! I thought Aarhus had a lot of bike riders but Amsterdam is Aarhus X 1000. Bikes going everywhere. It makes total sense for the environment but it makes walking the streets precarious. And no one wears helmets. Not even little kids biked around by their parents. I love bike riding but I suspect riding here in Amsterdam would give me a heart attack! No photos unfortunately because I feared being run over if we stopped to click.

Oliver and I emerged this afternoon from our comfy hotel room (check out tomorrow is at noon; bliss!) for a quick scout around. Amsterdam reminds me of London during my first one or two visits; when I didn't know or understand the city; couldn't find my way around; didn't know its secrets. I think it takes a local to help you feel comfortable in cities like London, Amsterdam and perhaps Sydney. I really love London. I'm not intimidated by it. But Amsterdam felt intimidating this afternoon, not knowing where to go or what to see. And so crowded. We needed a local or a visiting “old hand”.

Instead we followed a map on my iPhone to the Amsterdam Crumpler Store. I planned this visit before we left Sydney! As some of you know, I love Crumpler bags and they sell entirely different ones here in Europe. I found out this afternoon that this is because Australian Crumpler sold their European business to a German company. The German company has kept the same logo, general styling and design philosophy but produced a different range of bags. Awesome!

The man in the store was super friendly and gave me a couple of sample cases (apparently they've been celebrating their birthday) and some Crumpler shopping bags. I picked up a few gifts for friends, a cool silver carry on bag for me (since Oliver and my bags are pretty full) and a funky little Crumpler man key ring. The store had so many wonderful bags, cases, notebooks and other stuff to chose from.

If you get the chance, go visit:

Crumpler Shop Amsterdam

Haarlemmerdijk 31

1031 KA Amsterdam

Telephone: +31 (0)20 620 24 54

Amsterdam Crumpler Store


Or read their blog:

Tomorrow we catch the train to Rotterdam for the start of three and a half intensive days of conferencing, starting at 2.30pm with one of my three remaining spoken talks (the 5 minute one). Onwards!!

My new Crumpler bag!


Today I’m going!!!!!!!!!!!!

We can’t wait to go to London. We bet it’s going to be so fun and cool. We want to go to the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Cartoon Museum. On Sunday we are having lunch with our friend, Martin (not a Martian), at a restaurant near Kings Cross Station.

Hanging skeletons in the Natural History Museu...

Hanging skeletons in the Natural History Museum of London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 12 hours until our plane leaves. We’re catching a taxi to the airport at about 5pm today to go and check in. Between now and then we have to finish packing. But we don’t have to go to school or work today, so that is good.

In just over 36 hours we will be in London.

The first thing we will do there is catch a red double-decker bus to Hamleys toy store in Regent Street.

Red London Bus

Red London Bus (Photo credit: patrick francis)

Hamleys in Regent Street

Hamleys in Regent Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are really excited!

By Oliver.

5 days to go, Apple apps for travelling and travel blogging

With just 5 days to go, I’ve been busy backing up my iPhone and iPad, downloading potentially helpful travel apps, and organising my iPhone and iPad screens (as well as downloading some new tv shows to watch on the plane and in the hotels; I know better than to rely on British or European tv!). I read somewhere that it is a good idea to rearrange your device screens so that you save the apps you will use while travelling on your home screen or collect them together on one screen.

My iPhone home screen

My iPhone home screen

If you’re interested generally in the iPhone apps other people find useful and how they organise them — especially their home screen – then check out David Sparks’ MacSparky blog.

Meanwhile, below I summarise the iPhone and iPad apps that Oliver and I will be using on our trip in case you are planning a trip (and/or planning some blogging).

For travel:

  • Dropbox (iPhone and iPad, free): Dropbox is a free online storage system. I signed up for an account and can upload or download, as well as share, files from anywhere and with anyone. I store copies of my travel documents in my Dropbox account.


    GoodReader app

  • Facebook (iPhone and iPad, free): An obvious choice for keeping  everyone up to date with our movements.
  • GoodReader (iPhone and iPad, $5.49): GoodReader is a PDF reader for iPhone and iPad. Read any and all documents with ease and add comments into the documents. I upload a copy of my travel documents into GoodReader on both my iPhone and iPad, so when I need to know the address of our hotel, I can glance at my iPhone and not dig out paperwork.
  • Kindle (iPad, free): I have a Kindle reader but I have the Kindle app on my iPad just in case.
  • London Pass (iPhone, free): Oliver and I bought London Passes, which allow entry into a huge range of London attractions. I’m not sure that they will end up cheaper than paying at each attraction but the Passes include priority entry into places such as the Tower of London, which have huge queues in the summertime. This app lists all the places we can visit with a London Pass and how to get there. It also suggests itineraries and lets us bookmark our favourite attractions for a ready-made list of things to do when we arrive.

    Meeting Gold app

    Meeting Gold app

  • Meeting Gold (iPad, $10.49): Meeting Gold is an app for taking notes and tracking actions in meetings. I use this app every day of my work week for my student supervision meetings and all other meetings. I used to take paper notes in meetings, but didn’t have any reliable system for filing what we discussed and who agreed to do what. Follow up meetings meant flicking back through pages in my notebook (or an earlier notebook). With Meeting Gold I can set up a document for each meeting in my calendar (it syncs beautifully with my Gmail calendar), write any pre-meeting notes, write an agenda, and attach and view any documents for the meeting. During the meeting, I can take notes, tick off agenda items, and refer to the attached documents. I also can easily look back at the meeting document of a related past meeting (or even insert sections from past meetings into a new meeting document). After the meeting I can write a summary of what we discussed and agreed on, create actions for myself or others to follow-up and sync them to my task management software, Omnifocus, then email the document to people who attended the meeting. Meeting Gold automatically backs up my meeting documents to Dropbox. It’s a really powerful piece of software. While we are away I will be using Meeting Gold to take notes in conference sessions and any face-to-face meetings. At work I use Meeting Gold on the iPad with an external bluetooth keyboard, but it is fine with just the iPad keyboard and means I will be carrying less each conference day (just my iPad not my Mac Book Pro).
  • Native Weather app (iPhone, free): For day-to-day weather at home I rely on the Pocket Weather Australia app. But when travelling I use the iPhone’s native weather app. It’s not super detailed, but it gives a 5-6 day forecast (now it is cloudy and 12 degrees celsius in London, cloudy and 16 degrees in Aarhus, and cloudy and 13 degrees in Rotterdam. Helpful for packing!).
  • Packing Pro (iPhone and iPad, $2.99): You know that I’m an early packer and I’ve flirted with a couple of packing apps. Packing Pro is my current choice although I am pretty sure it is too complicated for me.
  • Prezi (iPhone and iPad, free): You might also know that I’m writing my Keynote Talk for the Aarhus Conference using online presentation software, Prezi. Prezi also offers iPhone and iPad apps to view, present and edit (minor editing only) presentations on the go. This will come in handy as I practice the timing of my talk in my hotel room.
  • Skype (iPhone and iPad, free): Can you remember travelling when you had to go buy a phone card and then it would run out about one and a half seconds after calling home? Well, Skype makes phone cards and hotel-phone-bill-shock a thing of the past. The only downside is when you can’t find a fast enough wi-fi connection to make a call with video. But it is great for keeping in touch with the kids.
  • Touchnote (iPhone and iPad, free): Touchnote lets you print and send your iPhone or iPad photos and a few lines of text anywhere in the world as real postcards (for US$1.50 each). I haven’t tried it yet and I’m not sure we’ll get much use out of it if we are blogging and updating everyone via Facebook etc. But it might be an alternative to buying postcards, writing them and then posting them when I get home because I couldn’t work out the postal systems of the places I visited!
  • TripAdvisor Offline City Guides (iPhone, free): This app lets us download TripAdvisor reviews, suggested itineraries, maps and other information for cities we visit. The good thing is that the app stores information locally on my iPhone so I don’t need wi-fi or 3G to access it. This is perfect because I will have data turned off to avoid data roaming charges.
  • XE Currency (iPhone and iPad, free): XE Currency converts currencies, either with live rates or with the last updated rates (which the app stored for when we don’t have an internet connection). This will come in handy when I’m trying to work out how much that scarf really costs in Liberty of London!


    XpenseTracker app

  • XpenseTracker (iPhone and iPad, $5.49): XpenseTracker is a fantastic app that allows me to record my expenses on the go. It keeps a running total of my expenses, divides them into different categories, lets me take photos of receipts (in case I lose them or just muddle them up), and when I get home, prints out a report. On my previous conference trips I didn’t know to request a paid-in-advance per diem, which meant I had to collect EVERY SINGLE RECEIPT and then claim it all back. So much work although made more palatable by this app! This trip I have a per diem, so now I just need to collect receipts for major items not covered by the per diem, such as taxis to and from the airport, hotel bills not yet paid by my university. So this app will be perfect to keep track. Highly recommended!
For the blog:
  • Photo Editor by Aviary (iPad, free): Aviary is a photo editing app. I read about this on a list of apps highly recommended for blogging on the go. It accesses photos from my iPad camera roll and lets me crop them, frame them, tidy or fancy them up with a range of photo editing tools. I can upload the photos to the iPad either from my iPhone or my Canon camera via the Apple Camera Connection Kit (just a couple of little plugs that slot into the charging port of the iPad). That way I don’t need wi-fi to transfer photos.
  • Blogsy (iPad, $5.49): Blogsy is another app I read about on the highly recommended list. It’s been called “the best blogging app on the iPad”. Whereas the WordPress app (below) seems to expect me to know html markup to write a blog post, Blogsy lets me write posts and insert images and links in a very simple visual GUI. I can then publish them to WordPress and Facebook.  

    Blogsy app

    Blogsy app

  • Frametastic, Photo Collage, Pic Joiner (iPhone and iPad, free): These apps let me combine two or more photos into a nice collage. This is great for posting multiple photos to the blog. I haven’t yet decided which app I like the best so I am trying a few as they all were free.
  • Native Camera and Photos apps (iPhone and iPad, free): I use the native Camera and Photos apps for taking photos. I’m sure there are fancier apps but these do fine.
  • Native Notes app (iPhone and iPad, free): I also use the native Notes app for taking notes, writing lists, recording important (but not confidential) information, jotting ideas for blog posts. The great thing is that I have my Notes synced to my Gmail account. So the Notes sync across my iPhone, iPad and Mac Book Pro.
  • WordPress (iPad, free): Finally, WordPress is the iPad app for WordPress blogs. It’s a bit tricky for writing new posts (I prefer to do it either in Blogsy, as above, or online on my Mac Book Pro). But this app is useful for making any small edits to posts (fixing crappy grammar) or moderating comments.

Most of these apps are free. Blogsy, GoodReader and XpenseTracker cost around $5.50 each but are good investments. Meeting Gold costs $10.49 but is excellent value for an app I use every work day. And Packing Pro is $2.99, but I’m not sure I would buy it again.

I hope these recommendations are useful!

What are your favourite travel or blogging apps?

PS I’ve downloaded Game of Thrones Season 1 and House of Cards Season 1 to watch while travelling. Any other suggestions?

6 days to go, tips for on the move

Louisa woke me very early today so I’ve made good progress on my last big talk. Just one section to rewrite and then I’ll practice Tuesday morning (come and sit in and give me feedback if you are in the vicinity; Tuesday 11 June at 9.30am on Level 3 of the Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University). I’m a little worried that my talk is way too long but hopefully it’s interesting. We’ll see. In the 20 years I have been going to conferences I have seen so many different kinds of Keynote Talks: talks that are light on data but inspire you with a big picture; talks that are all data (lots and lots and lots of data) and not so many grand ideas; talks that are quite impersonal and objective; and talks that reflect the speaker’s journey and passions as much as their work.

What’s the best (kind of) Keynote Talk you’ve seen?

Since I’ve made good progress on the talk and am likely to have it completely drafted for my practice on Tuesday morning, I am happy to think about the packing and planning again. So it was a case of good timing today when I received an email from my friend, Karen G (hi Karen!). She sent me a few tips for London sightseeing: the Yeoman Warder’s Tour in the Tower of London and audio tours for kids in the British Museum. I love audio tours! So much better than finding your own way to the best exhibits and reading little plaques! She also sent me some tips about eating cheaply in London: Boots pharmacy, Budgen’s supermarket and Pret a Manger. I knew about the first and the third but not the second. Great options for fresh sandwiches, cut fruit, healthy snacks and inexpensive drinks.

Finally, Karen warned me that in the last few months there has been a huge increase in the number of iPhones and iPads stolen in London from people using them while out and about on the street and in cafes. I presume by snatch and run or pick pocketing? As you might have read, we gave Oliver a new iPad mini as an early birthday present for this trip. The last thing we want is for it to be stolen or lost. And as I’ve prepared for our trip I’ve tossed up whether to use travel apps (on my iPhone or Oliver’s iPad mini) to navigate or just use an old-fashioned guidebook. I had a well-loved London Eyewitness Travel guide, which one of my brothers never returned after borrowing it for a trip. In the end I decided to buy a copy of the Lonely Planet’s new, anniversary London guidebook (on sale for $20 at Myer last week). Although I am almost entirely digital in my workflow (on my Mac Book and iPad) and reading (with a Kindle), I will still prefer to pop this in our day pack as we wander around and not risk the iPads being stolen or lost.

Our other (mild) defence against theft is to disguise the iPads. I really love iPad DODOCases. They are hand-made in San Francisco by a traditional book binding company and make your iPad look like a hard cover book. Hopefully less attractive to thieves?! Here is a picture of Oliver’s new cover — outside and inside — and my cover. They are really sturdy and beautifully made.

My last “on the move” tip for today is the Cash Passport. Normally when I travel I take a small amount of the local currency and then withdraw money at ATMs at my destination. I’ve run into a couple of problems with this strategy: not being able to find an ATM when I need it or the ATM not spitting out the cash but deducting my balance anyway. My bank also charges a hefty fee for the cash advance and the exchange rate is pretty lousy. This time I am using a multi-currency Travelex Cash Passport. You buy it at a Travelex branch or online before you leave and load it with amounts of the currencies you need. So I have one loaded with pounds and with euros. Unfortunately I can’t load kroners on it. You get two cards (with different pins) in case you lose one or one is stolen. You can check your balance online and reload the card if you need to. Most importantly, the Cash Passport is partnered with MasterCard, so you can use it at any ATM or point of sale that accepts MasterCard. I bought mine on Friday and locked in the exchange rates (which are falling for the Australian dollar).

So we are nearly all set. In these last few days we’ll be picking up dry cleaning, washing clothes we want to take (and wearing all our daggy clothes!), packing, getting together paperwork, backing stuff up on Dropbox, etc etc.

Any last-minute (or not really that last-minute compared to when other people pack) tips for us?

Carry on only?

I just received an interesting email from Cindy Heazlit of LadyLight Travel. She writes:

Hi Amanda,

I noticed your posts on WordPress. Have you considered going carry on (hand luggage) only in your travels? It will make your lives easier, especially if you are taking public transportation. If you would like to try it I recommend as the very best site. I’ve linked to a great article on a family that did it:

Cindy Heazlit

To be honest, I didn’t think of taking just carry on for this trip or any recent trips. Oliver and I will be taking one carry on backpack each and one medium sized wheelie suitcase each (check in). I don’t think just carry on would suit us for at least four reasons: (1) I’ll be attending two academic conferences, including one where I will be a Keynote Speaker, so I will need to bring dressy clothes as well as casual clothes; (2) conferences usually involve all day sessions and then after hours (work) socialising, so not much time for washing out and drying clothes; (3) I worry about the weight limits of carry ons; on my most recent international trip the limit was 7 kg; and (4) I need somewhere to put of all the shopping Oliver and I intend to do at Legoland!

In the years I have been travelling to conferences I have noticed some interesting changes in the luggage people carry. In the US, people used to carry on enormous amounts of luggage with inevitable tussles over overhead bin space. But on a trip to Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Francisco late last year I noticed that restrictions were now in place for the amount of carry on.

But I’ve always been interested in minimising the amount of luggage and being a more efficient packer. And I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, which Cindy covers in detail on her website. People who know me know that I wear a lot of navy, which is a good colour to build a capsule wardrobe around.

Anyway, thanks for the suggestion Cindy. Visit Cindy’s blog to read more about one bag travelling!

20 days to go, the packing list

Amanda says:

I am a big believer in the “trial pack”; laying out all your stuff and checking that it fits in your luggage before departure day. I’m also a big believer in a suitcase with a “gusset” zip so you can undo it when your bag gets too full and get some extra room. That way you can hit the shops and not worry about fitting all your purchases into the suitcase or trying to smuggle it home in your overweight hand luggage (and breaking your back in the process).

I like to be organised for my flights. I do not like to pack at the last minute. So already I am starting to think about what we will be taking and what I will be packing it in.

So in that spirit, here are my top 5 items to pack (apart from passport and money):

  1. my Kindle and cover with integrated light, which not only saves space in my carry on bag but saves me money when I’m browsing the airport bookstores (the cover with light is especially good because I can read on the plane without the overhead light on)
  2. noise cancelling headphones for the plane
  3. some of these mesh bags to store my plugs and cables and some of these packing cubes to sort the clothes in my bag
  4. a change of clothes in my carry on bag in case my luggage doesn’t make it (touch wood it doesn’t happen this trip) or just to freshen up after 24+ hours in transit
  5. some comfy clothes for the hotel room and comfy shoes for all the walking we will do

I am a bit of a Crumpler luggage fan boy. For this trip I have a new Crumpler backpack as my carry on so I have hands free to help Oliver with his luggage. Here’s a picture …


Oliver says:

My top five items to pack are:

  1. my iPad mini, which I got as an early birthday present for this trip
  2. sunglasses
  3. a camera
  4. my travel diary (something like this)
  5. my guide books, including this one for London

What are your must pack items?