Independent Travel – Being Your Own Travel Agent

Living in New Zealand I have always booked long haul (i.e. further than Australia) – flights via travel agents – until this trip. After being quoted over US$2100 (NZ$3100) for return airfares to Europe via Asia in what should be low season (November) and also had problems getting the return dates I wanted in January I decided to do it myself instead.

I looked a bit further into budget airlines. After several days of research, double checking dates I ended up with an itinerary which looks like this:

Wellington-Melbourne Qantas on air miles
Melbourne-Kuala Lumpur Air Asia
Kuala Lumpur- Langkawi Air Asia
Krabi – Kuala Lumpur Air Asia
Kuala Lumpur – London (Stansted) Air Asia
Munich – London (Gatwick) EasyJet
London – Cork Ryan Air
Cork London Air Lingus
London – Kuala Lumpur Air Asia
Kuala Lumpur – Melbourne Air Asia
Melbourne – Wellington Qantas on air miles

Waitangi Park, Wellington, New Zealand

All of saved me US$700 on the trip. There are  few tricks you need to know though before you attempt this.

Other options out of this part of the world are Tiger Air (ex Australia) and JetStar (ex Australia, ex New Zealand from 2011).

Flight Booking Order
Once you have decided to book flights – have all the information lined up – each traveller’s passport and the dates you want to travel on. Be very cautious of flights that arrive at midnight and make sure you know which day they are on.

Do some dummy runs – to check prices – you will have to go right the way through to (but not including) entering your credit card details to confirm the prices.  Check dates on either side to see if there is a significant difference.

Once you are ready to book – double check everything – use the agent’s trick of reading aloud the information on the screen before you click confirm. Get a friend to listen to you preferably. Book the most expensive or longest sectors first and work out from there.

Credit Card Fraud Alert
All three off shore airlines (Air Asia, EasyJet and Ryan Air) alerted my credit card company to possible fraud, the company called me – fortunately I was answering the phone and all was OK. It would not have been OK if I had been doing this away from my contact numbers though – so advise your credit card company before you try to book flights – particularly those that don’t originate in the country you are booking from (the airlines know where in the world you are booking from).

Cheap Tickets Don’t Guarantee Connections
If you have an expensive ticket with a full-service airline and the connecting flight from say New Zealand is 6 hours late and you miss the connection – no problem the airline will put you up and rebook you at no extra cost. This is not the case with cheap fares – if you miss the second flight you will lose the ticket and have to buy another (more expensive) one.

The exception is that Air Asia now guarantees connections through KL for Australia to London flights. Otherwise I’d suggest you incorporate a stop over.

No Travel Agent To Hold Your Hand
Travel agents can be helpful – good ones will remind you to:

  • ensure that you leave the airport’s minimum transit time between flights (though see above I’d recommend much more) – usually 2 to 4 hours
  • advise what visas you will require
  • tell you to buy travel insurance
  • leave plenty of time to get to the airport – and sometimes to check in over the web to avoid extra charges and delays at the airport (Ryan Air, Air Asia)
  • check which vaccinations are recommended for the countries you are travelling to

So if you have never travelled independently before, especially internationally then agents can be quite useful.

One thing they do is monitor the flights you have booked and tell you when flight times change (as they do from time to time). With cheap flights you will need to be onto any potential changes and keep an eye on your on-line booking (usually via the airline’s website).

And travel may be ticketless these days – but its not paperless. You will need to print out copies of your e-tickets for almost all flights – certainly all international ones. Telling the immigration officer that your proof of onward travel is on your netbook or iPhone isn’t going to cut it.

Packing List – For Warm and Cold Weather

OK – well we’ve talked about packing for cold weather and packing for the beach so the obvious next post – is what if you are combining several distinct climates on one trip.  With some luck (or some planning) – you will have cold and then hot – or hot and then cold. This way you can ditch – or mail home the clothing you will no longer need, and/or buy the stuff you will need as you arrive in the new climate zone. You packing list doesn’t have to remain constant!

Photo: Jay Morrison via

The cold weather gear is the expensive and heavier stuff to carry particularly a good pair of a walking shoes (you’ll wear sandals in the tropics), and good waterproof jacket (in the tropics you will get wetter under it with sweat than from the rain falling – use an umbrella instead).  If you are doing cold second and transiting through the same city twice – then leave your gear in an extra bag at the hotel and collect it when you return – most places in Asia will do this for free or next to nothing – if you stay with them of course.  If you are going on to hot weather after cold – consider mailing your warm gear home to yourself.

Items I almost always buy – and give away while travelling include:

  • sun hats – almost impossible to carry, and baseball caps don’t count – you need a hat which protects the back of your neck particularly;
  • umbrellas – these appear for sale as soon as it rains in the tropics – they are much more effective protection than a rain coat – and will stop you pack getting soaked through  – these can be useful in cold weather too so long as its not windy
  • warm hat and gloves – too limited a use and too cheap to buy as required
  • light weight shirts and shorts – available in any tourist area – cheap and usually will have fallen apart after a few weeks anyway – or bring old stuff and throw it as you leave the climate zone.

Ultra lightweight travellers almost always stick to warmer climates – so the reality is if you have to carry warm weather gear its going to take  up a bit more space – on the other hand if you are wearing it then it makes little difference to the size of your pack.

One other trick if the only cold weather you will get is on the way to the airport in your home country – or on the way home  – try to get friends to drop you. Then give them the heavy winter gear at the airport and ask them to pick you up with extra jackets on the way home!

Packing List for Europe in December

Yup – really – we are flying straight out of Malaysia and into Europe in early December. I already wrote about my warm weather packing list which is frankly the easy part – so how to pack for the cold and potential snow of Europe?


Louvre, Paris - under snow Photo: mireira via


First I should probably point out that this is not a ski trip – and most of Europe doesn’t get that cold – the snow on the Louvre is pretty but hardly typical. I never managed a white Christmas in London. This list is for temperatures down to about 0C and rain – oh lots of rain!

As I mentioned before – I have stuff that is on my packing list for  every trip:

  • 3 pairs of cotton underwear, bras, swimsuit (lots of spas in Europe)
  • prescriptions and glasses (I’m blind without them so a spare too)
  • sarong – most multi-use device ever invented
  • traveller’s towel, shampoo (replaces soap and laundry powder too), travel clothes line,

For cold weather travel I obviously don’t need shorts or skirts.  I do however need a decent waterproof pair of light weight shoes or boots.  Wet cobbles, as featured on many European streets are slippery and hard – you need good shoes.

If you are going to a wet climate you need a decent waterproof coat – these are  often quite bulky – find the one that packs down the best – but is still genuinely waterproof.

The trick with packing light for a cold climate is to leave the bulk out. Sweatshirts and polar fleeces are a fail here because they are too bulky. Instead my extra outlayer is merino wool, fine warm, even when wet and expensive. Nothing else comes close though for warmth/bulk ratio.

The other half of keeping warm is thermal underwear – either the original polypro which can get a bit smelly – or newer (and more expensive) merino variations.

You will also need some warm socks – I take 2 pairs and they are usually wool or wool-blend for warmth.

I will probably need a hat and gloves and maybe a scarf –  I  tend to buy  those on the road.

Packing List – For The Beach or Warm Weather Vacation

Most people start their packing list with what clothing they want to take – to me its the least important part of my packing – I leave it to the end. Yup I’m a girl and I don’t think clothing is important – so shoot me! Frankly I don’t need to wear nice clothes to feel good about myself – I’ll settle for clean – on vacation or elsewhere.

The Author Makes a Fashion Statement, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

So what would my packing list check list look like? Something like this:

Every trip:

  • 3 pairs of panties – underwear – light weight cotton – doesn’t matter they won’t last the trip anyway. You can by super expensive, dry before you hang it up, survive for years stuff- or just use old ones and replace as required (every couple of months in my experience);
  • bras – two pairs – I hate underwired bras and this all you can get in most of the world so I sometimes take 3 if I don’t think they will last the distance;
  • sarong – can double as a sheet, towel, bag as well as be a skirt, a shawl, a dress
  • swimsuit – usually a 2-piece tankini as it can double as underwear or even as an dressy top.
  • prescription medicines, prescription glasses and a spare (because I am blind without them – or I’ll get another pair really cheap on arrival if I am flying to Asia).
  • shampoo (doubles as soap and laundry washer), toothbrush, toothpaste (small), travel clothes line, a micro fibre towel if I am travelling really, really cheap (many hotels provide them in Asia).

Warm weather trip

  • 1 pair shorts, loose, cotton not too short;
  • 1 skirt either knee length in less conservative countries or calf length for countries that are a) conservative and b) don’t provide much more than a ladies side of the bus for conveniences.
  • a lightweight pair of trousers for flying and when the mosquitoes are out in force
  • a light sweatshirt or similar for planes and if I am going up any hills – often surprisingly cool even in the tropics
  • soft light T-shirt which is mainly for sleeping but could also be a top if I need it to be., and is often sun protection over the swim suit.
  • a couple of short-sleeved shirts – silk or light weight cotton.
  • Teva or similar sports sandals.
  • suntan lotion, insect repellant (tend to be cheaper at home)

I’ll probably buy on location

  • sarong as above if I don’t already have one
  • a sunhat – the good ones are rarely packable
  • an umbrella – a great deal more useful that a waterproof coat in the tropics
  • mosquito coils and matches

So by my count that gives me 4 bottoms (including the sarong) and 4 tops (including the tankini) – if you are clever with the colours and patterns they should all go together.   Black is not ideal for warm climates so I avoid it, and white for obvious reasons. I generally go for patterns on the top – to hide the dirt and khaki or mid blues on the bottom. One of the shirts will nicely coordinate with the tankini – for the whole beach to resort fancy restaurant look – trust me it works (and you don’t need a bra that day either!). Packing light is really quite easy – if you remember that almost every location will have shops.

Should I Take A Laptop Traveling?

As I work online for a living I need a laptop when traveling – but your mileage may vary. You need to step back though and work out what you’d actually use the laptop for? The world is full of Internet cafes – so they may be a reasonable alternative if all you want to do is check your email and update Facebook once a week.

Asus EEEPC Netbook is Going On My Next Trip

Why Do You Want a Laptop When You Travel

Common answers are:

  • a bit of web surfing, update my travel blog, write some emails

I’d suggest you consider going without one, frankly for ease of writing a diary – its hard to go past pen and paper, never needs recharging, resistant to moisture (within reason), can operate out of range – of everything including power

  • heavy duty video editing and photo graphic work
  • Ouch – you are going to need a decent machine – probably a Macbook or a high end lightweight Sony Vaio or similar. Frankly you are going to be spending quite a lot of time and muscle looking after it.  You will probably want to spend a bit more on higher priced private rooms and consider taking taxis rather than buses depending on where you are travelling.

  • running a business online or remotely
  • To be this is the only real reason why you’d need to be carrying your own netbook or laptop. I need to regularly check in with contractors, update documents, manage websites and correspond with clients. Although I could all of this from public machines its more secure and easier for me to have my own machine running my own password remembering app, it also makes it easier to work in quieter areas when I can get wireless in my room rather than competing with the teenage gamers in the Internet cafes.

    Most people ask – should I take a laptop/netbook/iphone – the question is as unanswerable as “how much does it cost to travel” – it all depends.

    Deciding to travel with any gadget because everyone else does, your mother wants you too, or you think it vaguely might be a good idea without actually knowing – sounds like a good reason for leaving that item home.

    Can You Afford To Loose Your Laptop?

    Never, ever take anything with you that will upset you i you lose it, have it stolen or drop it in the sea when boarding a speedboat in Thailand. If its very valuable double check that you have insurance for it – don’t just assume you are covered. But remember too you will still be seriously out of pocket even if the company believes your story.

    Remember too – the data on your laptop is the really irreplaceable stuff – especially if it includes losing all your travel photos.  This really needs you probably need both a second drive and a cloud backup option such as SugarSync that allows you to backup as many directories as you want and is also handy for sharing files between computers.

    You Can’t Just Travel With a Laptop

    Part of the problem is that you need more than just a laptop. At a minimum you also need:

    • power cable/transformer (and some of them are heavier than the flipping laptop – check that if you are buying);
    • plug adapter assuming you are leaving your home country;
    • an external hard drive, or pen drive to backup your laptop which should NEVER be in the same bag as the laptop;
    • some decent case to protect the fairly delicate electronics (closed cell foam is best );
    • a plastic bag to keep it  all dry;

    So should a laptop or netbook be on your packing list – to be honest I don’t know – only you can form a rational answer to the question.

    Packing Lists – Sensible Ones This Time

    Its been a while since I have done a lot of reading of travel blogs – but this has now all changed and after finding some woeful examples packing lists I then discovered some pretty sensible ones. But I admit they are both packing lists that fit my style of travel – so I should maybe describe the style of travel these varies from others.

    Backpacks On the Way to Koh Phi Phi, Thailand Photo: saucy_pan via flickr
    • I’m backpacker – I intend to carry my bag, not pay porters.
    • I travel overland by public transport – I need to get  through turnstiles onto a train platform or onto a bus – without gymnastics
    • I travel long-haul on cheap airlines – and I don’t like paying overweight fees.
    • I’m old and lazy – I don’t do gym workouts for fun.
    • I’ve travelled enough to know that you can buy whatever you need, anywhere, and usually for less than at home.
    • I’m girl – traveling with a guy – this only makes a slight difference.
    • I work online so I need to stay in touch.

    So who’s lists do I like:

    AdventureRob recently did a post on What Travel Stuff. What I liked about Rob’s list :

    • he knows that no one should ever travel with denim – ever.
    • he understands that if you need stuff – you can buy it – particularly in Thailand.

    What I disagree with:

    • I wouldn’t carry an two external hard-drives. If I carry an external hard drive – I don’t – my partner does if I have the netbook and vice versa. I do backup online to the cloud though using a neat little service called SugarSync. I also have a thumb drive.
    • I can’t see much point in having a cell phone – people have my email if they need to get in contact …

    Wandering Earl has gone even lighter weight than Rob when he writes about What A Permanent Nomad Packs. He makes the excellent the point that the length of time you travel for is pretty irrelevant. What makes the difference is the climate – and although is 7.5kg list would work for me in Asia (well I’m a girl so I’d add some bras and a tankini – which would substitute for underwear and a dress up top). The big difference is climate. Now Earl admits to a warm weather guy – but he’s heading to Turkey and Syria soon – now I hit Turkey in March – and admired the snow on the minarets – and litterally froze my – well all parts of my body – at Crac de Chevalliers in Syria in April – I really think Earl might need something windproof/waterproof and a warm layer.

    So what is my packing list? – Have to wait for next time!

    World’s Stupidest Packing Lists

    I have travelled a great deal and basically – unless I am doing competitive dancing – (not a joke I do) – I take less and less. Even was I young and fit I couldn’t be arsed carrying around a 80litre pack – now I am older and less fit – I am even less inclined to. And do’t even talk to me about wheeled luggage – assuming you want to leave the airport that is – inside the airport wheels are great!

    Less is always better... Photo: Shanghai Daddy via flickr

    So before  I shared how and why I pack – I thought I would talk about some really dumb packing lists – I found them pretty easily – I Googled “travel packing list” – after all Google is the greatest search engine isn’t it – so surely it should know which are the best packking lists? Well actually it came up with a couple which weren’t bad – but here are some of the howlers I found on page 1:

    Your Caribbean Travel Check List – huh I never mentioned the Caribbean – but even if  Iwas going there I don’t think I would be taking their recommendations of travellers cheques, shower cap, nightgown, spot remover (you or the nightgown) or calling cards (I think they mean the ones we used before cellphones not visitor calling cards..)

    Travellerspoint – did a little better – though they still wanted me to carry travellers cheques (and the receipts – so you invalidate the money back guarantee on them), a sleeping bag, “walkman” speakers (do they work with iPhones?), skis and ski boots (never travel without them) hair gel.

    Rick Steves claims to be all about light weight travel to Europe – but surely not with his packing list for women which includes 2 pairs of shorts and 2 pairs of pants and 2 skirts and (thankfully optional) – couple of dresses! And don’t forget the scarf ladies (what the hell do you do with a scarf anyways?)

    Packing Lists Online at least recognised that if I was travelling with children and doing a road trip I would probably be taking different items than if I was an ultra light backpacker with an interest in golf – but my extra light, no kids, female list still told me that I needed food and snacks for the journey (these will get you severly fined if you travel to import food into Australia or New Zealand), I would also probably need a beach mat …

    So what – you might ask would I recommend in a the way of packing list – well stay tuned …

    Angkor Wat Photos

    I have so many photos buried on my hard drive. Here are some of the better ones from Angkor Wat in January 2006. The place is so huge you will always hit some parts of the complex in the middle of the day when the light for photography is rubbish. I found the level of detail in the sculptures incredible

    Local Transport Angkor Wat
    Local Transport Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat's main moat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    The famous escape from the Temple of Doom Tree - Angkor Wat
    Jungle winning- Angkor War, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Farming? Fishing? Clearing the river? Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Detail, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat, Cambodia
    Angkor Wat Cambodia

    Air Asia – Cheap Long Haul From New Zealand

    I found out about Air Asia while living in Australia – but have just booked it while living in New Zealand – why? Because I am getting a return airfare to Europe for around NZ$1000 (US$700) less than the equivalent airfare on a full service airline. However it was an interesting process booking long haul airfares  – and along the way I learnt a few  pointers.

    First you will need a few things to start with:

    • some idea of what dates you want to travel and how flexible you can be
    • Air Asia route map: essentially from Australia they fly ex Perth, Gold Coast or Melbourne all to Kuala Lumpur. From KL there are regular flights to Stansted (near London, UK).
    • an exchange rate calculator – I like
    • if you are flying from New Zealand you will need to have your frequent flyer  points or other airfare options to Australia sorted out.
    • some thoughts on what extras you are going to pay for these include:
      • luggage
      • allocated seating – both extra room but also just to seat your party together
      • meals
      • comfort kit (blanket, eye mask etc – you get to keep this so you can buy once and reuse)

    Working Out Whether Air Asia Is Cheaper

    To find the acutal cost on any day – you will need to work your way through the booking system – this will include having to add passenger names and passport details – yes it will take a few hours. Finally though you will get to the “pay now” screen – and that is the real cost of the ticket.

    Recently Air Asia has stated that  Australia -UK flights can be booked as connection flights ie you can transit Malaysia rather than enter and leave immediately – and if the first flight is delayed you will be re-booked on a later flight. In general though – if you are making connections I’d leave at least 12 hours to be on the safe side.  We are overnighting  in both Melbourne and KL in both directions.

    You should probably look at buying travel insurance – though I’d avoid Air Asia’s upsell of travel insurance (be careful – its very easily to inadvertently accept it!). Though in general Air Asia’s flights will allow you to reschedule up until 48 hours prior to flying.

    Air Asia - Cheapest Flight New Zealand UK

    Connecting Flights with Long Haul Budget Airlines

    In general flights with airlines such as Air Asia are point to point. That means if, for example your connection to Melbourne is 5 hours late – and you miss your flight to Kuala Lumpur – tough luck – no one will be paying you for the extra costs involved – which include having to buy a new ticket to KL. (Not even your travel insurance from what I can tell).

    Where Do You Arrive in KL

    There is only one airport in KL – but the two main terminals are about 20km apart! Air Asia uses LCCT – the “low cost carrier” terminal. This is not the one connected to the super-fast train into KL. Instead you might as well take the upsell of the Air Asia bus to town for a few ringitt.

    Luggage and Cheap Flights

    Is a nightmare to be honest. Air Asia will allow you to buy between 15kg and 30kg – which is straightforward – but many of the European budget airlines only allow you one piece of luggage – 2 bags even if less than 20kg will mean you have to pay more (often more than the original airfare).  So if you intend to fly at your destinati0n as well- double check  the luggage requirements on ALL of your carriers – you certainly won’t get a waiver because you just flew into the country!