Wanderer

My Favourite London Hotels

Today I’ve had three friends all ask me to recommend a hotel/hostel in central London, and as I started rambling, as I do, and listing places for them, again, as I do, I started to miss London. It only made sense to post something on here about it.

The Ones I’ve Stayed in in the Past:

Clink78, on Kings Cross Road. For a start, this building is 200 years old; it was once a courtroom, in fact, what is now the internet lounge was once the very courtroom where The Clash stood trial in 1978, which geek-me found rather exciting.

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All images for Clink Hostels are from here.

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I stayed here for two nights, and to be honest, I had to force myself to come back to Derby (lectures can be such an inconvenience). Prices start at ¬£12 for a mixed/girls only dorm (boys, you don’t get the choice of a men-only dorm, though I’m sure few of you would mind about that ūüėČ ). There are also ‘Deluxe girls rooms’ for ¬£15 which are a little bigger and include hairdryers, free towels and extra mirrors. I chose a ‘Deluxe girls room’, and it was just so pretty and peachy-pink; beautifully decorated and so cosy.

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Or, you have the option to stay in a private single/twin/double or triple room for ¬£40 or, best of all, a prison cell for ¬£50 – recently re-decorated so that it’s just as cosy as the other rooms, but they are English Heritage-listed with original prison features still in tact. I hear these are snapped up pretty much immediately though.

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I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

As for other old features of the courtroom, the magistrates court is now an internet lounge (¬£3 for 14 days unlimited wifi), again, English Heritage-listed. A second courtroom is now a TV and film lounge, with some bizarre red leather sofas. Possibly the comfiest I’ve ever been in my entire life was curled up on those sofas at 3am watching lord-knows-what and eating nutella cakes. The bar is also incredible.

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Go there.

*There is also a second Clink Hostel; Clink261, which you can find on Gray’s Inn Road. I haven’t stayed at this one, but it looks equally incredible (though I’d say the decor at Clink78 wins), as you can see, and prices are almost identical.

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Blue Skies Hostel. I clearly have a real thing for hostels/hotels that are renovated¬†somethings; courthouses, pubs, camper vans (I’m yet to find one of those), whatever.

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Photo from here.

This time, it’s a renovated pub. They need a better photographer for their website to really show it off for what it is (hint hint); beautiful. They haven’t stayed as far from the original style and feel of the pub as Clink78 have, but it’s still so¬†modern. You’ll find this gem next to Tulse Hill station, which of course makes it a little more out of the way than some of the hotels I’ve listed here, but transport into central London is piss-easy.

…I can’t help giggling, as 80% of my friends have either Londoners, born and bred, or spend as much time there as I do and therefore may as well be, and here I am blogging about London, despite knowing that the only people who will read this will sit there rolling their eyes and saying ‘yes, Emma, we¬†know‘. Sorry guys.

Anyway.

The Dictionary in Shoreditch. This hostel was only recently recommended to me in May by a friend, and I spent one night there in June. What is it with beautiful hotels filling their website with terrible photographs? Again, hint hint!

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Photo from here.

It’s percentage average on hostelbookers.com is 83.1%, and prices range from ¬£21 for a 13 bed mixed dorm to ¬£31 for a 4 bed mixed. Worth it. Best part is, the staff can always recommend great events around London to check out while you’re there, in fact, they have a page on their site purely for ‘What’s on’, from galleries to clubs to markets. Wifi is free, as is breakfast, and there are drinks discounts at certain times, on certain days, etc etc. It’s not a place to stay if you want to actually sleep and relax, though; everyone is always laughing, dancing. It’s just one big party, without the awful mess to clean up in the morning. If you wander outside at any time of night, you’ll find that the streets are still buzzing too, so seriously, don’t stay there if you want some quiet, unless you plan to bring ear plugs, though with dorms of up to 13 beds, they wouldn’t help much anyway. It’s Shoreditch; it’s expected.

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Photo from here.

Shoreditch House. This one definitely¬†isn’t¬†a hostel. They have some interesting rules for when you are within the club:

  • No Mobiles
  • No Cameras
  • No Suits
  • +1 Guests Only

It’s an interesting place to stay. Prices are generally ¬£200 for a night – double room – but if you book far enough ahead, at the right time of year, it can dwindle to about ¬£140, and I’ve heard that they can be as low as ¬£85 for non-members, though I don’t believe it.

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Photos from here.

I much prefer the madness of Clink78 and The Dictionary. There you can meet people and laugh and enjoy yourself, rather than having to behave like a responsible adult. But for those rare occasions that I accept my age, this place is perfect. For one, look at the beautiful restaurant!

The Ones I will stay in in the Future:

So,¬†Ace Hotels¬†are opening a new hotel in Shoreditch London this September. That’s going on the ‘to visit’ list, that’s for sure. I imagine room rates will be pretty affordable. They’re also teaming with local London businesses, such as That Flower Shop and I’ve heard rumours about indie coffee stores, both of which will also open shop within/alongside the hotel. Personally, I’m most excited about the d√©cor; each room will feature British Revo radios and record players! It’s so – dare I say it? Hipster. But good.

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Photo from here.

It doesn’t look like much so far, but I’m sure it’ll be amazing.

The Ritz.¬†One day I will stay here, even if it’s only in the cheapest room, though that’s still ¬£440 a night. ¬£570 including breakfast! Maybe one day I’ll be able to really¬†splash out and book the most expensive suite on their website: ¬£3600 a night, ¬£3660 with breakfast. Add it to the bucket list.

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Image from here.

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Images from here.

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Why my perspective towards RTW packing changed overnight…

I have 9 days left in England, and so I’m already well into the throws of packing, storing and selling my possessions. The memories of my aching back from last summer convinced me to buy a lovely little 1.6KG 55x40x20 suitcase to replace my quaint little 46x32x15 canvas pinstriped backpack. The only reason I upgraded in size was because I can stuff so much more into a backpack than a suitcase – do you find the same? I began by buying a suitcase that was almost identical in measurements as the backpack thinking, ‘ok, same size, just on wheels. Lovely.’¬†This suitcase, in fact.

Well the suitcase was almost fine, it easily fit my laptop (case and charger), my camera (lenses, cases and charger), about three outfits… and not much else.

So I went and bought the larger (but still suitable for a Ryanair flight) suitcase, and said to myself that it doesn’t matter if the case is bigger, I’ll still pack exactly what I packed last summer; as little as possible.

That was a week ago. Things have changed a little since then; I’ve realised a few things. I’ve always been a big believer that if you are travelling for three weeks, three months or three years, there is very little difference in how much you need to pack. I’ve never understood people who say ‘well I’m travelling for a whole summer, so I need 200 outfits. But then I started packing… and I realised,¬†as much as I love backpacking, and I’ve always loved having just a tiny backpack (except for the backache) to carry all I need for a few months, I don’t want to do that for longer than a summer. I want to live out of a suitcase.

This realisation started with a skirt. This skirt, actually:

Image from here.

This is my absolute favourite skirt, bought at H&M about a year and a half ago. Every time I travel, it gets left behind simply because it’s made of 10000¬†layers and would take up half of my backpack. I can deal with that, it’s only a skirt, it just means I wear it as much as possibly for a few months when I come back to England to make up for it. Except that this time, it managed to sneak into my suitcase… closely followed by¬†a pair of black kitten heels. I bought them back in March, broke my foot in April, and so I’ve never worn them besides a few times to break them in around my apartment. And they are just too beautiful to be a waste of ¬£20. And besides, I plan to stop and teach English when I start to run out of money.. I need a suitable outfit for work.

I do need to watch myself though; it’s easy to get carried away and start finding any excuse to justify everything in my wardrobe. A New Look LBD is trying to sneak it’s way in under the same excuse as the kitten heels; work clothes, but so far I’ve been stern and said no; a LBD can be bought anywhere if necessary.

I think my suitcase wardrobe is fairly finalised.

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  1. Pink Midi Dress. H&M A/W 2011. £20
  2. Green Skater Dress. Primark. £10
  3. A trusty black tank top (with lace trim)
  4. Satin cream 3/4 blouse. New Look. £16.99
  5. Nautical Striped top (mine is 3/4 and backless)
  6. Roll sleeved dusky blue t-shirt. New Look. ¬£4.99 (I’ve ripped up the back of mine)
  7. Baggy waterfall pink thin jumper. Vera Moda. £18
  8. White 3/4 Cardigan. H&M £6.99
  9. Black floral bralet.
  10. Brown tweed shorts.
  11. Black suede kitten heels. New Look. £6
  12. Cream/black pointed flats.
  13. Black brogues.
  14. Black waist belt.
  15. Pink scarf. New Look. £7.99

It’s all a bit more chic than my usual backpacking wardrobe, which consists of summer tea-dresses, gladiator sandals and short shorts. But then again, I’m not backpacking this time, I’ve living out of a suitcase, and so why can’t I bring one or two luxuries?

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25+ Ways to Earn Money on the Road

I always find it interesting learning about how people are funding their travels while on the move, especially as photography isn’t always the most reliable source of income, it is literally a feast or famine career, especially if I am going to be constantly moving about, never settling anywhere long enough to build a base.

Here are some of the money-making career choices and quirky ideas that I have heard about over the years:

  1. Freelance work. Photography, web design, illustration, legal work, admin. I could go on and on. Travel the world and work on beaches with your laptop. Perfect!
  2. Teach English. An option that I have been looking into. I’m in the middle of a 140 hour TEFL course at the moment, which will allow me to teach English in schools, privately, one-to-one, to children, adults and business men around the world. A very popular choice among travellers.
  3. Resort Jobs. Another popular option. Resorts worldwide are constantly on the lookout for staff for their reception, restaurants, or for the activities they hold.
  4. Hostels. Hostels are also an easy option. I did this for a few days here and there last summer, and I found that generally even if a hostel has no need for more staff at that time, they will usually recommend a ‘sister hostel’ that does. If you’re lucky they may even just allow you to linger for free – free¬†accommodation!
  5. Work Exchange. This is something that I want to try out this summer. WWOOF is probably the most well known organisation for this, and I’ve also heard things about HelpX.net. Basically in exchange for so many hours unpaid work (generally 4-6 hours), you receive free food and¬†accommodation. Mostly people will be working on farms, doing anything from helping with the harvest to helping in the kitchen. HelpX also includes some ads looking for help in B&B’s, hostels and on sailing boats!
  6. Fruit-picking. Popular in Australia. The pay can be a combination of payment per kilo, food or accommodation.
  7. House-sitting. Another one that I intend to try this summer. I have couchsurfed many times, but this one is taking it one step further: taking care of someone’s house while they are away. Rarely do you actually get paid for this, but you instead save money on accommodation! I’ve often heard about lovely home-owners stocking their kitchens with food for their sitters before they leave, so maybe if you’re lucky you can save money on food too! Mind My House and House Carers are two very good sites.
  8. Bar-tending. Easy cash-in-hand work. Just ask around.
  9. Cafe/Restaurant work. Same goes really.
  10. Cruise Ships. There are so many available jobs on cruise ships. Photographers, croupiers, waiters/bar staff, performers, retail staff, receptionists, spa staff, hairdressers and makeup artists. And then there are the much needed doctors and technicians. Options for everyone! You get to travel the world, its good pay, and its good work experience.
  11. Tour Guide. As a general rule, you can’t really survive as a tour guide if you can only speak English, though I have seen some English-only tours in cities like Rome and Paris, so it’s not impossible. You also have to, of course, know your stuff! Brush up on your history!
  12. Busking. Not an option for me unfortunately, my musical talents are pretty poor. 
  13. Au Pair. Its very case-by-case, but generally you are given a room and weekly payment in exchange for taking care of someone’s children.
  14. Teach people to play musical instruments. Again, not an option for me, my piano skills are very rusty and I can hardly read sheet music! But if you can play an instrument, why not advertise yourself as a private tutor?
  15. Teach whatever you know! So many other options. Yoga, dance, languages, surfing (apparently you don’t even have to be particularly good to be a surfing instructor, as long as you’re better than the paying beginners), scuba diving (if you are certified), photography. Again, I could go on
  16. Massages. I met a girl last year who was offering ‚ā¨5 massages in one of the most popular hostels in Paris and making enough that she could travel every month or two. Trust me, there’s nothing you want more than a full body massage after carrying around a heavy backpack all day!
  17. Hairdressing. A similar idea, and again I met a girl who was offering hair cuts in a hostel in Slovenia, and most of her customers were long-term travellers who had long neglected their hair.
  18. Selling goods. If you’re good at arts and crafts, you could always sell your produce online or at markets.
  19. Travel Writing. A tricky business, but if you work hard enough, you could find yourself sipping cocktails on various beaches around the world reviewing your travels as you go.
  20. Blogging. Another very tricky business and not one that is guaranteed to earn money. A lot of effort has to go into building up a blog.
  21. Working on a Yacht.¬†Not always paid, but websites such as DesperateSailors¬†and Find a Crew¬†are good for finding boats in search a crew members. Sailing experience will of course be necessary (seems obvious but the amount of backpackers I’ve met who have seemed shocked when they found they couldn’t just hop onto someone’s boat and catch a free ride).
  22. Tour Operators. General tasks include greeting people as they arrive, making sure that groups remain organised and leading them to their tour bus.
  23. Construction Work. If you have experience, this can be a good option for short-term cash-in-hand (payment under-the-table) work.
  24. Acting. I’ve heard that if you linger around the Colaba area of Mumbai, no matter what you look like, soon enough you’ll be approached by a scout and asked if you would like a part in a Bollywood film. This is also common in Kenya and apparently they pay isn’t bad!
  25. Be Creative!¬†I’ve heard some pretty quirky and very creative ways of making money on the road over the years. You could work as an English sign editor, meaning that you literally wander around offering to correct English spelling and grammar mistakes on signs and menus in exchange for a small payment. In Japan it is common for women to hire out their thigh as an advertising space! They are paid to wear a temporary advertising tattoo on their thigh for one day, the only rule being that regardless of weather, they must wear a skirt/shorts.¬†There are also apparently vending machines in which women can sell their dirty underwear, but I can’t say that’s one I’ll be trying. One of my favourite money-making ideas came from traveller Michael Wigge, who once set up a spot on a street in San-Fran offering people the chance to pillow fight in exchange for a few dollars. Very good stress release. I tried this in Milan, just out of curiosity, and make ‚ā¨150 in two hours. Particularly popular, I’ve found, between stressed out businessmen, and therefore I recommend saving this one for busy cities like London or New York. You can see Wigge’s top 5 quirky ways to make money while travelling here.

I’d love to hear how everyone funds their travels while on the move!

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In a perfect world…

…if my camera, tripod and laptop were all as light as a feather and I had ¬£1000 to blow on a backpack.. I’d go for one of these:

Ghurka KILBURN RS No. 231  - Khaki Twill

Ghurka Twill CAVALIER I No. 96

Ghurka EXPRESS No. 2 - Vintage Chestnut

Ghurka PONTOON II No. 233 - Chestnut

Ghurka Luggage. In Love.

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The Big Luggage Dilemma…

I have this problem every time I go travelling. In fact, I think everyone has this problem before they go travelling: Backpack or suitcase?

Backpack:

Up until now, I’ve mostly always travelled with one of these:

And yes, I know I should have bought a lighter, specifically fitted to my torso measurements, women’s rucksack. Tried it, ended up with crippling back pain. So I bought this, and yes, after a month of carrying around my camera equipment, I still have back pain, but in my eyes, if my back hurts either way just from carrying around so much equipment, I may as well buy a smaller, fashionable bag than struggle with something ugly. And I hate looking like a backpacker.. like this:

I like that so many people don’t really know what I’m doing. They look at me and think ‘ok, that bag’s too small for a backpacker.. but too big for a local.. who is this girl?!’ and then they ask me, and we start talking, and then we add each other on facebook.. rather than just being another backpacker who blends in with the 1000000 others.

If I could, I’d take the canvas backpack on all of my travels, but I just can’t see my back surviving months – or more likely,¬†years of carrying around all of my photography equipment and laptop on my back. I’m just not strong enough, in fact, I’m a teeny tiny little woman who has never set foot in a gym in my life!

However, for someone who doesn’t have to carry around bulky cameras with them, I honestly strongly recommend a small canvas backpack like that one (¬£20 on Amazon!) For a start, as I said before, it’s a conversation starter. And you just don’t need a huge great big backpack that is practically as tall as you are, like most backpackers seem to think they need. What could they possibly have in there that they really need?!

On my last travels, I managed to squeeze into my little 46x32x15cm rucksack:

  • Canon 5D Mark II with two lenses & charger
  • Mini polaroid camera and film
  • IPad & charger
  • Manfrotto travel tripod
  • Clothes! Two tops, one thin jumper, jeans, a dress and a maxi skirt.. and underwear!
  • Makeup and toiletries
  • The compulsory copy of On the Road that I have to take with me whenever I travel, and a journal and pen. Done!
  • And then the obvious.. passport, wallet, documents.. etc etc

I can fit all of that into a tiny rucksack, what on earth do people fill their huge ‘backpacking backpacks’ with?!

Pros

  • Literal definition of ‘backpacking’
  • Better for rugged, off-the-beaten-path travelling
  • Easier for carrying up and down stairs
  • Perfect for camping/hiking
  • Both hands are free while walking (useful for shooing away beggar children)

Cons:

  • Back pain is a common problem
  • Heavy. Can be tricky to lift onto back as well as then having to walk around wearing it.
  • Harder to organise belongings.
  • Almost impossible to stop clothes from creasing!
  • More of a target for pickpockets

Suitcase:

Nevertheless.. the backpack is being replaced this time. I don’t want to come back to England (if and when I ever do) with a hunchback. I’m going for a teeny tiny 20cm suitcase. Something similar to this:

Most of the time I can just wheel it along behind me, but there are options for carrying a suitcase when it is not possible to pull them along. Monkey straps are an option (http://www.monkeystrap.com/order.php), though I could save myself $30 and spend a few pounds making one, they’re basically just backpack straps sewn to a few adjustable buckle straps and then a¬†separate¬†luggage strap is used to lock it all around my suitcase.

Front View Front View

No doubt I’ll be posting a tutorial on that at some point…

Pro:

  • More accessible, you are not rummaging for things!
  • No back ache!
  • Easy to wheel around
  • Hard cased suitcases are much more durable
  • It fits better into small spaces. Or so I’ve found. Even if I had a small backpack and larger suitcase, once I’ve filled the backpack, there is always one odd little lump that means the backpack won’t quite fit into a space (usually the annoying Ryanair measuring ‘cage’), and then I therefore have to rearrange my entire backpack to try and bring it back down to an acceptable size.
  • Pickpockets are no longer an issue
  • Better structural protection of possessions & souveniers

Cons:

  • Cobbles and uneven surfaces can be a pain in the bum!
  • Carrying up and down stairs even more so..
  • Not suitable for hiking or camping (but very much suitable for glamping)
  • I’ve found if you only have one free hand, beggar/gypsy children swarm you.
  • You look more touristy and therefore you’re also swarmed by people trying to coax you into expensive hotels etc etc

Suitpack/Backcase:

I’ve never tried out one of these bad boys, but I’m frequently told that they’re the way to go. It’s just a matter of balancing out requirements that can prove tricky: if I choose a backcase/suitpack with extra light wheels, they may turn out to be flimsy and useless, but if I go for strong, sturdy wheels, how much weight will that be adding to my back when I have to carry it?

Pros:

  • Combines the pros of backpacks and suitcases
  • Avoid backache from carrying but also easy to carry if necessary

Cons:

  • Wheels tend to make the bag significantly heavier
  • Less protective than hard-cased suitcases.

Overall…..

I may be leaning towards something like this:

Cabin Max wheeled backpack. 44L Carry on size (55x40x20). It’s not as pretty as I’d like… but it looks like I’m going to have to be sensible for once and choose practically over fashion… though they do also have it in purple!

I have 50 days before I leave. 50 days to make a decision!

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Travel Gadgets…

As a photographer, I can’t travel gadget-free, as much as sometimes wish I could. I need my camera, and therefore lenses, memory cards, card reader, laptop, hard drives, chargers for everything… blah blah blah.

In the past I have always left my laptop at home, which has never been a problem. I can always find somewhere to empty out memory cards onto online storage and the external hard drive that I always take with me, and last summer I purchased an IPad 2, which has gotten me out of quite a few jams this past year (I’ve lost count of how many times I have found myself stranded at 1am and the IPad has helped me find a bed for the night).

However, as this time I won’t be coming home for uni in September, the IPad is going, and the laptop is coming with me.

So.. my gadget essentials:

  • Product Image¬†I’ll have to sell both of my laptops (I never did find time to sell my old one…) and my IPad and buy myself a new laptop. Mine is brilliant but so bulky, with a 15in screen, and so heavy, its just not practical for travelling. I’m a little torn… do I finally give in and switch to Mac and go for a teeny tiny 11in Macbook Air, or stick with PC and buy a 13in Dell XPS13?¬†image¬†To be fair, they’re pretty much identical, the XPS13 is definitely a Macbook Air clone.. but do I go Mac or PC? 11in or 13in? 1.08kg or 1.36kg? Decisions, decisions…
  • My Canon 5D Mark II. The most important thing in my suitcase (as well as the lenses that go with it, of course!) For months I wondered if I should upgrade to the Mark III.. but no, I decided that I’ve been perfectly happy with my Mark II for two and a half years now, and it has never given me any trouble (touch wood), so why upgrade just because everyone else is? For tech geeks.. you probably already know everything there is to know about it as its now oh-so-vintage. 21.1MP, 3.9 frames per second, ISO range to 6400 (expandable to) 25600)… etc etc. I love it.image
  • Lenses.. I only take two with me now days, as I find any others just sit in my bag… and I’m just such a minimalist when it comes to photography.¬†image¬†50mm f1.8 Canon lens. Prime lens. So teeny tiny and uber light so perfect for travelling. It’s rare that I push the f/stop above 1.8, as I’m way too obsessed with dreamy, blurry backgrounds. I solely use it for portraiture and fashion.¬†image¬†24-105mm f4 Canon lens. Much bulkier, bigger and heavier than the 50mm, but basically its my ‘for everything that the 50mm can’t do’ lens. Eventually I’ll switch it for the 24-70 f2.8, but right now I’d rather spend my money on making memories to photograph rather than on the equipment used to capture it (I mean, we’re talking about ¬£820 for the 24-105mm compared to ¬£1800 for the 24-70mm.. that’s ¬£1000 difference!!). I can think of several photography friends of mine who will read that with disgust, so I’m sorry!
  • The little thought of stuff that comes with my Canon. Charger.. battery.. spare battery (I only ever use Canon batteries).. several memory cards. Personally, mine are never bigger than 4GB; I like to spread my images out across dozens of memory cards and have to switch card every half an hour. As mildly irritating as that can be at times, I’d rather do that than risk losing more than 100-150 RAW files if something happens to one card. And I only ever use Sandisk Compact Flash Cards. I used to carry around a memory card reader, but now I have a multi-charger pack which also fits my camera-to-laptop perfectly.
  • image¬†I always take one of these, A Yoobao 11200mA portable battery pack, just because I tend to wander for a few days off the beaten track and then find myself needing to charge my laptop so that I can get onto the Couchsurfing website, or whatever. ¬£20 on Amazon, so definitely worth it.
  • Worldwide plug adaptor. Because it’s just so much more practical buying one plug that can work in any country rather than collecting various adaptors as I travel around the world. Personally I use the Micropix Worldwide USB travel adaptor, which is designed to work in over 175 countries.¬†image¬†which cost me about ¬£4 on Amazon. Most of my hitchhiking friends have instead spent more and bought either the ¬£9 Swiss travel adapter or ¬£16 Skross travel adapter, but after two years, my Micropix is still working fine for me.
  • External hard drives.. these are really as important as my laptop and camera. I’ve tried dozens of portable hard drives over the years, and there are only two that I would trust to take travelling with me:¬†image¬†Toshiba STOR.E Basics 1TB portable hard drive. They’ve never yet let me down (touch wood), though I make sure that when travelling I carry it carefully in a very padded case.. you can never be too careful. At the moment its about ¬£70-80 for a 1TB, or ¬£45 for 500GB. Worth it.¬†image¬† ¬† ¬†Or, I use LaCie Rugged Hard drives, which seem to be a favourite with many travel/travelling photographers. They already come with their own casing, so that’s one less thing for me to think about, though I just use the HDD Hard case recommended for LaCie hard drives for my Toshiba¬†imageFor long, long travels like this one, I take two 1TB hard drives, and I use online storage too… I’m a little paranoid about losing images to say the least.

And that’s it.. no teeny tiny hair dryers or straighteners or ridiculously small and useless irons. This lot already takes up enough space in my bag, thank you very much!

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