Saturday, 18 February 2012

Travel Films

There are a hell of a lot of films out there based on some type of travel. Roadtrips, vacations, round-the-world backpacking trips, there's a movie for everything. The best ones are the ones that inspire you to pack in your job and book a one way plane ticket the minute you finish watching it. Here are my top ten travel films that made me want to do just that.

The Beach
The ultimate travel film, with a hell of a good soundtrack. If you haven't seen this film and you are an aspiring backpacker, watch it, then watch it again. Based on the book by Alex Garland, it tells the story of backpacker Richard who lands in Bangkok, "the gateway to South East Asia", looking for something different, for adventure, for experiences. He finds that, and more when he is given a map which leads to a unknown, breathtaking beach which offers a new way of life. It inspired me and probably thousands of other backpackers to travel to Koh Phi Phi.

Into The Wild
This is a real emotional roller-coaster of a film with stunning scenery and a beautiful soundtrack. Based on the moving novel by Jon Krakauer about the true story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp. Christopher was an Emory University graduate who abandoned everyone and everything he knew before giving his $24,000 savings to Oxfam International and following his dream of travelling into the Alaskan wilderness, far away from civilization, to find himself. He met people on his travels who would go on to have a huge influence upon him.
"Happiness only real when shared." - Christopher McCandless.

One of the most successful films to ever come out of Australia. I watched this for the first time the first night I arrived in Sydney. My sister and I had originally gone to watch the 127 hours premiere but it was sold out so we got tickets for this instead. A brilliant blockbuster movie about a team of underwater cave divers searching for an unexplored cave system which leads to the ocean. Spectacularly shot on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, there's a high chance you'll be booking yourself onto a flight down under before it's over, but perhaps not onto a caving expedition.

127 Hours
Not a typical travel movie in any sense of the word, although it has inspired me to want to see the canyons of Utah. Based on the memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. A true survival story about canyoneer Ralston who, during a solo expedition, became trapped "between a rock and a hard place." The night I went to see Sanctum in Sydney (the night of the 127 Hours premiere), I actually got to see Aron arriving to see the film about himself. He seemed to have such a kind, smiley nature, even after all he endured. He still climbs mountains and intends to climb Mount Everest. What a guy.

Sex and The City
The series that made a million girls want to see New York City. The subsequent films just added more girls to that number. There are even Sex and The City tours that run throughout the year in New York, taking people all over the city to see places such as Carrie's apartment and the famous New York Public Library, the intended location of her and Big's wedding.
The Hangover
"Some guys just can't handle Vegas." A hilarious tale of a trip to Las Vegas for a stag party that goes a bit awry when the groom goes missing during their drunken adventures. The three groomsmen must retrace their steps from the night before to find their friend, resulting in even more adventure that involves a tiger, a baby and Mike Tyson to name but a few. Bound to inspire anyone to want to see the bright lights of Las Vegas and have an adventure of their own.

Mamma Mia
Mostly filmed in the gorgeous Sporades Islands - a group of three islands in the east coast of Greece named Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos, this film has left me yearning to go island hopping in Greece someday.
Lost in Translation
This film came highly recommended from my friend Robbie (, so I watched it one night. If there's ever a movie to make you want to visit Japan, this would be it. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray play two bored Americans, in Tokyo for different reasons. They meet eachother and become unlikely companions, taking in the crazy Tokyo experience together.

Almost Famous
A semi-autobiographical road movie from Cameron Crowe about a young student who lands a job writing a story for Rolling Stone Magazine about an up-and-coming band as they tour around the USA. It's a heartwarming film about life, love and friendship with one of my favourite ever movie scenes, taking place in the band's tour bus ("Doris").

On The Road
An upcoming film to be released in 2012, based on one of the greatest books of the 20th century by Jack Kerouac. I hope they do it justice so it can stay on this list.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Travel Music

There have been a zillion articles written about finding that ultimate travel playlist. The one to listen to while you're driving with the roof back down the 101, or as you walk through the airport when you first arrive in Australia, or as you're sitting on the edge of the boat on the way to Koh Phi Phi. Here are my absolute favourite travel tunes.

Alexi Murdoch - Orange Sky
This is a gorgeous laid back folk song, perfect for just chilling out on a beach, watching the sun go down with people you love. Here's a beautiful video shot by someone living in Vancouver, of what looks like the most unbelievable sunset in the world. It has inspired me to add Vancouver to my list of places to spend time in.

Eddie Vedder - Music for the Motion Picture Into The Wild
WOW, just wow. There's no way of choosing a few tracks to recommend from this album, the whole thing is just genius. This soundtrack is the most perfect collection of songs ever written for a film. It is a rare instance where the film may even be better than the book, with a lot of help from Mr Vedder.

Phantom Planet - California
Old fans of The O.C will remember this one. Once that piano melody hits at the very start, you just imagine yourself driving down the 101 highway, without a care in the world. "On the stereo, listen as we go, nothing's gonna stop me now, California here we come."

Morcheeba - The Sea
I highly recommend the entire "Parts of the Process" album by Morcheeba as part of a travel playlist. This track is particularly chilled, perfect for kicking back on the beach and soaking up the atmosphere.

Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind
There are three songs about New York City that I love. This is one of them. Imagine yourself walking up the steps from the subway and seeing the architecture of Manhattan for the very first time with this song playing in your ears. Incredible.

Billy Joel - New York State of Mind
Written by Billy Joel upon his return to his native New York City after spending three years in Los Angeles, this is one of my favourite songs of all time. The beautiful saxophone solos and heartwarming lyrics make this a wonderful piece of music to listen to, whether you're in New York City or just sitting at home. You might find yourself booking a plane ticket though. "I'm in a New York State of Mind."

Jem - Just a Ride
This really is a jem of a song. Taking inspiration from the legendary stand up bit of the late great Bill Hicks. Here's the original quote from the man himself.

Bob Marley - Redemption Song
This song. So simple and beautiful. When I listen to this, I want to just sit around a campfire, eat banana pancakes, drink a Chang, forget about material shit and war and discrimination and just embrace the incredible beauty of the world we live in.

Joe Purdy - Wash Away (Reprise)
I discovered this song when I was watching an episode of Lost one day. It can't be that bad to be stuck on a desert island, right?

Alexi Murdoch - All My Days
Another beautiful laid back folk song from Alexi Murdoch. "I have been searching all of my days, all of my days. Many a road, you know, I've been walking on, all of my days." Perfect for sitting back and taking in the beauty of the world, and realising how lucky you really are.

Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
A classic. Not a song massively about travel, more about life. Taken from a column article written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune in 1997 called "Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young." I'll let you listen for yourself to realise how great the message is.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
Well, how could this not be here? The title track off my favourite RHCP album. As soon as I hear it, I just want to be out in the ocean surfing, with this playing down from speakers in the sky.

Elton John - Tiny Dancer
Mine and my sister's song! We've driven around in her car in our home town many times with this blasting from the CD player, singing our hearts out. I fell in love with it after watching Almost Famous, about a young high-school kid travelling around the USA with a band on tour. A brilliant car journey song. Try it.

Jet - Move On
A band from Melbourne. They mention Flinders Street Station in this particular song, this is where I got off the bus when I first arrived in Melbourne so it reminds me a lot of being there. "You should be happy just to be alive." A wonderful, meaningful track, this is the song to listen to when you first land in Australia.

John Mayer - Where The Light Is: Live In Los Angeles
Another entire album... When my sister and I drove up part of the Southern California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles, I stumbled upon this CD in a massive Walmart during a stop for roadtrip food. I think the only songs I'd heard by Mayer were "Waiting on the World to Change" and his popular cover of "Free Fallin'." On the merit of these brilliant songs, I bought it and it has become my favourite album of all time. Each time I listen to it, I'm transported back to that roadtrip and filled with joy. You'd think after listening to it so much for three days straight I'd hate it, but no, I absolutely love the entire thing from start to finish- and always will.

All Saints - Pure Shores
THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL TUNE. Probably most recognisable from The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. As soon as I hear that first beat, a smile comes across my face and I feel as though I'm right back in Thailand. "Take me to my beach..."

More unbelievably good songs that should be included in any decent travel playlist...
Rascal Flatts - Life is a Highway
The Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home
Eagles - Hotel California
Joe Purdy - San Jose
Joe Purdy - I Love the Rain
Keane - Walnut Tree
The Jazzual Suspects - This Beat
Gareth Dunlop - Dreamers
Tracy Chapman - Fast Car 
Patrick Watson - The Great Escape 
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
Damien Rice - Coconut Skins
Sara Bareilles - Many the Miles
Bright Eyes - Another Travelin' Song
Roger Miller - King of the Road
Youth Group - Forever Young 
Frank Turner - The Road
Patrick Park - Something Pretty
Fleetwood Mac - Landslide
Death Cab for Cutie - Summer Skin
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
Kings Of Leon - Back Down South
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Around the World
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Road Trippin'
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Soul to Squeeze
Frank Sinatra - New York, New York
Groove Armada - At The River
Moby - Porcelain
Jackie Greene - Travelin' Song

Happy travels!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Christmas in New York City

When I set off to see the world with my sister, the first place we landed was the big apple, New York City baby. It had always been something of a dream of mine to spend a Christmas there, so off we went. We landed at JFK on the day before Christmas Eve, ready to experience the greatest city in the world.
We stayed in a gorgeous little place, Broadway Hotel and Hostel on the Upper West Side, but on our budget, we stayed in a not-so-gorgeous room. It did the job, a set of bunk beds, a mirror and a sink, with a shared bathroom down the hall. Our room was next to another occupied by a man who'll be forever known as "the cougher", day and night, he'd cough cough cough. It was quite a horrific experience having to share a bathroom with him and the mysterious occupants of the other rooms who never seemed to come out, but hey, we were in New York, live and let live! The downstairs living area was the best thing about this hostel, the warm brown tones, comfy sofas and chairs and really friendly staff made this the perfect place to come back and chill out in, after long days exploring the city in the freezing winter weather.

We crammed in a lot of the classic New York Christmas things to do while we were in the city, as well as the big tourist attractions. We spent much of 23 December travelling, finding our hostel, unpacking and trying to adjust our body clocks. On 24 December, off we went to explore. Victoria and I decided to go check out Times Square (of course) and the crowds were unbelievable. We were literally moving around in a sea of people, but whoa, what an experience. I understand what Carrie Bradshaw meant when she said how much she just wanted to get 'pushed and shoved' in a crowd of people, it makes you feel alive! We escaped the cold weather and crowds outside, and went into the Times Square Toys 'R' Us. But whaddayaknow, more crowds, and I loved it! It was like something out of a movie, mothers running around grabbing the last things off the shelves for last minute gifts. The prices were outrageous in typical New York City fashion, but my sister splurged on a bag of sweets that, from what I remember, the price of ran into double digit dollar figures.

We managed to weave through the incredible crowds in Times Square and walk up to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree on Christmas Day. We saw the massive crowd of people waiting in line for the ice-rink, but thought "hey, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, being in New York at Christmas", so we joined the queue. A brother and sister and their Grandmother were just ahead of us in the queue and I remember overhearing the Grandmother saying to her grandkids that there were so many people waiting around, just so they'd be able to say "I ice-skated at the Rockefeller Center rink on Christmas Day!" It was so true, but I'm so glad we did it. About two hours later we finally made it onto the ice, had a whale of a time and then witnessed a guy get down on one knee in the middle of the cleared rink and propose to his girlfriend. The Christmas music playing along with hundreds of people standing around clapping was so heart-warming, I was so glad to be there at that moment with my sister. 
We decided on Planet Hollywood as our destination for Christmas dinner. It's funny how different places can be with regard to Christmas traditions. In the UK, the outside world is like a ghost town on Christmas day, people rarely leave their houses unless it's to ride their new bike or play in the snow. But in New York, everywhere was rammed, the queue for Planet Hollywood extended the whole way down the stairs and almost out the door, it was an experience.

One of the more emotional things we did in our first city was visit ground zero and the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. I was only nine years old when the World Trade Center was attacked, but I'd watched umpteen documentaries as they were always shown on the anniversaries, and I've always had such a dream of going to New York, thinking about the attacks made me feel unusually sad. The site had a lot of building work going on at the time for the memorial which I'd love to see in it's finished state. The visitor center was overwhelming, photographs, video, artifacts, it was emotional to walk through but I'm glad I paid it a visit, I recommend it to anyone visiting NYC (and students go free).

We, of course, headed to the top of the Empire State Building to take in the breathtaking view of the city. I had always wanted to climb the stairs the whole way to the top, but apparently it was the lift to the top, or not at all. Bummer! But that view, there really is nothing like it. I hadn't realised the magnitude of the buildings until I was up there, and seeing how perfectly aligned the roads are is strange when you come from a country where 'blocks' don't exist. We took our trip up at night, so saw the big city lit up in all it's glory.

On 26 December, the East Coast, especially New York was hit by a massive blizzard that left snow knee, sometimes thigh, deep. There were cabs BURIED under snow. Strangely, that was the day my sister and I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Looking back, I realise we were idiots, the winds were 65 mph and the snow made it pretty hard to see your hand in front of your face. But off we went, made it half way, and then were forced to turn back. But hell, it was certainly a laugh. Unfortunately the snow meant that the ferry to Liberty Island was cancelled until further notice, which meant we couldn't go stroll around inside the Statue of Liberty, but we did take a trip on the famous Staten Island Ferry. We were pretty disappointed about the Statue of Liberty, but it just gave us a reason to go back and visit NYC again in the future.

On one of the days when the snow was still falling, we took a trip over to Central Park. It amazes me how, in the middle of one of the busiest, most built-up cities in the world, there can be such a massive area of green land. One of my favourite things we did in the city was visit the Strawberry Fields memorial for John Lennon and see the Dakota building, which is located directly across Central Park West from the memorial Imagine mosaic. It was a beautiful thing to see, especially the plaque which names all of the nations which contributed to building the memorial. A wonderful place to go and remember the wonderful John Lennon.

When the snow stopped falling and the city was left with a massive white blanket, we took the subway to see Greenwich Village. It was literally like we'd left the skyscrapers and cabs and hussle and bussle of the city behind, and landed in the middle of a village nowhere near New York. On the corner of Grove St and Bedford St, is the building that was used as the Friends building in the credits of the show. Seeing that ruled! As lifelong fans of Friends, my sister and I were amazed to see it.

Our time in New York City had to come to an end, we were off to our next adventure in Washington, D.C. (And boy, was that an adventure!) 
I could go on forever about New York City, it's probably my favourite place in the world. There's so much I still have to see and experience... Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Statue of Liberty, a Knicks game, a Rangers game, a show on Broadway, the new 9/11 Memorial Site...

Look out New York, I'll back soon.

Friday, 10 February 2012


"So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty." ~Jack Kerouac, On The Road

Of the twenty years I've been alive, the freest and happiest I've ever felt was when I was on the road. There's something about travelling around with just a backpack that completely enchants me. Perhaps something of a cliché, but travelling makes you easy going. You learn to go with the flow, whether that means a spur of the moment trip across the border to another country or just an unexpected meal with friends you just met. It makes you learn to let things go and embrace "right here, right now." It encourages you to figure out who you are or who you want to be. There's nothing like taking a campervan around New Zealand to make you realise that seeing one too many fields can make you a little crazy. Living in a different town or city every few days is liberating, you're not tied down anywhere to pay bills or go to class or do the ritual nine to five. You are free, to do pretty much anything.

On my first trip, I travelled around North America, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia. Pretty much a classic backpacker route across the world, but a bloody brilliant one, and one which I wouldn't change. Throughout my blog, I'll write about the different cities and locations I travelled to, good and bad hostels, means of travel, on the road experiences, and a whole host of other travel-related stuff that I would like to give my two cents on. Most importantly, I'll be blogging about my travel plans for my next trip that I'm taking in 2014. You may read me go on about my savings plan, visas, budgets and plane ticket prices, but planning a trip is the first step towards getting on that first plane, it's half the fun, and I can't wait to get started.