Category Archives: Assignments

10 Creatures That Can Kill You in Australia

So you’re going to Australia. You’re going to dive the Barrier Reef, drive the Great Ocean Road, sleep in a swag under the stars, root a sheila in a dunny. Slow down friend, before you go Down Under it’s important to know that Australia is not all billabongs and kookaburras that sit in old gum trees. The place is choc-a-block with a menagerie of venomous, sharp-teethed, flesh-eating stingers, biters and slashers. It’s no wonder Russel Crowe is so cranky – the amount of deadly creatures lurking around every corner is enough to put anyone on edge.

Luckily for you, with your soft, vulnerable skin and pathetic lack of venom, you have this handy guide to Australia’s little assassins.

 1. Blue-Ringed Octopus

“Awww cute!” you think as you peer through your rented goggles, spluttering as salty water splashes into your snorkel. An octopus no larger than a golf ball clings to a head of coral, its bright blue rings glowing up at you, beckoning you to come closer.

Even as it bites you, you think, “That’s not so bad, I just feel a little tingly.”

But beware this tingly kiss of death! The blue-ringed octopus is one of Australia’s most deadly sea-creatures, second only to the Box Jellyfish (we’ll deal with him in a minute). Infecting you with neuromuscular venom in its saliva, it will have blocked your nerve conduction causing motor paralysis within minutes, and eventually cardiac arrest.

Did I mention there’s no known antidote? The only way to survive these toxic effects would be to receive 24 hours of CPR and resuscitation, after which the venom loses its potency and you return to normal.

So if you’re planning on playing with these little guys, don’t forget to pack your breath mints.

2. Box Jellyfish

I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly. With 5500 deaths since 1884, the box jellyfish is not only one of the most venomous creatures in Australia, but in the world. Be very wary of the seemingly harmless blobs floating past in the current, those lovely long tentacles will most likely have you dead before you can reach the shore for help.

Also known as a Sea-wasp, this jellyfish even starred in a movie alongside Will Smith: 7 Pounds (2008). Without spoiling it for you, all I can say is that it didn’t end well for either of them.

Box jellyfish are transparent, so chances are you won’t even know it’s there until its tentacles eject sharp, poison-tipped adhesive capsules onto your skin, shutting down your respiratory system in minutes, while pain and shock cause you to drown before you make it to shore for the anti-venom.

They are found alongside the Great Barrier Reef between October and May, and swimming is forbidden unless protective nets are installed. Pay attention to warnings and signs, these blobs don’t mess around.

3. Sharks

No news here, sharks are hungry, toothy monsters, or so Jaws would have us believe. In reality sharks rarely attack people; something about our skin just doesn’t digest well. That said, the sharks that do like the taste of people tend to live around Australia. Perhaps all that shrimp on the barbie makes Aussies yummier: there are about 15 shark attacks every year Down Under, and at least one of them is fatal. Most beaches have shark nets, so if you swim between the flags, avoid turbid or murky waters, don’t go swimming alone or after dark and don’t dip yourself in blood before you go out, you should be fine. Areas with shark activity are clearly marked, so if you go swimming when there’s a shark flag out, maybe getting chomped is nature’s idea of natural selection. Alternatively, take a slower friend with you.

4. Saltwater Crocodiles

There are two kind of crocodiles in Australia: freshies and salties. Freshies are smaller and don’t like eating people unless they are annoying them and need to be taught a lesson. Salties, on the other hand, love nothing more than a delicious person-burger, an arm-sandwich or torso-casserole. About two people are killed by salties every year in Australia, and that’s supposed to be a good statistic.

At about 20 feet long and weighing up to 1000kg, these crocs are the largest reptiles in the world and they mean business. If you are stupid enough to ignore warning signs and go swimming in a billabong infested with salties, the ambush will come as a shock as the croc clamps its jaws shut and dives underwater, attempting to drown you and rip you in half. This is called a death-roll. The name is not a euphemism.

The good news is, over the last century more than half of Australia’s 100+ croc victims have survived, albeit missing a few bits and pieces.

Saltwater crocs mostly live in freshwater creeks and billabongs, but have also been known to swim miles out to sea. Luckily, they’re a little easier to spot than the other creatures we’ve discussed.

6. Stonefish

Like the box jellyfish, stonefish are hard to spot, camouflaged against rocky outcrops around the Queensland Barrier Reef to look like…rocky outcrops. They keep their potent neurotoxins in their 13 dorsal spines, which stick up when they’re disturbed or threatened. Once you stand on them the pain is excruciating, resulting in muscle weakness, paralysis and, yes, death if not treated. On the bright side the Aussies are pretty used to distributing stonefish anti-venom, it’s the 2nd most administered anti-venom in Australia, so death is unlikely. But be aware – stonefish stings can occur on the beach as the little devils are able to stay out of the water for up to 24 hours at a time.

6. Seasnakes

So, you’ve got tiny octopi that paralyse you with their spit. You’ve got invisible jellyfish that will have you dead before you even reach the shore. Then there are the sharks and crocodiles that will feast on your tasty limbs, and don’t forget the stonefish, the fish that lies, quietly disguised as a rock, until it injects your unsuspecting foot with excruciatingly painful neurotoxins. Can the Australian ocean get any more lethal? Well, yes.

There are 32 species of sea snakes in Australian waters, and while they usually aren’t aggressive, they have a deadly venom that is more toxic than that of land snakes. Normally found in shallow water, sea snakes are curious creatures and are known to become fascinated by other long, snake-like objects (so gents, avoid skinny dipping). Provoked snakes can become aggressive and persistent, although they are normally only aggressive during the mating season in winter.

Once bitten, you won’t be in much pain until after about 30 minutes. Then you will feel stiffness, muscle aches, jaw spasms and pain in the affected limb. This is followed by the usual drowsiness and respiratory paralysis that you should be used to by now. Luckily there is an anti-venom available but it’s probably better to avoid these suckers altogether.

7. Geography Cones

So you’re fed up of the sea and all its stinging, biting, death-rolling residents. The beach seems safer, as long as you watch out for fish that look like stones that can survive out of water. Not a lot can harm you here, you think to yourself as you wander along collecting shells.

But you’re wrong. Lurking in those shells is a creature with one of the most potent neurotoxins known to man: the Geography Cone.

The Geography Cone is also known as the Cigarette Snail, the name implying that when stung by this creature, the victim will have only enough time to smoke a cigarette before dying. The bright colours of its shell make it attractive and entice you to pick it up. Once you pick it up, it fires a harpoon-like tooth into your hand, injecting you with its venom. Now that you’ve been injected, you can expect swelling, numbness, tingling and vomiting. This will lead to muscle paralysis, respiratory failure and death if left untreated.

As there is no anti-venom, treatment involves keeping you alive until your body has metabolised the venom. Almost makes you want to go back into the sea, doesn’t it?

8. Inland Taipans

Of the 25 most venomous snakes in the world, 20 are found in Australia. Of these, the most venomous is the Inland Taipan, or the Fierce Snake. This guy has enough venom in one bite to kill 100 people; he is the most venomous snake in the world. So pull your socks up mates, this is not a snake to be reckoned with!

You’re most likely to find the Inland Taipan in a sugarcane field hunting for rats. Not big fans of cold winters, they live in the far north of Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Luckily, the name Fierce Snake is referring to the ferocity of its venom and not its personality. Inland Taipans are shy by nature (blushing every time they shed) and don’t come looking for trouble, so unless you really irritate them you should be fine. No one has been killed by them yet, and you wouldn’t want to be the first idiot would you? Don’t forget that the Inland Taipan isn’t the only snake you’re worrying about – there are hundred of kinds of poisonous snakes just waiting to strike. About 3000 Australians are bitten by snakes every year, and those who don’t make it to an anti-venom die. So, always wear thick footwear, don’t go walking through tall grass areas and snooping around snake holes is a no-no.

9. Sydney Funnel-Web Spider

While Australia is full of enough spiders guaranteed to make you girlfriend scream louder than you ever will, there is one that you should be especially wary of: The Sydney funnel-web spider.

The funnel-web spider is found across eastern Australia, and is especially fond of humans. In fact, most other mammals are resistant to the funnel-web’s venom, packed with at least 40 different toxic proteins. Not you though! One bite from a funnel-web will cause a massive electrical overload of your nervous system, leading to mouth numbness, vomiting, salivation and a heart attack. Eventually the capillaries around your lungs will begin to leak fluid until you drown in your own juices. This can all happen within just two hours, so it’s probably a good idea to get yourself to a hospital for some anti-venom ASAP. The anti-venom was discovered in 1980 and since then there have been no deaths, but again, you don’t want to be the first.

Want to avoid it altogether? Good luck, this hairy, black, lethal-fanged beast lives in cities, garages, tool sheds and houses. And guess what? It swims.

10. Cassowary Birds

So the sea is deadly and there are snakes, spiders and killer shells lurking everywhere. “At least the birds Down Under are nice,” you think to yourself. Think again. Australia is home to the crankiest, most dangerous bird in the world, the Cassowary.

Cassowaries have been around since the dinosaurs, and it’s easy to see why. These birds are fiercely territorial, and are most likely to attack you if you come between them and their young or them and their food (they like fruit). Their 5-inch claws can split you open in a couple of seconds, and they slash rather than poke.

There has only been one recorded human death caused by a cassowary: 16 year old Phillip McClean had his throat slit by one of the bird’s claws when he tried to attack it with a club. Cassowaries have also been known to disembowel dogs who chase them and cause internal bleeding with their powerful kicks to the stomach.

Cassowaries can move too, reaching speeds of 50 km/h and jumping up to five feet in the air. And they can swim, so your best bet if being chased by one is probably to climb a tree. Bear in mind however, that if it’s a tree dropping fruit you might be up there for a while, as Cassowaries will defend a food store for days.

11: Bonus Killer: You.

There’s a reason why Australia is a water-locked continent: geography is trying to protect you. If you decide to ignore geography’s warnings, then don’t fall prey to your own ignorance. Look out for signs warning against sharks, jellyfish, saltwater crocs and other nasties. Don’t swim alone, and for goodness sake, swim between the flags! Don’t pick up shells that are trying to scuttle away, or poke around in snake holes. Don’t feed the cassowaries! Most creatures only attack if provoked, so keep out of their way and they’ll keep out of yours. These things can kill you, but they don’t have to. The fact is, you’re more likely to die from heatstroke than a snake bite, so pay attention to the elements and plan ahead. Unless you plan on developing a hard outer shell, sharpening your gnashers and producing some kind of lethal toxin, these creatures have the upper hand. Don’t piss them off.

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A Snapshot of Sydney

We dash across the railway bridge, desperate not to miss the train to Sydney. My feet feel awkward and flat footed, as I try to grip my flip-flops between my toes while running as fast as I can. Later I discover that one of the Paua-shell earrings that Hicksy gave me last Christmas has fallen out, presumably during the run. Bugger.

Making it just in time, we take our seats on the upper deck next to a group of round, grey haired women who are comparing sun spots on their hands. To my left a deeply tanned man is explaining how the best way to kill something is to stretch its neck and snap it, while his companion argues that she prefers to use a shotgun. I have no idea what creature they are hypothetically killing, and I don’t ask.

I zone out as the train sways on for an hour and a half until we come in to Sydney Central Station. It is my second day in Australia and at $20 our return tickets from Wollongong include access to all buses and ferries for the day.

The first thing I notice in Sydney is the women. Supposedly Australia has the highest obesity rate in the world but you wouldn’t guess it looking at the Sydneysiders (as they cheerfully refer to themselves). They are immaculately dressed, and the majority of them are in great shape. I point this out to Hicksy, who politely pretends not to have noticed. We walk from the train station to Darling Harbor, where Governor Phillip and a boatload of petty criminals ambled ashore on January 26, 1778: Australia Day. The Aussies don’t like to talk about this bit, alluding to their convict origins as “The Stain.”

In In a Sunburned Country Bill Bryson writes, “So what if dear old Gramps was a bit of a sticky-fingered felon in his youth? Look what he left behind.”

And he’s right. I look up at the gleaming skyscrapers, the water features that make the walk through the city feel like a walk through a park, the Sacred Ibises (Ibi?) perched amongst the palm tree leaves, and it’s hard to imagine this magnificent city’s scraggly beginnings.

It’s Friday morning and the harbor is quieter than I expected. We walk along the water stopping to look at the jellyfish, picturing the sharks swimming below us. Hicksy, the walking encyclopedia, informs me that Sydney Harbor has one of the highest concentrations of sharks in the world, a fact which I’m not entirely sure is accurate but certainly makes me wary.

We catch a ferry to Circular Quay, and I finally feel like I’m in Australia. In front of me is the monumental structure of the Harbor Bridge, and through it I can see the architectural masterpiece that has become a symbol not only of Sydney, but of Australia: the Sydney Opera House. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but then, I am quite far away. To the left of the bridge is Luna Park, a theme park with a large Ferris wheel, a big dipper and gigantic clown with a demented toothy grin that doubles as the entrance to the park. A local friend of Hicksy’s has suggested this place that looks like the setting for a film like Final Destination 15, as an ideal spot to spend New Years Eve. I suppose it’ll have a good view of the fireworks.

We get off the ferry into a much more crowded environment, the quay is positively buzzing. All around us are people, some dressed lightly and some not so lightly, some strolling, others moving more swiftly. It’s now about 11:30 and despite the sun beating down on us (I can fell my nose starting to blister) there are joggers everywhere, bouncing through the crowds. I hear the doof-inz-doof-inz-doof of techno music and look over to see an Aborigine man, his dark torso painted with white markings, playing a didgeridoo in time to the music. He raises two fingers in the ‘peace’ sign as I snap a photo, feeling particularly touristy. As we walk along the quay towards the Opera House I have to restrain myself from entering the restaurants that line the water. With leafy green archways and an air filled with the smells of seafood, coffee and pizza, they are particularly inviting on this hot day.

The Opera House looks bigger now and I am impressed. There is something satisfying about standing in front of such a famous landmark, the same feeling I get in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. These structures are as ingrained into my mind as a McDonald’s logo, and I always get a little feeling of surprise looking up at them, an “Oh, so it’s real!” sensation. This is swiftly followed by a case of the “now what’s.” Do I photograph/climb/explore it? Do I stand in front pose idiotically, as if I’m pushing it over? I resolve to come see a show at some point. And perhaps take a tour.

The sun burns hotter as we make our way back to the ferry terminal. I know I’m harping on about the sun and how hot it is, but after a year in New Zealand sunshine has become a bit of a novelty. Aboard the ferry I meet a man from rural Victoria who works as a gas appliance technician and complains about the heat. He isn’t mad about Sydney and says he came for the weekend because his wife wanted to; she likes the hotel room.

The ferry takes about half an hour to get to Manly, a place that I can only describe as a storybook seaside resort town. We are surrounded by people, mostly teenagers, in various states of undress. As I look down at numerous pairs of perfectly pedicured feet I am reminded of how beautiful the women in Sydney are. I look down at my own feet, my toenails a painfully luminous shade of yellow from when we painted them at the daycare I worked at in Auckland, and vow to put in more effort.

We have a cheap lunch at one of the many restaurants that line one of Manly’s eighteen beaches, watching people go past us on bikes, roller-blades and skateboards, some carrying surfboards, others walking dogs. A pair of women at the table next to us are discussing whether or not to leave their phone numbers for the waiter.

After lunch my blistered feet are finally free of their flip-flops as we search for a spot on the beach. Still thinking about sharks, I pick a spot smack in the middle of the flags marking the swimming area and we strip down to our swimwear, Hicksy standing proud in his pink shorts, myself a little shy, aware of my so-pale-it-glows bikini clad body. “Nicole Kidman, Nicole Kidman,” is my mantra, although I suspect that I look less like the fair Australian beauty and more like an anemic lump of dough. Again, I vow to make more effort.

The water is freezing and Hicksy squeals and whinges. I look at him with scorn, “pathetic Englishman.” Scorn soon abandons me as an icy wave wipes me off my feet. We stick it out wincing as we edge our way deeper into the sea. We make a few halfhearted attempts to catch waves, but each attempt involves diving into the water headfirst and eventually we resign ourselves to splashing around while we try to look nonchalant.

The sun disappears behind a cloud and without it, the water is too cold to handle. It’s getting late so we make our way back to the ferry station, along with half of Sydney’s teenage population, or so it seems. Our timing is perfect, we board the ferry as the wind and rain blow in. After disembarking it is a sprint down George St so that we don’t miss our train. I nearly pull a muscle in my neck as I twist to look at the magnificent assortment of shop windows along the route. As we ride the train back to Wollongong, I sit and bask in a feeling of sunburnt happiness. My skin feels salty and dry, and I have the worst flip flop blisters I’ve ever had. I’m reminded of my childhood, but at the same time am surrounded by a new place that is completely unfamiliar. A young, tanned man with strong surfer’s arms boards the train, and Hicksy remarks on how fit the Aussie men are. I politely tell him I haven’t noticed.


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Racing to the Sea: My Hometown in 500 Words

Racing to the SeaStop, stop, STOP!” squawks Mrs Permalloo, our director.
Sick of rehearsing in the early December Mauritian humidity, I sigh.
, what now?”
“Joseph and Mary ride into Bethlehem on an arse, not an ass! Use the British pronunciation, not the American!”
The school bell rings, saving me from yet another tired debate about the English language, and whether errors are due to different accents or mispronunciations.

 Jessie and I grab our backpacks and sprint to the crushed-seashell parking lot to make sure we get good seats on our bus. In Mauritius, like the rest of the world, all the cool kids sit at the back.

 We scramble aboard the bus, ducking under the tinsel and plastic chillies hanging above the door and yelping as our thighs meet the sizzling pleather seats. I take out my new yellow walkman and hand one earphone to Jessie.

 The bus clatters forward and with Ginger Spice and her girls serenading us, we gaze through the windows at hunched women in baggy grey smocks. They hack down sugarcane while packs of mangy dogs chase rats in the fields behind them. A whisper of burnt treacle hangs in the air from when they set fire to the cane to make it easier to cut.

Anand, our bus driver, swears in Créole as a moped with a bundle of sugarcane balancing precariously on its driver’s knees swerves in front of us, buzzing like a mosquito. 

“German?” Jessie elbows me. She nods at tourists at the roadside dholl puri stand, gaudy new sarongs clashing with lobster-red legs. “Definitely German. Look at those socks and sandals.” 

“What about her?” A woman in a tight white sundress, her blond hair held back in a gold scrunchy, argues with a vendor over whether the fruit he is selling is a pawpaw or a coconut.

Listen here you! Don’t think I’m an idiot, coconuts are hairy and brown, not smooth and green!” her voice is clear through the open window.

“South African. Look at how she’s wearing all her jewellery. It won’t get stolen here!” We grin at each other, enjoying our game. 

Flamboyant Tree

Photo by Pascal Lagesse

The bus bumps to a stop in front of a black basalt rock wall. I can just see the thatched roof of my house poking through the blazing red flowers of a flamboyant tree. The flamboyants are one of the few good things about a Mauritian December, when the island seems to sweat tourists.

 I jump off the bus, followed by my sister who has had her nose in a book for the entire hour-long journey. I’m certain I’ll win today. I’ve worn my swimming costume underneath my school uniform. I bolt down the dusty driveway, past the cottage that Marc, our gardien shares with his wife Margarette and their son Adrien, who is a few years older than me. Their other son, Cedric, died last year. He had a hole in his heart and they couldn’t afford to fix it.

I dump my schoolbag in the dust and almost trip as I try to ditch my shorts and shirt at the same time. I get a good run up on my dive-bomb and cool, salty water satisfyingly sprays everywhere. Yesssss! I win!

We swim until we see the deep-sea fishing boats coming in, red flags flapping if they’ve caught marlin, white flags for sharks. The sun is setting over the murky Grand Bay, and the spicy smell of curry coming from our house, mixed with the sweet cloud of marijuana coming from a group fishermen on the beach, reminds us that it’s time to go inside.

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Little Critters

The rubber gloves that Santosh, my co-teacher, and I have filled with coloured water hang limply from the line. Most of the dyed water has evaporated in the morning sun. We have finally, after days of icy rain, been able to let the children play outside.

Arav runs over, his khaki parka too big for his skinny four year old frame, the hem line at his knees and his hood making him look like South Park’s Kenny. He looks up and removes his ridiculously oversized sunglasses. Vanitha, my other co-teacher at the Auckland daycare where I now work, says he looks like Ajay Devgn.

The water’s melted into the sky, Jacqui!” He runs off before I can tell him to take off his jacket. He must be sweltering.

Charlie Rose approaches, stepping slowly in her purple gumboots so the dead butterfly doesn’t fall from her hand. We sit on the grass and examine it.

Do you think it was a hungry hungry caterpillar once, Charlie?” I ask, “Like in the story we read yesterday?”

No,” she replies, giving me a look reserved only for the most distinguished of idiots, “this is a monarch butterfly.” She pauses and takes a closer look.

It only has one antenna, maybe that’s why it died!”

I stop her as she starts to squash the dead insect’s body.

But Jacqui, I’ve never seen inside a butterfly.”

What is it with kids and bugs? I wonder as I stretch my legs out in the sun thinking of Italy. Missing Pierre.


It was so hot that we had to stay inside the villa between ten and two while the Italian sun hammered down, making the vineyard before us look like a hazy mirage. I was looking after Pierre for the summer, while his parents ran an Italian villa on behalf of a French travel company. A South-African/Mauritian girl working for a French family in Italy – the collection of nationalities made me smile.  As the afternoon grew late, Pierre grew restless. At two years old, tantrums were becoming frequent. I distracted him by taking him to the pool to watch Hicksy giving an aqua-aerobics class. Pierre and I always found this entertaining. There Hicksy stood, in bright pink shorts (a gift from my mother who insisted that they were all the rage in Europe), trying to give directions in French that he had looked up at when he googled “How to Teach Aqua Aerobics.”

Vite vite! Er…. doucement! Now levez your bras! A gauche! Droite!”

The villa guests held back their giggles as this young man in outrageous shorts demonstrated how to do jumping jacks in the swimming pool. It was too hot for such silliness and soon the class was over. Hicksy approached Pierre and me, sitting under the shade of the grape trellis with a good view of the show.

Fancy a gelato?” Hicksy asked.

Music to my ears! I adjusted Pierre’s hat, picked up Doudou, his beloved teddy, and hand in hand we followed Hicksy down the hill to the ice-cream shop. The hill was steep and as we walked through the field that ran alongside the vineyard we could hear the sounds of crickets chirping all around us. I thought about how in China, the sound of crickets is considered to be good luck.

Looking across the vineyard I saw a man, his white hair bright against his tanned skin. He was hunched and shirtless with his navy overalls tied around his waist as he filled a basket with grapes. “Bonjourno!” I called, picking a grape for myself and handing one to Hicksy, who pulled a face. Perhaps they needed a little more ripening time. The old man smiled.

Photo by Andrew Hicks

As we continued our stroll down the hill the sound of the crickets grew louder and Pierre started looking around curiously. “Bebette?” he looked up at me. “Bugs,” I translated to Hicksy. “Ah…” Hicksy and Pierre had almost matching looks of excitement as Hicksy ran off into the long grass and started looking around. A few minutes later he returned, his hands cupped together. “Look Pierre, er.. regardez,” he bent down and put his cupped hands under Pierre’s nose. Pierre peered closer.

Aaaai!” Pierre yelped with joy as Hicksy opened his hands and a cricket jumped out. Shrieking with laughter he followed Hicksy into the long grass to look for more, dragging Doudou behind him. It would be a while before I got my gelato.


Ouch!” I am interrupted from my daydream by someone pulling my hair. I turn around and see Waka giving me his trademark red-cheeky grin. Even his nose is bright red today.

Hairdresser!” he demands, threading his chubby fingers through my hair.

Wincing a little, but feeling sentimental, I let him. Wasn’t it Audrey Hepburn who said, “For beautiful hair, let a child run her fingers through it once a day?”

I look up and see Vanitha shaking her head, her lips pursed.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she frowns, “He’s got nits.”

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Traveling Light: What to Use, What to Lose

 Whether you’re on a weekend roadtrip or a working holiday, valuable time is often eaten while agonising over travel decisions. A cruise or a hike? Two light jackets or one heavy one? Chicken or fish? When it comes down to it, there are a number of ways that can help you get the most out of your travel-time, ways that apply to a variety of travel scenarios. This is my personal list, learned via flashes of genius as well as discovered through sparks of stupidity (the latter being more common). It’s an ongoing, morphable list of what to use and what to lose when traveling, which will hopefully help to make you more travel-efficient and allow you to spend more time enjoying your time than wasting it.

Use: A decent camera

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a novice, your pictures will be your favourite souvenirs. If you’re really into your photography, consider investing in a decent SLR. Adding a zoom-lens is especially useful when traveling, from photographing wildlife  to capturing portraits of locals without harassing them. An efficient one to try is a travel lens, such as an 18-200mm, which will give you a variety of photographic options without the hassle of carrying multiple lenses. If you’re not keen on lugging around a big camera and lens, consider a sturdy point-and-shoot, such as the Sony Cybershot TX5. This is a freeze-resistant, 3m waterproof, drop proof camera that also films HD video. The pictures are great quality and you wont have to worry about damaging it on the road. Personally, I carry around both: a Nikon SLR for those ‘arty’ shots and a Sony Cybershot for the places where the Nikon could get damaged.

Venice with a Nikon SLR

Hicksy bodyboarding in Dunedin, Sony Cybershot TX5

Lose: Your Laptop

Most places have easy and cheap access to internet cafes so you shouldn’t have a problem. As well as taking up space and adding weight, having a laptop makes you an attractive target to thieves. Instead, consider a smaller more discreet Netbook, or an Ipad. Jim Karlovsky, a fellow MatadorU student, has written a great article on the wide range of travel aps available for the ipad here.

Lose: Guided Excursions

This can be down to personal tastes, but if you’re interested in traveling rather than touring, ditch the guided excursions. In my experience, they are usually overpriced and barely skim the surface of what is really out there.

Last summer I visited Cinque Terre with the family I worked for in Tuscany, and we took a guided boat tour of the 5 villages. While the villages were beautiful, we seemed to be constantly being rushed from town to town, herded on and off the boats like cattle, with little time to explore and enjoy the individual towns. I look forward to visiting Cinque Terre again someday, and having the time to explore the numerous higgledepiggledy alleyways on my own.

Use: Small, Local Businesses

Rather than opting for the large guided tours, have a wander away from the center of town and check out the smaller businesses that surround. On a recent trip to the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, just about every person we spoke to urged us to go on the dolphin-sight-seeing cruise. As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of cruises, so instead we wandered along the bay until we came across 3 guys playing Frisbee in front of a boat shed. There were kayaks, boats and bikes all arranged outside the shed, as well as a ‘tinny’: a small tin boat with a 15hp motor.


One of the frisbee players introduced himself as Danbro (as in, “Hi I’m Dan, bro”) and offered to rent us his tinny. Danbro started his business when he was 13, and specializes in renting out kayaking or boating equipment and leading kayaking day trips.  As well as the tinny, he also lent us a couple of fishing rods and showed us how to bait our lines and where to go for good snapper. We set off exploring the bay, and when it started to drizzle we were free to drag the boat up onto the beach and grab a bite to eat. Midway through lunch we got a text from Danbro telling us that he’d checked the weather report and the skies would clear in 15 mins. They did, and we set off to our fishing location. Another text came in from Danbro: dolphins had been spotted near where we were anchored. Not long afterwards a pod of dolphins swam past us, about 3 meters away, no dolphin cruise required! We returned to shore having caught a decently sized snapper, which Danbro gutted and filleted for us.

There aren’t a lot of sightseeing companies that would offer this kind of personal, friendly service, and we ended up having a drink with Danbro before heading home to feast on our fresh fish dinner. It felt good supporting someone who was clearly passionate about what he was doing and wasn’t trying to rip us off.

Use: Experiences

It’s worth spending your money on experiences you will remember, try not to scrimp here. While you can survive sleeping in a tent, or living on spaghetti-sandwiches, if you don’t go for the good experiences, you’ll regret it. For example, I haven’t bought new clothes in a year and a half, but 3 months ago I visited Queenstown and did “The Awesome Foursome” combo deal: bungee, jetboating, white-water rafting and a helicopter ride for NZ$599. It was the most terrifying, exhilherating day of my life, and worth every penny. I am so glad that I didn’t opt for the cheaper, tamer options and will never forget how I felt as I plummeted into the 134m Nevis Canyon.

Lose: Overpriced Souvenirs

It is always tempting to buy a little stuffed kiwi or photo-pack of your jetboat ride, but most of the time these things get shoved in a box and forgotten. Now and then you’ll find something special that you’ll treasure, but these times are rare. Avoid filling your valuable backpack/suitcase space with tat. Instead, keep receipts, tickets and drawings. Hicksy’s journal is bursting with things like the receipt for the tin of beans we bought when we ran out of money in the Abel Tasman, and tickets to a rugby game. These are the things that will trigger the memories when you return home, not some stuffed toy.

And finally,

Use: A decent backpack

This thing is gonna have all your stuff in it! Don’t scrimp! Go for quality here, you want waterproof, sturdy material and a high-quality structure to not only protect your belongings, but your body too. The last thing anyone wants is to put out their back halfway along the Milford Track.

Lose: Any extra crap

Guys, do you really need those night-vision goggles? Girls, are you really going to have that many opportunities to wear stilettos in Cambodia? Prioritize, simplify and be brutal. While it’s great to always be prepared, it can be a pain in the butt lugging around a heap of stuff that you packed because the chance may pop up where you use it. Ask yourself, “Will I perish without it?” If the answer is no, it’s gotta go.

The list of what to use and what to lose is a subjective one, many may disagree with me. What about you? What would you use and what would you lose on your travels?

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