Archive | October, 2012

What To Pack: Beauty Bag Essentials

24 Oct

In my day-to-day life I’m a cosmetic junkie with more lipstick and eyeshadow shades than I know what to do with, but when I pack for a trip I like each item in my beauty bag to serve several purposes. I also consider my location (if I’m going on a beach holiday I probably won’t need much make-up) and the availability of the items once I land (do they have toothbrush sanitizers in India?). These are my tried-and-true beauty bag essentials for when I hit the road:

1. Baby Wipes – This is listed in the #1 spot for a reason: I do not  travel without them. You can use baby wipes to freshen up your stinky body after an all-day outing, wipe your sweaty face, wash your hands when there’s no water, clean up spills and you can even turn the great outdoors into your very own bathroom! I always find new uses and am grateful I packed them!

2. Sunscreen – I’m incredibly fair-skinned and spent too much of my life not taking the damaging effects of the sun seriously but now I won’t travel without a facial sunscreen (I’m prone to breakouts) and giant bottle of two of the regular stuff. Even if you’re nowhere near a beach and just walking around a city for the day, it won’t hurt to smear a coat of some coconut-scented, ray-protecting lube on your precious skin.

3. Mouthwash – If you’re traveling in a country where you can’t trust the water or you’re in a place where there is no water, mouthwash can hold you over until you can give your teeth a proper brushing. It’s also a good substitute if you’re about to crash from exhaustion and can’t will yourself to brush your teeth but still have the consciousness to know you’ll regret skipping that nightly step.

3. Baby Powder – Use to freshen hair when you haven’t had a chance to wash, deodorize shoes, absorb body sweat and help prevent blisters.

4. Snap On Toothbrush Sanitizer – I love these because they not only protect your naked toothbrush from rubbing up against all the other things in your bag but they stop germs from breeding on your bristles!

3. Tea Tree Oil – A tiny bottle of this potent antiseptic will do. Use a few drops for minor cuts, burns, abrasions, pimples, boils, bites and stings. When I was in the Saigon airport a man accidentally dragged a suitcase over my foot and it almost took my big toe nail off. The nail was hanging by a thread and looked like it might get infected. I put a few drops of oil where the nail lifted and the next morning my toe stopped throbbing and the skin looked nice and healthy. I swear by this stuff!

4. Organic Aloe Vera Gel – Apply to sunburns, rashes, stings, pimples, irritated skin and minor cuts.

5. Coconut oil (tightly closed) – Eye, lash and brow conditioner, face, lip, cuticle and body moisturizer, hair oil, eye makeup remover, tanning oil, skin irritation soother, sexual lubricant and cooking oil. It smells and feels amazing and depending on your location you may be able to pick it up at the source. I’ve bought some in Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji for a fraction of the cost. Just be careful to seal it properly and place in a plastic bag if flying because it’s hard to get out of clothes.

6.  Aquaphor Minis-  An eye cream, cuticle softener, extra dry skin moisturizer and lip balm. Especially helpful for wind or snow burn or when your nostrils chap after days of blowing your nose.

7. Alka Seltzer tablets – Fast acting relief for hangovers, heartburn, indigestion, sour stomach related to travel sickness or food poisoning, headache and body aches. It may prevent a UTI from developing if taken at the onset of symptoms since it alkalinizes urine.

8. Blister Band-Aids – Even the most broken-in, comfortable shoes can give you a blister after a long day of sight-seeing. These always come in handy.

9. Apple cider vinegar tablets – Take for digestion, travel sickness, cold/flu, acid reduction and general well-being. I used to take shots of apple cider vinegar mixed with honey every time I had an upset stomach or felt a cold coming on but now I take the tablets instead to protect my teeth from the harsh acids. You know what they say about having an apple a day…

10. Stain To Go Pen -Because accidents happen and these can prolong the time between laundry days and pickup stains before they set.

Skinny Dipping is Good for the Soul

15 Oct

Our two-week house sitting stint in Coffs Harbour was up and we were on the road. We counted on having berry picking work by now but all the farms we called said it would be another few weeks. The bills were piling up and our spirits were sinking so I couldn’t wait to put our computers away for a few days and disconnect.

We told a family friend that we were heading to the Dorrigo National Park for the weekend and she, looking at my boyfriend’s long hair and bushy unkempt beard, told us about a free camping/commune spot near the national park entrance where we’d find lots of other hippies. She joked that Matt would fit right in the way he looked but that they might try to convert me. I almost showed her the ‘let it be’ and peace/heart sign tattoos I have on either wrist but smiled along instead.

After stopping at the Raleigh Winery for a free tasting and having an amazing cup of tea in the artsy and somewhat retro town of Bellingen, we drove inland on the windy roads past dairy and macadamia farms, looking for this communal haven. The main road forked and a dirt track disappeared into the national park. That had to be it.

At the bottom of the hill a middle-aged man wearing loose hippie pants stood in the road in front of his rusting shack, driving a remote control car with his toddler son (who was only wearing a shirt and who, with his doe-eyes and long curly hair, I assumed was a girl until I saw his little manhood). We rolled down the window and asked what was up the road.

“The meaning of life,” he replied with a smirk, and we chatted for a bit and told him our story. He kindly offered to let us park in front of his home and use his shower and washer machine. He introduced himself as Alek and when I told him mine was Alex he said, “far out…,” in a drawn-out, contemplative way.

We hadn’t found our community but we didn’t need to anymore.

Alek told us about a watering hole and my boyfriend’s eyes lit up. We said our goodbyes, parked near the water and set out to find it. We trekked along the river bank on uneven slippery rocks and through thick, spider-web-laden bush. My boyfriend trekked along like it was nothing while my heart pounded as I tried to keep up with him, my eyes glued to the ground. I asked him to slow down and told him he was stressing me out. I wanted to take in the experience, not panic about keeping up. He slowed down (for him) but again I kept my eyes on my feet, nervous every time a rock wobbled under me as we crossed the river. I felt completely out of my element, like my suburban Orange-County roots were showing, like my love of nature was just an affectation I’d used to impress my farm-raised Australian boyfriend.

But carried on until we hit a dead-end and needed to cross the waist-deep water. I didn’t want to get my running shoes wet and was happy to turn around since it was already getting late, but Matt urged me to jump into his arms so he could carry me across the water. I thought he was kidding until he jumped in and held out his arms. I was a little embarrassed that he’d gone to such lengths but made jokes about him being a super hero carrying me to safety. The whole situation was pretty ridiculous and just minutes later we reached a deeper part of the river crossing where the stones were unreliable and I had no choice but to walk through the water, drenching my socks and joggers though I’d tried my best to avoid it.

When we finally found our watering hole we gaily stripped down to ours joggers and jumped in. We heard animals moving around in the bushes and Matt dove in the water and pretended to be eaten by a crocodile. We laughed about what we’d do if hikers found us there, prancing around a national park with only our shoes on, and joked about how this would make this perfect postcard.

How we’d needed this!

I got out early while Matt swam and took in our picturesque surroundings, breathing in the stillness. The sun started setting so we hurriedly dressed because the prospect of trekking back along the unpredictable river banks in the dark set fire to our feet. Luckily the sky darkened just as we made it back to the road, the van barely in sight. We took our soppy shoes and socks off and settled in for the night. The frogs and crickets sang in the background, the occasional firefly zipped past and all the stresses of our reality: the dwindling funds, the lack of work prospects, the mounting bills, the urge to bite each others’ heads off – slipped away.

Mother Earth has such a profoundly soothing effect on my psyche that I sometimes wonder why I even bother with this modern age at all. But then, everything is better in contrast. You can’t have the yin without the yang.

Entering Our Van in a Kombi Fest

13 Oct

One morning a few months back Matt slid open the van door to grab some juice out of the fridge just as a middle-aged man was walking by. He saw our set-up and excitedly chatted our ears off about all things Volkswagen and reminisced about his days of living in a van. Matt proceeded to give him a tour as I lay in bed trying to hide that fact that I was only wearing a skimpy tee and some panties. He oo’ed and awed over our queen mattress, the solar panel on the roof and our pull out fridge.

“Have you ever entered in a Kombi fest?,” the man asked and then told us about the annual festivals in NSW where Volkswagen Kombi or Transporter owners get together to do a ‘van’ show and compete for titles like “Best Presented” and “Furthest Traveled.” He was convinced that if we entered we’d win something and told us it was a great place to get ideas and meet other van owners. Since the festivals weren’t coming up for another few months we put it in the back of our minds and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when we were driving down New South Wales’ coast that we remembered to look it up.

We happened to be housesitting in Coffs Harbour, just a few hours north of the annual Old Bar Kombi Fest, which tries to break the record of getting the most Volkswagen vans in one spot, and though we really shouldn’t have, for practical money-related reasons, we made the drive down.

We registered at the very last-minute, drove onto the giant field that early Sunday morning and parked in our assigned spot. Disappointed with how plain our van looked next to the retro brightly colored ones, we knew ours had its beauty on the inside. Admittedly, we weren’t prepared at all – halfway through our drive down we decided to give the van a quick wash and the morning of the event we scrambled to organize all our things so the van looked somewhat presentable. I was so sad that Matt left our ‘love child’, Twiggy, a Bonzi tree that we kept on the dash, in Mackay at his parents’ house. I knew he would have garnered some attention.

We left the van doors open and strolled through the lines of Kombis and Transporters, noting how ours could improve but generally feeling very proud of how functional ours was. People had trailers with beds, pop-tops tents in the roof, tents that attached to the outside and some had sleeping pads in the back, but no one had a queen mattress and they certainly weren’t living in their vans full-time.

When we’d had our fill we walked through the markets, had a beer and some festival food, and listened to the live music. Later that day when they announced the winners we accepted that the van didn’t win because we knew we’d be better prepared next year. And next year, you better believe Twiggy will be on the dash where he belongs.

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