Feb 022015
 Posted by on February 2, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I have been away for almost one month and after a few cluttered days in Kolkata, I am now in one of the most intense and colourful cities anywhere in the world; Varanasi on the Ganga. This is my fifth trip to India and my third tine in Varanasi. I first came here circa 1993 and I am now retracing many of the steps I took during that initial life-altering introduction to India (including reading the same hippy-trail books!)

During my first trip to Varanasi I recall running around in the morning desperately searching for a decent coffee that wasn’t instant Nescafe brown Ganga puke. And, yes, I did the same thing yesterday. There are cool looking expresso machines here but many of the cafe owners simply use them to heat the milk or water and then place a spoon of instant coffee in the concoction (thus I have been getting killer headaches from coffee withdrawal…a uniquely Melbourne problem perhaps).

Some of my greener travel companions have asked how India changed since I was first here some 20 years ago, but I’m not completely sure. It depends on what century you reference (as I ride to the train on a peddle driven rickshaw, book the train ticket on a shiney new Samsung Tablet, and have an intense conversation with a young Bengali on whether the Queen stole the Star of India diamond, whilst watching thousands of muddy people throw idols of the god of learning and knowlege in the Ganga in a religious ferver).

And he past three nights I have been sitting on the pissy-smelling concrete rooftop of the hotel where I have been staying with a charming young architect from Poland calls Tomesz. We can see the misty Ganga with wooden boats beneath us, chanting and chimes as the soundtrack and the menacing sound of the Varanasi roads as base . We have been drinking exactly 3 cans of beer berween us which we got from a secretive establishment about 1 kilometer walk away called “chilled beer”. I am sort of glad that the Indian masses (and I mean masses), haven’t discovered alcohol because it must be easier to land a jumbo at Heathrow than control a vehicle on a Varanasi road.

The perspectives gained in India are always hard to communicate. Especially to those from counties such as my own that can never be anything other than Modern.

Today I am on a train to Khajuraho to see some temple porn.

Jan 222015
 Posted by on January 22, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I first started coming to the Island when the Island was cool, or was this when I was cool, not sure, surely there was a time when we both aligned. When the full moon was young I danced on the beach to techno and trance, drank out of buckets, and slept under nets. But not much has changed. Utopia usually only has two dimensions, or maybe three if you endulge the mushroom shake.


I have now been to the island five times, and I am not sure why I still come, it is always at the beginning of something, never at the end. Ko Phan Ghan is a capitol of 90s Libertarianism, the curse of my generation. Libertarians know how to put on a good party but never how to clean up after it. The collapse of the Berlin Wall persuaded many in the European labouring classes that freedom is a new sort of hedonism as opposed to an old form of Marxism. Or perhaps it is just an old form of youthful rebellion and that it eternal.


I sat in a restaurant yesterday next to a young man with a celtic tattoo who was complaining that the food was spicy. It made me feel glad that I didn’t have the money to get a celtic tattoo way back at the beginning of the lunar cycle. Its all part of the spice of life I suppose, the faded symbols of rebellion, often against the man that has long left the straw bungalow.

I am not sure if I will come back to the island again, and I have possible said this many times before. It is spectacularly beautiful and sophisticated in its own tesalated Thai tourism sort of way, but it is an island and islands are full-stops, not sentences. People come to islands to escape from things and you only need to escape if you are first in prison.

Kolcutta is next…

Jan 152015
 Posted by on January 15, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with:  No Responses »

I purposely started my slow journey to South America in Thailand, partly because Thailand is (sort-of) close to Australia and partly because it has always been a relaxed segue to the rest of the world (but for many Utopian seeking libertines, it may be the only destination). I first came to Thailand as a young backpacker in the early 1990s on my way to India, the same path I am retracing now, but I won’t stay long.

Thailand is an easily digestible destination simply because it is inflicted with all the tedious travel narratives of an exotic utopia (and the place is still full of pirates). But, unless you dig deep, there are perhaps not too many experiences and perspectives to be had in Thailand that will really rattle your bones (although I am sure that there are exceptions to the rule). The amount of travellers and tourists that come to Thailand is in the many millions which is sort of ironic because everyone is trying to be so very unique and alternative. It is sort of like Berlin in this respect.


'Lucky' House

The main backpacker strip in Bangkok is called Koah San Road and in all my experience of 1960s hippy-trail backpacker haunts, nothing comes close. It is enormous, taking up a few blocks of the city; packed with scruffy sartorially challenged 20-something nubiles all year around (and yes, there are so many hideous variety of mens shorts in the world). There is not much to do apart from eat and drink (and satisfy a few other basic human functions) but many of Bangkok’s tourist money-shots are within walking distance. After spending the first three days of my trip eating and drinking, eating and drinking, eating and drinking, I escaped the hedonistic museum and walked the 10 KMS to Chinatown.

And Chinatown in Bangkok is wonderful. There is a main strip full of pirates gold (jewelries) with lots of small alley-ways branching off, packed with treasures from all the workshops of Asia. There are literally thousands of small specialty shops bloated with stuff that would take many hours to fully ponder the reason for being. This is especially the case in the food section; so many varieties of fish, fruit, vegetables, and meat, all canned and curated in a myriad of different ways.

When I was walking home to my dank little cell room in Lucky House in Koah San Road, I stumbled upon the gun district of Bangkok. I was especially taken by the lightweight Colt Defender handgun. It wasn’t exactly cheap, but legal to buy and it would fit easily into my backpack. It would have made the process of dealing with the touts in India much easier, but it only came in brushed silver and didn’t match my shorts at the time.

I am now on an Island in the South of Thailand. It took 18 hours to get here, including a long journey on a spew-boat. And it is raining. I want my narrative back.

Jan 062015
 Posted by on January 6, 2015 travel Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

View of Annapurna massif near Manang, on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal

There are (hopefully) number of good reasons to take a extended sabbatical or ‘gap year’, perhaps not just once, but during key junctures in your life. Gap years are usually about the process of coming of age, of getting out-there and experiencing the world before starting University or a career. They help individuals develop self-sufficiency, independence, decision-making and maturity.  Plus you get to see a good chunk of the world which is probably good for everyone as it helps build undertakings between individuals and cultures.

But there are also good arguments for taking ‘gap years’ at other periods of your life.  A gap year or ‘sabbatical’ can be a means of ‘book-ending` certain chapters of your life; of taking some time to develop new perspectives on what has passed and what is yet to come.  There is a skill that is often lost in the day-to-day demands of mouse-wheel Modernity and this is the ability to contextualise and navigate oneself within the great mountains and valleys of life.  Context appeards to be the great deficit of the emerging information economy and unfortunately, reductiveness, superficiality and banality are moving at frightening speed. A year isn’t such a long time in the great scheme of things, and hopefully through doing something different for a year, new insights, choices, creativity, and abilities will emerge.   At least this is what I tell myself!

1. Time is your most valuable asset

There is a parochialism that has enveloped day-to-day  life, but this parochialism isn’t geographical, but temporal. It is the ”parochialism of the present”. Millions of people are now trapped in the loud and raucous NOW, primarily driven by the hysterical and trivial demands of cheap communication devices (I am making an incursion here).  This NOW can stretch for many years, until one day you may realise that every day looks the same as the past day and the view may from the hill up the road was possibly better. In other words, significance is contextual and layered and the Modern world has many iron cages of insignificance (and some of them digital).

A sabbatical is time to do new things, to clearly re-think your goals and aspirations, and these don’t just come to you in the form of a lazy text message, you have to look for them.

2. Do a project that you have always wanted to do

Independent long-term travel is one option for a sabbatical year, but there are, of course,  many others (as travel may not be for everyone).  There is volunteer or paid work in various parts of the world where one can learn new skills and develop new perspectives. But it is important to plan sometime in advance and be flexible enough to let the plan or project develop along the way.  The project might be writing a book, learning a sport, or building a tree-house.  Depending on what you plan to do, taking a sabbatical year is a fairly demanding endeavor as it may take up to a year to organise (and tie-up the mouse wheel), a year to actually do it, and then a year to readjust when you come back (and I haven’t figured out the last bit yet, but maybe this is the whole point!).

There are options available to take time of work (unpaid leave) and return to the same job, but I not sure this is a good idea (unless of course, you own your own business or work for your self in some capacity in which you have to ability to take your hard-earned perspectives and use them to shape you immediate surroundings). It may be a better idea to start something new when you return based on what you have learned.

3. Travel now, it is better than later

Travel is all about engaging the ‘big picture” and given my understanding of the past century, I don’t think that the present geo-political and economic arrangements will last.  Even if you didn’t study it at university or school, history didn’t end.  History isn’t politically correct, it’s not about shopping, it isn’t black and white, and it is bigger than you.  The world is fairly peaceful and we are in a golden age of air travel and now has never been a better time to see the world (as it may not be possible in 10-20 years time).  When I first started travelling in the early 1990s, huge parts of the world were inaccessible due to divergent political ideologies, economic expense, or lack of infrastructure for travelers (like hotels and roads!).  The 21st Century may not be that different to the 20th, at least in terms of the great ebbs and flows of humanity occasional fracturing into misunderstanding and conflict.  There are already signs of this occurring and history has never unraveled in a polite and orderly manner.  The most important ingredient for independent travel is peace and hopefully through building bridges with other cultures, you aid in this process in a small but meaningful way.

4. Friendship

Accordingly, perhaps the most satisfying thing about traveling is meeting new people, some of whom may become life-long friends. Sure, you may not see them that often, but still, there is a wonderful travel-narrative there with a few sparks to light it. It is the connections between people that is the most important.

Dec 102014
 Posted by on December 10, 2014 gadfly, history, travel Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »

An everyday discipline that I have had for the past 27 years (ouch) is keeping a daily ”travel diary”. I started this arduous task way-back in 1988 during Australia’s bi-centenary year. This first diary was a Christmas gift from my sister and was embellished with pictures of koalas, kangaroos, gum-nuts, and celebratory bi-centenary images of Governor Phillip triumphantly raising flags at Sydney Cove. Through my first diary, I started describing nights out on the booze, difficult friendships, and grand aspirations of seeing the world.

2014-12-07 20.57.50And the next year I had embarked on a voyage to conquer new lands. This was my first time out of Australia and like many Australians of the period, I thought it would be the only time!

When I triumphantly returned from a year in Europe and the US, I enrolled in a humanities degree at La Trobe University in Melbourne. And this is when all the trouble began.  The diaries became another journey; the rich world of the humanities is both an internal and external journey.

Although I have never re-read my diaries, I do recall that during my early years of education they were rambling monsters with all sorts of treatises and manifestos, jaded letters, and tortured-observations, stapled to every other page. What a wonderful time that was!

Then came are all those years of travel; of long summers in Asia, of study and road trips in the US, of good times in Kreuzberg in Berlin and late night drunken visits to chicken shops in Dalston in London. There was Hanoi, Mumbai and Ko Phan Ghan, Kathmandu, Vientiane, Hampi, Harlem, and Hoi Ann. And  all those damn universities; UNSW, RMIT, Melbourne, King’s, Virginia, VU, and UCSC, each with their own idiosyncratic  style and ways to engage (or not engage) with the world.

But over the past few years, the diaries have been fairly pedestrian (take this as a sign), in terms of setting practical goals and writing about day-to-day administrative shite. And they started to take up a lot of room, in more ways than one, thus it is time to move towards a minimalist future.

2014-12-07 21.01.23I see the process of diary writing as similar to physical work-out, it is a workout for the soul and just as it is possible to notice those who have never been to a gym (sorry about that), you may also notice those who have never kept a diary (nor traveled in their youth). They may look good on the outside but have few healthy perspectives developed from the inside.

Anyhow, after much deliberation, I decided to burn the f**kers; to set the diaries on fire and destroy that journey; to start at ”year zero”  just like New Zealand with a new flag!  Now I can be historically pure and arrive anywhere from nowhere like a contextually-challenging snake on a plane (there are no snakes in New Zealand).

But being an historian (and a digital one) I just could not do it (well, not completely). So I painstakingly digitised all the diaries before I burnt them (it took many weeks and now my arm hurts). They were scanned and photographed (according to one of the many standards) and are now safely encrypted and stored on a cloud drive protected by an inactive account manager. So, if I don’t reply to the ‘are you still alive’ email sent by this particular service every six months, they will never see the light of day. This makes me very happy!

So, I won’t keep a daily-diary any longer (at least, not in this form). That work is now done and the fruits of that labour will forever carry me on my travels. Burn!

Dec 012014
 Posted by on December 1, 2014 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

There are lots travel blogs with informative posts on what to pack for long periods of travel (for a year or more). Although many of the blog-posts convey a hard-earned wisdom and are well-researched, the authors often fail to mention that they are getting paid to promote the things they are writing about (ie. the products and destinations). So always read travel-blogs critically (and I’ll try not going to mention any product names here).

This is what I have decided to take on my own one-year journey in 2015 (and I do hope it helps in your own travel planning as it has with mine). There are a few basic things I have  left off this list because I hardly know you and don’t want you to know everything!

All this weights about 10KGS. If you wear some of it, you can probably get it down to 7kgs which is the cabin allowance for most airlines.

2014-12-02 11.59.53


Take a small, good-quality backpack (and I mean small, imagine what you will need and then half it). I have always traveled light with packs of about 35 litres. If your pack is 40 litres or less it means that it doesn’t have to be checked in at airports and it is easy to take on packed buses and trains etc. If you plan to travel day-to-day over lots of distance, you will really appreciate a small, good quality pack. I bought a locally made Australian travel-pack that opens like a suit case and will fit everything I need for a year. Also, if you need a day-pack just buy a small fold-up one that you can stuff in your backpack. And, packing cubes are a good idea to organise your clothes.

  • 1, 40 Litre backpack (travel pack)
  • 1 fold-up day pack
  • 2 packing cubes
  • A cable lock to lock your bag to posts when you are on trains or buses (ie. when you go for a piss).
  • A small lock for the zipper (if you think this is necessary)


The footwear you take largely depends on what you are planning to do on your travels. I am planning to do a lot of hiking, so I bought some reasonably presentable, low-rise leather hiking shoes. Hiking shoes (and trainers and runners etc.) are generally as ugly as hell, so look for ones that won’t make you look like an Aussie Bogan. If you have reasonable presentable shoes, you will be able to wear them in clubs and restaurants etc. And if you aren’t planning on doing a lot of hiking, just take some good quality walking shoes (and leave the smelly runners at home)! Also, take a pair of quality sandals. If the climate is hot where you are going, your will probably be wearing sandals most of the time. So two pairs of shoes maximum: a pair of sandals and a pair of leather walking or hiking boots. Also, two pairs of good bamboo hiking socks should do the trick (or light weight merino).  And buy socks along the way when you need to.

  • 1 Sandals
  • 1 low-rise leather hiking boots (or walking boots)
  • 2 pairs bamboo hiking socks

Clothes: Top layer (warn feather down jacket + rain jacket)

This again depends on where you are going. I am planning to go trekking in both the Himalayas and Patagonia and will be visiting Europe in April, so it is important to have a good warm jacket as well as a waterproof rain jacket. In terms of warmth, a light-weight down puffer jacket will do the trick (at around 500 grams). Again these things are pretty damn ugly and make you look like a bouncer at a shite night-club, but there are a few brands around that are slightly presentable (so are also versatile). The great advantage of these jackets is that they are super warm and they come with a stuff-sack that takes up little room in your pack (but please buy a black one without a shite sports logo on the front).  And remember, puffer jackets aren’t waterproof so you will need a good waterproof jacket as well (this is a must as it rains and you will otherwise get cold and wet).

  • 1 down puffer jacket
  • 1 waterproof lightweight rain jacket (buy a good one, don’t skimp here, and they only weigh about 400 grams).

Clothes: Mid-layer (jumper)

Quality travel clothes tend to be very expensive, often for no apparent reason. There are lots of ugly fleeces around in all sorts of hideous colours, made out of bizarre plastic materials, that can cost anything up to $300. It may be better to buy a good quality jumper from a normal fashion store than getting ‘fleeced’ at a travel store (but admittedly some fleeces are  OK, and again buy a black or dark coloured one without sports branding and one that doesn’t weigh much).

  • 1 warm jumper or fleece (zip up is good)

Clothes: Base layer (shirts)

The shirts you take aren’t as important as the other stuff you take, as you can always buy good quality shirts whilst you are on the road. A couple of everyday shirts and a couple of dress shirts should be enough for the majority of social situations. linen shirts are great in hot climates and Merino tee shirts are good for trekking in cooler climates. You can always buy cheaper tee shirts on the way.

  • 2 linen dress/casual shirts
  • 1 Marino tee shirt
  • 1 synthetic base-layer

Clothes: (shorts and trousers)

You will need at least 2 pairs of trousers and 2 pairs of shorts for an extended, independent journey. Don’t take jeans as they are too heavy and please, no ugly cotton tan cargo shorts! Walking and hiking trousers and shorts are perfect. They are light, robust, don’t wrinkle, and have ‘secret’ pockets. They aren’t particular warn, but you can always take a pair of lightweight Marino long-johns for hiking.

  • 2 pairs of travel pants
  • 2 pairs of lightweight travel shorts
  • 1 pair Marino long-johns

Technology (hardware)

There are a whole bunch of technology options for the 21st Century independent traveler. But this needs to be considered in a discerning and ‘minimalist’ way. The context of your travels is the World and the people in it and only a fool would spend all their time staring at a 6 inch mobile screen whilst they are traveling (like they do at home). Still, there are some practical advantages of packing some good tech. Don’t take a lap-top as they are heavy, unnecessary, distracting and (hopefully) they will get stolen. Most things you need to do whilst traveling can be done with a smart phone or tablet (booking hotels, flights, email etc.). And in terms of reading, don’t take printed books (or read your eBooks on your back-lit tablet), but take a eBook reader (some have free 3G that works pretty much anywhere in the world and they don’t need to be charged for up to 6 weeks). This is what I recommend.

  • A 8 inch tablet with Wi Fi (you won’t need a 3G/4G Connection as you can pair it with a smartphone…maybe someone elses!)
  • A stylus pen (that doubles as a real pen)
  • A Bluetooth keyboard (in its own case that can hold the tablet as well)
  • A 64 Gigabyte duo flash-drive (‘duo’ means it can plug into the tablet as well as a normal computer). Pack some movies on it for those long bus or plane rides.
  • A smartphone (this is optional if you take the tablet ; a cheap phone will do)
  • A universal power plug adapter (very important)
  • 1 plug and cord that will charge the phone, the tablet, and the eBook reader
  • 1 eBook reader (in a case)
  • 1 pair of headphones (some have a microphone built in that may be good for Skype calls)
  • Travel Business cards (with your blog address and contact details for the wonderful people you meet along the way).
  • 1 very small torch
  • 1 medium size lock for hotel doors or lockers
  • 1 SteriPen UV water purifier and drinking flask (yes, you will need to drink water!)


A lot of minimalist travelers don’t take cameras. I think it is a big mistake not to take some sort of camera as you will regret it one day (I have photos from all the countries visited). If you take a smart-phone you can always take photos using that I suppose (pretty crap ones), but please don’t ever take photos with your tablet (this should be illegal). I will take a mid-range DSLR with two versatile lenses, a micro-tripod, and a very small camera bag (don’t take a normal camera bag as they are bulky, ugly and scream tourist!)

  • 1 mid-range DLSR Camera
  • 1, 18-55mm lens
  • 1, 55-250mm lens
  • 1 itsy bitsy tripod
  • A 32 Gigabyte micro SD drive (with an adapter so it can be used as a normal SD drive). This is how I get photos off a camera to the tablet).

Technology (software)

Getting the software right is something a 21st Century independent traveler must now do. This includes installing apps on your tablet for music, blogging, books, and hotel reservations. I plan to blog weekly on my travels, but I definitely won’t be using social software (I want to get away from that world for a while whilst I explore richer ones). This is what I suggest in terms of basic software and apps (if you aren’t blogging you could probably just use a phone rather than take a table).

  • Create a blog on a blogging platform like WordPress (I have been blogging for more than 10 years now). Make sure that there are ways that people can subscribe to your blog (via email etc.).
  • Download the WordPress app so that you can write blog posts off-line.
  • Connect your blog to your social feeds so that when you post something, it is automatically fed into your networks.
  • Download an app for booking hotels
  • You will need an email app (but create a new email address if your old one gets lots of distracting crap).
  • Also,  subscription to services such as Scribd means that you will have access to travel books, such as the entire Lonely Planet catalogue, for a small monthly fee on one app. Books can be downloaded and read offline. I am not sure that this is a complete replacement for a printed travel book, but I am willing to give it a shot.
  • Spotify (or similar). Subscribe to this so that you can store the tracks on your device and listen to them offline when you are on long bus journeys.
  • You will need a VOIP (Skype) app for making phone calls. There are lots of options here, but you could put some money in your account (for calling mobile and landlines) and purchase your own phone number (for $60 per year). Then your friends and family can call you directly on this number (from any phone) and if you don’t answer (highly likely), you will receive an email notification. Then you can call them back at your convenience. There is no easy solution to traveling with a phone cheaply and I would recommend leaving your SIM at home. Buy a local SIM if you really need to but VOIP (Skype) and the occasional email should be fine for most long-term independent traveling.
  • SKYPE Wi Fi app. With this app you can log into many public WI Fi hotspots at airports etc. (for a fee).
  • Currency exchange app (these work off line too)
  • Banking app (you can figure this out)
  • Travel Card app (travel debit-cards have become increasingly popular and they can store 10 or so currencies). You will need this app to manage your card.
  • Note taking software (for writing). I am going to use Microsoft OneNote and Google Docs
  • Install Cloud Drives (such as Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive). When you manage to find a place with a decent internet collection, drop your photos and other important files into your cloud drives (do this regularly). Have backup copies of your insurance contacts, passport, vaccination, travel documents, and other important documents in there as well.
  • A app for booking flights (I use Skyscanner as it is simply a search engine as opposed to a travel agent)
  • And you will love this. This app from Melbourne allows you to explore how to get from place to place by any means of transport (Rio2Rome). It is good for working out routes, costs, and modes of transport.
  • Also, here is a list of Android apps worth considering..

Toiletries, health, first aid.

I won’t say too much about toiletries; you  can figure this out for yourself, and you can buy this stuff when you get to your destination (but a toilet bag that you can hang in the shower is really useful). Also, consider a micro-fibre towel that are  light weight and dry really quickly (but do feel like crap). And take a basic first-aid kit with bandages and a few common tablets, but this does depends on where you are traveling to (you may need to take an operating table…).

Dec 012014
 Posted by on December 1, 2014 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  1 Response »
Fitzroy, Melbourne

Fitzroy, Melbourne

Starting in January 2015 I will be taking a one-year break to travel slowly and write (slowly) about traveling. I will travel from Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia to Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina (and yes, they are both named after the same illegitimate  Fitz Royals!).  It is something that I have wanted to do for quite a long time, but the common aspirations kept trumping the uncommon ones. During my time away I will be traveling independently from place-to-place, starting in Fitzroy, Melbourne, and ending in Fitz Roy, Argentina (a big-arse mountain in Argentina).

I have done a lot of traveling before, but never for quite so long and never for quite so far. In my mind, much contemporary travel has become far too banal and ‘instrumental’ in terms of traveling to a specific place for a specific purpose for a specific amount of time. But not much fun in that!

The first part of my journey will be on familiar territory in South and East Asia and Europe, however the majority of the journey will be in unfamiliar territory in South America. I suppose I could have gone directly to South America and skipped the other places, but I needed to re-trace a few previous paths. Travel is a bit like re-reading a complicated book; if you don’t re-read it you will end up reading the same book over and over again.

Below is the very rough itinerary. It is both old paths and new. The first part is re-visiting places whist ‘leaving behind’. The next bit is ‘death’ (after you leave behind but not literally) and the final bit is ‘re-birth’ (Fitz Roy here I come!). I will develop this Camino de Santiago-style theme some more whilst I travel as like all good research, insights will arise along the way in which I will share with you (and sorry if you subscribed to this blog expecting something else).

  • January 7-April 1, South East Asia and East Asia (Thailand, India, Nepal and walking the Annapurna Circuit)
  • April 1-30, Western Europe (London, Porto, walking the Camino de Santiago. Barcelona, Berlin)
  • May 1- December 31, South America (Bogota, Columbia  to Fitz Roy, Argentina)

I will write a blog post here about once per week, so I hope you will join me!

Fitz Roy Argentina

Fitz Roy Argentina