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Why I love my backpack

Yes, you read that correctly. Weird, right? In the interest of full disclosure: It’s time for me to get over my fear of judgement and just do things. So, here’s a thing!

My love affair with my backpack began in Berlin in August 2017. For those of you who don’t know, I spent from the end of May to the end of August 2017 travelling the UK and Europe with my husband* Ben and 3-year-old daughter. We visited London, Tranent, Edinburgh, Paris, Florence, Pisa, Munich, Bratislava, Prellenkirchen, and Berlin. One day in July I was wandering around Munich after visiting the Deutches Museum when I happened across Globetrotter, a travel and outdoor equipment store . I ducked inside with the hope of finding a phrasebook for the upcoming Slovakian leg of our journey and stayed for over an hour looking at every conceivable travel- and outdoor-related item you could possibly imagine.

The store itself was 4 levels high (click for pic). The shiny thing that you can see on the basement level is the Wasseraktionsfläsche: a pool to try out their canoes and kayaks before buying. Also for sale on various levels of the store were tents, clothes, travel books (I couldn’t find an English-Slovak phrasebook, but I did find a German-Slovak equivalent – a fun way to test both my German and Slovak language skills at the same time!), crossbows, hunting knives, multi-tools, drink bottles, camping equipment, a cafe, a couple of bouldering walls… Looking at the photos on the Globetrotter website it looks like I somehow missed the cold- and rain-rooms for testing the all-weather gear, and the to-scale plane and train bathrooms. This place was incredible. However, I’m wandering a little far from the point I was trying to make.

While I was soaking up the sheer awesomeness of this place, I started casually browsing the backpack section. While the backpack I was using was still technically functional, I could see that the end was near – Smiggle schoolbags are not built for round-the-world travel.

I quickly fell in love with the Deuter range of day packs

Ooh, pretty!

Ooh, pretty!

but couldn’t justify the cost (this particular one was about 100 Euros). I left the store with my Deutsch-Slowakish phrasebook and a vow to return someday.

The Smiggle backpack lasted until Berlin when I just couldn’t deal with the broken zippers and straps any longer. I showed Ben the irreparable carcass and set off for the Berlin Globetrotter store. Conveniently located across from the Rathaus Steglitz U-Bahnhof it was easy enough to find, but once inside it didn’t seem quite as impressive as the Munich branch (to be fair, though, this was partly due to the fact that I had a headache). Still, they had a great range of backpacks and the staff were really good at ignoring me while I stuffed my laptop into bag after bag to find out whether it fit into the designated pouch.

It turned out that the pretty Deuter bag that I liked in Munich wasn’t a good fit, but I eventually managed to narrow down to two options based on size, price and pockets: a black Deuter daypack and a purple Osprey one. I was biased toward the Deuter bag as I’d heard a lot of positive reviews regarding the quality, and it was slightly cheaper than the Osprey pack. On the other hand, the Osprey bag was purple. (This is significant because  1. brighter is always better when accessory shopping, and 2. purple is my favourite colour.) In this case, the Osprey back was also more comfortable to wear so after a quick guilt-call to Ben (I’m about to spend, like, $150 on a backpack! STOP ME!!!) it was a no-brainer.

As soon as I finished paying for the backpack I packed everything into it, strutted back to the U-Bahn, then hugged it all the way home (the bag, not the U-Bahn). It felt like Christmas.

Decision made. Case closed.

Look at that. It’s so pretty!

On packing the backpack for the next leg of our journey – a flight to Austria then straight onto a train to Bratislava – I fell in love with it even more. My laptop fit comfortably into the padded pouch and documents sat flat against it in the adjacent zippered section. The front pocket was huge but had enough pockets to separate everything, and the compression straps meant that my unobtrusive everyday pack:


could expand to fit an unbelievable amount of clothing, food, and in-flight activities.

Full. I recently used this to pack everything I needed for a 3-night stay in Cairns, including a towel and swimmers.

I recently used this to pack everything I needed (and a few things I didn’t) for a 3-night stay in Cairns.

The only down-side was that when weighed down with all of my carry-on gear (including a laptop, notebook, jacket and snacks to name a few), the netted straps were initially a bit uncomfortable on my (somewhat) bare shoulders, but it hasn’t been an issue since.  I later discovered that I also wasn’t a big fan of the corded zipper pulls (see below).

How they're supposed to look (bottom) vs. how they usually stay until inevitably pull them out and fix them.

How they’re supposed to look (bottom) vs. how they usually stay until they inevitably detach.

It’s not a big deal, but it stands out on an otherwise awesome backpack.

As of publication, I have owned this backpack for about 6 months and have used it almost daily. So far it’s showing no signs of wear – even the plastic key-clip is as springy as the day I bought it. For this reason, as well as its awesome colour, great design, and my memories of all our adventure together:

I love my backpack.


*NOTE: Ben and I have since separated. While I currently have intention of sharing how this came about, I can assure you that it had nothing to do with the backpack. I love it, but not like that!

The Big Trip 2017: London

We arrived in London around 6.20am local time, 20 minutes later than expected. The icy wind was a shock after the warm plane flight, but it was only a moment before we had our luggage and were winding our way towards the Immigration desks. Surprisingly, we were lined up in front of the same lady who was behind us back in Singapore. Despite claiming she was “not very sociable”, she recognised and chatted to 3 people in addition to us while we waited – one of whom apparently mistimed their sleeping tablet, falling asleep in the middle of dinner.

We got to enjoy the full immigrant experience, being carefully compared to our passport photos and quizzed about the details of our trip. Even Sarah was questioned:

Immigration officer: “And what’s your name?”

Sarah: “Little Witch.”

Me: (Don’t sound like you’re coaching her, don’t sound like you’re coaching her) “No, your real name!” (Dammit, I’m coaching her!)

Gotta love her imagination.

Once we were admitted into the country, we went about finding our way to our AirBNB flat in Camden Town. Although we probably could have worked out the ‘Tube’, we opted for a London cab due to what felt like our excessive amount of luggage. Never again.

Due to traffic, we ended up paying £100 (rounded down from £107 because the cabbie felt bad for us. To compare, the Tube would have cost under £20 and taken the same amount of time). On the upside, we can officially cross off ‘ride in a London cab’ from our bucket lists, if it ever made it on there. The driver even wore the same cap as the one in BBC Sherlock’s ‘A Study in Pink’ which was weird at first, but he was nice enough. Also weird (but apparently legal) was letting Sarah sit in the car without a child seat.

Once we arrived at our destination, we were greeted by our friendly host who showed us around the second-storey flat. It was small, but it was cheap for London and had 3 beds so we left our bags and headed out to do some grocery shopping.

The short walk to the shops was a little disappointing for me. I didn’t realise how much my idea of other countries had been shaped by movies and TV. There was rubbish everywhere – literally – both in and out of bags. Apparently London (or at least, that part of Camden Town) doesn’t do rubbish bins, so the bags were just left out on peoples’ doorsteps. Nice.

On our return to the apartment, we had some lunch and I started washing the clothes. The washing machine wasn’t plugged into the wall, which I thought was odd, but it was easy enough to plug it back in.


Taking a minute to sit down after my shower, I noticed a rather loud splashing sound coming from the kitchen. On exploring, I saw that the washing machine, located in the kitchen, had leaked into the kitchen cupboard and through to the floor. At this point, I called the owner (a different guy to the one who welcomed us) to inform him of the situation. Apparently, I was supposed to have been informed that the washing machine was out-of-order. Really out-of-order. As in, any liquid drawn into the machine would end up in the hallway downstairs, out-of-order. The guy was understandably unhappy, and had no qualms about telling me so. Repeatedly.

At this point, I feel like I should add that I am not trying to make out like I’m at all innocent. I plugged the machine in; I turned it on. However, I was not willing to shoulder all of the blame. While I could have spent more time considering why it had been unplugged in the first place (I just assumed a dodgy / lack of power point behind the machine), a simple communication from our hosts could have averted this whole crisis. And it was a crisis.

If you zoom in, you can see the water still leaking from the light fitting.

If you zoom in, you can see the water still leaking from the light fitting. The carpet is also a few shades darker than when we arrived.

As soon as we discovered the leak, Ben started looking for a new place to stay. A preliminary search on AirBNB came up empty, so we booked a hotel for the night (it was just after lunch at this point) to buy us more time to look. The Park Plaza London Waterloo was way over budget but available and – as it turned out – quite nice.

By this point we were feeling pretty shell-shocked. It felt like we had started our first family trip rather literally, stumbling from one obstacle to the next. Fortunately for us, my (super-awesome) cousin John and his fiancée had been living in London for a few months already, and were more than happy to help. (“Pro” tip: if you know anyone who lives or has lived in the place you are visiting, talk to them. They will make your lives 1000% easier). John dropped by the hotel with cashed-up Oyster cards, sight-seeing recommendations, a travel guide, and a local Three SIM card which he set up for us. He then took us out to dinner, showing us Big Ben along the way. Did I mention that he’s super awesome?

This much-appreciated assistance allowed Ben and I to take a breath and realise that we needed a little more time before taking our next step, so we extended our stay at the hotel for another night and passed out.

The next day we caught a double-decker bus to St James Park, next to Buckingham Palace. With the time it took for the bus to fight the London traffic it probably would have been quicker to walk, but it was exciting. We didn’t actually hit anything (or anyone), but it was close. The park itself was nice, if a bit crowded. We saw our first squirrel, our delight only drawing a few sidelong glances from other park visitors. After a little wandering we found ourselves close to the palace, so we decided to go take a look. While it wasn’t exactly on the ‘must-see’ list, we found ourselves excited (and for me, even proud) after we realised that the Queen was, technically, our queen too.

Sarah was rather impressed by the garden. Thinking that it belonged to the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) may have helped. We did correct her eventually.

Sarah was rather impressed by the garden. Thinking that it belonged to the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) may have helped. We did correct her eventually.

Despite the crowds, we managed to find an open spot by the fence and stare at the guards for a while. For some reason I thought that they were going to be still and quiet (too much TV, maybe?), but these guys were patrolling around pretty regularly, and even screamed at some idiot to “GET OFF THE FENCE!” a few times.

Not wanting to leave immediately, we wandered around to the left of the Palace, admiring the general ‘English-ness’ of the area: a horse-and-carriage clip-clopped by. Some weird-looking bees were chilling in the garden. Sarah took a great interest in the Queen’s role, particularly in regard to land ownership:

“Whose tree is that?”

“Well, it’s on the Palace grounds, so I guess it’s the Queen’s.”

“What about the grass there?”

“That’s on the grounds too, so it’s probably the Queen’s too.”

“What about the fence? Is that the Queen’s?”

“Uh, sure.”

“And the flowers?”


and so forth.  One day I may confirm whether this is in fact true, but for now I don’t think it’s going to hurt for Sarah to believe that the Queen owns pretty much everything in Great Britain. We can’t let her grow up without at least one misconception.

After that, it was back to the hotel to find some longer-term accommodation. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we had given our soaking, half-washed clothes to housekeeping to sort out. £60! We needed a place with a washing machine, fast. AirBNB had treated us well after the Camden Town debacle, giving us a full refund plus a $200AUD credit for re-booking and even some suggestions of other places to stay, so we decided to give them another chance. After a painful 45 minutes of sifting through expensive or dodgy listings, I checked out Edinburgh, Scotland on a whim. It worked out cheaper to book a return train trip and stay in a pretty little cottage in Tranent, Scotland than to stay anywhere in the London area. To top it all off, it was an instant-book listing, so in 10 minutes we booked accommodation, paid for train tickets, and called the host to let her know we’d be there tomorrow afternoon. She took it really well, considering. Actually, she was rather wonderful – but more on that later.

The next morning we enjoyed our second very English breakfast, which was really tasty except the bacon was served (drowned) in melted butter which I found rather disgusting. There was a wide assortment of other food on offer though, so I wasn’t unhappy for long. Well-fortified for the day ahead, we set off on our northern adventure. We arrived at Kings Cross station a little early for our 10.20 train, which was lucky because we found a Paperchase store (they produce my favourite notebooks which I haven’t been able to source since Borders closed down circa. 2011) and an ACTUAL PLATFORM 9 3/4!! (Sort of.) There was also a Harry Potter shop, but by this point we were in a bit of a rush to find a real platform, so we vowed to check it out upon our return.

Below the black and white sign on the wall there is half of a trolley fixed to the wall where people could don a House scarf and have an 'on the way to Hogwarts' photo taken.

Below the black and white sign on the wall there is half of a trolley fixed to the wall where people could don a House scarf and have an ‘on the way to Hogwarts’ photo taken.

The train was quite impressive compared to what we were used to. It was clean and didn’t stink, the seats were comfy and we could have had free wifi had we booked through the right website. As it turned out, the wifi only cost about £5, so Ben logged in and got a few solid hours of work done. Sarah and I did some colouring, played I-Spy, and when she got too bored we pulled out the tablet and headphones and she played games while I stared out the window or jotted things in my notebook. The only thing I would have changed was when we visited the dining cart: by the time we went to buy something, all the hot food was sold out and the sandwiches left something to be desired. Still, the 4.5 hour trip passed quickly, and we soon arrived in Scotland, birthplace of our ancestors – or at least, some of them.

The Big Trip 2017: Sydney to Heathrow

Man, what a week! (…and a bit). On Monday 5 June at 6.05pm, it finally happened – we left the country! Ben, Sarah and I have just finished the first week of our 10-and-a-bit week trip around the UK and Europe. It was only meant to be London and Europe, but due to our accommodation not working out we headed north to Tranent, Scotland for the week.

Anyway, let’s wind this back a bit to the beginning of the trip…

The Plan

After Ben sold his share of Bean Ninjas in December 2016, we decided to take the opportunity to see some of the UK and Europe (as we had planned in 2013, before I fell pregnant). Due to my uni commitments and Ben’s work schedule, the only time we could really depart was early June – 5 days after my final exam. Anyway, between December and now (yes, we’re still booking) we slowly came up with a plan:

  • London for a week or two, so we were in a not-too-different country to deal with the jet lag;
  • Paris for two nights – one day to see the Eiffel Tower (the highlight of Sarah’s trip) and a day either side for travel;
  • Florence for two weeks – Ben’s Italian experience, plus gelato;
  • Munich for 4 weeks, to see how much German I really know;
  • Bratislava for 1 week (I’m going to a Blind Guardian concert);
  • Berlin for 1 week, because we thought that Legoland Deutschland was there (it’s not); then
  • back to London for a couple of days before the flight home.

It’s quite an ambitious trip, particularly since both Sarah and I have never left the country before, but Ben was really keen to try and skip the Australian winter altogether this year so we thought we’d give it a go. We won’t quite miss all of winter, but it will be close.

The Lead-Up (or rather, The Crazy Time)

So, I mentioned that my final uni exam took place a mere 5 days before our flight. This was hard, but in theory possible. I only needed to achieve a 50% pass mark (including a minimum 50% mark for the final exam) in order to exit with an Advanced Diploma of Arts. Easy, right?

Well: in amongst studying the most challenging German unit so far (with a new teacher and a new textbook and much stress) we also had to pack all of our stuff into storage and move out of our rental place to share with family… one week before the exam. Plus, Sarah picked up a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away and kept waking her up at night. And, and, and…you get the picture. It was pretty crazy. Even so, we managed to see most of the family before we went, just because, well, you never know…

Anyway, all of this going on made the trip (for me) seem surreal. Right up until…

The First Leg: Sydney to Singapore

My flight anxiety didn’t actually hit me until we had dropped our bags and said goodbye to our lift to the airport (thanks Cheryl!). Sitting down at the Maccas while Sarah had a much-needed play on the equipment, I finally realised that we were actually going to get on a plane for 8 and then 13 hours OH MY GOD WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE!?!?!? Luckily, all of that disappeared once I sat down on the plane – I think it’s because the flight attendants are so calm and cool and surely they wouldn’t do this job if it was too dangerous, right? Plus, we only hear about the flights that don’t work, rather than the millions that do etc. etc. Or, it may be because by that point there’s nothing I can do to stop it so I’d rather die happy than fighting something I can no longer control. Maybe a little of both.

Anyway, thanks to Singapore Airlines’s super awesome in-flight entertainment system, the time passed pretty quickly. Sarah worked out the touch screen almost instantly, and enjoyed watching the first half-hour of Trolls on repeat for most of the journey. She also tried some of the games, but the controls were a bit tricky. Between that and her Nintendo DS (we came super-prepared) she napped for maybe an hour, but was otherwise happily distracted for the whole trip.

Changi Airport, Singapore

We arrived at Changi Airport around 12.10am local time (2.10am Sydney time – ouch!). By then we were all understandably pooped, but still managed to navigate our way to the other end of the airport for our 24-hour stopover in the airport hotel. That’s right – we got to sleep in beds before the next leg of our journey, and we didn’t even have to leave the airport.

Our room at the Aerotel Changi Airport. Not pictured: bathroom to the right.

Our room at the Aerotel Changi Airport. Not pictured: bathroom to the right.

After a decent rest (about 6-7 hours) and a shower, we set off to find some food. On the way, we stumbled across a neat little play area which was great for getting Sarah to burn off some energy. Unfortunately, she was still pretty tired, so she didn’t have much patience or understanding for the kids that weren’t speaking English: “Stop speaking German! Speak English!” (The poor other kid wasn’t speaking German, and had no idea what she was going on about.) After lunch and nap she was much better though, even finding a friend before we so cruelly dragged her away to have dinner.

Play area at Changi Airport.

Play area at Changi Airport.

Between all this eating, napping and playing we did manage to explore the airport a bit, and it was AMAZING! I was constantly surprised to remember that we were actually in an airport, as the carpet, shops, places to eat and things to do made it feel more like a really upmarket shopping centre. There were beautiful gardens, a butterfly house, fancy shops, and surely more that we just didn’t see. The acoustics were really good too – even with the planeloads of people coming and going it was pretty quiet. All in all, it’s convinced me to go and visit Singapore at some point.

Sorry for the blurry photo - I'll have to go back and take a better one sometime soon.

Sorry for the blurry photo – I’ll have to go back and take a better one sometime.

Around 10.30pm local time we headed over to our gate to wait for our 11.30pm flight. While we were there, Sarah found two little girls to play with – well, Sarah followed the littlest one around, and the other one followed Sarah, and they just wandered around like that for around 20 minutes before Sarah got distracted by the little play house. (Airports with play areas are the best!) Before long, we heard the boarding call and were all ready for the next leg of the journey:

Singapore to London

While we were still flying with Singapore Airlines, the in-flight entertainment system was a little different. Not a big deal, but Sarah had to work a little harder to get what she wanted without the touch-screen. This trip’s theme movie was Tangled, with the occasional Moana or Trolls thrown in. Once the lights were turned off, she managed to sleep for 6 hours straight – hooray! (I think that the new, rectangular travel pillow helped with that. The U-shaped one was U-seless.)

Ben managed to snooze on-and-off for about 4 hours, but I just couldn’t get comfortable so I watched Logan (kickass) and The Space Between Us (predictable but safe enough choice in case Sarah woke up or I did actually manage to fall asleep). Toward the middle of the flight I got a bit restless (What do you mean we still have 6 hours to go?!?) but again, it was pretty uneventful… at least until the last half hour.

As we approached London, we were advised that we’d have to fly in a holding pattern for a little while. Not long after this announcement, we heard a loud thump from the underside of the plane. It was probably the landing gear (as Ben tried to explain to me) but nevertheless I was tense for the remainder of the flight.

All things considered, it was a really good flight and I would definitely fly with Singapore Airlines again.