1. Set more alarms than you can successfully ignore when you have to wake up early for a flight.
On the 31st of December 2015, I woke up at 3.15am, turned off my alarm, and promptly rolled over and fell back asleep. At 3.18am I repeated this exact process.
Then at 4.15 I suddenly shot up, realised I wouldn’t have time for the long, slow breakfast I’d planned, or for cleaning my room, or for folding and putting away the sheets I’d left in the dryer last night. Instead, I shot to the bathroom, brushed my teeth and washed my face, chucked two nectarines into my handbag, dumped my dry sheets on my bed, and called an Uber.
2. If You’re Running Late, Don’t Try To Help Your Uber Driver Find You. Just Stay At Your Pin.
I live on Regent St, which is a one way street that is parallel to Gibbons St, which is a one way st going in the other direction. This sometimes confuses Uber drivers and they tend to go around a bit – so when I saw mine on Wyndham, I thought I’d call him up and let him know he could pick me up on Gibbons (which goes up) instead of him having to go up Gibbons and then back down again to Regent.
Short story long, it didn’t work – trying to give Uber drivers very simple, clear instructions often seems not to (Just fyi, I do love the app, I just often get drivers who go round in circles on Redfern’s one way roads, unable to get to where I am). He was very confused, the ‘4 minutes to arrive’ on my Uber app went up to ‘6 minutes to arrive’ and I eventually gave up, hung up, and told him to just pick me up where the app told him to. When he got to Regent, the police turned on the sirens, followed him down the street, and asked him to complete a breath test. My blood pressure spiked significantly when he started stressing about my 6 am flight more than I was, telling me that I was probably going to miss it, but we ended up making it with heaps of time and it only cost $14 – cheaper than a train would have been!
3. Don’t trust your tickets when they say that you can use your online boarding pass to board.
Airlines like to pretend they’re super great with technology, but they still usually want you to print your boarding pass – even if the online pass you have says you can just use the one on your phone without printing!!
Trusting my pdf ticket, I just breezed straight in past security (well, I say breezed but I got bomb swiped by a fairly rude airport employee – who was actually of some minority ethnicity himself but just seemed offended by my appearance and was unecessarily severe), and sat at my gate. Then I realised – nobody checked my boarding pass or passport at all. But I know that airlines can sell seats if someone doesn’t show up…
I went over to the uber-hipster at the desk at my gate, who literally looked like he’d stepped out of a TV ad, and he huffily told me that I was meant to have printed it at the kiosks when I’d gotten into the airport, but that he’d print one for me now to save us the trouble. I refrained from pointing out that my ticket said that I didn’t need to. Whatever, they weren’t going to sell my seat because they thought I hadn’t turned up, and that was the important thing.
4. Know any airports you have to transit through.
I should have known this from previous experiences (eg. The disaster at KL airport) but I had a 4hr 20min stopover at Gold Coast airport and I was not prepared. First, I asked a very cute member of the airport staff how to get from the domestic terminal to the international one, and he directed me to a sign that said ‘International Transfers’. Fair, but it was 6.30 and they said they don’t open till 7am. So I grabbed a coffee at the Domestic departures lounge, waited till 7am, and headed over.
Firstly, they like to open late – actually no, that’s a lie. They opened up but then kept the barriers there, so they were waiting expectantly and nobody was going through. But after about 10 minutes they came and actually moved the barriers over so people could go in. That was fine. But after going through security, I realised I was at the customs desk instead of anywhere that I could check in or get my transfer ticket. So I had to leave, go around the whole way, and reenter the airport at the check in desks.
But after a while of lining up and realising the line wasn’t moving, a woman came by and told us all that check in hadn’t opened, and we’d have to wait for another 40 minutes. Which was fine but here’s the thing – the food at check-in, arrivals, and international departures at Gold Coast Airport is almost comically pathetic. The only good food – Hungry Jacks, Sumo Salad, Noodle Box – is in the domestic departures lounge. I felt super awks going in and out again so many times so I didn’t want to go through security again, and I wasn’t sure I’d be let in without a ticket – plus the police had noticed me wandering around a lot and were frowning at me fairly intently.
So that was how I ended up getting THE saddest plate of nachos ever, because it was either that or a friand if I wanted to avoid gluten. Seriously, so sad. The corn chips were awful – how can corn chips even be bad?? That takes effort! And they were topped with only a little bit of not very good cheese, then fake guac. The stuff that tastes like chemicals and looks like what you’d get if you mixed wheatgrass juice with glue. I ate a few, and then a little cockroach came over, poked its head around and decided it couldn’t even be bothered with my nachos. I gave up, left them for the cockroach in case he changed his mind, and joined the check in line. $14.50 ladies and gents, for the most awful nachos that have ever existed. Yes, I’m making that call – I cannot actually imagine worse nachos than this. I mean, I love just corn chips and cheese. I even love plain corn chips! How do you mess this up?!?
Anyway, getting into international departures was depressing. Nothing to do, nothing to eat, nothing to see. The highlights of being there were noticing bottles of sheep placenta for sale in the itsy bitsy duty free store, and realising that what I’d taken to be a father-daughter couple were in fact a romantic couple, but the woman was just short and literally spoke like a toddler, and her partner spoke to her in that voice you use when speaking to babies. People are strange sometimes.
5. Test out your ATM pin if you’ve recently changed it
I couldn’t remember my Citibank ATM pin (who needs them anyway, with PayPass?) so I’d gone and changed it just before leaving. Anyway, I got to Nadi International Airport in Fiji, headed over to the first ATM I saw, and tried to get cash out.
Here’s the thing – it didn’t work, but it didn’t tell me why it didn’t work. It never said ‘your pin is wrong’. It just kept taking me round in circles – put in pin, select account, select cash amount, click yes to continue with this transaction even though you will be charged $10 to use this ATM, then back to ‘put in pin’ – and it would say ‘reenter pin’ as if they just needed definite confirmation that you wanted to do this. Eventually I did it enough times that it said I was locked out for using the wrong pin so many times in a row. GREAT. I used my ING debit card instead, glad that I’d carried it as a backup, and groused silently over the fact that I was now going to get charged even more fees everytime I got cash out over here.
6. If your hostel/hotel organises airport pickup, get airport pickup.
The directions to my hostel said you can get a taxi there for $7. Apparently thia was a lie, all the taxi drivers said it would be $15. But the airport staff asked me where I was staying and said my hostel would be here to pick me up. Then they said I could get on the shuttle for another hostel. I tried figuring out where to catch the shuttle from, then when the shuttle was coming, but only got vague contradictory answers to all my questions ‘from here. Soon’; ‘actually maybe from there’ ‘How will I know?’ I wasted 20 minutes on this, then realised I should just get in a taxi. At least the drive was scenic.
7. Don’t leave it till the last moment to purchase important things
I didn’t have checked luggage, so my plan was to buy most of my toiletries in Fiji. Which would have been fine, but one of those toiletries was insect spray, which is pretty important in the Fijian summer if you want to avoid getting eaten alive by mozzies. Which would also have been fine, except when I went over to the supermarket, they didn’t have any!!
Also on the walk there, a lot of Fijian boys would come up to me and ask me about my hair and what I was doing tonight etc. I know I may sound like a militant feminist, but if you’re a girl travelling on your own, you know what you don’t want? Groups of 4 or 5 boys walking up to you, and trying to talk to you while you are very evidently busy. Like whatever, I know a lot of people will be like ‘they’re just being friendly’ but why is it always groups of boys, not girls? Plus there are times guys have come up to me and they give off that ‘just friendly’ vibe. This is definitely not ‘just friendly’ – they give you that look, like they’re sizing you up/checking you out and it’s really annoying that girls always have to deal with this and be nice and polite and try to shake them off without being mean.
I comforted myself with bulgogi at this Korean restaurant called The Grace Food Company which is soooo good – plus they’re all about ethically sourced ingredients. Then, much to my delight, the receptionist at my hostel suggested one of the other hostels might be selling bug spray. The one next door was, and I finally felt a little less terrible.
8. If you’re okay at Ping Pong, and you’re feeling a bit lonely, go challenge people to a game.
I had a private room at my hostel, and the only people who were hanging out there were 2 Germans with very, very limited English. We had a brief, stunted conversation, and then I walked down to the beach, desperately wishing I was back home instead, preferably at Lost Paradise, where a lot of my friends were spending NYE, instead of here in this foreign country, entirely alone. New Years was going to suck.
But then I saw a Ping Pong table. I’m not trying to boast but I’m pretty decent. I’ve never owned a table or had one that I could use regularly so I’m not like, the best – but I’m better than most people. There were two guys playing pool in Hawaiian shirts next to the Ping Pong table and I shyly went over and asked them if one of them wouldn’t mind playing a round of Ping Pong with me after they were done with their game.
Best decision. They were pretty cool – Sam and Alex, from the Gold Coast. Sam, it turned out, had been on the same flight over as me, while Alex had been here for a few weeks with his family, who’d just left.
9. Indulge in the local customs
We ended up having a great night – I found a bottle of ‘Shelltails’ in the supermarket, which were Fijian cocktails (I grabbed a mojito flavour). We had some tequila shots, danced on the beach, hopping between the parties at our hostel and another one further down the beach, with these huge bonfires and fireworks as the backdrop. I’d heard Nadi didn’t have great beaches compared to the islands, but check out the photos of the sunset, which went for ages – there’s no filters on these, the sky just kept changing through these gorgeous colours.
I also ended up having some rather fantastic fireside conversations with interesting people from around the world – including a skydiving instructor!
And of course they had fire dancing, and a lot of local tribal dances from some incredibly well built young Fijian men and women. And after it was all done, and we were tired out from the dancing, we went for a little dip and then sat in a circle with some of the locals, playing guitar, singing and drinking kava – which is this traditional Fijian drink made out of the ground up root of the pepper plant that works as a mild narcotic. I sat there at 2am drinking kava, swaying along to this guy ‘Robert’ playing guitar and singing along to old songs. What a way to usher in the new year….