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Until we leave for Hawaii. YAY

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Travel Light Aussies

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So. You want to shop. You have saved up your pennies for many months now, and you plan to buy up big when you get to Oahu. You want to take carry on only. Can it be done?

Absofreakinglutely.

I did it, on our last trip. I took 7kg of hand luggage. That was all. I had enough clothes for 3 days, plus the clothes I wore on the plane. I count arrival day as one day, by the way – you will want to change out of your plane clothes into something a lot more light and fresh for Hawaii as you will arrive early in the day after an all night flight.

I knew I would be heading to Ala Moana very early on to shop up a storm, and I knew I would be able to find enough clothes there to last me the 10 days we would be there, and then some.

Of course fate had another plan for us, and we ended up there for 21 days. There was only one thing about that which I regret and which caused me a bit of hassle and I will share that with you now to try and save you that same hassle. This tip applies whether you are travelling light, or travelling with more.

Beedoo Most Important Tip #1 –ย 

If you are taking any kind of prescribed medication, make sure you take more than you actually need for the time you will be there. To be on the safe side, take as much as you would need for one full month. Sure, the travel insurance people helped out and I got scripts sent over by my doctor and got them filled, but I could have saved myself this drama by just taking a little more medication. And it would not have taken up much space or added much weight.

Beedoo Most Important Tip #2 –

Pretty much everything else you could need, you can easily buy in the USA, and for a lot cheaper than you can buy it in Australia. Here are three quick examples of this –

Nail scissors for $3.99 from the ABC store, with cute Hawaiian patterns on them, vs $8.99 upwards for boring nail scissors here in Australia. They have cute tweezers too, same price!

Macys underwear section has a lot of fantastic underwear for $2-3US – this would cost you a minimum of $10 in Australia. I got some Jockey camisoles for less than $5 each there as well. I picked up Genie Bras 2 for $19.98 at Walmart. I got 4 packs of Fruit of the Loom sports bras for $9.98. Walmart is open 24/7 behind Ala Moana, so you can do your shopping whatever time suits you, and they have a lot of great stuff at much more reasonable prices than Australia.

My main pair of sports shoes that I have been wearing the last couple of years are some hot pink Skechers which I picked up for $50 bucks or so. Those shoes I did find here in Australia, at the Skechers DFO clearance outlet – priced at $160. No kidding. You can get a good pair of Adidas running shoes for $29.99. There are brand name shoes to be found from $5 upwards at Ross Dress For Less.

So What Does Beedoo Pack?

If landing on Oahu and not going to any other islands –

3x tops (usually light weight cotton long or 3/4 sleeve shirts to protect arms from the sun)

2x shorts (again light weight cotton cargo pants with plenty of pockets)

1x long pants

2x bra

2x camisole tops (for under the shirts, just how I roll)

5x underwear (3 for day, 2 for night)

1x night sleep wear

5x socks (3 for day, 2 for night – I like fresh very thin socks for wearing around the hotel room once you are done for the day, but thicker socks for daytime use)

1x tablet (for book reading) wrapped in pashmina

1x mobile phone

1x small camera

Charger for phone/tablet

Medications

Travel Light Medical Kit

Hair Comb (with hair bands wrapped around the base)

Small jewellery container

Slippahs (otherwise known as Thongs, to us Aussies, for feet, not underwear!)

On my next trip –

I am going to the Big Island for 3 days first, and shopping is not on the agenda for those days. So I do need to pack a bit more, and we have actually just done a practice pack. All the fun of packing without the reward of going on a trip? Fantastic idea. ๐Ÿ™‚ But I did want to do it because we have such a small suitcase. I will write a post about this soon, I will also put together a post with everything I am putting in my carryon for this trip (and it is nearly identical to the list above) and also you can look forward to a post about what Ziploc bags can do for you.

Rash Vests & Sunscreen

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I see that some people find the blog by searching for “do you need to put suncream under a rash vest” – “do you not need sunscreen if you wear a rash vest” etc.

The answer is – you do not need to put sunscreen on under a rash vest as these contain their own sun protection – either 30+ or 50+ are the most common I see.

You WILL need to put sunscreen on any area not covered by your rash vest. This includes your hands, neck, ears, face, etc. And you WILL also need to make sure you protect your scalp from the sun with a hat, and protect your eyes with a pair of sunglasses with UV protection.

Where can I buy a rash vest?

You can buy rash vests and full body suits in many places – they are fairly common these days – if you want to shop online in Australia you might like to take a look at the range of sun protection offered by the Cancer Council. Some of the items there are made by Stingray and you can look at their range online too. They also have a decent range of plus sizes which can be difficult to find.

If you want sun protection as well as wind protection and keeping warm in the water for extended lengths of time, you might want to check out Sharkskin. These are technically awesome garments with a micro fleece lining – great for snorkelling, surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing, etc. I have a set of these for kayaking and I love them.

A little secret

For those of us not entirely bikini ready (and for those of us who do not want and never intend to be bikini ready!) rash vests or body suits can also be shapewear – they hold all your jiggly bits in just that bit firmer. For this reason combined with the sun protection factor I highly recommend these for your next beach trip.

Interpreting A Review

I began to add this into the choosing series of posts, then I thought this is a bigger topic and deserves a stand alone post with screenshots. So let us dive into this subject, feet first! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Disregard The Rankings – Read The Reviews

This is a really important point when looking at hotels on Tripadvisor. Here is the hotel listing for Honolulu. If you look at it closely, you will see one hotel in the top ten only has 68 reviews! How can that be fair to the other hotels in any way shape or form? I do not understand how they put this ranking table together but I can tell you this, ignore it completely.

To get the real story of Honolulu hotels you need to dig a little deeper, read some reviews, once you have a shortlist post it on the forums and people will chime in with their thoughts which might offer you new suggestions you had not considered before.

Why do people write reviews, anyway?

The reason I write reviews is to inform others of the experience – good or bad – that I had. I cannot assume that is the motive of everyone posting, and to be on the safe side, nor can you!

It is important to understand that to get consistently good reviews from real travellers is *hard work* so some companies will occasionally short cut and hire people to write good reviews of places they probably never stayed in, or they will actively solicit reviews from people they are pretty sure are going to write a positive review and not mention writing reviews to those they think might give them a bad review.

This is called gaming the system, and it is not cool. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But this is how some companies – hotels, tour operators, attractions – operate.

In most cases, the businesses that may be gaming the system are doing it quietly and behind the scenes. However, at the end of this post, I will discuss one company on Trip Advisor which I am confident are doing it mostly because they have admitted they do it. Not only that, some of the more critical reviews have mentioned that they were directly asked to put a positive review on Trip Advisor by the company’s owner.

These solicited, not quite genuine and on occasion totally fake reviews are generally easy to pick out of the crowd, if you know what to look for. And if you did not before, you will once you read this post. ๐Ÿ™‚

How Many Reviews or Forum Posts?

The first thing I do is look at is how many reviews – or forum posts – the review poster has.

Please note there are some incredible people who spend a lot of time helping people out on the forums rather than writing reviews of the places they visited. When they do go to the effort to write a review, it is usually very well done, and should not be disregarded because of a low review count. I will give you one example of this – one of my favourite Destination Advisors on the Oahu forums – MsFuzz.

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MsFuzz has written only two reviews. However, if you click on her name while on Tripadvisor (not in the image you see above because that is a screenshot – when you are on Tripadvisor keep in mind any text in blue is a link on TripAdvisor) you will be led to her profile, where you can see MsFuzz has been on the forums since March 2007, and has written a huge 22,690 posts plus 97 traveler articles. MzFuzz, If you happen to be reading thisLove your work – you are a wonderful destination advisor and help so many people on a regular basis.

If the number is of reviews is 1 *and* the forum post count is 0, I normally disregard that review, unless it is incredibly well written and informative, and has a balance of positives VS negatives. You have to remember, every reviewer started out with one review at some stage. Revisit my first ever review here – I now have written 41 reviews!

If the reviewer has less than 5 reviews and they are joined Tripadvisor a while ago, I will wonder why they only have 5 reviews. I will look at their profile and see what the other reviews were for. Depending on what I see, I might give their review a little less weight than I would for someone who joined this month but has written 5 reviews.

I also know the forums can be difficult to find, so I do not usually hold a lack of forum posts against someone.

Sorting The Reviews

You can sort the reviews on Trip Advisor by grading – click on the blue word eg Excellent, Very Good, Average, Poor, Terrible.

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Why would you want to do sort by grading?

I like to look at all the terrible reviews together, I will sometimes do this for the poor grading as well. You can pick up on a theme by doing this – eg if there are 24 terrible reviews and every single one of them mentions the hotel has low water pressure in the shower, and then you go on to read the most recent reviews without sorting by grading and some of those reviews mention it too, it is a safe bet that the hotel actually does have low water pressure.

So then I can decide – can I live with low water pressure? For an overnight stay, sure I can. No problem. For a 10 night stay? Unlikely.

Secondly, this is a good way to tell if people went into their hotel experience with super high expectations which were not met. One of the reasons some of the 3 or less star hotels get excellent reviews is because people had paid a lower price for the room and therefore were not quite as picky with the experience they had, whereas those who stayed in a 5 star hotel generally expect everything to be perfect.

How do I turn off sort by grading?

Once you are done looking at the reviews for that grading, click on the little X on the box seen below –

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And you will go back to sort by date with all the different gradings included.

The More Factor

If someone has written less than 5 lines for a hotel stay, this is not what I call a helpful review. Even my one night stays generate long reviews, because I am trying to give the other people as much information as possible to make a good decision on whether or not they should stay at this hotel.

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When you visit most review pages on Tripadvisor you will get condensed versions of the reviews, and at the bottom of each review is a more button. Once you have clicked it, this will give you the long versions of every review on that page. I think you have to click it again for every page, too. At least that is my experience.

Too Positive, Too Many Short Posts.

If all the of the reviews for a business or attraction read like this –

Close to the beach, great customer service, nice & friendly. Couldn’t have been happier

– and they seem to all come from one review posters.. something is wacky there. You will find this happens especially on vacation rental reviews so be super careful with those, do not always rely on them. Google the name of your condo block and the room number, and you might find a different story entirely.

Too Many Helpful Votes

If a one review poster gets over 10 helpful votes for their short and all positive review, it would be safe to assume that something screwy is going on there.ย I have written 41 reviews. I have received 17 helpful votes. I appreciate every one of them because I do work hard on the reviews and knowing my reviews have helped people do encourage me to put the time and effort into writing the next one.

Those helpful votes are difficult to get because a lot of review readers do not vote. But you will now, when you read reviews you find helpful, right? ๐Ÿ™‚ And here is how you do that.

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Click on the green YES box next to Was this review helpful? Also, I included problem with this review in the screenshot, where you can report a review if you need to.

The Very Negative Review.

There are some people on this world who have a bad time everywhere they go, and then they rush home to write bad reviews about it. This is one reason when considering reviews it can be helpful to look at the profile of the writer – is every review one dot for terrible? If yes, I would disregard that reviewer.

You Are Doing It Wrong

Remember I said I would link to a company I am confident has gamed the system? Here tis. I will not name that company here, nor will I name anyone associated with it, because it has been my experience the guy who runs it loses his shiznit when people say bad things about his company.

Read through the reviews for and decide for yourself, taking into consideration the topics I’m talking about in this post, whether or not the reviews you’re seeing for this particular company are real, or staged in order to earn your business and money.

He visited the Oahu forums and blasted us for not recommending his tour, a while back, and spoke downright disrespectfully to a much loved destination advisor. At the same time he admitted he has solicited reviews. See also this thread where someone who received abusive emails from him after writing a bad review talks about their experience.

When you read through the many pages of one review glowing reviews, note the huge amount of helpful votes on these reviews – some of the reviews have over 10 helpful votes.

And make sure you read his replies to those who wrote bad reviews – or even average reviews – he tears those reviewers to shreds – you can look for them under average, poor, terrible. Then ask yourself, is that someone you want to pay a large sum of money to be around? I’m going with no, hell no, no way would I ever take a tour from this company.

I do not link to it to be mean to the guy – I link to it so you can get an idea of how you do need to pay close attention ย and not just book a hotel, tour, or restaurant based on the ranking it has been given on a website. You need to look deeper, read the reviews, look for patterns which might suggest someone is trying to gain an advantage by getting a higher ranking, and especially be careful with the “rankings” on trip advisor.

In the end

It is your holiday. If you pick a tour that everyone supposedly loves and it turns out you hate it, the most you have lost is the money you spent on the tour and the time you spent on it. If you eat at a restaurant everyone supposedly adores and have a bad meal, it is one bad meal.

However, if you pick a hotel where things have been deliberately skewed in order to get a better ranking and it turns out you hate the hotel – it could turn your trip into a nightmare. So be very careful – google the name of the hotel together with words like travel blog, trip reports, ask on the Tripadvisor forums if anyone stayed where you want to stay, research as much as you can, check on Oyster and see if there are pics of the hotel, and when you do read reviews, read them in context and for content.

Foodies – Time Your Trip

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The Cheesecake Factory – Crispy Crab Wontons – Crabmeat Blended with Cream Cheese, Green Onion, Water Chestnuts and Sweet Chili Sauce Fried Crisp in Wonton Wrappers.

If you are a foodie – I do recommend trying to time your visit with one of the following

Night Market Honolulu which is held on the 3rd Friday of each month

Eat The Street held on the 4th Friday of each month

Both of these events feature local food trucks.

You might also want to check out – Cookspace where they often hold awesome cooking classes, and DishCrawl.ย These two sites might not have events a huge distance in advance, so check back on these sites closer to your trip to see if there is anything happening you might be interested in.

Murals around Honolulu – Friends of the Library

I could also call this post a lesson in mediocre photoshopping skills, as you will see later. It is worth it, however, due to the situation of the photos that you will see.

One of the great things about the photos that were forwarded to us for publication is that they had location information on them, so that I could get an idea of where the murals were located at.

Thanks to that, I can tell you that these particular photos were all taken at 684 Pohukaina Street, which is home to the Friends of the Library of Hawai’i.

We start off with a duck who, as it would seem, has seen better days, but things are looking up for him or her.

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We then move along to a roller door which has what appears to be some text on it, but it is hard to tell. Next up is a pinkish fellow who looks to be presenting us to the door. If you can identify him, that would be awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

As we swing around the corner, we have what appears to possibly be Pele? Though I think this is probably not her since, well, it’s a he in the image, and Pele’s a she…

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And we finish off with these two folks, sharing flowers, as a bug of some variety looks on from behind the low wall.

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Now, this is where we get into my very mediocre photoshopping skills that I have. In fact, I don’t even use Photoshop. I used the Gimp to do this, mostly because I can’t justify the cost to purchase Photoshop ๐Ÿ™‚

Ultimately, I realised that these three images were a continuation of each other, and made them into a panorama, which came out like this:

library mural

There are still a bunch more photos that we have received to be published. I am working on getting them readied to post (which should go quicker now that I have located where all the photos were taken), and there should be more coming ๐Ÿ™‚

All of these photos are provided to use with thanks to the photographer, Sweetiedarling1 from Canberra

Great Travel Tips

CatTravels wrote this fantastic post – My Travel Advice – and I felt it needed to be shared here. Go read it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I want to get me some of that Bandaid blister stuff and try it out before I go. Not sure where I will find it in Australia, though. I have never seen it here, but I guess I haven’t exactly been looking because I never heard of it before – what a fantastic invention.

Today I am thinking about two things – organising my books on my new tablet, and putting together a playlist for the plane.

Last trip, I did not make my playlist until I got on the plane, and I was putting together a playlist of soothing, slow type songs to try and get some sleep. After the food was served and everyone settled in, I put in my earphones and hit play. I drowsed a little, maybe napped a couple of times, but it seemed to me that one song just kept playing over and over, even if I would hit skip, the next song would be that same song. I thought something was wrong with my iPod, or maybe I was actually asleep and just dreaming that the same song kept playing.

On the one hand it was ok because it was a song I liked a lot. On the other hand, I cannot hear this song now without being instantly transported back to that flight which seemed like it was never going to end.

Later, I discovered I had actually added at least 8 different versions of this one same song – Amsterdam, by Coldplay – onto the playlist. This is what happens when you make it at the last minute. I must have heard that song 20 times in the 10 hour flight.

This time, I will be making certain that one Iz classic finds its way to the playlist for the plane. This piece of music I first heard on ER, when one of my favourite television characters of all time died. It is beautiful, and speaks so much about Hawaii to me.