Bärenquell; a Berlin brewery without beer.

Breweries tell stories and the abandoned Bärenqull Brewey in the former East Berlin is no exception.

There aren’t many things as good as a cold beer; the condensation on the glass as the label wrinkles, the unmistakable and satisfying sound of the top as it pops off of the bottle only ever wanting to be free. 

We don’t often think about where these glass bottles of heavenly liquid are made or the long process behind how beer is pefected.
The Brewing Mill

The Bärenquell brewery was created in 1888 and was situated in East Berlin during the time of the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall many East Berliners decided that they preferred the refreshing taste of a new capitalist country with beer brands which matched those ideologies.  

Bärenquell Art
Abandoned in 1994 the brewery fell into disrepair and now the red brick walls have become a blank canvas. A canvas not only for graffiti artists but for anyone who knows how to handle a spray paint can or is seeking a little adventure in the city of Berlin.
 
Bärenquell doorways
The complex is huge and could take a good few hours to explore. We wandered through the different sections of the old brewery and tried to piece together the functions of each building.  
Bärenquell Brewing Complex
The tall mill and brewery tower still stand. While barley and hops don’t pass through the large drums the only life are trees that have somehow managed to creep up the outside walls and grow through any crack creating a stark contrast of green splashed on the red brick. 

Colour & trees
More colour has been splashed across the building and the artworks bring more character to this brewery with so many stories. From small pieces to wall murals these pieces of art captivate any visitor.  
Towering Murals
Broken glass scatters the floor and some had been strangely arranged in piles as though someone had been looking to clean up the place but had given up. 
Old burnt out cars sit in the manufacturing hall and bottling plant. If you look closely enough you can find the old neglected beer labels and coasters covered in 20 years worth of dirt and grime.
The old office provides any intruder with an insider’s point of view. Old files lay on the floor opened with crumbled and curled edge papers scattered around only longing to be straight, uniform and systematically ordered once more. 
Empty Loading Docks
This huge complex is crying out for visitors or for someone to give it a purpose. On my visit I didn’t see anyone else and I wondered how much longer this brewery would stay so isolated after its near hundred year existence. Or if it would ever relive it’s glory days where a unique East Berlin beer quenched the thirst of the population.  
Bärenquell Brewery
It now seems that the only thirst quenching qualities this huge complex provides is for that of street artists or for adventurers looking to do something unique and off the beaten track in the fascinating city of Berlin. 

The 10 Misconceptions of Trip Managers 

Being a Trip Manager means you just get to drink and party all the time right? Wrong! The misconception of the life as a trip manager is something we all find pretty common.

Being a Trip Manager
Being a Trip Manager

Here are the top ten misconceptions of Trip Managers who take bunches of 50 youths around a continent.

1. Yes we party, but not all the time– We visit some of the world’s best party cities and trust me when I say that we enjoy having a boogie but we can’t always show you our winning dance moves (of which we have many). Getting very little sleep is normal and it sometimes means that we have to do the occasional ‘smoke bomb’. This ninja-like move is when we walk around; check that you are all having the best time and then ‘poof’ we disappear.

We do this knowing that you are going to have a great night regardless and that we will be the ones working the next morning while you attempt to cure a hangover. Do be aware though, that when we do pick a night to party we usually go hard and it means you may need to clear the dance floor and we will usually be in the last taxi home.

2. We are not human- This common misconception is felt by many in the industry. Now I know that sometimes it may seem as though we are robots; finely tuned with genius minds which never switch off but really we are not. Being human, as you may know, means that we have our ups and downs just like anyone else. We have to smile and be accommodating, that’s an essential part of our job but being human means we may have a day where we are sad, tired or do not want to be disturbed because we want to have a quick shower at the end of a long day.

St Mark's Square- Venice
St Mark’s Square- Venice

3. We know it all- So many people ask how we can remember as much as we do and when you work as a trip manager you are able to retain plenty of information but that doesn’t mean that we know it all. We are always learning and we may not have the answer for you but we are willing to find out or to listen to a fun fact that you have to share.

It is impossible for someone to know everything and this also means that sometimes we get lost; yes that’s correct. Sometimes we take a wrong turn in cities we know but most of the time you won’t even notice because we don’t want you to have to worry.

4. We don’t know the gossip on the coach- Please don’t be fooled. We know exactly what is going on. Organised group tours often have a feeling similar to what we all experienced in high school. There are groups of friends; some outgoing others a little shy and people who end up in a relationship on tour. Don’t think that we are oblivious to these happenings. We are always listening and just because it’s hasn’t been explicitly said that people didn’t spend the evening in their room doesn’t mean it’s not, almost always, noticeable the very next morning.

5. We don’t have lives outside of tour- We are faithful to you always, for 24 hours of the day you are in our care but sometimes we get to grab a few minutes to ourselves and in that time we will do normal things. We have family and friends who want to hang out and chat just as you do in your day to day life. We have hobbies and interest which extend well beyond our work and when your tour is finished; unless you were someone we genuinely enjoyed spending time with, we will part ways, continue with our lives as you continue with yours.

6. We haven’t done this before and have no idea what we are doing- no matter how many tours you have been on our how many times you may have visited a particular city you are not the Trip Manager. I’m sure you would be a little grumpy if someone came into your place of work and told you how to do your job so please don’t tell us how to do ours. Which leads to the next point

There is always time for a selfie
There is always time for a selfie

7. Anyone can get this job- We go through some of the longest and most intense training of all companies globally. No matter which company takes you on your tour rest assured that trip managers have put the blood sweat and endless tears into getting our dream job. Each year youth travel companies receive thousands of applications and companies will maybe employ around thirty to forty of those applicants; those aren’t great odds unless you work your butt off.

8. A tour just happens- The amount of work that goes behind a tour is staggering and it goes well beyond just the role of the trip manager. Our offices have teams who organise these trips and take the worry out of it for you. They probably have a fair few grey hairs for organising every aspect of the tour up to a year in advance. Have a think about the hotels, dinners, transport, drivers, activities, ferries, flights and activities, these things only cover the tip of the iceberg. This is why you booked a group tour, for us to take the hassle out of you having to organise it all yourself. You’re job is to be on holiday while we do the work remembering it is not only your driver and trip manager who make it happen.

9. We like you all- This may be the hardest blow for some of you but with every tour taking fifty travellers around continents we sometimes encounter people that we get on better with than with others. This is the way life works and there will be people you like and dislike. Just because you may not be someone we connect with as much doesn’t mean that you will have less of an incredible experience. We have to be professional, treat people equally and with respect but if you are not going to reciprocate that behaviour then don’t expect us to be best buddies outside of your tour.

10. We are on holiday- So many people assume that because we travel for work that we are on holiday; this couldn’t be more untrue. If we were on holiday we would be sitting next to you on the coach not at the front with mounds of paperwork and a list of endless tasks each day. If we look like we are having a good time it’s because we have managed to get all of our work done prior and because if we didn’t look like we were having a good time you may question if you were.

We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing
We Sphinx Egypt is Amazing

These misconceptions are common but our line of work lends to them but there aren’t many people in the industry who would trade it for anything else because we do have the best job in the world. We often take it for granted but it is a job and it does see us working hard to ensure that you have the best time possible.

We do have fun on a daily basis and most of that can be attributed to all of you who put trust in us to show you some of the most unique and fascinating places. You teach us things along the way and while you are busy making memories that you will cherish and hold dear; we are too and you are part of them and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

The Blue Lagoon; a Heaven on Earth

Among the barren-looking wasteland where the surface of the unstable ground is volcanic rock and a soft green moss ground cover is the only form of plant life; sits a heaven on Earth. A heaven known as The Blue Lagoon.

This murky blue haven is where we spent our first full day in Iceland and what an introduction it was to this diverse and unique country. The Blue Lagoon are a series of geothermal hot springs set in the heart of the Icelandic landscape. They contain silica mud, sulphur and other magic minerals which help you feel rejuvenated after bathing, or wallowing, in the warm water. The springs are naturally renewed every two days and the healing and relaxation properties are something to behold.

Being November in Iceland it is cold but this did not stop us from wanting to visit one of Iceland’s major attractions. Arriving at the Lagoon it doesn’t look like much. The first thing that hits your senses with every breath is the smell; an undeniable egg, bordering on rotten egg, smell which is a result of the sulphur. With egg filled nostrils and after a few minutes walk through a walkway surrounded by tall volcanic rock we found the tall glass doors open into a reception where the clean-cut staff welcome you with friendly faces.

The Walkway into the Lagoon
The Walkway into the Lagoon

We had each paid a €60 as part of our package deal to Iceland with Reykjavik Excursions and Iceland Air. We received entrance to the Lagoon and its facilities as well as an electronic wrist band for the lockers and to form a tab and the bar and shop, a neatly folded towel and a fluffy gown along with a free beverage and an algae mask. Equipped with all that and a pre-booked in water massage we found ourselves to be giggling like little girls at the prospect of being pampered in this natural wonder.

The bathrooms are comfortable and clean. One tip I will give anyone wanting to visit this blue paradise; conditioner is key. If you don’t want your hair to feel like dried out straw or stale spaghetti from the sulphur in the water then use conditioner, more than you have ever used before and then add more, trust me it will help.

Faye and I were lagoon ready
Faye and I were lagoon ready

Wearing our bathing suits during an Icelandic winter certainly wasn’t what I was thinking of doing while on holiday but it was unforgettable. Walking out of the bathroom block we tip-toed onto the frozen wooden path, hung our fluffy gowns on the outside racks and quickly made our way from the single digit outdoor temperature to the warm double-digit murky blue water.

The temperature of the lagoon is like that of a nice warm bath, the floor feels slimy between your toes and at first we walked and then ended up ‘gracefully’ doggy paddling from one end to the other so as not to wet our hair; which realistically didn’t last very long. This is probably because any time we ever try and be graceful ladies one of us ends up failing in some sort of epic proportion and we break out into hysterical fits of laughter which has been described by any as a cackle.

Entry to the Lagoon
Entry to the Lagoon

With our giggles behind us we began observing others in the lagoon we saw they all had an interesting tinge to their skin. A white green gooey substance was being applied by partners and friends onto each others faces. One thing was sure; we wanted to do the same.

Faye and I awkwardly swam over to these large white tubs, which are scattered throughout the lagoon, using a plastic spoon we slopped this clunky substance into our hands and then began spreading it all over our face, neck and shoulders. This mud is silica from the lagoon, not only did it feel good but it has rejuvenating qualities which will make you reconsider using any other type of mud mask found on the grocery shelf.

We rubbed silica all over our faces
We rubbed silica all over our faces

We ‘gracefully’ rubbed silica mud onto our faces, followed by algae masks then we sipped on freshly pressed fruit juices and had a light lunch in the cafe. We nibbled on salmon sushi fresh from the Icelandic waters some 30 kilometres away.

The in water massages were next and it truly was a unique experience. We ‘gracefully’ swam over to our masseurs; Faye was rather happy when she found out she was with the Icelandic Viking looking man who possessed an extraordinary beard.

Being an in water massage we were told to lie on a sort of floating yoga mat, a soaked heavy blanket was placed on top of us and the massage began. Every now and then we were dipped into the hot springs to ensure we didn’t get cold. It was absolutely incredible and each and every minute of the hour spent getting that massage was heavenly. The massage was not the cheapest you could find in Europe but it was worth every penny and cost us around €95.

Before leaving the lagoon a staff member asked us how long we had spent in the lagoon. We had soaked in the Icelandic minerals for over eight hours but time did not play a role in this heavenly experience. Everything had exceeded our expectations; the service was excellent, the facilities were more than adequate and the price was reasonable.

Blue Lagoon Bliss
Blue Lagoon Bliss

The Blue Lagoon is an absolute must when visiting Iceland. It is an affordable experience which will leave you feeling rejuvenated and it will certainly be something you won’t forget.

To Live the Suitcase Life

So many people seem to call themselves well-travelled these days but many seem to live something they imagine to be the suitcase life.

Once you have lived out of a suitcase for over two or five years then perhaps you can call yourself reasonably travelled.

The idea of being well-travelled does not mean staying in 5 Star hotels and having mummy and daddy pay for it all. It means; getting lost and not knowing which direction to turn, scraping pennies for the £3 meal deal at Tescos, having all of your belongings stolen in a land where not a soul speaks English and waking up in the middle of the night with a swollen face from the bed bugs who have bitten you in the early hours.

I am well-travelled and this is something I would not trade for the world.

There are so many ‘travellers’ and impressionable bloggers out there who call themselves well-travelled but who have no real idea what it truly means.

In my job I travel every day and I take people for whirls around Europe. I enhance their experiences by showing them the time of their lives. Some of these people are what most consider to be well-travelled but really they are only beginning to get their first glimpse of what real travelling truly means. They have budgets and commitments which anyone who is travelling should have. For many of these temporary suitcase travellers they really do have the time of their lives, I know this to be true as many have said that they felt liberated, free and happy with the people they have slowly become by travelling over time by discovering new cities and cultures. They live the temporary suitcase life but ultimately return to normality where life is comfortable and constant; something we humans crave.

I like to think that I show them the real world and not some jaded image of how people think people should be travelling these days.

The real suitcase life means hanging around a laundromat until your washing is dry enough that it won’t smell like mould in the next 3 days, it means wearing flip-flops in the shower and hearing the person snoring in the bed across the dorm as you imagine throwing a pillow at their head; and in some instances you do. These descriptions merely scratch the surface of a real suitcase traveller.

I cross countries every two to three days and yes in my job I get a snapshot of cities; but these cities I return to, the locals become friends and the customs become ordinary.

To live the suitcase life means to you become a local; you are greeted in the language of the country you are in because you are seen as one of them. You don’t stand out and flash your Prada handbags and free top-notch accommodation because all that does is scream ignorant tourist and spoilt little brat.

You spend your free days (which are few and far between) searching for something new to do where the tourists do not exist and where you feel as though you fit the mould of a local. Your holidays are spent scouring any possible resource for the best bargain to the most remote place you know. It becomes a new adventure to add to the never-ending list you have not written down but have scrambled in your head with everything else you wish to achieve before you have to get “serious about life”.

To live the suitcase life is not for everyone but rather for those with the spirit for it. It is for those who have nothing to prove to everyone else. Nothing to show off to the endless followers with floppy hats claiming that they are wanderlust when really all they are is delusional. Delusional about reality and what it really means to travel.

I salute all who really embrace the suitcase life and all the hard times that go with it. I admire those even more who take those hard times with their suitcase and who make friends with people that they never thought they could, who live life on budget they never thought that they could manage, who fall in love with remarkable cities and who see the world with new eyes because they have truly travelled and know that they have gained a world of experience from it. To live the suitcase life is to take anything that comes your way and to turn it all into noteworthy memories and times that you shall never forget.

If you really live the suitcase life then you know what I am talking about because you are in it, living it and breathing it because the normality of life that humans crave does not fit us. We break the mould each day, we become locals in several countries because we know how they live. Everyday we get up and our suitcases are packed and ready to go, ready to see what awaits us at our next destination.

To those who truly live the in this never ending moving world that I speak of; go and make memories while living your suitcase life because it certainly is the best time of your life.

 

Barcelona, a City Like No Other

Whether visiting Barcelona for the first or fifth time; Barcelona leaves you breathless. The green strip of the Ramblas gives you a Spanish skip in your step and La Boqueria food markets leave your eyes gazing at the endless colourful variety while your mouth salivates over the smell and taste of the fresh produce. Leaving an identifiable mark on the city’s skyline is the wonder of the Sagrada Familia a Basilica like no other, in Barcelona, a city like no other.

Having visited Barcelona severally  times I am still so amazed at how I never grow tired of the city. It offers an abundance of attractions for any traveller with a unique Catalan flare.

If you only do one thing in Barcelona it should be to see the Sagrada Famillia. This Gaudi masterpiece is something to behold and is guaranteed to be something you will remember. As the main attraction in Barcelona it naturally attracts the majority of tourists in the area and the queues can take over an hour. However, if you plan ahead then you can book your tickets online and jump the long line. General admission costs €12 and should you wish to climb one of the soaring towers then that will cost you an additional €6.

Once inside you will be instantly in awe of the meticulous detail and beauty that surrounds you no matter which way you look from the soaring granite columns to the stained glass windows in an array of colours. Allow yourself at least two hours to explore this incredible Basillica and the museum underneath explaining how the Basillica is being built as it is not yet complete.

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A walk or a quick metro ride will get you to the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter is the perfect place to get yourself lost. The small winding streets lead themselves to small treasures from the old palace walls to historical squares. When you are finished getting lost in the Gothic Quarter it is just a short walk to the Ramblas.

Just as a precaution beware of your belongings when wandering the Ramblas, there are always opportunists around so it is good to be vigilant. I recommend walking down the centre of the Ramblas, at the top there are many small market stalls selling fresh flowers and small souvenirs with department stores and tapas bars lining the sides of the Ramblas. Around halfway down the shopping street are the La Boqueria markets. The only way to explain these markets is to say that it is a sensual overload. From stores with sweets stalls that sell fruit, juice to the fishy back corner. It is a colourful experience that will have you digging for gold euro coins to try the fresh ingredients.

Closer to the bottom of the Ramblas is the more creative section, artists sit in wooden chairs sketching tourists are painting pictures of the beautiful attractions in Barcelona.

When you reach the bottom of the Ramblas you will see a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea, he is not pointing to the New World, being the Americas but to his home in Italy. Walking along the port area is great to do with street vendors and people on bikes casually riding past.

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If you continue to walk along the port you will eventually end up at the beach. There are numerous activities around including a fernicula ride to the top of Montjuic, tapas bars, bike hire and enough ice cream stores to keep anybody happy.

My final recommendation would be to make your way to Port Olympic, which is around a twenty minute walk from the beach. The port has a huge variety of restaurants where the waiters will try their hardest to pull you in with all sorts of deals and special prices. Usually you can get yourself a three course meal with a glass of Sangria or drink of your choice for around €15.

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Should you wish to experience the Barcelona nightlife then Port Olympic is also the place to be and the party kicks off from around midnight but remember everything in Spain starts late and so you don’t need to worry about getting up too early the next mornimg.

Barcelona is by far one of my favourite cities, it is colourful and has a Spanish culture all of its own that is just waiting to be discovered.

The Real Madrid

From the cobble stone streets, colourful expansive squares where activity buzzes to the black, grey and white of Picasso’s Guernica; Madrid will captivate you in more ways than you might expect from this Spanish capital city.

Having only ever been to Barcelona in Spain I wondered what to expect of this diverse capital and suffice to say I was blown away.

Arriving in the evening with plenty of jet lag my priority was food and bed however I was immediately struck by the beauty of Madrid. Emmerging from the Metro into Puerta del Sol my eyes darted from one building to another. Their elaborate decoration and height reminded me of Vienna. Knowing the Hapsburg’s had an influential reign in this great city made me understand it’s architecture that much more.

Puerta del Sol is adorned with a statue of King Charles III who sits on his horse in the middle of the square keeping a watchful eye over the happenings below. Another statue on one end of the square shows a bear reaching for the Modrono Tree; a heraldic symbol of the city of Madrid.

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Charles III keeping a watchful eye over the city

Surrounding the square are various main streets which allow for a wide variety of stores to spew out onto the street for the tempted visitor.

Spain is know for it’s clothing brands with Mango, Berksha and Zara being some of the many stores available in the surrounding areas.

If you are a big shopper then it is a great idea to explore El Cortes Ingles. This enormous department store truly does have anything you will need. It is so big that it is separated into different stores along the main strip according to categories. A wander through this store won’t cost you anything but a purchase might. El Cortes Ingles stocks designer brands and designer prices. Should you wish to shop without emptying your purse I would recommend Top Shop or the always reliable H&M; while not Spanish in origin it still allows for a few new items in your suitcase without entirely blowing your budget.

A twenty minute walk down Calle de Alcala sends you into the business district of Madrid with the Palacio de Communicaiones immediately drawing your eye. This grand building proudly waving the Spanish flag used to be the headquartersfor the Spanish Post and Telegraphy Company.

The Palace of Communications

A short walk away is the cultural triangle of Madrid. This triangle; made up of Museo Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Tyssen Bornemisza contains all the art you need to be completely blown away.

A visit into Museo del Prado is an absolute must and you can either pay €14 during the day for admission or plan your day around a visit between 18:00 and 20:00 and save yourself that €14.

The Museo del Prado has ever changing exhibitions which are included in the admission cost, it also hosts an array of Spanish, French and Dutch works from the likes of Goya, El Greco, Rembrant, Bosch and Raphael.

Should you wish to spend more than two hours quickly rushing through the museum I suggest you pay the admission price and take your time wandering through pieces of art and sculptures which range from the early 11th century all the way through to the Renaissance era and up until the 18th century.

If you are hoping to see art which is a little more modern then the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia is your best option. Once again you can either pay the €12 admission or arrive between 19:00 and 21:00 and pocket the extra cash.

Reina Sofia contains enough Picasso to leave any art lover satisfied for a lifetime. From the Lady in Blue to Picasso’s most renowned work; Guernica, you will find your jaw slack throughout the museum with your eyes capturing more detail  the longer you stare and the magnificent paintings. The variety of Spanish artists on display in the museum include the likes of Joan Miro and Slavador Dali along with many other local and international artists that will leave you wondering what exactly it was they were smoking when they picked up their paintbrush.

Other recommendations include Retiro Park which allows for a break from the tall city buildings and facades to a well mantained public park where a stroll to the famous Alfonso Monument is an absolute must. The monument hugs a murky blue lake with romantic couples and close friends rowing in small dark blue boats from one end of the lake to the other.

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Alfonso Monument in Retiro Park

The enormous Royal Palace is certainly something to behold. As the largest in all Europe it boasts an unfathomable 3418 rooms. For just €11 you can have a peek into the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family or just walk around the immense building getting a feeling of its sheer size.

Finally food is one of the most integral parts of Spanish culture and it would be silly not to embrace it while in the country’s capital. Madrid is home to one of the oldest Churro restaurants around. A Churro is basically a long cinnamon doughnut but it is not like your average cinnamon doughnut. The place to try these is in the most famous Chocolateria San Gines; open since 1894 they got something right. Their fresh Churros dipped in warm melted chocolate will have you drooling for more. The restaurant is a stones throw away from Puerta del Sol and will only cost you around €3.50 for a plate of 6. Sharing is optional.

Besides stuffing your face with Churros your options include enough tapas to satisfy any size belly accompanied by Paella or a freshly grilled Spanish steak. Your options for food truly are endless and you can wash it down with a large glass or five of Sangria.

Madrid privides any tourist with endless possibilities from museums that take an entire day to pubs that will keep you drinking all night. The atmosphere of this beautiful city is certainly something to behold and is a recommendation for anyone looking to visit Spain.

Be Your Own Pack Mule: Everything You Need For Life On the Road

Living Out of a Suitcase It is time for you to embrace the idea of living on the road and being proud of your inner pack mule. Taking all that you have and trying to fit it into one suitcase can be a very daunting challenge. You will need to keep your wits about you because you cannot take everything you want along; especially not if you are going to be living out of a suitcase for who knows how long. 

I have been asked by several budding Tour Managers to write about what to pack and wear when faced with the prospect of joining Contiki .

Here are the top 10 things you need;

Packed and ready1. A Good Suitcase- now this may sound obvious to some but trust me when I say that spending the extra money is well worth it. Go with a brand you know; I spent a fortune on my little green Samsonite machine and I have not had a spot of bother. When deciding between a backpack or a suitcase with wheels; I would opt for the one with wheels and don’t go old school and choose 2 wheels, be fancy and take 4, your body will thank you.

2. Wikipedia Offline- this handy offline encyclopedia saved my life more times than I can keep count. Free WIFI is time consuming to find and when given 5 minutes to research something you never thought existed, Wikipedia can be a helpful tool. I understand that you shouldn’t always rely on Wikipedia for your information but it can help with a basic understanding. You can download Wikipedia Offline onto Android and Apple devices. It is free for Android devices and costs around $10 for Apple devices. It is well worth it; just bear in mind the initial download can take some time.

4-socket-power-board-with-usb-1085-500x5003. Power board– charging more than one device can be made easy with a power board. It also decreases the amount of international adaptors you need to carry. They have all sorts of fancy ones these days; some have USB ports to make charging phones and tablets a breeze.

4. Running Shoes– not comfy walking shoes; running shoes, you will be running, a lot.

5. Passport Copies- every good traveller knows that they should have at least two copies of their passports hidden in the lining of their suitcase. You are no exception because on the road your passport is your life. Having copies ensures that if something goes wrong you have a copy to fall back on. It is also a good idea to keep copies of your travel insurance details with your passport copies.

6. Enough underwear and socks- again this may sound simple but there is not much time to do washing while on the road and nobody wants to wear underwear more than once.

7. Washing powder- if you do find yourself running short on underwear and socks it is a good idea to keep a small tub of washing powder in your suitcase that you can hand-wash a pair of knickers or jocks if crisis strikes. Run out of washing power? Use shampoo.

8. Rainproof jacket- getting stuck in the rain is not always very fun so make sure you have something relatively light and waterproof to stop you getting soaked.

9. Multivitamins- travelling can tire you out and if you are training to become a Tour Manager you are always going to be tired. You also aren’t eating the way you normally do and are consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Having a multivitamin that you take each morning can give you the boost you need; even if that boost is just to stay awake all day.

10. First Aid Kit- I do not mean a huge bag with hundreds of different drugs but rather something small that you keep for yourself. The key is to NEVER tell clients you have medication because ultimately you become a free pharmacy and when you get sick you are left with nothing. Let them go to a pharmacy on any street and you ensure you have the following in your personal first aid kit:Basic-First-Aid-Kit

  • Cold and Flu tablets
  • Antibiotics
  • Headache tablets
  • Band-Aids
  • Hydrator sachets
  • Imodium
  • Travel sickness tablets
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Antiseptic cream-Betadine does the job
  • Tweezers

What to wear on training

With regards to what to wear on the training trip with Contiki; ensure that while looking professional you have items of clothing that are comfortable and follow the issued list.

PackingOn training I wore jeans or high waisted work pants and a nice polo shirt or blouse with either black ballet flats or closed shoes. Blouses are great and you can get some that cut at the shoulder or lower. As it got slightly warmer I would wear a nice day dress of a moderate length or tailored shorts again with a polo shirt or blouse.

Ladies take a couple of nice dresses along and perhaps a little bit of make-up for the evenings when you go out. Heels can stay at home, ballet flats will suffice. A nice blazer is always handy to have to dress up an outfit.

Gents ensure you have more than one collared long sleeve work shirt and one pair of smart works pants with black shoes and socks to match.

Do not stress too much about what to wear on training; you all end up wearing the same thing over and over again and trust me when I say that it is the least of your worries.

Armed with all of this knowledge you are ready for life on the road and to embrace your inner pack mule. You best get packing!

Enter Zombie Phase-Contiki Training Part Five

We have all had those days where getting out of bed seems near impossible; where turning over and going back into a heavy dose trumps doing anything else, your body aches, you feel heavy and your brain is wondering if you are dreaming or if you are awake. NO! You are not dreaming, get up, GET UP!

You think that is bad for one or two days? Well try having that same feeling every single day for 66 days. Surviving on very little sleep was probably the biggest challenge for most of us on Contiki training. It allowed us to enter a phase that most dare not enter for fear that they will never return; the Zombie Phase.

WAKE UPNow when I say Zombie I don’t mean the human eating kind; with rags for clothes, red eyes and arms directly in front as they wander in your direction and you run screaming. No I mean the kind where everything is an effort and where each minute you are fighting sleep with your eyelids feeling weighted and the pen in your hand slipping off your sheet of paper.

You may be wondering how this is humanly possible? Living on less than four hours each night, running around cities all day, consuming more information than you every thought you could. The truth is I have no idea how I did it.

If training taught me one thing it was that I would be able to push myself further than I ever thought I could. Getting out of bed each morning was agony and having to endure the same belittlement and anxiety at the thought of having to do a speech, I may not have got round to the night before, was horrifying. So many days I felt myself living for the moment that I could fall into bed, absolutely exhausted and slip into a deep sleep that if it were up to me would last an eternity.

Sleepy Lucas
Sleepy Lucas

Each drive day there was always one person who would nod off and we each had a strategy to not get caught. Firstly you needed the help of your buddy, the person sitting next to you. You would inform them that you were going to try and grab a quick micro sleep.

Micro sleep:

Noun

Defined by all Contiki trainees as a recurring period of between 2 and 10 minutes on a Contiki coach in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended until violently woken by your buddy.

Secondly you needed to make sure you looked like you were doing something. The trick was to deceive your trainer. We did this by making sure our papers were on our lap, pen in hand, looking down to ensure we looked like we were working.

Lastly you had to be quiet about it; snoring would instantly give you away and if you looked odd or in the least bit funny; you risked alerting fellow trainees who would giggle, point and take photos of you as they tried to stick their finger up your nose.

Unfortunately sleeping on training is not allowed and the violent shove you got from your buddy was enough to alert you that the trainer is looking your way and that the pen, which a second ago lay limp in your hand, needed to be scribbling down something mildly relative to European subject matter.

The most entertaining part of my day was watching others take their micro sleep. Heads fell back and tongues flailed to the side, all while our pens were resting on our pages with tiny words scribbled down, slowly forming a long solid blue line from the minute we began falling asleep. I watched my buddy draw on his own hand for a solid four minutes while falling asleep, convinced he was still awake and writing an incredible history.

Ian working hard
Ian working hard

The Zombie Phase was made worse by some with the use of ‘No Doz’; a caffeine tablet to help relieve mental fatigue and drowsiness, helping you stay alert and awake. That is all fine and well, until you have been living off of caffeine tablets for more than two weeks.

You have endless shakes, paranoia, little sleep and a huge crash an hour after consumption. One Contiki trainee has told me she thought that they were going to kill her by the end, causing her to break out into spontaneous fits of tears, pull out her hair and vomit on a constant basis; not pretty. My advice; avoid all of that kind of stuff and ensure you are eating healthy and opt for coffee rather than a tablet solution.

Entering the Zombie Phase sounds frightening and alarming; I can assure you it is but that is the time where you need to push harder than before. You need to try and stay awake, pay attention and absorb everything around you. One thing I wish I had done was to pay more attention on training.

Enter Zombie Phase
Enter Zombie Phase

Prioritise your time on the coach and work as hard as you can, leaving the late nights for what they are meant for; much needed rest before that alarm goes off and the Zombie Phase starts all over again.

10 Lessons Learnt On the Road

From putting on your ‘big girl’ panties, to letting go of the tight knit control you have on your life. Packing everything into a suitcase to pursue a life on the road is not for everyone but once experienced you learn a few lessons about who you really are and the things that you can do, even if you have never thought you could.

Here is what made the cut of the 10 most important things learnt on the road:

1. Put your ‘big girl’ panties on

Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget
Nobody does big girl panties like Bridget

Just like Bridget Jones; we sometimes need to wear our big girl panties. Why might you ask? Well it is not so we can have a hunky Hugh Grant discover them and be absolutely mortified. No, it is because he won’t always be around. You may have to do some things on your own; cart your own suitcase across a city you have never seen, deal with people who may not have any inclination to help you or to be friendly and because the people you love are not always there for a hug or an old-fashioned whinge.

2. Things don’t always go as planned

That’s right, this means that you won’t always be where you need to be on time. You cannot control each and every detail because let’s face it folks; shit happens. It happens to the best of us; flights get delayed, traffic can set you back hours and public holidays can throw a spanner in the works. As a control and planning freak with compulsive OCD this can make you tear your hair out, chew your nails to the bottom of their nail beds and develop a nervous twitch in your right eye. Here is the thing, as good as you think you are at planning, you can’t do anything about it. Sit back in the airport and watch the passengers go by, relax in the car and be thankful it’s not you in the car wreck and join the festivities in the public holiday parade.

3. How to packPacking

Spending your life on the road sure does help you prioritise and the four extra pairs of shoes, hair straightener, nail kit, make up brushes and full bottle of mouth wash belong at home. Think practical, this may be difficult but you must persevere because you do not want to be carting around five extra kilograms each day when you don’t use it. A handy trick is to take everything you think you should pack and halve it, then you are nearly there now go and put the extra shoes back in the cupboard.

4. Relationships, really?

Some people can do it and hats off to them but unfortunately in this day and age there aren’t many people who would be willing to wait around. Especially while you galavant around the globe with selfies in the most exotic places while they sit in an office and turn green with envy. It is difficult for both parties and often results in a teary mess that can be avoided. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and if you are willing to try then go for it and good luck to you.

5. Be spontaneous, you can do it.

Put fear aside because there is not enough space for it in your suitcase. Jump in, have experiences and make memories that will last a lifetime. If you think that you can do it you are halfway, now you need to do it. Sometimes there is nothing better than being spontaneous and seeing where it is you end up.

6. Enjoy and appreciate the little things

Learning to appreciate the little things in life is a very important thing to learn. It’s sometimes about sitting in a park and watching an old couple walk past, children playing and laughing or having a conversation with a new friend you have just made. You don’t always have to be doing big things to see the beauty in the little things.

7. Patience is really a virtueTake what you need

The more patience you learn the more you can appreciate. it doesn’t help getting your knickers in a twist because you don’t understand what is going on; sometimes you need to wait and all will be revealed in time. Be patient with yourself too, life n the road is not easy and sometimes it can take a while to adjust and learn things about yourself.

8. You are not the centre of the universe

Get out of you bubble that only you occupy because there is no need for it. In fact, burst that bubble entirely, get out of your comfort zone and realise it is not only you that matters. Life on the road teaches you to adapt and make new friends. You learn that there are other people in the world that matter and the friendships you make on the road are often the pure and last.

9. Call me cultured

Travelling can be an annihilation to the senses, overwhelming and fascinating all at the same time. Exploring new places and cultures helps you grow as a person. It allows for a common understanding of humankind and what makes each of us tick. You learn to accept people for who they are even if that means that you are sometimes perplexed by their customs.

10. Compassion

We aren’t all fortunate to see what the big wide world has to offer. You see what others who are less fortunate than you have to go through on a daily basis and you think yourself lucky that you don’t have to worry about what they do. It teaches you to be compassionate towards others whether you like it or not and you learn things about yourself that you never thought possible.

A life of endless travel will enrich your life in more ways than anyone could ever imagine; whether or not you take the step out the door is all up to you

What to Expect-The Contiki Interview Part Two

It is not easy, it is the interview that made me walk out not knowing how I did or if I was going to get the dream job.

I have received plenty of emails asking about what to expect in the Contiki Group and personal interviews and to be completely honest I don’t think our experiences will be the same. In Part One I explored how to go about writing your speech for the interview and now comes the nitty gritty

Having spoken to colleagues about their interview experiences it is fair to say that everyone had a completely different experience and they were all asked entirely different questions.

Putting that aside I will share with you my experience and the questions I was asked but more importantly how I held myself together in both Contiki interviews.

Walking into the interview in Sydney I saw 25 or so other nervous and eager faces waiting as patiently as I was to find out more about the position of European Tour Manager. My head was filled with my speech, repeating it over and over in my head so that I would not forget it when it came to the presentation.

The, then, Operations Manager got up and spoke for a solid hour about the position and she didn’t make it sound fuzzy and warm like you see in the brochure, she gave us the facts, the things we may not have known or rather chose to ignore about the job. Perhaps she wanted to see who was really there for the position and who was just there because it would get them a ride around some of the most incredible cities in Europe.

We were then tasked with an exercise; we had five minutes to chat to the person next to us, to find out a little more about them and then to introduce them to the audience and the Contiki staff.

Following this it was time for the presentations, the cliché of being able to cut the tension with a knife was an understatement. Starting in alphabetical order I knew I had some time to relax before I was called to present. The nerves in the room reached an all time high when the first girl fumbled numerous times, burst into tears and ran back to her chair. People were falling and we hadn’t even passed the first hurdle.

My turn came as I knew it would and I was slightly nervous. In my speech I mentioned how everything works in threes, luckily for me the Operations Manager had mentioned the power of three in her chat to us. She instantly lifted her head and I knew I had her attention. The audience giggled at my jokes and hardly noticed my fumble. I sat down confident and listened to all the other speeches, ensuring I wrote down each person’s topic next to their name.

We were then told that the interview was over and we needed to call back in just over an hour to see if we had made it to the personal interview. The wait was agonising. All us interviewees had decided to go for lunch and to call together. When the time came to call I was sat at the table of “NO”, my nerves were out of control, eventually I built up the courage and was told I had made it through and needed to be back in two hours.

The time came and I was finally called to the interview room where I met the Operations Manager and a senior Tour Manager, I gave them a big smile as I walked in, I didn’t get a smile back.

I was asked a series of questions with the interview lasting just over thirty minutes on a range of topics. My studies, intentions and skills were all questioned and scrutinised. Later I was given a scenario a tour manager may experience on the job and it was by no means easy. I had to think about what I would do as a tour manager with real clients who were having real issues. Almost all the interviewees got a scenario, they want to see how you would think about it and prioritise the necessary steps.

I felt confident about my responses and more importantly, I took my time. If I needed to think about something, I did, I made them wait for a response that I knew would be better than if I had rushed and blurted out something stupid.

I walked out of the interview not knowing how I did and it was only three weeks later that I received a response saying I was accepted on the training trip. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and I sit here a year later having had the best year of my life.

My advice to you about the interviews is just to be yourself, be confident because if you are really passionate and want the job then that will show.

All the best of luck and who knows, we may meet on the road.

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