Saturday, 10 January 2015

Kathmandu Shuttle Cargo Travel Bag - A Review

Kathmandu named their purpose built travel bag the ‘Shuttle 40L Convertible Backpack Cargo v4’. I guess the marketing guys at Kathmandu brainstormed a few words, and then went out to drink lunch forgetting the catalogue deadline. Jimmy the mail boy transcribed the whiteboard for the graphic design team, and voila, we have the ‘Shuttle 40L Convertible Backpack Cargo v4’. I find the name a little wordy, so for this review I’ll call it ‘the bag’.

The bag is aimed squarely at the lightweight traveller – lightweight in mass, not in mission. If your travel mission includes saving time and hassle at transit hubs, then this is the bag for you. If you can travel with only one bag, and have no need for checked baggage, this is the bag for you. If your idea of travel is to be agile and adaptable, you have found your next best friend.

To maximise the amount of cargo the bag can consume before hitting the airline-industry carry-on limit of 7kg, Kathmandu kept the weight down to 800g. They also sized the bag to be within most airline dimension limits. The bag has no frame, no wheels, and no extendable handle. If you are looking for a sexy hard-shell, four-wheeled, Samsonite® to match your nail polish on your next trip to the fashion shows in New York and Milan, then this is not the bag for you.

The handles allow it to be carried or manhandled in a variety of ways: it can be pulled to the roof of a bus in rural India by the moulded handles on either end; it can be carried as a duffle bag between security and immigration checks at Charles de Gaulle airport by the main straps; or it can be worn as a backpack along the Inca trail in Peru. It has pockets too. Kathmandu haven’t gone over-the-top, but judiciously provided a few pockets to quarantine your precious things. Like little life rafts, they provide safety for precious cargo instead of drifting loose in the rough seas of the main compartment.

Prior to a two-week trip to Malaysia TightArseTravel purchased two of these bags as we wanted to try one-bag travel for the first time. They performed admirably. They were poked through security scanners in airports, shoved in overhead bins and under seats in airplanes, used as armrests on trains, footrests on buses, chucked onto piles of other luggage on ferries, and plonked into boots of taxis. We walked between train stations and hotels with them as backpacks, and ran to avoid tropical downpours carrying them duffle-bag style. With the main compartment opened completely, they sat on spare beds in hotels with their meagre contents visible and easily found.

The Kathmandu Shuttle Cargo is not the most stylish travel bag on the market, but if you are looking for a simple, robust do-it-all travel bag, this just might be the one you have been looking for.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Tight Arse Travel went Light Arse Travel

Well we did it; we now have personal proof that you don’t have to travel with checked baggage. Two tight arse travellers spent two weeks in Malaysia with only one carry-on bag each. It was a breeze, in fact it was almost too easy - a no-brainer. There were a few things we took which we did not need or use, but because this was our first one-bag trip we allowed for a few contingencies.

Everything went into the black bag on the right

Although we were only toting one carry-on bag each, we also had a shoulder bag containing sundry items which needed to be close at hand during transit. I also packed a Camelbak which I usually use for Mountain biking, and a musette. I thought the Camelbak would come in handy for day-to-day carrying needs when based for a few days. I never used it. On the other hand, I did use the musette when I needed to carry more than my pockets would accommodate, or comfort dictated. The musette is very light and rolls up small enough to stuff in a pocket when not in use. It was well worth taking.

On the outward leg, both bags were around the 5kg mark, I think we could get that down a little next time. On the way home, that had increased to about 5.8kg and 6.5kg. It pays to keep an eye on what is your bag before you fly; it is amazing what finds its way into it between journey legs: maps, pamphlets, business cards, extra water bottles, rubber bands, napkins…

Even though we were conscious of the 7kg limit imposed by most airlines - and weighed our bags a few times during the journey – we were never asked to weigh them at airports; you could probably get away with going over 7kg. If you are worried that your bag is over-weight and may be checked, carry some heavy items in a shoulder bag. Along with your single 7kg carry-on bag, most airlines allow another smaller personal bag like a handbag. Another benefit to one-bag travel is web check-in; if you don’t have baggage to check in, you can ‘check-in’ online prior to your flights and print your own boarding passes. This circumvents the need to go to the airline check-in counter; if you don’t need to check any bags there is less chance that airline staff will ask to weigh your carry-on bag.

So the plan worked, and except for a few small changes and omissions for our next trip, we will certainly be travelling this way again. It saves money, time, and hassles. It also increases smugness watching other travellers struggle with mountains of baggage, wondering what they could possibly have in there or need for their journey. Next time we won’t bother purchasing a checked bag for the return journey unless we are sure there is going to be a final run-out sale on Tiger Balm.

I had one anxious moment when questioned at the Australian Immigration desk as we were departing. When asked to confirm that I had only one bag and no checked baggage, I sheepishly answered yes to which the woman on the desk turned to her colleague and said “look at this guy with one bag, I take more than that for an overnight stay!” With this imaginary crisis averted, we were on our way.

On a recent overnight domestic trip to the big, bad dirty city we used public transport so did not have the luxury that a personal vehicle affords. We reprised the afore-mentioned overseas trip, but upped the ante by taking only one bag between us. There were no weight restrictions this time so we were well over the 7kg airline limit, but it certainly would not have been more than 14kg. This made the trip simple and easy.

Have you tried travelling without checked baggage? How did it work for you? What bag did you use, and did it perform? If not, would you try it in future?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Scoot to Singapore

And now we have another Low Cost Carrier in the Melbourne - Singapore market. Singapore makes a nice soft landing before heading into the deep dark interior of the rest of SE Asia. It will be interesting to see if they can give Jetstar a run for our money.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Johor Bahru

There seem to be very few reasons to view JB as a destination in itself. Maybe you are a border-hopping Singaporean on a cheap-electronics shopping spree in one of the vast mega-malls. Maybe you are transiting through JB Sentral on your way to the white sand beaches of the string-o-pearls tropical islands of the east coast. Alternatively like me, taking a journey down memory lane to visit a half-remembered childhood home, a home often spoken of within the family and conjured up through old faded black-and-white photographs, anecdotes, and half memories. Either way, the list of reasons for visiting JB is not long.

Not that there is anything wrong with JB, it just does not have the appeal of other destinations. Malaysia's second largest city is a business city. It is a getting-things-done-without-any-fuss-and-bother city. It is a no glitz or glamour, no razzamatazz, a no fanfare city. That said, if you do find yourself in JB on one of the afore-mentioned missions or maybe another beyond my imagination, stay at least one night for the food!

After completing our trip down memory lane, Tight Arse Travel checked into the Citrus Hotel. Chosen for no other reason than its location close to JB Sentral for a quick getaway in the morning and proximity to down town. After checking in, we headed out in search of dinner. Not knowing any better, we headed south along Jalan Meldrum, as it seemed reasonably vibrant and lively. Almost immediately we spied a small lane closed to traffic, furnished with the ubiquitous street food sign - red plastic chairs - a sure indication of good things to come. Scurrying in, we were spoilt for choice; attacked from all sides by mouth-watering smells, assaulted by the riot of colour, and cajoled by the stall vendors to try their wares. What to choose?

After a long, hot day on the road, the first thing the Tight Arse Travel rats do is seek out a thirst-quenching, palate-cleansing cold beverage, usually of the fermented barley variety. Unfortunately, tea-total Malays ran all of the stalls and though the food was tempting, and their siren calls seductive, the lure of the refreshing amber nectar was like wax in our ears ... we sailed on.

After crossing a small street, semi-delusional with our mixed luck, we realised that the faces had changed and there were glasses of ambrosia on the tables. That street was an invisible boundary between the pious Malays and the ever-pragmatic Chinese stallholders - our quest was near its end. After confirming that the Egyptian elixir was indeed available to wash the road dust from our parched throats, the second horn of our dilemma rose, what to eat. Each stallholder was a specialist and laid out their wares with flair and artistry. All fresh and recently prepared, we struggled to choose, then finally in a 'When Harry met Sally' moment, we spied a plate on a nearby table and said, "We’ll have what they're having!" 'What they're having' was a plate of calamari in a fiery red chilli sauce accompanied by okra.

We chose our own cephalopods from the ice-laden display, and the lady stallholder quickly and expertly cleaned and chopped before resting them on a banana leaf on her hot plate under a steamer lid. After a few minutes, she stirred in the fiery sauce and okra. A quick stir later and we were tucking into our first course for the night washed down with a delightfully Dutch Heineken.

Second course was the ubiquitous sate - goat this time - accompanied by sweet red onion, cucumber and a Tiger. Third course was barbequed chicken wings with another Heineken.

This may seem like over-indulgence to the uninitiated, but there are factors not mentioned to be taken into consideration. All dishes were shared by two tight arses, and the meal was taken over several hours as we wandered the alley taking in the sights and smells, and avoiding the rats, cats and cockroaches that would be on clean up duty later in the night. This is a superb way to eat in this climate as a full plate can sit heavily and you get to experience a wider array from the cornucopia on offer.

Just outside Hotel Citrus is a great place for a cheap breakfast. Perfect for a quick bite before you catch your train or bus onward.

If you have had a similar experience, feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, 31 October 2014

From Senai to JB

If you fly with AirAsia into Senai International airport, Johor Bahru (JB) you can get a free bus ride into JB. Go to the bus kiosk just inside the main terminal exit and enter your flight booking number into the PC on the counter. You will be issued tickets for the short bus ride to JB Sentral station. From here you can catch buses or trains to Singapore, or trains heading north in Malaysia. If you want to catch a bus for another destination in Malaysia, take a local bus from JB Sentral to Larkin bus station where buses leave regularly to many destinations.

While waiting for our free bus, we noted the clothing choice of the locals who were also waiting. Although most of the women were wearing traditional Muslim garb covering their bodies from head to foot - only showing their hands and faces - most had an extra layer, a jacket, coat, or some such. To a man the gents were clad in long sleeves - some with a second layer of a jumper or jacket - trousers or jeans, and even though they were wearing the ubiquitous thongs or sandals, some were also wearing socks.

Standing and waiting for our bus into town we commented on how accustomed to the heat and humidity the locals were, juxtaposed with our comfort level and clothing choice. We were wearing the minimum required for modesty in a nominally secular, but in reality, Muslim country - short sleeved shirt, shorts, and thongs.
Only a few degrees north of the equator the temperature rarely dips below 25C and when the humidity tops out at 100% the air bleeds rain.

Standing in this Southeast Asian sauna the sweat begins to run down your back. It collects and fills the small. Once full, it then cascades happily down the valley of bum to join the other rivulets pouring south. By the time the bus arrived we were how you say - moist!

The relief encountered by the initial blast of frigid air from the bus air-conditioning was quickly tempered as all the previously mentioned body moisture began to rapidly evaporate in the near-arctic 18C ... 18C! Who sets the a/c to 18C in the tropics?

Our bodies attempted to adapt from 35C & 100% humidity to 18C & 20% humidity, but were found lacking. Luckily my travelling companion had a light jumper with a hood or I fear she may have been overcome with hypothermia and gone into shock. It was about now that we realised why the locals were dressed as they were.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Panas & Pedas

When you come across these words in Indonesia or Malaysia, it is worth the effort to understand their difference & meaning.
Both mean hot but with quite distinct and important differences. One means high temperature, the other spicy.

The Indonesian & Malay word for water is air, so if you see a sign for Air Panas you can be sure there is a hot spring nearby.
It could be embarrassing to ask for directions to the spicy spring.

If you are looking at a food item in a store, or reading a menu and see Pedas, rest assured the product or dish will be spicy.
The Indonesians & Malays are known for their use Chilli, so it would behove you to know the difference.

Image: C. D. Solum

Knowledge of the words is useful, but remembering which is which can be difficult. One way to remember is to break down the word into its component parts, or meanings.
Pedasped - from the Latin for foot. as - the Greek for bum.
So remember, hot spicy food will give you a kick up the bum later.
Panaspan - is from the French meaning a cooking implement. as - the Greek for bum.
So remember, if whacked on the bum with a pan the affected area will become hot.

I hope this has been of some use.

Friday, 17 October 2014

MY14 Pre-trip warm up

It is just under a week until Tight Arse Travel is off again, this time for a two-week sojourn in Malaysia. We have stayed a few nights in Kuala Lumpur over the past 3 years; poor flight connections with cheap airlines, and the opportunity for a quick look whetted our appetite. We liked what we saw, and on the recommendation of other travellers decided that the time was ripe for a proper investigation of another of our South-East Asian neighbours. That and an extraordinarily cheap return ticket!

 Image: Man Vs World -

This time we are upping the ante – Tight Arse goes Light Arse; we are attempting our first trip without checked baggage.

Since the big Bali mountain biking extravaganza of 2013, we have been reading about one-bag travel and think we are ready to attempt a one-bag trip. That said, we two tight arses have paid for one checked bag between us just in case we go crazy buying wooden dolphins or there is run-out sale of Tiger Balm. We will be taking one bag each on the outward leg, but if we need extra capacity, we will buy a cheap bag for the dolphins and Tiger Balm and check it in for the homeward leg.

The aim is to not only keep costs down, but decrease the time and hassle spent checking in and picking up bags from the carousel. Travelling in the tropics makes this proposal easier as there is no need to pack bulky or warm clothes; it may be a tougher gig trying it in a colder clime.

On previous trips we have tried to keep the stuff we pack to a minimum; especially clothes, but invariably we always take things we do not use, prompting us to cut down even more this time. Hopefully we have not forgotten anything, but if we have, we will have fun trying to find it in Malaysia. It feels quite liberating knowing that the only bag you have to worry about, is the one on your back.

We have both purchased Kathmandu Shuttle cargo 40l bags. They are designed to be the maximum size airlines allow as carry-on, and after a test pack, we have both come in around the 5kg mark, well under the 7kg airline limit for carry-on - look out for a bag review later.
Image: Kathmandu -
The plan so far is to spend the first few days in KL exploring the delights of the capital, then fly to Johor Bahru (JB) and check out the house and street I lived in when my Father was posted to Singapore in the British Navy. We were going to take the Jungle Railway to Tumpat in the far northeast near the Thai border and spend some time beach bumming. KTM, the Malay railways put paid to that idea as they have shut down day-time trips for two years while they work on the line during the day; that journey will have to wait for another trip.

So now the plan is to bus it from JB to Melaka and check out the heritage listed trading port for a few days, then head further north to Pulau Pangkor, a small island about halfway between KL and Penang on the west coast for some coastal relaxing. Pangkor does not have the pulling power of the more well known Penang or Langkawi, but it also lacks the crowds of drunk westerners looking for a good time. We are looking forward to some beach time and hopefully some snorkelling, maybe a jungle trek, and a cycle or scooter around the island.

Then it is back to KL for the last two days for a significant birthday dinner before heading home.

We are looking forward to some warmth after a particularly bitter Southern Australian winter, some tasty food, and maybe a few cold beverages! But most of all we are looking forward to being in a foreign country, interacting with the locals, and enjoying whatever comes our way.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Emirates offers Australian travellers free Dubai stopover

It is not often you get something free from a quality airline, let alone one of the top-ten in the world backed by an oil-rich Gulf State. Emirates are offering Australians travelling to Europe a free stopover in Dubai for a limited time.

As a wholly owned subsidiary of the Government of Dubai, the airline is obviously trying to snare some goodwill from those able to take up this offer. Who, after being lavished with Middle-Eastern hospitality, isn’t going to sing the praises of a stopover in Dubai to friends, family, and business associates?

Photo: Emirates / Australian Business Traveller

China currently has a similar offer – a more generous visa-free 72-hour stopover in certain cities for transiting passengers. Aimed at the business traveller on their way to Europe, China is offering a hassle-free break to your journey. Although China is not offering hotel transfers, a hotel room for one night, and breakfast like Emirates, three days and nights in China is a nice length of time to get out-and-about and familiarise yourself with a new destination.

Tight Arse Travel would not normally fly with a full service airline like Emirates as we detest long-haul flights, and are usually penny pinching on transport costs. That said, the opportunity to break a long journey in a strange and unfamiliar land, and experience a little luxury, might sway us to loosen the purse strings once-in-a while.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Jetstar's new non-stop flights from Melbourne to Tokyo take off

I was intrigued by this piece - - by Robert Upe, The Age's Travel, and Tourism Writer.

Why did he need to fly to Japan? Unlike the 'Flight Tests' in The Saturday Age, he mentions nothing about the aircraft, service, classes, food, and seats. In fact, nothing about the flight at all.

He probably researched the article from his desk, read the press release from Jetstar, and received a free flight to Japan in return for a puff-piece!

Good onya Bob, you win this week's Tight Arse Traveller award - The Golden Pucker.

Photo: Jetstar / The Age

Thursday, 20 February 2014

How can I get free travel insurance?

Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard

Photo: Bankwest

Here at Tight Arse Travel we are always on the lookout for ways to make our travel dollar go further; why pay more for something when you don’t need to? The further your money goes, the longer you can travel; or with the money saved, you can afford to splurge occasionally. Then there is the thrill of the hunt! That said, we don’t always take the cheapest option if it compromises safety or increases risk.
One of travel’s little necessities is insurance, and even though we have never needed to use it, the peace-of-mind it affords is well worth the price. Imagine having an accident in the U.S. with no medical insurance, you may end up with a debt for life. Alternatively, falling ill in a third-world country with poor medical facilities; not only could your condition deteriorate quickly, without insurance you may not be able to arrange or afford repatriation home.
To that end, travel insurance is worth every cent as long as it covers every eventuality of the trip – read the fine print.
We heard from a friend who has travelled extensively that some credit cards are bundled with a travel insurance component, so like a truffle pig we started grubbing around the Interwebs for the scent of a product that would suit our needs. Now, it is not hard to find a credit card with bundled travel insurance, but there is usually a catch: some only provide insurance if you buy your travel tickets with the card, others have an annual fee; yet others provide only a very rudimentary coverage, forcing you to pay more for the things you really need.
Then, Eureka! Could it be true? Had we found a card with no annual fee and a great insurance policy? Wait a minute, surely there had to be a catch. As we said earlier: read the fine print! After checking everything twice, we have found the perfect product – Bankwest Zero Platinum MasterCard. Although there is a requirement to buy your travel tickets with the card, you have to buy them somehow! By using the card the bank and the insurer have evidence of your purchase and intended journey.
The application process could not have been easier – it can all be done on-line. A good thing too … Bankwest is based in Western Australia with no branch network in the eastern states where we live. Approval took about 2 days, and about a week later our shiny new credit card arrived in the mail.
Now we have a line of credit for emergencies when travelling, the peace-of-mind good travel insurance affords (for free, we might add), and it did not cost us a cent!

Check it out here ->

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Over-development in Bali threatens to kill the Golden Goose

This article - Rubbish tsunami swamps Bali beach front - in The Age on January 25, 2014 prompted this post.

The irony of this situation is the rubbish generated servicing tourists is coming back to bite them, turning their tropical playground into a rubbish dump. Unfortunately, most tourists are blissfully unaware that the rubbish is dumped in waterways in places where they rarely go … or see. The annual monsoon rains flush the waterways into the sea; the tide and wind do the rest, delivering the rubbish back to the very beach where some of it was produced.

This situation highlights the slow pace of much needed infrastructure to keep up with tourist development on the island. Some rapacious land developers gain approval for new hotels and restaurants by greasing the right palms. Planning rules – if they exist – are often flouted, or just plain ignored. This goes to the old hoary chestnut of short-term gain winning over long-term vision. Selfishness beats sagacity.

There are environmental groups pointing out the problems with Bali’s current growth spurt; that unless it is slowed to allow infrastructure to catch up, the problem will continue to grow exponentially to the point where the tourists may stop coming. Tourists may find the next best place to holiday and spend their hard earned – moving on, and leaving the Balinese to wonder how it all went wrong. The green group’s voices struggle to be heard over the deafening clatter of the jackhammer and beep-beep-beep of reversing cement trucks.

Although numbers of tourists arriving continue to grow every year, they are not completely to blame. Bali’s own population is on the rise - climbing by 20% in the last decade. This adds pressure to an ailing electricity grid - which draws all of its power from the neighbouring island of Java - and the water supply network. Ironically, Bali is blessed with abundant rainfall, and has one of the oldest and most sophisticated distribution systems designed to ensure all rice farmers get a fair share of the available water.

Tourists, and especially Australians who make up the vast majority go to Bali for various reasons; sun, surf, sand, and sex is the usual image of Aussie tourists, but many eschew the tourist strip of Kuta-Legian-Seminyak with its knock-off DVD stores and happy-hour sports bars for quieter pleasures. They head inland to savour the arts and crafts, or to unwind at a yoga retreat or spa. Others with a more adventurous bent head to the mountains for trekking, mountain biking, white-water rafting, or canyoning. Yet others head to the coastal towns and villages for snorkelling and SCUBA diving. Whatever they come for, one thing is for sure, they come because it is cheap.

In 2013, the Governor of Bali proposed all foreign tourists “make a US$10 donation which would be used to finance cultural heritage and environmental efforts across the island.” Effectively this is a tax - a good tax. Tight Arse Travel supports this measure, as it would ensure every foreign tourist contributes directly to the cultural and environmental upkeep of the island from which his or her pleasure is derived. We would go further and suggest that arriving travellers are made aware of the effect of tourism. They should also be made aware of how the tax is being used to support and enhance the culture and environment of the island.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Qantas leaves Tasmania to regional service, cutting 35 jobs in Hobart

Apologies dear reader for my lack of correspondence over the holiday season. After blogging so hard in the latter half of 2013, Tight Arse Travel was feeling a little stale and needed a break to freshen up.

This morning there is a story about Qantas downgrading their service into the Apple Isle. I wonder if they would find it as easy to pull the same move on the mainland. 

Qantas states that "This change is about making sure we have the right aircraft on the right routes in support of leisure and business travel opportunities between Tasmania and the mainland."

Although earlier in 2013, Tasmania's economic outlook was a little downbeat, there were positive signs that the economy was on the mend toward the end of the year.

Qantas gets the Tight Arse award for today for sacking 35 ground handling staff in Hobart.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Ngurah Rai International Airport - Bali Indonesia

Visa on Arrival & Departure Tax

Tight Arse Travel was fortunate to travel to Bali for a Mountain Biking tour with Bali Trailblazers.

We'd like to pass on some tips which may make your arrival and departure easier.

Most nationalities can purchase a Visa on Arrival (VoA) at the airport, but it is always worth checking before firming up your travel plans.

When we travelled in July 2013, the 30 day VoA was $25US.
This could be paid in US$, A$ or by credit card.

There is also a departure tax levied by the Indonesian Government on all tourists leaving the country of Rp200,000. This is also payable at the airport.