Our Three Week China Itinerary

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how cheap the flights were. Perth, Australia to Beijing was just AU$280 return with Singapore Airlines! It was November 2016 and I’d spotted the deal at 5.30am on my way to the gym. I quickly forwarded the alert to my boyfriend, who was still asleep. I got home around 8.30am just as he woke up and I frantically asked him if he’d seen my email. He yawned and rubbed his eyes which indicated no, so I gave him the rundown.

The sale was for September 2017, so 10 months away. The date worked for us as we would return from Europe in May 2017 and have three months to save. We did our mandatory checks for booking flash sales (what’s the weather, are there any national holidays and what’s the average hotel price). By 9.30am, we’d booked two of the four remaining seats. We were going to China for 19 days!

It turns out the airfare was a company error but Singapore would honour our bookings. Six months later, we returned from Europe and sprung into action. China was just four months away! 

Planning our trip

The first task was deciding where exactly we wanted to go, as neither my boyfriend or I had been to China before. Obviously we were flying into Beijing and wanted to see the Great Wall, Shanghai would be easy to get to, and my boyfriend was set on seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. I wanted to eat Sichuan food so its capital Chengdu was added to the list. I’d grabbed some catalogues from a travel expo and was enchanted by photos of pillar-like mountains in Zhangjiajie, so that went into the possibles too. We had the first draft of our China holiday.

Organised tour or solo?

My boyfriend and I had limited time and wanted to see as much as possible so we looked a few organised tour companies, including Intrepid and G Adventures. However their China tour dates didn’t quite line up with our flights and what’s more, the itineraries weren’t that attractive. There were multiple long train rides (necessary to keep costs down) but also things like ‘traditional performances’ and visits to ‘local culture villages,’ which I generally loathe as entirely constructed experiences.

In the end, my boyfriend and I devised our own three week itinerary for China. It was the best decision we could’ve made! We allowed roughly four nights in each city, booked trains and flights, and then pencilled in essential sightseeing (for example, some attractions were closed certain days). While it was a physically demanding holiday, there was also plenty of food, beer, culture and luxury. If you’re considering doing a self-guided trip of China, I really recommend it! It was much easier to get around than we expected, with trains modern, punctual and organised.

I’ll share specific posts about each location in the weeks ahead, but for now, here’s what we covered in three weeks. 

our three week itinerary

Days 1 – 4: Beijing 

  • Day 1: Arrive in Beijing. Hit a rooftop bar and watch the smoggy sunset with local beers. 
  • Day 2: Drive two hours to the Great Wall of China. At night, head to Beijing’s hutong area for dinner and drinks.
  • Day 3: Walk around Tiananmen Square before heading to the nearby Forbidden City. Continue to Jingshan Gardens for sweeping views of Beijing. At night, head to the shopping and food precinct Wanfujing Street.
  • Day 4: Visit the Temple of Heaven and surrounding park. Check out art and street eats in Beijing’s 738 Art District. Check out My Must-Do in Beijing for more details!
 Great Wall of China: a must-see when going to Beijing
Great Wall of China: a must-see when going to Beijing

Days 5 – 8: Xi’an, Shaanxi

  • Day 5: Catch a high speed train from Beijing to Xian. Have dinner in the Muslim Quarter.
  • Day 6: Cycle around Xian’s city wall before spending an afternoon at the Terracotta Warriors. Craft beer at night.
  • Day 7-8: Hike Mt Huashan, staying overnight on the mountain. Watch sunrise and continue hiking before returning to Xi’an. *See note at end of post.

Days 9 – 13: Chengdu, Sichuan

  • Day 9: Fly to Chengdu. Head to Jinli Street for Sichuan hot pot and street snacks. 
  • Day 10: See pandas at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding. Check out the world’s biggest building New Century Mall. Go on a night time food tour.
  • Day 11: Explore the city, taking in Tianfu Square, Chengdu Museum, the People’s Park and pedestrian street Chunxi Road. Check out craft beer and Anshun Bridge at night.
 Chengdu, Sichuan: I wanted to eat as much local cuisine as I could! 
Chengdu, Sichuan: I wanted to eat as much local cuisine as I could! 

Days 14 – 17: Zhangjiajie, Hunan

  • Day 14: Fly to Zhangjiajie and have dinner downtown.
  • Day 15:Head to Zhangjiajie National Park, before driving an hour to the Glass Sky Bridge and Grand Canyon.
  • Day 16: Return to Zhangjiajie National Park to see the mountains featured in the movie Avatar.
  • Day 17: Take the world’s longest cable car to Tianmen Mountain. Walk the Glass Sky Walk and visit Tianmen Cave. Late flight to Shanghai. *See note at end of post.
 Zhangjiajie National Park: I saw these mountains in a catalogue and knew I had to visit.
Zhangjiajie National Park: I saw these mountains in a catalogue and knew I had to visit.

Days 18 – 20: Shanghai

  • Day 18: Explore Shanghai on foot, visiting the former French concession, Xintandi, YuYuan and the famous Bund. Have dinner and drinks in former French concession.
  • Day 19: Learn to make noodles or dumplings in a local cooking class. Head to Nanjing Road for retail therapy before cocktails from the 87th floor Cloud 9 Bar in Pudong.
  • Day 20: Return to Beijing via high speed train.
  • Day 21: Depart Beijing.

Cost

Not including airfares, the trip cost us around AU $5500 plus we each spent roughly $1500 extra mostly on food, drinks and admission fees. Here’s a rough breakdown of costs: 

  • Accomodation: $1800 (3x nights 5 star hotel, 7x nights 4 star hotel, 4x nights hostel, 1x night overnight train). Not included = 3 nights in Zhangjiajie (part of package tour).
  • Internal flights & trains: AU$2000
  • Guided/package tours: AU$1400 (four days in Zhangjiajie) + USD$300 (Great Wall day trip)
  • Activities (i.e. cooking class, food tour): AU$200

I was surprised by how expensive internal transport was, particularly airfares. There were cheaper train options, but they were often much slower and we had limited time.

My boyfriend and I agreed afterwards our China trip was one of the best we’ve ever done! There was a good mix of sightseeing and relaxing, and we didn’t feel like we were moving around too much or rushing any location despite the internal flights and some early starts. I would’ve loved more time in Shanghai but there’s always the next holiday! 

resources

I highly recommend the following websites when planning a trip to China: 

In coming weeks, I’ll share the highlights (and disappointments) from each destination along with my general travel tips for China, such as which apps to download and why you should bring a thermos.

*Note: There was very little information online about hiking Mt Huashan and Zhangjiajie, and most of it was inaccurate. If you’re planning to visit either of these places, I’ll be sharing our experiences in detail in the weeks ahead. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay up to date.

QUESTION: What’s the best airfare deal you’ve scored?

Five Beauty Essentials for Busy People

My daily goals are to eat well, work, exercise and get seven hours sleep. Sometimes it feels like mission impossible, and I’ll race from place to place leaving a tornado of clothing, kitchen utensils and gym gear in my wake. My boyfriend deserves a medal for all the times he’s cleaned our Vitamix after I’ve made a smoothie on the run. He’s also brought socks, hair ties and shirts to the gym when I’ve flown out the door without them. He’s amazing. 

Needless to say, I don’t spend a lot of time on beauty. I do the basics and cleanse, tone and moisturise each night. But I envy those women who always look glamorous, with styled hair, flawless makeup and manicured nails. I tell myself they probably don’t run 10K before work but if I’m honest, these creatures exist at the gym too. They’re catwalk ready at 6am while I’ve still got pillow creases on my face. I silently congratulate myself on at least brushing my teeth.

This post therefore isn’t about the latest beauty trends or techniques. Rather, it’s my lifesaving, time-saving beauty essentials that help me race from a workout to workplace or event and meet basic presentation standards. I’ve also included products that let you postpone beauty appointments or skip them entirely – saving you not only time, but money. Hooray! 

1. MAC Powder + Foundation

This two-in-one compact is unreal. The formula glides on smoothly, giving excellent matte coverage while being completely weightless and breathable. It takes just 30 seconds to apply a full face – ideal for getting ready at the gym or doing touch ups after a lunchtime or evening workout. I have dark pigmentation so I can’t wear this as my daily foundation, but it’s perfect for casual catch ups and travelling. M.A.C. Studio Fix would be adequate coverage for anyone with even tones. Bonus: it comes with a mirror and sponge, so it’s easy to apply on the go.

M.A.C. Studio Fix Powder + Foundation, AU $50 | website

 MAC: super portable powder & foundation formula
MAC: super portable powder & foundation formula
 MAC: A mirror and a sponge to easily apply on the run
MAC: A mirror and a sponge to easily apply on the run

2. OPI Nail Strengthener

I originally bought this product to strengthen my nails but I discovered it’s much more than that. OPI’s Nail Envy also acts as a clear polish that dries within seconds. Literally, your left hand will be dry before you’ve finished your right hand. With a quick file, this polish is glossy enough to instantly give your nails a groomed look. You’ll often find me doing an express manicure while waiting for my bus! Because it’s clear, it’s easy to apply in a rush and you won’t notice if any chips off – saving you maintenance time too. Yay!

OPI Nail Envy, AU $34.95 | website

3. Palmer’s bronze body lotion

Between the gym, my job and a blog, it’s a nightmare trying to book appointments. Skip the beautician and buy Palmer’s Natural Bronzer instead. It works in 6 to 8 hours, and while it’s designed for daily use it’s actually strong enough to use just once a week. I apply it before bed and wake up a shade or two darker. You can be a little more careless when applying this tanner too because the result isn’t as dramatic as others (although still wash your hands thoroughly afterwards!). The smell isn’t too strong either and the fornula feels really hydrating thanks to the cocoa butter. For special events, I apply three days in a row to get maximum glow. It’s so much cheaper and convenient than booking a spray tan. 

Palmer’s Natural Bronze Body Lotion, from AU $9.99 for 250ml | website

 Beauty essentials: basic but they'll save you time and possibly cash too
Beauty essentials: basic but they’ll save you time and possibly cash too

4. batiste Dry Shampoo

I was a few years late to the dry shampoo party but now I’m hooked. A few sprays, gently rub your scalp and you’ve scored another 12 hours of clean hair. It saves time on both washing your hair and drying and styling it. It’s perfect for a post-gym refresh or if you need to mask an oil slick before a class. I use Bastiste Dry Shampoo in Original scent and despite plenty of other brands on the market, I don’t see any need to switch. This is another product I swear by when travelling. 

Batiste Dry Shampoo, from AU $4.95 for 50ml | website

5. Dyson Supersonic 

 Dyson Supersonic: a daily time-saver, albeit at a cost 
Dyson Supersonic: a daily time-saver, albeit at a cost 

This is more of a beauty appliance than a product, but it’s a lifesaver. My old hairdryer blew up a year ago (sparks literally came out of the wall socket) so I invested in a Dyson. What appealed most was it being less noisy – I wanted to be able to blow dry my hair in the apartment without waking my boyfriend. It’s not exactly silent, but more akin to a fan with a low piercing noise like the Dyson vacuum cleaner. I can still talk to people while drying my hair and with the bathroom and bedroom door closed, you can barely hear it.

The Dyson hairdryer is also extremely efficient. I have short, fine hair and it’s completely dry within 3 to 5 minutes. I’d forgotten how fast it was until I used regular hairdryers while travelling earlier this year. The Dyson also avoids that burning hair smell, as it checks its air temperature 20 times a second. It’s not cheap, but this hairdryer saves me at least 10 minutes every day and in my books – that’s worth it. Especially with all the cash I’ve saved on spray tans!

Dyson Supersonic Hairdryer, AU $499 | website

QUESTION: What are your time-saving beauty tricks?

10 Superfoods on a Budget

Between activated almonds and goji berries, you’d be forgiven for thinking health foods are the domain of the rich. While it’s true you get what you pay for, you can also eat well and not spend a fortune on your grocery shopping. As a general rule, all fruit and vegetables are superfoods. One red capsicum (pepper) contains three times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C (and interestingly, twice as much Vitamin C as an orange). A sweet potato boasts around 200% of your daily Vitamin A needs while you can get 5g of your daily fibre intake from a single apple. None of these foods will break your budget!

If you delve into the packaged food section, a good tip is to avoid marketing buzz words like ‘natural,’ ‘wholesome’ or ‘pure’, as the use of these words isn’t actually regulated. In Australia, a 2016 report found nearly half of 300 supermarket foods labelled “natural” were actually considered unhealthy, as they were high in saturated fat, salt and/or sugar. While the use of ‘organic’ on packaging is regulated, most brands of organic tomato sauce (ketchup), for example, still contain 20% sugar and high sodium levels.

Here’s my list of 10 affordable health foods that are easy to find and incorporate into your diet. Check out Perth’s Top Health Food Stores for my favourite places to buy in bulk for further savings!  

1. rolled oats

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I love my morning oatmeal! A 30 gram (1/3 cup or 1 oz.) serve of rolled oats contains 4 grams of protein, a type of fibre called beta-glucan which helps with cholesterol levels, and minerals like manganese which is vital for bone formation and phosphorus for basic cell function and bone support. Whether you use oats for porridge or mix them with nuts and dried fruit for a natural muesli, they’re one of the healthiest, convenient and cheapest breakfast foods you can find. 

  • Cost: AU $3 per kilo / US$4 for 2 lbs. (10-15 cents per serve)
  • How to use: Make porridge for breakfast, roast oats in the oven for an hour with a handful of nuts and seeds for a healthy granola, make topping for a fruit crumble, add to vegetable patties instead of breadcrumbs, bake Anzac biscuits or oatmeal raisin cookies. 

2. Flaxseed (linseed)

I’m still amazed how affordable flaxseeds are. Also known as linseed, these tiny seeds are plain tasting and ordinary looking but they pack a nutritional punch. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed (flaxmeal) is just 30 calories and contains 1.5g protein, 2g fibre (you need 25g-30g a day) and more than your daily needs of omega-3 fatty acids. Increasing your omega-3 intake is thought to have a significant benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease. I buy my flaxseed whole and grind them in my Vitamix, as it’s fresher and cheaper than buying pre-ground flaxmeal. 

  • Cost: AU$4 per kilo / US$3 for 16 oz. (about 2c per 1tbsp serve!)
  • How to use: Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to oatmeal or smoothies, use as an egg replacement in cakes or muffins by mixing 1tbsp flaxmeal with 3 tbsp water for each egg, or add flaxseed and/or flaxmeal to bread or other baked goods for a nutrition boost. 
 Flaxseed: Make flaxmeal by grinding seeds in a blender or coffee grinder & store in the refrigerator. 
Flaxseed: Make flaxmeal by grinding seeds in a blender or coffee grinder & store in the refrigerator. 

3. Sunflower seeds

When I was a student, there was no way I could afford $15 for a bag of almonds. Peanuts and sunflowers seeds were my trail mix of choice mixed with raisins or dried apricots. A 28g (1 oz. or 1/4 cup) serve of hulled sunflower seeds contains around 8g protein, 4g fibre, 45% of your daily Vitamin E needs and 25% of your magnesium intake. Even just one tablespoon will give you 2-3g of protein and 1.3g of fibre for just 60 calories. Watch out for the salted varieties!

  • Cost: AU$4 for 500g/ US$2.50 for 16 oz. (20 – 30c per serve)
  • How to use: Scatter a tablespoon on top of your breakfast cereal or yogurt, roast a cup of seeds in the oven with a little oil and your favourite spices for a savoury snack or salad topping, add 1/4 cup to muffins or banana bread for annutrition crunch, or blend in a high quality blender to make your own seed butter. 

4. Lentils

Legumes in general are inexpensive and readily available in canned or dried forms. Also known as “pulses,” they’re packed with fibre, protein, B vitamins and minerals like iron and copper. Lentils are one of my favourite legumes for their versatility and quick cooking time of around 20 minutes. You’ll commonly find brown lentils in cans, while red lentils are usually sold dry and break down when cooked. Slightly more expensive are French lentils (also called puy lentils) which hold their shape when cooked, making them ideal for salads. A typical 50g (1/4 cup) serve of dry lentils contains around 170 calories, 11g protein and 5g fibre plus a whopping 20% of your daily iron intake. 

  • Cost:  AU$4 per kilo / US$4 for 2lb. (approx. 20c a serve)
  • How to use: Make Indian dal by simmering 1 cup of dry red lentils with 3-4 cups of water and curry powder, or cook lentils with chopped vegetables and stock for a hearty soup. If you don’t like Indian flavours or soup, make lentil burgers! Alternatively, cook French puy lentils and add to salads or serve hot with creamy polenta and wilted greens. 

5. Carrots

I hated raw carrots as a kid and still disliked them as a young adult. But as a university student, their affordability and durability made them taste a whole lot better! I started eating raw carrots with hummus as an alternative to crackers and at the time, I didn’t appreciate what a powerhouse they were. One carrot contains about 170% of your daily Vitamin A needs and 3g of fibre, plus it’s only around 30-40 calories. Again, I love the versatility of carrots and use them in everything from curries and soups, to salads and sweet dishes like muffins or carrot cake (they pair perfectly with walnuts and cinnamon). 

  • Cost: AU$1-2 for 1kg bag / US$1.50 for 2lb (about 10-15c per carrot!)
  • How to use: eat raw carrot sticks with hummus or salsa, make a healthy carrot soup, or grate carrot and red cabbage for a “naked” coleslaw. This mix keeps for days and you can use it in Vietnamese rice paper rolls, throw it in a stir fry or enjoy with satay sauce and lime as a zesty side salad.

6. Canned tomatoes

While I try to buy fresh vegetables whenever possible, there are a few items I make an exception for. I love frozen peas, marinated artichokes, polski ogorki (Polish dill pickles) and… canned tomatoes. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, which has an antioxidant effect. Studies suggest eating foods with lycopene can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. An average 400g (14 oz.) can of diced tomatoes has around 60% of your daily Vitamin C needs, 25% of your Vitamin A needs and 6g of fibre (and only around 80 calories). Just make sure there’s no added salt. Best of all, a can of tomatoes will keep in your cupboard for years!

  • Cost: AU/US$1 per 400g/14oz. can (25c – $1 per serve)
  • How to use: Simmer with sautéed onion and garlic for an easy homemade pasta sauce, do the same but add paprika, cumin and coriander for a Mexican enchilada sauce or taco filling (with protein), simmer two cans with assorted vegetables for a chunky minestrone soup, or go Middle Eastern with a Moroccan tajine (stew) or shakshuka (eggs in tomato sauce).

7. Eggs 

For those who don’t follow a vegan diet or don’t have allergies, eggs are an affordable powerhouse of protein and nutrients. One egg contains 6g protein along with Vitamins B2, B12 and Vitamin D plus about 25-30% of your recommended daily intake of selenium and folate. Vitamin D helps protect bones while selenium is an antioxidant and vital for a proper functioning immune system. Eggs are also widely available in supermarkets, at cafes and of course, served by airlines every time they want you to think it’s “breakfast time!”

  • Cost: AU$4 per dozen / US$2-3 a dozen (about 50-60c per 2-egg serve)
  • How to use: Beyond poaching, frying and scrambling, use eggs to make a vegetable-packed quiche, enjoy boiled eggs as a portable snack or mash them with a pinch of curry powder for a protein-rich sandwich filling. 

8. Fresh herbs

There’s something about fresh herbs that’s both delicious and detoxifying. My favourites are parsley, mint, basil and (the often controversial) coriander. I add fresh herbs as often as I can my meals. They’re rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties, and studies suggest they may help protect against cancer.  As an example, a 1/4 cup of chopped parsley contains one-quarter of your daily Vitamin A needs, one-third of your Vitamin C needs and 5% of your daily iron intake. Fresh herbs elevate any dish you’re preparing and reduce the chance of unnecessarily adding salt or fat for flavour. My boyfriend and I struggle to keep our herb garden alive (even with automated watering) but we replant it a few times a year. It’s worth it! 

  • Cost: A few dollars for a small herb plant from a nursery or gardening centre. 
  • How to use: Make a parsley-packed tabbouleh, try a mint and pea soup, add generous amounts of coriander and lime juice to zucchini noodles for a raw pad thai, or blend two handfuls of fresh herbs with olive oil and lemon juice for a delicious homemade pesto. I love adding herbs to smoothies too – try pairing strawberries and mint, or parsley and kiwi fruit.

    9. cocoa

    I’m a chocoholic, but deep down I think I’m just hooked on cocoa. I’ll drink it hot, add it to smoothies, munch on cocoa nibs and make any dessert chocolate flavour. Most cocoa sold in supermarkets is “Dutch-processed,” or treated with alkali for a milder flavour (if so, you’ll see it in the ingredient list). Natural cocoa will simply say “cocoa” or “unsweetened cocoa powder” under ingredients. The least processed (and usually only found in health food stores) is “raw cocoa,” which is like the cold-pressed juice equivalent of cocoa.  

    What should you buy? It’s up to you, your tastebuds and your wallet – but don’t be dissuaded by commercial brands. One tablespoon of Hershey’s cocoa contains 10% of your daily iron needs and 2g of fibre, but less processed varieties will have more antioxidants. Just be sure to avoid “drinking chocolate” – that’s code for cocoa mixed with sugar, milk powder or solids and possibly marshmallows.

    • Cost: AU$5 for 250g / US $3 for 8 oz. (15c per 1 tbsp serve)
    • How to use: Make a healthy hot chocolate, add a spoonful to a banana or berry smoothie, stir cocoa through 1 cup of coconut water and 2tbsp of chia seeds for a healthy chocolate pudding (you’ll have to wait a few hours though!).  
     Dark chocolate: you'll always find a block or two of Lindt in my refrigerator! 
    Dark chocolate: you’ll always find a block or two of Lindt in my refrigerator! 

    10. Dark chocolate

    You may be thinking chocolate isn’t a superfood or that good quality brands are too pricey. But dark chocolate, with a cocoa content of 85% or above, is a great source of iron and antioxidants. Most brands of 70% cocoa and above are also lactose and dairy-free, so suitable for vegans too. Unlike traditional chocolate bars, it’s hard to overindulge on dark chocolate because of its richness (although I need a lot of willpower to only eat two squares). If dark chocolate isn’t your thing, try starting with a 60% cocoa bar and working your way up. My favourite is Lindt’s 90% variety and I have a square every night with a cup of white tea. Two 10g squares of dark chocolates contains 120 calories and 7% of your daily iron intake.  

    • Cost: AU/US$3-4 for a 100g block (or just 30 cents per square). 
    • How to use: As if I have to tell you how to eat chocolate!  

    notes

    • Everything on this page is vegetarian, and everything is vegan except for eggs. This list is entirely gluten-free too, except for rolled oats (although certified gluten-free brands exist). 
    • All prices are based on my best knowledge and research of major Australian and American supermarkets. If there’s a bargain superfood in your country (or something I’ve missed!), please share in the comments below. 
    • Check out Perth’s Top Health Food Stores for my favourite places to buy in bulk. They’re usually much cheaper than major supermarkets and some deliver interstate too!
    • Please remember I’m a journalist, not a nutritionist. I check my sources and I regularly shop on a budget – but don’t make drastic diet changes without seeing a professional. However, I guarantee lentils won’t kill you and you’ll grow to love 90% dark chocolate eventually!

    QUESTION: What’s your favourite budget health food?

    My Immune Boosting Soup

    Winter seems to bring sniffles and sore throats no matter how well you look after yourself. I try to avoid getting sick in the cooler months by paying close attention to diet and exercise, even when it’s dark and rainy outside. I still get a cold or two each year, but I tend to fight bugs quickly and get back to normal within two days. 

    When I do feel a cold setting in, I head straight to the kitchen and make tea with lemon and raw honey. I’ll also make a big batch of vegetable soup packed with fresh herbs and a hint of chilli. It’s both nourishing and comforting, and convenient if you’re at home unwell for a few days. To treat a sore throat, I gargle warm saltwater a few times a day and also have a spoonful of raw honey. Salt helps reduce bacteria growth and unprocessed honey also has antibacterial benefits. These are easy remedies to find if you’re suddenly struck down at work or travelling too. 

    My boyfriend recently got a winter bug and the doctor’s advice was simply to stay warm and rest. I turned to our humble apartment kitchen to try find a remedy. We had carrots, fresh ginger, garlic and a packet of dried shiitake mushrooms. I cooked this soup within 30 minutes and it was too good not to share! It’s delicious, nutrient-packed and has a serious ginger kick.

    How does it help you in winter? Carrots are an excellent source of Vitamin A (330% of recommended daily intake in a medium carrot), which is vital for immune function. Ginger and garlic have antimicrobial benefits and add a strong, medicinal flavour to this soup. Dried shiitake mushrooms have been shown to boost immunity, and they also add umami which is known as the ‘fifth taste’ after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. You can find dried shiitake mushrooms for around $3-4 a packet in the Asian section of most grocery stores, either whole or sliced. Enjoy!

    my immune boosting soup

    Serves 2 | Gluten-free | Vegan | Low calorie | Budget-friendly 

    Time: 30 minutes (5 mins prep, 15 mins cooking + 10 mins soaking)

    INGREDIENTS

    • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
    • 2 cups water (1 cup hot , 1 cup room temperature)
    • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
    • 3 cloves garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
    • 1cm (half-inch) fresh ginger, sliced
    • 5 carrots, thinly sliced
    • 1 tbsp salt-reduced soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)

    STEPS

    1. Place shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with 1 cup of hot (not boiling) water. Let soak for 10 minutes, then let them continue soaking while you start on the soup. 
    2. Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan.
    3. Sauté garlic and ginger for 2 – 3 minutes, until fragrant.
    4. Add sliced carrots and remaining 1 cup of water, plus half the shiitake mushroom water.
    5. Bring to a boil then simmer on medium heat for 8 – 10 minutes, or until carrots are soft but not soggy. 
    6. Blend 3/4 of the soup using a hand held mixer or machine (I use my Vitamix). Be careful when blending hot liquids as they can explode when you remove the lid. 
    7. Return the blended mix to the saucepan and add soy sauce and remaining shiitake mushroom water (keeping mushrooms separate). Stir and reheat if necessary.
    8. Slice the shiitake mushrooms. They should be soft but slightly chewy. 
    9. Divide soup into two bowls, and serve topped with the mushrooms and fresh herbs.

    Leftovers will keep a day or two in the refrigerator. This recipe is easy to double too. It’s so delicious, I’m going to recreate it all winter! Next time, I’ll try topping it with roasted chickpeas for a protein boost.

    QUESTION: What’s your favourite cold and flu remedy?

    Travel-Friendly Foods

    Hands up if you’ve succumbed to $7 Pringles on a plane? Or spent $28 on room service after a late night arrival, only to realise your body just needed a few mouthfuls? Whether you’re flying a low-cost airline or want to avoid 2am jet lag hunger, I’ve found some creative ways to eat well in transit. These ideas are particularly useful if you have food allergies that limit your on-board menu options, if you have unusual arrival times, or you simply want to avoid overpriced airport food. Some of these will work for bus travel too! 

    My Top Travel-Friendly Foods

    1. Herbal & green teas

     Herbal & green teas: these individually-wrapped tea bags from T2 are my favourite for travelling. 
    Herbal & green teas: these individually-wrapped tea bags from T2 are my favourite for travelling. 

    I first spotted this idea when flying to Queenstown, New Zealand. A woman asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water, and then brewed a fruity tea right on her tray table. I’ve done the same ever since. It’s especially nice on long haul flights when you want to stay hydrated or try induce sleep. Yes, I feel a bit a pretentious asking for hot water on a flight. But my request is yet to be refused and it’s absolutely worth it!

    My favourite: Grab a box of T2 All Sorts (AU$10) for 10 assorted, individually packaged teabags. You’ll find one for whatever mood you’re in! 

    2. A granola/energy bar

    It’s an obvious snack choice but for good reason. Granola bars are portable, filling and tasty. With a cup of tea or coffee, it almost feels like breakfast. When choosing a bar, look beyond marketing buzzwords like ‘natural,’ ‘superfoods’ or ‘low-fat’ and read the ingredient and nutrition labels. The healthiest options will have ingredients you recognise and not too much sugar. I prefer my granola and energy bars to have 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of sugar or less, but I allow a little more if they contain dried fruit as these will have naturally occurring sugars. A sickly sweet bar is the last thing I want before an adventure!

    My favourite: I love Larabars (AU$8 for box of 5), as they contain just dates, nuts and a little sea salt. They’re gluten-free, vegan and packed with fibre. I’ll often eat half a Larabar at my hotel before a morning run if I need. For long-lasting energy, I like Clif Builders Bar with 20g protein (AU$33 for 12 pack) although it breaks my self-imposed sugar limit. 

     Travel snacks: the most common foods you'll find in my carry-on luggage or on my hotel dresser! 
    Travel snacks: the most common foods you’ll find in my carry-on luggage or on my hotel dresser! 

    3. Instant oatmeal

    If you’re a regular High Rise Hayley reader, you’ll know how much I love my oatmeal! A sachet of quick oats is ideal for travelling as it requires little more than hot water and a mug. Just pour and cover with a saucer, wait a few minutes and voila! Oats are exceptionally good for you and budget-friendly too. If your hotel room has milk in the mini-bar, even better. I’ve also raided fruit & nut mixes for toppings. For some serious hotel room creativity, soak your oats overnight with mini-bar orange juice for a refreshing Bircher muesli. If you have food allergies though, be sure to check your oatmeal packet for potential milk powder, nuts or sulphites (often in dried fruit).

    My favourite: I like Macro Organic Quick Oats (AU$4 for 10x34g sachets) as they’re 100% rolled oats, without any sweeteners or flavourings. If you must have a flavoured variety, check the sugar content. Some brands contain up to 15g of sugar in a 35g serve – that’s 3 teaspoons, or more than one-third sugar!

    4. Cup of soup

     Instant soup: an easy hotel room snack for late night arrivals.
    Instant soup: an easy hotel room snack for late night arrivals.

    It’s midnight, you’ve checked into your hotel room and you’re a little hungry but not enough for a meal. If your room has a kettle, make soup! A cup of vegetable broth is both comforting and hydrating, and the water content can help you feel full without consuming lots of calories before bed. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of sodium in most commercially available soups. But it’s better than a bowl of room service fries, right? 

    My favourites: La Zuppa’s lentil soup (just 26 calories). I also like instant miso soup, even though it doesn’t have the probiotic benefits when making it yourself from miso paste. 

    5. Nut butter

    Being lactose-intolerant, my plane meals usually include just half of the cheese and crackers course. Some flights I’ve been given butter with my bread roll too, which isn’t going to happen. Solution? Nut butter! Nuts are a delicious source of protein, fibre and minerals including magnesium, zinc and calcium. I bring a small sachet when travelling as a substitute for cheese or butter, or to boost my protein intake at a hotel continental breakfast. Be mindful that nut butters are calorie dense and you won’t be using much energy sitting in the sky. Luckily, I bring sachets, not a jar. 

    My favourite: Justin’s Classic Almond Butter (AU$17 for 10x34g serves). I’m always on the prowl for mini peanut butter packets at cafes or buffets too. 

    6. A banana

     Bananas: the original travel snack! 
    Bananas: the original travel snack! 

    Nature’s breakfast on the run, no packaging required! Bananas are the original energy snack, with a nutritious combination of carbohydrates, potassium and vitamin B6. I often eat a banana for breakfast in transit with a cup of tea, which gives me enough energy for the day ahead without feeling weighed down. Just make sure your banana is the last thing you place in your carry-on luggage, or you’ll find yourself with an unintended banana smoothie. 

    Other ideas

    • For early flights: Cut up fruit salad and put it in a take-away container. You’ll be the envy of every other passenger and you won’t land full of starch and fat from toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. You could even freeze some yogurt to eat with it, or top your fruit salad with mixed nuts. 
    • Day time flying: The night before, put 1/2 cup hummus in a tall container and freeze. Before leaving for the airport, put some carrot sticks on top. The hummus should be defrosted yet chilled when your seatbelt sign goes off.  
    • Night time flights: I frequently BYO sushi onto planes. Being vegetarian, I’m fine with avocado rolls being out the fridge for a few hours. Bite-sized food is a total win too. 

    don’t forget!

    You can take liquids on domestic flights but more than 100mL (3 oz.) of liquids is a no-no when flying internationally. Coconut water is a refreshing and healthy way to keep hydrated. 

    Keep all your food in its original packaging and before going through customs, toss any food that’s opened. I make sure all ingredients are listed too, in case quarantine or other authorities want to inspect. 

    Lastly, don’t forget utensils and storage. I put all my travel snacks in a zip lock bag with a ‘spork’ (a hybrid spoon and fork, available at most camping stores) and an extra zip lock bag inside to store any half-finished foods. Sound like a lot of work? Maybe. But it’s better than a soggy $10 sandwich!

    QUESTION: What snacks do you pack when travelling? 

    Perth’s Top Health Food Stores

    Remember going to the movies as a child and standing in awe of the pick and mix candy? It was a rare treat during school holidays for my sisters and I, who would carefully scoop a few freckles, raspberries, a milk bottle or two and a snake into our paper bags. As an adult, I still love to go into a store and select my favourite goods from the endless rows of tubs. I prefer to scoop up healthier treats nowadays like nuts, dried fruits and unusual flours but the experience still has the same childhood magic. 

    Below are my favourite stores in Perth where you can buy health foods in bulk. It’s much cheaper than buying packets from the supermarket and better for the environment too, as it’s less packaging. If you don’t live locally, some offer online shopping and deliver across Australia for reasonable prices. One store even has outlets on the east coast. Enjoy!

    1. The Clean Food Store – Subiaco

     The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.
    The Clean Food Store: outdoor dining on a quiet street.

    Nestled in a suburban street in Perth’s west, you’ll find the prettiest health food store you’ve ever seen. The Clean Food Store opened in March 2016 and is light, bright and minimalist. You’ll find cookbooks and cleaning products, organic and non-organic foods and some refrigerated items along with the bulk buying section. The Clean Food Store stocks Honest Goods Co baked treats, Clean Slate candles and beauty products and Loving Earth grocery items among other brands. There’s also fresh bread and a barista if you fancy a coffee or matcha lattes. If that’s not enough, there’s a cabinet stocked with treats (raw, paleo and vegan options), paninis, patties and NOOD meals to enjoy in store or take away.

    I dropped by on a recent Saturday morning and staff were happy and welcoming. It was quite busy but largely because of people grabbing coffees. Despite being fairly small, the store never felt crowded. I loved choosing my health foods and scooping the items into paper bags, weighing on the scales if needed. The Clean Food Store has a good variety of nuts, flours, dried fruit and more plus lots of organic options too. I can’t wait to return!

     The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I've ever seen!
    The Clean Food Store: the cleanest, prettiest health food shop I’ve ever seen!

    My prized pick: a team member recommended the dark chocolate coated goji berries ($2.90/100grams), which barely lasted the journey home! My 500g of raw walnuts ($22/kilogram) were fresh and delicious, and good value too. 

    Unfortunately, The Clean Food Store doesn’t have online shopping or delivery options. However, it’s open 7am to 6pm, 7 days a week!

    Address: 214a Nicholson Road, Subiaco WA | www.thecleanfoodstore.com.au

    2. The Source Bulk Foods – Various locations

    I love having healthy family and friends! My sister introduced me to The Source Bulk Foods at The Park Centre in Victoria Park. This health food franchise began in Byron Bay, New South Wales in 2007 before expanding across Australia. You can find the store’s other West Australian locations at Clarkson and Floreat, and there are plans to open The Source in Cottesloe, Fremantle and Subiaco too.

     The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
    The Source Bulk Foods: a warm and welcoming interior at its Victoria Park store. 
     The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.
    The Source: affordable, natural cleaning and beauty products.

    On my visit a few months ago, I was greeted by two lovely women who explained how The Source works. Grab a paper bag, write down the product code and fill it with your desired amount. Easy! I slowly walked along the rows of tubs, reading labels and imagining recipes. I was fascinated by the more unusual ingredients, such as native Australian herbs and flours I’d never heard of. About 30 minutes later, my basket was filled with everything that had inspired me including puffed buckwheat, vegan caramel buttons and natural cleaning products. While the Make Your Own peanut butter was incredibly tempting, I abstained for fear the tub wouldn’t make it home. 

     The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 
    The Source: one of two walls lined with spices, slices and things nice! 

    My prized pick: The Source’s cinnamon is by far the best I’ve ever bought, as it’s really fragrant and flavoursome. The Lemon Myrtle cleaning products ($9.33/500ml) have transformed housework, as I now look forward the fresh, cleansing scent every time I clean!

    The Source offers online shopping with delivery across Australia. Prices start from $9.95 for up to 5kg to New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, $15.95 for up to 5kg to South Australia and Tasmania and $18.95 for up to 5kg to WA and the Northern Territory.

    Locations: Victoria Park, Clarkson & Floreat WA | thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

    3. Kakulas – Northbridge & Fremantle  

    Established in 1929, it’s quite likely Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge is Perth’s oldest and original health food store. The large sacks of legumes, rice and flours with cardboard signs are an unsung Perth icon and the store has a distinctly sweet smell of coffee beans. You’ll find an exceptional variety of bulk ingredients, and those with a sweet tooth won’t be disappointed as there are plenty of chocolate coated fruits and nuts. Kakulas Sister opened in Fremantle in 1994 and despite being much younger than its sibling, it still has the classic Kakulas feel. 

    The Northbridge location was my go-to for health foods when I lived in Northbridge and whenever I’m in Fremantle, visiting Kakulas Sister is a must. On top of an excellent health food range, the variety of imported groceries is exceptional. From antipasti and pastas to teas and tahini, you travel the world on their shelves! 

     Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 
    Kakulas Sister: every shelf and aisle is a journey of discovery! 

    My prized pick: a few squares of crystallised ginger, covered in dark chocolate, always make their way into my basket. Occasionally some chocolate coated macadamias follow them! Dried dates are a bargain at around $3/kg and when buying beans, I always grab some chickpeas to make my own hummus.

    Unfortunately, neither stores have online shopping. And given Kakulas Brothers was cash-only until last year, it’s likely to remain strictly bricks and mortar for some time! But then, that’s half of Kakulas’ charm. 

    Address: 19 William St, Northbridge & 29-31 Market, Fremantle WA | www.kakulassister.com.au

    4. 2 brothers Foods – online only

    I’ve been regularly buying my health foods from Perth website 2 Brothers Foods since 2012. Every few months I order a few kilos of essentials – nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit and flours – along with grocery items like pappadums. It’s so convenient! Their products are excellent value, with raw almonds at $16/kg, spelt flour at $4/kg and raw cashews for $19.50/kg to name a few. The choice is exceptional, particularly for less common spices and gluten-free flours. 

    The website is simple and easy to use. I like being able to choose from 250g, 500g, 750g and 1kg quantities and enjoy browsing each category for inspiration or new items. Best of all, delivery is fast and affordable! Shipping is a flat $3.50 within WA and SA, and from $6.95 for up to 5kg to capital cities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. It’s $7.95 for up to 5kg to Tasmania and $10.95 for the NT. Gift vouchers are available. As with any online checkout system, you can keep track of your total spend which isn’t as easy when shopping in bricks and mortar stores. 

    My prize pick: the textured vegetable protein (TVP) is an effortless, high-protein replacement for mince at $4.50/kg. I can’t imagine life without quinoa either (white organic $16/kg). The wasabi peas will make your nose sting every time, but less so if you mix in the yummy Chinese rice crackers. 

    Postal address: PO Box 1152, Nedlands WA | http://2brothersfoods.com

    Need some recipe inspiration? Grab some oats, buckwheat and quinoa and get into Breakfast With Benefits!

    QUESTION: Where do you buy your bulk health food items? 

    Essential Apps Before You Fly


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    mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}On my first big holiday, I carried a discman and a case of 10 CDs. I had Lonely Planet’s ‘Europe on a Shoestring,’ travellers cheques and a Nokia 3310. It was 2004 and calling home involved getting a phone card, finding a pay phone and hoping someone picked up the landline. I also had an address book to write down the details of newfound friends. Thankfully, email and Internet banking were a thing.

    Fast forward 12 years, and my phone is my life. It contains my calendar, emails, Runkeeper, food tracker, music and messaging.  But it’s when I’m travelling my device really shines.

    I’m assuming Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Skype are already smartphone staples and maybe you don’t want to use them on your holiday anyway. While I’m all for a digital detox, going offline, and so on – I also want to know the latest exchange rate before I blow $500.

    Here are my essential travel apps:

    1.     Skyscanner

    Download this free app to kickstart your trip (or bookmark the site on your work computer). Skyscanner compares flights on all airlines, and even mixes and matches flights in case the cheapest option is to fly there with Jetstar, and come home with Virgin. By far, this app’s best feature is the ability to search “EVERYWHERE” because sometimes, you have a spare week and some cash. Other times, you really want to visit Melbourne and just want the cheapest flight in coming months. Skyscanner has you covered for both those scenarios and unlike other websites, it doesn’t remember your searches and bump up the prices. You can also create price alerts for your searches. 

    2.     Trip It

    You’ve booked flights, hotels, a day tour and an ice hockey game… how on earth do you keep track of it all? Download TripIt and forward every email confirmation to plans@tripit.com, where they’ll instantly be generated into single itinerary. You can then share the plans with your travel buddies (and give them editing access too) or quickly email a link to your family. It’s a lifesaver when you need your hotel address for immigration forms or want to check flight times but you don’t have WiFi. Bonus? TripIt is free! The paid Pro version will send alerts if your flight times changes, which is handy too. 

    3.     Xe currency

    A simple but essential app allowing you to list up to 10 currencies and have up to the minute exchange rates. XE Currency easily calculates any amount of local currency into your home dollars, or vice versa. It’s handy in the booking stages (particular for hotels or tours) to see what the damage is. Take care if you’re abroad and the rates prompt a spending spree though – your banks won’t be giving as generous rates and international transaction fees can have some bite too.

    4.     Yelp

    You want cocktails in Copenhagen? Feel like sushi in San Fran? Yelp is your saviour. This app is the gateway to thousands of reviews on food, services and places across the world. I’m all for exploring a new city and letting the streets guide the way, but think of Yelp as a compass to guide your journey. I did a search for dumplings in Washington D.C. and ended up at a great place called CopyCat Co. It’s a cocktail bar above a Chinese restaurant, so you can get exceptional drinks with a side of gyoza and Sriracha.  As Yelp reviews promised, the crowd was awesome and staff mixed some of the best drinks I’ve ever had. The night was an absolute highlight of our trip to the capital. Thanks Yelp!

    5.     For fitness fans: MindBody

    I downloaded MindBody while in New York in 2015. It’s fantastic! Search for classes such as yoga, spin or boot camp in your neighbourhood. Best of all, you can book and pay via the app which avoids the need for pre-class paperwork. I used this app to check out Sacred Sounds Yoga (Greenwich Village) and my first hot yoga class at Modo Yoga NYC (West Village). It was a breeze! I was really excited when I saw Perth businesses were signed up too. TIP: You can also search for beauty and spa services.

    6.     For music lovers: BandsInTown

    An app that scans your music library and suggests gigs you might be keen on? Yes, it exists! Bandsintown also lets you set a location and a radius, so in the months leading up to New York I received local concert alerts and could buy tickets. Skrillex on Halloween = score! My boyfriend and I even got pre-sale tickets thanks to this app. Live music is great anytime, but even better when you’re raving with local crowds. Double points for this app working in your home city too.

    7.     Get some language skills: Duolingo

    Why play Candy Crush at the bus stop when you could learn a language instead? Featuring Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Swedish and more, Duolingo is easy to use and most of all, it’s FUN and FREE! Download a few months before your trip to get as savvy as you can. Will you become fluent? Probably not. But will Duolingo enrich your knowledge of the country and help you avoid Googling menu items? Absolutely.  

    8.     Manage money with a buddy: Splitwise

    You paid for Universal Studios and dinner, but your friend got the cab to the airport… so that’s like… uhhh… FORGET IT. Sometimes you’re in a cheap destination and no-one cares about a few dollars. Other times, you’ve had a six course degustation and also pre-paid the helicopter tour for two while your buddy covered the Broadway tickets. The ‘back and forth’ of who paid what is an unwelcome chore on vacation and, unless you have a joint account or are wealthy enough not to care, SplitWise can avoid those “keeping track” conversations and calculations. Set it up before you go and then keep tabs along the way.

    and on a serious note…

    While you’re planning a holiday and thinking digital, it’s worth signing up for the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller alerts. I tracked the spread of Zika virus while in the USA in 2016 before we went to Mexico. Thankfully, it didn’t hit Cancun but the email updates were a good way to stay informed without trawling through news sites. Register your trip as well in case a disaster strikes. It’s unlikely, but letting the government know your whereabouts gives them a head start for any rescue or other efforts that might be needed. 

    QUESTION: What are your top travelling apps?