Six Must-Have Items for a Fun (and Clean) Road Trip

A couple of months ago, I took a road trip to New Zealand’s Southern Alps to visit some friends. Believe it or not, I plan for things like this more than the average guy. I’m always paranoid that I’m going to forget something, and I didn’t want to detour along the way, so I sat down to write out a list. It worked as planned, so I thought I would share my packing list in case others find it useful.

 

USB phone charger

I alternate between Google Maps and Waze on road trips, depending on how good the coverage is. Using my iPhone constantly means that I absolutely must have a USB charger with me. Otherwise, I run the risk of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. As a bonus, that means I don’t have to worry about running my battery down if I check email or Instagram when I stop for lunch.

 

Music playlist

I wouldn’t be the Smart Music Explorer if I dared to set out on a road trip without a music playlist. I can make do with the radio for an hour or so, but when the stations start to get fuzzy, I head straight for my music list. Sometimes I pop on my headphones; other times I just sing along to the car system at full volume. In case you’re curious, this trip featured U2, The Killers, and Daft Punk—I like being eclectic.

 

Blanket

A blanket might sound like an odd choice, but I really do like to be as prepared as possible, so I brought it along with my emergency kit. There was already snow on the ground during my trip, and I didn’t want to take the chance of getting stuck on the side of the road and being too cold. Better safe than sorry. Plus, it meant that I knew I would be comfortable when I arrived at my friends’ house because I had my own blanket.

 

Travel size cooler

I try not to stop any more than necessary on trips and I like to save money, so a travel cooler is the perfect item for me to bring. It keeps my drinks and my sandwiches cold so I can have them whenever I want and I don’t have to stop for fast food.

Vacuum

I’m very particular about my car. After all, it was quite an expense, so I like to keep it as nice as I can. On a road trip, it’s easy to collect garbage and other things in the backseat and trunk, so I bought the best handheld vacuum I could find to clean up. It was perfect to handle the crumbs.

 

Garbage bag

A garbage bag takes up minimal room and is great to have on-hand when you arrive at your destination. Since a vacuum only handles the little things, also having a garbage bag available will make sure no receipts, wrappers, or other items are left behind.

 

Garage Conversion – Recording Studio/Music Room

If you’re short on space in your home, converting your garage into your dedicated music room/recording studio can be a great solution.

Garages make great music rooms as they are often separate from the house. Even if this is not the case there are ways of soundproofing and noise suppressing that can work well.

Some benefits (apart from the obvious noise reduction in the rest of the house!) include adding value to your property. Providing the conversion is done to a good standard you could see the value of your property rise by 12%-15%. In most cases this will be much greater than the cost of the conversion.

Before undertaking any type of conversion be sure to find out if you need planning permission.

Soundproofing is the most important thing, both for your sake and your neighbor’s! Add extra insulation around electrical outlets, light fixtures, windows, and doors. Make especially sure the door that connects your garage to your house is solid, heavy, and seals completely when closed.  You could also float an additional wall over the existing walls, using resilient channels or Z-bars, but that is generally beyond the scope of a garage studio conversion.

You may want to consider some type of ventilation system now you have your garage sealed up tight. Installing professional studio-grade AC is prohibitively expensive, and the typical in-wall AC system is prohibitively noisy, but there is another option – the split system. The fan part is located inside the room, and the noisy compressor is located outside. You will still want to open a window now and then to let the fresh air in, but you will stay comfortable and your sounds will stay inside.

Acoustics in your garage are going to be high in standing waves. These are caused by sound bouncing back and forth between two parallel surfaces (facing walls) producing peaks and valleys in the spectrum. You need to tame these as much as you can. Acoustic foam panels on the walls and heavy curtains on widows with lots of material to fold up. Some prefer to do this on one side only, but have a play around to come up with a solution that suits your particular garage. Make sure you can still use your garage door opener once your sound proofing is installed!

There are acoustic tile manufacturers who build diffusion modules using precise mathematical calculations, but for a garage studio it can be an expensive overkill, money better spent on a good microphone, preamp or studio headphones.

There are pros and cons to carpeting the floor, as carpet alone will not do much to prevent anything other than high frequency flutter echo, and some feel it only deadens the sound of acoustic instruments. If this is the case, heavy pads or office chair mats to stand on can be used instead, although sparingly as too much can cause the deadening effect you are trying to avoid.

Converting your garage into a recording studio is a lot of work, a lot of fun, and if you are patient and careful, you will have something that’ll give you great pride, and serve as comfortable space that will give your muse space to expand.

Sydney Music Scene

Here I am in Sydney! After a bloody fantastic time in NZ I’ve “hopped over the ditch” as the locals say and have arrived in Sydney, Australia. I’ll check out the sights and post soon about what I’ve seen and done. But first, my highlights and recommendations for the buzzing music scene in this awesome city………….

The Metro Theatre

This baby’s got all bases covered. Good sound? Check. Decent amenities? Check. A bar from which you can see the stage? Check. Another bar? Check. Since the early ’90s, the Metro has showcased a splashing of all-ages gigs while presenting a myriad of musical genres across every night of the week. Bravo!

The Oxford Art Factory

OAF bridges the gap between hangout and venue with style. The two rooms host socialites and punters, divided by a drawing room and two bars. It’s well decorated and interesting, and the lighting’s great. The bill brings in obscure hip-hop acts and mainstream pop alike.

The Enmore

The Enmore has an old-world feel and offers a nice alternative to a trek into the city. There’s seating, a mezzanine, parking… and it’s played host to some killer bands over the years – Modest Mouse to Wilco to Divinyls to Queens of the Stone Age – while providing killer comedy too. When the show’s over, spill onto Enmore Road for dinner and a drink.

The Sydney Opera House

The pearly shells of the Sydney Opera House are synonymous with Australia’s image – an iconic and irreplaceable part of Sydney’s skyline. Their Music at the House program welcomes a myriad of genres from electronica to mod rock. Then, of course, there are plenty of opera and classical performances on every week.

 

The Horden Pavilion

The Hordern does the job when it comes to bigger audiences. Ample seating wraps around the huge standing area – it’s just damn spacious. There are plenty of amenities, the sound suits big gigs and it’s easy to get to. Catch a drink beforehand at the Fox and Lion.

Allphones Arena

It may be a bit out of the way – so planning your journey there and back is essential – but Allphones knows how to house a pop extravaganza. Formerly known as the Acer Arena, this Olympic Park mega venue has played host to some of the biggest rock and pop stars Australia has seen.

 

Best Audiophile Headphones For Travel

I used to work in the headphone industry so like to think I know a thing or two about what cans to use. I recommend these guys here for best audiophile headphones advice and as a great source of independent knowledge. Although if you don’t want to spend hours doing research then you can’t go past Sennheiser for quality and value for money.

For the ultimate in portable, lightweight and affordable headphones you can’t beat in ear buds. These are getting better and better as technology continues to advance. However not everyone is a fan of having that little bit of plastic sticking into your ear no matter how advanced and ergonomic they make them – can you tell I’m not a fan?!

There are some good quality cans around that can fold up and take up less room – perfect for those of us that love to travel “carry on” only!

I’m currently using V-Moda xs as my travel cans. These puppies really feel sturdy and the build quality solid. The sound quality is definitely good and (to me) on par with some pretty respected cans – and I’ve tried a lot. You could probably find equal sound quality in cheaper packages with cheaper materials and no convenient folding mechanism but these are great for travel. They come with:

  • Exoskeleton Case – Fits in the palm of your hand
  • Carabiner – Clips inside or outside your bag
  • CliqFold Hinge – Folds to an impossibly small size with a satisfying click

I do have some in ear buds for running as they’re convenient and more comfortable for exercise – and I don’t wear them for hours on end so can put up with them! I’m using 1MORE Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones which are a good price and pretty comfortable. They seem to have a good range of sound and are reasonably clear. They are being touted by some as audiophile headphones but I don’t think I would go that far. In my opinion buds have a long way to go before they get to audiophile standard.

Well that’s my cans at the moment. There are so many options out there that it pays to do your research if you have time…..and if you don’t, these guys here know what they’re talking about!

 

 

 

Auckland Music Scene

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city. I love the vibe of this place, not too big not too small. Amazing beaches on the north shore just over the bridge, water pursuits, awesome cafes and a melting pot of cultures. I’ve visited a few times before and although the public transport system leaves a lot to be desired, there’s still plenty to love about this little city.

Traveling around the world as much as I can enables me to indulge in my other passion….music! With such a diverse range of cultures in Auckland it is easy to find something to suit any taste. I only had one night this visit so decided to try a few on K Road, a popular stretch as well known for it’s working girls as it is for it’s bars.

Neck of the Woods

K Road

This K Road basement bar churns out live music melodies left right and centre. With a new line-up of artists every week, Neck of the Woods have hosted the likes of Black Sun Empire, State of Mind and Electric Wire Hustle as well as a multitude of local and international artists. Head there on any night of the week and expect to dance your way into the wee hours of the a.m. Its eclectic, buzzing vibe will get you hooked!

Whammy Bar

K Road

Stepping into Whammy Bar is like stepping into a dark, mystical music cave. Things tend to get a bit hot, sweaty and steamy as revelers groove, head bang or spaz out to the tunes. Punk rock, heavy metal and indie bands tend to dominate here, so if that’s your jam, you know where to go.

Wine Cellar

K Road

Intimate gigs don’t get much better than at the Wine Cellar. This K Road gem has—no surprise—plenty of wine on offer, cosy vibes and dark lighting, making it a rad location to catch some live shows.

On a previous visit I had a bit more time so got around a few other venues/bars. My picks are:

Orleans

Britomart

Orleans will transport you straight to well, Orleans. Spend your weeknights listening to some smooth jazz and mellow blue tunes or rock up on the weekend for groovier, toe-tappin’ beats. Not a mover or a shaker? Their tempting cocktail list will give you a nudge in the right direction.

Flight 605

Morningside

Your Sunday evenings should be spent at KFC—and we’re not talking about the greasy fried chicken joint. Although Flight 605 make finger-lickin’ good chicken wings, it’s Kingsland Folk Club that needs your attention. Held every second Sunday, Flight 605 host this awesome event, which gives up-and-coming musical talent a chance to showcase their sounds amongst supportive, beer-lovin’ punters. From indie and folk to R&B and other quirky genres, this friendly, neighbourhood bar is a must for your low-key live music fix.

Ponsonby Social Club

Ponsonby

If a booty shake and espresso martini drink marathon sounds like your kinda Saturday, then Ponsonby Social Club is for you. Whether it’s a live DJ or a band, PSC provides the perfect platform to let your hair down and dance to the music.

Cassette Nine

Auckland City

Go for the teapot cocktails, stay for the awesome live music. Cassette Nine’s live music sched is always on-point, with a quality selection of artists gracing the stage every week. From old school throwbacks to fresh tracks, there’s something for every type of muso.

The Kings Arms Tavern

Newtown

The Kings Arms Tavern has been going strong since 1880 and is showing no signs of slowing down. The heritage pub doubles as a wicked live music venue where local and overseas peeps blast their beats to the masses. Soak up the sun and sink a few bevvies in their beer garden before heading inside for a night-long groove.

Danny Doolans

Viaduct

You can’t say you’ve visited Auckland until you’ve spent a night on the d-floor at the legendary Danny Doolans. This Auckland institution has live music SEVEN days a week and pumps every single night. It’s a quintessential Irish pub in the heart of the city so expect sing-alongs, hugging and classic tunes. Cheers to that!

Golden Dawn

Ponsonby

The secret whereabouts of Golden Dawn might have been exposed long ago, but the great live music continues to impress. The cosy bar at the entrance has a small stage and people sardine in to get an earful of what the local and international artists have to offer (spoiler: it’s good). If you need a breather, Golden Dawn’s outdoor courtyard will do the trick.

 

As you can see there’s plenty to choose from……the problem will be deciding where to go in the time you have available! Something for all tastes to be had in this awesome little city.

High Country NZ – 4WD Off The Beaten Track

In the middle of New Zealand’s South Island lies the Southern Alps. This mountain range is spectacular. The stunning backdrop to the Lord of the Rings trilogy attracts tourists from all over the world. In my last post I described a couple of days skiing in these awesome mountains. While I was in the area I caught up with some old friends who live in Darfield, a small town on the Canterbury plains – the perfect base to explore the high country.

My friends are the proud owners of a Toyota Landcruiser fitted out with mud tires, snorkel and winch….just in case! A Picnic lunch was packed and with another beautiful day dawning we were off.

Along State Highway 73 through some cute little towns, we were in the mountains within half an hour. The drive up through Porters Pass was stunning, especially with the recent snow fall. At the bottom of the pass we turned left to follow the edge of Lake Lyndon. A stop for a few pictures was rewarded with some of the best I’ve taken on this trip. The lake is rather shallow but a popular place in Summer for boating and fishing all year round. Surrounded by mountains it is a beautiful stop.

We carried on past the lake and turned off the road about half an hour later. My friends were keen to show me what their vehicle could do and we followed a rough 4WD track along a dry riverbed. It was certainly impressive the terrain we could tackle! A lunch stop in a very isolated valley with nothing but birdsong was one of the highlights of the day. We got the bino’s out to see if any deer could be spotted but no luck. We made our way back to the road and carried on.

Next stop was Lake Coleridge. This lake is much larger and deeper than Lyndon. Again, surrounded by mountains and beautiful. It feeds into a power station that has been around for 100 years. Amazing feat of engineering. Coleridge village is very quaint, originally set up to house the power station employees it now has some permanent residents as well as holiday houses. There are some awesome walking tracks in this area as well as a very impressive arboretum (tree garden) which was started 100 years ago.

Several large high country stations (farms) are in this area and the general public are able to access their land to hunt/fish/tramp. It’s great the owners are so amiable.

It’s a lovely drive back to Darfield through farmland. The classic kiwi meal of fish and chips for dinner finished off a great day out!

New Zealand In Winter

I stepped off the plane in Christchurch (New Zealand’s largest city in the South Island) to a chilly winter’s day. I had been to NZ before but only in Summer and had just left sunny, warm California so it was a bit of a shock to the system! The air was clean and fresh though and as I sorted out the paperwork for the rental car I started to acclimatize. Armed with a new Toyota Highlander 4WD with all the bells and whistles courtesy of Herz and my smartphone pre-programmed with my destination I set off.

Navigating out of Christchurch was easy and within 30 mins I was driving on the open road through farmland and heading towards the mountains. New Zealand’s Southern Alps are spectacular and a fresh dumping of snow made them even more so. My destination was a town called Methven situated at the base of the foothills of the Southern Alps and the perfect place to base myself for a couple of days skiing at Mt Hutt Ski Field 

Plenty of accommodation options in Methven, although during their busy winter period booking in advance is recommended. I stayed at the iconic Brown Pub. This place offers clean, affordable rooms with 2 bars and a restaurant, it’s so convenient.

I had 2 days “up the mountain” snowboarding at Mt Hutt. Luckily there had been a big dumping a few days before so I had timed it just right! I used Big Al’s for all my gear. The guys and girls in the shop were very knowledgeable and friendly.

Mt Hutt sits at an altitude of 2086m and with a ski area that spans 365 hectares (excluding Rakaia Saddle) there is something to suit all levels. Mt Hutt has one of the longest vertical drops (683m) in the South Island and the greatest variety of terrain including the Double Black Diamond South Face area, four freestyle parks and superb off‐piste advanced terrain. Two great bluebird days and tired sore muscles at the end……….I loved it!

Mt Hutt, I will be back!!