How much baggage are you packing?

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THERE’S a running joke among professional travel writers that our luggage has journeyed to more destinations than we have, referring, of course, to one of our biggest bug bears: lost baggage. At the risk of jinxing future trips, I can happily say I have never lost any luggage in 30 years of trekking the globe. Nor, as it turns out on last week’s trip to the Maldives, have ever I lost a giant unicorn. Unlike my fellow guests.
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Call me crazy, but when I travel, I like to carry a suitcase, unlike the numerous guests I encountered on my trip to the beautiful Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While I was travelling with a brand new Paklite Slide Safe case, it had seemingly occurred to not one, but many of my fellow adult companions at this remote locale, to bring a giant inflatable pool toy, the likes of which I have never encountered before…and hope to never again.

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Apologies for the blurry pic, I was on a bumpy boat, super excited to finally catch a unicorn in the wild.

Yes, there were giant unicorns, swans and my all-time favourite, the duck. And again, call me cray cray, but while I was snorkelling the beautiful waters off of this luxury resort, my fellow travel companions were endlessly wandering this gorgeous green island, gargantuan duck tucked under armpits, in search of the perfect selfie shot. While I was out with the island’s marine biologist replanting coral on the at-threat reef, I got to experience the duck fly past me, out into the wild, blue yonder, no doubt just waiting to pop, and strangle a turtle or a dolphin.

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The resort even provides a frame for those who are into selfies.

Sitting under a palm tree one day, contemplating the duck, got me thinking about cultural differences and the emotional baggage we pack when we travel. One person’s Climate Change crime is another person’s holiday prop. And like the planet itself, I’m sure the balance for tourism operators and resorts is a precarious beast indeed. And it is something I am exploring further in a travel story for one of my mainstream outlets, so, instead, I will focus on the actual baggage I packed on this trip, in this case, the new luggage.

My new luggage enjoyed lounging around the private pool of my one-bedroom suite almost as much as I did.

My new luggage enjoyed lounging around the private pool of my one-bedroom suite almost as much as I did

Paklite is an Australian company, designed by Australians for Australians and the new Slide Safe comes complete with TSA-approved locks to help keep intruders out and souvenirs in. This soft-sided luggage boasts a twin-zip feature on all main compartments to prevent thieves from piercing the zip and stealing belongings, although this feature can prove confusing at times when you simply wish to open your luggage. Unlike other luggage, it is just one cavernous compartment inside, rather than the more contemporary two-sided flip bags, a feature I found a little old-fashioned, although handy for carrying long snorkelling gear. There was also no pouch in which to slip a business card or address details.

Due to its tropical locale,there's plenty of lush greenery on this tiny island

Due to its tropical locale, there’s plenty of lush greenery on this tiny island

Major pluses include the fact it’s super lightweight and comes which detachable wheels (which move in all directions) making damaged luggage wheels a thing of the past. The cabin-size model features Paklite’s RFID blocking pocket to prevent identity fraud by blocking your identity from unlawful scanning devices while travelling the globe. If you are looking for a light, simple suitcase with super security, Paklite could be for you.

I may have had to fight my new luggage for a beach chair

I may have had to fight my new luggage for a beach chair

And yes, while other guests were photographing giant inflatable toys, I was wandering around the island taking photos of a suitcase, so who am I to talk?
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort – http://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/maldives/konotta-island/outrigger-konotta-maldives-resort
The Slide Safe case was a gift from Paklite http://www.paklite.com.au The model I used cost $339 and comes in Deep Purple, Desert Storm and Black.

For more photos of my Maldives trip, please follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
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Of Cyclones and Courage

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IT’S raining a sigh of relief on this humid day, which heralds the official turf turning ceremony at the Conua Primary School Kindergarden project. And aside from providing a welcome reprieve from the mugging March heat, it’s seen as good luck. I’m in Fiji’s Sigatoka Valley, hunting and gathering stories on the community tourism projects in which the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort plays a critical role. And the new kindy is just the latest in a long line of voluntourism activities available to the resort’s guests.
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This is a story about hope, community, cyclones and courage. The cyclone component was never meant to be a part of this tale, but when Mother Nature speaks, she cannot be ignored. In late February, just weeks before my visit last week, Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji, killing 42 people, completely flattening more than 108 villages, leaving more than 80 schools without roofs and causing more than $1 billion damage to infrastructure and crops.
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While the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort was relatively lucky, weathering only superficial damage to things such as thatching on bures and destroyed gardens, its sister property Castaway suffered more serious damage and will be closed until mid year. Castaway guests were relocated to the Outrigger and everyone was placed in lock-down for six long hours while the cyclone raged. But Winston forgot he was dealing with Fiji. And despite the destruction, it’s still open for business with Fiji rapidly launching a fearless campaign #strongerthanwinston
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These are warrior people from a warrior nation and aid is flooding in from around the world. But tourists don’t have to wait for something as devastating as Winston to help Third World nations such as Fiji. Since 2010, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has been involved in community projects and in 2014 it introduced the concept of “voluntourism” to its guests. Under the scheme, visitors are invited to become involved in a variety of projects from coral planting on the reef to visiting local village church services.
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Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort General Manager Peter Hopgood has been instrumental in driving community tourism in the Nadroga province in which the resort is located.
“In my first year as GM I visited the 168 schools in the province and gave every kid a green shopping bag to take home to their parents to be used instead of plastic bags,” Hopgood says.
“We are now three months away from the introduction of Local Government legislation banning plastic bags in the province.
“It is still so pleasing, five years on, that every time I go into town I still see the green bags. Everyone has got one.”
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And there are some big projects too. Last November, the resort opened the
$128,000 village meeting and school hall bure at the Conua Primary School in the Sigatoka Valley. The project took 14 months and the assistance of 80 volunteer guests to complete. The latest project is the construction of a $51,000 Kindergarden at the school. When finished in November it will accommodate 30 children. For the first time, the kids will have outdoor playground equipment.
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Perhaps one of the most crucial projects about which he is most passionate in the new $384,000 maternity ward at the Sigatoka Hospital, built by the Coral Coast Hotels Association of which Hopgood is chair. The Association includes Outrigger, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa, Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, and Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa. Outrigger visitors can book a half-day tour every Tuesday and Thursday to tour the Conua School Kindergarden project, Sigatoka Maternity Ward, and local produce markets. Money raised from tour fees (Adults $64/Children $41) is used to purchase building materials.
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Hopgood says while there are many areas of need in the province, the hospital was “diabolical”.
“There were no birthing facilities in this province. Because of the distance, the mortality rate was horrific,” he says.
“Health is the biggest issue in Fiji without a doubt. We do a really good job here on the Coral Coast but we can only really target our area of responsibility. You go outside the province and you see how harsh it is.
“It took us five years to build the facility, now it’s the best in all of Fiji. The reality is Fiji is still Third World but we have a very good hospital.”
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The resort also enables 20 international professional eye surgeons to come to the province each year, who restore sight to between 80 and 100 people. And every year, former champion Australian swimmer Shane Gould is invited as a guest of the resort to teach village children, who have to cross the Sigatoka River to get to school, how to swim.
“It just can’t be a hand out to the community. We help those who help themselves. They have to contribute both funds and labour,” Hopgood says.
“From a tourism perspective this is what all the other resorts in the area need to do…engage and bring guests into the community.
“It’s almost like every western child should experience this.”
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Fiji may be the occasional cyclone, but it is overwhelmingly warm waters, sizzling smiles, aqua oceans and white sand. These are fresh fruit, frangipani and hibiscus flower days. It’s local seafood washed down by cold beer. Champagne and sunsets. Fire dancing under crescent moons. Shuffling hermit crabs and kids who play outdoors. It’s warrior dances and sanguine smiles. Bold singing and big hearts. Humility, humanity, resilience, family, community and courage. Above all else, Fiji is courage.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort – http://www.outriggerfiji.com
The resort has established a Cyclone Appeal to assist people living in the north of the country. The bank account details are:
Account Name: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Bank: Suncorp Bank; Gold Coast Business Banking Centre
BSB: 484-799
Account: 123697339

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Welcome to Country

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THERE’S an amazing Australian tradition in which our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people perform a “Welcome to Country” ceremony at official openings, conferences and other important gatherings around the nation. Essentially, through dance, music and talk, it’s a message to convey that you are meeting on the sacred land of the traditional Indigenous custodians, and that you are welcome. Last night, arriving back in Australia after a work trip to Fiji, I experienced a very different welcome to country courtesy of our Customs officials.
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I had spent five humbling days in Fiji reporting on voluntourism activities being spearheaded by the Outrigger group, and surveying a country still hurting in the wake of the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston. Every single moment of every single day, I was greeted with a hearty “Bula”. Arriving in Australia last night things rapidly went from Bula to bullshit. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service have recently been combined into one new entity: Border Force, and it appears some officials are taking this $10 million rebrand seriously.
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Despite having “nothing to declare” on my Customs form, I, and several others from my flight, were taken aside for random luggage tests. I secured the grand fortune of meeting Border Force Officer Emma #39308, who, when I asked her why I was being detained, barked: “That is classified information. You are a Person of Interest. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Emma criticised the way in which I loaded my bag onto the x-ray machine (despite her male counterpart saying it was OK). And then she pulled me aside after another officer claimed I was carrying an “orange” in my hand luggage. As she started to rifle through my luggage, Emma turned to the line of other travellers whose luggage was also being x-rayed and said: “Do you still think I’m picking on you?” To which I replied: “I don’t think you’re picking on me, I simply asked why I was being detained.”
So intent was Emma on finding the alleged “orange” in my handbag (for the record, I can’t remember the last time I ate an orange and certainly not when I saw one in the South Pacific) that she kept saying “I know there’s an orange in here somewhere.” Unfortunately, for Emma, it was my Revlon face powder that turned out to be the “orange”.
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But Emma wasn’t done with me yet. During her search for the catastrophic citrus fruit, she stumbled across something so heinous, she could hardly breathe. She found…a packet of Panadol! A packet of Panadol I had bought off the Coles supermarket shelves in Australia. Emma then proceeded to read me the riot act, and told me that I needed to mark that down on the Customs form in the same area that you tick that you are carrying firearms. “Is this not a medicine?” she barked.
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Still not content that she had berated me enough, Emma then went through my checked-in suitcase where she discovered, horror of horrors, half a box of Green Tea, that I had again bought off the Coles supermarket shelves. There were five tea bags in the box. Emma took great pleasure in telling me how that was “food” and that I could face serious fines or jail for this.
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Curiously, when Emma stumbled across some coconut sugar scrub that I had, in fact, forgotten all about and had bought in Fiji, she simply looked at it, smirked, and said: “Oh, look, it’s spilled in your bag.” She then told me I was free to go. I resisted the urge to remind Emma that there are young Aussie kids dying from our current Ice epidemic and that she might want to focus on the drug smugglers in future.
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Having spent the past 30 years travelling the globe, and returning to Australia, I have never ever faced such scrutiny. At this point let me say, I am the daughter of a grazier in the Lockyer Valley and having seen first-hand the diseases which have been brought into this country, I know the damage undeclared items can wreak on our agriculture industry. I have also spent more than 15 years reporting on the tourism industry and know the struggle that Australia has trying to convince overseas visitors to travel Down Under. Despite our reputation for being a beautiful land, repeatedly we fight the perception that Australia is “too far away” and that it’s a “some day” destination.
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What Australia does have above all else, is a reputation that we are a friendly nation. If, what I experienced last night, is an indication of what’s to come under our new Border Force, then this is cause for serious concern. Welcome to Country? I need a cup of Green Tea and a Panadol.
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Postcard from Fiji

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BULA! I am currently in Fiji researching stories on the work the Outrigger Resort group is doing in the voluntourism space. I will be back next week with some colourful tales about the incredible resilience of these South Pacific Island nation people.
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