Looking for a new place to travel to this year? Hanie Hidayah tells us there's magic over there in New Orleans
She covers a range of topics on her blog but her travel stories are definitely one of our favourites to read. Together with her husband, point8cam, who is a talented filmmaker, Hanie Hidayah started Whatever There Was, a travel platform where they combine their talents to create content varying from places to stay, experiences, tips and more in either written form or videos—both of which are crafted in an engaging manner; and most of which are based on their personal trips. Hence, we asked her for a couple of travel tips as well as a mini travel guide for her favourite holiday destination.
What are the three holiday destinations that everyone should put on their travel bucket list? I'm a sucker for road trips so the Pacific Coast Highway route in California is a must. There are just so many points to stop at and they're all magical. Second would be Egypt—for the rich historical landmarks and culture—and third will be New Orleans—for the hospitality, music and food that would satisfy any party animal.
It would have to be the early mornings and late nights where the magic happens—I got to party until the wee hours at Krewe Du Vieux in New Orleans, stayed up for the Aurora Borealis in Iceland and drove through the sunrise in various places. Sometimes, the best things happen when everyone else is asleep.
What are the best and worst parts about travelling?
I love it for the experiences that I encounter, the people I meet and the sights and sounds, which I will keep for life. The worst part, though, is knowing that the trip is ending soon (although I do get homesick at times).
• Always make sure you're prepared before the trip such as knowing the locations and public transportations as well as finding or hooking up your phone with Internet connection.
• I try not to carry a lot of cash as I use my debit card in most places. It's safer, and more convenient unless the destinations are less developed.
• Pack only what you need or are too expensive to buy. I skip some toiletries like shampoo, soap and toothpaste because I know I can get it almost anywhere. Also, try not to hoard. Discard things you don't need upon leaving. If you get those sample sachets from magazines or beauty counters, keep them for your travels.
• Print out a few copies of all the necessary documents (passport copies, itineraries and reservations) and keep them in separate folders. Then, place one in your backpack and another in your luggage. Some places don't accept e-receipts (we learned this the hard way and had to spend money printing them at some café).
• Download useful apps on your phone to help you navigate around, especially an offline version of Google Maps (it'll come in handy when there's no line).
What are some unique travel must-haves that only you would pack?
• Berroca or Redoxon. It helps keep my energy levels up when I'm not getting enough sleep and it helps to keep the flu at bay.
• An all-natural ginger and herbs powder that I bought in Chiang Mai. It's great for bloating and hangovers.
• Sodium bicarbonate for indigestion and heartburn.
• A spare bralette in my backpack—for instances where I feel like 'breaking free' from the underwired ones (haha!).
• An anti-bed bug and dust mites spray. I don't carry it often but after having a few bad experiences that almost ruined my holidays, I do when I can.
Ultimate favourite holiday destination so far?
I have plenty but if I have to choose, it'd be New Orleans. I was there early last year and I'm still hungover from its magic. I'm dying to go back because of the people, the music and the food!
So New Orleans—where would you recommend for food?
Must-see sights and attractions?
The French Quarter is a great place for shopping, drinks and dancing. There is also plenty of bookstores for the bookworms (like me) within the Quarter. Check out the Mardi Gras museum to learn more about the business and what exactly it is beyond the partying and bead-throwing.
Did any shopping while you were there?
For New Orleans, not much...as I spent most of our budget on meals, desserts and drinks. However, I did get myself a few interesting books as souvenirs from these shops:
New Orleans School of Cooking's Louisiana General Store
The cookbooks here are useful because I get to re-create the local meals I had whenever I'm craving for them now. They also have signature New Orleans kitchen supplies and utensils to buy as souvenirs.
Hex Witchery Store
I bought a book about the New Orleans 'voudou priestess' Mary Leavue, a ghost hunter's guide and a tarot card set + book with special illustrations by a local artist—only because I felt that the supernatural element is a strong part of New Orleans.
The airport's souvenir store
Here, I found a couple of cocktail mixes that Pat O'Brien's bar is famous for, a box of pralines from a local brand, and a few more mini cookbooks which I still use today.
Airbnb or hotel?
We stayed with an Airbnb host. He was the best! He helped us settle our things and brought us around town whenever he's free so that we get to experience New Orleans from a local's point of view. He even encouraged and helped us to dress up for the parade while bringing us around to party with his friends and other locals. Let's just say he is our Airbnb-host-turned-friend whom we still keep in touch till today.
What souvenirs would you recommend people to buy?
I try to get useful ones instead of fridge magnets (I print my own photos for magnets instead) and keychains. So my first choice would be their cookbooks or any book written by their local authors. Another great option would be food! I love bringing back snacks, sweets or cooked food (if possible) so that my friends and family can get a taste of them.
Finally, as Asians, we tend to have a lot of pantang to follow when staying in a hotel—are there any that you follow or have heard of?
I've heard that if you stay in hotels, do not leave your food in the room after you've finished it because it can attract "unholy beings" so flush it out or leave it in the hallway for the housekeeper to clean it up. I've had my fair share of eerie encounters while travelling and the best thing to do is to get out of any place if you feel uneasy or the hair on the back of your neck starts standing for no reason.