Reality Check

Make it a Double Double

Coffee is the elixir of life. For the coffee drinker, Melbourne is perched atop the list of prime coffee culture cities. On many occasions the city has been listed as one of the world’s top coffee cities [1] [2] [3]. And if you’re one of those who hold in high regard the art that goes into making a skinny mocha flat white soyaccino, then there are few places in the world better suited.

For those like me however, Melbourne is a quite the caffeine dichotomy. I love coffee, I drink two cups a day. But here’s the deal, I couldn’t care less about latte art, the type of milk, organic, free trade or how beardly the barista’s beard is. I only care that it’s coffee and that there’s caffeine in it. Do I care how it tastes? Of course, but in the same way I like my beer: as long as it’s beer.

So how do I survive in the often pretentious coffee culture of Melbourne?

I grew up drinking two types of coffee: black with half n half, and instant. Products of my formative years in Indonesia and North America, both keep the majority of their coffee drinking to what’s important. Outside of home, my favorite coffee establishment is probably Tim Horton’s. Why? Because they keep things simple.

A double double thanks”. Coffee, double cream, double sugar. Do you really need more than that? No, you really don’t.

It’s not quite so easy in Melbourne. There is a clear disdain for chain coffee and finding simple coffee additives like cream/half n’ half is near impossible. So I do the next best thing outside of opening a Tim Horton’s franchise. Buy yourself an affordable drip coffee machine (I got a Breville drip filter machine from The Good Guys for just $45) and substitute the cream with Nescafe’s Coffee-Mate. For beans I use one of two options, the first, the slightly more international, is to import bags of Tim Horton’s medium roast coffee (available either from Oh Canada or from helpful friends and relatives traveling to and from Canada). The second is to find one great local bean producer that keeps things simple and straight forward. For that I found that Padre Coffee from Brunswick suits my tastes- their “Hey Buddy” brew is strong, aromatic, but simple and without adventurous flavours.

In the office, I bring my Coffee-Mate and set the office machine to “long black” to closely recreate that home flavour. It isn’t quite there, but it beats paying close to $10 a day for take away brew, adding up to an expensive weekly habit when you add up the numbers. If you’ve got to get take away in Melbourne’s CBD, two places I do recommend would be Plantation at Melbourne Central (a regular for $4 is pretty good) and Brother Baba Budan. The latter quite possibly ticks every box of the hipster checklist, but if you’ve got to, you might as well get the best.

Savings aside, coffee should be an inexpensive ritual, one that shouldn’t concern itself with being trendy or hip. Melbourne cafes have been known to charge $4.80 for a small coffee because they know we’ll pay for it. But you really don’t have to, which makes the alternative options great ways to indulge in one of life’s great addictions without fueling the culture. Until Tim Horton’s international franchising arm stretches to Australia, I’ll happily take a homemade “double double” over anything else.

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At Home

The Zen Art of (Actually) Cooking

Growing up as a third culture kid in Indonesia limited your eating options to getting someone to cook it for you or eating out. Don’t get me wrong, it was fantastic. My parents were wonderful food role models who introduced my tastes to flavours from all over the world; from Asian to North American and European, I owe a lot of my adventurous palette to my parents.

That being said, once I moved out of home, I was a little unarmed when it came to feeding myself outside of takeaway. My home made diet, like many others in my predicament, consisted mostly of creative ramen noodle varieties- a wonderful trek down convenience and frugality, but a damning blow to healthy sodium intakes. It didn’t mean I didn’t eat “well”, it just meant that when I ate at home and attempted to cook for myself, the options were extremely limited to what was mostly pre-made.

Ms. 3013 shares my healthy appetite for good food, and we’re lucky to live in Melbourne where worldly food is of abundance. She is also quite a good cook, someone who is quite familiar with using recipes. These were novel concepts to me. She was, of course, horrified at the sight of my bare pantry and poorly stocked fridge. She recoiled at the absolute bare ingredients on hand for any sort of mildly healthy cooking.

The truth is, I was both afraid of cooking well and extremely uninterested. I didn’t like precision, had little patience, and greatly preferred the eating part of cooking. A change was a comin’, and let me honestly tell you, as a reformed former professional ramener, cooking really isn’t that hard. And the results can be terrific.

How do you reform a ramen eater into a (half) decent cook?

INGREDIENTS

You start with the basics, beginning with stocking your pantry with some essential ingredients; onions, garlic, spices (a colourful mix), and if you’re so inclined, fresh herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary. Having these regularly stocked means your cooking has some very solid flavours on which to build upon.

RECIPES

I hated following recipes, but after the first few times you see that while you can follow them to a T, it’s also possible to use them as a guide. Stick close to them, but don’t worry too much if you want to do a little experimenting. Add a little bit of this here, take away a little bit of that there, it’s all part of making cooking enjoyable.

Where do you find good, not overly complicated recipes? We primarily take recipes from either the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home book, or (gasp) Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals. You can of course, take your recipes from anywhere, but we’ve found that both of these books tend to find the happy medium between vegetarian and carnivorous, lean/healthy and indulgent. Both books are easy to follow and aren’t part of trendy dietary fads.

STICKING TO THE PLAN

Don’t be lazy and while most of these meals tend not to take more than 45 minutes to prepare, you’ve got to create yourself a weekly menu and stick to the plan. Think of a few dishes on a Saturday or Sunday before your weekly grocery shop and make them big enough for a few servings (lunch the next day is always a winner). You can either find recipes that are made for multiple servings or just double/triple whatever it is you choose to make. In the end, if you’re stuck (or tired), doing some tried and trusted favourites like spaghetti bolognese means you can still cook plenty while exerting minimal effort. Leave yourself a few nights for dining out or takeaway too; it helps keep the cooking burnout away and helps refresh those taste buds.

Over the first few weeks, you’ll get to know your cooking style and preferred dishes. We’ve got a few that we stick to bi-weekly, but often flick through the recipes to see if there is something new to try. I’ll go into some specific recipes and dishes at a later date, but the most important thing about reforming your ramen habits into regular cooking is to stop thinking that cooking is both overly time consuming and difficult. It can be, but really doesn’t have to be. Music, some booze and good culinary discussion are all part of making time in the kitchen enjoyable and delectable.

Being able to cook is both a practical and cultured trait. Cooking doesn’t mean you have to be pretentious with your food, you’ve just got to start actually doing it. Cooking for yourself or for your significant other can be wonderful part of living mostly, reinforcing the fact that the kitchen truly is a place for both men and women.

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Travel

Flying Class First

Flying on a budget has never been easier than it is today. More affordable with more options, the choice to find a cheap seat is as easy as it is economical. Budget airlines are a significant part of air travel and many larger, more established airlines are altering their practices to adopt many “non-inclusive” fees enabling passengers to pay for the absolute minimum.

You can fly from Sydney to Los Angeles for just over a grand, Brisbane to Tokyo for under $500 and from Perth to Bali for less than the cost of a cab ride in Melbourne. We cram into smaller seats, forgo in-flight entertainment and fly through China to save a few hundred bucks.

This is no way to live.

Friends of mine flew to North America and Europe via China recently to save $500 over a direct flight. The layovers added almost an entire day to their trip and cost them substantial headaches. They dealt with having to re-check in before re-boarding the connecting flight, were confused by Chinese airports, and dealt with unhelpful staff on the ground. All of these are ingredients to a painful holiday; something that defeats the purpose of a holiday to begin with. I understand that there are circumstances that crop up during your travels that can lead to frustration, but these are self-inflicted issues that can be avoided if you take into consideration that your holiday doesn’t start when you land at your destination.

Your holiday starts when you leave your house. Everything that happens after is part of your holiday. So plan and spend accordingly.

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FLIGHTS OF FANCY

The biggest costs of your holidays are often your flights (or at least, they should be). If you’re flying across oceans to continents afar, a good majority of your time will be spent in the air, so why start out with stopovers and subpar airlines?

If you’ve got the money to travel business class or first class, then most of this is superfluous information. You’re probably going to be comfortable no matter where you go. However, for most of us traveling economy, there are a few ways to avoid early onset holiday stress that I believe are part of every good travel plan.

1. Fly direct if possible

It may cost you a few hundred dollars more to fly from Melbourne straight to L.A., but I can guarantee you that you will wish you did when you’re waiting in frustration at one of China’s many substandard aviation hubs. It’s not worth it.

If you have to stopover, find well known airports and cities that provide you comfort, ease and a mostly stress free environment.

For those traveling through Asia, the two best hubs are Changi Airport in Singapore and Hong Kong International. If you’ve got to stopover in Asia somewhere, make it either one of these and you’ll find that your stopover can be luxurious, comfortable and easy to navigate as you wait to pass the time. Both airports have excellent facilities for those either looking for food, recuperation (plenty of free massage chairs) or shopping.

2. Avoid flying budget airlines

Thinking about flying budget airlines on a trip longer than a few hours? Don’t do it. They are budget airlines for a reason and while the price is right, you’ll be wondering why you’re suddenly paying for check-in luggage. Sure, there are plenty of carriers that tackle long haul flights on the cheap; Australia’s Jetstar has many Asian cities on its destinations list while AirAsia does the same. Singapore Airlines recently launched their own budget carrier Scoot that will fly from Melbourne to Singapore for just $229. It’s ridiculously inviting, but what are you paying for? They’ve got a host of economy class options that include a “ScootSilence” seat that in reality means you’re just paying for a different colour seat. They’re “unabashedly no-frills” and “managed to significantly undercut the market by modifying its planes to have less space between seats, so more passengers can be packed on board.” I understand the majority of airlines are packing in more seats to compete in this market, but an airline that’s proud of it? No thanks.

I’ve never felt more nervous about flying in my life than the few times I flew budget for trips that lasted a mere hour.

My solution is to stick to the bigger airlines that have a great track record and who take extra care in doing what they can for their passengers. In an age where airlines of all kinds are cutting costs and optioning even the most basic of comforts, it is important to think above and beyond. The airlines I tend to stick to for international routes are Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Virgin. All of them offer fantastically competitive rates when you’re flying across the globe and the comforts and service they offer in Economy Class far surpass the rest.

3. Spend the money on bulkhead seats or buy premium economy

Most airlines have the option for premium economy seats (economy seats with a little more room) and in most cases, the ability for you to choose bulkhead seats (the seats directly behind the physical partition that divides a plane into different classes or sections—or the seats with lots of leg room). If this is the case, then spend the extra money on these seats for long haul flights.

On our recent trip to Canada, we spent $180 each to upgrade our Qantas economy seats to bulkhead seats. I can’t begin to tell you how much better it is to have that extra leg room while never having to worry about stepping over anyone to go to the toilets. You have room to stretch out anytime and some additional breathing space. It’s all part of making that 16-hour haul as enjoyable as possible. Our flight was just part of a 30+ hour day that included 3 flights and a significant drive, so reducing as much stress as we could was a priority.

CLASS IS NEVER CHEAP

Growing up, flying was a privilege. Safety, quality, and class are things I hold in high regard when it comes to flying and I’d like to enjoy as much of it as I can. Like renting a car on your holiday, you should find ways to make the most out of it from the get-go.

I don’t know where the airline market is heading to and whether or not things will turn around in the near future, but I’d like to see airlines move away from all these “pay for what you want” options and return to more expensive, more inclusive seating plans. When we realize that flying an airline that gives you the option of paying less to sit on a plastic deck chair at the back of the plane is a truly terrible idea, we’ll be heading in the right direction. When it comes to living mostly, flying is something you should never go cheap on.

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Culture

Living, Mostly

It’s hard to believe that it’s been close to 15 years since I first started an online publication. It was a steep but incredibly rewarding learning curve- talking music, film and culture from the perspective of a third-culture kid who had just returned from a lengthy stay in the US.

I loved punk rock, I loved Hollywood and I had a lot of stories about growing up in Indonesia to tell. The outlet, Sound the Sirens Magazine (born from a Kid Dynamite song), was my way of reconnecting with some of the bands, friends and life I had left behind in Philadelphia and Stockton upon my return to Jakarta.

Online publishing was a different beast then, pre-out-of the-box content management systems meant the landscape for web publishing was relatively sparse, but ripe for those looking to find an outlet for their stories.

I connected, I wrote, and I communicated with old friends, new ones, bands, labels and writers who shared the same focus.

At its apex, Sound the Sirens Magazine received some 3000 unique visitors a day and interviewed artists and bands biting at their chance to find an audience. Some of the bands today are some of the biggest in the world, and looking back, it was a privilege to have connected with them during their ascendancy.

Travel and time changes a lot, and as the magazine shifted countries again to Australia, it had to evolve and change as the life around me did. It changed its name, to The Marshalltown, it spent a lot less time being updated, and somewhat found itself like many of its contemporaries- uneasy with transitioning from content and substance to journalistic instant gratification.

I tried it, and I hated it, and I still do.

So for the past few months I’ve been working hard to find a new spot on the already packed vista of online publishing; one free of click-baitism and marketing schemes.

Thus the launch of Three Zero One Three; a new publication about living mostly.

Every idea here, every story, every piece of writing is about a connection through shared, interesting, and sometimes towards-the-fringe ideas.

Ideas about travel, reality, at-home and life living the things we feel are worth it.

Some of the writing here will go against the grain because that’s who I am, and some of it, through age and grace, will be seeing familiar ideas with fresh perspectives. Along the way, there will be plenty of different voices who will share their own views and opinions; writers and individuals from all corners of the globe.

It’s called Three Zero One Three because it’s the postcode in Australia where I currently call home but there are no borders and boundaries here.

Welcome. Let’s make the act of reading and writing on the internet enjoyable and personal again, all of it.

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Travel

Rental Car Roulette

The open road, whether paved or untouched, is an intrinsic part of almost all human experience. Enshrined in books and movies, it is etched into the collective psyche of our culture. Perhaps because of this, one of the highlights of our recent trip to Canada was the view from behind the wheel driving up to the Okanagan. Known for its mix of beautifully arid landscapes and vast mountainous vistas, the region’s wine country is nestled in between some truly breathtaking scenery.

You can get to the Okanagan in one of two ways, both of which have spectacular views. But no matter which you take, it’s a 400+km drive. We knew we’d be spending hours in the car and on the road, and we wanted to make sure that there was a certain level of comfort and class to the journey. Car choice is often an overlooked aspect of planning a great road trip, but we decided not to play rental car roulette. Instead, we put some work into making sure we had the right car for our road trip.

What is rental car roulette? It’s when you don’t put time and effort into selecting the right rental car and instead roll the dice and see what you get. There are those who shop around for the lowest price, but I’m going to tell you that you should only consider price to a certain extent. Make your rental car as much of a priority as your accommodation. Make it count.

Make your rental car as much of a priority as your accommodation. Make it count.

To answer the “cheapest rental” question, you’ve got to look for the balance between affordable and comfortable indulgence. You can still get good deals and prices without compromising the ride- I know, because it’s what we did.

You can rest on some tried and true money saving methods; off-peak times for rentals being the most common. However, they’re generally off-peak because you’re not holiday. So what you can do, no matter the time, is to sign up for the reward programs many car rental companies offer. Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, Enterprise… I signed up for ALL of them. Sure, it takes a little time, but the discounts are worth it and memberships are free. You also tend to get priority service with some and over time, the more you rent with the respective companies, the more benefits you reap.

I also spent some time scouting for discount codes that float around the internet; these can easily give you extra discounts on top of what you’re receiving as a member. Yes, these may be unorthodox, but they get you results.

We found that Avis and Thrifty ended up being the best when it came luxury vs. price. For our Vancouver leg of the journey (and our trek to the Okanagan region), we went with Avis and picked a luxury sedan. With our discounts in tow, we paid a damn good price (less than $800) for a 14-day hire of a 2014 Ford Fusion bursting with features (Ford’s SYNC technology, reverse camera and after week into the trip, I realised there was a sunroof) that provided not only some muscle for those long stretches of highway, but space and comfort to make those long drives a breeze. We could have picked a small hatch for much less, but it really is quite hard to drive the open road with panache in something only slightly bigger and better than a toaster.

The Fusion is a dream to drive and choosing Avis was the right decision. When we returned the car we ran into some trouble with time (a closed bridge, an accident AND a sinkhole all in one day??) but they simply extended our time over the phone and proved easy to deal with. Sure, they’re a little more expensive than some other companies but sometimes bigger is better, more expensive more rewarding, and going for broke leaves you feeling richer.

fusion

Our mistake of course, was not going with Avis again on our Ottawa leg of our trip. We chose a cheaper rental and decided on an SUV. If my earlier advice on choosing a luxury sedan leaves you with any doubt, let it all dissipate by saying how clunky and uncomfortable driving an SUV is in any circumstance. Our inept rental car agent not only greeted us with the line “we don’t have what you reserved” but included the caveat that we had to pick up the car at another lot that’s currently closed, but that it was ‘ok’ because it’s just “parked outside the lot”. Overcharged and underperforming, the Volkswagen Tiguan has all the trademark qualities of a river barge. Clunky and uncomfortable, it made us miss the days of flying through the Cascade Mountains in a sleek, finely-tuned performance machine.

I cannot reiterate how important it is to spend your time choosing the best rental car for your trip. A high-end luxury sedan provides the best of both performance and convenience fitting of a good holiday. Feeling even more extravagant? Why not choose a high-performance sports vehicle? Most rental car companies offer high-end sports cars like Ford Mustangs and convertibles, which surely puts the indulgence into your vacation. Consider these options if your holiday includes long scenic drives down coastlines and/or through mountains. Don’t play rental car roulette because living mostly isn’t about efficiency or driving a Prius. Let your rental car be be the fuel behind the wind in your hair.

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