Airplane cabins aren’t always known for being roomy, comfy, or luxurious, but the newest crop of first class suites are stunning travelers with their size and opulence. New Yorkers who get by in tiny 100 square foot apartments and Londoners who would pay $145,000 for a shoe box next to Harrod’s may consider moving in when they see how gorgeous and extravagantly large the new cabins seem by comparison. Here’s a roundup of the best and biggest first class cabins that money (or airline miles) can buy.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Travelarz
In December 2014, Etihad Airways introduced The Residence on its Airbus A380 planes. The three room suite is a whopping 125 square feet and can be occupied by up to two people traveling together. It includes a living room, a private bathroom, and a bedroom with a bed large enough to share. Etihad hasn’t skimped on the amenities either: It comes with a 32-inch television, a cabinet for chilled drinks, and Christian Lacroix pajamas. The leather on the seats is made by Poltrona Frau, which also makes leather seats for Ferrari and Maserati.
The suite also comes with exceptional service. It includes a luxury chauffeur for transportation to and from the airport, and a Savoy Academy-trained personal butler to meet you and the airport and anticipate your every need. The Residence is available on A380 planes between London and Abu Dhabi, and soon to New York and Sydney, Australia as well. A ticket in The Residence can cost about $20,000 one way. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to travel like an oil magnate or a Russian oligarch, this is the way to go.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78
The Singapore Airlines Suites may only feature one room rather than three, but it’s certainly not much of a step down. Running about $18,000 each way, the Suites were introduced in 2007 and are available only on the Airbus A380. Flights are offered from Singapore to 14 destinations, including New York, London, and Hong Kong, so there’s plenty of opportunity to experience the best of Singapore Airlines.
The cabins are the work of luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, and feature a 35-inch wide bed and a 78-inch long bed with cabin doors that can be shut completely. When your partner is in the adjacent cabin, the wall removes so that a double bed can be folded down for some in-flight pillow talk. Each Suite also features a 23-inch LCD screen, Bose headphones, a Ferragamo amenity kit, and Givenchy sleepwear. To complete the perfect in-flight experience, the Book the Cook service allows passengers to order their meals before the flight and choose between Michelin-starred chefs Georges Blanc and Carlo Cracco, among others.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78
At around $13,000 one way, the Emirates First Class suites are a bargain compared to the options above, and their most famous feature will seem like a dream come true: an in-flight shower. In a huge improvement on showering over a toilet in your London apartment, each Suites passenger gets 30 minutes in the spa suite with five minutes of hot water conveniently monitored by a light timer. There are two shower spas for the 14 privates suites on each Airbus A380 flight, and the bathrooms also features heated floors and designer towels and toiletries. Imagine being able to freshen up at the end of a long flight, enjoy a shave or a steam, and arrive at your final destination feeling impossibly calm and collected. Now that’s luxurious.
Of course, the cabins in First Class Suites are lovely as well. The seats, which are tablet-operated, fold down to 79-inch beds, and there’s an on-board bar where passengers can mingle with business class passengers over a drink. The cabins also have remote-controlled sliding doors and 23 inch LCD screens for entertainment. Emirates offers chauffeur service to and from the airports in over 70 cities, and flights on the A380 available to over 35 destinations. Maybe it’s time to let go of your lease and take to the skies for luxury and comfort next year.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on Jnuary 18th.
The aurora borealis is the colorful phenomenon created when electrically charged particles within the earth’s magnetosphere collide with particles in the solar wind. The Northern Lights, as they’re also known, are best seen in late August through April from countries near the North and South poles. These neon ribbons of light are not always visible, and the colors present depend on altitude and which elements are in the air. The most common color is green, while red is more rare. Glows of yellow, pink, blue, and ultraviolet are also possible.
Weather, lunar cycle, and proximity to the sea make some cities and regions better than others for viewing. But if catching a spectacular display is on your bucket list, here are Hipmunk’s top destinations for seeing these natural wonders!
Located within the auroral oval — a ring-shaped region around the North Pole — Fairbanks lends itself to a steady frequency of Northern Light activity and clear climates. But travelers will have to travel a bit outside of the city limits to see nature’s fluorescent curtains. Stay at the Best Western Plus Chena River Lodge or the Springhill Suites by Marriott Fairbanks, both short drives from the city’s other attractions should the lights not cooperate. (We’re fans of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Alaska House Art Gallery, and the Fairbanks Community Museum.) Alaska Tours will pick up stargazers from their stated hotel and transfer them to the outskirts of the city. Dress warmly to experience the rippling auroras outdoors, or sip a complimentary warm beverage to stay cozy inside the vehicle. Make sure to monitor the University of Alaska’s aurora forecast to get a better idea of when there is auroral activity.
Canada’s Yukon Territory makes for great viewing of the undulating light curtains. Head to Whitehorse City and stay at the Skky Hotel, only 0.4 miles from the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. View the aurora from a custom-built location by theArctic Range northern lights tour company. Or, drive 18 miles north of downtown Whitehorse and view them from the Takhini Hot Springs for a memorable evening. The pools, which have been in operation for more than 100 years, are between 36 degrees and 42 degrees Celsius, offering a soothing experience. Check out the pool rental rates, which are based on number of guests.
The Northern Lights are best viewed away from city lights, making national reserves like Urho Kekkonen National Park a good option. Stay at the Holiday Club in the town of Saariselka for easy access to the park, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing. For those with a higher budget, have a distinctive experience at Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort while hunting for the elusive lights. The resort, located a nine-minute drive south from Saariselka and also near Urho Kekkonen Park, offers its signature glass igloo for two or four people, a log cabin or a hybrid accommodation, which is a log cabin that also has a glass igloo. There are various other options, including staying with in the home of Mr. and Ms. Claus, which Kakslauttanen calls Santa’s Home. For extra fees, Kakslauttanen offers husky and reindeer safaris, sleigh rides and ice fishing, among other activities.
Northern Norway is an ideal location to catch both the Northern Lights and star constellations. The town often has clear skies due to its inland location, and little light pollution. Even if the capricious lights don’t show, visitors will be impressed by the clearly visible star constellations. Stay at the Scandic Karasjok, which has two restaurants and a sauna to get a complete Norwegian experience. The DenHvite Rein Motell offers cross-country and downhill skiing, as well as snowshoeing to stay active.
The typically clear climate of Abisko makes this small town an optimal place to catch the Aurora Borealis. Stay at the Abisko Guest house or the Abisko Mountain Lodge, both offering easy access to the Aurora Sky Station within Abisko National Park. Abisko.net offers three distinct northern light tours to choose from. Snowshoe to the top of a small hill overlooking lake Tornetrask, as well as wild animal trails. Rest near the fire while drinking warm drinks as onlookers stare at the sky. Or, learn how to best photograph nature’s dancing lights. Visitors have to provide their own SD memory cards, but Absiko.net provides the high-quality camera and lens, as well as detailed instructions from a professional.
This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 8th.
Traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever have. Unfortunately, many people allow life's stresses to get in the way. Here's why you should drop everything right now and hit the road.
Travel is all about throwing yourself into the unknown and experiencing new things. When you're faced with challenges like having to navigate foreign languages and transportation systems you learn more about yourself and what you're capable of. This is especially true if you're traveling solo, a truly empowering experience.
You're never too young or too old to build your resume. Travel helps you to enhance a variety of skills in a first-hand manner. While navigating foreign languages enhances communication skills, being able to adjust to new situations helps you become more adaptable. Additionally, bargaining in markets helps with negotiation, trip planning enhances strategizing abilities and sorting out issues along the way makes you a better problem solver.
Angry bosses. Problems at home. Daily life stresses. Get away from everyday life and immerse yourself in a new place where your worries are far behind. To really enhance the experience, leave your electronics behind and truly disconnect. Remember, the more you disconnect the more you'll truly be immersed in your destination.
Life truly is short, so you need to make the most of it. Stop making your bucket list longer and actually start knocking some of the items off. The world is a big place, with many destinations to discover and experiences to have. Do you want your last thoughts on Earth to be about all the things you wanted to do, or all the things you did do?
Traveling is a great opportunity to try something you've never done who're. Not only are you naturally in a more adventurous mindset, you're also exposed to opportunities that you don't have at home. Sample a new food, go mountain climbing, take part in a local festival or learn a cultural skill like tai chi or tango dancing. It's a fun way to enrich your life while experiencing a new destination.
When traveling, you have the opportunity to interact with locals and learn more about what life is really like for the people of the destination. Ask questions, make conversation and, if possible, hangout with locals in their favorite spots for a firsthand glimpse of community life.
Whether your travel to another country or domestically you'll have the chance to experience a new culture. Dive in and learn as much as you can through food, classes, attractions, interactions and random experiences. It's an easy way to become a more worldly, open-minded person, and can be a very eye-opening experience.
One of the best ways to experience a destination is through the local food. Travel allows you to break away from any diets restraints and sample exciting new dishes you've never tried, and maybe even never heard of. Asado in Argentina, cemitas in Mexico and pasta in Italy are just some of the mouth-watering culinary experiences to have around the world.
Travel enriches your life through all the reasons mentioned above, so why not give yourself that opportunity? Discover interesting cultures, learn something new, experience new things and become a more well-rounded, fulfilled person in general.
Stop making excuses on why you can't travel. Work will always be stressful, there will always be things to do at home and you'll never have as much money as you'd like, so stop worrying and realize these problems will be there whether you travel or not. In the meantime, you might as well see the world and leave the problems at home for awhile.azwegers
Rwanda provided some of the most memorable moments of my travel life and is a place I hope to visit again. Sharing my experiences to inspire yours.
It is a thought-provoking nation, a country of contrasts and one that creates conflicting emotions. I experienced the thrill of getting up close and personal with mountain gorillas yet feared for the future of these endangered creatures. I was mesmerised by the stunning lush landscape and pleasant climate but learned of significant poverty that plagues so many of the people. I was hypnotised by the vibrant, colourful clothing worn by locals as I watched people walk long distances on pot-holed roads with few vehicles. And I saw signs that Rwanda is developing as a nation as it recovers from the brutal atrocities of 1994, but learned that there were still hoards of prisoners awaiting trial for the part they played.
The Rwandan genocide is like a black cloud that remains after a storm in an otherwise blue sky.
But this sky is getting brighter and Rwanda is a country that has so much to offer a traveller with an open mind and adventurous spirit.
The town of Ruhengeri is the closest location to the mountain gorilla trek headquarters and receives a number of foreign visitors as a result. In an effort to make a living from tourism in the area, a group of locals have created a Cultural Village. I have visited many locations around the world that offer a ‘genuine local experience’ where I suspect a traditional show is performed by locals who return to their modern lifestyles after pocketing naïve tourist’s dollars. So I found the Cultural Village a refreshing change.
It is a staged village where no one lives. Its sole purpose is to demonstrate the Rwandan village lifestyle through demonstrations of housing, hunting, cooking, music, dancing and a very entertaining medicine man who was only upstaged by a characteristic Pygmy who led the dancing demonstration. As we watched the locals perform, other locals watched us as children, women and men appeared seemingly from nowhere to observe curiously from the side-lines.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and not only provided some interesting background on the Rwandan countryside lifestyle but was an opportunity to mix with friendly and entertaining locals through general conversation, banter and of course the obligatory group dance at the end!
Travellers can sometimes get a bit jaded by ‘touristy’ moments and we sometimes forget the importance of tourism as an income to locals in developing countries. We were reminded of the contribution our visit was making to the lives of these locals who were just trying to make ends meet at the end of the day, when they reminded us we were now ambassadors for Rwanda and begged us to tell all our friends and families to visit the country.
“Rwanda is not just about the genocide. We have more to share and more to offer” was a comment from one local that I have not forgotten.
However history does tend to repeat itself, and if we do not learn then we will never progress....
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre & Museum via jkaplan
The Rwandan Genocide took place in 1994 and saw the mass murder of over 20% of the population in just 100 days. It was the murder of Rwandans by Rwandans. I was 20 years old at the time and whilst I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember much about it at the time, sadly I know I am not alone. Unfortunately there were people who WERE aware of it at the time but chose inaction as a course of action. The international community’s lack of response to what was happening in the country in 1994 should be one of our most shameful regrets.
A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre and museum is a heart-breaking but essential experience for anyone traveling in Rwanda. The Museum is an educational memorial that increases awareness of acts of genocide both in Rwanda and other parts of the world in the hope that education leads to the prevention of future tragedy. It also serves as a memorial to aid locals during the grieving process.
It’s difficult to leave the museum with a dry eye and my head was plagued with so many conflicting thoughts. It’s difficult to comprehend the brutal atrocities that humans are capable of inflicting on each other but it’s also difficult to judge the actions of those who turned on their own neighbours and family members. How would I act if the alternative was my own death or watching the torture or a more brutal death of a loved one? I’m so thankful I’ve never been in the position to find out.
There are less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world and half of them live in the Virunga Mountains which covers the intersection of the Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo border, is famous for the studies of Dian Fossey and infamous for the on-going human conflicts and poaching that have contributed to the gorilla population decline.
Joining a trek to spend an hour viewing these endangered creatures in their natural habitat is the main reason most travellers visit Rwanda and I was no exception. I have never come across anyone who has trekked to mountain gorillas in Rwanda and regretted it. Encountering a family of gorillas who acknowledge your presence with a passing glance that borders on ignorance, turning around to find an intimidating silverback approaching you and observing a large female with an infant on her back climb a tree with an agility that seems to contradict her powerful build is an unbelievable experience. Getting up close and personal with the creatures who are over 98% similar to the human race and realising the main reason they are endangered is because of actions of that same human race is very thought-provoking.
There have been moments in my life when I have had a sudden awareness of both the insignificance of the human race in the bigger scheme of things and the importance of the human race playing our part in the bigger scheme things. This was one of those moments.
Someone once asked me what the worst thing about a RTW trip is? My instant reply was ‘that it has to end’ but the second worst thing for me was leaving one part of the adventure behind to start another. I had just spent three amazing months in Bolivia before I arrived in Africa and although I was excited about the next stage of my adventure, I was quite sad at saying goodbye to the friends I’d made and leave a country I was enjoying so much. I had also been travelling independently in Bolivia and had now joined an overland tour which I was having a little trouble adjusting to. I felt I had lost my travel mojo!
It returned in Rwanda! The thought provoking and conflicting emotions that Rwanda created in me helped me find my travel mojo again. There was something incredibly energising about being in a country that had been through so much and yet was full of survivors. I felt inspired by the strength of the human race, I felt inspired by the beauty of the rolling green hills surrounding me and I felt inspired by the encounter I had with the majestic mountain gorillas. My travel mojo had returned!
At the time of my visit, Rwanda was aiming to become the African centre for internet technology and had plans to build a backbone for high-speed internet in the form of a fibre-optic network and advanced data centre. At the time of my visit these were just plans. However, like most places in the world these days, it didn’t take long before I came across an internet café in the town of Ruhengeri and I took the opportunity of a few free hours to catch up on some emails, expecting a slow connection.
The internet café looked like a small classroom with four rows of four desks, computers and chairs. I took the only available computer in the back corner and was surprised but not disappointed that no one had given me a second glance as I sat down. I was right about the slow connection and as I patiently waited for my Hotmail account to load, I looked up to take in my surroundings.
It was then I realised why no one had noticed my arrival. Every chair was occupied by a Rwanda male between the age of 15 and 30. And every computer screen was playing porn!
BED BUGS! The opportunity to leave our tents for a few nights and sleep in a dorm was not one I was going to refuse and I looked forward to getting into a bed that was already made for me and getting up in the morning without having to pack it up again. It seemed I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the comfort of the bed however as I woke up covered in the bites that every backpacker has experienced at least once in their lives. Those damn bed bugs!
The Final Word &nbp; Rwanda. Thought-provoking? Yes. Conflicting emotions? Yes. Would I return? Definitely!
About two weeks ago I went to Bukoba for a funeral, it was my second time in the town and I was as mesmerized as I was the first time; and a week after I was back home, I recommended Bukoba to a fellow traveller who had an extensive itinerary of planned tours around Tanzania which includes going to a water fall in Kigoma. The town is relatively small and less developed than my favourite Arusha town. But it's natural beauty; the preserved nature takes my breath away and brings a calmness to a tired wandering soul; there is something about connecting with nature that has a profound effect on our well being. Here is where you can almost imagine the beginning of creation- okay, may be am throwing in a little embellishments:-)
Bukoba is the capital of Kageara region and is several kilometers from Dar-es-salam, it's practically going across the country; by bus it would take over 18 hrs with a sleep over at Shinyanga. It is a hassle that I would think no one who has come to Tanzania through Dar-es-salam with the goal of visiting the national parks or go to the beaches of Zanzibar would want to take. But, when Petro told me that he would be going to Mwanza and then to a nearby island called Ukerewe; I found myself suggesting Bukoba as a place he should be thinking of visiting; it has the beauty of Mwanza but it is more reserved. It would take him a whole night journey by ferry and over 12 hours by bus but a little over 45 minutes by plane.All these travel options are available daily.I must mention that since most of it's population speaks the native language, it can be a little nerve wrecking when traveling with the 'dala-dala'; even though i'm familiar with the language, I found myself in at most discomfort when I rode a bus in which everyone was speaking Kihaya except for me, from town to the village I was staying in; an elderly woman kept muttering things to me and I could only stare back with what I would imagine to be a blank expression.
1. Lake Victoria is a wonder It's the second widest fresh water body in the world. You can have all the water fun you would have at the shores of the Indian ocean in Zanzibar without the salt, the dangerous jelly fish, the crabs (I know they scare the hell out of my sister); the crowd and the pollution of larger cities. And enjoy watching the birds swooping into the lake for a meal or busy on the shore.
>2. Many inhabited isles/islands on the lake that you can reach by flight or motorized boat (if you feel a little more adventurous, why not try the man powered boats). Close to Bukoba is the highly recommended Rubondo island which is also a national reserve. The national park has a number of indigenous mammal species - hippo, vervet monkey, genet and mongoose - which share their protected habitat with introduced species such as chimpanzee, black-and-white colobus, elephant and giraffe, all of which benefit from Rubondo’s inaccessibility. Rubondo also protects precious fish breeding grounds. It's natural botanical gardens has wild jasmine, 40 different orchids and a smorgasbord of sweet, indefinable smells emanate from the forest.
3. Explore the forests There a number of natural forests in Kagera region, Burigi,Biharamulo, Ibanda which all have been declared reserves. They are home to elephants, hippos, reedbuck, steinbuck, zebra, sable, roan antelope, sitatunga, topi and colubus monkeys. A number of smaller forests are within Bukoba town and now many man-made forests of tall pines. I was delighted to smell the intoxicating eucalyptus when I hiked back home that I had to stop and savour the air.
4. Conquer the rocks Bukoba is a rocky highland, as you descend from the sky by flight you can appreciate some of the cliffs. I'm not a rock climber but if you are you could challenge youself to a climb or explore ancient rocks paintings in Nyangoma (which is the name for the first of female twins by the way) close to Nyakijoga. There are hundreds of these paintings in caves overlooking a very attractive valley.
5. Get into the caves, watch the waterfalls and follow the rivers. Some tour operators offer trips to Kyamunene River Waterfalls and near-by caves and share tales of the use of the cave by warriors in the ancient tribal wars & by more recently by soldiers in the Idd Amin war. I experience a part of Kyamunene river on my trip, the sound of it's water rushing over the rocks made me want to follow it down; it's like a relaxing zen.
6. Experience a new culture The bahaya are the natives of Bukoba, and even though they have embraced change though christian civilizationa and now the global civilization; they still hold their language and culture close at heart. On my trip to Bukoba for a funeral I learnt quite some; funeral rites and traditions and was lucky to witness the swearing of a new Mulangila (chief of the clan). If you are out to experience a new culture, the Bahaya are generous people, welcoming and full of laughter. Guests are welcomed with a traditional banana brew and sun dried coffee beans which also feature in a number of traditional gatherings. If you are in a dance mood, you can enjoy “Ngoma”; traditional dances in a variety of styles including Omutoro, Amayaga, Mulekule, Amakondele, Akasimbo.
7. Embrace a unique culinary experience In Bukoba, 'Senene' or locusts deep fried or smoked are a popular snack, for some it will be like a real life fear factor; can you dare your senses? The main staple is boiled green banana with beans or groundnuts; my favourite dish in the whole world. My mum would treat us to her traditional meal every now and then; I remember hearing her sing in her vernacular all day long and we knew she was in a good mood that day.
8. Go fishing How about catching your own meal? Dotted along the shores of Lake Victoria are numerous fishing villages. Most of the fishermen are local and thus they use traditional technology -- wooden boats and nets. The most famous villages near Bukoba Town are Igabiro fishing village in Bugabo, Musila Island, Kifungwi and Nyamukazi. On this occasion I went to Musila village, a small island just off shore a few meters from the airport. It consists mostly of temporary fishermen settlers. You can negotiate a deal with the local fishermen and they would gladly take you on board. Maybe you can even bring home a tilapia or Nile perch.
9. Experience all star hotels to fit your budget Bukoba isn't as developed as the big cities in Tanzania but it hosts luxurious hotels with international cuisines. You can cool off and relax as you watch the sun go by. I was fortunate to see quite a few such as the Walkgard, Walkgard annex, Bukoba Kolping... The best thing is that google maps and places works! You can easily find your way around the town to hotels of your liking, I found New Coffee Tree Hotel where I had my favorite Green bananas in a modern taste with Tilapia for lunch. They have a full buffet at less than 15,000 ;-)
Check out what travelers on TripAdvisor say about some of the accommodations.
10. When you plan for it, you can get there in comfort All you have to do is makeup your mind and go off for the experience. There are flights from Nairobi to Bukoba via Mwanza if you are traveling from Europe. Daily flights from Mwanza-Bukoba by Auric Air at a prize of 135,000 Tshs one way; round trip from Kilimanjaro-Bukoba or Dar-es-salam-Bukoba with Precision Air. Or if you are already in Tanzania, a tourist or a resident/citizen on a long holiday why not take a bus ride and enjoy the pleasures of travelling on the road; the dust, the bumps and all.
Even though the costs of accommodation and food are almost comparable to the budget places I have been to, due to the costs of traveling there, Bukoba falls off my favorite category of budget travels. So why would I suggest Bukoba and Kagera at large as a destination worth exploring? Because in Bukoba you can satisfy your thirst for wildlife, lazying on the beach, exploring a new culture and whatever else your imagination holds.
3 hours earlier. I was standing under a tree outside the headquarters of Parc National des Volcanos, having just been introduced to our local guide for the day, a handful of specially trained gorilla trackers and seven other travellers. Nearby, seven other groups were being formed as we all prepared for what we hoped would be the experience of a lifetime.
I felt a growing feeling of excitement as our guide talked about the gorilla family we were heading towards, gave us some information about the area we were trekking in and shared some interesting facts about the endangered mountain gorillas that lived there. This excitement was slightly offset by my nervousness of starting what I had heard could be a simple two hour hike or an eight hour intense trek, depending on where the gorillas were currently located. I was hoping that my comfortable North Face hiking shoes, waterproof jacket, cargo trousers, bandanna and small backpack disguised my poor fitness levels and presented me as a confident and experienced trekker.
We jumped into a small mini-van and drove the short distance to our starting point, the edge of the 160km² national park that protects Rwanda’s section of the Virunga Mountains which is a range of six extinct and three active volcanos crossing the intersection of the Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo border and home to the endangered mountain gorilla.
There are less than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world and half of them live in the Virunga Mountains, a region famous for the studies of Dian Fossey and infamous for the on-going human conflicts and poaching that have contributed to the gorilla population decline. There are currently eight gorilla families living in the region and each group was trekking towards a different one.
A few months earlier I had paid $500 for my trekking permit in what seemed an expensive fee. But already I realised it was money well spent as I learned more about the conservation efforts employed by the Park as they not only worked to avoid a further decline in the mountain gorilla population but aimed for future growth and sustainability.
As we started our trek I forgot the gorillas for a moment as I was mesmerised by the stunning Rwandan landscape. Endless green, lush mountains surrounded me with the occasional splash of colour from the clothing of local farmers brightening the landscape. The bright sun warmed my face as my jacket protected me from the bitter wind and after twenty minutes of a steady but comfortable walk across the relatively flat ground, I took my first step into the tree-filled forest and began to climb up towards an impending meeting with a mountain gorilla.
The guide and trackers kept my mind off my aching knees as they shared facts and antidotes about the gorillas and the local farmers. Information about the alpha-male role of a silverback in a gorilla family was amusingly followed by a tale of farm bosses placing a bottle of vodka at the end of a field as incentive for their staff to work harder and faster. The trackers often ran ahead or communicated with their colleagues on their radios to ensure we were heading in the right direction and as we grew closer they reminded us of the ‘rules’ of gorilla trekking, designed to protect the great animals:
Viewing time is limited to one hour
Always keep a distance of at least 7 metres between yourself and the gorilla
Keep your voice low
Do not make any rapid movements
If you are charged by a silverback stand still, look away and make no eye contact
And the one rule above all others: follow the direction of your guide. After all, they carry the rifle!
A couple of hours into the trek, I was enjoying a chat with the local guide as I learned about his lifestyle, listened to the passionate description of his job and reflected on his interesting view that poachers should be given jobs in the Park rather than sent to jail “to teach them to love, respect and protect the mountain gorillas”. It was an interesting conversation but one that ended abruptly as we looked ahead to see one of the trackers calling out to us.
We were no longer heading towards the mountain gorillas – they were heading towards us! We followed our guide’s instructions and placed our backpacks on the ground, got our cameras out and stood waiting for the majestic animals. Within a few minutes I heard the rustling of leaves and thought I was prepared for my first sighting of the gorilla family.
Within seconds of seeing our first mountain gorilla many of us broke one of the gorilla trekking rules (keep your voice low) as we unintentionally called out variations of “oh wow”!
Our first viewing was of a mother and her small child and as magical as it was, it didn’t compare to the surreal arrival of the alpha male of the group, the silverback. His arrival caused the second rule break of the day but this time it was the silverback breaking the rule instead of us. We all understood that keeping a distance of seven metres was for the protection of the gorilla as human germs do not always mix well with gorilla DNA, but when a large silverback walks towards you and other gorillas in the family are behind you, you aren’t going anywhere!
I had heard stories of a silverback charging trekkers to stamp his authority on his territory but this one seemed indifferent to our existence. He sat down with his back to us for a few minutes giving us all an opportunity for the obligatory ‘near a mountain gorilla’ moment before climbing a tree to rest. The sight of a large silverback climbing a tree with speed and ease is one I will not forget and when the mother and child we had first seen followed him I was a bit alarmed that our one hour viewing would be reduced to ten minutes.
But it didn’t take long for the rest of the family to arrive and we were treated to an incredible hour of being up close and personal with these mountain gorillas. Like the silverback, they seemed indifferent to our presence and lazily chewed leaves, wandered around, scratched their backs and used their bush toilets! The similarity of their behaviour to that of human beings is both extraordinary and entertaining.
The hour seemed to fly by and we reluctantly started to make our way back, leaving the mountain gorillas behind. In just a few hours I had experienced one of the most memorable and uplifting experiences of my life and felt like I was skipping back to the park’s headquarters, such was my excitement at what I had just seen.
There have been moments in my life when I have had a sudden awareness of both the insignificance of the human race in the bigger scheme of things and the importance of the human race playing our part in the bigger scheme things. This was one of those moments.
Rwanda is accessible to all types of travellers but when visiting any developing country I encourage you to do your research so that you are supporting local businesses and people as much as you can.
Those who are short of time, not suited to long and sometimes bumpy overland rides or not interested in long queues at overland border crossings will be relieved to learn there is an international airport 10km east of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. There are direct flights from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Bujumbura (Burundi), Entebbe (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Brussels (Belgium).
There are land border crossings into Rwanda from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda for the more adventurous traveller but you should always check the security situation first, especially in the often volatile regions near Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Foreign Offices in both Australia and UK have great websites with updated information that I always check before I visit a country.
One of the most common ways to visit Rwanda is on an overland tour and these are designed for those ‘in between’ travellers (or those I refer to as All Rounders in my What is Your Travel Personality article) who want to travel independently without the bureaucratic red tape and security concerns that sometimes accompany travel in Africa. I spent three incredible months in East and Southern Africa in 2009 and visited Rwanda as part of an overland tour with Intrepid Travel.
The most common base for visitors is the town of Ruhengeri. As there is no public transport from the town to the Park’s headquarters the most common way to organise your trek is through a pre-booked tour. This may be part of a longer overland tour, a tour specific to Rwanda or a pre-booked day for gorilla trekking. This is the easiest way to organise your trek as the tour company will organise the permit that must be obtained before you arrive and your transport to/from the Park. When I visited the Park, permit fees were $500 but these have recently been increased to $750.
In an effort to protect the already endangered gorillas trekking groups are limited to eight people and there are only eight treks a day. Don’t arrive at the Park expecting to purchase a permit and book yourself on a trek that day – it simply will not happen.
You may experience both sunshine and rain in the same day so it’s best to dress in layers with a long-sleeved t-shirt and thin waterproof jacket. You will be trekking through trees and bush so long sleeved shirts and trousers are ideal and of course you will need comfortable hiking shoes (my North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR shoes were my best friend during my round-the-world trip).
Remember that your guides know best and the ‘rules’ exist for a reason. We are a visitor in the mountain gorilla’s home and their survival relies on us learning to co-exist with each other. If you have a contagious illness or even the flu or a cold, you won’t be allowed to join the trek.
Also remember that the National Park is not a zoo and the gorillas are not waiting in cages for us to come and look at them. You need to trek to reach them and you cannot predict the length or level of difficulty of the trek. I was quite luck in that my trek was only a couple of hours and relatively easy but to be honest I would have felt a little short-changed if it was anything less than that. Reaching the gorillas felt so much more satisfying knowing I had made the effort and worked up a sweat to get there. Of course some people do have limitations and letting the guides know this at the start will make it a more enjoyable day for you.
I have never come across anyone who has trekked to mountain gorillas in Rwanda and regretted it. It is an incredible experience that you will never forget and you can enhance this experience by visiting some other areas of Rwanda. Don’t let Rwanda’s traumatic history deter you – this is a country in recovery, a country that is relatively safe for tourists and a country full of beautiful people. Almost all Rwandans I met begged me to ‘spread the word’ about how beautiful their country is and to encourage my friends to visit. They recognise the value of tourism to their country and they are proud of their landscape, culture and wildlife.
The genocide and historical civil unrest in Rwanda is like a cloud in an otherwise blue sky and Rwandans believe a clear blue sky awaits them – they need the rest of the world to believe the same.
Want more Rwanda? 5 "Must-Have" Experiences in Rwanda
I have always enjoyed taking photographs but it wasn’t until I started to explore the world in earnest that I developed an interest in creating images rather than simply snapping memories. After fifteen months of travel, more than 10,000 captured memories and five digital compact cameras (thanks to a thief, a restless horse, new year water festivals in Laos and backpacking wear and tear) I returned home to London in 2010 ready to start a new hobby.
Travelling the world had inspired me to learn how to take great travel photographs – but I had just returned home with a depleted bank account and therefore no immediate travel plans to continue the inspiration.
Initially the motivation to learn compensated for lack of inspiration as I spent my weekends practising technique and getting to grips with the new language that someone with no photography or fine arts training faces. But it wasn’t long before I found myself looking at my surroundings through different eyes and I suddenly realised I had found my travel photography inspiration at home.
I am lucky to live in a city that provides more tourist attractions than sunny days but as an amateur photographer that brings two problems.
Get up early! An early rise not only provides the best light for shooting, but as the tourists are sleeping off the hangovers from partying in Soho the night before or tucking into a big English breakfast, you will enjoy the opportunity to shoot a tourist attraction without the crowds. This not only helps capture images of architecture and outdoor scenes without tourists walking into your frame, it also gives you time to compose an image that is on the front of every postcard sold in the tourist shops on Oxford.
But what if you are looking for something more unique? What if a busload of tourists has arrived earlier than expected? What if you forgot to set your alarm? Some of my favourite shots are the ones I’ve taken “through the eyes of a tourist – with the tourists”. Don’t limit your vision to that of the tourist attraction itself.
What if you don’t live in London? What if you go travelling because you live in a place that is not full of tourist attractions and is not on the travel itinerary of visitors to your country? You don’t need to look for internationally recognised tourist attractions to find images that capture the essence of where you live. Every place has landmarks that make it unique whether its a monument, architecture, wildlife, outdoor scenery or even the local people themselves.
A lot of travellers enjoy getting off the beaten track when exploring foreign countries and its no different when you are a travel photographer at home. Whilst I enjoy chasing that postcard-worthy image of a local tourist attraction, what I enjoy most is capturing my home through the eyes of a local.
Travellers and tourists rarely experience all seasons in a country they visit, but as a local you know that seasonality creates diversity. I live within walking distance of Regent’s Park and although the Park has a static landscape, I find myself returning a number of times throughout the year as the seasons change. I have taken photos of the park’s lake in Spring as new-born ducklings follow their mother as they learn how to survive. I have returned in summer to find the lake surrounded by crowds having picnics in the sun or enjoying a boat ride on the lake. Autumn changes the scene again as leaves fall across the lake to settle in a colourful cluster on the water. And I’ve returned in winter to shoot birds sliding across the frozen water with snow on the lake’s edge.
If you feel you are running out of inspiration for shooting at home, just wait for the next season!
So you have captured an image of the London Eye that is postcard-worthy. You have a photograph of tourists engaging in some friendly (or not-so-friendly) banter at Speakers Corner. You have returned to your local park four times a year. You still haven’t saved up enough for your next trip abroad. What next?
Have you looked a little closer? That building you walk past every day on your way to the train station may not be inspiring, but what about the windows, or the door handle? That park bench outside your house may not make the cover of your next photo book, but what about the texture of the wood it’s made from? The most popular type of close-up photography is flora and fauna but the opportunities to capture interesting forms of texture are endless.
Most new photographers find a natural reaction to their new hobby is looking at things differently. I constantly find myself being inspired by something I have walked past a hundred times. Every-day objects in my house suddenly become the subject of my next project. I have also been able to practise some new techniques at home that have helped me create some great shots on my future travels. Learning how to take a waterfall shot with that ‘silky water’ doesn’t require a visit to Iceland. Capturing car trails in a night shot doesn’t require a trip to New York City.
Look at your everyday surroundings through the eyes of your lens – you’ll be amazed at the results.
Google is both a noun and a verb and I often wonder how we lived without it. Sure, it has ruined pub conversation. The days of spending an evening debating if the capital of Switzerland is Zurich or Geneva are over, as are the frustrating sessions of trying to remember the name of that song playing in the bar. Pub quiz winners are no longer those with the best general knowledge brains, but those who can Google the question on their Iphone the fastest.
But the internet provides a great variety of resources for someone looking for photography inspiration at home. Simply type in “things to shoot in London” (although you may want to add the word ‘photography’ to that), ‘photography ideas in London’ or ‘non-touristy photographs of London’ and you will open a door to a new world of inspiration -- forums, travel blogs, photography articles and competitions, Flickr group discussions and more. Keeping up to date with local events and festivals provide photographic opportunities and sometimes just seeing a photograph in an online magazine has inspired me to shoot something in a different way.
When I typed “solo travel” into Google today, it returned 60 million hits – yes, 60 million! As the world grows smaller through technological advances and travel becomes more accessible, solo travel has increased in popularity. The internet is full of information both from and for solo travellers, but what is it really like to travel on your own and is it for you?
I began my solo travel career a few years back through both necessity and desire. Initially I began to travel on my own in response to the life changes my friends were experiencing. People I had travelled with in the past were now getting married, starting families or, as is often the case when you live in London, returning to their Antipodean homes after working holiday visas expired. Other single friends were burnt out by demanding careers and wanted to spend the little time off they had relaxing on a beach, not backpacking through a developing country.
I was also reacting to a lesson many of us have learned the hard way – close friends do not always make great travel buddies. When your friend wants to lie by the pool each day on a trip to Sri Lanka and you want to join some locals on a day trip to a tea plantation and elephant orphanage, you realise being great drinking buddies in a London pub does not make you compatible travel partners.
Travelling solo is not for everyone and it helps to understand the travel personality of yourself in addition to those you are considering travelling with. You may be more suited to travelling in a group but that doesn’t guarantee a perfect travel experience if you are travelling with someone more suited to solo travel.
Are you a solo traveller? Maybe the points below will help you decide.
Going solo wasn’t just a reaction to my circumstances. I was a thirty-something single, independent female who was starting to realise you only get one shot at life. Put simply, I was growing selfish and didn’t want to compromise my travel experiences. Going solo allows you guilt-free selfish moments and also helps you stick to your own budget. Remember the Friends episode where half the group wanted to go to a rock concert but the others couldn’t afford it? Travel can cause the same tension if you have different budgets and you inevitably have to compromise. You may choose to take that balloon ride over the Serengeti without your travel partner because you can afford it and don’t want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But do you really want to stay in the 5* hotel you can afford on your own when you travel buddy is sharing a dorm at the hostel on the other side of town?
How do you see and do everything you want when you are travelling whilst staying within your budget? You travel solo!
Some people feel suffocated by a travel itinerary whilst others need a planned approach to a travel experience. I sit somewhere in the middle. Travelling solo not only allows me the luxury of setting my own itinerary, it lets me change it along the way. I am a very keen amateur photographer and I am not surprised to learn photographers usually prefer to travel on their own. There is nothing worse than missing an incredible sunset because your travel buddy wants to catch happy hour at the local bar. Or patiently waiting for someone to move out of the frame of your shot as your travel partner impatiently stands beside you ready to move on.
How do you get to the best places at the best times or return to a place a number of times to capture that magical shot? You travel solo!
Most solo travellers I’ve met agree that going solo is the best way to meet people. Not only are you more likely to approach other people when you are on your own looking for company, but you are more approachable yourself. It makes sense right? Who are you more likely to strike up a conversation with - the intimidating group of friends travelling together or the person sitting on their own?
How do you meet people when you travel? You travel solo!
An extension of the previous point, travelling solo makes it a lot easier to make local friends. What is a group of ‘travellers’ called? Tourists! Ok, I made that up and I am generalising, but I have often found locals more likely to treat me as a tourist when I am with other foreigners. I get a very different reaction when travelling on my own and have had some unforgettable conversations with locals who have approached me simply to have a chat.
How do you increase local interaction when travelling? You travel solo!
It’s often said that the best way to get to know someone is by travelling with them and there is no better journey of self-discovery than the one you take as a solo traveller. Not only do you have more time on your own to reflect and relax, you will also inevitably face situations that help you understand more about what makes you happy, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what (or who) irritates you. Travelling solo not only increases self-awareness but it also creates the opportunity to change. Having to face challenges on my own whilst travelling – the bag stolen in Bolivia, needing medication for infected insect bites in Uganda, missing my plane in Copenhagen – has helped me face challenges back home with more patience and less stress.
How do you create self discovery opportunities? You travel solo!
A phobia is an irrational fear. I have an irrational fear of mice. Many people have an irrational fear of eating alone. I don’t know if this particular fear has a name, but it should because it’s so common. There is something about asking for a table for one that sends a shiver of fear through most people. They are convinced the conversation around them stops as they are led through the crowded restaurant to their table, as couples and groups throw them sympathetic looks. The sound of the waiter clearing the extra place at the table seems to echo around them and many would prefer to grab a sandwich at the local supermarket to eat in their room, than repeat the experience the next night.
How to face this challenge? My kindle is my dinner companion – it doesn’t take up too much space, it doesn’t tell me long and boring stories, and it doesn’t reach over and steal my fries!
This is the hardest part about travelling solo for me. I have lost count of the breathtaking views, serene sunsets and comical encounters that I can’t re-create after the event. Whether it’s sharing a moment with someone special, laughing for days at a ‘had to be there’ moment with someone who was actually there, or having a healthy debate over the pros and cons of volunteerism after visiting a local project, having someone to share travel experiences with makes it just that bit more special.
How to face this challenge? The age of technology that we live in let’s me share experiences in my blog, by postings photos on Facebook and through emailing friends and family. It’s not as good as the real thing, but sharing and connecting with like-minded people who weren’t there is the second best option.
There’s no way around it – it is more expensive to travel on your own, especially with accommodation where you can’t split the cost with your travel partner.
How to face this challenge? The issue of increased expense is offset by the flexibility solo travel gives you. I may not be able to split the cost of a hotel room, but having the freedom to stick to my own budget helps me manage my finances a little better whilst on the road.
I have rarely felt unsafe when travelling on my own, but the fact remains that safety is a risk for solo travellers. Travelling on your own in some countries (parts of Africa for example) can feel like wearing a target on your forehead inviting trouble. Solo travellers in other countries (especially females) may find themselves the subject of unwanted attention. The most common issue for solo travellers is not having someone to watch their luggage whilst they run to the toilet or to buy some water. Falling asleep on a train makes them nervous when there is a stranger next to them who can reach over and grab their Ipod.
How to face this challenge? Sometimes you just have bad luck and are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But using common sense can help reduce the likelihood of these ‘bad luck’ moments. I always check out the ‘safety and security’ advice issued about the country I am heading to (both Australia and UK governments have excellent online safety advice) and am sensitive to the cultural differences I may face. I don’t take chances – life is too short.
I almost didn’t include this in this list, because I can honestly say I’ve felt lonelier at times back home than I have when I’ve been travelling on my own. But loneliness is a possible side-effect of solo travel and some feel it more than others. If you don’t enjoy spending time on your own at home, chances are you may struggle with travelling solo.
How to face this challenge? Overcoming this challenge will be easier for some people than others, because it often involves reaching outside your comfort zone – approaching strangers, enjoying your own company for example.
Today I was thinking about what effect traveling has had on me my personality my existence. So I thought I would list them out and list the things that I have taken with me from countries. Just to give some context all the first countries in Europe in the list below were visited by a young me in elementary. Though it didnt stop me from trying a lot of things for the first time.
Japan Tokyo what a city...Japan what a culture...I have never been more amazed by the scale of a nation. I have always been kind of a technology and internet nerd. Which I learned can be part of a culture it was amazing to see how plugged in the youth was. I learned to have more respect for people who are quiet shy and didnt seem to have the need for boastfulness. Once you take that out of the equation your left with a lot of love and good vibes.
Belgium Their I learned to appreciate real food rich cheese, dark chocolate, a real Gyro, real ice cream and delicious bread. When I came back to the states I couldn't help but stare sadly at American cheese it now tasted like plastic and served better as a play-doh. The ice cream now tasted like whip cream, giving a kid food that rich then taking it away is the equivalent to giving someone who likes energy drinks crystal meth then taking it away.
France Before my family trip to Europe I was a bit sheltered no soda no Simpsons and plenty of church. In France after 8pm porn comes on half the channels, it was surprising to say the least. More then that though the culture there is just comfortable with nudity. There I learned that the nude body has other purposes then sex or comedy. The memories I still have of that lend to my self esteem etc helps my mind fight the culture here.
Philippines Interesting place and a far cry from big city nights in Tokyo. When I was young I didnt have a lot of views on gay people until my friend came out and it was put in my face. I was suddenly presented with a choice and I chose to embrace people that are different. I didnt have a lot of views on poverty, prostitution and desperation until it was put in my face. It made me realize how much you can get lost in your luxuries and lose site of what real pain is. A girl their who basically offered me sex for free, but told me not to tell her pimp. I respectfully declined but it made me realize even someone as devious and sexually permissive as me, can still has lines that I dont want to cross. Dont get me wrong im not harping on prostitution I actually think it should be legal and regulated everywhere. This though is a different story and a lot of people take an advantage of these girls or lets themselves be taken advantage of by their lustful wants or naivety or both. In the Philippines I learned to appreciate the good things in life despite how I may be feeling and experienced my own character growth as a man.
The Netherlands My brother got kicked out of a coffee shop there for trying to steal all the roaches out of an ash tray or at least thats how the story goes. It was amazing that people could get together and puff on a joint instead of drinking. There I learned that some laws just don't make any sense and they are not absolute. Later I learned that if anything doesn't make sense with the government just follow the money and it will start making sense, sad but true.
England While in England we visited a lot of the castles in Dover and Canterbury made me think about my history, my bloodline etc. I had a revelation like a Eddie Izzard show all of sudden I was like America doesnt have shit were to young we cant compete. Also I stayed at a little BNB there which also happened to be hosting a wedding. I could not understand a fucking word from these liquored up Brits. I hadmuch more fluent conversations with the French.
Costa Rica Man the stars at night can be a beautiful thing especially in the middle of the jungle. As I said before I like the indoors technology the internet etc. Here though I wanted to be outside so much to look at nature wise and to interact with like the fruit farms or coffee fields. Since then I still eat fruit with my breakfast everyday I also learned thats one thing you can depend on in most counties they might not have Pringles but they probably have something natural. In Costa I learned to truly appreciate the nature earth and everything that comes with it.