When you travel somewhere, you get to know the culture of the country you're visiting, and its language(s) is a big part of the culture. There are so many more languages and dialects on this world than there are countries, so one shouldn't substitute a country with a culture. A few steps down the road, you may encounter something utterly different.
Of course, every culture and every language has its particularities. There are some amazing facts in etymology and linguistics that allow us to draw connections to culture. Obviously, food and its collective consumption plays an important role in Filipino culture, as in most Asian cultures. This phrase is a good example and a punchline for a basic cultural attitude towards everyday social life. This is why I find it very astonishing, and I hope to find further examples of telling international language facts while travelling.
Backpacking is certainly one of the most authentic ways to see the world. You get to soak up a myriad of experiences, meet new people, eat amazing food, learn different languages, and what’s more, it doesn’t cost you the earth!
If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re already drawn to backpacking. Perhaps you’re apprehensive about backpacking because you’ve never taken the road less traveled before. Indeed, backpacking isn’t all fun and games; there’ll be times when you’ll wonder why you even thought of this. But if you do it right, you’re sure to cherish the experience once you get back home!
You can't venture into the wilderness on your own if you've never gone backpacking before. If you have a friend or know someone who is an experienced backpacker, ask him or her if you can join them on their next trip. Knowledgeable company is not only good for your peace of mind but you'll also get to learn a lot if you travel with a seasoned backpacker.
Be sure to travel with a compatible partner; traveling with the wrong person can be a lot worse than traveling alone. Of course, you need to be a good travel companion yourself!
You're new to backpacking and if you don't want to be put off by the whole experience, don't push yourself too hard. Don't be too ambitious about how much ground you'll be able to cover on foot each day and don't imagine that staying away from home for a month will be fine.
If you're backpacking to a new country, a week or two abroad should be manageable, and if you're going to be in the wilderness following trails, take a two-day one-night trip. A shorter trip will also mean you’ll be spending less money!
Remember that quality surpasses quantity when it comes to experiencing the outdoors or other countries. So whilst you keep your trip short, also keep it sweet by planning your itinerary well.
A jam-packed itinerary will mean you’ll be running around trying to see and do as much as possible without really appreciating anything. Plan your itinerary such that you get to smell the roses along the way.
Planning is good but over-planning things or following a plan to the T isn’t. You’re going on a trip to have some fun, so don’t shy away from making spontaneous plans.
If you’re on a trail and you find out about a precipice that offers a splendid view, go take in the natural beauty even if it means setting off in another direction. And if you have to postpone leaving a city by a couple of days so you can attend the grand annual fest, just do it!
Making changes to your plans might affect your finances. Simply be prepared for any changes right from the beginning so that you’re not short of cash for unexpected expenses.
If you choose someplace far away, getting to the destination itself will tire you out. As a beginner, select a place that is closer to home so that you can get there easily. Also try to be close to home or civilization so that you don’t feel homesick during the trip.
Firstly, you're on a budget so you can't afford to splurge on backpacking gear. Secondly, this is going to be your first backpacking trip and you don't know if you'll like the experience or not. It won't be wise to spend all your savings on backpacking gear if you may never undertake a backpacking trip again.
That doesn’t mean you buy cheap gear though; if the quality of the gear isn’t good, it might not even make it through your first trip!
The best thing you can do is rent instead of buy backpacking gear. Search for rental shops in your area and you'll get all you need for your backpacking trip without having to spend a fortune.
Your first backpacking trip can be overwhelming and you might want to pack all that you can possibly carry. Don’t give in to the temptation though; you’ll regret it in less than a week.
Realize that you won’t need four pairs of pants and ten shirts while backpacking. You can wear a single pair of pants for the whole trip but if you want some change, just an extra pair will suffice. Pack a minimal number of shirts but a fresh pair of socks and underwear for each day of the trip.
Do pack a formal outfit and a pair of formal shoes too; you never know when you might get invited to a wedding. And if you decide to spend on a lavish dinner, dressing up will make the experience much more enjoyable!
If you must carry lotions, creams, and other items, buy travel size packs or make a habit of snagging the free ones from every hotel you stay at ;)
Do remember to leave space for souvenirs!
Backpacking is a great way to travel on a budget. But it’s important to do it right if you want to have a glitch-free trip! Using the tips given here you’ll definitely be able to have the time of your life. Happy backpacking!
But no worries, even if you are addicted to traveling, there is plenty of help out there for you. No, I'm not talking about rehab. That wouldn't work anyway because the tricky thing about a travel addiction is the only cure is the very same thing that is causing the addiction: more traveling.
Yes my friends, there are many of us. Some pride themselves for being backpackers or expert budget travelers, others describe themselves as vagabonds, feel they are suffering from wanderlust or start off lured in by the thought of a simple gap year. Many are finally breaking free after having raised children, with or without their spouse, and still others are mere kids being raised in a nomadic family. Yes, travel is all-encompassing.
However you define yourself the point is you are not alone. And if you know what to look for it becomes very easy to spot the others out there like us.
For those keeping score they are worth one point each.
Do you carry a passport instead of a driver's license?
Do you frequently wake up and are initially uncertain of exactly what city you are in?
Do you base everything off of GMT (UTC) just because you are uncertain of your current timezone?
Does your current "home" have packed bags/luggage laying around, either from your previous/last trip or separate one(s) always ready for spontaneous departures? (Double points if you are a nomad and have no home.)
Do you talk more to friends in various countries than your old friends from high school?
Do you believe American "Cheese" has no right at all to be called a cheese?
Have you ever had to have extra pages stapled to your passport or a new one issued because yours was "just too damn full of stamps"?
Can you say "Cheers!" in more than five languages? More than ten?
Foreign words every traveler should know. Nope, not hello or thanks...CHEERS! How to say it around the world... pic.twitter.com/RMjpk4Q0Cf— ⌠ Derek4Real ⌡ (@the_HoliDaze) February 8, 2014
Do you know more about current foreign policies than what is going on in your own hometown?
Do the majority of the emails, social media messages, texts and voicemails you receive from family and close friends start with "So where are you now?" or "Are you back in [INSERT COUNTRY HERE] yet?"
Do you have more than ten travel-related apps on your smartphone?
When you finally visit home, do people constantly call you outlaugh at you for talking slowly and gesturing with your hands excessively?
Have foreign words for basic greetings and other simplicities made their way into your verbal vocabulary, even if no one around you knows 100% what you mean?
Do you believe any sort of 'light' beer has no right being called a beer?
Would you prefer drinking cow urine over Bud Light? (This question determines both who has visited India and who knows their beer)
Do the vast majority of your FourSquare points come from "Distance Since Last Check-In: ???? Miles?"
Have you ever just spontaneously just walked into an airport / bus depot / train station, purchased a ticket for that day, and gotten the hell outta Dodge?
Do you feel more at home in a different bed every few nights than you do at your actual home?
Are you proud to say that you no longer watch television because you are too busy living life?
Do you find sports / entertainment news fleeting or irrelevant, and instead find yourself interested in travel-related or historical/cultural news?
Can you describe the differences between McDonald's in different countries? (I trust you know this from observation and not participation.)
Can you name more than 50 countries in under one minute?
Can you name more than two dozen foreign capital cities in under one minute?
Do you have any tattoos containing 'RTW' or any other travel-related words or symbols?
Have you ever corrected and/or argued with a friend over something he saw on the news because you had been there firsthand?
If you were to write down your grocery list right now, would it contain items that people back home would never have heard of?
Does you mp3 player or music collection contain types of music from three or more different countries?
Have you ever been harassed by transportation authorities or customs agents for excessive travel?
Do you know what lambanog is?
Do you have any collections of items you have purchased that transcend more than a half-dozen countries? Not counting music, more like shot glasses or wood carvings or unopened bottles of wine, those kind of things.
Do you have to keep writing new bucket lists just because you keep doing everything on them? (Well then check out my new 2012 bucket list the ultimate Travel Blogger Bucket List TBBL.)
When someone asks you what's new, do you start naming off countries and/or cities?
Do you have a membership with MostTraveledPeople.com?
Finally, two bonus questions that are (again, for those keeping score) worth two points each:
1) Are you in a foreign country right now?
2) Do you have your passport on your persona or within arms reach?
Well, there you go, a grand total of 35 questions with a possibility of getting a top score of 40.
As anyone who has done any foreign traveling will tell you, it is a learning experience like no other -- the world's greatest classroom. After all, how could it not be when this great planet supports an endless amount of cultures, each with their own unique food, languages, customs and beliefs. But occasionally it is not the local sights that make you stop and wonder, but their customs and immigration policies.
Below are some of the most intriguing ones that I've found, but I'm also eager to hear of any that you have noticed in your travels. Be sure to share your comments at the bottom
Nigeria Prohibited items include mineral water, soft drinks, "textile fabrics and mosquito netting."
Barbados & Seychelles "All bags, clothing, and articles made from camouflage material are expressly forbidden."
Bhutan "Antiques" are expressly prohibited along with explosives and narcotics.
Oman Visitors are allowed to bring with them "8 tapes for personal use. However, Customs may confiscate tapes. Tapes will be sent to the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture for verification (takes about 1 week)."
Zimbabwe Honey is prohibited along with other dangerous items like drugs, firearms, and "flick and lockable blade knives."
New Zealand Visitors are allowed to bring with them musical instruments "provided that the goods are taken from New Zealand upon their departure."
Malaysia Importation regulations include "max. 3 pieces of new wearing apparel" and "max. 100 matches." Official policy states that "customs duties of 30% of the value are due in case of exceeding the allowed quantities," although I'm uncertain exactly how they would properly enforce this.
Iceland "Fishing equipment, including waders and rubber boots must be accompanied by a certificate of disinfection issued by an authorized veterinary officer."
South Korea The final item on South Korea's list of prohibited items is: "products originating from communist countries."
Cuba Expressly prohibits "Household appliances (freezers with a capacity exceeding seven cubic feet, air conditioners, any type or model of electric accumulators and heating/cooking plates, electric and microwave ovens, any type or size of electric frying pans, electric water heaters and showers, electric irons and toasters)."
Singapore Since 1992 chewing gum has been banned in Singapore, although in recent years an addendum has been made to allow for an exception on dental hygiene gum.
Saudi Arabia "Nothing can be imported free of duty as passenger's baggage, except clothes and strictly personal effects. Customs charges a fee on photographic cameras, typewriters, etc. Customs charges may be refunded if these articles are re-exported within 90 days."
Jamaica Expressly prohibits "all articles made of goatskin (still bearing fur), e.g. drums, handbags and rugs."
Kazakhstan Better leave your copy of Borat at home -- "printed matter directed against Kazakhstan" are completely prohibited.
Israel The following items are permitted by visitors only if they're "for their personal use and provided re-exported: one video camera, one photo camera, one movie camera, one tape recorder and, up to a value of USD 250. These articles are subject to high deposits which can be paid in cash or by VISA credit card only." However some item categories are completely forbidden, such as all "fruits and vegetables from the African continent."
Hungary Visitors are forbidden from exporting any "children and baby articles, underware, kitchen articles," among other less-humorous items.
Kenya High on the banned list here is "imitation firearms, childrens' toy pistols, etc," but this is actually not that surprising if you think about it.
Fiji "Pilgrims returning to Fiji with holy water should comply with the following requirements. The water must be: limited to one pint; and - carried in hermetically sealed containers from the country of origin; and - certified by a competent authority to be sterile and free from cholera, typhoid, and paratyphoid germs. The water is impounded for 21 days at Nadi airport if this certificate is not available." This actually raises more questions than it answers -- at least for me.
Indonesia Visitors may only bring (video) cameras, portable radio cassette recorder, binoculars and sport equipment into the country as long as they are also exported upon their departure. However both "cordless telephones" and "Chinese medicines and printings" are expressly forbidden alonside such obvious items as narcotics and firearms.
Iran "Holding alcoholic beverages and old books or magazines is prohibited."
Cote d'Ivoire "For personal use only passengers are allowed to import a video camera. The camera must be declared on arrival and a deposit must be paid, which will be returned to the passenger upon departure. Video cassettes are subject to customs duties."
China Visitors may freely import all vegetables except for egg plants, red peppers, and tomatoes.
Lativia All "pieces of art older than 50 years must hold permission from Latvian authorities." I can understand limiting the exportation of art, but the importation...huh?
Lithuania "Electric fishing equipment" is prohibited unless permits have been obtained from the government.
Maldives "Alcoholic beverages, pork and pork products are restricted items and are only permitted to be imported with a prior obtained permit. Any such items imported without a permit will be confiscated and destroyed."
Afghanistan "The import of film cameras is only possible with a licence."
Kuwait Visitors are not allowed to bring with them any "mineral water."
Mauritius Prohibited items include "chewing tobacco."
Angola Visitors are not allowed to bring with them any postal stamps.
Pakistan "Warning: import of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited for both residents and non-residents regardless of their nationality." Emphasis included on official site so this must be of great national concern.
Quotations from the International Air Transport Association (IATA)
Thanks to movies like Hostel, I think using hostels when traveling has gotten a bad rep. I can't tell you how many times I have people reference that movie to me when I say that yes, I only stay in hostels while traveling abroad. I personally love staying in hostels! No matter how old I get I will probably never stop using hostels while I travel. I've said it time and again, I'm cheap. I can't stand spending money if I don't have to, which is another reason hostels are a great alternative to pricey hotels when traveling!
This magnificent hostel in Indonesia has a staff of 55 (including two professional chefs) yet costs only $6 USD a night! See More Photos
Hostels are not only a great way to save money but a fantastic way to meet other travelers. I'm a social butterfly of sorts so any time I get to meet new people, I get a little too excited!
Bunk beds... lots and lots of bunk beds! Unless you're staying in private rooms -- which defeats the f'ing purpose of a hostel -- you can expect huge, well sometimes, rooms packed with bunks. I don't pay extra to stay in private rooms, unless I need the privacy for a night or two, so I mostly stay in the larger dorm rooms since those are always the cheapest ones.
Back Home Hostel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, one of my favorites! See More Photos
I've staying in some massive dorms where I felt as if I was the only one in the room, I had tons of space, it wasn't cramped, and there was more than enough room to store all my stuff. Sometime, dorms are smaller but still packed with bunks. This room I stayed in while I was in Rome was one of the smaller dorms where we didn't have a whole lot of room to put our stuff away.
You can expect to meet some stellar travelers just like you! Being someone who is obsessed with traveling, I thoroughly enjoy meeting people from all over the world. I'm always amazed when staying in hostels how I can meet people from every corner of the world but still manage to meet people close to home! At this same hostel in Rome, I met another Gamma Phi from Missouri. It was so cool to meet a fellow sister halfway around the world! I've met people that I'm Facebook friends with and keep in contact with.
Expect to meet some really awesome staff members that can give you lots of great inside tips for the city that you're in! While I love hitting all the big tourist sights, I also enjoy getting to know the local side of a city! Now, sometimes you may come across a staff member who isn't all that friendly, or one who gives you terrible advice... But 99% of my encounters with hostel staff members have always been positive!
One of my favorite parts of hosteling is the exchange of cultures and experiences you get! When we were in Rome, we finally decided to utilize the kitchen since we were sick of eating out. We went to the grocery store up the street from out hostel and went back to make our dinner. There were a few other people in there making their dinners as well. Once we were all done making it, we went to the dining room to eat, we all decided to share what we had made. One guy was from Slovenia and one was from some other area of Italy. We not only met some really cool people, had fun cooking "together", but then also got to taste some food of theirs from their local areas! You don't get experiences like that staying in hotels!
My first time abroad staying in hostels, I wasn't expecting much. I was thinking I'd get a lumpy bed in a crowded room, and would use it only to sleep and shower. What I got was new friends, really comfortable beds (for the most part), and a great environment to hang out and relax after a long day of sightseeing!
The best resource for researching and booking your hostels is TripAdvisor. They have millions of reviews from people just like you and I covering literally every hostel in the world, as well as a price comparison tool to instantly find you the lowest price online.
So you've decided to hit the road, by yourself – talk about being adventurous and brave!! Congrats! :) Whether this is something daunting or just a walk in the park for you, here are a few thoughts I'd like to share with you...
When most people think of traveling one of the first things that comes to their mind is where they are going to stay. Some may hire a travel agent to do the booking for them while others may get online and do the research themselves. Either way, 99% of the time their research will lead them to 5 star resorts offering all-inclusive packages. I'm sure that like me, everyone wishes they could stay at these places. The problem is, for the budget traveler, these resorts are super expensive! Of course you didn't need me to tell you that hahaha. Some people may let these steep prices scare them away from their vacation of a lifetime.
The good news is, there is a much much cheaper option called hostels! Until I started traveling I had never even heard of hostels. The more I researched hostels the more I realized how affordable a vacation, pretty much anywhere in the world, could be. When I say affordable I'm talking about $10-20 per night -- or even as low as $2-3/night in some countries! Yeah you read that right.
Now there are drawbacks such as sharing a room with 3-10 other people (male and female), but thats all part of the experience. Most hostels have shared bathrooms, wifi, and a public kitchen for all the guests (which could be anywhere from 10 to 100 people depending on the hostel and the season). Don't get me wrong, hostels aren't for everyone...but if money is the only thing keeping you from seeing the world hostels are perfect for you!
01. The people you will meet. When staying in hostels you will meet people from all over the world doing the same thing you are! It's a great way to practice speaking other languages while also learning more about the planet than you ever did in school. You will quickly realize the similarities and differences between your culture and others. If you are outgoing and open-minded, you will end up with plenty of lifelong Facebook friends from all over the world.
02. You will eat much healthier (and cheaper!) As I mentioned before, most hostels have shared kitchens where you can store groceries and cook your meals. During meal times the kitchen can become very busy and congested, but it's fun to watch people from different countries making their favorite foods while you make yours! Again if your friendly and outgoing you can usually trade dishes with your new friends and try some great new authentic foods from around the world!
03. You will learn about the hidden and "non-touristy" things to do in the area. Most of the people staying in hostels are well traveled individuals that can give you great inside information on things to do in the area you are at, or even their homeland (if you ever make it there). Don't get me wrong, guided tours are great, but with the help of other people at the hostel -- both guests and employees -- you can usually find much better, cheaper options to do with your day. I believe hostels almost force you to get to know the area better because they aren't "all-inclusive." Plus it's always easy to join up with other groups and reduce the cost by splitting it amongst everyone.
04. You can extend the length of your vacation. To some people this might not matter because they only have that one week of vacation time before they have to return to work. But for those who would like to spend more extended periods of time in an area, hostels are definately the best option. In most countries hostels are pretty common and finding them in different cities along your trip will not be an issue. Of course, sometimes it is hard for me to move on to a new hostel because I do not want to leave all the new friends I have just made!
This magnificent hostel in Indonesia has a staff of 55 (including two professional chefs) yet costs only $6 USD a night! See More Photos
05. Lets face it, it's all about the $$$$$$$ I tried not putting this item one on here.....but the fact remains that hostel prices cannot be beat. They will save you a fortune while also giving you the most authentic experience you could possibly ask for. Like I said earlier, depending on the season and country, hostels can cost anywhere from $2-20 per night. I don't care if I'm sleeping in a hammock, you simply cannot beat a few dollars to stay two blocks from the beach in Mexico or a 30-second walk from all the fun in Thailand. I'll take it!!
Read More Hostel Life: What To Expect
I'm sure that there are plenty of other reasons why hostels could be the best option for you, but that's just it.... It's all about you!! Hostels leave your entire trip up to you, not the tour guides that are just trying so hard to get your precious money. Everyone will have their reasons why they love or hate hostels, because after all they are not for everyone. So if you're looking to book your next vacation, make sure to do some research on hostels and give yourself more money to explore wherever you are visiting!
Instead of celebrating being another year wiser, reflecting on a year of great experiences and appreciating being healthy and having great family and friends in my life, I approach birthdays with a sense of insecurity and impending doom.
I can’t help it.
I get depressed about being single (even though I love my independence and would rather be on my own than with the wrong person), I moan about not having children (even though I don’t actually want children), I detest the accounting career that has seen me stuck in a 9-to-5 office job rut for most of the past 17 years (even though it has also paid for a 15 month career break, other travel opportunities and the deposit on my London flat) and I view being another year older as a step closer to my grave and start panicking about not doing everything I want to in life.
I recently reflected on some of the amazing travel adventures I’ve experienced in my “46 Countries, 46 Travel Ideas to Inspire You” article, so the time feels right to start planning some more. As the clock ticks over to an age I’ve been dreading since I turned 37 last year, I’m celebrating it by adding 38 things to my “bucket list” - 38 things I want to do before I die.
I am not someone who is on a quest to visit every country in the world, ticking them off a travel ‘to do’ list. I’m someone who is on a quest to explore as much of the world as I can, learn about and appreciate diverse cultures and meet and interact with different people. But as a result, I do inevitably end up covering quite a bit of ground.
As I start to think about my ‘next big trip’ and ponder possibilities, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things I’ve enjoyed on past travel adventures and realise how lucky I am to have had some incredibly diverse experiences.
Are you looking for inspiration for you next trip? Are you visiting one of these countries and not sure what to include in your itinerary? You may enjoy one of the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have – read on to find out if an experience I’ve had is a travel idea for you.
I was born in Australia and lived there 26 years before I left the sunny weather behind, bought myself an umbrella and headed to London on working holiday visa. I forgot to leave when my visa expired and 12 years later I hold dual nationality. This has somewhat turned my home country into a travel destination that I appreciate more and more each time I return. So what do I enjoy most about returning to Australia? Is it the climate, the sunsets, the diverse scenery, the Aussie accent, the slower pace of life, the beach, the wide open roads in the outback, the BBQ’s or Aussie beer? Or is it the country’s obsession with sport? If you visit Australia, search for an opportunity to join the locals at an Aussie Rule football game, a cricket match at the MCG or even a game of cricket in the back yard or at the beach. Join in the banter – it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are talking about, the banter is the sport within the Sport and unites Australians even when opinion is divided.
Tap into your hidden musician where Mozart and the Sound of Music dominate picturesque Salzburg. If exploring the town starts to feel a bit too touristy for you, simply look around at the amazing Austrian Alps and breathe in some fresh, mountain air.
Indulge in the best of Belgium (mussels, beer and chocolate) before walking it off through the medieval streets of picturesque and historical Bruges.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery is one of the most popular things to do on a trip to Bhutan and with good reason. The monastery clings to a cliff 900 metres about the valley and is a sacred pilgrimage site that Bhutanese people are encouraged to visit at least once in their lifetime. Its name is earned from a legend that Padmasambhava flew on the back of the tigress and meditated in a cave at the site. Take the hike at your own pace and enjoy the stunning landscape, enjoy some conversation with the locals on the trail and don’t get too excited when you reach what feels like the end of the road. Despite the sudden appearance of prayer flags, a lookout point and more even ground there is still a bit more climbing to do. Take off your shoes and leave your bags and camera in the lockers provided at the bottom of some steps, and start climbing. When you reach the top, you will feel the temperature drop a few degrees, notice a stronger breeze and feel you are on top of the world! There is something magical and powerful about the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Whilst Bolivia provides endless travel opportunities, it’s hard to escape the reality that most of the locals live in poverty and face hardship on a daily basis. If you have time, giving a little back through volunteering in Bolivia can be a rewarding, humbling and eye opening experience. The subject of volunteering is a contentious one, best suited to an article on that topic alone. But sitting on a crowded bus, followed by an uphill walk to a row of houses where dogs greet you angrily each morning, on your way to a small day care centre in a village dominated by women whose husbands have left the families to find work, is not only an opportunity to make new friends and get to know the locals, but can make a real difference to someone’s day. You don’t have to be trained in childcare to do the dishes, help make bread, serve the children lunch, wash their hair, clean the toilets and provide pens and reading materials.
Where are you if you are sitting in a mekoro (canoe) with a ‘poler’ standing at the back guiding you through the water with nothing more than a large pole, elephants chewing leaves from trees on a bank covered with giant termite mounds, stopping to watch a nearby hippo rise and fall beneath the water as the sun sets in front of you? The Okavanga Delta, a highlight of any trip to Botswana.
Cambodia has so many highlights it deserves a post on its own. But if you have seen enough temples in this particular trip, ridden the bamboo train in Battambang, completed the obligatory but sombre trips to S21 and the Killing Fields, partied with locals in a Phnom Penh club, taken a boat trip on the Mekong, done some volunteering with a local NGO, ridden a bike through villages surrounded by rice fields and vegetable plantations, played with the irresistibly cheeky children, enjoyed beef lok lak for dinner, relaxed in a hammock, put ice in your pint of beer and negotiated the price of a tuk tuk ride, then you may be ready for a change. Head to Mondulkiri, the eastern most province and least spoiled part of Cambodia…for now. Enjoy the scenic forest, elephant trekking, Bou Sraa waterfalls and visit local hill tribes before an improved road and hotel developments tarnish the region with the pitfalls of tourism.
Get your skates on during Winterlude, Ottawa’s winter festival, and glide along the Rideau Canal, which transforms into a 7.8km skateway when frozen. There are a number of stops along the way where you can warm up with a hot drink or some snacks. Keeping in theme you can then admire the ice sculptures competing in a Winterlude competition before finishing the evening with more ice...in your favourite cocktail.
Dive into the crystal clear water at Stingray City to get up close and personal with stingrays. Standing at the sandbar in three feet of water will see you greeted by nearly two dozen of these amazing creatures and you can get the adrenalin pumping even further by holding one as it swims towards you.
Get a taste of Tibetan culture in the main square of Shangri-La, where the locals congregate for an evening of dancing. Accept the wordless invitation to join a circle by taking hold of an outreached hand and try hopelessly to imitate the dance moves of the locals as they encourage you with good-natured laughter.
Avoid the summer crowds, put on a warm coat and visit the Christmas Markets in Prague. The main market lights up the Old Town Square with its Christmas lights and brightly coloured wooden huts, selling traditional handicrafts, food, drink and stocking fillers. If it gets too cold you can warm up in one of the many local bars, being careful to avoid the stereotypical bachelor parties visiting from the UK or other parts of Europe.
Go no further than the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Wander through the narrow cobbled streets with no itinerary and discover an enchanting maze of cafes, shops, and medieval history.
Take the journey from Aswan towards Luxor aboard a felucca, a traditional wooden sailing boat, on the Nile River. Take off your watch, sit back and get used to the gentle tipping sensation of the boat. Get ready for a few days of complete relaxation as you find time to read a book, write, sleep, wave back at the children on the banks of the Nile, make a few stops to rest your sea-legs and explore some historical sights and local villages, photograph the scenic countryside surrounding the Nile and if you have a football, get ready for an impromptu kick about with local kids as the sun is setting.
Being a lover of the outdoors means city escapes are not my favourite thing to do. Paris is an exception. I first visited Paris as a naïve ‘first time in Europe’ traveller more than a decade ago, I’ve seen Paris through the eyes of a local friend, I’ve been treated to nice dinners on work trips and I’ve returned a number of times as weekend traveller in both summer and winter. And I find myself gravitating towards the same things every time – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Montemarte and Sacre Couer, walks along the Seine River. Paris exudes romance, culture, history and character. If you visit Paris in summer, be sure to head to stretches of the Seine River that are transformed into a beach as they are filled with sand, lined with cafes and stalls, and filled with musicians and games.
Face a weekend of decision making in relaxed and walkable Berlin: beer or schnapps, schnitzel or sausage, pub or club?
Cross the Danube at the foot of Castle Hill on Chain Bridge to take a step back in time in the ‘old town’ of Budapest.
Join a 30 minute boat ride on the Jokularson Glacier Lagoon, get out your camera and be guided through an iceberg obstacle course. Keep an eye out for seals and as you marvel at the size and diverse shapes of the ice, remember you are only seeing less than 10% of the ice above water. After your boat trip, cross over the other side of the bridge and take a walk along the beach as you dodge the large chunks of ice washed up on the shore.
Having only visited Goa, my experience of India is limited. But if you are after a relaxing few days in the sun, with cool water in which to take a refreshing dip, local markets to explore in the evening and sharing the beach at sunset with fishermen, cows and local families playing games or swimming, then head to Palolem Beach.
Whilst seeing the best Ireland has to offer involves travelling further than Dublin, the country’s capital is still a must-see first stop. A night out in the touristy but fun Temple Bar district, a visit to the Guinness Factory, being surrounded by the endearing Irish accent, enjoying traditional Irish music at Dublin’s “highest” pub Johnny Foxes all provide a great introduction to Ireland. If you just happen to be in town for St Pat’s Day or to see U2 play at Croke Park, then all the better!
Food, culture, bars, clubs, shopping, opera, beaches, art and museums – the list of things to see and do in Italy is endless. But one way to experience the passionate nature of the Italian people first-hand is to attend a football game. Soak up the atmosphere in Stadio Olimpico as you cheer on one of Rome’s local teams, SS Lazio or AS Roma, or get close to the action in Parma where front row seats have you at eye level with the players. Just remember to find out who those sitting around you are supporting. Fans are segregated at football matches and you don’t want to find yourself cheering for the wrong team in the wrong section!
Heading to the popular Asakusa district in Tokyo is an opportunity to explore some of the best the city has to offer. Take the subway to get there, comparing the cleanliness and efficiency to that experienced in London and New York, relax in the city’s oldest temple Senso-ji, explore some of the unique shops leading up to the temple’s gate and sit back with a plate of sushi to enjoy a stint of people watching as you observe some of the most eclectic fashion in the world.
Learn to be a mahout for the day at an Elephant Camp near Luang Prabang. A mahout, who is usually trained at a young age, rides and cares for an elephant. The one-to-one relationship usually lasts the life of the elephant and the connection is quite amazing. After learning some of the key commands a mahout uses at the Camp, you will soon learn it’s not just the commands the elephant recognises but the voice of the mahout he has the connection with! You will also learn very quickly that mounting a bare-backed elephant from the ground is not as easy as it looks. Having the opportunity to feed the animals, take a solo bare-backed ride, a more comfortable ride in a wooden ‘chair’ and learning about the unique relationship a mahout has with his elephant culminates in a magical experience as you ride into the river to wash the elephant, bravely stand on his back on the water and are tipped into the Mekong for an unplanned swim
A great day trip from Lithuania’s capital Vilnius is Trakai, a picturesque sleepy lakeside town. Head to the station to board a local bus to transport you 28km from the capital, learning that behind the stern expression of the local women is a smile that lights up their faces, as your confusion with the local money raises a giggle from one selling tickets on board the bus. Get a window seat and enjoy the taste of Lithuanian countryside that awaits you as you head to the Trakai bus stop. Take a right out of the station and make your way to the red-bricked Gothic Island Castle that sits in the middle of lakes that each as far as the eye can see. It may be a cold visit in March, but dress warmly and you will be able to explore the castle without the hoards of weekend tourists and city-escapers who bombard the town in summer.
The country known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ is inhabited by some of the friendliest people you will meet in Africa, with smiles that hide the harsh reality that is Malawi – life expectancy of just 52 years, people living on an average of £1.25 a day, 11% HIV rates, 49% with no access to sanitation. Despite the extreme poverty in this country, the locals find things to be happy about and have a contagious smile and sense of humour. To experience some entertaining local interaction, bring something to barter rather than money and partake in friendly banter with the ‘Malawi boys’ at a roadside stall as you negotiate your exchange of a t shirt for a painting.
You cannot miss Sepilok Orang-Utan Sanctuary, but for something a bit different head to the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, an enjoyable day trip from Sandakan. Head for the feeding platforms that are less crowded than those at Sepilok, laugh at the antics and observe the interesting social behaviour of the harems interacting at the platforms. Decide for yourself if these strange creatures are somewhat endearing or just plain ugly.
To escape the humidity of Kuala Lumpur, head to the somewhat cooler Cameron Highlands where you can explore the tea plantations, do some hiking, soak in a tea bath or enjoy a tea scented massage.
Enjoy a sensory overload in Marrakesh at the Djamaa El Fna Square after an afternoon getting deliberately lost amongst the market stalls at the Souk. The square is a living stage of snake charmers, henna tattoists, monkey handlers, story tellers and so much more. You may even learn that a snake crapping on your arm means good luck!
After crossing the border from South Africa, enjoy the change of scenery as you jump in the back of land-cruiser in the only transportation possible on the sandy roads leading to a chilled out beach camp.
Mainstream travellers have avoided Myanmar for so long that restricting your visit to the ‘main four’ locations of Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan will provide you with the holiday of a lifetime. But if you want a little bit extra, spend $1.25 on a ticket for the relatively comfortable four hour bus ride to Monywa, a little riverside town north of Mandalay. Although the area boasts the impressive Thanboddhay Paya and Bodhi Tataung, it’s the seemingly insignificant moments that create the most memorable experiences in Monywa. Enjoy conversations with locals by the river during sunset, buy dinner from a street vendor who then invites you to eat with his family on small plastic stools on the side of the road, walk into a local hair salon and negotiate a hair wash with two young girls who don’t speak English resulting in an afternoon of entertaining communication through charades, and get chased down by a mother who wants you take a photo of her with her child.
Dispel or confirm the myths created in your mind from watching “The Gods Must Be Crazy” by camping with the Bushman in one of their villages. Meet the locals with the high cheekbones and triangular jawlines, no body hair and distinctive ‘clicking’ dialect, and learn more about their wave of life as they share their village and lifestyle with you.
Amsterdam, where it seems everything forbidden elsewhere is legal. It’s not all about the red light district, sex shows and smoking a joint in a coffee shop – but your first visit here will be!
Visit Norway’s “The Gateway to the Fjords” and UNESCO World Heritage Listed Bergen. Enjoy the ease of independent travel and use a combination of trains, buses and boats to explore the majestic and picturesque Sognefjord and Hardangerdjord.
Visiting the Genocide Museum in Rwanda is a sombre reminder of the terrifying ability of human beings to turn on each and inflict unspeakable horrors. Watching the locals go about daily life in Rwanda today is an inspiring reminder of the strength and resilience of the human race. A visit to the Parcs de Volcans in Rwanda is a reprieve from the scars of the country’s past and a lesson in how locals are learning to co-exist with another neighbour in the area – the endangered mountain gorilla. Gorilla trekking is not only one of the highlights of visiting Rwanda, but one of the most amazing things you can do in the whole of Africa. Only 8 groups of 8 are people are permitted into the area per day and expensive permits ($500 when I visited) must be pre-booked. Trekking through the lush, green, scenic park can take anywhere from 1 hour to 6 hours and with the help of armed and trained trackers, you walk until the obstacle in front of you is a family of protected mountain gorillas. After the silverback mock charges you in a territorial statement, you will enjoy an hour watching these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. An unforgettable experience.
The possibilities are endless in South Africa, an incredibly diverse and beautiful country. Adrenalin sports, stunning beaches, great nightlife, a chance to see the Big Five – the list goes on. But for a truly unique experience, be sure to stop by Tenikwa Cat Sanctuary, a rehabilitation and release organisation that offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with leopard, cheetah, African wild cat, servals and more. An extra bonus is the chance to take a cheetah for a walk!
Enjoy three of the things the Spanish do better than anyone else in the world – tapas, siesta and late night party (in that order).
The road from Colombo to Kandy provides a great day out, especially if your visit to Kandy culminates in the Kandy Festival. On route you can watch elephants bath in front of a tropical and picturesque backdrop at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, see and learn about tea plantations, drive through characteristic villages and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul with an Ayurveda treatment in the mountains.
Escape the jeep with a walking safari in Hlane National Park where, if you are lucky, you may find yourself standing a few metres away from a Rhino.
Switzerland contains beautiful landscapes as far as the eye can see and Lucerne is a particular pretty location to spend a night. Attractive to tourists for its souvenir and watch shops, the lakeside setting provides a stunning background to a walkable town and you can even get a cable car up to the mountains to spend the night with a view of snow and clouds.
Treat yourself to your own Out of Africa experience with a balloon ride over the majestic Serengeti. Set your alarm for an early rise as you head to your balloon as the sun is rising. Enjoy the bird’s eye view of lion cubs running after their mother, impala grazing not knowing if today is the day one of the plains’ predators catch up with them, a hyena taking the solo walk looking for someone else’s catch to scavenge, wildebeest standing around in their groups, zebra crossings littered across the ground by actual zebra, and the giraffe and elephant that are so large on the ground looking like plastic toys. After (quite literally) hitting the ground, enjoy the champagne breakfast and five star service and make the most of the ‘room with a view’ toilets that feel like quite the upgrade after the bush stops and camp toilets you are returning to.
Get yourself to Trat and hop on the ferry heading to paradise on earth, the island of Koh Chang. Charge up your Kindle, don your fisherman’s pants and tank top, put your sunscreen on, get out the sunglasses and hat and you are all set for complete relaxation. Beat the heat with a dip in the crystal clear water and when you are feeling exhausted from lying in the sun doing nothing but relaxing, take a walk into ‘town’ for a browse through the local shops. End your day with some fresh seafood cooked and served on the beachfront and a cold beer and what more do you need?
Put on your hiking boots for some exploration amongst the unique rock formations in Cappodocia, after the long 12 hour overnight bus ride from Istanbul. The reddish-coloured landscape filled with fairy chimneys featured in the first Star Wars movie and it’s not difficult to imagine yourself on another planet as you hike through this surreal part of Turkey. As you enjoy the slow and relaxed pace of life in the region, transport yourself back in time with a stay in an underground cave hotel.
If you haven’t been white-water rafting before why not start on the Nile River at Jinja, Uganda with the grade 5 rapids on the Nile River that are reputed to be the best in the world. Get your adrenalin pumping as you approach the first of ten rapids at Bujagali Falls and get ready to get wet! Just when you think your heart can’t pump any harder, you can take a rest over lunch before a nice, long stretch of calm water allows you to close your eyes and soak up the sun or dive in for a swim before the final few rapids. You will also be joined by solo kayakers who will help you get back to the raft after the inevitable spills, collect your oar as it starts floating away and entertain you with incredible, acrobatic kayaking along the way.
There are so many ‘off the beaten track’ suggestions I have for the United Kingdom but sometimes you just can’t beat a good old fashioned, cheesy, touristy day out. Get your tube pass, put your camera around your neck and stand on the ‘’wrong side’ of the escalators in the tube station with you’re A-to-Z map in your hand. Head to Marble Arch and pay a ridiculously high amount for a “Hop-On-Hop-Off” ticket on a big open bus sightseeing tour and start to tick off your “London checklist” of tourist attractions - Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Dungeon, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park.
I’ve had to spend quite a lot of time in LA this year with my job and have been fortunate to have some weekend time to explore other parts of California. The diversity of the Californian landscape is quite mind blowing and if you need to be reminded how insignificant we are as a human race in relation to the great outdoors, go no further than Yosemite. Yosemite has something for everyone – a range of accommodation options, activities for children, families, hikers, rock climbers and cyclists and is a photographer’s playground.
Get off the well-beaten tourist track in Vietnam and hop on the back of an Easy Rider’s motorbike. After an intense introduction to Vietnam in Hoh Chi Minh City and a relaxing overnight stay in the sleepy beach town of Mui Ne, leave the comfort of the overnight tourist buses and get up close and personal with the locals on the four hour bus ride on the winding, mountainous road to Dalat. It won’t take you long to find an Easy Rider who are easy to spot with their blue and red-trimmed jackets and more often than not they will find you first. A 3-4 day trip will take you through the Central Highlands to the coastal town of Nah Trang, but if you have the time I highly recommend the less direct route. Changing my mind and direction on the third day added Pleiku, Kon Tum, Dak To and Aluoi to my itinerary and exposed me to the lush, scenic, remote and historic Hoh Chi Minh Trail. There were days we interacted with friendly locals, days we didn’t see any Westerners, days we hardly saw anyone at all, days we searched for a road-side sugarcane stall to escape from the sun in a hammock with our drink in its plastic bag and straw, days we had on heavy jackets and rode in the cold and rain, and evenings eating amazing food on small plastic chairs in family run restaurants. If you want to experience a part of Vietnam seldom visited by tourists and if you are comfortable with the absence of English-speaking locals and translated menus and signs, this is the experience for you. If you are someone who isn’t comfortable with an unplanned itinerary when you travel, don’t fear – you can also book with Easy Rider through the internet before you arrive.
In addition to being a gateway to the thunderous and powerful Victoria Falls, Livingstone is an adrenalin junkie hotspot. If you’d prefer to jump off a cliff feet first rather than head first, avoid bungee jumping and try the gorge swing instead. Get strapped into a harness, sign the disclaimer where you promise not the sue the company if you break your neck, take a step off a 100 metre high cliff and free fall 53 metres to end up swinging across the gorge for a minute that feels like hours. After the gorge swing, spending the afternoon walking with lion cubs will feel like a piece of cake!
Do you have your own ‘idea’ for one of these countries, or do you have a magical experience to share from a country not on this list? I’d love to hear your ideas!