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!