useful travel sites

5 useful travel sites you probably don’t use – and 5 others you probably do

A year before we left for our travels, I considered hosting Couchsurfers in my flat. I saw it as a way of investing in the Couchsurfing community before tapping into some of the good karma on our travels abroad. Alas, I was instead seduced by Airbnb with its clean design, intuitive user experience, useful reviewing system and, of course, the chance to make some extra money for our travels. Surprisingly, we haven’t used Couchsurfing on the road. Peter and I agree that paying for accommodation makes us feel more comfortable and less indebted to our hosts. That may change when we start to get low on funds but for now we remain true products of our decorous western society. That’s basically a long-winded way of saying you won’t find Couchsurfing on the list below but you will find 10 other sites that are excellent for travel, both long-term and short-term. Continue reading

rarotonga-tips-for-travel

Rarotonga tips: 5 things to know before you go

One of the disadvantages of travelling in the South Pacific (if there can be such a thing) is the lack of infrastructure for backpackers. It can be done on a shoestring but it’s certainly more difficult than say Southeast Asia or Europe. At home in London, we knew no-one that had visited places like Tonga or Rarotonga, so first-hand wisdom was very hard to come by. We largely managed with internet research and guidebook information – until we got to Rarotonga where we were hit by a few surprises. Below, we share the Rarotonga tips learnt to help future visitors prepare for what’s in store. Continue reading

where are you from originally feat

Tackling the ‘where are you from originally?’ question

I’ve mentioned before that my indeterminate brown-ness juxtaposed with my British accent tends to confuse people, especially when I’m on the road. The way I see it, I can answer ‘where are you from’ in three ways:

    1. Say London. If probed, give the back-story.
    2. Say London. If probed, feign ignorance and doggedly repeat that I’m from London.
    3. Say London but volunteer the back-story as that’s probably what they’re after anyway.

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robert louis stevenson museum

Robert Louis Stevenson museum: an unexpected highlight of Samoa

The Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Samoa was an unexpected highlight of our trip to Samoa. A cursory cultural stop became a genuinely fascinating morning.

“The Booker Prize money wouldn’t even keep me in cigarettes,” once quipped best-selling crime writer Martina Cole. Faced with snobbery over the type of commercial fiction she writes, the irreverent author’s swipe highlighted the fact that commercial fiction subsidises literary fiction, allowing publishers to publish the highbrow literature that hardly anyone buys.

It was perhaps a similar snobbery that excluded author Robert Louis Stevenson from The Norton Anthology of English Literature for 32 years, and the reason why he was entirely unmentioned in the 2000-page Oxford Anthology of English Literature in 1973. Modern critics have censured his style as simplistic, but if raw and compelling storytelling holds any value at all, surely Stevenson would be among the greats. Continue reading

remote travel

Remote travel: worth the pain?

Peter surveyed our surroundings. “Are you going to be okay here?” he asked nervously, recalling my breakdown at Beverley’s Beach.

We had just finished our tour of the facilities at Mafana Island’s eco lodge off the coast of Vava’u in Tonga. Peter, who has spent months of his life wild camping, was unfazed but I hadn’t dealt with anything so basic since my trip to Bangladesh 20 years ago.  Was I going to cope? Continue reading

16 ugly buildings I actually sort of love

I’ve spoken before of my part-time love of architecture. I openly admire Gothic and Art Noveau but secretly I’ve always loved Brutalist. I say ‘secretly’ because Brutalist buildings are ugly – seriously ugly – but there’s also a bleak and haunting beauty amid the ugliness. Here are my favourite Brutalist structures (sometimes known as ugly buildings) from around the world.

In general, I have plucked images from Wikipedia rather than using artsy, filtered shots from funky angles, so that I can showcase the true horror of these structures. Tell me what I missed in the comments below. (Or call me a philistine devoid of any taste whatsoever.) Continue reading

An Atheist and a Muslim walk into a church…

“Do you have faith?”
Peter stumbled for a response. “I’m sorry?”
“Do you have faith?” the priest repeated matter-of-factly.
Peter stopped loading his plate with cucumber sandwiches. “Um, yes,” he managed before quietly shuffling away, elaborating no further.

The question, anodyne as it was, was unexpected. We had enjoyed a relaxing day at his friend’s summer wedding in the beautiful English countryside and weren’t expecting to share our religious affiliations with the head of service in the buffet queue. Continue reading

best decision i ever made

The best decision I ever made

I first came across the phrase ‘experienced wellbeing’ in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. The psychologist and Nobel Prize winner uses it to explain some facts about happiness, the most intriguing of which is that a person’s level of happiness increases with the amount of money they earn – but only up to a household income of $75,000 (£46,000) per year. After that, the increase of wellbeing in relation to increased wealth is, on average, zero. Continue reading

benefits-of-budget-travel

5 benefits of budget travel

“I’m sorry, Estée. I know you don’t belong here but I need you.”

If there were ever a sign that you’ve been roughing it too long, apologising to your eye gel would surely qualify. We’d been in Samoa for 15 days staying in a mixture of roadside motels and traditional beach fales, all with cold-water bathrooms shared with other backpackers as well as a host of bugs, moths and mosquitoes. As I propped up my bottle on a thorny wooden ledge, I found myself apologising for the impropriety. Estée Lauder belonged elsewhere. Continue reading

5 surprising facts about Samoa

After nearly a month in Samoa – a country we fell in love with – we reveal five incredibly surprising facts about Samoa we learned during our stay.

surprising facts about Samoa

facts about samoa samoans are deeply religious

If you were asked to name the most religious countries in the world, chances are your list would be similar to mine. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would be up there as would Brazil and Italy. In the spectrum from Saudi to Sweden, I would put Samoa somewhere in the middle, especially in relation to the Abrahamic religions. Turns out, I’d be wrong. Continue reading

da-craterman-samoa

Meeting “Da Craterman – world famous in Samoa”

The day started badly. Our taxi was 30 minutes late, which isn’t so awful considering we were on island time but we were desperate to beat the midday sun on our six-hour round trip to Mount Matavanu Crater. Despite this, we cheerily greeted our driver who dropped us off at the base of the crater.

We started off at a decent pace, our sturdy hiking boots serving us well. However, an hour in we realised that we had been stupidly complacent: with just one flask of water, already half drunk, we were going to struggle to stay hydrated. Continue reading

what-not-to-pack

What not to pack: things we’ve dumped on the road so far

Before we left London, I practised walking with my backpack on for 20 minutes. I just about managed it but it was HEAVY. Add in the searing heat, drenching humidity and uneven terrain of the road, and 20 minutes feels near impossible. Thus, we’ve found ourselves frequently dumping stuff we had deemed necessary mere weeks before. Here’s a list of the offending items in case you’re tempted to make the same mistakes. Continue reading

things-travel-writers-dont-tell-you

5 things travel writers don’t tell you

Before I quit my job to travel, I worked at roughguides.com for two years and, before that, as Features Editor at Asian Woman and Asian Bride magazines. During this time, I noticed some common themes and phrases emerge in the travel writing I read: diners always enjoyed “hearty fare”, cabins were always “nestled among” something, and seas always comprised “azure waters” (that last one I’m guilty of myself). Far less often, I came across writing that offered a rawer insight into the travel experience – and it was always refreshing when I did. In reality, travel isn’t always amazing. Sometimes, it’s downright disappointing but we rarely admit to this. Here are five truths travel writers don’t like to tell you. Continue reading

stunning-film-locations-we-love

5 stunning film locations we love

The first time I went to New York back in 2000, I was uncertain that I would enjoy it. It loomed large and vivid in my mind, woven by a hundred films I’d seen in the past. The noise, colour and oversize personality depicted on screen were sure to be a letdown – how could they not be?

Of course, I was wrong. I absolutely loved New York. Still in its pre-9/11 era, the city was vibrant and welcoming. The food, the energy, the delicious September weather was heady and romantic, just like in the films. Continue reading

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu feat

Exploring the dark depths of Millennium Cave in Vanuatu

We’re two weeks into our long-awaited round-the-world trip and already in the midst of a haze of activity. So far, we’ve had a day at Kiwanis (Vanuatu’s annual horse-racing event), swum beneath Mele Cascades waterfall, kayaked to Erakor Island, dived for the first time ever and seen the wreck of the SS Coolidge.

Every day has brought a new experience, the most demanding of which has been the Millennium Cave Tour, a trek through Vanuatu’s biggest cave located on the outskirts of Luganville.

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backpacker-problems

Backpacker problems: 7 things I struggled with in my first month on the road

So here we are: firmly in the midst of our trip of a lifetime. It’s been exactly one month since we left London – one amazing month during which we swam beneath waterfalls, kayaked to desert islands, went diving for the first time, explored the depths of Millennium Cave and stared into the crater of an active volcano.

It’s turned out to be far better and easier than I had predicted. Of course, there have been some backpacker problems  I’ve struggled with – some expected and others not. Continue reading

learning to dive

Learning to dive, learning to quit

“Life’s too short for bad books,” a friend once told me. We had been swapping recommendations for a while and I was aghast that he had given up on The Kite Runner. “Keep at it,” I urged. “You’ll love it.”

He shrugged. “If I’m not enjoying a book within the first two chapters, that’s it.” He mimed throwing it away.

“I wish I could be more like you,” I had said. And I meant it. You see, I’m the type of person that will doggedly pursue a book or a task or a project that I’m not enjoying only so that I can finish it. Reading A Suitable Boy was the only thing entirely in my control that I ever gave up on – and it bugs me even today. Continue reading

50-things-to-do-before-youre-12

50 things to do before you’re 12

Two years ago, I came across The National Trust’s charming ’50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾’ campaign, designed to get more kids out and about. I read through the list (below) and, to my dismay, realised that I had completed less than half the list. As I said at the time, growing up in London sucks.

I was reminded of the list a few days ago halfway up a tree on Tanna Island’s Little Beach. A mere two weeks on the road and I was more in touch with nature than in the two years since I first read the list. Evidently, living in London also sucks. Continue reading