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.

Continue reading

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

scary travel experience

The first travel experience I nearly backed out of

I like to think of myself as a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but put me in water and all my bravado dissipates. As a child, I was not a strong swimmer. Fortnightly lessons for a year in primary school weren’t enough for me to find my fins. As an adult, I have improved marginally but I never stray far from the shore.

With this in mind, when Peter suggested booking our first dive, I agreed with hesitance. The idea put butterflies in my stomach – a rare feeling for someone who never gets nervous. As neither of us had dived before, we were warned that the deepest we could go was 12 metres. I looked 12 metres off into the distance – it would be deep enough for me. Continue reading

kayaking Erakor-Island-Vanuatu

Kayaking Erakor Island, Vanuatu

Usually on a Friday morning, I would be at my desk at 80 Strand looking over my calendar and thanking God I have only three meetings instead of six. And then there’s email – the neverending battle with wave after wave of email.  But yesterday was no ordinary Friday morning. Instead of sitting at an office desk, I was lounging in a kayak in the Pacific Ocean heading over to explore a tiny island barefoot. Continue reading

24 hour flight

How to handle a 24 hour flight

Oh, the horror! Twenty-four hours in a tin can full of other people is no-one’s idea of fun, but when you’re heading to the other side of the world, it can’t really be avoided. Our flight(s) from London to Port Vila via Singapore and Brisbane meant a total transit time of 36 hours – 24 of which were in flight. By the time we reached our hotel, we were in a zombie-like state but still human. Here’s how we coped with our 24 hour flight.  Continue reading

Farewell,-London

Farewell, London

Today is our last day in this blustery city we call London. It feels strange, particularly for me as it’s the only city in which I’ve lived. Peter has moved around – Norwich, Cambridge, Northampton – but for me London has always been home. It’s where I made my friends for life, where I graduated, where all my nieces and nephews were born, where my father passed away, where I fell in love, where everything I hold dear resides. Continue reading