Mekong river cruise: an indie traveller’s first time on tour

I didn’t know what to expect of my Mekong river cruise through Vietnam and Cambodia. Firstly, I was travelling without Peter for the first time in four years. Secondly, I’d read mixed reviews of Vietnam and, thirdly, I was embarking on a tour with a pre-planned itinerary.

I won’t pretend that my ‘indie’ travel has been all hostels and roaches. My commissions outside of Atlas & Boots have taken me to numerous luxury resorts around the world, but I’d never before joined a scheduled group tour. Continue reading

Celebrating two years of Atlas & Boots

When we officially launched Atlas & Boots in August 2014, we agreed that it would be a blog for travellers, not a blog for bloggers.

The mechanics of running a site are certainly of interest to a minority of readers, but we wanted to spend our time talking to travellers, not looking inward.

With that said, the two-year mark seems a good time to take stock of where we are, to celebrate our achievements and to look forward to the challenges ahead. Continue reading

Horse riding in Cappadocia

Stone rangers: horse riding in Cappadocia

In his 2009 memoir, journalist Sathnam Sanghera recalls a date with a Sikh girl who describes in detail the intricacies of the movie Police Academy.

Sathnam asks how she happens to remember so much about the film and she replies, “Asian girl. Didn’t get out much in the eighties.”

I laughed because her quip so perfectly captured my early years as an Asian girl in Britain. Despite being born and bred in London, I lived (and chafed) under an extensive set of strict rules which governed what I wore, what I ate, where I went, who I saw and what time I would be home after a day at school/college/university.

I tell you this now to try and relay the small moments of wonder that tend to hit me when I’m travelling – because here I am, in cowboy gaiters, on a horse, riding through the dusty landscape of Cappadocia and the best way to describe the feeling is freedom. Continue reading

I haven’t chosen travel over kids; I just don’t want any

I recently came across a friend’s Facebook status which made me laugh because it echoed conversations with my own family.

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A friend’s Facebook status (posted with permission)

The pressure to settle down comes not just from family but often friends, colleagues and acquaintances too. Sometimes, the nagging is lighthearted. At others, it’s annoying. Occasionally, it’s downright offensive. Continue reading

Temple of Artemis: should Britain give back its stolen treasures?

I squinted at the map on my phone, reading the tiny numbers in the afternoon glare of an unforgiving sun. The Temple of Artemis was definitely marked on the map – number 23.

We had spent the morning at Ephesus, Turkey’s iconic archaeological site, and were now in search of the Temple of Artemis, one of the famed seven wonders of the ancient world.

We had walked down three different paths and hit boundaries of the site, unable to locate the seemingly mythical temple. Eventually, we traipsed to the South Gate, arms held out at unnatural angles to let air around our sweating skin. We were welcomed at the gate by a typically gregarious Turk who cheerily told us the Temple of Artemis wasn’t in the complex of Ephesus at all but 3km away, back near town. Continue reading

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Hiking first aid kit: an essential checklist

Peter and I have a running joke that I’ve fallen off my bike in the most beautiful places in the world, from Bora Bora to the Galápagos Islands. The worst fall happened when cycling through the quiet country lanes of our tiny French village.

I hit the ground first with a knee, then a hip, then my head. Stupidly, I put my dirtied fingers into my mouth to check if I had lost a tooth. I hadn’t but there was plenty of blood. Later, I paid the price for this mistake. I spent the afternoon not only shaken by the accident but throwing up whatever nasty substance I had drawn into my mouth.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to avoid similar incidents while hiking but it’s likely a matter of time given that we at Atlas & Boots enjoy things like climbing Nevis Peak unguided and trekking active volcanoes. As such, I’ve put aside my complacency and put together a hiking first aid kit, perfect for those who wander outdoors. Here’s what’s in it. Continue reading

Risky travel: how much is too much?

On Tuesday 7th June 2016, a bomb went off in central Istanbul, killing 11 people and injuring 36 others. The news was particularly sobering because we had been in the city only a day and a half before.

We had spent a few weeks travelling through parts of western Turkey, stopping in Istanbul, Selçuk and Ephesus, Denizli, Pamukkale and Cappadocia and finishing off in Istanbul. On the flight back to London, I mentally planned the post I wanted to write: a call for tourists to start visiting Turkey again, to experience the iconic landscapes, historic architecture, delicious food and amazing people of Turkey. Continue reading

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The Blue Mosque dress code and tips for entry

The third or maybe fourth time I met Peter’s parents, I spent 10 minutes beforehand fretting that my top was too low.

Peter rolled his eyes. “For God’s sake, my mum wears lower-cut tops than that!”

I laughed, flung on a cardigan and readied to leave. His family are thankfully far more liberal than mine.

My neurosis about modesty – a hangover from my Muslim roots – sees me pinning together anything lower than a vicar’s collar any time I visit my Mum. Knowing this, you’ll understand why I was in a tizz over the Blue Mosque dress code and associated etiquette during our recent trip to Istanbul. Continue reading

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4 heartwarming travel tales

1. How a mother lost in travel chaos was found

Cancelled. Cancelled. Cancelled, begins Agnes Mwangale’s tale of travel. It was 6pm on 15th April 2010 and she had just arrived at Toronto airport. As she scanned the arrivals board, her stomach churned and she realised that everything would not be okay – despite the promise she had made her mother. Continue reading

The lighthearted side of Muslim men

Attallah Alblwi towers over me. Dressed in a gleaming white thawb, chequered keffiyeh and black agal, he is the type of man I’d normally find intimidating. Normally, I would associate him with the archetypal Muslim man: ascetic, righteous, upstanding; more concerned with decorum than needless things like fun and laughter. The Muslim men of my youth were idealised as guardians, protectors, keepers. They had no time for chatter or banter.

Attallah, however, has a playful smile and generous laugh, so full and deep that I wonder if there’s something more ‘interesting’ in his famous Bedouin tea. Continue reading

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How to improve your vocabulary: 6 tips for language learners

After five months in South America followed by several months of self study, I’ve finally got a handle on Spanish grammar. I’ve now shifted focus onto vocabulary which is much more fun. As part of my efforts, I’ve put together six tips on how to improve your vocabulary, along with useful tools that will help at each juncture. If you’ve successfully improved your vocabulary in a foreign language, share your secrets in the comments below. Continue reading

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How to start a travel blog – a professional guide

At Atlas & Boots, we are periodically approached for advice on how to start a travel blog. To help future bloggers, we have put our knowledge into a comprehensive but concise guide below. This covers not only the technical aspects of how to start a travel blog but also the editorial, helping you to plan, maintain and grow your blog in a professional way. Without further preamble, let’s begin. Continue reading

Most popular languages being learned around the world

At Atlas & Boots, we have mentioned Duolingo in nearly all our language posts, be it expert tips for learning multiple languages or tools for lazy learners. We are big fans of the app and were intrigued by its recent findings on the most popular languages being studied around the world.

The team mined data from every country in the world over the course of three months to identify the most popular languages being studied by its 120 million users. The results are fascinating. Continue reading

Lowest point on Earth: visiting the Dead Sea

Peter loves collecting titles. So far, we’ve seen the driest place on Earth (Atacama Desert), the hottest place on Earth (Death Valley), the northernmost capital in the world (Reykjavik), the highest capital in the world (be it La Paz or Quito), the highest point in Africa (Mt. Kilimanjaro), the seven world wonders, the tallest mountain in the world (Mauna Kea), the end of the world (Ushuaia) and the international date line.

So, when the prospect of visiting the lowest point on Earth presented itself, Peter was predictably keen. Continue reading

Visiting Petra: things to know before you go

If Christ the Redeemer is the most underwhelming experience of the seven world wonders, then visiting Petra must be the opposite. This “rose-red city half as old as time” was hewn from sandstone thousands of years ago.

Built by the Nabateans, possibly as early as 312 BC, Petra became a thriving trade center with over 30,000 people living within its boundaries. It was the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom from 400 BC until 106 AD when the Romans formally took possession. Continue reading

The ultimate guide to packing light

I started our big trip across the South Pacific and South America with a 45-litre backpack weighing 13kg. Over the course of the trip, I managed to drop a fair bit of weight and get my bag down to 10kg. Evidently, I had failed in packing light from the start.

In some ways, overpacking is a rite of passage: you have to do it to learn how not to do it. Of course there is an easier way. By gleaning advice from other travellers and being strict with yourself, packing light will become far easier. Here’s where to start. Continue reading

Most active volcanoes in the world

Volcanoes are inarguably nature’s most fearsome wonder. They feature in tales of ardour and heroism, tower terrifyingly above humble settlements and whisper threats of violence and destruction. They are overwhelming in both sight and sound and uniquely exhilarating for the intrepid observer.

The world’s most active volcanoes in particular offer a terrifying beauty irresistible to thrillseekers. Continue reading

10 newbie diving mistakes

At Atlas & Boots, we’ve dived in some incredible places, from Vanuatu and Samoa to Tonga and the Galápagos. Alas, it has been a whole year since our last dive and I fear making newbie diving mistakes the next time we head out.

I was a nervous first-time diver and I’m conscious of losing what confidence I built up after completing my PADI Open Water Diver course in Colombia. Sadly, there aren’t many opportunities to dive in London (especially in March) so I’m keen to brush up on my skills as soon as we head to Africa in August. Continue reading

World’s most stressed countries – ranked

It happened on a Wednesday morning. The Sandwich Man – dressed in a red T-shirt with white lettering – rode past me on his bicycle on the same stretch of the same road at the same time as the day before. I watched him roll by in a sobering moment that recalled all the horror of the five-day commute: the cyclical days, the tussling masses, the dull ebbing of a scripted month.

It took great effort to remind myself that my city, London, is in one of the safest countries in the world. More relevantly, it’s also in one of the least stressed countries in the world according to Bloomberg. We take a look at the data below.
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The countries I least want to see

“So what’s the plan after Africa?” I ask Peter.
He shrugs nonchalantly. “We’ll see after Africa.”
I frown.

As ever, I need a game plan. I know we’re planning to head to Africa in the summer but what comes after? Do we settle in London and travel in between things? Do we stay on the road? Do we move to Sri Lanka of which we occasionally and idly dream?

If I could choose, I’d settle somewhere quiet like our beloved tiny French village. The problem is, there’s still so much more I want to see.
Continue reading