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The Expat Experience

At one time or another, we have all dreamed of leaving it all behind: of quitting our jobs, packing up our lives and moving to sunnier climes. Some people actually do it. In fact, hundreds of thousands make the move every single year. For many, it turns out to be the best decision of their lives. Others say the expat life is overrated. To get a first-hand look at the truth, we’re inviting expats from all over the world to take our survey on the Expat Experience. Your answers will be used to inform future posts on Atlas and Boots and will help us decide if the expat life might be right for us. Continue reading

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Off the beaten canyon: exploring Grand Canyon’s hidden gems

This article featured on Lonely Planet as one of their top posts from February 2015.

There’s something familiar about the Grand Canyon. Its dramatic landscape and red-gold hues have been depicted in movies, posters, pencil cases and postcards. It’s a recurring symbol of the road movie, a faithful slice of wholesome Americana – and, yet, when you see it for the first time, it’s still daunting, still overwhelming. Its sheer scale stretches for 277 miles (446km) along the course of the Colorado River, reminding you that America isn’t just a land of super-sized McDonald’s and greasy hotdogs; it’s home to some of the most beautiful scenery on the face of this Earth. Continue reading

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Our unexpected great American road trip

We never even planned to be in the US!

In fact, we should have been about 3,000 miles further south by the time we rocked up on Venice Beach in LA, mixing with the crowds of hippies, hipsters, tourists and homeless. I’ll admit that with my two-month old beard, huge backpack and threadbare flip flops, I blended in most with the latter.

In the two weeks since our arrival, we have crossed four states on our American road trip, seeing an array of landscapes straight out of the movies. From snowcapped mountain ranges to tumbleweed-strewn deserts, from glitzy casinos and roadside motels to the empty and silent towns of the Midwest, we saw it all. And it was magical. Continue reading

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Pearl Harbor Memorial: a Brit’s view

Our day starts with a 50-minute wait for the bus in Honolulu’s main thoroughfare. An hour after that, we find ourselves crawling along in the capital’s multi-lane traffic – not what we imagined when we planned our eight-mile journey in this supposed island paradise.

Kia tosses me a look. “I hope this is worth it,” she says with a tone that sounds sweet to the ears but hides much promise of pain.

“It will be,” I assure her, quietly gulping.

As the son of a history teacher, I’ve long been fascinated by the seminal events of days gone past. It started with small, poignant pieces of knowledge like the fact that more soldiers die of disease than violence, or that more soldiers die after a war ends than before because of veteran depression. These people, their lives, their decisions seemed so much bigger, so much sadder than mine. Continue reading

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Mauna Kea: summiting the world’s tallest mountain

Hawaii’s Mauna Kea takes the crown as the world’s tallest mountain. Mauna Kea is a monumental 9,330m (30,610ft) in height from base to peak.

Okay, so we all know that Mount Everest is Earth’s highest mountain, measuring at a staggering 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level. What’s less well known is that if you measure from base to peak, it’s not Everest but Hawaii’s Mauna Kea that takes the crown as the world’s tallest mountain. Mauna Kea lies largely hidden beneath the ocean surface but is a monumental 10,203m (33,476ft) in height from base to peak.

It was because of this astonishing fact that we couldn’t resist spending our precious few hours in Hawaii driving halfway across the “Big Island” and upwards to Mauna’s dizzying summit. We had agonised over the decision. Visiting Hawaii on a cruise meant we had limited time on land and we had to choose between Mauna Kea and the renowned volcano park. In the end, we couldn’t resist the call of the tallest mountain on Earth. Continue reading

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Why I’m actually happiest travelling with my girlfriend

Okay, so I have to be very careful here. If I miss the mark on this I risk offending all women and marking myself out as a chauvinist pig. On top of that I’ll offend Kia and, trust me, Kia when angry redefines those famous sayings about women scorned.

So here we go.

Travelling with a woman, particularly your girlfriend, is different to travelling alone.

Until I met Kia I really only knew how to travel by myself. Nearly all of my longer jaunts away had been solo. Alone, I could throw caution to the wind and change my plans at the drop of a hat. While we’re on the subject I could wear that hat Kia’s since banned (apparently, it makes me look like Michael Moore). Anyway, the point being I was responsible for me and me alone. Continue reading

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16 fragile and failed states

As we continue our trip around the globe, there are some areas of the world we are forced to avoid. Instability and unrest in these regions often make them unsafe or irresponsible choices for tourists. When we make the very easy decision not to go, it’s easy to forget that these failed states are home to millions of people who struggle every day if not for survival then a very basic level of wellbeing. Below we take a look at some of these failed states and the monumental troubles they face. Continue reading

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When backpackers end up on a luxury cruise

Talk about being out of our depth. Kia and I depart for Los Angeles today in rather ridiculous fashion considering our financial position: on a Princess luxury cruise!

We’ve been “stranded” in Tahiti for the past month, unable to afford flights eastwards to the Americas. We were planning to fly from Tahiti to Chile, but the cheapest flight we could find in December was in the thousands as opposed to hundreds. With that in mind, we took a modest room in Tahiti and relaxed for Christmas, hoping prices would drop in the new year.

Prices didn’t drop. Continue reading

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Bora Bora lagoon tour: money well spent

When we landed in Bora Bora, we were worried. Really worried.

It was the worst weather we’d seen in the Pacific. And I’m not talking about the tropical storm with torrential downpours and billowing breakers kind of bad weather, which is wretched but at least dramatic. I’m talking about miserable damp-towel, grey skies and sodden ground kind of bad weather. The sort of bad weather that signifies winter (and autumn and spring and often summer) in London – the sort of tedium we were trying to escape.

“I’m sure it will burn off,” I said confidently to Kia, not entirely convinced by my own optimism.

Luckily for us, it did burn off… after three days! Continue reading

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The world’s most divisive destinations

Should we or shouldn’t we go?

There are some travel destinations that no matter how picture perfect their landscapes or how much history steeped in their ancient lands, will always provoke a strong reaction in traveller circles. Whether it’s for political, geographical or social reasons, these divisive destinations will likely divide opinion for a very long time.

Below we look at some of the most contentious and divisive destinations that rightly or wrongly pull in the tourist crowds year after year. Continue reading

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49 quick tips for your first time in India

During my first time in India, I was a relatively inexperienced traveller: I was overwhelmed by its beauty and stunned by its poverty, just as any first-time visitor. The second time I went to India, I expected to be more familiar with its various vagrancies. In reality, I was overwhelmed and stunned just as before. That said, second time around, I managed to avoid making (some of) the mistakes I made before. When I go back again, and I will go back, I hope to make even fewer mistakes. I’ll never fully understand this vast and contrasting country (that’s what makes it so alluring) but I have gathered some wisdom ­I can share – some obvious, some not. My list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s enough to get you started. Continue reading

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How to take better travel photos

I’ve been involved in photography in one way or another for 12 years now. At university, I studied photography and video and went on to work as a camera operator followed by seven years of teaching photography at secondary school level. More recently, I have sold my landscape and travel photography online and to various publications and now, while travelling, it has become my only source of income which is somewhat terrifying! Along the way, my photography has constantly improved and I hope will continue to. If you’re a budding travel photographer, start with the tips below on how to take better travel photos. Continue reading

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8 things to do with an 8-hour Auckland layover

We recently had a long Auckland layover between Tonga and our onward flight to Rarotonga. We hate to miss an opportunity to see a bit more of the world and another stamp in our passports made this an opportunity too good to pass up. The friendliest custom officials in the world and easy transport connections meant that we could make the best of our time in Auckland (despite the London-esque weather) and still have time to relax and make our onward flight. Here’s what we recommend on a limited timeframe during an Auckland layover . Continue reading

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Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga

Swimming with humpback whales in Tonga was a truly humbling experience that very nearly didn’t happen for us! But luck was on our side that day.

It was late October, approaching the very end of Tonga’s whale watching season. We had been delayed in Samoa about a week longer than expected and arrived in Tonga just two days before the last day of the season. Desperate not to miss our opportunity to swim with whales, we hastily flew north to the Vava’u Islands, one of the best places to see the humpbacks. These majestic creatures migrate north from the Antarctic every summer to breed in warmer waters, heading back as soon as their young are strong enough for the journey. Continue reading

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The second-best seats on the best flight in the world

The best flight in the world is surely over the Tongan archipelagos of Vava’u and Ha’apai, streaking across the bright blue skies with glorious views below.

We’ve been on the road for three months now and taken 15 flights and counting. Ever since we first left continental Australia there’s been some breathtaking aerial views from our windows across the Pacific thousands of feet below.

In general, we have reserved air travel for international journeys, using inter-island ferries instead for domestic trips. However, we were short of time in Tonga and weren’t prepared to spend 24 hours or more travelling between the island groups. Continue reading

natural wonders of samoa

5 unmissable natural wonders of Samoa

Samoa is made up of two main islands, ‘Upolu and Savai’i. We split our time evenly between the two and were never short of activities to fill our days. Despite its tiny size, the natural wonders of Samoa are vast. I suggest hiring a 4WD on each of the islands and spending a day driving round and taking in the natural landscapes along the way. The roads are quiet and pretty much hug the coast on both the islands making it almost impossible to get lost. (I say ‘almost’ because I had Kia as my navigator…) Continue reading

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The Samoa beach fale: a million-dollar view without the price tag

Samoa doesn’t have much in the way of luxury accommodation. Apart from a spattering of three-star resorts spread over the two main islands and a motley collection of motels and lodges in Apia, there is only the Samoa beach fale left to choose from. On first impression, they may seem a bit basic but scratch the surface and you’ll find beauty and tranquillity to match the most luxurious of resorts.

For those unfamiliar with this charming offering, a fale is basically a small wall-less wooden hut on stilts with decked floors and a thatched roof. Palm leaf louvre shutters can be dropped to provide shelter and privacy but apart from that, they’re pretty open. Oh, and I should probably mention that they’re usually located over the most pristine turquoise waters and glowing white sands you’ll ever see! Continue reading

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Trekking Mount Yasur volcano

The first few weeks of us had been active enough. We’d hiked, climbed, caved, canyoned, kayaked and more. It would have been perfectly acceptable to spend a few days lounging on a beach on Tanna Island, soaking up the Pacific sun. However, you don’t go to Tanna without seeing the “Old Man” that is Mount Yasur volcano, and we were no exception.

The imposing volcano dominates the skyline and can be seen from almost everywhere on Tanna. Whether you’re skidding across the ash plains that surround the volcano or watching the smoke plumes drift out to sea, there’s no escaping the commanding influence Mount Yasur volcano has on the island and its people. Continue reading