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Crowd control: the world’s least densely populated countries

Are those living in the world’s least densely populated countries happier than those living in more crowded ones? 

Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world. As with previous years, it is clear that developed, conflict-free nations with stable governments tend to rank higher in these indexes.

What’s interesting is that many of the world’s happiest countries also have relatively low population density. Finland, Norway, Iceland, CanadaNew Zealand and Australia all have fewer than 20 people per square kilometre (followed closely by Sweden with 22.12), and all appear in the top 10 happiest countries. Continue reading

Where are the female adventurers?

“Have you been watching Walking the Himalayas?” asked Peter’s father. “The presenter in it reminds me of Pete.”

“Tall, dark and handsome?” I asked. “Well, I can certainly get on board with that.”

Later that week, I started the TV series as advised, noting with amusement that presenter Levison Wood (pictured below) did indeed look a bit like Peter.

We watched with interest until five minutes in when Levison makes a meal of crossing a mere river. Continue reading

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“This is Africa”: useful mantra or ugly prejudice?

“This is Africa”, or TIA, is used to shrug off a range of inconveniences, but does its casual use perpetuate harmful stereotypes?

Africa, more than any other continent, has a PR problem. Popular culture tells the west that Africa is a land of conflict and famine where progress is slow and corruption is rife. Even the ‘better’ half of Africa is riddled with cliché: the giant red sun, open savannah and fearsome tribes in native garms.

The most pervasive cliché perhaps comes wrapped in a snappy epithet: “This is Africa” or its diminutive form, TIA. Continue reading

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World’s best countries for women 2017

The best countries for women in terms of gender equality have been announced by the World Economic Forum in the new edition of its annual Global Gender Gap report.

The 2017 report assesses 144 economies on how well they utilise the female workforce in their country based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators. The report can be used as an objective analysis of women’s quality of life compared with male peers, and to thereby rank the world’s best countries for women in terms of gender equality. Continue reading

best countries to visit in 2018: china

Are these really the best countries to visit in 2018?

Winter is coming and, with it, the customary slew of ‘Best Of’ and ‘Must Do’ lists summing up everything from the funniest one-liners on Twitter to the best countries to visit in 2018. Everyone’s at it, from The New York Times who are readying to publish their 52 Places, to industry stalwarts Lonely Planet who have just released their Best in Travel.

These peppy lists of perfect places do exactly what they’re supposed to: inspire intense wanderlust, but amid the desk-bound dreaming, it’s wise to ask if there’s a danger in genuflecting to the experts. Should we really gather these pearls of wisdom and place them in our bucket lists? Continue reading

It’s sexist to assume I’m not adventurous

Despite what some may think, I don’t do adventurous things just because my boyfriend likes them.

Last week, Peter and I were talking to an acquaintance (let’s call him Jack) about our possible trip to Australia next year. Over a shared pizza, Peter mentioned that he would love to dive with sharks in Perth.

Jack threw me a look and laughed. “Ha, I don’t suppose you’ll be joining him for that.”
I nodded. “Yes, as long as the sharks are treated responsibly.”
“‘Responsibly?'” He nudged Peter. “It sounds like she’s trying to get out of it, mate.” Continue reading

Elephants in Sri Lanka

Idiots abroad: should you speak out?

What’s the appropriate reaction to tourists behaving badly?

I’ve always been sceptical of the introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy. A common interpretation of this theory suggests that people’s personalities belong in one category or the other. In reality, however, most of us likely lie somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

I’m generally a confident person, I’m comfortable with public speaking and I enjoy meeting new people, but I also have a healthy dose of British reserve. I’d rather avoid confrontation if possible and am more likely to silently seethe about manspreading or queue jumping than speak out and create a scene. Continue reading

Are you an outdoors snob?

With complex hierarchies, obscure heroes and indecipherable lingo, the outdoors community is more daunting than it should be.

Many years ago, before the prospect of camping became a real and constant threat in my life, I was a city girl through and through. I had never slept beneath the stars, never bathed in a lake and never answered nature’s call in, er, nature.

During this time of high heels and pricey meals, I had a conversation with an outdoorsy friend of mine ahead of his Three Peaks Challenge. Mike (let’s call him) was searching for a driver and remarked that “most climbers rely on their girlfriends for transport”.

He rolled his eyes. “We call them ‘crag girlfriends’,” he said with an arrogant smile. Continue reading

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8 controversial mountain names from around the world

Naming mountains is a thorny business. We take a look at some of the most controversial mountain names from around the world and explore just why they’ve inspired so much debate. 

As an avid hiker, climber and would-be mountaineer, I’ve long been fascinated with the mountains of the world and the history behind their names. 

The first real mountain I ever climbed was Ben Nevis in bonnie Scotland. One would be forgiven for wondering who Ben was and why he has a mountain named after him. In fact, ‘Ben Nevis’ is the Anglicized form of the Scottish Beinn Nibheis, which means ‘mountain by the water’. Continue reading

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Paul Oakenfold’s Everest party: charity event or PR stunt?

DJ Paul Oakenfold just played a gig at Everest base camp. Was this an innovative way to raise money for charity, or a narcissistic PR stunt?

British DJ Paul Oakenfold, 53, made his name in the 1990s on the UK dance music scene. He has won two Grammys and is credited with sparking the Second Summer of Love in Ibiza in 1997, supposedly the biggest revolution in British youth culture since the original Summer of Love in 1967. Continue reading

Is travel just another form of consumerism?

When I was 10 years old, my father had his first heart attack. As a result, I became an ardent non smoker. When I was 13, I saw a pair of cows get slaughtered in Bangladesh. As a result, I became a vegetarian.

Over the ensuing two decades, I, the non-smoking vegetarian, developed a keen awareness of the fine line between conscientious environmentalism and smug arseholery. (Note: the latter pontificates on how you should live your life, the former does not.)

There are numerous beliefs and pursuits, like vegetarianism and non smoking, that can inspire excess levels of smugness. Prominent among them is travel. Continue reading

whale watching in Mirissa

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow. Continue reading

The world is not getting better

Life for humans may be improving but what about everything else that shares our planet?

In trying times, social media users tend to share think pieces, charts and graphics proving that humanity has never had it so good.

These graphics focus on the growth of lovely things like basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination, and the decline of awful things like extreme poverty and child mortality.

The charts are often accompanied by pithy captions like “awesome proof that humanity hasn’t actually botched it.” Continue reading

Is it time for tourism caps?

As world population grows, so too will mass tourism. Will capping visitor numbers help or hinder? We take a look below.

In June this year, approximately 30,000 Icelanders flocked to France to support their team in Euro 2016. What’s remarkable is that the exodus accounted for almost 10% of Iceland’s entire population.

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 330,000 residents spread across its vast expanse of land. With this in mind, it’s worrying to learn that an estimated 1.6 million tourists visited the country this year, far outstripping the number of residents and demonstrating a 20% increase on 2015 numbers. Continue reading

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Does the outdoors really have a diversity problem?

My younger sister watches the Arctic reindeer roam around on my screen. She smiles as one nips at a basketful of grain. Then, she double takes.

“Wait. Is that you?” she asks.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You look like a farm girl!” she says in a tone somewhere between amusement and disdain. “Where’s your long coat?”
“I was in the Arctic,” I say. “I wasn’t going to wear a floaty coat from Zara.”

She tosses aside the phone, mystified as to why I’d choose comfort over style 350km north of the Arctic Circle.
Continue reading

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Before they’re gone: landscapes affected by climate change

Climate change is taking an unprecedented toll on the Earth’s World Heritage Sites and natural wonders. Below, we take a look at some of the worst affected landscapes.

With the surprise news this week that Donald Trump will be the next president of the USA, it would be easy to overlook that with the news comes one of the biggest threats to the historic agreement on climate made in Paris earlier this year.

Trump has previously described climate change as “fictional” and “created by the Chinese”, and has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate deal completely. On the domestic front he also plans to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including research and development for wind, solar, nuclear power and electric vehicles. Continue reading

Visiting S21 prison: morbid or meaningful?

There are some sights you likely see only once. Places like Petra, Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat are so grand, exotic and expensive, they are the very definition of a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.

Other sights are seen once because once is enough; places like Dachau concentration camp in Germany or S21 prison in Cambodia.

It was discomfiting then to find myself at the gates of S21 prison for the second time in five years. My first visit in 2011 had been harrowing enough. We had evaded an overzealous tour guide and journeyed through the former prison alone – a sobering experience I wasn’t sure I wanted to repeat. 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