Millennium Cave in Vanuatu: exploring in the dark

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu feat

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu is a fun and adventurous hike through Vanuatu’s biggest cave located on the outskirts of Luganville

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 on the island of Espiritu Santo.

Millennium Cave in Vanuatu

We set off with a group of six other adventurers, trekking through lush rainforest to the small village of Vunaspef where we were told to leave anything that couldn’t get wet. A few of our companions handed over expensive cameras, checking and rechecking that the guide would keep them safe.

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

backpacker-problems

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.

Learning to dive, learning to quit

learning to dive

“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.

50 things to do before you’re 12: how many have you done?

Britain’s best long-distance footpaths south west coast pathDreamstime

I’ve done only 20 of The National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 12: Growing up in London sucks!

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.

The first travel experience I nearly backed out of

scary travel experience

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.

Erakor Island: Exploring Vanuatu by kayak

kayaking Erakor-Island-Vanuatu

Erakor Island in Vanuatu is one of Port Vila’s best resort islands

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 the tiny island of Erakor Island barefoot.

How to handle a 24 hour flight

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. 

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.

London Underground rules

As we approach our last journey on the awful/amazing London Underground, we share a primer for the uninitiated…

Ah, so you’ve arrived in the City of London, the land of tea, crumpets and people who say sorry a lot. The land of Notting Hill and Love, Actually and bumbling gentlemen who blush when complimented. The city of Yeoman Warders and the Queen’s Guard, and quirky social rituals that are just so charmingly English.

10 beauty tips for backpackers

Beauty tips for backpacker

I believe it was Naomi Wolf who spoke of a ‘tax’ that women pay for being women. This tax is paid in the form of time: minutes and hours that turn into days and weeks spent applying eyeliner, blow drying hair, filling in brows, blotting lipstick, filing nails, snipping split ends, and the multitude of other things we do to maintain our looks. On a work day, it takes me an hour to get ready from morning shower to out-the-door. It takes Peter a maximum of 30 minutes – and that includes a morning coffee.

In defence of the travel guidebook

travel guidebook

My colleague picks up the two guidebooks strewn across my desk.
“Are you planning to take these with you?”
I nod.
“Won’t they be too heavy?”
I shrug. “Peter will carry them.”
“You could just look it all up on TripAdvisor.”
“I prefer guidebooks.”
Her lips curl into a look that is half confusion and half disdain. “Okay,” she says in a tone that suggests it’s not okay at all.

Join our travels

Join our travels

As our date of departure creeps closer, I find my nerves tingling with trepidation. I’m not the type of person that dwells on dangerous possibilities – after all, I’ve done plenty of foolhardy things in my time (jumping out of a plane, flying a plane, climbing Nevis Peak unguided and so on).

No, I’m not nervous about getting hurt. I’m nervous that I won’t last the course. I’m nervous about reaching a break point where not having a clean, comfortable bed every night or warm running water will wear away my zest for travel. I’m worried that I will miss my sisters with whom I’ve always shared a city.

Yoyu: how to avoid traveller burnout

avoid-traveller-burnout

On the road, I’ll be writing posts for Atlas & Boots, filing travel features for Asian Bride magazine, and doing the odd commission to keep our travel funds topped up. As such, I’ll be lugging around a laptop throughout the course of the trip.

This is largely fine because it means we can stock up on films and TV programmes for quiet nights in and we’ll also have a way to keep in touch with family and friends. Of course, with this convenience comes the danger that being glued to a screen at home will become being glued to a screen on the road.

Selvatica zip line tour: an exhilarating day in Mexico

The Selvatica zip line tour would be the most fun and memorable day of the entire trip

When I touched down in Mexico, I was excited about mainly two things: its beautiful beaches and its Mayan ruins, particularly those at Chichen Itza. I had planned two weeks of sun and lazing interspersed with a bit of culture, so it was purely on whim that I booked a trip to Selvatica.

Normally, I avoid booking excursions from hotel brochures but the tour reseller at our hotel reception was so affable, we couldn’t help but stop and talk to him and soon enough he had us parting with £50 each to book on the Selvatica zip line tour or ‘Extreme Canopy Tour’. Little did I know that it would turn out to be the most fun and memorable day of the entire trip.

5 reasons why we use Airbnb

reasons-why-airbnb-kicks-ass

These days, it seems that Airbnb is fighting fire on all fronts. Legal and taxation issues mixed with strong opposition from the old guards of hospitality means that this relatively young startup is under siege in cities all across the world. We’ve spoken before about our regular use of the site – in fact, our post on Airbnb Etiquette: 10 Tips for Guests is one of the most popular on the site. Suffice to say, we are fans of the service.

Climbing Nevis Peak unguided, St Kitts & Nevis

climbing-nevis-peak-unguided

Nevis looks more like rolling hill than a volcano – until you try climbing Nevis Peak unguided. That’s when it reveals itself as a formidable feat!

If you ever find yourself on the tiny island of Nevis in the Caribbean, you’ll surely notice Nevis Peak, the 3,232ft volcano that provides a beautiful backdrop to the picturesque island.

5 language learning myths

language-learning-myths

One of the things on my bucket list is to learn Spanish fluently. I learnt the basics during my GCSEs (16 years ago!), took an evening class at UCL in 2010, and have also dabbled with Rosetta Stone and Duolingo.

In the lead-up to our big trip, I decided to get serious and enrolled on a Rosetta Stone course online. I tested at intermediate level B1 and am currently working my way up. Meanwhile, Peter is brushing up on his basic French.

Asian girl, English boy: travelling as an interracial couple

More than once, I’ve shaken off Peter’s affectionate arm around my shoulder or his hand in mine: in the crowded streets of Cairo, the empty aisles of Jerash and even the markets of Whitechapel right here in London.

I think it’s fair to say that I’m more attuned to the disapproval our relationship might trigger, so while he’s innocently reaching for my hand, I’m assessing who might see us, what they might think, what they might say, what they might do.

Poverty tourism: why it’s not as ugly as it sounds

poverty-tourism

Last week I read The Case Against Sharing, a post on Medium which referred to Airbnb, Lyft and similar services as ‘Big Sharing’. The phrase immediately raised my hackles.

It drips with cynicism, taking something really quite lovely and reducing it to something soulless: a corporate vehicle that only exists to create money. ‘Big Sharing’ sullies the phenomenon of real sharing.

7 tips for travelling alone

7-tips-for-travelling-alone

1. Don’t feel like you have to make friends

All the travel experts bang on about how you’ll meet amazing people and make lifelong friends on your travels but sometimes that’s just not true. Granted, locals are usually friendly, surprising, eye-opening and delightful but fellow travellers are often of the single-serving variety.

I recently boarded a plane and chose a seat next to two young women, thinking they would potentially be good to hang out with. Almost immediately they began to talk 100 words-per-minute about bags and shoes and shopping, and which shoes to wear while shopping, and which bags are best to store shoes in when swapping shoes from heels to flats when shopping. Groaning inwardly, I put on my headphones and turned up the volume.