how-to-pass-padi-open-water-diver-feat

How to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course

In theory, an expert diver should be writing this post. Logically, he or she could tell you what to expect, give you insider tips and prepare you for the challenge ahead. Of course, as a newly qualified diver, I have one advantage over the experts: I know first-hand just how hard it is for the nervous first-timer. I know what it’s like to almost back out of your first dive and to quit the course altogether. I also know how to get back on it.

Five months after my first attempt, I passed the PADI Open Water Diver course. Continue reading

things-to-do-around-grand-canyon

Things to do at the Grand Canyon

A trip to the Grand Canyon can be overwhelming, not only because of the incredible vistas on display but the sheer range of activities, hikes, trails and viewpoints to choose from. To make your visit as easy as possible, we put together the top things to do at the Grand Canyon during your trip. Note that numbers 1-4 can be done in a single day but you will need several days should you wish to do the rest. Continue reading

Airbnb-etiquette-tips-for-guests

Airbnb reviews: the importance of being honest

My first experience with Airbnb was a strange one. In 2012, I booked four nights in a beautiful two-storey house in San Francisco. It was straight out of the movies, all colourful panelling and pretty white trim, nestled among similarly immaculate houses on a gently undulating street. The host was a young single male – let’s call him Steve. I carefully read his former guests’ reviews, conscious about sharing a home with a man I’d never met. Everyone said Steve was a wonderful host – and he was. I felt very comfortable in his lovely home and used it as a base to visit Yosemite National Park, Napa Valley, the Google campus in Mountain View, the Stanford campus in Palo Alto and of course San Francisco’s own impressive sights. Continue reading

visiting-alcatraz

Escape to Alcatraz: visiting Alcatraz prison

I often joke that if you label any old building a tourist attraction and put it in a guidebook, people will come. It might be a prosaic power station, a random rock formation, or even a tour of a sewage factory – with enough PR, people will come.

In theory, visiting Alcatraz prison could fit into this category of non-attractions. It’s a prison. It has cell blocks, cells, walls and bars. Each cell is indiscernible from the next and the entire building, at least from the inside, should be largely unremarkable. Continue reading

american-road-trip

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

9 literary places we wish were real

There are some books I read as a child that were frankly terrifying. The hallucinogenic madness of Alice in Wonderland, the crazy little people of Lilliput and the otherworldly qualities of Oz had me pitying the protagonists that walked those lands. Other books, however, made me wish I could visit the places painted within. Here are my favourite literary places that I wish were real. Continue reading

pearl-harbor-memorial

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

round-the-world-ticket-pros-and-cons

Round the world ticket pros and cons

I am at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, over 3,000 miles from anywhere I expected to be on our round-the-world trip for Atlas and Boots. In fact, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah are all unplanned stops. I expected to be in South America by December 2014, but instead spent an extra month in Tahiti – and then boarded a luxury cruise across the Pacific which most certainly wasn’t on the agenda. What I’m trying to say is that, for me, not buying a round-the-world (RTW) ticket has been a blessing.

We certainly considered the RTW option: we spent hours discussing and researching, but gave up when we couldn’t find an economical route that worked for our unusual journey. That’s not to say the RTW is without merit. If you’re torn between the options, have a look at the round the world ticket pros and cons below and make a decision based on your particular trip. Continue reading

Caught in the LA headlights

A bony limb elbows me in the back. It’s followed by a perfunctory apology, shouted loud just like everything else in the throbbing bar. The muted colours of black and purple are uncharacteristically harsh and the lights just a little too bright.

I look at Peter. He is wide eyed, just like me. We have the same question: what now? Our friends in LA who are showing us the city have stepped out for a cigarette, leaving us momentarily alone in the trendy bar. Neither Peter nor I have been in a place like this for six months. After leaving London, we very quickly fell to the slower pace of the Pacific and operated comfortably on island time (“maybe now, maybe later, maybe tomorrow, maybe never”). Continue reading

summiting-mauna-kea-hawaii

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

the-truth-about-cruising

Why everything we thought about cruising was wrong (but also sort of right)

Our Serbian waiter, Damir, introduces himself to our table. His eyes alight on me and a smile itches at the corner of his lips.

“I remember you from boarding. You had on a huge backpack. I was wondering if you were going to fall backwards or forwards.”

Busted.

Colour spreads across my cheeks. “Ah, yes, that was me.” I explain to Damir and the table that we are indeed interlopers: two backpackers who’ve just happened to hitch a ride on a Princess luxury cruise. Everyone finds us terribly amusing and, if I may be allowed to say so, somewhat endearing. We are the youngest (and most likely poorest) passengers on the boat. I joke that I have two dresses I’ll be alternating at dinner. They laugh. Continue reading

travelling with my girlfriend

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

5 stunning books for travel junkies

These books are by far the most beautiful books we’ve ever owned and are essential books for travel junkies.

1. Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson

books for travel junkies
For three years, Jimmy Nelson travelled the world capturing the beauty of over 30 remote tribes with his large-plate field camera. Now collated in this deliciously luxurious tome, his photographs depict rural life in some of the world’s most pristine landscapes. From monks in Tibet to Kazakhs in Mongolia, Nelson’s stunning images are complemented by insightful portraits of cultures rarely seen.  A perfect gift for any travel junkie (including yourself). Continue reading

failing-states

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

tipping

The #1 thing I hate about travel

In some countries it’s not a problem, Switzerland, French Polynesia and South Korea among them. In others it’s practically impossible to get right. I am of course talking about the minefield of tipping. It is without a doubt the number one thing I hate about travelling.

Before you all launch an attack about living wages, let me just explain that I hate tipping not because of the cost but because of the unbearable awkwardness of the whole thing. Continue reading

stunning natural phenomena horsetail

13 stunning natural phenomena

In the past few days, an old YouTube video started doing the rounds once more. The video claims to show what the sky would look like if different planets in our solar system were as close as the moon. It’s pretty impressive and got us talking about some of the amazing natural phenomena that already exist right here on Earth. Below, we list our favourites.

It’s worth noting that we define a ‘natural phenomenon’ as something that is not man made (obviously) and that only occurs in specific places at specific times under specific conditions (i.e. not a static attraction like, say, Derweze that you can go and see at any time).

Have a look and tell us in the comments which ones you most want to see. Continue reading

backpackers-on-luxury-cruise

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

What-is-the-best-language-to-learn

What is the best language to learn?

We rank the best language to learn based on fact-driven criteria to help you choose the right one for you.

Over the last two years, I’ve spent some time learning Spanish. Progress has been slow but steady. I’ve taken a 10-week evening class at UCL’s Centre for Languages, completed levels 1-3 of Rosetta Stone and finished the Duolingo tree, meaning I can sort of carry a conversation, but always peppered with mistakes and pauses. If I can become more comfortable with making mistakes, I’ll hopefully improve vastly over the next six months as we travel through South America.

Peter is keen to acquire a second language but isn’t yet sure which is best. It’s a dilemma many would-be learners face, and it often stalls their efforts altogether. What if I choose the wrong one?

Below we take a look at the best language to learn based on different criteria, offer suggestions under each category and examine whether or not each criterion is actually a good way of deciding which language you should learn. Continue reading