best-south-pacific-cruises

5 best South Pacific cruises

The Pacific Ocean is the largest body of water in the world and the South Pacific is arguably the most beautiful. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first entered the Pacific on an expedition of world circumnavigation from 1519 to 1522. He named the ocean Pacífico, meaning “peaceful”, as he was surprised at how calm the waters could be. Centuries later, sailors still flock to the great ocean to catch the trade winds in their sails. Continue reading

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Guatape: the best day trip in Colombia

When I’m about to visit a country for the first time, one of the first things I do is scan a guidebook and pick out a few highlights or must-sees. This can be dangerous business as you’re often putting yourself at the author’s subjective mercy. When I first scanned our guidebook’s Colombian highlights I saw colonial towns, national parks and coffee plantations. After a month in Colombia, I can safely say that the best day I had there barely gets a mention in the guidebooks. Continue reading

The best water purifier for travel

We’ve stayed in some pretty basic places during the course of our trip so far. There was the Fijian camping site in Taveuni with rather sketchy commode, the Samoan beach fale in Savaii which didn’t have walls, and the Colombian campsite in San Agustin with drinking water that ran a brownish yellow. In all these places, we’ve been able to drink the tap water (hose water in one case) because we’ve been able to purify water on the go. Continue reading

Hitting the language barrier

Hitting the language barrier

Why travelling in South America has given me a newfound respect for my parents

I check the clock for the third time in five minutes. It is now 11.40am, a good forty minutes past the time we were expecting our transfer to Cartagena’s bus station. I flex my shoulders and try to relax. Peter always tells me I worry too much; that I get too uptight about loose schedules and tardy transfers.

A few minutes later, our Airbnb host Nadia sticks her head in the door. She says some words. I catch enough to understand that she’s saying our bus leaves in 20 minutes. I know that already. She ushers us out the door and says she’ll call a taxi instead. Downstairs, we wait. Instead of hailing a taxi, she speaks to two lads on motorbikes and then gestures for us to get on. Continue reading

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26 dos and don’ts of Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena – the very name has an aura of old-world romance; of steamy hot days, winding city roads, and crumpled treasure maps. Its charming architecture and interesting history certainly didn’t disappoint, but it was a baptism of fire after six months in the Pacific.

We quickly learned that there are two rules governing the streets of Colombia. First, do not offer papaya. Second, if papaya is offered, someone has to take it. They don’t mean papaya in the literal sense of course; it’s a byword for your valuables. It reminds tourists (and locals) not to have a camera hanging over their shoulder, a strappy bag slung casually on a chair, a wallet peeking out the top of a pocket. Those are the most important lessons, but we learnt several others during our time in Cartagena. Here’s a roundup for future visitors. Continue reading

8 expat tips to know before you go

So many of us dream of changing our lives; of moving to sunnier climes and enjoying better food, nicer people and cleaner air. Moving countries is portrayed as a panacea, a balm to soothe life’s ills. According to the results of our ongoing expat survey, 85% of expats feel they made the right decision when they moved abroad*, indicating that the expat life is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. However, there are several things many expats wish they knew before they flew. Here’s a roundup of expat tips for anyone thinking of leaving home. Continue reading

Medellin: why you should visit the ex-murder capital of the world

In 1991, there were 17 murders every day in Medellin, Colombia, making it the murder capital of the world. The hunting ground of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, Medellin was rife with violent crime and corruption.

You can understand why then my family were concerned when I told them I’d be spending a week there. As if a month in Colombia wasn’t enough to give my mother palpitations, I was now visiting what was once the most dangerous city in the world. Continue reading

WELCOME TO FABULOUS LAS VEGAS: TWINNED WITH GREAT YARMOUTH

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas: twinned with Great Yarmouth

I grew up in a small village called Caister-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Norfolk’s a pretty rural part of the UK, positioned on the east coast and buffeted by the North Sea. Although I left my home county over 12 years ago, and rarely return apart from the odd visit, I still have a lot of affection for the county I grew up in. There are the beautiful Broads (a network of interconnected lakes and rivers), rolling rural farmland dotted with windmills and quaint little villages with great pubs. There is abundant coastal scenery complete with sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and sand dunes. There’s also Carrow Road, home of my beloved Norwich City, and Norfolk also happens to be home to some of the best fish and chips in the world. Continue reading

things about the British

16 things about the British that baffle the rest of the world

The British are an eccentric lot, occasionally bordering on downright barmy. From chasing cheese down country hills to snorkelling bogs to catch some thrills, the British are as baffling as they are charming. Here are some of our most confounding traits, according to Reddit and the A&B audience on social media.

1. Why our quaint little towns have a homicide rate comparable to Honduras…

…according to our murder mysteries that is. If Midsomer Murders is to be believed, there’s someone being knocked off every other week in genteel country towns out the way. As one American put it, “Midsomer is the most dangerous place on earth, literally worse than Mexican cartel towns.” Continue reading

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On the road to Zion National Park

One of my favourite things about travel is its continuous ability to surprise me. Whether it’s discovering hidden beaches in Vanuatu or coming across sea turtles on a dive in Samoa, travel often presents the unexpected. The latest example was during our unplanned visit to Zion National Park in Utah on our (again unplanned) American road trip.

We had spent a couple of days exploring Grand Canyon National Park and were enjoying our final meal at our lodge when we got chatting to another group of hikers. They suggested adapting our route to take in Zion National Park. “It’s like a red Yosemite in the desert,” they told us. “You’ll love it.” Continue reading

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How I overcame my fear of spiders

A ripple of skepticism snakes through my body. I close my eyes and slow my breathing, determined to give John a fair chance. His voice is soft, lulling me into a state of calm. After a few minutes, he begins his chant: “From this point forward, you will be calm, relaxed and at ease in the presence of spiders.” I try to absorb his words, to internalise them, to really believe them.

“You are in control,” he continues. “You are calm, relaxed and at ease in the presence of spiders.” His words come in different incarnations but always assure me that I will remain “calm, relaxed and at ease in the presence of spiders.” Continue reading

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Call me a diva but I’m done with camping

We all have a certain image of ourselves: a sense of who we are, what we like and dislike, our strengths and our flaws. If I asked you to name three good things and three bad things about yourself, chances are you could do it with ease.

My positives are that I’m determined, resourceful and loyal. Conversely, my negatives are that I’m stubborn, competitive and impatient. In between those six big traits lie hundreds of small ones: how I can’t stand tardiness, how I don’t like sharing my food, how I won’t see a film before I’ve read the book.

Having a self image is neither unique nor interesting. What is interesting is when you learn that you’re wrong about yourself. For example, if you asked me if I’m anything like Meredith from The Parent Trap… Continue reading

expat-experience-questionnaire

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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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

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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

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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