If you passed Graham Hughes on the street, you’d most likely mistake him for just another backpacker, or perhaps a student two weeks past a shave. Behind the glasses and the unassuming smile, however, is a man that has achieved something extraordinary: Graham is the first person to visit every country in the world without boarding a plane. He has used boats, cars, buses and trains to visit every corner of the planet, a journey that has taken him four years to complete. Even more extraordinary is the fact that he, originally from Liverpool in the UK, now lives on a private island in Panama, a prize he won through a gameshow. (Yes, we’re seething with jealousy too.)
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
Farhan is 32. He is smart, funny and confident. He talks intelligently and entertainingly on a wide range of subjects from South African politics to Formula 1 championships. He has a job that sends him all around the world, a lovely house in Richmond and a beautiful wife and child. He is, by all measures, a successful product of modern western society.
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
This article featured on Lonely Planet as one of their top posts from December 2014.
It’s Friday night and we’re seated in Bora Bora’s yacht club a few metres away from the capital of Vaitape. Next to me sits Tim, a yacht broker who’s in town to examine Noble House, a gorgeous two-storey yacht that’s been put up for sale by its Texan owner.
Opposite me sit Pedro and Scott, the yacht’s engineers who have many stories to tell about life on board. The yacht, I’m told, can be rented for £250,000 per week – mere pocket change for some of the club’s clientele. And, so, the obvious question is: what the hell are two backpackers doing in Bora Bora sipping cocktails in the company of the rich and richer?
The answer is that we’re DIY-ing Bora Bora. We don’t have access to overwater bures, luxury bathrobes or gourmet cuisine; we’re doing it on the cheap. Backpacking here may not be the quintessential Bora Bora experience but for those unable to do it any other way, here’s how we did Bora Bora on a budget. Continue reading
A year before we left for our travels, I considered hosting Couchsurfers in my flat. I saw it as a way of investing in the Couchsurfing community before tapping into some of the good karma on our travels abroad. Alas, I was instead seduced by Airbnb with its clean design, intuitive user experience, useful reviewing system and, of course, the chance to make some extra money for our travels. Surprisingly, we haven’t used Couchsurfing on the road. Peter and I agree that paying for accommodation makes us feel more comfortable and less indebted to our hosts. That may change when we start to get low on funds but for now we remain true products of our decorous western society. That’s basically a long-winded way of saying you won’t find Couchsurfing on the list below but you will find 10 other sites that are excellent for travel, both long-term and short-term. Continue reading
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
One of the disadvantages of travelling in the South Pacific (if there can be such a thing) is the lack of infrastructure for backpackers. It can be done on a shoestring but it’s certainly more difficult than say Southeast Asia or Europe. At home in London, we knew no-one that had visited places like Tonga or Rarotonga, so first-hand wisdom was very hard to come by. We largely managed with internet research and guidebook information – until we got to Rarotonga where we were hit by a few surprises. Below, we share the Rarotonga tips learnt to help future visitors prepare for what’s in store. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned before that my indeterminate brown-ness juxtaposed with my British accent tends to confuse people, especially when I’m on the road. The way I see it, I can answer ‘where are you from’ in three ways:
- Say London. If probed, give the back-story.
- Say London. If probed, feign ignorance and doggedly repeat that I’m from London.
- Say London but volunteer the back-story as that’s probably what they’re after anyway.
The Rarotonga Cross Island Walk is one of the best hikes in the South Pacific. Even the most inexperienced hiker can get up there with a bit of care.
We stood outside our hostel, staring up at the morning sky. It had been raining all night long and the ominous clouds still threatened to thwart our plans. Adrienne, the hostel owner, had already warned us against doing the Rarotonga Cross Island Walk.Continue reading
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
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
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
The Robert Louis Stevenson museum in Samoa was an unexpected highlight of our trip to Samoa. A cursory cultural stop became a genuinely fascinating morning.
“The Booker Prize money wouldn’t even keep me in cigarettes,” once quipped best-selling crime writer Martina Cole. Faced with snobbery over the type of commercial fiction she writes, the irreverent author’s swipe highlighted the fact that commercial fiction subsidises literary fiction, allowing publishers to publish the highbrow literature that hardly anyone buys.
It was perhaps a similar snobbery that excluded author Robert Louis Stevenson from The Norton Anthology of English Literature for 32 years, and the reason why he was entirely unmentioned in the 2000-page Oxford Anthology of English Literature in 1973. Modern critics have censured his style as simplistic, but if raw and compelling storytelling holds any value at all, surely Stevenson would be among the greats. Continue reading
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
Peter surveyed our surroundings. “Are you going to be okay here?” he asked nervously, recalling my breakdown at Beverley’s Beach.
We had just finished our tour of the facilities at Mafana Island’s eco lodge off the coast of Vava’u in Tonga. Peter, who has spent months of his life wild camping, was unfazed but I hadn’t dealt with anything so basic since my trip to Bangladesh 20 years ago. Was I going to cope? Continue reading
There’s nothing that quite ignites anger in Londoners as standing on the left side of an escalator. Avoid this and other cultural faux pas in London with our advice below.
1. Using the London Underground incorrectly
I’ve spoken before of my part-time love of architecture. I openly admire Gothic and Art Noveau but secretly I’ve always loved Brutalist. I say ‘secretly’ because Brutalist buildings are ugly – seriously ugly – but there’s also a bleak and haunting beauty amid the ugliness. Here are my favourite Brutalist structures (sometimes known as ugly buildings) from around the world.
In general, I have plucked images from Wikipedia rather than using artsy, filtered shots from funky angles, so that I can showcase the true horror of these structures. Tell me what I missed in the comments below. (Or call me a philistine devoid of any taste whatsoever.) Continue reading
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
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