remote travel

Remote travel: worth the pain?

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

16 ugly buildings I actually sort of love

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

natural wonders of samoa

5 unmissable natural wonders of Samoa

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-beach-fale

The Samoa beach fale: a million-dollar view without the price tag

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

Mount Yasur volcano

Trekking Mount Yasur volcano

The first few weeks of us had been active enough. We’d hiked, climbed, caved, canyoned, kayaked and more. It would have been perfectly acceptable to spend a few days lounging on a beach on Tanna Island, soaking up the Pacific sun. However, you don’t go to Tanna without seeing the “Old Man” that is Mount Yasur volcano, and we were no exception.

The imposing volcano dominates the skyline and can be seen from almost everywhere on Tanna. Whether you’re skidding across the ash plains that surround the volcano or watching the smoke plumes drift out to sea, there’s no escaping the commanding influence Mount Yasur volcano has on the island and its people. Continue reading

An Atheist and a Muslim walk into a church…

“Do you have faith?”
Peter stumbled for a response. “I’m sorry?”
“Do you have faith?” the priest repeated matter-of-factly.
Peter stopped loading his plate with cucumber sandwiches. “Um, yes,” he managed before quietly shuffling away, elaborating no further.

The question, anodyne as it was, was unexpected. We had enjoyed a relaxing day at his friend’s summer wedding in the beautiful English countryside and weren’t expecting to share our religious affiliations with the head of service in the buffet queue. Continue reading

best decision i ever made

The best decision I ever made

I first came across the phrase ‘experienced wellbeing’ in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. The psychologist and Nobel Prize winner uses it to explain some facts about happiness, the most intriguing of which is that a person’s level of happiness increases with the amount of money they earn – but only up to a household income of $75,000 (£46,000) per year. After that, the increase of wellbeing in relation to increased wealth is, on average, zero. Continue reading

benefits-of-budget-travel

5 benefits of budget travel

“I’m sorry, Estée. I know you don’t belong here but I need you.”

If there were ever a sign that you’ve been roughing it too long, apologising to your eye gel would surely qualify. We’d been in Samoa for 15 days staying in a mixture of roadside motels and traditional beach fales, all with cold-water bathrooms shared with other backpackers as well as a host of bugs, moths and mosquitoes. As I propped up my bottle on a thorny wooden ledge, I found myself apologising for the impropriety. Estée Lauder belonged elsewhere. Continue reading

Diving with turtles in Samoa feat

Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa

Diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa was a unique experience. Getting up close and personal to underwater wildlife like this is just incredible.

“You’ll either love it or find it extremely depressing,” reads the guidebook description of Satoalepai Turtle Sanctuary.

I’ve never been a huge fan of zoos and captive wild animals, so when I read about the chance to go diving Juno Wreck with turtles in Samoa at the sanctuary I decided to pass. Maybe I’d get a chance to see them in the wild… Continue reading

5 surprising facts about Samoa

After nearly a month in Samoa – a country we fell in love with – we reveal five incredibly surprising facts about Samoa we learned during our stay.

surprising facts about Samoa

facts about samoa samoans are deeply religious

If you were asked to name the most religious countries in the world, chances are your list would be similar to mine. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would be up there as would Brazil and Italy. In the spectrum from Saudi to Sweden, I would put Samoa somewhere in the middle, especially in relation to the Abrahamic religions. Turns out, I’d be wrong. Continue reading

da-craterman-samoa

Meeting “Da Craterman – world famous in Samoa”

The day started badly. Our taxi was 30 minutes late, which isn’t so awful considering we were on island time but we were desperate to beat the midday sun on our six-hour round trip to Mount Matavanu Crater. Despite this, we cheerily greeted our driver who dropped us off at the base of the crater.

We started off at a decent pace, our sturdy hiking boots serving us well. However, an hour in we realised that we had been stupidly complacent: with just one flask of water, already half drunk, we were going to struggle to stay hydrated. Continue reading

great-travel-books

10 great travel books to read on the road

Having spent hours, perhaps days, on long journeys with our heads buried in books, we select 10 great travel books to read on the road.

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Ernest Hemingway

When talking about Ernest Hemingway and travel books you’ve got plenty to choose from. I’ve gone for The Snows of Kilimanjaro as it holds a little bit of sentimentality for me. I read the short story just before I climbed Kili back in 2010. It didn’t help me with my climb and it’s not exactly full of optimism, but it’s a great read reflecting the time and culture that Hemingway was embedded in – for good or for worse.

2. Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell

Not exactly another cheery tale but Orwell doesn’t do cheery. Whether you’re a socialist or a nationalist you can’t help but be moved by Homage to Catalonia Orwell’s personal account of his experiences from his time in Spain during the Civil War. His description of Barcelona after the Communists’ initial successes is uplifting and full of hope for the left-winger among its audience (including me). If you know your history then you know that unfortunately it doesn’t end so well for the lefties.

3. Kon Tiki
Thor Heyerdahl

Kon Tiki is a (fairly) modern day tale of adventure and bravery on the tropical seas if there ever was one. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl and his six-man Norwegian crew set out to prove that Polynesians migrated from South America as opposed to Asia during pre-Columbian times. He thought the best way to do this was on a raft. A raft modelled on and built from designs and technology available at the time. Oh, and the trip was 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean. What a man.

4. Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson

If you’re British, this is laugh-out-load funny. Relentlessly. I don’t know if it’s as funny if you’re not British – you’ll have to let me know. Apart from its hilarity, Notes from a Small Island gives a great insight into British culture and mentality, as viewed by an outsider. Not to mention great descriptions of a cross-section of British towns, cities and regions always described in satirical detail. Quite heart warming all round, really

5. Around the World in 80 Days
Jules Verne

It’s a classic! How could it not be in here? I had a bit of a mad Jules Verne obsession when trekking across Norway a few years ago and read about ten of Verne’s tales. Around the World in 80 Days is a great a place to start. A rip-roaring adventure from the 19th century full of quaint references and some questionably political correctness! Good old-fashioned dream-of-travelling-the-world fun!

6. The Last Place on Earth
Roland Huntford

I love this book because it offers a deep and methodical insight into the contrasting preparations and expeditions of Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole. Both made it, but only one survived. However, The Last Place on Earth controversially highlights how this was written in the wind and destined to happen from the start. The book is deeply critical of Scott, hence the controversy. From reading this it’s a wonder he even made it out the English Channel!

7. South
Ernest Shackleton

South. Just reading the title makes me shiver. They don’t make ‘em like they used to! The South Pole had gone to Amundsen and Scott in 1911 and 1912 respectively, but there were still trophies in the Antarctic up for grabs. Shackleton, unfortunately was not going to win one on this endeavour. Beset by problems from the off, this is a tale of human endurance in the face of adversity if there ever was one. Marooned on the Antarctic continent, Shackleton leads his team on a harrowing three-year quest for survival.

8. Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer

In 1996 eight climbers were killed and several more injured on Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Krakauer was one of the lucky ones. By Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air is a chilling insight into what it was like to be on the mountain during those godforsaken nights. As a climber and adventure-junkie I rather foolishly hold onto the dream of summiting Everest one day. After reading this, I’m not so certain I will.

9. On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does
Simon Garfield

I love maps. I can’t help it. This isn’t just about maps though; it’s more a reflection on travel and exploration over the ages. It also touches on the way people, and travellers in particular, engage with the world around them as they journey from one place to another. On The Map is a bit geeky for sure, but thoroughly entertaining and informative.

10. Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

I just re-read Treasure Island for the first time since I was a child and had to put it in. It’s still great. Just the names evoke the anticipation and excitement I felt as a child of what I was going to do when I grew up. Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Ben Gunn and a tale of buccaneers and buried gold are what young boys’ dreams are made off. Well, they were for me anyway.

what-not-to-pack

What not to pack: things we’ve dumped on the road so far

Before we left London, I practised walking with my backpack on for 20 minutes. I just about managed it but it was HEAVY. Add in the searing heat, drenching humidity and uneven terrain of the road, and 20 minutes feels near impossible. Thus, we’ve found ourselves frequently dumping stuff we had deemed necessary mere weeks before. Here’s a list of the offending items in case you’re tempted to make the same mistakes. Continue reading

buses in Samoa

Pimp my bus ride: Samoan buses are a unique experience

Samoan buses are uncomfortable, noisy and won’t run on time. But that’s the fun of it! Even if you have nowhere to go in Samoa, take a bus somewhere. 

We wanted to get out of Apia and head to the south coast. We’d heard the waters were incredible and there were some great natural sights to see. Taxis are expensive and as we are on a budget the bus was the answer. We’ve taken plenty of buses across the Pacific islands now, but this one was a little bit different. Continue reading

things-travel-writers-dont-tell-you

5 things travel writers don’t tell you

Before I quit my job to travel, I worked at roughguides.com for two years and, before that, as Features Editor at Asian Woman and Asian Bride magazines. During this time, I noticed some common themes and phrases emerge in the travel writing I read: diners always enjoyed “hearty fare”, cabins were always “nestled among” something, and seas always comprised “azure waters” (that last one I’m guilty of myself). Far less often, I came across writing that offered a rawer insight into the travel experience – and it was always refreshing when I did. In reality, travel isn’t always amazing. Sometimes, it’s downright disappointing but we rarely admit to this. Here are five truths travel writers don’t like to tell you. Continue reading

stunning-film-locations-we-love

5 stunning film locations we love

The first time I went to New York back in 2000, I was uncertain that I would enjoy it. It loomed large and vivid in my mind, woven by a hundred films I’d seen in the past. The noise, colour and oversize personality depicted on screen were sure to be a letdown – how could they not be?

Of course, I was wrong. I absolutely loved New York. Still in its pre-9/11 era, the city was vibrant and welcoming. The food, the energy, the delicious September weather was heady and romantic, just like in the films. Continue reading

reasons-to-travel-slowly

5 reasons to travel slowly

“We should do something,” said Kia, squinting in the sunlight.
“Like what?”
“I think there’s white water rafting close by. Or maybe ziplining.”
“Yeah,” I said, lying back. “Yeah, we should.”
“We should,” she repeated and then, with a leisurely yawn, fell back on her beach towel.

If our first month in Vanuatu was allegro, then Fiji has been more andante but really who can blame us? Fiji’s outer islands (which include the sets of Castaway and Blue Lagoon) are some of the most beautiful in world. In fact, the ‘garden island’ of Taveuni might just be the most picturesque island I’ve ever seen. Continue reading

awkward-travel-moments

6 excruciatingly awkward travel moments

We’re all aware that travel is supposed to be about exploring the globe, meeting amazing people and finding yourself. The web is littered with blog posts about life-changing and eye-opening moments. However, it’s not all heartening tales and romantic anecdotes.

I’ve been around the backpacker’s block and I’ve had several excruciatingly awkward travel moments; the sort of experiences that are so cringeworthy, you just don’t know where to look or what to say. Here’s my list of the top six. Continue reading

camping-together-first-time

City girl, country boy: camping together for the first time

I’ve always been impressed with Kia when it comes to outdoor adventuring. Ever since our first big trip when we spent a day hiking through the Cambodian jungle beneath torrential downpours, Kia has proved remarkably resilient.

We’ve since hiked to the top of slippery peaks, caved in pitch-black darkness deep underground and waded through icy cold rivers in the highlands and she’s always handled it with grace and mettle.

In fact, when it came to skydiving she put me to shame, barely even flinching as she launched herself out of a plane from 12,000 feet. She has certainly earned her stripes, so I figured it was time to put her to the test and go camping together for the first time. And what better place to do it than a tropical beach? Continue reading