travel guidebook

In defence of the 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.

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Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Climbing Kilimanjaro: Africa’s highest peak

Why climb? Because it’s there… and it can actually be done by most.

Kilimanjaro is the world’s highest freestanding mountain, meaning it is not attached to a mountain range. I trekked it in 2010 and it was inspirational to say the least. It was part of a big trip for me to East Africa — and after an extensive safari throughout the Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro Crater, coupled with several days on the exotic and dreamy island of Zanzibar — Kilimanjaro could easily have been overshadowed. But it wasn’t. Climbing Kilimanjaro was exhilarating, awe inspiring, breathtaking, incredible and one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I recommend it to anyone who has the time (and the energy). Continue reading

Travel Essentials

10 travel essentials

Here are ten travel essentials I never leave home without. From waterproofing to a friendly smile, these items are a must for every backpacker.

1. Waterproofing – stuff sacks and electronics

Trekking across Scotland is the best way to learn about waterproofing. In Scotland, it rains. You can have a good run and believe me I was having a good run but eventually, in Scotland, it rains. And after six days of glorious sunshine, on the final day of an eight-mile trek out of the Highlands, it started to rain. Really rain. We didn’t make it out the Highlands that day – the going was too slow and too miserable that by mid-afternoon we called it a day and set up our tents in the downpour.

My sleeping bag was soaked through. My camera, by some miracle had survived the drenching. It was a cold and damp night’s sleep that night. Before I travelled or trekked again, I bought some waterproof stuff sacks in a range of sizes for my sleeping bag, clothing and electronics, which have been invaluable. Continue reading

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. I’m worried that living out of a backpack won’t ‘free’ me in the way it’s supposed to. I’m worried that I’ll just want to come home. Continue reading

7 adventure cruises for your bucket list

Adventure travellers are generally accustomed to a degree of discomfort: camping on a mountain top, trekking through suffocating jungle, jumping off something very, very high. For even the most hardened traveller, however, there are some adventures that are just plain impossible to do alone. This is where cruise holidays come in. With the ability to carry passengers to the far reaches of the world, cruise ships offer a chance to go places and see things most of the population never get to do. Here we list the top adventure cruises for your bucket list (and by ‘bucket list’, we of course mean ‘when you win the lottery list’). Continue reading

Chittorgarh Fort

Not the Taj Mahal: Chittorgarh Fort in India

If you decide to take that trip of a lifetime to go and “find yourself” in India, it will probably include a trip to the Taj, a date with the Dalai Lama, a tour around the pink city of Jaipur and any number of other “spirit of India” experiences the guidebooks will throw at you. These sights are all, of course, worthy of your time but don’t miss Chittorgarh Fort, the Rajasthani gem rarely promoted as a must-see. I arrived in Chittorgarh after a 48-hour journey from Mumbai which included delayed trains (plural) and a rough night on a station platform at Ratlam Junction (another story altogether).

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avoid-traveller-burnout

Yoyu: how to 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. Like many of my peers, I spend a scary amount of time in front of a screen, be it a desktop at work, a laptop at home or a smartphone in between – and I want to avoid that on the road. This fear reminded me of a concept I learnt from the founder of Gotomedia, Kelly Goto: the concept of Yoyu. Continue reading

Return to India part II: my father’s story

This article was featured on National Geographic’s Traveller magazine website on 14th February 2015.

In the first of this two-part series, Peter recounted his tale of India in search of his father’s long lost friends. Five years after his initial visit, father and son return to India to reunite with those friends. Here is his father’s story.

Christmas Eve, 2013. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was warm on our backs. We stood on the roof veranda looking down on the dusty streets. A soft breeze was blowing which barely stirred the tangle of electricity and telephone wires that were draped between the houses in this relatively wealthy suburb of Bhilwara, Rajasthan. Each house was painted in different pastel shades of blue, green and peach and set against an azure sky. It was quiet and the roads were almost empty. This was indeed surprising, as this was India. Continue reading

The exhilarating Selvatica zip line tour, Mexico

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. Continue reading

reasons-why-airbnb-kicks-ass

5 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. Continue reading

taghazout-morocco

Not surfing in Taghazout, Morocco

You don’t have to be Australian, a sun-bleached “dude”, or even a surfer to enjoy this quiet little gem. Most people, including me, go to Morocco for the deserts, the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh or to visit some of the romantic (sounding) cities of Casablanca or Essaouira. Some may venture south to the resort-town of Agadir, which unfortunately feels more Costa Del Sol than Arabian dream. Few, though, will visit Taghazout, a small, quaint village 20km north of Agadir on the main coast road. Continue reading

climbing-nevis-peak-unguided

Climbing Nevis Peak unguided

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. With its lush and verdant greenery, Nevis looks more like rolling hill than a volcano – until you try climbing Nevis Peak solo. That’s when it reveals itself as the formidable feat it really is. Continue reading

backpacker-problems-women

5 backpacker problems only women will understand

Getting your period on the road

Most female backpackers on a long-term trip will have to go through the ordeal of having their period on the road, whether that involves changing tampons without running water or sitting out of a leisurely swim. Let’s face it: periods aren’t very fun. Even Bodyform – who peddled the idea of the miniskirted, roller-skating, skydiving girl-on-period for years – admitted in 2012 that they were lying. In truth and seriousness, periods are a pain especially if you’re planning the kind of active trip I am. There are volcanoes and mountains and diving and trekking and wild camping on our list – and the thought of having my period during any of that leaves me cold. Continue reading

beng-mealea-cambodia

The otherworldly ruins of Beng Mealea, Cambodia

I love playing Indiana Jones on my travels and regularly get into character whenever the location seems right. I’ve done The Temple of Doom in India, The Last Crusade in Jordan, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Nevis Peak. Even though Cambodia was never a location for the films, Beng Mealea seemed just so right for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Unfortunately, Kia prohibits me from posting videos of my silliness on the internet. Perhaps clips of me humming the Indiana Jones theme tune, jumping around in a hat and pretending to whip things embarrass her more than I like to think. Needless to say, when I suggested an Angelina Jolie impression for Angkor Wat, she was quick to veto that too. You’ll just have to make do with her far less cinematographic clip of Beng Mealea. Continue reading

language-learning-myths

5 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. Between us, we should have large parts of the South Pacific and South America covered. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

gullfoss-waterfall-iceland

The raging Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

Kia has many talents but there are three things she just doesn’t do: cook, drive and navigate. This is fine – unless I’m on a snowy and slippery road with low visibility and she’s by my side insisting that she can’t read the map. Luckily, on this occasion, I spotted a sign with a familiar name, þingvellir, and managed to navigate to our destination without the help of my lovely ‘assistant’. Continue reading

travelling-in-a-developing-country

10 tips for travelling in a developing country

I’ve been lucky enough to experience a decent cross-section of the world – rich and poor – and all the charms it has to offer. From the pristine streets of Berlin to the dusty roads of Delhi, from the clockwork metro in Austria to the rickety network of dalla-dallas in Tanzania careering along at breakneck speeds, and from 5-star luxury in the Maldives to a cockroach-infested Cambodian dorm – they all have their allure and if I’m honest, I’ve enjoyed my trips through the latter destinations more than the former. Travelling through a developing country can be arresting yet terrifying, breathtaking yet prosaic, tender but heartbreaking, thrilling and frustrating. Continue reading

poverty-tourism

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

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. It implies that it’s not so much a phenomenon as a boardroom strategy put together with the sole purpose of commoditising the individual. For me, it illustrates how powerful an ugly term can be and how visceral our reaction to it. This brought me to another equally ugly term: poverty tourism. Continue reading

talking-to-strangers-tips

5 tips for talking to strangers

As an avid traveller, teacher and part-time photographer, I’ve been lucky enough to meet lots of people from lots of different backgrounds. Some became lifelong friends while many more melted into the heap of faded friendships and acquaintances we all leave behind. That’s not to say that these fleeting encounters are immaterial – even a short conversation can prove to be unexpectedly enlightening or, at the very least, thoroughly entertaining. Continue reading