Is travel just another form of consumerism?

Borobudur in Indonesia, the most multilingual countryPambudi Yoga Perdana/Shutterstock

Travel is touted as the universal salve to all manner of ills. But isn’t it just another form of consumerism, packed and packaged to generate dollars?

When I was 10 years old, my father had his first heart attack. As a result, I became an ardent non smoker. When I was 13, I saw a pair of cows get slaughtered in Bangladesh. As a result, I became a vegetarian.

Over the ensuing two decades, I, the non-smoking vegetarian, developed a keen awareness of the fine line between conscientious environmentalism and smug arseholery. (Note: the latter pontificates on how you should live your life, the former does not.)

There are numerous beliefs and pursuits, like vegetarianism and non smoking, that can inspire excess levels of smugness. Prominent among them is travel.

Why we regret whale watching in Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Atlas & Boots

Whale watching in Mirissa is touted as a must-do, but tetchy tourists, crowded boats and unethical practices make for a deeply unsettling experience

Our first mistake was yielding to the hype. Sri Lanka is said to be the world’s only country in which you can see the largest land mammal (the elephant) and the largest water mammal (the blue whale), so we made whale watching in Mirissa a priority.

Our second mistake was using a local recommendation instead of our Sri Lanka guidebook – and thus we found ourselves at Mirissa harbour at 7am being herded onto a two-storey boat with 80 other people.

We placed our shoes in the communal storage box and gingerly headed upstairs. We found two empty seats at the back and pulled on our life jackets, watching in dismay as more and more people filed onto the boat with giant lenses and selfie sticks in tow.

The world is not getting better

world is not getting better lead 2020

Life for humans may be improving but what about everything else that shares our planet?

In trying times, social media users tend to share think pieces, charts and graphics proving that humanity has never had it so good.

These graphics focus on the growth of lovely things like basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination, and the decline of awful things like extreme poverty and child mortality.

Is it time for tourism caps?

tourism caps

As world population grows, so too will mass tourism. Will capping visitor numbers help or hinder?

In June this year, approximately 30,000 Icelanders flocked to France to support their team in Euro 2016. What’s remarkable is that the exodus accounted for almost 10% of Iceland’s entire population.

Iceland is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 330,000 residents spread across its vast expanse of land. With this in mind, it’s worrying to learn that an estimated 1.6 million tourists visited the country this year, far outstripping the number of residents and demonstrating a 20% increase on 2015 numbers.

Does the outdoors really have a diversity problem?

outdoors diversity problem

There are no ‘whites only’ signposts at trailheads, no segregated commode, no permits awarded by colour – so why does the outdoors have a diversity problem?

My younger sister watches the Arctic reindeer roam around on my screen. She smiles as one nips at a basketful of grain. Then, she double takes.

“Wait. Is that you?” she asks.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“You look like a farm girl!” she says in a tone somewhere between amusement and disdain. “Where’s your long coat?”
“I was in the Arctic,” I say. “I wasn’t going to wear a floaty coat from Zara.”

She tosses aside the phone, mystified as to why I’d choose comfort over style 350km north of the Arctic Circle.

Before they’re gone: landscapes affected by climate change

landscapes-affected-by-climate-change-philippinesDreamstime

Climate change is taking an unprecedented toll on the Earth’s World Heritage Sites and natural wonders. Below, we take a look at some of the worst affected landscapes

With the surprise news this week that Donald Trump will be the next president of the USA, it would be easy to overlook that with the news comes one of the biggest threats to the historic agreement on climate made in Paris earlier this year.

Trump has previously described climate change as “fictional” and “created by the Chinese”, and has promised to “cancel” the Paris climate deal completely. On the domestic front he also plans to repeal all federal spending on clean energy, including research and development for wind, solar, nuclear power and electric vehicles.

Visiting S21 prison: morbid or meaningful?

S21 prison processed over 17,000 people for extermination. Today, it is one of Cambodia’s most popular destinations. Is visiting distasteful or important?

There are some sights you likely see only once. Places like Petra, Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat are so grand, exotic and expensive, they are the very definition of a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.

Other sights are seen once because once is enough; places like Dachau concentration camp in Germany or S21 prison in Cambodia.

It was discomfiting then to find myself at the gates of S21 prison for the second time in five years. My first visit in 2011 had been harrowing enough. We had evaded an overzealous tour guide and journeyed through the former prison alone – a sobering experience I wasn’t sure I wanted to repeat.

Risky travel: how much is too much?

Is it safe to travel to Turkey or other areas of unrest? After several weeks in the country, we reflect on recent attacks and ask how much risk is too much

On Tuesday 7th June 2016, a bomb went off in central Istanbul, killing 11 people and injuring 36 others. The news was particularly sobering because we had been in the city only a day and a half before.

We had spent a few weeks travelling through parts of western Turkey, stopping in Istanbul, Selçuk and Ephesus, Denizli, Pamukkale and Cappadocia and finishing off in Istanbul.

On the flight back to London, I mentally planned the post I wanted to write: a call for tourists to start visiting Turkey again, to experience the iconic landscapes, historic architecture, delicious food and amazing people of Turkey.

Brexit: waking up to Little Britain

Waking-up-to-little-Britain-featimg-2

Britain’s decision to leave the EU was a bad one. On Friday 24th June I woke up to discover I live in a very different Britain to what I thought

Kia and I tend to steer clear of politics on this blog. We have such a varied and international audience, it’s rare that the politics of one region will interest everyone. However, last week our home country made a decision that sent shockwaves across the globe. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union was a bad decision and one I feel I can’t ignore.

The countries I least want to see

“So what’s the plan after Africa?” I ask Peter.
He shrugs nonchalantly. “We’ll see after Africa.”
I frown.

As ever, I need a game plan. I know we’re planning to head to Africa in the summer but what comes after? Do we settle in London and travel in between things? Do we stay on the road? Do we move to Sri Lanka of which we occasionally and idly dream?

6 charmless South American towns we couldn’t avoid

a street in Uyuni Bolivia one of our charmless South American towns

Tourist towns inevitably crop up next to major sights and more often than not, they’re completely charmless. Here are five we failed to avoid

Travellers go to Latin America hoping, expecting, knowing they’ll be wowed. Home to three of the world’s Seven Wonders, the region has a wealth of both manmade and natural attractions.

Travellers also know that their journey through this vast continent won’t always be full of rainbows and kittens. Amid the bright, great wonders will be dreary days in dull towns with nary a redeeming feature.

Work-life balance: what Americans can learn from the Brits

work-life balance: people working at a table

So many of us can afford to work less and yet we choose not to. As we prepare to return to work, we look at why work-life balance is still so elusive

Tim Armstrong, the 43-year-old CEO of AOL, gets out of bed at 5am. He tries to hold off sending emails until 7am. After this, he’s on email “in the morning, during the commute, and late at night.” For some of the weekend he enjoys a respite but then starts work calls and emails at 7pm on Sunday.

Natural wonders vs manmade sights

natural wonders: pyramids of Giza

Atlas & Boots host Lonely Planet’s #LPChat

In August, we hosted Lonely Planet’s #LPChat on Twitter to celebrate the release of their Ultimate Travelist, a list of 500 unmissable attractions across the world ranked by their global community of travel experts. The subject in question was natural wonders vs manmade sights.

10 lessons from ‘the world’s poorest president’

interesting facts about Uruguay poor presidentCreative Commons

Uruguay’s José Mujica, the ‘world’s poorest president’, lives in a 1-bed home, drives a Beetle and gives away 90% of his salary. We share his wisdom

I’ve always had a very specific idea about Uruguay. Crouched deep in the belly of the continent, it was in my mind an expansive plain of rolling hills, laconic gauchos astride thoroughbred horses and tall blades of grass bristling in the sun.

I’m sure my version of Uruguay exists somewhere but the one I found was vastly different. Instead of a South American Arcadia, I found a modern country with liberal views and impressively progressive laws.

10 places to see before they’re gone – or perhaps not

Diving the Galápagos

Friends and readers often ask us about the Galápagos. Is it worth the expense, they say. Would you recommend going?

The truth is it’s hard to encourage people to visit when we’ve seen first hand the damaging effects of human presence on the islands. Equally, it’s hard to discourage people from visiting because a) it would be hypocritical and b) underneath the frenzied tourism lies a unique destination with some of the best beaches we’ve seen and the best diving we’ve ever done (sharks, rays, sea lions and turtles). Clearly, the islands are worth a visit.

Checking my privilege: why travel reminds me I’m not as smart as I think

things about the British

Privilege is so often invisible to those who have it. It provides us security and strokes our egos and lays claim to achievements that aren’t fully ours

I never felt poor until I went to university. I was one of eight siblings that grew up in a Tower Hamlets council house (vouchers for my school uniform, free school meals), but I never felt that my family was poor until I entered higher education.

There, my peer-set changed from Bengali girls like me to those whose families owned second homes, second cars and even thriving businesses – not international conglomerates like you might find at Oxbridge, but impressive nonetheless: a diamond shop in west London, a doctor’s surgery in Surrey, an accountancy firm in Redbridge.

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.

World’s most divisive destinations: should you go?

most visited countries in the worldAtlas & Boots

We look at some of the world’s most divisive destinations destinations that continue to pull in the crowds

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, the world’s most 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.