Battling Rabies And Hanging Out With A UFO-Abductee

30 Jan

From riding in the back of an ex-army truck across Africa to battling rabies and drinking his own Urine, Irish travel writer and presenter Manchan Magan is not your regular D4 head!

He may have grown up in Donnybrook but he is living a life far removed from the world of Yummy Mummies. He could speak Irish before he could speak English and despite being the great-grandnephew of nationalist “The O Rahilly” he has always felt disconnected from Ireland.

“I never connected with the world I was brought up in and it left me feeling depressed in my teenage years”, he says.

He is talking to me via Skype from New Mexico, where he is currently helping with the Obama Campaign. Never a dull day I would say.

At the young age of 20 he embarked on a trip of a lifetime. He brings me back to a young, innocent Manchan Magan about to begin his first ever adventure; an epic six month trip from London to Nairobi in the back of an ex-army Truck with 18 unlikely adventurers from 2 privately educated schoolgirls to a locksmith who claims to be a UFO-abductee.

Magan holds back nothing when describing some of the hilarious, eccentric, and shady characters he travelled with, which he explains is why he waited nearly 20 years to publish it.

“When I was younger I preferred reading books that were honest so I like to be brutally honest about everything, whether I am writing about the terrible things I did in South America or the terrible things people did to me in Africa”.

On this first trip across the Dark Continent he encountered witch doctors, drug runners and missionaries. He talks about hitching with dessert nomads in Morocco to being stranded in the middle of the Congo with no food and no money. He was looking for some romance and compassion but all he got was an infectious disease.

“When I returned home with Bilharzia, the doctors here had never seen it before and were entranced by he tests”, Manchan recalls.

“The doctors in the tropical medical bureau out in Dun Laoghaire couldn’t hide their excitement. They seemed to forget my life was in their hands! A new cure had just been released and the Irish government was obliged to use me as a guinea pig to try in out and I was cured within days.”

As I listen to Manchan talk about his travels I can’t help but smile. I can immediately sense his passion and love for the places he has been. That is until I get him talking about his years at a student in UCD, where he studied Arts for 3 years.

“I promised my mum I would go back to College so it was only for her. I was disgusted by how little I had learnt in 3 years in UCD compared with everything I had picked up in Africa. It was my travel experience that created me!”

“The trip I enjoyed the most though was my time in Ecuador”, he tells me. As he reached the Valley of Longevity he realises he had reached a place he could call home. Here he settled down for 7 months where he worked at an organic health spa.

“I also had no choice but to stay put as the Doctors there were treating me for Rabies”. Honest as always.

From running a spa in Ecuador to living in a cave and befriending a gay Leper up in the Himalayas, Manchan has had no shortage of diversity in his life. It was here, high up in the mountains, that Magans brother Ruan came to rescue him.

“I was living the life of a Hermit and had lost all communication with the outside world. I had become delirious living on my own Urine so when Ruan came along with the camera it was the only thing I could talk to.” It was from here that Manchan Magan became the renowned travel presenter he is today.

Now a full-time writer, broadcaster and TV presenter he has a travel column in the Irish Times, regular slots on RTE radio and has made over 50 documentaries worldwide. Yet Magan says he is sticking to his Idealistic ways. He lives in a house made entirely of straw surrounded by his self planted forest in Co. Westmeath.

“I got the idea when I was living out in British Colombia for a few years. I needed to find what I connected with in life and ended up living in a hippie commune where everything was environmentally sustainable.”

I ask him his plans for the future, and he tells me he plans on following his heart…right back to Africa, where all this madness began over 20 years ago. Another crazy adventure awaits for Manchan Magan.

5 things NOT to do in Portugal

22 Jan

This is the second guest post of 2015, written by my great friend Gil. Gil is originally from Portugal, but now lives in the ‘metropolis’ of Cork, in the south of Ireland where he spends his day at a fruit factory, and his nights drinking pints and blogging about his travel adventures. Here’s what he has to say on planning a trip to beautiful Portugal.

Are you tired of those lists telling what to do or how to plan your holidays?

If so, this post is for you! If not, this is also for you…I don’t discriminate!

In a nutshell, Portugal is the backyard of Spain. That place where you put all those amazing things you want to keep safe and then you end up forgetting you have them. That’s Portugal, a small country usually overlooked by many, enjoyed by few and that will mesmerize you if you discard all those touristic flyers and programs that tell you things you don’t wanna see or do.

I am Portuguese, and I love my country. I have traveled a bit, and the more I travel the more I love my country, and that’s why I created this small list of things NOT to do in Portugal!

This article should be read with openness to humor and sarcasm. All the tips below should be considered with the right measure..there aren’t two people alike therefore it makes no sense to write a guide how to be in a country or what to do. I wrote this article based on some stereotypes about Portugal and Portuguese people I’ve heard since I started traveling, life is just boring if you can’t have a laugh.

5 – Wear high-heels

In Time-Photocall in Berlin

As the gentlemen I want to think I am, let’s start with the ladies! Please, do yourselves a favor and leave the high-heels at home! You won’t want to wear them in Portugal! Your experience will be way more enjoyable if you use more comfortable shoes.

Why is that, you ask? The traditional Portuguese pavement is basically black and white cubes of basalt and limestone stones placed together, and you’ll see it across the whole country! Still not sure what I’m talking about? Do you know that famous sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro? That one was inspired in the Portuguese pavement in Rossio Square in Lisbon, and it is a hell for those that wear high-heels! Your tiny and sharp heel will certainly get stuck between those stones, and if you’re lucky you might just end up with a broken heel. I’m sure you don’t want to imagine what might happen if you aren’t so lucky…

So ladies, forget about your shiny high-heels!

4 – Count your calories

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This one is for those obsessed about counting calories and burning them. If you’re like that, Portugal isn’t the country for you. Nor Spain, nor Italy, nor any southern country! Mediterranean food is just amazingly tasty. Of course you can find healthier food options, fish in Portugal is unreal and usually a healthy choice.

But our cuisine is also quite rich, so I am sure you won’t be able to avoid trying a few tradicional dishes like the Francesinha, tradicional sandwich dish from Oporto. Francesinha, as I like to describe, is a heart-attack served in a plate. And our sweets…, oh man…, I am already drooling here…

Nope, if you go to Portugal forget about your diets, your calories and make sure you check your cholesterol before you go!

3 – Have a pint

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Why wouldn’t one want to have a pint in Portugal, you may ask? In fairness, if you come from a country like Ireland, Germany, Czech Republic or any other country with a good variety of beers and craft beers, you might find the Portuguese beer a bit disappointing. In Portugal we don’t know what a lagger is, or an ale, or an IPA. We ask for a beer, and we get a beer. Our deal is wines, we’re picky about wines and we are really good at it! Beers not so much. But that’s not the point here, of course you can always find an irish pub somewhere where you can find your delicious badly poured in less than one minute Guinness, the thing is, usually it is hot in Portugal, and a pint will get warm before you even reach half of it. And that’s just disgusting in my opinion! You’ll want a glass, a bit girly I know, but if you want to enjoy your beer that’s what you should go for.

2 – Go to Algarve

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As a Portuguese guy living in Ireland, one of the things that annoys me the most is people saying they’ve been to Portugal, and for them Portugal is “Albufeira” or “Algarve”. Don’t take me wrong, but Algarve is really beautiful, but by far Portugal is way more than that. Algarve is overrated and overpriced comparing with the rest of Portugal, and during Summer it is also overcrowded! Rent a car, and drive a few kilometers North, and go to the Vicentina’s Coast. The water will be colder, that’s the Atlantic coast, but you’ll have kilometers and kilometers of sandy beaches with way less people! I’m sure if you want to go to Algarve, you’re thinking about sandy beaches and relaxation, you’ll hardly find both in Algarve during Summer. The beaches are there, the sand as well, but almost everything is covered by towels of thousands of other sheep-alike tourists.

1 – Speak in Spanish

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This one seems to the be the most obvious one, but it isn’t for a big part of the tourists that visit Portugal. We speak a different language, Portuguese is not a dialect of Spanish, it is a whole different language with Germanic, Celtic, Latin and Arabic influences! If you speak in Spanish to us, most probably we will understand you, but some people might be uneasy to help you or even feel insulted by that. Anywhere in the world, it is always a matter of politeness to ask if the person speaks a certain another language, like Spanish :)

Unlike Spain, in Portugal we don’t dub the movies, everything is subtitled. This means we are familiar with English language, we might not understand everything but we will do our best to help you, just remember to be polite and ask us if we speak English, or Spanish or anything else. The best way to show respect to a native is trying to speak their language, badly pronounced Portuguese is still way better than spotless Spanish when talking to a Portuguese person :) Now, open your favorite air company’s website, and book your ticket to Portugal!

The Absolute Worst Places On This Planet To Visit

20 Jan

I asked Google what the opposite of a Bucket List was and it told be it’s called a ‘F*ck It’ list or a ‘Sh*t List’. Makes sense, as these places, these events, these activities are ones that made me swear (a lot) and made me wish I could just curl up in a ball a transport myself home. Because let’s me honest – travel isn’t always pretty. 

This is obviously, as always, quite personal. I don’t expect you all to agree with me, but I would love to hear what places you would never dream of returning to. The world ain’t perfect people.

 (Note – often times I absolutely love the people in the place I’m bashing, or I love the country as a whole, so don’t get too defensive. Just saying. )

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

Anthony Bourdain -

Manila, Philippines.

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What an absolute Godforsaken city. I hated it the first time round, but decided I would give it a second chance around this time last year. That resulted in a trek through the slums next to the airport where we got mugged and my friend’s camera was stolen. We had literally been on Filipino soil for less than an hour when this happened. The hostel we stayed in wasn’t fit for pigs, it was horrifically disgusting. I won’t go on…it’s too painful.

Kalokol, Northern Kenya

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Don’t worry, it’s highly likely you have never heard of this tiny village located in the middle of the desert in Northern Kenya, and that’s probably a good thing. We ended up there and got totally scammed. Both Lonely Planet and the locals sort of crushed our dreams. It was once a booming fishing village (about 15 years ago) but over-fishing killed all the fish, so now there is virtually nothing left there.  We ended up almost getting eaten by crocodiles (no joke!), suffering from severe dehydration, and were left to find our way out of the desert by numerous locals who drove past us, whizzing across the sand in matatus, and laughing. Absolute nightmare of a place.

Gangnam, South Korea

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If you haven’t heard the song, get off my blog as you must be from another planet. The affluent area of Seoul, made famous the world over by Psy and his crazy dancing, is actually a sad, sad place. Did you know 1 in every 5 women in Seoul have had plastic surgery? And it all happens in crazy places like Gangnam. These people, along with young, beautiful and super-rich kids party the weekend away in the clubs in this area paying scandalous prices for 1 drink. Oh and if you are a foreigner, expect to wait longer and get charged up to double. They will screw you right over. It’s also an area where street hawkers and local slum dwellers literally got driven off the streets, with absolutely no warning. It really is an awful, awful pocket of an otherwise pretty cool city. AVOID.

Kuta, Bali

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I’m a (mature) backpacker – Get Me Outta Here!!

Oh Kuta, how I loathe your very being. I saved for months to go to Bali. I dreamed, I saved, I googled, I was ready to be mesmerised. Then, I arrived in Kuta. WTF. The place is like Benidorm for Australians. People walking down the street half-naked, all wearing the same crappy t-shirts with major brand beer logos splattered across the front. Shop after shop of really shitty souvenirs. Clubs that charge for drinks at exorbitant prices and where if you are lucky you will just get robbed and if you’re unlucky you will get your drink spiked or worse. People selling all sorts of dodgy drugs on the streets, scary thugs hanging out on dark corners and drunk, teenage Aussie puking their guts up outside a McDonalds. This is NOT the Bali I dreamed about. I will for sure go back to Bali, but you could not pay me to go back to Kuta.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Oh all the capital cities I have visited, this could well be the worst. I will never forget my first night in Addis Ababa, mainly because it was one of the worst nights of my life. I literally could not find a place to sleep. I had money, I had a taxi and we simply could not find a room at the inn. It was all a bit ironic really, considering it was nearing December 25th on the Ethiopian calendar (which is 7.5 years behind our calendar) and they were preparing to celebrate the millennium (it was 2007, my time!). In Ethiopia, it was ‘high season’. I guess that will teach me to research what calendar different countries use before I fly there.

I ended up staying in a brothel. I knew it was a brothel because it was pay by the hour. Me and my friend ended up being the only westerners, me the only non-prostitute. There were syringes all over the floor, used condoms and 2 rats ran out of the cupboard when I opened it. The “toilet” was half a door, and guys kept bursting in on me. They followed me to my room and peeked through the keyhole. They pushed the shitty, wooden window panes open from the outside and pushed their heads in through the window. Not one wink of sleep was had, not one thing was touched. We couldn’t leave because we didn’t trust leaving our luggage there so no dinner was eaten that night. Brilliant start to my 6 week backpacking trip…NOT.

Agadir, Morocco

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My Mum recently said she would not go back to Agadir even if someone paid her a million dollars. Personally I would go anywhere for that much money, but I certainly agree with her sentiment. Unless you want to get harassed until you can no longer bear it, unless you want to pay for an all-inclusive hotel but feel guilty about actually drinking any alcohol, unless you want to walk down a beach filled with (and I’m not exaggerating) 100,000 Moroccan Men and not one single woman, and unless you want to be sold for 100 camels to the highest bidder…I suggest you avoid travelling to Agadir, Morocco.

Nairobi, Kenya

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I used to think I hated Jo’burg in South Africa more than Nairobi, but having returned (alone) for the 3rd time recently I have decided I definitely hate Nairobi more. How some expats CHOOSE to live in such a such a dangerous city is beyond me. Forget walking around to see the sights, you WILL get mugged. Don’t even think of leaving your hotel/hostel after dark, at best you will get mugged or stabbed, at worst you will get raped. I once arrived on a night bus from Mombasa, that dropped us all off on some dodgy side street at 5am in the morning, only to be grabbed by two guys, harassed by taxi drivers, and then wrestled for my bag and all my possessions. I literally ran, in pouring, monsoon rain, in whatever direction my feet decided to take me. I ran into the first, shitty, hotel I found and begged for a room. There was no lock, so I moved my bed against the door and slept with one eye open while men continued to bang on my door throughout the night. Another ‘brothel’, no doubt. God I hate that city.

The Pyramids in Cairo, Egypt

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What do you think of when you imagine the pyramids? One of the last remaining original 7 wonders of the world? Miraculous architectural achievements, in the middle of the Egyptian desert? Think what you like, the reality is pretty devastating. While I remain fascinated by the Pyramids themselves, the history, the myths, the human achievement, I absolutely detest what has happened right next to them. The Pyramids are in Cairo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Like they are literally right there in the middle of Cairo. Cairo, has in fact, grown almost the whole way around these magnificent buildings as the Egyptian government obviously doesn’t give a crap as long as they are still making money from stupid tourists. Guess what is right behind the Sphinx? A KFC!! A freaking Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. So go ahead and pay some corrupt police man to take some ‘clever positioned’ photos of you touching the Great Pyramid or you looking all arab sitting on a stupid camel, but don’t tell me it wasn’t, overall, a massive MASSIVE disappointment.

Phuket, Thailand

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This one still baffles me as Phuket use to be on my BUCKET LIST and I always thought it would be pure dreamy. I arrived by long distance bus on a wet and humid day last August, and within about 2 hours I wanted to get the hell out. Granted, I was staying in Patong, but the fact that a place like that even exists disgusted me. Seeing 2 beautiful, 18-year-old Thai girls walking arm in arm with a fat, drunk, 65-year-old English chap was enough to make me vomit up last nights Pad Thai. The guys making that grotesque popping sound with their fingers and cheeks to advertise the ping-pong show (where old women shoot table tennis balls out of their…well you get it) was enough to send me running. The beach was far from idyll, their were russians absolutely everywhere, transport was awful and when I got a tuk tuk to the other, nicer side of the island I was totally ripped off. I don’t think I would ever go back to Phuket, and would recommend you pick a better, nicer Thai island to spend a few days on.

A Glimpse Of Beautiful Prague

18 Jan

As part of my 2015 New Year’s Resolution to see one new country every month, I jetted off to beautiful Prague two weeks ago with 5 amazing ladies from GirlCrew Dublin, a great new community that helps people find gig buddies, exercise buddies or in my case travel buddies.

The strangest thing about the trip was that none of us had met before so arriving at Dublin airport on the Friday morning was was pretty exciting. Luckily, everyone was incredibly nice and we all got along great. Just as well, considering we would all be sharing an apartment together for the next few nights!

Prague has always been a place I wanted to visit as I had heard nothing but positive reviews from family and friends about the stunning architecture, the castle, Charles bridge, the famous ‘Infant of Prague’ statue and of course all that local beer!!

While I did find it a little more expensive than many make it out out to be, I was truly blown away by how beautiful the city was. Thus, instead of describing all the amazing places we saw, I will instead share this mini photo essay with you. All these were taken on my Nokia Lumia phone…so they are hardly the best quality but I like them none-the-less. 

prague architecture

bridge river cruise

charicature charles bridge charles bridge winter charles bridge church prague   modern architecture prague 2  prague at night prague buildings prague castle prague colour prague cruise prague skyline selfie prague tram prague

Top 10 Things To Do In The Land Of Dragons And Emperors

18 Jan

This is the first guest post of 2015 (I hope there will be many!), written by my close friend Alison Egan. Alison has been living in China (first Beijing and now Shanghai) for many years thus I could think of no better person to write a post about all that this incredible, and huge, country has to offer. Below is her pick of the top 10 things to do in China, from the eyes of a local/expat. I’m sure she would love to hear any feedback you have!

10. Hike the Great Wall of China

great wall of china

Avoid the popular tourist-drenched parts of the wall at Badalin and head straight for Mutianyu (about 1 hour drive from Beijing) where you can hike in peace while enjoying the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains. It is becoming more and more popular though, so maybe even venture further to Jianko but be sure to beware of falling rocks!

9. Watch the sunset at the Summer Palace

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Pack a picnic and a bottle of wine in the early afternoon and head straight to the Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing City. While here, rent a boat on the Summer Palace Lake and watch the sunset in the distance over the Great Wall of China while sipping some french wine. Do not drink Chinese wine!! Don’t forget to bring your corkscrew!

8. Cycle through the Beijing Hutongs

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Allow yourself to get lost cycling through the old Beijing alleyways and you might just find some really interesting sights. Elderly people playing majong, people drinking snake blood from a bottle with the snake inside, children walking around with pants that have holes cut out on their bottom so they can just squat and poop whenever they feel like it! A great way to see Beijing street scenes up close and personal.

7. Eat some colorful chinese dumplings

colourful-dumplings
Beijing’s famous dumpling restaurant, Baoyuanjiaozi at Maizidan Lu, will not disappoint you. While not the most aesthetically pleasing of restaurants, it is about as real as it gets when it comes to chinese restaurants. The dumplings are a famous Beijing delicacy and come in a variety of bright colours. A must try!

6. Climb Huashan Moutain, Xian by night.

Hua-Shan
Most people visit Xian for the famous Terracotta Warriors but for me the 6 hour all-through-the-night climb of Hua shan Mountain was one of my all time favourite travel highlights. It is one of the most dangerous climbs in China but incredibly rewarding at the top when you arrive for sunrise…and a cup of tea! You can read more about the world’s most terrifying trail here.

5. Visit the Buddhist temples of Shangri-La, Yunnan.

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Arriving in Shangri-La at night was sort of like landing in Mars. Orange dusty landscape like nowhere else on earth. A beautiful place where the air smells of burning incense and buddhist monks are floating around in their orange robes. The oxygen aerosol cans that you have to bring with you everywhere and frequently spray in your mouth because of the altitude is quite a novelty.

4. Have a coffee in the Old French Quarters of Shanghai

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Take a stroll around the french concession or even better take a bike or vespa. Stop by the Yongfu Elite club which is an old colonial building (was the old British Embassy) hidden behind a wild and overgrown garden. Have a coffee here in the late afternoon at a candle-lit table.

3. Party on The Bund by night, Shanghai.

the bund view shanghaiHave dinner on the terrace of M on the Bund, a waterfront area in central Shanghai, followed by a cocktail and a dance at Bar Rouge terrace. You will be blown away by the famous skyline of Shanghai with the flashing neon lights of all the skyscrapers.

2. Watch the fisherman’s light show in Yangshuo, Guilin.

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This was a magical moment for my mum and I on our trip to Guilin. After spending the day floating on rafts on the River Li, the fisherman’s light show was a spectacular end to our day. It brought tears and goosebumps. Words cannot describe it you just have to experience it!

1. Go to the Aircraft Carrier Party in Tianjin.

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This is an all-night rave with Dj’s from all around China coming to put on the party of the year. It is hosted in a decommissioned Ukrainian aircraft carrier which permanently rests at the port of Tianjin, 3 hours from Beijing. It is now a hotel and casino but still has the upper deck filled with aircraft. You might just meet your husband here…this is where I met mine!

Here are some other great blog posts on things to do in China from fellow bloggers:

GETTING AROUND CHINA – PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES

THE SOUTH PEAK OF HUA SHAN

YOU NEED TO GO TO CHINA

Top 5 Travel Startups To Check Out In 2015

17 Jan

I have seen a lot of new and interesting travel startups pop up on my various social media feeds over the past few months, many of which I am very excited about trying out. From travel apps that give you the opportunity to to do free accommodation exchanges in cities all over the world, to apps that help you meet locals that will take you on unique adventures with them, these are the Top 5 Travel Startups to check out this year.

5. Nightswapping

Nightswapping

Nightswapping is a new travel app that allows people to travel and sleep for free all over the world. A mix between Couchsurfing and home-swapping, for every night you host people in your own home, you are entitled to a free night in someone else’s house in destinations around the world. From beautiful Chateaus in the French countryside, to stunning town houses in London, Nightswapping enables you to stay for free in accommodation you would otherwise only dream about. WIth over 6,000 hosts in 54 countries, this is definitely one to watch in 2015.

4. Advlo

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Advlo (which stands for ‘Adventure Local’) aims to promote adventurous travel in exciting destinations all over the world. Instead of booking a tour, or an activity online through a large travel agency, Advlo will connect you with adventurous locals that can take you kitesurfing in Ecuador or spearfishing in Hawaii. Users of the site can also create their own adventures and charge people to come along and join the trip. I really hope to join one of their adventures this year.

3. travayl

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travayl is a social travel platform that lets users organize their trip around what matters most to them, focusing on visual content discovery rather than text. You can search the images either by destination or activity, create your bucket lists and actually plan and book your trip all in once place. Users can monetize their travel photos and videos by uploading them on to the site and becoming a partner, making it a great way to make money while traveling.

2. AirHelp

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AirHelp is the answer to all your prayers! If you have been on a delayed or cancelled flight or been denied boarding within the last three years you could be entitled up to $800 from the airline, and AirHelp is here to help you get any compensation owed to you. On the AirHelp website, smartphone app or Facebook page, air passengers can check if they are eligible for compensation. They can then request that AirHelp handles their claim on what the company describes as a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis. Seems like a win win situation to me!

1. Feastly

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Feastly allows travelers to eat delicious home cooked meals with locals. Often when backpacking it can get very exhausting going out to restaurant after restaurant, night after night, eating virtually the same meals again and again. Feastly enables you not only to eat a home cooked meal in someone else homes, but also potentially helps you to make new friends as you might be eating dinner with a collection of other hungry strangers! Right now this is only available in a few select cities, but I’m hoping that they will expand further in 2015!

Top 10 Unusual Travel Destinations for 2015

15 Jan

After reading this great post by Elite Daily outlining ‘50 Unpredictable And Non-Clichéd Places To Travel To In Your 20s’, I thought I would write my own list of unusual travel destinations which I think you should check out. Not all of you though, don’t want these secret places getting too touristy now, do we?

Sometimes there are amazing, and quiet, hideaways waiting for you just around the corner from top tourist destinations. You don’t have to travel to Easter Island or West Africa just to get off the beaten track. Here are my Top 10 unusual travel destinations. Would love to hear what yours are!

10. Ssese Islands, Uganda.

While Uganda is far from the top of any Lonely Planet ‘Top Travel Destination’ list, it is slowly but surely growing as an interesting spot for people backpacking through East Africa or on some group truck trip down through the African continent.

The Ssese islands are a sort of unspoiled paradise smack bang in the middle of Lake Victoria, which in case you didn’t know, is the biggest tropical lake in the world! Think remote beaches, pineapple plantations, freshly caught fish for lunch and an unlimited supply of green, spiky-leafed plants that rhyme with bead. ;-) Just be careful of the Piranhas when swimming…

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9. Sapa, Northern Vietnam

Vietnam is now a popular spot for many adventurous travellers and is one of the most frequented destinations on the infamous ‘banana pancake trail’ around South East Asia. Sapa, which is a farming community in the far North of the country on the border with China, is a lot less busy than the rest of the country. The local H’mong people still live life the same way they probably did 50 or even 100 years ago. You can do a home-stay with these amazing people, after hiking for hours through the most stunning terraced rice fields and indulge in some of the most delicious traditional Vietnamese food which you will ever have the pleasure to eat.

sapa rice terraces

8. Inhambane, Mozambique

Think long white sandy beaches, hammocks, palm trees, fresh coconut cocktails and staying in rooms made of bamboo that line the beach. No jet-skis, no salespeople, no fancy restaurants at rip-off prices…this is true backpacker paradise. You can spend your days lying in a hammock reading a good book, or head out on a traditional boat for some snorkelling in some of the most undisturbed coral reefs in the world. The only trouble you’ll have when it come to Inhambane is actually getting there!

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7. Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

Soooo not a lot of people know that you can actually go to Ethiopia on your vacation. Lot’s of people haven’t a clue how GREEN this country is, so full of trees and wildlife and mountains. People just think of poverty, sand and the desert. This does not describe Ethiopia. In fact tourist agencies in the country promote it as the land of ’13 months of sunshine ‘ (thanks to its’ bizarre calendar it has 13 months  in the calendar year and is 7.5 years behind the rest of the world!!)

The Bale mountains are unbelievably beautiful and you can organize a 1 week trek on horse back fairly easily on arrival. Meet medicine men, local children, learn about the medicinal properties of every plant and tree you pass, and pick what animal you would like killed and cooked for your dinner. A pretty amazing experience!

bale mountains

6. Slieve League, Ireland

Just because I travel a lot outside of Ireland doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the beauty this country has to offer. However, I do encourage tourists to get off the beaten track and to avoid tourist traps like Temple Bar, Kilkenny and even the Cliffs of Moher. Why not go somewhere where few tourists go, but will blow you away. For me one of these destinations is Slieve League in Donegal, famed for being Europe’s highest sea cliffs.

Following a walk along the unprotected cliff, you can drive to some of the nearby fishing villages for a nice pint (better than the Guinness storehouse!) and some delicious pub grub. I did a road trip around Donegal a few years ago and it was one of the best weekend trips I have ever done.

slieve-league-cliffs

5. Tbilisi, Georgia

Georgia (the country, not the state) is not very well known. In fact apart from the people I travelled there with, I have only met 2 or 3 people who have ever ventured there. Tbilisi, the country’s capital, is the most magical city. Arriving by night, all the old building around the city are beautifully lit up and it really gives the impression of a fairytale.

There are lots of great things to see and do in and around the city, but the real highlight is the people, the food and the oh -so-tasty Georgian wine! Everyone in Georgia makes their own wine and there is no shortage of it. The bread, the cheese and the wine will make you never want to leave. If you are lucky…you might even get to hear some locals singing a traditional Georgian folk song – now that is something you will never forget.

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4. Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

For me, the Cameron Highlands sort of remind me of Vietnam, except instead of terraced rice fields, they are growing endless rows of tea leaves. Tours around this area are fascinating, learning about the history of the tea plantations were started, where all the tea goes, and learning about the medicinal properties of all the plants in the area.

There are some super relaxed hotels and nature hostels in the area, where you can easily waste away a few days listening to other travelers tales and reading some great books.

CV1

3. Zanzibar, Tanzania

For anyone who has traveled around East Africa, this won’t seem like much of an unusual destination, but for people who have never set foot on the African continent, they may not have heard of this absolute gem. Located off the coast of Tanzania, Zanzibar is both the ultimate honeymoon destination and the perfect backpacker getaway.

Start your visit in the historic stone town, where you can easily get lost down the winding, narrow streets filled with the smell of spices, and incense and delicious street food. After a day or two, make your way to the long, empty palm-tree lined beaches where you can learn to scuba dive, swim with turtles or dance the night away at one of East Africa’s best beach parties Zanzibar really is an incredible destination for your bucket list.

Stone-Town

2. Watamu, Kenya

Another gem in East Africa is this beautiful bay about half way up the Kenya coast, a few hours North of Mombassa. Famous for its crystal clear waters, excellent snorkelling and scuba diving sites and some pretty incredible forts and ancient ruins near by.

In recent years, it has become a popular package holiday destinations for many germans, but those areas and hotels can be avoided easily enough. My favourite thing about Watamu was hanging with some local beach boys who introduced me to ‘cow on a stick’ which is essentially pieces of beef barbecued on a grill on the side os a street then..you guessed it…put on a stick and sold for about 50 cent. So delicious!

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1. Jeju Island, South Korea

For Koreans, Jeju Island is the top vacation spot. For anyone who has never been to Korea, it’s probably a place you have never heard of! Compared to the rest of Korea, it is a tropical paradise. Compared to normal tropical destinations, it probably isn’t as breath taking but for what it lacks it palm trees, it makes up for in cliff walks, blue lagoons, waterfalls and weird and wonderful attractions.

The 5 days I spent on Jeju island was by far the highlight of my 2 years in South Korea. Days spents walking on the beautiful beaches, exploring parks full of life size penis statues and people re-enacting sex positions (!!), renting scooters and ATV’s, jumping into natural blue lagoons, swimming in waterfalls, walking in 2km long lava tunnels and seeing a UNESCO world heritage site – all on one tiny island!

jeju loveland penis

2015 Travel Bucket List

15 Jan

Quick post to share with you some of the destinations I hope to travel to this year. It has always been my goal to visit 50 countries before my 30th birthday, which means I need to visit a minimum of 5 countries this year. Considering it’s January 15th and I have one ticked off already, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Being back this side of the globe (Europe, that is) I would like to make the most of cheap Ryanair flights so I have set myself a goal of visiting 1 new country every month for 12 months! I really want one of those trips to be to the states as I have so many friends I want to visit there. Ideally I want to go to Burning Man Festival this summer…but that depends if I can find people to go with and can get my hands on a ticket!

I plan to stay away from Asia this year, as I covered so much of it over the last 2 years. Time to look in a new direction, and make the most of the amazing destinations closer to home!

buck

On the list so far….

Czech Republic (Just spend the weekend in Prague!)

England (London mainly!)

Germany (Berlin for a Eurocamp Reunion)

Croatia (A lovely sun holiday)

Greece (More sun…lots of islands)

Iceland (direct flights from Ireland start this summer – yay!)

Denmark (Copenhagen to visit friends)

Sweden (plan to drive over form Denmark!)

Norway (hiking, lakes, glaciers…such beauty!)

South Africa (It has been 10 years since my last visit – my heart is still there!)

That leaves 2 countries yet to be decided…any good suggestions?

Visas in South East Asia – The Lowdown

7 Jan

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One of the most stressful things for many people when planning a big trip is working out which countries require a visa, which don’t, how much they cost, where to apply, when to apply and a million other visa related questions. I will try, as best I can, to answer these questions in this blog post but as visa requirements differ depending on what nationality you are, I HIGHLY recommend you check each countries embassy  site before embarking on a trip.

My friend (I better not name her as she might kill me haha) actually got DEPORTED from Vietnam because she didn’t have her visa on arrival. She got sent to Thailand, and then as she had no visa for Thailand they tried to deport her from there too. It really was the stuff of nightmares and like a clip from the movie ‘the Terminal’. Thankfully due to some quick thinking and the ability to apply for visas online (while stuck in limbo!) she got sorted and was back on Vietnamese soil within 24 hours. It was a lesson for her, and a lesson for me. ALWAYS do your own research!! 

I essentially did TWO South East Asia trips within 1 year, one in Summer 2013 and one in summer 2014 so I will include all the countries I went to during this time which include; Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. 

Indonesia – Easy Peasy. Just remember you $$$.

Tourist and Transit Visas on Arrival are available for nationals of these 52 countries and territories. A tourist visa for up to 30 days costs US $35.00. (This seems to increase every few years!) Visa Free Entry on arrival for 30 days free of charge is available for nationals of the following 11 countries and territories: Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Overstay visitors incur a penalty of US$20 per day for under 60 days over-stay. Stay any longer and you could end up in an Indonesian prison!! These penalties can add up quickly so it might be better option to fly out on a cheap AirAsia flight then re-enter the country for another month. 

**Personal experience** I did not have US dollars on arrival in Bali and this caused A LOT of hassle as there is no ATM inside the customs area. I had to beg them to let me outside to get the money, then come back inside to pay for the visa then exit again. I am now always sure to travel with at least 100 US dollars in my wallet for times like this!

Singapore – Most peeps don’t need a visa.

Most nationalities (North Americans, South Americans, most of Southern Africa, Europeans, and Australians) do not need a visa for Singapore for the first 30 days and in some cases 90 days. (You would want to have A LOT of money to be a tourist in Singapore for longer than that!)

You simply need proof of onward travel, proof that you have sufficient funds (print out a bank statement before you travel), and a passport valid for at least 6 months. If you are from North Africa, the Middles East and few other destinations you will probably need a visa and can find more information HERE.

Malaysia – Free and easy for 30 days.

Similar to Singapore, many nationalities (most European countries, North Americans, South Africans, Australians etc) do not require a visa for Malaysia. You are permitted to stay within Malaysia for 90 days (although this differs depending on nationality.)

Thailand – Best to enter by air.

As one of the most popular tourist destinations in South East Asia, you will be happy to know that things *should* be pretty hassle free for you here when it comes to visas. Most of the Western world can enter without a visa for a stay of up to 30 days.

If you wish to stay in Thailand for MORE than 30 days, you can apply for a 60 day visa in a Thai embassy before you arrive. If you are already in Thailand and need an extension, you can go to the nearest immigration office, pay the 1,900 baht fee and have your visa extended by 30 days in a few short hours.

**Personal experience** I arrived in Thailand overland by bus from Cambodia and they only gave me a 15 day visa. I am unsure if this is still the case but it was as of August 2014 (15 day visas if you arrive overland, 30 if you arrive by air). This meant I had to go to the immigration office in Koh Samui (I was in Koh Tao when I decided to stay longer) and it cost me quite a lot extra to get this sorted out.

Cambodia – E-Visa with ease.

I went to Cambodia twice last year and both were relatively hassle-free. Relatively!! Nearly all visitors to Cambodia require a visa. Unless you are from South East Asia, you will probably need one. I found the e-visa process pretty straight forward. You just apply online, pay the 30 dollar fee, and your visa is emailed to you. You then print this out and give it to immigration on arrival.  In Phnom Penh, tourist visas can be extended (only once), giving you an additional 30 days at a cost of around 30 dollars.

**Personal experience** Whatever you do, make sure you print TWO COPIES of your e-visa and keep them in a very safe place where they won’t get damp or torn (yes, this is exactly what happened to me – and could happen to you if travelling during the monsoon season!!) When you exit the country, they won’t let you leave until you hand then the second copy of your e-visa. I literally nearly got stranded at a dodgy border post thanks to this slip up.I eventually handed them a ball of wet paper that they could (just about) verify was a copy of my e-visa!! Lesson learned!!

Vietnam – Get it before you arrive – or be deported!

Pretty much EVERYONE needs a visa for Vietnam unless you are lucky enough to be from one of its neighboring countries…or Russia. Pretty random, I know.

Vietnam is definitely the country that causes the most hassle when it comes to getting the visa. The first thing you should know is that they DO NOT issue a visa on arrival unless you have an invitation letter from a travel agency. 

It is very important to decide what type of visa you need as this also happens to be the most expensive visa in South East Asia. The stamping fee for a visa on arrival at the airport is fixed: US$45 per person for single entry and US$ 65-95 per person for multiple entry visa. This fee is paid in cash, USD or VND, at the visa-on-arrival counter. You can only get this Visa-On-Arrival stamp if you already have your visa invitation letter which you get from a travel agency online for about 20 dollars before arrival. So you are talking about 65 dollars minimum if you do it yourself, more if you do it all through a  travel agency and get your visa stamp before arrival.

I hope this was helpful, let me know if I can answer any more of your questions regarding visas in any of these countries! Please, please, PLEASE leave a comment below if you feel my information is wrong or outdated. :-)

Backpacking Budget For South East Asia – The Lowdown

5 Jan

This is going to be the first post to my South East Asia series which I was meant to write about 6 months ago…when I was actually IN South East Asia! However, blogging will never be something that I force myself to do. It should never be forced on anyone. If you are simply having too much fun and don’t feel like writing and sharing your experiences straight away…then don’t. This long break between traveling and writing has also given me time to really think about the places I went, the people I met, and the weird roller-coaster of emotions I went through on my journey.

To start the series, I would like to break down how much money I spent on my 2 month backpacking adventure which included Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

airplane in sunset

If you are new to this blog there is only one thing you should know about me…I spend a ridiculous amount of time searching for, and succeeding in, finding cheap flights. Thanks to this, my flights were by far some of the cheapest expenses of my trip. I flew from: South Korea – Thailand – Vietnam – London – Ireland. There were also internal flights and many overland bus journeys. 108 hours, in fact, were spent on a bus over the 8 week period! (I also spend 200 euro on return flights to Australia from Bangkok, but ended up not going. I got about 80 euro refunded and lost the rest. C’est la vie!)

Seoul Incheon – Bangkok : €93 AirAsia Via SkyScanner

Bangkok – Hanoi: €82 Via VietJet SkyScanner

Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh: €35 VietJet Via SkyScanner

Bangkok – London: €300 Air India Via SkyScanner

London – Cork: €30 Ryanair Via SkyScanner

Total flight cost: €540

tuktuk thailand

Other transport included over night buses, tuk tuks, boats, taxis, trains and possible every mode of transport under the sun. Trains were the most expensive with a one way trip from Hanoi down to Hoi An costing over 40 dollars! Overnight buses were all around 20 dollars (I think) and shorter 12 hour journeys were between 10 and 15 dollars.

8 overnight bus rides x €15 – €120

2 train rides x €30 – €60

2 ferry rides x €20 – €40

Miscellaneous taxis and shuttles – €100

Scooter/ Motorbike/ Quad bike rental – €30

Total other transport cost – €350

hanoi backpackers

For the first month (mostly in Vietnam) I was travelling with some friends and as none of us were exactly on a shoestring budget we stayed in nice (but reasonably cheap) hotels or private rooms in hostels. The most we ever paid for a room was about 20 euro each, and that was a pretty amazing place! Most nights we averaged about 10 dollars a night. For that price you can share a double room, or a cabin on the beach or get a bed in a really nice dorm. You can also find dorm beds for as long as 4 dollars in some towns, just depends on your budget. In Thailand, I stayed in amazing hostels with bars and swimming pools and cool cafes for as cheap as 3 dollars a night in a dorm room. Absolute bargain.

As my accommodation costs varied in each country, depending on who I was traveling with, I am estimating the cost in the following way:

€5 x 10 nights = 50

€10 x 35 nights = 350

€15 x 10 nights = 150

Total accommodation cost: €550

street food

When it comes to food, South East Asia is a foodie paradise. Not only does the food taste great in virtually every restaurant, ever street stand, every casual soup seller, it also costs close to nothing. Seriously. Food will not cost you very much and you can over indulge on the most delicious delicacies every day. That said, it’s also possible to spend a small fortune if you go to top tourist restaurants, eat western food, drink expensive western cocktails and refuse to explore secret side alleys where you eat your dinner sitting on a plastic stool surrounded by locals.

Again, depending on where I was and who I was travelling with, my food costs really varied throughout the 2 months. A nice meal in a restaurant could cost up to 10 dollars, at the very maximum. Street food costs as little as 1 or 2 dollars for delicious Vietnamese soup, or traditional Khmer curry or a generous helping of pad Thai. Considering I spent a lot in some places and near to nothing in others, I will again average it all out. Eating out 3 times a day can be quite costly, so pick your restaurants wisely and stay away from tourist traps! 

€5 x 5 days – €25

€10 x 35 days – €350

€15 x 10 days – €150

Total food cost = €525

booze cruise

Next up is entertainment and activities. This, if you choose (or if you aren’t careful) could take up the biggest chunk of your budget. South East Asia is not called the banana pancake trail for no reason. In the summer, this popular backpacking route is swarming with young, carefree gap year students, college students, people on career breaks and God knows who else. To cater for all these travelers, there probably isn’t a single town or village in South East Asia which has not attempted to cash in on this never-ending trail of tourists. Offering a myriad of fun activities ranging from river rafting to booze cruises to elephant rides to playing with tigers, doing a homestay, hiking, biking, swimming in waterfalls, sleeping in tree tops, exploring temples in tuk tuks….you name it, they will most certainly have it! This is where your money will go.

Personally, I didn’t spend a lot on activities apart from a few big things in each country such as a Halong Bay 3 day cruise (200 dollars) or entry to Angkor Wat in Cambodia (40 dollars). Most days I spent no money, some days I spent lots. Thus, I’m just going to roughly estimate how much I spent over the 2 months. (If you go scuba diving or decide to do other very expensive activities this total will be A LOT more!)

Total activities cost –  €600

full-moon-drinks

Every hostel will have a bar, will run a pub crawl, will organize theme nights and will make it their mission to get you drunk every night of the week. Every city will have ‘happy hours’, every street seller will know the best bars, every beach boy will know the best parties. If you don’t have much self-discipline, both your liver and your wallet will suffer greatly!

So, how much does a beer cost? Honestly, not much. There are bars in Hoi An in Vietnam where a glass of local beer will cost you about 10 cent. You can literally drink there all night and the bill will only come to a dollar or two. Some of the more upmarket places could make you part with up to 3 dollars for a beer but we happily avoided places like that. Beach bars in Sihanoukville, on the coast of Cambodia, charged about 1 dollar (sometimes 75 cent) for a cold pint of draft Angkor beer, while bars on Koh San Road in Thailand usually charged about $1.50 minimum. At the Full and Half Moon parties in Thailand, it’s all about the buckets. The price of these depended on what type of alcohol you wanted – local or imported and thus ranged form 5 dollars to 15 dollars if I remember correctly.

Minimum 1 beer per night for 60 nights = €60

8 BIG party nights (1 per week) x 25 euro = €200

Random drinks with new friends x 1 million!! ;-) – €200

Total drink costs – €460

Last, but not least, and something you ABSOLUTELY need is travel insurance! I always go with World Nomads as they have a good backpacker policy that covers motorbike accidents and a good selection of adventure sports too.

Travel insurance cost – €150

Cost of backpacking around one of the most fascinating, beautiful and fun areas that planet earth has to offer??

PRICELESS

(Just kidding. It was more like a cool €3,200.)
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