Tag Archives: backpacking

10 Incredible Places To Visit In Central America

7 Feb

This post was written by Adam Tiffany, an intrepid traveler from Norwich now living in Australia. It is probably one of the most in depth and beautifully descriptive guides you will find on this site, and an incredible insight into backpacking in Latin America. Enjoy!

If you haven’t considered Central America as a future travel destination then I urge you to continue reading. Despite offering nine breathtakingly beautiful countries to discover and explore, each being identifiable with its very own culture and dynamic way of life, for some reason, this fascinating portion of the world is still, for some unknown reason, overlooked by many.

Latin America is an adventurer’s playground compared to the current, more popular,  alternative that is the tourist guided pathway of the banana-pancake trail of Southeast Asia. So why choose Latin America? Firstly, it’s not saturated in backpackers, it’s cheaper, you won’t think you’re on holiday in Magaluf, it’s still relatively untouched and most importantly, the dreaded guitar playing, dreadlocked trustafarian from surrey has parents that, thankfully, still think Asia is a safer destination to send their offspring (which by the way is total bollocks).

Out of my time here, these 10 places, in no particular order, were my favourite. Words do not do them justice.

10. Panama’s San Blas Islands

The San Blas islands are probably, no actually there’s no probably about it, they are the most beautiful group of islands you will ever find, over 300 of them in fact.

Set in the Caribbean sea, sailing past these islands has become a common stop off for travellers on the six-day voyage between Panama and Colombia. The inhabitants of the San Blas are known as the “Kuna”, dressed in colourful tribal outfits with leg-length coloured beads to match, and are regarded as the world’s 5th most indigenous tribe.

Most of the sailing captains who take travellers on this famous A to B route are often well known amongst the tribe, allowing for you to be dropped off on one of the islands amongst them for the day. An experience that probably elapsed your imagination whilst in the middle of checking your passport details for the 3rd time when booking your flight out here.

It’s only once you arrive safely off that boat (the same moment our captain switched his attention from the boat back to the Colombian prostitute he’d brought along for the journey) that the euphoria of being finally back on dry land with your jittery sea legs has at long last worn off, that you now begin to acknowledge that nobody has spoken for five minutes and that the eye contact and smiles between you all describes what you are feeling far better then any word could.

san blas islands9. Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

This semi-professional surfing village on the pacific side of Costa Rica was one of the few places I actually felt content doing nothing with my days, even procrastinating seemed hard work by the end of it.

The main attraction here aside from its beach and surf, are its sunsets. So spectacular as they were, it soon became obvious why the sun’s daily demise was used as the daily congregational point by everyone to deliberate on what to do for the rest of the evening. Why my group of friends discussed it each night looking back now seems pointless, because the outcome was always the same. Cheap Caribbean rum and beer have a merciless toll on your willpower.

The algebraic equation for this place is simple; chill out, do nothing, surf all day, then find a party going on in the surrounding hills afterwards, repeat.

Or if you don’t like math, just get a couple of quad bikes and drive off into the jungle to the nearby village of Montezuma to jump off triple-tiered huge waterfalls with enough rum to sink a pirate ship, like I did.

santa teresa costa rica

8. Utila, Honduras

Situated on the Caribbean side of Central America, amongst “the bay of islands”, is a small island called Utila. Made up of expats, Jamaican twanged local accents and folks who have somehow houdini’d  themselves out of the straight jacket that once contained them.

Included amongst the human circus residing here are people from all over the world, arriving on the promise of Utila being one of the cheapest, and best places, in the world to learn to dive and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. For me, it’s the best spot I’ve ever dived.  To compliment its Mecca diving status, Utilas nightlife is electric, with bars like Rehab and Skid Row doing their utmost to make sure you go home in a wheelbarrow.

It’s as welcoming to people wanting to dive as it is to your stomach to see the back of the inevitable daily intake of gallo pinto and plantain you’ve had to endure along the way (if you don’t know what gallo pinto and plantain are at the start of your trip,  you’ll have the same fondness of it as the first bottle of spirits that ever made you throw up by the end of it). Thankfully Utilas variety of eating options are simply fantastic alongside a particular eatery serving the best pork chops and award winning chilli known to man, well this man, namely me.

Utila may have all the assets of island life that I’d seen a hundred times before, but it was its inconceivable lack of reality that none of the expats living here ever wanted to embrace, entwined with the island’s small army of extroverts and larger than life personalities, that made this island not only a fantastic place to dive and retreat to for a week, but a truly blessed place for the collection of nationalities that live here to call home.

utila honduras

7. Semuc Champey , Guatemala

Described by many as the most beautiful place you’ve never heard of,  its name romanticises itself being set somewhere in the South of France rather than in the middle of the Guatemalan rainforest. And by cupids arrow (being represented at this point by alcohol and the relief of not having to administer our will we’d written up on the nine-hour mini bus trip from hell to get there) me and my mate did fall in love with the place.

So what is it? “Semuc Champey is a collection of tiered pools atop a natural limestone bridge in the jungles of Guatemala”, that’s Google’s derogative description anyway. However, the brains of Silicon Valley have forgotten to mention a few other highlights of staying here.

Staying in Semuc Champey, the highlight is obviously spending the day in it’s famous emerald-coloured waters, but it also offers the opportunity to go grade four white-water rafting, tubing through the jungle and caving by candlelight, plunging blind into pools below in total darkness.

And then there’s where you sleep. The whole time we were here we stayed in one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. The showers are situated on the side of a cliff so that your daily shower overlooks the rising haze of mist that engulfs the rainforest each evening, everybody eats communally for dinner, the atmosphere rivals, if not betters, most other “party hostels” I’ve stayed in, and with the personal orchestra of the tropics to awake to each morning to remind you that you’re a million miles from anywhere,  it is probably one of my favourite spots in the world.

semuc champey guatemala

6. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua

A regular t-shirt slogan is spotted throughout most Central American hostels that is adorned by its wearers as a badge of honour. You remember the slogan and the conversations deriving from it because of other travellers who often enough won’t shut up about it. Then you arrive in San Juan Del Sur, just before the Sunday as is drilled into you to do so as gospel, then as Sunday arrives, you finally grasp what all the excitement behind “Sunday Funday” is about.

Sunday Funday was created by the main four hostels in San Juan to create the ultimate party, with 300-400 people usually attending. It starts at midday and you get ferried across the local area in a convoy of gringo sardine cans (locals carrying crammed white people in the back of their trucks) to the three separate pool parties, one after the other, that are scattered amongst the surrounding hills looking out over the pacific, before ending up in a nightclub until the sun rises on Monday morning, which you probably won’t see because your liver has probably rolled over and died already.

As far as parties go, this is only just beaten in regards of the scale of drinking and level of partying by the island of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party in the Gulf of Thailand. However, San Juan Del Sur has the fortunate privilege of not being over run by droves of English who’ve migrated from Magaluf, so in that sense, it comes out on top.

Sunday Funday is (prepare to be startled) every Sunday (with rumours of a man doing 26 in a row!) but during the week the hostels offer free taxis down to the beach for surfing or you can go grab some motorbikes and go discover Jesus! By that I mean go visit the 2nd tallest statue of Jesus in the world that over shadows the bay, obviously.  

If you do decide to come here (it’s almost inevitable you will) then bring your dancing shoes and perhaps a suitable liver donor along the way, chances are you’ll need them.

san juan del sur nicaragua

5. Tikal, Guatemala

The ancient Mayan temples of Tikal were remarkably only discovered in 1853 and were later declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. The city of Tikal itself is from around 4 BC and is archaeologically astounding.

Beginning our trek into the heart of Guatemala’s former Mayan empire, a sudden array of bellowing dog-like chants switched our attention to remind us Tikal is also home to howler monkeys. Big, loud faeces throwing ones. Despite the manners of our primitive cousins, the atmosphere when laying first eye on Tikal’s jungle super-structures is mesmerising.

The next obvious question to answer is can you climb them? YES! You can climb to the very top of ‘temple six’ that pierces the jungle’s ceiling by some margin, overlooking Guatemala’s dense rainforest for as far as the eye can see.

Tourist trap? Surprisingly, no. In fact it was more a case of occasionally bumping into other tourists, then the dreaded plague of stampeding smartphones found elsewhere. We only stayed for five hours due to pre-arranged travel commitments, but due to the sheer scale of the site, you could spend the whole day here.

Just to put things into perspective for you so you can understand how massive these former places of worship really are, you should be able to just see all five-foot-ten inches of me at the bottom of the picture below.

tikal guatemala

4. Caye Caulker, Belize

After arriving at Belize’s border control, which, no word of a lie, was a beach hut on the sand incorporating a less than rigorous open and shut passport routine, we ventured on via speedboat to the Caribbean island of Caye Caulker.

Caye Caulker feels like it should be on the cover of a Horace Andy album cover as an ambassador to Jamaican roots and culture with its multi-coloured painted houses, reggae playing bars, white sand roads, and golf-car driving, bright-orange Nike Air Max adorning policeman. As you arrive on the dock, you are greeted with the warm welcome of Caribbean accents (it sounded warm to us, the Swedes with us personally found it a bit of a nightmare to understand them) with a man named Brian, donning Lennon sunglasses and a gold necklace, leading us and a handful of other backpackers astray like the Pied Piper upon the promise of free daily rum punch being included in our stay. He wasn’t lying.

The island’s motto is to “go slow” and is repeated as often by the locals as it is reminded by brightly-painted murals on many of the island’s buildings. Besides a spot of kayaking, swimming and reenacting James bond scenes while spearfishing,  “go slow” (aided and abetted by the island’s fantastic use of jerk seasoning and quality stout) encompassed our days.

The island, in terms of paradise, is only second to that of the San Blas islands as previously mentioned. Except here you get the added luxury of fresh fish, jerk seasoning, rastafarian hospitality and stout…lots and lots of stout.

Caye Caulker Belize

3. Antigua…kinda, Guatemala

Antigua is the typical Latin American town you have pictured in your head, with Spanish baroque influenced colonial architecture and vibrant colour, illuminating the town with a passionate sense of everything Latino. As well as the added title of being a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s well worth the visit.

But it wasn’t Antigua itself that I wanted to talk about. In fact its a hostel named Earth Lodge, way up in the distant hills overlooking the town, that steals the show.

After enduring a ten-hour bus ride sat on the floor of a recovery bus after a breakdown, with no toilet or stops to accommodate the necessity, we’d developed Schwarzenegger-like sphincter muscles and were quite frankly ready to collapse anywhere that didn’t involve sitting on a freezing, filthy, hard floor amongst geriatric yoda look alikes. Upon arriving at Earth Lodge, we were told there were no rooms available except for the “bridal suite”, which we were upgraded to for free. Within this luxury room was a double bed to each self, actual HOT showers and a window view staring straight out to the volcano – we’d landed ourselves in the hostel version of the Ritz Carlton. There are dorms as well but I highly recommend staying in these rooms, there’s also a treehouse suite too.

The lodge itself overlooks the town of Antigua with a view rivalled by few, if any. Situated on an avocado farm they incorporate avocados into their menu as an alternative to pretty much everything. The avocado chocolate mousse being a particular eye-brow raising highlight. Earth Lodge is basically Willy Wonkas chocolate factory for avocado fans. With a homemade sauna, mountain-top volleyball area, communal eating in the evenings and views of ‘Volcan De Agua’ spewing lava into the night sky, made this probably the best place I stayed in Central America.

antigua guatemala2. Ometepe, Nicaragua

In the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the world’s 17th largest lake, lies Ometepe, formed by two opposing volcanoes, named Concepcion and Maderas, that creates an hourglass formation of land.

Still feeling fresh from Sunday Funday and bearing the yellow skin pigmentation associated with liver failure, we embarked on the Che Guevara ferry bound for Ometepe.

The island plays host to large groups of white-faced capuchin, howler and spider monkeys as well as the not so well known, Ometepe pink chicken. Later to be discovered as a local way to confuse potential predators via a quick dip in a tin of pink dye, naturally.

Days were spent discovering the island on motorbikes, attempted paddle boarding and patting the hostels pet pigs before we considered embracing the eight-hour round trip up Ometepe’s Maderas volcano. After hours of our unlucky guide dragging our flagging group behind him, navigating through thick uphill rainforest whilst dodging characters from a David Attenborough narrative and dealing with humidity levels exceeding the humour levels of the group, we had made it at long last and reached the top.

There were two reasons we chose to climb Maderas instead of Concepcion; firstly, the once prevalent fiery internal crater of the volcano has now been replaced with a lake. Meaning in theory, you can, and we did, swim inside a volcano. And secondly, we would be gifted with this view on our way back down.

ometepe nicaragua

1. Monteverde, Costa Rica

Set atop the spine of Costa Rica’s continental divide, Monteverde is a world above the coastal towns that dot the country’s shoreline. Set some four-and-a-half thousand feet above sea level, Monteverde is probably the only time a backpackers uniform of boardshorts and a vest, gets replaced with jeans and a jumper in Central America.

If adventure is what you’re after, then Monteverde delivers enough adrenaline to get the whole cast of Trainspotting back on their feet. A day in the cloud forest comprises of 20 huge ziplines reaching as far as a kilometre long, criss-crossing the tree canopy, a terrifying 80-metre rope swing, a 100-metre vertical rope rappel and a bungee jump from a suspended platform.

That’s day one covered, day two? Go canyoning! We spent a whole day making our way along river clambering over rocks, jumping off waterfalls and abseiling 50 metres down the ones deemed too high to jump, which at times made me consider whether a change of underwear would seem appropriate.

On the tamer side, the cloud forest also plays host to night walks via flashlight into Monteverdes wildlife-rich rainforests. Once in the reserve, you are left alone with Costa Rica’s answer to Steve Irwin whose sense for tracing animals was quite frankly remarkable. We came across slough, viper tree snakes, tarantula, and red-eyed leaf frogs to name but a few, well, to name the ones I can spell properly.

Monteverde holds true to its country’s famous “pura vida” and will satisfy the most stringent of adrenaline seekers needs, or just leave you being the brunt of all jokes for the following week if you chicken out of the bungee jump, like I did.

monte verde costa rica

Myanmar Travel Guide: Everything You Read Is Wrong

3 Feb

This is my third guest blog post of 2015, written by the brilliant Brian M. Williams who runs the excellent website NetSideBar.com. Be sure to check it out to read the rest of his brilliant travel diaries. His photographs are also incredible – all photos in this post were taken by him.

Where to begin when talking about how different Myanmar is from other countries in Southeast Asia, and, indeed, the world? I guess you can start with the fact that it has a half-hour timezone difference: when it’s 8 in Bangkok, it’s 8:30 in Myanmar. However, this is just the inconsequential-tip of the iceberg when it comes to how different Myanmar is.

To begin to understand what makes Myanmar different you have to know a little about its recent history. Burma, Myanmar’s name during colonial times, was controlled by the British starting in 1886. They would continue to rule the country up until World War II when much of the country was taken over by Japanese forces. After the war, in 1948, Burma became an independent country with an elected government. However, in 1962, the military took over the country, restricted rights, arrested opposition leaders, strictly controlled and centrally planned the country’s economy and simultaneously isolated it from the rest of the world. The end result of all of this was that Burma became one of the poorest countries on Earth. During the the military’s long rule, there were many civilian-led protests that were almost always put down with violent force by the military government.

However, starting in 2008, democratic reforms, which included having open elections and releasing political prisoners, have resulted in Myanmar being allowed to rejoin the world community. The country even hosted President Obama, the first American president to visit the country, in 2012 and again in 2014. Still, there are some who argue that the reforms have not gone far enough and that the government is continuing to persecute certain religious and ethnic minorities in the country. Therefore, they say that foreigners should not support such a government with their tourist dollars. While I can appreciate this point of view and can testify that there is still fighting going on in the country that can sometimes shut down tourist routes (more on that later), I do not support sanctioning and isolating the people of a country because of the actions of their government. If the idea is that punishing ordinary citizens will cause them to revolt against their government, there has been zero evidence in history to show it works (see Iraq, Iran, Cuba and North Korea, just to name a few). What does work is people from around the world interacting, learning and sharing ideas and views about things like freedom and human rights. So, yeah, I had no moral reservations about going to Myanmar.

IMG_0642

First Impression

Regardless of this debate, the result of Myanmar’s long isolation is that tourism has been slow to develop in the country. The country is full of old cars and old buildings and there are very few things that appear modern or 21st century at all.  There is also a lack of advertising and big name brand Western goods that makes it clear it has not been fully overrun by Western capitalism which is something very difficult to find these days. For these and other similar reasons, travelers, such as myself, have been drawn to this country despite it being more difficult to travel in than many other places.

In many parts of SE Asia, tourists are catered to to such a degree that all anyone has to do is just arrive at the airport and from there they can go anywhere on a VIP bus to any number of high-end resorts (or, more likely, party scenes) and spend weeks in the region without really seeing any of its culture or having to do any thinking or planning for themselves. The original or traditional culture in such places has bent so much to accommodate the wants and desires of tourists that much of it seems lost or at least hidden away very well. In its place has developed a feeding frenzy to get the most tourist dollars a person can which sometimes includes an endless deluge of people asking you to buy the same crappy items every three minutes, constantly being approached by beggars, and ripping people off and scamming tourists. Foreigners are seen as moneybags who are meant to be hit up like a pinata every chance a person has to see if some money will fall out.

My hope in going to Myanmar was that this aspect of “development” wouldn’t have reached the country, and I’m very glad to say it hadn’t. The people in Myanmar still have a friendliness, purity and sincerity that is hard to find in modern and big city cultures. Unlike many other parts of SE Asia, when people in Myanmar talk to you, the vast majority of the time it is without an agenda and someone saying “Hi,” and asking “Where are you from?” is not the opening of a sales pitch but just a reflection of their curiosity about who is coming to visit their country. Every where I went – big city or small town – children would regularly run up to me just to say, “Hi.” They would then, just as quickly, say, “Bye,” all while waving their hands furiously and smiling. While this can happen in other places in SE Asia, it is almost always in remote, small villages that don’t get a lot of tourists.

IMG_0733IMG_0848

Travel Tips: Everything You’ve Read Is Wrong

Traveling in Myanmar is more difficult than many other countries in the region. While the trains run on time, they bounce, sway and rock violently and often times give you the feeling they’re about to go off the tracks. I literally had to tie my bags down to keep them from falling off the overhead luggage-rack. At another time, a train I was on crossed over a large bridge so slowly I could have literally walked it faster. Still, it’s a great way to see the vast countryside and some very small villages and towns.

Buses there have very odd schedules. Most long distance buses are overnight, which wouldn’t be such a problem except they will do bizarre things like leave a place at 7 pm only to arrive at your destination around 3 or 4 in the morning. The roads can also be bumpy and very swervey. I personally suggest paying a bit more to get a VIP bus when you can just to get a better ride and better sleep on an overnight trip.

There are also many slow boat options in the country. It can be expensive, but slow boats are a very relaxing and pleasant way to travel. However, the five day slow boat I was planning on taking had been closed to foreigners apparently due to fighting along the river banks. (I was lucky enough to find this out the day before I was going to head out to start that part of my trip.) Similar reports of random places, even by land, closing or reopening were frequent among travelers. Talk to your fellow travelers and always try to find people who have been to a place you want to go to make sure your travel plans are actionable.

Accommodations are not the cheapest in Myanmar. Hotels in Yangon start at 25$ which is a big jump up from the $10 a night you can easily find in the rest of SE Asia. While there are certainly places cheaper than 25$ in other parts of the country, they can be hard to find and are no where near as plentiful as Lonely Planet makes them out to be. I would suggest budgeting 15-20 dollars a night while there for rooms. Some days you’ll be under for sure, but some days you’ll be over. Hotel prices have gone up a lot in just the past two years and will likely continue to move that way. The best way to cut these costs is to find someone to share a room with. Also, with buses arriving at such odd times at night, this can create an extra problem: Some hotels will check you in right away if they have an open room and treat it all as one day. Others will, however, charge you for an extra half day. On the bright side though, every hotel, guest house and hostel offers breakfast but some places’ breakfasts are much better than others.

Another very important area where Lonely Planet is horribly outdated is that it is much easier to get money in Myanmar than it was just a few years ago. ATMs are everywhere and work just fine. You no longer need to bring in mint condition US 100 dollar bills which I broke my back trying to get in Bangkok just before my flight. However, if you do bring US cash, the banks and government exchanges offices give very fair rates and there is no need to go to the black-market anymore like LP suggests.

There also seems to be visas on arrival (VOA). I don’t know any details about this, but I did see a counter for it at the airport and several Westerners standing in line for it. Just Google it. If this is an option, it might be much easier than running back and forth to their embassy and might be cheaper than paying a travel agent to do it.

IMG_1044

Final Thoughts:

While I have no way to prove it, I personally believe that Myanmar is attempting to smartly develop their tourist industry and is trying to avoid becoming like certain other countries in SE Asia. To that end, the high cost of hotels, the complete lack of a party scene ( I averaged going to bed around 10-11 while there) and just the overall level of difficulty in traveling is all aimed at keeping out large numbers of tourists. There were plenty of wealthy tourists traveling or flying around the country to visit the ever-growing number of expensive resorts just like much of SE Asia. But gone were the budget accommodations, booze cruises and pub crawls that are common throughout the region.

Myanmar isn’t for flash packers, gap-year party kids or idiot travelers who can’t bother making any plans for themselves (save the very rich ones). The lack of these things showed in the quality of the travelers I met there. No one was there by accident or by way of lazy curiosity. No one was there because they had heard it was a “good party.” No one was there because it was effortless to get there. People where there with a real interest in seeing the country and the culture. They had detailed plans about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to see. And everyone really seemed grateful to being seeing this country before it gets further along on the path to integrating with the rest of the world.

What A Life – Incredible Tales From The Road

1 Feb

This is a guest post by Samy Amanatullah who has written two other brilliant guest posts for this blog HERE and HERE.

One of the Moustache Brothers

One of the Moustache Brothers of Mandalay

“What a life” was something we’d say when there didn’t seem like anything else to say.

The first time I thought this phrase the way I’d think it for the next few months, I was sitting across from a Thai cowboy. He wasn’t a real cowboy though he wore the hat. Cowboy is the name of his bar.

He sat with his wife, sipping and constantly refilling a glass of whiskey and soda, his wife sometimes going for more ice.

He left home at a young age and found work as a chef for the U.S.army, where he’d learned to speak English and cook western. Decades later, he opened a bar tucked into one of those smaller passageways that fit into the streets of Chang Mai.

It wasn’t the travel or the family or the decades of stories that put a “What a life” under my breath. It was his daily schedule. He woke up, cooked for the kids, opened the bar, closed it when he was tired, got drunk in the in-between. He considered himself a content man.

What a life.

The only other person in there was an old friend of the Cowboy’s—English, old and bald, speaking nonsense. He’d come to the table where we were sitting, try to speak, and be shooed away by Cowboy who was having none of it. He cleaned furniture for a living, and even if the booze hadn’t done him in that night, the decades working with chemicals had mushed his mind. He visited Thailand a few months every year. He didn’t have anyone back home.

What a life. In a different way.

There’s a tendency to be shocked by what you see and also by what you don’t notice anymore. “What a life” was a recurring thought, a response to the incredulous. The kids on the beach who build a bracelet on your wrist on the spot? What a life. The tour guide who points out his house and, without skipping a beat, points out the adjacent killing field where his family died? What a life. The tuk-tuk drivers, men in as many industries as they have fingers—pimps, drug dealers, tour guides, drivers, police informants, whatever else might be paying at the moment; the motobike taxis, who take the tuk-tuk drivers’ ambitions and prop it on a suicidal weave through big city traffic; their counterparts on trishaws, motos, and cyclos. The bar girls, young and thin and glossed with make up, looking for sugar daddies. The old men, fat and pasty and tall, looking for Thai “wives”. The women dressed to find a john. The men dressed as the women. The guys they let screw them and then rob.

What a life.

The old man in the sleepy tourist attraction town in Myanmar whose job it is to unclog my friend’s toilet, whose age suggests he’s lived through not just Cyclone Nargis, the riots and shootings of his country’s recent history, the release and many arrests of Aung Sang Suu Kyi, but also the inception of his country, its partition from India, even World War 2, who walks into my friend’s room, bucket in hand, ready for shit duty, and smiles.

What a life.

The old toothless woman who distills rice moonshine out of a shack and sells it for 50 cents a bottle. The Lebanese painter who describes this jetset “as his life” and then tells me about places I saw as a child and will never go back to. The journalists dancing on the riverside, on a brief vacation laughing, dancing, tripping when a few days ago they were in Egypt when Egypt was ousting its president. Mr. Lao Lao’s son, serving the hard drink on the river, his entire body drawn on with magic marker and dancing around the dock as the water rises, intoxicated foreigners all around him. What a life.

The Mustache Brothers (deserving of a blog post of their own), resigned to house arrest, performing the same show every night, its host smiling on cue, looking tired and weary when the spotlight’s on his brothers, who spent seven years in work camps doing hard labor for telling jokes (“Do you think,” my friend asks later, “that they ever just get the urge to go outside and dig a ditch?”), and the people you see from your bus window as you leave building a new pagoda in a country that uses forced labor and believes that building pagodas can offset bad karma. What a fucking life (apparently to be reincarnated in).

The crap police informants you notice following you, and the better ones you don’t notice. The kids hawking cheap wares and making rational arguments in your language as to why you should buy. The girls learning to balance baskets on their heads by practicing with bricks. The makeshift family that doesn’t sell anything and lives in a shack and plays their music on the beach.

What a life.

There’s the foreigner at a random train station. A volunteer English teacher in small town Thailand, younger than me, who’s almost on his way out, who will next walk the Camino de Santiago and follow that up with Burning Man, who admits that while it’s awesome that he’s based the rest of his year around festivals, what’s seems most important, most exciting is doing things with the people in his life he’s been away from.

And let’s not forget the animals: the monkeys and birds in cages and chains, doing the dance so their owners get money and they get snacks; the stray dogs wandering in packs, begging, roaming the car parks, the sole thing you see against the moon on the streets at night, battling amongst each other for turf, for fun, for a stick; the horses—the poor horses—marching through the heat, carrying at least two fat foreigners and the driver, in some towns the main source of transport and no other way about it but miserable. “What does the horse get out of it?” my friend asks as it steers us towards a semi-famous ruins site. Maybe something at the end. Maybe some sweet, sweet hay.

Then again, as someone suggests after a day spent wandering a village and drinking a tea-whiskey concoction that’s supposed to make us tired and healthy, what about us? What about we who go from place to place without any particular reason, acclimated to the long bus rides, the winding roads, the stenches and bathrooms that will never see porcelain? A little thing I found out was that almost every foreigner I met going through Southeast Asia kept with them sleeping pills for the long bus rides. So much so that in conversation it stopped being a question and became more of an assumption, something you’d compare or share as the novelty of going somewhere else faded into the reality of a bumpy, disorienting ride.

There are people who live in countries of tremendous beauty who have never gone the 50 miles between their home and that incredible beach or mountain because they can’t afford to, and we do it in a single run and we tell them about it and ask questions, and they smile and at least act like they’re happy for us. We who go just because we can, spoiled for travel, eating and drinking whatever and whenever we want, jumping out of planes and onto buses, living lives that are equally strange and infinitely more charmed, doing nothing as people ask, incredulously, as if they don’t understand, if we’re actually just going until we run out of whatever, no phone, no travel insurance, no plan.

What a life.

But, of course, it can’t last, and a little later, I can’t help but ask my friend if, when he returns to the states, he’ll just get the urge to go off and take a 14 hour bus ride. Imagine him seeking out the shittest bathrooms and the worst bus seat and soaking in the smells of being sandwiched between someone throwing up into a bottle on one side and someone spitting betel nut out the window on the other, thinking contently before the sleeping pills kick in that this, indeed, is the life.

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 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…

banda

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!

Rolas-Island

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.

70224806

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!

kenya-mare_55wwq.T0

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

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.)

How To Monetize Your Travel Photos – The Lowdown

15 Oct travayl mobile travel app

travel richer
I have been blogging for almost 5 years, but until now have never successfully been able to find a way to make money from my blog.

Sure I have been offered numerous, and sometimes attractive, monetary packages. But as with everything in life, with the good comes the bad. In order to get the cash, I would have to display some seriously ugly adverts in a prominent position on my homepage, and the adverts would be by far-from-ideal companies such as Casinos and Penis enlargers! Thanks, but no thanks.

I have also been contacted by PR agencies who are willing to write guest posts on my blog, which will include subtle links to extremely irrelevant products, in return for some cash. Again, I was not willing to lose readers and fans, who I knew would probably hate the ‘Guest articles’, just to make a quick buck. Thanks, but no thanks.

I have been offered free press trips to various luxury hotels, from Scotland to Ibiza, and while everyone LOVES a free trip, it always seemed to be a destination at the other side of the world from where I currently was. Oh, and often the flights were not even included! Also, no remuneration was involved. Thanks, but no thanks. I have had companies try to send me products, like travel towels and gadgets, extensions for GoPro cameras or some sort of protein shakes. As all were totally and utterly irrelevant to this blog, I said (yes, you guessed it!!) – Thanks, but no thanks!!

So the question is, How am I supposed to make money from my blog?

travayl mobile travel app

Travayl.com appears to be the answer…at least for bloggers with a great collection of travel photos. The site, which is a social travel platform that is a mix between ‘Tripadvisor’ and ‘Instagram’, hopes that travelers will come to the site, be inspired by the large collection of travel photos and will continue on to book flights, hotels and holidays. The site will even tell you how long it takes to get from country A to country B, how much the taxi, flight, train etc will cost and where are the best places to stay once there. All the hard work is done for you, you just have to sit back and enjoy the view! 

Sound’s pretty good, right? RIGHT! But how can I, the blogger, make money from this lovely concept? Well right now the site is looking to partner with bloggers from all over the world. Before they launch the website to the public and the media in 2 months, they need as many travel bloggers and photographers as possible to sign up, create a profile, and upload all their incredible travel snaps.

Once the site is officially launched, people can browse through the photographs, search for hashtags that interest them, create ‘bucket-lists’ of the places they hope to go and can even book their holiday through the site. That’s where the $$$ comes in. If a user decides to book something after being inspired by your photograph, you will get a small cut. Every time a user decides to book something after looking at your travel pics, more money will come into your account. 

CHA-CHING!!

If you are a travel blogger like me and want to be a partner, sign up HERE.

If you’re just an armchair traveler and want to check out the site, you can do so HERE.

Hand Luggage Only – Packing like a Pro!

27 Jul 2014-07-27 18.42.09

Tomorrow I set off on my longest solo backpacking trip thus far in my life – a 3 months trip that will take me from South Korea, to South East Asia to Australia and then back home to Ireland via London at the end of October. I have been looking forward to and planning this trip for months, but in typical Janet fashion…I always end of packing my bag last-minute. It’s currently 7pm here in Korea, and I’m heading out for one last Korean BBQ dinner with some close friends in an hour. That means I have minimal time to get my bags packed and get started with the epic task of cleaning and clearing out my apartment before getting on my one way flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning.

I’m not too worried to be honest. All my friends here know that I’m a pretty quick and light packer – just give me 10 minutes to throw some stuff in my sturdy little backpack and I’m ready to go! Usually for weekend trips, I only bring one small rucksack and for longer trips overseas I bring my 10-year-old 60-70 liter backpack which has been to over 30 countries with me! This time, however, I have set myself a challenge. I am attempting to pack everything I could possibly need for my 3 month trip into my tiny weekend rucksack and I’m going to document this challenge right here, in this blog post!

Okay so the first thing I did was to empty my wardrobe. I realized, despite shipping home 15kg of clothes and shoes, I still had WAY too many bits and pieces left behind. I had to be very firm with myself and anything that there is even a SLIGHT chance of me not wearing was not allowed to come along on the adventure. ESSENTIALS ONLY JANET!! I really wanted to bring my curling iron but NO that got put in the ‘stuff to be sent home’ box. ALong with my old laptop, 4 very pretty dresses, 2 extra ‘just in case’ pairs of shoes, a huge make-up bag, a GIANT beach towel (nobody’s got room for that!) and many other things that simply do not need to come with me. After all, I really don’t need very much when backpacking through South East Asia, especially considering the temperature is rarely going to drop below 30’c for the entire trip!

Anyway, here is everything that was left on my bed, post wardrobe cull! As you can see from the picture, there’s still quite a lot left.

packing like a pro

 

Here is a list of exactly what I plan to pack – the next challenge is fitting it all into 1 small bag!!

  • 12 t-shirts.
  • 4 summer dresses
  • 2 jumpers
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 bikinis
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • A headband
  • A wash bag with shampoo, conditioner, face wash, cleanser, toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Face Wipes
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 1 small Body Shop perfume oil – sweet scent lasts all day
  • A few basic make-up items such as Mac and Bare Minerals Powder, 1 mascara and 1 lipstick.
  • 1 hair brush
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 pair of flips flops
  • 1 pair of Vans shoes for walking/sightseeing whatever else
  • 1 documents folder with all my flight info/visa applications/hostel bookings etc
  • 1 book (Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer – one of my favorites!)
  • 1 small box of photos given to me by my best buddy here in Korea…to make me smile!
  • Passport, wallet and other essentials!

STEP 1: Lay everything very flat in the back section (usually designed to carry a laptop!)

2014-07-27 18.36.40Step 2: All of my make-up and any smaller items can be squashed into the small front pocket!

2014-07-27 18.39.50Step 3: Neatly pack everything else into the bag – it’s a tight squeeze but hopefully it will all fit!!

 

2014-07-27 18.40.04Step 4: Put all my most important and valuable items into my handbag (passport, wallet, book etc!)

 

2014-07-27 18.42.09

And…I’m all set for my 3 month backpacking adventure!2014-07-27 18.42.49

 

The Importance of Travel Insurance

13 Jun The-importance-of-travel-insurance

Have you ever gone on a trip overeas and forgotten to buy travel insurance? Or, as in many cases, have you ever gone on a trip overseas and failed to buy travel insurance on purpose just so you could save a few pennies?

Have you any idea the risk you are taking, the possible burden you are putting on your family and how a small accident could ruin your entire trip, your future plans and any financial stability you might have had?! Not having travel insurance could literally ruin your life.

The-importance-of-travel-insurance

Personally, thanks to my Dad drilling in the impotance of travel and health insurance from a very young age, I have never left my home country without insurance. Sure, sometimes I’ve left it to the day I’m traveling which has lead to near-on panic attacks , and once I even ran around Seoul Incheon airport in a panic looking for the Travel Insurance booth to insure I would be covered on a short weekend trip to Japan. I was fairly confident that looking around temples and stalking geishas was hardly going to land me in trouble but as cliched as it sounds…better safe than sorry!

If you add up the amount of money I have spent on travel insurance over the last decade, the figure might scare you. It certainly scares me and sometimes it can be hard not to look at it as ‘money down the drain’. That said whenever I feel unsure, I stop myself from thinking in this way and recall all the horror stories recounted to me by family members, close friends and fellow backpackers. Tales that would make your blood curl. Stories about near death experiences in Colombia, mororbike accidents in Vietnam, food poisoning in remote Nepal and leg injuries encountered in the Canadian Rockies. Storied of months spent in hospitals in Kathmandu and Bogota, being airlifted off mountains or even being transported by flatbed in an air ambulance from one country to another.
air ambulance

As awful as all of these experiences must have been, the people who had travel insurance had a lucky escape with some travel insurance companies having to foot a bill of almost a quarter of a million dollars. Other people were not so lucky. Lack of insurance can mean poor treatment in ill-equipped hospitals in developing countries or can mean footing a bill personally fo 20,000 dollars for that time you needed to be airlifted off a mountain in Switzerland just because you slipped on ice and broke your leg while hiking or having to foot a month long hospital bill in Cambodia after you contracted Malaria or a severe case of Typhoid on a 3 week backpacking trip of South East Asia.

Failing to buy travel insurance, means failing to prepare for the worst. While I understand nodoby wants to prepare for the worst, and nobody really wants to consider that they may end up in a hospital, or they may miss their connecting flight or that the airline might lose all their cherished possesions en route to their first vacation in 5 years… but these are all things you NEED to consider. Failing to do so, and should Murphy’s Law come into action as it usually does, your holiday, your bank balance and even your entire life as you know it can be ruined in seconds.

So, what are the benefits of forking out a few extra dollars for travel insurance before heading off on your next trip? Well there are many, which include but are not limited to, coverage for the following;

-Trip Cancellation
-Trip Interruption
-Lost Luggage
-Repeating University exams
-Emergency Medical Assistance
-Medical Evacuation
-Lost or Stolen personal items
-Missed Flights
-Personal Accident or Injury
-A Family Bereavement

When purchasing insurance make sure you read the small print so you know what is included and what isn’t. Many companies will charge a higher premium if you plan to do certain adventure sports such as snowboarding, rafting, mountain climbing etc. Make sure you pick the right package for your particular trip.

One last tip I would give is that if you think you will be making many small trips within the year, you are better off paying a larger lump sum and getting a 1 year package from a company in your home country than paying regular, small installments to some online travel insurance broker. It works out cheaper in the long run and is a lot less hassle.

If you have any questions or any advice on best companies to use, please leave a comment.

Happy Travels! :-)

 

My Top 10 Hostels Around The World

11 Jun buccaneers

Having stayed in 100’s of hostels in over 40 countries and on 5 continents, I think it’s be about time I shared my top 10 favorite hostels. These gems are the type of places that were so good, so welcoming and so jam-packed with facilities (despite their rock bottom prices) that I would return to a country JUST to stay there again.

In no particular order, here are my TOP TEN hostels worldwide.

10. Away With The Fairies Backpackers, Hogsback Mountains, South Africa

snow south africa

This was one of my favorite places in South Africa. The name itself was enough to persuade me to leave the stunning South African coastline and make the trek inland and up into the Hogsback mountains. Perched high on a cliff-top overlooking three beautiful mountains, Away With The Fairies is the perfect place to escape for a few days, and ‘return to nature’. The greater area also happens to be the birthplace of famed writer J.R.R Tolkein and trekking through the many trails, waterfalls and scenic villages, it’s not difficult to see where he may have got his inspiration from. The rooms have names such as ‘Bilbo’ and ‘Frodo’ and the common room and dormitories are the most cosy and homely rooms I have ever stayed in.

outdoor bath hogsbackWhether you come in Winter or Summer, you will feel right at home in this backpackers. If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Winter, you might even get to see the area covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the hot summer months, there is an outdoor bath with the most incredible view of the surrounding countryside where you can cool off. A visit to this magical hostel is a MUST if you are ever visiting South Africa!

 

 

9. Reggae Mansion Hostel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

REGGAEMANSION

While many hostel names can be a little deceiving, Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpar is exactly what is says it is. It is an absolutely HUGE boutique backpackers hostel and besides the price and the fact that there are backpackers everywhere, it’s as far from a regular hostel as you can imagine.

reggae barEven looking at the hostel on arrival makes many people think, “Wow, what is this place?!” Then comes the vast range of facilities which include but are not limited to; A rooftop bar and tanning area, a cocktail bar, a restaurant serving delicious Malaysian and Western meals, dormitories where everyone has a double bed and their own private curtain and plug sockets, multiple areas to chill out and read and…a cinema. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has its own cinema on the property! They can also organize tours to just about anywhere, have nightly parties on the roof and take the guests out to many of the amazing restaurants and clubs KL has to offer. If you are looking for a place to stay in KL, look no further!!

 

8. Gili Hostel, Lombok, Indonesia

gili hostel

 

If you are traveling around Indonesia by yourself, The Gili Islands are THE place to go. If you are traveling to the Gili Islands by yourself, Gili Hostel is most definitely the place to go. It’s the only backpackers on the island and it is an absolute melting-pot of people each night.

gili-hostelSo famed are parties in Gili Hostel, mainly for their cheap as chips Vodka-Joss shots, that people who are staying in the islands other hotels make the effort to come over to the rooftop bar each night to party the night away. However, in true backpacking spirit (and to give many weary-eyed travelers a chance to sleep!) the bar closes at a respectable hour and all the patrons are brought as a group to one of the islands nightly parties! Besides being a great place to meet people, the hostel is mere meters from the crystal clear waters and the staff are happy to help you organize an array of trips such as scuba diving, snorkeling, sunset walks and more. The spacious dorms are kept spotless and always refreshingly cool, and the price is cheap enough that you may never want to leave!

 

7. South Coast Backpackers, Diani Beach, Kenya

south coast backpackers kenya

Their tagline is, “It’s not a business. It’s a house with a bar and a pool’ and honestly that is EXACTLY what it is. The property was once a luxurious villa, where only people who had more money than they knew what to do with could stay. After the violence and political unrest in Kenya, tourism was severely affected and many of the luxurious hotels near Mombassa were forced to close down. Their loss was our benefit, and by ‘our’ I mean backpackers the world over! This beautiful villa has been turned into a pseudo backpackers hostel but like the two owners say, really it’s just a beautiful house with a bar and pool. There’s even a personal chef who will cook you up whatever you like for breakfast!

Beach-Kenya-1125x784During low season, or if you stay mid-week, it’s possible to have the whole house and pool to yourself! During the weekend, however, backpackers, peace-corps workers and expats flock to this little piece of paradise to let off steam, enjoy the great ‘Happy Hour’ deals at the poolside bar and soak up the sun. The guys who work there are super laid back and full of incredible travel tales. They can also organize a variety of trips for you and will be sure to remind you that despite the fact that you may not want to leave their property, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kenya is only a 400 meter walk away! Kenya is very lacking on decent hostels so if you are traveling in this region and are craving a ‘true backpackers experience’, this is the place to go.

6. Frendz Hostel, Boracay, Philippines

the-view-from-the-frendz

Talk to anyone who has been to Boracay and there are two common themes that they all talk about. The fact that you simply must stay at Frendz Resort and that you must, must, must do the Boracay Pub Crawl! I’m not sure if they are connected but they both have the same mission, ‘Turn strangers into friends!’.

frendz-guesthouse-lounge-boracay-philippinesFrendz Hostel is literally meters away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Do a quick google search of ‘Boracay’ and you will know what I’m talking about! While there is nothing too special about the dorms or the common area (there’s a bar, a large table to eat or chat at, a pool table and they have private deck chairs on the beach for guests to use) it’s really the people who make this place so special. Everyone who stays here is dying to make new friends, party all night long and find a fun group of people to go exploring the island with. I would especially recommend this hostel is you are traveling solo to the Philipines and while you’re at it, sign yourself up to the Boracay Pub Crawl. Fun guaranteed!

 

5. Kimchi Guesthouse, Hongdae, Korea

hongdae lights

After almost 2 years in Korea and countless weekends staying in various hostels around Seoul, Kimchi Guesthouse in Hongdae remains one of my favourites. The rooms are spacious but cosy (an essential during the cold, Korean Winter!), the staff are friendly and welcoming and best of all, the hostel is only a hop, skip and a jump from the most-happening party district in Korea.

kimchi guesthouseWhen it comes to a place to stay, it often comes down to ‘location, location, location’, and Kimchi Guesthouse seems to have got this spot on. It’s in a quiet enough street that you can go to bed early if needed but also close enough to Seoul’s vibrant nightlife district that you could walk home alone and not feel concerned for your safety. My friends and I have probably stayed in over 10 hostels in and around this district of Seoul but this one is a firm favorite.

 

4. Fawlty Towers Backpackers, Livingstone, Zambia

victoria_falls

If you want to visit  Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the worlds, and don’t want to fork out hundreds of dollars to stay in one the limited hotel accommodation options in the area, Fawlty Towers is the place for you. You can’t really go wrong with a large backpackers just minutes away from the Zambian/Zimbabwean border , located in the small town of Livingstone which is now known as the ‘Adrenaline Junkie Capital of Africa!’ Bungee jumping, rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting, gorge swings, micro lights flights and walking safari’s are just some of the nail-biting activities on offer.

fawlty towers backpackersIn the hostel itself there’s a bar, a large swimming pool with deck/lounge chairs and the dorms are fully equipped with much-needed mosquito nets and fans! This spot is also a great meeting spot to connect with other travelers as it is very close to the point where the Tazara Train (that runs from Tanzania to Zambia) ends and thus is a melting pot of backpackers, some having traveled all the way down through Northern and Eastern Africa while others are just beginning their adventure North.

 

3. Friendly Fun Franks, Riga, Latvia

Riga-Latvia

Any hostel that gives it’s guests a free beer before they have even fully checked in will always be held in high esteem by me. Voted Best Hostel in the World by users of Hostelworld.com a few years ago, staying here was one of the best experiences I have had in Europe. Not many people think of going on holidays to Latvia, but when a group of friends and I found cheap flights to Riga a few years back, booking this hostel for the duration of our stay was one of the best decisions we ever made.

friendly-fun-franks-backpackerLocated in central Riga and overlooking the Daugava river, on which many locals (and some brave tourists!) can be seen skating across during the winter months, the hostel is in a great location. The common room is both large and comfortable (and adorned with many certificates of praise received by the hostel!) and the bar, which they open at all sorts of crazy hours to meet demand, is the perfect spot to unwind with other travelers. The staff, however, are what made this place truly special. I’m not sure who Frank is, and he may not even be all that friendly, but he sure knows how to hire some of the most helpful, beautiful and friendly staff on the planet! Throughout our stay, they showed us all around the city, brought us to new bars and clubs each night, and booked us on all sorts of wacky adventures such as shooting AK47’S in old Russian Bunkers and sending us to some quaint town where we could go sledding! By the end of our one-week vacation, we had made many lifelong friends and I had a new hostel to add to my list of favorites.

2. Nomads Hostel, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown_in_Winter

 

This hostel was one the most amazing places I have ever stayed. It was one of those times when even your super high expectations for a destination are exceeded and you just know that you have picked THE best place in stay. The hostel itself is huge but what makes it great is that they have an ample amount of facilities for everyone. There are lounge chairs everywhere, the dorms have balconies and there are tons of computers for guests to use. The dorms are spacious, and if you have the cash to splash out on a private room you might even think you are in a top hotel rather than a cheap hostel.

960_960_sauna-queenstownThe people working and staying here are super social, and as you are allowed to drink in the hostel, it is a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers without having to go out on the town and spend lots of money. They organize lots of nights out including a 10 dollar pub crawl and can also organize a variety of tours, adventures, flights and adrenaline pumping activities to fill your days and empty your wallet! Also, did I mention there’s a sauna?! Madness. If I ever go back to New Zealand, this will be the first place on my list! 

 

 

1. Buccaneers Backpackers, Cintsa, South Africa

buccaneers-lodge-backpackers

Honestly, I could probably write a full bog post on hostels in South Africa as there are so many great spots! I was going back and forth for the last hour deciding whether to include one of the hostels I stayed in while traveling in Australia or to include a second South African hostel. In the end, I had to stay true to myself, and this gem of a Backpackers on the wild coast of South Africa wins the last spot! The hostel is really rustic and the views of the beach below are spectacular!

buccaneersThey can organize horse back riding along the beach, daily surfing lessons or weekly surf camps and their poolside parties are out of this world. It’s a strange place as it feels like you are escaping the hustle and bustle and getting back to nature but at the same time it’s such a popular spot that you are bound to meet rakes of other backpackers while staying here. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the precise reasons why a hostel is great, you just get a feeling while staying there that you never really want to leave and be it 1 year or 10 years since your last stay, it is a place that will always stay in your memory. For me, Buccaneers is one of those places. :)

Online PR UK

Brand | Marketing | Social Media | PR

Make:

DIY projects, how-tos, and inspiration from geeks, makers, and hackers

Heavy.com

Breaking News, Sports, Entertainment, TV, Tech, Gaming & Health.

The Truth Warrior

Empowering and Inspiring people to be fully authentic, loving, happy, peaceful and joyful in their lives.

RobMoro

Music | Theatre | Technology | Features

JAMESMAYORBLOG.COM

This WordPress.com site is the cat’s pajamas. Copy Rights: Mayor5. All Rights Reserved

wheelstravelstheworld

A story of traveling with a wheelchair...

The Mind of Micheline

Life, Love, Poetry, Music, The Human Experience

contre-ǝsuǝs

un blog sur la recherche de soi, de la simplicité et du bonheur

Into My Story World

"Let's go adventuring," she said

lignesdefront.com

culture and artistic creation

No Paine No Gain

Runner, writer - follow the adventure.

Calers's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The wanderer

know more about the world

Life Style Blog

...today is the perfect day to start living your dreams

comics, pop culture and related topics

All My Thoughts and Words

Art, photography, ideas, books and all of the other crap I find interesting. Enjoy.

The Satori Saga

the road to satori

City Girl

Currently writing from Germany

The Growing Stone of Hope! Each Click makes a difference!

You click on the video & we add a stone!

Gigaom

Technology news, trends and analysis covering mobile, big data, cloud, science, energy and media

Cogito Ergo Mum

Thought-food for the baby-brain

Put the Kettle On

Parenting, twins, family life & copious amounts of tea

Travel & Escapes

Inspiring responsible travel

Ning Ning's

Journey with you

Eating With Ziggy

Dining Well, Spelling Poorly

Buses and Backpacks

Tales from Latin America

Mitz it up...

India- Fun, Fashion & Travel

KleesButterfly - A TravelBlog

Culture, Art & Architecture

Come here to me!

Dublin life & culture.

English Lakes Blog

News & Stories from English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues

Lush & Luxe

Latin American and Spanish interiors & design

The Ultimate Conference Blog

A Team of Inspired Professionals Creating the Ultimate Conference Experience™

Startup Iceland

Resources for Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs

Facing 50 with humour.

"He who laughs...lasts."

shouldvestayedinchorlton

Follow us (Cesca and Ste) on our brave adventure. Pray for us.

John Williamson Photography

the life of a photographer in costa rica

INCURABLE WANDERLUST

Helping You To Explore. Dream. Discover. Today.

Dan And soph travels

Live for Adventure, Enjoy the Journey.

Hey Helsinki

A New Zealand girl in Finland

Greenside Up

Teaching Growth. Teaching Green.

Sails made of shells

Eoin Kernan and Karolina Badmierowska blog

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,742 other followers

%d bloggers like this: