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Monthly Archives: October 2016

5 Skills to Learn Before You Go Backpacking

1. Understand the rules of the road

The first is simple: there are no rules. You yell stop, the traffic continues regardless, and a truck held together with no more than a hope and a prayer, thunders towards you as if involved in a Mad Max death race.

From Africa and India to Southeast Asia, it’s almost a contractual obligation. If you glare forebodingly at the truck driver, he’s still going to come for you. If you boldly walk on, you might get mowed down.

That may be a teensy exaggeration, but consider this: according to the latest WHO report, some of the most popular countries to travel to in 2016 are the most dangerous in which to be a pedestrian. There were 24,896 fatalities from road accidents in Iran, for instance, while in Thailand the number of road deaths hit 24,237. Other traveller hotspots such asVietnam, Oman, Brazil, and South Africa are equally as foolhardy.

It’s Wacky Races logic out there, so don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.

2. Know your maths

Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.

In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).

3. Master the ethics of haggling

Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.

Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.

In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?

Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.

Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.

4. Learn improvised sign language

Let’s face it: few travellers have a grasp of Tamil and those Mandarin lessons at school just didn’t stick. Learning sign and body language can overcome these barriers, and even if you do speak a few helpful phrases, sometimes it’s quicker to save your breath and use your hands.

For starters, everyone knows the universal sign for “OK” (thumb and index make a circle while the remaining fingers point up) and “let’s rock!” (index finger and pinkie raised into a horn-like fist), but what about the less obvious ones? For budding surfers the Hawaiian ‘shaka’ sign is a must; it can be used to say anything from “take it easy” to “hang loose” (make a fist, extend your pinky and thumb, then shake your hand).

For swimmers, paddle boarders, or scuba divers, placing crossed arms over your head while in the water could save your life; it means “I need some help”.

In Italy, meanwhile, hand signals become a little harder, especially because the country is the king of the symbolic gesture. A mere flap of the wrist could meaning anything from “go away” or “I’m not interested” to “look at that asshole”. Make sure you know the difference to avoid a punch in the face.

5. Grasp toilet etiquette

When it comes to toilet tales, travel is the ultimate eye-opener. No story is off limits between dorm buddies, and every backpacker has a ghoulish anecdote about a nightmarish squat-job in Asia that’d put you off your lunch.

The first thing to do when you see a slab of porcelain on the floor rather than a regular-shaped loo is to be brave, place your feet on either side, squat down, and hug your knees Yoga-style for support. It takes practice but afterwards you’ll have thighs as strong as Rambo’s.

Safari Alternatives For Nature Lovers

Looking for tigers in northern India

Tiger numbers have crept up in recent years according to official statistics from the Indian government: in 2016, India was estimated to be home to 2500 of them – 70 percent of the global population. But in a country this vast, it’s still hard to see one.

With accredited naturalists working as guides, Himalayan Footsteps offers a 13-day trip taking in the Bandhavgarh and Kanha national parks. Sightings are by no means guaranteed, although it’s said the best time of year to see tigers is between February and April, so it’s smart to plan ahead. If you don’t spot one, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing sloth bears, jackals and grey mongoose. Bandhavgarh is also home to 250 species of birds, so make sure you pack your binoculars.

Birdwatching in Peru’s Islas Ballestas

Don’t listen to anyone who dismisses Peru’s Islas Ballestas as ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’; these uninhabited islands might not have inspired Darwin when HMS Beagle passed this way in the 1830s, but they are home to a huge seabird colony, as well as sea lions and fur seals.

Due to the fragile nature of the islands, visitors can’t make landfall, but boats can be chartered along with dedicated guides from nearby Paracas. Peruvian pelicans and Humboldt penguins vie for real estate on these rocky outcrops, sea lions howl above the din of crashing waves, while blue-footed boobies, related to the gannet, dive-bomb the surrounding waters in a desperate search for fish.

Komodo dragons and orangutans in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to many natural wonders, but few spectacles compare with the sight of two Komodo dragons locked in claw-to-claw combat.

A visit to the eponymous island home of the world’s largest lizard – the next best thing to a dinosaur, basically – is a highlight of Responsible Travel’s 13-day trip through the archipelago. Another major stop on the itinerary is Borneo, one of the last redoubts of the beautiful, endangered orangutan, who share their home with proboscis monkeys, gibbons and macaques, to name but three of the rare creatures sheltering in the rainforest.

Northern lights ‘safari’ in Nellim, Finland

Three hundred kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and just 9km fromFinland’s border with Russia, Nellim is one of the best places in Scandinavia to see the aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights.

The light pollution is negligible, but due to temperamental weather staying in a single spot slashes your chances of seeing the sky lit up. The Aurora Zone runs ‘safaris’ in conjunction with the Nellim Wilderness Lodge, chasing the lights after dark. Wrap up warm and be patient: you can drive as much as 250km in a single night if it’s cloudy. Daytime brings the chance to see herds of reindeer roaming the boreal forest from dirt tracks that surround the village. Lucky visitors may even catch a glimpse of brown bears or wolves.

Orca watching in Orkney, UK

Ninety percent of orca sightings in the UK occur off of the coast of the Shetland Isles and Orkney. The latter’s wild shores and turbulent waters are the best place to see these beautiful creatures.

While most pods of orca are small, it’s been known for a group of 150 to appear east of the main island. You don’t need your sea legs to see them either, with the high clifftops on the island of Hoy affording superb views during the summer months. Cannock Head and the Old Man of Hoy are both recommended by local whale watchers. If you’re lucky, you might also see pilot whales, minke whales and bottlenose dolphins. Keen twitchers should also keep an ear out for corncrakes, a rarely seen bird with a distinctive call that’s native to these Scottish islands.

A guide to Copenhagen’s neighbourhoods

Indre By: the tourist hub

The popular inner city is the heart of Copenhagen, and its most visited neighbourhood. Nyhavn is just one of many major sights in this part of the city, which is also home to the family-friendly Tivoli Gardensamusement park, Strøget, the lively pedestrianised shopping street, and the fabled Little Mermaid statue, which sits right on the edge of the city centre.

This historic area is a fantastic place to explore many of the city’s cobblestone streets, charming squares, and excellent museums. At the royal residence of Amalienborg Slot, visitors can watch the Changing of the Guard and try to get a glimpse of the Queen, while Christiansborg Palace offers a look into the workings of Denmark’s monarchy and government.

Indre By is also a foodie paradise, home to many of the city’s top restaurants, including Michelin-starred AOC and Kokkeriet, the more modest yet fabulous Höst and Uformel, as well as the wonderful market Torvehallerne, packed with vendors selling fresh produce.

Vesterbro: the happening hotspot

Once the most destitute area of the city, Vesterbro is still Copenhagen’s red-light district, though it’s not quite as seedy as similar areas in Amsterdam or Berlin. The neighbourhood’s vintage shops and summertime street markets give it a local and independent vibe, while the street art here is perhaps the best in the city.

Vesterbro is a neighbourhood in transition, with an emerging reputation for good food and family living. Amid the sex shops and erotic dance clubs sit fashionable cafes like Mad & Kaffe, craft breweries including the acclaimed Mikkeller, and family-friendly parks such as the unique Skyebanehave. Kødbyen – The Meatpacking District – is chock full of fantastic restaurants featuring everything from innovative seafood at Kødbyens Fiskebar to down-home barbecue and beers at WarPigs.

Nørrebro: the melting pot

Vibrant Nørrebro sits just across Queen Louise’s bridge from Indre By, but has a completely different feel. Arguably the most diverse area of Copenhagen, the streets of Nørrebro are a mishmash of international grocery and clothing shops, lined up alongside secondhand stores and independent coffee shops.

Restaurants here run the gamut from Michelin-starred Relæ and Kiin Kiin, to the noodles and pub food of craft beer meccas Ramen to Biiru and Nørrebro Bryghus. International flavours are well represented too, with restaurants such as Ma’ed Ethiopian, and the legendary Kebabistan on Nørrebrogade.

Jægersborggade, once a haunt of bikers and drug dealers, is now home to quirky shops selling everything from liquid nitrogen ice cream to cacti, while Ravnsborggade tempts with antique and vintage shops.

Assistens Kirkegård cemetery is not only the resting place of famous Danes like Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kirkegaard, but also acts as a leafy green space perfect for quiet strolls. The sense of diversity and community is perhaps strongest at Superkilen, a unique and colourful park space furnished with sculptural pieces from around the world, representing an international spirit.

Østerbro: the suburb in the city

The least touristed of Copenhagen’s major neighbourhoods, upmarket Østerbro is a great place to get a glimpse of local life. Mainly residential, Østerbro offers an escape from the visiting crowds while still providing plenty of opportunities for dining, shopping, and enjoying the outdoors. The main street, Østerbrogade, is packed with exclusive boutiques such as Normann Copenhagen, in addition to coffee shops and cafes, including a branch of the fabulous porridge cafe Grød.

The expansive Fælledparken is a green oasis in the shadow of Parken Stadium (parken.dk), the unlikely home of Denmark’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Geranium. Take in the area with a stroll along the easternmost of Copenhagen’s chain of lakes, or admire the colourful homes on Brumleby and Olufsvej.

Christianshavn: the intriguing island

Boats line the picturesque, Amsterdam-inspired canal of this artificial island in the city centre, lending a maritime feel. Locals sit along the water’s edge in the summer months, enjoying a picnic or a cold drink, while brave souls can climb the 400 steps up the golden spiral spire of the Church of Our Saviour for sweeping views of Copenhagen. The very modern Copenhagen Opera House is also found here, directly across the harbour from Amalienborg Palace.

In contrast is the Free Town of Christiania, a 34-hectare patch of land home to a commune-style alternative society formed in 1971.

While Christiania’s residents have dismantled its notorious Pusher Street hash market, its hand-built homes, artists’ workshops and natural beauty remain, and make for a fascinating look at an unconventional way of life.

The food scene in Christianshavn is as diverse as its residents: it boasts three Michelin-starred restaurants, including the famed Noma, considered one of the best in the world, while Papirøen (The Paper Island) is the home of Copenhagen Street Food, a warehouse turned foodie haven, offering up international foods from 35 stalls.

Frederiksberg: the posh neighbour

Though surrounded by Copenhagen, Frederiksberg is technically its own municipality; leafy Frederiksberg Alle leads the way from Vesterbro to this smart area. It’s a favourite with families and is filled with beautiful apartment buildings and green spaces.

Stylish shops and cafes abound, including Bertels Salon which boasts the best cheesecake in the city. Frederiksberg is also home to acclaimed restaurants such as the Michelin-starred French restaurant Formel B (formelb.dk), and Mielcke & Hurtigkarl. The latter serves a unique menu of Asian-inspired New Nordic dishes, using local, seasonal ingredients, including herbs and honey from their own garden.

Honeymoon Planning Tips and Guide

Timing is everything

You’ve dutifully set aside your collection of vacation days — now it’s time to work out how to spend them on your honeymoon. It’s important to weigh the time you’ve allotted for your adventure against your destination of choice, and make sure that your trip is spent travelling, not transiting.

With two or three weeks, you’ll have a more generous amount of time to take a crack at a faraway destination and overcome the exhaustion of a long-haul journey and/or jet lag. But a week-long holiday, say, is never well served by spending two full days hoofing it from one continent to another, only to turn around a few days later and repeat the gruelling trek back.

The other major timing consideration has to do with seasonality. Tacking your honeymoon on at the end of your already-set wedding date might preclude travel to certain destinations simply due to the time of year. Large areas of the Caribbean, for example, are prone to hurricanes during the months of September and October. Other destinations have annual monsoons – like Thailand, which has two different curtains of rains that sweep across the kingdom during the latter half of the year.

It’s best to educate yourself on the high and low seasons of your preferred honeymooning locales. Prices, of course, increase with a rise in demand during the months with the most favourable climate and during busy periods such as school holidays (when desirable hotels can also become scarce). Low seasons, on the other hand — or better yet, ’shoulder’ or ‘green’ seasons — can be a worthy option if you want to see more bang for your buck at the expense of rolling the dice weather-wise.

Benefits of DIY

When choosing a destination for your honeymoon, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to one place, but a protracted vacation — as many honeymoons are — lends itself well to exploring several locales. All-inclusive hotels are going to try to convince you otherwise, and travel agents (even those fancy boutique e-businesses) will try to capitalise on your lack of destination knowledge with tours and templates.

However, a DIY trip is much easier than you might think, and the rewards are exponentially greater than signing up for a cookie-cutter tour. Hands-on planning is a crucial part of understanding a destination, and you’ll arrive in the country with a commendable amount of acquired knowledge that will further guide you to sniff out the top experiences that really speak to you.

How to build a multi-stop honeymoon

As the architect of your own multi-stop trip, you might want to think of your honeymoon as a novel; the action on your vacation should swell and ebb accordingly. Think of the beginning of the trip as the initiation phase — you’re adjusting to a new world (maybe getting over jet lag) and want to ease into the action as it gradually builds. The middle section of the honeymoon is where the plot thickens. Your pulse quickens with adventure sports, or late urban nights exploring. Then, with the end of the story in sight, the last section of the holiday is when the jets cool — a denouement of sorts when you once again slow your pace. It’s the beach in Bahia after Rio and São Paulo, the Amalfi villa at the end of Tuscany and Rome, or the ryokan in Hakone when you’re wrapping up Kyoto and Tokyo. You need an airbag at the end of the trip, so you feel revitalised by the holiday, not desperately needing another.

Picking hotels

Now, with your storybook itinerary you’re going to have to slot in hotels. These should play out in tandem with the pace at each stage of your trip, but you need to slightly trick your future self. Every accommodation option selected should build upon the previous choice. The human mind can’t help but judge, and when you arrive at lodging number two you won’t be able to ignore the instinct to compare it to your accommodation the night before. So, in order to essentially feel like you’re winning at travel, each hotel must get progressively better — or maintain the quality of the previous stay — culminating in your big splurge at the end, which nicely coincides with your itinerary’s finale. The last slice of the vacation is the happy ever after – just like you and your spouse after the wedding.