Voyage, voyage, Plus loin que la nuit et le jour… So goes the song of Desireless, 1986. If travelling could be a full-time job, we’ll be drawing on our pension by now. Or in other words, plenty has been done, enjoyed, appreciated, learnt, acquired but also feared, discarded and avoided! Adventures shared…
When checking your bags in at the airport, you’ll always be asked whether you packed the bags yourself. You’ll also be asked if you are carrying certain items that you shouldn’t be such as firearms or anything else that may be considered dangerous.
Whilst the desk staff at the airport are responsible for asking about specific items that may cause a risk to other passengers, they can probably be forgiven for not asking specifically about the following strange items that passengers have been found to carrying on-board a flight in the past:
Depending on what your train journey is for, whether you are on your daily commute to or from work, or are off on your jollies; you may find that your time on the train can actually be quite enjoyable. Ensuring that you have reserved a seat, and can see right as to where your luggage is, you can actually have quite a relaxing time, whether you are delayed or not; so to prove this statement, here are a few things to do whilst travelling on a train.
Find yourself a bar
If you find yourself a little delayed, and have quite a journey to have thereafter, then finding yourself an alcoholic beverage may quite possibly be the best way to enjoy the transport ahead of you! In train stations such as Sheffield, there are eloquent bars and pubs that are great for quelling those pre-train, train journeys. With exotic, rare and quality beers from all over the world, they are all available on Platform 1 of the station; so if you find yourself stuck or passing through Sheffield, then a quick rest bite in the Sheffield Tap, may just be the place for you. Alternatively, look for a Wilkes Group cold drinks vending machine for a refreshing drink.
Enjoy a good book
Although this may seem quite a boring suggestion, reading on your journey to work is an excellent way of not only improving your diction and expanding your mind; but also a great way of maintaining the level of books that you read each year. If you can afford twenty or so pages per journey you could find yourself reading around 200 pages a week, just 60 or so under the length of the average novel. A mere two books a month could find you reading 24 books a year, and that, is roughly (and perhaps shockingly) 17 books above the UK national average. Creating a Goodreads account is a great way of keeping track of how many books you read every year.
Talk to the person sitting next to you
It’s simple, sitting next to someone isn’t always the most enjoyable thing about commuting, especially during the busy times of the day, particularly when you may find yourself packed like a sardine.
However, chatting away may be an excellent way of bucking up your confidence. By merely starting up a conversation with your fellow commuter, you will be surprised to find that quite often, people are more than happy to open up and have a chat with you; whether it’s about the weather or the current state of Tiger Woods’ current sports car. Of course, if that person is reading or already talking to someone else, they may not be so happy with your butting in.
Find some phone apps
Catching up with the world and checking for the latest apps on the market is a great way to spend your delay; once you have them, you could find yourself playing the newest and most enjoyable game app or having the latest news piece; you never know, it may just give you something to chat about with the person next to you!
Perhaps the biggest source of pollution arising from travelling is the burning of fossil fuel by airplanes. You could take the train, coach or even boat but they all require a source of energy and you won’t get far without a plane. So if you are an environment-conscious traveller, what can you do to reduce the pollution you generate? Travel less? That’s cutting out the fun. No, grow a tree.
The carbon story
The combustion of fossil fuels means taking carbon out from the earth and releasing it into the atmosphere in a different form. Whether it’s carbon dioxide, or other associated gases of fossil fuels such as methane and NOx, these are best kept where they come from. Even if you don’t believe that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the cause of global warming, anyone seeing the black fumes emitted by factories or old vehicles can tell that it’s not something nice that’s being released into the air. So where do trees come in?
You can view trees as very smart machines. Trees need carbon dioxide to grow. Wood is made mostly of carbon and it is trees and plants more generally that produced the fossil fuels we are now pumping so greedily from the ground. So what the trees actually do is they take carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) from the air and fixes it into the ground. That’s the reverse process of what we are actually doing when we burn fossil fuels.
So if you are a traveller with a guilty conscience, get started growing trees to make up for the carbon and other gases you release into the air when flying. If you have a garden, plant a few trees there. Not all trees become big. If you have a small garden, you can pick dwarf varieties. Even better, why not grow fruit trees which you can benefit directly? Who doesn’t like a nice juicy pear or a ripe plum, especially at the peak of summer when it’s hot?
What I did
Instead of just dishing out advice, I followed my own and planted a few small fruit trees and berry shrubs in my garden. Always averse to spending more than required, given that I will have to water the trees and care for them, I looked around for a bargain and found an irresistible bargain on groupon.co.uk. Unfortunately these deals don’t last forever, so have a look elsewhere too.
Sponsor a tree
If you don’t have a garden, all is not lost. You can still grow a tree or even a few by sponsoring them. Start by looking at what your local council does. For example, with Bristol council you can either sponsor a tree or join in the fun to plant one.
One tree not enough? At Carbon Projects, you can sponsor a whole acre while the aptly named sponsortrees.com simply does what it says on the tin. According to this site, a tree removes 25kg of carbon emissions per year from the air.
So no more excuses if you don’t want to get your hands dirty. Get out there, grow a tree and carry on flying without guilt.
There’s nothing better than taking to the open road on two wheels in a different country that offers stunning scenery and great landmarks. Provided you’ve got the right motorcycle insurance and have mapped out a good route, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a motorbike holiday – but where should you be thinking of going?
Here are five of our favourite international motorcycling holiday spots:
France and Spain
If you want to stay a little closer to home, the stretch of The Pyrenees that runs between France and Spain can be an exhilarating ride and are usually a little less ridden by tourists – so if you play it right you could get yourself a seriously peaceful journey. You can travel the Spanish border in style and expect to see some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes.
The North American Rockies
If you want seriously impressive scenery, the Rocky Mountains are very difficult to beat. You can take in the massive stretch of open road that goes from Canadian British Columbia to Colorado and go through Montana and Wyoming on your way. British Columbia is where you’ll also find the famous Icefields Parkway – which offers 144 miles of mountain lakes, glaciers, valleys and incredible natural beauty.
Whether you’re on a package holiday or are heading to the Med specifically for a motorcycle holiday there are no end to the number of places you might want to check out. Check your moped insurance if you’re saddling up on your scooter to traverse the wonderful coastlines of Spain and Portugal, or make a real trip of it across mainland Italy where you can cover more ground and make some stops at the country’s many picturesque tourist spots as you go.
It’s not the first place people think of when planning a major motorcycle trip, but that’s just one of the reasons it can be a great option. Japan is teeming with wonderful places to visit and cultural experiences you won’t find anywhere else. However, perhaps more importantly, it has incredible mountain ranges and great roads to access them including Shiga Kusatsu Road, Yamanami Highway, Venus Line and Bandai Azuma Skyline.
Because who hasn’t watched The Lord of the Rings movies and thought ‘I could have done that journey so much quicker on my bike’? It’s no secret that New Zealand is an incredible place for natural beauty, but many won’t have realised there are some incredible package motorbike holidays you can take there too. One company that offers these is Paradise Motorcycle Tours NZ, but be sure and find one that has a competitive price on renting a bike as it can be quite costly.
With so many great places out there to visit, travelling by motorbike when you get there could be the most memorable way to make the most of it.
One of the largest cities in South Africa is Cape Town which has a rich history and culture. While travelling around the city you will come across a lot of open land stretches comprising of desert roads and the African wildlife, making it an excellent setting for an exciting adventure – it is one of the most popular African city destinations boosted by its vibrant colours of life and culture, an excellent tourism network and its wildlife. By hiring a car in Cape Town you will be able to travel independently, gain the freedom to explore the outskirts of the city and absorb all the vivid natural beauty that the place has to offer.
New and old
The city is a good mix of both the old and the new architectural designs. It is an assortment of various ethnic communities that have contributed in their own way to its 300 year-old history. The “city bowl” includes the corporate area with numerous Victorian and Edwardian buildings which have a slight hint of the Cape Dutch architecture too.
A walk down Long Street will bring you to the remains of the old town. You will find cobbled lanes leading up to the Greenmarket square.
If you want to learn more about the city’s past then you should visit the District 6 and BO Kaap museums. The ancient remains of the early Dutch and British rule are found in the Good Hope Castle Fort, established on a huge open area. Other places or buildings of prime attraction include the President’s residence and other Government buildings.
Getting around by car
Car hire here is very easily available. The best prices are without a driver of course, so make sure you have a sat-nav to guide you around if you pick this option. You’ll need an international driver’s license if you are not from South Africa. Don’t forget to hop over to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. There is a museum there: http://www.robben-island.org.za/. Ferries depart from the V&A Waterfront.
The Victoria and Albert Waterfront
From Robben island, make your way to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront which has been re-structured recently. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is located at the heart of Cape Town’s harbour, between Table Mountain and Robben island. With exquisite views of sea and mountains, this waterfront is South Africa’s most visited destination according to the Sovereign Publications. With plenty of shopping opportunities and over 80 restaurant venues, a day won’t be enough for you to take it all in.
More major tourist attractions in Cape Town
Table Mountain – An icon of Cape Town, this mountain stands in the aptly-named Table Mountain National Park, rising to a height of 1,086 meters and draped in a curtain of clouds most often.
Cape Point – This is situated at the end of the peninsula at a distance of about 80 km from Cape Town itself. Also known as Cape of Good Hope, it is an extension of the land that teases the treacherous sea.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – This garden is spread over 528 hectares of land and lies at the feet of the Table Mountain. There is a large variety of bird population and wildlife to spot.
Volunteering overseas in no doubt a fantastic way to spend some time. Not only does a community or institution receive an enthusiastic individual willing to donate their time and energy, but you, as a volunteer get to have a unique experience. One that will allow you to see a culture and community from within, experiencing a country the way a tourist would not be able to.
However, with so many organisations offering such a huge array of placements and project types, and with much discussion in the press over the morality of certain companies operating procedures, it can be difficult to know how to choose a programme or organisation to go with. But here are some tips on helping you choose a placement that may be beneficial to you.
Research the organisation you are going with
There are so many organisations you can organise a trip with. It is strongly recommended you research them before hand. Most will have online reviews but go deeper than that. Ask yourself if they are a charity or non-profit organisation, are they a company? If they are a company are they owned by a bigger company? Ask what their procedure is, how are volunteers selected? Do they have a mission statement? In-country support? Call them up and have a chat, are they serious about volunteering or just pushing for a sale?
Maybe you don’t want to go with an organisation
Many people organise their placements direct with an institution or community and that is fine. Just ensure that the support is there should you need it, research the right visas and pre-departure administration. Understand what will happen when you get there. Essentially make sure all boxes are covered before you get on the plane. As the famous saying goes, failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
Know what your skills are and how best you can employ them. If you are on a gap year, fresh from school you will not be able to be a trauma surgeon any more than you would be in your home country. However, in all likelihood you will have had a decent education and be able to speak English. Talents that are needed in some countries and greatly appreciated. It may be a bitter pill to swallow but generally younger volunteers do not have specific skills (such as an engineer or doctor may have), in which case you need to understand that some areas may be closed to you. However, that does not mean certain areas of interest are closed to you. Young volunteers can get involved in many types of project from conservation to caring and from teaching to leading outdoor activities.
Based on your skills, interests and personality, organisations should match you to a placement. This may mean you end up in a different area of a country than you have expected, or further away from a friend than you would like. But you have to remember, although you expect to have a great time, you are there to help! If you are placed somewhere where you can make a real contribution that should be the overriding factor. Volunteers’ enjoyment is directly linked to how involved they can be with a community. If they are busy, needed and appreciated, they will have a fantastic time. If there is not much work for them or their work load is something they do not enjoy, it stands to reason they will not enjoy it.
When placed in a community many volunteers hold a great deal of responsibility (such as a teacher volunteering in Africa). This may be the most responsibility a volunteer has had before, so volunteers should be prepared to be mature and lead by example.
Make sure you know where you are going, what medical supplies you may need and which shots you should have well in advance. Ensure your insurance covers you for all activities you may end up going on and that your visas are appropriate and cover what you will be doing in-country. Many organisations offer in-country support, make sure you have contact details of them as well as the embassy in the country you are working in, should anything go awry.
Expect the unexpected
Volunteers go for an experience, sometimes these experiences take strange turns, and volunteers may find themselves in a situation they were not expecting. Evidently being in a different culture where things work differently this is far more likely to happen than at home. But you cannot fight against it, go with it, enjoy the moment as it is what may make your experience unique.
Yes you are going to have an experience, an experience that you will enjoy and learn from. But realise that volunteering is all about what is best for the community you work with. In many instances this may come to a head over the length of placement. Be prepared to stay a long time. In many cases 4 months is a minimum amount of time. If you are teaching, why would you expect to just to teach for a week? How many teachers did you have that only stayed a week? You should be there for at least a term. Quick turn over of volunteers at orphanages can cause distress for young children as attachments are formed and then lost, week after week after week. If you are going to improve your CV, do not go! It is unfair. Go for the right reasons.
With airlines squeezing our luggage allowances as well as our money saving plans, it may well be time to accept the fact that a hairdryer or a ‘just in case’ woolly jumper have to be wiped from our packing essentials list forever.
Holidays should be a time where you put your clutter-forming habits aside and look to more simple pleasures such as a stroll along the beach or an evening cocktail. Although becoming a Robinson Crusoe figure and wearing the same clothes for days on end could be taking it too far, when it comes to packing for your summer break, minimalism is the key.
Capital FM presenter and M & S model Lisa Snowdon is no stranger to packing light: “If I’m going away for longer than a week I take a suitcase and check it in but I’m good at packing light and quick – years of modelling, travelling and living out of a suitcase has trained me well.”
Take the weight off your shoulders, literally, with these handy tips:
Create a capsule wardrobe of summer essentials. A few floaty dresses, a jean jacket, wedges, flip flops, shorts and vest tops should see you through a week-long holiday. You can also pack a few accessories to switch your outfit from a daytime to a nighttime look. Ask yourself whether adding a fifth caftan to your collection is really necessary. You can also hit markets and discount retail shops abroad if you need to boost your luggage offerings.
Pack clothes in storage bags that can have their air removed to reduce their size, this is designed to free up even more space.
Wear your heaviest items of clothing on the journey over, such as boots and coats, so this doesn’t take up space in your suitcase.
Make the most of your hand luggage allowance and squeeze in as much as you can.
One decent piece of luggage and a carry-on bag is all you really need for your break, no matter what the duration is.
Ensure that you choose a piece of luggage that is lightweight and has several compartments.
Choose the right type of luggage for your destination. If you are heading off to a more remote location without good roads, a backpack may be preferable over a wheelie case.
Bring appropriate clothing
Check weather forecasts for the destination you are going to and pack accordingly. Remember that you can always layer up on clothing in the event that the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Many hotels and resorts offer a service wash for a price, so you shouldn’t need to double up on too many items. You can also bring a small bottle of travel wash and air-dry clothes in hot locations.
Some countries will also require you to cover up at certain locations such as churches or when you are out in public, so remember to bring along trousers and a long-sleeved top.
Take a waterproof jacket that can be fitted in a bag.
Call your hotel or resort to check which items they already have. If you are going to bring hair straighteners and other items with you, it is probably a good idea to make sure they are travel size and that you bring along a universal adaptor.
If you have a smartphone or tablet then there really is no need to bring along a heavy guidebook. Head to an area that has Wi-Fi and look on sites such as Tripadvisor or Timeout for ideas on what to do in the local area.
A Kindle is also great for ensuring you have enough to read on your holiday without taking up additional space. You can also buy sun cream and toiletries when you get to your destination.
Distances across Africa are so vast that public transport is simply inadequate for getting to where you need to be. With car hire so affordable these days, you can experience the amazing diversity of a country like Nigeria which is impossible by air. It’s the ideal way of exploring destinations across Africa, such as Lagos.
Driving in Nigeria
The roads in Nigeria are surprisingly good, although the liberal use of the horn by fellow drivers can come as something of a shock to begin with. Horns are sounded when descending or climbing a hill, turning corners and approaching intersections, as well as to greet friends and acquaintances, so it can get pretty noisy.
Also be prepared to swerve or brake at a moment’s notice, especially in cities like Lagos, where the ubiquitous taxis drop off and pick up passengers anywhere and everywhere.
A bustling city
Lagos is Nigeria’s leading city and the biggest metropolis in Africa. It’s a city of contrasts if ever there was one, offering a uniquely energised experience with its busy street life, colourful markets, friendly people and delicious cuisine.
Its streets are heaving 24/7 and African rhythms beat from every corner, so if you close your eyes for a minute and just smell the omnipresent spices and listen to the street chatter and rhythmic melodies you’ll feel you’ve been transported right to the heart of the Dark Continent. In fact it’s a complete misnomer, dark only when applied to the ignorance of Victorian explorers and merchants eager to exploit its natural riches. Open your eyes again and they’ll be assailed by brilliant colours at every turn.
Get a guide
Once you get to Lagos it’s best to leave the car at the hotel and take a private chauffeur-driven tour of the city. Not only will this avoid you becoming lost in one of the dodgy neighbourhoods, but a guide is essential for getting the most out of a visit to this hectic, heaving city that seems designed to suck all visitors into its great maw and not allow them out again. It’s one of its many excitements, in fact: that excitement with a touch of danger experienced in many big cities, European ones included.
A few attractions…
There are plenty of great attractions here in the swirling rush of humanity, including the National Museum with kits cutting-edge displays on Nigeria’s eventful and often bloody history. Oba’s Palace is also a great place to visit here. It has been the king’s residence since 1630 and was actually built by the Portuguese colonists to protect the city from surrounding tribes and the forces of other European powers.
The colonial style of many of the buildings in Lagos is a constant and salutary reminder of this country’s past and the role that rapacious European settlers took in exploiting it for their own ends. The National Museum is fittingly housed in an old British building on Awolowo Avenue close to Tafava Balewa Square. The famous Benin Bronzes that were once housed in the royal palace at Benin City are now on display here, as well as terracotta and bronze sculptures of stunning workmanship from various periods of the country’s past.
Travelling locally and interacting with locals is always encouraged. It allows you to gain real insight into the culture of a country and the life of the people that live there. This is all very well and good if you are on a round the world trip, and should be the only way to travel if that is what you are doing however, it can be quite difficult to incorporate those kind of local experiences into a short trip or conventional holiday. Many people still desire the ‘travel’ lifestyle but cannot afford to up roots and put their heart and soul into it. However there is always a work around, and there are modern ways to help you travel locally even if you are just visiting somewhere for a week.
Staying with the locals
A great way, would be to stay with locals, or at least stay where they stay. There are companies who offer the opportunity to rent out private rooms in local apartments or even whole apartments, from local hosts, immediately taking your trip away from the norm of repetitive hotels. This allows you to get a unique perspective of the city and simply gives your trip that little unique feeling. The benefit of renting from the hosts themselves, means you can communicate with each other and they are on hand to offer you their advice on all the best hot spots and hidden local gems you might have otherwise missed. There are also extra guarantees, such as Wimdu’s, that hold your money until 24 hours after your check-in making sure your apartment or room is everything you expected. So you can stay in a unique local accommodation without losing out on the security a hotel chain would provide.
Putting technology to good use
Taking a short trip or visit allows you to take certain luxuries that you might not risk taking on a round the world trip. The beauty of modern technology means that if you want to visit a place like a local then surely ‘there is an app for that’. Whereas a smartphone might be a risk in south east Asia, it is perfectly fine to take on a weekend trip to Prague, and there are some great applications that can help you find great places to eat, drink and play and just generally help you get by. Anything from a list of the best local restaurants to basic translators can be invaluable tools.
True travel purists may say that no matter how you try to get around it, the only way to really experience a place, is to travel and visit thoroughly and live with the locals. However if you want a local experience and need to get away from the standard trips, a unique room is an excellent way to do it.
Traveling the world gives you the opportunities to meet many different kinds of people you’d never normally get the chance to. Not only will you meet other travelers while traveling, you’ll also meet many locals. Your interactions with locals will generally differ depending on what kind of area you’re in (i.e. whether it’s a tourist or non-tourist area) and your sex (i.e. whether you’re male or female).
As a traveler in a foreign country, it is important that you’re respectful to the local people, and that you respond to any offers of hospitality in the right way.
Meeting Local People in Non-Tourist Areas
When traveling through rural areas (or areas where travelers/foreigners rarely visit), you may find that you’re seen (and treated) as something of a celebrity. You may be visiting a place where no-one has ever seen someone of your race/culture, so don’t be surprised if people stop in their tracks to stare at you, if large crowds gather to watch you eat or if children are unable to contain their excitement and follow you around everywhere.
Meeting Local People on the Tourist Trail
While in non-tourist areas the locals will be interested in you, in more touristy areas the local people will no-doubt be more interested in your money (and how they can get it). This isn’t to say that you can’t have genuinely wonderful interactions with locals in tourist areas. Of course you can, but it will be a lot more difficult. Because tourist areas are often filled with tourists (by definition), the locals that live in these areas will naturally be more accustomed to interacting with foreigners, meaning you won’t have the same novelty as you would in non-tourist areas.
Because of this, don’t be surprised if you occasionally meet a local who is rude to you. Instead of getting annoyed by this, remember that not all places have the same views on customer service and courtesy as we do in the western world, so don’t try to shoehorn your own country’s culture into theirs. As you might expect, a large majority of your interactions with local people in tourist areas will revolve around transactions (i.e. you paying them for some goods or a service).
This is typically where most disagreements will arise, as locals may try to extract as much money as they can from you. Of course, traveling can be an expensive hobby so it’s good to try and keep your costs down, but don’t quibble over the cost of a few pence and remember that the money you’re spending will probably go towards feeding a person’s family.
Responding to Offers of Hospitality
As you travel and interact with local people, you might occasionally be presented with an offer of hospitality. For example, a local person might invite you to dinner with their family or offer you a place to stay while you’re in town. How you respond to these offers largely depends on where you are. Genuine offers of hospitality in areas filled with tourists are rare, for example, and should be treated with caution (as probably involve you being taken to their brother’s souvenir shop and ‘encouraged’ to buy something). Alternatively, you can live with a local.
In my experience, most (genuine) offers of hospitality come from working class people living away from the major tourist areas (which is slightly surprising as these are often the poorest people in the country). For many of these people, playing host to an exotic foreigner (that’s you!) is seen as something of a badge of honor. Therefore, turning such invitations down (out of charity or guilt) can be seen as an insult.
If you feel guilty about eating the food of a person who is significantly worse off (financially than you) but you don’t want to turn their offer down, one way to show your appreciation is to bring them a small gift as a sign of your gratitude and appreciation.
Bridging the Language Gap
These days, English is the first, second or third language of most countries, meaning it’s likely that wherever you go, someone will speak it in at least some capacity. That being said, as you travel it is likely that you’ll meet lots of people (particularly those who are older or lower class) who won’t speak English at all. Basic interactions with these people can be had through improvised sign language and facial expressions (i.e. pointing and smiling), but you’ll struggle to have interactions of any depth unless the two of you speak the same language.
Whenever you visit a new country, it’s a good idea to try and learn a few of the key phrases (such as ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, ‘how much?’, etc.) before you get there. These common phrases will help you to get by a little better, but it is often said that to really understand a local culture, you must speak the local language. Learning one new language is hard enough, so if you’re traveling across 10 different countries this is nigh-on impossible. Therefore, instead of trying to learn multiple languages, it’s best to learn one that’s spoken in a lot of places (such as Spanish or Portuguese).
A Word of Warning to Female Travelers
Depending on your gender, interactions with local people in foreign countries can differ drastically (especially in Asia and the Middle East). Typically, female travelers will attract far more attention (and even harassment) than men and will be a source of curiosity. In order to avoid unwanted attention, educate yourself on the dress code of the country you’re entering (this information can be found in most guidebooks) and stick to it. Also, when traveling in ‘traditional’ cultures, be wary of making eye contact with me, as this could be misconstrued as a sexual invitation rather than an acknowledgement of their presence.
A Final Note
Finally, the biggest mistake you can make when interacting with locals abroad is to attempt to ‘acquire’ these experiences as if they were souvenirs. Instead, realize that these are real people you’re interacting with, and try to relate to them as one person to another.