Friday, 21 December 2012

5 Top Tips for Slowing Down your Travels!

After my recent post propounding the benefits of travelling fast, and in the truly bi-polar style you may have come to associate with Notes from the Road, I’ve decided to do a post on how and why it can be nice to travel slowly.

Some argue that there are two kinds of people in this world; introverts and extroverts. Introverts (of whom I am definitely one) are supposed to focus inwardly, on the self. For these people it makes sense for a trip to be more about the journey than the destination(s). Hence, fast travel.

My legs, floating on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
However, extroverts focus outwardly, on their surroundings, other people, cultures and so on. For the extrovert, taking the time to rest, let out a deep breath and take in your backdrop is always very important. Hence, slow travel.

Likewise, if you’re a travel writer, your readers will expect not a self-indulgent On the Road or Fear and Loathing-esque journey, but insightful observations, correct facts and an in-depth study of one particular place, be it a continent or a particular hotel.
In order to do this – become the expert on the place in question – you have to take your time. You’ll need time to observe, time to make notes, time to re-think your original biases, and, depending on the length of the piece you’re writing, time to discover and experience your own story there.

It’s not enough to have had an impression or an overview as you passed through. You have to verify your facts, learn the names of the things you see, discover the historical and political reasons why they’re like that in the first place.

But the best thing about staying in each place for longer is you don’t just get to know the place really well, but also the people. Although you’ll meet people travelling anyway (the backpacker circuit can be like a small village in its own right) it’s never as rewarding as being welcomed into the local scene.

So, now that you’re convinced (or not), here’s my advice: my 5 top tips to make the most of your slow travelling experience:

1.       First, when planning your trip, pick your destination(s) based on your own personal interests and passions. Make sure they’re not fleeting interests but have plenty of depth to plumb. You’ll thank yourself later…and remember, if your head can’t decide, always go with the heart.

2.       Hop a narrowboat! – Though a typically British phenomenon, designed for the particularly small locks of the old, inland canal system of Britain, this could just as easily apply to the barges of France, Germany or elsewhere in Europe, a cruise, or the waterways of Vietnam, Indonesia, etc … though probably not to a gondola in Venice (I doubt you’ll be able to relax that much when paying by the minute). The point is, narrowboats are notoriously slow, giving you as much time as you need to take in the scenery, reflect on your travels and on the nature of life itself, and even stop of at the pub from time to time when you get bored. Just make sure you bring someone to steer the boat for you.

3.       If you’re not lucky enough to be in a country where travel by water is common, there are plenty of other options to slow down the pace of travel, such as walking and cycling holidays. Hitchhiking will mean that your pace is controlled by your environment and that every mile you cover will be in the company of a local (or long distance trucker…or another traveller with a rental car). Likewise, choosing local buses over long-distance, international coaches will add a unique dimension to your trip. When you’re travelling, it can be tempting to crawl exhausted onto a night bus and sleep away 15 hours while the landscape outside passes you by in the darkness. Though I’m actually quite fond of this, just think about what you’re missing. Stopping off in every little town along the way will give you a unique insight into the destination and the lives of the people who live there. It’ll also ensure that you’re experiences are far more diverse and shall we say ‘genuine’, than those who simply jumped from point to point on the backpacker trail.

4.       Learn a language! It goes without saying that if you’re looking to learn everything there is to know about a country, and ultimately reach the point where you feel you belong there, first you’ll have to learn the local language. In fact, because culture is so intimately tied to language, you’ll find that by learning a language abroad, you are also learning about the people, the place, and their history in far more depth than you otherwise could.

5.       Finally, it’s a matter of money. While we all (travellers, that is) have vastly different budgets and every country has a very different cost of living/travelling, the basic principle is (almost) always the same. You make money, and as time goes by, you spend it. So it’s in the interest of every traveller to cut costs, and one way for the slow traveller to do these is to capitalise on the fact you’ll be in one place for a while. Make a deal with an hotelier/hostel owner, or find a place to stay that specifically offers long stay accommodation, such as the West Beach Hotel in Brighton.

For more tips on slow travel, fast travel, or any other kind of travel, you can subscribe to Notes from the Road for free, just by entering your email in the box (top, right).

Anyway, keep calm and carry on travelling slowly…

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Fast Travel: Is It for You?

Let me start by saying that this post is not an attack on anyone else's prefered style of travel, but simply a defence of mine, which often comes under attack itself.

Everyone is different, and so it follows that everyone's travel preferences are different too. Some people hate it all, some love it. Some like to do it alone, others with friends, family, their partner, kids, etc. Some people like a week on the beach in Ayia Napa, some people like a year in Shanghai, and some people, like me, prefer to always be on the move.

I like to travel fast (on a motorcycle, given the choice), taking that surreal, magical high that always accompanies the begining of a new adventure and making it last for months. To use that age-old cliche, I like to live life to the extremes.

This self-discovery is the product of much experimentation and experience, and yet I often get criticised for "just ticking off countries" or "not getting into the culture" here's what I have to say in return.

Fast Travel: Case Study 1

I recently took a trip with some friends to Geneva, Switzerland. Friends, I might add, who are among the critics of "fast travel". It was a very cool trip, it has to be said, but did we experience Switzerland?

We spent 4 nights in Geneva, and here's what we did:
  • The Hadron Collider at SERN
  • Went to an Ice Hockey game
  • Walked around the city by day x4
  • Walked around the city by night x4
  • Climbed Mount Saleve
  • Ate out in restaurants
  • Drank in bars
  • Bought food in supermarkets
  • Had a great night out!
  • Stood under the Jet d'eau fountain
  • A lot of time spent at the hostel; online, watching TV, chatting, playing foosball.
  • ...and a couple of hours outside the city, sat beside Lake Geneva, shootin' the shit.
Okay, now let's assume you're fascinated by Hadrons, and that you a visit to SERN will increase your knowledge of it more than reading about it on Wikipedia. Either way, the experience of being shown an educational video before being led around a visitor attraction is not a new one for many people. If you've been to a Science museum or something similar back home, you know roughly what to expect.

The restaurants in question were Mexican, pizza, and a typical Swiss restaurant, where we ate fondue. Each experience of which could have easily been had outside of Switzerland (even the Swiss fondue restaurant, I'm afraid...and for a lot cheaper too).

The great night out took place in an Irish Pub. Go figure!

The supermarkets, the hostel, the chatting, internet, TV, and other down time would all happen along the way while travelling anyway.

Walking around the same streets everyday obviously shed little extra light on the first time.

Mount Saleve, while a fun experience, is by no means Switzerland's tallest, most picturesque, or most challenging mountain. In fact it was chosen for its proximity to the city, and because it constituted "something to do" while in Geneva.

How would the Fast Traveller do it?

So that leaves the Ice Hockey match, exploring the city before and after dark, and my personal favourite; a few hours contemplating the beauty of Lake Geneva in the company of good friends.

Now I propose a different way of "doing" Geneva. How about riding into town with a trail of experiences behind you and a head full of memories, catching the hockey match, taking a good look around (including getting drenched by the Jet d'eau...and if you must, some fondue) before riding on out again, across one of the most dramatic and beautiful landscapes in the world, taking in new scenery at every turn, and all en route to your next adventure?

What do you loose? Nothing. What do you gain? So much! Now have we experienced Switzerland? Maybe, maybe not, but certainly moreso.

Fast Travel: Case Study 2

Two other friends of mine spent many weeks in Buenos Aires, not all in one go, but on and off during a trip around South America.

My personal experiences of Buenos Aires include being taken out to an extremely deprived barrio and helping build houses, as well as experiencing Argentinian house parties (or preboliches), tangoing with "the locals" at a boliche, eating asados at La Costanera, sharing the mate beside the rio, and many others. I even learnt some Argentinean Spanish.

I expect I'll take these experiences to the grave (sorry for another cliche)...and I was only in Buenos Aires for a couple of nights.

My friends, as far as I know, spent their three weeks hanging out at the hostel, eating out in restaurants and buying food in supermarkets, wandering the same parts of town over and over, bored, seeing "the sights" more out of obligation than genuine want, and all in the name of "getting to know the city". They came back having never heard of Fernet, the (un)official drink of Argentina, (despite being imported from Italy).

So who "experienced" Buenos Aires better? I wouldn't like to say, but I know which set of experiences I'd rather have.

More arguments for travelling fast!

...and if that doesn't convince people, I hit 'em with these:

  1. There are just shy of 200 (official) countries out there. Not to mention; some are huge, with infinite landscapes, peoples and cultures. Let's say you live to the ripe old age of 78. You probably didn't start your travelling career until you were done with school and so on. So that's around 60 years of potential travelling. Even if you're abroad and travelling consistently for your entire life (which is highly doubtful - try to think of one person who's done it), that's still only 0.3 years in each country. Now let's say you started later or you're going to die tomorrow... You get the picture. There's not a lot of time in this life, and if you really want to get the most out of it, fast travel is one way to go.
  2. I read enough other travel blogs to see that this is not too radical an idea. Many travellers are realising that, often, you'll have more fun doing what you want than seeing the sights for sights' sake.
  3. I'm not saying that I spend long enough in one place to fully experience the culture. I'm saying that neither does the slow traveller. It takes years to learn a language - the first step to immersing yourself in a culture completely. Unfortunately it's not always a case of the longer you stay the deeper you get. I've already shown with my Geneva and BA "case studies" that the converse is often closer to the truth. I don't mind being told that there's more to a place than I saw, by people who were prepared to devote years to that one place. I do, however, resent it when it comes from people who've spent three weeks in the hostel and the Irish bar down the street. Not that I'm ragging on hostel-bums either. We've all been there. It's another experience after all.
  4. £! $! It's the accomodation, as well as the food, drink, laundry and other minor daily costs that can really cut down the duration of your trip. Most people make the mistake of thinking that posting up in one place for a couple of weeks will help you save money. But that's not the only way of looking at it. If you can do what you might in two weeks, in two days, you can save a fortune on accomodation, food and the other necessities, and therefore see and do more on your trip. In short, you'll get many more experiences for your buck.
  5. Jack Kerouac travelled this way, and he's a legend!
  6. There are others out there who like to travel so fast they make me look like a well-rooted oak. Nick Sanders, the adventure touring motorcyclist for example, has admitted not noticing whole countries pass by in the blur between fuel stops. Though I'm not sure this extreme is quite for me either, I'll be the first to admit, there's a lot to be said for the joy of speed and movement in general.
  7. We can't all travel the same way, can we. Some of us are just different.

I hope this post has helped those wannabe fast travellers to see that they're not alone, and shown everyone else not to be so critical.

The only downside of travelling fast, as far as I'm concerned, is that people can't keep up. If you want to travel fast, first you have to be prepared for travelling alone. See my previous post for advice on travelling alone.

God speed!

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Journey to the Past: Re-discovering Turin & the Valle D'Aosta! Part 1

When I was a boy, my dad took me and my sister on an expedition to Italy. We crossed France and the Swiss Alps (made even more exciting because my dad is terrified of heights, including high mountain passes), travelling and sleeping in a beat-up, old pick-up truck.

Though the purpose of the trip was to find and purchase Italian motorcycles, I remember it differently. As my first real travel experience, outside the UK (and a day trip to Calais), some of my fondest childhood memories come from that trip.

I remember the laughs we had after I woke in the night to discover someone was shaking the truck...only it wasn't someone shaking the truck. My sister had rolled onto the handbrake in her sleep and what I felt were the vibrations as we rolled down the hill and finally came to a stop in the bushes of a French service station.

I also remember the astounding views and sheer drops as we trundled at 5 mph through the Swiss valleys - the beauty and the scale of the landscape no doubt greatly amplified through a child's eyes and over time.

Then there's dad letting me ride on the back of one of the motorbikes where it sat in the back of the pick-up and as we cruised through the town of Aosta one magical evening.

But what I remember most was a campsite we stayed at, owned by a lovely Italian family and where me and my sister unearthed Roman ruins and found an ancient tomb hidden under the children's play area.

I often wondered about this campsite. How much of what I remember had been real? And how much imagined? So one day, I decided to go back.

We set out on a grand motorcycle tour of Italy (well, actually the whole of Europe), riding down Central France to Marseille, then across Northern Italy via Turin, which, after consulting my dad's (also vague) memory, we discovered was the location of this mystery campsite.

The information we had from dad was as follows:
  • It was hard to find,
  • Not in the city itself but just outside,
  • The only campsite in Turin (at least, in the mid-ninties).
It was going to be easy...I thought...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Japan Travel Guide: Top Places in Japan!

Japan Travel Guide

Whether it’s fascinating ancient traditions, high-tech, ultra-modern youth culture, or the unique blend of the two that interests you about Japan travel, there are a few places you can’t afford to miss while you’re there; things you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Though some are in every guide book, others are still waiting to be discovered, in a country where mysterious Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines lurk in the cracks between car manufacturers and skyscrapers.

Japan is one of the world’s richest countries, and therefore not exactly the cheapest to travel. The Japan Rail Pass is a great deal for your money and allows you to go almost anywhere in Japan, saving hundreds of pounds, but it is still not cheap. So with the daily costs and the Japan Rail Pass, it’s a good idea to cover ground quickly in Japan.

This list means you can hit all the best destinations and sights on your Japan travel experience, without wasting time on red herrings and disappointments.

Tokyo – First point of call for most travellers to Japan, Tokyo is a metropolis like no other, where East really does meet West, in a head on collision! Check out Shinjuku (possibly Tokyo’s most famous district, with some of the coolest shops you’ll ever go in), Shibuya (famous for its nightlife and the giant, six-way pedestrian crossing as seen in Lost in translation), Roppongi (known for its unrivalled nightlife and unusually high population of Westerners) and Asakusa (complete with impressive temples and shrines that come alive during festival season).

Yokohama – Connected to Tokyo, this port city with its impressive Chinatown, is often called the “Liverpool of Japan”.
Ise – This rather uneventful coastal town contains one of the most spiritual sites in all of Japan. The Meoto Iwa, or wedded rocks, jut out from the waves and are connected by a rope made of rice-straw. For believers of Shinto, for whom natural forces such as rocks, trees and rivers contain spirits, this site is unbelievably sacred.

Himeji – Home to one of the two most impressive castles.
Matsumoto – Here you’ll find the other of the two castles, nicknamed “Crow Castle” for its dark black appearance. Matsumoto is also situated in Nagano, in the Japanese Alps, making it a great base for alpine activities from skiing in the winter to scenic hiking in the summer.

Norikura Kogen – Close to Matsumoto, this spectacular area boasts forested mountains, dazzling alpine lakes, a ski resort and one of Japan’s most famous onsen baths!

Tsumago & Magome – The Nakasendo is the ancient postal road that once led through the mountains from Matsumoto to the old capital, Kyoto. Today you can hike the route, with the most impressive stage being between Tsumago and Magome, which still retain the atmosphere of the Edo period.

Osaka – Definitely Japan’s coolest city, with 24 hour, all-you-can-drink nightclubs, and its own dialect, cuisine and culture.

Kyoto – Japan’s historical city, packed with more temples, shrines, museums and other historical and cultural sites than you can shake a bokken at. Highlights include the Golden Temple, the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Gion – the Geisha district.

Nara – Nearby Nara is another historical gem not to be missed, home to the giant Buddha housed in the magnificent Todai-ji. Also, don’t miss Nara Koen (Park), where deer roam free and will chase you for biscuits.

Okinawa – This spectacular group of islands lies far off the South coast of mainland Japan but is well worth the additional journey. Beautiful National Parks, picture-perfect beaches, and an entirely different culture await those who make it here!

Hiroshima – A must-see on any Japan itinerary. The Museum and Peace Park give a unique take on war, and you will not leave Hiroshima without a changed perspective on life.

Miyajima – Easily accessible from Hiroshima by boat, this tranquil island is home to the iconic Itsukushima Torii (floating gate) and even more deer!

Nagoya – Japan’s third largest city is predominantly industrial, meaning the nightlife and culture are authentically Japanese. Check out Osu for its quirky shopping lanes and beautiful shrine.

Utsumi – If spending time in Nagoya, the idyllic beach village of Utsumi offers a break from the city, only a short train ride away.
Kanazawa – This beautiful town, often left off the foreign tourist map, boasts lush Japanese gardens, Japanese sweet making classes and more.

Wajima – Just north of Kanazawa, this quaint, rural town offers peaceful beaches on the East China Sea and is one of the best places to try a stay in an authentic Japanese RyokanInn.

Hokkaido – The northern-most of the main four islands, Hokkaido is rarely reached by travellers or Japanese alike. The awe-inspiring landscape boasts many beautiful National Parks, perfect for scenic hiking and outdoor activities.

Sapporo – The fourth largest city in Japan and the capital of Hokkaido is home to the Sapporo brewery, a number of esteemed whisky distilleries and a perfect climate.

Hakodate – This smaller, more culturally and naturally inspiring city is the gateway to Hokkaido and shouldn’t be missed as you pass through.

Nibutani – For a real adventure, journey to the sparsely populated, far Eastern coasts of Hokkaido, where you will find villages such as Nibutani. These are the last places on earth to find the Ainu, Japan’s native people, and in Nibutani you will find museums and craft shops where you can interact with the locals and learn more about their remarkable culture.

Reads for the Road: Part 2 - Top 35 Motorcycle Travel Books!

The feeling of riding a motorcycle is a hard one to describe in words...but some have pulled it off! Why 35? Because that's how many there are...that I know, at least. Here's my list of the top biker books for the motorcycle traveller:

A Place in Hell by H. R. Kaye - One of the best books for getting across the biker ideology, one of my favourite books of all time, and dictated by an ex-Hells Angel!

Jupiter's Travels by Ted Simon - The classic motorcycle travel book. 4 years. Over 64,000 miles. 46 countries.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig - This book is a motorcycle travelogue, philosophical essay and personal journey all in one.

Travelling with Che Guevara by Alberto Granada - Che Guevara's epic motorcycle journey, told through the eyes of his witty and perseptive travelling companion and lifelong friend...

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara - ...and the classic itself!

Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman - The journey that kicked off the modern motorcycle travel business...

Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman - ...and its epic sequel!

Riding with Rilka by Ted Bishop - Another great motorcycle book that combines academic thinking with the sheer joy of riding. I've been lucky enough to have a chance meeting with Bishop in person, in Grand Prairie, Alberta.

One Man Caravan by Robert Fulton - This inspiring journey was undertaken in 1932 and still resonates today!

The Longest Ride by Emilio Scotto

Dreaming of Jupiter by Ted Simon - After many years, Ted Simon returns to the destinations of his old trip, once again by motorcycle.

Riding High by Ted Simon - More tales from Ted Simon's epic motorcycle journey.

Race to Dakar by Charley Boorman - Another boorman classic, this time without McGregor.

The Perfect Vehicle by Melissa Holbrook Pierson.

These Are the Days that Must Happen to You by Dan Walsh.

The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach.

Red Tape and White Knuckles by Lois Pryce.

Lois on the Loose by Lois Pryce.

Into Africa by Sam Manicom.

Under Asian Skies by Sam Manicom.

Distant Suns by Sam Manicom.

Tortillas to Totems by Sam Manicom.

Uneasy Rider Travels Through a Mid-Life Crisis by Mike Carter.

One Brit, One Bike, One Big Country by John McKay & co.

Old Man on a Bike by Simon Gandolfi.

Mi Moto Fidel by Christopher Baker.

The Road to Gobblers Knob by Geoff Hill.

Investment Biker by Jim Rogers.

10 Years on 2 Wheels by Helge Pederson.

American Borders by Carla King.

Ghost Rider by Neil Peart.

Against the Wind by Ron Ayres.

Freewheelin' Frank by Frank Reynolds - Another book by a former Hells Angel, this stream of consciousness and debauchery is a must read for any interested in biker culture!

Hells Angels by Hunter S. Thompson - Thompson's first full length novel sees him infiltrate the infamous Hells Angels and live to tell the tale.

Rolling through the Isles by Ted Simon - He's back, and this time riding closer to home. A journey deep into Britain and into his own past.

Here are some more great lists of top motorcycle travel books:

...and some other great motorcycle travel resources:

A 1953 European Motorcycle Trip and the subsequent photos.

If you want to take a motorcycle trip yourself, why not check out the Top Motorcycle Rides in North America.

Or are you interested in more great travel books?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Books for the Road: Top 10 Travel Reads!

Planning a trip and looking for more information and inspiration? 

Or are you on the road and wanting to really immerse yourself in the spirit of your destination...or the spirit of travel itself?

Either way, what you need is a good travel book!

It's true, we are what we read. (I know this because I once spent the day in a hostel in Santiago de Chile reading the entire Sherlock Holmes anthology...only to go out that night and (after a few...okay, many drinks) become convinced that my travelling companions were involved in an elaborate drug-smuggling plot and that it was down to me to solve the case.)

Anyhow, when we read we take elements from said book into other aspects of our lives, whether it be the general mood, the era, voice, character, etc, etc.

Therefore, why not carefully choose your travel reads, based on your destination, mode or style of travel, and further enrich your travelling experience?

Reading about the place you are travelling will no doubt shape your experience there, but this can be a very good thing. Your travel book will act as your "second opinion", giving you a more unbiased perspective. Through travel books you can learn things about the country that might be beyond the reach of the average traveller, such as buried histories and niche, forgotten or undiscovered destinations. Often, the extensive research done by the writer will expand upon and/or give added weight to your own observations. You will understand why things are the way they are, instead of merely seeing the way things are today. Or perhaps you'll simply learn the name of that strange-shaped tree you keep spotting everywhere. It's all good.

It depends on how you travel of course, but a travel book is a great way to pass the time spent on trains or waiting for buses.

So, without any further ado, here are my top 10 travel books, by country:

What to read while you travel...Thailand?
The Beach by Alex Garland. Obviously. This classic backpacker novel is not just good for Thailand. It is the quintessential travel book!

Under the Volcano by Malcom Lowry. Consistently voted one of the best novels ever written, this semi-autobiographical tale, set during Mexico's Day of the Dead, deftly and single-handedly captures the spirit of Mexico, drunkeness/alcoholism and the very feel of living abroad in a strange culture.

Speaking of the best (travel) novels ever written...Ulysses by James Joyce. It's hard to choose between Joyce's works (not to mention all of Ireland's other great writers): Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Finnegan's Wake would all do the job, but the style he acheived with Ulysses has become as representative of the Irish sensibility as the subject matter could ever be.

Many would say Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I'm not going to though. I'm going to say Gog by Andrew Sinclair. Basically, a man washes up on the shores of Britain with only snippets of memory, and as he "tramps" around in search of answers, we get a better impression of Britain, past and present, than perhaps we bargained for. A work of many levels.

South America?
I'm going to be controversial again and say that Travelling with Che Guevara by Alberto Granada makes a better travel read than Che's own Motorcycle Diaries. A much easier read for starters, it lacks the convoluted political rantings that would later be proved ineffective, and doesn't suffer from the translation difficulties. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a Che fan as the next guy, but in this case you get a clearer portrait from the eyes of his close friend and travelling companion than from within.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. While there's no end to the amount that's been written about India, no book gets me fired up to travel India like Siddhartha. Simultaneously a concise overview of Eastern philosophy and one of the wisest books I've ever read!

White Fang by Jack London. London is master of envoking the beauty and harshness of the Northern wilderness. Some prefer Call of the Wild, which is shorter and with a less classical ending, but they're so similar that people generally like whichever they read first. That said, no book puts the adventure back into travelling Canada like Whitefang.

Baber's Apple by Michael Marr is a hilariously poignant and little known dark comic novel that sees "Baber" flung from "leafy suburbia" into obscure and rarely travelled Kazakhstan.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. The original travel novel (well actually argued to be the original novel) still holds up impressively well today. It's also massive, so you won't need to worry about what to do when you finish it.

Last but not least, the motherland of the road novel genre. I've gone with On the Road by Jack Kerouac...again, obviously! However, it was a very tough call. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe and anything by Kerouac, particularly the second half of Desolation Angels, are amoung some of the best, most inspiring travel books ever written!

I've missed out some of my favourite travel books, and that's because they fall under the category of "Top 5 Motorcycle Travel Books"...another post for another time.

Here are the top travel books with cool names:

The Sex Lives of Cannibals, by J. Maarten Troost
The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton
The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Here are the authors of the Classic Travel Lit:

Ernest Hemingway - A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises for vivid descriptions of Paris during its hey-day and the bull fights in Pamplona, Spain.

Bill Bryson - Author of A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country, The Lost Continent and Notes From a Small Island.

Paul Theroux - The world's favourite travel author, who brought us such travel masterpieces as Dark Star Safari, The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express.

Bruce Chatwin - Another master and writer of some of the best travel books in history: In Patagonia and The Songlines.

Mark Twain - Probably the most quoted man of all time, Twain knew what it meant to travel, and shared it in such works as Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Innocents Abroad.

John Steinbeck - The man responsible for The Grapes of Wrath, the best road novel of all time (after On the Road of course). His other travel books include The Log From the Sea of Cortez and Travels With Charley.

Jan Morris - Up there with Freya Stark as one of the finest female travel writers, particularly when it comes to writing about Europe. Some of Morris' classic travel books include Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, The World of Venice and Europe: An Intimate Portrait.

Also on the shelves of Waterstones, you are likely to find Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron, two classic pieces of travel literature.

And here are some common travel books you're likely to find in a hostel book exchange:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Writing this post woke me up to the fact that there's a lot of interesting places out there with a disproportionately low amount written about them. If you know of any great travel books or books about places I've missed, please enlighten me in the comments and I'll get reading...



Monday, 27 August 2012

Festival Travel: The Top Festival Destinations around the World!

Holi Festival IndiaEver wanted to travel from party to party? Living life to the extremes? Beating boredom with one non-stop, fun-filled fiesta? Getting the most out of every destination you stumble upon?

Me too.
…and now we can!
Festivals make the perfect travel destination. Never is a place’s culture better showcased! Never is there a better time to meet and interact with the locals! Never is there so much to DO!
Festivals are, by definition, the best of the best – the biggest events on the calendar.
Here’s one of my favourite festival scenes from one of my favourite travel movies, Transylvania by Tony Gatlif:

What’s New in Travel? - The Birth of Festival Travel!
Now, don’t get me wrong, people have always travelled across the world for festivals, religious or otherwise, but never on the global scale that we are beginning to see today.
So how did it happen?
Here’s a (very) brief history of festival travel:
1)      Ancient times: At some point, people started celebrating stuff.
2)      582 BC: Delphi, Greece: Music became an integral part of the festival concept.
3)      1969: Woodstock drew over 500,000 people!
4)      Since 1969: The “music festival” has been growing in popularity…
5)      …as has global travel.
6)      1996: Alex Garland published The Beach, documenting the state of backpacker travel, with the “beaten-track” discussion already in full swing.
7)      Modern Day: The travel industry is always looking for new, niche, “off-the-beaten-track” destinations and, as all the places get used, it’s only natural that people start looking to particular dates and times. After all, what’s more of a rarity than a little-known local festival that only occurs once a year?
8)      At the same time, with the rise in prices of UK festivals, and the relative cheapness of international travel, people are starting to look ever further afield for their festival kicks!
9)      Right now: Pioneers such as Holiday-n-Adventure and First Festival Travel are already taking people to some of the most sought-out festivals around the world!

Where to Go? – Where are the Best Festivals in the World?

Here are the 15 best world festivals (the classics, plus a few personal favourites):
How to Make it Happen?
Here are 4 different approaches:
  1. Plan your trip then check if it coincides with any festivals.
  2. Check for cool festivals then planyour trip around them.
  3. Join a Festival Tour with Holiday n Adventure or First Festival Travel, depending on where you want to go!
  4. Set off without an itinerary, take locals' recommendations and see where you end up!
More on Festival Travel
Here are some other useful and inspirational festival travel resources:
The Guardian's Best Local Festivals of 2010 (I'm sure they're still pretty good in 2012/3)
A Guide to the Best Brazilian Carnivals
The 5 Best Weird Festivals by The Guardian

Got a favourite festival?

Have I missed it?

Let me know in the comments and I’ll amend the list. After all, I’m just one guy…and there’s a lot of amazing festivals all over the world!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Mystery Trip! Can You Guess Where We're Going?

Hello all,

It's time to start playing Sherlock!

My friend is planning a "mystery trip" for me and a few others in October. I'm trying to figure it out, but this one has me stumped. If anyone can solve the mystery for me, you win...I don't know what, but I'll think of something cool as a prize. First person to solve the mystery or guess the correct answer wins! Plus, I'll give points if anyone gets his Plan B or Plan C.

Okay, so here are the clues:

Dates: October 18th - 22nd

The dates have been pushed back, suggesting it isn't a fixed event that is only on that weekend.

Flights cost less than £70 return per person.

Accomodation cost approximately £100 per person for 4 nights - but this could include some "activities" that would have given away the destination...

My friend doesn't like:
  • the heat
  • witnessing poverty
  • excessive drinking/clubbing
  • drugs or prostitution
  • walking, climbing, or, in fact, any strenuous physical activity
He can't:
  • drive
  • swim
  • ride a bicycle
He likes:
  • Good food...though nothing "weird"
  • Maritime history
  • Rock and metal music
  • and a whole bunch of other things which don't, at first glance anyway, seem relevant
He has a very good moral conscience and is fairly into his politics, which suggests he wouldn't take us to a country with a record of human rights violations or such like.

It isn't Portugal or Belgium...I'm pretty sure.

The people involved have recently returned from trips to: Istanbul; Varna, Bulgaria; Berlin; Ireland and Finland...not that that means anything in this crazy, mixed up game.

Seperate trips have been planned for Berlin and Stockholm so it's probably not them...unless this was all part of his plan.

It's possible he has been using a local to help him arrange it. Known contacts include, but aren't limited to: Karkov, Ukraine; Barcelona; Krakov, Poland; and elsewhere in Southern Poland.

He has lied about it being Iceland to throw us off the track. A double bluff? I think not.

We haven't had to apply for any visas, etc.

It's 4 guys, so essentially a "lads' trip" of sorts.

He has a vested interest in visiting Italy at the moment.

Above all, he is doing his best to get us off the scent. It's entirely possible he's picked the most obscure place he can think of...or the one that seems most obvious...

I've narrowed it down to 6 cities, but I think he'll surprise me.

If you need any additional info, let me know. Let's get some ideas bouncing around in the comments!

Thanks and good luck!



Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Top 10 North American Motorcycle Rides! - Part 2

Didn't get to read part 1 of my "Top 10 North American Motorcycle Rides!"?

Well, here's a second helping of great motorcycle rides in the United States and Canada:
6. “The Tail of the Dragon!” - We begin not far from where we left off, near Robinsville, North Carolina. Here, climbing into the Great Smokie Mountains, you'll find the tail of the Dragon, an exhilarating stretch of US Highway 129 that contains no less than 318 only 11 miles! The winding and treacherous nature of the road gave it its nickname, and the bends have names like "Wheelie Hell" and "Brake or Bust!" The ride begins at Deal's Gap, a small community with a permanent population of 6 (at least according to the sign) which also boasts a "Motorcycle Resort" for those preparing to tackle the Dragon, complete with a hotel, a lively bar and restaurant, gift shop and even the "Tree of Shame" - a tree hung with the loose wreckage of numerous failed attempts. The Tail of the Dragon has featured in numerous road movies, such as Two-Lane Blacktop, Thunder Road and The Fugitive. It has also featured on Top Gear. Though the speed limit has technically been lowered to 30 mph, bikers on these roads outnumber any other vehicle a hundred-fold and, because the road borders the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is no development, meaning no side roads for people to pull out in front of you from. The growing popularity of the Dragon has led to a rise of many other motorcycling routes and hotspots in the vacinity. It also benefits from being close to the Cherohala Skyway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Foothills Parkway, the Apalachean Mountains in general, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 2 national forests, Lake Ocoee, white water rafting rivers, Harley Davidson dealerships, motorcycle shops and stops galore, cool cities such as Gatlinburg, TN and Asheville, NC, the Cherokee Indian Reservation (where the roadsigns are written in the Cherokee alphabet) and is also not too far from the Murtle Beach Motorcycle Rally in South Carolina.
7. The Alaska Highway - This is by far the greatest undertaking on the list. Far from being just another motorcycle ride, the Alaska Highway is an adventure all its own, not to be taken lightly! While the other rides I've mentioned so far can easily be done within a day-trip, the Alaska Highway requires planning and preparation and you'll want a couple of weeks at least to do it in full and to make the most of it. Saying that, it is definitely worth the extra time. The vistas you'll see and the things you'll experience cannot be imagined until you're up there doing it. The Alaska Highway starts at mile zero in Dawson Creek (not to be confused with Dawson's Creek) and runs an epic 1387 miles up British Columbia (BC), through the Yukon Territory and into Alaska. It finishes at Delta Junction, from where you can either head north to Fairbanks or back south to Anchorage. As soon as you set off on the Alaska Highway you get a feeling for its remoteness. The few settlements you'll come across are mere mileposts, with the exception of Fort Nelson, Watson Lake and Whitehorse, which are still only small towns at best and sit a full day's ride apart from one another. It's a good idea to plan your itinerary around this. Also, riding the Alaska Highway by motorcycle should be done in the summer months. (I did it in September and got stuck in Whitehorse for two days after a batch of snow fell earlier than expected. Not to mention, on the way back down, a lot of the mileposts - some of which are already hundreds of miles apart - were closed or closing up for the winter. A day later and I would've been stranded!) The most scenic section lies between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake, where the Highway crosses the Rocky Mountains and winds back and forth across the BC-Yukon border. Here's an extract from my journals to give you an idea:

A sea of trees, green and ancient, undulated into the distance until there were no individual firs, just one rolling mass of wilderness. This far north, the towns are just gas stations and the gas stations just somebody’s lodge with a fuel pump. A buckled steel disc clicks around, counting, and a sign reads; ‘Tell us how many litres'.”
“Do you skin these wolf pelts here yourself?” I asked the giant of a man inside.
“Actually my wife did those.” He took stock of me. “You’re on a motorcycle?”
“Are you crazy?”
“You know it was snowing this morning, right?"
No. I hadn’t.
Back on the road, I glimpse my first sight of the Rockies, a distant ridge of glittering shark’s teeth stretching ear to ear across the horizon, dressed in smoky-white cloud and dividing blue sky from golden valley, each leaf a mirror for the sun. The mountains seemed to grow up in front of me at an exponential rate. Before I knew it I was amongst them. Snow topped the trees, lined the banks, began to spill into the already treacherous road. My fingertips went numb. My legs trembled in the icy winds.
At over four-thousand feet I came upon Summit Lake, shimmering like a vast silver plate; a flawless portrait of the sky above rendered on its delicate surface. Brooding, cobalt-edged clouds hung suspended in the lake as I skirted its banks, so close I could stroke them.

Highlights of riding the Alaska Highway include:
  • The Liard River Hot Springs
  • Summit Lake
  • Steaming bowls of broth
  • Rye whiskey
  • A herd of Buffalo
  • Live music in Whitehorse
  • Dog-sledding
  • The Northern Lights
It’s the journey that counts!

8. The Icefield Parkway - Jasper to Banff - While perhaps not the epic adventure the Alaska Highway is, in terms of scenery, the Jasper to Banff ride is second to none! This will take you down Western Alberta through some of the most scenic, beautiful and sought out spots in the Canadian Rockies and in fact the world; including Jasper National Park, a real-life glacier known as Athabasca (part of the the Columbia Icefield), Banff National Park and Lake Louise. You'll need to purchase a National Park permit to travel on the Parkway (officially Highway 93), but it's more than worth it!
9. More of Scenic Canada - Take the Cowboy Trail South out of Calgary and pick up the Crowsnest Highway heading west. This will take you across the Continental Divide at Crowsnest Pass and into beautiful BC. Here you'll find the Kootenays, one of the most scenic areas on earth, complete with lakes, mountains and easily enough forest to cover the British Isles (don't quote me on that, it's an expression). Not to mention Nelson, BC - one of the coolest little cities you'll ever come across. (I say's only a handful of streets really.) Catch it in the "fall" when the vistas are monopolised by red and gold for the full effect. Then continue west to the Okanagan River Valley, notorious for having the most perfect climate in Canada, and centered around the sleepy streets of Kelowna.

10. Pacific Coast Highway 1 - It was a border policeman in Kosovo that first told me about PC1, and I was never able to get it out of my head ever since. Though technically a US Highway, in spirit you can ride this baby all the way from Vancouver to Baja California in Mexico. It's simply too long and too amazing to describe it all, but here's a list of must-sees when riding the Pacific Coast:

  • Vancouver
  • Vancouver Island
  • Victoria
  • First Nations/Native American Reservations
  • Hippies!
  • WWOOFing
  • Seattle - home of Starbucks, Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix
  • North West logging country - as in the novels of Ken Kesey
  • Mt Baker - otherwise known as Desolation Peak in the Kerouac novel, Desolation Angels
  • Portland - my personal favourite US city!
  • Eugene - more forest than city. Look out for the Morning Glory Cafe!
  • The Oregon Dunes
  • Gold Beach
  • Clam Beach
  • Arcata
  • Eureka
  • The Redwood Highway
  • Redwood Forests!
  • Sonoma Valley - the birthplace of the California wine industry
  • Point Reyes - Lighthouse and National Seashore
  • Napa Valley
  • Berkeley - Telegraph Avenue
  • Oakland - home to the first ever Hells Angels' Clubhouse
  • San Francisco - North Beach, Haight Ashbury, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39
  • Alcatraz
  • Reno
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Zion National Park
  • The Arlen Ness showroom, Gilroy
  • Hollister - the birthplace of the American Biker!
  • San Juan Bautista
  • Monterey
  • Carmel-by-Sea
  • Big Sur - setting of another Kerouac novel by that name
  • Hearst Castle
  • San Simeon
  • Pismo Beach
  • Malibu
  • LA - Hollywood, Sunset Blvd, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Belair, the OC (Orange County), get the picture.
  • Cook's Corner
  • Slab City
  • San Diego
  • Tijuana
  • Baja!

  • ...and there's tonnes more too. I'll add them as I think of them, but the real joy of Highway 1 is simply riding, twisting along the dramatic Pacific coastline, stopping to watch the sunset on empty star-spangled beaches. There's a reason this is number one and a reason I saved it until last.

    I hope you enjoyed this list. It's by no means exclusive. There are thousands of superb motorcycle rides across North America. I haven’t even touched on Colorado, the Californian National Parks, Eastern Canada, Mexico, and so much more.

    What are some of your favourite motorcycle rides around the world?