Category Archives: Travel

Tokyo on travelling guides

images-21Where first, Tokyo or Kyoto – it should be an easy choice, right? They’re polar opposites, after all: Tokyo is a land of neon and skyscrapers, the archetypal metropolis; Kyoto is full of kimono-clad geisha, temples and tea ceremonies. So just decide whether you want your first glimpse of Japan to be cutting-edge modernity or high-brow tradition, and your choice is made.

But as with everything else in this tantalising and contradictory country, it’s not quite that clear-cut. Here are a few ways to make that difficult choice.

WHICH IS BEST FOR FOODIES?

It’s hard to eat badly in Japan no matter where you are, but there are a few key differences between the food scenes in Tokyo and Kyoto. If you’re not keen on wall-to-wall Japanese food, Tokyo may be a better bet. The capital is far more multicultural, and home to some of the best French, Italian and Chinese restaurants in the world.

Kyoto is more traditional, packed with places to try Japanese dishes you might not have seen back at home. If in doubt ask for the teishoku (set meal), and you’ll probably end up with a slightly overwhelming array of tasty dishes. Kyoto is also home to a thriving café culture, with standouts including riverside efish, book-filled Cafe Bibliotec Hello and vegetarianMumokuteki.

The two cities both have amazing high-end cuisine – you could almost eat at a different Michelin-starred restaurant every day of your trip if you had the cash. Tokyo has plenty of cheap spots, often clustered into districts like Omoide Yokochō in Shinjuku, but you’ll generally find Kyoto a little cheaper overall.

WHERE CAN I PARTY?

In Tokyo, there’s a huge amount of choice. As the city’s so large, rather than looking up a few places you want to go to, it’s best to head to an area you’re interested in and just see what takes your fancy.

Roppongi is the traditional nightlife area but is a little commercial; try Shimokitazawa for low-key bars and live music, or head away from the main drag in Shinjuku for world-class clubs and music venues. Golden Gai is also a must-do, a tiny area of tumbledown bars and karaoke spots.

Kyoto’s club scene is unfortunately pretty dire, but has a few notable exceptions; try Club Metro, based in an abandoned section of a subway station with DJs, live bands and avant garde performers.

The heart of Kyoto’s nightlife is its bars (especially izakaya, Japan’s answer to the pub) – there’s a huge variety of independent places around Shijō and Sanjō streets, just west of the river.

WHERE CAN I GET BACK TO NATURE?

Tokyo has some stunning spots to take a breather, but most of them are parks or gardens rather than “nature” in the strictest sense. The only really “wild” experience is at the Institute for Nature Study in the Meguro district; it’s a small area of the primeval forest that once covered the plains hereabouts, and as entry is restricted to a few hundred people at a time you can enjoy it without the usual Tokyo crowds.

If you’re feeling hemmed in by the skyscrapers looming over the trees, your best bet is a day-trip to Kamakura, or an overnight one to Nikkō or Hakone.

Nature is a little more accessible in Kyoto. The city is set in a basin between mountains, meaning a 30 minute train ride can get you out into open spaces. To the west is popular Arashiyama, where you can take a boat cruise or walk on the wooded slopes; northeast is the holy Hiei-zan, home of Tendai Buddhism; while to the north you’ll find plenty of trekking routes, such as one linking the appealing small towns of Kurama and Kibune.

Within the city itself, the scale is a bit more manageable, so you can cycle from park to temple rather than squeezing into a rush-hour subway train.

WHICH IS BEST FOR CULTURE AND HISTORY?

If you’re keen to see Buddhist temples and Shintō shrines you’ll be spoiled for choice in Kyoto; some of the main areas are Higashiyama and the Philosopher’s Path in the east and Arashiyama in the west, but wander any neighbourhood and you’ll find the local one. In the south of the city is the low-key, traditional area of Fushimi, with a particularly spectacular shrine: Fushimi Inari Taisha, thousands of red torii (shrine gates) leading you up a mountain, to glorious views over the city.

Tokyo, while also home to several venerable shrines and temples, is better known for its cutting-edge modern architecture. Take a walking tour of the city to see some stunning examples, from Tange Kenzō’s awe-inspiring St Mary’s Cathedral to Kurokawa Kishō’s sinuous National Art Center – not forgetting Philippe Starck’s infamous Asahi Beer Hall, affectionately known as kin no unko (“the golden poo”) for the stylised gold flame on top.

Best place when visit in florida

download-51Pioneers, visionaries, geniuses, crackpots – the Sunshine State has seen more than its fair share of eccentrics over the years, drawn from cooler northern climes in pursuit of their dreams.

Florida’s Gulf Coast may be best known for its relentless sunshine and glorious sandy beaches, but it’s also home to some of the state’s more unusual attractions. Here, Ed Aves picks out some of his favourite curiosities in the sunny southwest.

1. KEEP UP WITH THE KORESHANS

The humid, mosquito-infested swamps of Estero may seem an unlikely place to build a New Jerusalem, but for Dr Cyrus Teed, founder of the bizarre Koreshan Unity, this Florida backwater was to become the centre of a new civilization.

A one-time alchemist, the messianic, luxuriantly moustachoied Teed had an “illumination” one night in 1869 (sparked by a massive electric shock) and thereafter devoted his life to redeeming humanity, guided by the principles of communal living, celibacy and his esoteric scientific theories.

Some 25 years later, he purchased three hundred acres of uninhabited wilderness and led a merry band of credulous followers down from Chicago to establish Utopia.

Today, the Koreshans are long gone but you can learn about their beliefs at the Koreshan Historic State Park, which preserves the colony’s scattering of simple two- and three-storey timber buildings.

Central to Koreshan philosophy was Teed’s unique brand of Hollow Earth theory, that the world was effectively inside out with the entire universe contained within it; ranger tours will you into take to the Art Hall, the colony’s cultural hub, where a scale model provides (none-too-convincing) proof.

Life in the nearby Planetary Court was equally revolutionary, for it was in this modest but homely dwelling that the governing council of seven women (each representing a planet) ran the society’s day-to-day business – an adherence to gender equality that suggests that perhaps Teed wasn’t so completely barking after all.

2. EAT FRIED CHICKEN WITH THE AMISH

Head a hundred miles north to Sarasota, and you’ll find God-fearing, clean-living pioneers of a different sort. Here, the sleepy suburb of Pinecraft is the winter playground of choice for thousands of Amish and Mennonite “snowbirds”, who fly south (or, more correctly, come on the bus) to escape the northern winter.

You’ll see them letting their hair down by playing shuffleboard in leafy Pinecraft Park, riding around on steel tricycles (the traditional horse-buggy combo isn’t very practical for suburban Sarasota) and perhaps dipping a toe in the ocean at Siesta Key.

Local stores sell wooden crafts and home-style dresses (here’s your chance to pick up a copy of Colour the Psalms or a set of Dutch Blitz cards) and head to the Fresh Market for homemade cheese, jam and baked goods.

Undoubtedly the most popular destination, with queues to match, is Yoder’s Restaurant, legendary for its juicy fried chicken and mash (as featured on TV show Man vs Food) and home-baked pies, piled so high with cream they verge on the sinful.

3. FIND HOT DOGS ON TREES (AND A HISTORIC SNEEZE)

Perhaps Florida’s most illustrious snowbird, Thomas Edison wintered in Fort Myers for almost half a century at the leafyestate he built on the shores of the Calasoohatchee River; his great friend, Henry Ford, later moved in next door.

Concerned that supplies of rubber might be cut off in the event of war, the green-fingered Edison became obsessed with the idea of finding a cheap alternative that could be grown on American soil, testing over 17,000 plants – many of which, like the bizarre African sausage tree and an immense, acre-wide banyan, now flourish in the grounds.

Elsewhere you can explore Edison’s indefatigable thirst for gadgetry at the museum, where alongside beautiful creations such as the ornate multiphone (forerunner to the jukebox) and records of his contributions to cinema (including the USA’s oldest copyrighted motion picture: the five-second Fred Ott’s Sneeze) comes proof that even geniuses are fallible.

Curios among the great inventor’s less successful patents include an electric pen and a labour-intensive foot-powered phonograph – definitely more perspiration than inspiration.

4. SEE A SEASHELL SANCTUARY: DO THE SANIBEL STOOP

Southwest Florida’s sugar-sand beaches may be ideal for supine roasting in endless sunshine, but the majority of visitors to laidback Sanibel Island strike a different pose: hunched at the hip, fossicking for treasures along the surf line. And the prize? Shells – billions of them.

In fact the abundance and astonishing range of shells along Sanibel’s Gulf shore frequently gain this mollusc graveyard plaudits as the finest shell-collecting beach in the world.

Even if you’re not an ardent malacologist, it’s well worth trotting to the surprisingly absorbing Baileys-Matthew National Shell Museum where, aside from learning how to distinguish your ponderous ark from your Humphrey wentletrap, you can read about the shockingly brutish and cannibalistic world of these predatory creatures, oggle at the world’s biggest whelk and take part in a live-tank demonstration.

WHEN TRAVELLING ON SRI LANKA

After a couple of weeks travelling across Sri Lanka, photographer Nori Jemil shares why this Indian Ocean island is a perfect subject. Here are 16 of her favourite pictures of Sri Lanka. 

From a photographer’s perspective, Sri Lanka’s hard to beat. Compact and accessible, this verdant, tear-drop island really punches above its weight. Its lush interior of temples, tea-infused hills and wildlife-rich national parks urge you to keep moving, with so much to see and experience. Yet, the pretty towns, beaches and retreats entice you to stay in one place for longer than planned.

There’s something special about the quality of light by the Indian Ocean here, too. Capturing the early dawns and sunsets on the east coast in particular, you might be accompanied by no-one other than a fisherman or the sound of a falling coconut. It’s a great feeling when you’re one of only a few visitors, watching local life unfold.

The country has a lot of history, and cultural diversity’s everywhere; in the delicately spiced food, the spectacular architecture and, of course, the smiling faces. A cliché perhaps, but without doubt it’s the people and their distinctly different cultures that make this island so unique. Like most visitors, I was planning my return long before leaving.

It’s in these cerros that Valpo’s real magic, and the chance to appreciate the creative, liberal leanings of its residents, are found. Cerro Bellavista’s sprawling walls of street art culminate in the Museo de Cielo Abierto (the Open Sky Museum): a poignant collection of murals defiantly proclaiming artistic freedom. Started in 1973, they were only completed in the early 1990s after the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship.

Valpo’s excellent nightlife also secures this city as the trendiest spot on the Chilean backpacking trail. Dancing until dawn is guaranteed in the student-favourite super club El Huevo, while the seafront La Piedra Feliz bundles every type of live music into four rooms. For a more relaxed evening, Casa Cervecera Altamira offers refreshing craft cerveza and mellow jazz in a cosy setting.

Uganda on travelling guides

“For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life… Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa.” – My African Journey, Winston Churchill, 1908

More than a century after he penned the line, Winston Churchill’s oft-quoted quip about Uganda still stands. Located at the point where the East African savannah meets the Central African rainforest, the country is one of the most bio-diverse in the world, and within its comparatively diminutive frame lie the continent’s highest mountain range, its largest lake, and the source of the world’s longest river.

For much of its (at times turbulent) history, however, Uganda has struggled to escape the shadow of its noisy neighbours, the safari powerhouses of Kenya and Tanzania. But times are changing. Nationwide peace has reigned for well over a decade, the government has started investing properly in roads, hotels and other tourist facilities, and visitors are at last waking up to its compelling mix of spectacular scenery, incredible wildlife and warm and welcoming people. Here are just some of the reasons why you should be one of them…

1. TO TRACK CHIMPANZEES IN KIBALE

A beautiful swathe of thick equatorial rainforest, Kibale National Park boasts the highest concentration of primates in all of Africa. Its thirteen species include black-and-white colobus monkeys and impish grey-cheeked mangabeys but everyone is here for the chimpanzees. On a day-long Chimpanzee Habituation Experience, you’ll follow a troop of whooping and hollering chimps as they swing through the forest, gathering in the treetops to play, doze or feast on figs.

When the midday heat burns through the upper canopy, the chimps descend, sliding down vines and striding right past you. If such an extraordinarily close encounter doesn’t give you goosebumps, the sound of the males messaging each other will: they drum on the buttress roots of giant fig trees with such force that the ground around you shakes.

Where to stay Primate Lodge Kibale is set slap bang in the middle of the park, just a few minutes from the start of the tracking trailhead. Swish refurbished cottages look out into a wall of forest, and there’s a tree house for the intrepid.

2. TO RAFT THE NILE

The unassuming colonial-era town of Jinja is East Africa’s adventure capital, its smorgasbord of watersports growing out of the unique opportunity to raft at the source of the Nile. The surge of tumultuous white water that runs 20 kilometres downriver from Lake Victoria rivals the Lower Zambezi, and is a heart-thumping ride over rapids bearing names such as Hair of the Dog and Bad Place.

Where to stay Occupying an island in the middle of the Nile, Wildwaters Lodge is spectacularly sandwiched between two sets of deafening rapids, with lovely wooden cottages and a natural riverside swimming pool.

3. TO MEET THE KARAMOJONG

Rubbing shoulders with Kenya and South Sudan in the far northeast of the country, the disparate Karamoja region sees only a few visitors bound for the remote wilderness of Kidepo Valley National Park. Yet the area is home to one of Uganda’s most intriguing peoples: the Karamojong, a historically fierce tribe of cattle-raiding pastoralists. Visits to a Karamojong manyatta explore their traditional homesteads – beehive huts encircled by a protective wall of spiky brushwood – and usually feature cultural dancing, or “high jumping”, which is similar in style to the more famous Masaai just across the border.

Where to stay Apoka Safari Lodge in Kidepo can arrange visits to nearby Karamojong villages. Check your government’s travel advice before booking, as some areas of northeast Uganda are subject to travel warnings.

4. TO SWIM IN A CRATER LAKE

There are dozens of volcanic crater lakes in and around the Ndali-Kasenda region of western Uganda, but shimmering Kyaninga is the jewel. Fringed with forest and crisscrossed by gliding hornbills, the lake is a mesmerising granite blue. It’s semi active, so although 225 metres deep in parts, the water hovers around a pleasant 21 degrees. Add in the fact that it’s one of East Africa’s few lakes that are free from bilharzia and you have the perfect place for a spot of wild swimming.

Where to stay The gorgeous thatched cottages at Kyaninga Lodge are staggered along a ridge overlooking the lake. The huge rooms all have stunning views, and the range of local activities include an early morning Crater Walk and time spent with village elders at a nearby farm.

5. TO SPOT A PREHISTORIC BEAST

Uganda’s oldest conservation area, Murchison Falls National Park draws visitors to its famously thunderous cataracts, where the full force of the Nile is explosively squeezed through a gap in the Rift Valley Escarpment. But this is also one of the best places in the country to see the primeval-looking shoebill, a towering, hook-beaked bird that feeds on baby crocodiles and looks like it was dreamt up by the creators of The Dark Crystal.

Where to stay Baker’s Lodge enjoys a superb setting on the banks of the Nile, its eight cottages hidden among acacia trees and fronting the river. Watch out for hippos munching on the grass outside your room at night.

6. TO HIKE THE RWENZORI

Forming an imposing border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, and snow-capped even at the height of summer, the legendary Mountains of the Moon are Africa’s highest range. The hiking is tough – it’s a good eight or nine days to complete the Kilembe Trail in the southern section of the park, though much shorter routes are available – but the rewards are considerable: remote trekking through a pristine wilderness of craggy peaks, glacier lakes and a lunar landscape dotted with giant groundsel plants.

Where to stay Rwenzori Trekkers, located in the shadow of the mountains, is the closest accommodation to the Kilembe trailhead, but you’ll be more comfortable, and still within range, staying in the Ndali-Kasenda region.

7. TO CRUISE THE KAZINGA CHANNEL

Queen Elizabeth National Park is blessed with a variety of beautiful habitats, from the open plains of the Kasenyi sector to the densely wooded scrub of the Mweya Peninsula and fig-tree-studded Ishasha. But it’s the boat launch on the Kazinga Channel that’s the real highlight of a visit to Uganda’s most popular national park.

You’ll drift lazily past huge pods of hippos; close-up encounters with buffalos, crocodiles and Nile monitors are virtually guaranteed; and herds of elephants regularly come down to the water to drink and bathe in the shallows.

Where to stay It’s worth spending a night in different sectors of the park. Mweya Lodge is a fairly large bush hotel with a personal feel, and an infinity pool that overlooks the Kazinga Channel. In the far south of the park, spectacular Ishasha Wilderness Camp makes the most of its beautiful setting, with luxurious safari tents spread along a scenic stretch of the Ntungwe River.

8. TO TRACK GORILLAS IN BWINDI

A full day spent tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is probably the most remarkable wildlife experience on earth.

On the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s new Gorilla Habituation Experience, you’ll accompany park rangers and researchers as they track (and monitor) these powerful yet peaceful creatures, first locating their overnight nests before following a trail of broken branches and tell-tale silver hairs to the gorillas themselves. What follows is 3 or 4 hours of lifelong memories, as you watch immense silverbacks tearing up and munching on huge bundles of vegetation while playful youngsters roly-poly amongst the undergrowth.

Things that you need for travelling

One of the greatest joys of travel is the unpredictability of exploring somewhere new. But however different our travels might be, we’ve all been struck by a number of universal thoughts along the way.

So whether you’ve grappled with getting up at sunrise or been through the various stages of recognising your own ineptness in another language, you’ll have most likely experienced something along these lines…

1. THE FLIGHT WAS DEFINITELY TODAY, RIGHT?

You checked – multiple times – yet still face a moment of abject panic when you arrive at the airport bugged by the unsettling feeling that you’ve mixed the dates up. You know you should have confirmed it one final time. A firm pat on the back if you got the date right; credit card at the ready if you got it wrong.

2. WHY HASN’T TELEPORTATION BEEN INVENTED YET?

Twelve hours squashed into an aerodynamic tin can ingesting stale air is no one’s ideal start to a trip. But unless a cargo freighter across the Atlantic sounds like a viable alternative, we don’t yet have many other choices.

3. SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE? EASY!

Just say it with the right accent and you’re off. Dos cervethaas por favoorrr.

4. MAYBE I’LL JUST SMILE AND NOD…

Ordering beer was one thing, but you now realise you should have kept up with Duolingo for longer than those four enthusiastic days. You just keeping smiling and nodding – actual words are completely overrated.

5. 4AM IS BEAUTIFUL – I SHOULD BE AWAKE AT THIS TIME MORE OFTEN!

While the cheap flights which forced you to check in before even the airport cleaner arrived weren’t the best introduction to the beauty of 4am, getting up at dawn to see sights like the Bolivian salt flats is enough to convince you of the benefits of those early mornings. You’ll definitely apply this to life back home…

6. DORM WITH 17 OTHER PEOPLE? NO PROBLEM: I SLEEP LIKE A LOG.

At some point you’ve definitely been lured into the big budget dorm – you’re the master of snoozing away nights on airport floors after all. But hostels play by distinct rules; all’s well and good until the inevitable nose-trumpeter gets going or the even less charming noises of an amorous couple become the backdrop to yet another sleepless night.

7. A 14-HOUR BUS JOURNEY WILL BE A BREEZE.

Reclining overnight bus seats always seem overrated – or at least until the next morning when you wake moulded into the shape of the 30-square-centimetre space that was your “bed”. The day spent unintentionally giving your best John Wayne impression just adds insult to injury.

America Travelling Guide

South Dakota, one of the USA’s Great Plains states, holds an annual buffalo roundup in Custer State Park. Last week was the 51st event and we were lucky enough to be in the area. Here’s the lowdown…

WHAT IS A BUFFALO ROUNDUP, EXACTLY?

First, the roundup is a practical business – it’s undertaken by people on horses (wranglers) to assess the size and health of the herd – but it’s also one of the best days out you can have on the Great Plains.

The vibe is about as South Dakota as it gets, all state pride and local flavour: Miss South Dakota beaming for pictures from atop her horse; long lines for buns stuffed with pulled buffalo (optional baked beans and nachos on the side); the smell of horses and manure spiking the air; and wranglers in chaps strutting about, bow-legged from a lifetime in the saddle.

WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE ROUNDUP?

The roundup is also a deep insight into the country’s past. The story of these enormous beasts is one of America’s most epic. They roamed the Plains in their tens of millions before the arrival of European settlers and Native American life revolved around them.

Through the 1800s, the bison were shot for their hides and meat; for sport (including ‘hunts’ involving potshots from the comfort of trains); to make space for cattle and farming; and, shamefully, to deny Native Americans their main food source. Come the end of the century, bison numbers had dwindled to just 700 or so.

So while it was an unforgettable occasion, full of the kind of ‘authentic’ experience every tourist craves, I watched the majestic running of the animals with sadness too. The thunder of their hooves could once rival that of the vast skies above.

WAIT, BISON? WHERE ARE THE BUFFALO?

It isn’t actually a buffalo roundup. It’s a bison roundup. The settlers misnamed them because of their likeness to the buffalo that roam Asia and Africa, and the tag stuck. But they’re bison.

And, in case you’re wondering, bison are also very different to cattle. The far more docile cattle were introduced by Europeans, and need a lot of care. Bison are indigenous and uncooperative, so for the rest of the year, the herd are left mostly to their own devices – they know how to take care of themselves.

Most bison herds in the USA – including the roundup’s – now have a bit of cattle in them. For ‘pure’ bison you have to go down the road to neighbouring Wind Cave National Park. The herd there has never been interbred (though only scientists can discern any difference).

WHO DOES THE ROUNDING UP?

Well, there’s octogenarian Bob Lantis, who has worked every roundup for the past 45 years – and swears he’ll be there next year too. Plus, there’s Miss South Dakota, who isn’t just there to look pretty either.

The rest of the wranglers are either park rangers or volunteers. The latter are screened to make sure they’re good enough at riding – but then lots of people in South Dakota are good at riding horses, rodeo is the official state sport, after all.

SO AS A MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC, WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE OF THE ROUNDUP ITSELF?

The bison have already been preliminarily gathered together – loosely – before the big day, then the roundup itself takes place over a distance of about a mile, through various fields, with crowds gathered on low hills around its course.

Since you watch from a slight remove, the whip-cracks and whoops of the wranglers and the pummelling of the bison’s hooves carry to you on the wind rather than assault your senses.

But then you come to the roundup – which is free – as much for the atmosphere as for the herding itself, which takes about half an hour. And for a state with just 800,000 people, it’s a hell of an atmosphere. The figures aren’t in for this year but 2015, the fiftieth anniversary, saw 25,000 guests.

In any case, you really don’t want to get too close. This year there was one calf that had been born later than the other young, just three weeks before the roundup. During the action one of the wranglers got too close to it and its mother chased the horse away. It did make me wonder, with a little thrill, if the American bison has ever truly been conquered.

All about travelling that you should know

Travelling turns you into a brave adventurer, whether you venture where no one has set foot before or stick to a more trodden route. But it’s easy to be put off exploring the globe with worries about safety, money or travelling alone.

Forget whatever’s holding you back: here’s how to avoid letting the ten most common fears stand in the way of your next adventure.

1. IT’S TOO DANGEROUS TO TRAVEL RIGHT NOW

Threats of natural disasters, economic crises and terrorism might have you questioning whether you should be booking your next flight. But while various government bodies might warn against travel in some countries, the reality is that the vast majority of the world remains safe for travellers.

Get peace of mind by checking your government’s travel advice before departure, set up email news alerts about your chosen destination and identify the nearest embassy or consulate in case of emergencies.

2. I DON’T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE

If you’re an English speaker, you’ve been gifted one of the finest travel luxuries: the globe’s lingua franca. Unfortunately, in places where this language doesn’t carry the same linguistic weight, communication is problematic.

But even without a common tongue, gestures and a smile are universal and learning the words for “please”, “thank you” and “I would like” can also make you sound polite – a guaranteed means of inspiring others to help you.

3. I WON’T MEET ANYONE TRAVELLING ALONE

The biggest fear for anyone embarking on a solo trip is that you won’t encounter others along the way. Given solo travellers now account for a quarter of all global trips abroad, there are plenty of others in the same boat. In fact, travelling is one of the easiest ways of meeting like-minded people.

Stay in hostels with large communal areas or put yourself into situations such as group activities or tours where you have no choice but to strike up a conversation. You’ll soon have an abundance of new travel companions.

4. EATING BY MYSELF? NOT MY CUP OF TEA

It might seem trivial, but the prospect of dining solo can leave even the bravest of souls quaking in their hiking boots. Don’t view it as a lonely lunch date. Instead, treat it as quality “me-time” and take a book or journal to plan the next step of your itinerary or write about your experiences that day.

Don’t be surprised if you actually end up enjoying it; the feeling of eating alone is a strangely liberating experience – once you take the plunge.

5. WHAT IF I GET ROBBED?

When travelling with your laptop, camera and other valuables, concerns about being robbed are hard to dispel. While you can’t completely avoid this unfortunate possibility, travel insurance makes the worst case scenario more manageable. Remember to keep valuables on your person and expensive items hidden away in a rucksack so that your holiday doesn’t end up costing far more than you anticipated.

6. I’VE GOT A TERRIBLE SENSE OF DIRECTION

We’re programmed to believe that knowing where we’re going at every given moment is essential, but part of the fun of travelling is getting lost – and realising that it doesn’t actually matter.

If you jump off at the wrong station or take a bus in the opposite direction than intended, who cares. Travelling teaches you to cope when things don’t go to plan and how to make the most of these unexpected mishaps-turned-adventures.

7. BUT EVERYONE GETS ILL TRAVELLING

Delhi belly – whether you’re in India or elsewhere – is (often) impossible to avoid. In a new country, the cocktail of new bacteria in everything from the food to the sanitation facilities is a recipe for a bad stomach.

That said, you can still minimize the risk. Invest in alcohol gel hand sanitizer, drink bottled water (and use it to clean your teeth) and pick your dining spots carefully. If there’s a decent assortment of locals of all ages eating there, you’re probably onto a winner.

Interesting castle that you need to visit

For one night only Airbnb are offering the chance for a daring traveller and their companion to sleep in the home of Bram Stoker’s Dracula – or so they say.

Bran Castle – all ramparts and towers – sits on precipice surrounded by impressive mountains in Transylvania, Romania, just like the castle described as belonging to the vampire in Bram Stoker’s novel. However, links between fictional Dracula and the castle are somewhat tenuous, as Stoker is said to have never visited Romania.

Whether or not it might have once been home to a fang-toothed blood-sucker, though, a stay in Bran Castle is still bound to make your hair stand on end. Its interior is all wooden beams, creaking floorboards and elaborately carved four-poster beds, and outside wolves roam throughout the mountains.

If you’re brave enough to try it out, take note of the house rules before you apply: no garlic, no silver jewellery, don’t cross your cutlery and know that “the count is not a fan of mirror selfies”.

TRAVELLING IN COSTARICA

Inspired by pictures of Costa Rica’s primordial-looking shores, rainforests bristling with exotic creatures and steaming volcanoes that tower above the clouds? You’re not the only one.

A steady increase in access to the Central American nation has helped persuade more and more travellers to stop daydreaming at their desks and instead book a plane ticket. If you’re one of them then consider this your beginner’s guide to squeezing the best out of the country. Here, Chloe Cann has 9 Costa Rica travel tips to help you start planning you trip.

1. PLAN FOR THE HIGH SEASON

With so many North Americans flying south for the winter – not to mention locals travelling home – it’s pivotal to book in advance for the Christmas and New Year period.

Both rooms and buses can sell out weeks ahead, but by being savvy and using several transport links (such as a private shuttle to one hub, paired with a public bus from there) it’s still possible to make things work, even at the height of peak season.

The week leading up to Easter is another pressure point to bear in mind, though the parades and processions that take place can prove well worth the extra effort.

2. CONSIDER AN ORGANISED TOUR

Veteran independent travellers might sniff at the idea of taking an escorted tour, especially in a country where hostels and hotels seemingly line every corner and English is so widely spoken. But with high demand, surprisingly high prices and few regular public bus services, a group tour means you can pack a lot of experiences into one 10-day trip without fretting about availability or logistics.

For those who can’t stand the thought of group travel, yet don’t want to plan every last detail in advance; hiring a car is another viable alternative.

3. BE PREPARED TO SPEND

Costa Rica is among the most expensive countries to visit in Latin America. And it’s not just pricey when compared to its neighbours – for certain supermarket items such as bottled water and sunscreen it can even rival the UK and USA.

To save some bucks eat plates of gallo pinto at small family-run sodas, pay for groceries and other small purchases with local currency colónes instead of dollars and travel during the low season (aka the rainy season) for reduced room rates.

4. CHOOSE BETWEEN THE ADVENTURE GATEWAYS

Monteverde and La Fortuna are two of northern Costa Rica’s backpacker favourites, and great jumping off points for outdoor activities. But getting between them can prove a lengthy process and much of the adventure offering is similar.

If you don’t have time for both, Monteverde boasts the trump card thanks to its drier climate and bohemian hilltop charm.

5. HEED THE CAUTION WHEN IT COMES TO THE WEATHER

Even in the dry season (between December and April) visitors to the central highlands and the Atlantic coastal plain should prepare for frequent downpours.

No matter how clear the skies looks at daybreak make sure you pack waterproof clothing and dry bags for valuables on any trips into the rainforest. And if the showers are dampening your spirits you can always head west to the sun-scorched plains of the Pacific slope.

6. LEARN THE LANGUAGE

You won’t struggle to find locals with good English, but picking up some Spanish can not only earn you kudos and a warm welcome – it can really boost your bargaining power.

Those with a good chunk of time on their hands can go one step further and enrol in one of the many local language schools that are scattered across the country, putting their Tico accent straight to the test.

7. RESPECT THE COUNTRY’S SUSTAINABILITY CREDENTIALS

Costa Rica has set its sights on becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021. To help support its green aims opt for locally owned eco-lodges and operators that practice sustainable tourism wherever possible.

To help distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly, the Costa Rica Tourism Institute has developed the CST, or Sustainability Certification program. Businesses are ranked from levels one to five based on their commitment to the cause.

8. SWAP THE PACIFIC COAST FOR THE CARIBBEAN

One quick fix for escaping Costa Rica’s crowds is to head east instead of west. With the international airport of Liberia so close to the Pacific coastline, it’s an easily accessible beach destination. The sands of the Caribbean coast, however, are much harder to reach, meaning the region is also much less developed.

9. TIE IN A NEIGHBOUR

Although they’re tightly packed into the waist of the Americas, each Central American nation boasts its own character, attractions and heritage. Next-door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama make the easiest and most obvious add-ons to a sojourn in Costa Rica.

Nicaragua is a more raw destination that’s best suited to intrepid, budget-conscious travellers, while Panama offers a cosmopolitan capital as well as lashings of more rural adventure activities.

Autralian on trip tips

Pack your stuff, throw it in camper van along with a surfboard and don’t look back… This might be an old cliché but it’s one for good reason: Australia really is one of the best places on Earth for a road trip.

Whether you’re living the dream in your camper van, or making do with a less romantic form of transport, Australia’s well-kept, open roads beckon and will lead you through astonishing landscapes. There are many great road trips in Australia, but here are our favourites.

1. COASTAL VIEWS ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

Staggering ocean views and easy access from Melbourne make this one of Australia’s best-loved road trips. Pack an overnight bag and follow the dramatic coastline, stopping to view a series of coastal rock formations, holding their ground in the surf.

The magnificent Twelve Apostles – eight giant sea stacks – appear otherworldly at sunset, guarding the limestone cliffs. Among the other rocky highlights include London Bridge arch, the Bay of Islands and Loch Ard Gorge.

At Bells Beach, grab a wetsuit and do your best Keanu Reeves’ impression. This was the famous surf setting for his filmPoint Break, but it was actually filmed in California.

If you’re not a surfer you can hike in Great Otway National Park, say hello to the koalas at Kennett River or kayak out into Apollo Bay to observe a seal colony. Otherwise, take it easy at a beach restaurant in the seaside town of Lorne.

2. ADVENTURE ALONG THE WAY FROM PERTH TO EXMOUTH

Driving north from Perth, you may expect nothing of the Outback landscape but scorched earth and straight roads all the way up the west coast. While these certainly exist, a road trip here is also punctuated with remarkable geological features, some of the world’s best (yet empty) beaches and kangaroos hopping alongside your camper van.

First, a bit of fun at Lancelin where you can go sand boarding in the dunes or off-roading in a truck-sized 4×4. Then on to the Pinnacles Desert where bizarre pillars protrude from the desert like ancient monoliths.

In Kalbarri National Park, see Nature’s Window and the Z-Bend Lookout, abseil Murchison Gorge and ride on horseback around the scenic estuary at Big River Ranch.

A five-hour drive north brings you to Shark Bay, home of weird stromatolites – the oldest fossils on Earth – and the brilliant-white Shell Beach. Stop at Monkey Mia to meet the dolphins before heading on to Coral Bay, where another pristine white beach greets you. From here you can wade out 50m to the Ningaloo Reef – the second-largest reef in Australia – to snorkel with dazzling fish, turtles, reef sharks and whale sharks.

3. THE HOME STRAIT ON THE NULLARBOR PLAIN

The Nullabor is not for the faint-hearted. The mesmerising Eyre Highway runs through a vast, treeless plain, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia.

With an almost 150km stretch that’s the world’s longest straight road, it’s no surprise that it’s known as “Nullaboring”. But many travellers love it for the beauty of the desert and the on-the-road camaraderie. There’s a strong sense of community at the roadhouses, which appear roughly every 200km – with nothing in between.

Venture away from the main road to see some of South Australia’s geological highlights, including Pildappa Rock – a 100m-long wave of red sandstone – or the peculiar rocks at Ucontitchie Hill and Murphy’s Hay Stacks.

From Denial Bay, the Eyre Highway clings to the coast all the way to Western Australia. At the Head of Bight, you’ve a good chance of spotting Southern Right Whales between June and October. Then there are the empty beaches, towering cliffs, the magnificent blow-holes – and the oddities… Eucla features the ghostly remains of a telegraph station protruding from the encroaching dunes, while Balladonia (population: 9) commemorates the spot where the Skylab space station fell to Earth in 1979.

4. THE BLISSFUL BEACHES OF FRASER ISLAND

If there’s one side trip on the east coast you mustn’t miss, it’s Fraser Island, a 123-km World-Heritage-listed sand island. Here, off-roaders may roam but the dingo is king.

The beach that runs the full length of the island functions as the main highway and an airstrip for small planes, so keep an eye on the air too while you bomb along the strand. Halfway down the beach, you can’t fail to notice the eerie remains of the shipwrecked SS Maheno appearing silhouetted against the raging surf.

Take a side road into the interior and suddenly you’re in another world – specifically, you’re in a subtropical rainforest growing on 200m-high sand dunes. Stop for a swim in the sparklingly clear Lake McKenzie, one of forty freshwater lakes perched high on the dunes. It’s like nowhere else on Earth.