Saturday, 15 September 2012

Inspiration - That Photo...

When I'm deciding on where I want to travel, I take a lot of inspiration from photos I have seen in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet; via my day-dreaming browsing on Google and friends' Facebook photos of their travels. What grabs me is 'that photo'...the one picture where you look in awe at a place or scene that looks so magical, so unreal that you feel that you have to see it for yourself to confirm it exists. Spotting a photo of Lake Bled, in Slovenia, via Facebook, was one of the driving forces for my trip to Slovenia this year. Seeing the place for myself and swimming in the warm waters of the lake was just phenomenal.

My photo from the Ozujsko viewpoint at Lake Bled

These places are often, for me, the stand out element of any trip. So, below (as a departure from my usual ramblings) are a few of my photographs of my favourite amazing places that I hope inspire you. Please feel free to suggest some of your favourites in the comment box below.

The tiled rooftops of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Trakai, Lithuania

The beautiful Chrysler Building, New York

Budapest, Hungary

The view across to Rangitoto in Auckland, New Zealand

Dusk at Milford Sound, New Zealand

The sun setting on The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Australia

The Reichstag in Berlin, Germany

The soft sands and clear blue waters of Makriamos Beach, near Thassos Town, Greece

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The incredible Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Le Jardin de Luxembourg in Paris, France.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

USA...Tick! France...Tick! Azerbaijan...erm...

Location, Location, Location!

On a recent flight, I was surrounded by a party heading to Slovenia to...erm, party.  One of the group, exclaimed to the others a few minutes after we took off, "when we land, this will be my 50th country!  And, all before my 30th birthday too!"  The milestone birthday, it turns out, was being celebrated in Slovenia, so the girl in question made it to her target by a whisker!  This little story got me we travel to put a notch on our proverbial hostel bedpost or is this just a satisfying byproduct of a wide and varied travel diet?  For those of you that were wondering, I have made it to 24 countries - so long as you count Monaco and the Vatican City as independent states.  I think that is pretty impressive for someone who has never taken a gap year that wends through a number of South East Asian and South American countries or is that flush with cash.

Some people take this tick-listing of countries visited to an extreme.  Take, for example, Kashi Sammadar, who has visited all of the countries of the World.  Or even our own Queen Elizabeth II who has visited 116 countries to date.  You can compare your travels to Liz's on this BBC News website - 'Have you been where the Queen's been?'

Though, sad to admit it, I quite like seeing where and how many places I have visited.  I love updating my travel map on Facebook; putting virtual pins into a map to highlight the cities and countries I have trampled with my size nines.  I look at the gaps on the map and think, 'I really must visit ... or ...'.  I do this, not to ensure I fill in those gaps, but help me think about the places I would like to travel to, not the ones I feel I should visit simply to pin on my map.  My travels this year have included four new countries and hopefully, a fifth before the year is out.  I realised looking at my map, I had not really seen much of Eastern Europe, but for a short break to Prague a few years back.  So, when I saw the flights to Hungary, Latvia and Slovenia at a reasonable price, I jumped at the chance to see these countries and cultures that had previously been virgin territory for me.

As for the girl at the start of the post, she may have achieved her 50 countries mostly via travel through her work commitments.  For all I know, she could have been a pilot or stewardess; jetting all over the world on a daily basis.  She might be filthy rich, with a purse deep enough to allow her the opportunity to travel lots and see a whole host of countries.  It is easy to become cynical about such people - mocking their approach to travel.  Besides, we all enjoy travel for different reasons.  Either way, we all have something in common...we like to travel.  Therefore, I am always in admiration for those people that are lucky enough to visit so many places.  They make me want to travel more as I reason with myself, 'if they can do it, so can I!'  I often fail to remember that they may have more time or cash at their disposal, but still the desire to travel remains.  So, look to your tick-listers as inspiration, a source of ideas for future destinations and most of all enjoy the experience of travel, seeing it not simply as a chance to 'tick' another place off on a list of places you have travelled to.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Glorious Free Tour...

The Ljubljana Free Tour - MikeW in the middle on the front row! (Source - The Ljubljana Free Tour)
Free!  My favourite price!  The old saying goes, "there's no such thing as a free lunch", but I disagree when it comes to one 'free' aspect of travel and it is one of my top tips for the solo traveller.  Whenever I am in a place that has one on offer, I always take the free tour.  I've free toured in a number of cities including Lisbon, Budapest, Riga, Vilnius and most recently, last week, in Ljubljana.  And, what a treat these tours are.  The concept is pretty straightforward: a person in their early twenties (often an inhabitant of the place) will have advertised a meeting point somewhere in the city, at a set time everyday, usually via a leaflet or poster in the hostels and tourist information offices.  They will walk you and a group of other fact-hungry tourists around their fair city all for nothing, nada, nowt!  OK, OK...before you all scream, "Mike, you're's not free!"...the tour is not completely free as the tour guide will explain to you at some point on your walk round the city.  They work on a tip based system, whereby you pay what you think the tour was worth.  So, in theory you could pay nothing for an abysmal tour and thus, get yourself a free tour, but if you are paying nothing, it is probably safe to assume the tour was a waste of time or you are just one tight-fisted git!

I like the free tour for a number of reasons.  First of all, you get to meet a local; someone who is always very passionate about their city and their country; happy to share many interesting facts and stories about its people, buildings and culture.  I have learnt some fascinating things from these free tours.  The quality of the guides varies.  The tours where I have laughed heartily, learnt lots about the place and felt like the guide was genuinely interested in our experience have been fantastic.  The tours where the guide has been very serious or a little eccentric, making the tour all about themselves, I have found less interesting and have tipped accordingly.  Secondly, free tours are really useful in helping you get your bearings; allowing you to see the highlights of a city in a short space of time, but then give you the opportunity to decide what you want to visit again and see in more detail.

Free tours are a great way to meet other like-minded travellers.  Free tourers are usually backpackers, probably travelling solo (and on a budget) just like your good self.  On the tour in Ljubljana, I was able to meet a great girl who me and a fellow traveller, from my room in the hostel, spent the day exploring the city with and dined with in the evening.  Further than that, the people on the free tour might become future travel Aussie girl I befriended on the free tour in Riga I am travelling to Krakow with in October.

So, take the free tour...learn about the place you are visiting, soak up the culture and meet people!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Get Out There...Explore!

Some postcards made by my class during the 'Tourism' topic!

I am a Geography teacher in a secondary school, here in the UK.  I mention my travels, and the experiences I have had on them, a fair bit in my lessons, whenever it is relevant to do so.  Occasionally a student will suggest I am "always going on about my holidays"; bragging about my trips to other countries, cultures and environments.  As I aim to do in my posts on this blog, I am very conscious that I do not tell my students these travel stories as a way of showing off either a) my wealth (which for any prospective golddiggers out there, is pretty small, by the way) or b) to somehow seem to beat someone else's equally exciting travel experiences into submission with my heavily stamped passport.  I tell the students my money does not go on attending expensive Premiership Football matches, buying Playstation and XBox games, boozing every weekend in Leeds city centre or a fast car.  I save my hard-earned pennies to spend on travel.  As previous readers are well aware, I hunt down the cheapest flight possible within a time I am free to travel to ensure that I get the best value for money from my journeys and take as many as possible within the holidays I have.  Like the readers here, I want to inspire the students I teach to travel when they are older.  To take themselves off on journeys that make them more rounded individuals; exposed to all the amazing sights and experiences this magnificent world has to offer, as well as a developing awareness of the world's problems and what impact we humans have on the planet and the environments in which we live.  My 'Henry Rollin's post' a few week's back highlights this.  To travel is not to just simply get a better understanding of the world, but I believe it is vital in helping you understand yourself better.  It is this that philosophy I am trying to get across to the students I teach.

As 'The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet' reaches almost 1000 page views, I want to thank all the visitors to my rather self-indulgent travel blog, but hope that it has and will continue to prove to be a great source of help, advice and inspiration to all visitors.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

A Travel Highlight...

A humpback whale breaching (Source -

On my first solo trip, a real highlight for me was the Australian coastal town of Byron Bay.  Byron was so much fun and is an absolutely beautiful place to be.  I hope to return there one day and experience the laid back Aussie lifestyle again.  My first day, after some (pretty poor) surfing by me was spent relaxing on the sand at Byron.  I was lying on my towel busily snoozing away when I heard a gasp from a Japanese lady, sitting on a towel, a few metres away.  She pointed out to sea and after rubbing my eyes, I was stunned at the sight of two humpback whales swimming parallel to the beach, breaching the water every few metres as they made their migration down the east coast of Australia.  It was a fantastic sight and when I looked back to the Japanese lady, I saw that she was in floods of tears; so touched by the moment.  Seeing these pictures of humpbacks in Sydney Harbour, on the BBC News website, brought back all those amazing unforgettable memories.  And, to think, I was almost too scared to make this trip...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Go Ed! Independent Travel with a Disability...

Ed on his travels (Source -

I got an e-mail from yesterday evening.  A great website for hints and tips on travel and, as it says on the tin, the incredibly popular gap year trips.  To my surprise, I spotted a familiar face and name acting as one of the guest writers...a young man called Ed Rex.  I recognise Ed from my previous work with Deaf and Hearing Impaired students in secondary schools here in the UK.  He was a pupil at a school I worked at.

Having an older brother who is profoundly Deaf, I often forget that for him to take a trip in the UK, let alone abroad, can pose some serious problems; not least one of confidence.  Thankfully, my brother and Ed seem to share a fantastic sense of adventure, are possessed with great confidence and are keen to see the world.  As I write, my brother and his wife are currently enjoying city life in Singapore after a week in the Balinese resort of Ubud.  It is great to see that Ed has taken an extended backpacking trip, but to think a profoundly deaf person is travelling independently in countries he is not familiar with is amazing.  'Go Ed' is what I say!  Most hearing people would not dare to take this trip alone, but Ed has proven he has the determination and desire to explore the World and is making the most of the fact that he is having the time of his life!

The link below is a brilliant insight into Ed's life travelling independently as a profoundly deaf person.  It makes me think how lucky I am that the minor travel difficulties I face are nothing to the tannoy, accent and planning troubles a deaf person doing a similar trip might encounter.

Holland was Lekker!

Showing off my tourist credentials...a photo in front of Centraal Station, Amsterdam!

In my previous post 'The Home Advantage', I raved on about how amazing it is to visit friends you met on your travels in their own country.  My trip to the Netherlands was great and fulfilled all the positive things, that come about from this type of travel, I talked about in 'The Home Advantage'.  Just catching up with Mitch and his girlfriend is worth the flight alone, but on top of that they planned a superb weekend of activities to show off their favourite places and some uniquely Dutch aspects of life.  Enjoying drinks at The Boathouse in Almere under the afternoon sun, a (rather wet) drive to the coastal resorts of Zandvoort and Bloemendaal, eating steak at another branch of my favourite chain of steak restaurants Loetjes and sampling the fun and festivities of the annual Amsterdam Gay Pride Boat Parade just added to my visit and further proof that you must play the home advantage, wherever possible.

It came to the point where I felt so familiar with so much about the Netherlands, following my numerous visits and contact with Dutch people, that when we were joined by an American relation of Mitch's family on his first trip to the country, I found myself extolling the virtues of Dutch trains, the Dutch honesty and how much I cannot stand Smartlap music, but love watching Dutch people melt into the cheesiness of this traditional music.

I must add, this is not a one way process.  Mitch has visited the UK on a number of occasions to be met with English food (well, a fantastic Leeds curry) and Yorkshire women calling him 'love' in shops.  So, to Mitch, thank you!  Long may this Anglo-Dutch friendship and cultural exchange continue!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Home Advantage

A canal in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam.

I have mentioned before how great travelling (and, particularly, travelling solo) is for meeting people and making new friends.  As my travel experience and the number of trips I have taken has grown, I have seemingly developed a knack for spotting potential friends.  The kind of friend I would like to stay in touch with after spending some time travelling with them for a bit or sharing some kind of travel experience with that person via a tour, day trip, night out etc.  The Irish girls I met in New Zealand and my Dutch friend are just two such examples.  Mitch and I, both backpacking solo, hit it off straight away on a sailing trip, almost 7 years ago, round the Whitsunday Islands, in Australia.  We shared a similar sense of humour, tastes in music and enjoyed hearing about each other's travels and lives back home.  We also enjoyed partying together at the traditional post trip boat party in Airlie Beach too!  Making fun of his brilliant Dutch accent (via the Austin Power's character, Goldmember) also helped the friendship grow too!

This weekend, I make, what must be, my sixth or seventh trip to Amsterdam to visit him and his girlfriend.  Before befriending Mitch, I had visited Amsterdam with my friends from home and considered it 'ticked' off of my bucket list.  We had seen all the sights, been to a sex show, visited the Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museums as well as frequent both the Erotic and Sex Museum; all rounded off with a lounge in the sun in the brilliant Vondelpark.  So, when Mitch invited me over soon after both of our returns from Oz, I was a little trepidatious about going back to see the same old things and smiling politely (like us Brits do so well) at all the things I had seen before so not to offend Mitch and his love of his country.

I could not have been more wrong.  In every visit I have made, Mitch has been able to show me parts of Amsterdam and the Netherlands I would have really had to research in depth to find.  I have been lucky enough to meet and break bread with his fantastic friends and family, enjoy dressing up like a traditional Dutch person in Volendam and wander the beautiful quiet streets of the Jordaan (only a few parallel streets from all the other tourist madness).  On top of this, I have experienced nightlife like a local, in a traditional Dutch music bar, in the Jordaan area, that left me befuddled but filled with merriment at the thought that I was having a great time without knowing a single word being sung by folk superstar singers such as Walter Kroes.  Mitch and I have stormed house music festivals such as Sensation - White and Mysteryland, visited castles I did not know existed and eaten some food I would not have even thought of trying.

And, that's the key element to all of this; visiting a local means that they show you their neighbourhood, their country at its best, showing you things you did not know were there or taste things that you never thought possible.  I could write an equally lengthy passage in praise of Ireland and all the amazing things the Irish girls have taken me to see in their fair country.  So, if you can, take the home advantage, you won't regret it!

Monday, 30 July 2012

The United Kingdom of Great Britain - A Guide...

Britain! (source -

This brilliant guide to the character and unique features of the British Isles, designed ostensibly for those visiting Blighty for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, offers a real insight into my country.  We have our problems, but I think any Brit will find comfort and a knowing laughter in much of what is written in the link below.  So, for those travellers intending to visit these fair isles, get in on this insider guide to your next trip to The United Kingdom of Great Britain!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

A tribute to...Ελλάς, Ελλάδα, Greece!

Kefalonia - One of my favourite places in Greece (photo - GreekCarHire)
One of my favourite countries to travel to is Greece.  Being a quarter Greek, I feel the need to promote the home of my Grandma; a woman who would tell me with great pride that, "everything comes from Greece!".  I've been lucky enough to visit several of the islands and intend one day to visit the amazing cluster of islands in the Cyclades that includes Mykonos, Naxos, Paros and Santorini.  Until that day, I thought I would share these beautiful photos of Greece from the BBC website (click the link below).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Absolutely Phenomenal!

Gunter and his wife, Christine, with their trusty steed 'Otto'! (Source -

Check out the link below to see the 23 years travel (and he's still going) of Gunther Holtorf (and his late wife) in their Mercedes 4x4.  Truly inspiring!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Battleplan!

Drawing on maps = uber organisation! (Source - The Art of Audacity)

I am tragic!  Completely and utterly sad when it comes to travelling; particularly when it comes to the planning of a trip.  I absolutely love it!  From the initial thought to the booking and organisation required, I am in my freakin' element.  To start, I usually have in my mind an idea of where I am thinking of going - as I scan my mental 'bucket list' of places I am keen to visit.  I then spend ages agonising about going...Can I afford it?  Is it a good place to visit?  Will I enjoy myself?  Will I meet people?  Along with other such important questions such as, will my prize orchid wither and die during my long weekend away?  Or, should I stay at home and finally tidy the garage?  These tricky questions are usually run roughshod by part two of the process...

...the discovery of a cheap flight!  This is often the driving force behind most of my cheap it is to get there.  I've mentioned before my tightwad, Yorkshire genetics and I want value for money on my trips, so spotting a flight on days I am available to travel and at a price that suits, sends my brain and credit card into overdrive.  I can heartily recommend the following well known websites in the hunt for that elusive cheap flight -,, and  I wouldn't neglect a quick price check on the airline's own website either, as they can sometimes offer the best price.

A quick side note on cashback/points collection websites.  These can provide you with even further savings on your flight purchases as well as for airport parking, travel insurance, accommodation booking and travel currency.  I tend to favour and

Once you are happy with your price, it's then all about research.  You will have already done some preliminary research into your destination to get an idea if the place(s) you want to visit are to your liking.  This is now the time for more in-depth research.  Read around the forums such as Lonely Planet's excellent Thorn Tree Forum ( for information on things to see, do and eat; including all the things you might want to not see, do or eat too.  Simple Google searches, on your destination, should come up with some excellent information from travellers who have visited and that are also intending to visit.

One final great source of information, I find, can be friends and family members.  These people can act as 'testers' for your future travel with some top-notch recommendations and their knowledge could be of great help in avoiding sticky travel situations and smooth your journey.  My cousin's photos of her visit to Cambodia from Thailand were of great use to me during my visit.  Having remembered what the border at Aranyaprathet/Poipet looked like from her Facebook pictures, I was able to avoid being scammed by a group of dodgy Thai men who claimed their wooden shack (200 metres from the official border) was in fact the border and that they knew Britain well; where they proceeded to do Del Boy (from 'Only Fools and Horses') impressions, "luverly jubbly, guv'nor!"  Their 'official' visa for Cambodia was three times the $20 I paid at the official border.  Thankfully, I stood my ground and the tuk tuk, eventually ferried me to the official border before whizzing off to collect its next unwitting tourist from the bus station!

And there you have, a solid beginning to your next trip.

If you have any top tips for travel planning, please feel free to share in the comments below.

Safe travels!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Top Tips for Solo Travel...

MikeW going solo in Vilnius, Lithuania

Solo travel can be daunting.  I read comments on forums laced with panic from people who are about to venture on trips to South East Asia and South America all on their lonesome.  I was like that...and, to some extent can feel like that now when I travel solo (see my previous post 'Butterflies...').  I want to calm nerves, the soothing balm on your upcoming travel adventure; whether that be a week touring Eastern Europe or a year round the world.  To help me out, I canvassed the opinion of the very knowledgeable travellers who use the excellent Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum on this issue and along with some of my own experiences of solo travel, I have pulled together five hints and tips to make your solo trip not only an enjoyable one, but a very memorable one too.

1. Throw Yourself Into the Mix!
One of the scariest elements of solo travel is just that, you are solo, on your own in a place where not a single soul knows who you are.  The arrival into the hostel can be a scary are faced with a group of strangers, who have probably already bonded over the local speciality window cleaner flavoured liquor and who tell tales of wonderful things they have seen that day.  See this as an opportunity.  Be proactive and get stuck in!  Thrust your hand out, say 'Hello!  I'm [insert your name here]!' and take it from there.  I have ALWAYS had positive experiences from doing this while travelling.  Besides, the solo traveller has an advantage thanks to the fact that you are more approachable than a pair or group of travellers; most of whom will comment on how brave you are at venturing off alone.

2. Oh, So Lonely!
First, the bad news...there are going to be lonely moments when you travel.  There is no escaping it, I am afraid.  You are going to be looking out over a beach in Thailand and your thoughts will suddenly turn to home, family, friends, your pet rabbit Fluffykins and wish you were back on home soil or that all your loved ones were with you, sharing your Pad Thai.  You should be congratulated for having taken the big leap to travel alone, but to avoid bouts of loneliness you are going to need to muster up some more courage and more of that proactivity I mentioned above.  To make it easier, I highly recommend you follow the established backpacker routes for your first trip.  My first solo trip (detailed in my post 'My First Time') took in the well-trodden backpacker trails of the Australian East Coast (from Sydney to Cairns) and both the North and South Islands of New Zealand.  I met so many people, it verged on the ridiculous!  Some of the people I met on this trip have become firm friends...and provided me with great weekends away in sunny foreign climes such as Ireland and the Netherlands after I returned from my travels!  Look at your loneliness as an advantage - a moment of solitude, peace and harmony in what will be a trip where your interaction with people will almost certainly come and go as you progress through your journey.  Savour the times you have with the new friends and acquaintances you meet on the road, but also savour those times you get to reflect on the great time you are having travelling.

"You're on top tonight, Ingrid?!" (Photo -

3. Hitting the Sack...
Choose your bed for the night carefully, solo traveller!  I agree with the views of the Thorn Tree folk on this aspect of solo travel, stay in hostels.  They offer the easiest way to meet people and allow you to tailor your travel to your backpacker needs and budget.  If you are a party animal, definitely book yourself into one of the many party hostels out there.  If there is a lairy, drunken, lobster tan Brit in the picture on the hostel's website or Hostelworld/Hostelbooker's page, it is a party hostel.  If they recycle the rainwater for showers, knit the yoghurt and offer muesli (aka 'sawdust') for breakfast, you are booking yourself into a more laidback kind of place, that for someone of my age and liver capacity will, I think, provide the solo traveller with a good place to stay and the chance to meet other like-minded folk; unless, of course, your kind of like-minded folk are necking back eleven vodka Red Bulls with a Jagermeister chaser in their luridly painted hostel in quick succession!  One other thing...I loved this (very accurate) tip from one poster on the Thorn Tree, "be nice to everyone you meet in hostels as there is a good chance you will bump into them later on."  You will be surprised how many people you meet and then see again...and again...and again as you venture on your journey.

4. Embrace the Weird!
Another cast iron are going to meet some seriously 'interesting' people on your travels.  Do not be afraid...most do not bite and offer you a whole host of fantastic stories for your new hostel friends and at your welcome home parties back in your motherland!  Just make sure you have an exit strategy if it looks to be getting dangerous or emotionally trying.  For the latter, I can recommend, "I need the toilet!" - a place you can hide and update your Twitter and Facebook statuses with your scary/weird experience and make your friends back home howl at your travel capers.  My Aussie weirdo experiences are to be detailed in a future this space!

5. Enjoy the Flexibility...
You are a solo traveller.  This is a brilliant thing.  If you choose to, you do not have to discuss your itinerary for the day with anyone.  You can do whatever you please (with reason) and go wherever you want (within reason).  That fork in the is up to you!  That ice cream or piece of is up to you...why not have both; after all you are Master/Mistress of your own travelling destiny!  Enjoy this positive aspect of your trip!

Overall, rather than see travelling solo as a negative, I always tend to view it in a more positive slant.  I figure, that I am here, albeit alone...but I am going to make the most of it.  Of course, it would be great to be here with a loved one or friends, but most of all it is important you have a fulfilling travel experience without feeling wracked by loneliness or the feeling that you cannot enjoy what the world lays before you without having someone to share it with.

I'll leave you with one final tip a colleague gave me when I left a job a few years back.  It might help you in a hostel situation - "don't sweat the petty things and certainly don't pet the sweaty things!"

Safe travels and Enjoy!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

I urge you...just travel!

Although, travel can be expensive; you don't have to go far to experience the essence of the message above.  It is by the American singer-songwriter, writer and activist Henry Rollins.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The People You Meet...

Getting to know each other...

I think, for me, one of the best and strangest parts (I don't want to say 'worst') about travelling are the people you meet as you explore a place.  Take my most recent trip...boy, did I encounter a slice of life!  On arrival at my first hostel, I found myself sharing a room with a lovely, but rather anally retentive 65 year old gentleman from North America, who spoke fluent Latvian and kindly invited me out to a traditional bar, nearby, to sample the delights of the local folk music and dancing.  I took up his offer and had an amusing night trying to make this typically strait-laced Canadian laugh without him breaking down anything humorous I ribbed him about into a rational (and often tiring) explanation.  The fact that we ended up sharing drinks with the staff and got a tour of the kitchens in the restaurant near the hostel we stayed in just made the night even more bizarre, yet strangely fun!

This North American traveller thing bothers me when I travel.  I don't know why, but I've met very few Americans and Canadians, on my travels, that are a genuine laugh and riot to be with.  For example, take the American father and daughter combo I encountered on my recent trip.  They were just so uncomfortable to be around as they seemed so guarded and factual in everything they talked about; there was no 'letting go' and chuckling about cultural differences or just settling into the enjoyment of a our very own 'mini-United Nations' bonded not by resolutions, but Lithuanian vodka and the strange taste of the pickled goods on offer.  The Irish, the Mexicans, the Dutch, the Swiss, the Lithuanian and the Australian got it, but I somehow feel in these situations the North American, and in particular the American, just didn't enjoy the sense of travel camaraderie and sharing of stories of past and current travels in a jovial way.

Am I right or am I just talking a load of rubbish?  Is it that I have simply met people from the States who stay in hostels for the price not the social aspect of life in a dorm/common room?  It would be great to hear other travellers' thoughts on this one.

Latvia and Lithuania...Conquered!

A shot of the tower in Cathedral Square, Vilnius

I am back on British soil!  Well, I've been back a week and a bit now and from a really cool trip to Latvia and Lithuania!  Both Riga and Vilnius, although similar cities; having an historical centre along with a great expanse of green, forest land surrounding both capitals, were great fun.  I highly recommend a visit to both.  The fears I expressed in my last post were completely unfounded (as I had predicted) and I managed to meet some cool people as part of my explorations somewhere new to me!  Once again, the trepidation I felt prior to my trip was completely unnecessary.

Me and the view from the top of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, Riga

Favourite bits, you ask?  In Riga, I enjoyed the views from the Academy of Sciences (AKA Stalin's Birthday Cake).  It was so strange visiting a tourist attraction, in a capital city, where I was the only person there, but for a couple of giggling Latvian girls.  I also loved creating some impromptu art at Galeria Darbnīcā -, where I was helped by two patient ladies who put up with my wavering artistic temperament during the hour and a half I spent at their workshop.  In Vilnius, the main highlight for me was heading out for the afternoon to Trakai; a castle on an island in Lake Galvė -  Overall, a top trip!

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Riga in Latvia 

So, tomorrow I head off on a 6 day trip through Latvia and Lithuania.  I've got my Lats and Litas, my passport is out and the holdall I'm stuffing full of clothes sits on my bed open, like a basking shark ready to swallow its this case, my socks and underwear.  But something is bothering me.  I know this feeling; I've had it before...I get it on every trip I've ever taken alone to a foreign land.  It's the one where my stomach is turning knots at the thought of arriving in a country where not one single person knows me, where I fear I'll be wandering aimlessly bored out of my skull wishing I was back in sunny Leeds.  Looking back, every time I have had this feeling, the trip itself has smashed any notions of fear about the solo travel experience out of the water.  I've yet to travel on my own somewhere and not meet fantastic people.  I've always tried to be brave enough to throw myself into social situations where I can try to make friends and sample the place I am visiting to its fullest (see my post 'My First Time...').  So, I'll be looking for the free tours on offer, the chance to get to know the people in my hostel and most of all enjoy myself as I explore exciting and interesting places I have never visited before.  So, here goes...Riga and Vilnius, I embrace you and all that you have...I'm sure you'll look after me!

By the way, if anyone has any last minute Latvia and Lithuania tips they are very muchly appreciated.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Going Dutch?

Photo: KLM planes (ANP)

I found this today and think this is truly inspired idea, especially for the solo traveller!

What do the readers think?  Is this just the airline version of Internet dating?  Rather hide away in a book?  Watch a host of movies and TV shows?  Or, are you keen to meet fellow travellers, with a little something in common, as you while away a 14 hour flight?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Gets me every time...

I spotted this video at the end of August last year and must have watched it hundreds of times!  I find it really inspiring and acts as a brilliant reminder why travel is so great (plus the music on the video is pretty cool too).  The different places, the people and the experiences are what make strapping on a backpack so much fun.  The video was made by STA Travel and stars Aussie actor Andrew Lees.  Jealous doesn't even begin to cover it!  I want to be flown around the world too!  STA Travel, you know where I live... :D 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

My First Time...

Day one of my first solo trip!  What a place to start my travels!

Back in 2005, I had just secured what I thought was going to be the job of a lifetime.  This was my first graduate position, after many applications, and was to my mind a job where I could forge a long-term career.  My initial reaction was one of joy at getting the job, but then came the mild panic.  My problem?  I hadn't travelled to the places I wanted to travel to; the places where I had wanted to spend a significant amount of time exploring and sauntering through.  Seeing this as my last big chance before being tied down to a 9-5 routine along with all the financial committments that come with a new life, I looked round at my friends and thought, "Crap!  If I'm going to do this, I'm going to have to go alone!"  As all my friends had other things going on, I faced a choice: stay in the UK before starting my job or fly solo to my chosen destinations, Australia and New Zealand.  I took the latter option and haven't looked back since.

Having taken the first big step, booking my flights; I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing?!"  This was reinforced when I waved my family off at the airport to embark on my 10 week trip.  As I stepped off the plane in Sydney to be sniffed out by an Aussie Customs dog for the possible 'fruit traces' in my bag, helped a drunken women off the floor at the baggage carousel, after she had tried to lift her bag in a heavily inebriated state, before being dragged along the conveyor belt, as well as maintain my constant 'spider watch', in case I should be suddenly be pounced upon by a funnel web or a huntsman; I knew then that the trip would bring me lots of experiences.
Back in Blighty, I had consciously booked myself into a large dorm room, at the hostel in Sydney, with the hope of throwing myself into the mix as soon as possible and stave off any of the loneliness of solo travel.  It worked a treat!  Within 10 minutes of being in the room, I bravely began a converstaion with the lads across the room who were planning to go for some beers in the bar downstairs and got an invite to share a few VBs with them.  And, from then on and throughout the whole trip, I met some absolutely amazing people.  Some were fleeting encounters, where friendships were formed only for a night or two, but others were much more long lasting.  The Dutch friend I made on a sailing trip in Australia and the Irish trio of girls I met in Wellington are people I consider to be very close friends who I have visited often in Amsterdam and Cork, as well as welcomed here.  What surprised me most was the fact that I ended up fending off some of the friendships I encountered on the road off...I got bored of the constant interaction with people and craved some time alone every now and then.  The fact that this happened in my first port of call, Sydney, worried me a bit.  A weird feeling especially considering my fears at the beginning of this solo trip about being a sad, lonely Billly-no-mates with a massive backpack strapped to my back.

My thanks must go to Louise.  A friend who I met temping in an office.  Her tales of her year long trip round Asia and Australia got me excited and keen to see and do all the things she had on her travels.  Her encouragement gave me that push needed to take this memorable trip.

If you have taken a long solo trip, you'll know what I mean when I write here.  If you haven't I hope I can inspire you with my blog posts, much like Louise did during our achingly dull days as temp workers to get out there, even if it does mean by yourself.  I hope you feel brave enough to act on that urge to travel.  There will be ups and there will be downs...but, I promise you one thing, you won't regret it!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Budapest - Life in the Bubble

The brilliant Szechenyi Baths ( - a must see for any visitors to Budapest!

I thought I would kick off with a post about a fantastic place I stayed at recently, in the beautiful city of Budapest in Hungary.  When I'm looking for somewhere to stay, being a complete Yorkshire tightwad, I always tend to look at hostels first.  Having secured some bargain Ryanair flights from Manchester I then went searching for accommodation.  As a solo traveller (and one who isn't too bothered about getting off my face every night) I wanted to stay somewhere where I could a) get some sleep and b) socialise with some fun and friendly travellers.  I knew The Budapest Bubble ( was going to be a good choice after reading the comments about the two people who run this relatively small hostel...(and the prices weren't that bad either).  Both Olga and Gabor are absolutely fantastic fun and soooooooo friendly.  At every turn they proved an amazing ability to get everyone involved in hostel life; so much so, it felt like I was staying in a friend's apartment during my stay.  On top of this, they made sure that their guests saw Budapest at its best both day and night!  For the solo traveller, nay...any traveller, this place is perfect!  Get booking!

Going Solo

Contemplating the next Ozujsko and sladoled as I sit on Zlatni Rat beach on the island of Brač in Croatia.

Going solo...a scary prospect for most of us.  The thought of being the only person, the singular, the solitary is often viewed in a less than positive way.  Never more so than when that lone traveller grabs their oversized backpack or hefty suitcase and decides to explore somewhere new.  I want to change that.  I want 'alone' to be seen positively; the single traveller as the trailblazer, forging the path ahead with confidence as an exclusive adventurer who, far from being the isolated soul, is the hostel common room conqueror, the bar vanquisher, but most of all excited about going out there and exploring your own lonely planet.

"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement." (Alice Koller)