Monday, 16 December 2013

Gallop into the Sunset on an Activity Holiday! (A Guest Post by MaryS)

With this new guest post, I bring you horses, Iceland and yoga!  Guest poster MaryS is a good friend of mine and passionate about travel.  She (and her husband) have often provided me with inspiration for destinations to visit and the list of places that she has been lucky enough to travel to makes me green with envy! ;)  Jokes aside, MaryS is a traveller on a mission; taking a different approach to the traditional two weeks in the sun or the winding backpacking trail many of us tend to opt for.  MaryS likes an activity adventure...

And, before you leave, please be kind enough to share this post and leave comments at the bottom of the page!

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The typical holiday may be about lazing on a beach or looking suave in the city, but some of the best trips I have been on involve getting up at 6am everyday and doing hours of exercise!  "Ahh!" I hear you say, "but you must enjoy skiing!"  And, although this is sometimes the case, my tastes are much broader than zipping down the slopes in a lurid coloured ski suit.  Dear readers, I am a fan of activity holidays!

At home I horse ride, practice Iyengar Yoga, walk and have been known to occasionally hurl myself down hills on a mountain bike (mostly thanks to my hubby's influence)!  Working full time and juggling a busy life means when I go on holidays I want to do more of the things I love and hopefully improve my skills at these things.  In addition to this, as a plus side, by taking these kinds of trips I have seen some fabulous bits of the world from a unique perspective.

My last big trip was a horse riding safari in Botswana.  Imagine cantering for kilometres across open scrubland, occasionally startling an antelope, dodging inch long acacia thorns or slowing down to pass elephants safely.  This coupled with the adrenalin rush of the guide 'shouting' in a whisper, "keep the horses in a walk", "don't panic" and "just to your right is a huge male leopard".  Gulp!  Faced with a predator, with me a sitting duck on a juicy piece of prey and trying to keep calm so as not to trigger a flight reaction!  As you may have gathered, it is not a trip for the fainthearted and a high level of riding competence is required (covering approximately 25 miles a day in 30c+ heat and with the aforementioned predators).  Despite these hardships, the sheer joy of riding in an open space, the wonderful people and animals you meet and the connection with the land is amazing!


The group at Solomon's Wall, Botswana (source - MaryS)


I booked my trip with Limpopo Valley Horse Safaris (www.limpopohorsesafaris.com) and chose a tour where you rode from camp to camp.  One of the things I love about activity trips is that you can confidently travel alone knowing that you will have something in common with the people you meet!  I met the group of women at Johannesburg Airport and a bond was quickly formed.

We were all blown away by the scenery on the drive to the base and by the friendliness of all the Motswana people we each met.  After a gorgeous meal we all changed into riding gear and set off for a riding assessment and to meet our steeds.  I wasn't disappointed and was given a fabulous Boeperd cross to ride.  He was small, surefooted, nifty and jumped like a gazelle!

Valiant! (source - MaryS)

Everyday had a pattern, up before Sunrise to eat, saddling up at first light to catch some of the nocturnal animals who were off to bed and riding until morning break (normally we had to stop earlier so I could pee, 2 cups of tea will do that to a girl, but there was no subtle slinking off. Oh no. A guide also had to dismount, check behind your desired hiding spot...)  More riding, spotting amazing animals in the wild.  I saw all the major game apart from rhino and cheetah.  Lunch.  More riding.  Arrive at camp.  The amazing support staff have everything set up, including an afternoon tea.  Bush shower.  Nap.  Picking a drink for sundowners!  Going somewhere gorgeous for a walk or evening safari drive.  Watching the sunset.  Back to camp for dinner, drinks and turning in early after chatting around the fire.  Repeat.  Absolute bliss!

Sleeping under the stars at Kgotla (source - MaryS) 

The view from the saddle! (source - MaryS)

Highlights were the animal spotting, the riding (cantering, crossing dried up rivers and tackling cross country jumps), the food and sleeping under the stars at the Kgotla.  It was an amazing trip and I came back a stronger rider with some amazing memories!

Activity trips are also a good way to learn a new skill; with skiing being the obvious choice, but continuing on the riding theme...Iceland is the place to go if you want  flavour of the above (well sans safari animals).  Tough, amazingly friendly horses and a lunar landscape.  Because of their small stature, good nature and their extra gait called Tolt, Icey's are a fab way for new riders to explore on horseback and day trips from the capital, Reykjavik are easily accessible!  I must warn you...this trip inspired me to buy my own Icey!


MaryS is ready to explore! (source - MaryS)

Whilst in Iceland the landscape calls to you, encouraging you to explore and the range of activities on offer is mind blowing!  We also sampled some fabulous Mountain Biking (with Iceland Activities - http://icelandactivities.wordpress.com/).  Precariously gliding down single track avoiding the sheer drops and bubbling mud!  We got to swim in a thermally heated river and boil eggs for snacks in a hot spring!  The scenery was simply jaw dropping.


Street art in Reykjavik (source - MaryS)

For those that are exhausted just from reading the above, a slower tempo of activity can also be enjoyed when you travel.  A week long yoga escape to Casperia in Italy (www.sunflowerretreats.com/casperia.htm) was the perfect way to recharge!  Twice daily yoga, Italian food, a car free village and fabulous like-minded folk made this an amazing trip.  Did I mention the massage treatments on offer?!  Whilst I used the trip to master headstands, we all worked at our own levels and felt energised by the therapeutic classes.  Other guests enjoyed cooking and painting classes, while I filled my free time sketching.

The perfect place for yoga - Casperia, Italy! (source - MaryS)

So my only advice is think about what you love doing.  Then find somewhere you can do it that will blow your mind!  You won't regret it :-)

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Bicycling Through Berlin (A Guest Post by Calum)

The fourth of our guest posters, brings another slice of German life.  This time...the incredible city of Berlin.  Calum, a friend and former colleague of mine, is a well-travelled Scot, who is not only possessed with a great sense of humour, but a with a love of travel that has taken him to various destinations across Europe; along with recent adventurous trips to India and Vietnam.  With the help of his friend Silke, a local, Calum was able to take 'The Home Advantage'; utilising the knowledge of a native to show him the best that this magnificent city has to offer!  I hope you enjoy reading about Calum's trip and his thoughts on Berlin.  Remember to leave your comments below for the wee Scot!

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Berlin. Where all the tourists go. The Bundestag. Brandenburg Gate. And Alexanderplatz.
I've really loved Germany since some friends were kind enough to host a visit to Mainz Carnival, or Fassenacht, six years ago. I learned a lot about the country on that trip. I learned how to love ironic 80s rock, shoulder strap keyboards, singing 99 red balloons by Nena, and pubs where tables hung upside down from the ceiling (I'm sure I saw it more than once). Prior perceptions of Germany were influenced by old 'Monty Python' episodes and 'Fawlty Towers'. A stiff, serious bunch. But how wrong I was.


 Contrast expectations of Germany on the left, a la 'Fawlty Towers', with the real thing.

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to meet up with my friend Silke in Berlin. I expected a lot from the city. On my previous visit to Germany I'd found people were incredibly welcoming and on this occasion things were no different. I was first to experience this immediately after getting off the train from the airport at the Zoological Gardens, central Berlin, where a super-helpful taxi driver took time out to give me walking directions to my hotel. It might not sound much but in
London, or Paris, this sort of thing really doesn’t happen.

Different cities have different names for their underground systems - in London The Tube, Paris le Metro. In Glasgow it is the Subway but in Berlin we have the U-Bahn below ground and S-Bahn above. I’m normally pretty good at navigating metropolitan railway lines but I found Berlin tricky – lines look similar, numbered U1-U9 and the stations seem a maze of platforms and escalators to me. I did eventually seem to get to where I wanted – perhaps through luck more than anything else.


I’d arranged to meet up with Silke outside the Bundestag at 9am. There are a few activities that are mandatory on a first trip to Berlin: visiting the Bundestag is one, and another is to photograph the Brandenburg Gate. Luckily the Gate is just around the corner from the Bundestag.


Providing you book ahead, free tours of the Bundestag are available, allowing access to the walkway that winds up inside the glass dome with an audio guide (booking for visits to the Bundestag  http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/besgrupp/index.html). Views over the city are spectacular and a small museum provides information on the history of the building: the Reichstag fire that boosted the Nazi Party in 1933, the dome’s reconstruction and even the concert Michael Jackson gave outside in 1988 (http://concertsgalore.net/file/michael-jackson-at-platz-der-republik-berlingermany-on-jun-19-1988-concert-bootleg-download-37035.php).



The Bundestag on the left, essential Brandenburg Gate pic on the right.

Berlin to me seemed open and spacious in feel. Traffic is calm considering the size of the city and even the U-Bahn isn’t too cramped. A few people had recommended a cycling tour of the city. Rather than sign up to an organised group we decided to do it ourselves. Berlin is incredibly well suited to bikes, much more so than London in my view. We stopped at Museum

Island, passed by the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin City Hall, before crossing the city to find the Eastside Gallery, a good hour or so away. This is a 1.3km stretch of the old wall that still stands, with artists across Europe invited to paint sections. I’d recommend visiting this above all else I managed to do. There were some great little coffee spots on the way and later in the
evening we cycled through the Tiergarten Park alongside the river, passing through a small zoo on the way! This was a great way to see a quieter side of the city – a side of the city I may not have thought to visit without some local knowledge (thank you, Silke!).


The East Side Gallery running down the street. See Fernsehturm in the distance.

Another attraction we visited earlier in the day was the Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz – a large TV tower originally constructed by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and apparently modeled after Sputnik. The tower is visible throughout Berlin, with a revolving restaurant and gallery up top. I’m a sucker for tall buildings – if it’s there I have to climb it – so I couldn’t possibly pass up on this; despite the slightly expensive ticket price at €12.50. Parts of the tower seemed very dated, from the dull concrete walkways and walls outside to the slightly aged decor within, but the views of the city were truly stunning. With such a vantage point it’s still possible to see distinct differences between parts of the city - large wide roads and housing blocks to the east, and much more colourful and organic city planning to the west. Of course the differences are beginning to fade away.



On the left, cake - it really was as big as it looks. View from Fernsehturm on right.

Visiting a city is always a much richer experience in the company of someone who knows it well. I’m most grateful to Silke for showing me around. If you ever fancy a tour around Glasgow, my home town, get in touch!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

TRGTALP Takes Off on Facebook!


In an attempt to reach a wider audience, I have decided to set up a Facebook page for The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet.  The aim of the page is not only to get some more people reading and interacting with the regular readers, but to also spread the word about solo budget travel.

Click the link below - then, please LIKE the page and SHARE it with your Facebook friends, so they too can read all the goings on, inspiration and travel advice that you enjoy here at The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet!



Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Art of Travel Blogging

Tweet me this! (source - fanpop.com)

As a relative newbie to travel blogging, having only written the posts for The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet (TRGTALP) for just over a year, I am truly fascinated by the different styles of blogs that exists and what piques the interest of those who love to read about travel.  I am also confused at what some travel bloggers constitute of interest to the reading public.  The aim of TRGTALP has always, and always will be, a blog aimed at inspiring people to travel as well as offering advice to the hearty (mostly budget) traveller.

As a traveller myself, I really enjoy reading blogs and websites that provide their readers with useful hints on where to travel, how to travel and information on successfully navigating the tricky elements of soon to be explored destinations.  I am therefore, confused to find a large section of travel blogging community offering their readers posts that merely act as an extended, detailed itinerary-based report of their trip to a particular destination.  These self-indulgent 'trip report' style posts often follow a particular theme such as an experience of the writer's morning watching a local folk dance in Turkey or a mundane day-to-day run through of every aspect of their year exploring the world.  They are also usually accompanied by the writer posting several photos, on Twitter and Instagram, of their latest cocktail or a glass of vino in their said destination.  I am led to believe, from reading the comments attached to such posts and seeing the following many of these bloggers receive on Twitter and Facebook that they are very popular with readers.

Personally, I do not get it!  What benefit is this kind of travel literature to the readers other than a chance to ram it in their face by saying, 'I travel lots!  My life is fabulous!'  Do the readers perhaps enjoy travelling vicariously with the writer?  For me, it borders on insulting.  Harsh, I know.  But to assume that people want to read about YOUR holiday is just odd!  The bland minutiae found within these 'trip report' posts, I find mind-numbingly dull; bringing me to the key point of this post...I DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT YOUR HOLIDAY!  I am thrilled you had a fabulous trip to Munich, but I could not care less about all the things you visited, the copious beer steins you drunk and the amount of sausage you ate on your visit.  Aside from the literary merits of these banal posts and blogs, I do not get the point of them.  As a traveller, I believe people want help and advice to allow them to create their own experiences and I enjoy my travel largely for my own sake; not because it will make an 'interesting' blog post.  In addition to this, reading about someone else's trip acts as a spoiler to your own visit there and could possibly ruin any surprises you might have otherwise enjoyed.  The trips I take are often referred to in blog posts, here at TRGTALP, but only to root any help, advice and inspiration I want to offer my readers, not help them to create a carbon copy of my trip.

Of course, from time to time, I (or my wonderful guest posters) may write about destinations that have impressed, but I can assure you I will not be boring you with my 3 day blow-by-blow trip to Valencia or with posts that write at great length about days 1-6, 7-12 and 13-15 of my backpacking adventure around Vietnam.  What The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet will provide you with is inspiration and help to give YOU the opportunity to explore destinations YOURSELF as part of YOUR own adventure.

One thing, before I go...just remember to include @TRGTALP in your Tweeted picture of that holiday cocktail!

Happy and safe travels!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Feel Good Factor!

MikeW and The FeelGoodGuy (David) cycling the French countryside! (source - author)

One of my favourite reasons for travelling are the positive experiences I have that essentially make me feel good.  For me, there are many great things that travel offers.  Firstly, I look forward and feel good about going on my trip...the packing, the preparation and excitement that comes with the journey to the airport and flight to the destination are something I really enjoy.  I love the journey itself, particularly when the sights out of the plane, train or bus window are new and interesting.  I also love to return, so I can look back at the great times that I have had and how much better I feel for it.  I see travel as a kind of pick me up...a chance (especially after a busy term or year of school) to relax and revive myself, ready for the 'onslaught' of the new school term!  Travel just makes me FEEL GOOD!

I believe one of the best things about travel has to be how it provides you with wonderful opportunities to meet people.  And, it is these friendships that create such a brilliant feel good factor for any traveller.  I have written before about the friends I have made through travel and all the fantastic experiences I have had following these trips in these peoples' home countries.  In mid-August, I visited a good friend of mine, Kate, in Paris.  Like any good visitor to the French capital, I made sure I indulged in the usual Parisian treats such as crepes, a wander through the Jardin du Luxembourg and an obligatory photograph in front of the Eiffel Tower!  Despite all of these fantastic Francophile treats, the best part of the whole weekend (apart from catching up with a great friend) involved meeting Kate's friends.  The friends comprised mostly of Kate's work colleagues who had meticulously organised a cycling trip, in the countryside, around the beautiful French town of Troyes.  The group had an excellent dynamic meaning that the day was filled with laughter, jokes, some energetic cycling and top notch food and wine.

One of the group, David, and I got talking about a number of different things and we discovered a shared interest...in feeling good!  I spoke of my love for travel and how much it makes me feel good.  David talked about how he has begun a blogging journey where he aims to document experiences (and not just those related to travel) that make him feel good.  The blog aims to inspire readers to take up new activities and get involved in experiences that will hopefully make you feel good too.  And, in David you have a very willing and humorous companion on this journey to feeling good!  You can find his blog at...

Monday, 19 August 2013

Inspiration - That Photo...(Part 2)

Last September, I posted a number of photos from my travels as a way of inspiring my readers to grab their backpacks and travel...even if this does mean going solo!  I thought I would do this again with a new batch of, what I hope you will find are, pictures that make you want to get out there in the big wide world too!

All photos were taken on my travels in the past year.  I hope you like them!

The view from the Vogel Cable Car above Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Amsterdam street scene, Netherlands

The Tatras Mountains near Zakopane, Poland

The Jewish Quarter in Krakow, Poland

The Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden

A panoramic view of Positano, Italy

Temples at Paestum, Italy

Wooden sculpture in Tallinn, Estonia

Green space near the Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia

Yinka Shonibare sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom

The Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Sunset at Zadar, Croatia 

 Dusk at the Louvre in Paris, France

The Tuileries in Paris, France

Friday, 16 August 2013

Questions, Questions, Questions...

Travel Questions! 
(source - runawayguide.com)

As I have mentioned previously on this mighty fine blog, travel provides you with a great number of learning experiences.  But, as I have journeyed around I find that travel presents me with a whole host of questions that remain unanswered.  So, below are a series of questions* I need your help with answering.  Please feel free to help me out in answering these tricky questions with the associated question number in the comment box below.

(* - Some more serious than others, but all asked with a fair bit of tongue in cheek)

1. Why do I see so many old women with carrier bags full of plastic bottles?



Fill me with plastic bottles!

(source - mycarrierbag.co.uk)

On recent trips to Continental Europe, I have been baffled by the sheer number of (usually) elderly women, clutching a battered old Lidl carrier bag, steadily filling it with plastic drinks bottles, often from rubbish bins, peoples' hands and skips.  A friend of mine (who lives in an Eastern European country) once told me of his work colleague returning from a trip to Northern Europe proclaiming with delight that, "it's so nice to visit somewhere where people put rubbish in the bin and leave it there!"  Now, I know the comment neglects to consider issues of homelessness for example, but the point remains...what are these women doing rifling through bins for old Coke and Sprite bottles?!  Perhaps these women are an army of recycling fiends - receiving cash incentives, I assume, for their troubles?!  I would love to know!  Answers in the comment box below, please!


2. Do people on the continent of Europe just smoke and drink coffee all day?



Croatian Coffee! (source - author)


On a recent visit to Croatia, my friend and I were stunned to see not only a high proportion of smokers; coming from the UK and the Netherlands where the amount of people that smoke is relatively low, but also a thriving coffee culture where much of the activity is focused on lazy days in the shade lounging with friends (cigarette in hand), putting the world to rights.  The British cafe experience is somewhat different...buy coffee, sit down, clear table of the previous customer's detritus, have a heart attack when you realise what you have just paid for a coffee, have a quick chat with your friend and then leave.  I know unemployment rates are, unfortunately, high in Croatia, but this kind of leisurely activity is not confined to just one country.  It seems a very European thing to do and is something I have witnessed in several countries across the Continent.  Is this because the pace of life is slower, more laid back?  Does the manana attitude dominate?  Your thoughts below, please.


3. Do Italian women ever say to the men in their lives, "darling, aren't you a little old for Speedos?"



Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli rocks his Speedos!
(source - mavrixonline.com)

Travel brings with it some real cultural shockers.  And as shockers go some of the most horrific  sights are those paraded on the beaches frequented by our European cousins, the Italians.  I am not even going to touch upon the issue of sun protection amongst the Italian travelling community; having gasped open mouthed at a group of Italianos lather themselves in baby oil as their sole deterrent from the scorching Croatian sun and UV rays!  No...this question relates to the fashion choices made by Italian men.  These are usually men of a certain age, who seem to think they can carry off a tight trunk when current trends...wait, trends ad infinitum, suggest otherwise.  But, I'm confused.  Italy and Italians are famed for being supremely fashion conscious.  The country is home to many globally successful famous designer brands and the country has the most stylish looking police force in the World!

Lookin' Fly!
(source - onlyinitaly.com)

I think we must lay blame not with the men.  When guys get to a certain age, they think they are capable of anything.  This leads to the mid-life crisis purchase of a motorcycle or a convertible sports car.  These men are not capable of reason!  I think we need to turn our attention towards the wives and girlfriends of these men.  They are the ones who can offer sartorial support and fashion guidance, steering them towards the correct kind of beach attire or swim short.  So, what do you think - is it 'i ragazzi o le ragazze'?  Are you an Italian wife who is finding hard to tear those Speedos from your husband (Oo-er!)?!  Please comment in the box below!  You can view this as therapy, if you wish!


4. Why, when I travel, does my diet consist mostly of bread, cheese and ham?



Mmm!  Guess what these are filled with!
(source - author)

Being a budget traveller, I try to keep costs low, particularly when I'm eating my three square meals each day.  To save those cents or Euros, I find myself inadvertently eating copious amounts of bread, cheese and ham.  For example, one of the best value meals a traveller can concoct is the supermarket/market lunch.  This involves buying a loaf of bread, cheese (I prefer brie) and some sliced ham.  This is then all put together to form a beautiful ham and cheese sandwich that will see you through til your late 'Continental Europe' style late evening meal.  Now, they say variety is the spice of life.  Well, why the hell do I always end up ordering a pizza or pasta dish that are filled with...yup, you guessed it...cheese and ham?!  Last week in France, I even saw crisps that were cheese and ham flavoured!  Comments, thoughts and assistance below!


That will do for now!  I look forward to reading your responses!  I am sure that future travel will only yield further questions.  Also, if you have any questions that we need to put out here, please feel free to leave them below.

Ask! Don't Go Loco...Go Local!

A local 'lady' I encountered in Lisbon.  Not much help with directions, though! (source - author)

Anyone who has travelled to a foreign country will have found themselves in one of those situations where a stressful discussion takes place, during the heat of the day at a critical moment of the trip.  This is most likely to occur when debating which direction to take, the best place to eat or to clarify if the building you are standing in front of is actually the accommodation you booked or the 4th century Etruscan relic you were aiming to visit.  The results of these discussions are always the same.  A dark cloud descends over the group as levels of frustrations rocket and the conversations become increasingly tense, where people start to say things they don't really mean or make personal remarks they didn't want to come out.  No need, people!  Naturally, you are all probably excited about witnessing the spectacular exhibits at the historical attraction on your itinerary or that beautiful secluded beach at your proposed destination, but why get stressed on what is your holiday; your break away from the daily stresses of life?

My solution is a simple one, but not the one we necessarily think of as our first option.  You just need to ASK!  Men especially, take your pride in your hands and ask a local - this is not your 'hood' and even you know you are guessing at best!  Try a few words of the language or point at a map, but make sure you go to the trouble of asking for help.  It will save you a whole load of hassle, an enormous amount of time and stop you from starting an all out war with your travel companion.  Besides, you are probably closer to your destination than you think!  Asking a local means that you are utilising a lifetime of local knowledge that will help you navigate the streets to your accommodation quickly, find that historical marvel in half the time and discover the best of a place without the bother of having to pour over the travel guides for an age.  Once you have consulted your friendly local for advice on your destination, whether that be on the streets, in a bar or in your hostel, you will wonder why you did not do it sooner!

Obviously, please approach your local with caution, particularly if you are a solo female traveller in a place you are not familiar with.  For example, in trying to find the street where my accommodation was located in Lisbon, I selected  my local carefully...I plumped for a wealthy looking elderly Lisboeta who was traversing the main city square.  I figured I could at least outpace her should she turn nasty in broad daylight and begin whacking me with her large designer handbag as a result of my poor Portuguese pronunciation.  Thankfully, this did not happen and she put me on the right track to the front door of my hostel.  Jokes aside...take care!

So ask!  It is the simple route to quick solutions to the travel problems and questions you may have about a place.  Locals know a lot, are keen to show off their place at its best and are often keen to help a bewildered traveller.  Make sure you take advantage of this.  Get on the inside track, be brave and just...ASK!

Safe travels!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Parlez-vous français? ¿Habla español? Parlo italiano? (AKA Mind Your Language)

MikeW (AKA TRGTALP) atop the Printemps department store on Boulevard Haussmann (source - author)

I am writing this as I zoom towards Paris on the Eurostar.  My head is a mess as I try to recall as much schoolboy French as I can muster.  After my English native tongue (and waving my hands about as a British Sign Language user) French is probably the foreign language I feel I know best.  But after 5 years of secondary school rote sentence learning...Je parle un peu le français!  It frustrates me that my ability to learn a language in depth always appears to escape me.  I suspect that to truly speak the language you are trying to learn you must be immersed in the country.  Nevertheless, to my credit, I ALWAYS give my language skills a shot when in a foreign country.  On this trip I will certainly be using 's'il vous plait' and 'merci beaucoup' and whatever else I can get away with.  Even though I know I will either be blasted back with a response in super-fast French or even worse, a disdainful, irritated English; I think it is important that you learn and use a few basic phrases when you travel.

Trips in the past few years have taken me to places where I knew little, if any, of the local language...but, I tried!  And, I think that is the key point.  To try some of the basics (despite your host's excellent English) is an act of politeness; respect towards your fellow man and their often beloved language.  To insist on using English (or your own language) when learning a simple 'thank you' in the native tongue is so easy smacks of ignorance and a certain laziness on the part of the traveller.  One or two words - that is all it takes!  Throwing an 'efharisto' and 'parakalo' around Greece resulted in lots of praise an admiration, particularly in restaurants, and with this a free carafe of house wine and food on a number of occasions.  Though, I thought it best not to reveal my Greek heritage to them as it might be considered cheating and obtaining goods by deception; nonetheless, the principle remains - using a bit of the local language has its benefits for both the local and the traveller.

So, how do I do it?!  Am I spending the weeks before a trip listening to language courses or studying the books intensively?  My trips to Latvia and Lithuania last year sent me into a mild panic about my inability to say a single word in these two countries.  This was easily solved by a simple search on the Internet where I found the BBC helpfully provide a host of excellent basic phrase lists with audio clips to aid pronunciation as part of their languages 'Quick Fix' section of their website - http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/quickfix/.  I simply printed the words and phrases I wanted onto a small piece of paper and the week before the trip carried them with me in my pocket; practicing them in the supermarket queue or whilst on the loo!  By the time I got to Riga and Vilnius, I was saying 'paldies' and 'aciu' with gleeful abandon!  Although, I did not receive any clear signs but for the odd grin from these stoic Eastern Europeans that my use of the local lingo was welcomed , I did notice a couple of times when using English (often at volume) by some fellow travellers was not received as well by the locals, with confusion and heated repetition by coffee shop staff to ensure they were giving the traveller what they wanted to purchase.

I would recommend that you make sure you look out for language help on maps and in guide books.  The excellent In Your Pocket city guides series are free, often found in hostels and bars and provide you with the language basics as well as some hilarious phrases you can use to pull in bars and clubs!  Finally, be brave!  You are probably never going to see the waiter or shop assistant you are muddling through your basic German with again.  And if your friends and family are travelling with you; they may snigger at first, but once you have secured those train tickets or that extra special service from your appreciative 'foreign buddy' they will be laughing on the other side of their face and enjoying the benefits of your linguistic mastery!

Good luck!  And, for me...bonne chance!


***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE***UPDATE

So, I am back on the Eurostar, whizzing back to London!  And, how did I fare?  Let us just say I was wrong!  I predicted an utter disaster, but was surprised to find my first attempt at French, at the brilliant Paris Plage, was greeted with a warm, knowing smile from the lady behind the counter and resulted in me getting the coffee I wanted.  And, this trend continued for much of the trip, with my French holding up in a variety of day to day situations.  Also, hanging out with a bunch of francophones, who slipped seamlessly between English and French certainly helped build my confidence as they made it look so easy, using phrases and words that I understood surprisingly well.  Thus, helping me realise my French is not as bad as I thought, but there is still room for improvement.  A return trip to Paris, perhaps?!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shoestring Munich (A Guest Post by towelintherain)

Continuing the theme of allowing you, the readers of TRGTALP to contribute, I present to you our third guest post from seasoned traveller towelintherain.  towelintherain is someone I met in the same Krakow hostel as previous guest poster, AllanaD; so you can be assured you are in good company and reading the work of a fine pedigree.  An entertaining and engaging guy, towelintherain offers the readers of TRGTALP tips and advice on negotiating the Bavarian city of Munich on a budget.  This is a city I am yet to visit and so I would like to thank him for this post as I am definitely going to nick some of his ideas to help make the most of my stay in what is supposed to be an incredibly fun German city to visit!  Enjoy!


towelintherain's Tumblr can be found here - http://towelintherain.tumblr.com/


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Munich can be a very expensive place. Exactly how expensive depends on who you ask, but there are some things you can do to push down that cost quite significantly and perhaps even add to your experience.


Sights and Sounds

- Free Walking Tour - You can get an excellent value and fascinating insight into the history of Munich by going on the free walking tour by www.newmunichtours.com. Just rock up to the Mari statue in the middle of Marienplatz at 10:45am or 1pm and you’ll get hours of rich history and culture you might never otherwise discover. Feel free to give your tour guide a little tip at the end, depending on how much you enjoyed it.

Mari statue with the Rathaus in the background © towelintherain

- The Glockenspiel: Voted the second worst tourist attraction in Europe (behind a Czech pencil museum I believe), this is a 100 year old free show that happens at 11am, midday and 5pm in the Rathaus in Marienplatz. It doesn’t last long, but the square fills up to watch it and it’s quite entertaining.


Glockenspiel show © towelintherain

- View over the city: You can also go up to the top of the Rathaus. Two and a half Euros buys you a nice view over the city, a welcome breeze in summer and some excellent photo opportunities.


City views © towelintherain

- Endless green spaces: Munich has an almost infinite supply of parks and gardens. In particular, the Schloss Nymphenburg is a huge palace, museum and landscape garden with entry fees starting at 6 Eur 50 (more expensive entry fees are available but the basic one gets you access to all the key areas).

The Englischer Garten, the largest city park in Europe, is completely free and you could lose yourself for days in there. It has everything from miles of tranquil empty space to crystal clear babbling streams to biergartens (I personally recommend the Seehaus) to a Chinese pagoda. It even has surfing by the Koniginstrasse.

towelintherain at the Schloss Nymphenburg © towelintherain

Prost! at the Seehaus (they weren’t both for me) © towelintherain

Surfing in Englischer Garten © towelintherain

Food and Alcohol Free Liquid
Like most cities, good local food is in abundance from markets and street vendors. You can get a quick sugar hit for 30 or 40 cents or munch your way through the different kinds of wurst for a couple of Euros a go. You can even top up your water from a drinking fountain in Marienplatz. The Viktualienmarkt just south of Petersplatz caters for just about everything if you really can’t decide.

Viktualienmarkt © towelintherain

Boozing

Yes, the Munich beer is *that* good. But you don’t have to spend all your time drinking in the expensive bars and bierkellers. The people of Munich drink everywhere except for the public transport.

A good place is on the River Iser, just by Fraunhoferstrasse station on the U2 line. It’s been turned into a sort of beach and stacks of locals go to hang out there on a nice evening. You put your bottles in the river to keep them cool, maybe get a barbecue going and definitely set about having some good times. It’s the same tasty beer but it costs you about a Euro a bottle from the local shop.


Chilling by the Iser © towelintherain

Beers (chilling) in the Iser © towelintherain

Even better, included in the price of each bottle is a 25 cent deposit to encourage recycling. So if you make the effort to recycle your bottles then 25% of your beer is essentially free. There are recycling points dotted all over the city and in many of the supermarkets.


Public Transport

As you’d expect from a major city, tickets are valid on all U bahn, S bahn, bus and tram services. There are a bewildering number of options available, from single fares, 3 day passes, 7 day passes, specific inner or outer zones, tickets for individuals, couples, families etc. With a bit of digging you should find the cost to be not too unreasonable. A 3 day individual ticket for the main districts will cost you 21 Euros, for example.

The public transport is cheaper than hiring a bike, but hiring a bike would be more fun. Munich is known as the 'City of Bikes'.


Accommodation

Luckily a friend of mine lives in Munich, so I stayed with him, but if you need to pay for accommodation then consider The Tent hostel (http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/The-Tent-Munich/Munich/3787) located near the Schloss Nymphenburg and about a 20 minute tram ride to the city centre. This is just about the cheapest accommodation in Munich and was personally recommended to me by several people while I was there.

Don’t Get Fined!

There are a couple of random rules to be aware of.
- Don’t cross at crossings unless the green man is showing, otherwise you might get slapped with a 40 Euro fine. This law is actually enforced :-/
- Remember to validate your ticket. After you buy your travel ticket you have to put it in a machine located on the platform to get it validated. As a Brit, this is very much an alien concept to me but remember to do it or you may also get fined.

Munich very quickly became one of my favourite places. That may have happened/ happen to you too!

Suffer!

Steve's travel tantrums were getting too much for his friends to take! (source - author)

No matter the level of luxury you travel at, you need to accept one thing in order to have a pleasurable stay in your destination or on your travels.  You are going to have to suffer!  Yes...I said suffer!  Indeed, I am suggesting a little bit of pain on what you might expect to be a blissful break away from the daily humdrum existence at home.  So, what do I mean?  Am I asking you to bear the pain of accidentally treading on a sea urchin or endure a bout of food poisoning from that ropey-looking buffet on offer at the hotel?  No.  When I mean you are going to have to suffer, I refer to the need of the traveller to suspend the standards/norms they might expect at home, particularly when they travel abroad.  One of the quickest and surest ways to spoil your trip is to expect your destination to be just like home; unless of course you are a Brit heading to the Spanish Costas where you will, indeed, find all the comforts you get at home, including the foods, drinks and even language (possibly in an accent and dialect you are familiar with too)!

When you travel it is important to remember that you are in a country with differing cultural norms.  Queueing, for example, might not be as socially precious as it is in your home country.  The standards of service or manner with which you are served in a restaurant may differ from what you are used to at home.  The beer might taste different to your favourite brand back home and the bread a little saltier than you like, but remember...you are only likely to be in your destination for a short period of time - so my advice?  Suck it up!  Enjoy the difference!  Savour the fact that you are sampling something out of your comfort zone.  Your bed was not as comfortable as at home - so what?!  Be thankful you even have a bed!  Your room a little outdated in its design or stuffed to the brim with an inordinate amount of religious paraphernalia?  Deal with it!  Besides, on almost all the trips I have taken, the room has simply provided me with somewhere to rest my head.  It is the destination I am there for - not the hostel or hotel room.  Sure, if what you encounter in your hostel or the restaurant is downright unacceptable, I am not advising you keep quiet and endure, but if you find yourself constantly comparing your travel experiences to what you get back home or what you expect your destination to be like - you are going to have a miserable time and not enjoy the destination for all the special things (good and bad) that make it so unique or worth travelling to.  So, whether you are feeling addled in Amsterdam, bothered in Bulgaria or are going crazy in Colombia - suffer!  It will be good for you and almost certainly make your trip that bit more enjoyable.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Eating Alone - TRGTALP's Guide to Chowing Down Solo

Pad Thai in Chiang Mai (source - author)

When I tell people that I often travel solo, the first reaction I often get is, "Oh!  Not for me!  I couldn't eat out alone!"  The tone with which this statement is said would suggest that dining alone is too horrific to even contemplate or can be a major stumbling block to enjoying your travels.  I can assure you there is nothing to worry about and the thought of eating solo should certainly not stop you from getting out there and exploring.  I guess most people fear that their fellow diners may be mocking or pitying them and their lonely existence.  I imagine eating in a restaurant surrounded by loved-up couples might make the solo diner feel somewhat uncomfortable or out of place.  Much of this is due, I believe, to projection and what we think people are thinking about us.  In the majority of cases, your fellow diners; but for a passing glance or comment about someone eating alone, do not give two hoots about you.  They are probably too consumed with the menu, the prospect of their own delicious meal arriving in front of them and their fellow diner's spinach-filled teeth to care about you.

Of course, it is great to eat with company, but eating alone allows you to take in more of your surroundings and gives you the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts.  I prefer not to, but I know people who get round this by reading a book.  I sometimes write in my travel notebook/Moleskine (something I referred to in my previous 'Your First Time') all the things I have been doing or plan to do on my trip or plan to do when I get home.  Remember, your meals are a small part of your day and need not consume you with angst.  So, here are my top tips to make dining alone that little bit easier:

1. Choose your eatery carefully...
- Though you should not give a stuff, you probably don't want to be eating surrounded by several doe-eyed couples sharing their spaghetti (a la Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp').  A friendly local venue is likely to be filled with a mixture of couples, families and, probably, the odd singleton just like you!
2. Eat at lunch...
- Eating your larger meal at a quieter time of the service will take the pressure off feeling that you need to be dining with another person for the day's main meal in the evening.  You can then free yourself up to take in some street food or local fast food options in the evening as you wander round and explore your destination.  The Khao San Road in Bangkok is a great example of where you can munch on satay, spring rolls, pad Thai and finish with some pineapple all for a few pounds as well as soak up an atmosphere you certainly would not find in the confines of a restaurant in the city.
3. Play on the WiFi...
- Only last night, in Split, the waiter took pity on me and came up to me with a till receipt with the restaurant WiFi password written on it.  His kindness was unwarranted, but not unwelcome and I was happy to spend 10 minutes or so, until the food came, sending a message here and there and catching up on the news back home. 
4. Buddy up...
- On a number of occasions I have dined with fellow travellers I have met in hostels, bars on tours that same day.  It is a great way to meet someone and can offer you the chance to get to know people really well as you 'break bread'.

Overall, though...I would suggest that you be bold in these situations.  You have every right to sit at a restaurant by yourself.  You are a paying customer.  Who cares what anyone else thinks!  Go ahead and chow down!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

How Can You Afford it?! (AKA - The Art of Funding Your Travel...)



MikeW splashing out on his bargain trip to Budapest at the Szechenyi Baths (source - author)

I have been getting myself a bit of a reputation, these past few years, among my friends, family and work colleagues.  The gadabout, the one flush with cash and the line everyone says (or variants of)..."you're always going on holiday!"  Granted, I do take a fair few trips here and there, particularly in the last three years.  Last year alone, I visited 7 countries and this year I have taken trips to 4 countries and with 2 more on the horizon before the year is out.  So, how do I do it?  Am I, perhaps, rolling in money...unfortunately not.  Do I have family to fund my trips?  Apart from a contribution to the 'Ice Cream Fund' or giving me money for my birthday and Christmas presents to put towards the costs of my trips, my family do not bankroll these adventures.  Are you selling your body, MikeW?!  Alas, what I would get for that would not get me the bus fare into Leeds!

What follows are a series of tips to help you save and build up some funds for your trips; whether that means blowing it all on one big trip to a long haul destination or doing what I have been doing these past couple of years, taking a series of short haul trips throughout Europe.  We live in tough economic climes and, as a budget traveller, I like to ensure I get the best value and make my money go further so I can get more from my trips and get to go on more trips too.

1. Cut Back!
One of the biggest ways I save money is by not going out every weekend partying, drinking, dining out or on expensive leisure activities such as attending football matches, owning and buying games for a Playstation of XBox.  For some people, this is a deal-breaker and I understand that.  However, I think a balance can be found.  Please do not misunderstand me, I like to think I have a fairly good social life, but to think I could save £50 from a night out on the tiles over the period of a month, would leave me with a hefty £200 to put towards flights, accommodation and spending money on my travels.  Can you economise elsewhere in your life?  For example, by finding a cheaper contract for your mobile or satellite television package.  Giving up a 20 a day cigarette habit would leave you with approximately £200 to spend per month.  Assuming you work 20 or so days a month and buy a £2 coffee every day, why not walk past Starbucks and save yourself £40 per month/£480 per year that you could put towards a trip abroad.

I find Martin Lewis's fantastic Money Saving Expert website a brilliant source of information, but particularly like his 'Demotivator' tool to help you reduce your spending!

2. eBay
Prior to my big backpacking trip to Australia and New Zealand, in 2005, I got into (by chance) buying and selling books on eBay, the Internet auction site.  I never made big bucks, but made enough in about 4 months to pay for my flights to Australia and New Zealand on Singapore Airlines.  So, hunt round your house, and get selling what you do not need or want anymore.  Remember the motto - 'Someone's trash is another's treasure'!  I recommend eBay and Gumtree as great places to offload your things.  Who needs stuff anyway?!  I firmly believe a fulfilled and fulfilling life is one filled with family and friends, not belongings.

3. Budget Airlines
You may not like the idea, especially if you like a bit of luxury when you travel, but one of the best ways to save money is to fly with one of the many budget airlines.  Ryanair, easyJet and the many others that dominate the European flight routes offer cheap and cheerful flights to a comprehensive range of destinations.  And when flying with these airlines, my recommendation is also that you travel light or you will face a number of charges for your luggage that the person taking a city break can easily avoid through some careful and clever packing.  My previous post on baggage (No Baggage!  Dare You Travel This Light?!) simply highlights how easy it is to travel with very few things.  By flying with a budget airline and timing your flight purchase right, some real bargains are to be had.  For example, my return flight to Krakow from Leeds Bradford Airport with Ryanair, last October, during the school holidays was a rather reasonable £29!  Budapest during the 2012 Easter holidays, a 'stonking' £52 return from Manchester.

4. Staying with friends
On 3 of my trips last year I stayed with friends.  Coincidentally, friends I had met on my travels previously in Australia and New Zealand.  I have extolled the virtues of staying with friends before from the viewpoint of having a local guide on hand to show you the best sights, bars and local dimension to your destination; but, these people can also (kindly) offer you somewhere free to stay.  I always make a point of taking a gift or buying dinner one night to thank the hosts, as I am extremely grateful (and humbled) that they let me stay in their homes and treat me as one of their own.  I too have done the same for the very same friends on their visits to me, here in Leeds!  If you do not have this option, I recommend staying in hostels or sharing the cost of accommodation with friends by renting an apartment.

5. Keep Costs Low
Staying in budget accommodation will dramatically reduce your trip costs, so take advantage of the places offered on HostelBookers and HostelWorld.  If you have a student card or an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) it can be used to get free or reduced entry into many of the best museums and art galleries in the world, as well as many other sights and attractions in the places you visit.  Try not to use taxis or public transport wherever possible; walking will not only keep you fit, you will see more of your destination and it is completely and utterly free.  Please, however, do not compromise safety to save a Euro or two by walking through an area that may present itself as dangerous or unsafe.  When eating out, make your lunches using bread and fillings from the local markets and supermarkets.  These are almost always cheaper than buying lunch.  Also, ask for recommendations for places to eat.  One big advantage of staying in a hostel, especially one where the staff are friendly and helpful is that they will sit with you for 5 minutes and, using a map of the destination, highlight all the places to eat and drink that offer the best value.

You too could marvel at the historic sights of Tallinn in Estonia (source - author)

6. Travel Savvy and Combine Trips
Taking a two centre trip can often save the plucky traveller a fair bit of cash.  Rather than take two separate trips to places combine your trips together into one big trip.  For example, last year I visited both Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania, flying into the former and out of the latter and connecting myself between them via a rather luxurious and cheap coach journey.  Or, you might find, a day trip is viable to another destination that interests you.  This May, I visited Tallinn in Estonia, but managed to squeeze in a day trip to Helsinki in Finland.  Having been shocked by the prices of everything in Finland's Nordic neighbour, Sweden in the previous month, I made sure I took all the food I needed with me for the day and only spent money on my boat journey across and a couple of coffees throughout the day.  Taking the trip separately would have involved an expensive hostel in the city and rely on me purchasing my foods and drinks there.

So, there you go!  Not a comprehensive list, but one that I hope will save you money and allow your cash to go much further.  It has worked for me and provides me with the opportunity to travel more and maximise my adventures.  Please let me know how you save for trips and add your tips to the comments section below!

Happy budget busting travel!