Saturday, 25 May 2013

Happy Birthday TRGTALP!

Mmm, cake! (Source -

I can barely believe it, my little treasure has turned one year old!  After 37 posts, 28 comments, 1 follower and almost 6000 pageviews; The Rough Guide to a Lonely Planet has come of age!  What I genuinely cannot believe is the amount of people who find my writing worthy of their precious time and that some of the readers of TRGTALP actually enjoy it...and even come back for more!

Highlights, so far, have been the awesome comments people have taken the time to write about their travel experiences and the inspiration that they have taken from my blog.  As well as, the Saturday evening my blog post about Stockholm retweeted by the Swedish Tourist Board, that resulted in TRGTALP pageviews going through the roof!  To those commenters, retweeters and readers, I am especially thankful!

So, this is my opportunity to raise a glass of bubbly to what is one of the most enjoyable things I do these days...inspiring you to travel.  This blog has never really been about me (though, it can often sound like that some times).  The main aim has always and always will be to use my experiences to get you out into the wider world.  Get out there, travel, see and experience this wonderful world around you...even if that means breaking out alone.

Here's to the next year!  Happy travels, people!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

GOOP vs TRGTALP - MikeW Takes on Gwyneth!

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In September 2008 the world we live in changed forever.  No more would we worry or panic about our humdrum lives as a saviour, taking the form of an A-List Hollywood actress, was there to help solve and improve our once miserable existences.  Yes...I am talking about Gywneth Paltrow and her much derided weekly lifestyle newsletter GOOP (  It isn't my intention to tear into Gwynnie's online baby; most of the Western press has already done that.  But, having being reminded of this website recently by my friends, I thought I would make a little comparison between the travel tips, Mrs Paltrow-Martin offers her readers and the ones that I offer mine.  I'll warn you now; so you are not shocked...they differ enormously.

One thing the reader of GOOP must understand (and something Gwyneth clear does not) is that we live in a completely orbit to this woman.  Gwyneth is a multi-millionairess Hollywood actress that is married to a multi-millionaire rock musician, and is accustomed to a certain way of living.  And, those women that do follow the tips of the online lifestyle guru?  Well, I'm not sure I'd like to share a lo-cal, soy infused chai latte with them and their likely demands for catalogue book perfection in all aspects of their life.

One key element of Gwyneth's site is its focus on travel and this is where our paths cross.  So, it's GOOP vs TRGTALP...Game. On!

Round 1 - Flights

In a recent entry, Gwyneth posted the following picture of herself with the caption, "Here is a bedraggled working mother about to take an 11-hour flight..."

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Oh, please!  Gwyneth has clearly no idea how lucky she is to be sitting in, what is probably, a first class seat ready to be pampered within an inch of her life for 11 hours.  She also talks about preferences for particular planes and airlines.  If I was her, I would be thankful she is not in economy class and that Ryanair do not fly the London Heathrow to LAX route.  TRGTALP's approach to flights is much simpler (mostly thanks to budget restrictions) = find the cheapest possible flight, wrap your knees round your ears and sit there until you are herded off the plane by your shouty stewardesses.

Round One goes to...GOOP - for sheer luxury!

Round Two - Packing

While Gwyneth prefers to use luggage that are worth more than my all my trips for the year. She does, however, profess to have (like TRGTALP) mastered the art of packing light; fitting much of her expensive designer wardrobe into a carry on bag, albeit a £2100 Lanvin case.  I also admire Gwyneth's advice on packing capsule wardrobes that are interchangeable for your trip; thus, saving on taking excessive amounts of clothes that don't match each other.  However, I certainly don't, for one minute, believe that Gwyneth washes her knickers in the hotel sink as is suggested on GOOP.  The TRGTALP approach?  Get a £25 holdall.  Fill it with underwear for each day you are staying, plus a spare pair.  Add your favourite t-shirts and shirts.  A couple of pairs of jeans.  Some Nivea miniatures bought at discount retail chain Home Bargains.  And you are packed!

Round Two goes to...TRGTALP - for good value practicality.

Round Three - The Journey and on the Plane

I can't do this section justice without simply quoting directly from the Goop website.  Here's Gwyneth's sage advice on journey comfort - "I always find it best to eat really light when flying. If leaving from London, I’ll usually stop at Itsu in Terminal 5 for some miso soup, as I've heard miso is said to counteract radiation. When I’m on the plane, I try to stick to the salads or lighter fare they serve while staying away from the heavier sauces, proteins and carbs. I also make sure to pack a piece of fresh fruit, which can be hard to come by on a long flight."  A full English breakfast and a pint at The Wetherspoons this is not!

Miso soup!  Miso soup to counteract radiation!  Flabbergasted to think that anyone even considers that.  As a side note, I wonder if Gwyneth gets the irony in the fact that it was in a central London branch of Itsu that the former Russian secret service officer, Alexander Litvinenko, was allegedly poisoned with radioactive material.

And, how does TRGTALP prepare for a flight, you ask?!  After wistfully hoping that some watchdog has taken hold of the airports by the scruff of their necks and told them to charge sensible prices for their food offerings, I usually end up at Boots to see if there are any discounted sandwiches.  Failing that, it is a big bottle of water, some almonds and walnuts (bought in a supermarket before my trip) and some fruit that keeps me sated in the air.

Round Three goes to...TRGTALP - for the love of all that is way on Earth is Gwyneth having that round with a mention of dishwater flavour miso soup!

Final Round - Round Four - In Flight Entertainment

Now, Gwyneth, often has access to a host of movies, her own iPad and every Coldplay album downloaded to it.  She recommends a number of interesting-sounding books and revels in the fact that she is not able to access the Internet to be bombarded by people slagging off the Goop website or her agent offering her a part in 'Iron Man 4'.  TRGTALP, on the other hand, takes a similar approach by listening to my ancient, neolithic era iPod Nano and a full immersion into my latest read.  Being a teacher, it is not rare, these days, for me to take some papers with me to mark on the plane.  After having read the in-flight magazine, checked out the stuff on the menu I don't want to pay that much for, I see it as a great way to maximise what is essentially 'dead' time.

Round Four goes to...GOOP - for having more choice!

There you are!  It's a tie!  Jokes aside.  Gwyneth and I are obviously different kinds of travellers with very different budgets, but what ties us together is a common desire to help you on your travels and ensure you get the most out of your journeys; whether you be heading to Los Angeles for that script read-through at Warner Bros or on that bargain Bratislava break with your friends.

Happy and safe travels!

The Freak Parade - Oddballs on the Road...

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Let me tell you one truism about backpacking.  You can guarantee you are certain to meet some utter freaks on your journeys.  They are the hallmark of the budget travel experience and are bound to stick in your memory for longer than you'd hoped.  My advice?  Embrace these weirdos!  Enjoy their bizarre, off-the-wall company and savour their outlandish behaviour.  Not only will these people be fantastic for your self-esteem, they will provide you with a whole host of stories to carry with you on your journey to other like-minded people you meet and will serve as an entertaining aspect of your travels your family and friends will lap up on your return.

I could tell you about the old lady, travelling with her daughter in Bled, Slovenia; who thought it appropriate to wear the shortest nightwear going in a shared dorm room, as well as leave her false teeth in a small plastic tub on the shelf I shared with her.  Or the Belgian girl in Port Macquarie, with a rather skewed view of British eating habits, who asked my friend, if only English people ate English muffins.

Mushy was perhaps the weirdest, though.  Let me take you back to Airlie Beach, Australia - September, 2005.  A moment I remember vividly.  I was in Airlie Beach; a place that marks the jumping point for the Whitsunday Islands three day sailing trips.  On entering my hostel room, I was met by my fellow roomie, a young-ish, drink and drug addled guy who told me his name was 'Mushy'; so called thanks to his love of the hallucinogenic fungi!  I could hear the alarm bells ringing softly in my head, but thought nothing of it as he asked me about my travels so far and where I was heading to after Airlie Beach.  Mushy then went on to tell me about his life and how he had worked at a local hotel resort and was on his downtime and aiming to enjoy himself in Airlie Beach.  As I sorted out my stuff, Mushy piped up that he was a talented singer and had made the later rounds of the hit Australian show, 'Australian Idol'.  The alarm bells were ringing loudly now.  As I had already established the guy could barely speak let alone sing, I humoured him and said, "Really!  What did you sing?"  He told me he had wowed them with a performance of the Oasis hit 'Wonderwall'.  I had to see this.  I sat back on the bottom bunk and readied myself for this stellar performance.  Mushy kicked off his song, wailing the verses like a cat being strangled by an excitable pig and then come the chorus where he broke into some high energy dance moves that involved him spinning round a lot and touching the floor.  All the while, my fingernails are digging deep into the palm of my hand to stop myself from laughing.  He suddenly stopped, looked to me and gave me the 'what do you think' face, to which I replied, "You were robbed, Mushy!"  He kindly offered me some 'shrooms.  I politely declined, made an excuse and got the hell out of there.  I returned after an hour or so to find Mushy had, thankfully, taken his talents elsewhere and that an Aussie and Dutch man had turned up in the room.  We chatted for a bit and I then went out to meet some people I had met earlier on my trip up the Australian east coast.  The next morning I woke up with a start to hear the Aussie guy, from the bunk above the now departed Mushy, yelp, "Aw, shit!"  I got up to find him looking at his feet and back at the floor.  "F***ing *****!"  While everyone was out enjoying the nightlife in Airlie Beach, Mushy had clearly decided to have a night in to clip his toenails.  And, rather than clear them up like any normal person, he thought it best to leave the clippings on the floor where they fell...for everyone else to tread on!  Freak!

Maybe it was the place, but on returning to that very same hostel three days later, I was accosted by a young South Korean guy who leapt out of his bunk to photograph me.  So, so strange!  But, that's travel for you.  I urge you to expect the unexpected and, most of all, enjoy it!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Embrace Your Fellow Traveller...

 Noodles with my Travel Friends for the Day!

As you might expect, being on the road as a solo traveller can be a lonely affair.  It doesn't have to be and it is up to you to decide what you want from your trips.  Personally, I enjoy meeting people on my travels.  As I have mentioned before, I have been lucky enough to make (what I consider) some lifelong friends from my backpacking trips.  It is a great aspect of travel that enables you to get an insight into the life of someone else from another country but to also allow you to put your own life in context and, ultimately, better understand yourself and the role your country has to play in our global village.

Schmaltzy stuff aside and looking at this in a more practical way.  Making friends on the road means that you've got someone to watch your bag while you use the toilet.  You have someone to share the costs of accommodation, transport and food with.  You have some one to beat at cards, drink local moonshine and share stories with; as well as someone to revel in the peculiarities and extraordinary moments you are bound to encounter as you both travel from place to place.  Don't get me wrong, with a positive open minded approach you'll have an amazing time on your travels if you do it solo.  But, with a friend you've got someone with which to share those special moments as well as those, lets say, hairy times we all tend to encounter on our journeys.

I've made friends in the hostel, on the free tour and from a cafe that for a number of reasons have simply been companions for the day.  The random encounter I had on a boat in Bangkok with a lovely Japanese girl, led to her and an amusing French guy (whom I have no recollection of ever being introduced to) both joining me on my explorations of the many bead and plastic carrier bag shops of the China Town area of the city.  Bizarre, but great fun; especially when we broke bread (well noodles) together at one of Bangkok's famous street stalls!  Just one look at the 20p toothpaste squeezer I bought that day instantly brings back floods of memories and laughter from four years ago.

So, my message to you, is embrace the people you meet on your journeys.  Some may become firm friends, others friends for a day, but, all will provide you with a host of memories and experiences that will almost certainly make your travels much more enjoyable.