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Author, Blogger, Photographer. All-round nice guy.



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5 Things Every Traveller Should Know




1. You’ll only regret the things you don’t do

Say yes to absolutely everything. Life is for living and you don’t want to come home from your travels saying to yourself, “I wish I did that…” Enjoy it in the moment; who knows when you’re going to travel again.

2. Learn the Indian head wiggle

As Westerners, we don’t really understand the true meaning of the head wiggle – it means yes, no, maybe, I don’t know, I don’t understand, why you are talking to me and a million and one other things as well. However, if you use it as much as Indian’s they will love you for it. Just pop it in a conversation every now and again – you may feel stupid at first but trust me, you’ll reap the rewards.

3. Try the west coast of Koh Phangan

Every single backpacker wants to go to the Full Moon Party in Thailand. That’s a fact. However, instead of flocking to the hedonistic Haad Rin (the location of the Full Moon Party), head in the opposite direction and check out the west coast of the island. It’s cheaper, quieter, and more beautiful. In fact, it’s better in every respect.

4. Dive with the locals

If you’re into your scuba diving always dive with a local Divemaster. Invariably they’ve been brought up in the area and they know the seas like the back of their hand. If you want the best possible experience underwater, you’ll want keep it local.

5. Don’t just go to Bali

Indonesia isn’t made up of just Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. There are over 17,000 islands to choose from so branch out a little and see something different. Indonesia is such a beautiful country and I tip a few of the lesser islands to be the next up-and-coming backpacker destinations.

This article was published on Wanderlust.

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Love Eating with
the Locals




One of the things that I love about backpacking and travelling is the food. There are so many tastes and smells that I associate with countries around the world, and many of my memories from my gap year involve food and drink somehow. There’s nothing quite like having dim sum for breakfast in China, a creamy and sweet curry for lunch in India, or a fresh and sour Som Tam salad for dinner in Thailand. If you’ve been to any of these countries you’ll know exactly what I’m on about; you’ll also know that they’re infinitely better than having a take-away at home.

Not only that, but I think you can learn just as much about a country through the food you eat as to the sights and attractions that you see, and all of a sudden an unremarkable village can be transformed in to a ‘must see place’ by a signature dish or restaurant.

Vietnam is famous for its food – after all, it has well over a thousand different dishes to choose from. That’s why when I found out that I was going to Vietnam with the Intrepid Travel crew I knew that I had to eat as many different dishes as I possibly could.

What I love about Vietnamese food is it’s so simple and so fresh – take a look at the main national dish pho as an example. It’s a soup that all the locals have for breakfast (though you can see them eating it at all the hours of the day), and it’s made up of broth and noodles. Add fresh chillies, lime, Asian basil, coriander, bean sprouts and a bit of cabbage and you’ve just about made pho. In my eyes there’s no better way to start the day in Vietnam – the soup really wakes you up; the lime cuts through your senses and the chillies sweat out any remnants of a hangover. It also represents local living – simple with no hassles.

One thing that I noticed about the Intrepid tour was that we always ate somewhere unusual – more often than not we ate at small restaurants that only the locals would go to, or at homestays, really hammering home Intrepid’s selling point of “real life experiences.” If you really want to eat like a local, my advice is eat with the locals.

This article was published on Intrepid Travel’s blog.

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The Dangers of Tubing




Vang Vieng, the quiet mountain town of Laos, is one of the most picturesque places in all of South East Asia and is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations along the infamous ‘banana pancake trail’, the name given to the well-trodden route through this part of the world.

With beautiful blue-green limestone mountains creating the backdrop, and the Nam Song River running parallel to the town, you could be mistaken for finding yourself in travelling heaven. However, the town is full of sinners rather than saints and Vang Vieng has become a hell for locals. There’s only one reason for this – tubing.

Tubing was very different seven years ago to what it is today. You used to sit in an inner-tube, float down the river and take in the stunning surroundings. If the feeling took you, you would stop off for a beer at one of a few bars along the river bank. It was new. A novelty. It was a stop-off point on the way north to Luang Prabang. Something for you to do for a day. It was more about meeting the locals, experiencing a place so tranquil that it was easy to get caught up for a few days. Now it rivals the ‘Full Moon Party’ in Thailand, with hundreds of people tubing every day, but the risks are even higher.

I’m here to discover what is the heart and soul of Vang Vieng, and whether the dangers involved are worth the risk.

Tubing, Vang Vieng

As tubing becomes more and more popular each year so do the dangers involved. People suffer from an endless list of calamities, each becoming worse; alcohol poisoning, drug induced episodes, violence, theft and rape. Young adults die so often in Vang Vieng that it is no longer a shock to anyone, let alone the locals. When I was there three people died in three consecutive weeks.

Today’s tubers are young backpackers looking to get loaded on anything at hand. The event starts early with ‘Bar One’, the aptly named first bar that people flock to. It’s full of revelers drinking whiskey buckets and dancing on tables. Bar promoters, always Western, tie a coloured-band around your wrist to encourage you to go to their bar in the evening. They then throw a couple of whiskey shots down your throat to raise the spirit levels. Tiger whiskey and Lao Lao (the local alternative) is cheaper than bottled water in Laos and it is treated as such.

People either walk or tube along the river to the next few bars. Scantily-clad girls sit in tubes, barely able to stand, floating down the river, waiting till a local throws a safety line to pull them into the bar. A whiskey bucket, usually around 400mls Tiger whiskey, Redbull, coke and ice, costs 20,000 kip, or £1.70. It isn’t expensive. A beer will set you back £0.75. There is one aim on the agenda and that is to consume large quantities of alcohol and to have as much fun as possible.

Each bar has a unique attraction in an attempt to keep punters at the bar. ‘Bar One’ has a 15 meter-high rope swing. ‘Bar Two’ has a zip-line. ‘Bar Three’ has a diving board. Reality is suspended and hedonism reigns. Anything seems possible and a false confidence generated by liquid courage of “it won’t happen to me” courses through the town. Of course, it does happen. People do die. Fuelled on alcohol teenagers throw themselves off these dangerous attractions without batting an eye-lid.

I watched one American, aged 21, being minutes, if not seconds, from drowning. He used the rope swing at ‘Bar One’, crashed into the water at the wrong angle and was immediately taken away by the current of the river. The locals couldn’t pick him and and he bobbed down the river, going under water on countless occasions. It was immediately evident that he couldn’t swim. Every time a local tried to throw him a safety line he missed it, and even if he did catch it, there was slim chance of them being able to pull out the dead-weight of a man twice their weight. All of his friends continued to party whilst this was going on, oblivious to their friends plight. If it wasn’t to a kayaker who rescued the American then he would have died and no one would have known.

One local, Nit, commented: “These people are stupid. They drink and they drink and they drink. Then they go swimming. It is stupid.”

The mountains at the Nam Song River

Tubing finishes at 6pm. Party-goers head back Vang Vieng and stagger back to their hostels. I wish I could say that is the end of the night but it isn’t. People come back out again at 9pm to get back on it, heading to ‘Sakura’, ‘Q-Bar’ or ‘Bucket Bar’. Often people take a break from booze and opt for a mushroom shake instead, as if this is the wise option. The festivities continue until 3am, or until people drop. The stamina that these kids have is stunning.

Vang Vieng is a bubble. It borders on fantasy. People are happy to forget their worries, to kick back and have a good time. However, the dangers are high and it won’t be long until something is done about it.

The locals are partly to blame for encouraging this level of hedonism but there is a profit to be made. New guest-houses are being thrown up in rapid time and bars along the river are becoming more stable, being upgraded from the shack they once were. They turn a blind-eye to what occurs to Westerners and are only interested in making money, and who can blame them? There is an air of permanence around tubing, as if it is here to stay, but is this a good thing?

Tubing itself is great fun, one of the best activities along the trail, but it overshadows Laos. Laos, in my opinion, is the most interesting of all the South East Asian countries, boasting hundreds of sites, yet people still only come here for one thing, and that is tubing. There is more to Laos than tubing. There is more to Thailand than the ‘Full Moon Party’. If people want excitement, then get out of Vang Vieng and actually experience Laos. You’ll be surprised by what you find…

This story was published in ‘Travelling Means Freedom’ on Amazon, the first travel book written by a community.

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5 Ways Travelling Can Boost Your Career




If you’re going travelling after university – or as a career break – an extended period of time of unemployment can leave a gaping hole in your CV. And, with the current shortage of jobs, many people have had to re-evaluate their career options. But don’t worry: as long as you plan your trip carefully and think about what you can do while on the road, travelling can actually boost your CV and career.

1. Recharge your batteries

If you’ve just spent three or four years at university, or working without a break, then you’ll need to recharge your batteries. If you take time out to travel you’ll have the opportunity to think about what’s important in your life and refocus on your career. More often than not, you’ll come home feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, looking forward to the next challenge.

2. Learn a new skill

If you’re going on a round-the-world trip then you could be travelling from anywhere between a month to a year. This is an extremely long period of time in anyone’s books, so why don’t you learn a new skill while you’re on the road?

Think about what employers are looking for in your industry and cater to that. All businesses and companies need candidates with a broad skill set, so look at learning another language or getting further qualifications, with the Open University for instance, to boost your CV.

3. Make contacts

When you’re backpacking and travelling, try to make contacts with people who might be useful for your career. With the rise of social media, making contacts is as simple as saying “just tweet me” or “I’ll add you on Facebook”. The contacts you make while travelling could be your avenue into a new career – it’s important to network wherever you are in the world.

4. Volunteer

Volunteering is one of the most popular activities for gap years and round-the-world trips. Not only will you make a difference to the community and society, but it’ll look great on your CV. With volunteering you’ll learn what it means to live and work in another country, and employers are actively encouraging it. In a YouGov survey, 63% of HR professionals said that those who have taken a constructive gap year of volunteering or working abroad had an application that stood out from the rest.

5. Get work experience

One of the hardest things to overcome when applying for a job is work experience. And it’s a catch 22 situation – employers want candidates with work experience, but how can you get work experience if employers don’t give it to you?

If you’re finding it hard to get experience in the UK, then why not try elsewhere? You could apply for positions in Australia, Canada and New Zealand on a working holiday visa, or send off your CV to companies in Europe. If you can get a position in a foreign country for a month or two then you’ll quickly become a stand out candidate.

At the end of the day, travelling will turn you into a more confident and more rounded individual. As long as you think about how travelling can boost your career before you go, you’ll be able to customise a trip that’ll give you new skills, relevant work experience, and most importantly, a trip that you’ll enjoy.

This article was published on the Guardian.

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Life Inside YHA




When you think of the Youth Hostel Association in the UK you think of walkers and ramblers, of 40-year-olds sitting around log fires with cups of tea talking about the weather. Now compare that to Australia. When you think of the Youth Hostel Association in Australia you think of 19-year-olds partying, groups of backpackers talking about where they’ve just been or where they’re going next. Why is that? How can two similar countries have two completely different cultures within the same brand? I thought I’d dive in and find the answer.

Sydney Central YHA is a hostel that knows exactly what it’s doing. Even though their prices are slightly higher than other hostels in the city, they know they can deliver a better service, and because of that they’re never less than 75% full. And that’s all-year-round. A swimming pool and a BBQ terrace at the top of the hostel completes the experience and you start formulating a picture of what makes the hostel a success.

When you’re at Sydney Central YHA, it buzzes as if it has its own life. In a way it does; it’s a hive of activity with different groups of people on different agendas. Everyone’s constantly walking in and out doing different things but there’s one constant though; everyone’s busy, everyone’s doing something.

A group of backpackers on the first floor were talking about their plans for the week. “We’re all splitting up this week,” said James from the UK. “I’m heading up to Bowen in Queensland to find some farm work and the girls have hired a campervan and are heading up to Cairns. I’m hoping to meet up with them in Cairns before we fly onto Thailand.” Other people have just arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, absorbing every piece of information around them as if they were a new born infant.

In reception, there’s a handy little board that everyone crowds around. On it is the week’s activities – whether that’s Aussie BBQ night on Monday’s or make your own pizza night on Wednesday’s, there’s always something going on. When I asked what was going on tonight (it was a Monday), one girl, Katie, said: “Tonight’s Brazilian night. We all go out, get dressed up, and dance to Spanish and Portuguese music. You should come; it’s a lot of fun…”

Scubar in Sydney, Australia

And it isn’t just young hipsters who stay in Sydney Central YHA. There were quite a number of older couples, and Australians too. When I spoke to Ray Bradbury, 64, from Orange (four hours west of Sydney), he said: “The great thing about YHAs is that anyone and everyone can stay in them. I’m here visiting my children and doing a bit of sightseeing – I always stay in Sydney Central YHA; I always feel welcome here.”

Jon Hutchinson, the hostel manager of Sydney Central YHA, is a ball of energy. As soon as I met him he launched into a story of when he first worked behind the desk at the hostel (I might add at this point, quite aptly, that I think he was hungover). Apparently, after a couple of months of working at the hostel, he was really struggling with the lifestyle, to the point where his manager had to have a word with him. It was the first and only time Jon was disciplined at YHA, and it was all for saying no to an after party at the hostel. That’s exactly what YHA culture in Australia is all about – fun and having a good time.

When I asked Jon why Sydney Central YHA was a success, he said: “We have been the market leader and trend setter right from the very start; it’s in our culture and in our DNA to continually review and improve our facilities and services. We conduct continual customer surveys both in-house and online to see what our guests both enjoy about our existing services, but more importantly, to listen to their suggestions for improvements.

“If nothing else; we just love to meet folk from all over the world and show them a warm Aussie welcome. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi…”

In comparison, the Sydney Harbour YHA is very different. Quieter in ambience, it caters for the slightly older backpacker, and with a rooftop terrace with perfect views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, it’s easy to understand why it’s so popular. On New Year’s Eve, the hostel throws a huge party, and I can imagine it would be an unbelievable place to see in the New Year. There’s such a high demand for the event that Sydney Harbour YHA advertises the specific time and date when NYE bookings will go live. For this NYE, tickets sold out within 15 minutes of being released and NYE accommodation was fully booked within 24 hours. That’s how popular it is – it’s hard to believe that hostel accommodation would sell out as quickly as a Powderfinger concert.

YHA in Cairns, Australia

I asked Ross Lardner, the hostel manager of Sydney Harbour YHA, what he thought was the attraction of YHAs, not just in Sydney, but in the whole of Australia. He said: “Trust in our brand is a key attraction. YHA has properties throughout the country in all major tourist hotspots and often in the best locations. YHA properties may not be the cheapest place in town but they represent the best value for money with guaranteed standards, superior facilities, and well trained and knowledgeable staff.”

The funny thing is, even though it sounds like a sales pitch, he’s right. YHAs in Australia do offer the best hostels, they do have the best locations, and their standards are excellent.

Much like a hive, YHA have hostels not only all over Australia, but all over the world. I think one thing that makes them unique is their uniqueness. There’s not this “one best way” to everything – each hostel is different with its own personality to match the location. The Blue Mountains YHA is like a log cabin; the Brisbane YHA is modelled on the city. In essence, every time you stay in a different YHA hostel it feels like a different hostel, and when you’re on a gap year that’s a wonderful feeling. Also, you start associating hotels to locations; “hey, can you remember that YHA hostel in Perth – how sick was that!?”

Is it the same of the UK? Yes. It’s the same all over the world. YHA have worked long and hard to build up a credible image of themselves, yet it’s funny that in each country a different image is portrayed, almost as if it’s a reflection of that country’s personality.

For example, YHAs in China are often seen as the only place to meet other English-speaking travellers; YHAs in Germany are seen as more cultural than anywhere else in the world. The point though, is it doesn’t matter where you are – with a YHA you always know you’re going to sleep safe and sound…

This article was published on Gapyear.com.

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Is Travelling in
our Genome?




Everyone who travels talks about how hard it is to hang up their travel boots, and if the infamous ‘travel bug’ were an actual illness then GPs around the world would be inundated with patients.

Travellers are constantly in the search for the unknown, to get lost in new and exciting locations, to get off the beaten track. Each adventure becomes more far-flung, more extreme, and dare I say it, more dangerous.

There’s no doubt about it, travelling is on our blood. But what exactly does that mean? And why do we travel?

One scientist, Svante Pääbo, is on a quest to sequence the Neanderthal genome, and he has come up with a theory as to why humans travel and seek the unknown.

Pääbo said: “I want to know what changed in fully modern humans compared with Neanderthals. What made it possible for us to build up these enormous societies and spread around the globe.”

Records show that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or Western Asia and roamed the globe from there, only stopping when they reached water or some other obstacle. However, this is where modern humans differ; modern humans carry on. They don’t stop. They continue to travel despite the obstacles, overcoming anything and everything put in front of them.

If the defining characteristic of modern humans is a hunger and desire for the unknown, then there must be a gene for this.

Pääbo continues: “It’s only modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know?

“How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.

“We are crazy in some way. What drives it? That I would really like to understand. That would be really, really cool to know.”

As travellers, we are crazy in some way. We throw ourselves out of planes at 15,000 ft, down grade 4 river rapids, and across canyons on elasticated pieces of rope. We’re always putting ourselves in situations that are deemed ‘dangerous’, and do you know what, we love it, we come out the other end grinning from ear to ear.

Yes, we are crazy in some way; that’s why we travel…

This article was published on the Huffington Post.