5 City Breaks That are Just a Train Ride Away from London

Sometimes you just need a break from the big smoke. Or perhaps you’ve come to London and are thinking… Where can I get to, in double quick time, to make the most of my stay in the British Isles? Here are five ideas to help you do just that!

  1. Brighton

The Travel

Just an hour train ride from London Victoria, or a little further from St Pancras International, Brighton is nestled beneath the South Downs National Park on the Sussex coastline.

Why Brighton?

I’ve written about Brighton before. I called it England’s City of Soul and that opinion hasn’t changed!

Brighton’s my hometown, and so I am a little biased in its favour; however, I have no doubt that, for a quick city break away from London, it should top your list!

Brighton is a quirky city. The Lanes are a treasure trove, with second-hand shops and quaint independent restaurants around every corner. Should you get bored of spending your hard-earned money on trinkets, clothes, and bites to eat, take in a show at Komedia or the Theatre Royal! Alternatively, you might choose to shoot down to the pier, or even take a tour around the wonderful Royal Pavilion and its Gardens!

Brighton, and the surrounding area, truly has something for everyone. Whether you are on a visitor to our country, or looking to see a little more of it as a British Citizen, Brighton definitely deserves your attention!

On the Down Low

From a guy who knows the area, don’t miss the chance to walk up on the South Downs. You get stunning views of Brighton to the South, and Sussex in the North! It’s well worth a gander.

  1. Bath

The Travel

Starting out from Paddington Station, you can shoot South West of London and, in under 2 hours, you’ll be slap bang in the center of the old Roman city of Bath.

Why Bath?

Bath, as a city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the only whole city to be designated as such in the UK.

The Roman Baths are a huge part of that. The opulent architectural design, and beautiful surroundings to the baths, make them one of the best places in England to take a dip. Moreover, should you require a more modern option, Thermae Day Spa offers a rooftop pool with views across the city… Not bad at all!

The appeal of Bath is also it’s West Country Locale. It doesn’t feel like London, unless perhaps you go in the height of Summer when it’s wedged chock a block with tourists. Whatever time of year you go though, don’t forget that locally brewed cider is one of the perks of the region so grab a glass of Pilton, Perry, or Taunton’s best, if you’re so inclined!

  1. Durham

The Travel

A three-hour journey by train will take you from the heart of London, and Kings Cross Station, and into the sleepy northern city of Durham.

Why Durham?

Durham isn’t to be missed. Granted, it is the smallest place on this list; however, it also oozes character and there are a huge number of opportunities for exploring in the region, just ask Dominic Cummings!

The Cathedral looks down on Durham from atop the bailey. It is beautiful inside, with stone pillars which made a cameo in the most recent Avengers movie! Beyond its relevance in pop culture though, the cathedral is a deeply spiritual place and a must see for anyone visiting Durham.

There are also plenty of independent eateries in the area to grab a bite eat. Burger joints, Tango and Fat Hippo, divide popular opinion amongst the student body in the city as to which is better, and La Spaghettata, an authentic Italian restaurant, offers a value for money eat at the heart of the city!

Beyond Durham itself, but only a reasonable drive away, Beamish open air museum tells the story of North East England’s history with an immersive experience perfect for a family visit, and Hadrian’s wall, an indelible mark left on Britain by the Romans, is equally accessible for a day-trip.

On the Down Low

It is well worth visiting a student college and bar if you can get in. Cheap pints and great atmospheres are to be had if you can get yourselves in!

  1. Edinburgh

The Travel

A little further from London Kings Cross than Durham, but on the same line, Edinburgh is just 5 hours away by train. You may even choose to fly the journey in just an hour, for a not too dissimilar price. It can, in fact, be even cheaper to fly to Edinburgh than take the train.

Why Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is the Scottish capital and (arguably) the crown jewel of the northern-most country of the United Kingdom.

It is also the city of the world’s largest art’s festival! Fancy yourself as well cultured? If so, twenty-five days of August are dedicated to the performing arts! It’s the perfect time to go, but for the freezing cold temperatures.

All year round, Edinburgh castle is a treat ! It’s been a royal residence since at least the 12th century and still houses a number of treasures including the Scottish Crown Jewels. Have a look around and then head up Arthur’s Seat for the best view of the city. Arthur’s seat is an extinct volcano, and popular ‘short hike’, the top of which provides a fantastic panorama of Edinburgh. Well within walking distance of Edinburgh castle, it is a must visit for any tourist.

Don’t forget to try your share of Scottish delicacies whilst you’re in town too. From whiskey to haggis, and even battered mars bars, Scotland has some weird and wonderful things for you to try if you’re brave enough!

  1. Paris

The Travel

Is it strange that it is actually quicker to get a train from London to Paris than to Edinburgh? In under 3 hours, in fact as few as 2 hours and 20 minutes, you could be exiting your carriage in the City of Light. Again, a flight is a tad quicker, and that may be your preferred option, but don’t write off a train under the Channel.

Why Paris?

Paris. Do I even need to give you reasons? Well I will run a few of them by you anyway.

The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Sacre-Coeur, and myriad other buildings. Paris is every artist’s eye candy. The Louvre contains everything from Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and thousands of other exhibits as well.

If the art and architecture doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps the food and drink will. Escargot, macarons, foie gras, crepes, croissants, Kir Royals, and fantastic wine… Of course, Paris is not a cheap city; however, even one night of fine dining is a reason in itself to visit Paris, and an experience that will live long in the memory.

Paris is a city of ambiance, of romance, and of beauty. Yes, it has it’s less aesthetic parts, and’s taken a knock in recent times for excessive pricing and an arguably deteriorating social fabric; however, nonetheless, it will forever be a city worthy of your attention and your visit.

6 Tapas Dishes You’ve Got to Give a Try!

Tapas is a Spanish classic. If you’re the kind of person who orders a takeaway and then wants to share it, it’s your lucky day. That’s because tapas is built for sharing. The whole point is to order a table full of tasty appetizers and then split them with your friends. To help you nail your order, and make yourself sound like a pro, here are 6 awesome tapas dishes you have to try.   

  1. Patatas Bravas

These fiery potato segments are a staple of Spanish cuisine. You would be hard pressed to find any tapas restaurant in Spain that does not offer some variation of the dish.

Potatoes are chopped into small pieces and then fried in oil until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They are then topped with a rich and spicy tomato sauce for a sublime finishing touch.

Although patatas bravas roughly translates as potatoes for the brave, perhaps patatas para todas would be a better name for them. That’s because these are potatoes for everyone!

  1. Carrillada

Like patatas bravas, Carrillada is a dish with several manifestations. Put simply, it is meat taken from the cheek of the animal and braised until it is of a melt in the mouth consistency.  

Carillada der ternara is braised beef cheeks, whilst carillada de cerdo and carrilada iberica are braised pork cheeks. The former is often paired with a red wine sauce, whilst a popular sauce covering for the pork is made up of white win, onion, and carrot.

Carillada certainly won’t be on the menu of every restaurant you visit. It is an expensive cut of meat for a restaurateur and that translates to a hefty price tag for yourself. Even so, it is delicious and well worth trying.

  1. Croquetas de Jamon

Croquettes are not an exclusively Spanish dish. They originally hail from France but can now be found across the world, although the Spanish versions are right up there with the best to be had!

Like all croquettes, croquetas de jamon are cylindrical parcels which are filled, breaded, and stuffed. The filling itself is a combination of bechamel sauce and serrano ham. Most dry-cured ham produced in Spain is termed Serrano ham, so to the Spanish it’s a pretty standard ingredient. Jamon Iberico would be my recommendation for a proper Croquetas de Jamon though. It’s the best of the best and your croquetas deserve that!

  1. Gambas al Ajillo

Gambas al Ajillo harks back to the beautiful simplicity of Spanish cuisine in much the same way as patatas bravas does.

Prawns in an oily garlic sauce with just a hint of spice. Nothing more and yet the dish is absolutely delicious. Again you can order this anywhere in Spain for a quick snack, or as part of a larger meal. You won’t regret it if you do!

  1. Calamares Fritos

Sticking with sea food and on a list of tapas dishes, it’s difficult to leave calamari off!

A lot of people, particularly those who have never tried squid, are repulsed by the idea of eating a cephalopod. That’s no wonder, squid doesn’t look like an animal that should be eaten. You really should not knock calamares fritos until you’ve tried it though.

Squid rings, and even tentacles, are lightly fried and then served with lemon wedges, as well as a garlic infused sauce, namely aioli. Squid has a wonderfully subtle flavour and delicate texture. With a little crisp on the outside, tang of lemon, and punch of garlic, calamares fritos is a true taste of Spain!

  1. Chorizo al Vino

Chorizo cooked in wine. CHORIZO COOKED IN WINE, doesn’t that sound fantastic?

Well, it really is. Chorizo is a Spanish delicacy in itself. It’s a smoked poked sausage with a kick to it. Doused in wine and then cooked to the nine, chorizo al vino is actually my favourite dish on the list. Even when you’ve munched your way through the food, you can mop the sauce up with a nice slice of crusty bread.

Conclusion

That’s a round up of six of classic tapas dishes you should give a try. If there’s a Spanish restaurant near you, then you should definitely grab one of these to try. I didn’t put albondigas on the list but it earns an honorable recommendation too. Stay safe out there people. There are longer and better posts to come so stay tuned!

My Top 11 Tips For Staying Safe Abroad!

Unfortunately, travel does carry some risk. I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to worry about anything when we went abroad, but that just isn’t possible.

Crime, infectious disease, and natural disasters are just some of the factors we risk when we travel. Fortunately though, there are plenty of ways to mitigate the risks and make your trip that bit safer. Here are a few ideas that might work for you!

  1. Check the gov.uk website

The gov.uk website is a fantastic resource to work out the possible risks associated with travelling to your destination. It has individual pages for every country around the world so that you can prepare yourself for any eventuality, wherever you are going.

Preparation is your number one asset in staying safe abroad. The government website, for British Citizens or anyone else, provides information on local crime, terrorism, diseases, natural disasters, and a multitude of other potential risks.

Use the site to do research on your destination and stay safe!

  1. Learn some broad strokes of the language

It never hurts to have a few local phrases in your vocabulary.

You can’t possibly know when it might be useful to ask for help from a local, or negotiate with the local law enforcement in their native tongue. Knowing some basics, or at least carrying a pocket phrase book, will definitely help you out!

  1. Know the local emergency numbers

Emergency numbers aren’t uniform across the globe.

I’d bet that you couldn’t tell you the emergency numbers of 99% of countries in the world, so what if you do have some kind of crisis in one of them? That is why you need the local emergency numbers written down and close to hand. It is not good enough to plug them into your mobile because what if your phone was lost, dead, or stolen?

Have them written down and in your pocket just in case you need to use a payphone or borrow a mobile from someone else. These digits can be crucial in mitigating potential risk in any number of situations and that is why I never travel without them!

  1. Check out the facts about crime and be prepared

As well as using the government website, also use resources like blogs and travel guides to get specific advice on local patterns of crime.

Knowing the places where crime occurs, and the types of crime that are common, will inform you of when to be alert in-country and, again, mitigate against risk to some extent. Patterns of crime are different from country to country. Some criminals tend to trend towards muggings whilst others use more sophisticated tactics like card cloning.

Being aware of the trends will help you understand which situations to avoid!

  1. Don’t put yourself on the radar!

If crime is your major concern, there are a few strategies you can employ to lower your risk of being a target.

One such tactic is to avoid flashing your valuables! Try not to be the obvious tourist with a camera hanging off your shoulder, wallet falling out of your back pocket, and mobile phone in the palm of your hand. Unfortunately, you are telegraphing your assets to potential criminals.

Try to fly under the radar instead. Bag up your stuff, wear clothing that is a little inconspicuous, and put your valuables in a belt bag under your top if you’re that way inclined!

  1. Don’t put too much money in one place!

This one is pretty simple. Don’t carry all your money in your pocket, but don’t leave it all in your room either!

Have multiple ways to get hold of money, or store it in multiple places, so that if your cards or phone are lost or stolen, or something happens to your accommodation, you still have access to some currency.

This is very important for emergencies and to spread your potential risk!

  1. Be careful with your alcohol

This one might fall on deaf ears, especially if you guys are anything like my friends! Fortunately, they have me to consistently be the designated sober group member.

Not everyone has that luxury though. Don’t leave your drink alone, or around people you don’t trust. You never know what might happen to it when it’s outside your field of vision. Also be wary of drinking beyond the point where you are aware of your surroundings or may significantly compromise your cognitive abilities.

With your wits about you, many situations can be less challenging and dangerous.

  1. Get your jabs!

I’ve made this mistake. I didn’t pay for my rabies or typhoid shots on a trip to Africa!

Fortunately, I didn’t contract rabies; however, I will tell you that typhoid was up there with the most significantly unpleasant experiences in all my travels!

Getting all the relevant jabs would have put my mind at ease when petting stray dogs, which should probably go on the list as inadvisable in itself, and drinking poor-quality water. Come to think of it, be careful with drinking water in some countries too. I do some really stupid things!

Overall, though, don’t forget to get your vaccinations and, if you’re going to somewhere with malaria, it is advisable to pre-buy some anti-malarial tablets too!

  1. Travel with friends

If you don’t want to travel solo, finding a buddy to accompany you is a really good option.

Not only will it stop you feeling lonely, it may also help you stay safe. You will have somebody watching your back in a variety of situations and may well ward of people who want to do you harm! Of course, be sure they are your friends because travelling with, and trusting, the wrong person may well ruin your trip.

  1. Travel insurance

As you’ve probably realised throughout this article, there are plenty of potential problems associated with travelling.

I really don’t like to think too much about the risks though. That’s why I buy myself travel insurance! If my things get stolen, I incur emergency medical expenses, or my trip has to be cut short for an unavoidable reason, travel insurance pays for, or allows me to recuperate the cost of, whatever I needed to splash out on.

It is an absolutely invaluable resource to help put your mind at ease!

  1. Trust your instincts

No matter the situation, go with your gut and trust your instincts. If something is nagging at you to say, “don’t do that”, then listen to yourself and take a step back. There is no point in taking an unnecessary risk!

Conclusion

I hope this helps you to make a checklist for lowering the risks that are associated with travelling. I’m sure I’ve missed some good ideas, so please feel free to add some extra advice in the comments.

I should also point out that I speak from the perspective of a young western man, so I would also welcome and encourage opinions from a diverse range of people to make the list more comprehensive! Thanks for reading and safe travels guys.

5 Reasons You Should Add Nepal To Your Bucket List!

West’s Bucket List looks at the places across the globe I want to visit. I look at why I want to go and why you maybe should too! Let me know what you guys think of Nepal down in the comments! This post is number 11 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

“When we reached the prayer flags and a pile of rocks that marked the highest point on the pass, the view was brilliant. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. To the south we could see rolling foothills: the gentle ups and downs that we’d walked through. Some of the hillsides were red or purple with rhododendron blossoms. To the west and east there was a muddle of ridges and spurs. To the north, there were several mighty snow-capped himals. The real Himalayan giants were mostly east of where we stood.”

Jane Wilson-HOWARTH, CHASING THE TIGER

This quote, from my fellow compatriot, broadly captures those elements of Nepal’s natural landscape that I wish to experience. I thought it was a good place to start off but let’s now dive in on why I want to visit the country:

  1. Everest Base Camp

The trek up to Everest Base Camp is popular with adventurers from around the world!

The trek itself doesn’t require you to actually summit the tallest mountain on earth; however, it does require you to hike 11 days through the beautiful Himalayas. Sound good?

Of course, altitude sickness, and fatigue-related illnesses, are amongst the risks associated with the trek; however, if you’re fit and healthy then I’d consider the potential risks well worth the reward! My friend is a young doctor with some health complications, and she powered through the entire route. She said it was tough but very manageable if anybody doubts they might be capable!

The trip certainly isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Instead, it requires a healthy dose of blood, sweat, and tears en route up amongst jagged snow topped mountains! Everything will be expensive on your hike too. If you want to charge your devices, or buy food and water, the locals will charge you a pretty penny because they can. Just bear that in mind and pack efficiently so you don’t have to splash out if you’re on a budget.

Overall, if hiking up to 5550 meters doesn’t appeal to you then maybe give base camp a miss but, otherwise, what’s your excuse?

  1. Annapurna Circuit

If you thought Everest Base Camp sounded tough, maybe you should stop reading. The Annapurna Circuit is reputed to be that much harder!

The trek can take up to 20 days and is around 200km long at some serious altitude! As with Everest Base Camp, you need to be fit and healthy, but not necessarily superman to make the trip. The trek has been voted the best long-distance hike in the world a number of times, and by a variety of sources. It concludes at the Kali Gandaki Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world! To be honest, the gorge sounds like a bucket list item in itself to me!

You can trek the Annapurna Circuit, and also up to Everest Base Camp, on your own if you so wish. Of course, going alone is cheaper but also more arduous, and requires more sophisticated planning, than travelling with a tour company so make your choice wisely!

It is also important to note that both Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit require hiking permits so, if you’re hiking either on your own, make sure you’ve purchased the appropriate documents to set up your trip. If you’re going with a group, also ensure that they will provide the permits, so you have nothing to worry about!

All in all, there are few better ways to see the Himalayas up close and personal than the Annapurna Circuit. It’s certainly on my bucket list!

  1. The Wildlife

Nepal is perhaps known best as the home of Mount Everest but, in other circles, it is heralded as a haven for some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet!

There are three particular animals residing in Nepal which, in my opinion, would be worth the cost of a plane ticket in themselves.

The first is the elusive bengal tiger! It is one of the world’s charismatic megafauna and right up there with the most majestic apex predators earth has to offer!

With a muscular orange body, striking black markings, and a white underbelly, the bengal tiger is one of the most iconic animals you’ll likely ever see. Only 2,500 are left across the globe and they are as beautiful as they are rare. Nepal is second-to-none as a location if you want to see one!

Equally enigmatic, but even greater in stature than the bengal tiger, the greater one-horned rhinocerous is the armoured tank of the Indian subcontinent. They’re so comfortable in the water that, if you didn’t know any better, you could mistake one for a hippo at a glance!

The animal, just like the tiger, is vulnerable to poachers and both need your help. Look into sponsorship options if you really want to lend a hand in conservation efforts so that they are still out there when you make the trip!

Last, but by no means least, is the animal I want to see most of the three. The red panda more closely resembles a lemur than a giant panda! In fact, they aren’t closely related to the giant panda at all, with their size and form betraying their true lineage amongst the mustelids.

With their weasel-like bodies, but sporting painted faces, black limbs, and striated orange and white tails, red pandas are highly unusual and well worth seeing in the wild. Endemic to the Himalayas, Nepal is one of the few natural strongholds for the species and, thus, you have a great reason to visit!

  1. Paragliding in Pokhara

I know a few adventurists, even one or two fans of extreme sports, read this blog. So, when I read about paragliding, I knew I couldn’t leave it out!

I have never been tandem paragliding, or paragliding at all for that matter, and so I can’t speak to the particulars of the sport; however Pokhara is renowned across the world as one of the best places to do it. Going up at sunrise will provide you with an unmatched view of snowcapped mountains whilst you glide on Nepal’s natural rising thermals. Maybe you’ll even be joined by hawks on wing as they hunt in the skies!

Of course, people might be a little worried about paragliding in Nepal. The experience is, however, about as safe as paragliding can be, and, from all the reviews I have read, undoubtedly worth the trip!

  1. Kathmandu

Kathmandu is the capital city, as well as the cultural, religious, and economic hub of, Nepal.

It is home to an intricate labyrinth of alleyways which weave past colourful temples and cramped housing alike. Lonely Planet describes entering the city as a ‘pupil-dilating experience, a riot of sights, sounds, and smells that can quickly lead to sensory overload’.

Durbar Square, at Kathmandu’s center, is used for Buddhist rituals and Hindu rituals alike, amongst holding myriad other religious functions, and also has secular importance as a site where royal events take place. The square has spiritual significance and is seen by some as a place of meditation contemplation. You should visit it to see an important part of Nepalese culture!

If you want to find a little respite from the chaos of Kathmandu’s bustling streets, perhaps the Garden of Dreams is the place for you!

A neoclassical oasis at the heart of the Nepalese city, the Garden of Dreams was designed to mimic an Edwardian-era English garden. With flawless lawns, tranquil lily-laden ponds, and six pavilions, each architecturally designed to represent one of Nepal’s six seasons, the Garden of Dreams can be contrasted starkly with the rest of Kathmandu and is thus worth a visit in my opinion!

The last architectural marvel I wish to see in Kathmandu is Boudhanath Stupa.

A stupa is traditionally a domed structure used to stores Buddhist relics and Boudhanath is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular of all. It is identifiable by its great white dome topped with a spire, from which are draped long ropes adorned with colourful rags.

It is an absolutely critical part of the Buddhist faith and is wonderfully different from any religious building we have in the UK. That is why I so long to see it!

Finally, I would love to try Nepalese cuisine. I’m not incredibly gifted at eating spicy food, but I’d risk singed taste buds for what Nepal has to offer!

I have never tried a Dal, a lentil soup, served over Bhat, a type of rice, cooked in a country where it is a delicacy! That really appeals to me. I also wish to try thukpa, a Tibetan influenced Nepalese noodle dish! Made with chili and masala I believe it would assault my senses about as much as I could take! Hopefully, I get to try it one day!

Conclusion

Nepal has a wonderful blend of natural beauty and urban splendour!

From the tip of Mount Everest to the bottom of the Kali Gandaki Gorge, Nepal is a country of extremes! If you are an adventurer, or have adventurous tastes, then you have a duty to visit and make the most of all that it has to offer!

8 Reasons you should still buy a travel guide!

Does anybody buy travel guides anymore? I go into Waterstones, or surf Amazon, and see thousands of options, but none of my friends seem to want to buy them.

I, on the other hand, own a stack of them! Perhaps I’m a tad old fashioned, but I can’t understand why nobody else is buying travel guides to line their shelves. Here’s why I think you should go out and buy one!

  1. Get off your screen!

When I go abroad, I hope that I don’t have to spend one solitary second on my phone!

Even so, be it work calling me up, the landlord pestering me about rent, or feeling obliged to check the world news, a whole host of things will inevitably draw me to my mobile.

That’s why I don’t want anything else pushing me towards it! That means, if I need travel advice or recommendations, a travel guide is perfect.

I have a paperback in my hand with the relevant information I need and without having to glue my eyes to the screen I’m always looking at when I’m home. It’s a holiday for my eyes too. Sounds preferable to me!

  • All the information you need is in one place!

Personally, I don’t mind sifting through and collating huge swathes of information from across the internet, but that isn’t for everyone.

Of course, there is a wealth of information online that you could never fit into a book you can squeeze into your hand luggage. The downside of the internet though, is that there is so much information online that, even if you did extensive research, you’d never be able to read it all. Conversely, a good travel guide will be a concentrated vault of information, more than you can possibly need, but not way too much. Moreover, you’ve got all that in one place!

For planning, or spontaneous decisions in-country, a good travel guide will give everything you need as a tourist to experience your destination like a local!

  • Your book doesn’t need batteries!

This one’s obvious, but maybe so obvious that you wouldn’t even consider it.

I’ve been in a whole host of countries where my phone has died in my hand. Without a trusty travel guide in my backpack, I’d have no idea where to go or what to do.

Yes I love exploring and, sometimes, I go with spontaneity and explore in an off the cuff manner but, on days where I want a little structure, I like to know that my travel guide is going to be there no matter what!

You just can’t guarantee that with your phone so grab a travel guide!

  • There’s no Wi-Fi where you’re going!

I love to go to countries that other people won’t necessarily!

That often means Wi-Fi is less accessible than you’d like and mobile data can be hard to come by. When your phone has no access to the internet, it is almost as useless as if it were out of battery.

Moreover, if you’re going to have to pay for local Wi-Fi or data, it may well set you back a pretty penny! Your mobile is going to be a dead weight on your wallet and, as a thrifty traveler, that doesn’t sit too well with me.  

That is why you should again consider buying a travel guide, for when your phone lets you down!

  • There’s no Wi-Fi on planes and trains (although this is changing).

One of the most boring part of travelling can be… The actual travelling.

I personally love a flight or a train journey, but sometimes you need something to keep you busy. A lot of planes and trains still don’t have Wi-Fi so what better way to spend your time than learning about the company you’re going to than with the travel guide you purchased?

  • A guide is better researched and written than most blogs (not that I want you to give up on my content!)

Have you ever read a travel blog online and asked, can I trust this writer?

I know I have. It’s hard not to be cynical when you don’t necessarily know the credentials of whoever is writing. It could be a seasoned traveler with years of experience or a kid who’s never left his home county.

I personally write plenty about places I want to go, but I know that there are people who know a little more than me out there. I hope that what keeps you interested is that I have a lot of travelling experience, and the fact that I’m not a bad writer!

Even so, the benefit of a travel guide is that the information is vetted fantastically by professionals in the industry. You can trust what you’re reading and that’s critically important wherever you might be going!

  • Travel guides can be up to date!

Some people might tell you that travel guides go out of date fast.

I’ve heard that. Why would you buy a travel guide when you can get up to date information on your phone? Well I’ve already articulated several reasons why relying on your phone can be a problem; however, I want to address the elephant in the room.

Travel guides don’t just go out of date with a click of the fingers. If that were the case, why would anybody buy factual books? Good restaurants and attractions last. Moreover, local culture lasts. Most of the information contained in a good travel guide will therefore last.

Yes, there are always new attractions popping up and some things will change; however, a well-researched travel guide will provide timeless recommendations to form the backbone of your trip.

You don’t want to rely on your guide for every second of your time abroad, but if it can give you enough information to help you build a fantastic basis for your travels, it’s done a great job!

  • They’re actually a great thing to have on the shelf (particularly right now in lockdown)

Sitting here in lockdown, I am constantly perusing my bookshelves.

I have hundreds of books from fantasy fiction to self-help manuals; however, I am a traveler at heart.

Be it a guide on Madagascar, Europe, or Canada, I can’t help but keep picking all of them up and reading through. I’m planning about 50 different trips at the moment and my travel guides are providing a great source of escapism!

If you think that you’d get a similar sort of use out of a travel guide, pick one up today!

Conclusion

Personally, I see no real downside to buying a travel guide. It may cost you a few bob to pick one up, but they aren’t particularly expensive in the grand scheme of things. For the sake of a few square inches of space in your hand luggage, I see real value in owning one of these guides.

Reliable information that you can carry with you at all times, even when your phone fails you… What’s not to like about that?

Thrifty Travel Tips 6: Why Not Do the Free Stuff?

I’ve hit on modes of transport and food so far but, how else can you keep your trips abroad as cheap as possible?

The good news, if you’re enjoying the Thrifty Travel thread, is that I have plenty more tips to hit you with. Here is my next one; do the free stuff!

Most of this post is going to stick to European tourist destinations because it’s what I know best. There are plenty of attractions and experiences that you can see and do for free in Europe. Here are a few ideas to get you going and keep thrifty on holiday:

  1. Museums

I’ll admit that museums aren’t always free; however, a lot of them are and you can get an awesome day out without opening your wallet!

I love a great museum and in London, my favourite city of all, the great museums are all free! You can visit the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, or even the British Museum, without spending a dime!

Dinosaur skeletons, a scale model of the blue whale, interactive experimental exhibits, the Rosetta Stone, the Lewis Chessmen, and a whole host of other iconic attractions are all… Wait for it… completely free.

Millenia of history, exhibits that can keep you entertained for hours, or even days… What more could you possibly want? Whether you have children or not, this is a brilliant way for you, and potentially your family, to learn about a whole host of subjects and make the most of whichever place you visit!

  • Tour the city and checkout the architecture

This is actually one of my favourite things to do in any city I travel to. No, I’m not talking about booking some kind of walking tour with a guide. Instead, I’m advocating getting out there and perusing the city all by yourself!

It might sound a little strange to some people who have never tried it, but please hear me out!

Buildings are the foundations of any city, whilst people are the lifeblood. Grabbing a map, or your phone, and navigating your way around to look at the unique architectural signature of any city can be a special experience.

You get amongst the people who call the city home and get a real feel for it! Focus on the people, as well as the buildings, and I promise that you will get more out of your spontaneous adventure than doing a run of the mill tour.

Anyway, back to the buildings. Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Casa Mila, London’s Globe Theatre and the Shard, Rome’s Pantheon and Colosseum, and New York’s Chrysler Building and Guggenheim Museum. All are great reasons to get on your bike, or on foot, and just get out amongst the local people and absorb the vibe of the city!

Not one country in the world will charge you for just walking around and checking out the outside of their fabulous buildings. Give it a go, you’ll definitely come away with fabulous photos!

  • Check your credentials

I made a terrible mistake last summer. In my visit to Paris, with my then girlfriend, I had presumed that many of the major tourist attractions would be booked up if I didn’t book them ahead!

I paid entry for both of us to the Palace of Versailles. It was not particularly expensive, especially considering we spent most of the day there, but I didn’t realise one crucial thing. As I handed over my pre-booked ticket for entry I read, with my rudimentary ability to understand written French, that all individuals between 18-25 and from the European Economic Area were entitled to free entry…

In fact, in Paris, being in this age group will get you into a lot of places for free! Plenty of other cities and countries will offer similar deals to children, students, and people in particular social categories. Do your research and see if you can get anything for free based on who you are. Please, I’m begging you, don’t make the stupid mistake that I did!

  • Natural attractions

I love a stunning natural landscape or attraction!

I’ve swum in Verdon Gorge, lounged in the sun at Novisad’s beach on the Danube, and hiked the Scottish Highlands. In fact, I managed to afford to do all three of these in just one summer because they didn’t break the bank. They didn’t even get me to dip into the bank because they were completely free!

Admittedly, some national parks and areas of natural beauty will cost an entry fee, so please do be aware of that but, such costs rarely set you back a pretty penny. Where they do, for places like Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, you’re generally paying for the upkeep on a national treasure that deserves to be protected.

Whether paying that little fee, or seeing somewhere beautiful for free, I’d highly recommend getting out and seeing nature wherever you’re going!

  • Free accommodation

It’s back! I’m revisiting the merits of thrifty accommodation from wild camping to Couchsurfing! I know what you’re thinking… Two Thrifty Travel articles in a row, are Couchsurfing paying this guy?

I don’t have any affiliations with Couchsurfing but I think it’s a great idea. You can check out Thrifty Travel 5 to get my full rundown on the service, but I think it’s important to revisit their unique selling point quickly.

Couchsurfing offers you the opportunity to stay, fee free, in other people’s homes around the world!  Moreover, wild camping, provided its legal where you visit, will also offer you free accommodation!

Of course, most of my ideas on this list are experiences you can have for free but, if you can keep accommodation costs down to zero, that will free up some capital to spend elsewhere.

Whatever your choice, taking into account that you ensure your own personal safety as best you can, free accommodation is a great way to save money!

Conclusion

Of course, the same things aren’t free in every country. Do your research before you go. This will help you to work out what you can do for free when you arrive at your destination.

The secret to any successful thrifty travel abroad is good planning. With the most accurate and up to date information, you can minimise your costs almost wherever you go, within reason (I’m not sure you can get a cheap trip with SpaceX no matter how much planning you do).

If anybody has some other great ideas/tips for ways to do things for free on holiday, I’d love to hear them and build on this list in a future post! Perhaps drop me some suggestions down below. I hope everybody is safe and well out there!

7 Reasons You’ll Love Munich!

I’m going to enjoy writing about Munich because its another place I know well and, thus, the recommendations in this article have been tested first hand! I’ve been twice now, and have a number of friends in the region, but I am undoubtedly destined to travel there again, so I doubt this list is finished. Let me know at the end if you’d like for me to write on Munich again and I definitely will at some point!

Anyway, for a little substance, Munich is a huge metropolis in southern Germany, at the heart of Bavaria. The city of beer, football, and lederhosen, it is not one to be missed! Here are my 8 reasons to visit:

  1. Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is unfortunately cancelled this year; however, usually it is one of the biggest festivals in Europe, and even worldwide!

Running from September to October, the festival is integral to Bavarian culture. It is, at its core, a celebration of beer. Locals dressed in lederhosen, singing traditional German songs, guzzling bratwurst, and downing huge beer steins, are the lifeblood of this festival! If an all-out German party is up your street then this might tempt you, but don’t necessarily count your chickens before they hatch because there are a couple of negatives for me.

Of course, the festival, as previously stated, is not all year round. If you want to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, you have to travel there between September and October. The problem? For a thrifty traveler like me, everything will be crazy expensive! Moreover, the city will be packed so if you were hoping for a low-key city trip to see the sights, trying to fit in Oktoberfest too won’t likely work for you.

Even so, this iconic festival is worth checking out and I absolutely loved it, just be careful spending everything in your wallet!

  1. Hofbräuhaus

My favourite pint glass is from the Hofbräuhaus. It sits on my shelf emblazoned with the letters HB, topped with a gold crown. It’s my favourite glass not because it looks particularly special, but because it reminds me of the fantastic times I had at the establishment whilst interrailing back in 2013!

The Hofbräuhaus is the German Royal Brewery in Munich but I’m not actually talking about the brewery itself. I’m taking about the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, an establishment owned by the brewery. It is a historic beer hall which was built by Bavarian Duke Maximillian I in 1589. The building oozes character. With tightly packed wooden tables, traditional German fittings, beautiful ceiling frescoes, servers dressed in Bavarian attire, and music permanently playing, you will rarely be more immersed in a local culture than right here!

In addition, the establishment has a wonderful Wirtsgarten, basically a beer garden to you English folk out there, with atmosphere to match the inside of the building. A fantastically rowdy ambiance, reminiscent of the bustling pubs of London after work on a Friday night, is undoubtedly a reason to pop inside.

Of course, being a popular tourist attraction, the place isn’t cheap, but the Hofbräuhaus needs visiting, even if you’re only grabbing one stein!

  1. Traditional German food.

You’d be able to get some of this from the Hofbräuhaus but, for the sake of value for money, I’d recommend you get it elsewhere.

I’ll definitely miss out some great dishes on this list, but here are a few of my favourites! Let’s start out with pretzels. They are more than just snacks. Chewy, salty, and just as good as fresh bread from your local bakery, these are not to turn your nose up at. German pretzels are the perfect accompaniment to that cold beer you’re thinking about, but the best is still to come!

Weisswurst is a Bavarian sausage made of minced veal and pork. If you’re a carnivore, this needs to be on your ‘food bucket list’. Served with an accompanying pretzel, and sweet German mustard, the sausage is truly delectable!

Finally, one of my favourite dishes on the planet, even more so than Weisswurst, Schweinshaxe can bring a tear to any carnivore’s eye.

Pork knuckle served with potatoes, sauerkraut, and gravy. It’s as simple as that and yet so much more. Crunchy skin, meat falling off the bone, soft potatoes, tangy sauerkraut, and rich gravy… Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. It’s Munich! Get yourself out there!

  1. Marienplatz

This is going to be a brief one. The Marienplatz is an awesome place to visit, but I don’t think it’s a reason which will be enough in itself to convince you to go to Munich.

Even so, it’s one of many reasons which may contribute to your decision to go! The squares of most European cities are marquee attractions and Marienplatz is no different. The Neues Rathaus, or New Town Hall, which is built on the square, is a stunningly intricate, partially neo-gothic, bastion of Munich’s culture! Sound like a cool place to visit and see? I certainly liked it and… It’s free!

  1. Museums

Munich is a city of culture and is chock-a-block with brilliant museums.

Be it the Glyptothek, a neoclassical building dedicated to antiquarian sculpture, or the Museum Brandhorst, a modern building containing the works of the likes of Damien Hirst or Andy Warhol, there’s something for any fan of art!

Beyond that, the Deutsches Museum is the largest science and technology museum in the world. If you aren’t into art, maybe this interactive experience will float your boat!

And then, even if you don’t like art, science, or technology, Munich has a whole host of other fantastic museums. Check them out online because they aren’t to be missed!

  1. Allianz stadium

So, I’m a Chelsea fan. If you know anything about Chelsea, then you’ll know why the Allianz Arena is important to me!

In 2012, Chelsea finally won the Champions League against European footballing powerhouse Bayern Munich. Chelsea, having been beaten by Man Utd’s Red Devils in their previous final in 2008, beat the German side to turn a red city blue!

Munich were playing at home and the final will go down in history as a real underdog story. The stadium itself is therefore the site of Chelsea’s incredible victory, but it is so much more than that. It is the home of Germany’s winningest football team.

Lit up at night, it is a stunning homage to German football and worth a tour, or just a look, for any fan of sport or culture!

  1. Neuschwanstein Castle

Last, but undoubtedly not least, is perhaps the best known castle in the world!

A couple of hours drive from Munich, but still within Bavaria, is Neuschwanstein Castle.

Built in the late 19th century above the south German landscape, where it has towered majestically ever since, the castle is truly something out of a fairytale.

Perhaps fittingly therefore, it is intertwined in international pop culture. It appeared in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Great Escape, and even lays claim to being the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Therefore, it is also the inspiration for Disney’s logo, the logo of a legal mega-company.

Don’t miss THE castle of all castles. Neuschwanstein deserves every bit of your attention. If you have the time and money to get out of Munich and get the tour, you must!

Conclusion

I hope this has given you a little flavour of what Munich is all about. A true city of culture from food to football, art to architecture, and Bavarian lederhosen to delectable beer, Munich is, in my opinion, the one German city I consider unmissable!

Madagascar? Where even is that? 5 Reasons to go to a country nobody else does!

This is one of my pictures from Madagascar! Not of a sportive lemur, but this guy is pretty cool!

When I told my friends I was going to Madagascar for two months, most of them did a double take. “Not South-East Asia or South America?” They asked inquisitively. “Why would you even want to go there?”

It’s a fair question. Everybody I know who did a gap year, pre or post uni, did the same blocks of countries. They all enthusiastically and collectively told me that they had the best times of their lives! If the gap year experience ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was the basic message. So, why should you go to a country that nobody else does? Here are my 2 cents on that issue, and 5 reasons to do exactly that!

  1. You’ll learn something about yourself

In my humble opinion, this is just about one of the best reasons to do anything difficult or radical in your life. Of course, ‘learning something about yourself’ is a little vague, so let me just clarify what I mean.

Going to a country that nobody else does will prove to yourself that you have spirit! The courage to step into the unknown and challenge yourself. If you haven’t ever done that before, you won’t know just how important to your personal growth such an experience can be.

Moreover, everybody I knew kept saying that they respected me for travelling alone to Madagascar and that gave me a sense of pride that I was doing something a lot of other people wouldn’t. For a kid who grew up with below average self-respect, that was invaluable to me.

All in all, I believe this is a worthy reason in itself to travel into the unknown!

  1. Have experiences that set you apart

I really don’t want to get anyone down on going to places everybody goes to, and having experiences that everybody wants to have. I can’t overstate that enough. These places and experiences are popular for great reasons.

I’m certainly hoping to go to Thailand, Brazil, and everywhere else with heavy footfall. I’m just advocating another way to travel! I’m advocating experiencing that which everybody else you know hasn’t. I didn’t feel like a real traveler until I had a handful of experiences that I felt were totally and utterly unique to me, in places, and doing things, that nobody I knew had done.

Don’t you want to have the odd story you can tell, or write down, that makes your friends yearn to do the same? To follow the path you have blazed? Or maybe just to ask you question after question so that your adventures will live long in the memory?

Begin laying down the tracks instead of following them!

  1. Explore the unknown

Do you get that feeling, when you learn or discover something new, of unadulterated glee?

For me that feeling dawned on me in Madagascar when I saw my first sportive lemur, sat in the crook of a tree. Wide eyed and inquisitive, he stirred in the branches as we neared.

I had no idea exactly which unique and endemic species I was likely to see on the island, and I was utterly taken aback by the little ball of fluff staring down at me. In that moment, as I saw a species that was completely new to me, and one which nobody I knew had ever seen in the wild, I was overcome by pure joy!

That feeling of discovery, of revelation, is wonderful. Going to a country to which nobody else travels will offer you that in spades!

  1. The price

I just can’t get away from being a thrifty traveler, so here comes a money saving tip! The country nobody goes to is just that, the country nobody else goes to.

More often than not, that means that prices on goods and experiences haven’t been inflated to drain the pockets of wealthy tourists. Not to be too crude but you can take advantage of that. If the local economy is going to offer you great affordable prices, then you can travel for longer and do more than the people who are flocking to tourist traps!

Particularly when you are young, and perhaps a student as I am, that is a really important consideration to take into account. I know I certainly do!

  1. All travel is great

Okay so this last point is going to do away with trying to convince you to travel into the unknown. Instead, it’s just going to try and convince you to travel, because travel is undeniably awesome.

Meeting new friends, trying new foods, experiencing new cultures, discovering new animals, discovering new places, learning new lessons, about yourself and the world, and generally becoming a better-rounded person are all fantastic reasons to travel.

If you need another one reason though, just one, it’s because you’ve read this far into my post, almost nine hundred words into it. That means you’re considering travelling and, if you’re on the fence, you need to take that plunge!