The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 7 Noteworthy Points About my Trip Around the NC 500

So, having just returned from completing the NC-500, I thought I’d give a little review of the experience. I’ll be writing a number of pieces with stories, advice, and reviews, but this is just a short overview of advice I’d give straight off the back of the trip.

For those who are unaware, the NC 500 is a road-trip route which tracks around the outer coast of Northern Scotland. The experience on this trip has to be one of my favourites throughout my time exploring the UK. The scenery is stunning, the people are wonderful, and, if you’re really lucky, the weather can even be mildly hospitable!

Without further ado, here was the good, the bad, and the ugly from my time on the NC-500.

The good

  1. The highland scenery – Scotland is absolutely stunning. The NC-500 takes you through heather covered valley after heather covered valley, past looming black cliffs, and through undeniably beautiful mountainous regions. Everybody I talked to was impressed by the scenery and, in spite of having huge expectations, the Scottish countryside exceeded them. Almost every mile of the NC-500 has something to offer by way of scenery. You’re constantly pressed up against the glass in your car to sneak a peak of the big mountains and that big beautiful sky!

  1. The beaches – I’ll talk a little latter about why you should prepare yourself for not being able to go in the water; however, Scotland has some beautiful beaches that wouldn’t look entirely out of place on the Costa Del Sol or a Greek Island. Sandwood Bay, with its tranquil setting totally away from people, and huge dunes, is not to be missed. Moreover, Ceannabeinne, located in a beautiful cove with sapphire blue water and flat white sand is also undeniably one of the best-looking beaches I’ve seen around the world. Whilst Scotland might not have the roasting temperatures of the Mediterranean, its beaches are every bit as fine!

  1. The people – whilst, as an Englishmen, I was low-key raised to feel a natural rivalry with the Scottish, particularly every February during the six nations, I found the locals across the NC-500 to be undeniably kind and generous. Although I gather that wild-campers are not their favourite folk, whenever I needed directions, recommendations, or a hand with something, a local would rush to my aid. I can’t speak highly enough of the many people I came across on the trip, particularly in such a trying climate which many would argue has brought out a wealth of Xenophobic attitudes.

The bad

  1. The weather – Scottish weather is no joke. Even in the height of summer it can get very cold, wet and windy. You’ll need a good tent and sleeping bag. If you aren’t camping, make sure you’re geared up with some good wet-weather gear. We also made the mistake of going some very rough sea and I’d caution you to not risk the full wrath of nature!

  1. The realities of wild camping – I’ve been wild-camping before and, whilst the realities of sleeping a tad-rough don’t bother me, bear in mind that here are a few negatives. Whilst wild-camping is legal, it can also be difficult to find a good pitch in some areas and certain national parks will not allow wild-camping so please do your research. We found that none of these issues were particularly problematic; however, other wild campers were. They were inconsiderate, left rubbish lying around, and generally didn’t do the rest of us tourists proud. Be a good wild-camper for your sake and for everyone else!

  1. Racking up the miles – Again I’ll say right away that this wasn’t really a problem for me. I ended the trip by driving from Skye to Brighton in around 14 hours and, so, I do have a fondness for being behind the wheel; however, the amount of time you’ll spend behind the wheel isn’t for the faint hearted. The road is over 500 hand miles before you factor in your journey time to and from Inverness from wherever you live. In addition, the roads are difficult to drive. Much of it single track and that definitely will take a mental toll on you over time. Bear this in mind, especially if you’re going to have kids sitting in the back asking ‘are we there yet?’ every five minutes!

The downright ugly

  1. The Midges – to be honest, these little blighters were by far the worst part of Scotland. That is way they’ve earned their place in the ‘downright ugly’ category. My body is a mosaic of pale skin and red welts. This is why you do your research folks. My travelling companion and I had no idea of the biological differences between highland midges and mosquitos. We just thought tiny flies were chilling on our skin and, thus, took several days to realise we were being eaten alive. In the Summer months midges travel in clouds and will follow you to the ends of the earth, be that inside your tent or car. Get yourself insect repellant, a head net, hope there’s a strong breeze, and start up a fire every night. You’re going to want EVERY means at your disposal to stop the midges getting under your skin.

Into the Scottish Wild

I realise I have been radio silent for the last couple of weeks and that just won’t do!

Right now, I am busy finishing up my law conversion course, which is undoubtedly the bane of my life. I will, however, be free of it in around two weeks, at which point I will hopefully have more time to write, and more time to do things which deserve writing about.

That leads me onto my plan for the next month. In mid-August I have sketched out a vague plan to travel the NC-500 with one of my best mates, Andy.

We’ll be hopping in my Suzuki Grand Vitara 4 x 4 and then driving from Brighton to Ben Nevis. With no prior training, although we are both semi-fit, we the plan to scale Scotland’s highest peak… Fingers crossed we make it.

Then we will forge on towards Inverness to start the NC-500, not to be confused with the Indy 500. For those of you who haven’t heard of the NC-500, and I’m sure that’s many of you, if the raised eyebrows of my friends at it’s very mention are anything to go by, it is THE road trip if you want to see the Scottish highlands and Northern Scottish coastline in all their rugged glory.

Across 520 miles, which circumnavigate the outer reaches of Northern Scotland, the route will be sure to test our driving skills and self-sufficiency. As we are still just about in the midst of the current pandemic, even the basic task of planning our supplies for our two-week road trip is, in itself, of significant importance and an exercise in prudence.

Usually, on my past road trips, I could rely on supermarkets and petrol stations being open and rammed with resources. Now, I just can’t bank on that fact. Of course that is a pain; however, the uncertainty has led me to question whether there is there a much more interesting time to travel the UK than right now? I’d wager that there hasn’t been over the past decade or so, and, thus, I can’t wait for the forthcoming challenge!

Just to get some opinions and recommendations, here is my list of items that I’ll be taking with me for the trip:

  • A four-person tent. Andy and I are big lads and we’re going to be wild camping for two weeks. We need a tent and it has to be big enough.
  • An inflatable mattress and accompanying foot pump. I’m going to sleep in comfort and we bought an inflatable mattress a few years back from Decathlon which is currently gathering dust. It now has a use.
  • For the sake of my sleep, I’m chucking in ear plugs for Andy’s snoring as well!
  • A sleeping bag. This will round off the whole sleeping situation.
  • Food. Mostly canned, a loaf of bread, some vegetables and fruit that will keep.
  • A cool box. This is incase we can pick up ice and any cold food. With this, we can store it from the moment we get it, and thus take advantage.
  • My portable barbecue and a bag of coals. If we can get hold of meat, or catch us some fish, then I’ll definitely need these.
  • A fishing rod. To catch us some dinner if I can!
  • A stack of clothes. T-shirts, trousers, boxers, socks and the rest of the basics.
  • My trusty cap. I never go anywhere without it in the car!
  • Walking boots. Some proper shoes are definitely going to be necessary.
  • Waterproofs. We’re climbing Ben Nevis so I won’t be messing around in a t-shirt and shorts the whole time.
  • My knife. This is useful for a whole host of reasons. I might take my Swiss army knife as well, for it’s multi-purpose as a tool.
  • My Zippo Lighter. The quintessential fire starter in my opinion.
  • Sunglasses. When I’m driving at certain times, these will be reaaaally important.
  • Insect repellent. Mosquitos are ten a penny in Scotland right now and, as much as I don’t like it putting it on, a non-deet repellent will be in the bag.
  • My trusty dumbbell. I want to keep exercising as best I can, especially if I’m up at sunrise when the light pierces the tent.
  • Toiletries. Toothbrush, soap and all the rest. A razor for shaving also isn’t too bad an idea because my beard does not look good at all. What do you think of blonde hair and a ginger beard? Personally, I don’t think it’s a pretty picture.
  • My wallet, complete with cash and cards. This is obvious so I won’t elabourate.
  • A road map. My phone won’t get signal everywhere in signal so google maps might have to sit back and relax while my brain fumbles around with my map.
  • My Lonely Planet Guide on Scotland. I love to have a book to read and this one will help me bore Andy with fact after Scottish fact.
  • My phone. I wish I didn’t need it but better safe than sorry.
  • My car charger and T25 Bluetooth hookup. To keep the phone on, and be able to blast music and podcasts through my speakers.
  • A killer playlist. Everything from the Proclaimers, particularly as we’re in Scotland driving for around 500 miles, to Juice Wrld. Just to reiterate though, It would be frankly obscene if the Proclaimers didn’t make the list!
  • Oil. I definitely don’t want my car to breakdown because I didn’t bring it.
  • A pen, pad of paper, and my laptop. All to keep you guys updated from the road.

If you think of anything else I should take, that would be much appreciated. This list isn’t exhaustive but it’s been flitting around the back of my mind in advance of the forthcoming trip so it feels good to get it down on paper.

The NC-500 promises to be stunning. I’ll post my own photos as we go, or when we get back, but if you’re interested in advance, check out some of the best and most beatiful landmarks to visit on the route right here.

I can’t wait to get back to you guys with stories from the NC-500. I’ll endeavour to write a couple more articles before I leave on the trip; however, with exams in full flow, I can’t promise anything! Ciao for now…

7 Road Trip Tips Everyone Needs to Know

I am an avid fan of road trips. I profess that I have committed to almost as many road trips in my future as I have already eaten hot dinners in my past! Moreover, I’ve already journeyed upon hundreds of road trips, both short and long, over the five years since I first learnt to drive.

In my opinion, that makes me something of a self-taught expert on ‘all things road-trip’. I therefore hope the following pearls of wisdom help you out!

  1. Budget

Road tripping can be a fantastically cheap option for travelling; however, there are a number of costs people just forget about that end up draining the bank account.

That’s why you need to draw up a budget; don’t worry though, it can just be a basic one. Work out what you can afford to expend and then list the costs of your trip. This will likely include petrol, tolls, accommodation, food, and other essential costs. It may also include non-essential costs, like entry fees for things you want to see.

Make sure your budget caters for the necessities first and then the luxuries if they are still possible. You don’t want to find that you are too short on money to afford the petrol to get back home!  

  1. Work out where you are sleeping

You need somewhere to sleep out on the road. Where that is will depend heavily upon your priorities.

A quick cost benefit of analysis of your accommodation options will be necessary to construct your budget and properly plan your trip. I personally like to sleep in my car, or alternatively to wild camp. These options won’t cost you a penny, although they’re arguably less comfortable than a motel or Airbnb. If you are wishing to do either though, make sure you’re comfortable with the safety of your surrounding area and the laws of the land. Wild camping isn’t legal everywhere, and nor is sleeping in your car, so be aware of the rules.

If you want any ideas on cheap travel accommodation options, then check out my article here!

  1. Food for Thought

I think with my stomach more than my head or my heart. That’s why I like to do a bit of planning when it comes to what I’m going to be eating.

Alongside accommodation and petrol, food is likely to constitute your biggest outlay spending wise. Getting your eating habits right can save you a lot of money.

Make your own food, dine where locals eat, and avoid petrol station sandwiches. All good ideas, but if you want a little more advice on how to eat well for less when you travel, check out my post on the topic here!

  1. Learn the rules of the road

This one can be ‘life or death’, and I’m not kidding around about that.

Ending up on the wrong side of the road, which is particularly easy when the entire world drives across from us English folk, can make for a dangerous journey.

Knowing the rules of the road is actually a little more complicated than just knowing which side to be on though. Being aware that cops carry guns in America and that, until asked, you shouldn’t get out of your vehicle are facts unfamiliar to many amongst the British. Moreover, if you were to travel to France, it is a legal requirement that you carry in your car the following; warning triangles, high-vis jackets, a government certified breathalyzer kit, and an alcohol detection kit.

Although it is arguable whether most of the aforementioned rules are crucial to the effective running of the roads, or whether they are legacies of mind-numbing bureaucracy, you need to know all about them anyway. Do your research to stay safe!

  1. Choose your companion wisely

Not everyone makes for a good travel partner. In fact, great travel companions are few and far between. How many people would you want to spend a week trapped in a metal box with?

It’s a question I fortunately don’t have to ask that often. Having had several incredibly boring road trips, one with a particularly sleepy and verbally un-exciting ex-girlfriend, I now know my best friend Andrew to be my perfect road-trip companion. A best friend, with whom you spend much of your time, or perhaps your partner, will likely make for good companions.

If, however, you can’t stick spending time with them, perhaps consider being a lone wolf for your next trip! You’ll find yourself with a distinct freedom that, if you take the necessary safety precautions, you will no doubt enjoy.

  1. Make yourself a cracking playlist

You’re going to spend a lot of time behind the wheel. If you’re doing a proper road trip, then there isn’t any way around that. It’s what you’ve signed up for to be honest!

With all that driving though, having a little background music to keep you going will undoubtedly be necessary. Don’t forget to download a few podcasts onto your phone as well. Hours and hours of fantastic audio content to peruse will keep your mind ticking over so that you don’t fall asleep behind the wheel. I know people whom this has happened to and anything to mitigate the risk is really important.

If, however, you do feel tired then park up and get a kip. There’s really no sense in trying to stave off the tiredness.

  1. Plan but don’t plan too much!

If you’re reading this, then it’s fairly safe to say you’re into planning out your trips. There is no shame in that. I am all for getting excited by your future plans and working out some particulars to get the most out of where you’re going!

Even so, there is something entirely novel, by nature of course, about stepping into the unknown. Make your trip as spontaneous as you feel you can. Stretch your comfort zone and get a little loose with your planning. I guarantee it’s more fun when you don’t place flesh beyond the bare bones of your trip.

Conclusion

I can’t recommend a good road trip enough. This article hopefully gave you a few ideas on how to plan for one. I’ll undoubtedly expand on this article in the future but, for now, ciao! Stay safe out there.

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!

Sleep easy with these 5 Cheap Travel Accommodation Options!

This is post number five in my Thrifty Travel Tips Series! These posts aim to give you tips on how to save your money, when travelling abroad, based upon my own personal experiences of working with a shoe-string budget.

This week, I’m handing out advice on keeping down those pesky accommodation costs. You always need somewhere to sleep abroad, so how can you stop some mega-hotel-chain from emptying your bank account? Without further ado, here are my top five value-for-money accommodation options abroad!

  1. Hostels

Hostels are a timeless classic!

There are definite positives and negatives to living in a hostel so let’s weigh them up!

On the plus side, hostels are pretty cheap. I’ve stayed in hostels across Europe and have never paid more than £50 for a room, even in notoriously expensive cities like Stockholm. I usually pay around £20-£30 for a bed in a group dormitory and you can’t really turn your nose up at that unless, like me, you go away with a budget of almost £0.

Drinking water (usually), hot water (sometimes), good company (also sometimes), and an onsite bar (pretty much always actually), add up to give you, as a tourist, most of the things you’d want from basic accommodation!

Those are the upsides.

Here are some of the negatives. You will always end up with the people who come in at 3am and turn the light on. This just seems to be a given for me.

Moreover, the people fornicating in the next bunk, or the guys who want to play poker on the floor, just seem to love sharing a room with me. I actually don’t mind the noise but, if you’re less accommodating to such circumstances than me, maybe book a smaller room or go for one of the other options!

Perhaps surprisingly, although cheap, this is the most expensive option on the list so hostels aren’t ‘out and out’ thrifty. If you want some ultimate money savers, there are better options.

Also, if you choose the wrong hostel, as I have; dirty sheets, unclean bathrooms, and doors that don’t lock, are all possibilities. If you are going to get a room at a hostel, do your research. Check the online reviews because not all websites have a minimum quality threshold for listings!

Some good websites include hostelworld, which I have used a number of times, and KAYAK, which has been recommended by friends. Feel free to check the sites out now!

  1. Couchsurfing

That term, Couchsurfing, refers to a specific website as well as a practice.

So, what is Couchsurfing? Couch surfing is the act of spending a night’s sleep on someone’s sofa. Couchsurfing, the website, is a service that connects travellers across the world so that they can… Couch surf… So, it does exactly what it says on the tin!

Couch surfing is… Drumroll please… Completely free! (Sorry if I went a little ellipsis crazy at this point guys). Free! That means its always under consideration for me!

Stay with locals and gain their invaluable experience on the area in which you are staying. You may also very well find fantastic locations in which to stay and make brilliant friends.

There are only two negatives in my eyes really, and both can be mitigated somewhat by doing your research. The first is that you might not get the best nights sleep, so check out what you’re going to be sleeping on, and in which room. If you are to be sleeping on a wooden table in a room with a hamster cage, the noise and lack of comfortability may do you no favours (I had a similar situation in London once). On the plus side, you may also get a double bed overlooking the town square so find out beforehand to make sure you arrange the best possible experience!

The second negative is the possibility of risking your personal safety. There are undoubtedly plenty of negative, and potentially even dangerous, experiences which go along with these practices so do be careful. Scour Couchsurfing for those hosts with full profiles and reviews left by other travellers. Make sure everything is in order and you feel comfortable before making any decisions. If you arrive and something is wrong, ensure you have an alternative just in case!

  1. Airbnb

I’ve used Airbnb a lot, particularly in countries where the market is still really cheap. In Novisad, Serbia, myself and two friends paid a combined £30 for a swanky penthouse apartment overlooking the main square. It was even fitted with marble floors and a chandelier!

In spite of this incredible deal, Airbnb is generally the most expensive option on the list! You are paying to live in somebody’s personal property and that can come with a hefty price tag!

Generally, the quality of living quarters is high if you know what you’re looking for but, as with Couchsurfing, please read reviews to ensure you’ve got a good deal and a safe place to stay.

As you’ve come here for money saving tips, I wouldn’t generally recommend Airbnb, particularly in tourist hot spots; however, I love the site and, if you’re willing to spend a little more money than on a hostel, there are fantastic bargains to be had!

  1. Camping

This is my preferred option on the entire list.

Camping definitely isn’t for everyone. A bad back, rain seeping through your canvas at night, and an ice cold shower to wake up to. Those used to be the standard. These days, no longer!

Buy an inflatable mattress for £10 in Decathlon, and a half-decent tent for £100, and you’ve solved the bad back and the rain! You can get a good 10 years out of both and then the money is really a pittance.

Then pay £10-£15 for a tent pitch, if you need one, check the site online to make sure it’s got great facilities, and you’ve got a place to stay for the night! It does usually require you to be road tripping, because lugging a tent around is not ideal but, in sunnier climes, a hammock will slot nicely into most bags and offer you a choice of accommodation!

Check out one of my favourite campsites, Montaioncino Azienda Agricola, near Empoli in Tuscany, for a wonderful trip away.

Of course, location wise, you aren’t going to be in the center of town with most camp sites but, if countryside beauty spots are your ballpark, you can pick a campsite slap bang in the middle of one!

  1. Sleep in the car

I’ll admit, this is usually a last resort, but I’ve done it way too many times.

When my mates are snoring, rain is pouring into a poorly constructed tent, or I just can’t find any accommodation, sleeping on the back seats of the car is an option. Its free and you can park where you want (within reason)!

Of course, there are a number of downsides. Its really hard to get a good kip in your car; sat bolt upright, with no heating, and lots going on outside. Its also not entirely safe if somebody happens upon you slumped in your car.

If, however, you are comfortable with the area and you have a car that’s big enough, it’s not a terrible option!

Conclusion

I hope this has given you some ideas for cheap lodgings abroad! Of course, I want to remind you guys to stay safe so please do your research and remember that your welfare is more important than how little money you spend. Ciao!

The 5 Reasons I want to go to British Columbia in Canada!

This post is number 10 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

Set between the towering Rockies and the royal blue Pacific Ocean, British Columbia is arguably the jewel in Canada’s crown.

I have wanted to go to British Columbia ever since, as a child, I watched documentaries in which bears would hunt salmon in the rapidly flowing rivers and waterfalls of the region. I was probably only about ten when I first became aware of British Columbia and it has subsequently gathered a mystical reputation in my mind, which will become evident via my use of near endless superlatives in this post.

There are 101 reasons to visit British Columbia, but here are the top 5 that intrigue me!

  1. Banff and Yoho National Parks.

Is it cheating to put Banff on this list? Maybe so, as technically it is located in Alberta; however, Yoho, which borders it to the West, is in British Columbia and I would very much like to see both. Thus, I don’t feel guilty!

There’s a lot of Banff to see as the National park is 6 and a half thousand kilometers of pristine Canadian wilderness! Moreover, Yoho is another 1300 kilometers large and is arguably just as eye catching!

Road trip through Icefields Parkway for a true perspective on the sheer enormity and breadth of these unbelievable National Parks. Over 100 glaciers, relics of a bygone ice age, split apart huge rock mountains, electric blue lakes, and dark dense pine forests.

The whole scene is thoroughly primeval and must be unspeakably beautiful to behold. Couple that with a hike up to Moraine Lake, and/or the Cave and Basin Hot Springs, and you have a fantastic trip through perhaps the most beautiful region of Canada.

  1. Kayak with orcas!

Orcas have always been one of my favourite animals. They are absolutely stunning creatures and, although I have seen whales in the wild before, I’ll never be satisfied until I’ve seen a pod of orcas up close and personal.

Orcas are the custodians of the sea, with an intellect perhaps unmatched by any species other than humans. Their language is thought to be so sophisticated that they have dialects depending on which pod they are members of. That, to me, is fascinating.

Several companies in Canada offer encounters with Orcas by way of kayaking tours. Provided this doesn’t harm the animals, and I will of course make sure of that before I go on any trip, I can think of very few experiences I would rather have on this planet than kayaking alongside an orca!

  1. See bears hunting salmon!

I’m sticking with the wildlife theme for this one!

I have seen a bear once in my life, at Yosemite National park in the USA a few years ago. Ambling through a meadow high amongst the rocky outcrops of the area, she was the highlight of my entire trip to the states.

Now, I’m hungry to see one again! The spike of adrenaline I felt at seeing the brown bear has not been replicated many times in my life. On a visit to the great white north, I one day hope to see a grizzly bear hunting salmon in the rivers of Western Canada. We’ve all seen the videos, or perhaps pictures, of shaggy grizzlies plucking salmon from waterfalls. It’s an iconic image and one that I would be ecstatic to see!

If there are two things I really want to do on this list, it is to see a hunting bear, and kayak with orcas. Whilst seeing a bear would be a close second to kayaking alongside an orca, that is saying something because I am desperate beyond comprehension to see an orca!

  1. Wild Pacific Trail

In Ucluelet, on the west coast of the Island of Vancouver, the Wild Pacific Trail weaves its way through pristine nature. Across numerous content outlets I have perused, the trail is considered to be one of the best tourist attractions to visit in all of Canada.

Ancient-cedar forests, the violent Pacific ocean, and the Amphitrite Lighthouse, are all reasons to sit down and take stock of the scenery around you. Like every different hike in the world, it’s completely unique; however, few hikes are quite as special as the Wild Pacific Trail.

Take a look at this one because I can’t do it justice with my limited repertoire of words. I promise, if you are a hiker or a lover of nature, you’ll be desperate to go.

  1. Vancouver

If the wildlife and scenery isn’t quite enough to convince you that a visit to British Columbia is worthwhile, perhaps the city of Vancouver will!

The Museum of Anthropology is world renowned for its collection of art and exhibitions from across the globe. With a strong emphasis also placed upon Canada’s own indigenous cultures, the museum is not to be missed if you are wanting to learn more about the history of this great country.

In addition, Vancouver is also touted for its fabulous markets!

Richmond Night Market is one of the biggest in North American, with hundreds of stalls selling a variety of foods and other organic products. Some even invite punters to take their shots at various challenges! If that doesn’t whet your appetite though, perhaps Eastside flea market, selling wares which include vintage clothes, antiques, and other local produce, will!

Lastly, is there anything perceived to be more wonderfully Canadian, at least to an outsider like me, than ice hockey? Outside of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors, there may be no less prominent Canadian franchise than the Vancouver Canucks! Try and catch a game, even if you aren’t a fan, for the atmosphere and a staple of the Canadian lifestyle!

Conclusion

I hope this gave you a little taste of what British Columbia has to offer! When I visit, I will be sure to write up how the reality aligned with my expectations and get back to you guys with another post. Stay safe out there!

5 Foods You Have to Try in Italy!

I’m not a food critic, but I know what I like!

It occurred to me, whilst writing about the meals I enjoyed in Serbia, that I have sampled a wide array of foods on my travels. Moreover, given that I profess to know enough about the places I visit to recommend them to you lovely people, it also stands to reason that I should throw some delicious foreign delicacies your way too!

To begin with, I thought I’d hit you with a list of dishes I’ve enjoyed in Italy. It’s easy, when you think about Italian food, to limit your scope to pizza and pasta, but should you? If you’re in Italy, then my advice would be absolutely not! The cuisine is incredibly varied and well worth exploring!

Here are my first five Italian food recommendations. I hope that at least one of them will make you forget the culinary wonders that are pasta and pizza. Enjoy!

  1. Caprese salad

A Caprese salad is an extremely simple dish hailing from the Campania region of Italy.

It is made up of segments of tomato, as a base, sliced mozzarella, above it, and fresh basil atop of the delicate stack. With a little olive oil and seasoning, that’s the whole recipe!

Fresh ingredients are the key to a great Caprese salad and Italian restaraunts, or at least the ones I’ve been to, always seem to nail it bang on the head. I thoroughly recommend it as a starter or, in larger quantities, as a somewhat healthy option for your main course!

  1. Arancini

Arancini is something of a ‘leftovers dish’. It’s a way to recycle the risotto rice which you didn’t finish up, not that there’s ever been excess uneaten risotto in my household!

Don’t worry though, for a low-cost cheap dish Arancini is plenty indulgent. It is now a staple of the Sicilian diet and an absolutely fantastic snack. Said to be derived from Arabic cuisine, Arancini is essentially a ball of rice which has been fried in breadcrumbs. It is, quite frankly, divine.

Although I’m quite sure I have understated the complexity of the cooking, and artistry of the execution, I know I’ve accurately described how good Arancini tastes! You’ve got to try it!

  1. Fritto misto

The term fritto misto quite literally means ‘mixed fried’. It is an apt description!

Most often the dish is made up of seafood and vegetables which have been dusted in flour and then fried until golden. Quality seafood is an intrinsic part of Italian cuisine, a fact you could easily miss if you focused too much on the pastas and pizzas of this world.

Fritto misto, whilst similar to pescaito frito in Spain, stands in its own right as a fantastic dish and I can’t help but recommend it!

  1. Parmigiana di melanzane

Parmigiana di melanzane is an absolutely delightful dish and also happens to be vegetarian.

It’s origin is widely debated; however, it’s deliciousness is not so often. Made from aubergine, or eggplant for you American folk, a rich tomato sauce, and parmesan cheese, it is a wonderfully tasty and delicately layered dish. Parmigiana di melanzane is, to me at least, somewhat similar to a vegetarian lasagna, although I’m sure that comparison would curl the toes of any Italian purist chef!

If you are a vegetarian, or just enthusiastic about good food, definitely give it a taste!

  1. Stracciatella gelato

Gelato is one of the singular most delectable and varied deserts the world has ever seen.

Invented by an Italian chef as early as the late 1600s, the dessert is still widely enjoyed throughout Italy. In fact, Italy is the only country where artisanal gelato holds market share over mass-produced gelato! Quality over quantity may never have been better embodied.

Stracciatella is one of the most iconic gelato flavours, alongside my favourite, pistachio, and deserves its place as the fifth item on my list! Plain ice cream is drizzled with liquid chocolate, which then freezes, and creates shreds of sed chocolate in the mix!

It is delicious and an absolutely classic Italian desert. Like most of the items on the list, it is wonderfully simple and yet fabulously tasty!

Conclusion

I hope I’ve shown you a little of the variety that exists under the umbrella term of Italian cuisine. I hope to write more of this type of post in the future so do let me know if you guys have any comments, tips, or recommendations, to make this style of post better. Just pop any such suggestions down at the bottom of the page and I’ll get back to ya. Ciao!

Why Not Go To Serbia? A Short Story And 4 Reasons You Should!

This post starts out with a story from my time in Serbia; however, if you want to shoot on down the page and just read about my top four reasons to visit the country, feel free! Anyway, here comes the tale:

John Burns, with whom I find fleeting commonality because of his tee-total nature and keen interest in sports, rather than his socialist tendencies or deplorable antisemitism, once remarked that:

“why four great powers should fight over Serbia no fellow can understand.”

John Burns.

This comment is another point on which Burns and I cannot agree. The following post is the story of my first day in Serbia, followed by my recommendations as to why you should visit this beautiful stretch of the Balkans. Enjoy!

The day began in rural Romania. Curtisoara is a quaint commune in South Western Romania. It is a commune in the Romanian sense, in that it is of the lowest fundamental level of the administrative hierarchy of Romanian regions, rather than being a paradise for the hippies of the Balkans.

Having said that, allotments befitting of the British definition of a commune are ten a penny in the Olt Country within which Curtisoara resides. As Andrew, Paul, and I travelled through this region, having spent several days at the Romanian countryside residence of Paul, we were weighed down by bags of walnuts which had been cultivated in just such allotments.

Headed for Novi Sad, Serbia, I sat in the passenger seat of our VW Polo, scoffing walnut after walnut, as rain spattered its windshield in the pre-dawn dark. Whilst Paul snored away in the backseat, sprawled across the luggage overflowing from the boot, and Andy sang along softly to Watsky’s Sloppy Seconds on repeat, I observed the Banat countryside. As we drove, dense primeval forests interspersed with colourful settlements were gradually replaced with wide open plains and busy truck stops. The whole region is undulating hills and as a boy raised beneath the Sussex South Downs, I felt wonderfully at ease with the landscape.

Romania is a beautiful country to traverse and nowhere was more spectacular on this leg of the journey than the so-called Iron Gates between it and Serbia. In this gorge, jade water divides the two regions; separating mountain ranges, national parks, and countries. The road itself largely hugs the waters edge, rising intermittently for spectacular views. It is a place I’d never heard of, and yet one I would not hesitate to go back to.

The Iron Gates/Derdap Gorge

Ultimately, after nine hours of slow traffic throughout Western Romania and Eastern Serbia, for a slated mere 6-hour journey, we were shattered. Actually, just Andrew and I, for we had split the journey whilst Paul caught up on a fair amount of sleep.

Leafing through my Lonely Planet Travel Guide, Andrew remarked that there was a beach on the Danube in Novi Sad called Strand, and it was one of the city’s top attractions! Peering through my tinted club masters at the shimmering hoods of cars in the oncoming lane of traffic, I agreed that a swim in the blistering sun would be just what the doctor ordered.

On arrival to Novi Sad we got a tad lost amongst underwhelming grey office blocks and seemingly empty housing estates; however, we eventually came across the river. We then drove along it and found a secluded street to park up, traded shorts for swimming trunks, and marched through a thicket of trees and down onto the banks of the Danube.

The Lonely planet Guide had led us believe that the beach was blessed with white sand, and the river with crystal clear water. Instead, the sand was speckled with litter and murky green water ate at the filthy dunes. A decomposing bird of unknown origin in the shallows was the icing on the cake. A lot of people would have upped and left at that point but we weren’t, and still aren’t, fancy lads. Our rugby ball was hoisted up into the air by Paul and an impromptu kick about commenced.

It continued for the best part of the afternoon, until a man speaking what I can only presume was Serbian approached us. He ambled over, obviously stumbling and definitely drunk. His words were slurred but as he gesticulated wildly, it became clear that one English word was recurring “Present! Present! Present!” We played an unofficial game of charades with him, his lack of control over his flailing limbs making it extra difficult to play. The man wanted our rugby ball and, eventually realising that we wouldn’t oblige him, became increasingly aggravated. At this point, wishing to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with him, we backed away and followed the beach around one of the river’s great meanders.

Coming around the bend was a little like being slapped in the face by Serbia. Before us was a scene straight out of the brochures. Before our very eyes the water turned Inexplicably clearer and a mass of beachgoers sat sunning themselves, their children frolicking in the water. Despairing at our misfortune and tired, we found a spot for the car to sit for the night and marched on to our air b n b.

The apartment was beautifully furnished with a huge chandelier and views overlooking the main square. Given that the b n b had only cost us £28 cumulatively for the night, we were all utterly taken aback by the bargain. It turns out that it’s cheaper to get a luxury apartment in Serbia than it is to pitch a tent at a site in France. All in all, I was incredibly grateful to not spend another night of sleep disrupted by the lack of a ground mat, the snoring of two rugby props, and a plethora of mosquitos and other hungry insects.

Looking out the window, The Name of Mary Church towered over the main square, its patterned multi-coloured spire illuminated by the glow of the dusk sun. Too tired to be in awe of anything at that moment, we crashed for a kip and awoke in the late evening. Most of the restaurants were closed but the cobbled streets and old stone buildings of central Novi Sad were just as authentic and handsome as in any European old town I have visited. If you ever have a chance for a short trip to the lesser known Serbian city, stop by. It’s not going to earn plaudits like Rome or Paris as European cities go, but Novi Sad and Serbia deserve a little more attention than most people would give them.

With all the restaurants pretty much closed, and our stash of walnuts entirely exhausted, we sat down for a Serbian KFC. It was surprisingly better than most KFC meals, or indeed takeaways, that I’d had in the UK.

Whilst sitting to eat, I checked my phone for the first time in days. Whilst I was on the worst beach I’d ever been to, my sister had been peppering the family group chat on her impending evacuation from Lombok in Indonesia.

It turns out she had been caught up in an earthquake. It was thinking about Lombok, a beautiful island marred by devastation, that I gained a little perspective on the few negatives, and overwhelming positives, to the time I’d spent with my best mates stuck in traffic, and at a little stretch of beach by the Danube in central Serbia with a man desperate to acquire a rugby ball!

So, why should you go to Serbia?

There are plenty of reasons to visit Serbia! For all of the joking about the mishaps I experienced there, I absolutely loved the country.

During my time there, I experienced the best and worst of what the Serbia had to offer. In fact, because I experienced the negatives, I think you should trust my glowing endorsement of Serbia that much more. Here it is!

  1. Belgrade

Belgrade has seen everything, and you can tell. The city isn’t pristine and, whilst driving into it, you may be put off by the overall aesthetic of the metropolis. Towering concrete apartment blocks and walls of graffiti are the norm. This lends it a distinctly soviet feel in places but please don’t judge the book by its cover! The old town more than compensates for any perceived ugliness in Belgrade, at least in my opinion.

The Belgrade fortress, standing guard over the confluence of the River Sava and Danube, was first constructed in 279BC, although it has been galvanized and reconstructed many times since then. The castle is stunning and gifts you beautiful views over the city. Thus, it is a fantastic place to stop and eat your lunch!

You may very well then choose to step foot in Belgrade’s old town, Stari Grad.

It feels almost Parisian with beautiful statues, buildings, and potted flowers. This area of the city is a perfect place to grab your dinner and Serbian food really is excellent!

My favourite dish, and I tried a lot, was Pljeskavica. It was recommended by one particularly exuberant waiter and did not disappoint!

A mixed patty of beef, lamb, and pork, served with onions, cream, relish, and inside a flatbread, it is the Serbian hamburger. In my opinion though, it’s a fair bit better than your average hamburger. The one I had was huge, juicy, and the bread to meat ratio was fantastic. I whole heartedly recommend i!

  1. Novi Sad

Novi Sad, like Serbia, has its more and less attractive parts but, lets be honest, so does every city on the planet! It’s not like the streets I grew up on are going to appear in watercolour paintings any time soon.

My favourite building in the city was The Name of Mary Church. As I said in my story, it has a multicoloured spire which really stands out on the skyline. The square it stands on is also a focal point of the city and I guarantee that if you check a travel guide, or trip advisor, you’ll find somewhere fantastic and affordable nearby to eat, just as we did!

I will also note that, whilst we didn’t have the best experience of it, Strand, the beach on the Danube, is a great place to spend the afternoon. Follow the locals to find the best spot to sit and bathe.

It’s part of Novi Sad’s culture and you would be missing out on a true Serbian experience if you didn’t partake in a dip in the Danube!

  1. Serbia’s wild side!

I’m not talking about Serbia’s nightlife, although it’s supposed to be awesome and I unfortunately missed out because of time constraints. This is all about the Serbian countryside!

Uvac is one of the most picture-perfect places you’ll likely see in photos. The river’s meanders cut through rocky outcrops, the snake-like channel harbouring pristine deep blue water. If you were to visualize exactly what a winding river should look like, this would be it!

Beyond Uvac, Derdap Gorge, on the border with Romania, is the perfect place to add to any road trip. It has stunning views and ever interesting, if a little terrifying, roads. I talked about it earlier in my story so I won’t chew your ear off on the topic but it’s definitely worth a visit!

I’m sure there’s plenty more of Serbia’s wild side to enjoy but these were my highlights!

  1. The Price!

If you guys have read my posts before, you know I’m a thrifty traveller through and through. That means if there’s a bargain to be had, and I’ve found it, you guys are going to hear about it!

I paid about £10 for a meal and drink, although non-alcoholic, at some pretty great restaurants and never came away hungry. Moreover, you also read about the £28 chandelier and marble furnished apartment we rented in Novi Sad. If both the food and accommodation don’t shout affordable, by European standards at least, then I don’t know what does!

Get yourself a bargain of a holiday in beautiful Serbia, a fantastic country where you can really get off the beaten track!

Conclusion

Serbia is affordable, stunning, and an all-round fantastic place to visit! You might not hear about it from everyone, but the country is a seriously underrated travel destination. Some of the best times of my life were had on the road there! I’d love to hear your opinions on Serbia, whether you visited it or not, in the comments!

6 Reasons To Visit Brighton- England’s City Of Soul!

I feel more comfortable in a place like Brighton… There are so many arty, creative people, and things are less rushed, less stressed!

Gabrielle aplin

I love a quote, as you guys are probably coming to realise! I also love Brighton. I grew up in and around it. The vibrant city with buskers on every corner, graffiti on every wall, and a party to be had on every street. I thought I’d write a short list of ideas for tourists wanting to spend a few days on the South Coast, specifically in Brighton! This list is by no means exhaustive but it’s not a bad place to get started for now!

  1. The Royal Pavilion.

The Royal Pavilion is an exquisite palatial building with architectural concepts borrowed from both British and Far-Eastern traditions.

The Pavilion has a stunning and unique design slapped down right in the middle of a beautiful park in Brighton, just a couple of minutes from the seaside.

From the ornate music room ceiling, decorated with dangling lotus-shaped chandeliers, to the beautiful Pavilion Gardens, designed by architect John Nash, there is no part of the grounds that has escaped thoughtful consideration and flawless execution.

At around £15 for an adult ticket into the Pavilion, it’s not fantastically cheap; however, you can wander the Royal Pavilion gardens to your heart’s content for free! Chill out on the grass in Summer with your mates, like we always do!

  1. Brighton Palace Pier.

Looking to blow off some steam? Brighton Palace Pier might just be the place to do it!

Brighton’s premiere pier, with the other having burned down long ago, is a remnant of a bygone age. The victorian structure is a legacy of the ‘bucket and spade’ seaside holiday era, and yet the pier is still geared up for your enjoyment today.

You can play all the old school arcade games including air hockey, Pac-man, and the coin tipping machines, with little damage done to the wallet if you’re careful. Moreover, the pier even has rides! From the dodgems to the Turbo Coaster, there are rides for everyone to enjoy!

You can even grab a souvenir, ice cream, and a donut, if you’re so inclined for a proper day at the seaside!

  1. Shop the Lanes.

Brighton’s Lanes are the heart and sole of the city. They run higgledy piggledy around the city center with no discernible rhyme or reason and everyone I know loves their unique character!

Arguably the best reason to visit the Lanes though is for the fantastic shopping experience!

Charlie’s Sweet Emporium is my favourite sweet shop I’ve ever been to, followed closely by M&M’s World in Las Vegas! The shop sells pretty much all the traditional English sweets and also a wider selection from around the globe! It’s definitely worth checking out. The little fat kid in me just wouldn’t let me leave it off the list!

Beyond Retro is my sister’s contribution to this list! Brighton has made a name for itself as a place to find vintage and secondhand clothing. Beyond Retro, although not necessarily the best value for money of all the shops, has the crème de la crème of quality secondhand clothes! My denim jacket, a number of jumpers, and as much as half of my entire wardrobe, have all been sourced from here. Have a look around for some quality garms!

Do these sound like winning options for a shopping splurge? That’s why you should come down to Brighton!

  1. Visit the South Downs National Park

I grew up in the South Downs National Park, on the chalk hills bearing down over Brighton.

Back then it was just the South Downs, but as of 2011 it is the newest national park in England. If you come down to Brighton, but find yourself needing a break from the city, you should get hiking into this area of outstanding natural beauty!

The lowland heath that comprises parts of the park is one of the rarest habitats on earth and is home to some of the most vulnerable species in the UK, including the beautiful Adonis blue butterfly. Moreover, in 2016, the park was granted International Dark Sky Reserve status, making it one of 16 such places on earth where you can observe the stars in all their glory!

All of these facts, and many more, are reasons you should go for a walk and breath in that South Downs National Park fresh air!

  1. Grab a bite.

Anybody can find food to suit their palate in Brighton!

From food trucks on Churchill Square to critically acclaimed vegetarian restaurants, Brighton has it all. Food for Friends is a fantastic veggie establishment in the South Lanes which even I, an avid carnivore, would happily dine at!

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy though, or you don’t want to splash the big bucks on a meal out, you should try out Grubs. The Brighton-based fast-food chain isn’t high society, but it does cook up a mean burger for your post night-out snack! It has a few locations and you aren’t a true Brighton tourist until you own a grub’s t-shirt!

Lastly, if you’re in town in August, maybe you can catch the Brighton Thai Festival. Authentic Thai food served from vendors at stalls in Preston Park will make you feel like you’re in Bangkok.

All in all, Brighton is a food lover’s dream with something for everyone. I can’t recommend it enough!

  1. Paint the town red!

Soulful Pubs, like The Mash Tun, seafront establishments like Shoosh, and bouncing gay-clubs like Revenge, all offer different and vibrant ways to experience Brighton’s nightlife!

Brighton isn’t a cheap night out. It will burn a hole in your wallet but, if you can make the money work, it is 100% worth the party!

Beyond the normal night out, on one weekend every year Brighton goes crazy for Brighton Pride. The LGBTQ+ event celebrates Brighton’s history as a city that accepts people of all types. It brings swathes of tourists from around the world into Brighton for the biggest party of your life. You can’t miss this one if you love to paint the town red!

Conclusion

Brighton has something for everyone. Lots of cities in England have charm coming out of their ears but what Brighton has is soul! I wholeheartedly recommend that you guys check it out if you come to England.

Still go to Cornwall, Bath, London, York, and Edinburgh, but maybe give Brighton a second glance too!

Thrifty Travel Tips 4: 5 Reasons to Get the Coach!

Having made a case for night trains, I’m going to put my hand up and vouch for another form of travel. Get yourself on a coach! Coach travel is much maligned, admittedly for some good reasons, but has tremendous upside if you can live with the negatives!

Okay, so there here are some negatives to long-distance coach travel. For a lot of people, coach travel is uncomfortable, and any chance of sleep is lost about five minutes into your journey for any one of a hundred reasons. I’ve had to sleep through babies crying, avoid getting caught in a full-blown punch up between a driver and a passenger, and been delayed countless hours of my time by traffic. Even so, coach travel should be under your consideration and here’s why!

  1. The Cheap Price

As an Englishman, most of my journeys begin in London. Be it from Gatwick, Heathrow, St Pancras, Victoria Coach Station, or somewhere else entirely, London tends to be my hub that connects me to everywhere else on the planet. If you’re looking for cheap travel abroad, it seems that I should compare some prices so you can see just how cheap taking the wheels really is.

So google is telling me flights to Paris start at £23 but I can’t find anything like that. The lowest price I have found is easyjet for £54, and I’m sure they go cheaper in their flash sales too! Even so, I’m also looking at coach tickets which will set you back only £12… They also plunge you right into the heart of Paris, where presumably your flight will put you outside the city, at somewhere like Charles De Gaulle, with an impending need to spend more money on extra travel.

£54 before you add your baggage, a snack, and in-country travel costs, is positively criminal in comparison with £12. Maybe think about that next time you’re weighing up travel options!

  1. The Really cheap Price

Okay, a line so nice I said it twice. Coach travel is cheap. I’m a big fan of travel within Britain’s borders. I saved myself around £80 getting from Brighton to see my friend in Edinburgh by getting a last-minute coach instead of the train! If you’re smart, don’t book last minute. If you’re even smarter, hook yourself up with some cost-effective coach travel!

  1. Is the coach really that much less comfortable than a flight?

Okay so flying British Airways first class is probably going to be a bit nicer than the National Express coach you’ve booked yourself. I have no doubt about that. Is it really true that your coach is going to be any less comfortable than flying economy on a plane though?

I would argue there isn’t a great amount of difference. Yes, you’re on the coach for much longer, so that is a downside in terms of comfort, but realistically the two modes of travel are practically the same. Sitting bolt upright with little leg room and wedged next to somebody you may well not know! If I’m paying for that situation, I’m sure going to be taking the cheaper version of it!

  1. It’s much harder to lose your luggage on a coach!

Just about everybody I know who flies regularly has had their luggage lost by an airline. My mum was going on a one-day business trip to Munich and the airline managed to lose her bags for over a week! Somehow, airlines can’t do this basic fundamental: Get your stuff to the same place as you.

With a coach, your bag can be stowed overhead or, more likely, stashed away at wheel-level. You’ll probably throw the bag in yourself, perhaps gently if you have valuables. That means your stuff likely won’t break and if you’re bag doesn’t end up in the right place, it’s probably your fault!

  1. See the world

Are you going away to see the world? You should be. Is it as much about the journey as the destination? It definitely is for me.

You get some incredible views from your plane window, if you bag a window seat of course, but on wheels you get to see the lie of the land. Maybe your coach stops at a town you’ve never heard of, but it looks awesome! You can just get off, say goodbye to your weekend in Paris and enjoy yourself in the moment. That opportunity isn’t facilitated by a flight and that’s just one of the reasons why, if I can’t take my old banged-up car, I’m hopping on a coach if it’s possible!

Conclusion

The coach is a fantastic way to travel. Minor disclaimer though, I’m not advocating getting a coach to Beijing from London, just get the flight. Actually, that’s the kind of journey I’d love to do by coach if only for the story!

Is coach travel sounding really tempting now? Maybe the road less travelled is the route for you!

6 Reasons to Add Oman to Your Bucket List!

“If the only thing you knew about Oman was its location, you might never go at all.”

Hanya Yanagihara

… but that would certainly be to your detriment, I guarantee it!

Oman, the country piggy backing the Northern and Eastern sides of Saudi-Arabia on your world map, needs to make your bucket list. Still fairly undisturbed by tourists, and also much of the conflict which has afflicted the Middle East, it is a country ripe for discovery amongst tourists and I promise that if you don’t go soon, you’ll be hearing all about it from your friends!

  1. A humble capital city with character!

Driving through Muscat, Oman’s capital, you’d be surprised to look out the window and see that there are no real skyscrapers lowering over the whitewashed homes of its residents. Only the beautiful form of an occasional ethereal mosque, or the standalone intricate architecture of a state building like the Royal Opera House, perforate the skyline to give the city a modest sense of grandeur.

This distinct lack of great glass monoliths is a welcome change from other developed cities in the Middle East, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There is Omani legislation in place to prevent the construction of skyscrapers and Muscat has all the more character for it. The streets have a relaxed and friendly feel, which was also reinforced to me by the amicable personas of just about everybody I met there.

I could wax lyrical about Muscat; however, I am far more inclined to shout the praises of the fabulous people and the country’s untouched natural landscape.

  1. The people

Oman has a diverse population of wonderfully friendly people. As I said before, they are incredibly amicable and welcoming.

As with the city of Muscat, Oman’s people haven’t been corrupted, for good or bad, by an overall excess of wealth. They are honest and friendly people who have largely stayed true to their cultural roots, wherever they originally hailed from. I shared food with locals in their homes and exchanged smiles with people I passed on the streets. I was even invited into a mosque to observe aspects of the Muslim faith which I had never been exposed to before.

The fantastic traditions and generousity, which I also saw amongst the nomadic Bedouin people who I broke bread with in the desert, are undoubtedly a reason to go out of your way and visit the country.

  1. Wild Oman

Oman’s wild side is truly something to behold. Scuba dive down into its underwater oasis at the bottom of the Arabian Sea and an array of colourful fish will swarm around you, fairly unperturbed.

Oman’s coast is a rare diamond, made to sparkle even brighter than other tourist destinations, perhaps because the standard flocks of European tourists who run riot across the Mediterranean and Sharm el Sheikh haven’t quite drawn their boats up onto the beach just yet.

Even snorkelling, or walking the beaches, you are very likely to see turtles bobbing on the water or dolphins racing each other and flipping nonchalantly on the horizon. If you really want to get up close and personal with the wildlife, book a turtle hatching tour at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah or a similar hotel for a magical experience.

I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to visit Salalah on my trip, although I am told that the area around the city is stunning. The river, Wadi Darbat, supplies Oman’s lush forests in its southern region, provides natural diversity to the landscape which is undoubtedly worth experiencing. Moreover, the opportunity to see a blue whale off the nearby coast sounds like a reason in itself to visit Salalah and Oman for me!

  1. Extreme activities

As well as spending our time on sandy beaches, my friends and I also ventured into the desert for a spot of dune bashing.

Essentially this involves riding your 4 x 4 up and down the great sand berms of Oman’s desert. It’s even better than it sounds. If you haven’t been to a desert before, this will get you up close and personal with the sprawling sands, without you having to touch a grain of it. Off-roading to the next level, this is any car-lover’s dream activity.

What if you like the water of the beach but not the sand that goes along with it? Then Wadi Shab is for you. An oasis running up a gorge into Oman’s rocky hills, Wadi Shab is beautiful! Just check out the photo that goes along with this article!

Swim and hike up the valley to dive off the very same rocks that Red Bull deemed worthy of their Cliff Diving World Series in 2012. Refreshing cold water to alleviate Oman’s sweltering heat is dreamy and creates a natural swimming pool like few others! This is not to be missed.

Dune bashing and cliff diving, while not then on my to do lists, will now forever be amongst my hobbies when I find myself with the opportunity to do them.

  1. Shawarma

I have to pay tribute to the love of my life. Chicken shawarma, cooked by true artisans on the dockside of the Port of Sultan Qaboos, would be enough to draw me back to Oman on their own.

Delicious meat with a side of salad, tangy sauce, and a warm pitta, make for a divine combination which should be enough to lure you to Oman alone. My mates and I fed the restaurants cats with our leftovers whilst marvelling at one of the Sultan’s many beautiful ships. It is a memory I’ll never likely forget!

  1. The Muttrah Souq

I will finish with the last part of my trip, although undoubtedly one of the best, the Muttrah Souq, or Al Dhalam Souq to locals. My friends and I went there to experience a real Omani market and were not disappointed.

Oman’s Ports have long been a point of intersection between traders moving East and West. As the premier port on the Eastern Coast of the Middle East, goods have been funnelled through the Souq for centuries. Over the years, thanks to its unplanned nature, the Souq has subsequently become both a rabbit warren and a treasure trove!

It is here that a local salesman insisted I be fitted for a dishdasha, and another sold me an intricately carved ornate jewellery box for my sister. It is a fantastic place to pick up souvenirs but also to experience an integral part of Oman’s history as a trading post between massive empires!

Conclusion

I cannot recommend the country enough. Oman is one of the safest Middle Eastern countries. It also has a unique blend of quality infrastructure, which is perfect for travelling, as well as honest and ever present homages to its traditional roots.

The country is also an adventurer’s paradise with opportunities to get back to nature and try out extreme activities. As soon as you can after lockdown, get yourself out there!

My Top 5 Things to do in Brussels!

I’m the guy with the camera!

One of my best friends, Paul, is a Belgian and avidly claims to know the best spots in Brussels for just about anything. Every time I visit the Belgian capital we spend our first evening doing the same five things in this order and I’ve never failed to enjoy every one of them. Have a look and see what you think!

1. Grab Some Traditional Belgian Fries

When Paul picks Andy and I up from the coach station we don’t bother dropping our bags off, nor do we stop at his house to shower up. Instead, we always go straight to Frit Flagey. I won’t try to pretend it’s the best kept secret in town, but Frit Flagey has a reputation for some of the best Belgian fries in Brussels for a reason.

It costs only €2.30 for a large cone of double fried fries smothered in a sauce of your choice. Traditional Belgian mayonnaise or the Brazil sauce are my personal favourites. The latter has a base of mayonnaise; however, flavours of pineapple and curry give it a distinctive tang which I can never pass up. Delicious fries with a crispy snap on the outside and fluffy center, as well as perfect complementary sauces, are a divine combination.

Having grabbed a cone each, Paul always insists on hopping across to Le Flagey Bar on the corner of the square, grabbing three pints, and catching each other up on the months since we last met up. It’s the perfect social setting for a quick chat and some great comfort food.

2. Beers at Delirium Café

For three young rugby players, one pint generally isn’t enough. We always drop the bags and car off at Paul’s house and head on back into town. When thirsty, the Delirium Café is exactly the place to grab yourself a Belgian Beer. It has over 2000 to chose from, a world record for the number of beers you can order. Unfortunately, for you guys, I’m a non-drinker and can’t really speak to the quality of the available beers, nor recommend any particular. Delirium Café itself, however, I can’t recommend highly enough.

Delirium Café’s iconic pink elephant logo is tastefully plastered all over the establishment. Moreover, the walls and ceiling are covered with memorabilia, like trays and glasses, from a range of beers you’ve never heard of. Wood floors, wood stools, a wooden bar, and giant wooden barrels, functioning as tables, give the whole place a traditional and vaguely homely feel. It’s kind of similar to the vibe of an old rural English pub.

In addition, the Café is seemingly permanently bustling, with Belgians and internationals drinking together in merriment around every corner, chatting fervently in almost every language. This gives the place a joyful and infectious ambiance which most bars simply cannot reproduce.

Thus, Delirium Café’ is one of my favourite bars to visit and I’d say is a must for anyone visiting Brussels, regardless of whether you have a taste for beer or not.                     

3. Visit the Grand Place

Given the short distance from Delirium Café to the Grand Place, the three of us always take a stroll over to look around.

It’s a magnificent location to look at wonderfully extravagant, if not slightly overly-decadent, architecture. Having taken a module at university on the influence of ancient architecture on works of the renaissance, I have gained a finer appreciation for the buildings around the Grand Place. The town hall with its gothic tower and intricate details stands out as the most beautiful building on the square in my humble opinion.

If the buildings don’t take your fancy though, pop around the corner and check out the Manneken Pis Statue for something a little more playful. The little guy, cast in bronze, is only a copy of the original from the Brussels City Museum, but perched at the intersection of two cobbled streets in the center of Brussels, he has become symbolic of the city and is thus worth a glance.

4. Dine on Mussels in Brussels

Walking around the Grand Place always works up an appetite and provided you aren’t too drunk after beers at Delirium, a pot of Belgian mussels coated in a white wine sauce and a side of Belgian fries might be a good shout.

We usually go to Restaurant Vincent. Admittedly, there are probably a few other restaurants which produce a better tasting dish than the Chefs at Restaurant Vincent; however, the mussels here are frankly delicious anyway. Whilst I’m primarily advocating just grabbing some mussels at any of the well-regarded restaurants in the area, there is something a little special about Restaurant Vincent.

The hanging lights illuminate several great tiled murals on the walls. I suppose they are mosaics; however, the tiles are all of the same shape and don’t contribute to the form of the image. Thus, as an individual not well-versed on this form of art, I will defer to somebody else to enlighten me as to what they actually are. Regardless, the murals depict scenes of the ocean with oarsmen trying to tame a tempest and seabirds and coastal flowers growing amongst stones on an unknown beach. Irrespective of the details, they set a picturesque and highly apt scene for a diner wanting to enjoy some mussels.

Wherever you stop by though, don’t miss out on grabbing some mussels in Brussels!

5. Grab Some waffles

So, you’ve had Belgian fries, Belgian beer, Belgian mussels, and now it’s time for Belgian waffles. Maybe if you make the right choice you can even satiate the desire for some Belgian chocolate by choosing an option that covers your waffles in it.

Lots of Belgian waffle stands are open until late; however, Le Funambule, if you get there before 10pm, is the best I’ve been to near the Grand Platz. Waffles of every variety with cream, ice cream, fruit, and pretty much anything else you want, is a worthy end to the eating for the evening.

Conclusion

That wouldn’t be our final stop because we usually head back to Café Delirium for a few more beers, but if that is it for you then that’s how I’d spend an evening in Brussels. Let me know in the comments what you like to do so I can try something new next time I go!

Thrifty Travel Tips 3: 6 Ways to Work and Earn Abroad

A few of my friends have a slight problem going travelling with me. They want to shell out big money at fancy restaurants and on expensive experiences. I don’t share that desire. Personally, I find that when I am in a country, city, or region, for a period of time, there is always plenty to keep me busy without breaking the bank. Besides, keeping a little thrifty ensures that I can spend longer in these places and enjoy them that much more!

Working abroad is my favourite option for ensuring that travel doesn’t decimate my student budget and is, in my opinion, the best way to stretch out your travel over the long term. Get yourself an employer and a working visa in whichever place you want to travel to. Earn some cold hard cash and earn the right to stay in your country of choice beyond the period a tourist visa would normally allow!

There are a number of fantastic options for employment abroad. Here are some ideas:

  1. Teaching

Personally, I have taught English in Kenya and Madagascar, and I am now applying for teaching jobs in Bali and South Korea. Teaching English, if you are a fluent, is a relatively easy and well-paid way to capitalise on the skills you may already have.

Teaching requires planning, poise, and passion for helping others to improve their abilities (as well as a Bachelor’s Degree more often than not). You may also need a TEFL degree to teach through some schemes and these do cost money; however, some organisations, like English First, will provide you with certification if you agree to complete a contract with them.

Teaching opportunities are available worldwide because of the prominence of the English language. If you can afford a TEFL course to begin with, or sign a contract with a company who will provide you with the opportunities to get one, then you’ll be able to get a job in almost any country you want to visit!

I am also a tutor with MyTutor. I teach 11+ English and, provided I have a decent Wi-Fi connection and, provided I am able to make my schedule with my clients match up across time zones, can earn money remotely from anywhere in the world.

I highly recommend this as a way to supplement any teaching income because it’s easy to schedule on your terms and pays really well!

  1. Au Pair

There are countless opportunities to become an au pair abroad. If you have strong references, and don’t mind spending a lot of time around children, then this could be the one for you.

It definitely helps, when attempting to gain such an opportunity, if you have certain skills. Past experience of teaching and tutoring will prove that you can educate somebody’s children, if that comes under your remit, and culinary experience, being able to cook for the children or even the whole family, will definitely appeal to most parents. It is, however, very possible that neither of those skills will be required of you so just ask your potential employer at interview.

You will earn yourself a room, board, and modest salary, to do with what you will, although being an au pair generally doesn’t give you a lot of free time. Beware that this is a role which can take over your life so just make sure you know exactly what you’re signing up for.

  1. Wwoofing

Wwoofing is not as unsavoury as it sounds. Worldwide opportunities on Organic farms. That’s a fancy way of saying, you will work as a farm hand abroad. Now a disclaimer; most Wwoofing opportunities through regular channels won’t offer you monetary remuneration. Instead, they will likely give you full board as compensation.

There are similar options which will pay you good money but Wwoofing is particularly popular. You will likely end up working with lots of fellow travellers, in a beautiful part of world, and doing hard but honest work. Living with locals will also further your understanding of their culture and bring you that much closer to the people with whom you are sharing your new stomping ground.

Personally, Wwoofing isn’t for me. I like to continually top up my income whilst abroad and Wwoofing just doesn’t do that, but everyone I know who has done it was a strong advocate so, if you’re interested, why not try it?

  1. Work as a an in-country volunteer coordinator

I know a lot of people who have done this one. Attaching yourself to a charitable organisation does pay a bit of money and gets you involved in valuable work abroad.

This kind of work is, in some ways, a little bit less hands on than being an Au Pair or teacher. This is mainly because you’re responsible in some way for a group of adults. In other ways, young adults seem capable of doing way more stupid things than any child and, if you think taking this route will get you a nice easy run, I very much doubt it.

Even so, the work you do will have value, the volunteers you spend time with will likely become your friends, and the pay is tangible at the very least. Again, the work may become something of a full-time job but don’t be discouraged, it’s worthwhile!

  1. Hostel worker

Hostel work is a more laid-back option. You can either work as a volunteer for a free room, and potentially board, or as a paid employee. The latter obviously has more stringent visa requirements like all the other paid work on the list.

Hostel workers move around a lot so are there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of. Moreover, working at a hostel will give you the opportunity to meet plenty of fellow travelers and the work is mainly menial tasks which you shouldn’t find too difficult.

Finally, hostels are often placed in convenient locations for effective travel and so, this job is perfect for the explorer in you!

  1. Ski season

Earn yourself a decent salary, a ski pass, and your room and board? Live in the South of France? Switzerland? Canada? Japan? Does that sound good? Of course, it does. I can’t even ski and I see no negatives. Enough said. This is a great option!

Thanks for reading. I hope this has given you some good ideas for potential work abroad! If anybody has any other ideas I would love to hear them in the comments! I will more than likely write more articles on this topic so if you have some good advice, hit me up down below!

Four Things I Want to See in Malacca Malaysia!

This post is number 7 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

This city in Malaysia is one of culture and colour! If you were to look at the pictures of its red and pink buildings, you might think they were in somewhere like Cuba, and for good reason. Like Cuba, Malacca is something of a time capsule, visually still trapped in the colonial era with architecturally traditions lent from Portuguese, Dutch, and British settlers. Here are just two reasons I’m desperate to visit the city!

  1. Jonker Street Market

One of the most popular tourist attractions in the city is Jonker Street, the central promenade of china town.

Jonker Street supposedly has one of the best and most bustling night markets in all of Asia. Bargains and street foods of all types are available, virtually on tap, if you’re hungry or have an itchy finger when it comes to your wallet. That, coupled with the street party-style atmosphere of the gathering, makes Jonker Street unmissable if you’re spending a night in the city!

  1. The beautiful architecture

If, however, you want to take a more laid-back and slow-paced approach to exploring Malacca, perhaps the diverse range of buildings will take your fancy.

The creme de la creme is the 16th century A’Famosa Fort, constructed by Portuguese conquerors of Malacca. One gate stands, now alone, defending the city, flanked by two accompanying cannons. It is amongst the oldest European architecture still standing in Asia and reinforces the idea of Malaysia as an age-old cultural hub. That has to be worth seeing!

Beyond the Fort, Christ Church, with its giant white cross set against bright red walls, is the legacy of Dutch settlers who took the region from the Portuguese. It is well worth a look, whether you subscribe to the Christian faith or not, for its beautiful architecture and vibrant colouring.

Amongst the architecture there are homes for guns and gods alike! Explore both to your heart’s content!

  1. The Butterfly and Reptile sanctuary in Ayer Keroh.

If, however, you’d prefer to see a few of the animals native to Malaysia, you may perhaps choose to visit the butterfly and reptile sanctuary just 15 kilometers north of Malacca. It is the second largest zoo in the country and a very popular tourist attraction if you have the time! From delicate patterned butterflies to monstrous grey crocodiles, they have it all.

  1. The Sultanate Palace of the Mansur Shah of Malacca

This could come under architecture, but the Sultanate Palace is a reconstruction and it feels disingenuous to plug it in alongside the real historical remnants of A’Famosa Fort and Christ Church.

A wooden replica of the Sultan’s palace, the building was once an iconic symbol of the Malaccan Empire. This reconstruction is well worth a visit to see an important piece of Malaysian history!

Malacca isn’t widely or particularly well known; however, one of my best friends visited it and swore by the city. She commended Malacca for its laidback feel and beautiful aesthetics, although she said there wouldn’t be a lot to do if you find yourself there for a while. All in all, Malacca definitely sounds worth at least a stop off visit to me!

Thrifty Travel Tips 2: 4 Ways to Eat Cheap Abroad

A few of my friends have a slight problem going travelling with me. They want to shell out big money at fancy restaurants and on expensive experiences. I don’t share that desire. Personally, I find that when I am in a country, city, or region, for a period of time, there is always plenty to keep me busy without breaking the bank. Besides, keeping a little thrifty ensures that I can spend longer in these places and enjoy them that much more!

Now the title of this article might get a few people riled up but, don’t fret, I’m not going to tell anyone that they shouldn’t enjoy the delicacies of whichever country they plan to visit. Fully immersing oneself in local culture means stuffing your face with whatever sed culture has to offer.

  1. Shop at a local store.

What I will say is that, in order to enjoy local food, you really don’t need to dine out at Michelin star restaurants and sample fine liqueurs to boot. Take France for example. Visit a local boulangerie for your bread, a charcuterie, and perhaps even an epicier. Ask what a Frenchman would eat at each one and then construct yourself a fine baguette with all you are given!

Even a local supermarket like Auchan, in France, will provide you with most of the ingredients that a local would use on a day to day basis. Do your research, pick up the delicacies of your host nation, and enjoy!

  1. Ask a local where they eat.

Should you wish to grab a bite at a restaurant, ask your host or a passing local where they might eat. Put down the travel guide and open your mouth with a somewhat loose tongue. It’s hard to go wrong when a denizen of the area tells you what they like. After all, if you’re English, I’d bet you’d be able to name a fantastic pub in your area if someone asked your advice!

  1. Take advantage of local hospitality.

Don’t be too cheeky but, if you meet some friendly locals, there’s no harm in subtly hinting at wanting to try a local home cooked meal.

I’ve found that, in countries like Italy and France, locals have occasionally wanted me to try their fine home cooked food. Apparently we Brits don’t have a reputation for culinary excellence! If you get such an opportunity, it’s one you should totally take. Just ensure that everything is above board of course, and offer a little money to cover the ingredient costs! It will still be substantially cheaper than eating out.

  1. Grab some streetfood!

This is my favourite option of the bunch! Of course, not everywhere has stalls selling street foods but, for places that do, tuck in where possible!

From pad thai in Bangkok, to empenadas in Mexico, nothing fills the belly without emptying the wallet like some good street food. Even if it looks unsavoury, give it a go! Actually, maybe not always, I’ve definitely made the mistake of trusting street vendor food-quality once too often!

This is all simple advice, but I think there’s something to be taken from it and applied. Save yourself some money on your next trip with a hint of frugality!

A History of the World in Artefacts 2: Throne of Weapons

It occurred to me, when writing my article on Cairo’s historical treasures, that perhaps I should articulate a series of posts that reflect my love and understanding of history. History is something I know well, although I am no true expert, and I therefore have a hand to lend in talking to you of all that I know. Thus, I will give you a rundown of the objects from history that I believe set themselves apart from all others. Those which, in my humble opinion, have special significance amongst myriad other riches.

For this item, we are jumping a century forward from the golden belt buckle in my last post. As you may be able to tell from the image, we are looking at the Throne of Weapons. It is the work of Cristovao Canhavato, a resident of Mozambique himself, and has been described as the British Museum’s most eloquent object.

I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment; however, the throne sends a powerful message to those who observe it. Constructed with firearms recycled from across the world, the chair draws its viewer into an undeniable acceptance of how globalisation has cashed the cheques of warmongers and arms dealers on a scale hitherto undreamt of.

The guns themselves reflect those which were purchased across the world and flooded into Mozambique to arm both sides in a bloody conflicted which lasted over 15 years. The several AK-47s which are incorporated in the chair are, of course, given special significance because Mozambique’s national flag displays the very same weapon. The chair’s power is also given added impetus when you realise that chairs have a strong cultural significance in Mozambique, and others of Africa. The chair is a symbol of power.

In my opinion, although I do not believe it to be a radical one, this ‘throne’ reinforces the sentiment that the road to reaching power, and the history of the world in so many ways, has been paved with the bodies of those who have succumbed to extreme violence. From the Roman Empire, through to the 100 years war, and onto multiple campaigns of terror which have served to define the 21st century, human history is a catalogue of events in which one has taken power from another by means of violence.

Whatever the chair means to you, I’m sure you’ll agree that it deserves a place as one of the most powerful and significant pieces of art in recent history.

How To Travel Iceland Cheap (From A Guy Who Couldn’t Afford To Go But Did Anyway).

I love Iceland. It’s one of those places you could visit one hundred times and still be awestruck.

It’s a country full of truly wonderful and personable people with a laidback culture to boot. Moreover, the land itself is marked by roaring waterfalls, expansive ice blue glaciers, black sand beaches, and jagged volcanos. On the right night, this is all framed against the backdrop of a glowing and dancing sky.

If that sounds appealing, and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t, then here’s some advice I’ve learnt from my trips to the Nordic Isle which will hopefully help you keep your trip in your budget.

1. When to go:

Go to Iceland in the ‘off season’. My recommendation would be around January time but anywhere between late September and mid-March will work. Almost everything is cheaper, from flights to excursions. Companies lower the prices in a desperate search for business and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking advantage! Moreover, the allure of the wintry landscape and the added increased likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights in these months arguably makes the off-season more desirable than the on!

2. Travel cheap:

Instead of going straight onto your favourite or usual airline’s website, why don’t you hop across to Skyscanner or KAYAK and use their services to sort through the prices for you? They take flights, both direct and indirect, and sort through them to find you the best possible prices for your journey. Looking right now there is a £200 differential between the most expensive and least expensive flight. Even travelling one day earlier or later than you had originally intended can save you hundreds of pounds so don’t make a stupid error!

3. Eat cheaper:

In a country where I’ve heard horror stories about people paying £50 for a burger and a drink, be smart. Eating one or two meals out at restaurants to try local dishes and experience Icelandic culture might fit within the budget but use Bonus where you can. Bonus is my favourite Icelandic supermarket. It’s affordable by British standards and, at the very least, not horrifically expensive by most other standards. As a point for reference, bread will only set you back around £2 and milk only around £1. These are prices that you shouldn’t turn your nose up at.

Moreover, there are Bonus stores all over Reykjavik so stock up whilst you’re in town. This is especially relevant if you’re camping because grocers across the rest of Iceland are few and far between! Using Bonus was the way I afforded to eat the second time I visited Iceland. Admittedly, the first time I came back home to England a little hungry and you really don’t want to go hungry in Iceland’s often inhospitable climate.

4. Accommodation:

If possible, try and camp! If you plan on renting a car to get around, then this might be a little more convenient. Prices vary depending on when you book, how far in advance you book, and what type of vehicle you want; however, you can get good value on a rental. Just make sure you look for one well before you go. You can try sleeping in the back of your car or bring a tent over with you and pop it up at a campsite. Just bear in mind that Icelandic weather is notoriously unpredictable and having a backup plan if camping becomes undesirable, or virtually impossible, is a must.

Legislation on wild camping in Iceland is regularly updated so keep an eye on it. It is possible to hike to areas out of towns and then pitch up. Just beware that this isn’t allowed everywhere. For my two cents on the issue, I’d rather shell out for a cheap camping pitch or sleep in the car than risk wild camping most of the time. That’s not to say I wouldn’t do it here and there though, particularly if you want to see the northern lights!

Check out www.rent.is for details on where to find campsites and a little more detailed advice on camping. I’ve used it in the past and wouldn’t put it here if it wasn’t useful.

5. Do the free stuff:

If you have rented a car then this is really easy. Go out into the wilderness and find great waterfalls like Gullfoss and Skogafoss, see the waves crashing down on the black sands of Reynisfjara Beach, or visit Glaciers and Lagoons like those at Jokulsarlon for an incredibly dramatic landscape! Moreover, on your travels into nature you might just get the added glimpse of the Northern Lights that every visitor to Iceland craves.

If you’re spending time in Reykjavik then you can’t miss the geothermal pools. Travelling to Blue Lagoon could set you back a pretty penny but the geothermal pools in the city are free and iconic. Enjoy an activity that the locals love and don’t spend a thing.

Also try signing up for Citywalk Reykjavik. It’s a free tour around the city with rave reviews and will get you more advice than I can possibly give on where to go. Book it for your first day and build yourself a plan of everything you want to experience. Then get cracking!

6. Travel together:

You can split just about any costs with friends or loved ones. From travel expenses to food from the shops, split the cost with your mates and share your experience. Just be careful though. People who won’t pay their share or who aren’t just as excited as you about the things you want to see, and do, might kill your buzz!

5 Things to Complete your Experience of the Great Barrier Reef!

This thread of posts is on my bucket list, both the parts of it I have done and those I am yet to do. It has been written to provide consistent content for your perusal (particularly with lockdown at the moment). I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 6 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

The Great Barrier Reef covers around 350 000km of Australian waters and is the world’s largest living structure. Unfortunately, it is dying, and that is why I fear if I wait much longer, I may not have the opportunity to see it. Rising sea temperatures are changing far too fast for the coral polyps to adapt their ways.

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the reef is supposed to be a place of unspeakable beauty. In the hope that I may one day get to see it, still thriving, I’ve written this bucket list post a little differently. I’m going to provide you with a short list of possible ways to further your enjoyment if you ever happen to get to see The Great Barrier Reef.

Without further ado, here’s what my friends and family have recommended!

  1. Whitehaven Beach

The best beach in Australia? I think few would disagree. If you like sand, sea, and sky, there is just about nowhere better to spend a few days of your time.

On Whitsunday Island, at the heart of the reef, white pristine sand stretches for miles, bordering the electric blue Pacific Ocean. Oceanside restaurants, like the Marina Tavern, can provide you with food and drink to supplement the experience, but no where’s cheap so maybe consider packing a picnic to bring with you.

As you lie on the silica sand, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of turtles or dolphins in the water but, if not, take a trip out into the surf by boat and seek them out! There’s no shortage of tour possibilities to enhance your day at the beach.

  1. Snorkelling

If you don’t want to strap on a dive tank and dive into the depths of the reef, snorkeling can still provide you with a way to immerse yourself in the subaquatic world.

I actually prefer snorkeling to diving. Don’t get me wrong, diving definitely provides you with a more comprehensive underwater experience. You come far more up close and personal with the reef and its various inhabitants; however, I like to take my time looking at the wildlife and exploring. Snorkeling can give you hours and hours of continuous entertainment where you would have to return to the surface if diving. Moreover, snorkeling gives you added freedom to move in the water, without the hindrance of cumbersome equipment. There is something discernibly natural about that.

Perhaps the most significant reason why you should choose to go snorkeling is that it is considerably cheaper than diving. A mask, snorkel, and perhaps a pair of fins, should set you back less than £50 (unless you plan to buy professional gear) and can provide years of waterborne fun. For the thrifty traveller in me, that is partly why it is one of my absolute favourite activities when I am abroad.

  1. Scuba Diving

Having made a case for snorkeling the reef; scuba diving, to many, will be a preferable choice. It will set you back an absolute minimum of 100 AUD per dive around the reef, but if that doesn’t put you off, there are plenty of reasons to get yourself down towards the sea floor.

From small, striped, and colourful clownfish in their sea anemone huts, to great grey groupers hunting over the sand, there is every type of fish before your very eyes down in this portion of the deep blue. Moreover, corals as far as they eye can see and turtles, reptilian sentinels watching over the reef, complete a composite image of the thriving ecosystem. Apparently, according to the people who have visited, there is no place quite like it.

For an utterly immersive experience down and personal with the reef, get diving.

  1. Mon Repos

Mon Repos is the home of the turtle center. The center itself is a hub dedicated to turtle research and protection, as well as the education of the public.

If you have kids, Mon Repos is a great place to teach them about marine life and conservation. Get yourself out on a night tour to see turtles laying, or hatching, depending upon when you arrive. I’ve seen both phenomena, in Florida and Oman respectively, and its an experience that will truly live long in the memory.

Pricing isn’t too bad but check the Mon Repos website for updates because I can’t guarantee they will stay stable when we get out of lockdown.

  1. Take to the skies

There are lots of different options for tour operates who provide flights over the reef, be it by plane or by helicopter.

If you thought diving under the water offered you a unique perspective, a low flying tour over the reef will offer you one which even fewer people are blessed with. It is an experience that few people consider but, by all accounts, one that is magnificent.

If expense, or your carbon footprint, are on the brain then you might not be inclined to take a flight. For those reasons, it would not be under consideration for me; however, but for both factors, I have heard nothing but good things about such trips.

Conclusion

I hope that I have given you a little inspiration for your trip to Australia, whether you were considering taking one or not. I am positively buzzing about the prospect of lockdown ending in the near future and writing these posts to learn that bit more about the world is just about the only thing keeping me going. I hope they are providing something to you all as well! Happy Lockdown!

A History of the World in Artefacts 1: The Sutton Hoo Gold Belt Buckle

It occurred to me, when writing my article on Cairo’s historical treasures, that perhaps I should articulate a series of posts that reflect my love and understanding of history. History is something I know well, although I am no true expert, and I therefore have a hand to lend in talking to you of all that I know. Thus, I will give you a rundown of the objects from history that I believe set themselves apart from all others. Those which, in my humble opinion, have special significance amongst myriad other riches.

I think that there is no better place to start this journey than on the fair isle I grew up, and with the first item which piqued my interest in all historical things.

My family used to holiday in a caravan in Suffolk, with my cousins and grandparents also on site, and on occasion my father would drive us down to Sutton, near Woodbridge. A lackadaisical security guard would even allow me to run all over the great grass mounds, under which were once buried treasures that would make the eyes of most men water. Nowadays, a combination of health and safety regulations, and justified rules for the sake of preservation, wouldn’t allow such activity, but the place will live long in my memory.

Amongst the many finely crafted pieces buried in the mounds of Sutton Hoo, one has always been my favourite. It is not the helmet, as you might presume, but the great gold belt buckle instead. The entire surface is decorated with zoomorphic interlace, so carefully completed that you might have thought it was cut by machine. The interlace is a combination of snakes, predatory birds, and long-limbed beasts, all wrapped around one another in eternal embrace.

Three golden orbs protrude from the surface and bring stark simplicity to an otherwise crowded surface. At the bottom of the buckle, there is a locking mechanism which takes the workmanship to another level and gives the buckle additional functionality.

Aside from the cosmetics of this piece, the historical significance of the entire hoard should not be underestimated. Across the site, which included a wooden ship burial, and even a silver plate from the Byzantine Empire, we can see how cultures across Europe were distinctly interconnected, even during the dark ages. Moreover, there may well be added in significance in who was buried at the site but, in all honesty, we still do not know who those people were at present. Perhaps in the future this mystery may be unlocked, although it looks increasingly unlikely.

All in all, this gold belt buckle is an Anglo-Saxon piece, dating from the early 7th century, with absolutely no equal, and the site as a whole is one of incalculable international significance. Should you ever have the distinct pleasure of visiting the British Museum to see this artefact, or Sutton Hoo itself, both are well worth a gander.

Stay in Shape 1: Get Creative! 5 Ideas for Getting Creative in Lockdown!

I’ve had my fair share of struggles with mental health, physical injury, and unhealthy habits. From incidents requiring surgery to mental scars requiring consultation, I have battled many a demon to be who I am today, and therefore have plenty of advice as to how you might help yourself out too!

This post is about the power of getting creative. Firstly, I would like to stress that I myself am not particularly creative. That is why I have started this blog, to find a creative outlet. Even so, my sister has sworn by the importance of letting her imagination run wild for a while now and the drawing attached was her birthday present to me! That is why I want to tell you what getting creative has done for me since I started listening to her.

Not to get too off message though, I think it is important to say that you don’t have to be good at whatever creative outlet you choose. In fact, it may even be preferable for you to not be so good at it. The struggle to get better at something you aren’t so good at is an important process to achieve a true sense of accomplishment, a feeling which can be invaluable in creating or reaffirming your sense of self-worth!

I will admit that I have somewhat cannibalised this idea from one of my favourite content creators. I frequently listen to Joe Rogan’s podcasts and, in one in which he casually converses with Dan Blizerian, Joe makes an important point about the value of struggle:

“One of the most fascinating lessons I’ve absorbed about life is that struggle is good… Do things that are difficult. It’s very important to struggle. You don’t get to know yourself without struggle. You don’t know who you are until you get tested.” Joe Rogan

Improving one’s personal abilities, and overcoming the struggle required to do so, is absolutely invaluable as an experience. As Joe Rogan points out, you really get to know yourself when you are tested under pressure and, in my opinion, there are few situations which put pressure on you more than when you place it on yourself with the intention of improving your skills. For your mental health, or at least for mine in the past, overcoming this pressure is a powerful healing tool.

Anyway, lets return back to the specific value of getting creative. There is something distinctly therapeutic about freeing your mind in this way. Right now, all the stresses associated with lockdown, from being put on furlough to having your freedom of movement restricted, can mount up really easily.

I can’t tell you that getting creative will alleviate all of your many concerns; however, for me at least, it provides some respite. Respite in the sense that, for however long I spend writing my blog each day, my mind is not focused on all of the problems that are swarming around me, and the rest of the UK, at present.

Here are some ideas for how you can let your creative juices flow:

  1. Get drawing!

I started this article off with a drawing by my little sister and so it feels right that I begin this list by recommending drawing to you.

Drawing is an exceptionally freeing option for your imagination. You can take on designing and executing anything that you can conjure up in your head. Many of the greatest painters who have ever lived, from Michelangelo to Van Gogh, were master drawers even before they had developed their skills with a brush. If its good enough for them, surely its good enough for you!

With that, all I’ll say is pick up a pencil and get drawing!

  1. Start doing some writing!

Writing comes in a whole variety of forms. Perhaps you would like to write a short story, a blog, or even a novel! There certainly are a lot of different options for your consideration.

I chose to write a blog, in part, because it gives me the opportunity to consistently complete tasks I set myself. Creating content daily, or weekly, provides me with regular achievements and an associated sense of accomplishment to go along with each.

Admittedly, I am also writing a novel, I presume of around 90 000 words by the time I finish it; however, I am finding it to be something of a slog. Each chapter requires weeks of work and, although I enjoy overcoming the consistent struggle I associate with developing my book, I find that blogging provides me with regular successes to be proud of. That is why I personally prefer it.

Whatever you plan to write, I recommend doing it as soon as possible!

  1. Take up a sport!

Taking up a team sport right now isn’t going to be possible. Lockdown is making it tough to do just about anything that involves contact with other people, but how about a solo sport?

I am a boxer and martial artist. I find that training alone and using online tutorials is an easy way to build up my array of skills. Shadow boxing, for most martial arts, is a very easy way to build on your skills. All you need is a decent sized mirror so that you can observe the form of strikes you throw.

Alternatively, take up something a little simpler. How about good old-fashioned running? Instead of one walk a day, get yourself off on a run and keep fit!

  1. How about a craft?

Sewing, knitting, papercraft, woodcraft, metal working… The list goes on forever!

Most crafts will require you to invest a little money to get started, but they are fantastic ways of immersing yourself in worthwhile activities. Creating items you can be proud of, whether it be a scarf, a necklace, or even a chair, will give you a fantastic new skill whether you intend to market your items, give them as gifts, or collect them for yourself!

Do your research and pick up the craft that’s right for you!

  1. Pick up a camera!

You don’t need some fancy long lens camera to take perfect pictures nowadays. A combination of your smartphone and accompanying photo editing software will do the trick! That makes it really easy to become an amateur photographer so why not take advantage of the situation?

On your one walk a day in lockdown, take the opportunity to grab your camera or phone and snap some shots that will cheer up the people you care about, and perhaps even a wider audience if you have Instagram!

This is the perfect way to get arty and capitalize upon your limited dose of freedom right now, so get snapping.

So that’s a quick rundown of a few different creative outlets you might like to explore. I can’t tell you how important creativity has been for keeping my anxiety at bay in recent times and I hope it does something similar for you!

Lockdown Reads 6: My Family and Other Animals

Gerald Durrell’s autobiographical tale, set in Corfu, was instrumental in spurring my adolescent penchant for catching reptiles on the heaths of south east England. It is a fantastically woven tale of Durrell’s childhood in which he never fails to poke fun at the character flaws of his family members.

The story begins in England with the Durrell family, made up of Gerald’s mother, sister, and two brothers. Gerald’s eldest brother, Larry, complains that the ailments from which each of the family members are suffering could be cured by a move to warmer climes. Winning the debate with his mother, Larry convinces her and the family to up and move to Corfu, which they promptly do.

On the island, Corfu’s abundance of native critters helps Gerald to realise his love for animals. He acquires a tortoise and his tutor, George, integrates zoology into his curriculum, fuelling his fire for nature even further. Throughout the story, Gerald accumulates a variety of animal companions, from his dog to a matchbox full of scorpions. These serve to create varying degrees of havoc at different points in the book which all add to the humour of the story.

The humorous elements of the story are perhaps furthered by no character more than Spiro, and his colourful language. Spiro is the taxi driver who saves the family from droves of his Greek compatriots at the beginning of the story and becomes a strong family friend to the Durrells. He is never far from those parts of the narrative which are most comical and I guarantee you will love him!

There are a plethora of other individuals in the book who also make for strong influences on the story. Leslie, the second eldest brother with a love of firearms, provides one of my favourite moments in the entire work, when he drives Margo’s temporary companion, one of Gerald’s tutors, from the family villa with the threat of shooting him upon any potential return. It is genuinely very comical, notwithstanding the connotations which this part of the story might have if the particulars were to come out in the world today.

I will spare further details of the book, but I could write in a lot more detail should anyone so wish. Gerald Durrell builds this story brilliantly and that is why it became a staple bedtime story in my early years, and a book I read regularly into my teens. If you’re looking for something lighthearted to read, then this may well be right up your alley!

Why You Should Visit Florence!

This thread of posts is on my bucket list, both the parts of it I have done and those I am yet to do. It has been written to provide consistent content for your perusal (particularly with lockdown at the moment). I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times.

“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of colour that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.”

Mark Twain

Florence is a place on my bucket list I have frequented, but never will there come a time where I have visited the city enough.

In architectural brilliance alone, Florence supersedes just about every other city I have visited, with the possible exception of Rome. Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, and Giotto’s accompanying bell tower, are just two magnificent reminders of this city’s former position at the heart of the renaissance. The Duomo, of which both of the previous architectural marvels are mere parts, stands regal over the city. It is, in itself, amongst the most beautiful of buildings the world over, and enough reason to visit the city alone.

If art of the architectural form is not enough in itself though, the Galleria degli Uffizi houses plenty of paintings and sculptures to sink your teeth into. Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, for example, is an enduring vision of the renaissance and a universal symbol of beauty. Riding on her seashell, nude and pale, Venus leans towards the reader in contrapposto form.

Italy is also a country renowned for its food, and Florence prepares good quality nosh with the rest of the country, as if part of some national agenda. Great gelato can be found all over the city and I recommend looking up and trying a variety because, why not? You are travelling after all! Pistachio is my favourite and, if you haven’t tried it, although it is not a desperately uncommon taste, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

A couple of other things you might try, two of my personal favourites, are cannoli from Café Rivoire and Biastecca alla Fiorentina, the local form of steak. Both should definitely be on your agenda.

Finally, a quick word on Tuscany. I have been to many wonderful campsites and attached restaurants across the world, but Tuscany holds my favourite of them all. I may very well write an entire article on my experiences at Azienda Agricola Montaioncino on another day; however, I must recommend the place now. Just outside Empoli, not far from Florence, this little campsite is an uncut diamond. Good, cheap, and simple food, supplemented with fantastic wine, views of vineyards for miles, and positively wonderful hosts, makes for an award-winning combination. If you are inclined to travel from the countryside and into Florence, then stay here for sure!

Thrifty Travel Tips 1: Sleeper Trains

A few of my friends have a slight problem going travelling with me. They want to shell out big money at fancy restaurants and on expensive experiences. I don’t share that desire. Personally, I find that when I am in a country, city, or region, for a period of time, there is always plenty to keep me busy without breaking the bank. Besides, keeping a little thrifty ensures that I can spend longer in these places and enjoy them that much more!

Admittedly, I find road tripping to be the cheapest way to travel, should you have a car at your disposal. Sure, petrol and insurance do cost a pretty penny, but having the ability to sleep on your back seat or go to a campsite certainly keeps costs low. When I was younger though, I didn’t have the luxury of owning a car. That’s why I took a lot of night trains.

Particularly across Europe, although there are sleeper trains elsewhere, a number of routes allow you to roll accommodation and travel costs into one healthy bundle. I have personally taken routes from Budapest to Prague, Paris to Venice, and London to Fortwilliam. Of course, London to Fortwilliam is a relatively expensive route and you would definitely want to book well in advance; however, a route such as Budapest to Prague can cost as little as £25 and that’s not to be sniffed at.

So, my Fortwilliam example does show that cost is not my only consideration. In fact, most of these journeys were more costly than taking a coach; however, time is money. Taking the train is much quicker and, if you reserve a bed, infinitely more comfortable than coach travel. Knowing that you can lock the door to your sleeper carriage, stash your bags under the bed, and travel reasonably comfortably on rails, can make your night’s sleep fairly pleasant.

When you’re wandering around a European city feeling well rested and with an extra day on your hands, you will be grateful for having compromised on price a tad and taken the train. I am, of course, not doing away with coach travel, and I will write on its benefits in upcoming posts; however, sleeper trains can be a fantastic option for the thrifty traveller!

Why I want to visit Mount Fuji!

“Aspire to be like Mt. Fuji, with such a broad and solid foundation that the strongest earthquake cannot move you, and so tall that the greatest enterprises of common men seem insignificant from your lofty perspective. With your mind as high as Mt Fuji you can see all things clearly. And you can see all the forces that shape events; not just the things happening near to you.”

MIyamoto musashi

This thread of posts is on my bucket list, both the parts of it I have done and those I am yet to do. It has been written to provide consistent content for your perusal (particularly with lockdown at the moment). I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 5 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

Mount Fuji, although famous the world over, only really jumped onto my radar as an addition to my bucket list once I read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. In his quest to find those places in the world which most spoke to him on an ethereal level, Phil Knight described climbing Mount Fuji as a ‘mystical experience’. That really caught my attention.

I have never been a particularly religious person. I went to a Christian school and some of my closest friends have strong connections to their faith; however, that was something I never came to share. For one reason or another, common forms of worship just didn’t seem to resonate with my personality.

Instead, my father raised me with a profound respect for nature. To respect the land and all of those creatures living upon it with a sense of quasi-reverence. I believe it is for this reason that my travels already seem to end up taking me to places of unadulterated and exquisite natural beauty. These places stir something deep within me.

Gullfoss, the roaring waterfall in Iceland, for example, captured my attention for it enormity and sheer power, whilst Madagascar, where I saw the horrors of mass deforestation, evoked strong senses of awe and terror in my psyche. As I travel further, it is such personal responses that I am looking for in nature, and many of my posts will reflect that. Mt Fuji is, therefore, somewhere that I hope will sit amongst these unearthly places.

Fuji’s name is something of a mystery. It has been claimed, in the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, that the name means immortal; however, there are just as many who claim the name derives from any one of a number of other possible etymological origins.

Mount Fuji itself is nearly four kilometers of snow capped mountain which hides a terrible secret. Although serene to observe, beneath still rock churns fire and smoke. The mountain is a volcano, albeit one which has not erupted in three hundred years, shrouded in a light cloud hat and snow topped peak. I’s outward beauty make its an apt sacred site and symbol for practitioners of Shinto, the indigenous faith of Japan.

Only around thirty five minutes from Tokyo by bullet train, Mt Fuji is a must if you are ever in the city. Ascent of the mountain is not supposedly particularly difficult. Hundreds of thousands of people hike the mountain every Summer and most without guides. You shouldn’t need one either should you follow the trails.

Of course, bring with you provisions, such as food and water, as well as money to buy more. There are many stations where you can pick up further supplies if you should wish or need to. There are associated risks whenever hiking and you should beware of both exhaustion and altitude sickness. If you have health conditions that should threaten to do you him, be careful and think twice about attempting the journey.

It might be that the view of Mount Fuji from ground level is more appealing to you than the view from the top. It is, of course, the form of the mountain which boasts to have inspired master artist Katsushika Hokusai, and through his work, the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh and compositions of Claude Debussy.

To say that views of Mount Fuji are iconic is therefore laughably understated; however, I don’t think the trip would really be complete without reaching the summit of this ancient volcano as well as laying eyes upon it. I think if you are visiting, and able to make the hike, a pilgrimage to the top should be a perfect way to experience one of element of Japan’s magnificence. I certainly plan on getting up there!

“In the darkness you could hear the crying women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men. Some prayed for help. Others wished for death. But still more imagined that there were no Gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness.”

pliny the younger’s sombre take on the horrors of a volcanic eruption.

Lockdown Reads 5: The Butterfly Lion

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy during these uncertain times.

On this occasion, I plan on telling you about one of my all-time dearest children’s book. I grew up inhaling Michael Morpurgo’s various works but one, The Butterfly Lion, was always my favourite. It might not necessarily have the grandiosity of his work War horse, but the book is an emotional read, especially for a children’s book, and has charm coming out of its ears.

From the relationship between Bertie and Millie, the two human protagonists in the story, to the bond betwixt both of them and their lion, the book is nothing but heartwarming. Bertie is a young boy growing up on his family farm in Africa. When his father shoots a lioness, Bertie adopts her white lion cub.

Bertie, whilst sneaking away from school to try and see his lion, meets a young girl named Millie. The whole story is actually narrated by Millie to a young boy in the present.  Millie and Bertie become close friends until the First World War divides them. Bertie wins the Victoria Cross for valour when he saves two men and, upon reading of his exploits in a newspaper, Millie tracks him down.

Bertie and Millie find out that their lion was part of a circus and, although the circus has shut down, they rescue him from his owner. Bertie and Millie move to England, talking the lion with them, and complete their love story’s arc, getting married. When the lion dies, they are both greatly saddened, and Bertie carves a chalk lion onto the hillside. The white chalk lion attracts butterflies in droves and this gives the book its elegant title.

There are other nuances to the story that I have decided not to include in my narrative; however, this is the gist of the storyline. It is a beautifully crafted tale and Michael Morpurgo is a true artisan of children’s novels. If your children are bored in lockdown and need a read then this novel is a terrific option.

Why I Want to Visit Cairo!

This thread of posts is on my bucket list, both the parts of it I have done and those I am yet to do. It has been written to provide consistent content for your perusal (particularly with lockdown at the moment). I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 4 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

I am desperate to visit Cairo and the surrounding area.

As an ancient history enthusiast, as well as a former student of the subject, Cairo encapsulates one of my many visions of paradise. The Giza pyramid complex, the Saqqara Necropolis, and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, all rank very high on my list of attractions worldwide that I desperately want to visit.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, to spare you the full history lesson, was built further away, temporally, from Augustus’ Ara Pacis than the Burj Khalifa was. If that architecture factoid doesn’t stun you then I don’t know what will! Thus, as the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this one of a kind pyramid has become that symbol which defines Egypt, at least in my eyes. To boot, the sphinx, right on it’s doorstep, is too good an opportunity to pass up if I’m ever in the region.

As the pyramids and the sphinx are practically rockstars of the ancient world, you probably don’t need me to explain why I want to see them. The necropolis at Saqqara though, might not have caught your eye before. The Pyramid of Djoser, at this site, is around 4,700 years old and is a legacy of a way of life so unimaginably different from our own that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It is so ancient that it claims to be the oldest still complete building known to exist in the entire world. An opportunity to see a building like that is something I just can’t possibly give up on.

Finally, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo houses one of the artefacts I must one day see. In the same personal pantheon in which I have placed marvels such as the Lewis Chessmen, the turquoise double headed serpent of the Aztecs, the golden ornate belt buckle of Sutton Hoo, and the Antikythera Mechanism, I have also set the golden mask of Tutankhamun. It is perhaps the singular most beautiful piece of art I have ever laid eyes upon and I desperately hope to come across it, at its home in Cairo, one day.

Of course, there are far more reasons to visit Cairo than just the history. Koshary, for example, is a spicy street food made of assorted vegetables, lentils, macaroni, and rice, and is supposed to be a delectable dish, and a local delicacy. So, if you’re after great food and interesting culture, I’m sure Cairo can give that to you as well, it’s just not the main reason I’m going there!

Let me know if you have any recommendations for what to do/try in Cairo. I am always welcome to some good ideas!

Lockdown Reads 4: The Lays of Ancient Rome

This recommendation is for a very different sort of book to those which I have written about before and will likely write about in the future.

The Lays of Ancient Rome, written by Thomas Babington Macaulay, a man with the most fabulously British name, is a collection of a series of narrative poems which recount the stories which have shaped modern understanding of early Roman History and canon.

I first learned of the book when one of my friends quoted this reference to me, in particularly poetic fashion, just before a boxing match:

‘Then out spake brave Horatius, The Captain of the Gate: “To every man upon this earth Death cometh soon or late. And how can men die better Than facing fearful odds, For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods.”’

This particular excerpt is taken from the poem Horatius, a story of sacrifice not dissimilar to Thermopylae, but for the ending. Horatius and his two comrades defend the Sublician Bridge, the crossing point on the Tiber at Rome, against an advancing Etruscan army. Horatius ends up standing alone whilst Roman engineers demolish the bridge into the river to halt the Etruscan advance. Whilst Horatius survives, swimming back to shore, his willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice is a powerful reminder of the strength of character which few men possess when they need to carry the world on their shoulders.

Aside from this poem, others, like The Battle of Lake Regillus and The Prophecy of Capys, tell other ‘foundation myth’ type stories absolutely brilliantly and eloquently.

This book of poetry is undoubtedly hard to read; however, to help nourish a blossoming understanding of Roman history, and a passion for classic works of literature, I could not think of one much better.

Who Else Wants to See The Big Five?

To paraphrase my previous sentiment, this blog may seem to be something of a rat’s nest. I am therefore writing this thread of posts on my bucket list, the parts I have done and those I am yet to do, to provide consistent content for your perusal. I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 3 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

On my list is one of the most iconic challenges known to safari tourists the world over. I of course want to see the Big Five in their natural habitats. A cape buffalo, an elephant, a black rhinoceros, a leopard, and a lion.

My sister has had the distinct pleasure of doing so and I am incredibly jealous. Across trips to South Africa and Kenya she even saw an elusive leopard, hauled up at the base of an acacia tree. I have made a start to the five though. So far, I’ve seen several solitary water buffalo, a handful of herds of elephants, and a majestic pride of lions, complete with cubs. Whilst not a wildlife expert, my bachelor’s degree being in ancient history, I am passionate about conservation and never fail to have my breath taken away by seeing spectacular fauna exactly where it’s supposed to be.

On visits to the Maasai Mara and Serengeti, both of which were on my bucket list and may deserve separate posts in themselves, my reverence for the phenomenal wildlife was perhaps only matched by my wonderment at the beautiful landscapes in which I saw them. Sprawling planes, meandering rivers, and endless golden grass set against the backdrop of a fire orange sky is, in itself, that which has brought me closest to a feeling of true serenity perhaps in my entire life.

If my dual summation, on the spectacular nature of both the animals and their habitats, appeals to you, save up some money and try get out to see the Big Five.

Lockdown Reads 3: Shoe Dog

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy during these uncertain times.

We’re back to non-fiction for this one. I will start with a quick disclaimer this time around. I’ve never actually read Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, but I have listened to it on Audible a couple of times.

I will say, if you start listening to the audiobook, you might be warded off by Phil Knight’s introduction. I know, from some of my friends who have been in the car when I put on his dulcet tones, that his voice is not to everyone’s taste. I’ll tell you right now though, he doesn’t stick to narration for any longer than the introduction so skip that if necessary.

The book itself details the rise of then shoe start-up, and now fitness giant, Nike. From humble origins in sleepy Oregon to lucrative international deals with superstar athletes the world over, Phil Knight’s autobiography details the meteoric rise of his company.

The book is, however, much more than a simple rags to riches tale. There is much to be gleaned, if you treat the book as something of a self-help guide, from its founder’s consistent exuberance and unshakeable faith in his vision for Nike. I read the book for inspiration when I was raising capital for my own start-up and found it to be a fountain of information, particularly on how to be a good founder and a great human being.

Shoe Dog is a really interesting autobiography that lends itself to a much wider audience than just potential founders of startups. If you have an ambitious bone in your body, there is much to learn from Phil Knight’s life and I can’t recommend it enough.

Why Iguazu Falls Should Be High on Your Bucket List!

To paraphrase my previous sentiment, this blog may seem to be something of a rat’s nest. I am therefore writing this thread of posts on my bucket list, the parts I have done and those I am yet to do, to provide consistent content for your perusal. I hope West’s Bucket Lists will provide some inspiration, perhaps for your future travels, and even a little escapism in these uncertain times. This post is number 2 on West’s Bucket List. Enjoy!

Next up on my list is Iguazu Falls. For many people’s money, these are the crème de le crème of waterfalls across the world. I’ve seen some beautiful ones. Plitvice in Croatia, Yosemite falls in the USA, and Gullfoss in Iceland, to name just a few. Iguazu is absolutely at the top of my list though. I’m yet to visit South America, and perhaps that partly plays into why I am desperate to see Iguazu; however, the pictures of it, as I look at them now, reaffirm my absolute desire to visit the falls.

Where Iguazu is located, at the convergence of Argentina’s Misiones Province and Brazil’s Parana State, a torrent of water cascades over basalt in an arc down into what is colloquially known as the devil’s throat canyon. White water, beneath blue sky, and surrounded by dense pockets of emerald canopy, sounds like paradise to me.

Your hard-earnt money, spent on all manner of touristy activities at the fall, will also go further to help protect the biodiversity and pristine habitat of the region. Like Bhutan, if you spend your money wisely and try to keep your footprints in the area as harmless as possible, there is no reason your visit can’t benefit Iguazu Falls.

As a perfect stop off when planning to travel between Brazil and Argentina, or vice versa, Iguazu is a must see and, when I eventually get down to South America, somewhere I dare not miss.

Lockdown Reads 2: Mortal Engines

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy during these uncertain times.

The second book on my list is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Admittedly, now that Peter Jackson has released his movie adaptation of the title, this book is not the best-kept secret it once was. The movie, whilst I personally consider it to be better than some others would argue, certainly does not do the novel justice. So, if you didn’t like the film and thus didn’t want to read the book, I would recommend that you change your tune and order a copy.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the long ago fought ‘60-minute war’, settlements have taken to strapping on wheels and chasing one another for the scarce resources they need in a food web called ‘municipal darwinism’. Our protagonist, Tom Natsworthy, a resident and proud apprentice historian of London, falls out of the city and is thrust into the mad and dangerous world where predator cities hunt everything in sight.

With twists and turns abound, the first book of the quartet follows Tom’s quest for truth and his blossoming relationship with the terrifying Hester Shaw. Hester, for reasons that will become clear when you read Mortal Engines, is one of the most interestingly written characters I have come across in my experiments in reading science fiction. She alone deserves your eyes on the page.

For a post-apocalyptic quest like no other, pick up a copy and get reading.

An Intro to West’s Bucket List and Bhutan!

This blog may seem to be something of a rat’s nest. There are a variety of types of post running in every which way and, unfortunately, that may not lend itself to complete clarity.

I therefore believe that a series of posts, linked thematically and regularly written, may help to bring about some semblance of order to my blog for you, the readers. Therefore, to go alongside my Lockdown Reads series, I am writing my West’s Bucket List series. The posts in West’s Bucket List will be grouped into former, things I have done that were on the list, and future, those things that I desperately wish to do and are therefore still on it. Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas as to what I should add to my bucket list and I may well do some reading up and add them!

So, that was a little intro to what I’m doing and now here’s my first entry.

Most of my list is made up of activities I wish to try, foods I wish to taste, or very specific cities, or regions, I wish to visit; however, Bhutan is an entire country that I’m desperate to see every inch of.

I first heard of the country when I watched the BBC documentary Lost Land of the Tiger as a kid. In it, a team of wildlife experts and film makers search the mountainous and heavily forested regions in Bhutan to identify a, then unidentified, tiger population. I was absolutely taken aback by the dramatic panoramic shots of the country and resolved to one day visit. High in the Himalayas, Bhutan boasts a magical combination of monasteries and mountains. The pictures of Taktsang, nestled abreast a sheer cliff face and atop a rocky outcrop in the upper Paro valley, should be iconic. Perhaps the temple would be if more new people knew of Bhutan and I believe that, one day very soon, they may well do.

Whether you visit to learn what you can of Buddhist culture, hike among the national parks, or seek out the elusive tiger, visiting Bhutan will unfortunately set you back a pretty penny. That is perhaps why I fear that visiting it will fall far down my list of priorities. The government has put a minimum of $200 per day, per person, to visit the country even in low season. This is with the noble aim of ensuring the country isn’t ravaged by the negative impacts of tourism, something I genuinely and wholeheartedly commend. Unfortunately though, that alone makes the trip unaffordable for some, myself included at present; however, I one day intend to go. I hope to see you there when I do!

Lockdown Reads 1: Freakonomics

I’ve decided to write a series of short recommendations/critiques/summaries of my favourite books. These are titles you can perhaps purchase on one day delivery, or Amazon audible, to keep you busy almost immediately during these uncertain times.

My first book recommendation would have to be Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Stephen Levitt. I hope I don’t lose anybody with this recommendation because Freakonomics is a tad unconventional to say the least. It’s a non-fiction read which has been described as a melding of pop culture with economics.

The book claims, rather grandiosely, that it ‘explores the hidden side of everything’. While it may not quite do that, I’ve never read a book, cover to cover, quite as quickly as Freakonomics. I was first made aware of it back when I watched suits and the fledging lawyer, Mike Ross, referenced the book by saying. “A person is more likely to die while dealing drugs than on death row in Texas”.

It’s off the wall takes like these, explained with analysis of huge tracts of data, that give you sociological insights into a range of topics that you may never been exposed to.

From studies on the economics of drug dealing and the socioeconomic patterns of how parents name their children, to the way in which school teachers and sumo wrestlers have cheated their respective systems, Freakonomics is the perfect tool to help you cultivate your inquisitive nature, or sharpen the minds of your loved ones with intellectual discussion.

It’s not a difficult read but it will require your full attention.  I promise once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down though!

The Fallout of Dirty Monopoly Tactics

The crew; Andy, Caitlin, Rachel, and I, organised a get together back before Christmas. It was to meet Rach’s new boyfriend. Now I’m not a big one for meeting the new boyfriends in the group. Apparently, I come off a tad protective and I’ve made one or two enemies in the past. Fortunately, Rach promised a home cooked dinner and I had a fair amount of fear I’d miss out, so I went along.

Andy and I rode round to the house, in Forest Row in Sussex. Forest Row is quaint and pretty, but I’d only ever go there to see Rach. It’s not exactly Brighton town on a student night. So, I met Nyasha, Rachel’s new guy, and he was a quality bloke. We got chatting about rugby and mutual acquaintances from Southampton. All in all, dinner went past and the whole group got on like a house on fire.

Then Caitlin and Rachel, seemingly in unison, uttered four words that would put group friendships on ice for a few weeks, “shall we play monopoly?”

I was a tad reticent, unwilling to commit to what I knew would be a disaster. I’m incredibly competitive and board games do not show off my good side. Caitlin, however, was totally insistent and we ended up pulling out the board.

Rachel, Caitlin, and Nyasha all decided to stand alone as players. The scotty dog, the iron, and the top hat. Andy and I though; we’re team players. We took the battleship. The game was going pretty well, and team battleship had accrued a fair amount of property, but we weren’t cash rich. On the other hand, Nyasha, Mr Top Hat himself, didn’t have much property but did have a lot of dough.

Somehow, the battleship managed to land on just about his only property and drained our remaining cash reserves. Rach decided to make a deal with us. She’d cover our bill in exchange for a property. Fortunately, Andy was the banker and, whilst Rachel and I deliberated over terms, he sneakily mortgaged the property in question. Rachel bought the property and realised she’d have to bankrupt herself to use it.

Rachel blew a gasket when she realised and went into a huge sulk. It was only made that much worse when Andy and I landed on one of her properties, but she didn’t notice until we moved off it and burst out laughing. Rach, with a face like thunder, decided to buy a property off Caitlin she thought we needed and, paying over the odds to stop us completing a set, made the deal. Upon the realisation she had confused orange with red, and thus brought the wrong property, Rachel went up another notch.

Andy and I finally compounded her rage when we made a deal with Nyasha. We teamed up our capital with his property and cleared up the board after that. Caitlin was obliterated near instantly on Oxford Street and then Rach, a business magnate until fairly recently, was finally toppled. Her last stand on Mayfair was the final nail in the coffin.

Rach didn’t text us back for a few weeks and I think Andy, Nyasha, and I would all tell you that Monopoly is the perfect way to get the cold shoulder if you’re that way inclined.

My Top Seven TV Show Recommendations for Lockdown

First of all, I’m not exactly a tv critic. Or is it tv show critic? To be honest that kind of tells you everything. I don’t know actors’ names. I don’t know good camera work. I don’t even really know if people are acting all that well. What I do know is what I find watchable and if you’re looking for dam watchable TV, I got yall covered folks.

Disclaimer number two; these aren’t my favourite shows. They’re basically shows I’ve watched in the last six months that I’ve enjoyed and that, if you’re inclined to watch something right now, might keep you on the hook. Oh and, disclaimer three, I’m going to try not to spoil anything but if you really want to avoid any details, maybe don’t my choice explanations. Now, in no particular order, the shows…

  1. Peep Show

So, I sort of told I lie before because one of the shows in the lineup is my all time favourite. Peep Show is absolutely hilarious. It’s the story of two thirty something flat mates, the el dude brothers, living their slightly sad lives relentlessly in South London.

The quirk is that you can hear their inner monologues at all times. Moreover, almost every single shot from every series is filmed from the perspective of one of the characters. It takes a few minutes to get used to but when you do, it’s brilliant, if slightly cringey and uncomfortable, television. Mitchell and Webb nailed this one.

  1. Ozark

The word Ozark seems to be in just about everyone’s mouths who I’ve been talking to recently. The series is undoubtedly brilliant. Jason Bateman is the financial advisor who drags his family from Chicago and into rural Missouri at the behest of a cartel. There he is to launder money and try to stay out of trouble, but everyone knows that in the back creeks of middle America, even the hills have eyes.

For a tv series that is supposed to focus on the task of banking money, it is never slow. Things just get worse and worse, and its awesome to watch. If you were hoping for one of those twenty-episode American crime series with each episode seemingly distinctly separate though, this isn’t for you. The plot is intricate, and the characters flawed. The line between good and bad is so blurred that no two of my friends have rooted for the same character as their favourite. That’s the beauty of the show though, it reminds you that you never really know what people are capable of until they’re pushed.

  1. Billions

Chuck Rhoades and Bobby Axelrod. District Attorney and billionaire hedge fund manager. Ever heard the story of Laelaps, the hunting dog that never failed to catch its prey, and the Teumessian Fox, the canine that could never be caught? This feels a lot like that.

The series is all about a district attorney seeking to bring down a kingpin and that’s enthralling to watch. Chuck is absolutely relentless and ruthless. His character is complex and perhaps a fair bit twisted. He’s coming to hunt a whale and is willing to do just about anything to get him. Bobby is well liked and, at times, seems almost more moral than his counterpart, but there are skeletons in his closet too and he knows it. For a crime drama that takes things to the next level, put Billions atop the list.

  1. Taboo

I almost put Peaky Blinders on here, and maybe I should’ve done, but I actually prefer this gem because its Tom Hardy’s show through and through.

Taboo is the story of a returning James Delaney who has come to London in the wake of his father’s death. London itself is dark and foreboding; with all of its tenants themselves embodying varying degrees of malice and menace. Set in 1814, the series centers upon the shadowy past James Delaney, a man who is not to be trifled with, and his dealings with the Crown of Britain and the behemoth that was the East India Trading Company.

The series is full of mystery, pithy quotes, and bloodshed. Probably the least well-known show on the least, and perhaps the one with the dreariest sounding premise, I wouldn’t be surprised if the show gained a lot of traction with people sat at home. If you give it a go you won’t be able to stop watching. It’s just too good!

  1. Afterlife

If Taboo had a dreary premise, this show’s is downright depressing. Ricky Gervais is Tony, the widower in mourning after the untimely death of his wife at the hands of cancer.

If you want a lighthearted comedy then this might not take your fancy but, in all honesty, this is the singular most heartwarming comedy I have ever watched. Of course, there are many lows, every episode really, and even times when your heart sinks to your stomach as our protagonist contemplates suicide, but that only serves to fuel your joy when good comes about in the story.

There are a plethora of zany, and sometimes slightly too real, characters who all care about Tony and they are all wonderfully complementary to his, at times, slightly tiresome persona. You may have never thought that some of the topics in Afterlife could get you laughing, but I promise you, Ricky Gervais is the king of black comedy. Season 2 also just came out!

  1. Gangs of London

If you have a weak stomach, and I cannot stress this enough, do not watch Gangs of London. The violence and gore are absolutely gratuitous. Yes, the fight scenes are coordinated better than any I’ve ever seen, and as a fighter I sort of know what I’m looking at, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to watch.

The show starts out with Finn Wallace’s death. That’s no spoiler, it’s all over the trailer. The rest of it details the brutal hunt for Finn’s killers by his son, Sean Wallace, a young man full of pent up rage and with a need to prove himself. As he gets further down the rabbit hole of London’s criminal underworld, there are twists and turns abound which keep you on your toes. If you can watch through the violence, then you will be glued to the screen. Season 1 only just came out so get on the hype train now guys!

  1. Ballers

I can’t say I’m usually a fan of Dwayne Johnson’s acting but, as Spencer Strasmore, financial manager to the young stars of the NFL, he lights up the screen. There is something authentic about the former wrestler jumping in to play a former NFL veteran.

The show is a little less pedal to the metal than the other dramas I’ve thrown your way. It’s not about shootouts or mob-level crime, but I found it enthralling. I am a big NFL fan (go Broncos!), but there isn’t much actual sporting action depicted. Its more about the trials and tribulations of the big guy, Spencer, and those around him. It touches on major health scandals that have afflicted the sport, the lavish lifestyle that goes along with being a premier athlete, and the struggle it takes to get to the top of the business world. There are definite undertones of Jerry Maguire, but across several seasons of action rather than one film, and if that takes

4 Things Helping Me Live Life in Lockdown

I understand that lockdown is the bane of just about everyone’s lives at the moment. I have to say though, perhaps counter intuitively, that for me it has been something of a blessing.

Of course, lockdown has not been without its negatives. I am worried about my at risk loved ones. I also worry about my friends who are key workers, particularly one of my closest friends who fears she has contracted the virus as a doctor. All of that is a given; however, I can’t help but find some positives in the situation. There are some distinct glimmers of hope in amongst the madness for me right now.

I read an article by Joe Lycett about a week ago in which he stated that the symptoms of his anxiety have somewhat lessened during lockdown. I feel the same way. Doing my graduate diploma in law this year has been particularly stressful and, coupled with a number of other, slightly graver issues I have been worried about, my mental health has been shaky at best throughout this academic year.

Right now, though, my mental health is the best it’s been since my first year at Durham. I’m finding being at home has taken a weight of my chest. Removing three hours of commuting out of my day has freed up time for me to do some of the activities which help me to pacify a lot of the anxieties I suffer from. Here are the four things that have made lockdown not only bearable, but actually genuinely enjoyable for me.

  1. Spending time with family.

I’ll be the first person to say that this isn’t necessarily a positive for everyone. For me right now though, the past few weeks have been a great opportunity to reconnect with my grandparents.

I now pick up food for my grandparents regularly because they just can’t risk it themselves. This gets me out of the house and gives me the pleasure of spending time chatting to them when I drop off the food, from a fair distance away of course. I have to say, to my shame, that I neglected to visit my grandparents as much as I should have before lockdown and, right now, I’m relishing the chance to spend a little time doing something for them. Helping out my grandparents also intersects with another slither of advice which everyone is embracing at the moment; help out those in your community who are most in need. I’m not a Christian personally but, at the moment, I truly believe ‘love thy neighbour’ has never been more important than it is right now.

If you have an opportunity to reconnect or spend a little more time with the people you care about, without breaking the rules that protect everyone, I can’t recommend it enough!

  1. Getting in the exercise.

I came out of Christmas carrying a little bit of weight and, with exams and work giving me little time to myself, I found that there was no easy way to get my body and fitness levels to where I wanted to be.

Lockdown has given me just that opportunity. I bought a cheap exercise bike, pull up bar, and weights online, and have now gone absolutely fitness crazy. As Joe Rogan has said in his podcasts with Jocko Willink, nothing puts your mind at ease like getting over some struggle. Challenging myself physically again gives me my daily dopamine hit and makes home feel less like a prison, and more like my personal gym. Its a bear pit where I come out of every day that little bit tougher than the last.

My target of 1000 pushups every other day might seem a little absurd to some people, but now that I can do it, I really feel like the time at home has made me that much fitter and healthier. That’s something that, going forward, I want to keep improving upon because keeping fit always gives my mental health a little shot of positivity that I can do what I put my mind to!

  1. Doing something creative.

In my free time I had been pondering writing a novel for a while. Of course, with my still having to do university work, I don’t have all day to exercise and do the creative stuff, but sometimes I do manage both.

So, I’ve started writing a fictional novel; experimenting with it in just about every way I can twist my frankly limited literary skills. Simultaneously, my sister has continued to produce her fantastic drawings. We both believe strongly that there is something inherently therapeutic about letting your mind run wild with creativity. I suppose there’s nothing revolutionary about that sentiment at all but, right now, I truly understand why.

Getting lost in my thoughts and creating chapter after chapter I am genuinely proud of, is a great way to spend an hour here and there. I can’t recommend doing something creative enough, whether its writing, painting, sewing, or something else entirely. 

  1. Planning something for the future.

Get you some hope! I have to say, when I don’t have something to look forward to, I often get bogged down in an underwhelming routine I inevitably create for myself.

Think of something fun to do tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year, to give you a little bit of excitement today. Right now, I am very strapped for cash; a situation which furlough hasn’t helped at all. That’s why I’ve been applying for jobs abroad and also planning some road trips for that second Boris Johnson tells us lockdown and social distancing are over. Applying for jobs abroad will give me the opportunity to travel whilst hopefully replenishing the overdraft a tad. Moreover, road trips are just about the cheapest way I know how to travel. The thought of getting back on the road with a few mates, come the end of Summer, is just about the best way I know to get myself hyped for next month I’ll likely spend looking sullenly out of my bedroom window.

Mayonnaise, Carcassonne, and Road-trip Rows!

We packed up our tent at sunrise, threw everything into the back of the car, and headed south towards the fortified city of Carcassonne.

On the way, we stopped at Auchan, a French supermarket, to pick up sandwich ingredients for the next couple of days. Crusty French bread, crisps, rillettes, lettuce, ham, a fair few other items, and mayonnaise. For some reason, the purchase of mayonnaise created quite a disagreement between myself and Paul. Admittedly neither of us come across particularly well in the story but, nonetheless, it is worth recounting.

Looking at various sauces to grace our sandwiches, I affirmed to Paul that I wished to purchase mayonnaise for myself, in spite of Paul’s insistence that it wouldn’t go well with our other toppings. “I’m getting mayonnaise mate, I like it and it’s cheap”. I reached down and picked up a bottle, placing it in the trolley.

At that point, Paul picked a different mayonnaise from the shelf, one packaged in what I considered to be a somewhat strange tooth-paste tube like container. “No Lewis, we buy this one”, at which point he tossed it in the direction of the trolly.

Slightly incensed that Paul would overrule my personal mayonnaise purchase without discussion, I batted the tube out of the air. It landed on the floor at his feet. He looked down at the tube and then up at me, rage etched across his face. I’ve cleared up the following dialogue because, quite frankly, it was unnecessarily explicit.

“Are you kidding me? Seriously?” Paul shrieked in a high-pitched voice. Picking up the mayonnaise and pointing at me with a large finger.

“Mate, I picked the one I want, I’m paying for it. Mind your own business” I replied, gesticulating mildly aggressively.

Paul’s nostrils flared and he towered over me, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, you’re an idiot man”.

I didn’t like being spoken to in that tone and I was pretty much shouting now, “don’t be a moron Paul. You’re the most patronizing man I’ve ever met so mind your own business and f…” Andy came round the corner “I can hear you from like five aisles down.” I looked around. A little old couple were staring up at us, utterly horrified, as if they expected a brawl to break out mid-aisle.

Paul and I still hadn’t spoken by the time we got in the car. Then Andy piped up “are you guys good? I’m guessing one of you guys said something pretty hurtful.”

“It was about which mayonnaise we should get” I replied. Andy broke down laughing and the car swerved as he struggled to control himself. Paul and I continued to sulk independently.

After a couple of hours of driving, and some gentle reconciliation between me and Paul, we arrived at the town of Carcassonne, eager to explore the fortified citadel.

Paul was behind the wheel of the car, not trusting either me or Andy to drive in busy French towns. Probably fair given that I’d just come off the back of a recent car crash in Ditching, a small village in West Sussex, where no one would imagine it to possible to attain the necessary speed for writing off a car. Moreover, he’d woken up several times to me driving upon the wrong side of the roads.

As we were coming into the town, he pulled into a space. Andy looked at me quizzically and then directed a question at Paul, “we can’t even see the citadel from here, how far is it?”

Paul checked his phone, “thirty minutes”.

We were on a tight schedule, intending to reach Verdon Gorge whilst we still had light, and Andy and I protested that we might be able to park closer to the castle. Paul stated unequivocally that there would be nowhere closer.

It took us around forty minutes of weaving through quiet, empty streets before we reached the foot of the castle and whilst the walk was vaguely charming, we had wasted a lot of precious time. Regardless, Carcassonne is an absolutely surreal destination. The fortified castle is quite possibly the most impressive I’ve ever visited. Coming from a history student with a virtual castle fetish, that’s high praise. Resting above the town on a hill, its huge stone walls and rounded turrets encompass an entire second settlement which throws you back to the medieval period.

Of course, the castle is flushed with tourists but that’s not a reason to forgo a visit. If you have children, Carcassonne is frankly unmissable. I cannot think of a better place to have spent a day as a young boy with designs on growing up to be a knight.

As we stood atop the ramparts and looked out from the fortress over the city of Carcassonne, stone houses with pinkish tiled rooves stretched out before us. That’s when I noticed something at the bottom of the castle wall and subtly pointed it out to Andy.

“Paul” I said. He looked up at me and nodded that I should go on.

“You see that down there,” I pointed down towards the town.

Paul nodded and then said, rather flatly, “yeah It’s pretty cool man,”

I knew he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, probably presuming I was point at some architecturally sophisticated building, so I continued, “Paul you see that great big car park, the one that’s half full at the foot of the castle, probably two minutes away?”

Paul’s face fell and, for a second, went a tad white. Then his cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “Ah” he muttered quietly. It’s always nice to get a little ‘one-up’ on somebody so aggressive in their defense of a point of view. Andy and I fed off that little victory for the rest of the afternoon.

We went back to the car, 30 minutes when we knew where we were going, and on to Verdon Gorge.