Monthly Archives: August 2016

Some Travel Resolutions And How To Keep Them

New year, new you, right? Well, maybe. If experience has taught us anything, it’s that bad habits are hard to break and most diets don’t last past January… but our wanderlust is here to stay.

These resolutions are not only achievable – they’re a joy to keep. So take your pick and make 2017 your best year of travel yet.
Dropping your bags in a new destination is a great feeling

Pack lighter

Next time you’re stuffing a pair of impractical shoes and a bumper-size shampoo into your bag, stop to consider the feelings of future you: the one sporting a sweaty back patch and a face riddled with regret. The ‘I’ll manage’ attitude dissipates in a flurry of expletives as you drag your luggage up a broken escalator, straining your bicep and stubbing a toe in the process. Worth it? Not so much.
Stick to it: Downsize: restricting suitcase volume soon hinders overpackers. Prioritise: it’s OK to take three paperbacks if you’re willing to forgo the laptop. Enlist a ruthless packing buddy who won’t give in to the words ‘but I neeeeeed it!’.
Take better pictures

Sick of returning home from a trip with thousands of hastily snapped images that you’ll never have the time to sift through and edit, let alone share? Whether you’re shooting for social media, an online portfolio or the family album, investing a little time and effort can take your creations from amateur to incredible.
Stick to it: Read up on how to take a decent smartphone snap; enrol on a photography course; join a photographer’s meetup while you’re on the road; or take a tour that combines travel and tuition.
Stop putting it off

Family, finances, your career… even fear. There are plenty of factors that prevent people from travelling – but when valid reasons become comfortable alternatives to taking a risk, it’s time for a reality check. You have one life on this planet. Stop making excuses and start making plans.
Stick to it: Whether you long for a round-the-world extravaganza or simply a weekend away, it’s not going to land on your lap. Identify your true barriers to travel and tackle them head on. Strapped for cash? Start saving. Option paralysis? Consult the experts. Worried what your boss will think? Propose a trip that will boost your résumé.
Learn to unplug

See it, share it. Try it, tweet it. The impulse to reach for your smartphone can be near impossible to resist, even on the road – but just as technology seems to have rewired our brains to crave constant connection, travel can be the ultimate antidote.
Stick to it: Can’t go cold turkey? Minimise distractions by deleting email apps and disabling social media notifications. Rediscover the joy of writing postcards. Keep a travel journal. Go for a walk without the safety net of Google Maps… and see where you end up.
Travel responsibly

As global tourist numbers continue to increase (1.2 billion international arrivals recorded in 2015 and counting, according to the UN), understanding the impact our travel choices have on the planet has never been more important. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to go green.
Stick to it: You know the drill: steer clear of plastic bottles; take public and overland transport where possible; choose ethical tour operators who respect wildlife and give back to local communities; reduce or offset your carbon emissions (calculate your footprint at carbonindependent.org).
Use your time off wisely

It’s easy to fritter away precious paid leave on family events and close-to-home happenings, leaving little time for escapism. But this makes it tough to return to work feeling refreshed – and worse still, you’re no closer to seeing the world than you were last year.
Stick to it: Make no mistake: you earned your days off, so take them – every last one. Plan in advance; if you prefer regular short trips, get them booked in early. Capitalise on national holidays, adding a day or two either side for extra-long breaks. Alternatively, have that chat with your manager about using your leave in bulk for that three-week trip to Southeast Asia…
Engage with the locals

The dream: gaining true insight into ‘real’ local culture. The reality: befriending an international crew of fellow travellers on Facebook and coming home with an ‘authentic’ souvenir made in China.
Stick to it: Let’s face it: it can take years to unravel the complexities of foreign cultures. But there are ways to increase your chances of having a meaningful encounter. Brush up on your language skills; you’d be surprised how far ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you. With the sharing economy showing no signs of slowing down, it’s easier than ever to find homestays, cooking classes and local tour guides.
Get out of your comfort zone

Travel is a simple yet effective way to shake up your status quo – but even seasoned adventurers can get stuck in a rut.
Stick to it: Make this year the year you mix up your travel style. Too shy to go solo? Dare to go it alone, or join a group tour for ready-made companions. Over planner? Tear up the itinerary and see what happens when you wing it. Stick to the mantra: ‘say yes more’.
Explore your own backyard

More confident sharing tips on the best restaurants in Bangkok or Bilbao than your nearest city? So often seduced by the lure of faraway places, we travel addicts often lose sight of the gems right under our noses.

The Best Places to See Polar Bears In The Wild

Yet despite the high cost and relative difficulty involved in viewing these kings of the Arctic in their natural habitat, more and more travellers are now lining up to see them – while they still can.
Spotting a polar bear in the wild is costly and difficult, but also arguably one of the world’s most thrilling

Listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), polar bears face an uncertain future. But there is hope. In September 2015, the five states whose territories cover this spectacular animal’s range – Canada, Kingdom of Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the US – signed the Circumpolar Action Plan, a 10-year global conservation strategy to secure the long-term survival of polar bears, which number between 22,000 and 31,000 in the wild according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). While it’s too soon to measure its success, this joint commitment nonetheless offers some reassurance that these nations are dedicated to the species’ preservation.

Most people who have been lucky enough to eyeball a wild polar bear would agree it’s one of the most thrilling wildlife-viewing experiences on Earth. Still a relatively young industry, polar bear tourism is not without its challenges. An increase in human-polar bear contact in Norway, for example, has resulted in more bears being shot.
It can also be argued that the carbon emissions generated by tourists travelling to the Arctic to spot bears is counterproductive to the marine mammals’ survival. On the other hand, well-managed polar bear tourism is credited with inspiring visitors to see the necessity of safeguarding their fragile environment. If it’s a trip you dream of taking one day, read on for the best places to ogle these majestic beasts in their Arctic playground.

Canada: Churchill, Manitoba

They don’t call Churchill the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ for nothing. Every autumn, hundreds of polar bears gather on the shores of Hudson Bay near the town of Churchill to wait for the sea ice to refreeze so they can return to hunting seals. The world’s most accessible (and cheapest) polar bear viewing destination, Churchill has a well-established tourism industry. Tours are typically conducted in custom-made tundra buggies with indoor/outdoor viewing areas. These vehicles can get close to the bears without jeopardising human or bear safety, though the elevation of the viewing platforms can present challenges for photographers.

When to go: October and November is peak viewing season in Churchill, but some operators offer packages at their remote lodges in March, when mother bears emerge from their dens with their cubs. Bear watching is combined with beluga whale watching in July and August.
Operators: Tours range from half-day viewing tours to multi-day adventures staying in tundra lodges. Operators including Great White Bear Tours (greatwhitebeartours.com), Frontiers North (frontiersnorth.com) and Natural Habitat Adventures (nathab.com) enjoy better access to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (the key viewing area) than others.
Cost: Expect to pay around CAD$470 for a full-day tour.

United States: Kaktovik, Alaska

While polar bear populations in the Bering Sea are thought to be decreasing, bears have become such a common fixture on Alaska’s Arctic coast in summer that a tourism industry has developed around their presence in two Inupiat Eskimo villages: Barrow and Kaktovik. Located on Barter Island, just off the coast, Kaktovik is the best place to spot them – lured by the opportunity to feast on the carcasses of bowhead whales that the community are permitted to harvest, polar bears can be spotted by the dozen hanging out on the sand islands that fringe the town. Visitors arrive via small plane from Fairbanks for three- to four-hour viewing tours conducted in small boats equipped for six guests.
When to go: Boat tours run from mid-August until late September/early October.
Operators: Northern Alaska Tour Company (northernalaska.com) runs a day trip from Fairbanks; several smaller operators including Akook Arctic Adventures (akookarcticadventures.com) offer multi-day photography-driven tours, lodging in Kaktovik.
Cost: At $1799, Northern Alaska Tour Company’s day trip is the cheapest tour. You may get a better deal booking flights directly through Ravn Alaska (flyravn.com), and arranging a viewing session with Kaktovik Tours (US$720; kaktoviktours.com).

Norway: Spitsbergen, Svalbard

Halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago harbours a rich array of wildlife among its stunning glaciers and dramatic fjords – including several thousand polar bears. Viewing tours take two forms: in winter, full-day snowmobile tours depart the capital Longyearbyen, on the main island of Spitsbergen, for polar bear territory in the island’s east, where bears can (sometimes) be viewed from a distance. It’s a long, cold day out, but it’s cheaper than summertime expedition cruises that ply the west and north coasts of Spitsbergen. Cruises, however, offer much higher chances of seeing bears.
When to go: February to May for snowmobiling tours; June to August for expedition cruises.
Operators: Check out Better Moments (bettermoments.no) for snowmobiling day tours, and Intrepid (intrepidtravel.com), G Adventures (gadventures.com) and Explore! (explore.co.uk) for cruises at the more affordable end. Natural World Safaris (naturalworldsafaris.com) offers cruises and multi-day snowmobiling tours.
Cost: Expect to pay about €356 for a snowmobile day trip, and upwards of €2900 for a seven-night cruise.

Greenland: off the coast

The southern Greenland village of Nanortalik means ‘place of polar bears’, but in truth, Greenland’s polar bears live and breed in the northernmost realms of the nation’s icy wilderness. With bears so rarely seen on land, however, the greatest chance of spotting one is from an expedition cruise along the coast; some operate out of the capital Nuuk, while others travel up Greenland’s southwest or east coast en route from Canada or Iceland to Svalbard, Norway.
When to go: Cruises typically operate between July and September.
Operators: Expedition cruise operators including Aurora Expeditions (auroraexpeditions.com.au), Expedition Trips (expeditiontrips.com), Discover The World (discover-the-world.co.uk), and Quark Expeditions (quarkexpeditions.com) offer various multi-day cruise itineraries taking in the Greenland coast.
Cost: Ten- to 14-day cruises range from around €6000 and up.

Russia: Wrangel Island

One of the world’s least visited and most restricted nature reserves, Wrangel Island lies 140km off the northeast coast of Siberia. This Arctic wildlife magnet is known as the world’s polar bear maternity ward, with several hundred mothers known to land here in winter to raise their young. It’s possible for intrepid travellers to visit on expedition ship tours (departing from the Russian port of Anadyr), which offer opportunities to view bears – as well as walrus, grey whales, reindeer, and other Arctic animals – from sea and on land.
When to go: Cruises run from early August until mid-September.
Operators: 56th Parallel (56thparallel.com), Heritage Expeditions (heritage-expeditions.com), Steppes Travel (steppestravel.co.uk) and World Expeditions (worldexpeditions.com) offer expedition cruises to Wrangel Island.

Amazing Places to Go In February For Culture

New Year’s celebrations have come and gone, but there’s life in the old girl yet as February brings with it all the colour and chaos of carnival season – with Brazil, Haiti and Venice leading the sequin-clad charge.

And when you’re all partied out, or just in need of a tempo change, we’ve got some quieter cultural offerings in store, from cruising Cambodia’s waterways to exploring Venice when it’s crowd-free.

Party, party, party in Rio de Janeiro

There is no party on the planet like Rio Carnival. Two million people sequinned-up, samba-ing, cavorting, dancing and drinking in one of the world’s best-looking cities – celebrations don’t come much brighter, brasher or rowdier, or more unforgettable. For some, joining this massive melee might sound like hell on earth; for others this is bucket-list stuff. Early booking is key, as is deciding how to participate: a ticketed seat in the Sambodrome grandstand, watching the parades? Signing up with a samba school to take part in the action? Joining the blocos (street parties) for more informal fun? Also consider different Brazilian cities, for a variety of Carnival vibes. Try Salvador’s enormous African-influenced event, the traditional street parties of Recife and Olinda, or São Paulo Carnival – like Rio but less touristy by far.
Trip plan: Book well in advance if visiting Brazil during Carnival season. Add on recuperative beach time: Búzios (near Rio) or Ilha de Tinharé (near Salvador).
Need to know: Upcoming dates for Carnival Sunday are 26 February 2017, 11 February 2018, 3 March 2019, 23 February 2020.
Other months: Dec-Mar – Rio summer, hot (Carnival Feb-Mar); Apr-May – cooler, humid; Jun-Sep – mild winters; Oct-Nov – warm, uncrowded.

Visit Cambodia when the skies are dry and the lake is still high

The weather is dry and wonderful across Cambodia in February – right from the golden beaches of Sihanoukville to the temples of Angkor. Warmer than the early dry season (October to January) but not yet sweltering, this is a good month for exploring the vast, Unesco-listed complex. Long days of sightseeing are a more comfortable prospect in temperatures of around 27°C (81°F); and there’s always shade to be found amid Angkor’s stonework and jungly pockets. There’s also just enough water left in Tonlé Sap Lake to take boat trips to floating villages that are still actually floating – as the dry season progresses, levels drop, leaving stilthouses marooned in mud and Kampong Phluk (the ‘flooded forest’) inaccessible.
Trip plan: Start in Siem Reap, granting Angkor the time it deserves. Then cruise on the Tonlé Sap Lake. Head south for the haunting museums of Phnom Penh before beach time in Kep or Sihanoukville; also consider hikes in the Cardamom Mountains.
Need to know: Angkor passes are available for durations of one (US$20), three (US$40) and seven (US$60) days.
Other months: Oct-Apr – dry; May-Sep – wet (Apr-Jun: hottest, most humid).
haiti-fest

Discover the alternative Caribbean in Haiti

Yes, this is the Caribbean. But few come to Haiti for its Caribbean beaches – sandy and palm-fringed though they may be. No, people come to experience the region at its most offbeat, its most African-influenced and its most resurgent. The 2010 earthquake devastated the country, but there is optimism for the future, and a thrilling destination awaiting those who visit. February is cool and dry across the island, and thus the best time to explore it all. Capital Port-au-Prince is a heady introduction, a mayhem of traffic, rubble, market vendors, voodoo rituals, gingerbread houses and a lively music scene. Elsewhere, take a dip in the lagoons and waterfalls of Bassin-Bleu and hike (or donkey-ride) up to Citadelle Laferrière, an 18th-century fort that thrusts up like a battleship from the lush northern hills.
Trip plan: Allow at least 10 days to explore Haiti. Consider flying from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien (for the Citadelle) to save time.
Need to know: Malaria is present, so take precautions.
Other months: Nov-Mar – coolest, dry (rainy in north Nov-Jan); Apr-Jun – hotter, rainy in centre; Aug-Oct – humid, wet, storms possible.
venice

Embrace the Carnival, or go crowd-free in Venice

February is a month of two halves in Italy’s Floating City. In part, it’s winter Venice: cold but entrancing, largely untouristed. It can be grey and bitingly cold, but the canals are enswirled by atmospheric mists, and cafes serving thick cioccolata calda offer refuge. Virtually free of cruise ships, this is when locals reclaim the place, while museums and churches remain open but empty. However, pick an alternative February weekend and it’s all different: Carnival takes over. There are masked balls, parades and fireworks, and masked figures swish down the alleys. Photographers will be in heaven, as will anyone who’s ever wanted to play dress-up in one of the world’s most magical cities. It’s busy but beautiful too. Note: most Carnival action stays central, so head to Venice’s more residential areas (Cannaregio, for example) to find pockets of calm.