Places to travel

Travel is the best form of procrastination and as a student, with those long holidays full of faraway deadlines, it’s almost inevitable you’re going to want to get away. Flights are cheaper than ever before, so there’s no excuse whatever your budget. Whatever our preference, here are some of the best places to spend your student breaks.

 

For beaches: Albania

The beaches of the rugged Albanian Riviera are picture perfect, nestled in secluded coves and lapped by crystal clear-waters. The coastline is dotted with traditional villages, and there are budget hotels and restaurants by the dozen.

Travellers inevitably find themselves staying longer than planned, whiling away their days on the beach with an ice-cold beer in hand – after all, this is one of the cheapest places in Europe to enjoy a lager (or two).

 

For nightlife: Madrid, Spain

With everything starting so late (don’t expect lunch till about 4pm and dinner certainly not before 9pm), you’ll find yourself partying here until sunrise – at least.

The Spanish capital is home to scores of wild bars, pubs and clubs catering to all musical tastes where you can dance your socks off as you knock down some potent drinks.

You’ll probably find yourself in a café eating churros with chocolate for breakfast – the fried dough pastry is perfect for soaking up that pounding hangover.

For island life: Croatia

If you fancy sailing, secluded coves and beach parties then look no further than the islands of the Croatian archipelago. They also attract their share of cyclists – there are peaceful coastal routes offering gorgeous views.

Trendy Hvar Island is packed with stylish bars and clubs, while Brac retains a traditional feel with picturesque fishing villages, vineyards and olive groves.

For making friends: Slovenia

Slovenia is a peaceful country with areas of outstanding natural beauty. At tourist farms friendly hosts serve home-cooked organic food. You’ll be able to experience rural events and learn about farm life while making friends with welcoming and hospitable souls.

If you’re after a little more action, the friendly capital Ljubljana, with its bustling restaurants and bars, is a great place to mingle with local students.

Simple way if you choose backpacking

Just the process of stepping out of an airport arrivals hall into a melee of taxi drivers, or sitting next to a vocal rooster on a bumper-car bus journey, can be enough to erode the confidence of even the most adventurous traveller.

That’s when paranoia sets in, and the unfamiliarity of your surroundings can make your trip feel like an ordeal worthy of Odysseus. Fret not: everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Here are five skills that’ll help you on your way.

 

1. Understand the rules of the road

The first is simple: there are no rules. You yell stop, the traffic continues regardless, and a truck held together with no more than a hope and a prayer, thunders towards you as if involved in a Mad Max death race.

From Africa and India to Southeast Asia, it’s almost a contractual obligation. If you glare forebodingly at the truck driver, he’s still going to come for you. If you boldly walk on, you might get mowed down.

That may be a teensy exaggeration, but consider this: according to the latest WHO report, some of the most popular countries to travel to in 2016 are the most dangerous in which to be a pedestrian. There were 24,896 fatalities from road accidents in Iran, for instance, while in Thailand the number of road deaths hit 24,237. Other traveller hotspots such as Vietnam, Oman, Brazil, and South Africa are equally as foolhardy.

It’s Wacky Races logic out there, so don’t forget to stop, look, listen and think.

2. Know your maths

Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.

In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).

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3. Master the ethics of haggling

Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.

Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.

In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?

Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.

Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.

Christmas traditions that ou should know

Fear not, though, as the chances are, somewhere on this big old planet, someone will be celebrating in a much more unusual way.

Here are just some of the weird and wacky Christmas traditions that have taken root around the world – from giant straw goats to celebrities with their pants down.

 

1. The Swedes burn a giant goat

Every year on the first Sunday of advent, the good people of Gävle, Sweden erect a huge straw goat on the town’s main square. It stands there proudly for a while, bringing a bit of cheer to the chilly winter days. And then, more often than not, arsonists burn it to the ground.

Julbocken (the Christmas goat) has gone up in flames almost every year since 1966, when it was first installed, and is now famous right across the country, with Swedes following the news closely to see if it can make it through Christmas in one piece.

The authorities have tried all sorts of tricks to deter people from burning the goat, from installing CCTV cameras to impregnating the straw with a fire retardant material. They had a brief taste of success in 2015, when the goat survived right up until Christmas Eve – only to be burnt down two days later.

 

2. The Japanese eat KFC

Like it or not, marketing campaigns have shaped the way we celebrate Christmas. The classic image of Santa Claus as a plump old man, for example, is at least partly down to Coca-Cola’s ads in the 1930s.

And across the world, advertising continues to change how people celebrate Christmas. In Japan – a country with few Christians and no long-held tradition of celebrating Christmas – marketing gurus have managed to convince people that eating KFC is a perfectly normal way to ring in the festive season.

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It all began back in the 1970s, when foreign tourists visiting Japan started eating KFC chicken as an alternative to the traditional Christmas turkey. With a bit of help from adverts, the same trend soon took off among locals.

Today, reports say, sales at the Colonel’s restaurants are five times higher during Christmas than at other times of the year, with many customers ordering their fried chicken months in advance.

3. The Spanish make models of people pooing

Forget everything you remember from your early days at school: in Catalunya, Spain, the traditional nativity scenes come with a more colourful twist.

Each year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, nativity scenes are livened up by the appearance of el caganer” (the crapper). These ceramic models, which traditionally depict a Catalan peasant dropping a hefty Yule log onto the floor, have been a part of local Christmas celebrations for centuries.

The best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you’d rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are the best places to travel alone.

 

1. Lombok and the Gili Islands, Indonesia

Not as overrun as Bali, its more famous neighbour, Lombok is gaining a sterling reputation with independent travellers who want to learn to surf, snorkel or dive in beautiful, clear waters. Inland, the lush green paddy fields stretch to the massive Gunung Rinjani volcano with its waterfalls and hot springs. The three tiny but increasingly popular Gili Islands off Lombok’s northwest coast are easy to access – Trawangan is where the party’s at.

 

2. Cuba

The Cuban capital of Havana conjures images of crumbling colonial architecture, 1950s Chevys, salsa and cigars. However, with the political scene inside Cuba shifting, private enterprise is being encouraged and small businesses across the country are opening and expanding. Now is a great time to visit those tiny back street restaurants and artisan shops. Homestays have always been characteristic of travel in Cuba, and this, along with low crime, means travelling alone is safe and rewarding.

 

3. Guatemala

If you’re looking for the best places to travel alone in Central and South America, don’t overlook Guatemala and its ancient Maya ruins. It’s an inexpensive place to travel, which means you could stay for a while to learn Spanish or even volunteer. Come here for adventure activities like hiking, kayaking and whitewater rafting – and to explore the jungle and get up close and personal with Central America’s most active volcano. Haggling for fresh produce in one of the country’s colourful markets is an adventure in itself.

favourite stories of the year all about travel

In February, we spoke to Robin Hanbury-Tenison, who’s still embarking on fascinating expeditions around the world at the age of 80.

He’s been awarded the Patron’s Gold Medal by the Royal Geographic Society and is currently undertaking eight challenges in an effort to raise £80,000 for Survival International.

 

Longread: Riding the Ghan through Australia’s red centre

Join Shafik Meghji, co-author of The Rough Guide to Australia, on one of the world’s great railway journeys, from Darwin to Adelaide. “It felt a bit like taking the Orient Express across Mars”, he said of the experience.

It turns out we’re not the only ones addicted to travel, as more than half a million of you watched this video, edited by Colt St George. If you rarely see a plane without wishing you were on it, this short film is for you.

Our author has crossed the Ghats many times on updating trips for The Rough Guide to India, taking this series of photographs between 2010 and 2014.

In this piece he takes us on a visual tour of this rugged and remote region, from the slopes of Kolukkumalai, the world’s highest tea plantation, to the fascinating hill station of Matheran.

Travel stories that really funny

While missed flights and lost luggage won’t make the headlines, some stories are a little more entertaining. From badly photoshopped holiday snaps to 47-year-long layovers, these are the silly travel stories that we’ll be giggling over long into 2017.

1. The man who x-rayed himself

Ah, border crossings. A bit boring once you’ve done enough of them, but bewildering the first time you try.

Spare a thought, then, for this man attempting to cross the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although he’s asked to put his bag through the x-ray machine, he seems to misunderstand and ends up putting his whole body through the scanner – much to the surprise of security staff on the other side.

2. The woman who photoshopped herself to China

Kenyan travel fan Sevelyn Gat became an internet sensation back in March 2016 when badly photoshopped images of her “travelling” began attracting thousands of likes on Facebook. Unable to afford a trip to Asia, she’d superimposed herself onto images of famous Chinese sights like the Great Wall – with hilarious consequences.

Sevelyn had the last laugh, though; a sympathetic Kenyan businessman later decided to fund her real-life trip to China.

Solo travelling tips

Ask anyone who’s ever travelled solo, and they probably wouldn’t want to adventure any other way. It might be daunting at first, and it’s certainly simpler for some people than it is for others. But spending time alone on the road is among the most rewarding travel experiences out there.

Whether it’s a long trip around the world or a habit of solitary weekend jaunts, here are 10 things everybody learns while travelling alone:

 

1. You always return home with lots of new friends

Ever noticed that you’re more likely to ask one person for directions than you are to ask a group of people? Solos are more approachable, plain and simple. Lone travellers learn that the benefits of this are twofold: not only will other travellers feel far more comfortable introducing themselves to you, but it’s actually easier for you to strike up conversation with others as well.

 

2. You can engage with locals on a level that only solo travellers can

You know that local folks are more open, and definitely more curious, when it’s only you walking into that hole-in-the-wall café, or sampling the pungent flavours of that roadside food stall. From a heartfelt conversation on a rickety train, to suddenly having a network of genial families happy to host you for a night, you know none of these incredible experiences would have been possible if you’d been travelling with others.

3. You’re free to adventure as you please, and it feels awesome

There is no need to compromise when travelling alone. No need to appease a friend’s unfortunate craving for an overpriced burger and fries, or their incessant complaints about mosquito bites in a jungle where you’re on travel cloud 9. As a lonesome wanderer you travel where you want, when and however you want to – all with a liberating degree of indulgence.

Travelled too much this year

Is your passport is groaning under the weight of international ink? Do your friends forget which country you’re in? If you recognise any of these signs, you’ve been bitten hard by the travel bug in 2016.

 

1. There’s a big hole in your bank account

A long weekend away or a carefully planned backpacking trip might seem budget-friendly to begin with, but once you’ve been tempted by a tour of the Galápagos Islands or a week in Iceland searching for the Northern Lights things start to add up.

What was once a well-fed bank account is now a shadow of its former self. Its demise may have been inversely proportional to your growing happiness, but you’re starting to wonder whether you might need to find a cheaper passion – well, for the next few months at least.

 

2. Your kitchen is bare

Thanks to all the time you’ve spent on the road, your kitchen has seen better times. At least you’ve got enough miniature bottles of spirits pilfered from airlines and hotel rooms to keep you going for a while.

 

3. You need a new passport – again

Those celebratory stamps at Machu Picchu and Ushuaia are starting to look like a costly use of space. You still carry your ink-cluttered passport with pride, but you’re starting to resent the irritating regularity of having to renew it.

 

4. You receive a warm welcome on every flight

With all the time you’ve spent on a plane, you’re starting to become a pro at frequent flying. From charming the cabin crew to making the most of your air miles, you’ve got the system totally figured out.

 

5. You forget which language you’re speaking

Spasibo? Shukran? Thank you?

After mastering a handful of new languages this year (well, “two beers, please” at least), you’ve been left struggling to remember the correct way of saying “thanks” when you’re back on home turf.

The best routes in new zaeland

New Zealand’s roads and trails cut through incredibly diverse landscapes: snow-capped peaks and watery fiords, fertile plains, subtropical forest, glacial lakes and rugged coastline can all be explored on four wheels. Here is a selection of our favourite road trips in New Zealand.

1. For adventure: Ninety-Mile Beach

Officially called Te Oneroa-a-Tōhē, this seemingly endless stretch of beach from Ahipara to Scott Point in the far north of New Zealand is actually only 55 miles (88km).

Incredibly, it’s a designated public highway and alternative to SH-1 – though to traverse the sands you need a 4WD, a sense of adventure and some advance planning to avoid high tide. On one side is the crashing surf, and on the other, rolling dunes backed by green forest.

2. For coves and beaches: the Pacific Coast Highway

The Pacific Coast Highway hugs the awe-inspiring coastline of the North Island’s Coromandel Peninsula, Bay of Plenty, East Cape and Hawkes Bay.

Setting out from Auckland you can take it slow on a six-day tour and take your pick of picturesque coves and bays to explore. Ridiculously beautiful highlights include Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, Ohope Beach and Ohiwa Harbour, Waipiro Bay and its three historical marae (Maori meeting grounds) and the beaches of Mahia Peninsula. Be aware that the East Cape in particular is winding and steep and can be a challenging drive.

3. For Lord of the Rings: Tongariro National Park

For One Drive to Rule Them All, head deep into the volcanic plateau of Central North Island where Peter Jackson found the perfect location to bring Mordor to the big screen. Most people come here to ski or tramp, but there are some incredible landscapes and lookouts to be seen from the highway: the long, straight Desert Road (SH-1) to the east of the park is a dry and bleak stretch with amazing views toward the trio of volcanoes.

For even more epic views of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom), loop round to the southeast of the park to Whakapapa Village (off SH-47) to access the skifield.

4. For high country: Molesworth Station

Open for the summer months only, Acheron Road bumps through the stunning scree-covered hillsides and open valleys and grasslands of New Zealand’s largest farm. Drivers who brave the 207km gravel road between Blenheim and Hanmer Springs experience all that comes with exploring remote high country.

Easy to beat the travel bug

Feet itching to get out on the road again? Been back home for a while since your last adventure and desperate to start the next one? If your travel piggy bank isn’t quite up to the task of flying you off on the next big trip just yet, don’t let the travel bug get its claws into you – combat the desire to run away from home with our top tips on how to beat it.

 

1. Get outside

At the risk of sounding just like your parents, a good old-fashioned dose of fresh air really does put you in a better mood – so get off the couch and get outside. As spring brings out the flowers and those much-missed blue skies you might just find yourself looking at where you live in a whole new light. Top tip: reserve this one for sunny days.

 

2. Take a different route

Travelling means seeing new things – but there are plenty of those far closer to home. Next time you’re heading to a friend’s house or even just popping to the shops, take a deliberate wrong turn and see where it takes you.

You might find an overgrown woodland path leading to a garden you never knew existed, or stumble upon a beautiful historic building you’ve never noticed before.

After all, these things happen on the road all the time – and that road starts right outside your house.

 

3. Do something exciting at home

Remember the rush of that helicopter dipping over the Grand Canyon or the thrill of that bungee jump you braved in New Zealand? Adrenaline knows no borders and those adventures aren’t confined to foreign climes. Look locally and you’ll likely find something to get your adrenaline thrills.

Why not take a helicopter or hot air balloon flight over your home city, or try a new adventure sport in your nearest national park? And there’s nothing to stop you from posting pictures on Facebook, just as you would if you were on the other side of the planet.

 

4. Get cooking

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Who hasn’t come back from a trip with a recipe book they always meant to use? Now’s the time to crack it open, and start cooking some of those Indonesian curries or Italian pasta dishes you’ve always meant to.

Your taste buds will never know they haven’t been transported to Thailand or France, even though you’re really balancing a bowl on your knee back home.