With its coral-speckled beaches, luscious green rice terraces and blissful azure seas, Bali has long been a haven for surfers, sun worshippers and yoga junkies alike. Whether you’re planning the adventure of a lifetime or a week of relaxation,
1. LEARN TO HAGGLE FOR ALMOST EVERYTHING
You’ll find there is often one price for locals and one price for tourists in Bali, but if you’re savvy you can barter for something in between. There’s always room for manoeuvre. Even things with a fixed price – like hotels and tours – can be negotiated.
2. GET THE RIGHT VISA
For most travellers, there are three main kinds of visa available. The free-entry visa is non-extendable, so if you think you might end up staying longer than 30 days you should pay for the extendable visa on arrival (US$35.00), or get a 60-day visa before leaving home.
3. EMBRACE MOPEDS AS YOUR TRANSPORT OF CHOICE
While initially daunting, particularly in jam-packed city centres, mopeds are cheap to rent and give you the freedom to explore the island’s more out-of-the-way attractions.
Make sure to check the tank, as they’re often left empty by the previous rider. If you do run low, petrol is easily purchased (usually in vodka bottles) from almost every roadside shop. And don’t forget to ask for a helmet.
4. DON’T MISS THE GILIS
The three Gili Islands lie off the west coast of Lombok, less than two hours’ boat ride from Bali, and are a laid-back haven for partying, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.
Rent a bike and head around the stunning white shoreline, stopping off to swim amid tropical fish and the occasional sea turtle. Boats run between the islands constantly, but make sure to catch a public one, rather than pay through the nose for a private speedboat.
5. WATCH A FIRE DANCE AT ULUWATU
Traditional dances are performed everywhere, but none in so spectacular a location as the ancient cliff top temple of Uluwatu, on the tip of the southern Bukit Peninsula. If you’re travelling by moped be aware that you’ll be returning in the dark, so make note of your route.
6. HEAD WEST FOR WAVES, EAST FOR SNORKELLING
The surf in Bali is world-renowned. West coast spots like Canggu and Kuta boast incredible waves, while the Rip Curl Surf School in Legian runs daily classes for novices.
The calmer waters to the east are great for scuba diving and snorkelling, and headgear is readily available pretty much everywhere.
7. BE VIGILANT WITH MONEY
Use ATMs as much as possible and try to avoid money-changers, as they can undercut you. If you have no other option, do your own calculations and double-check theirs. Notes are large and some changers play on tourists’ confusion, giving you less than you’ve agreed on.
8. GET A HEALTH KICK IN UBUD
Ubud is Bali’s traditional cultural hub and now lies at the heart of the island’s holistic wellness movement – part of Eat, Pray, Love was filmed here. Head to one of the many classes at the The Yoga Barn and stop off in The Seeds of Life, a raw food restaurant, for a detox.
Pack your stuff, throw it in camper van along with a surfboard and don’t look back… This might be an old cliché but it’s one for good reason: Australia really is one of the best places on Earth for a road trip.
Whether you’re living the dream in your camper van, or making do with a less romantic form of transport, Australia’s well-kept, open roads beckon and will lead you through astonishing landscapes. There are many great road trips in Australia, but here are our favourites.
1. COASTAL VIEWS ON THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD
Staggering ocean views and easy access from Melbourne make this one of Australia’s best-loved road trips. Pack an overnight bag and follow the dramatic coastline, stopping to view a series of coastal rock formations, holding their ground in the surf.
The magnificent Twelve Apostles – eight giant sea stacks – appear otherworldly at sunset, guarding the limestone cliffs. Among the other rocky highlights include London Bridge arch, the Bay of Islands and Loch Ard Gorge.
At Bells Beach, grab a wetsuit and do your best Keanu Reeves’ impression. This was the famous surf setting for his film Point Break, but it was actually filmed in California.
If you’re not a surfer you can hike in Great Otway National Park, say hello to the koalas at Kennett River or kayak out into Apollo Bay to observe a seal colony. Otherwise, take it easy at a beach restaurant in the seaside town of Lorne.
Best for: Weekenders seeking surf and sea stacks.
How long: 2 days.
Need to know: Starts at Torquay, a 1.5-hour drive from Melbourne, and ends at Warrnambool.
2. ADVENTURE ALONG THE WAY FROM PERTH TO EXMOUTH
Driving north from Perth, you may expect nothing of the Outback landscape but scorched earth and straight roads all the way up the west coast. While these certainly exist, a road trip here is also punctuated with remarkable geological features, some of the world’s best (yet empty) beaches and kangaroos hopping alongside your camper van.
First, a bit of fun at Lancelin where you can go sand boarding in the dunes or off-roading in a truck-sized 4×4. Then on to the Pinnacles Desert where bizarre pillars protrude from the desert like ancient monoliths.
In Kalbarri National Park, see Nature’s Window and the Z-Bend Lookout, abseil Murchison Gorge and ride on horseback around the scenic estuary at Big River Ranch.
A five-hour drive north brings you to Shark Bay, home of weird stromatolites – the oldest fossils on Earth – and the brilliant-white Shell Beach. Stop at Monkey Mia to meet the dolphins before heading on to Coral Bay, where another pristine white beach greets you. From here you can wade out 50m to the Ningaloo Reef – the second-largest reef in Australia – to snorkel with dazzling fish, turtles, reef sharks and whale sharks.
Best for: Desert adventurers.
How long: 5 days.
Need to know: To extend the trip, keep going all the way to Broome, via Karijini National Park.
3. THE HOME STRAIT ON THE NULLARBOR PLAIN
The Nullabor is not for the faint-hearted. The mesmerising Eyre Highway runs through a vast, treeless plain, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Norseman in Western Australia.
With an almost 150km stretch that’s the world’s longest straight road, it’s no surprise that it’s known as “Nullaboring”. But many travellers love it for the beauty of the desert and the on-the-road camaraderie. There’s a strong sense of community at the roadhouses, which appear roughly every 200km – with nothing in between.
Venture away from the main road to see some of South Australia’s geological highlights, including Pildappa Rock – a 100m-long wave of red sandstone – or the peculiar rocks at Ucontitchie Hill and Murphy’s Hay Stacks.
From Denial Bay, the Eyre Highway clings to the coast all the way to Western Australia. At the Head of Bight, you’ve a good chance of spotting Southern Right Whales between June and October. Then there are the empty beaches, towering cliffs, the magnificent blow-holes – and the oddities… Eucla features the ghostly remains of a telegraph station protruding from the encroaching dunes, while Balladonia (population: 9) commemorates the spot where the Skylab space station fell to Earth in 1979.
Best for: Adventurers up for trying anything, loners and Nullarbor addicts.
How long: 7–10 days.
Need to know: Be prepared with a serviced car, and enough food and water to last between roadhouses. Daytime temperatures can reach 50°C and nights can be freezing. Be careful of wildlife and passing road-trains.
Coastlines don’t come much more idyllic than Croatia’s 2000km of ruggedly beautiful Adriatic shore. Along this magnificent stretch are ancient Roman remains standing guard over sheltered harbours; olive groves rising above the winding backstreets of tumble-down villages; and sleek resorts backing palm-fringed bays.
In the turquoise waters offshore are scattered more than 1000 islands and islets, home to everything from remote pebble beaches to hedonistic party towns. It is these stunning archipelagos – coupled with the country’s balmy summer climate – that make Croatia one of the most popular sailing destinations in Europe. Here’s our guide to sailing in Croatia to help you plan your first trip.
WHERE SHOULD I GO – AND HOW LONG FOR?
The southern Dalmatian islands are by far Croatia’s most popular sailing destination, and the ideal choice for your first visit. Most itineraries comprise round-trips from Split or Dubrovnik, or one-way voyages connecting the two. You’ll need around week, although the majority of companies allow eight days or so for the Split–Dubrovnik route (or vice versa).
Popular stops include chic bars and restaurants of Hvar Town, historic Stari Grad and its UNESCO-listed plain (also on the island of Hvar), and small towns such as Milna on Brač, known for its laidback charm.
You can still find plenty of seclusion, too. The village of Stomorska on sleepy Šolta has moorings for just fifteen visiting boats, while a night in Palmižana harbour allows you to explore car-free Sveti Klement, one of the forested Pakleni Islands.
The farthest flung island from shore is unspoiled Vis, cut off from tourists due to military activity until the early 1990s, and home to the magnificent Blue Cave. Closer to the coast further south are Korčula’s sandy bays and verdant Mljet, with its beautiful National Park.
Want to get further off the beaten track? There are hundreds more islands to explore; check out our top 10 for inspiration.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
High summer in Croatia might be busy, but the weather is simply glorious. Expect gentle averages of 26–27°C in July and August – and, even better, sea temperatures of around the same. Snorkelling, paddle-boarding and swimming, or just simply splashing around in the shallows, are chief among the joys of exploring the Adriatic.
The sailing season runs from May to the end of September, and you should heed these dates. End or start of season deals might sound appealing, but with temperatures averaging around 15°C in October and many business shutting up shop for the year, you may not get the trip you envisaged.
HOW DO I FIND A YACHT?
The easiest way to tackle sailing in Croatia is to book a skippered yacht. You might learn a few sailing skills along the way, but generally you’ll be free to sit back and drink in the views (or the local wines).
Your skipper will be an invaluable part of your trip, able to recommend and adjust routes depending on the weather, and guide you to the best swimming spots, attractions and restaurants. You might also want to consider booking a host or hostess, who will take care of the cooking and cleaning.
Experienced sailors can opt for a “bareboat” charter. Requirements may vary between operators, but you will need full certification, such as the ICC (International Certificate of Competence).
We’ve selected some excellent sailing holiday and charter companies from The Rough Guide to Croatia to get you started. If you’re travelling solo, adventure specialists such as Gadventures and Contiki offer single and shared berths on group trips; you can browse these through our partner, TourRadar.
WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT ON BOARD?
Not all yachts are made the same, varying wildly from cosy, close-quarter set-ups to floating paradigms of unbridled luxury. Most companies offer several levels of comfort; explore the different boats available through your chosen operator and be realistic about your expectations for space and facilities.
At the lower end are smaller, older boats with cramped cabins and shared bathrooms. Modern, high-end catamarans tend to offer a very different experience, often kitted out with plush furnishings, en-suites and extensive deck space.
Bear in mind that if you’re a solo traveller, booking on a group trip with budget and youth operators may mean sharing a cabin, or even a “double” bed.
The travelling was, in retrospect, pretty tough. I stayed in cheap places most of the time and got around on local buses. Few of the destinations I researched were on the tourist map so I rarely encountered other travellers, which made the whole thing more intense but a lot more rewarding.
I’d head off on all manner of weird and wonderful detours, following pilgrims up sacred mountains, catching auto-rickshaws to be obscure villages to attend festivals, and accepting invitations by archaeologists to see newly discovered sites. There were times when it all felt like genuine exploration.
HOW DID YOU KEEP NOTES ALONG THE WAY?
I used a portable electronic typewriter (this was the pre-laptop era) and spent hours each evening bashing out notes on horrible pink airmail paper. I kept the pages in a ring binder file that never left my person.
Imagine how valuable that had become after two or three months of travel? I used to photocopy the pages periodically and post them home, but even so, I held on to those notes as if my life depended on them.
WHAT ARE YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES FROM CREATING/RESEARCHING THIS BOOK?
I could probably write another thousand-page book in answer to that one. But off the top of my head: crossing the Himalayas on the Manali-Leh road, which had not long opened, was a real adventure as the bus broke down and we got caught by an early snow fall in the middle of nowhere for three freezing nights (I pack a down jacket in the boot of my car on long journeys to this day).
Seeing the Golden Temple in Amritsar for the first time – the Taj understandably gets more attention but this building is no less ethereal. Hanging out on remote, empty beaches in Goa that within a decade would be booming resorts and full of people – lost forever.
And of course, the people I met and travelled with along the way. It’s a cliché to say so, buy they linger in the memory a long time and are what made those journeys wonderful.
DID YOU HAVE ANY SCARY MOMENTS?
In the winter of 1998, I walked to Zanskar, in the Indian Himalayas, on a frozen river. It was a month of heaven and hell. Terror potentially lurked around every corner in the form of crawls along narrow crusts of ice, or climbs without ropes up slippery cliffs overhanging open water, which would kill you in two minutes if you fell in.
The reward was an experience in a Himalayan region entirely cut off from the outside world and it was spectacular. Though in truth, it was probably no more dangerous than crossing any road in Delhi or Jaipur today!
WHAT WERE THE STRANGEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO YOU ON YOUR TRIP?
I got conned by a Burmese junky in Bombay once. He told me he’d lost all his money after a motorcycle accident in which he had had to pay off a woman he’d injured. He strung me along for days, squeezing little donations from me in well-rehearsed routines, before I rumbled him.
He then took me, by way of an apology, on an insider’s tour of the underbelly of south Bombay that I’ll never forget. I crossed paths with him a few times after that on subsequent trips. He looked more emaciated each time and eventually disappeared, seemingly without trace. He told me his life story over coffee once – it was an epic riches-to-rags tale.
Another surreal experience was going to a party at the glamorous seaside palace of Kingfisher beer tycoon, Vijay Malia, in Goa. I wore flip-flops because I had nothing else and people were genuinely appalled.
I ended up there because The Rough Guide to Goa was a big deal: people whose restaurants were featured in it would erect giant roadside hoardings proclaiming “as recommended by Mr David Abram in the Rough Guide!!”. It was the nearest I’ll ever get to literary stardom and it was great while it lasted!
Rajasthan was the worst place in that respect, though. A glowing guidebook review in those pre-TripAdvisor days was enough to transform the fortunes of a business, and on one occasion I was literally pursued across the desert by a peloton of hotel owners in Jeeps, desperate for me to return to Jaisalmer and visit their places.
HOW HAS INDIA CHANGED SINCE YOUR FIRST RESEARCH TRIP?
Well, researching guidebooks is a whole different game. Back in the early 1990s, there were no reliable maps. You were literally discovering places – amazing ones too – which had never featured in any books and were virtually unknown to foreign travellers. Communications with home were a lot harder. When I first travelled to India the only word from loved ones was via poste restante – oh, the joy of picking up an airmail letter with your name on it in a grimy Indian post office!
Travel is a lot easier now, but some of the romance has been lost, for sure. It all looked so different then – before the economic liberalization of the 90s, signboards were all hand-painted and tarmac was in short supply.
Polyester was a novelty so in rural areas everyone wore hand-spun, hand-dyed cloth and traditional clothes. There were hardly any cars, but millions of Hero brand bicycles. Stepping off the plane truly felt like entering another dimension.
One of the greatest joys of travel is the unpredictability of exploring somewhere new. But however different our travels might be, we’ve all been struck by a number of universal thoughts along the way.
So whether you’ve grappled with getting up at sunrise or been through the various stages of recognising your own ineptness in another language, you’ll have most likely experienced something along these lines…
1. THE FLIGHT WAS DEFINITELY TODAY, RIGHT?
You checked – multiple times – yet still face a moment of abject panic when you arrive at the airport bugged by the unsettling feeling that you’ve mixed the dates up. You know you should have confirmed it one final time. A firm pat on the back if you got the date right; credit card at the ready if you got it wrong.
2. WHY HASN’T TELEPORTATION BEEN INVENTED YET?
Twelve hours squashed into an aerodynamic tin can ingesting stale air is no one’s ideal start to a trip. But unless a cargo freighter across the Atlantic sounds like a viable alternative, we don’t yet have many other choices.
3. SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE? EASY!
Just say it with the right accent and you’re off. Dos cervethaas por favoorrr.
4. MAYBE I’LL JUST SMILE AND NOD…
Ordering beer was one thing, but you now realise you should have kept up with Duolingo for longer than those four enthusiastic days. You just keeping smiling and nodding – actual words are completely overrated.
5. 4AM IS BEAUTIFUL – I SHOULD BE AWAKE AT THIS TIME MORE OFTEN!
While the cheap flights which forced you to check in before even the airport cleaner arrived weren’t the best introduction to the beauty of 4am, getting up at dawn to see sights like the Bolivian salt flats is enough to convince you of the benefits of those early mornings. You’ll definitely apply this to life back home…
6. DORM WITH 17 OTHER PEOPLE? NO PROBLEM: I SLEEP LIKE A LOG.
At some point you’ve definitely been lured into the big budget dorm – you’re the master of snoozing away nights on airport floors after all. But hostels play by distinct rules; all’s well and good until the inevitable nose-trumpeter gets going or the even less charming noises of an amorous couple become the backdrop to yet another sleepless night.
7. A 14-HOUR BUS JOURNEY WILL BE A BREEZE.
Reclining overnight bus seats always seem overrated – or at least until the next morning when you wake moulded into the shape of the 30-square-centimetre space that was your “bed”. The day spent unintentionally giving your best John Wayne impression just adds insult to injury.
8. SHOULD I HAVE EATEN THAT?
You love street food and the feeling of embracing local flavours as you dive into that delicious, seaming bowl of, well, whatever is floating around in there. But there’s always that nagging question at the back of your head about whether you’ve just committed a momentous travelling faux pas.
9. NO, I REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE EATEN THAT
It looked delicious but it was a recipe for an afternoon spent in a squat toilet. Speaking of which, where’s the nearest?
10. ALCOHOL IS A GREAT WAY TO “EXPERIENCE THE LOCAL CULTURE”
A night of “tasting the culture” – read: drinking a bottle of sake – is the obvious way to learn about your new surroundings, right? Maybe, but the inevitable brain-splitting hangover reminds you that there are many more wholesome, less painful, ways to do so. Museums. Temples. People-watching. You vow to make better choices next time.
Sydney and Melbourne have been battling it out for supremacy as long as Europeans have been setting sail for Australia. Both are capitals of their respective states – New South Wales and Victoria – and both think they should be the capital of Australia.
So fierce is their rivalry that nobody could choose between them, and instead Australia had to build a whole new capital inland in Canberra.
Canberra, though, has nothing on these two. Both have gorgeous coastal locations, world-leading museums, trend-setting restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. Both are great places to shop, to watch sports and to hit the beach. And both are gateways to some of Australia’s greatest sights.
So which one should you head to first? Here’s our lowdown on Australia’s greatest debate. Get ready to weigh in.
WHICH IS BEST FOR CULTURE?
Melburnians would sniff at this question – their city, after all, is known as Australia’s “cultural capital”. You’ll find the Southbank precinct here, with the vast Arts Centre (the country’s busiest performing arts venue), the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest, largest and most visited arts museum, and the country’s oldest professional theatre company the Melbourne Theatre Company.
There are more than a hundred art galleries in the city, as well as plenty of cutting-edge culture, from some of Australia’s best street art in the narrow lanes that run through the CBD to audiovisual art at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image at Federation Square.
Sydney does have a lot to offer too though, and it certainly has more iconic architecture. There is, of course, the Harbour Bridge stretching across the water, and the famous Opera House, which plays host to a fabulous line up of events, including performances by Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet.
BUT WHAT IF I’D RATHER HIT THE BEACH?
Sydney has the edge here, with some of the world’s most recognisable big-name beaches (Bondi and Manly) strung along its shores. Head to the south shore for Bondi, where the surf is always up and you can learn how to ride those waves yourself.
You can also walk along the coastal path to Bronte beach, one of Australia’s most accessible and pleasant strolls. Manly is on the north shore and reached by the Manly Ferry – probably one of the world’s best-value cruises at just a few dollars for 30 minutes of gorgeous harbour views.
Melbourne’s answer to such strong competition is St Kilda, a sandy strand just a short tram ride from the city and home to a proper pier, as well as Brighton, with its brightly painted beach huts and city skyline views.
As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.
Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.
1. DON’T STOP DRINKING COFFEE
Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.
While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.
Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.
2. TAP INTO THE CITY’S CREATIVE SCENE IN ZHONGSHAN AND DONGMEN
Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.
While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.
Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.
3. SAMPLE THE STREET FOOD, ESPECIALLY STINKY TOFU
Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.
From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.
However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.
4. GIVE VEGETARIANISM A TRY
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.
There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.
Albania often doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. The country still suffers from the echoes of its Communist past: few people travelled in or out for decades during Enver Hoxha’s dictatorial rule, and as travel in Europe developed, Albania got left behind.
It’s now somewhat overlooked by tourists, who would rather opt for Greece’s famously pretty islands, Italy’s gorgeous countryside or the romance of Croatia. But Albania’s low visitor numbers are no reflection on its offering for travellers. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know you could do in Albania.
1. HAVE THE BEACH TO YOURSELF
Think of Albania and you probably don’t think of the beach – but you should. The country has around 476km of coastline lapped by the warm Mediterranean sea. There are lively resort towns like Durrës in the north and Saranda in the south, but it’s the almost-untouched parts that will impress the most.
Hire a car and drive the coastal road from Durrës to Saranda stopping off in any of the remote fishing villages and towns along the way – the likelihood is, you’ll find a stretch of sand all to yourself somewhere.
2. EAT SUPERB SEAFOOD
Albanian food takes its flavours from a variety influences: the Ottomans, the Greeks, the Italians… But it’s the ocean that gives the country some of its best dishes. All along that gorgeous coastline you’ll find fish and seafood fresh off the boat.
For a perfect antidote to the meaty cuisine further inland, try a shellfish pasta or risotto, or have the catch of the day grilled with the ubiquitous white cheese dip Albania does so well.
3. HIKE THROUGH ALPINE COUNTRYSIDE
In the far north, only accessible by boat across Lake Koman or via the motorway that runs through neighbouring Kosovo, the valley of Valbona is a picture-perfect wilderness. Thanks to its remote location, tourist numbers here are pretty low, but those that do come are greatly rewarded with panoramic views of the looming mountains and superb hiking in one of the most biodiverse places in the country.
There are hikes of varying lengths for all abilities, but they’ve all got one thing in common: each offers an insight into the seriously rural lifestyle of the locals in Valbona. You’ll walk through orchards, forests and farmsteads that defy gravity on the steep slopes of the Dinaric Alps, and can stop off in one of the valley’s stans (shepherd’s huts) for lunch with a local family.
There’s ample camping and a few excellent lodges along the one road through the valley, but most of the activity centres around Hotel Rilindja, where Alfred and his American wife Catherine have been marking up trails and making their own maps for visitors for years.
4. EXPLORE UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR BUNKERS
Albania is often defined by its relatively recent affair with communism: specifically the reign of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. From 1944–85 he ruled the country with a heavy hand and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of politicians, academics and civilians who were persecuted as “enemies of the people” due to their political beliefs.
While Albania is very much moving on from some of its hardest times, small concrete bunkers all over the country serve as a reminder of that dark past, and a few larger structures remain.
Bunk’Art, in the capital Tirana, is a 106-room nuclear bunker turned museum and art gallery. Built by the military to house the dictator and his highest ranking officials in the event of an attack, today there’s a permanent exhibition on the Communist period, plus changing art exhibitions and a theatre showing films.
A similar but far more eerie bunker lies beneath the picturesque city of Gjirokastra – untouched for decades, it’s now just a damp warren of rooms suitable only for the brave.
5. SEE A LIVING CITADEL
Stroll around the hilltop kalasa (citadel) in Berat after dark and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d travelled back in time. During the day, Berat’s old city is a labyrinthine network of cobbled alleyways and confused tourists in search of an Ottoman church or a pretty viewpoint.
But at night, when the visitors retreat to their hotels, this fourteenth-century town falls quiet save the few residents that still inhabit its ancient structures.
With no street-lighting, you’re left to walk around near-darkness, the warm glow of the houses your only guiding light. If it weren’t for the occasional hubbub of a television, you might think you were in medieval Albania.
Only a few of us can take a vacation that includes a private jet and a 15-course chef’s tasting menu at a top restaurant. For the rest of us, we have to make the most of our budget when we travel. But that’s no reason to skimp. Here are 8 ideas for cheap vacations in the US – and how to make your dollar go a long way in each one.
MUSEUM MADNESS: WASHINGTON, DC
Price-wise you can’t do any better than free, and in Washington, DC, some of the best museums don’t cost a dime. Along the National Mall you’ll find ten Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Building. Free admission to these museums means you can save your money for the Newseum or International Spy Museum. Stretch your dollar by staying at The Embassy Row Hotel, where off-season rates can be a steal.
AN ART ESCAPE: SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Creative types make note: Santa Fe is it. Artists draw inspiration from the nearby mountains and 1.6-million acre National Forest, filling the town’s 250 galleries with works. Don’t neglect the culinary creativity of Santa Fe either; hit the Santa Fe Margarita Trail (with 31 stops) and sample some of the earthy, chile-laden cuisine of Northern New Mexico at Tia Sophia’s and El Parasol, where you can feast for under $10. And if you want to save on your room, try a Route 66 classic like the El Rey Inn.
ISLAND ISOLATION: PUT-IN-BAY, OHIO
An island getaway in Ohio? Indeed. Put-in-Bay sits in Lake Erie just a few miles from the Canadian border and it may just be Ohio’s best-kept secret. Midwesterners are notorious for frugality, and they love Put-in-Bay for its views, the killer fishing, and all the hiking, biking, kayaking and swimming. Accessible only by boat – bring your own or take the Miller Ferry – it’s the kind of place where you can book a B&B for as little as $100 a night in summer.
BACK TO NATURE: THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS, PENNSYLVANIA
Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains are a wild and beautiful part of the state. As well as holding 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail, they’re also home to several state parks and forests – including Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the trail’s mid-way point. Outdoor activities abound here, and one of the best places to make the most of them is Buck Valley Ranch. Surrounded by 2,000 acres of state game land laced with hiking and biking trails, the property is also close to the C&O Canal Trail and Potomac River if you want a long ride or a day on the water.
BIG-CITY COOL: SAN FRANCISCO
To see San Francisco on a budget, visit in the fall or late spring and you’ll find that both the weather is good and the hotels are cheaper. This city was made to be explored on foot, and there are numerous fascinating neighborhoods to discover, from hectic Chinatown to quirky Haight Ashbury– check out our two-day itinerary for starters. And don’t forget the best free activity in San Francisco: people watching.
FOODIE DELIGHTS: DENVER, COLORADO
After a day in Denver, you’ll be ready to move here. Now that you’ve been warned, know that dining in the Mile High City can cost you a pretty penny, but it doesn’t have to. Visiting a spot like Avanti Food & Beverage, a European-style food hall, will give you some big bargains. The fried chicken sandwich at The Regional, Brava! Pizzeria’s margherita pizza and the overstuffed arepa from Quiero Arepas will all fill you up without setting you back. At dinner, splurge and head to Rioja, an outstanding restaurant where your money will be well spent.
The UK gets pretty grim during the winter, with its dark, early nights and splutteringly cold weather. But if you can’t wait until spring to start having fun again, there’s still hope. Rough Guides editor Greg Dickinson has compiled eight ideas for alternative UK breaks during the winter months, from a singing retreat in Northumberland to husky-sledding in Gloucestershire.
1. VISIT THE UK’S ONLY FREE-RANGING REINDEER HERD, THE CAIRNGORMS
Do you need living proof that reindeer are not just for Christmas? Around 150 reindeer roam the Cairngorms in Scotland; throughout both summer and winter an experienced reindeer herder from the Glenmore centre leads visitors on a walk up the mountains to find them.
They’re a tame bunch, so you’ll be able to give them a stroke and take selfies as you please, providing your fingers don’t drop off in the cold. On that note, wrap up warmer than you think is possibly appropriate; Scotland doesn’t do winter in half measures.
2. SING AWAY THE WINTER BLUES, NORTHUMBERLAND
Now, this isn’t the sort of winter break you’d want to invite your tone-deaf mate on. The Unthanks Singing Weekends are run by Mercury Prize-nominated musician sisters Rachel and Becky Unthank, who host visitors in the Northumberland countryside for a weekend of walking, singalongs and pub grub.
Their mantra is simple: “a down to earth, inclusive experience, designed to bring people together for the joy of group singing and good company”. Better start practising in the shower, people.
3. PRETEND YOU’RE IN GAME OF THRONES AT THE DARK HEDGES, NORTHERN IRELAND
This otherworldly avenue of inward-leaning, gnarled trees is one of the most stunning and photogenic spots in the whole of Northern Ireland. So photogenic, in fact, that it is used in Game of Thrones as the filming location for the Kingsroad.
You can visit the Dark Hedges all year, but there’s something quite magical about coming here during the winter, when the leafless branches are covered in a layer of snow.
4. TAKE A MEDITERRANEAN ESCAPE… IN WALES
The technicoloured village of Portmeirion, in northwest Wales, is unlike anywhere else in the UK. In the 1920s, eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis dreamt of building an ideal village, and this fantastical Italianate settlement is the result.
On top of its peculiar hotch-potch of Mediterranean architecture and subtropical gardens, Portmeirion has been known to get unusually balmy weather during the winter – possibly due to the warm winds that blow down from nearby Snowdonia. The place is chocker with visitors in the summer but pleasantly quieter in the winter, when you’ll have its piazzas and pastel-painted buildings near enough all to yourself.
5. LEARN HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE WOODS, EAST MIDLANDS
If your idea of a perfect winter break involves sitting by a fireplace, mug of mulled wine in right hand, mince pie in left, you should probably scroll past this one.
This winter break is all about getting back to nature. Dave Watson at Woodland Survival Crafts runs “bushcraft” weekend trips throughout the year, where you get to make fires using natural materials, forage for food and – in the Winter Bushcraft Course – learn how to survive overnight without a sleeping bag.
With hold luggage becoming ever more expensive, it’s increasingly advantageous to be ruthless about what to take away with you. In any case, travelling with a small, light bag is much easier and more liberating than lugging around a big, over-stuffed heavy suitcase.
And it’s always nice to be able to close your bag without having to ask strangers to come and sit on it with you. Reduce your packing stress by chopping this lot straight off the list.
1. TRAVELLER’S CHEQUES
Good luck trying to exchange traveller’s cheques in *insert name of anywhere on earth*. Come and join us in the twenty-first century – leave those obsolete bits of paper where they belong: in the past.
2. CHEAP CLOTHES
Take a few high-quality items rather than lots of cheaper ones – this especially applies for longer trips. That budget yellow poncho might seem like a wonderful idea as you prance around in it at home the night before you go. But when you’re in the middle of the jungle, sweating like hell and with rain seeping through, you’ll wish you’d forked out for a proper rain jacket.
3. TOO MANY GADGETS
Let’s be clear: there are some extremely useful travel gadgets on the market; you just don’t need to take them all on every trip. Prioritise, and think carefully about the value each one will contribute, compared to the hassle of taking it with.
Do you really need a phone, laptop and a tablet? How about those over-ear and inner-ear headphones? If you’re travelling to several countries, take a world adaptor with dual USB chargers – one item, multiple functions.
4. EXTRA TOILETRIES
Despite what you might be used to in our consumer-hungry world, most of the items stuffed into your bathroom cupboard probably don’t count as essential toiletries. Leave the face serum, eye cream, day cream, night cream, exfoliating scrub, Dead Sea bath salts and green tea face mask at home.
You can buy shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and other basics in most towns the world over. Unless you’re planning on being in remote rural areas for most of your trip, consider taking the bare essentials to get you started and buying more once you’re there – or just use hotel mini bottles.
5. YOUR ENTIRE BOOKSHELF
Books can be heavy and take up lots of space. If you think you’ll read more than one novel while you’re away, take an e-reader. This applies to multiple guidebooks, too – we sell digital version of all our guides, so you can get all the advice you need, without weighing yourself down.
6. HAIR STRAIGHTENERS
Remember a time before hair straighteners? If not, you’ll have to take our word for it – humanity managed to survive. There’s no denying that straighteners have transformed many a frizzy mop into a sleek mane; but while you’re on holiday, you can ditch the extra baggage weight, embrace the freedom of being away from home and go for a more natural, beachy look. You might even end up preferring wavy and wild to straight and manicured.
7. HOME COMFORTS
Everyone misses the odd food while away. Whether it’s English breakfast tea, Marmite on toast, Cadbury’s chocolate, Oreo cookies or Reese’s Pieces, you’ll still be able to have them when you get back, and you’ll enjoy them all the more if you’ve had a break. Embrace the culture and cuisine of your destination, and leave the tea bags (and teapot) at home.
As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay – and with each district boasting its own character, it’s important to consider which part of the city to use as your base.
Are you after the full Tokyo experience, with a view from a glittering skyscraper? Or a calm, traditional retreat from the neon-drenched madness? How about a kip in an only-in-Japan capsule hotel? Whatever side of this ever-changing city you’re interested in, you’re bound to find somewhere which hits the spot.
BEST FOR HISTORY AND LOCATION: AROUND THE IMPERIAL PALACE
The enigmatic Imperial Palace lies at Tokyo’s geographical and spiritual heart. Home to the emperor and his family since 1868, the palace itself is closed to the public, but the surrounding parks are a natural place to start any exploration of Tokyo.
Japanese-style luxury: Hoshinoya. Tokyo has been crying out for a place like this, and finally it’s here – a top-end hotel with ryokan-like elements to its décor and service.
Classic style and convenience: Tokyo Station. A grand old dame of a hotel, recently renovated – designers have plumped for dainty Euro-chic in the rooms, and chandeliers all over the place.
BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS: GINZA AND AROUND
Look east from the Imperial Palace and you’ll see row upon row of high-rise buildings. Many of the city’s swankiest places to eat, drink and sleep can be found within these mushrooming towers, in between which stretch crowded streets that are transformed come dusk into neon-lit canyons. Most hotels here are, unsurprisingly, rather expensive.
Sweeping views: Conrad Tokyo. It’s the views that really steal the show at this luxury hotel – from the lobby and bayside rooms feast your eyes on what are arguably the best vistas in Tokyo, taking in Hama Rikyū Gardens, Odaiba and the Rainbow Bridge.
Cosy and comfortable: Ginza Bay Hotel. More expensive than most capsule hotels, but designed with far more care too. It’s also the cheapest place to stay in the Ginza area.
BEST FOR TRADITIONAL STYLE: ASAKUSA AND UENO
Ueno is way up north and not terribly convenient (though it has a major station), but there are lots of sights in and around the area – notably Ueno Kōen, which contains several excellent museums. South of this large park are a few good spots, such as the bustling, rough-and-ready Ameyokochō market. Further south again is a cluster of love hotels.
Just to Ueno’s east, Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most characterful areas, and the de facto choice for backpackers thanks to its large concentration of hostels. There are also some great ryokan choices here, as well as the city’s most venerable Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji.
Best traditional ryokan: Sukeroku-no-yado Sadachiyo. Step back into Edo-era Asakusa in this delightful old inn marked by a willow tree and stone lanterns, northwest of Sensō-ji temple. Dinner and breakfast are included, and they can arrange performances of traditional arts, including geisha dances.
Best hostel: Khaosan Tokyo Origami. An appealing option – rooms have been given Japanese stylings, and you’ll see a fair few paper cranes around the place. There are grand views of Asakusa from the lounge, and the location can’t be sniffed at.