backpacking in mongolia

Backpacking in Mongolia: Top 5 Must Do’s in the Altai Mountains

Mongolia is a massive country and finding information on the best “tourist destinations” can be difficult. Most travellers will either book a tour starting and finishing in the capital city of Ulanbataar, or do as we did and try and make our way across Mongolia independently.

Going independent is not without its fare share of difficulties, but regardless of what local tour guides in UB may tell you, it is possible. If you have time up your sleeve we recommend heading as far West as you can go, until your practically knocking on Russia and China’s door, this area is known as the Altai region and is especially known for its impressive mountain ranges.

backpacking in altai mountains

To reach the Altai mountains you’ll want to head towards the city of Olgii. This city is a concrete wasteland and honestly is a depressing place with nothing to offer so get in, find a driver, and get out!

We were lucky enough to run into our driver, Japaar, at the hotel we were staying at but you can also head towards the local market, or just approach anyone who owns a Russian ex-military van and see if they are a guide/driver. Finding someone who speaks English may be difficult but most older drivers will know some Russian so knowing a few words in Ruski helps!

The Altai Mountain region is a Unesco World Heritage Site that offers something for every kind of traveller. If you love hiking there are treks that will take you past lakes, through amazing countryside, and also to the Potanin glacier.

backpacking in mongolia

For those who love to see how locals live, there are numerous nomadic families who are more than happy to invite you in for a cup of tea and some biscuits. Many of these families are also famed eagle hunters.

The scenery is breathtaking for all the avid photographers out there with the countryside constantly changing before your eyes. We even spotted some keen cyclists along the way but that maybe only for the hardcore, the roads are rough the days are long and the nights are cold!

Five Things Not To Miss:

1. Nomadic Stay in A “Ger” (Mongolian tent)
There are many local families tending to their flocks of sheep and goats that you will find scattered all through the countryside, many of which are happy to open their homes to visitors needing a place to sleep. The general fee is about 10,000 Tugriks or $6 USD per person, this will get you a meal (usually lamb noodle soup) a mat to sleep on and as much tea as you can consume!

people in mongolia ger

2. Visit the Potanin Glacier
This glacier is inside the national park so there is an entrance fee or two that need to be paid along the way. Upon reaching the rangers ger you will have to leave your driver behind and hike on foot the remainder of the way to the glacier, this is about a 9 hour round trip on foot.

Along the way you can witness yaks grazing, crazy mountain goats scaling steep mountainsides, enjoy the beautiful wild flowers in the fields and also experience the coldest river crossing ever! The river isn’t deep and it’s not far across, but there is no way to cross without getting you toes wet and the possibility of squealing like a little girl from the shock of the cold!

The glacier itself is a stunning site but make sure you pack for the elements we had everything from warm sunshine, to bitterly cold winds and finally a total soaking from a rain storm: be prepared!

3. Visit an Eagle Hunters
The eagle hunters in this region are famed in Mongolia. This type of hunting is called “Berkutchy” and is a lifelong practice that is handed down through generations of Kazakh families.

The hunting season generally begins in October but the birds are displayed proudly near the owners Ger at all times of the year, some will allow you to hold the eagle at a cost of 5,000 tugriks (this is what we paid as a couple but they could charge your this as a solo traveller)

eagle hunters in mongolia

4. Go on a Horse Trek
There are a couple of companies that offer horse trekking in this region and it is a great way to see the countryside.
Note: most of the treks take a couple of days so be prepared for a sore butt!

5. Camp in the Wilderness
As explained earlier, Mongolia is a countryside of spectacular scenery and wildlife and there is nothing better than packing up a tent, some essential camping supplies and heading out into the wilderness.

There are a few treks around that range in distance so it all depends on how long you want to spend exploring the Mongolian countryside. Make sure you do some research in advance about where you are allowed to travel and also what the weather will be like. There is not much food available so stock up well in advance or you may be hunting and eating marmots!

Mongolia is a country of incredible, almost untouched beauty. Heading there may be for the more adventurous of travellers but regardless of your level of backpacking expertise it will most definitely be a experience you’ll never forget!

megs-google-profile-picMeagen Collins is chief editor of the Five Dollar Traveller website & author of Budget Burma: A comprehensive budget travel guide for Myanmar. While digesting her frequent food babies, Megsy blogs about tasty bites, booze, travel and whatever random topics pop into her head along the way!

Discover more amazing places to go backpacking on our backpacking destinations page.

Greek Island Hopping

Beautiful Backpacking Around the Greek Islands – Greece

Backpacking around the Greek islands has been popular for decades and it is easy to see why. With a perfect mix of culture, beaches and great food, it charms visitors year after year. Hot days are a guarantee as are warm evenings to enjoy drinks watching the sunset before sampling some traditional food. Transport between the islands is easy to organise and you can see a variety of islands even if you only have limited time. You can rent scooters on most of the islands for around 10 euros a day which will enable you to explore and find remote villages and beaches that you may not find just by foot or public transport. Whether you’re a backpacker or you’re just looking for somewhere to enjoy your annual holidays, Greek Island hopping is hard to beat!

Greek Island Hopping

Whilst accommodation is not quite how it used to be with little old ladies lining up at the ferry terminals offering you rooms in their houses, you can still find some great traditional budget accommodation on the islands. If you look around and do some haggling you will find decent apartments for about 20 euros a night. You can also camp on most of the islands but if you are travelling in the peak summer months be sure to get a pitch in the shade or your tent may turn in to a furnace!

The food in Greece is great and there are a range of restaurants to suit all budgets. Some foods to definitely try are Kleftiko, Dolmades baklava and of course greek salad! If you are on a tight budget, you will be able to buy local food in supermarkets to get by. Sometimes the best dinners can be a selection of cold meats and cheeses with some freshly baked bread and a bottle of local wine!

There are so many places to visit it can sometimes be difficult picking where to go.  Different islands will offer a different experience depending on what you are looking for. Below we have picked some of our favourite places to help you plan your route.

Santorini

Santorini is great for many reasons but perhaps the best is the sunset views from the village of Ola. There are also eight wineries on Santorini where you can go to free tastings to sample the local wines.

Santorini Greece

Tilos

Tilos is more mountainous than other islands and will suit those who are looking for somewhere to walk and see some beautiful flora and fauna. It is a small island and is situated between Kos and Rhodes.

Gavdos

Gavdos has somehow managed to remain remarkably untouched and is an incredibly relaxed and peaceful island. It’s main beaches Agios, Ionnis and Potamos are incredible and arguably the best in Greece.

Zakynthos

This island is worth visiting alone for the beautiful Navagio Beach (sometimes referred to as shipwreck beach and smugglers cove). The beach is breathtaking and can only be reached by boat.

Shipwreck Beach zakynthos

Mykanos

Mykanos has a faster pace of life than other islands and definitely earns its reputation as a party island. However, despite all this there are still many picturesque quaint little fishing villages to explore and it caters for the backpacker just as much as it caters for the package holiday makers.

 

To discover more great places to go backpacking in Europe visit our dedicated page, or check out the TBD Facebook page

Backpacking – Do It Like a Local

When travelling, people often want to experience all a new country has to offer. This means finding the places that aren’t necessarily covered extensively in holiday brochures or travel guides, learning some of the language, eating local food, meeting local people and experiencing life as a local.

A good starting point on arrival is simply to talk to people in the town you are visiting itself. Local residents will of course have the best advice when it comes to what there is to see, the best spots for a night out and the best restaurants in which to sample local cuisine.

Check out what the modern nomad thinks

There are hundreds of travel blogs which showcase unusual views on destinations, and social media has enabled people to almost explore an area before arrival.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in the number of modern nomads who have swapped the cubicle for a life travelling the world and taking a step off the beaten track.

These modern nomads have also embraced blogging and social media and their sites are a great point of reference to research a destination before travelling. These blogs make a great stopping point to find out about local cuisine, customs and events and they also provide some brilliant budget travel tips.

Of course, you can also find a number of budget travel tips (21!) here.

http://www.www.backpackerboy.com/2011/05/budget-travel-tips-21-ways-to-save-money-on-the-road.html

Eat like a local

As familiar as the Big Mac is it does seem counter intuitive to travel to some fantastic destination with its own culture and cuisine and to spend your time their hunting down the local McDonalds.

Local food is an experience you should savour and certainly embrace – if you are travelling on a budget then it can also help you keep food costs down.

If you are moving between countries be careful about travelling with food – if you are making an onwards trip to Australia for example, the bottle of snake venom infused wine won’t go down well at customs (as a bonus tip; if your friend is scared of snakes this doesn’t make a great gift to bring home from your travels).

Behave like a local

By this I mean it is important to understand and respect local beliefs, customs and the way of life. It may not be your exact cup of tea but if you are a guest in a country then respect should be the top of your list alongside having a great time and staying safe.

The Foreign Office website can be a great resource to understand local customs and the FCO Know Before You Go Campaign – https://www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo – can help you to gain an insight in to what dangers are currently being highlighted in any given country at any particular moment in time. The FCO can also help you plan your trip to ensure that you are fully briefed.

Live like a local

If you are visiting a country/city then the best way to understand it is to explore it and embrace its customs. Backpackers of the world for decades have embraced the local hostel and they can be great way to keep costs low. Hunt down a hip hostel for some unique accommodation experiences. If you are travelling to Berlin I would definitely recommend the Cat’s Pyjamas hostel – http://thecatspajamashostel.com/ – a great mix of modern and traditional with clean rooms, great transport links and a big communal breakfast area to kick start your day in.

An alternative to the hostel that can you get you on step closer to living local is couch surfing – this isn’t for everyone and you are best arranging this through an established website with quality and safety controls.

Another local tip that helps keep costs down is using a local SIM card when travelling rather than roaming and racking up a huge phone bill ready for your return. If you are planning a trip you can buy a local SIM card in advance (from a company such as Ritesim) and have it delivered ready for your trip. Ritesim also has a blog with tips to avoid bill shock after a holiday: http://www.ritesim.com/blog/how-to-avoid-mobile-bill-shock-when-abroad/

Living like a local will help you gain the full flavour of a destination rather than the “staid” impression that some of the key tourist areas offer. For example the small back street restaurants of Barcelona allow you to enjoy a dining and drinking experience closer to that of a local than the commercially orientated establishments of La Rambla (although if you want to see E.T and R2-D2 in the same scene then you need to hunt down the Wax Museum on La Rambla, there are some other great attractions listed here: http://www.www.backpackerboy.com/2013/05/breathtaking-buildings-beautiful-beaches-bloated-bellies-barcelona-spain.html).

Party like a local

Ain’t no party like a local’s party… With the mantra of “stay safe” ringing in your ears there is a lot to be said for experiencing the local party scene. Some events may be geared towards tourists but with a bit of luck you can stumble into a local bar and before you know it find yourself at a house party or club that is most definitely not in any guidebook.

Keep your eyes peeled for evidence of the local music scene and jump at the chance to broaden your musical tastes and show off your dance moves.

Wherever you plan on travelling you can help yourself and your wallet by: planning ahead, eating locally, checking out the hostels and making use of local transport networks. Doing it like a local could also help you have a once in the lifetime experience and enjoy a trip that will never be forgotten.

nagoya osu kannon

Off the Beaten Track in Japan’s 4th Largest City: Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya is one of Japan’s largest and most populous cities: fourth after Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama, and is located directly in between Tokyo and Kyoto, on the Shinkansen (bullet train) line.

So why, when Tokyo and Kyoto draw in the region of five million overseas tourists every year, does Nagoya remain almost unvisited?

How is it that the major guide books have almost nothing to say about Nagoya? How has Japan’s fourth biggest city managed to stay off almost every tourist’s itinerary, off the radar, and so ‘off the beaten track’?

nagoya3Arriving at Nagoya Central Station. No trouble finding a cab

Though it’s true that Nagoya doesn’t offer a lot in the way of “attractions” and “sights” – at least none that can’t be found elsewhere in the country – this mass overlooking of Nagoya by foreigners has created a paradise for those few travellers who do make it here.

Where else could you experience modern life in big city Japan combined with this level of authenticity? While Tokyo and Osaka paint a stylised portrait of contemporary and future Japan, villages such as Tsumago and Magome attempt to replicate historical Japan for tourists, and Kyoto desperately tries to do both, Nagoya remains one of the only places to see real, unadulterated Japan at its best.

As every seasoned traveller knows all too well, destinations with an established tourist trail also tend to bring hassle, unfriendliness and greedy attitudes towards visitors. Nagoya is free from all of that and is the best place to experience the true Japanese sensibility and feelings towards outsiders.

In Nagoya you can see and experience life as the Japanese live it, free from the millions of tourists you’ll find in the other cities.

Japan is a country famed for its long history of isolation, which is exactly what makes it one of the most unique cultures in the world and one of the most interesting places to visit, and while that’s not the impression you get in Tokyo or Kyoto, there is no better place to experience the legacy of Japan’s isolation than in Nagoya.

What to do in Nagoya, Japan

nagoya osu kannon

While it has all the usual tourist sites (such as Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya Port, and the temple and shopping district of Osu Kannon – Nagoya’s answer to the likes of LA’s Venice Beach and Brighton’s North Laine) Nagoya’s real attraction is simply that it is teeming with life, twenty-four hours a day. The budget traveller can give the main sights a miss. Because of Nagoya’s unique zoning laws, or lack thereof, the best place to look for Nagoya’s history is often on its back streets, where you’ll find lonely rice paddies, hidden Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and a wealth of old buildings that date back to the turbulent Samurai era, all hidden in the cracks between car dealerships, konbinis and supas (convenience stores and supermarkets).

nagoya 1A castle I stumbled across in Nisshin, on the outskirts of Nagoya.

Nagoya is actually the home of three of Japan’s most influential warlords: Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, without whom the country would not be the place of peace it is today.

The Aichi district is also one of the most notorious areas in Japan for Yakuza. However, contrary to popular myth, the Yakuza often greet foreigners with respect. (I met one.) Both the Yakusa and foreigners have been treated as outsiders in Japanese society and so share a unique bond. If you’re lucky you might even be able to have your photo taken with one. Look out for tattoos and a missing little finger.

Other things to do in and around Nagoya:

  • Experience a tea ceremony.
  • Or try some Zazen meditation.
  • Hit the annual Sumo Championships! (Nagoya is the only place the catch these outside Tokyo.)
  • Dress up like a Samurai!
  • The nearest sand beach is Utsumi, located on the Chita peninsula and accessible via the Meitetsu line.
  • Hang out on the many University campuses! – Nagoya is a huge University town.

nagoya uniHanging out at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Food and Shopping in Nagoya

For a cheap bite to eat, or to taste Japan’s take on food from around the world, hit the Osu district. Shops stay open until eight in the evening, so after you’ve purchased those jeans you can relax in the cool evening air with some Brazilian chicken, Turkish kebab, or whatever else takes your fancy.

nagoya osuClothes shopping in Osu

However you spend your stay in Nagoya, don’t miss out on the teriyaki burger at makudonarudosu (McDonalds), or better still, Japan’s own fast-food; a hot bowl of Ramen!

Nightlife in Nagoya

A short walk away is Sakae, the epicentre of Nagoya’s roaring nightlife scene. There is no shortage of restaurants, trendy bars and live music venues. My Bar, Mujica and Shooters are among the best, not to mention Club ID, the largest and most foreigner-friendly nightclub in the city, complete with five floors and a range of music from rock to reggae and hip-hop to hard-house.

Other Nagoya nightlife highlights include:

  • The beer garden on the roof of the Meitetsu building
  • Most drinking establishments in Japan offer nomihōdai (all you can drink) and tabehōdai (all you can eat) deals – sometimes for as little as 890 Yen (£6/$9) per person for two hours!
  • Karaoke! Get a private room for you and your friends and go nuts. These are to be found almost everywhere in Japan.
  • Chain bars like Ogiya (decorated in the old, wooden style) and Hub (a poor imitation of an English pub, but the unofficially meeting point for foreign expats in any Japanese city big enough to have one).
  • Licour Mountain – Fancy a quiet night in instead? Well you can forget about that! Try Japan’s alcohol superstore answer to the humble off-licence. Here you’ll find aisles upon aisles of Japanese whisky, which can be bought in plastic bottles as large as 10 litres!

Located in its central position in Honshu, and all of Japan, Nagoya makes the perfect base for trips to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Yokohama, the Kiso valley, the Japan Alps, Ise, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Miyajima, and in fact all the major destinations in Japan! With the new Chubu International Airport and a rapidly expanding subway network, Nagoya is set to only get more popular as a place to go in Japan. My advice? Get there while it’s still relatively off the beaten track!

About the Author

This post was brought to you by Roy Duffield, who has lived, worked and studied in Nagoya and now writes for Holiday-n-Adventure and his somewhat controversial travel blog, Notes from the Road.

Check out more great destinations in Asia on the TBD Asia page

barcelona

Breathtaking Buildings, Beautiful Beaches & Bloated Bellies: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a vibrant, youthful city that combines the pleasures of a city break with the relaxation and beauty of a beach holiday. The city-by-the-sea vibe put out by Barcelona lends the city a chilled-out, almost hippie-ish feel in places. Young people lugging heavy backpacks flock to Barcelona in the summer: for June’s Sonar festival, St Joan’s Night celebrations, Benicassim festival in July, and also simply to enjoy the great atmosphere, people and sights of the magnificent city of Barcelona itself.

barcelona postcard

As a popular backpacking destination, Barcelona offers plenty of reasonably priced hostels and hotels. Of course, you will want to be sure to book into a centrally located hostel. However, bear in mind that some central hostels are more reasonably priced than others. Unfortunately, there are the odd few that prey on clueless backpackers to earn a few extra Euros. Make sure you know the going rate before you arrive, and be sure to search out a short list of ones you’d like to stay in. However, booking ahead of time may not be the best option, as you should allow yourself the freedom to change your plans, and there’s nothing worse than being locked into some agreement when more exciting suggestions come up.

barcelona

Whilst refraining from booking a hostel is wise, there are certain things you should make sure you do book ahead of time. For example, pre-booking airport transfers from Barcelona airport will give you a valuable opportunity to regroup and relax on the way to your accommodation. It will save money, stress and time, especially if you then have to go on a bit of a trek to find a hostel. Get your driver (if taking private airport transfers) to drop you as close to Las Ramblas as possible, as there are plenty of good hostels close to this central location.

Las Ramblas is the busiest, most tourist-centric location in the city. The central strip hosts a daily market, with flowers, birds and souvenir stalls dominating. There is also an incredible food market halfway up, with a staggering, mouth-watering fruit display that is hard to resist. There are many smaller streets snaking off from Las Ramblas, and plenty of great little restaurants, bars, cafes and shops are in bountiful supply if you take the time to explore. These smaller bars and cafes, especially ones near hostels, are great places to meet other fellow travellers. Don’t limit yourself to the main tourist areas though. Make use of Barcelona’s clean, safe Metro system to travel all over the city and to explore. Head to Barceloneta beach for sunbathing, and some excellent seafood restaurants along the promenade, as well as for bars and for the promise of a dynamic life after dusk.

You will certainly want to check out Barcelona’s famous Gaudi architecture, including the Sagrada Familia (no Barcelona break is complete without a visit), Picasso and Dali museums and galleries, and have a look at the jaw-dropping yachts in the marina. Everywhere you turn in Barcelona, you are spoiled for choice, and you are guaranteed to wish you’d booked just a few more days.

Five things not to miss in Barcelona:

  • Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – the high point of culture in Barcelona, and an astounding piece of beautiful, imaginative architecture. I dare you not to be awed!
  • The Beaches – Barcelona’s beaches are clean, beautiful, fun and lined with some great bars and eateries. They are also a top place to be after dark to hang out with fellow travellers and enjoy a couple of cans of Estrella by a makeshift campfire with a guitar.
  • La Boqueria Market – the indoor food market just off Las Ramblas is absolutely choc-a-block with gastronomic treats, and a real delight for the senses. You may find yourself coming away with enough food to feed the five thousand! Enjoy the bars and restaurants inside, and be sure to get your lips around as many delicious free samples as you can.
  • Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona (MACBA) and Centre of Contemporary Culture (CCCB). Situated in El Ravel district, the MACBA features modern art from the mid-twentieth century onwards, focusing on post-1945 Catalan and Spanish art. The CCCB is one of the most visited museums in Barcelona, hosting a range of temporary exhibitions, concerts, events and a cinema. A bit like the South Bank Centre in London, with less faceless modernist concrete.
  • The Picasso Museum – featuring one of the world’s most extensive collections of the work of Pablo Picasso, the Picasso Museum contains more than 3,500 works. The museum also hosts special exhibitions, as well as seminars and lectures on Picasso and on museological issues by art experts from around the world.

barcelona images

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azure window malta

Sun Soaked, Culture Filled and Adventure Everywhere: Magical Malta

An often overlooked stop-off in Europe, Malta offers the inquisitive traveller a taste of culture, history and adventure crammed into an easily exploreable island in the sun. Whether you’re a sun-worshipper, adventure seeker, culture-vulture or all of the above, Malta is the ideal destination to indulge in your travel passions. A former British colony, it is steeped in history – you can explore a great number of pre-historic temples, passageways and tombs giving you an insight into life on Malta over 4500 years ago. Why not trace the story of the Knights of St. John, with their legacy visible not only on the famous Maltese Cross but also prominent in the places they inhabited – Three Cities, Fort St. Angelo and Valletta?

malta colourful boats

If exploring discovering Malta’s history first hand isn’t for you then the pleasant climate offers you the chance to enjoy year-round outdoor activities in beautiful surroundings. Why not enjoy a spot of golf at the 18-hole golf course in the Marsa Sports Club about 4km south of the capital, Valletta? Or simply relax by the pool, offered by many hotels on the island. If you’re looking for something a little more high-adrenaline then the countless water sport centres are waiting to take you scuba diving, windsurfing, water skiing or sailing.

valletta streetA holiday on Malta would not be complete without exploring the island’s lively bars and clubs. Malta’s nightlife offers visitors the chance to let their hair down after a day’s sightseeing, adventure seeking or lazing in the sun with clubbers heading to the lively Paceville near St. Julian’s for the action. Travellers wishing to experience a spot of culture in the evenings can visit the 18th Century Manoel Theatre enjoy an organ recital in one of the several baroque churches or visit the International Jazz Festival in July.

Malta’s history as a former British colony means that the island boasts a rare commodity in the northern hemisphere – somewhere English-speaking AND warm! This makes Malta an ideal location for an English language course and Maltalingua’s recently refurbished language school mean that learning English, whatever your specific goals, can be combined with a cultural and relaxing stay on Malta. Maltalingua offers extremely competitive pricing for its English courses, coupled with a team of qualified English teachers as well as the comfort of air-conditioned classrooms and the convenience of a location a short walk from the lively St. Julian’s. Oh yes, and a private roof terrace and swimming pool if you feel the need to top up your tan in between classes!

With the opportunity to learn a new language, explore thousands of years of history and experience culture and nightlife you’ll never forget, Malta is waiting for you…

5 Things Not to Miss in Malta:

  • A walk around Malta’s ‘Silent City’ – Mdina
  • Scuba diving in one of the world’s best places
  • Relaxing in a farmhouse in Gozo
  • Winding through the cobbled alleys of Valletta
  • A trip to the Azure Window, stunning rock formations in the sea

azure window malta

For more information on Maltalingua check www.maltalingua.com

For more fab destinations in Europe to go on your next holiday after Malta see our Europe destinations page…

las vegas

Sin City on a Budget: Las Vegas, USA

If you were to say three words about Vegas, they would probably be gambling, money and madness. But there’s more to Vegas than standing at the blackjack table, and it doesn’t have to be a hugely expensive trip to go and soak up Sin City. Backpacker’s certainly shouldn’t cross it off their list of potential destinations when visiting the USA as there is more than enough to see and do on a budget, without getting (too) involved in the madness of it all.

las vegas

Casinos

Ok, bear with me! I’m not talking about propping up the card tables for 12 hours and losing every last dime. Vegas obviously isn’t short of a casino or 2 and wandering around them all is an activity in itself. With all the different themes, from Venice to Egypt, each and everyone is absolutely mesmerising, with tiny details included to make you feel like you’re in Little Italy or visiting the Pharaohs.  And that’s not to mention the people. I don’t think there is a better place in the world to people watch! With folks from all walks of life, you see the best and worst of them at a casino table as their luck turns on a sixpence. Just don’t get too close. If you do fancy a little flutter, but away from the pressures of the pros and those willing to put their life on it, you could try somewhere like casino.ladbrokes.com to pick up some practice in advance of the real experience.

venetian vegas

‘Shows’

Forget paying hundreds of bucks for Cirque de Soleil tickets, there are plenty of freebies flying around in Vegas to keep you busy for a week. Instead of shows head to the Volcano at the Mirage which erupts every hour from 8pm until midnight. It’s a true visual and audio spectacle, as is the Fountains at the Bellagio which dances around to a variety of musical accompaniment every 15 to 30 minutes. If you’re want your breath taken away and still have full pockets this is for you.

bellagio fountains

Freebies

In most situations people are fairly uncertain about giving their details away. In Vegas you need to bin that habit and sign up for everything! There are freebies everywhere, all you need to do is find them. When you first arrive take some time to trawl through all the free mags and flyers and you’ll find some amazing deals. If someone stops you in the street give them your details. You’ll end up saving a goldmine. This extends to getting this insanely cheap as well. You can go to restaurants and pay $5 for a steak, side and a beer if you have the right flyer, or enter attractions for a fraction of the advertised price.

Hit the Pool

After late nights and lots of drinking you’ll need some down time, and with Vegas’ intense heat, the pool is the perfect place to kick back, shake off the hangover and get ready for the day ahead. When you’re booking your hotel this is a worthwhile consideration, as you might save a few dollars on a cheaper hotel, but if it doesn’t have a pool you’ll spend more time out and about spending money.

Eat and Drink on the Move

You’re in Vegas. Obviously you’re going to have some big nights on the town and soak up everything it has to offer. Instead of propping up the bar in expensive hotels, get some drinks for the street. Everyone out on the strip is suppin’ on something, so why not join in. You’ll save a heap and be able to invest that later on! And I know what you’re thinking, you get free drinks if you’re in a casino gambling right? They’ve well and truly cottoned on to that one – if you’re not throwing enough in their coffers at the table or the slot machines then the waitresses will sail right by you. Tried that one…

There’s just a few tips on how to survive in Vegas on a budget, but there really are countless ways to do it. Beyond the gambling and expensive shows there are deals and freebies everywhere. Keep on the lookout and this can be the cheapest stop on your trip!

5 Things Not to Miss in Vegas:

  • Wander the Strip and take in every piece of madness going on around you
  • Explore the casinos and all their garish beauty
  • Play the slots
  • Enjoy the audiovisual show at the Bellagio Fountain
  • Go and enjoy the Fremont Street Experience

For more great tips on what to do in the US check out our USA Travel Guide.

raja ampat viewpoint

The Dive Site You Would be a Fool to Miss: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Standing on a beautiful deserted tropical island that probably doesn’t even have a name and staring at the crystal clear aquamarine and turquoise waters, I realised I had finally arrived at one of the most isolated outposts of Indonesia. I was in Raja Ampat, which translates as the ‘Four Kings.’ Although you may never have heard of is place before; there is every chance that you have seen photos of the stunning coral reefs and the thousands of fish that create an enchanting underwater kaleidoscope of colour. The reason for this is that Raja Ampat offers quite simply the best diving in the whole of Indonesia.

raja ampat view

Raja Ampat is a group of four large islands (Waigeo, Waisai, Salawati and Misool) and almost 1,500 smaller ones that is located on the far Western tip of the island of Papua. This area of the world is extremely isolated. Just to put it in perspective, it’s a seven-hour flight there from Jakarta and a five-hour flight from Bali. Coupled with this a return ticket from Jakarta to the nearest airport, Sorong, costs almost the same price as a flight to Europe.

The result is that this area of the world is still pretty empty. It is at once the playground of the rich and the adventurous backpacker. There is no middle ground, no reasonably priced resorts, just cheap bedsits and luxurious villas. You can spend your night sleeping in a tent under the stars or in a beautiful boat that cost US$7,000 a night; the choice is both yours and your bank managers. Regardless of which one it happens to be, the things you experience will be the same.

raja ampat accommodation

Travelling through Raja Ampat is a lesson in the unspoilt beauty of nature. For hours and days on end we past beautiful emerald green islands surrounded by warm turquoise waters. There were miles of unspoilt golden sandy beaches, islands with picturesque tourist resorts where bungalows with palm leaf roofs abutted the waters edge. The only thing that outdid the beauty of these resorts were their eye watering prices, with some charging upwards of US$3,000 per person (I later learnt the resorts have to rent the land at US$3,000 a month, so one person covers the rent, two the running of the resort and three guests in a month is profit).

Yet as beautiful as the resorts were, we stopped at ramshackle villages, which were situated in locations just as idyllic. The main difference was that corrugated metal roofs had replaced thatch, while the waters surrounding the pier were covered in plastic and sweet wrappers and fishing lines. As of yet no one has made the effort to reconcile these two very different sides to the islands.

raja ampat kids

For my money though, the only way to travel in Raja Ampat is on a boat. It is perhaps the best way of exploring the region for the obvious reason that the area is just so large and this way you get to see so much. Instead of being limited to a few hours sailing from a resort, you can explore hundreds of miles of reefs, beaches and natural lagoons. Over seven days we never dived the same place twice and in that short space of time I got to see more amazing underwater creatures than I have in a lifetime of swimming in the ocean. I swam with two metre long reef sharks (admittedly not intentionally) and enormous manta rays. I saw hundreds of nemos’ and flat fish and big fish and small fish and even got stung by far too many jellyfish, but it was an amazing experience.

My favourite memory from my whole trip to Raja Ampat though wasn’t experienced under the waves. However instead of just telling you about it I’ll let you look at the photo:

raja ampat viewpoint

It took 20 minutes to climb to the top of the hill and another ten minutes to overcome my fear of heights and make the final ascent. When I finally got there I was greeted by this panoramic view, it is a sight that will stay with me for a lifetime.

5 Things Not to Miss

Climb Wayak – You’ll get to see the amazing view

Go diving it is the best dive spot in all of Indonesia after all

Swim with Whale Shark – the best time to do this is October through to April

Swim with Manta Rays – this can be done all year round

Watching Birds of Paradise – bring a big lens and plenty of mosquito repellent

raja ampat sunset

Something to think about: 

Unless you are staying at one of the $3,000 a week per person resorts, you can forget about communicating with the outside world. The only way you can use your smartphone is if you record a message on it, seal it in a glass bottle and threw it into the ocean.

 

Thanks to Nico from A Traveller’s Journey for this great post! For more fantastic destinations in South East Asia check out our Asia page…

everest view

Trekking to the Skies on a Himalayan Adventure: Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp is a once-in-a-lifetime, dream come true opportunity. But if you go, don’t be surprised if after your Himalayan adventure you find yourself yearning to go back. Once is never enough.

Your journey will likely begin in Kathmandu and in Thamel, the city’s popular tourist district. Thamel’s streets are crammed with gear shops, merchants, money changers, guest houses, restaurants and bars, making this neighborhood the traditional starting point for trekkers. Spend a few days getting your bearings, buy that last minute item you’ll need on the trail, or take in some of the local landmarks such as Durbar Square or Swayambhunath, also known as The Monkey Temple. Or if a little sliver of quiet is what you desire, check out the Garden of Dreams, a serene oasis amid Kathmandu’s turbulent streets. And though a little pricey compared to the low budget guest houses, you can be assured of a quiet night and hot shower at the Nepalaya Hotel.

lukla airportYou’ll leave Kathmandu on a thrilling plane ride that will whisk you over the Nepal countryside and through mountain valleys until you land at one of the most extreme airports in the world, the Tenzing-Hillary Airport. Situated on the side of a mountain in the village of Lukla, you’ll pick up the trail to Everest Base Camp here. But before you speed off, stop in at a tea house, grab a quick bite to eat and a cup of tea because your next stop is three hours away.

downtown luklaThe trail to Mount Everest winds through breathtaking subtropical forests, meanders alongside raging glacial waters, through magical rhododendron forests, and carries you above the tree line where you’ll hike through a world of ancient boulders surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Himalaya.

Your first real test will come on day two when you climb a two thousand foot ascent that will lift you into the trading outpost Namche Bazaar which sits at 12,000 feet above sea level. Your second test will come later when you climb the mountain that is home to the Tengboche Monastery. From there, your journey takes you to the high altitudes of your trek where you’ll have a choice between stopping at Pheriche or Dingboche. Pheriche is often windy and cold, but the valley it’s nestled in is beyond stunning which makes this village a popular way point. Alternatively, head for Dingboche and take an extra day to hike to the summit of Nangkartshang where you’ll sit at 16,000 feet with Ama Dablam, Taboche, Cho La Tse and other peaks. Then it’s on to Dugla and Lobuche after that.

namche trekking

mani prayer wheel

Your last stop before reaching Everest Base Camp will be Gorak Shep. There, the powerful and serrated Nuptse will be looking on as will Pumo Ri as it rises over the dark shaded Kala Pattar. The following day begin the final leg to Base Camp early enough (you’ll want to give yourself two hours to reach Base Camp and two hours to get back) so you’ll have plenty of time for basking in the glow of your accomplishment.

And if you’re feeling a little winded at the high point of your trek, don’t fret, retracing your steps from Everest Base Camp back to Lukla comes much easier and faster so make sure you enjoy your remaining time with the mountains because you’ll leave them behind far too soon.

5 things to pack

  • 4 pairs Smartwool socks plus 3 inner sock liners. A pair of socks can be made to last two days by slipping on a pair of inners on alternate days. You’ll be assured of clean, dry socks this way even when the ones you washed are taking three days to dry out.
  • Sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face, and polarized sunglasses.
  • 3000 Rupees for each day on the trail. Sure you can do it for cheaper, but why would you want to deprive yourself of the occasional can of soda, candy bar, or extra entrée.
  • A regimen of zithromycin and diamox.
  • A down sleeping bag from home. The kind you pick up in Kathmandu or Namche Bazaar will most likely be a Northface or Marmot knock-off.

everest peak

7 things not to miss while on the trail.

  • ama dablamWhen flying to Lukla sit on the left side of the plane. You’ll get the best views of the snow covered Himalaya this way. You’ll swear that you’re looking directly into heaven as the sun outlines the peaks in shades of pink and gold.
  • Downtown Namche Bazaar.
  • The Everest View Hotel in Syangboche. The hotel is a modest day hike when you reach Namche Bazaar. Wander around to the back of the hotel, sit with the pine trees, and enjoy the stunning views of Everest, Lohtse, and Ama Dablam.
  • The Dugla Memorials.
  • Spend some time underneath a canopy of stars when everyone else is sleeping.
  • Sit with the mountains on top of Kala Pattar and commune with the mountains in the sacred valley Mount Everest calls home.
  • When you arrive back in Lukla be sure to visit the Illy coffee shop. It serves the best cup of masala tea in all of Asia.

everest view

Scott Bishop is the author of A Soul’s Calling, a memoir about a man who listened to his heart rather than reason. The book chronicles the author’s October 2011 trek to Everest Base Camp and brings the Himalaya to life in rich and vivid detail. The novel is part travelogue, part hiking adventure, and has shamanism and magic woven throughout. It’s available for purchase on Amazon.com or you can read an excerpt from it at www.scott-bishop.com.

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backpacker hostels

Top 10 Reasons To Stay In Hostels on Your Backpacking Trip

Staying in hostels rather than swanky hotels when you go on holiday or a backpacking trip is a great way to save money and have fun. Hostels these days are not the sole reserve of long haired, unwashed hippy backpackers looking to discover themselves.

Over the last few years, there has been an explosion of reasonably priced high quality, city centre hostel accommodation with an eclectic mix of residents. There are loads of benefits to staying in hostels and it can a great way to save money when travelling.

1. Hostels are generally a lot cheaper than hotels so you will save money by staying in a hostel. A nice city centre dorm room hostel might cost you around £20 per night or £45 a night for private room with en-suite for two people. This is in comparison to often paying +£100 for a hotel double room.

2. If you are in a group, hostels are fun with communal areas, bars and the option of large shared rooms. Hostels are a great way to meet people and share stories and tips over a beer.

backpacker hostel

3. Hostels also often have very nice, private and en-suite rooms if you are after a bit more luxury and have a slightly bigger budget. These private rooms in hostels will nearly always be cheaper than a comparable standard of room in a nearby hotel.

4. Decent hostels are usually well placed close to transport links reducing your travel costs when you arrive. In European cities, some of the best hostels are often near the main train station.

5. A lot of hostels are very secure – they may have 24 hour security, swipe cards to get in and out of the hostel and the room as well as lockers for valuables.

6. If you are travelling and arrive at a hostel on the day, you might be able to haggle for a better price and save even more money. You might also be able to try this at some hotels if they have rooms to fill and you arrive late afternoon.

7. Hostels usually serve a free breakfast included in the room rate and taking a few bread rolls and some fruit for your lunch later on will be much more accepted in a hostel than in a swanky hotel. Grabbing some stuff for lunch from your hostel breakfast buffet can help you save money.

8. Staying in a hostel which has a bar can be a great way to have a city night out with reasonably priced drinks. If you were drinking in a hotel bar with friends, you would be paying much more.
backpacker hostels
9. Hostels often arrange tours and activities at reasonable rates that would be much cheaper than those offered through a hotel concierge.

10. Free transfer – some hostels will do free transfers from the airport of bus station when you have booked ahead.

This is just a hint of some of the money saving tips provided by Adam at Money Tips Experts. Take a look at their site for more tips on how to save money on your travels.

For more great travel tips check out TBD’s Travel Tips page!