5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

It feels like we go through our Facebook timeline and only see pictures of people “having kids“ and “getting married”. But have you seen the other half? You know who I’m talking about. They are the spontaneous, the I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m booking a one-way ticket to Italy, friends.

You live vicariously through their Instagram feed and you wish you were wining and dining in Rome. Oh and get this, not only did they book a trip to Italy but—they went alone and with no itinerary! What?! Most people wouldn’t even think about going out to dinner alone. So what gives? What could possibly make people get out of bed and decide to book a solo trip? Easy—to live. From someone who’s been freestyle traveling close to 10 years, here are 5 reasons you need to be freestyle traveling now:

Genuine Experiences

Freestyle travel opens doors. Behind door #1 you have culture. I’ve never been quite amused about reading about people in magazines or in textbooks. If you want to learn about “culture” close the book and experience it yourself. Some of the best stories will not be found in books but in dusty old travel journals and memories imprinted in your heart. Some of my most memorable times have been staying with host families, couch surfing or Airbnb-ing. I would have never been able to share the stories I have now had I sat home and watched Nat-Geo.

5 Reasons You Need to Freestyle Travel

Expanding Your Network

freestyle travelSome of the best friends and people I’ve met have been on my trips. I once met a guy at a park in Barcelona and after I left the city we’ve maintained our friendship and have continued to stay in touch after 5 years. Imagine being able to say you have friends all over the world? You want to go to Thailand…great you may have a friend studying abroad there. It’s becoming easier to meet other people abroad. Thanks to technology that possibility is right at the tip of your fingertips and just a flight away.

Life Is Not A Checklist

freestyle travelMany times we get wrapped up into creating the most epic bucket list. I need to do “X” before I do “X” and then I need to see “X”. While you travel, be flexible. Schedules are meant to be broken. If you try to fit everything in an itinerary you will be highly disappointed. Freestyle travel requires something to go wrong. Like the time I had my bags delayed for 2 days and almost canceled a three-week backpacking trip to Central America. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. If worst comes to worst learn to wash your only clothes in the sink, pray for bags to show up and walk into town for a cafe con leche.

Getting Lost Is Real

freestyle travelThe phrase, “Get lost!” takes on a whole new meaning as a freestyle traveler. It’s more of challenge than it is a threat. Turning corners in alleys don’t frighten me, they excite me! Learning the language in a foreign country requires high skills of charades because asking for the nearest toilet is at some point life or death as it is comical. You are more in tune with your five senses when you’re out of your elements. Food is more delicious, the colors are more vibrant and people genuine seems more interesting than back home. Following the yellow brick road led Dorothy to The Emerald City. Where will your road take you next?

Me, Myself and I

freestyle travelDespite all the cheesy travel quotes you find on Pinterest about travel, doing some globe trekking on your own WILL prompt you to ask yourself and question the world around you . Being alone is okay. Take advantage of those small moments and learn a little more about yourself. They say no one knows you better than you know yourself. I challenge you to test that with a solo trip. Maybe you find yourself while climbing to the top of a mountain or you finally learn how to feel peace and serenity afloat on the sea. Be selfish. This is time for you to learn wisdom in thy youth.

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Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Holy Land on an expedition. Explore the City of David and the ancient desert fortress of Masada; glide across the Sea of Galilee; and discover Jerusalem through the eyes of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Hear a broad spectrum of narratives on this program, designed in partnership with Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews.

Trip Highlights

• Meet artists and politicians, settlers and refugees, imams and rabbis.
• Explore the archaeological site of Caesarea Maritima.
• Enjoy a unique dual narrative provided by the Israeli and Palestinian peacebuilders who accompany the entire expedition.
• Visit the Yad Vashem Memorial and hear from a Holocaust survivor.

11 Days in The Holy Land

Day 1 — Tel Aviv, Israel / Jerusalem

Arrive in Tel Aviv and transfer to Jerusalem. Relax at the hotel before our reception and welcome dinner tonight.

Day 2 — Jerusalem

Begin the day on the Temple Mount, capped by the shining cupola of the Dome of the Rock. Meet an imam from the Al-Aqsa Mosque who will explain the importance of this holy site to Muslims.Then visit the Western Wall, touch the ancient stones, and meet with a rabbi to learn about the significance of this sacred place. A local pastor then joins us at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, home to six Christian sects and, according to tradition, the tomb of Jesus. In the afternoon, ascend to the top of the Mount of Olives and take in a panoramic view of the domes, spires, and golden stones of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Day 3 — Jerusalem

Just outside the Old City walls lies the City of David, thought to be the original capital city established by King David some 3,000 years ago. Venture into the archaeological site and meet with its Israeli administrators; later, speak with residents of the nearby Palestinian neighborhood who oppose the excavations. Get an insider’s perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an Israeli politician; then travel to Ramallah, where we are granted rare access to the offices of the Palestinian Authority to hear from a high-ranking politician.

Day 4 — Jerusalem

Today, trace the turbulent history of the birth of the state of Israel. At Yad Vashem, Israel’s moving memorial to the Holocaust, meet with a Holocaust survivor for a personal glimpse into one of history’s darkest moments. Then travel to Ein Kerem, where Christian tradition says John the Baptist was born. An Israeli and a Palestinian guide will each tell their divergent narrative of the village’s role in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Enjoy time to explore Jerusalem on your own. Tonight, gather for a discussion with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists from the Bereaved Families Forum.

Day 5 — Bethlehem and the West Bank

Travel to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc to hear the viewpoints of Israeli settlers. Continue to Bethlehem and visit Manger Square; then, at the Church of the Nativity, descend into the cave revered by many as the birthplace of Jesus. Walk through a nearby Palestinian refugee camp, and learn how murals and graffiti have been used to depict the refugees’ struggles. Our final stop is Herodion, a volcano-shaped hill and fortress built by Herod the Great. Over dinner, take in a musical performance by a group of Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

Discover the Past, Present, and Future of the Holy Land in 11 Days

Day 6 — Jerusalem / Jericho / Dead Sea

This morning, meet with an environmentalist from Friends of the Earth Middle East, whose efforts to foster Arab-Jewish cooperation through environmental stewardship were featured in the special April 2010 “Water” issue of National Geographic magazine.

View the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, and then drive down through the Judean Desert to Jericho to visit the archaeological site of Tel Jericho. This afternoon, continue to our hotel, located in the Ein Gedi kibbutz on the shores of the Dead Sea. Learn about the kibbutz movement before enjoying time on your own to float in the Dead Sea, wander through the hotel’s botanical garden, or enjoy an optional spa treatment.

Day 7 — The Jordan River Valley / Tiberias

Soar up the flank of Masada in a gondola and explore King Herod’s 2,000-year-old mountaintop refuge. Then follow the Jordan Valley north to the Roman city of Bet She’an to see its remarkably preserved amphitheater, baths, and column-lined streets. Along the way, stop to dip your feet in the Jordan River, where Christian pilgrims come to be baptized.

Day 8 — Galilee

Visit Caesarea Philippi, a center of worship from the Hellenic age to the early Christian era. Explore the area as you wish this afternoon: follow a scenic trail to the Banias waterfall or enjoy a short hike through Tel Dan National Park to the ancient city of Dan. Take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias to Capernaum, where Jesus lived and preached and where many apostles, including Peter, made their home.

Day 9 — Nazareth / Jaffa / Tel Aviv

Hear the perspective of an Israeli Arab Christian on the way to Nazareth, where we visit the Basilica of the Annunciation, one of the largest churches in the Middle East. On an excursion to the mountaintop village of Beit Jann, discover the secretive traditions of the Druze people, and enjoy lunch with a Druze family in their home. Travel toward the Mediterranean coast this afternoon, and explore picturesque Jaffa, a strategic port town dating back to the Bronze Age. The bustling city of Tel Aviv is our home for tonight. Enjoy dinner here on your own.

Days 10 & 11 — Caesarea Maritima / Tel Aviv

Follow the coast north to Caesarea Maritima, Herod’s harbor city, and visit the ruins with geo-archaeologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Beverly Goodman. Then enjoy a free afternoon in Tel Aviv before gathering for a farewell reception and dinner. After breakfast the next morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home.

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Things to do in Patos Island, Greece


Things to do in Patos Island, Greece

Unrivalled natural beauty, beaches with crystal clear waters, unrivalled Byzantine footpaths connecting traditional villages and breathtaking landscapes make Páros, located at the heart of the Cyclades, one of the best loved holiday destinations in Greece.

Parikía (Parikiá), the capital of Páros, is a beautiful Cycladic village with whitewashed cubic houses and impressive neoclassical mansions. A well preserved 13th century Venetian castle stands proudly on a hill at the centre of the village offering an amazing view of Parikía. In the capital you can also admire an important ecclesiastical monument, the 6th century church of Panayia Ekatontapyliani, also called Katapoliani.

The name “Ekatontapylianí” means the church with 100 gates (“Ekató Pýles” in Greek), one of which is a secret one! Don’t miss the chance to visit the baptistery (4th century AD), one of the best preserved baptisteries in the Orthodox East, and the Byzantine Museum. The Parikía Byzantine Museum is housed on the ground floor of the church. Its exhibits include icons, wood-carved iconostases and other heirlooms from various monasteries and churches on the island.

The Archaeological Museum displays exhibits from the island’s monuments (such as the Sanctuary of Asklipios and Pythios Apollonas, Delion etc.), including part of the “Parian Chronicle”, a chronological table of the 3rd century BC with references to important events and personalities of antiquity.

The marble quarries at Maráthi, where the famous Parian marble used to be extracted, were in operation from the 3rd millennium BC up to the 19th century. The mining galleries along with remains of 19th century industrial buildings are still preserved and can be visited!

Things to do in Patos Island, Greece

Meet the villages!

• Wander through beautiful traditional villages like Náoussa, a colourful village, where the ruins of a Venetian fortress stand at the entrance to its small harbour. Léfkes is located at the highest point of Páros and enjoys stunning views of the island. The village is set up in the mountains and is surrounded by a rich green landscape. It has very well preserved Cycladic and neoclassical buildings, beautiful squares and narrow marble alleys. The Museum of Aegean Folk Culture at Léfkes offers a tour of the culture of the Archipelago; discover the Aegean world through its exhibits, which include pieces related to the architecture, traditional trades and geology of the islands.

• Márpissa, founded in the 15th century, is a traditional village with a distinctive medieval character. It is located on a hill, a few kilometres away from the famous beaches of Loyarás and Písso Livádi. You can also visit the impressive Monastery of Ayios Antonios (17th century) on the hill of Kéfalos, where the ruins of a 15th century Venetian castle stand, and enjoy a wonderful view of the sea. Petaloúdes is an area of stunning beauty near the village of Psychopiana. The habitat is rich in vegetation and running water, with tall plane trees, laurels, wild olive trees, and carob trees covered in ivy that play host to the butterfly species Panaxia quadripunstaria.

What about beaches?

• Sun-drenched beaches, like Chrissí Aktí, Santa Maria and Poúnda, welcome sun-loving visitors who want to enjoy the crystal clear sea, the sun or even their favourite water sports! Every year Chrissí Aktí is the venue for the Windsurfing World Championship. On the sea bed at Alykí beach, to the southwest, you can explore the ruins of an ancient town!

• Don’t miss the opportunity to live experience an exhilarating touring all around the coast of the island by canoe or kayak! Enjoy the unusual natural landscape with impressive white rock formations on Kolymbíthres beach. The beach of Kalóyeros, surrounded by red and green clay rocks offers a really effective spa for free! Cover your body with clay and let it dry in the sun; after a while rinse yourself in the sea and your body will feel softer than ever!

Discover the island’s stunning beauty by hiking! Walk along “strátes”, the trails created by farmers to help them cross the island and transport their goods. It’s like stepping back into history. Here are two itineraries you might like to try:
• The Byzantine Léfkes-Pródromos trail, paved with marble paving stones most of the way, takes an hour to walk. It starts from the verdant village of Léfkes and crosses slopes with cultivated terraces and a small Byzantine bridge. The final destination is to the beautiful village of Pródromos with its impressive maze-like alleys.

• Starting from the village of Márpissa, with its Byzantine churches, 17th century houses and quaint windmills, walk towards Kéfalos Hill and Áyios Antónios Monastery. Going uphill along the cobblestone path, you will come across the ruins of the Venetian town of Kéfalos and the Castle. At the top, enjoy the view over the eastern part of the island and visit the Monastery of Áyios Antónios with its gold-leaf wood-carved iconostasis.

• Alternatively, you can discover the island on horseback! There are two horse-riding centres, one by the sea, at Ambelás, and one at Ystérni. Ride around the coast, along the sandy beaches or take a detour inland – a great way to see for yourself some of the most beautiful spots on the island!

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Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Likeable Chios is one of Greece’s bigger islands and, with its small neighbour Inousses, is significant in national history as the ancestral home of shipping barons. Its varied terrain ranges from lonesome mountain crags in the north, to the citrus-grove estates of Kampos, near the island’s port capital in the centre, to the fertile Mastihohoria in the south – the only place in the world where mastic trees are commercially productive.

Chians are a hospitable lot who take great pride in their history, traditions and livelihood. For the visitor, this translates into opportunities for interaction with Chian culture, ranging from art and cuisine to hiking and eco-activities.

Chios enjoys regular boat connections throughout the northeastern Aegean Islands, and has an airport. Between them, the ports of Chios Town in the east and Volissos in the northwest offer regular ferries to the intriguing, little-visited satellite islands of Psara and Inousses, which share Chios’ legacy of maritime greatness, and to the lively Turkish coastal resorts just across the water.

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Where to Stay

Perleas Estate

In the interior of this popular island is this superbly-restored old mansion set in four acres of land now given over to organic fruit, olives and vegetables. Attention to detail is the key here, with the gorgeous rooms mixing traditional styles with a nod to the Genoan history of the estate.

• £585, +30 22710 32217

Where to Eat

Fabrika

In an old olive press in the market town of Volissos, this taverna specialises in grilled meat (done properly over charcoal). For the carnivore this is heaven (in particular try kokoretsi if it’s on the day’s menu – just don’t ask what it is first) but don’t worry if that’s not your thing as there are plenty of other dishes.
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• +30 22740 22045

Don’t Miss

Chios made its fortune from the harvesting of mastic, a tree resin once chewed in the harems of Ottoman Istanbul. The product is just a curiosity now, but the villages that were based around the industry still make worthwhile visit. The houses of striking Pyrgi are decorated with whitewash patterns on top of the black, volcanic rock underneath.

Introducing Chios Island, Greece

Where is the Chios Island?

Chios is the fifth largest of the Greek islands, situated in the Aegean Sea, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) off the Anatolian coast. The island is separated from Turkey by the Çeşme Strait. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and its nickname is The mastic island. Tourist attractions include its medieval villages and the 11th-century monastery of Nea Moni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Administratively, the island forms a separate municipality within the Chios regional unit, which is part of the North Aegean region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Chios town. Locals refer to Chios town as “Chora” literally means land or country, but usually refers to the capital or a settlement at the highest point of a Greek island).

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Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

A tiny 18-island archipelago roughly halfway between Iceland and Scotland, with nearly twice as many sheep as people, the Faroe Islands have a romantic appeal for travellers looking for a remote, back-to-nature experience. In March, the islands will be one of only two places in the world to see the total solar eclipse (the Norwegian islands of Svalbard being the other).

It’s a great reason to visit the Faroes – a magical world of waterfalls and fjords and huge bird colonies. There’s a vibrant cultural scene, too – festivals and boat races in traditional Faroese boats fill the summer months – but among the most intimate and left-field is Hoyma, a new music festival held each November, which takes place in locals’ sitting rooms. Most hotels are booked now for the eclipse, but there are still B&B and camping options: see solareclipse.fo. Flights are via Copenhagen or Oslo with Atlantic Airways.

The Faroe Islands lie roughly half way between the Shetland Islands and Iceland – so not the warmest nor sunniest place to visit! The economy is based on farming (and eating) sheep, catching fish and, when they’re unlucky enough to be passing, pilot whales are driven ashore and hacked to pieces on the beaches.

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

All in all, not an easy place to be veggie, even harder for a vegan like myself! And considering the islands epic reputation for foul weather, camping was never going to be the easiest of options. Welcome to the world of “extreme-endurance-holidays!”

Despite these obvious drawbacks the Faroes do have a few things in their favour; rugged and beautiful scenery and more seabirds than people. The first thing you have to do as a vegan camper is work out the Danish words for things like meat / whey / milk / eggs etc so you’ve got a fighting chance of getting suitable foods in the supermarket. Thankfully, arriving on a ferry from Scotland means you can take along a few ‘safe’ foods – rice, veggie stock powder plus dried soya mince are good staples. Don’t even think of walking into a restaurant or fast food outlet and finding something vegan although you might just get something veggie.

Once you’ve got your basketful of goods get ready to pay double the UK rates for groceries, but its a holiday, so why not! Then heave your 20kg ruc-sac down to the ferry terminal to catch a bus (but spend £1 on a timetable first!) An hour long ride will cost you about £9 one way and if you’re lucky you might get to see some of the fabulous scenery, that’s if its not raining or you’re travelling through a 3 mile long road tunnel.

Once you get off the bus your holiday really begins. You’re hopefully looking forwards to climbing a particular mountain or visiting some spectacular bird cliffs by the sea. You’ll first need to find a scrap of flat land to pitch your tent on – but all the flat land is given over to sheep farming and is privately owned, so its time to start knocking on doors and in your very fractured Faroese ask a local if you can sleep in his soggy field for a night or two. Thankfully the Faroese are for the most part very accommodating – so long as you don’t mention the traditional whale-hunt!

Explore the most beautiful places in the Faroe Islands

Once the tent is up make your way to the highest mountain peak to be stunned by the incredible view from the summit. There aren’t any footpaths or way markers as we know them in the UK so just do your best. A couple of hundred metres from the summit you hit a bank of mist. Considering that steep, knife-edge ridges are the norm in the Faroes you really don’t want to walk a ledge that’s as precarious as a tightrope in the dark with a half mile drop on one side. So you wait for the mist to clear. You sit and eat your nuts and chocolate and admire what little view you do have. The mist refuses to budge so you head back to the tent getting soaked on the way and then lie there for a few hours reading a damp paperback, all the while telling yourself you’re having fun because this is a holiday.

Faroe Islands mountainYou wait three days for the weather to improve so that you can negotiate the dangerous mountain headland and get to ‘Enniberg’, which at 750m+ are Europe’s highest sea cliffs. The mist doesn’t clear, the rain never stops, you’re running low on rice, fuel, dry books to read and sanity. The local shop is tiny and sells leg of lamb, bread that’s looks as though its made from bricks and, for some reason, bow-ties!

In the end your patience is rewarded and the weather breaks. You make a sprint up the mountain confident that Enniberg is now within your grasp! Just then a friendly but insecure sheep dog takes a liking to you. You throw a stick to buy yourself some time to do a runner and lose him but he just brings it back with a look of longing in his eyes and then begins to follow you up the mountain. You try to ignore him but he’s hot on your heels, then you consider how perilous the headland is and what would happen to the poor dog if the mist rolls back down and he gets separated from you! Will he find his own way back or end up as snack food for the gulls when he tumbles 700m down a cliff? You sit down and weigh up the options – this would be so much easier if you didn’t give a damn about animals!

In the end after much lip-chewing and head scratching you do what’s best for the dog and retreat from the mountain, taking him back to the village, hoping from there that he’ll make his own way home. Then, like an unfaithful partner the little Judas does a runner and sucks up to a new batch of holiday makers that were foolhardy enough to come to the Faroes, leaving you all alone! You look back up the mountain and the mist has returned. Then you go back to your tent and get an early night because tomorrow you have to pack up a wet tent before a six mile road walk to the next village which is the only place you can catch a bus from on a Sunday. The bus is due at 09.00 so you work out the start time!

Repeat this process for about a fortnight and you have the prefect vegan camper ’s holiday. When you get back to Torshavn, the capital, you tour the streets before boarding your ferry home and by chance spot a scrap of graffiti in local dialect. The word ‘vegan’ is sprayed onto a wall in the centre of town. Your heart is lifted – you’re not alone on these islands! Then you make your way to the ferry where you’ll share a four berth bunk with three smelly strangers and live off peanuts and crisps for the next 48 hours – god bless duty free beer!

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Welcome to Porto, Portugal

Welcome to Porto, Portugal

We do love Lisbon, but Porto, Portugal’s second city, is going to be luring more visitors in 2015 as easyJet launches direct flights from Bristol, Luton and Manchester in April. Set on the banks of the Douro in the north of the country, Porto’s historic centre has been Unesco-listed since 1996 and is a picturesque mish-mash of medieval churches, cobbled lanes, pretty squares, steep steps and beautiful buildings tumbling down to the river.

The birthplace of port, it’s a must for wine lovers, and recent years have witnessed something of a cultural renaissance with galleries, restaurants and boutiques opening – the city rebranded itself last year to convey its “youthful, cosmopolitan” side. The newly opened World of Discoveries museum and theme park is worth checking out – visitors can trace the journeys of past Portuguese explorers, with boat rides recreating their epic voyages to South America, Africa and Asia. Among new accommodation options is the 1872 River House, a cute eight-bedroom B&B in the historic Ribeira district (doubles from £126, breakfast served until 1pm, book on i-escape.com).

Welcome to Porto, Portugal

Where is the Porto?

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon and one of the major urban areas of the Iberian peninsula. The urban area of Porto, which extends beyond the administrative limits of the city, has a population of 1.4 million (2011) in an area of 389 km2 (150 sq mi), making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. Porto Metropolitan Area, on the other hand, includes an estimated 1.8 million people. It is recognized as a Gamma-level global city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group, the only Portuguese city besides Lisbon to be recognised as a global city.

Located along the Douro river estuary in Northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centres, and its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The western part of its urban area extends to the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. Its combined Celtic-Latin name, Portus Cale, has been referred to as the origin of the name “Portugal”, based on transliteration and oral evolution from Latin. In Portuguese, the name of the city is spelled with a definite article (“o Porto”; English: the port). Consequently, its English name evolved from a misinterpretation of the oral pronunciation and referred to as Oporto in modern literature and by many speakers.

One of Portugal’s internationally famous exports, port wine, is named for Porto, since the metropolitan area, and in particular the caves of Vila Nova de Gaia, were responsible for the packaging, transport and export of the fortified wine. In 2014, Porto was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency.

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Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Last month, President Obama announced that America would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba – meaning change is sure to follow, so head to Cuba sooner rather than later to enjoy its unique old-school charms. With the government slowly allowing the development of non-state-owned tourism, there’s been a growth in private enterprise recently – particularly seen in Old Havana, a thriving cultural hub, with new bars like O’Reilly 304, and recently opened stylish B&B Casa Alta (£19-25 a night) adding to the buzz.

To mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the southern city of Santiago de Cuba on 25 July, a week of partying and a carnival has been planned.

World Expeditions has a new 12-day cycling tour, exploring the country’s lesser-known spots, from £1,567pp. And Che Guevara’s son, Ernesto junior, has just launched six- and nine-day motorbike tours of the island – and leads some tours himself (from £1,999)

Havana, Cuba as a New Travel Destination

Where is the Havana, Cuba?

Havana (Spanish: La Habana) is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 728.26 km2 (281.18 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the third largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.

The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

The city of Havana was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and due to its strategic location it served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the continent becoming a stopping point for the treasure-laden Spanish galleons on the crossing between the New World and the Old World. King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592. Walls as well as forts were built to protect the old city. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish–American War.

Contemporary Havana can essentially be described as three cities in one: Old Havana, Vedado and the newer suburban districts. The city is the center of the Cuban government, and home to various ministries, headquarters of businesses and over 90 diplomatic offices. The current mayor is Marta Hernández from the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In 2009, the city/province had the 3rd highest income in the country.

The city attracts over a million tourists annually, the Official Census for Havana reports that in 2010 the city was visited by 1,176,627 international tourists, a 20.0% increase from 2005. The historic centre was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. The city is also noted for its history, culture, architecture and monuments. As typical of Cuba, Havana also features a tropical climate.

In May 2015, Havana was officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities together with Vigan, Doha, La Paz, Durban, Beirut, and Kuala Lumpur.

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Welcome to Patagonia, Chile

Welcome to Patagonia, Chile

The 40th anniversary of Bruce Chatwin’s first visit to Patagonia and Top Gear’s recent controversial trip there have drawn attention to this stunning part of the world.

Towards the end of 2015, a new national park is due to open in the Aysén region’s Chacabuco Valley – promising to protect an ecologically important corridor through the Andes between Chile and Argentina. Founded by conservationists Kris and Doug Tompkins (of North Face and Patagonia clothing company fame), it’s the fruit of a long struggle to turn a huge estancia back to its natural state. Pura Aventura has an 11-day trip to Parque Patagonia and Mallin Colorado from £2,552pp, including internal flights from the Chilean capital Santiago, but not international ones.

Welcome to Patagonia, Chile

Where is the Patagonia

Patagonia is a sparsely populated region located at the southern end of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. The region comprises the southern section of the Andes mountains as well as the deserts, steppes and grasslands east of this southern portion of the Andes. Patagonia has two coasts; a western one towards the Pacific Ocean and an eastern one towards the Atlantic Ocean.

The Colorado and Barrancas rivers, which run from the Andes to the Atlantic, are commonly considered the northern limit of Argentine Patagonia.[1] Tierra del Fuego is sometimes included as part of Patagonia. Most geographers and historians locate the northern limit of Chilean Patagonia at Reloncaví Estuary,

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A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

A Backpacker’s Guide for Your Next Adventure

Whether you’re setting out for a backpacking trip to Asia or Europe, preparing and packing your backpack can be tricky and it will require some thought and planning. Here’s a complete backpacker’s guide to the do’s and don’ts of packing.

Packing light is key but is easier said than done, when it comes time for you to actually sit down and pack. Our first instinct, especially for those more cautious packers, is usually to pack everything that comes to mind, just on the slight chance that you may have to use it once or twice.

Your backpack is going to be your life for the duration of your travels. Whether you plan to be gone for a couple weeks, or a couple months, you’re going to be wearing your backpack on your back the entire time. It’s important to remember this and only pack the essentials. A smaller, and lighter backpack will be less cumbersome for you. It’ll make you a happier traveller and make for a better backpacking experience.

Clothing

When packing your clothes, fight the urge to throw your entire closet in your bag. You’re not going to need everything, that extra fleece sweater is only going to take up space. Pack only a couple pairs of bottoms, shirts, a swimsuit and about six pairs of underwear. You can easily wash your clothes wherever you’re staying.

Sunblock

Be prepared for the weather. Research ahead of time so that you’re aware of your travel destination’s current climate beforehand. For those hotter destinations, you’ll want sunblock to wear while you’re out and about. Purchase a travel size, so that it doesn’t take up much room in your pack. You can easily invest in another sunblock if you run out on the trip.

Day Pack

Bring along a small day pack, so that when you are going out on day trips to tour the different cities and towns, you won’t have to carry your large backpack around all day. Keep your backpack back at the hostel, in a security locked room that they provide. This will make for much more enjoyable day outs.

Phrase / Language Book

Invest in a travel size phrase or language book for the trip. It doesn’t take up much room and it will come in handy when you’re trying to communicate and socialize with the locals.

International Adapter

Another great investment for the trip is an international adapter. Your phone is a great tool for booking accommodations, checking bus schedules and getting directions, you’ll want to keep it charged so that you’re prepared for anything.

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10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

For the past two years I’ve lived and worked in over a dozen countries, spending most of the year as a digital nomad living out of a backpack. It’s awesome. I talk to a lot of people back home that have never traveled, and have lots of questions about the basics. I compiled these into 10 tips to make that first international adventure go as smoothly as possible.

1) Start somewhere easy

Some places are easier to travel to than others. If this is your first time out of the country, it might be worth considering one of the easier destinations over, say 6 weeks on Bouvet Island or a quick jaunt up K2. But hey, if that’s what you want, go for it.

2) Get your phone sorted out

There are few things more freeing than an unlocked smartphone. If your phone is unlocked you can get, probably, a local SIM card for cheap high-speed data, wherever you go. Forget overpriced travel data plans like those from Sprint and Verizon. Local SIM cards are the way to go.

Unless you have T-Mobile. Their Simple Choice plans get you unlimited international data in nearly every country. It’s pretty slow, however. I wrote about them in The Best Cellular Plan for Travelers.

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

3) The right luggage

Buy a smaller bag than you think you might need (more on this in #5). Personally, I prefer a good travel backpack. Some people like the hybrid backpack/rolly-bags, but I find them cumbersome. Avoid regular rolly bags, they’re more trouble than their worth. Big suitcases should be avoided at all costs (unless you’re going skiing or something and need to bring a lot of bulky gear).

4) The right gear

I love a good, cheap, travel laptop. A USB battery pack is invaluable. I love noise cancelling headphones, but they’re probably a luxury for most people.

5) Pack light

This will be the hardest thing about travel. There are few harder urges to overcome than overpacking. “But I might need this!!!” is so common there are industries built around needless junk and charging you for heavy bags. Aim for 30 pounds, tops, for everything. If you don’t bring a lot of electronics, aim for under 25. You don’t need more than a week’s worth of clothes. You can do laundry everywhere. Seriously, travelling light will change everything about how you travel.

10 Tips for the Beginner Traveler

6) Cloud data backup

I had one friend drop her camera in a taxi and lose 3 weeks’ worth of photos, nearly her entire multi-country trip through Asia. Cloud backups are cheap and easy to use. I like Google Photos, but there are a ton of other options.

7) Apps for you and your family

Google Translate is the greatest app for any traveler, by FAR (download languages when you’re on WiFi, and it will work without a data connection). Google Maps is a close second (download an area on WiFi, and it too will work without a data connection).

What I also recommend is hooking your family with apps too, specifically WhatsApp and Instagram (or Skype or Messenger, etc). Keeping in touch while on the road is key for your mental health, and theirs. I mention Instagram because it’s easy to use for those who aren’t too tech savvy, and it allows cross posting to Facebook, Twitter and the like if you don’t usually use Instagram. Tumblr is another easy way to share photos and info, and I’ve met several travelers that use that as an easy way to blog goings on to share with the folks back home.

8) Don’t be afraid of hostels

Hostels aren’t things that Americans consider. There’s a mistaken perception that they’re dirty, rowdy, dangerous places. I guess some are, but most of the ones I’ve stayed at in the two years I’ve been travelling full time are nicer than most hotels.

Review websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelz.com give you an idea about a place before you ever set foot in it. Best of all, they’re a great way to meet new people.

9) Lock your phone

Your phone, and what’s on it, is probably the most valuable thing you have on you. Phones are easily replaced. Personal data theft is way worse. Pictures, addresses… how many banking apps and websites do you have that automatically log you in?

Lock your phone. The swipey geometry designs may seem great, but after you use them a few times, the screen will be smudged in the exact shape of your passcode. Numbers and biometrics are safer.

10) Don’t make it easy for thieves

I met a first-time traveler from a tiny mid-west town. She walked around London with her iPhone 6 sticking half out of her back pocket. Theft is rare, but don’t make it easy. Don’t leave your bag on a table at a sidewalk café. Don’t leave your backback on your back on a crowded train. You’d be surprised how often I see people not doing these things. There’s nothing wrong with being a little cautious.

You don’t need to lash your belongings to your chest with steel cables every time you leave the hostel. Just, you know, be aware of your surroundings. If someone could casually pick up something, or pull it out of your hands without any effort, maybe that’s not the best place for it.

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