Rough Guides writer Steve Vickers casts an eye over the big travel topics and unpicks the top stories of the week.
Thousands apply for one-way trip to Mars
More than 200,000 people have applied for the chance to help colonise Mars. Just four of the applicants will be picked for the first one-way mission being planned by the Dutch non-profit group Mars One, which could reach the red planet by 2023. After enduring the seven-month journey, successful applicants will be expected to spend the rest of their lives on Mars, where dust storms, freezing temperatures and high levels of radiation pose a constant threat to their survival.
Suite, if you can afford it
While the rest of us trawl the web for cheap hotels and flights that don’t involve a 4am start, the world’s wealthiest travellers are splashing out on increasingly daft levels of luxury.
Take the newly unveiled royal suite at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi. Spread over more than two thousand square metres, it has a grand piano, an outdoor pool and – for those who want to pay £22,500 for a night in a hotel and waste it watching Toy Story – its own private cinema. Super-expensive tours of whole countries and continents are also gaining popularity. Abercrombie & Kent’s latest, which takes travellers across Africa in a private jet, costs an eye-watering £50,000 per person (based on two sharing) for just 19 days of travel.
Could anyone justify spending so much on a journey across the world’s poorest continent? Apparently so. The first trip sold out within weeks, and now a second one is planned.
Tourism boom predicted for Japan
With news of Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics still ringing in their ears, tour operators have predicted a boom in the number of trips to the Land of the Rising Sun. Their cause will be helped by the work of Visit Japan, which is continuing with its ambitious plan to attract 25 million foreign visitors per year by 2020. To give you some perspective, that’s more than three times the number that arrived in 2010, the year before 2011’s disastrous earthquake and tsunami.
So if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds, and don’t mind missing the hype around the Games, consider going now. The value of the yen has dropped considerably since the start of the year, making it a relatively cheap time to visit, and the start of autumn – when trees burst into shades of red and gold – is every bit as beautiful as the more famous cherry blossom season.
Christmas with Santa
Where would you like to spend Christmas? If the answer is “on Santa’s knee”, then check this out: it’s now possible to pay the beardy one a yuletide visit on a four-night trip to Enontekiö with Transun, in Finnish Lapland. Arriving two days before Christmas, you’ll have the chance to herd reindeer, ride a snowmobile and go tobogganing amid frozen forest scenery, before taking a sleigh ride to meet the big man himself.
If you want to avoid the Christmas stuff but still fancy a wintry break in the area, try local company Adventure by Design, which runs cross-country skiing lessons and snowshoeing trips that give you a good chance of spotting swirling green auroras.
Could zeppelins make a comeback?
Flying by airship was once considered the height of luxury, but quickly lost its appeal after the Hindenburg disaster. Aeros, a firm based in Los Angeles, is hoping to bring zeppelins back into vogue. The firm has just been given permission to conduct test flights with a vast, 81-metre-long craft called Aeroscraft, which can fly for up to 3,100 nautical miles without refuelling, hitting a top speed of 138mph.
That’s slow compared with a jumbo, but the zeppelin has a distinct advantage over planes: it can take off and land vertically, like a helicopter, from just about anywhere. For now at least, the idea is that Aeroscrafts will be used for delivering cargo to hard-to-reach places like oil rigs. But there’s also potential for transforming the zeppelins into flying hotels that take in famous landmarks and natural wonders as they cruise through the skies.
Each edition of Arrivals ends with a pretty piece of travel inspiration, and this one was made possible by Norway’s curious ‘slow TV’ phenomenon.
After filming (and broadcasting) a 10-hour train journey along the country’s northernmost railway line, Norwegian broadcaster NRK released this clever mash-up, which skips between the seasons as the train edges further north. Don’t panic; this version is only 63 seconds long.