From psychedelic milkshakes to overloaded tuk-tuks, there are some things everybody comes across when backpacking in Southeast Asia.

Whether you spent the brunt of your time beaching, boozing, motorcycling, meditating or trying to see it all, here are 15 things you likely learned.

1. Getting from A to B is surprisingly fun

All-night bus rides with bad action movies on loop, clutching the waist of a scooter driver as he weaves through Ho Chi Minh City traffic, or buying a vintage Minsk motorbike to tear up mountain roads – you know that the act of motion itself makes for some of the best backpacking memories.

2. Everything moves slowly

Thanks to any combination of traffic, vehicle break-downs, poor roads, bad weather or punishing hangovers you learned to accept the impossibility of arriving anywhere on time. Booking accommodation in advance was as rare as a concrete plan longer than two days.

Learning to chill rather than feel perpetually frustrated was one of the best lessons you took home with you.

5677147889_7c1cebf586_oMalingering/Flickr

3. Tourism is both a blessing and a curse

Disrespectful debauchery, fake orphanages, irresponsible development and a whole lot of other despicable stuff ­– spend long enough backpacking in Southeast Asia and you know that tourism’s destructive side starts to glare.

At first you felt like part of the problem. But you learned to search out homestays, socially responsible tours, eco-friendly projects and grassroot NGOs. Every little bit helps.

4. The nicer-looking the restaurant, the worse the food

You know it’s not the locally-popular roadside food stalls that are likely to give you food poisoning. No, it’s the type of joints that serve penne al pollo and special steak tartare.

5. A tuk-tuk can be the ultimate in luxury travel

A good tuk-tuk is like a chauffeured convertible crossed with a couch. Their people-carrying capacity seems to grow as each hour passes, capping somewhere around a dozen passengers after dark. For the price, it’s a luxury that can’t be beat.

8377322735_ed1661618a_kDidier Baertschiger/Flickr

6. Cheap deals are usually too good to be true

A smiling driver offered you a sweet deal. Then you agreed to help him “get gas”. And you quickly learned what that means: pretending to shop in soulless tourist trap boutiques while buddy gets “gas coupons” from the owners. Visions of adventure faded before your eyes – but you never made the same mistake again.

7. The smell of Durian will haunt you

Durian: the much-loved ball of spikes with an acquired taste and a rather pungent aroma that reeks of sweat, garlic and sweet-scented paint thinner – detectable from a block away. You learned to love it or hate it – there is no inbetween.

8. Not all monks are as serene as they look

Some monks look serene. Some monks drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. You may have spotted one, red or saffron-robed and sneaking a smoke behind a crumbling temple wall or sipping a spot of Mekong Whiskey beneath a banyan tree.

Of course, this is prohibited by Buddhist precepts, and it definitely clashed with your original imaginings of monastic life. But nobody’s perfect, and old habits die hard.

11151117496_3ff550670a_kPeter Halling Hilborg/Flickr

9. “Happy Pizza” is not a cute name for pizza served by smiling staff

It is pizza that will get you high.

10. Mushroom milkshakes are not a new health food fad

These will also get you high.

11. Travel tattoos can be an awful idea

A Balinese Om symbol made much larger than asked, an ambiguous word scrawled across ribs in Khmer script, a little butterfly resembling a birthmark – perhaps you learned the hard way, or maybe you learned from others’ mistakes.

Southeast Asia backpackers know these markings well: yolo moments of such (regrettable) power that they actually outlive you.

3103332730_cf73a1dc87_oMissAgentCooper/Flickr

12. Thai Red Bull is way more intense than the energy drinks you’re used to

It’s actually called Krating Daeng, and it’s reportedly what inspired the creation of Red Bull. Whether you guzzled it with vodka from a bucket or sipped it to null post-night bus fatigue, it’s strength was a syrupy revelation.

13. Backpackers wear a uniform

Harem pants, beer-branded tank tops and a pointless bandanna to top it off. Did you examine the stinky, hungover travellers surrounding you and think: Yes, I’d like to look exactly like them? Probably not. But the uniform happened.

14. Don’t bring chewing gum to Singapore

If you went to Singapore, you’ll know it has some weird laws. The illegality of chewing gum is one of them. But that’s just the beginning. Walking around nude in your own home? Illegal. Taking a sip of water on the metro? Illegal. Failure to flush a public toilet after use? Illegal, obviously. Even publicly eating Singapore’s “national fruit”, the durian, falls on the wrong side of the law.

IMG_2478-2Clark & Kim Kays/Flickr

15. Southeast Asia has been through a lot, and continues to go through a lot

Be it the horrors of colonisation, absurd and devastating wars, or the corruption and poverty that followed, the peoples of Southeast Asia have gone through hell. Yet it was ultimately the incredible friendliness of locals that made backpacking Southeast Asia one of the best experiences of your life.

rough guide southeast asia on a budget coverHave your next backpacking adventure with The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In-flight entertainment might be on its way out. Yesterday The Guardian reported that seat-back entertainment systems are being removed from transatlantic flights by Canadian carrier, WestJet, with more airlines likely to follow in their footsteps.

Instead, passengers will use their phone or tablet, using an app to stream a selection of shows and movies via on-board wi-fi.

According to the Daily Mail, WestJet say that not only will this change will remove 1500lbs weight from the plane and save fuel, but it will give passengers a “better, more relevant service”.

Don’t have an iPad or smartphone? Devices will be available to rent on longer flights. Little mention has been made so far, however, about how they plan to keep all these devices powered up.

What do you think of this change? Would you use your phone or tablet, or would you rather keep seat-back TV screens?

They hang from trees and clothes lines. Bits of plastic bodies jammed onto fenceposts and nailed to cabin doors, decaying heads strewn among the island’s greenery, gazing at visitors through insect-infested eye-sockets. Welcome to Mexico‘s Isla de las Muñecas, or Island of Dolls.

Located deep in Xochimilco, a borough just 28km south of Mexico City, the Isla de las Muñecas is part of an Aztec-made network of canals and artificial islands called chinampas.

Legend has it that decades ago a little girl’s corpse washed up on the murky banks of the island. Don Julian Santana Barrera, the island’s solitary caretaker, discovered her floating facedown alongside a waterlogged doll. To commemorate her spirit, Barrera hung the doll on a nearby tree.

But the little girl’s ghost soon began to haunt him. Desperate to appease her, the caretaker hung more dolls – every bit of a Barbie or scrap of a Cabbage Patch he could lay hands on. Barrera amassed hundreds of them over a span of 50 years. Still, the ghost never left.

Barrera died in 2001. He was reportedly found floating in the same spot that he’d found the girl. Of course, official reports seem to dismiss Barrera’s discovery of the girl in the first place. But the dolls remain, and tourists who visit swear that each doll’s eerie presence speaks for itself – whispering.

Abandoned doll outdoors, Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) in Xochimico, Mexico.

15636680830_36070f378e_kDolls welcome the island’s visitors by Kevin (CC license)

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Dolls nailed to the island’s cabin by Kevin (CC license)

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Cabin interior by Kevin (CC license)
15636267558_ce884367da_kDolls on display by Kevin (CC license)

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Shrine by Kevin (CC license)

15577556999_2c1a8e39db_kThe forest by Kevin (CC license)

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Dolls hung by metal wire by Kevin (CC license)

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A pile of dolls in decay by Kevin (CC license)

15636478487_26037a983e_kRotting baby by Kevin (CC license)
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Dolls lurk everywhere on the island by Kevin (CC license)

Isla de las Muñecas can be visited by ferry from Embarcadero Cuemanco or from Embarcadero Fernando Celada. Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In 2011, Tom Perkins set off to cycle from London to Cape Town. Joined by friends and taken in by strangers, his 501-day journey took him over 20,000km of road, through 26 countries and across 3 continents.

His goal, to learn about lesser-documented cultures through food, became an epic culinary adventure that culminated in his first book, Spices and Spandex.

From sleeping rough to gorging on a freshly decapitated bull, and from being run over twice to being caught up in the midst of the Arab Spring, he told us what it’s really like to spend 501 days living ­– and eating – on the side of the road.

In ten words how would you describe your journey?

A privileged, exposed, kaleidoscopic adventure on a hungry stomach.

That was nine but we’ll let you off. So what was the inspiration behind your trip?

I studied politics, history and film at university and I thought what am I doing to do with this knowledge? I wanted to visit these places.

We can have this armchair knowledge of places and societies but until you go and experience them, that knowledge is unfounded. Travel is education, it teaches in a way that nothing else does.

So my inspiration came from this goal of travelling from London to Cape Town, and of using food as the lens through which to get a better understanding of places. Food is this amazing facilitator, it allows you to interact with so many different people in different societies. It opens up doors like nothing else.

vlcsnap-2013-01-18-19h45m38s57Image by Tom Perkins

Is there one meal that really stands out in your memory?

Yes. It was in south Malawi, we’d been cycling for eight hours and we had forgotten to buy any provisions.

We were stuck on the side of the road with no food. But we were taken in by a school teacher named Nelson, who served us a very simple meal, which was very bland because he could not afford to buy salt. And it struck me that here was a man who couldn’t afford salt but he had provided for strangers.

It was that sense of unreserved generosity to complete strangers that I carried with me throughout the trip. It wasn’t fine dining, but it was a meal that had so much loaded intention behind it that it really stuck with me.

You travelled through 26 countries, where surprised you the most?

Ethiopia. It’s a country which defies all conventions.

Any notion of what you think might be there, just ignore that because you’re going to be overwhelmed by the realities on the ground. Everything about it is different from anywhere you’ve been before.

It has its own alphabet, its own calendar, its own time, its own food, its own religion, its own drink culture, its own dance culture. And it’s the most densely populated landlocked country in the world, so everywhere you look there are people.

ethiopia4

Image by Tom Perkins

It’s so far from the impression that we get of Ethiopia; it’s so fertile, so green, so mountainous, so diverse and so rich in culture. You go there and you don’t know what’s happening because there’s nothing to relate it back to.

Either you get on board with it or you can become very overwhelmed by it. But that’s what the journey was about, being pushed outside of our comfort zones. Everything we set out to do Ethiopia delivered in spades.

Where was the hardest place to travel?

We had a really amazing, yet challenging, experience travelling through Egypt. The country at the time was right in the heart of the Arab Spring, so it was tough at times.

We had some incredible experiences there that I still can’t quite make sense of, such as being escorted away from Tahrir Square because we looked like Israeli spies.

Witnessing that kind of social phenomenon first hand and talking to young Egyptians that were very tied up in the revolution was amazingly exposing. Our eyes were wide open being in Egypt at the time for many good and bad reasons.

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Image by Tom Perkins

What was the scariest moment of your trip?

There were some scary moments. I got run over twice – it wasn’t very much fun. I still shudder just thinking about how close that second time was. It was one of those moments where you realize just how dangerous it can be living on the side of the road for 501 days.

You wild camped the whole way, where was the weirdest place you spent the night?

Fifty-two hours hitching a lift to a safe town, on a lorry carrying kidney beans, through the precarious northern Kenyan savannah, was probably the weirdest two nights I’ve had in a long time.

You were away for 501 days did you find it hard to adjust back to normal life?

It was a tough process to adjust to normal life but you never really go back to how things were. You always take things from the road because you can’t do a journey like this and not have that affect the way that you try live your life afterwards.

What advice would you give to someone dreaming of doing a similar trip?

Know your strengths and weaknesses. The beauty of doing something like this is that you can tailor it to what suits you so find a means and a method that really motivates you. And be flexible to the idea of the unknown, accept that you can’t control everything.

Be clear in your blueprints, be clear in your ambitions and then be true to yourself. And don’t try and imitate anything else, because it’s you at the end of the day who has to constantly keep pushing. So have that flexibility, but be very clear why you’re travelling as well.

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Image by Tom Perkins

Is there a particularly important lesson that you learnt?

Two things: perspective and perseverance. A journey like this will inevitably have many highs and many lows.

It’s crucial not to let the lows disproportionately affect the way that you see and make judgments about certain places and individuals. Accept that actually the lows in trips like this kind of accentuate the highs; they are all part of the journey and they add richness to it.

And then perspective. When travelling through some of the more challenging parts of the world you have to look around and realize how lucky you are. That we are in the amazingly privileged position to very readily find solutions to the problems that we might encounter.

So perspective and perseverance. Realizing that travel has these great fluctuations and so being able to relish every moment, be it high or low, is a really valuable thing.

Spices and Spandex

Image by Tom Perkins

Now you’re back, what’s next for you?

Once you’ve done a trip like this you’re constantly scheming for the next one.

I am transfixed now on South America. My dream is to go from Mexico City to Buenos Aires and to discover as many lesser-documented food cultures along the way. And again to travel in a really slow, intimate way. I’d love to produce another book if I can.

That sense of documenting – to go away, to get to get people to teach you and then to relay that in some form – is what really motivates me.

Find out more about Tom’s travels and order Spices and Spandex on his website: www.thenomadickitchen.com. Header image by Tom Perkins.

When winter is upon us, the temptation is to retreat to our homes for cosy nights in. But all around the world, winter is the time when some cities really shine. Here are 20 places that look more beautiful in winter.

1. Chicago, USA

Chicago is best known as the Windy City, although we think it’s even more beautiful during the winter months when it transforms into the Snowy City. Come in January or February to witness Chicago at its coldest; temperatures can drop so low that Lake Michigan partially freezes over – truly a sight to behold.

Chicago, USA

2. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn’s medieval old town is enchanting throughout the year, but during Estonia’s long winter months it takes on a whole new dimension of wonder. Take a stroll around the fortified Toompea and eventually you’ll end up in Raekoja Plats. Pop into the tiny room beside the Town Hall for a glass of glögi or some homemade soup.

Tallinn, Estonia

3. Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Imagine a series of sixteen turquoise lakes, cascading into each other in an unforgettable display of water’s power and majesty. Now imagine that same scene, but frozen. Plitvice National Park is one of Croatia’s main tourist attractions, almost deserted in the winter months but all the more beautiful when its waterfalls are frozen in time.

Plitvice National Park, Croatia

4. Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan

Jigokudani may not be the most dramatic winter landscape in Japan, but it is unmissable in winter when the resident Japanese macaques, or snow monkeys, bathe in the steaming hot springs. It’ll take a fair amount of willpower to resist stripping off and joining the monkeys, although the attendants might have something to say about that…

Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan

5. Banff National Park, Canada

The star attraction of Banff National Park is undoubtedly Moraine Lake. Located some 15km from Lake Louise, the lake’s crystal clear waters reflect the snowcapped Valley of the Ten Peaks. We’re not the only ones who love it here – the Canadians put the scene on their $20 banknotes during the 1970s.

Banff National Park, Canada

6. Hallstatt, Austria

No, you’re not looking at a puzzle. This place really exists. Hallstatt is a tiny lakeside village and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Austria, all the more glorious when nearby Salzburg Mountain is blanketed in snow. It is often voted as one of the prettiest villages in the world, and we wouldn’t disagree.

Hallstatt, Austria

7. Richmond Park, UK

London’s biggest park is even more beautiful in the winter. At 2500 acres, it’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and with wild deer galloping around it feels like you could be lost in the middle of the English countryside. On the few winter days when snow falls in the capital, Richmond Park is the place to be.

Richmond Park, UK

8. Gobi Desert, Mongolia

If you’re the kind of person who might travel to deepest Mongolia to check out some wooly camels in the middle of the bitter winter, then read on. During the Thousand Camel Festival, local camel herders take part in polo competitions and races. If you fancy getting involved, everyone is welcome to mount a camel and join the opening parade.

Gobi Desert, Mongolia

9. Bruges, Belgium

With its cobbled alleyways, frozen canals and gingerbread architecture, Bruges is without a doubt at its most beautiful during the winter months. Come in January or February when the popular Christmas markets have packed away and you will have the town to yourself. It’s unlikely you’ll return home with seeing a castle or two – there are more per square inch here than any other city in the world.

Bruges, Belgium

10. Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany

Remember sleeping beauty’s castle at Disneyland? Well this is the building that inspired it, only you won’t find any adults dressed as furry rodents lurking around here. Located on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Schloss Neuschwanstein is even more beautiful in the winter months when the surrounding forest is dusted in snow.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

11. Trakai Castle, Lithuania

The expression “fairytale castle” is overused, but when it comes to Lithuania’s Trakai Castle there are few other ways to describe it. Located seventeen miles west of Vilnius, the castle transforms during the winter months, when the surrounding lake freezes over and the orange turrets are speckled with snow.

Trakai Castle, Lithuania

12. Atlas Mountains, Morocco

This is Africa, but not as you know it. The majestic Atlas Mountains see total snow cover above 3000m from November to April. Though visitor numbers are higher in the summer months, Mount Toubkal is perhaps at its most stunning during the winter, when intrepid mountaineers don crampons and climb to the 4167m-summit.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

13. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a great place to visit year-round but during the winter months (May to September) it really comes into its own. Nearby, the Remarkables and Coronet Peak ranges offer some of the finest skiing and snowboarding in New Zealand, and the town is particularly lively in June and July when the Queenstown Winter Festival takes place.

Queenstown, New Zealand

14. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Vast, volcanic Yellowstone has been home to bison since prehistoric times. During the winter months, when higher areas are covered in a thick layer of snow, the bison migrate to lower grounds where it’s easier to feed on the grass. Wildlife lovers will be in their element; the park is also home to bears, elks, wolves and the pronghorn antelope.

Yellowstone National Park, USA

15. Lapland, Finland

During the summer months this is the land of 24-hour sun, but during the long winter Lapland is engulfed in almost total darkness. This would be a fairly grim time of the year to visit, were it not for the chance of catching a display of the aurora borealis dancing in the sky. January, February and March tend to be the best times to see the Northern Lights.

Lapland, Finland

16. Prague, Czech Republic

Europe does Christmas markets well, and arguably the most beautiful of them all is in Prague. Here you can roam around the fairy-lit wooden huts and pick up Christmassy gifts and decorations to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to try a klobása (barbequed sausage) washed down with some svařené víno (mulled wine) to complete the full festive experience.

Prague, Czech Republic

17. Harbin, China

If you’re going to make the journey to Harbin make sure it’s in January, when the city hosts the largest ice and snow sculpture festival in the world. Participants travel from all corners of the planet to exhibit their spectacular, enormous ice designs. Just don’t forget your gloves – this part of northeastern China has been known to have temperatures dropping below -20°C in the winter.

Harbin, China

18. Lake Bled, Slovenia

It doesn’t get much more picturesque than Instagram-filter-defying Lake Bled, in the alpine Upper Carniolan region of Slovenia. You can walk around the entire lake in about an hour, although it’ll be hard to resist stopping at every opportunity to photograph Bled Island’s Church of the Assumption, with the epic snowcapped mountains looming behind.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

19. New York City, USA

New York City does winter well. The temperature plummets, the sky is electric blue and when it snows, it really snows. While some visitors might spend their time fighting with festive shoppers in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, more romantic sorts should head to Central Park for a skate. This is probably the most impressive setting for an ice rink on the planet, with the Manhattan skyscrapers towering nearby.

New York, USA

20. Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

Tajikistan’s seldom-visited Pamir Mountains are beautiful throughout the year, but they are perhaps at their most epic during the winter. During the long cold months this rugged part of the world is deserted, with the exception of the most intrepid explorers. Even the native nomads retreat from the high pastures from September onwards.

Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan

On the face of it, Scandinavia isn’t a very sensible place for a holiday. For one thing, it’s almost always going to be colder than the place you’re leaving behind. And when it comes to basics like food and accommodation, it’s probably more expensive too.

But if you don’t mind throwing a few warm jumpers in your backpack and paying a little extra for meals out – and honestly, it’s not that bad – you’ll be rewarded handsomely. Scandinavia is home to some of Western Europe’s wildest sights, from shimmering blue lakes and clattering herds of reindeer to snow-laden forests that look like they’ve been imported straight from Narnia.

It isn’t all fjords and pine trees, though; there are fairytale castles, Viking treasures and gritty, pretty cities that nurture some of the world’s most exciting art and design scenes. Then there’s that green, egalitarian approach to life that will leave you thinking that – somehow – Scandinavia just works.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are 7 ideas for short breaks in Scandinavia.

1. Gothenburg and the west coastSweden

In the space of a couple of decades, Sweden’s second biggest city has reinvented itself as one of Europe’s coolest city break destinations. It’s still a big industrial hub with a busy port at its heart, but the focus is increasingly on tourism. Why should you go? For the super-fresh seafood, for the locally brewed beer and laidback bars, and for the car-free islands that lie just offshore, where you can swim in cool, clear waters.

Cycling in Gothenburg
Ulf Bodin/Flickr

2. SkagenDenmark

Set on a narrow spit of land with breezy beaches on both sides, Skagen is Denmark’s northernmost town – and one of its prettiest, too, with mustard-yellow houses lining the streets. Since the Nordic Impressionists arrived here more than a century ago, attracted by the big skies and soft golden light, the artists have kept on coming. Now the town is dotted with galleries, workshops and antiques shops. Cycle a few kilometres northeast of town to the sandbar called Grenen, where Denmark ends, and you can watch two separate seas sloshing together before your eyes.

Gregen, Denmark
NWS/Flickr

3. Bergen and the fjords, Norway

Bergen looks like it was built for a photoshoot, but its beauty pales in comparison to the epic fjords nearby. You might find that the staggering views are rewarding enough (imagine soaring mountains reflected in mirror-smooth water), but otherwise there’s a whole host of adrenaline-pumping activities to keep you occupied. Anyone for paragliding?

Bergen harbour

Najwa Marafie/Flickr

4. StockholmSweden

Sprawling across low islands that are stitched together by passenger boats and bridges, with views of soaring spires around almost every corner, Stockholm sure is a looker. But beyond the medieval lanes of the old centre, the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia is a slick, forward-thinking city, home to some of the world’s coolest tech and fashion brands. It’s pricey and pretentious, sure, but there’s a reason young Swedes flock here from all four corners of the country.

Stockholm B&W

MacPepper/Flickr

5. LaplandNorway & Sweden

Wood-fired saunas, shivering forests, reindeer meat and steaming cups of lingonberry juice: Lapland manages to roll Scandinavia’s most exotic bits into a single epic landscape. Challenging weather conditions and the area’s vast size can make exploring a slow process, but with a long weekend you’ll be able to get a decent flavour for life in the north. Watch the northern lights, try ice fishing or snuggle down for a night at the Icehotel. Come back in summer when the sun reappears, nourishing the valleys with meltwater, and the possibilities for hiking are endless.

Lapland, Swedenimagea.org/Flickr

6. Copenhagen, Denmark

When it comes to art, design, fashion and food, no other Scandinavian city can compete with Copenhagen. Yes, Noma is here, but most visitors experience a more laidback version of the city, where bottles of Carlsberg are still swigged at canal-side bars, and where pushbikes – not limos – remain the favoured mode of transport. Give the famous Little Mermaid statue a miss, and instead make time for the galleries, food carts and design shops. A weekend here is barely enough to scratch the surface.

Copenhagen

Nico Trinkhaus/Flickr

7. Österlen, Sweden 

Home to rolling fields of poppies and cornflowers, rather than the usual dense pine forests, Österlen is the gorgeous chunk of land in the far southeast of Sweden. It’s one of the best parts of the country to explore by car, with farm shops and orchards sprouting up at the side of the road, and powder-fine beaches hugging the pristine coast. Head to Stenshuvud Nationalpark on a warm summer’s day, squint just a little, and you might think you’ve landed on some languid Thai island.

Österlen, SwedenSusanne Nilsson/Flickr

Explore more of Scandinavia with the Rough Guides to NorwaySweden and Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Ulf Bodin/Flickr.

Carved balconies like lace, swaggering villas in spacious gardens and an absurdly long pier. Who would have expected “Herring Village” to be so glitzy?

Indeed, who would have imagined such Bäderarchitektur (spa architecture) in a backwater like Usedom, a little-known island in the Baltic Sea?Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, Usedom island, Bansin town, beach with typical hooded beach chairs (Strandkorb)

Yet during the latter half of the nineteenth century, as German aristocracy went crazy for seawater spa cures, Heringsdorf and adjacent Ahlbeck morphed from fishing villages to become the St-Tropez of the Baltic.

When Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III began holidaying here, earning the villages their collective name Kaiserbäder (Emperor’s spas), the Prussian elite followed. Aristocrats and industrialists set aside six weeks every summer to wet an ankle in Badewanne Berlins (“Berlin’s bathtub”).
Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, Usedom island, Ahlbeck town, people at outdoors tables at the pier

You can almost smell the moustache wax along Delbrückstrasse in Heringsdorf. A des-res of its day, synonymous with status, the promenade is a glimpse of the Second Empire at the height of its pomp.

Mosaics glitter in the pediment of Neoclassical Villa Oechler at No. 5; it doesn’t stretch the imagination far to visualize the glittering garden balls hosted before the palatial colonnades of Villa Oppenheim, while the Kaiser himself took tea at Villa Staudt located at No. 6.

Beautiful architecture at Berlin's Usedom island, on the Baltic Sea. Only breeze-block architecture bequeathed by the GDR in the centre spoils things here – top apparatchiks built hotel blocks for workers and took the grand villas for themselves. Reunification has returned health cures and gloss to the resorts; Ahlbeck in particular has emerged as a stylish spa retreat for Berlin’s city slickers.

If you sit in a traditional Strandkörbe wicker seat, scrunching sugar-white sand between your toes – imperial villas on one side, Germans promenading continental Europe’s longest pier on the other – you’d be forgiven for thinking the Kaiserbäder are back to normal. Not quite.
Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern state, Usedom island, Ahlbeck town, lifeguard's cabin on sand dunes

Usedom has acquired a new reputation of late. In 2008 the world’s first nudist flights landed at its airport and a minor diplomatic spat occurred when Poles strolled across the newly dismantled border to see sizzling sausages of a very unexpected kind.

Sure, Freikörperkultur (literally “Free Body Culture”) is restricted to specified areas, but you can almost hear the Kaiser splutter into his Schnapps.

Make the most of your time on earthUsedom (kaiserbaeder-auf-usedom.de) is 2hr 30min by car or train from Berlin; change at Züssow to reach Heringsdorf and Ahlbeck by rail. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

There’s more to see in Canada’s most populated province than ice hockey, forests and freely flowing maple syrup – and some of it’s pretty weird. From the world’s largest Elvis Presley festival, to axe throwing ranges in Toronto, here are just a few things you didn’t know you could do in Ontario.

1. Drink Dead Elephant Ale while gazing at a dead elephant

On September 15, 1885 Jumbo the Elephant of the PT Barnum circus, the world’s first animal celebrity, was hit by a train and killed in St Thomas, Ontario. It made global headlines. Jumbo’s skeleton is on display at the New York Museum of Natural History and his ashes are interred at Tuft’s University. Thankfully, none of these remains are distilled in the Railway Brewing Company’s tribute. They boast a hoppy IPA in honour of Jumbo, dubbed Dead Elephant Ale, and an enormous statue of the deceased animal in front of their business. Cheers?

2. Lace up your blue suede shoes for the biggest Elvis Festival on Earth

Situated on the unlikely banks of Georgian Bay, the ski resort town of Collingwood hosts an Elvis-fest to end all Elvis-fests every summer. Impersonators with greasy pompadours and overwhelming sideburns flock here from around the globe with hopes of being crowned the next King of Rock ‘N’ Roll. Every venue in downtown Collingwood, plus the nearby hot spot of Blue Mountain resort, is practically crawling with Elvises. Whether the impersonators are bang on, or hilariously missing the mark, they’re a lot of fun to gawk at.

Media interviews Elvis impersonators at the biggest Elvis Festival in in the world, in Canada

Collingwood Elvis Festival by Jay Morrison (CC license)

3. Trim a few years off of your life with Dangerous Dan’s “Colossal Colon Clogger”

If gorging on local fast-food is your idea of a holiday then don’t miss Dangerous Dan’s, named after owner James’ grandfather, a wrestler notorious for his unhealthy diet. The Toronto restaurant is famous for its “Quadruple ‘C’ Combo” – a 24oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, two fried eggs, a side of poutine and a large milkshake. Be sure to leave room for a Double D cup dessert to hammer the final nail in your food coma coffin. Eat at your own risk.

4. Get sleepy in a tepee on Manitoulin Island

On beautiful Manitoulin Island’s M’Chigeeng Reserve lies a forest ringed campground with tepees, wigwams and a native longhouse. Here, at the Great Spirit Circle Trail, glampers can get back to nature in a luxury-enhanced tepees. Whether you want to hike, canoe, forage on a medicine walk or take on a horseback tour into the Manitoulin wilderness, this is a wonderful way to learn a bit about the rich cultures of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

5. Channel your inner lumberjack

The West Coast Lumberjacks didn’t win Canada’s Got Talent for nothing. Showcasing thrilling exhibitions of wood wizardry such as log rolling, chainsaw carving and axe throwing, they keep all audiences enthralled with superhuman skills. Catch a performance at Wonderland Amusement Park just outside of Toronto during the summer months, or at the Ontario Lumberjack Competition at Brechin in June. Feeling inspired? Channel your inner lumberjack at BATL, Toronto’s very own axe throwing range.

Axe throwing range at BATL Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Axe throwing at BATL by Tibor Kovacs (CC license)

6. Retrace the footsteps of a prepubescent Justin Bieber in his hometown of Stratford

150km east of Toronto is the pretty little theatre town of Stratford, the site of Justin Bieber’s nativity. Yes, musical superstar Bieber’s talent was birthed and nurtured in this very place. For hardcore ‘Beliebers’, sitting on the steps of the Avon Theatre, where Justin used to busk, will no doubt be a holy pilgrimage of sorts. This self-guided tour also features the pizza parlour where Bieber has been known to give autographs and the City Hall where he recorded his first song.

7. Relax with a restorative ‘Stitch n’ Bitch’

Nothing is more therapeutic than the intricate needlework involved in knitting and crocheting. Except, perhaps, getting everything off your chest while you’re at it. The Knit Café in Toronto’s hip west-end not only offers drop-in sessions for beginners up to advanced students but is a great hang-out, with “Stich n’ Bitch meetups every Tuesday. By far, the most relaxing part of any session is the chat.

8. Break bread with Old Order Mennonites in St. Jacob’s Country

North of Toronto is a stunning rural area where farms are nestled among undulating hills. This countryside is home to twenty different sects of Mennonites, and on any given day you can see these farmers’ traditional horse-drawn buggies trundling along the roads. The village of St Jacob’s is home to St Jacob’s Mennonite Church, where there is a potluck supper open to visitors every Sunday at 5:30pm; a perfect opportunity to learn about the locals residents, many of whom still eschew the conveniences of modern technology, electricity included.

Mennonite horse and buggy near St. Jacobs OntarioOntario Mennonites by Zhu (CC license)

Explore more of Canada with the Rough Guide to CanadaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Lynn stayed with the Westin Trillium House Hotel, Blue Mountain, prices from $159 (low season) and $199 (high season). 

There’s nowhere quite like Scotland. This epic land of mighty mountains, plunging glens and surging rivers offers a sweep of experiences that you just cannot find anywhere else.

If you’ve ever wanted to have your own kilt fitted, canoe down a river fuelled by a wee dram or hop on Europe’s only scheduled flight to land on an Atlantic beach, then read on…

1. Get your kilt on

Forget the wafer-thin tartan tat that tourist shops churn out in Edinburgh’s Old Town. These are indeed just patterned skirts. If you want a proper kilt you’ll need to pay for it – but it should last a lifetime.

Edinburgh tailors like Geoffrey Tailor offer the full service. Ideally, you want an eight-yard kilt made in full weight, 16/17oz worsted. They will measure you up, talk you through the tartans and let you know about all the add ons like a sporran or a sgian dhu (basically a lethal knife you stuff down your socks).

Tartans, ScotlandTartans by Gitta Zahn via Flickr (CC license)

2. Take Europe’s most surreal flight

That is right. Hop on Flybe’s propeller plane (operated by Scottish island specialist airline Loganair) and about an hour later – after one of the most scenic flights of your life – you bash down right on to the sands of Traigh Mhor on the remote Hebridean isle of Barra.

Once you’re down, you can even enjoy garlic cockles freshly picked from the runway. Surreal does not cover it.

Plane, Barra, ScotlandPlane landing, Barra airport by Colin Moss via Flickr (CC license)

3. Soak in a hot tub in the heather

Forget bubbling away with bubbly in a hot tub. In Scotland it’s all about relaxing with a cosy wee dram. Its best savoured on a freezing cold night, when your hair turns to ice and stars explode above like you have never seen them before.

We recommend the hot tubs at self-catering escapes like Roulotte Retreat, Mains of Taymouth and Kilfinan House.

Whisky, ScotlandNever! by Mark Rowland via Flickr (CC license)

4. Bag a munro

Up for a hillwalking challenge? This bizarre craze sees devotees “bag” Munros, or mountains over 3000ft-high, by hiking their way up to the top.

Sir Hugh Munro is the man to blame for first putting together the list of peaks, which currently stands at 284. The record for completing them all is an improbable 40 days – good luck!

UK, Great Britain, Scotland, Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Monument in Scottish highlands

5. Paddle through whisky country

Scotland is serious whisky country and you can’t leave without sampling the nation’s famous spirit. But for a real experience to remember – take to the water.

Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey offers a unique Canadian canoe trip down a stretch of Scotland’s fastest flowing river, the Spey, where distilleries dot the banks.

This is thirsty work, but luckily Dave is on hand to offer a wee dram midstream and then a private tasting by a roaring fire in his home afterwards.

River Spey, ScotlandRiver Spey by Dave Conner via Flickr (CC license)

6. Spot the “Big Five”

Stick with us here, but you don’t have to go on safari to spot the Big Five – Scotland has its very own: red deer (the UK’s largest land mammal), golden eagles, otters, red squirrels and common seals.

To tick off sightings of all five, check out new small cruise operator Argyll Cruising, who offer wildlife cruises on their seven-berth ship, Splendour.

Red Deer stag running, ScotlandImage by Alamy: Colin Leslie

7. Celebrate Hogmanay

The Scots don’t do New Year: they celebrate Hogmanay. This gloriously nefarious extravaganza has its roots deep in the country’s mysterious pagan past. It’s such a party that the entire country takes January 2nd off as well as New Year’s Day.

The epicentre of the action is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, which goes on for days before and after the big night.

Elsewhere look out for the Comrie Flambeaux fire festival in Perthshire and the Stonehaven Fireballs Festival, both spectacular events that kick off the new year with a serious and uniquely Scottish bang.

Great Britain, Scotland, Edinburgh, fireworks over city during Hogmanay celebrations

Explore more of Scotland with the Rough Guide to ScotlandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

The world’s longest glass-bottomed walkway opened in China‘s Hunan province last week, after the old wooden panels of the Haohan Qiao suspension bridge were replaced with transparent glass frames.

Towering 180 meters over a scenic canyon in Shiniuzhai Geopark, the structure is billed as a walk for thrill-seekers and nature buffs alike.

But is it safe? Though the first batch of tourists on site said they could feel the bridge wobbling beneath them, the 11 engineers who built the Haohan Qiao swear by the bridge’s solidity. Each glass frame is 24mm thick and 25 times stronger than your average window pane. Engineers even installed thin steel beams to ensure that if the glass were to shatter, walkers wouldn’t actually fall through.
Glass Suspension Bridge, Hunan, China

But if you’re walking for the bragging rights, remember that this is just the latest of China’s increasingly popular glass-bottomed tourist attractions.

An even longer and taller glass-bottomed bridge is set to open in Hunan’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon later this year (measuring an extreme 300 meters high and 430 meters long). Here’s hoping that one feels a little less wobbly.

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