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?

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.

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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.

Ask anyone who’s ever travelled solo, and they probably wouldn’t want to adventure any other way. It might be daunting at first, and it’s certainly simpler for some people than it is for others. But spending time alone on the road is among the most rewarding travel experiences out there.

Whether it’s a long trip around the world or a habit of solitary weekend jaunts, here are 10 things everybody learns while travelling alone:

1. You always return home with lots of new friends

Ever noticed that you’re more likely to ask one person for directions than you are to ask a group of people? Solos are more approachable, plain and simple. Lone travellers learn that the benefits of this are twofold: not only will other travellers feel far more comfortable introducing themselves to you, but it’s actually easier for you to strike up conversation with others as well.

2. You can engage with locals on a level that only solo travellers can

You know that local folks are more open, and definitely more curious, when it’s only you walking into that hole-in-the-wall café, or sampling the pungent flavours of that roadside food stall. From a heartfelt conversation on a rickety train, to suddenly having a network of genial families happy to host you for a night, you know none of these incredible experiences would have been possible if you’d been travelling with others.  

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3. You’re free to adventure as you please, and it feels awesome

There is no need to compromise when travelling alone. No need to appease a friend’s unfortunate craving for an overpriced burger and fries, or their incessant complaints about mosquito bites in a jungle where you’re on travel cloud 9. As a lonesome wanderer you travel where you want, when and however you want to – all with a liberating degree of indulgence.

4. You gain a deep understanding of the destinations you’ve visited

Travelling solo, you’re more immersed in your surroundings. You notice the unique quirks, and subtle character that truly makes a place what it is. But walk around the same street chatting with an old friend, and your mind is often immersed elsewhere.

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5. There is something liberating about travelling to a place where no one knows you

For some, travelling alone is like a fresh start. Or a temporary escape from the life-baggage you’re forced to lug around back home. That’s not to say you’re a different person when abroad, but you may notice how much that therapeutic anonymity has changed you by the time you return home.

6. Alone time is healthy and we rarely get enough of it

Time spent alone and unplugged forces you to really reflect on your life back home, your recent experiences on the road and the direction things are headed. Some of those thoughts aren’t always pleasant to deal with, but solo travellers know that even if solitude is a struggle at times, they’re stronger because of it.

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7. Distance makes you appreciate the important people in your life

Distance makes you appreciate the people who matter most in your life back home. Especially those you’ve taken for granted. Far away and alone, you’re reminded to make the most of every second with loved ones when you return.

8. Distance teaches you that some people who you thought were important, really aren’t

The same distance can also make you realise that some people in your life aren’t quite as important as you thought they were. Be they a bad influence, a toxic love or a fair-weather friend, it’s not always a welcome realisation. But it’s usually for the best.

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9. When you’re a little lonely, you’ll get more creative

Whether it’s journaling, drawing, philosophising or brainstorming future entrepreneurial endeavours, solo travellers are usually forced to find new expressive ways to amuse themselves when there’s no conversation (or wi-fi). You might have even stumbled upon your vocation.

10. Sometimes it’s fun to pretend you’re the only tourist in the world

Isn’t that really what every solo traveller secretly wants, to boldly go where no-one has gone before?

But let’s be honest for a second: very rarely are we ever as intrepid or adventurous as we’d like to imagine ourselves.Still, when you’re the only tourist on that bush bus to nowhere there’s a thrilling fantasy that plays out in your mind as you watch a new world go by out the window – and solo travellers know that feeling is addictive, and stays with you for the rest of your life.

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Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Bolivia brims with unique and barely-visited landscapes and cultures. It offers everything from the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, to the Parque Nacional Madidi – one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, plus a wealth of ancient indigenous customs and traditions.

But despite this plethora of attractions, the country rarely features top of most travellers’ South American itineraries.

So could there be some truth in Bolivia’s reputation as the world’s least friendly tourist destination? In 2013, Bolivia ranked last globally for the “attitude of population towards foreign visitors”. That year the country received only 800,000 international visitors compared to 5.6 million in neighbouring Argentina.

We think this captivating country has just been misinterpreted. Here, Steph Dyson, winner of our writing competition, tells us why you need to make time for South America’s most misunderstood destination.

South America, Bolivia, High PlainsImage by Barnabas Kindersley (c) Dorling Kindersley

Misconception #1: given that ranking, the local people won’t be friendly

Visitors may find themselves ignored in the market, or frustrated as they struggle to be understood in basic transactions. But this unresponsiveness – sometimes bordering on rudeness – stems from the fact that many people do not speak Spanish as their native tongue.

Instead, over half of the population speaks one of the indigenous languages – Quechua or Aymara, with Spanish as a secondary language.

In addition to this language barrier, poor quality English teaching has resulted in few Bolivians being equipped with the linguistic skills to communicate with English-speaking tourists.

Unless you’ve invested time into learning key phrases, you may be met with a lack of patience, masking the warmth and kindness of the majority of the people you will encounter.

Market, Sucre, BoliviaMercado de Sucre by Cristian Ordenes via Flickr (cc license)

Misconception #2: you’re likely to get robbed

We all hear the anecdotes, or read the warnings on the travel forums. But let’s face it: we’re far more likely to share sour experiences from our trips than how safe we felt throughout.

In the de facto capital La Paz, stepping outside of the tourist hotspots or hopping onto public transport is one of the best ways of exploring the city. However, many tourists work themselves into such a frenzy that they stick to the centre and the sanitised – and ludicrously expensive – tourist transport. This starves travellers of a real insight into Bolivia.

As with all big cities in South America – and indeed across the world – due caution and awareness of your surroundings is your best protection. But locals here will often look out for you, kindly reminding you to keep your bag close or warning you of potential scams. Taking heed of this advice, as well as taking basic precautions, will increase your feeling of safety.

Bear in mind, despite perceptions, that the overall crime rating of Bolivia is actually lower than neighbouring Peru.

La Paz, BoliviaCity view of La Paz by Jimmy Harris via Flickr (cc license)

Misconception #3: it could be difficult to travel

Tourism is underdeveloped in Bolivia – but the country rewards adventurous souls, offering the rawness lost in more seasoned tourist destinations.

Travel in the larger cities along the well-etched tourist trail is rarely difficult, with many companies now recognising the need for English-speaking staff.

In rural areas, you’ll need some grasp of Spanish, although this shouldn’t put you off. Bolivian Spanish is one of the easiest to understand due to its clarity and speed, and taking a few classes before you travel – or spending a week or two studying in stunning Sucre – will give you the best chance to get the most from your time in Bolivia.

Fundamentally, what visitors must understand is that the development of tourism is hindered by the fact that many Bolivian people cannot yet see its benefits. Few companies work with or directly profit small communities, meaning that tourism may appear an invasion into local peoples’ lives, rather than a means of earning money to support community development.

You can help to change this: take tours run by companies who promote responsible, local tourism, such as Condor Trekkers in Sucre. This will ensure your legacy is positive, helping communities to use tourism constructively for their own needs.

These tours will also guarantee a more positive reception during your travels, and give you a closer understanding of the indigenous and Andean traditions maintained by the Bolivian people.

Salt Flats, Uyuni, Boliva.Image by Dreamstime.com: Laumerle

So what does this mean for you?

Bolivia offers incredible rewards to travellers who ignore its past reputation. Its diverse range of landscapes is mind-blowing, and the country is packed with ancient landmarks – from the birthplace of the Inca dynasty to one of the cradles of Andean civilization.

You will discover a population who – despite what you might hear – are friendly and welcoming. Most importantly, travellers who go the extra mile will discover how hospitable Bolivians really are.

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

If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, start your engines. From the sunny shores of Portugal to the darkest dungeons of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, the following itineraries can be easily combined, shortened or altered to suit your wayfaring tastes. Here are 10 of the best road trips in Europe.

1. From the glamour and glitz of Paris to the glorious grit of Berlin

Leaving Paris, cruise through the gentle hills of Champagne and Reims to the quaint capital of Luxembourg City, and explore the country’s plethora of fairy-tale castles.

Trier, Germany’s oldest city, is less than an hour’s drive further north-east, where ancient Roman baths and basilicas stand marvellously intact.

Spend a night in the medieval village of Bacharach in Riesling wine country, before wandering the riverside streets of Heidelberg. Onward to Nuremberg, and then to Leipzig for a strong dose of hot caffeine with your Cold War history, classical music and cake.

Detour to Dresden, restored after ruinous bombing in WWII, before ending in one of Europe’s coolest cities: the creative paradise of Berlin.

Alternatively, try starting your engines in London and taking the ferry to France, transforming this road trip into a pilgrimage between Europe’s holy trinity of artistic hubs. 

Best for: Culture vultures looking for bragging rights.
How long: 1–2 weeks.
Insider tip: If you’re driving in France, you’ll legally need to keep safety equipment (a reflective vest and hazard signal). Additionally, keep spare Euros in your wallet to pay the occasional French road toll on the way.

Ausflug nach Luxembourg Wolfgang Staudt/Flickr

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Begin in Bilbao, where the nearby villages boast some of the world’s best surf, and drive along the Atlantic to San Sebastian: watersports wonderland and foodie heaven. Then venture south through the rugged wilderness of the Pyrenees to Pamplona. Ascend onwards to the Roncesvalles Pass before looping back to the coast. Or continue along the Bay of Biscay to the attractive seaside resort of St-Jean-de-Luz.

Travellers with a little extra money lining their pockets will be happy to spend days lingering on boho beaches in Biarritz, while those looking for gargantuan swell can do no better than the surfer hangouts in Hossegor.

Finish the trip northward in Bordeaux, “the Pearl of the Aquitaine”, where café-strewn boulevards and world-class wines are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Insider tip: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

Bordeaux, FranceYann Texier/Flickr

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Kick off in the city of Bergen, on Norway’s southwest coast, and make way past mighty fjords to Voss and the colossal Tvindefossen waterfall. Then check the world’s longest road tunnel off your to-do list, a cavernous 24.5km route under the mountains.

Catch a quick ferry across the Sognefjord and carry on to the Fjaler valleys, a land of glaciers and snowy mountain peaks, to the waterside towns of Stryn or the mountain village Videster.

Work your way northward to the well-touristed towns of Geiranger, down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansund. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its roller-coaster-style bridges, and conclude with some well-deserved downtime upon the still waters and stilted homes of Trondheim.

Best for: Thrill seekers and landscape junkies.
How long:
3–7 days.
Insider tip:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

8983387461_471cff8b6c_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest to Vienna

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, and make a mandatory stop at Bran Castle (claimed to be the old stomping grounds of Dracula himself).

Take the Transfagarasan mountain road, one of the most incredibly beautiful routes in the world, towards the age-old cities and countless castles of Sibu, Brasov and Sighisoara. Then set course to the unexplored architectural gems of Timisoara.

Carry on towards the tranquil baths and hip ruin pubs of bustling Budapest, and be prepared to stay at least a few days. Depart for Bratislava – a capital full of surprises – from where it’s only an hour further to the coffeehouses and eclectic architecture of Vienna.

Best for: Anyone looking for a break from the conventional tourism of western Europe.
How long: 7–12 days.
Insider tip: Exercise caution when driving through tunnels. Though the weather outside may be fine, tunnels are often slippery.

8429373280_67a6c3d7fe_oMichael Newman/Flickr

5. To Portugal and beyond

Start in Braga, before driving south to the medieval town of Guimarães, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breathtaking “second-city” of Porto, though it’s nothing less than first-rate.

Drive east to the vineyards and steep valleys of Penafiel and Amarante before hitting the coastal road to the vast white beaches of Figueira da Foz. From here it’s on to Peniche, Ericeira and then Lisbon: the country’s vibrant capital that’s on course to beat out Berlin for Europe’s coolest city.

Drive south to Sagres, Arrifana and Carrapateira. After soaking up the sun on the picturesque shores of the Algarve, wrap this road trip up in the Mediterranean dreamland otherwise known as Faro.

But if you’ve still got itchy feet when you reach Faro, take the ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Morocco. Imagine the satisfaction of parking your ride in the desert village of Merzouga, before exploring the Sahara – that’s right, it would feel awesome.

Best for: Beach bums and oenophiles.
How long: At least 10–14 days.
Insider tip: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for travellers on a budget.

14282745865_37f8214526_oChris Ford/Flickr

6. High-altitude adventure on Germany‘s Alpine Road

The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, is your ticket to a bonafide Bavarian odyssey: a safe route through the unforgettable vistas of Germany’s high-altitude meadows, mountains, crystal-clear lakes and cosy village restaurants. Start lakeside at Lindau and head to Oberstaufen if you fancy a therapeutic beauty treatment in the country’s “capital of wellness”.

Venture eastwards to the Breitachklamm gorge, where the river Breitach cuts through verdant cliffs and colossal boulders. Carry on to the town of Füssen – famous for its unparalleled violin makers – stopping along the way at any quaint Alpine villages you please. The iconic Neuschwanstein Castle, the same structure that inspired Walt Disney to build his own version for Cinderella, isn’t far off either.

Hit the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen if the season’s right. Stop at Benediktbeuern on your way to the medieval town of Bad Tölz, then up through the stunning wilderness scenes of the Chiemgau Alps before ending in the regional capital of Munich. If you’re missing the mountain roads already, carry on to Salzburg and stop in the ice caves of Werfen on the way.

Best for: Outdoorsy types.
How long: 3–8 days.

19728031982_ea351f1379_oHoward Ignatius/Flickr

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

Start in Athens and take the coastal roads south through the Athenian Riviera to Sounion, situated at the tip the Attic peninsula. Watch a sunset at the Temple of Posseidon, then drive northward through mythic mountains to the fortress of Kórinthos before posting up in the legendary city of Mycenae (home of Homeric heroes).

If you’re craving a luxurious seaside stay, look no further than the resort town of Náfplio. If not, carry onwards through the unforgiving landscapes to Mystra, the cultural and political capital of Byzantium.

Feet still itching? Then it’s on to Olympia, sporting grounds of the ancients, and the mystic ruins of Delphi. Loop back towards Athens, approaching the city from the north.

Best for: Sun-worshipers, and anyone who’s ever read Homer or watched overly action-packed flicks such as Troy and 300.
How long: 5–10 days, though it’s easy to trim a version of this road trip down to a long weekend.

19338893149_fc29514d3e_kNikos Patsiouris/Flickr

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Leave the hectic pace of England’s capital behind. Make for Oxford, home of the world’s oldest English-language university, and a place of storied pubs where the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Lewis Carrol regularly wrote and wet their whistles.

If you’ve got the time, it’s a quick drive to the cottages of the Cotswolds. If not, cruise up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.

Take the two-and-a-half-hour drive north to Manchester for a city fix and watch a football match, then head to the quirky medieval lanes of York, walled-in by the ancient romans nearly 2000 years ago.

Press on to the Lake District National Park. Drink in the scenery that inspired England’s finest romantics, before making your way past tiny villages to the majestic wonders of Edinburgh. If you’re craving the rugged comforts of the highlands go to Stirling, Inverness, or the Western Isles – worth the drive indeed.

Best for: Locals that want to feel like foreigners, and foreigners that want to feel like locals.
How long: 5–10 days.

8663584897_ee256a5ff7_k Andy Smith/Flickr

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria 

Hit the gas in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the biggest historic centre in Italy after Rome and arguably the country’s most chaotic metropolis.

Adventure onwards along the Tyrrhenian coast to the golden sands of Cefalù – a great holiday spot for families, with a mellow medieval town centre to boot.

Get to the island’s heartland and the ancient city of Enna. Surrounded by cliffs on all sides, and built atop a massive hill, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked on the set of Game of Thrones. Head southeast to the shores of the Ionian Sea and dock in Siracusa, once the most important in the western world while under ancient Greek rule with much of its historic architecture intact.

Then it’s up to Catania for a trip to molten Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano on the entire European continent.

Finish the trip in Messina, or ferry across into the Italian province of Calabria where rustic mountain villages, friendly locals and the idyllic sands of Tropea and Pizzo await – refreshingly void of foreigners.

Best for: Anyone looking for a truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

Catania and Mt EtnaBob Travis/Flickr

The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget For more information about travelling through Europe, check out The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

Go to Venice or Amsterdam, and you can hardly cross a street without tumbling into a canal. In London, you have to dig deeper.

You’re looking for the Regent’s Canal, which stretches from chichi Maida Vale to Thames-side Limehouse, and cutting past London Zoo’s aviaries, Camden’s pop kids, Islington restaurants and Hackney high-rises on its way.

Built in the early nineteenth century to connect London’s docks with the Grand Union Canal to Birmingham, its traffic was almost entirely lost to truck and rail by the 1950s. Now (mostly) cleaned up, the canal and its tributaries are a wonderfully novel way to delve into a compelling, overexposed city.

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The canals by CGP Grey via Flickr (CC license)

Part of the canal’s allure is down to its submerged nature: much of its length is below street level, hidden by overgrown banks.

Spend time by the water’s edge and you feel utterly removed from the road and rail bridges above. When the route rises up or spews you back onto the street momentarily, you catch a brief glimpse of people seemingly oblivious to the green serpent that stretches across their city.

14138354473_73d197784a_oLondon waterbus by Markus Jalmerot via Flickr (CC license)

It’s not all idyllic: for every lovely patch of reeds or drifting duck, there’s a bobbing beer can or the unmistakable judder of traffic. Stroll the busier stretches on a summer Sunday, when the walkers, cyclists and barges are out, and the canal can feel more like a major thoroughfare than an escape route.

But this is a dynamic, breathing space: its energy is what makes it so vital, and makes the moments of quiet feel so special. There are countless highlights: the spire of St Pancras station, soaring over a surprisingly secluded corner near revitalized King’s Cross; Mile End’s picturesque nature reserve; and the bridges and wharfs that connect Limehouse to the Isle of Dogs.

17022682165_2c79631655_kLittle Venice by Davide D’Amico via Flickr (CC license)

The poet Paul Verlaine thought the isle’s vast docks and warehouses classical in their majesty, calling them “astonishing…Tyre and Carthage all rolled in to one”. Turned into smart flats or left to crumble, they are no longer the heartbeat of an industrial nation, but with their forgotten corners and fascinating history, they definitely still feel magical.

Make the most of your time on earth

Good tube stops from which to explore the canal include Warwick Avenue, Camden Town, Angel, Mile End and Limehouse. The London Canal Museum, 12–13 New Wharf Rd (canalmuseum.org.uk), is also worth a look. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

 

Pakistan is a country filled with unexpected highlights. Contrary to many preconceptions, its borders hold soaring mountains, glassy lakes and intricately-decorated mosques.

Our video of the week gives an insight into Pakistani life. In this 2-minute clip, film-maker Umar Bhutta returns to his homeland, travelling from north to south, visiting five cities and mile-upon-mile of stunningly beautiful countryside along the way.

“It is my hope that one day, very soon, it will be commonplace for all of you too, to visit this beautiful country” he says, “[to] experience the delicious dishes, the overwhelming culture and the gracious people, and have an unforgettable journey of your own.”


Pakistan in 2 Minutes from Umar Bhutta on Vimeo.

Check the latest advice from your country’s embassy or consulate before travelling to Pakistan. 

Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Alastair Humphreys is the pioneer of the microadventure. Greg Dickinson caught up with him to discuss walking around London’s M25, cycling around the planet and the joys of sleeping in a bivvy bag.

How did your life as an adventurer begin?

I started as a normal person who wanted to have a big adventure. When I was 24 I set off to cycle around the world. I had just finished university and I realised it was a perfect chance to go before real life got in the way.

When I got back I wanted to write a book about it, so to fund my life I started doing talks at schools and got paid a bit. Then I started to think… hey, maybe I can make adventure my life.

 Bicycle by the sea

In ten words, what exactly is a microadventure?

Just an adventure, but one that is compatible with busy real life.

That was 12 but we’ll let you off. How did you come up with the idea?

I started to realise that more people love the idea of adventures than those who actually go out and do the adventuring themselves. It’s partly down to laziness, but it’s also down to real life things getting in the way: like a lack of time, lack of money, lack of experience.

I wanted to show that you could still have adventures around those constraints. If you’re unable to spend four years cycling around the world, it’s better to go cycling for the weekend than to do absolutely nothing at all.

Microadventerer Alastair Humphreys camps under the stars

What is the “5 to 9” microadventure?

If you try to think of a trip that’s too big and too complicated it often just doesn’t happen. So I came up with the idea of leaving work at 5, having a microadventure and then going back to the office the next day.

If you go and do that once, you then realise it’s much easier to go and have a weekend trip. Then you start to get a bit of momentum, and before you know it you’re speaking to your boss requesting an extended chunk of annual leave.

Suit hanigng in tree, Alastair Humphreys

What was your first microadventure?

The thing that changed everything for me was when I walked a lap of the M25. I did it with a friend in January when it was snowy and cold. We would hop over the fence beyond the hard shoulder and walk in the fields, woods, towns and villages adjacent to the motorway.

I was really surprised by quite how much I enjoyed it, and how many similarities the trip had with something like cycling around the world; going to new places, meeting new people, doing something challenging, finding beautiful places to sleep. It was a really stupid thing to do, but I was trying to show that you can find adventure and wilderness anywhere, even in the most unlikely of spots.

What was your favourite microadventure to date?

One of my favourite microadventures was last summer. Trying to find time to see your friends becomes quite difficult; even when they live on the other side of London it’s a struggle. So quite a few of us who now live in different places – London, Kent, Bristol, Cheltenham – all agreed to meet on a hill in the middle of the Cotswolds one summer’s evening for sunset.

People finished work, we climbed the hill, rendezvoused for sunset, had food and a couple of drinks, slept on the hill in a bivvy bag and disappeared the next morning back to work.

So tell us, what’s it really like sleeping in a bivvy bag?

Sleeping in a tent out in the wild is quite fun, but once you’ve tried a bivvy bag you realise that a tent is just a really crap version of being indoors. If you want to be properly outside then a bivvy bag does the job; when you wake in the night you see the stars overhead. It’s cheap, simple, light to carry, it’s not a hassle, it’s easy to pack away when you get home and it’s a bit silly. Unless it rains, in which case they’re miserable. Or if there are midges…

Microadventure with Alastair Humphreys

What else is on the essential microadventure kit list?

The kit is so simple. Sleeping bag, warm clothes, rain clothes, bivvy bag, camping mat, torch, food and water – and any luxury items you feel will make things more enjoyable.

Cycling in England

What have you learnt about the UK since you started going on microadventures?

I’ve learnt so much about the UK. Before I started going on microadventures I was excited about travelling the world. I loved far-off wild places and thought Britain was a bit boring and small. But I’ve discovered that the variety of landscapes in the UK is truly amazing.

The mountains are really big, wild and beautiful but they’re also so tiny that anybody can go up them. From thinking of the UK as being a rubbish place for an adventurous person to live, I now absolutely love it. That’s been a real revelation for me.

Lakes in Great Britain

What would you say to convince someone to go on a microadventure?

The first step is putting a date in the diary. If you’re the sort of person who’s a bit lazy and wimps out of stuff, then recruit a friend so you can chivvy each other on. Next, find a plan that is really unambitious so you’ll actually do it.

If you find it difficult to motivate yourself for an adventure then I’d advocate just sleeping in your garden for one night, just to remind yourself what it’s like to see the stars and hear the birdsong.

Got the microadventure bug? For more ideas, listen to Episode 6 of The Rough Guide to Everywhere podcast. We talk to Alastair about his latest microadventures and our very own editor and Rough Guide to Everywhere host, Greg Dickinson, tries it out for himself.

Alastair blogs about his adventures and microadventures on www.alastairhumphreys.com. His highly acclaimed book, Microadventures, can be ordered through his website (UK) or on Amazon.

Photos by Alastair Humphreys

With the new university year about to start, ABTA (the UK’s largest travel association, representing travel agents and tour operators) have revealed the top 10 gap year destinations for 2015.

This year’s list doesn’t come with many surprises. New Zealand has pushed Thailand out of the number two spot and Vietnam has jumped into fifth position – but Australia remains the most popular.

Interestingly, the balance between budget-friendly destinations, such as Thailand and India, and more expensive countries like the USA and Canada is quite even. This may be a reflection of the kind the gap years people are looking for. “Although a gap year still represents an opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves, increasing numbers of gappers are looking to gap year specialists to provide them with opportunities to gain work experience”, ABTA say.

Other trends they highlight are a move to adventure gap years oriented around trekking, biking and rafting, and the popularity of volunteering trips – from hands-on environmental work to aid panda conservation in China to teaching English in Ecuador.

Here’s the full list – click through for our top experiences in each country

1. Australia
2. New Zealand
3. USA
4. Peru
5. Vietnam
6. Thailand
7. Canada
8. Brazil
9. Argentina
10. India

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you’ll get more bang for your buck. From Greece to Guatemala, here are 20 places you can visit without breaking the bank.

1. Thailand

There’s a reason why Thailand remains so popular with backpackers – it’s got idyllic islands, a rich culture, beach-huts aplenty, tantalising cuisine and adventures galore, and all available at often staggeringly low prices. Despite the well-trodden routes through the country, it’s not hard to get away from the crowds – check out Nakhon Si Thammarat for some of the very best food the country has to offer, or hire a motorbike to make the 600km trip along the Mae Hong Son Loop through the forested northern mountains.

Read our tips for backpacking Thailand and travelling solo in Thailand before you go.

Thailand

2. South Africa

One of the great things about travelling in South Africa is that it’s possible to have a safari experience here – complete with the Big Five – without encountering a budget-breaking bill. Head to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi to see white rhino and to avoid the crowds of Kruger, to the Drakensberg for superlative hiking, and don’t forget to factor in at least a few days in amazing Cape Town.

Start planning your trip with our list of the best road trips across the country.

South Africa

3. Vietnam

Despite a remarkable rate of change over the decades since the end of the American War, Vietnam remains amazing value for Western visitors. The country’s greatest attraction is its sublime countryside, from the limestone karsts of the north to the waterways and paddy fields of the Mekong Delta, with blissful beaches and frenetic cities crammed in between.

Then there’s the cuisine – pull up a stool at a pho stall and for only a couple of dollars you’ll eating some of the best food on offer, shoulder to shoulder with the locals.

Check out our 9 tips for backpacking Vietnam and discover how to get off  the tourist trail before you go.

Vietnam

4. Uruguay

If you’ve already visited Brazil and Argentina, or are just looking for a better value destination, head instead to neighbouring Uruguay. You’ll be relieved to hear you can still find excellent steak here; plus, there plenty of lovely beaches to choose from – head to Cabo Polonio for quieter sands and abundant wildlife – and the gorgeous old capital of Montevideo.

Want to learn more? You’ll find all the information you need to plan a budget trip in our Snapshot Guide to Uruguay.

Uruguay

5. Cuba

Since relations between Cuba and the US started rapidly warming up, there’s never been a better time to visit this Caribbean island. Go now before it changes beyond recognition – and before the prices start to go up and up even more. Hit the salsa clubs of Havana, get caught up in the heady July carnival of Santiago, or dip your toes in the warm Caribbean at Varadero Beach – whatever you do, you’ll find it hard not to leave utterly intoxicated.

Get started with these 12 tips for backpacking Cuba.

Cuba

6. Prague, Czech Republic

Despite being firmly on the tourist – not to mention bachelor party – trail these days, Prague remains one of Europe’s cheapest capital cities to visit. For just a few Czech Crowns you can enjoy a hearty meal, washed down with decent local beer, of course. The city itself is a beauty, crammed full of history and perfect for leisurely explorations by foot.

Want to explore more of Europe on the cheap? Check out The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

Prague, Czech Republic

7. Greece

Don’t be put off Greece by the country’s ongoing economic crisis – if anything, the financial situation is all the more reason to travel here and to support the local people. The situation does mean that prices are still cheaper than they once were, and that means that you might be able to squeeze an extra island or two into your itinerary. Pay by credit card in advance, but take enough cash with you for your travels, and you’re pretty much guaranteed an amazing trip.

Read these 11 tips by Nick Edwards, co-author of The Rough Guide to Greece, before you go.

Greece

8. Guatemala

It’s hard not to fall under the spell of Guatemala and its compelling mix of natural beauty, Maya traditions and colonial legacies. Rock-bottom prices make this one of the best places to study Spanish; once your linguistic skills are up to scratch, jump onto one of the country’s famous camionetas or “chicken buses” to explore, soak up the sights of graceful Antigua, or be wowed by the monumental Maya temples of Tikal.

It’s easy to extend your trip to see more of Central America, too. Check out The Rough Guide to Central America on a Budget for advice, and also discover why you shouldn’t rush through Guatemala City.

Guatemala

9. Bulgaria

Often unfairly overlooked, Bulgaria has a lot to offer budget travellers – not least some of the most deserted beaches in Europe, at bargain prices. In addition to its appealing coastline, there’s also lots of lovely old towns, including Varna on the coast and ancient Plovdiv, and a number of dramatic mountain ranges that are perfect for exploration on foot or by bike.

Bulgaria

10. India

India remains one of the ultimate destinations for budget travellers – there are few countries where you can still travel so extensively and eat so well for so little. If you’re after a beach break, eschew Goa for the gorgeous beaches of the temple town of Gokarna; for amazing food, it’s hard to beat the puris and kebabs of Mumbai’s street stalls; or head to the Golden City of Jaisalmer from where you can explore the seemingly endless sands of the Thar Desert.

Need more inspiration? Discover the most romantic places in India, check out our favourite places off the tourist trail and find out what it was like to write the first ever Rough Guide to the country.

India

11. Portugal

Portugal remains one of the best bargains in Western Europe, and is especially worth considering if you want to avoid the more crowded resorts and cities of Spain. Skip the Algarve for the ruggedly beautiful Alentejo (with its cheap, fresh seafood) and vibrant, uber cool Lisbon; and don’t forget to put enough euros aside for a pastéis de belém (custard tart) or two.

If you’re not sure where to start, read our top tips for travelling in Portugal and discover the best of Lisbon’s food scene.

Portugal

12. Bolivia

One of the cheapest countries in South America, Bolivia is also one of it’s most misunderstood. Travelling here may be a little uncomfortable at times, but it’s more than worth it for the wealth of amazing sights on offer. Top of the list is undoubtedly the astounding Salar de Uyuni salt flats, a two or three day tour of which will usually set you back less than £100/$150.

Get The Rough Guide to South America on a Budget to start planning your trip, and be sure to include at least one of these beautiful journeys across the country.

Bolivia

13. Mexico

Your budget will definitely stretch to tacos and tequila aplenty in Mexico – which is great news as there’s a lot of ground to cover in this vibrant country. Whether you want to string your hammock up along dazzling white sands, sample some of the country’s best street food in Oaxaca or cool off in a crystal-clear cenote (sinkhole), the country will leave you eager to come back for more.

To kick-start your wanderlust, these are 12 of our favourite places to visit – and here’s why Tijuana should be on your radar.

Mexico

14. New Orleans, USA

You can’t escape from music in New Orleans – and with buskers on what often seems like every corner, and music in every courtyard and bar, it’s not hard to experience the city’s musical heritage without spending much more than the price of a beer. The city is best experienced slowly, and on foot, and it’s hard to beat people-watching over a cup of coffee and a plate of sugar-dusted beignets at the Café du Monde.

Find out where to sample the city’s best cocktails with our guide.

New Orleans, USA

15. Laos

Even in a region of budget-friendly destinations, Laos stands out. It’s hard not to be captivated by the slow pace of the country; head just north of elegant Luang Prabang to riverside Nong Khiaw, where for small change you can bag a waterside bungalow and watch the boats travel up and down the karst-surrounded river over a cold bottle of Beer Lao.

Get the full lowdown on this enchanting and unspoiled corner of Southeast Asia with The Rough Guide to Laos.

Laos

16. The Gambia

Africa’s smallest country is already known for its beautiful beaches, but it’s well worth venturing beyond them to experience its other delights. Top of the list has to be the Chimp Rehabilitation Centre in the River Gambia National Park, where you can watch the primates in their natural habitat, while the birdlife at Baobolong Wetland Reserve is arguably the best place for ornithology on the continent and is at its most atmospheric at sunset.

The Gambia

17. Shanghai, China

The biggest appeal for budget – if not all travellers – to Shanghai is undoubtedly the abundance of amazing street food on offer, from xiao long bao soup dumplings to scallion pancakes and sticky rice parcels (zongzi). It’s still possible to find an accommodation bargain at the lower end of the scale, and much of the city’s appeal lies in exploring its busy streets on foot and experiencing for yourself the juxtaposition between old and new China.

You’ll find recommendations for where to find the city’s best street eats and budget sleeps in The Rough Guide to Shanghai.

Shanghai, China

18. Istanbul, Turkey

With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is undeniably alluring. Though seeing all the major sights – the Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace to name but a few – can quickly eat into your lira, the city can still be great for tighter budgets. Arguably the best ways to really soak up the city are from a Bosphorus ferry, wandering the streets of the Grand Bazaar, or on a streetside terrace with a freshly-cooked kebab.

Istanbul, Turkey

19. London, England

First things first – London is not cheap. There’s no denying that even staying in hostels, using public transport and eating in cafés is going to massively eat into your budget. But – and it’s a big but – there are few places in the world that can rival the capital city for its plethora of free sights, where you can see the Rosetta Stone and the Lindow Man, works by Monet and Dalí, not to mention dinosaur and blue whale skeletons, for absolutely nothing.

Get off on the right foot by choosing a great area to stay and discover eight things you didn’t know you could do in the Big Smoke.

London, England

20. Egypt

Considering the abundance of mind-blowing ancient sights, you’d expect travel in Egypt to cost a lot more than it does. Sure, if you tick off all the major attractions – including the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and Abu Simbel – then costs are going to creep up, but tempered with cheap (and excellent) food and decent budget accommodation, it’s not hard to feel like you’re almost able to live like a Pharaoh.

Note, that due to safety concerns some governments currently advise against travel to certain parts of the country; check the latest advice before you go.

Egypt

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