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 seems to facilitate 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.

Vietnam by Malingering (CC license)

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 (“special” was probably dog code for “dog”).

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.

Bangkok Tuk-tuk by Didier Baertschiger (CC license)

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.

Myanmar monk smoking a cigar by Peter Halling Hilborg (CC license)

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.

Tattoo support by MissAgentCooper (CC license)

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.

What, no fine for durians though? by Clark & Kim Kays (CC license)

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.

Have 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.

With shorter days creeping in and woolly hats coming out, there’s no denying that a change of season is on the way. What better to beat the winter blues than escaping the cold weather altogether? Here, we’ve picked 6 of the best winter sun destinations.

1. Pinar del Río, Cuba

Winter is the dry season in Cuba, and the risk of hurricanes dramatically tails off at the end of November, leaving reliably hot, mostly clear and sunny days.

Winter sun destinations abound in this fascinating country, but we’d head to Viñales in Pinar del Río, Cuba’s westernmost province. This village, a couple of hours’ drive from Havana, is set in a strikingly beautiful and serene valley, clustered with strange ancient limestone mounds. Formed 160-million years ago, they look, aptly, straight out of Jurassic Park.

Life in the village itself runs at a slow pace and retains a strongly traditional feel. A few minutes walk out of town takes you to rust-coloured fields and tobacco plantations where farmers’ wives will show you how cigars are rolled.

Around 5km north of town lie the once-indigenous dwellings of Cueva del Indio, a network of caves with an assortment of ancient carvings viewable on boat rides through the underground river.

A day-trip out to nearby undeveloped beaches of Cayo Jutias or Cayo Levisa is a must, with several kilometres of flawless white-sand beaches and calm, turquoise waters lapping at the shore.

2. Island-hopping in the Philippines

From November to April the Philippines basks in glorious weather, with typhoon season out of the way and warm but not unbearably hot, usually dry days.

The islands around El Nido and Coron in Palawan are set in blisteringly blue-turquoise waters and offer jaw-droppingly lovely jagged-edged coastlines.

The more accessible islands can be visited on day bangka boat trips, or you can venture into more remote areas on multi-day adventures in which you feast on freshly caught seafood, spend your days snorkelling through hidden coves and sunbathing on deserted beaches, as well as getting the chance to see how local fishing communities live in these isolated and undeveloped destinations.

Prepare your vocal chords, as you’ll be singing an awful lot of karaoke.

3. Kerala, India

The southern Indian state of Kerala receives more rain per year than most other Indian states, but only a couple of rainy days a month from December to February.

With winter temperatures averaging in the late twenties, this is the perfect time to explore the tree-covered mountains or get to grips with palm-lined beaches on the 550km of gorgeous coastline interspersed with rice paddies, lagoons and enchanting canal backwaters.

Explore the European-style lanes of ex-colonial Fort Cochin and marvel at the elaborate costumes and martial-art-style dancing at an all-night Kathakali performance of gods and demons.

Head to the coast and watch fisherman taking in their haul on the unspoiled beaches around Varkala, and witness rural Keralan life in magnificent surroundings on an overnight backwaters cruise in a traditional wooden barge (kettu vallam) around Kollam or Alappuzha.

Experience all this accompanied by some of the finest – and hottest – curries on the planet.

4. South Island, New Zealand

Image by dreamstime.com: Uros Ravbar / Urosr

For those determined to escape the chilled northern-hemisphere climes, New Zealand offers relatively dry, warm weather right through its summer months (December to February).

Taste the excellent wines and craft beers of the Marlborough region before soaking up rays on the beaches around Nelson, or paddle a sea kayak around the golden beaches and lush greenery of Abel Tasman National Park and jump in the deep end in Kaikoura, where you can swim among hundreds of dolphins and fur seals.

Absorb the exciting post-earthquake creativity in Christchurch and check out the wildlife bonanza of the Otago Peninsula, where albatrosses, seals, sea lions and penguins abound.

Get your thrill-seeking fix in Queenstown, where you can jump off a bridge or out of a plane. Top it all off with a visit to what Rudyard Kipling called the “eighth wonder of the world”, on a hike through the heart of Fiordland National Park to the astonishingly beautiful Milford Sound.

5. Cape Town, South Africa

For the ultimate mix of buzzing urban life and picturesque scenery, you can’t do much better than Cape Town. The city has an extraordinary location, with the renowned flat-topped massif of Table Mountain dominating the backdrop, the Atlantic Ocean sitting on its west side and the Indian Ocean to the east, where white-sand beaches are dappled with granite boulders.

Table Mountain drops sharply into the Atlantic seaboard, where you can spot whales and absorb astonishing views from spectacular coastal roads. The forested mountainous region of the Cape Peninsula stretches south in dramatic, craggy peaks for 40km (25 miles) to Cape Point.

There’s more natural splendour at the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, plus delicious wines to be sampled at the Constantia estates, both easily accessed from the city centre; you might even make it back in time to check out the city’s pumping nightlife.

6. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain

A lighthouse on Fuerteventura at sunset by Michael Caven via Flickr (CC license)

A beach-bum’s paradise ideal for short breaks from mainland Europe, Fuerteventura, the second largest of the Canary Islands, has the longest beaches in the archipelago. Less than a hundred kilometres from Africa, the island’s winter temperatures hover around a pleasant 18°C, with two or three rainy days a month.

Rugged natural beauty abounds, with large inland plains dotted with whitewashed villages and volcanic peaks jutting out over the horizon. The island remains relatively undeveloped; the main tourist resorts of Corralejo in the north and Morro Jable in the south are refreshingly low-key when compared to their equivalents on Tenerife.

Fuerteventura is popular with wind- and kite-surfers, though less so in winter. Surfers, however, are drawn here year-round, with over a dozen different breaks over the island.

A trip here wouldn’t be complete without sampling the local goat’s cheese, majorero, with a uniquely nutty flavour and smooth texture.

Get more winter travel ideas with our lists of the best places to go in November, December, January and FebruaryCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Feeling far away from the natural wonders of Iceland? You’re about to feel a lot closer.

Welcome to 360° virtual reality, where you can look where you want, when you want, as the video plays in real time. 

After hitting play, either click and drag on the video to take control of its camera (on desktop) or tilt and rotate your phone to explore (in the YouTube app).

This clip showcases Iceland’s famously active Strokkur, a geothermally heated fountain geyser that erupts every 4–8 minutes. But whether you keep your eyes on the geyser, explore the surrounding vistas or watch squealing tourists get soaked by Strokkur’s blast is up to you.

If you happen to have Google Cardboard, or any other device that turns your smartphone into a fully realised virtual reality headset – you’ll experience a whole other level of immersion as the views change with the respective turning of your head.

What do you think, is this the future of travel?

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?

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”).

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.

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.

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.

Usedom (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.

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 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.

Ontario 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). 

Southeast Asia is the quintessential backpacker destination – all noodle stands, grungy hostels and full moon parties, right? Not necessarily. There are still plenty of authentic Southeast Asian escapes. You just need to know where to find them. Start here.

1. Trek the path less followed in Umphang, Thailand

Want to trek Thailand in peace? Head to Umphang, a spectacular drive south of Mae Sot, and spend a few days walking around the Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, spotting gibbons and giant lizards. The highlight is a dip in Tee Lor Su waterfall, a three-tiered thunderer that is at its best in November, just after the rainy season. There’s accommodation at Umphang Hill Resort, who can also take you trekking and rafting.

2. See dolphins in colonial Kratie, Cambodia

Tiny Kratie (pronounced kra-cheh) was largely unscathed by war and retains its appealing mix of French colonial and traditional Khmer buildings, strung along the Mekong river. It is also the best place to see not only some of Cambodia’s beautiful watery sunsets, but also the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. A pod lives upriver at Kampi and sightings are more or less guaranteed if you take a boat trip. Take a dip afterwards at the nearby Kampi rapids.

3. Have seafood and stunning views in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Few tourists stop in Quy Nhon, where the main industry remains fishing and the long sandy beaches remain (largely) the preserve of the Vietnamese. During Cham rule this was an important commercial centre (and during the American War a US supply centre) and evidence of this remains in the imposing Banh It towers on a hilltop just north of town. Head up here by xe om (motorcycle taxi) for sweeping views over the unspoiled countryside before returning to town for a seafood supper.

4. See spell-binding Khmer ruins in Champasak, Laos

Champasak may be sleepy now but it was once the capital of a Lao kingdom that stretched as far as Thailand. Grand colonial-style palaces share the streets with traditional wooden houses – and even the odd buffalo. From the town’s central fountain it’s just a few miles to Wat Phou, the most bewitching Khmer ruin complex you’ll find outside Cambodia. Little restoration has taken place here, and the half-buried ruins that fill this lush river valley are an unbeatably romantic backdrop to a stroll.

5. Get haggling in Hsipaw, Myanmar (Burma)

It’s worth getting up early in the tranquil Shan town of Hsipaw (pronounced see-paw), where the atmospheric market opens as early as 3am, the shopkeepers handing over their local produce by candlelight. There are numerous monasteries surrounding the town, as well as some truly off-the-beaten-track trekking, to hot springs, waterfalls and local villages, easily arranged through Mr Charles hotel. Don’t miss the area locals jokingly call Little Bagan, where crumbling stupas sit photogenically beneath the trees.

6. Get active in Camiguin Island, Philippines

Ivory sandbars in an electric blue sea, and more volcanoes per square mile than any other island on the planet. Yes, Camigiun Island is ridiculously beautiful, and yet it has remained largely untouched by large scale tourism – so you might just find a hot spring, waterfall or offshore beach to call your own. Divers shouldn’t miss the submerged cemetery near Bonbon, which slipped into the sea following an earthquake, while the (literal) high point of any visit is the climb up active volcano Mount Hibok-Hibok.

Camiguin by jojo nicdao via Flickr (cc license)

7. Go monkey spotting in Tanjung Puting National Park, Indonesia

Want to see the orangutans in Indonesia? Avoid the worst of the crowds by heading deep into unspoiled forest in the Tanjung Puting national park for the best chance to see one in the wild. Take a boat from Kumai to the Rimba Ecolodge to sleep among the macaque monkeys and gibbons on the edge of the Sekonyer river and join a tour in search of orangutans. If you don’t see any in the wild don’t worry, tours call at Camp Leakey rehabilitation centre for close-up encounters.

8. Explore the ocean in Perhentian Besar, Malaysia

Skip livelier Perhentian Kecil in favour of its twin, the sedate Besar, or “large”, island with its roadless jungle interior and white-sand beaches. The diving is superb here, with reef sharks and turtles darting through towering underwater rock formations and around the Sugar Wreck, a wreck dive suitable for relative beginners. Hop aboard a speedboat to Three Coves Bay on the north coast for some land-based turtle spotting; the secluded beach is a favoured egg laying spot of local green and hawksbill turtles.

Perhentian Besar by Achilli Family | Journeys via Flickr (cc license)

9. Chill out on Ko Adang, Thailand

An undiscovered Thai island? Well, largely. Ko Adang sits inside Tarutao National Marine Park, which has saved it from development and kept its jungle untamed. The flat white sands of Laem Sone beach lead up to a cluster of beach bungalows, owned by the national park, while the island’s interior is criss crossed by forest trails leading to waterfalls and lookout points over the neighbouring islands.

Explore more of Southeast Asia with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

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. If you’ve got wheels, wanderlust and a spot of time, here’s some adventure fuel. Start your engines: these are the best road trips in Europe.

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

Alzette River, Luxembourg City by Wolfgang Staudt (CC license)

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 Bacharacht 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.

Alternately, 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.
Need to know: 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.

2. Surf and sun in the Basque and beyond

Biarritz by BZ1028 (CC license)

The Basque roads beg a convertible – or better yet, a colourful camper van with surfboards strapped to the roof.

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 Saint-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 and are your trophies at the finish line.

Best for: Sun-seeking surfers and foodies.
How long: 1 week.
Need to know: Check seasonal surf forecasts before you go, and look into coastal campsites if you’re on a budget. 

3. The Arctic fjords from Bergen to Trondheim

Fjords Of Norway by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

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 Fjäland 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, the down the death-defying hairpin turns of Trollstigen (literally “The Troll Path”).

After the descent, ferry across the Eresfjord to Molde and Kristiansudn. For the final stretch, drive the iconic Atlantic Road with its rollercoaster 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
Need to know:
If you plan on road tripping during Norway’s winter months, be sure to check online ahead of time for road closures.

4. The unexplored east: Bucharest, Transylvania, Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna.

Romania by Michael Newman (CC license

Embark from Bucharest, travelling northward through the Carpithian 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 architectures of Vienna.

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

5. To Portugal and beyond

Portugal by Chris Ford (CC license)

Start in Braga, before driving south to medieval town of Guimarães, a the UNESCO world Heritage site. Then it’s onward to the breath-taking “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 in 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 winos.
How long: 10–14 days, or longer depending how long you’d like to stay in each place.
Need to know: As Portugal is among the more affordable destinations in Western Europe, this can be an especially great trip for any travellers on a budget.

6. High altitude adventure on Germany’s Alpine Road

Neuschwanstein Castle by Howard Ignatius (CC license)

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 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 lederhosen aficionados.
How long: 3–8 days.

7. Godly beaches and ancient highways in Greece

The view from Cape Sounion, Greece by Nikos Patsiouris (CC license)

Start in Athens 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 like 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.

8. London to Edinburgh and the Highlands

Stormy Calton Hill, Edinburgh by Andy Smith (CC license)

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, Shakespeare’s old stomping grounds.

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 two thousand 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.

9. The secret shores of Sicily and Calabria

Catania and Mt Etna by Bob Travis (CC license)

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 as well.

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 island’s heartland for 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 for Game of Thrones. Head south-east 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 an truly authentic Italian experience, and of course, hardcore foodies. 
How long: 
6–12 days.

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

Rotterdam has the confident vibe of a place on the up. Amsterdam might still be the brightest beacon for travellers to the Netherlands, but a host of exciting new attractions are putting this southern city on the map.

Last year, Rotterdam Central railway station and the Markthal, a market hall and apartment complex whose arched ceiling bears the largest artwork in the Netherlands, became the two latest landmarks to grace the city’s sprawl.

Then in June 2015 the Luchtsingel, a 390-metre-long, wooden pedestrian bridge linking the city centre and the north, was officially opened. The project was partially funded through crowdsourcing; an example of the social engagement that’s bringing about positive changes in Rotterdam.

The Luchtsingel bridge © Stuart Forster

Thanks to a progressive attitude to post-war reconstruction, after the city was blitzed by the German Luftwaffe, Rotterdam is also an interesting place to explore. The architecture is characterised by bold design and high-rise buildings, while Europe’s largest and busiest sea port helps to imbue the city with a strong work ethic and down-to-earth attitude.

Need more convincing? Here are eight reasons to visit…

1. It has an impressive public art trail

You don’t have to spend money to see artworks by world-renowned artists. Works by the likes of Auguste Rodin and Joel Shapiro are displayed on the sculpture route along the Westersingel canal. The 17 notable pieces include Pablo Picasso’s Sylvette.

Artwork in the Markthal © Stuart Forster

2. There’s a nightlife fuelled by creativity

Laidback café-bars are dotted throughout the city, including Boudewijn, which serves more than 100 Belgian beers. Locals recommend a stroll along Witte de Withstraat because of its high density of watering holes. You’ll find chic cocktail bars, such as the gin specialist Ballroom, plus casual venues. At De Witte Aap art displays change on a monthly basis.

For live music, from jazz to hip-hop, check out events at Bird, a club nestled below railway arches in the north of the city.

3. There’s brilliant innovative architecture

Walk along the River Meuse’s waterfront and you’ll see De Rotterdam, a 149-metre-tall skyscraper designed by Rem Koolhaas. The building is described as a ‘vertical city’ and its eye-catching form resembles off-set stacks.

The Van Nelle Factory was opened to process and package tea, coffee and tobacco in 1932. It’s an outstanding example of carefully thought through Dutch functionalist design. The airy building today hosts offices and conference space.

To learn more about Dutch architecture and design head to Het Nieuwe Instituut, which hosts regularly changing exhibitions and events. Pop into by the nearby Sonneveld House to view modernist interiors of a building that in the early 1930s was regarded as an ideal family home.

Cube House architecture

4. Taking a taxi is more fun than you might think

Booking a journey by water taxi is a great way to see the city while travelling at speed along the river. Taxis travel at up to 50 km per hour, making trips a practical means of getting around while inducing an adrenalin-fuelled buzz.

5. It has a world class art gallery

An iconic brick tower makes it easy to locate the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Its vast art collection ranges from paintings by old masters, such as Rembrandt and Hieronymus Bosch, through Magritte and Mondriaan to contemporary works by the likes of Maurizio Cattelan and Pipilotti Rist.

The museum’s collection of drawings and prints is one of the world’s most significant for understanding the development of art. It includes pieces by Albrecht Dürer and Paul Cézanne.

You can also see eight centuries of applied designs, encompassing Dutch Golden Age glassware and Rietveld furniture.

6. Restaurants are redefining the city’s cuisine

Cuisine at Bazar © Stuart Forster

If you’re looking for tasty but inexpensive food try dining at Bazar, whose selection of Middle-Eastern and North African cuisine proves popular with students and young professionals.

A handful of stylish restaurants are redefining Rotterdam’s culinary scene. At Restaurant de Jong you choose between the four-course vegetable or non-vegetable menus then the team of chefs in the open kitchen get creative with seasonal ingredients. Meat dishes are among the specials at Restaurant Las Palmas, whose industrial-chic dining room is a good place to spot celebs.

7. There is first-class accommodation for all budgets

Rotterdam has a decent selection of inexpensive places to stay. Arguably the pick of the budget rooms are those decorated by local artists at King Kong Hostel.

Citizen M Rotterdam is a mid-priced design hotel that places you by the Oudehaven (old harbour) and within easy walking distance of the Markthal.

Most of the rooms in the four-star Inntel Hotels Rotterdam Centre overlook the River Meuse. The pick of them have views of the Erasmus Bridge.

8. It’s easy to reach from Schiphol Airport

Direct trains between the Schiphol Amsterdam International Airport and Rotterdam Central railway stations take just 27 minutes.

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

There’s a whole lot more to Panama than its famous canal. Hiking, rafting, surfing and diving are just a few of the excellent adventure activities on offer, and it’s a brilliant destination for birdwatching with over 970 species soaring in its skies. From touring Panama City to sampling inventive cuisine from entrepreneurial chefs, there are countless ways to truly experience Panamanian culture. Here are ten of the best.

1. Scuba dive underneath the Panama Canal

Feeling adventurous? You can actually scuba dive (PADI qualification permitting) underneath the Panama Canal in the Gatun Lake. Once submerged, divers can see some of the remains of old communities and railroads that still exist under water. This all happened during the flooding of Gatun Lake during the original Canal construction.

2. Visit a little piece of paradise

Panama might be the least populous country in Central America but there are plenty of opportunities to mix and mingle with the locals. In fact, there are roughly nine different indigenous tribes in Panama, including the Kuna (Guna), Wounaan, Bokota and the Ngobe among others. A little piece of paradise, the San Blas Islands are home to the Kuna people, who have maintained political autonomy from the mainland – Panama Vacations can organise day trips spent with a local guide from the community.

3. Experience Panama’s past, present and future through food

Panama City is having a culinary renaissance of sorts, with Casco Viejo hotspot Donde José leading the pack. The restaurant seats only sixteen patrons at a time, and reservations fill up fast. Head chef Jose Carles breaks the menu into sixteen courses, each using Panamanian ingredients and cooking styles – many of the dishes are smoked because cooking over fire is common in rural Panama, and he endeavours to use the entire animal as is customary throughout the country. There’s also a drink menu that goes alongside several of the dishes, ranging from wines to craft cocktails.

4. Walk inside a bat cave

Panama’s biodiversity is astounding, and as well as in the skies and under the seas, where thousands of different species can be seen in their natural habitats, it also extends to the underground. Enter the Nivida Bat Cave, located on Isla Bastimentos, which is about ten minutes from Bocas del Toro by boat. Once inside the cavern, there are hundreds of bats, so come prepared for the pungent smell. Even better? The Spanish-language school Habla Ya leads tours.

5. Tour the Panama Canal by train

Forget the boat; opt for a train tour instead. While many tourists do wind up sailing along the Panama Canal, it’s pretty much downhill after the first lock. In fact, this might very well be the lowlight of your trip. Instead, hop on the Panama Canal Railway that dates back to the early nineteenth century and travel back in time.

6. Take a tour led by former gang members

Not only is Casco Viejo a World Heritage Site and the most picturesque part of the city, it’s also a window into Panama City‘s past. A tour group called Fortaleza Tours takes travellers beyond the monuments and deep into the heart of the city. As former gang members, these tour leaders have a story for every street. You’ll see first hand how the neighbourhood has completely transformed from a hotbed of crime into a same place.

7. Celebrate Mardi Gras

Sure, Rio de Janeiro is a safe bet for experiencing Carnival madness but don’t rule out Panama. As the country’s most celebrated festival, there is plenty in store for first-time partiers. The heart of the action – think decadent costume, loud music and plenty of dancing – tends to take place in a town called Las Tablas. There’s a bit of rivalry between the “High Street” and the “Low Street” when it comes to flats and costumes, so expect the best of the best. If staying in Panama City, there’s plenty going on there as well, especially on Via España.

8. Swim in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean in one day

Due to Panama’s geographic position and generally modest landmass (80 kilometers separates the two oceans), it’s possible to swim in both the Atlantic and the Pacific on the same day. There’s an abundance of beaches just south of the Interamericana (the main highway going through Panama City), and for an Atlantic swim, head northeast to Guna Yala for white sand and palm tree paradise.

9. Spot one of the world’s largest flying predators

The majestic and slightly daunting harpy eagle can be seen in Panama’s remote Darien region, along its border with Colombia. What makes them so scary? For starters, they stand three feet tall and can have a wingspan of up to two metres. Due to habitat loss or destruction, they’ve mostly disappeared from other destinations in Latin America so Panama is the best place to see them in action. Plus, the harpy eagle is the country’s national bird.

10. Indulge on fresh strawberries

Chiriquí Province is becoming a travel hotspot thanks to its ideal climate and agriculture. Besides lush forests, hiking trails and sandy beaches, you can satisfy your sweet tooth with strawberries. Since the soil is so fertile, coffee, oranges and other vegetables are grown here as well – stop by the Finca El Pariente strawberry farm for a closer look.

Explore more of Panama with The Rough Guide to Panama. Megan is the author of Bohemian TrailsCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Say Senegal or mention West Africa and misinformed mutterings of ebola start to spread quicker than the virus itself. Sitting on the western shoulder of Africa, Senegal is frequently overlooked by travellers – but for little good reason.

While the excellent birding and beaching in The Gambia – the country that slices Senegal’s coastline in two – attract thousands of tourists on organised tours and package holidays, Senegal simmers in the African sun with stretches of often-empty beaches (around 500km of them, in fact), with few tourists to be seen.

And it’s not just about the coastline. There are near-untouched deserts, steamy cities and some fascinating islands with captivating stories to tell. So if you’ve got no idea what to expect, let us tell you a few things you didn’t know about Senegal…

Senegalese coastline © Lottie Gross 2015

1. The Senegalese seriously know how to bake

Waking to the waft of pastry in the morning or sighting women carrying bundles of freshly-baked baguettes after breakfast is something you’d associate with a holiday in France. But this isn’t France, it’s Senegal, and the bakeries fill the early morning air with the tantalising smell of pastry and bread. A legacy left by the French, warm croissants and pains au chocolat make up the breakfast spreads in many a hotel or resort, as well as Senegalese homes. Baguettes are served with almost every meal, and patisseries showcasing impressive-looking cakes will have your mouth watering as you stroll past.

2. You can camp under a sky full of stars in the desert

Lodge de Lompoul sits in the middle of the Senegalese desert and it’s a world away from the big, brash city of Dakar. As the sun sets, crack open a cool Flag (West African lager), sit back, relax and watch the dunes turn from yellow to orange before they’re silhouetted against the night’s sky.

Lodge de Lompoul © Lottie Gross 2015

Three hours north of the capital, the small village of Lompoul sits on the edge of a desert of the same name. This smattering of huts and concrete and corrugated iron structures is a gateway to a strangely empty patch of yellow sand dunes in the middle of the forested landscape that backs the Senegalese coastline.

Leave your vehicle in Lompoul and jump into the camp’s 4×4 truck to traverse the steeply undulating, foliage-clad dunes – an exhilarating adventure in itself – before arriving at your luxury tent to spend a night in the wild.

3. Senegal’s natural attractions include a vivid pink lake

Blue, crystal-clear waters are beautiful, but what about bright pink? Thanks to its high salt content (up to forty per cent in places) caused by an algae called dunaliella salina, Lake Retba looks more like cloudy pink lemonade than a refreshing cool-blue pool. Don’t try swimming in it though: the salt is terrible for your skin, and the workers who gather the mineral have to cover themselves in shea butter before jumping in. It’s brighter at certain times of year (the dry season, mainly) and is made even more striking where parts of its banks are made up of bright-white salt.

The lake is a hive of activity all year round: men dig for salt under the water and women in brightly-coloured dresses carry buckets full of it on their heads from the waters to the metres-high mounds on the shore.

The Pink Lake © Lottie Gross 2015

4. The country is a twitcher’s paradise

The Gambia gets most of the attention for birdwatching in West Africa, but Senegal also has its own haven for hundreds of winged creatures. The Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie, at the southern end of a long, thin, sandy peninsula near the border with Mauritania, is a reserve for over 160 different species of birds, from all kinds of terns and gulls to pelicans and pink flamingoes. Hire a pirogue (traditional canoe) and glide through the calm waters all afternoon for some excellent ornithological observation.

5. You can visit an island made from millions of shells

In the south of Senegal, a hundred kilometres from Dakar, Ile de Fadiouth is one of Senegal’s many little islands, set in the ocean between a peninsula and a warren of lush mangroves. But it’s not like the others that dot the Atlantic coastline here – this one is made of shells. The streets are paved with them, the houses decorated with them and the adjoining mini island, housing only the Christian-Muslim cemetery, is entirely made up of them. Take a stroll to the top of the highest mound of shells in the cemetery for a glorious view over the mangroves and azure waters.

Ile de Fadiouth – © Lottie Gross 2015

6. Senegal hosts a famous jazz festival

Each year in May, the sleepy city of Saint Louis becomes overrun with strumming, scatting and singing musicians, ready to set the jazz standard high. The world-renowned Saint Louis Jazz festival has seen some of the biggest names in jazz take to the main stage in the city centre, and plenty of smaller acts performing in various venues around the city. Restaurants, hotels and bars are abuzz with musical excitement at this time of year; walk down the streets and you’ll hear jazz on every corner, whether it’s blaring out from a shop soundsystem or a jam session in someone’s back garden.

7. You can spot enormous baobabs over 1200 years old

Baobabs are everywhere in Senegal: from the national coat of arms to the city centres and the arid countryside. They’re peculiar-looking trees with fat trunks – that can grow up to 25 metres in circumference – and short stubby branches, and they can live for well over a thousand years. They’re a symbol of wisdom and longevity, the fruit is used to make a sweet, deep-red juice drink called bui and the bark makes strong rope. Whether they look as if they’re bursting from the tarmac of a busy city road, or they’re just standing silhouetted against a burning red sunset, baobabs are a bizarrely beautiful sight to be seen throughout the country.

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

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