A year out was once the preserve of 18-year-olds seeking direction in life but today things have changed. Forget spending 12 months in a haze of alcohol, harem trousers and sunburn. Travel in your late 20s and early 30s is now an acceptable, and often far more rewarding, time to explore the world.

A year out is perfect for those seeking a new challenge, or anyone looking to discover our spectacular planet while learning more about themselves in the process. Travelling is an investment you’ll never regret, and will leave a lasting and powerful impression on your life. Here are a few reasons why travelling in your 20s and 30s is the new year out:

1. There’s no pressure to follow the crowds

One of the most liberating features of travel in your late 20s and 30s is that, while you might not have everything in your life sorted, you’re probably that bit closer to knowing what you want when you travel. Party your way through endless cities on the tourist trail? No thanks, you’d rather take it slow and find your own way instead.

And while top tourist sights are often incredible experiences, sometimes there’s nothing better than stepping out of your hostel and discovering a new city, country or landscape without the expectations of what others think you should be visiting weighing down upon you.

Check out our lists of places to get off the beaten track in India, Southeast Asia and South America for inspiration.

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2. Your eyes are wide open to the world and its challenges

It’s easy on your first backpacking trip at the ripe age of 18 to waltz through countries in a haze of wonder, awe and confusion at the culture explosion that assails you from each new destination. But as a traveller in later life, you’ve probably got a clearer understanding of what you’re seeing, whether it’s the abject poverty you have to face in an Indian slum or the serious threats affecting the Amazon jungle that you visit in Peru.

Experiencing life’s inequalities first-hand will make sure that you never forget about the tiny, fortunate position you have in the world and will make you realise how your contribution as a tourist to the economy can have a valuable, lasting impact.

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3. You know that too much partying – and the after effects – aren’t fun anymore

While backpacking in your late teens might have revolved around an ill-considered litre of cheap tequila, travel in later life and you’ll probably want to step away from that bottle and embrace some of travel’s other fine qualities.

Yes, a few glasses of delicious Argentinian Malbec won’t go amiss on a sun-laden terrace – when in Rome (or Mendoza) and all that – but staying up until 3am to bop drunkenly to Enrique Iglesias’ The Twilight Years in a seedy Peruvian nightclub might no longer be your cup of tea.

You might splash out on a four-bed dorm, or even a private room, so you can escape the party and get some kip. Not exactly wild, but practical: you’ve got a sunrise to admire the next morning, after all.

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4. You’ve probably got more money – and know how to spend it

Now while your bank balance might still be optimistically awaiting that lottery win, chances are you’re in a better financial position to travel than ten years ago.

Backpacking is a wonderful lesson in budgeting, but there’s no shame in having more cash to travel with a little extra comfort. Being in the position to spend a little extra for that fully reclining seat and the luxury of a toilet on your 24-hour bus journey is something you won’t live to regret.

But, even if you’re still scraping around for the money to travel, go anyway. There will never be a time when everything is perfectly aligned, and no time is better than the present.

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5. You’re more open to an adventure

Australia may have ranked top of our list of most popular gap year destinations, but for those in their late 20s or 30s, you’re probably ready for more of an adventure.

Grab your rucksack and encounter some of the globe’s most spectacular and under-visited destinations. Explore undiscovered India, learn about the revolution in Cuba, study indigenous languages in Bolivia, or engage with rich culture and community life in Uganda.

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6. It’s a perfect time to push yourself – and reap the rewards

Ultimately, if you feel yourself stuck in a metaphorical rut in your career or life in general, travel might be the best way to spice things up again. Not only can travel be personally rewarding, but it’s life experience desired by many an employer these days. If you’re looking for a change, you could use a year out travelling to learn a new language or skill to make way for a new career when you return.

Live your forgotten dreams: conquer the odds and summit some of the world’s most challenging mountains, get involved in a body-destroying coastal trail-running and hiking event in Sweden, rent a vehicle and travel Namibia in your own four wheels or settle down for a few months and volunteer.

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Inspired? For more gap-year ideas, listen to Episode 5 of The Rough Guide to Everywhere (iTunes; Soundcloud) where Tim Key shares stories from his time in Kiev and our very own editor Freya Godfrey tells tales from her stint in India.

 If you’re thinking of a year out, check out The Rough Guide to First-Time Around the WorldCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Pixabay/CC0.

Know someone who loves to travel? Perhaps you’re after something special for the loved one in your life. Whether it’s a birthday, the festive season or you’re just feeling generous, here’s our pick of the top gifts for travellers.

GoPro HERO4 Silver

GoPros are quickly becoming an essential in many traveller’s backpacks and this model is no different. The Hero4 has so many features packed into its tiny, ultra-portable body, including image quality of 12mp, incredible 1080p HD video, an after dark setting and time lapse mode. Plus, Bluetooth and wi-fi for instant sharing and editing. The touch display makes this genius piece of kit is even more user friendly and ready to go wherever you journey takes you.

Shure sound isolating earphones

We’ve all been on that flight where the baby just won’t stop crying. And there’s nothing worse than a hotel with paper-thin walls. That’s where sound isolating earphones come into play. These earphones block out 90% of background noise, so you are free to concentrate on your in-flight entertainment. With a reinforced cable and detachable earbuds these are the perfect, durable earphones for any intrepid traveller.

The ultimate packing checklist

It’s happened to the best of us: you’ve packed your bag, raced off to the airport, and arrived in your next destination to find you’ve forgotten your pants. So you need a little help next time? This 60-sheet pad has a list of everything you should take for any type of trip, perfect for those last-minute packing marathons. You can even list the quantity of individual pieces of clothing, so no need to lay it all out before it goes in the bag.

Bluesmart suitcase

A a suitcase you will want to brag about, this cabin-sized bag can be controlled with your phone. Why? you ask. It features tons of tech, including location tracking, a digital lock, distance alerts and built in scales. But don’t worry if your phone runs out of charge, you can fully replenish the battery up to six times via the case’s USB port – now that really is a smart suitcase.

SurgeCube surge protector

It’s not the most exciting travel gadget of all, but it’s practical as hell and may well save your beloved smartphone or tablet from combustion. The device, with its two USB ports, will keep your electronics protected from electricity surges, spikes and generally dodgy sockets. It can also charge 40% faster than a normal USB port, so no more long waits for your phone to be fully charged again. SurgeCube also give a £10,000 Equipment Warranty away with each protector just in case anything does get damaged.

Cork globe

Whether you want to keep track of all your past trips, or you’re planning a round-the-world adventure, this small cork globe is a great addition to any traveller’s desk. You can pin your favourite pictures to their location, or map out your next trip.

Instax Share mobile printer

These days all your travel photos probably end up online for you to admire from anywhere in the world, but if you’re feeling a little retro, this is the gadget for you. Print any of your smartphone snaps on the go, whether it’s to send back home, to give to friends you meet around the globe or to add to your travel journal, via the Instax Share app. You can add different filters and text before printing off a high quality credit card sized image.

Tortuga travel backpack

Everyone needs a good backpack when travelling, but what if you’re only taking cabin baggage? The Tortuga cabin-sized backpack is the ultimate carry on bag, combining convenience and organisation. It’s front-loading, with mesh pockets and a 17inch padded laptop compartment.

Jackery Mini charger

Sometimes we all need a little extra charge – especially when smartphones are notoriously quick to drain in battery. With a 3200mAh rechargeable power capacity this lipstick size portable charger packs a punch. The Jackery Mini is ultra compact, has an extremely fast charge and is available in four different colours. It’s compatible with smartphones, GoPros and even Google Glass.

Water-to-go bottle

Staying hydrated while travelling is important – especially as it helps with that pesky jet lag. Water-to-Go bottles have a clever 3-in-1 filter, which eliminates over 99.9% of bacteria – meaning you can drink safely from any non-salt water source. Each filter lasts around two months (or for 130 litres) and is easily replaceable. No more will you be buying and wasting hundreds of plastic bottles along your journey – saving the planet and saving cash, that’s a bottle we can get on board with.

A Rough Guide!

Whether you want to inspire someone’s next trip with a country or city guide, help them plan a short weekend with a pocket guide, or give them a coffee-table title to pore over for years to come, there’s nothing like the gift of the printed word. Buying for someone creative? Check out Colour the World.

When you receive your Valentine’s bouquet this year, will you wonder where it came from? Probably not, but it’s possible your flowers are better travelled than you. Sitting just below the horn of Africa, Kenya is the largest exporter of flowers to the European Union, meaning your pretty petals may have crossed equators and oceans to arrive at your door. Kiki Deere visited an independent flower farm in Kenya to find out what it’s like to be an African rose.

A young woman gingerly places a dozen white roses in yellow plastic buckets. Behind her, a man walks the rose beds, painstakingly removing dead heads from each plant. The flowers’ large heads have opened beautifully, emanating a strong fruity smell that fills the greenhouse. I am in Nanyuki, a small market town 195km north of Nairobi.

by Kiki Deere

With ten hours of sunshine a day and 800mm of annual rainfall, the market town of Nanyuki has the perfect conditions for growing flowers. Thanks to the area’s cool climate – Nanyuki is right on the equator at 1900m above sea level – it has become a magnet for expats after an alternative base to the country’s chaotic capital.

Large European-style country homes are dotted throughout the verdant countryside surrounding the town and a smattering of restaurants have opened to cater for the growing expat community. A busy matatu platform serves as the town’s hub, where Kenyans travelling north and south gather among a gaggle of hawkers, and life goes on uninterrupted, without much of the country’s tourist trade passing through at all.

A landscape just like an English garden

Sprinkled around Nanyuki are dozens of flower farms, vital to the livelihood of many living in the area. I am at Tambuzi, a flower farm south of the town where, unlike the mass-produced varieties, the roses here are big-headed and full of scent.

Scent causes flowers to age more quickly, explains owner Tim Hobbs, so most producers grow non-scented roses so they’ll have a longer lifespan. Tambuzi aims to grow “real” flowers with strong scent and a distinct shape, with a “just-picked-them-from-your-garden” look.

by Kiki Deere

British expats Tim and Maggie Hobbs bought the 64-hectare farm in 1996 and developed it into the country’s only supplier of traditional garden scented roses.

Sitting on the patio overlooking the farm, cup of tea in hand, I look around and feel I could be in the heart of the British countryside: a leafy garden stretches out in front of me, with a calm river meandering among the trees.

Rose snobs

Rose breeding and production is a complex business: “it’s like horse breeding,” says Tim. “Looks, scents, shapes and disease resistance must all be taken into consideration.”

We stop occasionally to smell the roses. Each has a different scent: citrus, vanilla, honey, fruits. A bright pink rose, a Greffe de Vie, smells of grapefruit.

“Our knowledge of roses is quickly developing. Consumers are becoming more sophisticated, ‘rose snobs’ effectively, just as over the years we have become wine snobs, knowing our Malbecs from our Cabernets,” Maggie believes.

by Kiki Deere

From the greenhouses we move on to the grading shed, where employees carefully package the roses before placing them in the cold store. They’re stored here before being transported to Nairobi in refrigerated trucks, then it’s on to their final destination from there, usually by air.

Fair flowers

As I leave the farm, driving along a dirt track towards the main road that leads into Nanyuki, I see men and women walking home from work. Around 80% of the staff at Tambuzi come from within a two-mile radius of the farm, with most walking to work from their own homes. Consequently, money is reinvested locally, directly benefitting the community and local economy, making their flowers a fair trade.

For dinner, I head to Nanyuki’s best restaurant: Soames, where vases brimming with colourful roses decorate the tables, a gentle reminder that Nanyuki’s flower industry is flourishing more than ever.

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

Blame Frances Mayes. Ever since she penned Under the Tuscan Sun twenty years ago the region has seen an unstoppable influx of English and American tourists descend on the area, which has left neighbouring regions, with just as much to offer, decidedly in the shade.

Emilia-Romagna, home to an officially designated ‘Food Valley’, the majority of Italy‘s high performance auto industry and a host of charming, historic towns, is one such region that has to shout louder than its popular neighbour to attract tourist dollars.

The flipside of that, however, means fewer crowds and a better chance to grab a slice of authentic northern Italian life. Here are a few highlights of Emilia-Romagna.

Pork lovers rejoice

As with most Italian regions, Emilia-Romagna earns its place on the foodie map via certain specialties. Filled pasta is one, with anolini (little ravioli-like discs, stuffed with truffles and mushrooms) being a particular stand-out, while another attraction is the region’s wealth of pork products.

No meal here is truly complete without some choice cold cuts. Parma ham is perhaps the most famous, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial porcine iceberg. Culatello di Zibello is one of the rarer kinds. It’s produced in the lowlands of Colorno, where the thick fog wafting from the River Po creates the ideal environment for these hams to mature. They’re hung in dark, humid cellars, with expert staff regularly brushing off mould and testing their quality by simply tapping them with a hammer.

Al Vèdel is one of only fourteen Culatello producers in the world, where you may also be introduced to the strange delights of sparkling red wine. The local Lambrusco is chosen for its refreshing qualities complementing the rich pork cuts. It’s complex and takes a while to adjust your palette accordingly, but is light years away from the cheap and cheerful supermarket plonk we may associate with Lambrusco outside of Italy.

The perfect accompaniment to these cuts are some Gnocchi Fritti – great, puffy pockets of fried bread, usually stuffed at the table with whatever meats and cheeses you can lay your hands on.

Palatial Parma

Parma was an important Roman trading post – and later a major staging town for pilgrims, which explains the grandeur of the city’s architecture. Today it’s the region’s main cultural hub. You can practically hear the ghosts of Verdi and Toscanini echoing around the pedestrianised streets of the Old City.

Make time to explore the Teatro Farnese, an extraordinary complex of buildings, crowned by the Baroque masterpiece that is the Villa Farnese Theatre. This vast, wood-panelled ‘coliseum’ was built in 1611 for epic royal celebrations and is still used for classical music performances today.

Fast cars meet slow food in Modena

Modena pairs fast cars with slow food. Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrrari all craft their automobiles here. The futuristic Enzo Ferrari Museum gives you a glimpse into the man behind the motor, and you can take a tour to zip around the region’s essential foodie pitstops.

In pole position on the province’s grid of gourmands sits Massimo Bottura, the triple Michelin starred chef behind the wheel at Osteria Francescana, which is currently ranked second in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

A visit to a traditional balsamic vinegar producer is a must. Take a tour of Villa Bianca‘s vineyards, carefully irrigated by robots, to get a glimpse of the 12-year-plus artisanal process. They mature the vinegar using strictly controlled methods, siphoning the sweet stuff between barrels of varying woods and sizes, all with a reverence usually reserved for wine.

There’s more to the city’s urbanity than food and cars though. Modena’s reputation as a hotbed of intellectualism and radical ideas is showcased by the often sold-out evening events at the Philosophy Festival on Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini. At the nearby Piazza Grande, it’s worth reflecting on the shimmering photo wall showing the faces of hundreds of Partisans who helped overthrow Fascism.

Comacchio: Emilia-Romagna’s answer to Venice

Okay, there’s only one Venice, but the sleepy estuary town of Comacchio on the Po Delta gives it a run for its money, with its maze of canals, stylised bridges and pastel-fronted buildings.

The entire town owes its livelihood to the humble eel, a history which is documented to surprisingly fascinating effect at the Eel Pickling Factory and Museum. Here you can see the ingenious nets and traps used to land eels over the centuries, who make an annual pilgrimage all the way from the Sargasso Sea to Comacchio, and the cavernous fireplaces used to roast them prior to pickling.

Sophia Loren became the slippery beast’s unlikely ambassador in the 1950s, after she starred as an eel fisherwoman in the film La Donna Del Fiume, with her face adorning the tins to this day. Drop into one of the many canal-side restaurants to sample local delicacies like “Donkey’s Beak” (eel soup served with grilled polenta).

The pleasures of Piacenza

When James Boswell came through Piacenza on his 1765 Grand Tour of Italy, he noted that the name literally translates as “pleasant abode, certainly a good omen.” Today the biggest town on the banks of the Po River is known for producing the largest amount of DOP and DOC cured meats, cheeses and wines in all of Italy.

Expect to sample a hefty portion of these at Taverna In, a modest-looking osteria in the shadow of the town theatre, designed by Lotario Tomba, the architect behind Milan’s famous La Scala opera house.

The town’s centrepiece is the Piazza dei Cavalli, dominated by bronze horse statues, the symbol of the powerful Farnese family who ruled the region during the sixteenth century, and the Gothic Palace, which has a distinctly Venetian feel.

Explore more of this region with the Rough Guides Snapshot to Emilia-RomagnaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Professional travel photographer Tim Draper has shot images for 24 Rough Guides guidebooks, visiting far-flung corners around the world. Here he shares some of his stunning shots taken in northern Laos, where he spent time with the Akha people.

I‘d been trudging steadily uphill through dense jungle in heavy rain for over seven hours when I caught my first glimpse of the Akha people. Despite the treacherous conditions the young man approached at speed, dressed almost entirely in black, carrying an old style flint-lock rifle which looked handmade.

A short distance behind him a young woman followed, also dressed in black, but with the addition of an elaborately decorated coin-covered headdress. She carried an impossible amount of firewood upon her back. I stopped to watch them nimbly side-step around me on the narrow trail and accelerate up the hill with effortless grace.

Since first encountering the Akha on a Rough Guides photoshoot 13 years ago I’ve returned many times to stay in the same villages hidden in the hills of northern and western Laos. I’ve watched on as traditional costumes are replaced by t-shirts and witnessed whole villages give in, pack up and move down to the road far below. Here are a few of my favourite portraits.

Akha children in western Laos

Akha tribeswomen and children

Akha girls in traditional handmade clothes

Young Akha girl in western Laos

Traditional Akha village in the hills of Phongsali Province

Akha mother and daughter

An impressive headpiece on an Akha tribeswoman

A young Akha girl giggles as she has her photograph taken

A young Akha girl wearing traditional clothes

A young Akha tribeswoman in traditional clothing

An older Akha tribeswoman

Men construct a spirit swing in northern Laos

Akha mother and children

Akha woman in traditional dress

An Akha child carries his sibling on his back

Akha children on spirit swing

Explore more of Laos 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.

Situated at the northern and southern extremes of this long, thin country, Vietnam’s two main cities lie over a thousand kilometres apart.

Southern Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), formerly Saigon, was the US base during the Vietnam War and since the country’s unification has transformed into a thoroughly modern, thriving metropolis. The somewhat less modern capital, Hanoi, runs at a noisier pace, with its lively Old Quarter full of winding lanes.

Yet both cities can at times seem hyperactive, and you’ll need your wits about you to navigate their astonishingly hectic traffic. Can’t choose which one to visit? Here’s our lowdown on how they differ.

Which is best for culture?

Neither city is short of museums, temples, pagodas and impressive colonial architecture. Both have a cathedral too – relics of the French occupation – and highly entertaining traditional water-puppet shows.

HCMC has several more theme parks than Hanoi, so if rollercoasters are your thing, head south. If you’re more at home in a gallery than doing loop-the-loops, Hanoi will be a better bet, as it pips the post for both fine and contemporary art.

People from Hanoi are known for sometimes being more standoffish than their southern counterparts, with more traditional values and formal manners.

HCMC, more influenced by foreign cultures than Hanoi – particularly American and French – has a more spontaneous and open feel to it. Innovation is king and young trendsetters lead the way, alongside thriving tech-minded entrepreneurs and booming businesses.

Which is best for food?

You won’t struggle to find cheap, local culinary delights in either Hanoi or HCMC – street food is ubiquitous and, on the whole, mouth-watering in both cities. Hanoi is the home of pho (noodle soup), Vietnam’s national dish, which you can get on just about any street corner for as little as a dollar.

The street food in HCMC is just as readily available as up north, but tends to be slightly sweeter. Fantastic smells waft through the side streets of both these foodie-heaven cities, and there’s a lot more to tempt your palate than just banh mi (filled baguettes) and pho.

Café culture, a hangover from the French, permeates both cities too; in HCMC the coffee is sweeter and not quite as punchy as the equivalent brews in Hanoi.

Both cities have an astounding array of international cuisine, though HCMC just about trumps Hanoi on the breadth and quality of choices, as well as for upmarket restaurants.

What about nightlife?

The Vietnamese government is cracking down on venues opening after midnight, so several establishments close earlier than they used to.

HCMC has managed to retain far more late-night options than its northern sister, though a handful of Hanoi bars still manage to stay open until the last punter leaves (or passes out). The narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter come to life at night, with thousands of locals and tourists alike flooding the alleyways, consuming cheap drinks on tiny plastic stools while snacking on steaming plates of barbequed pork and fried chicken feet.

Many of the bars in HCMC have live music at the weekend, and it’s certainly the place to be for classy cocktail lounges. If you’re looking for a refined evening out, or for a club with air conditioning where you can party till the small hours, HCMC is your best bet.

For cheap booze and backpacker vibe, though the area around De Tham in HCMC is great, Hanoi has far more going for it for the laidback, on-a-shoestring traveller. If you didn’t pack your smart shoes, Hanoi is where you want to be.

Where should I shop?

Hanoi has the superior choice of crafts, silk accessories and handmade goods. Craftsmen specialize in wood-and stone-carvings, embroideries and lacquerware, the finest of which are on sale at the southern end of the Old Quarter.

HCMC offers a plethora of cheap souvenir options, such as at Ben Thanh market, or for upmarket boutiques try Dong Khoi. The southern city is also the king of the malls, with vast, modern air-conditioned edifices housing copious brand and designer shops – ideal for cooling off from the humid urban heat.

Where should I go to relax?

Hanoi has developed rapidly in recent years, with new skyscrapers hastily transforming the city’s skyline outside of the Old Quarter. Both cities have populations of around eight million, but people are more crammed into the smaller HCMC. That said, the pedestrianized streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter can get so packed with people that during peak hours it can be difficult to move at all, and the city’s ceaseless noise can be too much for some.

Traffic in both cities is continuously hectic, with countless hooting scooters zipping about in a seemingly insane manner. The newer, wider streets of HCMC at least allow for more movement, but everything is relative ­– don’t expect a walk through town to be a peaceful meander.

In Hanoi you can at least cool down, with average temperatures dropping to 17°C in January, while temperatures in HCMC never fall below the high twenties. Mix that with high humidity and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a sweat on whenever you go.

To escape the southern heat, the green, tree-shaded lawns of HCMC’s Cong Vien Van Hoa Park, once a colonial sporting complex, is a popular downtime spot, as is the city’s Botanical Garden.

Though small, Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi for its residents, and a charming place to take a moment away from the chaotic city streets and watch elderly locals quietly enjoying games of chess and mahjong.

Which is best base for day-trips?

Ha Long Bay, a dreamy seascape of jagged limestone rocks jutting out over calm waters, is Vietnam’s number one tourist attraction and can be visited in a day-trip from Hanoi. Be warned though, it’s a hefty journey, at around four hours each way.

Under two hour’s drive from HCMC, the Cu Chi Tunnels are a top option for a day-trip. The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong army during the Vietnam War, and visitors can see the wince-inducing booby traps set for the American soldiers, as well as take a smothering look for themselves inside the tunnels. Tours are best booked with a travel agency around Pham Ngu Lao (roughly 180,000 VND).

So which one should I go to?

Naturally, this depends what you’re looking for. Hanoi errs on the more historical, less glitzy side, allowing visitors a glimpse of traditional Vietnamese culture as well as giving ample opportunities to see the best of the country’s artistic and creative offerings while appreciating the low-key street life.

HCMC, as the commercial centre of the country, inevitably has more investment, fancier hotels, smarter restaurants and an exclusive nightlife scene.

However, both these metropolises have excellent museums and cultural sights, plenty of tranquil places to unwind, superb food and day-trips to some of Vietnam’s most interesting locations. Take your pick!

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

Today Ethiopia is celebrating Christmas. Following the Julian calendar, this East African, Orthodox Christian nation celebrates Christmas on the 7th January each year.

In Lalibela, one of the holiest sites in Ethiopia, tens of thousands of pilgrims gather for mass in the town’s 12 rock-hewn churches. All through the night there’s chanting, singing, swaying and praying – an evocative sight if you’re lucky enough to witness it.

Photographer Karoki Lewis travelled to Lalibela for Christmas, and here he shares his best pictures of the spectacular event.

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve for the all-night Christmas celebrations at the Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary), Lalibela, Ethiopia

Pilgrims visit Bet Giyorgis, the Church of St George

Young pilgrims wearing Ethiopian national dress

Pilgrims celebrate the end of their 43 day fast, drinking the local honey based liquor tej

Pilgrims arrive from all over Ethiopia (some having walked for 4-5 weeks)

Priest and deacons line up for King David’s dance, the final ritual at the Bet Maryam

Priest and deacons get ready to dance in Bet Maryam

Pilgrims light candles to the new born Jesus

A pilgrim waits for Christmas day in Lalibela

Priests and deacons wearing white Shemas (shawls) and cloaks perform ritual dances

Pilgrims gather on Christmas eve

Pilgrims carry candles during celebrations

Pilgrim reading bible in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Priests and Deacons in the courtyard of Bet Maryam

Pilgrims camp out near the churches of Lalibela

These tukuls become temporary homes for the pilgrims

Priest holds a 12th century bronze cross inside Bet Danaghel

Young priests sing and chant

Bet Maryam (Church of the Virgin Mary)

Priest with wooden cross and 500-year-old canvas painting in Bet Golgotha

Pilgrims at the Bet Gabriel

All images © Karoki Lewis 2016. Explore more of Ethiopia with the Rough Guide to Ethiopia. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Many visitors to Cape Town leave with a fairly limited view of the Mother City. They see the whitewashed beachfront restaurants and hotels, take the cable car up Table Mountain and top up their tan before heading home with a suitcase full of overpriced carved wooden animals that were actually made in China.

The overwhelming majority of Capetonians inhabit a very different world. That world is broadly referred to as the Cape Flats, and comprises the range of crowded informal settlements and “ghetto” townships – once known as “apartheid’s dumping ground” – that sprawl beyond the city centre and its leafy suburbs.

But a number of young township-based innovators and entrepreneurs are reimagining and repackaging these traditionally peripheral areas as much more than sad, impoverished and passive backdrops for a quick tick-the-box “poverty safari”. To these guys, the townships are the pulsing epicentre of urban South African experience, culture and creativity.

Take the time to get beneath the surface of Cape Town’s townships and you’ll find it’s hard to argue with them. Here are five of the best ways to see the irrepressible township revolution in all its glory.

Enjoy the sounds of Jazz in the Native Yards

Just around the corner from the raucousness and revelry of Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, you’ll find a live jazz venue with a difference.

Jazz in the Native Yards, the brainchild of former arts journalist and local boy Luvuyo Kakaza, takes some of the best jazz musicians from across South Africa away from overpriced and exclusionary city centre venues and squeezes them into a cozy township living room.

When the music isn’t playing, drinks can be ordered through the kitchen hatch and there’s a braai (barbecue), lots of banter and a distinct lack of racial boundaries to enjoy outside in the yard as the sun goes down.

Get your caffeine fix at the Department of Coffee

In 2012, The Department of Coffee was the first artisan coffee shop and espresso bar to open in a Cape Town township.

Found behind the busy Khayelitsha train station and the labyrinth of market stalls that surround it, this shop, run by three local twenty-somethings, is showing the surrounding community that a good brew is not just for the affluent – none of the delectable creations on offer cost more than R10 (about 50p), and all are made with local beans roasted specially for Department of Coffee.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee and the incessant hustle and bustle of this part of town on one of the shaded stone tables out front.

Image by Chris Clark

Catch dinner and a show at Theatre in the Backyard

Acclaimed theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George has teamed up with Cape Town experiential tour operator Coffeebeans Routes to offer an innovative and interactive twist on traditional dinner theatre.

George’s visceral, hard-hitting theatre pieces are staged in a township backyard in Nyanga, where his actors make use of the various “props” that are available to them while the audience, with no allocated seating, have to negotiate their way around the performers and the space.

After the show, you join the unfailingly affable director and his performers for a home-cooked dinner and a couple of beers, and George will tell you more about his Theatre in the Backyard concept.

Image by Chris Clark

Experience the urban creativity of The Langa Quarter

According to the Langa Quarter’s creator Tony Elvin, a black Brit who has settled in Langa, this so-called Social Enterprise Precinct will one day be to Cape Town what the French Quarter is to New Orleans.

Langa is both Cape Town’s oldest township and, interestingly, the geographic centre of the metropole. The Quarter thus serves both as a museum of the city’s past, and a creative hub of contemporary music, art, culture and design. Various artists living in the precinct use their houses as open art galleries, while others have painted directly onto the quarter’s walls and buildings themselves.

A ”hotel homestay”, where you’ll be put up and fed by a local resident, is the best way to experience the Langa Quarter’s growing number of attractions.

Image by Chris Clark

Feel the vibe on Spine Road

Strangely quiet during the week, this long road into the heart of Khayelitsha comes alive on weekends in a cacophony of sizzling meat, bassy Kwaito music, tooting car horns, laughter and general revelry.

At the sophisticated Deep Kultsha Café, the local elite dress to the nines and enjoy the views of the street below from the floor to ceiling windows of the raised venue. Just around the corner at the open air Rands Lifestyle Space, the in-house DJ gets the droves of beautiful people moving to the beat long before dusk. Punters bring their own alcohol and ice and set in for the long haul.

The crowds on the street – deck chairs out on the pavement and beats pumping from their car sound systems – sometimes outnumber those inside the venues. To those in the know, this is the city’s undisputed party capital.

Explore more of the Cape Town with the Rough Guide to Cape TownBook hostels, hotels and tours for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Rough Guides writer Kiki Deere shares some of her best photographs of the Philippines from her latest trip to Southeast Asia. 

Comprising 7107 islands, the Philippines boasts some of the world’s most incredibly diverse landscapes – nowhere more so than Luzon, the country’s largest island.

Northern Luzon is home to the country’s remotest wildernesses, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts: here it’s possible to white water raft on gushing mountain rivers, bike and trek on mountainous paths, climb active volcanoes, go spelunking (potholing) or surfing at some of the country’s best spots.

I travelled along the west coast, sprinkled with laidback beach and surf resorts, before heading inland to the Cordilleras, the tribal heartland of the country. Here age-old rice terraces weave around the mountainside, and the tradition of burying the dead in hanging coffins is still very much alive.

The region is also home to the Philippines’ best-preserved Spanish colonial town, Vigan, and the country’s remotest island province, Batanes, where weather, topography and language differ greatly from the mainland. Southern Luzon is equally enthralling, with its powdery white-sand beaches and limestone formations in the Caramoan Peninsula, the largest concentration of whale sharks in the world at Donsol (it’s possible to swim with these gentle giants), and the country’s most famous active volcano, Mount Mayon, said to have the world’s most symmetrical cone.

Mount Mayon enveloped in cloud

The Ifugao People of the Cordillera

The rolling hills of Batanes

Halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert

Sailing at sunset

Age-old rice terraces wrap around Ducligan in Banaue

The colonial streets of Vigan

A man tends to his bangka in Sorsogon Province

The verdant land of Masbate

Mount Iraya looms over the rugged coast of Batan Island

The hanging coffins of Sagada

Vegetable terraces covered in mist

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

Whether you’re looking for a meaningful gift for your travel partner, or you’re stuck with the awkward guy in the office secret Santa draw, there’s something for every kind of traveller here. Get your Christmas lists at the ready: here are the best gifts for travellers this year.

For the practical traveller: cafetiere mug

This is for the traveller that won’t sacrifice a good brew while on the road. Whether you’re camping or hostel hopping, this will save you from drinking the awful instant found on many a budget trip. The plastic mug, with its cafetiere-style filter for one-cup quality coffee, doubles as a thermos, keeping your morning caffeine fix warm for hours.

For novelty: Where I’d Rather Be umbrella

If you’ve got a friend suffering from some seasonal sadness, or someone getting a spot of itchy feet, this is the gift for them. These high-quality umbrellas not only keep you dry, but will help you forget the miserable rain you’re hiding from with their underside prints. When the heavens open, transport yourself to the tropics or onto a paradise island.

For the photographer: the Prynt phone case

So maybe you can’t afford the latest lenses for your loved one’s travel shots, but you might be able to splash out on this brilliant bit of tech. It’s a case that turns your iPhone/Android into a Polaroid-style camera, with the ability to print photographs immediately after taking them. No more will you be taking down new friends’ addresses on the road, only to never send those promised portraits you always take.

For travel-themed therapy: Colour the World

Colouring books are a great way to wind down after a long day. So what better way to sketch your way to relaxation than to Colour the World with our latest title? From the temples of Angkor Wat to the magnificent Machu Picchu, you can colour your way around the world with this gorgeous book. Just don’t forget to buy pencils too…

For the stylish traveller: watercolour map print

If you love to travel, you probably already own a standard world map. But this beautiful watercolour print from Etsy is perfect for those who want a little more travel chic in their homes.

For the adventurer: bivvy bag

What’s more adventurous than sleeping out in the open with nothing but the stars? We don’t know, but we do know it gets pretty cold. Which is why a bivvy bag is the perfect present for any adventurer seeking solitude in the great outdoors.

For the person needing inspiration: Best Day on Earth

If you’re stuck for ideas for travel in 2016, our new coffee-table book, Best Day on Earth will have you booking flights after page one. This book is packed full of stunning photographs – from sunrise to sunset and late into the night – to inspire you to make the most of your time on Earth.

For the conscious traveller: charity appeals

We’ve all been touched by people and places along our travels, so why not give something to help those you’ve met along the way. Survival International – a charity that helps fight for tribal peoples’ rights – have an online shop where 100% of the profits go towards their campaigns. You can choose from beautiful 2016 calendars and Christmas cards illustrated with photos of tribes from around the world, as well as t-shirts and stunning photography prints. Alternatively, you could purchase an Oxfam Unwrapped gift to forward on to someone who is more in need: options include fertiliser, a toilet and a pair of goats.

You can buy Rough Guides in our online shop. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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