Big Sur, California

Dizzying views of the Pacific Ocean are awarded at every bend of the 90-mile stretch of craggy coastal road between California’s Carmel and San Simeon. Rent a convertible and hit the highway in true Californian style. This is a sparsely populated region, so for it’s ideal for romancers seeking seclusion. Don’t miss the stunning McWay Falls and Pfeiffer Beach.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Rising out of the Nevada desert like the emerald city of Oz, fabulous Las Vegas flaunts its reputation as a destination for high rollers and thrill seekers. Notions of romance are vast and varied in this neon Mecca, so clasp hands and take your pick from gondola rides in the Venetian, a spin on the high-flying SlotZilla zipline or a late-night stroll along The Strip to the spectacular Fountains of the Bellagio.

Stowe, Vermont

Frank Sinatra crooned over moonlight in Vermont, but autumn in this New England state is the real showstopper. As the weather turns chilly, the landscape, which is thickly carpeted in forest, erupts into riotous shades of amber and gold – a spectacle of colour to make any pair of autumn-lovers swoon. Stowe is particularly picturesque, a classic American town with friendly locals and a backdrop of rolling hills.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

It’s a two-hour ferry from mainland Massachusetts to the beachy isle of Nantucket, where long stretches of sandy shore and wild heathland will certainly bowl you over. Inland, dreamy clapboarded houses – many still standing strong after 150 years – line the charming cobbled streets into Nantucket Town. Pick up supplies from a local deli, rent bicycles and pedal your way to the iconic lighthouse at Brant Point for a picnic in the dunes.

New York City

New York City is arguably the ultimate city destination. Home to some of the world’s most venerated galleries and museums, even the most discerning culture vulture will be awed. The iconic skyline, bursting with recognizable landmarks, will delight city wanderers hunting photo opportunities. And for foodies planning a memorable meal? Dine under the arches of The Grand Central Oyster Bar, a city institution opened over a century ago, which boasts a whispering gallery famous for hushed propositions.

Crested Butte, The Rockies, Colorado

Outdoorsy couples seeking activity and alpine summer air should head to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. From June through August the meadows and forests of Crested Butte are blanketed in colourful arrays of wild flowers. Bike through woodland trails into a rugged wilderness of snow-capped peaks, or hike the 12-mile distance to Aspen and spend the night in one of the town’s luxury lodges – balcony hot tubs are, of course, de rigueur.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Colonised by France, briefly ruled by the Spanish and bought by the US in 1803, The Big Easy embraces cultural fusion like no other city in America. Perhaps best known for its music scene, and arguably as the hometown of jazz and blues, New Orleans is imbued with a spirit of festivity. Come nightfall the seductive French Quarter buzzes with romance. Think balcony dinners, red-hot Creole cuisine and buskers playing nightlong on street corners.

Kauai, Hawaii

Tropical island life doesn’t get more laid-back than Kauai. The palm-dotted beaches of this most northerly Hawaiian Island, famous for its surf and remarkable volcanic landscapes, offers pure paradise for any duo searching for a tranquil escape. Test the waters of Kiahuna beach – best for beginner surfers – or if catching waves isn’t your thing, head to Ha’ena on the northern shore, where trails through the State Park will lead you to ancient Hawaiian sites.

Fairbanks to Anchorage, Alaska

Begin your trip by taking in the ethereal spectacle of the aurora borealis, best observed from the skies above Fairbanks during winter months. Here, temperatures can drop to heart-aching sub zero levels, but the Northern Lights (and a cuddle or two) will surely set frozen pulses racing and leave you starry-eyed. Next, ride the rails south from Fairbanks to Anchorage in a glass-topped train, the ideal vantage point to soak up that dramatic scenery in comfort.

Portland, Oregon

Artsy and vibrant with outstanding green spaces, Portland is the ultimate hangout city. Having planted itself on the map as a haven for keen cyclists and coffee lovers, there’s now a burgeoning street food scene and commitment to craft beer, with more local breweries than any city in the world. Spend an evening bar hopping and banish any resulting hangover with a trip to the enchanting Multnomah Falls, where a gentle amble leads you to the cascading waterfall and fairy-tale bridge crossing.

Thailand is the quintessential backpacker destination. Here you can make the first footprints on secluded sands, dance shoeless under a full moon and swim beneath cascading waterfalls.

Running through Thailand’s rainforests and temples and looping around its islands and beaches is the so-called “banana pancake trail”, a well-worn, tried and tested backpacker route that has seen the sandals of thousands of independent travellers over the decades.

They’re still coming in their droves and you’re a part of the action as soon as you strap on that backpack – the accessory that ensures you won’t even have the chance to get lonely.

Must-see destinations

For a frenetic introduction to Thailand, head straight to Bangkok where the neon lights and market stalls of Khao San Road still serve as the country’s main backpacker hangout. Slurp noodles, sip local beer and visit the gilded Grand Palace and Wat Pho’s giant gold reclining Buddha with your new friends.

For impressive Thai temples, head to Ayutthaya in the north, the country’s ancient capital now scattered with temples in varying stages of decay. The brooding red-brick ruins are best viewed at sunset, when the golden light makes this atmospheric city a photographer’s dream.

If you’re after something a little more laidback, Kanchanaburi is the spot for you. You can take a train along the famous Death Railway, built by prisoners of war during World War II, see the Bridge over the River Kwai and swim at the tumbling seven-tiered Erawan Falls.

Ko Pha Ngan is where the sands of Hat Rin see up to 30,000 people arrive each month for the famous full moon parties. The party starts at dusk, when thousands of lamps are lit, and continues through the night, with dancing, fire twirling and, of course, drinking.

If you want to get to know the locals, head to Chiang Mai, the jumping off point for numerous guided multi-day treks and short walks in the country’s remote north. Here you can visit small local communities and hill-tribes.

Getting around

A journey by tuk tuk is an essential Thai travel experience and you’re sure to use these noisy, fume-cloaked but very fun vehicles to get around, especially in Bangkok. Fares are the same no matter the number of passengers so team up with one or two (three is the safe maximum) other travellers to save money. Agree the fare before setting out (expect to pay 100-150 baht for short Bangkok hops) and be sure to have the right money ready on arrival.

Solo travellers can make good use of the motorcycle taxis that ply all common routes in both major towns and more off-the-beaten-track parts. These only seat one passenger and are no good if you’ve got luggage, but short journeys across town or the island can be good value (as low as 20 baht).

Thailand is a sizeable country and distances between large towns can be great (it’s 700km from Bangkok to Chiang Mai). An overnight bus or train is a good way of getting from A to B while also saving the cost of a hostel.

The overnight trains are operated by the State Railway of Thailand and run on four useful routes out of Bangkok, including services to Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai and to Surat Thani (a jumping off point for many of the southern islands).

Second-class berths are the best bet for solo travellers, with the communal comfortable seats converting into fully flat curtained-off beds come nightfall.

First-class cabins are set up for two so only book these if you’re happy sharing with a stranger. Bring snacks and drinks and settle in for a long journey.

Don’t fancy the long journey alone? There are plenty of internal flights, with Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, Nok Air (Thai Airways’ budget arm) and Thai Lion Air all offering daily Bangkok-Chiang Mai flights with a flight time of 1hr 15min. Flying also means not having to go back to Bangkok – trains and buses use the capital as a hub meaning you will keep ending up back there.

Where to eat

Eating alone in Thailand doesn’t need to mean a table for one. The best food is often found at the local night market, where mobile kitchens sell noodles, fried rice, sticky rice cakes, pancakes and fresh juices, and seating is communal and lively.

Almost every large town will have street stalls selling noodles day and night, so you can fill up without even sitting down.

Many hostels have cafés or restaurants, where you won’t stand out as a solo diner and may even meet fellow travellers in search of dining companions. Most travellers love nothing more than discussing where they’ve been or are going over a bowl of noodles or a beer.

How to meet people

If you want to meet people, sticking to the main backpacker destinations (including those listed above) is the best bet. Stay in hostels rather than hotels – choose to stay in a dorm so you’ll be sharing with other people and not holed up alone.

In Bangkok stay on or near the Khao San Road for the best chance of impromptu Singhas with your new friends – NapPark is a good choice, with its communal tamarind-shaded courtyard and TV room.

In Chiang Mai, Diva Guesthouse has six­-bed dorms and a sociable café on the ground floor, while Kanchanaburi’s Jolly Frog has a communal atmosphere and hammocks in the central, leafy garden.

Compass Backpacker’s Hostel by James Antrobus on Flickr (license)

Group activities are a great way to make friends fast. You can try everything, from day trips to Thai cookery courses. If you want an insight into Thailand through food, in Bangkok try Helping Hands or the vegetarian May Kaidee, and in Chiang Mai the Thai Cookery School.

For more of an adventure, take a zipline tour through the rainforest near Chiang Mai with Flight of the Gibbon or learn to scuba dive with The Dive Academy on Koh Samui.

A girl’s guide: is it safe for solo female travellers?

Thailand is largely safe for solo travellers of both genders, and despite the country’s prolific sex industry, women are unlikely to attract any more attention than men when travelling alone.

When travelling alone in Thailand, the standard rules apply: don’t take unlicensed taxis and don’t go home with strangers. As long as you use your common sense, Thailand is a perfectly safe place to travel.

Many hostels will have female-only dorms, which may be safer, not to mention a great way to meet other female travellers.

Unfortunately drug-muggings are known to sometimes happen in Thailand, but these are easily avoided. Don’t eat or drink anything a stranger gives you, especially on a train or at a full moon party. Trains and buses are ripe for petty theft so keep all your valuables with you when you travel.

Get more advice on your solo trip to Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

I’m an Aussie girl and have been living and working in Uganda for the past fifteen years. Apart from my “regular” day job, I’m also a freelance photographer.

I arrived in Uganda in August 2000, with my husband, after an eight-month 4×4 overland journey we started in London, in December 1999. It was during this journey I realised how important it was to document both photographically and in writing, the extraordinary people and places we had encountered.

Soon after arrival in Uganda we volunteered to build a school in Gulu, in the north. Once the school was completed we decided to stay, for the foreseeable future, and make Kampala our home.

Through travel and documentary photography, my sole intention is to show the beauty that abounds both in Uganda and other parts of the world, by providing a visual gift to those who may not have the means to experience it as I have.

Golola the boda boda rider, Kampala

Rainforest at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains

A troop of roaming baboons, Ishasha

Sunset, Kalangala District, Ssese Islands

The Bahá’í House of Worship, Kampala

St Balikuddembe Market, Kampala

A gathering of family members, Kaiso Village, Lake Albert

Queen Elizabeth National Park

A tree lion having an afternoon rest, Ishasha

Dancing at UN World Refugee Day celebrations, Rwamwanja Settlement Camp

Dusk over Sipi Falls, Kapchowra

Main prayer hall, Uganda National Mosque, Kampala

Henry, the fashion conscious boda boda rider, Kampala

Sunrise over Mweya Peninsula, Queen Elizabeth National Park

Aerial view of Ssese Canoes being crafted, Mukono District

You can see more of Clare’s photography on her website here and her Facebook page here. Thinking of Africa? Find out more with the Rough Guide to First Time Africa

A country in the throes of massive change, Sri Lanka’s heady mix of British colonial heritage, beautiful landscapes and incredibly friendly locals make it a beguiling destination. But the tropical isle has only cropped up on travellers’ radars in recent years, following the end of the country’s 26-year-long civil war in 2009. With more tourists heading to Sri Lanka every year, now is the perfect time to visit. Here are ten tips and tricks to help first-time visitors.

1. Prepare to go slow

Although infrastructure is improving and transport options are plentiful, getting around this modestly-sized country might feel a little trying at times, with its tightly winding roads and engine-testing inclines. The Hill Country is particularly notorious for eating away at time – whether traveling by bus, tuk tuk or train, expect to inch from one tea plantation to the next at speeds of around 12-15 miles per hour. For those with little time or deep pockets, taking a seaplane or hiring a car and driver are good alternatives.

2. Go to relax, not to rave

Outside of Colombo, and a few beach resorts, hostels with dorm rooms tend to be thin on the ground. Family-run guesthouses are much more common, which means it’s easy to meet locals but tricky for solo travellers hoping to make friends on the road. As an emerging honeymoon hotspot Sri Lanka also attracts a lot of couples. Those looking for nightlife to rival Bangkok’s Khao San Road will leave unfulfilled: beach bars pepper Arugam Bay on the east coast and Hikkaduwa on the west, but these are mellow affairs and many shut down out of season.

3. Treat yourself

If you’ve got Sri Lankan rupees to spare there are plenty of new luxury hotels and resorts where you can spend them. International names such as Aman have already set up shop on the island, and Shangri-La has two new hotels scheduled to open soon. But it’s the home-grown, luxury hotel mini-chains that you ought to keep your eye on. Uga Escapes and Resplendent Ceylon are just two examples of burgeoning local brands that offer more than just copy and paste properties. There are tonnes of great budget boutique hotels across the country.

4. Go north to get away from the crowds

Formerly off limits, the country’s Northern Province is prime territory for those who want to roam off the beaten path. A Tamil Tiger stronghold, it was one of the last areas on the island to reopen to tourists, and has yet to succumb to the same wave of hotels, resorts and other developments, or to receive the same flurry of foreign visitors. If you’re after deserted golden beaches, remote temples and colonial port towns go north.

5. Focus on food

Sri Lankan food is delicious, so make the most of it while you’re there. Though knowing where and when to find the good stuff may prove a harder task than you anticipated. Bowl-shaped hoppers (savoury rice flour crêpes) are a highlight, though are typically only served first thing in the morning or in late afternoon. Rice and curry is a lunchtime affair, while kottu rotty (chopped flatbread stir-fried with eggs and vegetables) is only available in the evening. Those familiar with Asia will be surprised at the lack of street food stalls; instead, some of the best food can be found in the kitchens of small guesthouses.

6. Consider Colombo

With jazz clubs, rooftop bars, boutique stores and internationally-acclaimed restaurants, Colombo can no longer be considered merely a gateway city. And though there are a number of sights to see, the capital is also a great place to simply settle in and get a sense of what local life is like. Watch families fly kites on Galle Face Green at sunset, cheer for the national cricket team at the R Premadasa Stadium or observe grandmothers swathed in vivid saris bargain with stallholders at Pettah Market.

7. Plan around the seasons

While the monsoon rains might not dampen your enthusiasm for exploring bear in mind that experiences can vary wildly depending on the season. If you’re desperate to climb Adam’s Peak, for example, then visit during pilgrimage season (December-May). Outside of these months it’s still possible to hike to the summit, but the myriad tea shops that line the path will be closed and you’ll climb with a handful of tourists instead of hundreds of local devotees, meaning much of the atmosphere and camaraderie among climbers is lost.

8. Get active

Sri Lanka might be known for its stupas, beaches and tea plantations but it’s also crammed with adrenalin-packed activities. Why not try surfing in Arugam Bay, hiking the Knuckles Mountain Range or white-water rafting in Kelaniya Ganga, Kitulgala. Cycling holidays are also becoming increasingly popular with a number of international tour operators offering specialist tours.

9. Make the most of your money

By western standards Sri Lanka is still a cheap destination, but prices are rising quickly: the cost of a cultural show in Kandy has doubled in the last year alone. For everyday items like tea and toothpaste head to the supermarkets in big cities where you can rest assured that you’re not paying over the odds. In the corner shops of smaller cities simply check the packaging, which has the price printed next to the letters ‘Rs.’ (meaning rupees).

10. Understand the culture

At its closest point, only 18 miles of aquamarine waters separate Sri Lanka and India, but there’s a world of difference between the two. The pace of life in Sri Lanka feels much less frantic than that of its neighbour, which makes it ideal for those intrigued, yet intimidated, by India. Few locals bat an eyelid at western visitors and while covering up is always appreciated (and necessary at places of worship), wearing shorts and vests is unlikely to attract much attention.

Explore Sri Lanka with the Rough Guide to Sri LankaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Bobby’s mullet blows in the wind as he pilots his dinky motorcycle down Copenhagen‘s cobbled backstreets. Wobbling past kebab shops and contemporary design stores on his way to work, he looks like a living relic from a bygone era: the 1980s.

A turtleneck peeks out from beneath his blue denim jacket, which perfectly matches the wash of his jeans, and a Freddie Mercury-esque moustache conceals his upper lip. This getup is, in part, why he’s often referred to as “Retro Bobby”.

But it’s his unconventional barbershop that’s truly earned him his retro reputation – the perfect place to unleash your inner-child, or your inner-geek. Ruben og Bobby is a basement world crammed with vintage video games, hulking pinball and arcade machines, classic consoles and old-school toys. Thoughtfully posed action figures are stuffed on shelves, curated in self-evident categories such as Ninja Turtles, He-Man, Pokémon and Power Rangers.

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

Though Bobby’s own hair is – to put it mildly – bold, he’s a skilled barber capable of all kinds of cuts, from the 90s bowl to the latest in disheveled-chic. In a tiny room behind the salon’s front desk, there sits a single barber’s chair in front of a mirror and a first-generation Nintendo for customers to play during their snip. Beat the high score and receive a 20% discount off the price.

Customers pay for their new doos in Danish Krone, Bitcoins or cool retro stuff – because Bobby also accepts trade-ins for his goods and services. Though his business model might not conquer the world, in Copenhagen Ruben og Bobby works. But why?

Image provided by Ruben og Bobby

He has created something much more than a barbershop or vintage toy store. The space functions as both an interactive museum and art installation of sorts – a nostalgic homage to a time of chunky plastic, ground-breaking creativity and experimental design left behind in our race towards a more virtual future.

The shop is a refuge from Copenhagen’s crowded hotspots and a worthwhile place to hang, whether you’re due for a trim, looking to buy or just feel like playing some vintage games. With special events like 8-bit music parties and arcade tournaments it’s a social environment too – so don’t be surprised if you end up befriending a bunch of Danish locals, including Retro Bobby himself.

Retro Bobby

from Copenhagers on Vimeo.

Ruben og Bobby is located at Bjelkes Alle 7a in Nørrebro, Copenhagen‘s hippest and most multicultural neighbourhood. To book a haircut, and for more on the shop, check out rubenogbobby.squarespace.com. Explore more of the city with the Pocket Rough Guide CopenhagenCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tom Michell, author of The Penguin Lessons, was an intrepid but fairly ordinary 23 year old when he travelled to Argentina in the 1970s to teach English in a boys’ school. But on one school break, in which he travelled through Brazil and Uruguay, he picked up an unusual companion… Here’s the story of how it happened.

Let’s get straight to the point: how did you manage to pick up a penguin in Uruguay?

I’d been staying in Punta del Este for a few days, just unwinding and chilling at the end of a holiday, and the day before I was going to go back to Argentina I was walking on the beach and encountered lots of dead penguins covered in oil and tar. Rather than turning round and walking away, I walked on just to get some idea of how many were dead. And while doing that I noticed one of them move.

My first inclination was to go and polish it off, because all the others were dead. But I wasn’t quite certain how I was going to do it, and as I approached this bird it stood up and made it quite clear that it wasn’t just going to sit there while I wrung its neck.

I thought, well, perhaps I ought to clean it, and perhaps it would survive if I did.

So once you rescued him from the beach, what happened?

And after rubbing him with butter and olive oil and various things – soap detergent, shampoo – I had really quite a recognizable penguin. And I thought, all I have to do is let him go now – take him to the sea. So I took him back down to the sea and tried to encourage him to go.

I thought if I put him out on the rocks, as the waves come in he’ll disappear and just swim off and it’ll be fine. So I put him out on the rocks, went back to watch, and the wave came in and he disappeared. But while I was saying goodbye and good luck little bird, out he came again and came straight back to me! So I tried again and again and he wouldn’t go, he kept coming back. What was I going to do?

Eventually I decided if I abandoned him there, if I just left him and walked off the beach and went back, he wouldn’t be able to climb up the wall. So I walked off and I left him. And then he came running up the beach after me, like some small child! No, it wasn’t like a small child at all, it was quite different from that – it was just like a penguin.

So you took him back to your holiday apartment and eventually made it across the border to Argentina. How did that go?

Knowing the Argentines reasonably well having spent 6 months there, I decided that if I called him an Argentine penguin, every officer would immediately say “Ah, well of course you must bring him back.” And so this was my plan.

And of course the ruddy bird squawked while we were going through customs, so the officer yanked me into a small interview room. I thought I was going for the high jump, but it became fairly clear fairly quickly that actually he was only after a bribe.

If I’d given him a bribe in the first place – if I hadn’t been so young and so foolish – it could’ve been so much easier. But of course I was English and I thought, how dare you ask for a bribe. I’m not giving you a bribe to bring a penguin through. I called his bluff and said: “Well I’m not going to pay a bribe, you can look after him.” And I made to go.

Who are you lookin’ at? by Gerald5 on Flickr (license)

I said I was going to complain to the authorities about being asked for a bribe, and in revolutionary Argentina with lots of armed guards and military rushing around with guns, he obviously thought better of it too. So he let me go. And I took the penguin back on public transport.

How did the children react when you arrived back at school with a penguin called Juan Salvador as a pet?

It wasn’t really that strange – if I’d turned up with a dog, nobody would’ve batted an eyelid. A penguin wasn’t wildly different – they live there. So if somebody simply decides they’re getting a tortoise, would you make a lot of fuss about it? The difference is actually that tortoises aren’t as personable as penguins. So it was certainly his character that got people coming out to the terrace where I installed him.

As it says in the book: “Juan Salvador was a penguin who charmed and delighted everyone who knew him in those dark and dangerous days.”

From all the time you spent with Juan Salvador, do you have one standing moment that you will always remember?

I suppose the moment is sitting there, with him – doglike – leaning his head on my foot falling asleep, and saying “ I ought to write a book about you”.

IMG_2869 by Adam Reeder on Flickr (license)

And he just looked up, and the shiver of disgust that run from his beak down to his bottom and excited that way gave you absolutely no doubt about what he thought of my idea. That’s the moment I will always remember.

To find out what happened to Juan Salvador read of Tom’s heart-warming and compelling novel, The Penguin LessonsCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

For most travellers it’s the people they meet that linger longest in the memory, whether it’s the safari guide you’ve spent days spotting rhinos with or the street-food vendor that serves up the highlight of your trip. Andy Turner selects eleven travel heroes that go beyond the call of duty – add yours in the comments below.

1. New York taxi drivers

NYC cabbies may occasionally be irascible and directionally challenged, but they often have a life story to make your jaw drop (and will insist on telling it to you between 5th and Williamsburg). With 96% of yellow cab drivers born outside the USA, it’s a true United Nations workforce, perhaps worth a place on a human UNESCO list. You talkin’ to me?

2. The Queen’s Guard, London

Flesh and blood tourist attractions, London‘s Queen’s Guard – stationed outside Buckingham Palace – are often mistaken for clockwork robots, probably as they have to spend several hours standing still. Just remember that beneath the seriously heavy helmet is a human being who may not enjoy being poked at by a selfie stick. If you decide to get too close then be prepared for the consequences.

Her Majesty’s Household Cavalry Guard by drufisher on Flickr (licence)

3. Skydiving instructors

Strapping yourself to a giggling tourist and jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft takes a certain amount of daring, will power and a dispassionate sense of self preservation. And if, say, you haven’t hit it off, it’s a long way down. Tandem skydivers of the world – we salute you!

Tandem Casper Teerink by Skydive Andes Chile on Flickr (licence)

4. Mountain porters, Nepal

When you’re fighting for breath on your way to Everest Base Camp, it is humbling to be overtaken by a guy in flip flops carrying three times his body weight… on a strap around his head. Despite their remarkable strength, many porters suffer from hypothermia and altitude sickness due to inadequate clothing and acclimatisation. You can help by donating to the Porters’ Clothing Bank in Kathmandu.

 

Image by Tim Draper/DK

5. Surf lifesavers, Australia

Visit an Australian beach and it’s a safe bet that someone in red and yellow (or blue if it’s Bondi) will be keeping a close eye on you, whether you’re falling off a surfboard or discovering that you’re not quite up to ocean swimming the hard way. While they’re often shorthand for sun-kissed physical perfection (Bondi Rescue hasn’t lasted 10 seasons without a few hotties), Aussie lifeguards are bonafide heroes saving 12,000 lives per year.

6. Tuk-tuk drivers

The humble tuk-tuk (also known as the bajajtempo, lapa or “baby taxi”) is a one-vehicle emblem for adventurous travel. From Mexico to Mubai, their drivers manage to weave between belching lorries, errant cows and meteor-sized potholes, delivering you and your backpack safely to airports, backstreet hostels and remote white-sand beaches. Not bad for a clapped-out Hyundai.

7. Street-food vendors

Whether it’s a loud and frenetic Asian night market or a pop-up bar in Brazil dishing out caipirinhas, street-food vendors are responsible for arguably the world’s tastiest and most memorable dishes. Check out our gallery of the world’s finest street-side flavours.

8. Wildlife rangers, Africa

Next time you see a wild animal in Africa rather than, say, a taxidermist’s shop or an ivory showroom, spare a thought for those on the front line against poachers. According to the Thin Green Line foundation over a thousand park rangers have been killed in the last ten years, protecting rhinos, elephants and big cats for the next generation.

9. Scuba instructors

While they regularly top “greatest job in the world” polls, scuba instructors don’t just flirt with newlyweds on their honeymoon in the Maldives. They’re responsible for the most dangerous creature in the ocean: the beginner scuba diver. Ensuring newbies don’t drown, get the bends or collide with a pristine reef isn’t for the faint hearted; oh, and the money’s often terrible. Still, on balance, it beats working in an office.

10. Cabin crew, 30,000ft

Is there any job that has become less glamorous over the last few decades? Once the career of choice for those dreaming of a life of exotic travel and dishing out Dom Pérignon to the world’s elite, cabin crew are now likely to be dealing with an angry mob of passengers in a windswept hanger miles from civilisation (and that’s if they’re not being called something unrepeatable by a drunk supermodel).

cabin_crew_service by Austrian Airlines on Flickr (licence)

11. Anyone who has to dress up for tourists

Often a much-needed summer job for “resting” actors, performing as an eighteenth-century peasant, an elf or (heaven forbid) a Disney character is not for sissies. Giving hugs to members of the public or posing for endless selfies can cause a rictus grin to appear on your face, not to mention all the kids asking how people went to the loo in “olden times”.

Reenactment by Oliver Hallmann on Flickr (licence)

12. [Insert your travel heroes here]

Has someone made your trip of a lifetime unforgettable? Maybe you’ve stayed somewhere amazing or travelled with a brilliant tour operator. Nominate your travel heroes here and you could win a cool bundle of travel gear.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cabin interior by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls on display by Kevin (CC license)

Shrine by Kevin (CC license)

The forest by Kevin (CC license)

Dolls hung by metal wire by Kevin (CC license)

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

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

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

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). 

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