Do you love to take to the open road with nothing but a backpack and your best walking shoes? Or perhaps you’re more of an extreme-adventurer, seeking steep mountain slopes to climb and harsh climates to traverse? Hundreds of great explorers have travelled the world in pursuit of new lands and new discoveries, or to inspire others with their writing. There’s no better way to find travel inspiration than by looking at their adventures, so take our quiz to discover whose footsteps you should follow in…

Tourists are visiting Thailand in increasing numbers, but some communities remain stuck in a time long passed. In pursuit of the “old Thailand”, Alex Robinson shuns the tour buses and takes local’s route, the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

We’re waiting on the road, huddled together with locals who’ve risen in the pre-dawn dark. “Kneel,” whispers my guide Poj, “and press your palms together”. I do so and wince as a piece of gravel digs into my kneecap. In the distance, hundreds of saffron-robed monks spill out of the monasteries that surround Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep temple and down the snaking staircase that cuts through the thick forests shrouding the mountain.

I try to stay quiet as the monks approach, holding out their big stainless steel alms bowls. Poj drops bags of warm, sticky Thai rice, wafer biscuits and fruit into the bowls and the monks begin to chant. But not in Thai – they speak the Pali language, a dead dialect that was once used in many of the earliest Buddhist scriptures.

To me it sounds as ancient as church Latin, rich, rolling and redolent with the sacred. It’s mesmerising. Meditative. I’m trance-like for five minutes and it’s only after they’ve moved on that I remember the pain in my knee and the pins and needles in my legs.

Tourist Thailand seems far behind. I’ve entered an older country, where monks speak a bygone language and collect alms in the dawn light – as they have done two-and-a-half thousand years. This Chiang Mai isn’t a travel stop for hill tribe handicrafts and elephant camps, but the old capital of the Northern kingdom of Lanna. At least for the next hour. Until the tour buses arrive.

“Tourist Thailand seems far behind”

I began this journey four days earlier in current capital of Thailand, Bangkok. Wanting to find an older Thailand I decided to take the twelve-hour slow train north to Chiang Mai. Most travellers take the overnight train and sleep right through, choosing not to visit the country’s former capitals, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, at all. But I chose to go by day, staying overnight to explore these overlooked destinations.

Leaving Bangkok, I was glad of the peace and calm of the train to my next stop, Ayutthaya. Most tourists squeeze into minivans. But I was one of a handful of foreign faces with a compartment all to myself. Feet up, camera at the ready, I watched the heat and highways of central Bangkok fade into crane-spiked concrete hinterland and then lush green paddy fields, dotted with tractors, workers in conical hats and the occasional languid water buffalo.

I woke with a start as the train jolted into Ayutthaya. This city was once so covered in glittering mosaics that it was said to dazzle visitors from kilometres away. Sadly it was ransacked by the Burmese in 1767; temples were smashed, the houseboats and houses, where almost a million Thais lived, were burnt to husks and thousands were forcibly repatriated across the border.

Off the train, I took to two wheels, cycling past Ayutthaya’s network of canals, which was once bustling with boat trade. I could almost hear the vegetable sellers haggle as they yelled for trade from tiny canoes; now the canals are coloured pink with flowering lotuses. When I reached the city itself – a graveyard of crumbling brick palaces, mould-stippled stupas and Buddhas – I found a statue at Wat Phra Mahathat engulfed by a strangler fig, only its serene face remaining exposed among a swirl of roots.

Image by Alex Robinson

“With so few foreigners on the train, I was a curiosity”

There were so few foreigners on the evening train to Phitsanulok that I was a curiosity. Thai people stopped to ask where I was from. The family opposite shared their rice and curry. As night thickened a guard turned my seat into a couchette, covered it with a crisp white sheet and I slept soundly all the way, and when I arrived in the 600-year-old city I was met by my smiling guide, Poj.

The next day we visited Sukhothai, Thailand’s capital in the early thirteenth century just 60km from Phitsanulok. Ransacked Ayutthaya was a forlorn ruin, but the long erosion of time has turned Sukhothai into an eternal monument – a Thai version of Angkor Wat.

In Ayutthaya, Buddhas sat in serried ranks – soldiers against samsara (the material world) – but in Sukhothai, they were veiled by temple walls, serene and as tall as tower blocks, gazing across 800 years of history to a point beyond time. Brightly-coloured tropical birds played among the ornate stupas and perched on the stucco, and nuns and monks meditated at the feet of centuries-old effigies lost at the end of sweeping colonnades.

Image by Alex Robinson

“Instead of tourist crowds, there was the bustle of everyday life”

Before Poj and I embarked on the final leg of our journey and caught the night train to Chiang Mai we visited Mahathat Woramahawihan – a stroll from Phitsanulok railway station. Hidden inside the temple is Thailand’s second most venerated Buddha: a magnificent, three-metre-tall gold statue, crowned with a lotus-flower halo and shimmering in the light.

Instead of the crowds you find at the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok, there was the bustle of everyday life. Expectant mums with bags of groceries, school kids, and monks in robes shuffled in through the temple doors and prostrated themselves at the Buddha’s feet. They chanted, prayed, then went on their way, and aside from me – one lone awkward intruder – there wasn’t a European in sight.

But I saw them when I reached Chiang Mai the next day, stuck in tuk tuks in the traffic-choked streets around the city’s old royal moat, clustering around the ancient temples and crowding the tiny bars around the night market. It was fun to join the throng for a while, before slipping off for an early night. To see Chiang Mai as it used to you need to awake for the golden dawn, when monks fill the streets and tourism sleeps.

Alex Robinson travelled with Audley Travel who organise bespoke trips around Thailand, including by rail. Explore more of Thailand with the Rough Guide to ThailandCompare flights, book hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

This year, one of Rough Guides’ roaming authors and photographers, Kiki Deere, returned to northern Italy for one of Europe’s most memorable festivals. Here, she shares 13 stunning pictures of the Venice Carnival.

“Carnival has always played an important role in my life, having been brought up in northern Italy“, she says, “but experiencing Carnival in Venice is different altogether”.

“Interestingly this tradition was only revived in 1979 after falling out of fashion for a number of years, but Venetian masks have a long and intriguing history – thanks to a rigid caste system and a desire to indulge in vices that encouraged anonymity.”

“This year Carnival began on the last weekend of January, with an inaugural regatta featuring a spectacular fleet of boats and rowers dressed in colourful costumes. In the run up to Lent a plethora of events take place throughout the city, with festivities culminating on the day of Shrove Tuesday. People amble along the streets donning wonderfully elaborate costumes and distinctive masks, often pausing along the Grand Canal to be photographed. The city’s exclusive Caffè Florian on St Mark’s Square is a traditional gathering place for those in costume, who ostentatiously pose for passers-by in the café window.”

An explosion of colours during the Venice regatta

A beautifully ornate costume representing the sun

Strutting and posing along the Riva degli Schiavoni

A feminine outfit speckled with faux diamonds and gems

Lost in thought in period costume

Views of San Giorgio Maggiore at sunset

Sparkling earrings and gold-laced headdress adorned with flowers

A blue and peach coloured dress representing a majestic sunflower

An elaborate mask embellished with silver and golden patterns

A refined blue and green ensemble characterized by showy feathers

Taking a stroll in St Mark’s Square

Twinkling attire with a silver moon-shaped mask to match

Intricately decorated costume with peacock feathers

All photographs copyright of Kiki Deere. Explore more of Venice with the Rough Guide to Italy. Compare flights, book hostels and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

The Sari, India

Ostensibly the simplest item of clothing possible – a single length of fabric, up to nine metres long – the sari is also one of the world’s most versatile and stylish garments, which can be draped in dozens of different ways. The sari spans all of Indian society, from simple cotton versions that are woven in the street throughout the villages of India to extremely glamorous contemporary styles that grace the catwalk during India Fashion Week.

Kilts, Scotland

From Braveheart to Strictly Come Dancing, the kilt has been used to represent all things Scottish, anachronistically so in the case of Mel Gibson’s costume as William Wallace. However, visit any Scottish highland games, and you’ll see that kilt-wearing traditions are alive and well, from the immaculately dressed competitive dancers to the pipe players in formal attire and, most impressively of all, the participants in the "heavy events" – for you cannot toss a caber properly unless wearing a kilt.

Tracht, Southern Germany and Austria

Tracht – that’s lederhosen for men and dirndls for women – is the traditional dress across southern Germany and Austria. There are many variations on the basic styles depending on the area and on fashion, from the pom-pom hats of the Black Forest (bollenhut) to thoroughly modern versions: there’s nothing quite like a tight pair of leather shorts worn at a Pride festival to put a contemporary twist on those Bavarian lederhosen.

Balinese temple dress, Indonesia

Anyone visiting a Balinese temple should at least wear two basic elements of Balinese traditional dress, a sash (selendang) and a sarong-style skirt known as a kain. However, the full Balinese outfit for women, which also includes the kebaya blouse, is an elaborate ensemble worn for temple festivals that shows off Bali’s gorgeous textiles, such as ikat weaving and batik, to the full.

Maasai beadwork, Kenya

One of the smaller ethnic groups in Kenya, but one of the most recognisable, the Maasai’s reputation worldwide belies its size, no small part thanks to their stunning attire: brilliant red cloth, extraordinarily intricate beadwork and – for young men – long, ochre-dyed hair. The beadwork in particular contains much meaning, a bride’s collar being the pinnacle of Maasai craftsmanship.

Herero women of Namibia

The traditional dress of the Herero women in Namibia is an adaptation of Victorian dress, as worn by the German colonists they fought in a bloody conflict at the start of the twentieth century, and now retained as a proud part of Herero identity. The silhouette is distinctive: a full, floor-length skirt, fitted bodice with puffed sleeve, with a magnificent horn-shaped hat, the shape of cattle horns, completing the look.

Sámi clothing, Lapland

The northernmost reaches of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the Kola peninsula of northwest Russia, are home to the Sámi, who are among the oldest peoples in Europe. There are variations in costume throughout the region, though the main item is the kolt (or gákti in northern Sámi), a tunic or dress. The simple bright colours of blue, red, yellow and green always feature and reindeer skin and fur is used for belts, boots and gloves.

Gho, Bhutan

In Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan kingdom tucked between China and India, it’s obligatory for everyone to wear the national dress. For men this means the gho, a knee-length gown tied at the waist by a belt called a keram. For formal occasions a silk scarf, a kabney, is added to the ensemble, the colour of which depends on the wearer’s status. For the women, traditional dress is typically an ankle-length dress called a kira, and the equivalent scarf is called a rachus.

Bowler hats, Bolivia

Think bowler hats and the first person who springs to mind is an English city gent – Mr Banks from Mary Poppins perhaps. But in the markets of Le Paz in Bolivia you’ll see Aymara women, known as cholas, wearing hats that bear a striking resemblance to the classic bowler as part of their traditional outfits. It’s said that a consignment of hats were sold cheaply to local women in the 1920s when they were found to be too small for the European workers they were intended for, and so starting a fashion trend that endures.

Nagaland, northern India

Visit the northern Indian region of Nagaland for the Hornbill Festival in December and you’ll witness a sartorial treat. During the festival each of the tribes of the Nagaland show their finery, each tribe having its own magnificent style, and with a spectacular range of headdresses on display, incorporating feathers, cane, dyed goat fur and boar tusks. The region is also known for its crafts and weaving, including beautiful Naga shawls.

Conical hats, Vietnam

Vietnam is home to an extraordinary wealth of clothing traditions, with the most elaborate outfits found in the north, such as red brocades of the Flower Hmong people and the decorated headdresses of the Red Dao. However, the most recognisably Vietnamese item is the conical hat, or non la, an essential accessory throughout the country. The version available Hué, non bai tho, has lines of poetry written into the brim, only visible when you hold it up to the light.

Flamenco dresses, Andalucía, Spain

Traje de flamenco or traje de gitana are the flamboyant dresses that finish in a cascade of ruffles (volantes), which are synonymous with the flamenco dancers of southern Spain. Seville’s Feria de Abril is the best time to see them worn by local women. However, the ultimate flamenco dress is the bata de cola, the long-tailed version worn for the style of dance of the same name, an intricate and beautiful dance where the dancer controls the tail so that it swishes and flicks as if it has a life of its own.

The ten-gallon Stetson, Texas, USA

Yee ha! Enormous Stetson, boots…rhinestones? The southern cowboy’s work wear has been glammed up a bit, thanks to the stars of both kinds of music, but the hat remains a true American icon. John B. Stetson was in fact from Philadelphia, and he started his company there in 1865, but it’s always been a symbol of cowboy country, and in Texas the ten-gallon Stetson is the only style to be seen in.

Sardinian traditional dress, Italy

Closer to North Africa than mainland Italy, Sardinia’s mixed history is evident in its traditional dress, elements of which have strong Spanish and Moorish influences. Though each village has its own style, there are common features – a veil, bonnet or shawl, long pleated skirts and richly embroidered blouses. Some of the most spectacular are from the province of Nuoro.

Changing the Guard, Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is a frenetic, modern city, and its pop culture is taking over the world, but at its heart are a series of beautiful royal palaces such as Gyeongbokgung. Here they have revived the costumes and traditions of the Joseon dynasty’s Changing the Guard ceremony, which is re-enacted three times a day.

The keffiyeh, shemagh or ghutrah, the Middle East

The scarf headdress worn by men across the Middle East comes in many variation of colour, style and name. It’s known as shemagh in Jordan and the ghutrah in Saudi Arabia, where it is normally either white or red and white, and held in place by the agal, a black band. However, the Palestinian black-and-white keffiyeh is the most recognizable verson, having been appropriated worldwide both as a symbol of protest and a fashion item, most absurdly when Balenciaga produced one for their 2007 catwalk show.

Coiffe, Brittany, France

A coiffe is an intricate lace headdress worn as part of the folk costumes of Brittany, though now only seen for local festivals, or pardons. The most striking is the bigouden coiffe, from the area around Pont L’Abbé, a starched lace cylinder that rises to up to an astonishing 30–40cm tall.

Kimono, Japan

Meaning ‘the thing worn’, kimonos are the ultimate symbol of traditional Japanese culture. From the seventeenth century onwards they developed as the main item of dress for men and woman, and a means of expression for the individual wearer. They are still worn for special occasions, such as weddings, with modern adaptations making an appearance all over the world. The surface decoration is significant, with symbols such as the crane, for example, indicating good fortune and long life.

Menswear, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Guatemala

Maya textiles are evident throughout the Guatemalan Highlands, nowhere more so than Todos Santos Cuchumatán, where local traditions are still widely observed. Mam is the first language, not Spanish, and the clothing for men in particular is brilliantly distinctive – red-and-white striped trousers, black woollen breeches, embroidered shirts and straw hats. Visit for the All Saints fiesta to see Todos Santos culture in all its glory, in particular the frenetic horse race that starts the festivities.

The Chanel suit, Paris, France

The uniform of a certain type of woman on New York’s Upper East Side, the Chanel two-piece suit may be made from a Scottish-inspired tweed, and be worn by the well-heeled the world over, but its home will always be the Parisian couture house. To pay homage to the classic, visit the building on Rue Cambon which was Chanel’s apartment when she first designed it in the 1950s, and which still houses a Chanel shop on the ground floor.

Last year our roaming photographer Diana Jarvis took some time away from her usual stomping grounds in Europe and headed to the far northeastern Indian state of Nagaland to witness the annual Hornbill Festival. Here, she shares 15 pictures of the region’s fascinating tribes.

“I’d visited India on several other occasions but my trip to Nagaland was a real photographer’s dream”, she says, “the people are extremely welcoming and proud to show off their cultural heritage but equally connected to the modern world and, like anywhere else in India, they love to pose for photos.”

“Nagaland didn’t become part of India until 1963 and, owing to its remote position bordering Assam and Myanmar, doesn’t feature regularly on many an Indian itinerary. During the second world war, however, the capital city Kohima was the site of a famous frontier battle between the Allies and the Japanese troops. As a result, the people of Nagaland have a great fondness for the efficiency of the Brits and many speak perfect English.”

“The landscape is mountainous, dramatic and teeming with wildlife. The food – give or take the odd blow-your-head-off Naga chilli – was so unique and tasty that they have their own annual Masterchef competition at the Hornbill Festival. Other cultural highlights include demonstrations of a traditional stone-throwing game, ceremonial chanting, warrior dances, plays performed in various Naga dialects and the greased-bamboo climbing competition – but my highlight was witnessing the stone pulling at Viswema which, apparently, only happens roughly once every seven years.”

A man from the Konyak tribe in battle mode

 Ladies of the Konyak tribe fix an earring

Greased bamboo pole climbing competition at the Hornbill Festival

 A gun-toting tribe line up for action

Stone throwing gets underway

Tribal men display feathers and weapons

Hornbill Festival dancing begins

An Angami tribesman

 A Konyak tribesman

A smile as tribes get together

 Konyak tribe member captures the moment

Stone pulling underway at Viswema village

Crowds gather

All hands on deck

A ceremonial start

You can see more of Diana’s work on her website. Explore more of India with the Rough Guide to India. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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Our roaming author and photographer Anthon Jackson has travelled to over eighty countries, from journeying across Iran and Egypt to researching for Rough Guides in Indonesia and India. Here he shares some of his favourite images of Morocco, a country with “plenty of dreamy spots to wander around with a camera.”

“On my first visit to Morocco it was clear pretty early on that I’d have to come back, most likely many times. So far, I’ve most been drawn to the old casbahs and shady palm groves of the otherwise barren Draa Valley, and the labyrinthine alleyways of its charming medinas, with their beautiful tile patterns and bold colour schemes.”

Agdz, the southern oases routes

The tanneries in Fez

Ait Benhaddou, Sahara

Essaouira medina, the Atlantic Coast

El Jadida, the Atlantic Coast

The city walls of Essaouira, the Atlantic Coast

Les Pierres Bleues, near Tafraoute

Fountains of Fez

The Toubkal Massif, the High Atlas

N’Kob, southeastern Morocco

A water carrier, Marrakesh

You can see more of Anthon’s work on his Facebook page and portfolio. Explore more of Morocco with the Rough Guide to Morocco. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

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You may be well-travelled, but can you call yourself an explorer? From circumnavigating the world along its polar axis to trekking across the Australian outback, these famous explorers really know how to make the most of their time on earth. They’re brave, bold and fearless – the perfect inspiration for the trip of a lifetime.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin is undoubtedly the one of the world’s most influential explorers. In 1831, aged 22 and fresh out of Cambridge University, Darwin joined the crew of the HMS Beagle to survey the coast of South America. Rebellion in Río de la Plata, fossils in Bahía Blanca, observations in the Andes and, of course, finches in the Galápagos turned his mind into “a chaos of delight” and paved the way for one of the greatest theories in history: evolution.

Marco Polo

In the thirteenth century, Venetian Marco Polo was famed for his travels along the Silk Road. One of the first Europeans to visit China, he left Venice in 1271 and crossed the Middle East with his family. Over three years, they traversed Jerusalem, Afghanistan and the Gobi desert on their way to China, where they visited Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor. He stayed in China for 17 years, and only around 1292 – after escorting a Mongol princess to Iran – did he spend three years travelling back to Venice via Istanbul.

Dr David Livingstone

Missionary, abolitionist and explorer, Livingstone was vital in the mapping of the African interior. In 1852 he embarked on a four-year expedition to find a route from the upper Zambezi to the coast, in 1855 he discovered Victoria Falls and in May 1856 he became the first European to cross the width of southern Africa. Ten years later he set out, on what would be his final trip, to locate the source of the Nile. Uncontactable for several months, he was found by Henry Stanley, explorer and journalist, near Lake Tanganyika in 1871. It was here the famous phrase was coined: “Dr Livingstone I presume?”

Ranulph Fiennes

Hailed as the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of World Records, Ranulph Fiennes has led over fifteen gruelling expeditions in the past forty years. He is living proof that intrepid exploration still exists: he led the first hovercraft expedition up the Nile and was the first to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis – a feat of 52,000 miles, starting in the Antarctic and ending at the North Pole. In 2003 he completed seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents, and was the first British pensioner to climb Mount Everest, raising £6.2 million for charity.

Wilfred Thesiger

Wilfred Thesiger is one of the world’s more daring explorers. At just 23 he explored Abyssinia and the Aussa Sultanate (both now part of Ethiopia). Later he visited Kurdistan and Nuristan, fought in Yemen, crossed Kenya and trekked through Iran, living with nomads on the way. He might have been entangled in inter-tribal raids, hunted by hostile raiders and arrested by Saudi authorities, but this didn’t dent his enthusiasm. Looking back on his travels he once said: “I felt in harmony with the past, travelling as men had travelled for untold generations across the deserts, dependent for their survival on the endurance of their camels and their own inherited skills”.

Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea

Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea are famous for mapping the American West. Starting from the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark travelled across the midwest to the Pacific Ocean. They spent their first winter with the native-American Mandan tribe, where they met Sacagawea, a native Shoshone who served as an interpreter, peacemaker and guide. She proved an invaluable asset as they journeyed onwards through Montana and the Rocky Mountains, on their way to the west coast. They finally reached the Pacific in late 1805, after a 7000 mile journey which is now a national historic trail.

Robyn Davidson

In 1977, Davidson spent nine months trekking across the Australian desert with four camels, a dog and a National Geographic photographer – a trip which was recently adapted into the movie Tracks. Before setting out, sparsely equipped, Davidson spent two years acquiring survival skills in the Outback, partly from Aboriginal guides who taught her how to hunt, dance, and gather food. According to Davidson, “The trip was easy. It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts.”

Nellie Bly

In 1888, Bly, aged 25, set off to travel the world in 80 days, just like Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. Her trip took her from New York to London, then onwards from Calais in France to Brindisi in Italy, Port Said in Egypt, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Penang in MalaysiaHong KongSan Francisco and finally back to New York City. She actually completed the journey in 72 days, winning a bet struck with Verne himself. Bly casually exclaimed: “It’s not so very much for a woman to do who has the pluck, energy and independence, which characterize many women in this day of push and get-there.”

Kate Rice

Kate Rice was a feisty prospector of the Canadian “new frontier” in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century. First Nation indigenous people taught her to trap, hunt, travel with dogs and shoot. She hiked the treacherous terrain of this northern wilderness alone and learned to speak Cree. Intellectually and practically adept, she was also famously tough: a story goes that when a burly Frenchman approached her whilst sleeping in the same cabin, she picked up her axe and rifle, lay the axe down between them and warned: “just don’t touch my axe or I’ll have to shoot you.”

Find your next destination with the Rough Guide to 2015Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

After setting out from his Wiltshire village in July 2010, Charlie Walker spent four-and-a-half years cycling across three continents. His route took him into the Arctic Circle, through the Himalayas and across the Sahara. Over 40,000 miles later – the equivalent of cycling twice around the world – Charlie recently arrived back in the UK. Rough Guides editor Greg Dickinson caught up with him to hear how he got on.

What inspired you to set out on your journey in the first place?

The reason I set out is probably different in my memory to what it actually was at the time, but the best I can come up with is that I wasn’t quite ready to plunge into a career. I was 22, I didn’t have a long term girlfriend, I didn’t have a job or a mortgage or kids or anything like that, so it seemed like a very easy time to just cut off and do it.

How did you prepare for such an epic trip?

Preparation for something like this is difficult. I didn’t prepare, really. I got my funds together and bought cheap kit and a third-hand bike called “Old Geoff”. I chose three points to reach on the trip – Nordkapp (Norway), Singapore and Cape Town – and didn’t work out how I was going to get between them. Nor did I prepare physically; I hadn’t sat on a bike for a couple of months before I started, so the first few weeks were something of a baptism of fire.

“Old Geoff” in Tibet, by Charlie Walker

You and “Old Geoff” spent a lot of time together. Did you have any scrapes during your travels?

I suppose the nearest I came to believing I was in real danger was when I got lost in a whiteout in Tibet. I was up there in the winter and that’s not advisable, especially if you’re ill equipped. I was cycling up into the mountains and it started to snow, and then it slowly became a blizzard. I lost the track and was pushing through knee-deep snow. Then, just when I was thinking about digging a hole and sleeping in the snow, I came across a small hut where a Tibetan family let me stay with them for the night. It was sort of miraculous. If I believed in fate, this would have been it.

Isn’t it quite tricky to get into Tibet as a solo traveller?

Yeah. I realized the only way I could do it would be to get into China first and then sneak in, because if you want to go officially then you need a driver and a guide. So one night, at about 3am, I managed to cut a hole in the fence at the military base that guards the entrance to Tibet. I got caught after three weeks, but it was interesting while it lasted.

Didn’t you also have a near-miss with an elephant in Botswana?

I did indeed. I was following the road in the north east of Botswana called the “Elephant Highway”. The elephants are perfectly used to vehicles, but a silent vehicle moving at speed with an animal-type shape is quite unnerving. They’re not used to bicycles. There was a large bull grazing on the roadside, so I just cycled past him, but as I went past he stepped up towards the roadside and flapped his ears out and started waving his trunk and trumpeting. In that instance he looked like a double-decker bus. Just huge. He started chasing me, so I had to keep pedalling as hard and fast as I could. He eventually slowed off, but there was about a hundred metres where I was too afraid to look back.

Mongolia, by Charlie Walker

What was the most memorable meal you had on the road?

In one supermarket in Sweden there was a pyramid display of cheap, tinned meat. The label was a white sticker with cartoony pictures of fish on it. They were disgustingly cheap – and that’s the key word. It was gelatinous and not very tasty. Then the next time I stocked up in a supermarket I saw the same can was surrounded by animal food… I had been eating cat food for three days.

Anything more… exotic?

I inadvertently ate pig’s penis in China. It didn’t taste that bad.

Which was the friendliest country that you visited?

Iran, hands down. There are such negative preconceptions about that country, but as a rule, the more suppressive or autocratic the regime, the nicer the people are in defiance of that. On a daily basis I was invited into people’s homes, and I couldn’t accept every offer because I never would have got anywhere. It’s just part of the culture; one of the pillars for Islam is hospitality for travellers because of the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca.

So did people join you during your round-the-world pilgrimage?

I met a German guy in Vietnam called Micky. We were in a bar, and late that night he said: “You know, I think I’ll sell my motorbike and buy a bicycle, and we will cycle to Beijing together”. And we did. In the DRC I bought a dugout canoe with a Scottish guy and we spent a few weeks going down a river. So yeah, some people joined the adventure.

Thai monk, by Charlie Walker

You took some stunning photos on the road. Is there one picture that stands out as a favourite?

There was one I took of a very old monk in Thailand. I was sleeping on the floor in his room at a Buddhist temple. He was 75 and had been a monk since he was five, and he’d started to lose his mind a little bit – he was wandering around and peeing in the corner of his room. In the morning he posed for a picture and the planets aligned. He’s got a very austere, wise expression. And by chance, in the background there’s a nice golden statue of the Buddha. That’s probably my favourite photo.

How has it been adjusting to normality now that you’re back?

Easier than I thought. During the last six months I was quite ready to come back. I got quite ill. In the Congo I had malaria and typhoid at the same time, and I was very weak for a while after that. So from then on I was really looking forward to getting home. By the time I was going through France I had a couple of weeks by myself to reflect on everything, and when I crossed over to Dover suddenly it just felt right and comfortable.

A lot of people dream of embarking on an adventure like this but never quite get around to it. What would you say to inspire someone to get out and just do it?

Anyone can do it. I’m not a sportsman. I’m not rich, I never stood out in sports teams at school. I’m not a cyclist, as such. The biggest thing is just to decide to do it and go. Set yourself a date and cancel your phone contract – then you’re really stuffed and you’ve got to go. And you don’t need to cycle around continents. Just walk out your door, hitchhike to Dover and see where it takes you. I think there’s so much to be said for just roaming for a while in a chaotic, quixotic fashion.

You can read about Charlie’s adventures on his award-winning blog. He is fundraising for two charities, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and Future Hope.

Alternative Miss World, London

Founded by sculptor Andrew Logan in 1972, the Alternative Miss World is in a league of its own when it comes to outrageous outfits. This unique event – that takes the original Miss World format and warps it to the point where swimwear can be an inflatable octopus and a robot can be crowned winner – has seen the likes of Grayson Perry and Leigh Bowery taking part.

Theyyem ceremonies, Kerala, India

Theyyem are dramatic village ceremonies held throughout northern Kerala, usually between October and May. They are performed at the village’s shrine, and the participants embody the gods and spirits being celebrated. Each theyyem has its own extraordinary costumes, including bright body paint and gigantic, elaborately decorated headdresses (mudi).

Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro

Taking competitive costume construction into a league of its own, for sheer spectacle Rio’s Carnaval is hard to beat. Each of the city’s samba schools spends the year preparing, striving to be the best – for music, for costume, for floats. Every school picks a theme for their costumes for the year, and thousands of dressed-up dancers and musicians battle it out in an epic parade at the city’s purpose-built Sambódromo.

World Naked Bike Ride

The World Naked Bike Ride is a unique environmental protest meant in part to highlight the exposure and danger faced by cyclists on the road, with cycle rides in dozens of cities, including prominent events in London and Portland, Oregon. From the headlines it gets, it’s clear the most controversial suit you can don is still your birthday suit. The motto is "bare as you dare", with no one excluded and body paint de rigueur.

Mardi Gras, Sydney

Dressing up as a form of protest has an illustrious history and LGBT Pride festivals have raised this to an art form. Though many are now celebratory as well as political, their origins lay in the struggle for LGBT rights, and when Sydney’s first event was held in 1978 it was met with violence and resistance. Now, it is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar, and a spectacular display of high camp and costume.

Life Ball, Vienna

Beauties in big white dresses might be what spring to mind when you say "Vienna" and "balls", but the Life Ball has reinvigorated the format. Held to support AIDs charities, the annual Life Ball is a flamboyant costume event, with thousands of dressed-up spectators and celebrity guests. Queen of the ball last year? Conchita Wurst of course.

Wave-Gotik-Treffen, Leipzig, Germany

Where do goths go on holiday? Leipzig is the likely answer, as every year it hosts the world’s biggest celebration of dark music, right in the heart of the city. Most of the music venues gets taken over by the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and on every street, and on every tram, you’ll see those fans of the darker side of life in all their finery, with every goth subculture represented. It’s quite a spectacle, one that metropolitan Leipzigers take in their stride.

Junkanoo, The Bahamas

Possibly the most colourful New Year’s Day event in the world, Junkanoo is the highlight of the Bahamas’ calendar. Parades are held on both December 26 and January 1, and their origins are in the islands’ slave history – these were the days slaves were allowed time off. They are a brilliantly bright array of stilt-dancers, acrobats and elaborately costumed participants. The costumes are more feats of construction: huge, colourful creations made from cardboard, crepe paper, feathers, and glitter.

Tokyo Street Fashions, Japan

For thirty years Japan has produced some of some of the most avant-garde fashions on the planet, from the couture collections of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto to the street styles of Tokyo, which have been familiar to the wider world since the mid-1990s. To see the latest styles, whether Manga influenced, Lolita-style or the extraordinary Shironuri look, which takes traditional Japanese white make-up as its starting point to create an otherworldly porcelain doll appearance, head to the Harajuku district.

Halloween, USA

Dressing up in costume for Halloween is now a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s an all-American tradition. Big city parades and parties like those in New York’s Village, LA’s West Hollywood and New Orleans’ French Quarter are large and spectacular, but a real American Halloween is best experienced in the country’s small towns, such as Park City in Utah, where even the dogs get their own parade for “Howl-o-Ween”.

Folsom Street Fair, San Francisco, USA

One of the biggest events worldwide for fetish and leather fans, in the only city that could have hosted a celebration like this for thirty years, San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair attracts 400,000 people for a day where anything goes, sartorially or otherwise.

Walt Disney World Christmas parade, Florida

In a world where dressing up is the norm 365 days a year and an over-sized mouse rules the roost it’s hard to pick the best costume event at Disney World, but the Christmas parades and parties are a strong contender. Though often very busy, there are lots of parties, parades and fireworks, including Mickey’s ‘Once upon a Christmastime Parade’, with elves, gingerbread men and characters from Frozen all taking part.

Comic-Con International, San Diego, USA

With geek culture entering the mainstream, comic conventions around the world attract hundreds of thousands of fans, and San Diego’s is the biggest. You don’t have to wear a costume (cosplay) to attend but if you’ve always dreamt of dressing as a character from Game of Thrones, it’s probably a better place to do so than your local supermarket. One of the highlights of San Diego’s Comic-Con is the Masquerade costume competition.

Cologne Carnival, Germany

The "fifth season" in Cologne is taken very seriously indeed, with preparations beginning the previous November, and celebrations starting in January. The highlight of carnival week for costumes is Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday when around a million people turn out to see the processions on the streets of Cologne, where outfits are flamboyant, very silly and often satirical.

Cirque de Soleil, Las Vegas

A costume gallery without something from the world of showbiz just wouldn’t be right, but who does it best? Surely Las Vegas is the spiritual home of the show-stopping stage costume, and, though Lady Gaga is giving them a run for their money, at the moment Cirque du Soleil has some of the most inventive costumes in shows such as ‘O’ and ‘Zarkana’.

The Burryman, Scotland

Like all the best folk traditions, no one’s quite sure why it’s done, but the tradition endures. In Queensferry near Edinburgh the Burryman is a peculiar custom that’s part of the August annual fair. One local man is dressed up as the "burryman", and covered head to foot in burdock burrs, leaving barely a gap to see through, before he progresses slowly through the town fortified by whisky.

Bestival, Isle of Wight

Glastonbury might be bigger, Burning Man more extreme, but if your idea is fun is dressing up in themed fancy dress and partying in a muddy field for three days, then Bestival is the festival for you. Each year has a theme – such as Desert Island Disco, Nautical and Rock Stars, Pop Stars and Divas – and most festival-goers take part.

Ati Atihan festival, Philippines

Kalibo in Visayas province sees street dancing and wild costumes for the Ati Atihan festival in January, one of the most exuberant festivals in a country that likes a fiesta. Originally celebrating an ancient land pact between settlers and indigenous Atis, it now also honours Santo Niño. In 2015 it will coincide with a Papal visit to the Philippines, though it’s not been confirmed whether Pope Francis will be joining in.

Royal Ascot Ladies Day, England

The one day a year when hat-spotting becomes a national past-time, Britain’s Royal Ascot Ladies Day combines the best of British: sporting endeavour, eccentric attire and a healthy dose of social snobbery. Strict protocol governs spectators’ appearance – in the royal enclosure hats should have a base of a minimum of four inches diameter – but beyond that, the bigger the better.

Venice Carnevale, Italy

The masks and tricorn hats are familiar symbols of the Venice carnival, and if you’re in the city at the time it’s worth at least making an effort with a cloak and a mask, but those with the very best outfits join in the costume competition that takes place every day in Piazza San Marco. For the ten days of carnival, free outdoor concerts and performances, balls and parades make it a fun – if busy – time to be in the city.

Sandwiched between Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, Slovenia might be small but it’s a surprisingly diverse country. Venture just an hour or so from the compact capital, Ljubljana, and you’ll find nearly 50 kilometres of sunny Adriatic coastline, tranquil wine regions and the stunning Lake Bled, backed by the soaring Julian Alps. Travel a little further and you’ll hit the dramatic Logarska Dolina, karst plateaus riddled with cave systems and Maribor, the country’s engaging second city. It’s no wonder Rough Guides readers voted Slovenia as one of the world’s most beautiful countries. To find out more, this year we’ve explored the country season by season. 

Winter

In winter, our adventure travel expert Helen Abramson took to the slopes in the Julian Alps. Trying her hand at cross-country skiing, snow-biking and a couple of black runs, she found out why Slovenia is one of the most affordable and accessible European ski destinations.

Spring

Spring saw Lottie Gross explore the country out of season. Over five days she cycled and paraglided without the summer crowds in Logarska Dolina, overindulged on a food tour in Ljubljana and sampled a taste of traditional life on a tourist farm.

Photograph © Lottie Gross 2014

Summer

Over a sunny summer weekend in late August, Tim Chester hit the coast on a short tour of the Slovene Riviera. Never straying far from the Adriatic, he scouted out the seaside city of Piran, Izola’s fish festival and salty spa treatments at Sečovlje.

Autumn

To round off the year, this autumn Eleanor Aldridge travelled to Slovenia’s far west. Visiting the Vipava Valley and Goriška Brda at harvest time, she met some of the country’s pioneering orange winemakers and discovered the natural beauty of these rural regions.

nejcbole via Compfight cc

Discover more about Slovenia with our online guideBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Header image © Lottie Gross 2014

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