The Charity Aid Foundation have released their annual World Giving Index, naming the world’s most generous countries of 2016.

This year Myanmar has officially been ranked the most generous country in the world, speaking to the nation’s strong Buddhist traditions. As for Europe the UK came out on top, whereas Kenya was revealed to be the most generous in Africa, Guatemala claimed the title in Latin America and the UAE was rated as most generous in the Middle East.

Factors such as financial donations, kindness to strangers and volunteering are all taken into account, but CAF admits there is room for error as research is based solely on roughly 1,000 respondents from each of the 140 countries polled.

Perhaps most notably the people of Iraq have been rated the kindest to strangers, with Libyans coming in at a close second. According to the index at least eight in ten Iraqis have helped a total stranger in the last month alone – validating so many travellers’ tales of the boundless kindness and sincere hospitality within these heartbreakingly war-torn nations.

Check out the World Giving Index 2016 top ten most generous countries list below.

10. United Arab Emirates

Image via Pixabay/CC0

9. Ireland

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8. United Kingdom

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7. Indonesia

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6. Canada

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5. Sri Lanka

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4. New Zealand

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3. Australia

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2. United States

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1. Myanmar

Image via Pixabay/CC0

Buenos Aires is often associated with steaks, but they are far from the most common cut served up in the parrillas (meat restaurants) of Argentina‘s capital. In fact, many of the cuts are different from the European or North American standards. It’s often the tastier (and cheaper) bits of beef – and a fair amount of offal – that is most popular in BA, so here’s a guide to getting the most of parrilla menu and ordering like a local.

Firstly, here are the secrets to cracking the carta (menu). Asado is best translated as barbecue, parrilla (pronounced ‘parr-e-sha’ with the Buenos Aires accent) is the grill itself or the restaurant that specialises in serving meat, and parrillada is a platter of different types of meat, often served sizzling on a charcoal-heated grill. Achuras means offal.

It’s also worth remembering that all the meat is shared between everyone at the table, and it all arrives in a fairly strict order. Also non-negotiable is a bottle of Malbec, so fill up your glass, leave your preconceptions and squeamishness at the door and tuck in.

Chinchulines

Straight in at the deep end with chinchulines (chitterling). It doesn’t help that they look like what they are: small intestines. But crisped up they can be the highlight of an asado – imagine pâté wrapped in crispy crackling.

Molleja

The best thing on the menu (for this writer anyway). There are two types of molleja (sweetbreads). There is the thymus gland from the neck or the pancreas around the heart known as molleja de corazon. The latter are better, but both are served crispy on the outside and have a creamy scallop-like texture inside. They are delicately ‘offally’, and with a squirt of lemon a delectable dish.

Image by Magalie L’Abbé on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Morcilla

These little sausages, which usually appear alongside the chorizo at the beginning of a meal, are very similar to black pudding, though perhaps a little more peppery than you’ve had before.

Asado de tira

Once the offal and the chorizo have been gobbled up, it’s time to pay attention to the main meats. Asado de tira is probably the most common cut at an Argentinian asado. It is a long strip cut across the ribs with the tasty, fatty and fibrous meat dropping off the bone.

Vacio

Vacio is far from the most tender cut of beef, but is often the tastiest. It’s cheap and unctuously meaty; no wonder it’s on everyone’s plate.

Entraña

Known in the UK and US as the skirt steak (very trendy now), this is best flash grilled nice and red in the middle. It is rich in meaty flavour.

Image by Capitu (ou Marcela) on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Steaks

If, after the above wonderfully tasty cuts, you’re still not convinced to skip the steak, bife de chorizo (like sirloin) or ojo de bife (rib-eye) are the ones to watch out for.

Chimichurri

No asado is complete without the sauce chimichurri. Made from parsley, garlic, oil, oregano and vinegar, and sometimes with chilli flakes (it’s as spicy as Argentinian food gets), you quite simply can’t have your meat without it.

Provolone

Somehow cheese always seems unhealthier once it is melted, but who cares, you’ve just gorged on half a cow anyway. This little roundel of Italian cheese is grilled along with everything else and is, as you’d imagine, oozy and addictive.

Image by Isabelle Boucher on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ensalada rusa

This salad has somehow become an asado standard. It is a mix of boiled potato, carrots, peas and hard-boiled egg, all mixed with loads of mayonnaise. It may be the only vegetable on the table, but it is by no means healthy.

The rest…

There are more dishes on the menu that even some Argentinians can’t stomach, not least of all the stomach or mondongo, which is common in hearty Andean stews.

The riñones are kidneys, the seso is the brain, pulmones are lungs, higado is liver, and the ubre is the udder. All of which is probably enough to make a vegetarian shudder.

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

*This competition is now closed*

Always wanted to be a travel writer? Well you’re in luck. Last year we ran our travel writing competition and the winner, Steph Dyson, has become one of our regular contributors. This year, we’re opening it up again to seek out the best untapped travel writing talent.

Enter the competition and you could become a Rough Guides writer, as well as bagging £2000 (approx US$2800) to spend on a trip of your choice.

The Prize:

The winner will get a £2000 (or local currency equivalent) travel voucher to spend on planning an unforgettable trip with GapYear.com, a bundle of Rough Guides books, and their winning work will be featured on RoughGuides.com.

Created by backpackers for backpackers, GapYear.com connect travellers with an unrivalled range of tours, volunteering projects and working holidays in over 100 countries around the globe.

Whether it’s rescuing endangered tigers in India or surfing deep blue waves in Morocco, they guarantee exhilarating experiences on every continent and provide dedicated support and advice throughout every step of the journey.

Last year’s winner, Steph Dyson, said: “I’d always wanted to visit Patagonia in the south of Argentina and Chile, but didn’t have the funds to take such a trip. So thanks to Rough Guides and GapYear.com, I booked onto a 34-day tour with Intrepid.”

Two runners up will also receive a bundle of Rough Guides books and will be published on RoughGuides.com.

Why enter?

If you’re not sure whether you should enter your writing, here are some wise words from last year’s winner, Steph:

“Winning the competition has opened up so many opportunities with both Rough Guides and other travel writing websites.

“The feeling that other travellers are reading my writing, and hopefully being inspired to discover new places as a result, is very addictive and has certainly given me the confidence to pursue a career in writing.

“Having the chance to write for such a globally-renowned publication and work with the Rough Guides web editors has also been invaluable: the feedback and guidance I’ve been given has really helped me to develop as a writer.”

How to enter:

To enter, all you need to do is write a 500-word feature, based on a personal experience, on one of the following themes:

  • Close to home
  • The most beautiful place in the world
  • My best day on Earth

Entries should be emailed to [email protected], either as a .docx (Microsoft Word) file, or pasted into the email itself. Entries should be no more than 500 words and no less than 450 words. Applications close at 12:59 BST on the 1 May 2016.

5 tips for writing a great piece

• Have a clear idea. Can you summarise your story – its setting and its angle combined – in a line or two?

• Take special care over the opening. Stories don’t have to start smack-bang in the thick of the action by any means, but this can be a useful way to engage the reader from the off.

• Readers will turn away at the drop of a hat – keep them with you by clearing your story’s path of all obstructions (such as a dropped hat, unless it’s contributing something).

• Judiciously employ observations (local colour): combined the right way, sights, sounds and smells can spellbind.

• Use temporal and spatial markers to ensure the reader knows where (and when) they are at all times.

Read last year’s winning entry here, and the runners-up here.

Good luck!

Open to the UK, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA entrants over the age of 18 only. For full Terms & Conditions see here.

Going for a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exaggerated and preposterously warm, that a simple dip can feel borderline indecent. Venture from the capital Reykjavik as far as Reyðarfjörður in the extreme east and you’ll also find that the country hides hundreds of out-of-this-world geothermal pools and naturally-heated hot tubs.

But it first pays to know the rules. Because in Iceland, the right spa etiquette is taken deadly seriously. Here are five dos and don’ts to bear in mind.

Don’t forget to wash yourself

It may sound obvious, but unlike the rest of Europe, where most bathers make-do with a quick shower-room rinse, Icelanders have a set, strict routine when going for a dip that must be followed to the letter.

First, read the rules. They’re pinned to every changing room wall and notice-board, as well as being published in English, French, German and Danish, so you really have no excuse not to follow them.

Second, get washing. Scrub your head, armpits, feet and groin with soap beforehand, and – most importantly – do it in your birthday suit, not bathing suit. A quick rinse just won’t do, especially because most geothermal pools use freshwater and far lower levels of chlorine, even at the Blue Lagoon at Reykjanes.

And having just read the rules, you have no excuse not to get naked. You have been warned.

Do get chatting to the locals

Approaching a complete stranger in a bikini may at first seem like a coquettish, brazen thing to do, but it’s OK in Iceland.

In Reykjavík, hot tubs and pools are more like social clubs where people catch up on news and discuss politics: and they’ve done so since the twelfth century when poet, scholar and politician Snorri Sturluson built the first stone hot tub outside Reykholt.

To get the best of the conversations, go to a local’s pool such as Vesturbæjarlaug, a short walk from Reykjavík city centre, or Nauthólsvík, a geothermal saltwater pool by a golden beach.

Around seven o’clock on a weekday morning, the conversation bubbles as much as the thermal waters. There is no social hierarchy, and everyone is treated like an equal.

For something more romantic, take a date to Sundhöll, built in the 1930s, it’s open late and is one of the oldest baths in the capital.

Don’t talk too loudly (or on your phone)

Icelanders don’t like tourists who make too much noise: period. Their dose of social media may well be a get-together in the spa, but they talk quietly, which can sound as soft as whale song.

The reason? Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo down the corridors of the indoor pools and steam rooms.

“Our bathhouses tend to venerate tradition above anything else,” says spa aficionado Birgir Þorsteinn Jóakimsson, who visits Reykjavik’s Vesturbæjarlaug every day. “Talking loudly is a nasty habit, especially at an Icelandic spa – so you won’t be popular with the locals. It’s not a circus.”

It also pays to be alert, as hawkish pool attendants may ambush you, showing you the door. They’ve been known to throw tourists out for less.

Don’t jump straight in

Those milky-blue waters are ridiculously tempting, but also feverishly hot. Draw the cool air into your lungs and take your time by testing the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.

In Reykjavík at Laugardalur Park, also known as the Valley of the Pools, the water used to hover at a white-hot 45 degrees Celcius, punishing unsuspecting dive-bombers. Such waters have since been cooled due to health and safety regulations, but with most still nudging upwards of 37 degrees, it’s an odd juxtaposition between bathing in hell, while feeling like you’re in heaven.

To maximise enjoyment, remember to swim in an anticlockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, and so should you.

Do take a local’s advice

The most sacred pools are only known by the locals – and with good reason. Places like the old pool at Gamla Laugin at Fludir on the Golden Circle – supposedly the oldest in Iceland – or Seljavallalaug, a snooker-chalk blue outdoor pool secreted up a valley near Skogar, are so sybaritic you wouldn’t want to share them with anyone else either.

“Everyone has their favourite they want to keep,” says Guðrún Bjarnadottir, a spa professional working at the Blue Lagoon. “If you talk to locals – and they like you – you may get lucky. My personal favourite is somewhere in the hills north of Hveragerdi. It’s in a mystical place known as the Smoky Valley, but the exact location and directions – well – that would be telling.”

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

Greeks love their food. They love to eat and love to feed others; this is one place you’re guaranteed never to feel hungry. Unlike the typical British or American three square meals a day, the Greeks eat up to five times a day.

Greek food uses mainly fresh local ingredients such as Mediterranean vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, various types of fish and meat, as well as grains. Dishes are flavoursome and packed with variety of fresh and dried herbs. If you’re heading to the Mediterranean to graze on Greek food – five times a day, of course – then you should have room for at least a few of these delicious dishes.

1. Moussaka

One of Greece‘s most famous dishes, moussaka consists of layers of fried aubergine, minced meat and potatoes, topped with a creamy béchamel sauce and then baked until golden brown. Some restaurants will also serve an equally delectable vegetarian version.

2. Fasolatha

Another of Greece’s national dishes, although not so well known internationally, is this classic white bean soup. It’s a simple, yet hearty affair consisting of beans, crushed tomatoes, and vegetables such as onions, carrots and celery. It’s often flavoured with thyme, parsley and bay leaves.

3. Koulouri

Walk around any of the big Greek cities such as Athens or Thessaloniki in the mornings and you’ll often see locals on their way to work munching on koulouri – large soft bread rings covered in sesame seeds. They’re often sold from yellow street carts and eaten on the go with a cup of coffee.

Image by Spyros Papaspyropoulos on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

4. Loukoumades

A Greek delicacy loved by children and adults alike, loukoumades are small fried doughnut-like balls drenched in honey syrup and sprinkled with various toppings such as cinnamon or crushed walnuts. People usually order a large plate of them to share with friends or family.

5. Souvlaki

Perennially popular all over the world, these grilled meat (usually pork) skewers are often served with tzatziki (a sauce made from yoghurt, cucumber and mint), pita bread, salad or rice.

6. Dolmades

Eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal, dolmades are vine or grape leaves stuffed with herby, lemony rice and folded over to create a small parcel, which is then steamed. You can also find them filled with meat or vegetables.

7. Spanakopita

The Greeks love their pies and you can find many varieties, from those made with enriched dough to those made from flaky phyllo (also filo) pastry and filled with anything from aubergines or meat to greens or cheese. The most classic is the spanakopita – phyllo pastry layered with feta cheese and spinach and flavoured with dill. Another favourite is tyropita – crunchy phyllo pastry wrapped around a savoury cheese filling.

8. Gyro

A bit like a kebab, a gyro is a typical Greek sandwich. It consists of pieces of meat (usually chicken, pork, lamb or beef) cooked on a rotisserie and wrapped in a flatbread or pita along with salad, onions and a variety of sauces. Vegetarian versions can include grilled halloumi (a salty Cypriot cheese made from a mix of sheep’s and goat’s milk) or feta cheese instead of the meat.

9. Galaktoboureko

These sweet custard slices, made with layers of flaky phyllo pastry and sprinkled with cinnamon, are worth a visit to Greece alone, even if you don’t do anything else. They’re best eaten warm, straight from the oven.

Image by Ellen Munro on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

10. Baklava

Found all over Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, baklavas are small sweet pastries soaked in honey-like syrup and layered with crushed nuts such as walnuts or almonds. In central Greece they are made with almonds, in the eastern regions with walnuts and in northern Greece with pistachios.

11. Pastitsio

Similar to Italian lasagne, but made with small macaroni instead of pasta sheets, this is Greek comfort food at its best. It’s made by layering ground beef or lamb with macaroni and béchamel sauce and is often flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and Greek herbs. Sometimes it’s also topped with grated cheese before being baked in the oven.

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

Whether you’re hurtling along in a rickshaw, eating fantastic curries, kicking back on the backwaters or hiking in the mountains, backpacking India will always be an adventure. You’ll need your wits about you, and preparation is key – here are our top tips to making your journey as smooth as possible. Check out The Rough Guide to India for everything else you need to plan your trip.

1. Eat where the locals eat

Restaurant meals are often dampened down for tourists. If you want an authentic curry, follow the locals and find the busy places; empty restaurants are often quiet for a reason.

2. Swot up on trainspotting

Using the extensive Indian train network is an excellent way to get around this huge country. Trains book up fast and the booking system – as with many processes in India – can be highly convoluted. The train information website The Man in Seat 61 has a comprehensive breakdown of the complex process. If you’re getting a sleeper train, try to book the upper or side-upper berths, for more privacy and security, and give sleeper class a go at least once.

While a/c is more comfortable, the tinted windows mean you won’t see nearly as much scenery, nor will you have such an interesting and diverse mix of fellow passengers.

Image by Helen Abramson

3. Agree a price before you do anything

When taking a rickshaw or taxi (if it has no meter), hiring a guide, staying in a hotel or going on a tour, always check what you’re expected to pay first – and, in many cases, haggle for it. If a restaurant menu has no prices on it, check how much your food will cost before ordering. When buying a product in a shop, check the item for its MRP – Maximum Recommended Price – which should be printed on it in small letters.

4. Purify your water

Tap water in India should be avoided. However, think about how many plastic bottles you’d get through buying mineral water over a fortnight, and then imagine eight million foreign tourists doing the same thing every year. That’s a lot of plastic. A greener option is to purify your own – there’s an increasingly effective range purifying filters which destroy even the tiniest bacteria and viruses.

The most advanced systems, such as the Water-to-Go bottle filters, turn the stuff of murky brown lakes into crystal clear, fresh-tasting water. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in many restaurants in India, reversed osmosis (RO) water is available – it’s free, environmentally friendly and completely safe to drink.

5. Bring your own toilet roll

Indians use their left hand and a jug of water or a hose instead of toilet paper. Aside from in the most upmarket or touristic destinations, you shouldn’t expect toilets to have paper, and the toilet itself may be just a hole in the ground. Although getting used to using the hose is no bad thing, it’s a good idea to carry toilet paper – and hand sanitizer – around with you.

Image by Helen Abramson

6. Be respectful

This is a country with a rich cultural heritage and strong, deep-rooted religious traditions. Your experience of travelling through India’s rich and mysterious landscapes will be much more positive if you remain mindful of local social etiquette.

Women should always cover their shoulders and wear loose fitting clothing that comes below the knee. In Muslim areas, midriffs should be covered.

Eat with your right hand (the left is for toilets), don’t point the soles of your feet at anyone, take your shoes off before entering a temple and avoid public displays of affection.

7. An apple a day won’t keep the doctor away

Fruit and vegetables may be washed in untreated water; eat peeled fruit such as bananas and mangoes, and avoid raw veg.

8. Find the festivals

From huge national holidays to tiny village festivals, there’s always a cultural or religious celebration of some kind going on somewhere in India, often incorporating music, dance and striking costumes. If you can fit a festival into your stay, you won’t regret it.

As Hindus make up 80 percent of the population, most of the festivals are based around Hindu gods and stories, such as colourful Holi Festival, but there are dozens of others too. Try the camel fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, every November, or the Buddhist Hemis Festival in Ladakh in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Image by Helen Abramson

9. Stay safe

Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you, and protect your valuables in crowded places such as train stations. Take a mobile phone and get an Indian SIM card so you can make a call in an emergency. Women especially should dress conservatively and never wander alone in the dark or plan to arrive somewhere in the middle of the night. If you feel you’re being hassled, be confident rather than polite, and call loudly for help.

10. Try the street food

Sampling street food is a key part of the fun of a trip to India. Mumbai has an especially appealing range, with cheap treats such as pani puri (crispy deep-fried bread filled with tamarind, chilli and potato), bhel puri (sev, puffed rice, chopped onion, potato and chutney), vada pav (soft roll stuffed with deep-fried potato) and much more. Make sure you can see the food being prepared in front of you and the ingredients look fresh.

11. Take earplugs

Earplugs are a basic essential to ensure a good night’s sleep on trains and buses, or in thinly walled beach huts and noisy hotels.

Image by Helen Abramson

12. Get off the beaten track

Foreign travellers tend to hit roughly the same destinations and routes in India. Branching out from these areas allows visitors to experience a side of this country that hasn’t been affected by the massive tourist industry, and thus gives a more genuine insight into Indian life.

13. Go with the flow

India can be a challenging place to travel. You’ll enjoy it to its fullest if you’re open to new experiences and can accept that strange and unpredictable things will happen every day. Patience is vital, and a sense of humour will go a long way. And if you’re invited to a wedding, accept!

Explore India with the Rough Guide to IndiaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Have you ever wanted luck and happiness for an entire year? All you have to do is slip on a fundoshi (a traditional Japanese loincloth), get purified with freezing cold water in the middle of February and join 9000 other Japanese men – with their 18,000 bare cheeks – in fighting over one of two lucky shingi sticks. Piece of cake, right?

On the third Saturday of February each year, in the Japanese city of Saidaiji-naka in Okayama, over nine thousand men, not including spectators, travel to the Saidai-ji Temple for one of Japan’s most eccentric festivals: the ‘Naked Festival’ known as Hadaka Matsuri.

Hadaka Matsuri dates back over five hundred years, when worshippers began competing to receive paper tokens from Shinto priests known as “go-o”, which supposedly gave a whole year of happiness to those lucky enough to win.

Today, competitors are first purified with cold water, then at midnight the lights to the temple are switched off and the priest throws the lucky charms – two 20cm-long sticks – into the crowd from a window above. To win, competitors must catch the stick and thrust it into a box filled with rice – only then, will they receive their blessing of year-long happiness.

This video shows two British tourists tackle this rather chaotic, and in some parts terrifying, celebration:

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.

Traditionally, pilgrimage meant hoofing it, wayfaring the hard way. Yet most Catholic authorities will tell you there’s nothing particularly sinful about making it easier on yourself.

You could roughly trace Spain’s Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, by car … but then taking full advantage of the fringe benefits – discounted accommodation and gorgeous red wine – would prove difficult. The answer? Get on your bike.

Day 1 by Juan Pablo Olmo (CC license

With reasonable fitness and not a little tenacity, the mantra of “two wheels good, four wheels bad” can take you a long way on the religious pilgrimage route that pretty much patented European tourism back in the Middle Ages.

The most popular section begins at the Pyrenean monastery of Roncesvalles, rolling right across northwestern Spain to the stunning (and stunningly wet) Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, where the presence of St James’s mortal remains defines the whole exercise.

Camino de Santiago by Fresco Tours (CC license)

Pack your mac, but spare a thought for the pre-Gortex, pre-Penny-Farthing millions who tramped through history, walking the proverbial 500 miles to fall down at Santiago’s door.

Bikers can expect a slight spiritual snag, however: you have to complete 200km to qualify for a reprieve from purgatory (twice the minimum for walkers). But by the time you’re hurtling down to Pamplona with a woody, moist Basque wind in your hair, though, purgatory will be the last thing on your mind.

Granted, the vast, windswept plains between Burgos and León hold greater potential for torment, but by then you’ll have crossed the Ebro and perhaps taken a little detour to linger amid the vineyards of La Rioja, fortifying your weary pins with Spain’s most acclaimed wine.

photo by Luis Marina (CC license)

The Camino was in fact responsible for spreading Rioja’s reputation, as pilgrims used to slake their thirst at the monastery of Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The medieval grapevine likewise popularized the route’s celebrated Romanesque architecture; today many monasteries, convents and churches house walkers and cyclists.

Once you’re past the Cebreiro pass and into Celtic-green Galicia, rolling past hand-ploughed plots and slate-roofed villages, even a bike seems newfangled amid rhythms that have scarcely changed since the remains of St James first turned up in 813.

A “credencial” or Pilgrim’s Passport, available from the monastery at Roncesvalles or via csj.org.uk, entitles you to free or very cheap hostel accommodation. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

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.

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