Among a certain segment of travellers, cruising is sometimes maligned: the dismal buffet and watered-down cocktails. Those kitschy lounge acts. The contrived shore excursions. But that, as they say, was then.

Cruising today, and especially river cruising, offers an entirely different experience, from celebrity chef-driven cuisine to stargazing lounges to bike rides along leafy canals.

River cruising is, in a way, ideal for those who don’t consider themselves cruisers: the ships are relatively small and intimate; land is always in sight, offering daily access to villages and towns; and dinners are elegant affairs at linen-topped tables, instead of noisy group melees.

Here are our five top picks for European river cruises, where the experience is the destination and the journey.

1. The Romantic Rhine, Germany

The Rhine has been immortalized for centuries: it inspired Richard Wagner to write his first opera, and the river’s famous Lorelei rock – supposedly helmed by a swirling-haired siren – has starred in poems, rock songs, and even as a Marvel Comics character.

Germany’s longest river is also one of Europe’s most beautiful cruise routes, particularly the 65-kilometre Middle Rhine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Romantic Rhine.”

During the Roman Empire, the Rhine was a strategic waterway, and looming over its banks are castles and crumbling fortresses that date back a thousand years.

The Rhine scenery is stunning – hilltop castles presiding over terraced, fragrant vineyards. Plus, there’s Riesling-tasting galore, the Mechanisches Muskikkabinett (Mechanical Museum) in Rüdesheim and a stop in Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: CroisiEurope. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016, the family-owned CroisiEurope offers affordable prices, but amenities are on par with the highest-level ships: spacious decks, hotel-style beds, and elegant dining rooms with French menus developed by notable chefs Paul Bocuse and Marc Haeberlin.

2. The River of Gold, Portugal

The traditional fado songs of Portugal are soulful and poetic, much like cruising the country’s waterways. Explore the river Douro and sip aromatic port in the country’s birth city, Porto; explore the lively Spanish university city of Salamanca; and, ease into the evening to the mournful sounds of fado.

A cruise down the Douro glides past looming rock formations and the Valerian and Pocinho Dams, to Barca d’Alva, with an excursion to Castelo Rodrigo, surrounded by almond trees, and on to Pinhão and the Douro Wine District.

Along the way, sample Portuguese specialties like salt cod, caldo verde stew, and the country’s famous port wine.

Image by Viking River Cruises

Travel with: Viking River Cruises winds through Portugal on the Douro River, from the capital city of Lisbon to Porto and its Baroque cathedrals. Their Scandinavian-themed vessels also maximize scenery-watching, with panoramic windows throughout.

3. The Canals of Burgundy, France

Best known for its centuries-old winemaking traditions, Burgundy is going through a rebirth, with wine-tasting salons that are spotlighting the latest oenological tech products and new farm-to-fork restaurants and upmarket B&Bs.

A cruise here floats lazily through the heart of Burgundy, stopping at family wineries like Domaine Briday in the northern Côte Chalonnaise, which is known for its white wines and the sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne.

Highlights include the Chateau de Rochepot, crowned by Burgundian multicoloured glazed tiles; the medieval wine capital of Beaune; and, above all, the barge’s slow pace. The full trip is around 75 miles, which you could cover in a morning drive in a rental car. Instead, this cruise can be spread out over six days, and the hypnotic movement of a barge is a powerful sedative, especially after a glass of Burgundy red.

Pixabay / CC0

Travel with: French Country Waterways. The oldest U.S.-owned barge company operating in France, French Country Waterways is the elegant godmother of the canals. The ship interiors are done up in dark-wood paneling, plush sofas with tasseled pillows, and a grand communal dining table, laden with heavy silverware and flickering candles.

4. The Danube: Prague to Budapest

It’s shortly after that first beer lands on the table, with views of the city’s famous bridges glinting beyond, that Kafka’s famous quote hits home: “Prague never lets you go. This dear little mother has sharp claws.”

After a couple of days in Prague, it’s hard to escape its grip, but the Danube awaits. The river’s history unfolds along the way, with stops at medieval Regensburg; the Benedictine Abbey of Melk, one of the largest monasteries in Europe; and Passau, which rises over the convergence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube rivers.

The cruise culminates in Vienna – where you’ll sample the famous sachertorte and ink-black coffee – and Budapest.

Enjoy sausages and a beer (or five) at Historische Wurstkuchl, Germany’s oldest restaurant in Regensburg; an evening of opera in Vienna and crossing beneath the 1849 Chain Bridge in Budapest.

Image by Avalon Waterways

Travel with: Avalon Waterways. Launched in 2003, Avalon Waterways has among the newest ships on Europe’s waters, with ample rooms with sliding glass doors, a sky deck with whirlpool, and stylish dining quarters.

5. The Norwegian fjords

Few sights accompany the morning coffee better than the sun rising over Noregian fjords. Greet the first light of day on the deck, as your ship glides around a bend and Norway’s cliffs come into focus, rising like skyscrapers over the waters.

Embark on a twelve-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes, which includes Ålesund, with its Art Nouveau architecture, and Tromsø, the capital of the Arctic.

Pixabay / CC0 

Travel with: Hurtigruten. On most other cruises, you’ll see the same passengers day in and out, but take the Hurtigruten ship and the faces change daily, since it also functions as a commuter route, with locals hopping on for short jaunts up and the down the coast.

And, don’t underestimate the allure of nostalgia: one of Hurtigruten’s most popular ships is the MS Lofoten – it launched in 1964, and little has changed since then. The ship celebrates the vintage era, with cargo loaded by traditional crane; gleaming wood and brass throughout, as well as oil paintings of coastal Norway; and sherry served on silver trays.

Explore more of Europe with the Rough Guide to Europe on a BudgetCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go. Featured image: Pixabay / CC0

These days, cheap flights abound. But sometimes it makes a lot more sense to hit the road for a journey through the night.

Opt for the night bus and you won’t have to worry about stressful airport queues or checking in online. You’ll also be able to save on accommodation by sleeping during the journey.

Of course, actually getting some proper rest on a bumpy bus full of strangers is easier said than done. But there are a few things you can do to make the journey run smoothly and arrive at your destination feeling refreshed. Here are our top tips for surviving the overnight bus.

1. Arrive early

Unless you’ve managed to get your hands on a ticket with a designated seat number, it’s worth arriving at the bus station early. Okay, you might miss out on another hour or two in town, but you’ll get first dibs on where to sit (and let’s face it: nobody wants to spend an eight-hour bus ride next to the stinky on-board toilet).

Bus Seat by Meredith P. on Flickr (license)

2. Keep your valuables close

Nobody is going to steal your dirty socks, but cameras, cash, phones and laptops can all be attractive to thieves, who’ve been known to rifle through backpacks that are stashed out of sight in the luggage areas of long-distances buses. Often, travellers only notice that something is missing when they finally reach their hotel – and by that time, the bus is long gone. Sling your big bag in the luggage area, by all means, but keep the valuable stuff with you at all times. And don’t automatically trust other backpackers you’ve been put next to; some might be looking for a quick way to boost their travel funds.

3. Wrap up

You might be sweating by the time you reach the bus station, but it’s amazing what a few hours of ice-cold air-conditioning can do for your body temperature. Keep a warm jumper handy throughout the journey, and consider taking a big scarf or shawl as well – even when you’re feeling nice and warm, they double as great covers and can be bundled up to create comfy pillows. Likewise, if you’re boarding the bus wearing shorts, make sure pack a pair of jeans in case the temperature drops.

4. Bring snacks

There are usually breaks along the way, but there’s no guarantee that the roadside stop favoured by your driver will have much in the way of variety. Stock up with drinks and snacks before you leave, and even if there’s no stop at all, at least you’ll be prepared.

5. Beware the late-night stop

Sometimes, after finally dozing off, the bright lights of some middle-of-nowhere bus station will wake you from a slumber. Before you step out to stretch your legs, remember to grab your valuables – and take a quick look back at your bus, honing in on something that makes it look unique. You really don’t want to get aboard the wrong bus in the middle of the night, just because you’re a little bleary eyed.

6. Pack earplugs

You might be tired but the bus driver (quite rightly) wants to stay awake. Expect to hear local pop music or badly dubbed action films played at deafening volume, sometimes right the way through the night. Add in the noise from squeaking brakes, ringing phones and other passengers’ conversations, and you’ll know that your cheap set of throwaway earplugs was well worth the investment.

7. Bring something to do

One big plus with the night bus is that it combines useful A-to-B transport with somewhere cheap to sleep. The downside is that, by the time the bus departs, it’s usually far too dark outside to admire the scenery that’s whizzing by outside. If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re going to need something else to do. Charge up your phone before departure, pack a book, and bring a few beers to crack open with your fellow travellers.

8. Use your GPS

Announcements about upcoming bus stops aren’t always very obvious – or even in a language you’ll be able to understand. So, when you think you might be nearing your final destination, open up your favourite navigation app (Google Maps works well). You’ll quickly see how close you are to the city centre, and can work out whether your next stop – be that a hotel or another transport hub – is within walking distance of the bus station. If it is, you can wander straight past the touts, tuk-tuks and taxi drivers, and start the next stage of your adventure.

9. Focus on the end

No matter how bumpy the roads are, or how numb your bum is, remember that all bus rides have to come to an end. You might be stiff, achy, and a little cranky on arrival, but you’ll have survived your journey through the night. And, hopefully, there’ll be a nice hot shower nearby with your name on it.

Have you got more tips for surviving the overnight bus? Share them in the comments below. Compare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Despite India’s vastness, foreign travellers tend to clump together in a relatively small number of well-known regions or cities, leaving plenty of destinations to the more intrepid few who are willing to take the challenge of escaping the tourist trail. Here’s a selection of our favourites:

1. Climb to spiritual highs in Palitana, Gujarat

Gujarat is one of most rewarding states to visit in India, yet sees far fewer foreign visitors than neighbouring Rajasthan or Maharashtra. A significant portion of the country’s Jain population, which accounts for a tiny fraction of the whole nation, live in Gujarat, and this small community has produced some of the most spectacular temples in the world.

Walk up the 3500 steps to Palitana, considered the holiest of all Jain sites, and you won’t be disappointed: a fairy-tale marble wonderland of hundreds of gleaming spiralling peach-and-white turrets, with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

Once you’ve walked all the way back down, you’ll easily have earned yourself a mouth-watering unlimited thali, another of Gujarat’s highlights.

Photo by Helen Abramson

2. Feel the beat of the ritual drum in Kannur, Kerala

Between November and May each year, evenings in the Kannur region, in northern Kerala, come alive with theyyem rituals. Increasing numbers of travellers are heading here to seek out these intense displays of spirit-possession, but it’s still well off the main Keralan tourist trail.

The several-thousand year old ritual involves locals wearing startling face paint and dressing in elaborate costumes with colossal red headdresses. Their bodies inhabited by deities, the participants dance with increasing passion for hours on end and perform phenomenal, godlike feats, such as rolling in hot ashes.

3. Take a slice of the deep south in Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu

Just 50km from Sri Lanka, the island of Rameshwaram is accessed from the Indian mainland by a 2km bridge affording epic views over the Gulf of Mannar.

The tiny island is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites in southern India, yet barely visited by tourists. Turquoise waters lap at pristine beaches surrounding the island, and glorious temples dot the scenery inland.

The Ramanathaswamy Temple, dedicated Shiva, the god of destruction, is the main event, with mesmerizing pillared walkways and brightly coloured patterned ceilings. Pretty much year-round strong winds make this an excellent kitesurfing destination too.

Photo by Helen Abramson

4. Chill out on Little Andaman, Andaman Islands

Seek out the most beautiful beaches on the Indian mainland, and you’re also probably going to find an awful lot of people. The Andaman Islands, over a thousand kilometres off the east coast, in the Bay of Bengal and not far from Myanmar, don’t escape the crowds either.

That is, except Little Andaman (actually one of the biggest), the least-visited island of the archipelago and the furthest south tourists can travel.

A tropical climate, crystal-clear waters, stunning reefs, thick jungle bursting with wildlife and the best surfing conditions on the Subcontinent make this remote haven worth the admittedly long and difficult journey.

Back from fishing trip by Jakub Michankow via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

5.  Hike the Himalayas in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh

Way up in the Himalayas, tricky to get to and almost touching the border with Tibet, the Spiti valley is one of the world’s highest and most isolated populated areas.

Surrounded by peaks with an average on 4500m, the scenery is unfailingly dazzling: hanging glaciers, barley fields covered in layers of crisp snow, vast rocky plains and monasteries balanced precariously on rugged mounds.

Buddhist culture, similar to that of Tibet, permeates the peaceful, welcoming communities of the mud-brick hamlets clinging to the mountainsides, and trekking here allows a glimpse into a way of life that’s barely changed in centuries.

Pin valley, Spiti by Vikash Prasad via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

6. Walk the wilderness in Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh

In the very northeastern tip of India – the least explored area of this immense country – lies Namdapha National Park, bordering Myanmar’s most northerly point.

Exceptionally rich in biodiversity, with an impressive collection of flora and fauna, the protected area spans a huge range of altitudes, from verdant river valleys at 200m to snow-capped peaks at 4500m.

Don’t forget your binoculars – remote and wild, the virgin forests here are ideal territory for elusive big wildlife such as tigers, snow leopards, red pandas and the endangered Hoolock Gibbons.

Namdapha by Prashanth NS via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Gaze at the ghats in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh

Varanasi is famous for the sacred rituals on the banks of the River Ganges and the religious intensity that saturates the city. If you want to find a similar atmosphere but without the hordes of tourists, head to Maheshwar, a thousand kilometres west, in Madhya Pradesh.

On the banks of the holy Narmada River, Maheshwar is an important pilgrimage point for Hindus, and was mentioned in the epic ancient stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

The enthralling town is lined with temples and colourful houses overlooked by a grand eighteenth-century fort. A wander down to the ghats makes for a very absorbing stroll – you’ll find a hub of spiritual activity, with pilgrims bathing in the holy waters while orange-clad sadhus sit on the shore praying.

Maheshwar, India by mauro gambini via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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

You can’t expect to fit everything Southeast Asia has to offer into one trip – or two or three or four, to be fair – and we don’t suggest you try. So, to help you start planning, we’ve put together 8 ideas for your Southeast Asia itinerary from The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget.

For those taking a big, extended trip around the continent you could join a few together, but remember that the distances you’ll be covering can be vast. Plus, there’s lots to discover off the beaten track.

For a complete guide to exploring the region and up-to-date recommendations of the best hotels, hostels, activities and more, buy the full guide here.

1. Vietnam

Start in colonial streets of Hanoi (1), the country’s historical, political and cultural capital. Go for a sail around the famed natural wonders of Ha Long Bay (2), before heading to the northern hills to the ethnic minority villages orbiting Sa Pa (3).

Take the train down to imperial architecture of Hué (4), make a day-trip to the DMZ, then move south to charming Hoi An (5). Nha Trang (6) is Vietnam‘s pre-eminent beach party town, whereas Mui Ne (7) offers great water-sports and sandy coasts with a more laidback vibe.

Da Lat (8) is your gateway to the Central Highlands, but if you’re still craving sea and sand the island of Phy Quoc (9) is a haven for beach bums and divers. Float down lush canals in the Mekong Delta (10), and finish your trip in bustling Ho Chi Minh City (11).

2. Myanmar

Kick off in Yangon (1) for street markets and the glorious Shwedagon Paya, then go to Mawlamyine (2), Myanmar‘s third largest city. Catch a boat to Hpa-an (3) before visiting one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the country, Kyaiktiyo (4).

Kalaw (5) is a perfect base for treks to ethnic-minority villages, and traditional life at Inle Lake (6) shouldn’t be missed either. Watch the sunset over Mandalay (7), then soar in a hot-air balloon over the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan (8).

Stroll the botanical gardens at Pyin Oo Lwin (9) before taking the train ride across the Goteik viaduct to Hsipaw (10), an increasingly popular trekking base.

3. Laos and Cambodia

Begin with the unmissable two-day trip down the Mekong River from Houayxai to Luang Prabang (1), the city of golden spires. Then its off to the stunning natural playground of Vang Vieng (2), before venturing to the country’s quaint capital, Vientiane (3).

Enjoy the pretty French-colonial lanes of Savannakhet (4) and explore the Khmer ruins of Wat Phou near Champasak (5). Set course towards Si Phan Don (6) to chill out for a few days in one of the four thousand islands scattered across the Mekong River. Catch a mini-bus to Cambodia for river dolphin watching in Kratie (7), or laze riverside in relaxed Kampot (8).

An easy bus ride takes you from Phnom Penh (9) to  Siem Reap, where the world-famous temples of Angkor (10) beg to be explored. But if you’re feeling a little travel-worn afterwards there’s no better place to kick back than the beach resort and offshore islands of Sihanoukville (11).


4. Bangkok and Northern Thailand

After immersing yourself in Bangkok, Thailand’s frenetic and thriving capital, chill-out among the rafthouses and waterfalls of Kanchanaburi (2).

Rent a bicycle to explore the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya (3) and then make for the elegant temple remains in Sukhothai (4). To break free of the tourist route head to isolated Umphang (5), where the surrounding mountains are perfect for trekking.

Chaing Mai (6) is always a backpacking favourite, but an amble through the arty night markets and excellent live-music bars of Pai (7) shouldn’t be missed either.

5. Thailand’s Beaches and Islands

Commence among the old-world charms of Thailand‘s Phetchaburi (1), then take a trip to the paradisiacal islands of Ko Tao (2) and Ko Pha Ngan (3) for raging moon parties or a detox.

Trek through the jungle in Khao Sok National Park (4) ­– one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet – and as you move further south, consider a stop in the slightly ugly tourist village of Ko Phi Phi (5) for undeniably fun all-night parties, snorkelling and diving.

Continue south to the relaxed island getaway of Ko Lanta (6), before winding this itinerary down in the pockets of paradise still remaining in Ko Lipe (7) and the stunning Ko Tarutai National Marine Park nearby.

6. Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore (1) is an easy introduction to Southeast Asia with its array of tourist-friendly pleasures. But move on to Melaka (2) for a fascinating mix of cultures and an ideal first stop in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (3) is a must, and the cooling heights of the Cameron Highlands (4) will provide refuge after the bustle. Relax on the beaches of the Perhentian Islands (5) then make for the rainforests of Taman Negara National Park (6), before catching a ride on the jungle railway to Kota Bharu.

Attractive Kuching (7) is an ideal base for visits to the Iban longhouses, and a journey along the 560km Batang Rajang (8) river into the heart of Sarawak is unforgettable.

Nature and adventure buffs alike will love Gunung Mulu National Park (9), Kinabalu National Park (10) and the wildlife outside of Sandakan (11). Finish this itinerary among the teeming marine life of Pulau Sipadan (12), one of the top dive sties in the world.

7. Indonesia

There’s plenty to discover by starting in Sumatra’s Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba (1), the famous orang-utan centre, soaring volcanoes and island retreats among them.

Take time to explore Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta (2), before moving on to Java cultural heart: Yogyakarta (3), the best base for the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Take a pre-dawn hike up to the crater rim of still-smoking Gunung Bromo (4), adventure the many wonders of Hindu Bali and hop over the Lombok (6) and the Gili Islands for adventures in paradise.

Enjoy close encouters with Komodo dragons in Komodo and Rinca (7) before heading to the mountainous landscapes of fertile Flores (8). Finish up on Sulawesi, immersed in the flamboyant festivals and fascinating culture of Tanah Toraja (9).

8. The Philippines

Start by soaking up the compelling energy of Manila (1), a convenient gateway to some of the country’s more inaccessible areas.

Check out the shipwrecks and prehistoric landscapes of Palawan (2), before you pass through Cebu city (3) on your way to Camiguin (4), a small volcanic island home to a bohemian arts scene and some amazing adventure activities. 

Surfers flock to the acclaimed reef breaks of Siargao (5), while the captivating sunsets and limited electricity at both Malapascua and Bantayan (6) typifies island living at its best.

Boracay (7) also shouldn’t be missed, home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and nightlife rivalling Manila. Conclude this itinerary in the cool mountain villages of the Igorot tribes in the Cordillera (8), nestled among jaw-dropping rice-terrace scenery.

Featured image by Lee Aik Soon.

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.

Have you ever wanted to just set off? To grab your bag and go – with no map, no partner, no fixed address. In our video of the week, online entrepreneur Jacob Laukaitis does just that.

Travelling from Lithuania to Greece and back with a GoPro Hero 4 strapped to his chest, Laukaitis journeyed across 15 countries in just four weeks. Now you can do it too, by watching his footage.

You’ll make your way through the Balkans on an old motorbike, weaving across misty valleys, pine forests and cobblestoned villages. Through rain and shine you’ll cover 8000km of narrow roads, coastal motorways and dusty dirt tracks.

Taken while in constant motion, the footage is strung together in a montage sequence, with brief shots of its filmmaker brooding silently over the stunning scenery.

Laukaitis points out that although his speedometer broke on the second day of the trip, he never bothered to fix it. Perhaps that’s the broader message of his video. Life blazes by quickly; the speedometer goes out of control. Sometimes you just need to jump off your motorbike, take a breath, and enjoy the view.

We’ve all done it: put on a few extra layers to save space in our hand luggage or worn hiking boots to the airport so we didn’t have to pack them in our carry-on bags. But how desperate are you to take that extra outfit on your next trip?

With tight budget airline hand baggage restrictions, travelling light is often necessary – if you want to avoid getting stuck at baggage claim on your next city break, you’ve got to make sacrifices. Sacrifices that often come in the form of space. But one company has come up with a solution – just as long as you’re willing to wear your toiletries.

The Stuffa Odyssey jacket is no ordinary waterproof… From the outside it’s a simple jacket, but the removable inside is a warren of 12 different pockets, with space to “carry enough kit for a short trip”. So instead of leaving the extra bulk behind, you can pack it all in to your clothes.

The question is though, would you really wear it, just for the sake of a spare pair of socks or two? Is it genius, or just plain silly?

Keith Drew sees Britain’s Somerset in a different light from behind the wheel of a six-man motorhome.

Cotton-budded wisps of mist hung lazily above the water, the early morning sunlight glinting off the pools. Freshly brewed tea in hand, we settled down in chairs outside our motorhome to survey the reedbeds in front of us, looking for signs of life. There was nobody else around.

Dried bulrushes crackled in the breeze. Suddenly, a huge bird, perhaps startled by the silence, took flight from the water’s edge, angling up over us and only just clearing our overhead cab.

We had spent the last few days exploring a wildly scenic region of limestone gorges, rolling hills and now vast open marshland – wildlife-rich landscapes that took on a cinematic quality through the widescreen windows of a monster motorhome.

But this wasn’t California or Canada. This was somewhere far closer to home. This was Somerset.

Or more specifically, this was Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve in the Somerset Levels, a curious patchwork of rivers, rhynes, drains and ditches. This highly distinctive landscape is at its most evocative around the old peat workings of the Avalon Marshes, which have been carefully converted into a series of terrific nature reserves. Westhay was just the start.

At Shapwick Heath, we saw marsh harriers hunting around the reserve’s lakes, gracefully arcing back and forth in search of prey. At Ham Wall, we heard the “boom” of a bittern, brought back from near extinction in the mid-1990s. Further south, in Swell Wood, we spotted spikey-feathered heron chicks (“tiny pterodactyls”, according to our seven-year old) at one of the biggest heronries in the UK.

“This part of the county rewards patient exploration”

I’d grown up in north Somerset, but I soon discovered that this part of the county rewards patient exploration. We spent long days pottering around Hamstone villages and ambling along forgotten back roads – when you’re driving a house on wheels that is nearly 23 feet long and over 10 feet high, you certainly don’t rush.

Every now and then, as the novelty of riding up high with a bird’s-eye view over the hedges started to wane, we would pull over to light up the hob for a quick cup of tea or to make an occasional on-board loo stop.

Our aptly named Fiat Grande had more living space than my first flat, and any worries that our family of five would go stir crazy all holed up together vanished quicker than it took for the kids to decide who was sleeping on the top bunk.

Image courtesy of Bunk Campers

The convenience of ferrying around our own living quarters (complete with oven, fridge, freezer and shower) was matched by a freedom to explore and a happy balance of outdoor life and creature comfort.

One night, we parked up alone in an apple orchard in what can quite accurately be described as the middle of nowhere. Another, we squeezed amongst a field full of tents in the back garden of a village pub. Both nights, the kids played outside until darkness fell, and when the drizzle descended and the wind started whipping the canvas around us, we just flicked on our diesel heater and cranked the temperature up to a toasty twenty degrees.

“Craggy limestone cliffs tower 500ft above the snaking road”

We drove through Cheddar Gorge, the largest in Britain, where craggy limestone cliffs tower 500ft above the snaking road and Billy goats skitter about its upper ledges.

We stopped in Glastonbury, an intriguing little place built on a history of tall tales and religious lore and – outside of June, when the area is besieged by wellie-wearing festivalgoers – a quietly alternative town, predominantly populated by New Age mystics.

We nosed around the spectacular ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, the cradle of Christianity in the UK and the supposed final resting place of King Arthur and Guinevere, and peered through a thick fog of incense into shops bearing names such as Natural Earthling and The Wonky Broomstick.

But it was in the far western corner of Somerset, where the strikingly scenic national park of Exmoor tips over into Devon, that we experienced our defining “motorhome moment”.

We’d been told that nearly everyone has one at some point during their first road trip, where you suddenly feel that this is how you want to see the world and you do a few speculative sums and start trying to convince yourself that you might just about be able to afford a motorhome of your own.

After trundling along the dramatic coastal route, where the UK’s highest sea cliffs plunge down to the Bristol Channel, we had cut inland to a very different landscape of open moors that are home to Exmoor ponies and herds of red deer.

Pulling over for a cup of tea – there was clearly a running theme to our holiday – we looked up through the side window just in time to see a majestic stag, knee deep in heather, standing on the crest of the hill in front of us, his antlers silhouetted against the blue sky behind.

He paused for a couple of seconds and was gone. It was only a moment, but it was the moment.

Bunk Campers have depots in Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh and near Gatwick Airport. Campervan hire starts from £35 per day for a two-berth “Roadie” and includes unlimited mileage and a comprehensive kitchen kit; bedding, outdoor table and chairs, and GPS can be hired at additional cost. Renting a six-berth Fiat Grande for four nights costs £775 in peak season. Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Every month we put together a selection of our favourite travel photos from image sharing site Picfair. This month we’ve chosen twenty pictures of transport around the world. Next month’s theme is festivals, so for a chance to have your images featured on Rough Guides, upload to Picfair and tag your images with RGfestivals.

A taxi in Chongqing, China

badass taxi driver by Chris Petersen-Clausen / Picfair

Alappuzha, India

School children travelling home by Frank Cornfield / Picfair

Kampot, Cambodia

PUBLIC TRANSPORT by Wilfred Seefeld / Picfair

Kabul, Afghanistan

Horse and Cart by Dastardly Whiplash / Picfair

Lisbon, Portugal

Remodelado tram, Lisbon by Janne Juntunen / Picfair

Going to school, Vietnam

Go to school by wolf / Picfair

New Jersey, USA

Leaving Hoboken by Dan Martland / Picfair

Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station

train driver by Chris Petersen-Clausen / Picfair

Glasgow, Scotland

Lonely journey by Paul Stewart / Picfair

RAF Northolt, England

Fill er up! by Steve Lynes / Picfair

Westbahnhof, Vienna, Austria

Train Station by Dan Taylor / Picfair

Floating market, Indonesia

Going Home by Faizal fahmi / Picfair

Thanh Hoa province, Vietnam

Back home by wolf / Picfair

Maasai men, Kenya

Masai and camels in northern Kenya by Will Hide / Picfair

Kolkata, India

CELL PHONES ON A RICKSHAW by Wilfred Seefeld / Picfair

Kabul, Afghanistan

Side saddle, two up. by Dastardly Whiplash / Picfair

Islay, Scotland

Photo taken on Islay by Kenneth Hanley / Picfair

Llangollen Railway, Wales

Waiting for the flag & whistle by Alan Jones / Picfair

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Tourism by christina / Picfair

Road tripping

Speeding sleeping Sophie. by Cein / Picfair

For a chance to be featured in our next festival-themed Picfair round-up, upload your images and be sure to tag them with RGfestivals.

Europe has it all: sprawling cities and quaint villages; boulevards, promenades and railways; mountains, beaches and lakes. Some places will be exactly how you imagined: Venice is everything it’s cracked up to be; springtime in Paris has even hardened cynics melting with the romance of it all; Oxford’s colleges really are like Harry Potter film sets. Others will surprise, with their under-the-radar nature or statement-making modern architecture.

Whether you’re planning to see it all or explore the hidden corners of the continent, these are our top 12 tips for backpacking through Europe, taken from our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an Interrail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere. Make sure you check out our tips for travelling by train in Europe.

Pixabay/CC0

3. Be savvy about accommodation

Although accommodation is one of the key costs to consider when planning your trip, it needn’t be a stumbling block to a budget-conscious tour of Europe. Indeed, even in Europe’s pricier destinations the hostel system means there is always an affordable place to stay – and some are truly fantastic. Homestays will often give you better value for money than most hotels so they are also worth considering. If you’re prepared to camp, you can get by on very little while staying at some excellently equipped sites. Come summer, university accommodation can be a cheap option in some countries. Be sure to book in advance regardless of your budget during the peak summer months.

4. Plan your trip around a festival

There’s always some event or other happening in Europe, and the bigger shindigs can be reason enough for visiting a place. Be warned, though, that you need to plan well in advance. Some of the most spectacular extravaganzas include: St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, when Dublin becomes the epicentre of the shamrock-strewn, Guinness-fuelled fun; Roskilde in Denmark, Glastonbury’s Scandinavian rival with a mass naked run thrown in for good measure; and Italy’s bizarre battle of the oranges in Ivrea.

Pixabay/CC0

5. Eat like a local

You’ll come across some of the world’s greatest cuisines on a trip to Europe, so make sure to savour them. A backpacking budget needn’t be a hindrance either. If you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, you’ll find plenty of foodie experiences that won’t break the bank. Treat yourself to small portions but big flavours with a tapas dish or two in Spain; relish the world’s favourite cuisine at an Italian trattoria; or discover the art form of the open sandwich with smørrebrød in Denmark. Don’t skip breakfast, either – an oven-fresh croissant or calorie-jammed “full English” are not to be missed.

6. Find the freebies

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out, even in some of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Many iconic European experiences are mercifully light on the pocket: look out for free city walking tours, try the great Italian tradition of aperitivo in Rome, make the most of the free museums in London and try cooking with local ingredients rather than eating out. We’ve got lists of the top free things to do in Paris, Barcelona, London, Dublin and Berlin to get you started.

7. Get outdoors

It can be tempting to focus backpacking through Europe on a succession of capital cities – but you’d be missing out on a lot. Europe offers a host of outdoor pursuits that animate its wide open spaces, too, from horseriding in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and surfing on Portugal’s gnarled Alentejo coast to cross-country skiing in Norway and watching Mother Nature’s greatest show in Swedish Lapland.

Filip Stoyanov/Flickr

 8. Allow yourself the odd splurge

One advantage of budget travel is that it makes splurging all the sweeter – and for a little “flashpacking” guidance, we include Treat Yourself tips throughout our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. If you’re mostly staying in dorms, splash out on the odd private hostel room or boutique hotel; swing by a speakeasy for cocktails in Paris; gorge yourself on pasta in Rome; and allow yourself a day of watersports in Croatia.

9. Stay up late

Whether it’s Berlin and London’s hipster dives, flamenco in Seville, Budapest’s ruin bars, or the enotecas that celebrate Italy’s rejuvenated wine industry, there are countless reasons to stay up till sunrise. Europe lives for the wee hours and you’ll be following in some famous footsteps. Think about ordering a knee-buckling Duvel beer at Brussels’ historic La Fleur en Papier Doré, a time-worn café once the favourite hunt of Surrealist painter Magritte and Tintin creator Hergé, or sipping a pint in one of Oxford’s historic pubs, like the Eagle and Child, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s old haunt.

10. Hit the beach

Clubbed and pubbed out? It’s time to hit the beach. If you’re looking for heat, Formentera’s beaches are quieter and wilder than on neighbouring Ibiza, while Croatia and Italy have a slew of beautiful stretches of sand. If you want to head off the beaten track, consider Mogren in Montenegro, part of the so-called “Budva Riviera” that stretches either side of Montenegro’s party town par excellence.

Pixabay/CC0

11. Go under the radar

If you’re looking for Europe’s charm without the crowds, you’ll want to consider straying from the well-worn routes. Some of our favourite under-the-radar towns include Olomouc in the Czech Republic, a pint-sized Prague with less people and more charm (and cobblestones), and Berat, a gorgeous Albanian town where row after row of Ottoman buildings loom down at you from the sides of a steep valley.

12. Stay safe

Take some basic precautions to stay safe. It’s not a good idea to walk around flashing an obviously expensive camera or smartphone, and keep your eyes (and hands if necessary) on your bags at all times. Exercise caution in hostels and on trains; padlocking your bags to the luggage rack if you’re on an overnight train increases the likelihood that they’ll still be there in the morning. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport and keep it safe somewhere online.

 

For a complete guide to backpacking through Europe, check out our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Agustin Rafael Reyes/Flickr.

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