Monthly Archives: August 2016

Let’s Learn About Travel Tips for Highly Sensitive People

Adventure is for Everyone
When you imagine an adventurer, who do you picture in your mind? It’s probably someone seamlessly travelling from one iconic locale to another, making friends wherever he or she goes, or someone whose mountain climbing and scuba diving escapades deserve to be documented in National Geographic.

Well, as an introverted, Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) who writes a travel blog, I encourage fellow introverts and HSPs who want to travel to broaden their personal definition of ‘adventurer’ to include themselves.

Highly Sensitive People comprise roughly 20 percent of the population, and introverts represent approximately 25 to 30 percent of the world’s inhabitants. The idea of trekking around the globe often strikes fear into the hearts of even the most adventurous HSPs, because daily life presents a slew of hurdles for them. These include food sensitivities, hypersensitivity to noises and odours, motion sickness, insomnia, over-stimulation, and the tendency to cry when overwhelmed. The serendipity and volatility of travel usually magnify the severity of these HSP symptoms.

Introverts often share many traits with HSPs, but the main thing to remember about introverts is that they gain energy from solitude. This makes solo travel and hiking an ideal pastime for introverts, by the way! That said, introverts find themselves drained after spending too much time socializing, and need to “leave the party” before extroverts do. Therefore, the idea of traveling around and striking up conversations with total strangers makes most introverts’ palms sweat.

I must admit that travelling is not easy for me. In fact, it’s often a love-hate relationship that I keep returning to because I’m addicted to it. Motion sickness, panic about missed flights— if you can think of a travel mishap or faux pas, it has probably occurred at some point in my travels.

I truly hope this account of my own travels and the accompanying tips inspire introverts and Highly Sensitive People to become their own brand of adventurer.

Plan, plan, plan
Living life on the edge usually does not sit well with introverts and HSPs, so it’s a good idea to make many of your travel arrangements in advance so everything goes as smoothly as possible. For instance:

Request an aisle seat: If you’re not sitting by people you know on the plane, it is wise to request an aisle seat when booking a flight so you won’t feel hemmed in during long journeys.

Eat and drink ginger: In addition to my trusty Sea-Band nausea relief wrist bands that I keep handy in my purse, I load up on products containing ginger when traveling by plane, train, automobile, or boat. Chewing anti-nausea ginger gum eases my stomach and helps my ears pop when experiencing fluctuating altitude while driving through the mountains or soaring through the air. I request ginger ale when the flight attendant’s drink cart comes by and pack Tate’s Bake Shop (gluten-free) Ginger Zinger cookies for a delicious snack. If natural remedies such as ginger don’t do the trick, ask your doctor which anti-nausea medication would be best for you.

Stay hydrated: When travelling, it’s easy to forget the necessity of water until dehydration sets in. Frequent bathroom trips can be a nuisance, but please remember to stay hydrated. Pack a refillable water bottle so you’ll never go dry. Also, I find it helpful to eat a light meal or snack such as crackers (or ginger cookies) while flying and then eat a more balanced protein-filled meal after my feet hit the pavement.

Knowledge is power: Google every travel question that pops into your head. There are no dumb travel questions. Talk to seasoned travellers and join Facebook travel groups for tips and feedback. Read the huge range of articles here at Gapyear.com. Read about which parts of cities are relatively secure and which areas to avoid. Learn where to go if there is an emergency. And, of course, research all the fun stuff as well! Know where to find the best ice cream, a scenic picnic spot, and the oldest book store in the city.

When preparing to visit Paris, I beefed up my French vocabulary by taking free lessons on Duolingo.com. It is also helpful to keep a sheet of essential foreign language phrases on you at all times while travelling in case Google Translate isn’t working at the crucial moment.

Travel socialising tips
It’s okay to make time for yourself: Sometimes, non-HSPs or extroverts misconstrue our need for alone-time (or nap time) as standoffishness, but, in order to enjoy the travelling life, a rested body and mind is a must.

When I flew to London, I would have loved to join the ladies from my travel group who were running to Harrods before attending the welcome dinner at the Princess Victoria pub, but I was so zapped from our flight and the bus ride to the hotel that all I could do was trudge to my hotel room and sleep for a couple hours.

Although my first day in London wasn’t action-packed, getting some much-needed respite helped me shake off my jet lag and start the next day more refreshed.

The Best Tips For Backpacking Around Europe

If I had a nickel for every time someone brought up the movie Taken when I told them my friend and I were renting an apartment in Paris – well, I’d probably have about 25 cents, but you get my point.

This past summer we left our home of California to go backpacking in Europe for two months – my first time in Europe and my friend’s second time out of the US. We visited nine countries and over 15 cities. Along the way we met up with other friends to continue the journey.

This kind of trip can easily go wrong in so many ways. To make sure ours went smoothly, we followed these tips.

Don’t be turned off by the price

Yes, traveling is pricey, but there are ways to make it less so. We knew people in a couple cities, so we were able to stay at their houses for free. Otherwise, we mostly stayed in hostels. Each hostel ranged from 20 to 30 euros a night. We also stayed in an Airbnb twice (in London and in Florence) and in a house we found on Couchsurfing.com in Venice.

A word about hostels: a lot of people think hostels are sketchy and are afraid to stay in them, but in our experience hostels are cheap, a great place to meet people and, usually, a lot of fun. We stayed in one hostel in Italy that had a nightclub on the ground floor—enough said.

In terms of eating, we packed a lot of picnics (Eiffel Tower picnics are a fantastic idea, by the way) to save money. We also ended up splitting a lot of pizzas, since frequently that was the cheapest thing on the menu.

Before we left, we set a budget of how much we were willing to spend a day, and throughout each day we either wrote down what we had spent so far or said it out loud to each other so we could keep track. This worked pretty well, and there were no surprises in our bank statements when we got back.

Pick your travel buddies carefully

Everyone’s travel style is different. A travel buddy can make or break a trip, so it’s important to put a lot of thought into who you go with. If you’re the kind of person who likes to plan each day out by the hour, for example, you’ll get frustrated traveling with someone more impulsive.

My friend and I both like going to the local places more than the tourist traps, could spend hours just wandering a city and seeing what we find, and don’t prioritize sleep when we’re traveling, so we got along great. Of course, if you’re planning on traveling by yourself, then this won’t be a problem.

Plan ahead

Although we’re both a fan of spontaneity, my friend and I bought all our accommodation and transportation a couple of months before our trip started. This made everything a lot cheaper, since we weren’t buying anything last minute.

Unlike the U.S., it’s really easy (and cheap) to travel throughout Europe. We took Megabus (a budget coachline) or cheap flights almost everywhere, and saved a lot of money doing so. We took an all-night 14 hour Megabus trip from Paris to Barcelona for only 20 pounds, which saved money on a hostel for the night and got us to Spain much more cheaply than other options would have.

Also, the other people on the bus were super friendly. One of the best parts of traveling is the temporary friends you make—the chances you’ll see them again are slim, but it’s fun to meet new people and swap stories.

Don’t over-pack

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking—a lot. Although you can leave your luggage at the hostel while exploring each city, there’s probably going to be a fair amount of walking from the airport or bus stop to each hostel, and that walk is going to be a lot easier if you don’t have 25 pounds of stuff on your back.

Since most of our transportation to and from each city was either by bus or Ryanair flight, we packed according to Ryanair’s carry-on luggage guidelines. They allow a suitcase that weighs 10 kilograms (roughly 22 pounds) and a smaller carry-on bag that measures out to 35 x 20 x 20 centimeters (about 14 inches across). By following these guidelines, we avoided hassle when boarding the airplanes, and also ensured that our luggage wasn’t too heavy to walk around with.

Make a general itinerary

Personally, I don’t like having a strict itinerary. However, I do want to make sure I get to see everything I want to see.

Since I was traveling with a group, before we left I made a Google doc of each city we were going to, and I asked everyone to write down places they wanted to go and sites they wanted to see in each city. Since we only had 48 hours in some cities, doing this ensured that everyone was able to see what they wanted to, even if we had a limited amount of time. We usually woke up around 10, found some breakfast, looked at our list and decided where to start our day.

Print out confirmations

Before I left, I printed out every flight, bus and hotel confirmation email I got. I carried these around in a folder in my backpack. This way, instead of having to find an Internet café or Wifi in every new city, all we had to do was look at what I had printed out.

Of course, every time we got off the bus or plane in a new destination we had to find some Wifi anyway so that we could find out how to get to our hostel, but having everything printed out still helped a lot.

Learn the language

You don’t have to be fluent in the language of every country you’re going to, but knowing a couple phrases helps a lot. I speak Spanish, and my friend speaks Greek, so we were prepared for Spain and Greece.

For the other countries, we bought a phrasebook and made sure we knew how to say “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” “where is the bathroom,” “I’m sorry, I don’t speak [language],” and a few other phrases to get us around smoothly.

Ask for recommendations

Since we don’t care for the touristy places so much, my friend and I relied more on where locals told us to go than we did the tour books. By asking people on the street and at hostels where to go, we found a lot of cool places we may have otherwise missed.

When we were checking in at the hostel in Barcelona, Spain, we asked the person behind the counter what to do that night. It turns out we’d arrived in Barcelona on the first night of the summer solstice, which in Barcelona is called Sant Joan and is a huge deal. People were dancing on the beach and lighting fireworks all night. We befriended some people from France and danced on the sand until 5 a.m.

Know what’s going on

Inform yourself about each country you’re going to before you travel. We went to Greece at the height of their economic crisis, and the ATMs were shut down so that people could only take out 50 euros a day.

Knowing this, before leaving Rome for Greece, we got enough euros out to last us each at least a week. By doing research on what’s going on everywhere you’re going before you’re there, you can be better prepared.

Lastly, and most obviously, take a lot of pictures, keep a travel journal if you’re into that, and have an amazing time!

Learn More About Unmistakeable Sounds of Backpacking

The Soundtrack of a Nomadic Life
No matter how long you go travelling for or where, if you stay in hostels and hang out with other backpackers there are a few sounds that I can guarantee will forever remind you of your journey.

I’ve been travelling for 12 years now, on and off, and during the off times it’s these sounds that bring back the freedom of the road and the best times of my life. But right now, as I come to the end of 16 months of solid travel, almost half of these sounds of backpacking drive me insane – especially the hostel related ones. I’m genuinely excited to get home and not be woken up by the plastic bag rustle and zip alarm.

I know, I know, I’ll miss them when they’re gone.

1. Zips
This has to be number one. Whenever I think of my years of staying in hostels it’s the early morning zip brigade that’s so emotive of budget travel. How many zips do these people have? Apple could introduce it as an alarm sound for anyone missing the road for sure.

2. Plastic bags
And in a close second place it’s those rustling plastic bags. Those damn plastic bags. There needs to be law for travellers to use packing cubes if they plan on sleeping in hostels and fiddling with their suitcase before I wake up.

3. Snoring
As soon as I hear the slightest snore I fixate on it and get so iritated I can’t sleep. Once upon a time I would’ve kept quiet, but now if they’re asleep and they’re stopping me from sleeping it’s just not acceptable. In the past I’ve shaken beds, slammed doors, shouted at people and even whacked them round the face with a pillow to get them to stop. In all my testing I’ve found the best thing to do is just say ‘stop snoring’ firmly and it’s amazing how it works. Not on my Spanish room mates last night though. They got the pillow treatment. I stay in all girls rooms as much as possible to avoid the snorers, and have requested to change rooms before too.

4. Thin walls and toilet sounds
You’ve got to the booking stage and you think a toilet in the room would be nice – easy for showering and those midnight toilet runs, hey? Trouble is, the rest of the dorm uses it too. If you’re in with the lads those end of night waterfalls are loud enough to wake you up, the early morning showers sound like the bathroom is about to take off and the 24-hour flushing has you questioning your life choices as you lay awake at 5am.

5. Squeaking beds
Whether your room mates are innocently wriggling around as they dream of wriggly things or actually full on getting down to it, the squeaky bed is one of the most annoying backpacking sounds possible. I always look at the hostel beds on the photos when I go to make a booking, and if it’s those shitty metal ones, jog on. Stay in them and as soon as someone on a top bunk needs the toilet in the night it’s game over for your sleep.

6. Snooze alarms
Argh, for god’s sake, if you set an alarm, get up! Unanswered snooze alarms going off in hostels is the main cause of stomach hernias among young people. Well, maybe not, but possibly. It drives me mad when people feel they can leave them to go off every few minutes. I recently read that if it’s your friend you can phone them and it’ll turn the alarm off, but no friend of mine would do that so not going to help here.

7. Backpacker introductions
It’s the only way to get to know each other and I’m (usually) genuinely interested in the answers. There’s an unmistakable dialogue that goes on between budget travellers that goes like this:

“Hi! Where are you from?”

“How long have you been here?”

“Where you going next?”

“Are you at uni or working?”

Etc etc etc.

It can start to grate, especially if you’ve been travelling for a long time, but as soon as you get sick of meeting people it could be time to go home, or at least, go to bed.

8. The rest of the hostel partying, while you sleep
Ah, there’s nothing like the sound of the hostel bar on the other side of the MDF wall as you try to sleep. I was in a hostel in Auckland in New Zealand and my bedroom was right above the party, the open roof club, with a window that wouldn’t close. If I was in the mood and didn’t have to get an early flight I’d have been straight in there, but I wasn’t, so I got angry instead and didn’t sleep a wink.

9. “Do you have wifi?”
A few years ago I was making a video about hostels and the people on the front desk told me this was the first question 95% of travellers would ask. So now, even though I ask it all the time, I cringe every time I do. It’s the modern world though. Sit in a hostel foyer long enough and you’ll find this point proven in minutes.

10. Banging lockers
I stayed at this hostel in Taipei, super plush and new with fancy lockers with swipe cards. Great, I thought, until I realised that the 9 lockers belonging to my 9 room mates buzzed and whizzed every time you opened them which meant locker sounds banging, beeping and clattering all night long.

11. Doors slamming
Ooo, you can’t beat waking up from a good sleep by the sounds of the corridor doors slamming unnecessarily. Or even your room door as your fellow roommate wanders in at 5am determined to wake the other 11 of you up.

12. Accents
I grew up in a little village in the Midlands. I don’t think I even met an Australian, Kiwi or South African until I was about 20. All my world knowledge was gleaned from TV. Yes, Neighbours and Home and Away. Oh, and Shortland Street. Hearing all the different accents that surround you when you travel is awesome. At any point along the journey you could have a friend from every continent around you, although I haven’t met anyone from Antarctica yet.

13. Broken language attempts
Shamefully, especially with all this time I’ve spent travelling around Spain and Central America, I haven’t actually got much further than about 50 food and drink-related Spanish words, so I’m not one to judge. But hearing your new found friends attempt to find the way to the party with their limited vocabulary in Mexico is always pretty funny, and a definite reminder you’re not in England any more.

14. Social media alerts
It’s all great fun when you’re the one receiving the messages but if you’re sat near someone with their alerts turned on it can all get a little much. And if there are a few of them sat around with alerts turned on you need to tell them to turn them off before you flip. Or just go out and see the world. Your choice.

15. Clueless parents on Skype
“Hi Mum, can you hear me? Yes, yes, Mum I can hear you. Can you hear me? Mum, Mum, put the camera on.” And on it goes.

Skype seems to work perfectly fine when I talk to anyone but my parents. Every time we go through the same ‘does this work, does it not’ back and forth until we managed to establish that yes, it does. User error.

16. Other people’s moaning
I’m sorry to tell you but as you go through the world picking up friends you’ll probably pick at least one or two who just do not stop moaning. They’re too hot, too cold, the journeys too long, they feel sick, the food’s not good, etc etc. Work out the pros and cons and don’t be afraid to give them a wide berth if they start doing your head in. Change your route and get rid. And then just hope you don’t see them again along the way.

17. Laughter from around the world
The most beautiful travel moments I’ve found have been when new friends and I are sat around and laughing over the same thing, even though our lives up to that point have been thousands of miles apart, literally. Travel has a way of bringing people together and hearing laughter from around the world confirms this.

18. Drinking games
‘Shall we play a drinking game?’ ‘Kings cup!’ It’s been the standard way to get to know your hostel mates since hostel mates began. I’ve had some brilliant nights playing drinking games with people I’ve only actually met that day, or sometimes even that night. I’d advise you to learn a few games before you go so you can take control if the occasion calls for it.

19. Buzzing bugs
Argh, when someone leaves the door open and the buzzing bug gets in. And then all of a sudden you come out in hives, or thereabout. No matter how hard you try, or how foolish you look, you can’t catch the damn thing either.

20. Only the local language
You’re on a train and up until now all the local language announcements have been followed up by English, but now that you need them most, they’ve stopped. And when they start back up again you’ve missed your stop, hurrah. You need to keep all your senses switched on when you travel, if you’re going to make it back to mummy and daddy in one piece.

21. The airport buzz
When I leave an airport my ears ring. There’s something about all the sounds and being on high alert that I make that damn flight that causes me to feel pretty exhausted by the time I get out of them.

22. Old dodgy videos on bus rides
Why do bus companies in South East Asia seem to think the whole bus wants to hear the sounds of the Asian language film they put on at the front of the bus, full volume?

23. Classic songs
Travel for long enough and I can guarantee you’ll hear the sounds of Bob Marley, Toto’s ‘Africa’, Jack Johnson, ‘Hey Baby’ or ‘Society’ from Wild. Embrace the cheese.

24. That one song
There’ll be that one song that you hear everywhere and from then on until your dying day you’ll be reminded of your backpacking days with just the intro notes. This summer in Spain and Cuba Enrique Iglesias’ Bailando has followed me around, while my first summer at camp it would have to be Dontcha by the Pussycat Dolls and for my time travelling in Australia it would have to be Land Down Under by Men at Work.

25. The mobile phone drop
You’re in all kinds of difficult situations travelling. You’re up, you’re down and you’re probably drunk. This can lead to a certain amount of clumsiness. That unmistakable sound when you drop your phone on the floor, especially when it’s tiled, is sure to make everyone around you recoil in a way that I’ve only seen when men see one of their brothers suffer some sort of groin-related injury.

26. “Oh my god, that’s so cheap!”
You absolutely cannot beat Asia on price. I went to Vietnam for two weeks and spent $400 – brilliant! The currency there is so low you’re a millionaire on arrival. It’s why South East Asia remains so popular with travellers.

27. “Oh you should’ve been there 5 years ago…”
You’ve got to love a traveller who tries to out travel you. They sound like a dick. If you run into someone like Ben from The Inbetweeners, “Oh Burma is just so commercialised now” – that kind of thing – just wind them up. I’ve known at least two guys who were most perturbed that I’m a travel writer and have been to almost 60 countries, especially when I said the number was over 100. Muhahaha.

28. The poorly played guitar
Travel Asia or South America and there’s always one who decides it’s a good idea to bring a guitar along. In fact, in Spain last week there was a lady in my hostel who didn’t even know how to play it but carried it around with her – wtf?!

29. Songs by the campfire
I’ve had many a campfire while travelling – on a beach in Zanzibar, on Bondi Beach, at camp in America and on the beaches in the Philippines too. This is when it comes in useful to have actually made friends with the douchebag with the guitar. There’ll always be someone in the circle who can actually play and you get to relax, drink beer and request a song or two.

30. “I love you” / “Te Quiero” / “Je t’aime”
Ah, you’ve got to have a travelling romance, if only for a night. Someone telling you they love you in their language as you stroll the beach during sunset can’t be topped. Even if you never see them again.

31. Beach waves
If like me you’re from England, and not by the sea, the sounds of waves lapping at the beach are music to your ears. Lying on the beach and having the time to enjoy the moment as it is, is one of the most beautiful things about travelling. Enjoy it while you can!

32. Car traffic
You haven’t heard traffic until you’ve heard the beeping horns and zipping motorbikes of Asia. There are actual online tutorials on how to cross the road in Saigon, Vietnam, it’s that crazy. If you get off on that kind of thing you could try New York too. Remember to shout “Heyyy I’m walking here” in your best Brooklyn accent (from the Midnight Cowboy film).

33. Bum toots
You’ll get sick when you travel, it’s pretty much guaranteed. I still can’t describe the full trauma of what happened when I accidentally ate chicken in Delhi. I couldn’t be away from the toilet for a week and there were bum toots aplenty, to give you a brief overview.

34. Spewing
Would you rather it be yours or someone else’s you hear? The good news is you don’t really have to decide as you’ll hear both if you travel long enough. Too many buckets, too many magic pizzas and too much booze makes for a spewy Stuey.

35. Toilet chat
Chances are that never again will you have such an insight into the bowel movements of your fellow man. Travel India and within a few minutes of meeting people I can guarantee the conversation will be well on its way to whether you’ve managed to have a solid shit for a while or not. Go with it, and learn what you can.

36. “Welcome to London”
Touchdown and all too soon you’re back in England. You’re ready to see mum and dad, your best mates and your family, but as soon as that shine is gone you’re planning your next adventure. You’ve been bitten by the travel bug, my friend.

37. “How was it? You have fun?”
It’s the question everyone wants the answer to when you get home, but it’s too hard to describe in so few words the incredible experience you’ve just had in the world. And if you talk too much about it – that one time you were in Nepal… – you just sound like a show off.

And then everything goes back to normal but all it takes is the sound of a zip, or of someone with a foreign accent asking where you’re from, and all of a sudden you’re back on that beach with your 50p cocktail in hand and the sun in the sky.

Information About Backpacking Through Belize

Experiencing the Very Best of Belize
Belize is the perfect country for any backpacker looking for somewhere cool, different and a bit off the beaten track. Located on the east coast of Central America, the cheap and accessible bus and boat services make it super-easy to explore.

When I was there I loved seeing the landscape change miraculously in just a short journey. From green lands to islands to city life, two weeks is a perfect amount of time to travel Belize to get a taste of what life there is really like.

While other factors can make it anexpensive country to travel (averaging £50 a day for a backpacker), if you limit your time in the touristy areas you can keep costs a little lower. Here’s what I’d recommend you do in the main areas of Belize City, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia, Dangriga, San Ignacio and Benque.

Belize City
What to do
Two nights is plenty of time to spend in the capital, giving you a day to wander the old town and shop in the new, while photographing the whole lot to impress all your friends in their newsfeeds.

At $3, the Belize City Zoo is worth a visit. Locate a blue bus sign (they pop up almost every 50 metres) and flag a bus down from the city to get there. The official language of Belize is English, so there’s no need to worry about asking the conductor to tell you your stop.

On the way back, head to the Tourist Village on the harbour. Here you’ll find some cute shops and good food spots, but be sure to visit before 5pm because it gets a little quiet once the cruise ships leave.

Food and drink
The Smokey Mermaid Restaurant and Bar is a good one to visit with pretty views by the beach.

Life’s a beach in Belize

Celebrity Restaurant is also thought to be one of the best in the city. For a breakfast treat try the traditional Belizean fry jacks. Be warned though, you’ll soon fatten up if you eat too many of these tasty beasts.

Where to stay
I couldn’t find a decent hostel in Belize but the Sea Breeze Hotel suits the backpacker budget at $30 per night. You might want to put a sarong or towel between you and those bedsheets though – I’m sure they’ve seen some action during the 100 years they’ve adorned the mattress.

Getting there
There are no buses from the airport to the city; you’ll need a taxi. Expect to pay around $50 for a 15-30 minute journey.

Caye Caulker
What to do
With no cars, you can explore Caye Caulker by bike for just $5, or rent a golf cart. This is the island for the backpackers, with cheap hostels, a cool bar scene and plenty of snorkelling trips leaving every day.

For lazing out and catching the rays, you’ll find a perfect spot down at The Split but after a day or so you should take the time to plan the tours you want to take.

Trips to the Blue Hole, Goff’s Caye and Esmerelda are the faves with lots of companies offering tours for similar prices. Frenchie’s Diving School is definitely recommended for trips and to do your Open Water PADI. I did, big shout out to Nigel who got me through those tricky theory questions.

There’s also paddleboarding, wind surfing and kayaking to keep you out on the water too.

Food and drink
If you want to eat on the waterfront try Sobre las Olas or Enjoy. At Enjoy you can get lobster and a beer for $20BZ, one of the cheapest places in the world.

The best places for a beer include the Sports Bar and Grill and the I&I Bar. They’ve got swings at the bar; surely that’s all you need to know?

Where to stay
With budget backpackers in mind, there are two places to recommend: Dirty McNasty Hostel ($32 pppn) and Blue Wave Hotel ($22 pppn). Most people move after their first night because there are many other budget places around that aren’t online, but I find it’s always more reassuring to know where you’re going on arrival.

Getting there
Caye Caulker Water Taxi has two boats a day and is the cheaper option (return $29), while the Belize Water Taxi goes more often but is $30 one-way. The crossing takes about 40 minutes and both journeys offer the same beautiful views on approach. Camera alert.

Ambergris Caye
What to do
Ambergris Caye comes with a temptation warning. Once here you may be tempted to set up home for the rest of your trip but limit yourself to two days, especially at those prices.

As one of Belize’s top things to discover, venture down to the Ho Chal Marine Reserve at the bottom of the island to swim with more fishies and sea creatures than you could ever imagine. Afterwards you can laze on the beach or take a yoga class.

Where to stay
San Pedro Backpackers is a great option for those on a budget but there are a few fancier places you can try that may be better value if you manage to snag the private beach, food and activities package.

Transportation
Ambergris Caye is a lot more expensive than Caye Caulker and you could easily visit for a day on the boat, just so you know.

Unlike Caye Caulker cars are allowed on Ambergris Caye and after spending time away from the transport you’ll realise just how much it ruins the place, and why they won’t let cars on Caulker. You can get a water taxi to the island and then there will always be a taxi to help you get around.

Placencia
What to do
Now this is where I shed the ability to pop my self-approved stamp on the activities, as the bad weather in December meant I was merely a passer-by. However, several recommendations and research have left me realising Placencia has some of the best beaches known to man.

When you can pull yourself way from the sands, Cockscomb Wildlife Reserve is a good attraction to visit in Placencia. Globally recognised as the world’s first jaguar preserve, it’s got waterfalls and furry mammals galore. You can also climb one of Belize’s highest points, Victoria Peak.

Where to stay
The best recommended budget hotel is Lydia’s Guesthouse where you can get a twin room for around £12 per night.

Transportation
If you’ve come from the islands back to Belize City on the water taxi, you can easily walk from the port to the bus station to get to Placencia. Don’t let the taxi drivers tell you differently!

Once there, find a guy in yellow for details on the next Placencia bus. It’s easy, trust me.

Dangriga
What to do
Marie Sharp’s hot sauce is like a national treasure in Belize, and Dangriga is home to her factory. Here you can take a tour where it’s said Marie Sharp even offers some herself.
The Gulisi Garifuna Museum gives you a little background on the Garifuna’s (indigenous people) history and culture; it’s always worth understanding these a little better when you’re in a new country.

Getting there
The bus takes 90 minutes from Placencia. People will probably try to sell you stuff along the way on the bus but don’t feel there’s any pressure. I would recommend making the most of it though – my bus journey turned into a bit of a food tour with all the goodies that I bought. It’s all home cooked!

San Ignacio
What to do
From caving to Mayan ruins, there’s loads to do here. There’s even an iguana conservation project.

Food and drink
This is where prices thankfully get a little cheaper. The number one recommendation is Roots Wraps and Smoothies – great for veggies, health freaks and vegans.

Where to stay
With cheaper prices you can perhaps upgrade and stay in a hotel; there are hostels for less than £10 a night though. Try Bella’s Backpackers for one that’s well located in the heart of the action.

Benque
What to do
This is where your Belizean dollars get a rest. Benque is a cool place and although there’s not much to do in the town itself it’s close to most other attractions so acts as a good base.

The town’s tourist spots are the Xanantunich Ruins, which you reach by the smallest ferry ever. Once you’ve crossed and made your way up the hill, one mile on the other side, you can play around in the ruins to your little heart’s content.

Food and drink
Natty’s Kitchen serves amazing rice, beans and chicken for $6, and if you’re lucky she’ll have the papaya shake on for $3. Another option is Benny’s Kitchen where you’ll get a good feed for a great price too. Benque isn’t flashy, the restaurants offer the house special, which will be delicious, but that’s all there is. This is the real Belize.

Getting there
From San Ignacio take the bus from the centre of town to Benque. It’s about $1/2 and takes around 10 minutes.

Amazing Destinations That Some Travelers Call Home

Truly Out Of This World Weather
Backpackers traverse the globe looking for unique experiences and adventures, often to the edge of danger. If extreme weather is your kick, or if the thought of another sunny, pleasant day that doesn’t try to kill you bores you to tears, check out these weird and wonderful (if slightly daunting) destinations.

Oymyakon, Russia

Oymyakon in Russia is so cold that birds have been known to freeze to death mid-flight. It’s the coldest inhabited place on earth with temperatures averaging -47 degrees Fahrenheit in January (having hit a record ridiculous -90F in 1933); the 500 residents have long been resigned to eating frozen meat. Cars have to be left running as long as they are outside of specially heated garages or else the fuel freezes inside the engine. They even have to burn fires for days to warm the ground enough to bury their dead. To top it off, there are only 3 hours of light a day in December.

Dallol, Ethiopia

‘The gateway to hell’, as Dallol in Ethiopia is ‘warmly’ called by those who live there, daily temperatures routinely reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The area is rife with active volcanoes and endless, barren salt flats. The local people have survived there for thousands of years, toiling away on what is essentially the surface of the sun, using pick axes and back breaking labour to extract table salt. Something to remember next time you’re sprinkling away on those chips. They do this while dodging fissures full of molten lava that open up during earthquakes, and underground acid pools waiting to be broken into. Even worse, the entire area smells like rotten egg thanks to the beautiful yellow sulphur deposits. Great.

Cherrapunji, India

Cherrapunji, or Sohra, in India is noted as the wettest city on Earth, experiencing a yearly average of 1,270 centimetres. Compare this to our rainiest city Cardiff, which has a meagre 115 cm (a fact that still doesn’t take away from the annoyance of stepping out of a car, square into a dirty puddle). To add insult to soggy-injury Cherrapunji regularly suffers from severe droughts. The entire area is on a porous limestone rock bed that sucks away all the floods of water, and conveniently dumps it further below on poor waterlogged Bangladesh. All that rain does mean the Khasi, the local people, can grow their own bridges, a technique that takes over a decade to complete with the structures lasting for hundreds of years.

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile

This Chilean city makes the cut due to the fact that it just never rains here. The average rainfall is 0.761 mm a year and some weather stations have never recorded any at all. It’s so arid that even the tall mountain ranges have no snow caps as there is not enough moisture to freeze. In fact between the 16th and 20th centuries it didn’t rain at all. Not one drop. So if your idea of a good time is a mouth as dry as Gandhi’s flipflop take a trip to the sunny Atacama desert. Although not able to contribute to this list as no-one is quite stupid enough to live there, a quick shout out must go to the ‘Dry Valleys’ of Antarctica, which last saw rain around 2 million years ago, a dry patch that would make even a nun jealous.

Catatumbo, Venezuela

In Venezuela the people live beneath “rib-a-ha” or ‘river of fire in the sky’, which is only mildly less terrifying when you realize this is a series of colossal lightning storms that occur nearly every other night just after dusk. The electrifying (sorry) activity occurs over the Lake Maracaibo where it is joined by the Catatumbo River and produces near continuous hits, striking for up to ten hours a day and 280 times an hour. The electrical charges have been appearing in the skies above Venezuela for centuries.

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

For many people seeing an active volcano is high on the ‘to do’ list, but living in the red-hot shadow of one might be a step too far. Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo does just that. The very active Nyirangongo volcano which sits a mere 13km away has frequently attacked the city with spews of lava a kilometre across. 40% of the city was destroyed. It also has a tendency to kill the residents with undetectable clouds of poisonous carbon dioxide gas, known as ‘mazuka’ (Swahili for ‘evil wind’) that seep up through the ground. If this didn’t put you off enough, the local scenic Lake Kivu contains a massive amount of dissolved murderous gas which it constantly threatens to release. Recently, the airport was cleared of lava from the last eruption and now Goma is happily open to tourists.