What Your Travel Searches Reveal About You

January is the month every year, where travel searches peak across the United Kingdom, and it’s quite significant. They are nearly 300% more compared to any other month of the year. Perhaps it’s something about the cold start to the year that drives us to seek warmer adventures to look forward to, or it could be that we want to get organised and start the year planning our vacations for the coming twelve months. I know I definitely fit into the latter group, for me, January is an exciting month to map out the year ahead and fill it with things I know will make it the best yet.

But what are you searching for when it comes to travel? Below I have taken a sample of the biggest questions you’re seeking answers for when it comes to organising your vacations, as well as some surprising discoveries about your searches.

Your Top Search – Best Holiday Destinations

We all want to make sure that we use our precious travel time wisely, so it comes as no surprise that the top travel searches are mainly about getting the destination right so that we go on a trip to remember for years to come.

Your Surprising SearchPhotos Matter Most

It perhaps comes as more of a surprise that we are now often using photo and social media based inspiration to influence where we visit next. Searches for ‘the best Instagrammable travel places’ and ‘Instagrammable destinations’ are rising rapidly, as well as people looking for the holidays that will give them the best photo opportunities in-between enjoying a gelato and exploring historic sites.

If you are looking for inspiration on where to visit in 2020, I have put together a post featuring my favourite all time destinations and many of them have free travel guides and itineraries for you to use.

To save you the click though, my top five are:

  1. Japan
  2. Iceland
  3. Norway
  4. Switzerland
  5. Italy

However if you want to see what the experts are recommending, the Lonely Planet annual ‘Best in Travel’ guide is well worth a read. You can access it here – https://www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel

They list their top ten countries for 2020 as:

  1. Bhutan
  2. England
  3. North Macedonia
  4. Aruba
  5. eSwatini
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Netherlands
  8. Liberia
  9. Morocco
  10. Uruguay

And finally, if neither of those lists appeal, you can always do as others’ are clearly doing, and use Instagram as inspiration of where to head next, bonus points in doing it this way is that you’re guaranteed to get a beautiful photo to add to your feed as this is how you picked where to head to!

Next Top Search – Last Minute Flights

There’s clearly two types of travellers in the world. Those looking and preparing their plans in January (the majority) and those who love a great last minute deal and are looking for a quick getaway.

Over the last five years, the volume of people looking for last minute deals has dropped. Perhaps we no longer are looking for the standard sunny late deal and our travelling preferences have started to change. However, for those who still love the last minute planning, searches for late flight deals peak in mid-July. Perhaps you are regretting not booking a summer trip as your co-workers head off on their adventures, or you are really needing a break from the day to day by the mid-point of the year, so you quickly get looking for a way to escape reality for just a few days.

For most people, the driver for the later deals seems to definitely be cost, with the word ‘cheap’ being included in the majority of last minute flight searches we make.

If you are looking for a late deal, there are five simple things you can do to make your search more fruitful.

  1. You get bigger savings when you book a deal as a whole, rather than just flights. Flight themselves are vastly cheaper when booked early. So if you are keen to get a good late deal, book your travel as a package deal to score the best savings.
  2. Be flexible with your dates, and try to fly mid-week where possible for the best savings. A different of two days can often change the price by hundreds (I have genuinely seen this more often than not)
  3. Set up alerts and subscribe to websites known for promoting late deals. If you are part of their mailing list, you get first visibility of any sales, or good deals they offer.
  4. Booking 14 days before or less is known as the ‘magic window’ and it’s the time where companies really slash their prices to fill up their packages and hotels. Try and hold out if you can before booking.
  5. Be flexible. With last minute deals, you often may not find the package in your price point for the destination you’re seeking. Be open to where you are heading for the best possible savings.
Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Searches are Changing – Travel Money

Ahead of a trip, we all like to make sure we have our currency for our new destination sorted. Interestingly, a lot of us only start looking into preparing it a week ahead of our planned vacation.

Of course, the top searches are primarily about rates and best exchange offers, but there’s been some interesting shifts over the last five years in travel money questions.

We used to look for the best rates with well-known high street brands. The Post Office is the top searched firm favourite, followed by Tesco, Asda then Sainsburys. Clearly, we like to combine getting our Euros with our weekly shop in the UK!

However these days, we are also looking for the best new alternatives to cash or prepaid cards for our trips. Revolut and Monzo cards searches are rising in popularity quickly, especially ahead of the summer months. This may be because many of us are seeking easy ways to pay abroad, with less hassle and better rates.

Alternatively, it could be that as Brits we now travel a lot more (on average, we see an increase of 8% more travel year on year) so a simpler solution for frequent travel and currency exchange is now needed by many.

Personally, I have a Revolut Card and I love it for many reasons.

  1. The ease of payment abroad, and fee free cash withdrawals
  2. The fact that you can monitor what you have spent your money on with great charts showing a breakdown (I clearly have a problem with eating meals out)
  3. It takes seconds to transfer to another Revolut card holder, making splitting costs abroad simple
  4. The exchange rates are always great, and you avoid the fees you would incur by paying on your usual cards abroad

If you want a better way to spend abroad (or even just track your finances better at home), get your Free Revolut card using my affiliate link here today.

Something We All Need – Travel Packing Tips

After you have sorted your destination, got yourself a great deal and looked for the best way to pay for your meals and experiences abroad, your next big question is usually seeking advice on what you need to pack for your upcoming adventure.

With the rise in short-breaks and only free hand luggage with budget airlines, many of you are now searching for the best way to get all the essentials on your vacation with you, without paying the essential luggage fees.

Here are the five best packing tips I use on a regular basis that you may benefit from too:

  1. Roll don’t fold! You can easily fit more in your suitcase if you roll your items vs. folding them (and as a bonus, they will crease less this way too).
  2. Packing cubes are the best packing travel invention. Sort your suitcase into handy sections which makes living out of a bag much easier, and reduces the stress of pulling out everything in your case numerous times during a trip to find that one item you need that’s currently evading you.
  3. Plan your outfits before packing, to avoid taking everything you might possibly need and quickly running out of space. Even better, use online capsule wardrobe guides for great inspiration on how to pair a few items to make many outfits.
  4. Pack in advance. There’s nothing like a last minute rush to guarantee you will forget something or end up taking way too much as you panic about what to add into the case just hours before you need to leave.
  5. Always have a spare outfit, toiletries and important documents in your hand baggage. You never know what might happen on a trip and it always pays to be prepared.         

What 2020 Travel Trends Will You Be Embracing?

As we move into a new decade, our travel desires and habits are changing to reflect our new desires and wishes when it comes to adventuring and experiencing more of the world. 

Below are some of the key travel trends I think will shape 2020 and the next few years. Do you recognise any of these from what you’ve been looking for personally? Do you disagree with any?

Train and Non-Air Travel

With the growing rise of ‘flight-shame’ and awareness of the environmental impact regular plane travel has on the planet and climate, people are looking for alternative methods of transport when it comes to planning their next adventures.

Because of this, train, boat and car travel will see an increase in popularity as people combine a more eco-friendly way to arrive with a scenic journey to their destination. 

In 2020, we have reached the joint decision to fly for only one ‘long-haul’ trip where we can’t reach the destination by other means, and then continue the rest of our adventures through other modes of transport. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start and lets us test what travel through different means really looks like. 

We will be embracing bikes, trains and long road trips to see as much as the world on our doorstep as we can. (Although for full disclosure, this excludes required business travel and trips to see family back in the UK seen as we have a new arrival this year that many want to meet.)

Short Breaks

The usual seven or ten day traditional holiday is moving over and making room for the rapid rise in shorter mini-breaks and weekends away. Younger generations are becoming more ‘leave-savvy’ when it comes to using their hard earned vacation days, and want to utilise them to see and experience more places. 

Therefore, we are seeing a rapid rise in three night destination hops rather than the longer week long holiday to disconnect and unwind. For 2020 and beyond, expect to see more people heading off for long weekends three to four times a year than one big all-expenses holiday in the summer.

We have been huge fans of mini-breaks for years’ now, and spend a good few hours every January working out how to best structure our leave to maximise our adventures for the coming year. Add a day onto public holidays, travel when quiet, and make the most of your weekends with amazing experiences to be found just an hour or two away.

Travelling with Pets

According to Mintel, 59% of British consumers now have a pet, and the biggest trend for growth when it comes to ownership is thanks to the younger millennials (21-30) who are now adopting a furry friend at the same time as their parents were choosing to have children. 

With this rise in younger pet households comes the rise in people travelling with their furry companions. Pet friendly hotels, planes and restaurant demand is on the rapid rise. 52% of American millennial pet owners will now take their pet with them if they are away from home for more than two nights. 

For those who find it harder to travel with their pets, such as those with cats, smaller mammals or animals who don’t quite like the journey, there’s also been a boom in services to support this. Sites like Trusted Housesitters have been gaining rapid popularity, and for good reason. 

Some of the best airlines to travel with a pet are JetBlue, Air France and Swiss Airlines according to independent reviews. Plus, the best countries to travel to or live with a dog? France, Switzerland, Italy and Canada top the list thanks to their pet friendly ways of life. 

Our cats love to travel in the car for short trips, but we don’t think they would quite like a longer journey. So we love sites like Trusted Housesitters and local cat friendly hotels for short breaks away or cat sitting support. 

My brother and sister in-law are literally the leaders in travelling with pets. Their dog Hiro has been alongside them as they take a gap year flying with them to Canada, the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and much more.

Ethical Travel

A survey by Sainsbury’s in the summer of 2019 predicted that 25% of Brits would be vegetarian or vegan by 2025. This accounts for the rise in demand for both vegan hotels, and eco-tourism and more ethical travel. 

People are becoming more aware of their travel footprint, choosing to take ‘no-waste’ amenity kits with them on breaks, seeking out vegan or vegetarian hotels to stay in and paying to offset their carbon footprints for each flight, delivery or service they use. 

I love to see it on sites like Viator, where tour companies are now offering more ethical excursions so you can see more of a country without damaging it through your tourist footprint. 

Family Travel

There’s been a huge growth in people travelling and going away with their extended family and it’s something I think will keep being popular for many years to come. 

As more people lead busier lives, or live further away from each other, the chance to all meet up together in an exciting new destination and to make memories as a family is really appealing. 

There’s been a surge in families booking large rentals, such as through sites like AirBnb, and making the most of both their destination but also time at the lodgings together to just relax, reconnect and make lasting memories. 

Detox Holidays

Whilst technology is a great enabler for every day life, often people are looking towards their holidays as a way of escaping the constant buzz and noise of being always connected. 

A lot of ‘technology-free’ retreats, hotels and vacations are popping up which promise a chance for you to truly disconnect for a period of time. An opportunity to go back to basics and enjoy reading, nature, hiking or the sights around you without online distractions. 

Honestly, this is something I want to try more in 2020. Perhaps not at a ‘technology-free’ retreat, but by leaving our phones behind in the hotel safe, the laptops at home, and properly disconnecting when away. We did this in the South of France late last year, to the level that we had several people asking if we had got there safe and everything was okay as they hadn’t seen any updates on our Instagram about being there.

It was a big reality check for us, and needless to say we now put the phones away during the day and only then upload any photos or highlights of the day when back at our hotel in the evening.

Staycations

Tied with the rise in eco-tourism, as well as the desire to discover more about the beautiful sites on your doorstep, there’s no surprise that staycations are seeing a boom in popularity again amongst travellers.

Whether it’s venturing out to discover hidden gems in your own country, or even just getting together a lot of little luxuries for a weekend hidden away at home, a staycation can really help you relax and recharge without having to (a) spend a fortune or (b) travel far. 

With our first child arriving in just a few months, I hope to use 2020 as a chance to explore more locally, giving us the thrill of going away without the stress of flights, travel and paperwork. Camping is a big love of ours, so we hope that this is one way we can achieve this in the summer. 

My Ten Favourite Destinations Of The Decade

It has been an incredible decade for travel, adventure and experiences. I can honestly say that I practised what I preached over the last ten years, and made travel a main priority based on my personal goals, interests and hopes.

It has required a lot of sacrifice, financial discipline and preparation but it has also resulted in some of the best memories I have ever held. Since 2009, I have been fortunate enough to travel to thirty-seven countries and over eighty different cities. This post is a reflection on my all-time top ten destinations I visited during the last ten years. I hope it can provide you with some inspiration for your next adventure.

Some interesting things that stood out to me when I made the list included the fact that I am clearly happiest travelling in winter or colder conditions, I am more of a rural rather than city break adventurer and a lot of the attraction of a place has to do with the food.

Here are the top ten, ranking in order, with my favourite places first. 

Japan – Kyoto

A country which fuses modern and ancient traditions seamlessly, Japan is a melting pot of culture, tech, art and history. Everything you want to say about Japan can be summarised as a perfect juxtaposition. Chaotic but ordered, futuristic and yet so deeply rooted in tradition, high-rises circling around historic gardens and shrines. This place on paper doesn’t work, but in reality it’s a place which offers you a wealth of different experiences in such a short space of time, and it’s enthralling.

Arriving in Kyoto you quickly get the sense that this city is a cultural and spiritual hub of Japan. There’s over 2000 different shrines, temples and statues hidden amongst the modern city centre. Explore traditional Japanese wooden houses in the Gion district, taste local delicacies in the sprawling markets and enjoy traditional tea ceremonies or stay in a local Ryokan to truly immerse yourself in the historic culture of Japan.

Visit: March-May

Eat: Ramen, Okonomiyaki, Sushi and Korokke

Stay: In a traditional ryokan

See: Shrines, markets, Gion district, surrounding mountains

Full visit guide – open here

Iceland

A magical combination of glaciers, geysers and volcanos make Iceland a truly unique landscape. A place where you can experience the joys of wilderness, the warmth of the locals and the true power of earth and Mother Nature.

It is the stark juxtaposition of the fire from the volcanos and ice from the glaciers that give Iceland its staggering landscape and distinctive opportunities for experiences like no other for tourists. In just a day you can soak in a geothermal lagoon, walk on lava fields and black sand beaches, stand atop ice-covered volcanos and under ice cold waterfalls, and take in the sparse and captivating glaciers.

Visit: February / March for snow and Northern Lights, July / August for hiking and outdoors
Eat: Fresh fish, hearty stews and strong drinks!
Stay: In a Reykjavik hotel with a good spa
See: Waterfalls, Glaciers, Natural Hot Springs and Volcanos

Full visit guide – open here

Norway – Tromso

If you are looking for a magical break, to a place where nature truly delivers breathtaking experiences at every moment, look no further than Tromso, a cosy town nestled right in the heart of the arctic circle.

Surrounded by small peaks, icy fjords and covered in a blanket of soft snow for six months of the year. Tromso is Norway’s most northern city, located in the heart of the Arctic Circle, and it makes a great base for exploring the many wonders mother nature has to offer.

This small city is the gateway to the Northern Lights, in close proximity to several breathtaking fjords and home to the historic Sami culture. Visit and experience a weekend filled with Reindeers, skating on frozen lakes and late night chases to catch a glimpse of the rare but wonderful northern lights as they fill the dark night skies.

Visit: November through March
Eat: Local foods and plenty of Christmas Tea!
Stay: In the Radisson Tromso City Centre
See: Northern Lights, Arctic Fjords, Reindeers and Frozen Lakes

Full visit guide – open here

Switzerland

I am incredibly lucky that a place we as a family decided to relocate to nearly fifteen months ago is now one of my all time favourite countries. Switzerland has so much to offer, and I am thankful every day that I get to explore so much on my doorstep.

With glacier-topped mountains seemingly on every corner, incredible alpine lakes and long green valleys to hike through, there’s so much to offer in this picturesque Alpine paradise. There’s a plethora of outdoor activities to be enjoyed. From skiing and skating in the snow, to biking and hiking in the summer. Here we have experienced more adrenaline activities such as paragliding and climbing in a year, than we have in our lifetime.

Plus, there’s always the draw of the UNESCO heritage vineyards and local caves serving their finest produce every spring and autumn.

Visit: Year-round, depending on your activity and weather preference
Eat: Fondue, Rosti, Chocolate and Fine-dining
Stay: Zurbriggen Hotel Zermatt
See: Mountains, Gorges, Lakes, Valleys and Old Alpine Towns

Full activity guide – open here

Italy – Tuscany

When you think of romantic retreats, Italy is always a good idea. The Tuscan region brings together everything that Italy has to offer, and goes above and beyond with the delivery.

Rolling vineyards, rustic farmhouses and B&B’s, old winding Italian roads and some of the best local foods and wine money can buy are all found in this quaint and historic region on the Italian west coast.

Stay in the hillside outside of Lucca, Siena or Florence and spend your days walking, exploring local farms and producers and cooking at home with the best local ingredients you can source each day after a quiet brunch in town.

There’s so much history and things to do, especially in central Florence that I don’t have space in this post without boring you all. However you can read my upcoming guide to Florence specifically in the next couple of weeks’ if you are feeling inspired.

If you want a guaranteed break filled with delicious food, romantic walks and breathtaking landscapes then book a flight to Tuscany today.

Visit: April-September
Eat: Pasta, Stews, Wine, Bread
Stay: Old Farmhouse Hotels / AirBnBs
See: Vineyards, Florence, Old Tuscan Villages, Rolling Hills

Full visit guide – open here

Cuba

Cuba, the Caribbean destination for culture, history, Cadillac’s and true escapism. Although it’s not got the reputation of the nearby islands for luxury five star retreats and resorts, it offers so much more in the experiences and opportunities you can digest whilst exploring this magical isle.

Never has there been a better time to visit and experience the mix of faded and crumbling Spanish colonial architecture, a dose of communism, white sand beaches and dancing Salsa and drinking rum until the sun goes down. In the last decade, private enterprise has been given the green-light and so many Cuban entrepreneurs have started to offer new opportunities for visitors. From private tours in a vintage Chevrolet to delicious food served in someone’s own casa, there’s a lot more to sample, straight from the locals themselves.

A pastel paradise, Cuba is a destination for people who enjoy travelling but also can adapt to the unexpected and be prepared to slow right down and appreciate an unhurried way of life. While we were there, we got used to we came to call ‘Cuban time’. A little longer to be served, an extended wait to buy a ticket or the complexities that came with getting from A to B. However for us, all this added to the charm of being able to explore a country that seems to be hovering between the past and present.

Havana is an enchanting maze of a city, which we first glimpsed from the old Spanish fort El Morro situated across the bay, overlooking the vast capital. Instantly from afar we could see the patchwork of different architectures all woven together, Colonial, Gothic, American and Russian, illustrating the complex history of Cuba in just a glance.

We found the best way to explore Havana was on foot, weaving our way through the crumbling and pastel lined cobbled streets. Stop to absorb everything you have seen in the many bohemian bars, wander into the art-deco hotel Hemingway made his home for months and stand in one of the many squares that represent the different times and layers of history that have shaped this city like no other.

Our top sights included the Malecon seafront, the Plaza Vieja Square, Plaza de la Revolution and the old town. You should also make an effort to explore the less regenerated area of Centro Habana, in order to get a true feel of life and reality for many Cubans. It is filled with an energy and buzz, away from the crowded tourist hotspots, and showcases the less polished side of the capital, away from the pastel cafes and restored main squares.

Visit: December – April
Eat: Cuban Sandwich, Rice in Black Beans, Vaca Frita, Pastelitos
Stay: Homestay or classic beach front hotel
See: Havana, Cardenas, Varadero, Trinidad

Morocco – Marrakech

Listed as Trip Advisor’s Destination of the Year for 2015, Marrakech is an incredible sensory experience, from the warm smell of rich spices to incredible views of dusky red buildings and city walls situated in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.

The heart of the magical city, the Medina, is bustling with excitement and history, and a maze of winding alleyways filled with souks, street food stalls and hidden Riads. If we had been alone, I am certain we would have found ourselves lost within the narrow passages, although that wouldn’t have been a bad thing. We could have stayed in the souks for hours, you could discover a new sight, smell or sound there every minute you walked around.

The city is home to many peaceful and lush gardens, which are perfect to unwind in after a morning in the medina. If you have some time, you can always take a carriage ride around several of the serene gardens to take them all in at once.

Also, make sure you head out to the Atlas Mountains, for a camping experience under the stars.

Visit: February – May
Eat: Cous Cous, Tagine, Mint Tea
Stay: Riads in the centre
See: Atlas Mountains, Medina, Souks, Spas

Argentina

Argentina is a sprawling natural wonderland, filled with peaks, forests and the lively city of buenos aires, there’s just so much to see in this incredible South American country.

Watch tango, explore the markets and enjoy good food in a local restaurant whilst people watching. Get out of the city to explore the natural waterfalls, Andes Mountain range and the huge range of wildlife. Spot penguins, whales, giant anteaters and more!

Head to Patagonia, the Perito Moreno Glacier and the south to truly immerse yourself in this naturally outstanding country. Especially if you’re a big fan of winter sports.

In the capital, there are heaps of vintage bookstores, creative boutiques and local stores and bars to sip on a cocktail under the sun.

Visit: Depending on where Argentina is a year-round destination
Eat: Chimichurri, Empanadas, Mate, Steak, Barbecue
Stay: Depends where you are based!
See: As much as you truly can, you need at least two weeks to see the best of the country

Australia – Great Ocean Road 

Drive along the coast of the wild southern ocean via winding narrow roads, small rainforests and amazing clifftop viewpoints. situated just a short distance from Melbourne, head out and explore all the striking coastal landscapes Victoria has to offer.

The Great Ocean Road consists of 243km of incredible landscapes, terrains and wildlife. Although it could technically be driven end to end in around six hours, I would really recommend doing this over several days to allow you to enjoy and experience the different sections of the route.

You will stop at world class surfing beaches, witness Koala’s and Kangaroos in the wild, and get to wander through lush tropical rainforests on your way to see the Twelve Apostle’s and other iconic sites towards the end of the route.

Visit: November – January
Eat: Whole foods, vegan treats, and fresh seafood
Stay: Beacon Point Ocean View Villas
See: 12 Apostles, Wildlife, Apollo Bay, Rainforests, Surfing, Lighthouses

Download my free visit guide here

Moscow – Russia

Somewhere I visited fleetingly but it left such a longing to go back it had to make this list. A historical city, sprawling out from the Kremlin and Red Square through to majestic surrounding streets, and tall imposing architecture.

Explore retro clubs and cafes nodding to the soviet era, experience luxury afternoon tea in fine dining restaurants and bars. Wander through ornate shopping malls and discover colourful hidden gems, historic fortresses and huge cathedrals dotted all across the city.

Visit: March – June
Eat: Pelmeni, Borshch, Pirozhki and luxury dining
Stay: Ritz Moscow
See: Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, Bolshoi Theatre, The Ornate Subway, Alexander Garden, State Museum.

Five Ways To Improve Your Environmental Impact If You Fly Often

Climate change, and the environmental impact travelling has on it, is rightly starting to command the level of attention it deserves.

However, even with the growing worry about rising temperatures, of which air travel is a big contributor, the desire to travel is not waning. In fact, it’s very much on the rise, and I personally can see why. The world is incredible, and there’s so much to see and experience out there.

However, that being said, a standard long haul flight, one way, has as much of an impact as you taking nearly 900 ten minute showers, watching TV for 920 days in a row, or 18% of the average yearly energy consumption of a Dutch household.  

The only bigger impact you can have personally, than choosing to fly less, is if you choose to have only one or no children, or you give up your car.

Couple this with the startling statistic that right now, only 20 percent of the population has ever been on a plane, it is clear there’s space for a continuous boom in travel. As the 80% begin to experience their first adventures in the sky, emissions and impact will rise.

I personally can hold up my hand to say that my personal footprint when it comes to plane travel is shameful. Thanks to a combination of business travel, living abroad and personal vacations, I have taken more flights in the last five years’ than I would like to count. There’s even a new word being coined in Sweden for this feeling of shame, flygskam. It roughly translates as either “flying shame” and is used to describe the increasing trend in Sweden of the shame felt by frequent flyers.

I definitely have been feeling a lot of flygskam over the last few years, and it’s getting worse.

Clearly, the best option to reduce your impact is to just not fly at all. In fact, many environmentalists argue that carbon offsetting is just a way to paint over the cracks, and doesn’t reverse the damage in the long run.

However, right now, I can’t just choose to give up plane travel and go cold-turkey. Unlike other personal environmental concessions, reducing air travel has a disproportionately high impact. Give up meat and you eat from a different menu. Give up a car, you walk or take the train. Give up flying and I may never see some members of my family, friends or be able to carry out a job I love effectively.

Therefore, this constant awareness of my impact led me to research how I could best mitigate some of this, and over the years’ I have come up with a series of standards I follow when it comes to travel.

One – Always choose eco-flights and efficient airlines

When booking your flight, try to fly with the airlines who have a strong environmental record. You can use the atmosfair Airline Index 2018 to help you understand where airlines fare when it comes to efficiency. For short haul, Air France and Jet2 airlines fare well. For longer haul, try TUI or KLM.

Even better, flight comparison sites such as SkyScanner use flags such as a ‘greener choice’ label which will highlight flight options that emit less CO2.

Two – Fly economy where possible

It’s not rocket science that the more people there is on a plane, the less an impact you will have per person for that flight. Considering business and first class tickets usually take up more space, and resources than economy tickets, it’s clear that choosing budget is best when it comes to the planet.

Photo by Jason Toevs on Pexels.com

Three – Always invest in carbon offsetting

Although many argue that carbon offsetting is nothing in comparison to not taking the trip in the first place, it definitely does more than choosing to ignore your impact overall. It still surprises me how little people actually do this when flying.

For every trip I take, I calculate my impact using either the built-in calculators you can use when booking, or this fantastic one from My Climate. According to their site, my last roundtrip to Tromso that I took in November would have emitted 0.954 t of CO2. They recommend that because of this, I contribute at least £25 towards a carbon-offset project in a developing and newly industrialised country.

You can choose the projects directly on their site, or you can use other providers such as Gold Standard or atmosfair to do so. Just ensure when you are choosing a provider, you do your research.

I recommend the above three based on the certification they have, the way you can trace the impact and the way they audit and publish their findings on a regular basis.

If easier, you can now offset your carbon footprint for most flights when you are booking them. I do this for the airlines which score well in the efficiency index, and who are transparent about what your money goes towards. For those like Ryanair, who has had their scheme referred to as a ‘green gimmick’ by experts, I prefer to do the offsetting myself at this time.

Four – Reduce short-haul flights

For shorter trips, consider taking a different means of transport where available to you. Yes, it’s likely going to take longer, but surely that’s a fair compromise you are willing to make if you consider the impact it can have.

Grab a book and settle in for a long train ride, winding through the countryside on route to your next destination. Consider car-sharing apps, buses and other means.

Often, the journey can be as much of a trip as the destination itself.

Five – Change your lifestyle

If you really will struggle to reduce your plane travel, think about other ways you can change your lifestyle instead.

Work out your own individual footprint here Then make some changes based on this. Personally, we have chosen to go without a car and rely on public transport for the last fourteen months, we rarely use internal heating anymore and layer up, we eat locally and sustainably where we can, often plant based, and our biggest choice has to be our commitment to avoid over or unnecessary consumption of material goods. A minimal life has many benefits!  

We are nowhere near perfect, and there’s a lot of people around us doing incredible and inspiring things on a much greater level, but we are conscious and we are trying.

How do you reduce your travel impact? What choices are you making?

How You Can Take Over Ten Trips A Year Whilst Working – An Insiders Guide To Travelling With A Full-Time Job

You see so many stories of incredible people handing in their notice, packing up their bags and heading out for an indefinite period to explore the world. Endless countries ticked off the bucket list, an opportunity to forget about long-term plans and the chance to see many countries in such a short space of time.

The reality is that the above takes more than just courage to take the leap. It also requires savings you’re willing to invest (and not see back) on the travel costs, an ability to live out of a back pack for an extended period of time, and the knowledge that unless you’re on a sabbatical, if you ever want to come home you need to start the process of job hunting, accommodation sorting and logistics all over again.

The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to give up on the dream of regular travel if you can’t or don’t want to give up work. It’s actually incredibly feasible if this is a big priority for you.

Here are my top tips for balancing work and travel, to keep those wanderlust dreams alive whilst rocking a traditional 9-5.

Be flexible with travel dates

If you currently don’t have children, or a role that mandates specific holidays are taken (such as the wonderful teachers among us) then make the most of your calendar freedom and travel when the flights are cheaper and the destinations are quieter.

Use a travel comparison site such as SkyScanner to locate the best prices for your next trip and fly on these days where possible. Cost savings like these mean you can then afford more trips throughout the year.

Prague in Winter is incredible, the cold and snow makes the city feel magical and mystical. Traditional expensive ski resorts become affordable hiking paradises in the summer. It’s all about the dates and the flexibility when it comes to travelling more with a job.

On this, also be flexible with your destination

Unless you have somewhere your heart is set on visiting, try and be flexible with your next destination. We have a huge list of everywhere we hope to see, but it’s not constrained by time. The big Weir bucket list!

 We again use travel comparison sites such as SkyScanner to search from flights from our closest airports to ‘everywhere’ and then find somewhere with a great deal on from our big wish list of destinations.

Obviously this isn’t always achievable as you may have a deep craving for pasta and wine in Tuscany that a trip to Poland just won’t quench, but where you can be flexible, try.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels.com

Enjoy your work

This may seem like a strange tip, but I really do think it’s important to have a good work life balance and a job you genuinely enjoy doing for this to work well.

If you are forever just looking forward to your next office break, have no enthusiasm for what you are going back to or don’t feel excited or stretched then you may begin to resent your time spent not travelling.

A work life balance is just about liking what you do in work, as well as making sure you get enough time away from it to indulge in your passions and interests.

For me, this kind of approach of working hard and travelling harder works because I put the same amount of energy into both aspects. I think it’s a super key element many people miss when trying to strike up this kind of balance with travelling vs. a full-time backpacking year.

Maximise those bank holidays

Every year, I block out the public holidays where I am living and try and book some extra dates off around these to maximise my vacation time. A week away can easily just require two days leave if you time it right.

Yes prices may be a little inflated, but it’s up to you to weigh up the benefits of longer travel vs. the cost. Plus, you don’t need to fly for these trips. Do the planet a favour and hop on a train to the nearest country, or a short ferry or cruise overseas. Sometimes the best places to discover are on our doorstep.

Long weekends are golden

Again, similar to the above, you can see some incredible cities in just three days. Take a Thursday night flight out, and Sunday night flight back and you have easily squeezed in an exciting long weekend without much stress or missed work!

We love our long weekend escapes. Pack light, pick out a few top sights to see and indulge in some good food and new cultures for three days.

Great weekend city breaks include Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Rome, Prague, Krakow, Berlin, Budapest, Vienna or Edinburgh.

Ignore the comments

One of the strangest things about this kind of lifestyle has to be the frequent comments and observations from others it attracts about how ‘you are always on holiday’ or ‘they’re shocked you ever manage to get any work done’.

The reality is you get just as much vacation as your peers. You are just utilising it in a way that works for you and meets your travel goals. If you choose to spend your weekends in Naples enjoying a pizza rather than a weekend at home it doesn’t matter. You will both be back in the office on Monday.

Do what works for you, and don’t worry about what others think of it.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Live with less to travel more

People quite often comment on how we manage to afford all the travel we do. Sometimes out of intrigued, sometimes I think a little suspicious, and sometimes perhaps not with the best intentions.

Our method is simple. Prioritize what matters to you and invest both your time and money here.

For us, travel matters. As a result, we rarely buy new clothes, we currently are car-free, we live below our means and we don’t tend to buy ‘nice-to-haves’ like decorative items, makeup trends or the latest iPhones / other technology. It’s our choice, and definitely isn’t a choice we think is better than others or right for everyone. But it’s right for us.

By living like this we have freed up money to go away often and make many memories in different places. It’s perfectly possible to have a mix of both, with a few trips a year as well, but our reality of upwards of ten vacations a year wouldn’t be possible without this choice we’ve made.

Work on the go

If you have a job that allows this, or a remote career, then you really have unlocked the next level when it comes to working and travelling. Office hours by day, and exploring at night and weekends. However this isn’t possible for everyone – though definitely something we can all work towards!

These tips all sound obvious, but they all require flexibility and discipline to turn your bi-annual vacation into a true blend of constant work and travel. What are your top tips when it comes to working full time and travelling?

9 Things We Have Learned From Hosting Guests.

For us, the next few months will be a little unusual, in that we don’t have plans to be hosting any guests or visitors until Christmas. Living abroad has many advantages, and one personal favourite of mine is that you get to host many visitors as they travel to see you and your new home.

It’s been a year since we made Switzerland our new home, and in that time we have had ten sets of visitors, some visiting multiple times, enter our home and share our space with us. Honestly it’s something we both truly enjoy and we only hope that each time the people staying with us have a great holiday and experience too.

On that note, there are definitely a few tips and tricks we have learned along the way about hosting that make it a lot easier and comfortable for all during visits.

One: Get a feel for what your guests want to do when they visit

A few weeks before people arrive to stay with us; we always try to discover what key things they want to experience while in Switzerland. No two visits are the same and so it’s important to know in advance what is high on their must-see lists. Do they plan to relax and recuperate, or expect an active weekend where they can see as much as possible?

We usually provide visitors with our detailed guide to the local area ahead of their stay, so they can then use this to let us know what kind of activities really takes their fancy. Moreover, we include costs and any clothes or unique requirements so there are no surprises or disappointments when the trip is underway. Preview our visit guide below if you are inspired to create something similar for your guests.

Plus, we like to do something a little unique and special for each visit as people have made a lot of effort to come and see us. Here’s an example of a Weir Wine Tour we made for one of the trips!

Two: Time the visit well

Based on the above, it’s really important to be conscious of the timings of visits where possible. If you have guests wanting to do outdoor pursuits, it’s best to let them know when the weather is reliable. For those visiting when you still need to work, make that clear ahead of the trip so they can organize their days and plans in advance where needed.

Three: Have a spare key cut for your guests

Even if you are going to be spending the majority of your time together, it’s good to offer guests their own key so they can come and go without worry. This makes it easier if they tend to go for runs earlier in the morning, or will be entertaining themselves whilst you are in the office.

On that note, a house guide for those who will be in your home without you for extended periods is always a good idea. It means they can easily make themselves at home without worrying about how to work the TV or heating.

Four: Don’t forget the little things

Ensuring you have fresh bedding, a clean home and a well-stocked fridge are the basics when it comes to hosting, but sometimes the little things that make stays a lot easier can go overlooked. We try to put adapters in the sockets for those coming from abroad, the bedside tables in the guest room have eye masks, ear plugs and sleep spray and we like to leave a little welcome gift or two from the local area in the room as a surprise. Plus, put fresh towels in their room, so they don’t realise mid-shower they haven’t got one at hand!

We keep our little guides we get from great places we visit and tourist information booths to provide to visitors so they can easily see what’s good to do nearby without too much effort.

Five: Check on dietary needs or special preferences

Make sure you know in advance if people have specific needs. Whether it’s specific dietary requirements, cat allergies or a particular fear which might make an activity you choose unsuitable, we’ve seen it all.

It’s always easy to navigate as long as you know beforehand, so if in doubt, just ask.

Seven: Prepare some meals in advance

If you are going to be using your time to see as much as you can with your visitors, you don’t want the day to day chore of cooking to eat into these precious hours. Prepare one or two meals you can throw into the slow cooker in the morning for when you arrive home tired at the end of the day. Lentil curries, hearty soups and five-bean chilli are easy solutions for quick group meals.

Plus, snacks never go amiss. Have plenty in to put in bowls in between meals, and take supplies out in your bag with you to keep guests satisfied in between meals especially if you’re hiking or doing something active.

Eight: Wow with a good breakfast

On that note, having a good selection of goods for breakfast each day makes sure you start the day well-nourished and gives you time to sit round the table and plan the day ahead as a group. During the weekend, put out cereals, pastries, breads and fresh fruit alongside some yoghurts and a warm dish to allow people to take their pick and have a slow brunch before heading out for activities.

Nine: Have fun

Hosting is about spending time with people whose company you truly enjoy. Prepare in advance but when they are here, just try to relax and make the most of the time together. We realised just last week we should have had a lamp in the spare room all along to make our guest more comfortable, so there’s always more to learn!

No hosting is ever perfect, but we try and make it as good for our guests as we can each time.

What are your top hosting tips? What do you always notice or appreciate when you are staying with friends or family?

Five of the Best Couple’s Travel Destinations to Inspire Your Next Trip

If you want to truly deepen, test or discover more about a new relationship, book a vacation together. Travelling as a couple is an incredible experience as it allows you to visit new places and make memories together. It expands your own personal perspective on a destination as you start to see it through another’s eyes as well as your own. Oh, and should anything go a little wrong, it also gives you the opportunity to see how you work together to overcome it and still make the most of your time away.

Personally, I think it’s also really important to travel alone, on trips with friends without your spouse, and with wider family to really discover more about yourself and the world around you. However it’s true that not much beats a trip away with your loved one discovering new cultures one place at a time.

For those looking for their next retreat as a two, these are my favourite destinations to visit as a couple, and have all been personally tested so the tips are all genuine!

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Iceland

Whether it’s watching the Northern lights under a cosy blanket or three in the winter months, or soaking up the warm summer with thermal spas and outdoor adventures, Iceland is a dream romantic destination for couples all year round

Book a long weekend away and experience the true power of nature from all corners of this country. There’s lots of rustic AirBnB wooden lodges, with floor to ceiling windows easily bookable online. Take along some warm clothes, your best hiking boots and spend the weekend under waterfalls, in the presence of active volcanos and at the mercy of all the elements.

When you are tired at the end of your long treks, visit many of the famous thermal spas to soak away the steps of the day and enjoy a glass of champagne in the natural baths under the stars.

I am still surprised when many of my well-travelled friends have yet to tick off Iceland on their destination bucket lists. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and I am always itching to go back.

white concrete building beside the body of water
Photo by Mark Dalton on Pexels.com

Ireland

For a romantic mix of city breaks and incredible countryside, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Ireland. Start with two days in Dublin, exploring the magical Trinity College Library and take a book to read in the University gardens under the sun.

In between exploring the town centre and many shops, have afternoon tea at the Laduree Café in Dublin and then go back to rest before spending the evening in the cobbled Temple Bar district, enjoying great live music, and of course a pint of Guinness or three.

When you are feeling all ‘citied’ out, take the local tram, train or bus out to the countryside or the sea. Howth and The Wicklow Mountains are both nearby and allow you to experience a quieter and gentler side to Ireland. Top tip – when we went to Howth it was sunny but incredibly windy. Definitely dress for all seasons as the weather can be very different to the city!

Stay in a luxury city-centre hotel to have a comfortable place to go back and relax in, after sampling the local wildlife and delicacies.

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Lisbon

Cobbled narrow streets, pastel buildings with terracotta roofs, and food a plenty. Lisbon is a rustic and picture perfect place to go away as a two and experience great food, history and cultural highlights in one sprawling city.

You can spend your days wandering around the cobbled old town eating local seafood, exploring quaint art galleries and testing the cult Pasteis de Nata, which have a different recipe in every bakery so you definitely need a few to choose your favourite.

If you have time, take a trip out to the nearby old fishing towns on the coast for a quieter day of Portuguese culture, and consider hiring or booking a place on a boat trip to see the sunset in the best possible way.

The TimeOut Market and the botanical gardens are great places to have a romantic date, with two very different vibes and feelings.

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Tuscany

When you think of romantic retreats, Italy is always a good idea. The Tuscan region brings together everything that Italy has to offer, and goes above and beyond with the delivery.

Rolling vineyards, rustic farmhouses and B&B’s, old winding Italian roads and some of the best local foods and wine money can buy are all found in this quaint and historic region on the Italian west coast.

Stay in the hillside outside of Lucca, Siena or Florence and spend your days walking, exploring local farms and producers and cooking at home with the best local ingredients you can source each day after a quiet brunch in town.

There’s so much history and things to do, especially in central Florence that I don’t have space in this post without boring you all. However you can read my upcoming guide to Florence specifically in the next couple of weeks’ if you are feeling inspired.

If you want a guaranteed break filled with delicious food, romantic walks and breathtaking landscapes then book a flight to Tuscany today.

New York

New York

A little further afield than the other places on this list, but no romantic getaway list would be complete without a nod to New York. In the city that never sleeps, there’s a wealth of ways you can explore and connect with your other half whilst really experiencing the trip of a lifetime in the world’s most famous city.

From wandering around their world class art museums (MOMA, Guggenheim, MET) to afternoons boating and picnicking in Central Park, there’s plenty of ways to take in this huge and incredible city together.

Don’t go expecting a quiet romantic holiday however, this is definitely more an activity packed week away, but will easily create many memories for you to look back on as a two in such a short space of time.

Take in the sunset at the Top of the Rockefeller building, enjoy Sunday brunch at one of the city’s best hotels and wear off the soles of your shoes walking through the endless boroughs and districts which all have new experiences to offer to you.

Do you think anywhere is missing on this list? Where’s your favourite place to go as a two?

 

How We Travel So Often When We Have Pets – Our Top Tips

It’s no secret that we both travel frequently for work and also leisure. Whether it’s a quick weekend away by train or a long haul vacation, there’s a number one priority for us to address when it comes to travelling, even before we book a flight, hotel or plan an itinerary. Making sure our two cats are well taken care of during our absence.

If we couldn’t secure trusted and comfortable care for our pets then the travel wouldn’t happen because for us they are the highest priority. Living abroad also brings a new element of challenge. Sometimes we used to be able to rely on the incredible kindness and support from family and friends for sitting, we no longer have that option now we are more remote.

Thanks to a great recommendation, we have been able to continue adventuring with the peace of mind that our pets and home are well taken care of. These days, for nearly every trip, we use the incredible Trusted Housesitters website. By the way, this isn’t a sponsored post for this service (I doubt they would pay me for my moderate traffic), it’s truly a website I want to shout far and wide about to help others in need of pet care, or free accommodation abroad when travelling.

Trusted Housesitters is a platform that connects people needing pet care with trusted travellers who are looking for accommodation. It’s a simple exchange, free pet care for free accommodation. Everyone wins!

The site allows you to list the dates you are away, along with a profile of your home, pets and their needs. From this, potential sitters apply to come stay and you can message them, explore their profile and read reviews from previous verified sits they have completed to ensure you have the right person for your home and pets. So far, we have hosted five wonderful sitters, and will continue to do so in the future.

The peace of mind of the reviews, third-party platform to communicate through, and the option to Skype chat with them ahead of the stays are really comforting. As people who haven’t put their cats in kennels for personal reasons (not against other’s choosing to do so but it’s not something we would like to do ourselves) this is a way we have managed to maintain our travel goals whilst keeping the furry ones happy.

It costs around £90 a year for membership and then it’s free to list as many stays as you need. For us, that’s the price of an independent sitter for one day, so it’s really worth it.

We were nervous the first time we left but now we are really comfortable and happy with the process. Plus, the reviews on our profile about our two cats having distinct ‘characters’ always make us laugh. It’s refreshing to know you’re not the only ones who think your cats are weirdos.

It’s a service we also hope to use for accommodation too in the near future. The thought of combining a holiday with a friendly household pet to come home to each day sounds too good to be true. There’s listings worldwide, and some of the places look truly incredible.

If you are looking for a cost-neutral and trusted way for your pets to be taken care of during any future trips, or local free accommodation in return for walks and feeds, then I would really recommend checking the site out.

Plus, if you ever want to come and look after Arthur and Margot, we’d love for you to explore Switzerland through our home.

Can You Guess? The Top Searched For Lonely Planet Destinations In 2019 And My Thoughts On Them.

As the weather gets warmer, it’s natural that we start to think about our travel plans and where to venture to this year for some much needed Vitamin D, time out and new experiences.

When looking for where to go to next, I am a big fan of visual searching, social media inspiration and also trying to seek out a destination that suits my needs. Sometimes you want a city break, other times a more adventurous tropical retreat.

To inspire you with your choices for 2019, here’s what the UK has been looking for when it comes to travel guides and destination advice. The top searches for Lonely Planet this year so far are:

  1. London
  2. Sri Lanka
  3. Croatia
  4. Portugal
  5. Japan
  6. Thailand
  7. New York
  8. Rome
  9. Vietnam
  10. Barcelona
  11. Canada
  12. Iceland

If the above looks like an amazing list to help you decide where to visit next, but you’re still a little stumped on which one or where, here’s my thoughts on the one’s I have visited myself.

Dubrovnik Old Town Croatia

Croatia is incredible, and has so much to offer across all the different cities and landscapes of the country. I have written a longer guide to getting the most out of Dubrovnik here, and also have explored the beautiful and historic northern port of Zadar which I can wholly recommend. Go for culture, pristine national parks, delicious fresh seafood and of course, island hopping.

Portugal is a warm, vibrant and welcoming country. Visit Lisbon for aesthetically pleasing buildings, tiled interiors and a lively and exciting atmosphere. Taste the custard tarts, watch the local dancing late at night, and hop from one bar to another to experience all the best tapas the city can offer.

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Japan is easily the best country I have ever visited, and you can read more in detail on this guide here. Go for the hospitality, the incredible juxtaposition of old meets new with the futuristic cities filled with ancient shrines and culture. It’s a real foodie place so stop and savour all the street food at the many local markets, and don’t leave without taking the bullet train to get out of the main hub of Tokyo and everything this incredible country has to offer.

A true land of natural wonder, Iceland was genuinely the best place I ever visited until Japan knocked it off first place this March. It’s a strong second however. A place where you really feel connected with nature, able to explore volcanic landscapes, natural baths and glaciers in the space of a day. The people are friendly, hilarious and incredibly artistically gifted. Read more in my guide here.

Thailand was our first experience of Asia, and it really did not disappoint. From gorgeous islands, to kayaking out in the Andaman Sea, eating all the mouth-wateringly good local dishes and hiking through the mountains it is a country that can offer you so many experiences you just need to choose what’s right for you. There’s endless shrines, golden bays and jungles to hike through, now you just need to decide how to spend your time there!

Because it was our honeymoon destination, Rome will always hold a special place in my heart. Go for a city of history. Somewhere where you can really stand in the middle of the Coliseum, Roman Forum or the Vatican and feel the immense scale and power of these grand places. The food is always good, the red wine fantastic, and the location means it’s close to many of Italy’s other golden destinations such as Pompeii, Amalfi and Florence. There’s just something about Italy that captures you when you are there. It delivers many recurring simple pleasures that they have honed and got just right over the years. We have gone back to Italy every year, at least once, for the last seven years now, and there’s a reason for this. It’s the country that just keeps on giving.

apartment architecture balcony barcelona

Barcelona is a city which is just always alive and awake. I have visited the city six times and yet still there’s an endless list of things I have yet to do there, restaurants I want to eat at, or bars I wanted to experience. Honestly, you’d never find yourself bored in this warm and vast city. Come for the historical sites, the breath-taking Sagrada Familia and the green parks surrounding the city, but stay for the award-winning food, local cuisines and of course, the sangria and red wine. Don’t miss the regular festivals held there to really immerse yourself in the city.

I can’t comment on Vietnam, Sri Lanka, or Canada. However watch this space for our New York update after September this year.

If you have any top tips you can share on the big apple, or any of the countries above, please comment below and inspire others with your insider advice and helpful comments.

 

 

 

Exploring Japan: A Capsule Guide To This Historic Country

A country which fuses modern and ancient traditions seamlessly, Japan is a melting pot of culture, tech, art and history. Everything you want to say about Japan can be summarised as a perfect juxtaposition. Chaotic but ordered, futuristic and yet so deeply rooted in tradition, high-rises circling around historic gardens and shrines. This place on paper doesn’t work, but in reality it’s a place which offers you a wealth of different experiences in such a short space of time, and it’s enthralling.

We explored a taste of what Japan has to offer over a ten-day period, but to really immerse yourself in this fantastic country and get a taste of all it has to offer, you need at least two to three weeks, if not more. However I know this isn’t feasible for most people, so I have captured below what we did in our ten days, the must-sees, the top tips and every in-between to help you make the most of your eastern adventure.

First and foremost, wherever you go, the food will never disappoint. You have a choice of seemingness endless award winning and Michelin-starred eateries, upscale restaurants or the more traditional family run establishments who have been honing their craft for hundreds of years. The latter restaurants often specialise in one or two dishes, and have spent years honing the recipes to produce the best taste. Be prepared to eat little and often to really experience all the local delicacies during your visit.

No article about Japan would be complete if it didn’t mention the warmth of the Japanese people. Never have I experienced such a consistently high level of service, friendliness and willingness to talk and share stories. Everywhere could learn a lot from this culture.

If you are after more ‘top-tips’ and less of an itinerary, then scroll to the end of this guide!

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First and Foremost – Tokyo

Tokyo is a huge city where no two neighbourhood are quite the same. From futuristic Shinjuku and Shibawya to the quieter and shrine filled Asakusa and Ueno, Tokyo really does have it all.

We spent our first three days in the Asakusa area, as we found basing ourselves here allowed us to explore some of the top places we wanted to see. The Senso-ji temple is one of the most visited in Japan and it’s not surprising, it’s vast and surrounded by a maze of streets, market stalls and restaurants. I would recommended visiting this place at night or early morning on a weekday. Weekends can be really busy and it takes away some of the magic of the place.

After visiting here, take a short walk to Sometaro restaurant. A traditional eatery, specialising in the Japanese Okonomiyaki (a delicious omelette based dish with fillings of your choice. Here you take off your shoes at the entrance, sit on the floor at your square table with a hot place, and cook yourself an incredible omelette with the fillings of your choice. The atmosphere, friendliness of the staff and freshness of the food is the perfect recipe for a good evening well spent.

Other key places to explore in this area? The Ueno Park is a beautiful and large public park filled with endless shrines, statues and a beautiful pond and boathouse. Start at the Ueno station entrance, walk under the cherry blossoms if you are lucky enough to be there in season, and then explore all the garden has to offer before reaching the fantastic Tokyo National Museum.

When you’ve finished taking in all the museum has to offer, wander back towards Ueno and lose yourself in the market, street stalls and restaurants in the streets directly in front of it.

Lastly, this area is a great gateway to get to the Imperial Palace and Gardens, as well as the famed Tsukiji Market. This is a tightly packed series of small streets with vendors selling incredible local foods, snacks and crafts. Fill yourself on a series of small dishes from the stalls, or grab a seat in one of the bustling sushi or sashimi cafes in the middle of the market and enjoy some of the freshest fish you’ll ever taste.

One key learning for our first few days? Have an itinerary but plan in time to just wander. Japan has way more to offer than the big ‘must-see’ hot spots. Don’t miss the true nature of the city by taking the subway to each shrine and back.

Oh, and get lunch at one of the incredible Katsu Curry houses in the Kudanshita station area. We went for one under the railway bridge, in a tiny cafe which seated just ten people. We both chose a Katsu curry from the ticket machine outside, and gave our order slip to the hostess on entry, and then minutes later was served one of the most incredible curries I have ever eaten in my life. These cafes with ticket machines outside served some of the best food I had during my time in Japan. Try them or miss out!\

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Historic Kyoto

For logistical purposes, we left Tokyo and travelled south to Kyoto for the middle leg of our trip with a plan to come back and explore more of Tokyo and be nearer the airport at the end of the ten days.

We took the bullet train to Kyoto and it was an experience in itself. Clean, on-time, with roomy seats and so many different landscapes to see on route, including the incredible Mount Fiji itself, the three hour journey flies by.

Arriving in Kyoto you quickly get the sense that this city is a cultural and spiritual hub of Japan. There’s over 2000 different shrines, temples and statues hidden amongst the modern city centre. Explore traditional Japanese wooden houses in the Gion district, taste local delicacies in the sprawling markets and enjoy traditional tea ceremonies or stay in a local Ryokan to truly immerse yourself in the historic culture of Japan.

We stayed in a beautiful Ryokan, with traditional Japanese floor level futons, Kyomachiya Ryokan Sakura Urushitei 

just moments from the streets of Gion and the incredible river-side restaurants and bars. However there are so many options you may find yourself spoilt for choice when booking.

When here, there are many things you will want to see, do and explore but initially I would recommend just heading into the city centre, and walking from one side of the Nishiki market hall to the other, crossing the bridge into Gion, and taking in the sights, smells and atmosphere of this spiritual hub of Japan. You will pass so many shrines and temples on foot without a plan, the religious and historical air of the city will quickly embrace you.

Our top highlights of places to see in Kyoto included the Enryaku-ji temple, set on the mountains outside of the city with sprawling views and temples as far as the eye can see. Make sure you set aside time to hike up here though, it’s more of a day excursion than a quick visit place.

Kiyomizu-dera buddhist temple is much easier to access. Although less tranquil, it is perched on a  hill and provides incredible views, especially at sunset. Gion district is an area not to be missed, and we found an incredible bar hidden away in the streets here that looks like a house from the outside. It seats only six people, and here you can sample local Sake or beers alongside a tapas platter of three local dishes made by the lady who owns the bar. They’re delicious, especially the spiced cabbage.

After exploring the inner city, take a day to head out of Kyoto centre and visit the Kinkaku-ji

Golden Temple, and the Ryōan-ji rock gardens. Wander around during a morning when it’s emptier to enjoy the peaceful and tranquil vibes this place has to offer. Then hop on a local bus to Arashiyama. Home of the famous Bamboo grove, mountain hikes and Ōkōchi Sansō gardens, make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to wander around the shrines, forest and also the mountains behind the city.

Kyoto has so much to offer and for you to see, it’s hard to prioritise and make choices if you have time constraints, however we found that from the above, mixed with seeing many nearby shrines, eating at local restaurants and staying in a traditional Ryoken, really allowed us to get a sense of what this incredible city had to offer and make the most of our four days here.

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Back to Futuristic Japan

For the final leg of our ten day trip, we took the bullet train back to Japan but this time based ourselves in the futuristic and high-rise district of Shingawa. From here, we were well placed to explore for our final three days and get a taste of the modernity of Japan and all it has to offer.

Our highlights included immersing ourselves in the nightlife of the bustling Shinjuku district, filled with skyscrapers, entertainment and endless LED lights flashing 24/7. Here, we tried VR gaming experiences, taking in the sights from the top floor of our hotel, and trying some of the more modern and upscale eateries Japan is famed for.

Later on, we walked to the notorious Golden Gai area, a series of streets home to many tiny bars, often seating no more than ten people, in old style wooden and metal houses hidden behind the skyscrapers of Shinjuku. Spend the night exploring two or three of these historic institutions and their local cocktails, though be aware, not all accept tourists and some require a cover charge to protect themselves from people who indulge in just one drink and then move on. This was one of my favourite experiences of the trip, made better by taking the time to speak to the people in the tiny bars and discover more about their background and experiences of Japan.

Of course, we had one more day of walking around the historic gardens and shrines of the region, and sampling even more of the local dishes and market foods!

Finally, we rounded up our trip with a visit to the famous Tokyo Flea Market, held on Saturdays in the city, and came away with some vintage porcelain and fabrics at a really good price. It’s pretty big so if you are after a bargain or a more traditional souvenir, leave yourself a good morning to make the most of your time here.

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Japan Top Tips

  • Japan is a huge country in terms of both area but also cultural and historical experiences and sights. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to immerse yourself in all that the country has to offer, both old and new. We chose to only visit Tokyo and Kyoto in our time as we realised we didn’t have enough time for more. Plus, it gives us an excuse to go back and do the Mount Fiji area and Osaka at a later day!
  • A lot of the signs, information cards and train guides are now in English, so don’t be worried about this or the language barrier, it’s not really a problem any more. However it’s good to learn a few key phrases in Japanese as it’s really appreciated there if you can at least order a drink, and say please and thank you in the local language.
  • Best seasons to visit for weather is end of March to early May, and then during the autumn. If you chose the March option as we did, you may also see the Cherry Blossoms in bloom.
  • Don’t just flock from shrine to temple to market, leave yourself time to walk to these places, take the back roads, and see more of the country than just the tourist filled hot spots. Japan has an awful lot of offer and it’s often not in the main places that you truly get to experience it.
  • The transport network is fantastic. Get yourself a Passmo card (you can buy it from the large underground stations from machines where you will also top it up) to use on the subways to get around for low-cost during your stay. If you plan to travel regularly by trains, then the seven-day pass is a steal. However be warned, you have to buy it before your trip and have it sent to your home address, so give yourself plenty of time to buy one (we didn’t realise this and lucked out!) https://www.japan-rail-pass.com/
  • Tipping isn’t expected or customary. We usually would just round up our bill and leave this.
  • On that note, take cash with you. For a very modern place, most traditional shops, markets and restaurants take cash only.
  • Be polite and respectful. Remember the temples you are visiting are still functioning religious sites, and so consider this before taking photos in religious places or of statues where it’s deemed disrespectful.
  • Wear socks or take a pair with you if wearing sandals. You will regularly need to take off your shoes or change shoes from outdoors to indoors, especially in shrines or traditional restaurants. If you are going barefoot under sandals, pack a pair of socks to make it easier.
  • Don’t eat and walk, it’s considered rude. So when you get your street-food from the markets, stop and properly savour the tastes before walking on again.
  • Get organised. The city can be expensive to explore if not planned properly. Buy your train tickets in advance, use a passmo card for the subway, and eat like a local where possible.

 

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We never ate a bad meal in Japan, and the food was all incredible and reasonably priced. For our highlights (and this was hard to whittle down):

  1. Sometaro – Asakusa – A place where you make traditional Okonomiyaki on your own hot plate
  2. Crown Ace Ueno – Katsu Curry Cafe
  3. Tsukiji Market – for incredible fresh food right from the vendors, and the freshest Sashimi and sushi at the market restaurants I have ever tasted
  4. Muraji Ramen in Kyoto – In the Gion district, this tiny restaurant seats only 15 people and you are at a shared table. The Ramen here was the best I ate during my time, and I would wholly recommend you go for the three dish special which includes Ramen, fried chicken or local Japanese fried rice, and the Matcha Ice-Cream for dessert. We got one light ramen, and then the dark ramen as this meal deal and it was plenty of food for two!
  5. Botejyu Kyoto – Okonomiyaki, but this time served to you by a chef rather than cooking yourself. Both the traditional dish and also the fried noodles are delicious. Arrive early or reserve a table however, or you may be disappointed as there’s always a long wait after 7pm.
  6. L’Escamoteur – This fantastic bar has a hidden door to the bathroom, brilliant cocktails and great staff. Word of warning though, you will pay more for two drinks then you did for dinner at the local restaurants in the city, but it’s worth it.

I hope you get to experience Japan. The country is the best place we’ve ever visited. The warmth of the people, the incredible food and the endless sights, nature and experiences made it the most memorable trip we’ve ever taken. 

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