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SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT – THE ADVANTAGES OF TRAVELING LIGHT

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When I took my first-round-the-world trip back in the eighties, my backpack was ridiculous. And by that, I mean enormous. Looking back, I am not sure what it contained, but whatever it was, not only was it huge, but it had too much in it. I recall waiting for a boat to take me from a Malaysian island back to the mainland when my pack split open at the seams, pouring the contents onto the dock.

On reflection, I can’t believe I hauled so much stuff around. Surely the object of travel is to free ourselves of the material objects that we surround ourselves with at home. Nowadays, whether I am traveling for a weekend or six months, I only carry a thirty-five-litre backpack and I never check luggage.

The (very minimal) disadvantages….

I admit that there are one or two disadvantages to traveling light, but the advantages outweigh them by far.

First the cons. Having a daypack means that you are limited to buying only very small souvenirs. This could either be a good thing or not, depending on your viewpoint. If you are a hard-core backpacker, you won’t be purchasing too many souvenirs anyway.

If camping forms a substantial part of your trip, it’s going to be difficult to get away with carrying a daypack. I have got around this by borrowing camping gear from local friends or hiring it. In many of the popular trekking areas of the world, there are plenty of companies from whom you can hire tents and sleeping bags. Likewise, I love to snorkel and it is generally easy to hire snorkelling equipment.

And the many advantages….

The pros – where do I begin? Physically, schlepping around an oversize pack is hard work. When you arrive in town and you are looking for somewhere to stay, hauling a large pack is cumbersome, especially in a hot climate. A heavy pack also puts a strain on your back and joints. Not having to handle a heavy/bulky pack generally makes life easier and gives you a sense of freedom and enlightenment.

Whilst traveling on buses and trains, handling a small pack is so much easier. Usually, it can be stored under your seat or in the overhead luggage rack. You can keep it within your sights, eliminating the security risks. I recall taking local buses in Sri Lanka, none of which had luggage compartments. I spotted more than one backpacker who had a major problem attempting to balance an over-sized pack on their lap on the crowded buses. I must admit to a small degree of smugness, as I sat with my comparatively tiny backpack stored neatly at my feet.

Imagine the scenario…..you have just got off a bus in India after a long and arduous journey and you are waiting for the luggage to be unpacked from the hold. As you wait, you are besieged by touts and beggars all trying to get your attention. If you were just carrying a small pack, you could have walked straight through them all and be checking in at your guest house by now!

At airports, there is no need to wait for checked bags, saving time and potential lost luggage. Anyone who has ever had a bag go missing will surely appreciate the wisdom in taking only carry-on.

Top Tips for traveling light

After many years of tweaking my packing list, here are a few tips:

Wash what you wear daily. If that sounds like a chore, don’t worry – it will soon become part of your routine. If you are traveling somewhere hot, you can wash it before bed and it’s usually dry by the morning. Some countries, especially in Asia, sell tiny packets of washing powder which are perfect for life on the road.

Technology has made life easier. Back in the day, I would carry a Walkman along with a case of tapes. Now all my music is on my phone. Instead of books, I have a Kindle.

Instead of taking a full-size towel, take a compact travel towel which will barely take up any space.

A lightweight foldaway backpack is a necessity when only taking a small pack. This can be used for daily excursions and your main pack can be left at your accommodation.

Take a mini size in everything you possibly can – hairbrush, hairdryer, mini sewing kit and pack of cards.

If you are traveling with a friend or partner, share anything that you both use.

No turning back

My first light-weight excursion was a month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I was apprehensive to start with. How would I possibly cope without all those unnecessary items?!  Now, I couldn’t travel any other way.

Originally posted 2017-06-15 02:07:26.

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Harry Potter and the Search for the Wizarding World in the UK

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I’m certain that about 70% of people in their twenties are still waiting on their Hogwarts acceptance letter (and viewing every owl they see with suspicion), so I’ve run down the five best places in the UK for curious muggles to scope out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. 

Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Harry Potter series, but I mean… the last movie came out in 2011… you should be caught up by now.

Platform 9 ¾: Kings Cross Station, London , England

Courtesy of JoJo-Bean/Flickr

We’ve come a long way since Harry Potter first arrived at King’s Cross and the entrance the Hogwarts Express platform is now marked with a sign for Muggle-born first years or those who are travelling without their parents.

Right beneath the sign, is a luggage cart that is stuck in the wall which cannot be removed with any Muggle tools; many suggest that this is, in fact, the work of notorious prankster George Weasley. Rumour has it that if any Muggle is able to move the cart, they’ll be awarded an honorary certificate from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but as of yet, no one has achieved this.

This spot on our Harry Potter tour is completely free to visit and you can pose for photos with the luggage cart wearing a Gryffindor scarf before visiting the Harry Potter-themed shop to purchase your very own wand and robes.

Hogwarts Express: The Jacobite Steam Engine, Fort William, Scotland

Courtesy of 96tommy/Wikimedia

For those who don’t manage to slip through the barrier at King’s Cross, there is another way onto the Hogwarts Express and all it requires is a short trip up to Scotland.

Here in Fort William, you can board the Jacobite Steam Engine (Hogwarts Express), ride on the Mallaig route which will take you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as The Bridge to Hogwarts.

Although you won’t meet the Trolley Witch (she only rides the train with the students), you can enjoy high tea aboard the train (they prefer pounds sterling to Galleons).

Please note: This route will not drop Muggles at Hogwarts because, for them, Hogwarts does not exist. In order to deter unwanted visitors, Headmistress Minerva McGonagall cast a spell on the school buildings so that they appear to be dotted around the country rather than all in one place.

Hogwarts Castle: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England

Courtesy of Richard Croft/Geograph

This Northumberland castle is the exterior of Hogwarts, and it is in these very gardens where Harry Potter rode a broomstick for the very first time, catching the attention of Flying Instructor Madam Hooch and Gryffindor Quidditch Captain Oliver Wood to become the school’s youngest seeker in a century.

Here you can take an on location tour of the Hogwarts grounds but remember not to venture off into the Forbidden Forest. It’s strictly off-limits.

Hogwarts Library: Duke Humphrey’s Library, Oxford University

If you’d prefer to read Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with Hermione, then perhaps a visit to Oxford University would be more your cup of tea. Here you can explore Hogwarts Library and the Infirmary, located in the 15th Century Divinity School, on the same guided tour. Just stay out of the Restricted Section and don’t drink the Skele-Gro.

The visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic: Great Scotland Yard, London

Courtesy of Shazz/Wikimedia

For those curious about the Wizarding World outside of Hogwarts, I recommend visiting the Ministry of Magic but obviously they won’t let muggles inside (with the possible exception of the Prime Minister)…sorry about that.

Although you won’t be able to find the phone booth that wizards use to enter, as it’s under an invisibility spell, you can still stop outside the visitor’s entrance and see if you can spot an Auror leaving work for the day. Bonus: if you visit in 2019, you may even spot then-Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger.

What do you think of the list? What other locations would you include?

If you’ve visited any of these locations, then let me know in the comments and share your pictures.

Originally posted 2017-08-01 11:32:25.

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48 Hours In...

48 Hours in Mexico City

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Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis full of color and culture. You could easily spend a month there and still not get to see and experience everything the city has to offer. If you only have a weekend, you can get a taste of Mexico City’s delights, but be warned – you will probably be booking your next trip as soon as you arrive home.

With more museums than any other city in the world, amazing architecture, a scintillating LGBTQ scene, delicious street food and many other attractions, Mexico City is one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

Getting There

Juarez International Airport is located eight miles from Mexico City. If you arrive late at night, it is advisable to take an official taxi to the downtown area. During the day, the metro is a good alternative.

Getting Around

Mexico City’s metro system is extensive and one of the cheapest underground systems in the world. Having said that, it isn’t the most comfortable of transport options during rush hour. Taxis are cheap, but make sure you take one from the official sitio taxi stands or use Uber.

Day One

Start the day with Huevos Rancheros, a classic Mexican breakfast – tortillas, fried eggs, salsa and refried beans. Try Café El Popular (5 de Mayo esq Palmas, just off the Zocalo). It’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists and has a diner-style ambiance.

After a hearty breakfast, head to the charming neighbourhood of Coyoacan. The number one attraction here is La Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s house, which has now been turned into a museum. It provides a fascinating insight into the life of artist Frida and her husband Diego Rivera. www.museofridakahlo.org.mx

The garden in La Casa Azul

Afterwards, you could head around the corner to the house where the exiled Leon Trotsky lived the last year of his life. It was there that he was murdered by an assassin in his study. In contrast to Frida’s colorful abode, it is an austere house which has been changed little since Trotsky lived there, but is an intriguing slice of political history.

Coyoacan Plaza is a great place to sample some tasty street food. At weekends, it is particularly lively with food and handicraft stalls. There is often live music, adding to the festive atmosphere. It feels like small town Mexico in the heart of the big city.

Back in Centro Historico, take a stroll around the huge main plaza, the Zocalo, the second largest public square in the world after Russia’s Red Square. There are plenty of museums, shops and cool street art to explore in the surrounding areas.

La Catrina, the iconic skeleton lady

El Balcon del Zocalo is a perfect place for dinner. The restaurant has a rooftop terrace, bestowed with spectacular views of the cathedral and Zocalo. It has an international, Mexican and veggie friendly menu. www.balcondelzocalo.com

For a taste of Mexican style nightlife, head to Calle Amberes at Paseo de la Reforma in Zona Rosa. This area is the hub of the LGBTQ scene in Mexico City. Have a wander and take your pick of the many bars and clubs that line the street.

Day Two

Pasteleria Ideal (Calle 16 de Septiembre 18, Col. Centro) could be the largest and most heavenly bakery you have ever seen. The choice of baked goods, both sweet and savory, are a feast for the eyes and as the name suggests, is an ideal place to grab some pastries. With breakfast and coffee in hand, make tracks to Alameda Park and find a bench to sit to enjoy your first meal of the day and partake in a spot of people-watching. You can’t miss the opulent architecture of Palacio de Belles Artes, the grandest building in Mexico City.

Just across the road (Calle Revillagigedo 11, Cuauhtemoc), check out the Popular Art Museum. Housed in an ex-fire station, this contemporary museum is full of colorful Mexican folk art. It’s fun and quirky and the exhibits range from Day of the Dead skulls and skeletons to vibrant piñatas. www.map.cdmx.gob.mx

Museum of Popular Art – fun and quirky

La Ciudadela is an artisan market (Calle de Balderas, s/m Centro, 06040 Cuauhtemoc). It specializes in Mexican handicrafts from 0axacan fantasy animals to beautifully decorated skulls. Prices are reasonable and you are bound to find something that catches your eye.

Even if you have never considered attending a wrestling match before, lucha libre is a unique Mexican experience and not-to-be-missed. (Arena Mexico,189 Calle Dr. Lavista, Colonia Doctores).  Regular sessions are held on Tuesday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The atmosphere is electric and whole families attend shouting abuse at the bad guys and cheering for their heroes.  

Round off your time in Mexico City with some tequila shots and mariachi music at a bar on Plaza Garibaldi. The haunting sound of roving mariachi bands echo around the square, as you reflect on two action-packed days in this amazing city.

Tequila shots at the ready!

 

Originally posted 2017-07-29 11:22:36.

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Your East Coast Nature Destinations

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Dupont State Forest – Cedar Mountain, NC

Located near Brevard, North Carolina, at the edge of Transylvania County is Dupont State Forest. Home to Triple Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls, the Dupont State Forest is full of easy trails and relaxing pools where you can swim, hike, and explore. This mountain area is popular for tourists and locals alike during the summer,so come early if you want a parking spot. I recommend this place if you like to swim, as the base of the falls has plenty of shallow space to wade (but watch out for rocks) and cool off on a hot day. The trails are dog – and horse – friendly, too, so don’t worry about leaving your fur babies behind.

If you have extra time, Pisgah National Forest is a popular stop too and is just a short drive from Dupont State Forest. Pisgah is home to the famous Sliding Rock, which is open year-round during daylight hours. It’s just how it sounds: a natural water slide formed in a huge rock formation. The water is cold, but the thrill is worth the chill.

Rock City/Ruby Falls – Lookout Mountain, GA &

Chattanooga, TN

While you’re in the mountains, why not make a stop at Lookout Mountain on the Georgia/Tennessee border? Ruby Falls (left) is an underground walking tour beneath Lookout Mountain, and while you’re down there you can see the original explorers’ path beneath the mountain, along with the awe-inspiring underground waterfall at the end of the tour. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After Ruby Falls, make your way to the top of Lookout Mountain to enjoy Rock City! Intricate stone pathways and adorable gnome villages await you in the Rock City Gardens and Fairyland Caverns. There are breathtaking views and wonderfully inventive fairy tale sculptures here, along with small shops and a mountaintop restaurant. This place is perfect for kids and adults alike, and just a short drive from downtown Chattanooga.

Cumberland Island National Seashore – St. Mary’s, GA

If you’re not one for mountains, then Cumberland Island is the place to be. Located off the coast of St. Mary’s, Georgia, this national seashore is your ultimate stop for hiking, biking, sight-seeing, or camping. Cumberland Island has a long history and is now a protected property in order to preserve its landmarks and environment. Home to feral horses and a popular stop for manatees along its shores, Cumberland is a haven for wildlife. Visitors are welcome to walk/bike freely around the island (except where people still live on the island), or take group tours to the major landmarks, including an interior tour of the grand Plum Orchard Mansion and a stop at the wharf to look for dolphins and manatees along the shore. Ferries travel daily between St. Mary’s and Cumberland Island during the summer season, so reserve your seats ahead of time, it’s a gorgeous place and worth a day trip.

Myrtle BeachMyrtle Beach, SC

As the hub of the Grand Stand, a 60-mile string of beaches on the east coast, Myrtle Beach is not only a gorgeous spot to relax but a vibrant tourist area as well. With the Skywheel (below) right along the beach and unique restaurants, arcades, and shops up and down the boardwalk, there are plenty of things to do to stay busy while visiting. The beach has plenty of space for the whole family and soft

sands to stretch out and catch some sun. And Myrtle Beach provides beach-accessible wheelchairs if needed, so there’s no excuse to not enjoy the sun and sand here.

Taughannock Falls State Park – Ithaca, NY

Last but not least on this list is a bit further north, in Ithaca, New York . Taughannock Falls State Park is truly a wonder, spanning 750 acres and home to Taughannock Falls, which towers at 215 feet high. If you like hiking, this is the place for you (and your dog). Taughannock offers gorge and rim trails, along with camping, swimming, and even skiing in the winter. There’s no limit to what you can see and do here, and the streams and ponds are gorgeous in the cold months when everything has frozen over. They even have cabins overlooking Cayuga Lake, if roughing it isn’t your style. So grab your friends, your family, or just yourself and take a drive up north and become one with nature (or just escape for a while).

 

 

Originally posted 2017-07-24 21:41:16.


Also published on Medium.

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