Thursday, 30 September 2010

Idiots abroad

A thought has just occurred to me: What is it with British travel shows lately, in which the protagonists do not enjoy travelling at all?

By far the best example for this has got to be An Idiot Abroad. And what an idiot he is. Mind you, what do you expect from a show that is basically a prank done for Ricky Gervais' own enjoyment? An English guy gets to travel the world, sees places so many people would love to see in their lifetimes - China, Egypt, India, for example - and he hates every minute of it. Here is somebody who makes fun of people who are not like him, has no intention of getting to know his host cultures and generally just whimpers "I wanna go home!" for an hour. When asked what he thinks of an experience, his usual answer is "I hate it."
I'm sorry, but that's not a travel show. That's just a show about the blinkered world view of one man. Maybe it's enjoyable in mute mode, when you can't hear the complaining and moaning. I don't know, I never tried. I lost interest after the first 5 minutes.

The other example that comes to mind was an episode of My Family's Crazy Gap Year, that aired on Monday (27th September). A mum and her 9-year-old daughter go around the world, immerse themselves in volunteering projects and township stays. So far, so good. But about halfway through their trip, they have a month in Indonesia for which they have not organised any projects or host families to stay with.
So they travel around a bit, and instead of checking out the culture, enjoying some time off or finding another project to help with, they decide to head back to England because they've had enough of bumming around and can't wait around until their next placement starts somewhere else in the world. That entire Gap Year had been planned for quite a while, so the free time should not have come as such a big surprise. If anything, that's just bad time management. I personally know quite a few people who would quite happily travel around Indonesia for a month without any plan.
And I am sure, that Shoestring readers and contributors combined could come up with hundreds of things to do while out there. The real loser in this episode was the little girl, though. She missed out on so many stories to tell and so many cultural experiences she could have had.

The travel shows I remember where alwys about: "I'm here and I'm doing this, and isn't this amazing!" "Did you know you can do this too?" and "Here's an adventure for you to have." Truly inspiring stories and documentaries that opened your eyes. Unfortunately, all that's on TV these days is: "I'm here and I'd rather be home." And they call those travel shows....

Queso Fever

Nobody really knows who introduced Americans to cheese dips, but filmmaker Nick Rogers believes it all started in Arkansas, at a small restaurant which was called Little Mexico at the time in 1935.

On October 9, the town of North Little Rock will host the first World Cheese Dip Championship in Dickey-Stephens Park. Some of the state's best restaurants will dish up their favourite cheese dips and compete for various titles such as Best meat incorporation and Healthiest dip. Next to the championship, North Little Rock will also sport a festival with fun and games for everyone! There will be arts and crafts, as well as Arkansas foodie specialties, so get there to see what the cheesy fuss is all about!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

An odyssey around the world

For the last 89 weeks, Graham Hughes has been travelling. He is on a mission: To be the first person to travel to every country in the world using surface transport only!

So far, Graham has been to 171 countries, and he only has 29 to go! On his travels he has been jailed, is not allowed to take any private transport and he has to set foot on dry land everywhere he goes. To make things even more challenging, the whole expedition is a Guinness world record attempt!

On his Odyssey Expedition, Graham filmed himself for the first year of his travels (2009) and "Graham's World" was produced by Lonely Planet Television in Australia and broadcast on National Geographic Adventure. In Graham's own words, the show featured "little old me, my camcorder and my toilet seat bouncing around planet Earth like a wanton loon. WOOOOOOO!!"

Check out what he's up to now!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wicked Campers Christmas Treat

Are you wondering how to get around all the Christmas markets of Europe this winter and get all the present home safe? Hiring a campervan from Wicked Campers might just be the way to go!

Wicked Campers’ van can be hired throughout winter and have depots across Europe for collection and/or drop-off. What’s more, Wicked Campers have a special promotion with a free day’s hire during the festive period. Now that’s a Christmas treat!

Over Christmas and New Year, Wicked Campers have a minimum hire of seven days. As a festive cracker, they are offering an extra day’s hire absolutely free over this period (with savings of up to £53). Simply quote TREAT when booking. So if you are 25 or over and need to move things around Europe this winter or simply want to travel around without having to carry all your things, maybe Wicked Campers are for you!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Keep track of your Visited Countries

Want a nice little map to show off your travels on your website or blog?

Douwe Osinga created a nice little website that lets you create a map of the world, the US states and India. Although the world map only lets you tick countries, not the exact route you've taken, it still gives a great overview and calculates what percentage of the world you've already seen.

visited 26 states (11.5%)
Create your own visited map of The World

The map above shows where Shoestring editor Conny has already travelled. Create your own at Visited Countries and share it with your readers!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Splinterheads explain Geocaching

Geocaching, the outdoor GPS treasure hunt, has become quite the phenomenon.

Anybody with a GPS devide can participate and feel like a child again, following clues and exploring the outdoors. There now even is a movie that features geocaching! This trailer for the movie Splinterheads explains how it works:

Learn more about geocaching in Shoestring issue #2, out in October!!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Treasure hunt in London and online!

If you're in London today (Thursday, 16th September) and have a Twitter account, join the Intrepid Treasure Hunt and follow clues left on Twitter to find eight hidden globes around London. Each globe contains a travel prize, like a trip to Kenya, Morocco or China or travel vouchers for your next adventure.

To go hunting, follow Intrepid on Twitter and follow the clues! So get your smartphone out and buy a day ticket or load up your Oyster card!!

For all those of you who cannot be in London today, there is still a chance of bagging a GBP 2500 vouvher from Intrepid! For this, follow Intrepid on Twitter like above and search for #intrepidtreasure_VIRTUAL to join the global treasure hunt! If you missed any clues, check the Intrepid website for the weekly update. Solve the riddles and win while sitting at home or work!!

And if you do want to get out there and explore and feel the thrill of the hunt but can't make it to London, your next chance will be in the USA.

The next and last city treasure hunt will be in Chicago on 23rd September. So if you're in town, jump on the El and follow the riddles around the Windy City for your last chance of finding the hidden globes and bagging a travel prize!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Explore Syria On The Go

Syria and the Euphrates Valley are now open to travellers wishing to explore a region rich in culture, history and eye-opening sights.

On The Go tours now offers three exciting new tours through and to Syria, so get going!
The 17-day tour "Cairo to Damascus" combines Egypt, Jordan and Syria, while the 7-day "Sojourn to Syria" tour does exactly what it says on the tin!

A colourful, 12-day "Arabian Odyssey" private journey will let you experience the best of Jordan and Syria, including marvelling at stone city Petra, getting sand in your shoes in the Wadi Rum desert, floating in the Dead Sea and discovering ancient ruins, important cities and crusader castles such as Aleppo, Damascus, Palmyra, the Euphrates and Krac des Chevaliers.

For more information, check On the Go's Syria section

Monday, 13 September 2010

London's travel book heaven

On a recent trip to London, I found heaven. Well, travellers' heaven. The world's largest Map & Travel Bookshop, located right in the heart of the British capital.

It is called Stanfords, and located on Long Acre between Leiceister Square and Covent Garden underground stations. It offers everything from travelogues, guide books, advice on Gap Years and Green Travel to maps, travel magazines and local interest books. Throughout the store, you can find travel assessories ranging from Click Away insect bite sting relief to Spray-On Showers. They've even teamed up with Craghoppers to offer travel clothing in store.

The sheer amount of information on the shelves at Stanford is amazing, and well worth rummaging through. Bear in mind, however, that this shop does lend itself to spending a small fortune in there, so keep track of your purchases. I was ready to pitch a tent and move in there, with all the books I could ever want about travel right at my fingertips.

I have managed to walk back out onto the street in London with only a small bag of travel related purchases, which is a real achievement for me. Over time, I will review some of the books they have in stock for you though.

In the meantime, check out Stanfords' stock online!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Win an Intrepid Aussie trip for 2!

Intrepid is giving away trips for 2 to Australia!

To be in for your chance to win either of these trips:

Uluru & Larapinta, 5 days, valued at AUD $2390
Total Top End, 4 days, valued at AUD $2020
East Coast Explorer, 15 days,valued at AUD $5980

simply tell Intrepid in 25 words or less why you deserve to go to Aussie and order their new brochure to enter the competition!

Fair dinkum, mate!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Get your NZ Rugby World Cup tickets!

With one year to go until New Zealand hosts the Rugby World Cup, tickets for the individual matches will go on sale on Friday, 10th September from the official Rugby World Cub website.

Tickets cost between NZ$30 and NZ$480 so get in early for a bargain! And if you apply for your ticket between 10th September and 8th October, you're entering the last chance to enter the ballot for semi-final and final tickets.

To mark the countdown, a series of (sporting events) will be hosted throughout New Zealand this weekend.

The world's longest pass will be attempted on 9th September at Eden Park, Auckland, the home of the All Blacks. A massive countdown clock will be unveiled from the Auckland Sky Tower later that day, to mark the days, hours, minutes and seconds to go.

Head to the South Island for some Maori culture in the world's largest Haka attempt in Nelson on 11th September and try your best at the Ka Mate Kapa Haka.

On 9th September, listen out for the "stadium of 4 million" when every kiwi from school kid to bungee jumper will "shout it out" to mark "one year to go".

So if you're travelling through New Zealand at the moment, get down to one of these events and be part of the "one year to go" campaign!

Monday, 6 September 2010

My Family's Crazy Gap Year - Channel 4

The idea behind Channel 4's latest travel show is simple: A British middle-class family goes around the world and tries to get well out of their comfort zone.

In tonight's programme, the Willmott family travelled through India, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and South America, in an attempt to educate the kids - two boys, aged 13 and 9, and a girl, aged 6 - all the while filming their adventures.

Mother Raffia, a bhuddist, does not believe in conventional medicine, and puts her family at risk when they depart for the jungle without any of the recommended vaccinations or malaria prophylaxes and only homeopathic remedies in their bags. Although the family stays with host families in remote parts of India to interact with the locals, My Family's Crazy Gap Year soon turns into a dangerous ego trip when Raffia decides that she just has to meet the Dalai Lama. Head over heels, two cars are organised to drive them 200 miles into the Himalayas to get a chance of meeting His Holiness. On treacherous mountain roads, one of the cars looses grip and rolls twice, with the kids in the back. The Willmott's finally meet the Dalai Lama, and the kids summarise the experience with the words "It wasn't that important to me."

Somehow, the family then ends up on the Mongolian plain (how exactly they got there is any viewer's guess), staying with Nomads in gers (yurts). Within hours, they have to help herd yaks, horses and sheep, and look on as their breakfast is slaughtered before their eyes. While the father of the family has to pitch in, mum looks away in disgust although she claims that they had told the kids "where their food comes from." Only the boys seem to be getting really into it, tucking into breakfast without problems and they even herd the yaks by themselves at the end of the stay.

For some reason, the family then backtracks to the Mount Everest basecamp, before ending up in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. Here, the family seeks out a remote tribe that has never met a Western family before. Next to abandoned huts, the family and their guide set up camp, just to be surrounded by tribesmen armed with bows and arrows as soon as they are finished. Although they are then invited to join the tribe, and the kids definitely seem to be making good friends, the one constant in this episode is the lack of communication between the family and their hosts, most of which do not speak any English at all. But the family only seems to pick up a few words in their hosts' languages throughout the programme. Unfortunately, the viewers only get glimpses of the Willmott family gap year. Huge parts are skipped or only explained with one sentence and one picture, which leaves the viewers wondering: "What happened and how did they get there?" And the whole issue about travel health and homeopathic is not touched again throughout the programme - without medication or vaccinations, I doubt that the entire family managed to travel around the world for a year without any illnesses whatsoever.

The immersion idea is a good one. It definitely takes them all out of their comfort zones and into the unknown, where they have to live like the locals and work like the locals. The children learn not to take things like running water and flushing toilets for granted, and even try insects as snacks offered by the Papuan tribe. Children should learn about these things first hand, make new friends in faraway places, hear different languages, eat different food. The more they learn, the more tolerant towards other people and cultures they will become.

Channel 4's show has left some questions unanswered, though. What kind of luggage did this family take with them? Suitcases or backpacks? When did they get the idea of going around the world and how much planning has gone into it? How much did it cost? Where did they get fitting local dresses upon arrival from? How did they pick the places, and, most of all: how did they arrange all these host family stays?

It's a good show, if you are interested in one family's travels, or want to see middle-class Brits getting back to nature. But from experience, I can only say that meeting the Dalai Lama and living with a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea are not your average Gap Year experiences, nor do these exploits, as down to earth as they might be, sound like they were planned on a budget.

My Family's Crazy Gap Year, Mondays 9pm, Channel 4.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Shoestring Issue #1!

Shoestring's very first issue!

This was my Final Project while studying towards my B.A. (Hons) Travel Journalism.

Contributor Guidelines

If you would like to contribute to Shoestring, please send your travel stories to

Please remember that Shoestring is a free and ad-free project, and contribution is voluntary.

Shoestring's aim is to inspire travellers by sharing experiences and advice. Stories should be written in an informal, personal style. Imagine telling your friends about your travels. Whether your story is funny or more serious is up to you.

Features should be between 800 and 1300 words in length. Stories should be experience reports about projects (volunteering, work & travel, etc.), regions/countries, sports, methods of transport or cultural experiences. Advice pieces should be at least 400 words in length and can cover any aspect of travel. Please include any relevant URLs and pictures/illustrations (subject to copyright). Stories should be written in British English (e.g. "travelling" instead of traveling", "favourite" instead of "favorite" etc.).

When submitting a story, please include your name, a picture of you for your writer profile, as well as your age and a short description of yourself. Captions for all the pictures are also needed and should include the picture file name for easy identification, and a detailed description.

Pictures should be sent in jpg format and be at least 250kb in size. The file name must include the place name, what's in the picture and name of photographer (e.g. "kenya - elephant orphanage - cornelia kaufmann.jpg")

Use either Arial or Times New Roman fonts and 12pt size for your stories. Please send the stories in either doc, docx or rtf format, or alternatively in the body of an email.